DevDiary 12 - Combat, Part 2
Combat, Part Two
Hello and welcome to our second DevDiary dedicated to combat. In case you have missed it, here is Combat Part 1. I am Boian Spasov, Lead Designer, and I will tell you about some of the remaining combat mechanics. As usual, we will follow-up with a DevStream this Thursday where we will discuss all these combat elements, and more!
Although combat in Jagged Alliance 3 is turn-based, the game flows in real time outside of combat. Internally we call this “exploration mode”, since it is most often used when exploring maps either before or after combat encounters. While you are in exploration mode, combat might start for several reasons – the enemies might notice you or one of your allies; they might hear a suspicious sound like a gunshot, explosion or a cry of pain; they might also see something alarming, like a fire starting nearby. All of these lead to a transition to the turn-based “combat mode”.
Playing first grants a significant advantage in turn-based tactical games and it can often be critical for the battle that follows. Some games decide this balance issue by intermixing the turns of individual units from both teams but this limits the tactics you can use and more importantly, doesn’t feel true to the legacy of Jagged Alliance.
In Jagged Alliance 3 in made sense to grant the first turn to the player team – mercs usually have the initiative in engagements anyway and it never feels good to lose a merc character before you have chance to act at least once in the battle. However, this granted a bit too much advantage to the player – some combat encounters may become too easy when you are able to focus-fire on critical enemy units before they act or take the most advantageous positions before them.
To mitigate this advantage, enemies receive a short reposition phase when they become alert (unless they are Surprised – but I’ll get to that later). During the reposition phase they are allowed to move a short distance, or very rarely execute a single attack instead of moving. Note that these reposition actions are constrained by a much smaller AP limit that the enemy max AP and in no way equally powerful to an entire combat turn.
While Stealth is present in Jagged Alliance 3, we didn’t want it to be dominant, turning every encounter into a stealth puzzle - there are other games that specialize in this and Jagged Alliance is not meant to provide that kind of experience. A stealth approach might make the encounter easier, more advantageous for your side or just different… Or sometimes it may go wrong, you may be discovered earlier than intended and that will complicate the encounter instead.
Enemies are less alert while not in combat and you may take advantage of this by carefully setting up the terms of the engagement. For example, any merc that is out of enemy sight can start to sneak, and will become harder to detect by the enemy. The range and speed of stealth detection depend on various factors – the sneaking character stats and the enemy stats, as well as darkness, foliage and line of sight. It always takes some time for the enemies to detect a sneaking merc, visualized by the in-view UI bar under that character. If the sneaking character executes an attack before being discovered, there is a chance that the attack will result in a Stealth Kill, slaying a single enemy outright. The attack may also Surprise the others, delaying their reposition phase.
Melee attacks from stealth can also be prepared in advance when you are safely out of sight – this provides you extra preparation time to select body part and aim level without the danger of being discovered at this time. The prepared attack will be executed automatically if you manage to sneak in melee range without being discovered. Approaching the target from behind will usually improve your chances to get in melee attack range, but often this is also difficult to pull off, especially when there are multiple enemies involved.
Stealth tactics might be useful mid-combat as well – though in order to start sneaking, you have to be out of enemy sight. Besides, it is much harder to nail a stealth kill against alert enemies, even if they don’t see you.
Interrupts and Overwatch
“Interrupts” is an all-encompassing term that we use for any attacks that happen during the opposing team’s turn. Both the mercs and the enemy units utilize the same types of interrupt attacks, but our design goals differ a bit regarding each side. The mercs’ interrupts are meant to give you more options in combat, to facilitate the feeling of “executing a plan” or “setting up a trap”, then watching it come into fruition or fail spectacularly. The same skills serve a different design purpose when being employed by the enemies – in this case they are meant to increase the variety in combat situations and AI tactics and to force you to find creative ways to counter them.
The most common type of interrupt action is called Overwatch. The term might make you immediately think about XCom – however our Overwatch skill is more inspired by other tactical titles like Gears Tactics. Instead of being an automated attack against any enemy in attack range, it directs the mercs’ attention in a cone-shaped area of the battlefield and lets them interrupt only enemies that move or make other actions in this area. This gives you a finer control over the action and a bigger decision space, allowing you for example to Overwatch different areas with your mercs, or shorten the attack distance in order to make the attacks more reliable.
The maximum number of Overwatch attacks is limited by the number of remaining Action Points when you set up the Overwatch action. Overwatch attacks can never be aimed or target a specific body part, but they get a passive accuracy bonus from your Dexterity stat. You also lose some defensive benefits while in this stance, so all-in-all it is a tradeoff compared to the regular attacks.
Personally, I tend to prefer Overwatch when the enemies are in good defensive positions during my turn, or when I want to limit their movement or make it disadvantageous in a particular area of the map.
There are some other interrupt attacks in the game as well – some tied to perks, and other to particular weapons. For example, machine guns can be set to suppress a particular area of the battlefield, granting you a limited number of Interrupt attacks against enemies in this area, even after you’ve spent all of your Action Points. Some melee-inclined enemies and mercs with threaten the immediate area around them with melee interrupts, making them a particular nuisance when they manage to get close by.
Weather and Darkness
Environmental effects, such as weather and darkness, make the world more visually varied, believable and alive, but another important design goal behind their existence is to make the combat situations more varied. A combat encounter with the same enemies will feel very different when fought at night or in a thunderstorm, and these environmental effects will often force you to adapt and invent new strategies. Here is a list of all environmental effects in Jagged Alliance 3:
Clear weather – no additional gameplay effects.
Night/Underground - Enemies in darkness are harder to notice. Ranged attacks against them suffer a low visibility accuracy penalty, except at point blank range.
Dust Storm - Movement costs are increased. Cover is more effective. Enemies become Concealed at certain distance. Ranged attacks against concealed foes may become grazing hits.
Fire Storm - Visual range is reduced. Characters may lose Energy when standing close to a fire in combat, losing Action points and eventually collapsing unconscious.
Fog - Visual range is reduced and enemies become concealed at certain distance.
Heat - When receiving Wounds, characters may lose Energy, losing Action Points and eventually collapsing, as with Firestorm.
Heavy Rain - Aiming costs are increased. Hearing is impaired. Weapons lose condition and jam more often. Throwable items tend to mishap.
Rain - Hearing is impaired. Weapons lose condition and jam more often.
Weather effects are independent from the day/night cycle. Sectors in one area of the global map share the same weather patterns and the weather is different in the wet and dry areas of the world.
Underground areas don’t have weather effects, but they are always considered “dark” and share the gameplay effects with the nighttime encounters. Let’s take a closer look at these conditions.
In the screenshot above, you will notice there are black and white dots next to the character nameplates. Characters in the dark areas (the ones with the black dots) benefit from the darkness and are harder to hit, while characters with the white dots are “in the light” and receive no such bonuses. A stealth approach benefits from darkness as well, but watch out for moving spotlights that will reveal you!
Obviously, this will change your positioning strategies and encourage you to stay in dark areas, but you can also make use of this mechanic to tilt the odds even further in your favor. Shooting a flare or throwing a glowstick creates “lit” area in the battlefield – but don’t forget that the enemies will use these against you as well. A flashlight weapon attachment will reveal the enemy you are attacking, but it may negate your darkness defensive benefit as well. If you equip night vision goggles, you may gain the upper hand at night, but is it worth it to give up the opportunity to protect your merc with a heavy helmet? How about creating an entire squad of characters specialized and outfitted for night ops and timing your assaults with the day/night cycle?
Of course, you don’t have to do any of this, but even so, your nighttime encounters will feel and look significantly different than normal fights in bright daylight. Combined with the other weather effects, the variety of possibly combat conditions is huge. It will surely keep you on your toes during your war in Grand Chien!
Thank you for reading today’s DevDiary and for your interest in the intricacies of combat mechanics. We are looking forward to your follow-up questions in the upcoming DevStream, this Thursday, July 6th at 17:00 CEST / 11:00 AM EDT on the THQ Nordic channel: http://twitch.tv/thqnordic
We are now streaming EVERY THURSDAY at 17:00 CEST / 11:00 AM EDT!