A Message from Whiteflash
Welcome to the addendum to the Company of Heroes 3 with Whiteflash article. There were items not taken care of as outlined in the previous article's conclusion. This addendum is an attempt to close some of the more significant gaps.
I will, as before, treat this as an engineering enterprise, start with a blank slate as much as possible, then focus on the design strengths, remove any weaknesses and try to develop a system and perspectives which are substantial. There are also bigger picture pieces that will be described in some detail.
I'm including a number of external articles as foundational references in parts of this article that are all worth reading for context and inspiration, especially if you are a developer.
I will compare and contrast COH 1 & 2 often in this article, in order to hone in on potential strengths for COH3. My intention is neither to rail against any game, nor praise any game higher than the other, because that is not what interests me. What is important is to look for systems which yield the highest quality game, with the deepest tactical possibilities, and which maximize fun.
I'm approaching this from as an unbiased a position as I can maintain, together with as much design experience as I can bring to bear on this topic. These topics are in no particular order. Note that if something is given a "low" priority, it is still important; nothing added here is irrelevant. Also note that if you agree with the points made, post a '+1' to the article comments, in order to build support for these kinds of implementations in COH3.
Index and Priority
Low Priority = ☆☆☆☆☆
High Priority = ★★★★★
- Quick Items
- The Abandon Mechanic
- Click to Win Abilities
- Vetoed Maps
- Multiplayer Colors
- Clan Battles/Wars
- Flexible Win Conditions
- Unit Identification
- Game Engine
- Esports: Leagues/Ladders/Tournaments
- The RNG Dilemma
- RNG Solutions
- In Closing
- Additional Credits
Balance will be low on the priority list during development of COH3, which makes sense, but as the game matures it must become a priority to hammer this imperative dimension into shape. Balance matters.
|!Meticulous balance creates a richer setting for discovering strategies and for reacting when things don't go to plan.|
The Abandon Mechanic
Remove it in ladder or change it drastically. Every time an abandon happens in a competitive setting on a significant vehicle there is an audible sigh from almost everyone. It doesn't contribute positively to competitive play and the extra impact and randomness of this is brutal. There might be a way to drastically overhaul this mechanic but think hard on it before implementing anything like this in future competitive games. It can still be interesting and fun in modes such as campaigns or comp stomp matches which is where this mechanic makes the most sense.
All mines must suppress in an aggressive manner. The "blobbing" in COH is only partially offset by machine guns and arty. Ultimately, this franchise should discourage blobbing and one dimensional tactics. Mines suppressing as they did in COH1 has a lot of affinity with the central concepts of Company of Heroes that makes it such a compelling RTS.
Click to Win Abilities
Avoid click to win abilities. It hinders the tactical depth that is fundamental to the COH franchise. All COH1 factions had abilities that were powerful, but they had to be timed or combined with units or needed VERY specific scenarios to be effective. A good example was the airborne doctrines bombing run, it was brutal when it landed but took a lot of skill to use effectively. Think very carefully about abilities that has a player click, then aircraft bomb & strafe infantry and tanks where everything just dies. Maintain the need for players to use tactical planning to use abilities effectively. This is another area where campaigns, coop campaigns or comp stomps can go crazy with abilities and over the top potency, and probably should! But the ladder has to be treated with more care than these types of abilities for a flourishing competitive scene.
When you veto maps, and change modes from say 1v1 to 3v3 then you come back to the maps you vetoed last time, they should stay vetoed until you tell the game otherwise. Having to repeatedly veto the same maps over and over isn't ideal and should be easily fixable. This is an issue of polish that has plagued COH2 throughout its lifetime. These kind of interface accommodations need to be polished if/when COH3 is released. Polish matters.
Make it easy to gift skins/commanders/factions to other people. It's a simple way to generate more revenue for Relic/SEGA and it's something that a lot of players would participate in if it were an easily accessible option.
Multiplayer colors must be consistent with each other during multiplayer games. In a 3v3, none of the colors that each player sees is different. These kind of small idiosyncrasies are frustrating when trying to communicate with allies during team play, the lack of polish shows itself again. When other companies receive word that oddities like this exist in their game these things are generally patched out of existence and the game is made better for everyone because of it.
Clan battles and clan wars used to be a fun and interesting part of COH when it was flourishing, which has faded to almost nothing. In game tools to encourage these kinds of activities could be a surprising and fun layer to the game.
Flexible Win Conditions
Give players more flexibility with win conditions. For example, players should be able to set the number of starting VPs to anything they like. Giving players the flexibility to setup their custom game the way they like is one of those subtle details that can easily be missed but adds a surprising amount of value to the game.
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Company of Heroes 1 & 2 has outstanding music, there is no way around it. Just turn on these amazing tracks, continue reading, and feel the music.
With that said, COH1 tended to have more stirring and memorable music, but again they both are fantastic.
The sound effects in COH2 in many respects are better than COH1. The vehicle engines and the MG42 are great examples. There are other things like the tanks' main guns, which all more or less sound the same. On the other hand COH1 went out of its way to make the tank main guns sound distinct. Much like COH1, COH2 did a solid job making small arms sound distinct and more authentic than COH1. But there is something positive to be said from a gameplay perspective about specifically maintaining distinctness of sound effects of all weapons.
A specific example is the sniper rifles in COH1 vs COH2. A sniper rifle firing in the real world is, in a realistic sense, is as loud as almost any infantry rifle. But in COH1 there is a distinct and alarming snap which is by design to improve gameplay and alert a player that a sniper is near. It's an element nested inside of all the other sounds happening which gives the player immediate tactical feedback. These types of sound decisions is a balancing act between realism (COH2 sniper rifles), and distinction for the sake of gameplay when it is warranted.
Think of the 88mm gun in COH1 and how it has its own distinct firing blast, and how unique and intense it sounds, on top of having a whiteish line streaking across the map so players can determine the origin of the shot. These things are solid gameplay design decisions. This was also done with the sniper in COH1 as you will notice in the Sniper portion of this article. In my mind, whenever gameplay can be improved over realism, you take the route that improves gameplay almost every time. Examples of sound improvement are clear when you look at tanks in the later COH2 expansions like the Jackson, the sound of its main gun is more distinct and feels powerful.
Consider the distinct main gun sounds of the COH1 Pershing vs Panther.
Now consider the samey main gun sounds of the COH2 Pershing vs Panther.
Speech design in Company of Heroes has always been solid, but I would say COH1 unit speech is more memorable and more distinct. This is not to say COH2 speech audio is bad, and its gotten better with new expansions. Also, Relic did a lot of work getting the real sounds of the weapons and tank engines. The small arms and tank engines specifically sound outstanding in COH2. It's these kinds of exceptional efforts that get the community pumped about the Company of Heroes franchise.
Look, however, at how much speech just one unit in COH1 has attached to it. After looking at the speech of both games closely, a big part of the difference seems to be the relative volumes of the speech sounds in COH1 vs COH2.
In COH1 speech volume is higher than COH2 speech. Almost suggesting more importance was placed on recognizable speech. For example, in both games when you select a unit off screen they both have filters that make it sound like they are on a radio, which is excellent! But in COH2 the voice acting is noticeably quieter, dimming the effect. All these thoughts about speech can be seen as subjective, which is fair, but consider all the work put into speech during development. You want to make it distinct, memorable and recognizable. Players love it. You want to showcase that work! Turn it up!
Remember the amazing COH1 Tiger speech.
A sample of the efforts from Relic. COH2 brit voice acting, awesome.
I want to be clear here, the sounds in COH2 in many cases are better than COH1, no doubt, but the distinctness with which COH1 comes through is overall better (much of the speech audio has to do with volume difference), so if these two efforts were to overlap, in many ways Relic would end up with a hell of a treat for the ears in Company of Heroes 3.
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The fog of war system in Company of Heroes 2 is massively improved over COH1. It has to be pointed out that this idea of having line of sight constraints on units that interacts with the environment opens up a ton of possibilities in campaigns, multiplayer maps and gameplay interactions in general. It's very likely the most significant improvement that COH2 brought to the franchise. There may be ways to improve on the COH2 Truesight system, but I'm not sure what those would be because it works very well in its current state. The COH1 fog of war system in this case is outdated and should be abandoned in COH3 for the superior COH2 Truesight system or an improved version of it.
When Relic gets elevation shots working properly, which doesn't work at all in COH2 and wasn't perfect in COH1, it might be worth considering some kind of elevation Truesight, where if your moving up a hill you can't see what is at the peak of the hill. The elevation would have to be drastic not to be able to see what is at the plateau, and perhaps the vision could vary depending on what unit is "seeing". Something in this vein might not be worth the time investment with the current Truesight working so well, but it may be worth examining.
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There are some important takeaways after watching a lot of RTS Esports, one crucial one is that tense moments are amazing. Snipers in COH can create those in spades. They are also unique in their abilities to spot, drain manpower and become a total hero in some games. Thus snipers, the meta surrounding them as well as their design and implementation will be an imperative piece of the Company of Heroes 3 puzzle.
|!In my opinion, they way snipers were addressed in CoH2 was more appropriate: they could not cloak everywhere and thus could be outplayed with decent macro. I also liked the snipers from each faction were somewhat different in their nature. However, I didn't like the fact that OKW and USF had a very hard time to counter snipers for most of CoH2's existence. They needed more dedicated sniper hunters or more buffed ones since covering snipers is not a hard task for OST/SOV/UKF.|
Company of Heroes 1 snipers were by most accounts, too impactful in almost any game. The fact that they can cloak at anytime made them such a potent tool on the battlefield, and their veterancy bonuses in some cases were brutal if you were opposing them. However, the mechanics of COH1 snipers did a few things that were crucial. The ability to use a sniper that is responsive made it micro intensive and reliable. Its responsiveness is a positive trait that made it a useful and desirable unit. That responsiveness should be carried into COH3.
In truth, infantry units should be responsive in general. One of their primary advantages vs vehicles is that the vehicles are generally more powerful but more difficult to wield smoothly. Infantry tend to be weaker but should be more agile. That wield-ability vs capability should be a design philosophy that flows through all of COH3.
Another trait that COH1 snipers got right was the firing visual element. When a sniper fires its rifle, there is significant smoke indicator and a whiteish line that streaks through the battlefield to its target. Because of the snipers power, having immediate visual indication of its relative position is an elegant element to subtly balance its power. It's great.
Company of Heroes 2 snipers did other things right. The cover cloaking system introduced in COH2 was an outstanding addition to the sniper meta. It not only changes how players utilize snipers but also any units that cloak using this system in COH2. It is seriously great. Mappers also need to consider this cloaking system COH2 has and remember this element and design accordingly. COH2 also has unique abilities on snipers which can spice up their influence on the battlefield and they can be awesome if the abilities are designed appropriately.
On the other hand, COH2 sniper shot's audio are mostly the same volume as other shots, and it can't be seen in any significant way. This isn't ideal. Relic also experimented with 2 man sniper squads, which sounds interesting, but ultimately didn't work out. It's also crucial that all factions are equipped either with a sniper unit and/or an effective way to counter them. In COH1 vanilla both factions had the jeep/bike, they were the basic counter element on top of their other useful functions. Always make sure there is an effective but skill based way to deal with any unit, especially snipers because they can be a force multiplier on the battlefield.
Mixing the good elements from both COH games could expose an amazing part of the RTS genre that is unique to the Company of Heroes franchise and help shape the tension and "WOW" moments that any player & viewer lives for.
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The complexity of any Company of Heroes game demands immediate feedback that can be consumed at a glance. The unit icon indicators in the corner of the screen were a big design plus. Another thing that COH2 did better than COH1 in this case is having an experience bar showing progress towards the next veterancy. It also had the ability to hover over a level of vet to determine bonuses (if the descriptions were accurate). There were some improvements specifically regarding infantry in COH2 however...
Company of Heroes 2 is missing a feedback element, which was the relative indicators of effectiveness against certain types of targets. This element was in COH1 and was extremely handy when trying to determine which forces to send where. In COH2 you have an indicator of maybe what weapon a unit has picked up or upgraded, but what if they have multiple weapon types? What if they have AT capabilities mixed in with AI? Which symbol takes precedence and how is a player to rapidly determine what a unit is equipped to deal with?
This point was handled in COH1 well with a + indicator next to the opposing unit type. I think even this system in COH1 was lacking as specific information on weapons on a squad is lacking, but it was better than nothing.
The need to hover over a number to get the breakdown kill count (COH2) is a slight downgrade. The red kill counter next to unit types in COH1 represents a great feature that is quickly understandable and it was easier for viewers to know what kind of kills a unit had done without an observer hovering over a total kill counter to get the breakdown. And improving in some way the "+" symbol system in COH1 to actually relay what a unit is capable of at a glance would be good. There will be so much data that has to be displayed simultaneously and keeping it all organized and quickly understandable will be important to everyone.
Other identifiers on units such as hold fire & auras being displayed simultaneously could be improved on. A lot of this incoming data that is involved in Company of Heroes really needs to by integrated smoothly to give a clean immediately interpretable interface that almost never has players looking at the interface of the game and asking, "what does this mean?" or, "whats going on with my unit?" The clarity with which interface elements work is critical to a satisfying experience.
And, as a side note here, things like having to go to an external website to get numerical data on a units range, accuracy while standing or moving, damage to target types etc. doesn't make any sense. It's inconvenient and really should be included inside of the game. A game as stat rich as Company of Heroes has to have numerical information on units easily available. It makes understanding units far more granular and most players appreciate the ability to do this conveniently.
Stats provided by Coh2-stats
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Casual players make up a large part of the COH franchise player base. The crazy explosions, large potential battle scales, a vast number of commanders to pick from, and a variety of asymmetric factions to choose from, it's no wonder there are a ton of casual players and comp stompers out there, and honestly it's great! We want as many people playing and enjoying Company of Heroes as possible.
But these players often feel like their voices aren't heard when the ladder and competitive conversation takes over. Part of the reason is because they ask for balance changes to factions to fix 3v3/4v4 matches, but it is more or less understood that this is an impossible task. To approach perfection in terms of balance, there are so many things to consider even just with 1v1 matches alone. With two players on the map there are so many variables to control for it gets out of control quickly. It takes keen observation and testing to balance 1v1 factions well, and its very difficult. To increase the complexity from 2 to 8 players on a map simultaneously it simply isn't possible. But it almost doesn't matter, let me explain.
I've been playing large scale COH games since I began in 2007, (I loved this map in COH1) and after all these years it becomes apparent that balancing the factions at a lower scale makes all the sense in the world. Because if you can't balance at higher scales there is only really one place to do it, which is 1v1. At least variables can be accounted for and you can corner issues and solve them at low scales. And although there might be edge cases where the balance is wacky at high scales, it tends to be rare and temporary when the game gets patched. There are also far more ways to deal with any single oddity at larger scales because of the possible combinations of rebukes that can happen with a team working together.
There is so much potential for the casual player in the future of the COH franchise outside of 3v3 and 4v4 games. Co-op missions are a big one here if COH AI could evolve to a point where coop missions could be much deeper than they are in COH2. Campaigns are always attractive. Relic does those very well in general but with co-op campaigns there is an opportunity space where players can enjoy some of the features that Relic worked hard on and don't work in ladder. Cold Tech, abandoning vehicles, over the top commanders, adding unique non playable units that wouldn't work in ladder... All of these assets would serve players well outside of the ladder and be a ton of fun! I bring up the forgotten casual players here because later in this article they will feel forgotten in a vision that doesn't specifically include them, although everyone would benefit, this will become evident soon.
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|! ... I was the Supervising animator on the the first game, and we had nothing to reference at that time, we made this game up with pure creativity as fans, and by what we wish we could have had in a game as RTS fans, COH2 and not to knock it, but it was just a re branded version of the first, much of the art was re used and textures were updated and most of the animation we did on the first was re used. ... -Source YouTube Video, Highlighted Comment|
A significant number of elements were reused in COH2 from COH1. There is a lot of potential for new technology to be applied to a new Company of Heroes game that could further the potential of what it means to play COH. There are enough dated elements in both games that a serious upgrade to the Essence engine is a must. For higher functionality, greater engine flexibility, lower latency, and all the elements COH3 would require to maximize its potential. If this occurs, Essence Engine 5.0 will carry the day.
Essence Engine 1.0
Essence Engine 3.0
Essence Engine 5.0?
Or something more...
Essence Engine 3.0
Essence Engine 5.0?
Or something more...
When Company of Heroes was first made, you had a certain number of people who really understood the nuts and bolts of the engine they created, the same goes for COH2. Enough time has passed that it is reasonable to presume that it is likely that the programmers that really understood the engine at the fundamental level are either working on something else or have moved on. It is unlikely they documented exactly how the engine works, which isn't unusual in the coding world from what I understand, although I hope I'm wrong in this regard.
It has also been over a decade since COH1 was made and COH2 is over five years old, even though I would say both games still look solid for their age, there is a lot of potential to increase flexibility, minimize crashes, reduce latency, have more engaging effects, more fluid interactive elements and a more reliable engine overall. All this considered a new expertly engineered engine would be ideal... but the obvious downsides to this approach is the potential to unintentionally make a worse system than what an Essence 5.0 engine would be, also SEGA would need to financially support Relic in some fashion because engines take a lot of resources and time to produce. If its possible for an Essence Engine 5.0 to deliver all these benefits then fair enough, however...
Whenever the "new game engine vs upgrading an existing game engine" fork in the road is presented in any game, I am always reminded of the original Starcraft engine that was shown off in 1996. I highly recommend everyone in game development read this Blizzard devs testimonial not to focus on the gritty coding details necessarily, but the general approach that was taken and where mistakes can be avoided.
After the game was harshly critiqued in public, it got overhauled which lead to the game that is 21 years later being played in a serious Esports capacity with a self sustaining economy, advertisers, tens of thousands of dollars in prize pools and an abundant fan base worldwide. If they settled with their existing engine (Warcraft 2 engine in this case) Starcraft surely would have been a much lesser game. It is an isolated example that may not apply to COH in this case depending on who you ask, but its something to seriously consider. I'm not advocating one way or another because at the end of the day the best possible Company of Heroes game should be the goal, but be honest with what that would require when undertaking either avenue.
And yes, I do think a Company of Heroes game designed the right way with the right amount of care, support and attention can do something like what Starcraft has done. Many lessons can be learned from what Blizzard did and continues to do with their RTS Esports scene... which leads me to my most important topic.
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I have to start by taking time to point to Starcraft because of the benchmarks it has achieved in the past in order to build a framework for this section. The quality, longevity and financial stability that this RTS continues to create is important for anyone looking to learn from the most successful RTS in the competitive scene. Blizzard continues to learn from their mistakes and push their strengths. If I embellished on the Esports scene of Starcraft, this article would never end so instead I will point everyone to the linked pieces in this paragraph to set the scene.
With this in mind, the reality is that the Esports scene is currently dominated by 4 games, none of which are RTS games. These games account for a lot of the very soon to be billion dollar Esports pie. However, there are dozens of Esports like Tekken, Rocket League and importantly for this crowd, Starcraft that do very well. These games have 100,000$ prize pools and massive fan bases. Starcraft has had prize pools up to $700,000.
I submit to you that Relic has the talent, the IP, the hardcore community support, and SEGA has the big name and big clout which along with the unique, captivating and entertaining mechanics set out by Company of Heroes absolutely has the ingredients to become one of these powerhouse games that turns into a serious Esport. It is waiting to be to be made real.
Relic must engage a fraction of the millions of RTS fans and aggressively pursue a sliver of the soon to be billion dollar industry that is Esports. Luckily, Relic has the highest rated RTS of all time in their inventory, and they should use it. This move would serve the current fan base, the RTS genre as a whole and most importantly to anyone who cares about Company of Heroes, it would serve Relic and SEGA with revenue streams that guarantees a healthy future for the franchise. The key to breaking into this landscape lies in something that competitive players have known for a long time.
The ladder is the beating heart of any RTS. This is the most important element medium and long term in any competitive game, next to the gameplay itself. A slick comprehensive and intuitive interface, quality A list maps with others on rotation, deep statistical tracking in and out of game, and refreshing leagues that keep players in constant struggle to maintain dominance all while incentivising competitive play through regular in and out of game rewards are all crucial. Fail in any of these dimensions and things start to crumble. Vigilance on all of these fronts will be decisive.
This should be true for 1v1, 2v2, and any mode intended for competition because maybe the future lies in superstar 1v1 matches, or maybe it lies in crazy 4v4 games with elite teams, or anything in between. Either way, it isn't enough to build a ladder system as an afterthought (COH2). It isn't enough to take for granted the efforts by the community to nurture a competitive scene (most of COH1). It won't be enough to rely entirely on community made maps, or community run tournaments to carry the load.
Relic and SEGA have definitely gotten better about supporting the competitive scene in recent years and everyone certainly appreciates it. But for a new Company of Heroes game, Relic and SEGA must take a very active role at launch in developing and aggressively expanding these elements so they can exploit the revenue streams that come with a thriving Esport and in game purchases. It is these elements that will, by virtue of simply being well designed and well maintained, encourage and propel players to compete. With a healthy competitive ecosystem in place, the games strategies, stories, metas, dynamic player personalities and competitive drive will beg for huge events to display stimulating casters, epic games and everything we love about competition and Company of Heroes.
|!When two people want to win, it's good. -Tasteless , Notable SC Esports Caster|
In order to accomplish this, we must remove things that we all don't love so much about COH, like the abandon mechanic in ladder, as mentioned earlier. Remember the number of unique, quality dimensions in the franchise is very high, and can increase still, but the negatives that hold back the game in some cases are pronounced and need to be fixed with deliberate design.
I will address one to produce an example that will hopefully illuminate the perspective that I'm taking here in order to make the length of this article bearable. This isn't specific to a unit type, or a doctrine or anything like that. The case I'm about to produce is specific to gameplay mechanics. It is only an example to set the stage for the entire game to be looked at piece by piece by developers to come to carefully considered conclusions with regards to design elements. It's to get closer to what I've sloppily dubbed the "made by jesus" version of the game. If you could snap your fingers and the game was somehow as perfect as it could be in every measurable way, it has achieved the "made by jesus" standard.
The goal for Relic is to asymptotically approach this standard for Company of Heroes 3. And you want this condition at launch, I lost count of how many players permanently left the COH2 community when they saw its launch state. But for a new COH game, in some cases, there are clear signs of what should be changed in order to improve the experience for everyone.
|!Modern big budget RTSs, small as they are in number, are mostly concerned with the past, attempting to get back to the days of Supreme Commander or Total Annihilation, or sticking to the tried and tested methods laid out in StarCraft and Command & Conquer. Thus, the surprises contained in Company of Heroes and its Eastern Front sequel remain compelling novelties. -Fraser Brown, Rock Paper Shotgun Article|
The RNG Dilemma
I have to now talk about something in detail so everyone can fully appreciate where I'm trying to take you because, in a lot of ways, it is a part of the soul of COH and this has to be thought about carefully. I'm talking about the chance interactions that are built into every single match. I will refer to this as RNG. It is a massive part of COH, and should remain so. As far as artillery strikes, mortars, and infantry firing at each other, etc., it makes a ton of realistic and gameplay sense to maintain the RNG in many cases.
In other cases, this RNG normality starts to break down. The examples I'm about to give aren't intended to be the norm, but they happen often enough that every single person who has played Company of Heroes has had something like this happen to them. The example below is double snipers in perfect positioning to ambush an enemy sniper. The player has been patiently awaiting the enemy to come into a well prepared kill zone. And then... this happens...
The sniper gets away and what should be a tactical victory turns into a fail and potentially you will lose a sniper or worse. Now you could say, "well it happens to both sides occasionally so its OK" but that doesn't make a difference in a single game. In a single game where advancing in a ladder, or keeping a winning streak going, or competing when there is huge amounts of money on the line, or just trying to enjoy the game... it's flawed. You can't have situations where players do every single thing right in tactical situations and lose. You're removing a key element, fun, from the game. It doesn't work. It breaks the spirit of many players to come back and enjoy the game. It's objectively wrong design when we look at this specific example.
Another specific example, is an antitank gun vs a tank at close range. We have a very impactful tank, the T-34/85, and a Pak designed to counter tanks. The player with the pak sees the weakened tank, the tank player isn't microing after a battle and leaves his tank exposed, the pak player correctly moves his AT gun into position and at a very close range...
But the Pak misses and the tank escapes. The Pak player did everything tactically correct and the satisfaction, payoff, reward, whatever you want to call it has been stripped from that player. This inherently doesn't make sense.
Now, I can hear everyone saying, "you better not talk about removing RNG from COH!" and I'm 100% in agreement. What I'm driving at is the unreasonable over-impactful low chance randomness has to be curbed to everyone's benefit. I want to say that again, the unreasonable over-impactful low chance randomness is the problem here. It's not the RNG in general that is the problem. The problem is that in these highly impactful moments there aren't clear lines. There are very likely many solutions to this, two of which I will illustrate. To be clear all this discussion on this one area of the game (close range AT RNG) is to illuminate the rougher edges of COH so that it can drive towards a flourishing ladder and be one step closer to the "made by jesus" asymptote. Relic will indeed have to analyze and thoroughly test every aspect of the game much deeper than this to arrive at what makes the most sense. And, in general, I will again point to the original COH1 factions design and what made them so compelling and reciprocal.
To highlight my point here, imagine if you were one of the North America’s most successful and well-known Esports players like Huk (who got frustrated with COH and left for SCII) and you miss an AT gun shot at close range on a last shot on a vehicle that wins or loses the game. And, it's for tens of thousands of dollars... that is the breaking point for a lot of people who consider themselves pros and would want to get into a game like this in a serious competitive way. The thing is... the COH mechanics are compelling and amazing so they would be interested. But if the difference is a dice roll, like a close range AT gun shooting a tank, and it misses, that just won't work in a competitive environment. The high impact units is where this matters. However, if it takes 30 shots to kill a unit it's OK and actually desirable to have random chance mixed in there because the impact of missing a single shot is much lower, but if an AT gun takes 3 shots to kill a tank and it misses the last shot at point blank range, it can be a deal breaker. I got a chance to have Huk look at this specific paragraph and he commented.
|!For argument sake I think chance in games is good, but obviously to the degree they have it is bad, your example being good.|
Image credit to Dustin Steiner
I would even suggest Relic and/or SEGA temporarily employ some of these RTS pros and take advantage of their deep RTS knowledge, experience, passion and perspectives. They could be called upon during certain stages of the development cycle and may be a valuable asset which would potentially benefit everyone.
As it stands, units that get closer to other units have an increased chance to hit, which means the edge case of missing at close range is all the more frustrating when it does happen. In this specific case, I will be talking about AT guns only, but this can apply to snipers, tank vs tank battles and any high impact unit. Artillery among other things doesn't apply here as stated before, each unit has to be looked at and individually calibrated. One solution to AT guns could be to layer a system that basically says, if an enemy tank is within (I'm using 50% here but pick any close range number) 50% of the max range of the gun then the AT gun will hit 100% of the time. This will remove edge cases. And players, knowing that they will have 100% chance to hit at certain ranges, will play differently in specific tactical situations because they will benefit from this 100% zone on the AT guns.
Another important improvement from this is that when an AT gun misses a kill shot at long range, they will know that they COULD have changed their tactics and positioned their AT gun close enough to have a 100% chance to hit, and thus, there is rational to the miss. The ability for players to rationalize these kinds of impactful moments are critical, especially to new players. In other words, I could have increased the risk for reward but it essentially is, on some level, my fault that it missed because I wasn't willing to take the risk to get closer. This is a far cry psychologically from an AT gun missing a kill on a tank at point blank after having done everything right then the player says "well it didn't matter WHAT I did I was never going to get that kill". That kind of helpless disillusionment is dangerous for the health of the game, the competitive spirit, and the community. Many of the hardcore fan base simply accept that this is part of the game, with AT guns in this example, but it is unnecessary and is one of the needless rough edges of the game.
Another potential solution is to change AT guns so as shots miss, the next shot chance increases. The target would have a timer attached to it that increases the chance to be hit by any other AT gun in a cumulative manner until the timer expires. This would reduce some of the unreasonable over-impactful low chance randomness but in a different way. You could have a modifier specific to both the target and the shooter or maybe just a modifier on the target if you dodged a tank shot in the last x seconds, the next one has a higher chance to land, something along these lines. Or perhaps some combination of both solutions would be best, or something totally novel! This is where thorough testing and a keen sense of game mechanics will reveal what is best.
A good example of a gameplay element that is impactful and has well defined lines built into the mechanic is the way that you fire a panzerfaust or AT grenade at a vehicle. The vehicle goes inside the range circle, the player takes the risk of getting close to the vehicle to obtain the reward of killing or snaring the vehicle, the player clicks the vehicle to faust and regardless of how far away the targeted vehicle gets after the action is taken the faust lands 100%. There is a tactical satisfaction that comes with knowing you did the right thing and you get the payoff, conversely the player with the tank knows he messed up because he got into range of the faust and the vehicle getting hit is his fault. There are clear lines for the players and that's important. Other elements that follow this trend where a player knows a game element will act a certain way is when a teller mines hits a vehicle or a smoke grenade conceals an area or when a flame grenade damages infantry in a building.
Please keep in mind I'm giving specific examples and solutions, but they are only examples, and the solutions presented have no testing or data to back up whether or not they would work. I'm trying to illustrate the rough edges that COH presents and providing a possible concept to address them. Much more work than this will have to be done for a new game. The meat of COH, the fundamental mechanics, are so strong that with thorough design, testing and analysis Relic can knock COH3 out of the park. All of this "edge case" discussion is, to get back on topic, part of refining fundamental game subtleties to propel the competitive scene, get players interested in the franchise, and satisfy players to the point where they want to stay. Especially new players.
I watch a lot of KSL and ASL Starcraft 1 Esports and the same things that get people excited about SC, the same large scale combat scenarios, the same tension, the same excitement in a good match, so many of these elements if seen in a newer and much better COH game could be recognized for what it is and start something that snowballs. Company of Heroes was the best rated RTS game ever, but it was released in 2006, the Esports scene was small and isolated and streaming was barely a thing. If you had a game that walked the right line today, and COH3 outdid what COH1 accomplished for its day, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw the Company of Heroes franchise become something much more than it is today.
PHEW, OK. I will end this section with thanks to everyone who drives the competitive COH scene forward. SEGA and Relic included as they have gotten better at putting in honest efforts to improve this. The efforts put in by community organizers like these below to develop a competitive scene have also been heroic. It takes enormous amounts of unseen effort to make this all work and I sincerely hope people continue to do so.
- There is an enormous amount of Esports fans and money waiting to be consolidated into the Company of Heroes community.
- Starcraft specifically has a lot of lessons to learn from.
- Company of Heroes has rough edges that need to be thoroughly inspected and made rational, while maintaining the soul of COH that we all love.
- The ladders/leagues and tournaments are the beating heart of any competitive RTS and must be exceptionally well designed and maintained.
- The mechanics devised in Company of Heroes are unique and captivating, they have the ingredients to open up a new era in competitive RTS games.
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I know even after everything that has been addressed in this article it still doesn't touch on every possible aspect of the game that maybe should be... but I will wrap this up. I have confidence in Relic's operational capabilities, I have confidence in the community support and I have confidence in the future of this franchise. And fans, never forget that Relic truly does care about the Company of Heroes franchise that they created so long ago and they care about the community as a whole.
I have been lucky enough to influence the Company of Heroes franchise in small ways with the maps I have designed and the assistance I have provided to Relic from time to time and I'm always willing to continue helping when needed. I hope SEGA recognizes Relic's potential and fully supports them in this endeavor. I wish them the best of luck if/when Company of Heroes 3 comes to fruition.
An astounding amount of potential, that is what Company of Heroes 3 has. It has the potential to be one of the greatest RTS games of all time. It has the potential to make COH1 look quaint and COH2 look outdated. It has the potential to create an entirely new E-sport with fans in the hundreds of thousands. The casters are standing by, the players are chomping at the bit and all of the features and experience of the past can add up to be something to astonish the RTS world.
P.S. Special thanks to Kpen for editing the Esports photograph, BlitzReborn for discussing in depth the RNG mechanics of COH, LTreborn for the indepth unit identification discussion, Huk for his quote, Osinyagov for an illustration and buff/debuff perspective, Yukiko for editing, RitaRush for adding the "addendum" to the title picture, and Theodosios for the sniper mechanics quote. Undertakings like this are always better for having cooperated with peers in the COH community and their time is greatly appreciated!
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