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PREDICTABILITY; one of the (many) problems with modern turn-based mechanics (JA3 Trailer Analysis)


GODSPEED
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Going through the gameplay part of the trailer that was revealed on September 17th, there is one thing that was really bothering me and for some reason, I couldn't put my finger on it until today. I was overwhelmed with mixed feelings of excitement, surprise but also wariness and disappointment. Pretty sure most understand that.

One of the "features" that reminded me why I really dislike the modern twist on turn-based mechanics, is the predictability of everything. I'll TRY to be brief (that never works for me) and I will only try and point to a few glaring issues I have when comparing what I see in the gameplay from the perspective of new vs old ja/xcom.
 


PREDICTABILITY was the word of choice; what made this come to mind, is the dual-grenade throw of Fidel, the movement and (yet to be really proven, the overwatch features) featured in the trailer.

 

 

   FIDELS DUAL-GRENADE THROW  

Old X-Coms & JA2 had a way of hidding gameplay mechanics to make the game feel organic and "natural". Almost ANY action you take could be met with a wide range of unpredictable elements. Take for example, the grenade throwing.

In Jagged Alliance 2, handling grenades was not something you'd necessarily trust Biff with. Why? Because many elements come in the way of how accurate the placement of that grenade would be. That UNPREDICTABILITY leads to you THINKING and having to MAKE A CHOICE. Is it worth it to hand over a grenade to a merc with poor strength, dexterity and agility to maybe see him fumble that grenade into a friendly merc, or completely miss his mark, maybe leaving him standing in the middle of the laughing redshirts?

You NEED to pop a smoke grenade so you can go stick a regen into Raven, who's down to 1 HP. But the smoke ends up not hiding her from the laughing redshirts. Raider hates his job and you! Why did you give the task of throwing that grenade to Flo? She nearly took her eye out in the process! You took a chance. You made a willing decision and took a chance and regretted it.

UNPREDICTABILITY goes WAY beyond the percentage on that chance to hit when you fire a gun. It's from taking any action, like moving, detecting a mine (or not), throwing a grenade, kicking in a door, punching a redshirt...Situations and choices that can turn to your advantage or disadvantage in a single mistake, from either side.

Now, let's take the modern method of throwing a grenade; you see EXACTLY what squares will be affected, you know EXACTLY where it will land. You take away all REASONING, THINKING, GUESSING, LEARNING and CHANCE out of the equation. You already KNOW how much damage it will make, you already know everything. You lose that organic feel and "natural" feeling that comes with different people taking the same action. Fidel throws 2 grenades that show two circles that overlap in the middle.. all assumptions are that whatever enemy that overlap lands on, takes double damage. There is no skill, no learning, no experience (from your own mistakes) to corect future choices you make. Everything is calculated and handed over to you with the precision of a board game.


   MOVEMENT AND OVERWATCH  

In Jagged Alliance 2, to move, you try and calculate to the best of your abilities, the effects of moving from A to B. How is that "UNPREDICTABLE"? Because, you can be interrupted, you can spot an enemy, or you can notice something that will make you change your "plan". In modern mechanics, you KNOW where such and such enemy is, you KNOW who has an overwatch active. There is no guessing, taking a chance, no "judging" the situation.

In the modern system, you know exactly up to where you can move, and you already are aware of everything around you. Nothing feels natural or organic; it's like a board game.

Another feature in modern turn-based games I really dislike is the overwatch feature. This mechanic relies almost exclusively on the chance-to-hit, marksmanship or accuracy stat. You KNOW that the first enemy to step into that cone of vision will be shot at. Regardless how good that enemy is. The amount of times this feature can be abused because you can let the enemy come pile up to your overwatch cones when you feel like playing defensively. It requires no deep thought, or management.

In Jagged Alliance 2, you do not know what enemy you will face, you do not always know if that enemy will avoid an interrupt or not. Higly experienced mercs have a great chance to interrupt redshirts and cheap enemies.. but less experienced mercs can and will get in precarious situations if you do not manage them properly. This UNKNOWN creates such great battles, firefights, drama and situations that in turn can come and change your plan or your strategy.

Maybe you thought these last few nemeies were going to be dead easy, in turn you end up with 2 mercs on the brink of death. Now, you can either decide if you leave them behind to rest up, or take a few days break to treat them... or do you chance them on your next assault?

All this UNPREDICTABILITY, all these unknown factors are part of what makes Jagged Alliance such a great game.. also why the old X-Coms need a REAL remake/remaster... wanting to shoot that enemy, but missing and taking down a support structure, watching floors crumble down. Damaging property you were supposed to NOT damage.

 



There is nothing wrong with the predictable nature of turn-based mechanics... But Jagged Alliance is great because it contains so much unpredictability (among many of its unique features) that make this kind of game shine as a video game.

What makes me a little sad from the gameplay trailer is a feeeling that instead of building on what made Jagged Alliance 2 such a unique game, they are working out how to dress up modern xcom mechanics into Jagged Alliance clothing..

...and, no! Knowing the difference between an AK-47 and an AKM is not what makes a real fan of Jagged Alliance... that's the superficial part of the game. The core, the mechanics and the personality is what makes Jagged alliance.

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While I see your point, I don't think that it changes much.

I mean the grenades being 100% hits (as it seems) can definitely be a problem. Especially if enemies start throwing them on you (talk predictability ^^).

But there are so many other factors, that having overwatch or interrupts and having hit chances displayed or not don't make a whole lot of difference. Even overwatches can miss. Phoenix Point and the Demo of Urban strife for example both are great games with great combad systems which are simpler than the one of JA2 and they show hit chances to some degree (not as percentages) and both have overwatch, but I don't feel like they are static and you know about everything which can happen.

I think some of these things like hit chances actually help make reasonable decisions. I mean even JA2 have mercs tell you if they cant hit at all. Thats a useful help which I wouldn't want to miss. The hit chances are just going a step further because from your top down view you cant judge it as good as the character could. In Phoenix Point you have a first person view instead. In Urban Strife the body parts show in different colors.

Quote

In the modern system, you know exactly up to where you can move, and you already are aware of everything around you. Nothing feels natural or organic; it's like a board game.

Thats not really true. In JA you also got a display on how much points you would use. The awareness around you is about the same as in modern games (excluding Firaxis XCom). Just having interrupts doesnt change anything there.

Quote

Another feature in modern turn-based games I really dislike is the overwatch feature. This mechanic relies almost exclusively on the chance-to-hit, marksmanship or accuracy stat. You KNOW that the first enemy to step into that cone of vision will be shot at. Regardless how good that enemy is. The amount of times this feature can be abused because you can let the enemy come pile up to your overwatch cones when you feel like playing defensively. It requires no deep thought, or management.

As I mentioned in another thread I think that the switch to overwatch is a reasonable idea. Interrupts dont add a whole lot to the game but lots of complexity 99% of all players and 90% of JA veterans are not going to use. How often to you really sidestep to avoid an interrupt?
And besides of that, overwatch isn't losing much there. As you mention its still depending on your chance to hit stat whether you actually hit. But in Urban Strife its also depending on two attributes whether you actually get the overwatch. In Phoenix Point its calculated between your perception and the enemies "stealth" (and all armor chances stealth the one or other direction), so its just different stats which influence the outcome. An while in Phoenix Point the character only shoots once at the target, in Urban Strife the character will use all his AP. And if the target is dead and there are still AP left, he/she can use remaining points for a second or third overwatch interruption.

 

And while you are certainly right that in JA2 there is some stuff that you have to "learn" first, I am not sure if that's a favourable thing. Like not telling you how much dmg a weapon has or how much range it has would be something similar. Would it feel better if you had to find out things like that yourself? In old games from the 90s you sometimes had to. Thinking of Eye of the Beholder or Stonekeep for example. I don't think that having to read an external guide or look up recipies outside of the game makes it better.

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7 hours ago, Kordanor said:

I mean the grenades being 100% hits (as it seems) can definitely be a problem. Especially if enemies start throwing them on you (talk predictability ^^).

As much on you as on them. Not only does seeing an enemy soldier fumble his grenade and take out his friendly a unique occasion to laugh at in a battle.. the same can be really frustrating on your end.

This unpredictability creates a new level of drama and "fun".

 

7 hours ago, Kordanor said:

But there are so many other factors, that having overwatch or interrupts and having hit chances displayed or not don't make a whole lot of difference. Even overwatches can miss. Phoenix Point and the Demo of Urban strife for example both are great games with great combad systems which are simpler than the one of JA2 and they show hit chances to some degree (not as percentages) and both have overwatch, but I don't feel like they are static and you know about everything which can happen.

I think some of these things like hit chances actually help make reasonable decisions. I mean even JA2 have mercs tell you if they cant hit at all. Thats a useful help which I wouldn't want to miss. The hit chances are just going a step further because from your top down view you cant judge it as good as the character could. In Phoenix Point you have a first person view instead. In Urban Strife the body parts show in different colors.

I don't really mean hit chances... those are also displayed in Jagged Alliance 2 1.13 whether you play with the NCTH or OCTH. Those are always useful, because they are the estimation that merc makes for your to judge your attempt. But even there, the Hit Chance isn't a dice roll, there is the mercs attributes that also come into play that can lead to a wrong chance-to-hit. The mercs experience, level & marksmanship will affect a mercs display of the chance to hit, meaning Flo's 85% chance to hit is EXTREMELY unreliable compared to Tarballs 85% chance to hit.

The new systems are flat percentage with no other layer to take into account.

 

7 hours ago, Kordanor said:

Thats not really true. In JA you also got a display on how much points you would use. The awareness around you is about the same as in modern games (excluding Firaxis XCom). Just having interrupts doesnt change anything there.

As I mentioned in another thread I think that the switch to overwatch is a reasonable idea. Interrupts dont add a whole lot to the game but lots of complexity 99% of all players and 90% of JA veterans are not going to use. How often to you really sidestep to avoid an interrupt?

Interrupts are a fundamental part of the Jagged Alliance series!

I'm not sure how to explain it better than, it's a true RPG mechanic, a statistic and comparison between characters on your screen that they managed to blend in so well with the skills of each merc that the feeling of interrupts is absolutely natural!

When in life do you say: "okay, I am now going to save time to watch this area....?"
Sir-Tech managed to create an turn-based RPG with REFLEX mechanics... it feels like when you play paintball, airsoft or any other type of similar sport where you can tell the experience and speed a person has by how quickly they react to encounters.

I'm sorry, but overwatch is a board-game feature! Something to simplify the system to avoid rpg/stat calculation.

I have nothing against overwatch, but I don't understand why it is "okay" to accept a lower standard from JA3 when we have a deeper and more advanced system in a game made in 1999. They aren't creating a new IP here... they are calling it JAGGED ALLIANCE 3. The name should reflect the legacy it is trying to continue.


Sidestepping is a normal movement to use... I've never really felt like it was odd to use it.. don't use it, and you wil so often get slapped in the face walking across a window or a corner. It's basic tactical movement! And sidestepping doesn't make you ignore being interrupted.


I would like you to explain what you mean when you say that most ppl won't use interrupts... how can you not use it? it's an automatic feature coded into the game. It's among the most unique turn-based features in turn-based games. It relies on RPG stats and comparisons between characters that negotiate the interrupt. It's a system that ressembles many RPG calculations.

 

7 hours ago, Kordanor said:

And besides of that, overwatch isn't losing much there. As you mention its still depending on your chance to hit stat whether you actually hit. But in Urban Strife its also depending on two attributes whether you actually get the overwatch. In Phoenix Point its calculated between your perception and the enemies "stealth" (and all armor chances stealth the one or other direction), so its just different stats which influence the outcome. An while in Phoenix Point the character only shoots once at the target, in Urban Strife the character will use all his AP. And if the target is dead and there are still AP left, he/she can use remaining points for a second or third overwatch interruption.

And while you are certainly right that in JA2 there is some stuff that you have to "learn" first, I am not sure if that's a favourable thing. Like not telling you how much dmg a weapon has or how much range it has would be something similar. Would it feel better if you had to find out things like that yourself? In old games from the 90s you sometimes had to. Thinking of Eye of the Beholder or Stonekeep for example. I don't think that having to read an external guide or look up recipies outside of the game makes it better.

I'm not certain what you mean... weapon damage, weapon range, are all in Jagged Alliance 2. They all have quantifiable stats.. but the RPG mechanics create an organic feel because not everything boils down to the simplest mathematics like in modern xcom and derivatives.


Why is the simplification of a great system such a problem?


Because when you remove elements of what made Jagged Alliance such a great game... you lose the core of what it is. Jagged Alliance isn't only funny mercs, it isn't only a world map to conquer locations, it isn't only interrupts or rpg stats... it's everything combined that made it unique.

At that point, why are they even making a Jagged Alliance game? The I.P. is not known for it's simplistic take on TBS, but it's complexity and multi-layered systems (and personality, but that's not being discussed here).

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I'm not sure how to explain it better than, it's a true RPG mechanic, a statistic and comparison between characters on your screen that they managed to blend in so well with the skills of each merc that the feeling of interrupts is absolutely natural!

When in life do you say: "okay, I am now going to save time to watch this area....?"
Sir-Tech managed to create an turn-based RPG with REFLEX mechanics... it feels like when you play paintball, airsoft or any other type of similar sport where you can tell the experience and speed a person has by how quickly they react to encounters.

I'm sorry, but overwatch is a board-game feature! Something to simplify the system to avoid rpg/stat calculation.

But thats not true. It might be true for Firaxis XCom. But as I explained in my previous post, other games (e.g. Phoenix Point, Urban Strife) pretty much calculate Overwatch the same way JA calculates interrupts. The only 2 differences are 1. that JA allows you to move, and partially because of that get more complicated because interrupts can also be interrupted and cancelled out. 2. JA allows you to reasses whether you actually want to use an interrupt.
From the RPG and caculation aspect they are the same. Besides of using different attributes ofc. (and that you have different movement options in JA2).

And wether you set aside 20 points for Shooting 3 times via Overwatch or Interrupt makes no difference. You could even argue that overwatch is more realistic as you shoot by reaction. And that means you can't take your time to analyze whether it actually makes sense to shoot yet or wait even longer.

And it's also not dumbed down either. These games actually give you the option to customize your overwatch in a way you cant customize your interrupt. If you get an interrupt and the enemy is still too far away and you don't use it, then bad luck.

In US as well as in PP you have to define the rage (and angle) you want the interrupt to take place.

Quote

Sidestepping is a normal movement to use... I've never really felt like it was odd to use it.. don't use it, and you wil so often get slapped in the face walking across a window or a corner. It's basic tactical movement! And sidestepping doesn't make you ignore being interrupted.

It does help you to not get interrupted. As the calculation is not just character stats but also where you look at at the time, and the way you move. So when cleaning buildings I always use it.

Quote

I would like you to explain what you mean when you say that most ppl won't use interrupts... how can you not use it? 

What I tried to say is that the additional complexity JA offers there, like for example the beforementioned strafing, is likely not going to be used by the majority of players. I would bet that the vast majority of players don't even know that sidestepping exists. Interrupting ofc will be used by everyone.

Sure it is a simplification if sidestepping doesnt exist anymore, or that you cannot run in stealth anymore. But afaik these were things which didnt exist in JA1 either. Most other games just have a run, duck and maybe crouch option and ducking also means stealth at the same time. And I am totally fine with these minor simplifications. And no, this is not what defines JA. If at all, it is what defines JA2. But JA1 didn't have some of that either.

Edited by Kordanor
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13 hours ago, Kordanor said:

Sure it is a simplification if sidestepping doesnt exist anymore, or that you cannot run in stealth anymore. But afaik these were things which didnt exist in JA1 either. Most other games just have a run, duck and maybe crouch option and ducking also means stealth at the same time. And I am totally fine with these minor simplifications.


Look, I'd just like to say, that we don't really agree on some of these points.. but I appreciate we can keep a civil discussion.. argument.. without it turning to the way "debates" turn out on Steam. So 👍 to you for keeping a level head with me.. I know I can be a little abrupt. 😇

 

Well, if you are satisfied with changes such as the ones you mention.. I am happy for you. Personally, I do not find those changes acceptable for Jagged Alliance 3.

Why not simply create their own IP? Why try to revive a series that has some pretty hardcore fans that have been dissapointed to hell and back, but not learn that changing too many elements will lead to the same? Is it because they wan't to create the next "popular" turn-based game, but they also want to drag in old-time fans of the series as a freebie?

 

13 hours ago, Kordanor said:

And no, this is not what defines JA. If at all, it is what defines JA2. But JA1 didn't have some of that either.

Yes, Jagged Alliance was way more 'basic' compared to it's "sequel". But, Jagged Alliance 2 didn't CHANGE mechanics, they simply added elements and complications. Just like 1.13 didn't change anything, other than ADD technical details, information and options for higher difficulty and re-instated features that Sir-Tech rushed and put aside or decided to disable due to fears the game being too difficult.

I have a very deep feeling, from all the previous attempts at reviving the Jagged Alliance name, that changing, removing or replacing many of the established elements of Jagged Alliance 2, will simply alienate the real fans. That's just what I think.. whether I am right or wrong.. I can't know.


Honestly, the points you make aren't bad, or wrong.. I respect your opinion; but I also am of the opinion that as long as the game is not complete and released, I would rather fight, push, argue and debate for something that is AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE to Jagged Alliance 2, or with even more complexities.. not simplifications.

In my mind, accepting and agreeing, even to minor changes, will lead a company to be "lazy" and simply go on with whatever plan they've decided (if they even care about what we think?). Maybe the game will have completely different mechanics, and I will really enjoy it.. but maybe I will just want to go back to JA2 1.13.. (and at least I can play that more and it runs just fine).

I will always push for more complexities, more realism and more depth because that is what I love. Just like I sincerely wish X-Com would get a REAL remake/remaster.. especially X-Com Apocalypse.

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I don't mind the overwatch. It is a lot more realistic, too. I don't see it as a huge departure from interrupts.

The grenades can also be made to miss while displaying a representation of what the merc is aiming to achieve.

However you have turned my attention to something that I think is worse, than all wrongs discussed combined.

Is that an ABILITY Fidel has? Don't you think that's terrible? Unique abilities to merc I mean. That's the most new-Xcom simplification so far. Shouldn't all mercs be capable of the same basic actions with different levels/chances of success? Two frags at the same time... no-one would ever do that irl, but every person with two hands would be capable of trying to do it.

I would hate to see unique character abilities define who the merc is and how he'd be used...

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24 minutes ago, SWi74 said:

an ABILITY Fidel has? Don't you think that's terrible? Unique abilities to merc I mean. That's the most new-Xcom simplification so far. Shouldn't all mercs be capable of the same basic actions with different levels/chances of success? Two frags at the same time... no-one would ever do that irl, but every person with two hands would be capable of trying to do it.

It's called a "signature" ability.

Also note that your characters apparently have "classes".

Furthermore on steam it reads Choose from a wide array of special perks to customize your mercs as they level up

 

So you can speculate a bit on what that actually means. I actually don't dislike the idea of custom abilities. You kind of have that in JA2 already (night vision, akimbo, roof snipering, electronics). And you could argue that JA3 is not changing but extending that feature (wink wink at Godspeed 😉 )

Well, whether throwing two grenades at once is realistic or not, not going to argue here, but the general idea I think is fine.

However if the "classes" are not just a reflection of that the character can do, but if they are actually distinct development paths each with own abilities...well, then I agree, thats actually a bit far away from the original JA series, especially as you got tons of characters who have multiple roles. And this could then mean that each character is only useful in one of them. Take Magic for example. If he is now classified as "mechanic" and can't take any of the shooting abilities anymore, that would be a bit sad.

Edited by Kordanor
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3 hours ago, SWi74 said:

I don't mind the overwatch. It is a lot more realistic, too. I don't see it as a huge departure from interrupts.

The grenades can also be made to miss while displaying a representation of what the merc is aiming to achieve.

However you have turned my attention to something that I think is worse, than all wrongs discussed combined.

Is that an ABILITY Fidel has? Don't you think that's terrible? Unique abilities to merc I mean. That's the most new-Xcom simplification so far. Shouldn't all mercs be capable of the same basic actions with different levels/chances of success? Two frags at the same time... no-one would ever do that irl, but every person with two hands would be capable of trying to do it.

I would hate to see unique character abilities define who the merc is and how he'd be used...

 

2 hours ago, Kordanor said:

It's called a "signature" ability.

Also note that your characters apparently have "classes".

Furthermore on steam it reads Choose from a wide array of special perks to customize your mercs as they level up

 

So you can speculate a bit on what that actually means. I actually don't dislike the idea of custom abilities. You kind of have that in JA2 already (night vision, akimbo, roof snipering, electronics). And you could argue that JA3 is not changing but extending that feature (wink wink at Godspeed 😉 )

Well, whether throwing two grenades at once is realistic or not, not going to argue here, but the general idea I think is fine.

However if the "classes" are not just a reflection of that the character can do, but if they are actually distinct development paths each with own abilities...well, then I agree, thats actually a bit far away from the original JA series, especially as you got tons of characters who have multiple roles. And this could then mean that each character is only useful in one of them. Take Magic for example. If he is now classified as "mechanic" and can't take any of the shooting abilities anymore, that would be a bit sad.


As much as I am sincerely trying to stay positive here. I don't think I feel anywhere as positive or "okay" with it as you guys do. Maybe it's in my mind alone?

In any case, the more I refer to the video and look at the "actual" gameplay section, the further away from Jagged Alliance it feels. I feel like I'm looking at a skin or mod for Phoenix Point.

Phoenix Point isn't bad... it's the only game in the past decade that I pre-ordered and played before release... I just find it decent at what it does with it's theme and setting. I simply don't want to see Jagged Alliance in that game.




Honestly guys, I REALLY DON'T want to see Jagged Alliance go down that leveling, perk and class system like new xcom and phoenix point have. Having mercs "locked" to classes and weapon/gear would seriously piss me off above and beyond! That to me, would kill the game and warrant a refund.

I mean, I could take overwatch and other changes, even if those wouldn't be my favorite.. but perks, classes and unlocks. NO THANK YOU!


Custom abilities? Yeah, I mean I could wrap my head around it if it was abilities that more than one merc might have. Yes, I agree @Kordanor, mercs in Ja2 did have some unique "abilities", like Shadows Camo... but the "Abilities" we're very passive bonuses, not unique features that only applied to one merc.

I guess that's what makes it different. They are all humans who can do most tasks, but simply at varying levels of speed and chances of a positive outcome. These new xcom-style classes lock characters out of everything but what they are allowed.


In my mind, changing this roleplaying system that Jagged Alliance is famous for, would be like spitting on it and giving it the finger.



I should be able to hand over a stick of TNT, a Dragunov or a lockpick to ANY merc and watch them succeed or fail at my own leaisure!

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On 10/8/2021 at 4:25 AM, GODSPEED said:

I mean, I could take overwatch and other changes, even if those wouldn't be my favorite.. but perks, classes and unlocks. NO THANK YOU!


Custom abilities? Yeah, I mean I could wrap my head around it if it was abilities that more than one merc might have. Yes, I agree @Kordanor, mercs in Ja2 did have some unique "abilities", like Shadows Camo... but the "Abilities" we're very passive bonuses, not unique features that only applied to one merc.

I would hate abilities that you pick as you gain experience. Today you can throw 2 grenades, but couldn't yesterday...

I would hate activated abilities.

I would hate abilities that somehow buff your stats for a number of turns.

JA2's skill are good. Permanent. Initial. Like education irl. You hire a merc with them and because of them. They should not be obtainable during the course of the game.

I would be ok with unique abilities related to hardware (equipment). Like Siege, some operators have a gadget they can wield. Other mercs could equip it, but should be bad at it.

It should be skills that effect stats, not abilities that provide new capability.

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