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A Polite Rebuttal of CtH Article


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So in this article back in 2022 our esteemed producer emphasized that they made the CtH decision on purpose, and in fact did this some time ago, and have structured the systems around this. However. I think this is undesirable. Here is why, and allow me to in a nice way (hopefully) try to disagree with some of the reasoning and logic presented in this article.


"But what if you're trying to make the successor to a different turn-based classic? Then, it seems, XCOM's legacy can be a hindrance instead.

"We found that, no matter what we did, everyone played just like they played all the other games like XCOM," says Brad Logston, senior producer for Jagged Alliance 3. "We weren't playing it like Jagged Alliance. We didn't even know how to fix it. We were doing things like tweaking AI, tweaking weapon damage ranges, all these different things. Nothing was really working. No matter what we did, everyone played just like they played all the other games like XCOM.

Brad Logston, Haemimont Games

Once we did, everything shifted. Before, if someone had a 75% chance shot, they wouldn't take it.They'd hold back, and the AI would have to react to that—it had to know that the player was only going to move up when they could get the kill shot. Once we removed chance-to-hit … they're experimenting. It also meant we could make the AI more fluid. They could try things, they could be a little sloppy during play." Some of my favourite turn-based games of this new era are ones that give the player an overabundance of information—games like Into the Breach or Invisible, Inc., that reveal not just chance-to-hit, but fully telegraph the enemy's response as well. But here, Haemimont Games have discovered something that gets to the essence of what made the early Jagged Alliance's mix of turn-based combat, 4X strategy and RPG-lite management so good. These are not games about responding perfectly to the situation. These are games about messy, chaotic combat simulation, where unexpected things happen that force you to react.

"The solution may seem small, but it's had an oversized effect on how the game plays. "One of our combat systems designers proposed: 'you know, this may be crazy—and people are gonna kill us—but what if we just remove chance-to-hit and see how that works.'" It's a standard part of every turn-based tactics: go for a shot, and the game will tell you how likely you are to hit your foe. It's such an ingrained part of the genre that it's almost a meme. Every XCOM player has a story about the 99% chance shot that missed.

""It's not just chance-to-hit," says Logston. "Even things like weapon jam chance, or grenade fumble chance. I've had situations where I've been on the second story of a building, fumbled a grenade, and blown up the floor beneath me. All the mercs fell down one floor, took fall damage and were stunned for a turn. But those are the things that happen in Jag sometimes—it just goes that way."

But the real sign of Haemimont's commitment is that one seemingly small decision to upend the conventions that XCOM laid down. It would have been easy to make another XCOM-alike. They're pretty popular, after all. But it wouldn't have been Jagged Alliance. That's not what we're trying to do. There are already games out there that have done that. That doesn't make us special."

I have a number of thoughts on this:

1 The idea that JA must have this one separating factor from XCOM, imo, is a bad way to think about the franchises, because they're not just different along one parameter, they're different along many parameters; JA has AP units, modern XCOM does not, JA has in-level loot, XCOM does not, you need to research things then they're given out for free to the entire squad. JA has ammo, XCOM does not have ammo (wrongly). JA has some amount of inventory management, XCOM has no inventory management, all ammo is endless, all weapons are fixed, there's also little weapon diversity. XCOM has very different classes that are locked to specific ways of playing, XCOM does not have that. XCOM has "abilities" that are expected to be used almost every turn that make the entire combat system less about stats and more what abilities the XCOM unit has, while JA does not have super OP "abilities". JA is more like an open world RPG, albeit a more strategic one, in XCOM there is no "world" interaction outside of deploying to missions, there are no NPCs to talk to, etc.

So it's a significant mistake, in my opinion, to try to create some giant differentiating factor from XCOM. That factor may arise (it probably wouldn't, the two strategy titles are still in the same genre), but looking for it, vs looking to make the best JA possible, is a mistake imo. It's a bad goal and aim which will distract you from what really matters, which is making the best and most consistently JA JA title possible.

2 DIfferentiation is not necessarily good. Ferrari can go like "you know, we're not different enough to Porsche. So we need to make our cars have no wheels". Would that be a point of differentiation, yes, would it work, no. Robbing your strategy of good sound strategy and RPG mechanics for the sake of differentiation is a BAAAAAAAAAAD idea. If overlap happens it happens. What would you rather do, make a bad strategy, or a good strategy that shares its good decisions with another strategy.

3 Not showing CtH is not like adding critical failure and fumble chances. One is a new mechanic that makes the battlefield more interesting (and hopefully you can see chances to fumble, exactly like you should see chances to hit), and another is information about the battle that allows you to make correct decisions. You can add fumble mechanics without having it at all hurt

4 Some reason why JA may "play like XCOM" is due to 1 the fact that there don't appear to be stances like in JA2 and everybody auto-runs to their destination (which is a very XCOM thing), and 2 there's action cam all over the place so it really feels like XCOM (action cam got introduced by XCOM after all, if I'm not mistaken). To fix this I recommend: 1 changing or reducing how far you can travel in a level 2 changing level and building size to have the same effect, so mercs can't just run halfway across the map and end up 2 feet away from the enemy in a single turn like in XCOM, and the potential to be stranded or overwhelmed is much higher.

5 There seems to be some kind of nod to titles like Pheonix Point that I guess didn't sell as well? But listen, phoenix point didn't sell as well because it sucked, it had a weird setting, it had a weird mutation mechanic which imo was not fun at all, it had a poorly thought out setting and premise.

This is perhaps the most important point - there is little meritocracy in marketing, and in reasons why one title sold well, but another didn't. There are plenty of great hidden gems that are perfectly great, but because in order to find out if they're perfectly great or not you need to spend some time in them and purchase the title, they never get purchased in the first place. (This is why having a Demo is a must I say, it never hurts, but it allows customers to bridge that unbridgeable gap of "man I'm not sure about this title, do I want to spend the money and commit? what if it sucks?" with a free teaser of the full version.

The reason why XCOM sold well isn't just because it's such a great strategy (I don't think it was actually, I think it was severely nerfed from its original version), it's because there was an overlap of multiple factors to make it sell well. Firaxis isn't just any random studio, Firaxis is a OG developer that makes Civ titles. And of course all the Civ guys are going to buy or at least check out XCOM. So there's one audience group you already have in the bag. And then you have the original demographic that remembers the originals. And then you have the average uninformed customer who stumbles across it. So you need to have a confluence of factors, and you need to almost have trapped audiences that are familiar with the studio, familiar with the product franchise/series, familiar with the GENRE, AND THEN, they think it looks good or whatever. But there is no meritocracy; games will get bought or not bought depending entirely on the reputation of the developer, the genre, the franchise, and how it "looks like" from the trailers. Plenty of good games got overlooked and are overlooked to this day, just because they're not the kind of genre that a given customer group is used to buying, and those games fall through the cracks because the customer is just too unfamiliar with the specific game, game genre, game dev, etc, and there needs to be a way to bridge that familiarity gap.

So my suggestion here is: leave marketing and design choices as completely separate ideas and entities, focus on making the best JA possible without trying to compare it to anything else, simply focus on making good game design decisions, and making the most ideal most perfect version of JA you personally would want (I think a lot of dev team are fans of original). And then decide how you will market that product, and what demographics and groups you can appeal to with it (or to which groups it'll appeal in the first place, because a developer has limited ability to make people switch genres and change tastes).

Also maybe try to develop some relationships with some youtubers, there's plenty of big ones out there. Of course youtubers can be annoying and egotistical, but they are a great way for somebody to sing you praises and introduce a product to a customer group that didn't know anything about it, but now may decide to check it out.

And there's another reason why you want to make the best possible JA you yourself would want to see, with no compromises: because this is the "back end marketing" idea. You know you won't have a big launch, but you're expecting big staying power after launch, and you expect the customers who did purchase the title, to be like "wow this is really good", and then they tell everybody else about it, and before long you have JA2. JA2 could've easily been forgotten about, it's been 20 years, but it has enormous staying power because it, i suspect, was made with very few compromises and a very high amount of depth and systems.

In my opinion the best marketing strategy is to do something like...a show and tell, showing a basic mission with maybe 2 mercs on a night op or something, and then guiding viewers through the actions. Invite people in, be welcoming, friendly to them. You're often dealing with complete novices, whether they're novices to RPG or not, but novices to the genre certainly. So explain things to them, allow them to vicariously live through you getting a cool upgraded weapon in the level, and then looking for ammo for that weapon, oh maybe there's a store nearby we can go there, and now we have ammo look, so now we are fully decked out and have just went from some low caliber SMG to a MP5 wow, and this is the best weapon on the squad now, wow. And we really like this merc and were looking for an upgrade for this merc, and now they get to kick butt which is great.

And if you want JA to feel more like JA, maybe emphasize the open-world aspect of it more. It's not just about combat after all. Create a big map where you can fight, but can also wander around, interact with objects and people. Maybe find a safe that you can lockpick and get some goodies out of (maybe have a safe in every big sector and make it a side quest or an achievment to see how good you are at rescuing luxuries from the hands of their owners, and then create a reward for people to get all the safes, like maybe one of them has a treasure map in it randomly or at least in one of the hard ones). Maybe create missions where your objective is to sneak in (or because JA has no mission structure, create reasons for small squads to go in and either find information that can be sold or used otherwise that would otherwise get destroyed first thing in combat...find other things. And potentially emphasize the "hard strategy" aspect of JA, emphasize the unforgiveable nature of it, be very punishing if mercs are reckless or run too close to the enemy.

I think in this case, making JA3 more like JA is all about how the strategy looks, versus its underlying mechanics. JA was very much a "serious" strategy. Zoomed out camera, very far away. Soldiers ran in a straight line like professionals, they didn't do any "action running" or leaping over obstacles which may or may not be a bit, I don't want to say comical, but maybe a bit over the top. There was no action camera. Most dialogues, shopping windows, were still within the strategy window so you still got the feeling like hey, your point and objective here is to make high level decisions and direct the team, it wasn't to gallivander and talk to people "for fun". If there was an obstacle like a box, I would expect JA mercs to run up to it, and get over it in a realistic way, rather than hopping over it. If there's a roof to climb, they're also going to climb it in a realistic way to where you can sense that this is an attempt to depict real life. Movies like Above the Law or any other 90s and 80s action movie wasn't necessarily.

The more you step away from a very realistic and very serious simulation of combat, the more you simplify mechanics, the more you make characters very mobile and able to run very far in a single turn, the more not-serious it looks. In my opinion.

But fundamentally, as long as there are time units, as long as there is adjustable tile-per-tile movement, as long as there is individual progression where characters and mercs move from worse gear to better gear, and there's stealth systems, perception mechanics, and hopefully CtH, mechanically it should be very similar to JA2.

But I hope somebody reads my thoughts on marketing JA2, because you shouldn't try to change the product to suit marketing necessarily, you should make the best product possible in the absence of customer consideration so to speak (and you know, obviously make it for A type of customer, maybe just not the most mass market appeal one), and then try to figure out how to get people to buy it, how to get people to know about it, how to get people who don't understand the genre or franchise to be interested in the genre or franchise. You shouldn't adjust or try to frankenstein a upside-down product to suit a bigger demographic (if that's the case, just make another open world RPG like skyrim, very mass market appeal, everybody knows the genre, big group of people who know about it), just make the best possible product in this genre and then try to invite people to check out this genre or particular kind of strategy. if you try to make a good SUV, and your publisher comes to you to say "hey, not a lot of people buy SUVs" will you really please anybody by saying "ok let's try to bastardize the SUV and turn it into less of an SUV", you just get this weird diluted version that neither pleases the SUV fans, and neither pleases the mainstream demographic. It makes more sense to try to get people to like SUVs than to build SUVs in a way which dilutes their SUV-ness and makes the niche and core demographic unhappy. And even then you gotta understand that marketing doesn't always have something to do with the underlying quality of the strategy, some titles are very good but they aren't pushed or marketed, and they don't have a natural demographic that would already be interested in them, so they are ignored. Commercial success is often not about the quality of something, but whether that something is a type of genre that people would want to get, and whether they are familiar with the product, the genre, the studio, and this combination of factors that allow customers to go like "ok, i'll try it out, i'll risk it", because it's all about risk and commitment fundamentally.

Also please release a demo. It doesn't hurt anything, as far as I know they're not that hard to make, but they're an excellent stepping stone in getting people who would think about getting JA but are maybe put off because it's too different to what they're used to, to get it more likely than not.


Edited by anon474
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Oh and in case anybody hasn't seen my basic criticism of not including CtH as a visible stat and part of UI, basically I think it's one of the most if not the most important stat in the entire combat system BY FAR, you want to know if you can hit somebody with any degree of certainty probably more than any other information, and it's a great way to both 1 make correct decisions in the battlefield and 2 see progression in real time, by seeing some mercs have a higher hit % at the same distance, have mercs switch to other weapons and see which weapon has the better hit %, etc.

Also in case anything in teh above post comes off as ironic or sardonic, that wasn't the intent, I have support for the entire development team.

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I fundamentally disagree with you, and agree with the decision the developers made. With CtH, you wouldn't use poor mercs to shoot that "lucky" shot. For me those moments are among my most memorable, where I used Ira in JA2 to make an impossible shot, and seeing her gain 1 point in marksmanship. Good call devs.

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