Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Battlezone 1998 Redux, Genre-crossing Games and Universal Resources

Recently picked this up for $15 on Steam - it's a 1998 PC game with graphics remastered to, if not modern standards, at least a level that doesn't make your eyes bleed.

Wow.  I vaguely remember this game from my childhood, but playing through the tutorial impressed me a lot.  Basically it is a game that crosses genres.

It is a strategy game - you build bases, base defences, harvest resources and make factories to churn out units like the Command & Conquer series.   It's also tank game - you skim a hovertank low over the planet's strafing and boosting thrusters to "jump" over obstacles.  It also feels a bit like the old school FPS like Quake.   Basically, it's a strategy game which you command as a tank pilot, but you can switch between vehicles and even steal enemy craft.  Both elements are solid - simply the hovertank/FPS part is good - but combined with the strategy element it makes the game great.

Battlezone was a 1998 classic which garnered rave reviews, and is one of the trend of "re-releases" (the gaming industry, like movies, seems to have run out of ideas) - where they polish the graphics to an acceptable level on an otherwise identical game.

So what about genre-crossing games in wargaming?

Well, the hypothetical tank game in my last post is perhaps an example.  "Tank games" aren't really uncommon of course - there are dozens of micro-armour/combined arms rules.  Heck, Flames of War with a tank-centric force composition can do that job.  But what I have in mind is a sort of Mordhiem-meets-FoW, where individual tank crew level up and gain special abilities, within a sort of mercenary unit feel like Hammers Slammers or Battletech - but with 1940s-60s tanks as the stars.

Games tend to fall into neat categories - "platoon level WW2"  "platoon level hard sci fi"  "10-man fantasy skirmish" etc.    Games can struggle to bridge "scales" (and rightfully so - the same tactics and game rules should probably not  be the same between, say, squad and company level).  Quite a common complaint from designers is the desire to have characterful heroes fighting alongside hordes of grunts (somewhere between/inclusive of the squad and platoon level) - keeping the game detailed enough to accomodate the heroes whilst streamlined enough to handle lots of grunts.  I'd suggest LOTR:SBG is one of the few which has done it successfully - it can be used with ~6 heroes in a quasi-RPG scenario, or handle as many as ~50 grunts per side.

I think when I say "genre crossing" I mean two things - the ability to bridge battle scale (i.e. detailed enough to zoom in on individual heroes, but can zoom out and deal with lots of grunts) as well as mixing up actual "genres"  i.e. the Dune universe with its emphasis on hand-to-hand dagger duelling in a sci fi world with spaceships and lasers is a good example.  I think this is a topic that has always subconsiously interested me - for years I have experimented with a game with 300kph submarine fighters merely so I could try to blend the maneuvers and tactics of PT-boat warfare, WW1 dogfights and modern ASW - three of my favourite, but rather disparate genres.   Whilst, say, Warmachine (with its magic-meets-robots) would seem to fall into the genre-crossing category I'm not sure if it does - as you can see from the compatible Hordes, the robots act simply as renamed fantasy monsters.    Whereas a 10-man modern skirmish where everyone had a Portal-style teleport gun would probably step outside of the usual genres by nature of its radically different tactics to "normal" modern warfare.

Hmm. I feel like I've talked myself around in a circle without defining/articulating anything clearly.

Any audience suggestions? What are games that you regard cross genres or the usual "boundaries?"

A further, fun question: if you could "mash up" elements from any two or three genres/games - what would they be?

"Stats" and Universal Resource Management
The Battlezone ability to switch "yourself" (i.e. your POV/player control) between vehicles interests me.  I've always liked the idea of demons "possessing" human hosts or an AI controlling hordes of robots.  Basically the "demon" or "AI" is a divisible resource which can be transferred from unit to unit.   A normal unit which is "possessed" or directly controlled "override" by the master AI will become a "hero" unit and be gifted with extras stats, activations and special rules.   This resource could be represented by a pool of counters which are assigned to specific models.   For example, one token might give a unit +1 stats and an extra activation, two tokens might give a special ability, etc.

There could be various rules for how this "power" is transferred which could create a meta-game in itself.  In addition, units which are "possessed" or "overridden", if killed when in possession of the special tokens, might lose the tokens permanently.  Risk vs reward - if I add +3 tokens to make a normal unit a super unit - but I lose the enhanced unit - the resources attached to it at the time are permanently lost - perhaps fatally weakening my overall ability...

Basically, we often use resource management "pools" of tokens etc for activation (Infinity) or magic (Warmachine) but I'm thinking a universal resource that boosts activation, magic/special abilities, AND unit stats.  You don't have an avatar or warband leader on the tabletop like Warmachine - instead "you" are the resource pool.   A bit like the "life points" in Magic that sit in front of you on the table - when they are lost, it;s game over - only they can also be lent out to power your units on the table.  It also adds an extra victory condition - once the "universal resource" is expended, you lose.

I suspect CCGs (like Magic) would be fertile ground for exploring this sort of "universal resource" management.  Anyway, a further question:

Any games where something similar has been done? (I can't think of one offhand)

What is the best/deepest resource management mechanic you've encountered?


  1. I reckon it's even a remake of a remake - the original coming out in 1980! I have vague memories of watching my dad play it on our very first computer [].

    What about Dungeon Keeper? It was a top down RTS type game but I think you were able to take over individual creatures and go into a 1st person view.

    I remember having a demo version of an RTS type WWII game that would let you take command of individual vehicles too. I wish I could remember the name. There was only one scenario in the demo but I played it over and over because there were so many different vehicles to drive around and each had their own specific controls.

  2. If you liked Battlezone 98 (a personal fave, along with it's sequel) I highly reccomend checking out Hostile Waters: Anteus Rising. A 2000 take on the Carrier Command style of RTS, it lets you jump in and take direct control of any of the vehicles you build, with the added bonus of giving you a cast of salty dead soldiers whose personalities have been encoded to Rogue Trooper-esque "bio-chips" that you can put into each vehicle an leave them to control. They then comment on your choice of vehicle or them, compliment and bicker amongst themselves and generally entertain.
    It also has Tom Baker on narration duties and Paul Darrow amongst the voice cast with a script from a little-known writer by the name of Warren Ellis....

  3. As for mashing genres, I always wanted to mash up Napoleanics with fantasy tropes at the scale of Corps Commander.

  4. I'm having a good time with mashing up elements of the rules for Savage Wars and its Showdown skirmish rules with Force on Force. The former is meant for individual figures as the smaller maneuver element, the latter employs fire teams. But they both use a universal 4+ as success mechanic, so you can scale up to a relatively big scale with as much granularity as you want to employ.

    I give your blog and Google Group a shout-out in my weekly roundup:

    1. What changes did you make? How did you mash them up?

      I'm presuming the reactions/initiative of FoF + streamlining and minimizing the copious SW stats/skills?

    2. There's a lot of different ways you can go with this one...

      - SW Showdown takes out charisma and other irrelevant stats, and gives you a point system that FoF intentionally lacked (though they put one out later that sort of works, sort of doesn't).
      - Stat minis to d4 non-combatant, d6 irregular/conscript, d8 regular, d10 elite, d12 heroic. Minis will cost mostly what they should.
      - Initiative, you can: (1) Use the FoF reactions/initiative, which begs the question as to what you tally and roll to determine who is the Initiative and who is the Non-Initiative faction; (2) use the card deck from SW to determine which units get to act as Initiative units, then react with FoF rules; (3) draw cards for each player, then let them initiate action based on cards drawn (selecting which card for which unit), which is less fog of war intensive and less chaotic than #2, and gives a sense of some command & control.
      - Import the morale check rules from FoF into SW - roll a die for each member of a unit, requiring more successes than failures or the unit is pinned/suppressed.
      - While FoF granularity in light wound/serious wound effect is about right in terms of battlefield effects, I don't think anything is lost by just treating all 'wounds' in SW Showdown rules as serious wounds for FoF battle field effects and ignoring hits that don't wound. Yes, there's a little sense of realism that is lost, but the added shiny from area effect templates and the magic/superpowers that SW adds offset this.
      - Use ranges from SW stats for missile weapons/firearms. Yes, d6 quality troops will not hit at range, but exploding dice (roll another one and add if you get a max result - 6 on a d6) will offset this by simulating the dynamic that toothless insurgents are terrible shots, but once in a blue moon the Golden BB can bring down anyone.

      That's some food for thought. All of this spun out of adapting WH40K for FoF/TW, and needing a way to show that impatient Orks are terrible shooters, but decent in melee and really strong. That's three stats where FoF gives you one uni-stat b/c modern combat really only involves shooting. Then I discovered (thanks to your blog) Savage Worlds, and the Showdown supplement, and saw that someone had already done the legwork for me.

      I think they mesh well, with enough flexibility for players to shift the focus to whichever aspects of the game they see fit.

  5. Good post, and some interesting ideas. Acclaim's 1999 RTS "Machines" ( ) did the same thing, allowing you to take control of units fps style. It was a core part of the infiltration mechanic, where you had to manually drive a spy or tech into the relevant buildings. It was also very useful for directly firing some of the super weapons, whose ai's had an annoying tendency to commit suicide by staying within their own blast radius.

    Mass effect 2 did a similar thing from the perspective you describe, with the big bad taking personal control of his monions, boosting their effectiveness - until they are killed, when it possessed the next guy in line.