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Author Topic: Balancing smoke grenades  (Read 9281 times)

Offline vuser

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Balancing smoke grenades
« on: September 24, 2014, 07:12:31 pm »
A lot of people have criticized the smoke grenades, but how would it be possible to balance the game without altering it too much?

The biggest problem with smoke grenades is that they are totally unbalanced. If you spend most of your time in smoke, every mission is a cakewalk. If you don't use smoke, especially in late game, the game becomes literally impossible to win. Even winning a single mission (having best troops and equipment) with at least 50% survivors is a huge and rare accomplishment. This fits the definition of a game-breaker: a tactic which is so much better than every other, that it never ever becomes an option to use any other tactic. If every mission requires exactly the same recipe, and no other recipe works, the game becomes dull.

So, how to make the game more balanced? Let's see how to reduce the advantage of smoke grenades:

1 - Applying a penalty to every shot which doesn't have a clear sight. It's reasonable, as you can aim much better if you see your target then if only someone tells you in which direction to fire. If you make a step forward, notice a target, make a step back, you can hit your target better if you still see it.
2 - Making the AI a bit smarter, by giving them a small chance to fire a random shot at a smoke cloud if they don't see any other target, or don't have anything better to do. Make this chance a bit higher if they have seen a human enter that cloud last turn. Make it rare enough to not be too effective, and aliens shouldn't actively seek out smoke, just maybe fire a blind shot at them if they happen to encounter one. Of course, only with a low probability, to prevent it from being abused. This way smoke still offers a great protection, but doesn't make you 100% invulnerable.

This, of course, will make the game harder, so other parts might have to be made a little bit easier (or aliens a little bit weaker) to compensate it.

Another way would be to offer viable alternatives, for example, situations where a tactic other than smoke might also be at least somewhat useful.

3 - implementing a possibility to fire from cover. It still troubles me to see that my soldier cannot shoot past a thin lamp post directly in front of him. Even games made freaking 20 years ago (like Jagged Alliance) managed to do it! This way, shooting from a crouched position from behind low cover or from around corners would provide a significant protection, by drastically reducing the chance to be hit. This would make the game more tactical, as you will have to find a way to flank those who are using cover. This might make a game a bit easier as humans might be able to use it better than the AI, so it can be compensated by other factors, or by points 1 and 2 which make the game harder.

While point 3 would be quite difficult to implement, I guess 1 and 2 would be fairly easy.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2014, 07:15:46 pm by vuser »

Offline TBeholder

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2014, 09:31:57 pm »
The biggest problem with smoke grenades is that they are totally unbalanced. If you spend most of your time in smoke, every mission is a cakewalk. If you don't use smoke, especially in late game, the game becomes literally impossible to win. Even winning a single mission (having best troops and equipment) with at least 50% survivors is a huge and rare accomplishment.
Early missions are fairly easy to do without smokes with 1-2 light wounds tops - bar very bad luck (or moderately bad luck plus plasma grenades). The problem is, civilians are there like fish in the barrel (running around in panic without having evacuation areas on different edges like in Apocalypse) and aliens are cllairvoyant, so on a big map aliens tend to mow down a lot of civilians simply because they are already there and you will need time to get there. Thus, smoke is necessary to protect civilians.

  This fits the definition of a game-breaker: a tactic which is so much better than every other, that it never ever becomes an option to use any other tactic.
It would if use of smokes in itself constitued "a tactic" - just one ay, and mutually exclusive with others. Which isn't the case, so it doesn't fit. Just like "using armor" - yes, it is nearly impossible to play without using armor at all, but that's not what "game-breaker" means...
If every mission requires exactly the same recipe, and no other recipe works, the game becomes dull.
  There are at very least labyrintine vs. open terrain.
So, how to make the game more balanced?
When you put some articulate meaning into this word, please define it. Because in computer games (and even more so in RPG) "balance" is used mostly as a meaningless word supposed to denote superiority of concepts that are too vague to actually phrase them.

1 - Applying a penalty to every shot which doesn't have a clear sight. It's reasonable, as you can aim much better if you see your target then if only someone tells you in which direction to fire.
Good point.
Technically, this can be done using a common targetting/positioning system. Which should be a separate piece of hardware with cost and weight (and destructible, when equipment will be), of course. Though it still can't be as precise as when people see "vhat ze hell zhey are doing"(c).
Also, a better model for sniping could involve reducing the value of cover, which cannot be done well without seeing that cover from the shooter's own point of view.
  If you make a step forward, notice a target, make a step back, you can hit your target better if you still see it.
Speaking of which, there's no "step back" and suchlike...
Perhaps skill such as "spatial sense" or "coordination" could be useful? That would affect things like sidesteps, throws, blind shots and wide-angle (outside the "forward" arc, but still in sight) reaction fire.

2 - Making the AI a bit smarter, by giving them a small chance to fire a random shot at a smoke cloud if they don't see any other target, or don't have anything better to do.
Make this chance a bit higher if they have seen a human enter that cloud last turn.
  Or rather "anything that the current weapon counts as soft cover and is close enough to be a possible threat".
Also, if an opponent using cover invites an attack, so could an invisible attacker: a combatant not seeing the attacker of one's ally, but seeing the attack may try to area-attack the apparent origin: "a grenade flies out of the door, a grenade flies into the door, maybe it'll bounce right" sort of thing, same for soft cover (more with needlers than plasma, though). That's where splash damage and Sweep modes should be used.

3 - implementing a possibility to fire from cover. It still troubles me to see that my soldier cannot shoot past a thin lamp post directly in front of him. Even games made freaking 20 years ago (like Jagged Alliance) managed to do it! This way, shooting from a crouched position from behind low cover or from around corners would provide a significant protection
So true. In part, a side effect of grid movement, but still obviously needs improvement.
Also, with vertical cover having the weapon in one or other hand would make difference, and thus left/right handness would be worth adding.
For low cover - if certain weapons are normally (MG, sniper) or optionally (AR, rocket) used with bipod, it could be set on the cover if the height is more or less right, which would make value of different firing positions more situational.
This might make a game a bit easier as humans might be able to use it better than the AI
Depends on whether they expect an attack from a specific direction - but so does RF.

Offline vuser

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2014, 10:47:14 pm »
Maybe using the terms "game-breaker" and "balance" were not that clear, so I'll try to explain what I meant:

I was referring to the tactic where all your soldiers end their turns inside smoke, they only fire from inside of smoke (to avoid RF), so at the beginning of each turn you briefly step outside of smoke, notice the aliens, return to the smoke, and fire away.

In the early game you don't necessarily need it, but in the late game this is the only way to reliably win missions without casualties, or even win missions at all. It's such a game-breaking tactic that I can have my team of 12 elites with full weapon stats in the best armor and best weapons massacred by late game aliens, while a couple of rookies using the above tactic win the mission without a single wound.

By balance I was meaning to reduce the superiority of the above tactic by at least a little bit, and increase the viability of other tactics.

By step back I meant that I step outside the smoke, notice an alien, step back into the smoke to the exact location I was at the beginning of my turn, but now the alien is revealed, so I can shoot it. Imagine yourself in that situation, when would your accuracy better: if you know there is an alien somewhere at that location, or if you actually see that alien at that location?

Offline anonymissimus

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2014, 12:06:22 am »
This game-breaking thing is only true for missions without civilians. You need to be outside of smoke (cannon fodder) or aliens turn them to shreds.
In 2.6 smoke causes suffocation, I've not yet checked it out a lot, but every time units without nanocomposite amor or better spend a turn in smoke or move through it they get some stun damage. At some point they get stunned then I'm assuming, probably once stun damage is higher than HPs. I hope it can be healed (truly healed, as the medkit did for hitpoints in 2.4). I need to completely rethink strategy for some maps. Attacks on alien bases especially.
So this suffocation already makes smoke less useful to some extent.

Without any save scumming I lost exactly 2 non cannon fodder units in my campaign in 2.5 (and tons of cannon fodder) thanks to smoke grenades. Both losses to plasma blade Sheevars. However, once I get to know all the spawn points it should be possible to do with zero.

Offline zollac

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2014, 11:06:38 am »
This game-breaking thing is only true for missions without civilians. You need to be outside of smoke (cannon fodder) or aliens turn them to shreds.
Well, I don't try to save any civilians at all in my games (normal difficulty). I just hide my whole team in smoke and let the civilians die. All the nations are still happy with me.
Anyway, I think the smoke thing indeed need some balance, or the whole game mechanic needs some tweaks. Right now even with smoke spamming I have to retry a mission most of the time to make sure none of my veterans dies. The alien shoots extremely accurate that it discourages players from leaving any soldiers in alien's sight. And since there's not many cover you can stay behind and shoot, players are forced to spam smoke grenades to preserve his team. Maybe a "limited vision" like the new XCOM game should be introduced, so the aliens (and you too) cant see your troops from the other side of the map and snipe your whole squad. Cover that you can stay behind and shoot would most likely enough to eliminate the need to spam smoke grenades though.

Offline Wolls

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2014, 08:24:59 pm »
1 - Applying a penalty to every shot which doesn't have a clear sight.

Absolutely.  We should have the ability to 'paint' a target with a scouting one but not have some dude firing blind just as accurately as if they were seeing what they fire at unless its electronically guided.. but as a part of team dynamics, we should be able to help each other out. 

2 - Making the AI a bit smarter, by giving them a small chance to fire a random shot at a smoke cloud if they don't see any other target

That is a little more difficult.  When you think smoke you think something that hides movement, not that a person hides in it but that they are hiding beyond it and using it to move.  I think Shevaars at least are willing to curb stomp some smoke hiding.. but making smoke less OP should have a greater effect on its current dependance.  I guess I am saying smoke diffuses LOS, and should always do so.  Otherwise you're balancing the game by having something not do something it would really do.. ( and the sole reason for its existence).. you'd be better off removing smoke completely.  The reason your throw up smoke is so that they other force could/will fire, but won't hit cause they can't see or at least have so far reduced odd of hitting that they are effectively firing blind.  It is the hiding in smoke part, sitting there that makes less sense and should be addressed.  Umm the current dev version I believe adds stun value and I havn't played with that yet.  Does anyone know how effective it is? 

Alternatively, if the Aliens are make to fire at smoke then they should always fire at smoke.. regardless of whether you are in it or not.  They always know where you are so this would take some coding.  But you could pop smoke, throw it and have the aliens shoot at it.  As a decoy tactic.  But when they fire, where do they fire?  Centre of mass? so pop two grenades and hide in the limits, or the left right edge of the smoke cloud.  ( Assuming the alien is in front.)  Otherwise they know where you are, always fire right at you and the smoke itself becomes meaningless.  The better idea seems to be like the stun damage, and suggestively move the player out of the smoke, or not to hiding in it in the first place.




Offline MonkeyHead

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2014, 09:45:09 pm »
For me, the reason why smoke is such an essential thing to deploy is the alien "clairvoyance". AFAIK they know where to move to shoot you. Smoke removes this. If the aliens were less clairvoyant (preferably not at all), smoke would become less effective as soldiers on the move, uncovered or in partial cover would not be 99.9% guaranteed to become plasma magnets.

Offline Wolls

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2014, 10:47:21 pm »
Aliens know where u are. You throw up smoke to dissolve LOS. 

Hiding in that smoke is a separate issue.

Like if they had no clairvoyance.. it would matter less.  Be less noticeable.  But that would not have any effect on the actual experience or power of simply being aBLE to hide ina smoke cloud.

Its not that ppl just now noticed how this works it becomes pop because it works so well in every/all situation.  Is there way to get smoke to have effect onlyl during that turn??? Like less than one turn.   It is effective during it and then blows away.  You cannot hide in it.  In a turn based game this seems complicated.

EDIT: WE know how it should work and take advantage of it. If it is OP then someother function has to keep or value against us taking advantage.. smoke provides an answer for clairvoyance so I don't get why thats a problem.. it works like it should.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2014, 10:55:08 pm by Wolls »

Offline Wolls

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2014, 11:08:40 pm »
2nd Thought: Am I arguing that smoke should never exist?  Or that it should have no use?
I think we should balance that use, that existence.  Your clairvoyance.. issue makes sense.. should it exist as it does? 

I am balancing against the end and it may just be easier to preempt it.  And that implies that RF is heavily.. or even just against you.  Or that the game should be more accepting of a total loss, in completely f'd conditions.

Offline Nomad

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2014, 02:23:06 pm »
Just another one idea about smoke. Probably the most "realistic", but I don't imagine whether it is difficult to implement.
What if smoke could be semi-transparent? If there is only 1 square of smoke on LOS then an object has, say, 75% probability to be spotted. 2 smoke squares on LOS means 50% to see it. 3 squares - 25%, and only 4 squares of smoke make you totally invisible.

Offline MonkeyHead

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #10 on: September 26, 2014, 09:19:43 pm »
Just another one idea about smoke. Probably the most "realistic", but I don't imagine whether it is difficult to implement.
What if smoke could be semi-transparent? If there is only 1 square of smoke on LOS then an object has, say, 75% probability to be spotted. 2 smoke squares on LOS means 50% to see it. 3 squares - 25%, and only 4 squares of smoke make you totally invisible.

That idea has some legs. Maybe it will mean that an alien can not see you from a distance, and instead needs to be close to spot you - however, with "clairvoyance", that would be kinda meaningless.

Offline TBeholder

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2014, 10:00:52 pm »
What if smoke could be semi-transparent? If there is only 1 square of smoke on LOS then an object has, say, 75% probability to be spotted. 2 smoke squares on LOS means 50% to see it. 3 squares - 25%, and only 4 squares of smoke make you totally invisible.
That's not how optics (or physics at all) works.
Also, perhaps it's enough to use distinctions between "visible" targets - i.e. anyone in the first layer of smoke falls between "obscured" and  "clear sight": still can be acquired from the outside, and partial obscurement doesn't interrupt RF timing but is targetted badly, much like ones painted by someone else (rather than precisely aimed at and sniped like clearly seen tarrets).

Offline Nomad

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #12 on: September 27, 2014, 10:26:25 am »
...Anyone in the first layer of smoke falls between "obscured" and  "clear sight": still can be acquired from the outside, and partial obscurement doesn't interrupt RF timing but is targetted badly...
And someone in the second layer of smoke does the same, but is tageted even more badly, and so on: the deeper into smoke, the more badly. IMHO it's almost the same mechanism of applying a penalty to every shot which doesn't have a clear sight - however slightly impoved.

To be honest, I don't quite understand why you contend that's not how optics works.

In general, I suggest there are 2 sides of this "smoke coverage problem":
1) how somebody in smoke cloud must be visible (or not), and
2) how he must be targeted.
And the easiest way is to penalize both.
Something like that...

"Clairvoyance" can spoil everything, of course.

madrsihands

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #13 on: November 17, 2014, 07:52:47 am »
I agree the smoke grenades are overpowered.  It's like they should equip the Firebird with a dry-ice dispenser because I use it so much on landing.

My guess why the smoke grenades are so necessary with this version are because of how hard it is to develop an intuitive cover system that clearly designates degree of cover like the xcom reboot.  Plus a lot of ranged weapons do a lot of damage, such that I throw out the flamethrower but I'm still using human snipers upto to the 50th mission.  One thing I don't understand why the alien AI's don't do is immediately throw a grenade or fire indiscriminately into the cloud, seeing as obviously all the humans are concentrated inside.  Another thing that makes it hard is that the action points are so low that it's dangerous to run for cover and not have enough to reflex shoot.

When I first played xcom it took me a while to understand what smoke grenades were.  I thought they were sort of like flashbangs, you use them before you breach, especially in an area where you know the enemy is camping, heavily armed, well entrenched, and prepared.  I didn't think it would be something you would use on yourself as your vision would significantly reduce making aiming difficult, but this is not so in the game where neighboring troops outside the cloud can precisely tell their comrades where to fire.  The game loses a lot of realism when smoke grenades are now the first thing I throw out upon landing and remains isolated in a nice safety bubble by my ship.

Some simple things that could be done are to make the alien's ranged weapons less powerful, or lower the probability of getting hit over such a large distance, though even aliens with plasma blasters will just go full auto and still proceed to kill my guy from across the map.  It's a shame to see such a large collection of human weapons go ignored as soon as I develop laser rifles, which basically make all the other weapons obsolete due to how light they are.  The combat needs to be more diversified so that different weapons are useful on different occasions and there is not just one go-to weapon like the laser rifle.  There should also be some sort of sneak option that lets solders get close to an alien so they can use one of the melee weapons.

My favorite idea is to make the alien ranged weapons have a special sci-fi function such that they can only deal lethal damage after the bullet travels a certain distance.  This would permanently exclude them for doubling as close-range weapons and would either encourage aliens to rush the human or actually try to retreat to a lethal firing distance, a problem that does not arise in standard human combat.

Offline mikehg

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Re: Balancing smoke grenades
« Reply #14 on: November 21, 2014, 02:07:43 am »
I'm playing 2.6-dev at the moment (built from source a while back, but as far as I've gathered nothing has changed since). Stun damage from smoke is effective, but still not enough in my opinion.

My suggestions:

1) Time units add stun damage, not just movement. A person sitting still in smoke doesn't accumulate stun damage. Simply counting up TUs instead would make a lot of difference - no more aimed shots from sniper rifles.

2) I think movement should be penalised in smoke, maybe taking 50% more TUs. Maybe negate the penalty for the rest of the turn if IR visor is used.

3) Firing positions should be revealed from within / behind smoke. I'm not a programmer, but this is roughly how I imagine this working:

If a human fires while hidden from the aliens' LOS by smoke, the square they are on (or one chosen by probability distribution, so probably accurate or nearby, occasionally further away but still hidden by smoke) is marked as a low value target until either an alien gets LOS on that square, or some limit like 5 turns elapses (in case the player keeps adding more smoke).

In practise this would mean that aliens would shoot into smoke if you've been firing from it and they couldn't see soldiers / civilians. Area effect weapons would present a big risk, and you could only fire relatively safely if you kept moving.
« Last Edit: November 21, 2014, 02:14:23 am by mikehg »