Brass Tactics:Level Design Theory Part 2
This is the second post in our Look into RTS Level Design in VR series. If you missed the first post you can read it here
By Clancy Powell, Senior Designer at Hidden Path Entertainment
After hardware and input considerations, game rules and mechanics play a large role in content development. Brass Tactics is a game, not just a VR experience. Level design needs to consider the core game mechanics and bring out the best in them. In the case of Brass Tactics level design, three game mechanics that greatly influence map design include regions, jewel economy, and removal of fog of war.
Regions are the crux of the gameplay experience: you build towers in them, make units in them, get ore and jewels from them, and fight over them. Even your castle is in a region. A good economy and strong military lead to success, and regions provide you with the necessities for both.
Since regions govern the bulk of your experience, making sure maps provide proper flow within and between regions is critical. When done right, multiple strategies and flow options exist at any given time, making your experience a desirable one. When done poorly, the map could become too swingy, too stale, too fast paced, or too slow. Regions should also have appropriate risk-reward ratios and no region should be impregnable.
As important as regions are, the overall tower socket count and the space to accommodate them is equally so. Not enough tower sockets means not enough opportunity to play with your toys! You have towers, and you want to use them. On the flip side, too many sockets diminishes how important your choice of what tower to place actually is.
Knowing our limits for flow and tower sockets helps us create maps with different region placements that create different flow options and decision making without feeling too similar to each other.
The Jewel Tick
Brass Tactics has a two resource economy: ore and jewels. Jewels are the crux of the overall tech progression as they’re used for building towers, upgrading the castle, and building most elite units. Ore is the primary resource for building squads. Squads are definitely important to have, but tech progression is what unlocks access to the different squad types and dramatically alters the state of the game. The jewel tick is the interval when you get more jewels. This is the unassuming but highly important mechanic of the game that governs your overall pacing of a match.
Pacing is important in level design, and the jewel tick is no different. When making maps, we need to consider when you’ll engage your opponent, with what unit types, and what you can do to initiate or fend off attacks. Map size matters here. If a map is too small or you lack jewels, you’ll often feel like you haven’t had enough time to develop any sort of tech or strategy yet since you’re waiting for the jewel tick to make the meaningful early game choice. If the map is too large or have an overabundance of jewels, you may feel that your early game squads are pointless to make beyond expanding and thus transition to elite units before the initial conflict.
Finding the limits of the spectrum based on desired economic pacing was important to do early on and allowed us to find the sweet spots. A “just small enough” map creates a faster, more chaotic experience as seen in Overlook and Canals. A “just large enough” map creates a slower, more methodical experience as seen in Oasis and Ridge. And the maps in the middle provide a more balanced pacing, such as Timberlands and Ravine.
The Removal of Fog of War and Mini-map
A classic feature in RTS, fog of war creates a lot of tension due to imperfect information. However, Brass Tactics is a game of perfect information, which means no fog of war. If you want to see something, you go to that part of the map and look at it. This feels good in VR, but what does that mean for gameplay and decision making? The answer: a big impact but a good one.
As a human, your attention and focus is largely based on what you see. What you can’t see you don’t know, and you have to make decisions based on what you know and don’t know. Brass Tactics locomotion allows you to move to and from areas quickly to survey the situation in different areas of the map. But that doesn’t mean you can see everything at once. The physicality of Brass Tactics and VR provides the opportunity for you to be your own reconnaissance unit instead of commanding one to move around to reveal information on a mini-map.
Levels were built from the ground up to embrace the lack of fog of war. For example, every castle region in a 1v1 map has two entry points. In games with fog of war, this could be problematic and force you to spread too thin too early. But because there isn’t fog of war in Brass Tactics, you can move to see where your opponent is sending their forces and expand or defend accordingly. But by doing so, you can’t interact with your towers or squads on the other side of the map. You also can’t easily see what is going on in another part of the map, especially if there is terrain blocking your line-of-sight, such as the rocks blocking view of the far right and left side lanes in Oasis. The subtle but important check-and-balance to no fog of war in map design is the player’s attention.
Your attention is a resource. Where and how you spend it matters as much as what tower or upgrade you build. Early playtesting showed that single entry home regions or restrictive flow routes lead to games stalling out from extreme turtling. Opening up flow into and out of home regions allowed for more map utilization, both for initial expansion homes and for mid-late game attack routes. All the 1v1 maps embraced the two-front minimum and expand on it in different ways.
Because there are more flow options and perfect information, squad positioning matters. Units on one side of the map cannot readily reinforce the other side. Creating neutral areas between regions and utilizing high ground appropriately provides options for you to stage your squads in advantageous ways. For example, a neutral area that leads to three regions gives you options for reinforcing or attacking areas should you keep your units there, such as the areas just outside the small center regions on Ridge. If you’re on high ground looking over a region or choke point, such as the center bridge in Canals, you block that flow option off and prevent towers from being built in range of your Artillery. You’ll be busy having to keep an eye on your fronts as you’ll frequently be moving to different parts of the war table.
Join us for the final installment of the series on Friday 3/9