Tech Briefing: Command & Control

Persistent Fleets & Customization

"Homeworld2 uses the persistent fleet concept and continues to innovate on how this concept works within the existing gameplay structure and balance. You'll even be able to add your own decals and ship colours to the game to make the connection even more personal. Persistent Fleets also allow us to scale the difficulty of the missions. It ensures that player faces slightly different opposition each time they play." - Dan Irish, Executive Producer

"The persistent-fleet concept is still used, but we've modified the implementation so you won't have to go back a few missions if you're unsuccessful in preserving enough ships from mission to mission. We found it was important to the gameplay since it created a sense of ownership and familiarity in the single-player experience." - Dan Irish, Executive Producer

"The use of persistent fleets is one area where Homeworld and Homeworld 2 stand out from other RTS games. Instead of having to rebuild your fleet at the start of every mission, units are carried over from mission to mission. We've also tweaked the system to scale better in terms of difficulty." - Josh Mosquiera, Lead Designer

"The custom decal system (or badging for short) will allow players to affix 64x64 pixel textures to their ships in multiplayer games. There will be a collection of badges provided with the game, and users will be able to create their own to use and share with friends and foes alike." - Geoff Thomas, Assistant Producer

"Of course, harvesting -- the staple of every RTS game since Dune II -- will be integral to your success, but Sierra has improved the "persistent fleet" feature so that you can keep all the battleships that survived the last mission and then rely on a dynamically changing reinforcement model so that harvesting isn't quite as time-consuming." - John Brandon, Games Domain UK

The Reinforcement feature makes sense. A stated goal of the designers was to avoid having players have to go back and re-play previous missions when they lost too many ships. In Cataclysm, the solution to this problem was to provide massive amounts of resources and have unit caps (as well as mission styles where it was not unusual to lose the majority of your fleet and rebuild it several times during the course of a mission), which was generally less than satisfying. With reinforcements, if a player's fleet falls below a certain strength, it can be given reinforcements, bringing it up to a basic strength where the player can hope to deal with the threat of the current mission, without having to go back and replay the previous one.

Formations:  Squadrons and Strike Groups

"Strike Groups allow you to form up your fleets into organized formations. There are three Strike Groups: Fighter Screen, Frigate Line and Capital Phalanx, each with its unique advantages and tactics. Fighter Screens are excellent for quick raids and attacks. With the faster Strike Craft in the lead, this ties up any defenders allowing the Frigates and Capital Ships to support the fighters. Frigate Lines excel at defense. Forming all the frigates in a wall up front creates a formidable "shield" against any attackers. Finally, the Capital Phalanxes can be used to drive a wedge deep into an enemy fleet. With the long range of the Capital Ships, this means that Battlecruisers and Destroyers will be attacking targets well before Frigates and Strike Craft, buying valuable time for these ships to move in or simply hang back and defend the Capital Ships." - Josh Mosquiera, Lead Designer

"So the first thing we’re going to talk about is squadrons and Relic’s ability to take their experience with Homeworld and turn that into an ease of micromanagement for the player. For example, with strike craft (small fighter craft) there is no real use for a single fighter.  You would never send one in alone against anything, so now when you create them, you create them automatically in groups of five, saving you five clicks and letting you take that time and put it into planning your strategy and planning your tactics and executing them, and not about simply building more units. It’s a common-sense thing that is not a major change to implement, but it plays a very important part in how you execute your tactics now. Because you have ready-made squadrons, you’re able to organize your ships more easily, more usefully and more effectively. An outlying element of that is what we call “Strike Groups.” Now, we’ve all played RTS’s and you have combined arms; you’ve got your heavy-duty unit and you’ve got your light, fast unit for protection, and then you have your some sort of y’know, missile unit… distance unit… and you lasso them all together and you say “okay, you’re group 1; you’re all together I’ve got everything covered: charge!” And they charge down the map, and you look at them ten seconds later, and your fast guys are a mile and half ahead of your slow guys, your archers are completely unprotected, and you’ve just completely lost all your units to nothing, because they seem to have no ability to communicate to each other. Now in [Homeworld 2] you have the ability to form Strike Groups, and this is actually an incredibly complex arrangement whereby ships become aware of who they’re grouped with, and they behave differently based on that. So you take your small strike craft, you add some bombers, you put in a bunch of corvettes for protection, you add some capital ships, you group them all together and say “you’re a strike group”; and the small fighter craft know that they have to protect the capital ships, the corvettes know that they have to protect the fighters, and everyone is working in unison; when we say “go across the map and attack”, the fighters aren’t going to get ahead of the capital ships, because they know what to do. And what this allows you to do is: everything from taking your entire fleet and… very… creating very detailed strike groups… I want one that does this, and then I want one that does this, and this is capable of that, and you organize them very discretely, and have, y’know, basically the effect of making different chess pieces that have different functions. On the other hand, you can take your entire fleet, group them all together, say that “you’re all a strike group”, and your entire fleet functions as one coherent unit. And this makes for phenomenal battles, because now it’s much less about, can I lasso and click this guy and give him some sufficient instructions to stop being stupid, and more about, I have all the options: what’s my best one?" - Alex Rodberg, Brand Manager (Sierra)

"Formations aren’t really customizable anymore. What we found is that formations didn’t really make a difference in gameplay, but they will be controlled by tactics. You can set your tactics to Aggressive, and they’ll make a more aggressive formation. You can set your tactics to Evasive, and it will bring your formation together." - Dan Irish, Executive Producer

"As for formations, I think the Homeworld 2 terminology has led to some confusion... As Dan said in the GameSpot video formations are linked to tactics. The missing detail here is that this only applies to the squadrons of ships which were also talked about. So fighters are built in squadrons and are assigned a formation based on their tactics setting. The larger formations of more than one unit are what we currently call Strike Groups. As you will know if you played Homeworld 1 online micro formations of fighters were the most effective configuration although the actual formation chosen did not make much difference. This just automates that while still giving you control at the fleet formation level. So there's no dumbing down, no betrayal, no loss of strategy or tactics." - Cei Gladstone, Programmer

"The formations mentioned in the video apply to one squad only and are tied to tactics, one formation pattern for each tactics setting. The Strike Groups that have been talked about are basically formations of squadrons. You can see an example of a strike group being formed and moving in the GameSpot video. Strike Groups are formations, so you can put your ships into any of the Strike Group formations we provide. The difference is that, as Arioch points out, if you put 5 squadrons of fighters in to a wall strike group formation then you would have a wall of 5 deltas." - Cei Gladstone, Programmer

"One of the other things we did was, well, every RTS allows you to control, select a number and create a group. They then move off as a group - the problem is the fast guys get there really early and the slow guys get there really late - so it doesn't really make sense by the time you arrive at the destination. It's not necessarily the way you want to see, the fighters being so much faster, so we created the idea of a Strike Group. This lets you select a variety of different ship types, that allow you to put them in a strike group - in a nice organized way. So you get your capital ships in the middle and your fighter ships on the prow, bombers around the perimeter, and frigates at the back - and they move in formation, the way you wanted them to. People used to do this manually in Homeworld: attach everything to each other, guard relationships, and put them in order, formations and move them off. We spent a lot of effort making sure that the depth of the game from the first game is still there - but have made it a lot more approachable and a little bit easier for people to get into. For those people who really want a vast experience, all that depth is still there, all the tactical and strategic boxes are still there if you still want to use them - if you want to use the automated system, you can by-pass them." - Chris Mahnken, Producer (Sierra)

"These strike groups which are essentially meta formations; if you form them into a strike group, they'll actually behave like a formation. So you'll have escorts, flanking units, and a core. Because of the nature of the game and the camera controls, there's a certain amount of micro-management of units involved. One of the things we had to do was delineate where we wanted the micro-management and where we didn't want it. Since selecting and controlling units usually takes more than 2 commands in most RTSs, we figured giving players more tools to organize their ships would be a good thing." - Josh Mosquiera, Lead Designer

"What makes me most excited are the Strike Groups. Depending on the purpose, I'll try to get a different ideal combination of ships. I can change their formation and control them like a unit. In Homeworld there was much more micromanagement, you had to reform and reorganize groups of ships. That I'm now able to control my fleet in the Sensors Manager is also a great strategic plus." - Dan Irish, Executive Producer (translated from German)

"Strike Groups have evolved and will continue to do so as they are balanced. We've talked about more advanced options (like unique Strike group orders) but we need to ensure a balance between fun and practicality without taking the game away from the player. Traditional hotkeys remain (we'd hate to see the angry mobs it we took this out!). Think of Strike Groups as Control Groups on steroids and you'll get an idea of where we are going." - Dan Irish, Executive Producer

"Queuing a unit's actions is something that will be available for all ships, not just Strike Groups." - Dan Irish, Executive Producer

In case you didn't get all that, allow me to summarize: in Homeworld 2, the Squadron and Strike Group paradigm is a supplement to the traditional Homeworld formations and key-groupings. Strike Craft (fighters and corvettes) are now permanently assigned to Squadrons in groups of 5 fighters or 3 corvettes each (Vaygr squadrons appear to be larger: 4 for corvettes and 7-9 for some fighters). Each squadron has an automatic formation based on the Tactics setting you give them (Delta formation appears to be the Normal tactics formation). When individual fighters are destroyed, the squadron continues as a reduced-strength unit until it docks for repair, at which time the lost craft are replaced (at some resource cost).

Strike Groups are key-groupings of units, including frigates, capital ships, and squadrons of strike craft. Strike Groups can be assigned a formation of your choice (Wall formation was mentioned as an option), but are smarter than traditional RTS key-groupings, including additional intelligence that allows heterogeneous groups to act more cohesively than they did in Homeworld. Squadrons of fighters will automatically defend capital ships, corvettes will protect fighters, and the whole group will move as a cohesive unit. It's not known exactly how customizable Strike Groups are, but you can at the very least assign a basic formation. Since squadrons can be part of a Strike Group, and individual squadrons have their own formations based on Tactics setting, there will be compound formations; for example, a Strike Group in Wall formation containing 6 squadrons of 5 fighters each on Normal tactics would be a Wall of 6 Deltas. 

Tactics Settings
"One of the exploits in Homeworld was the hidden (and sometimes invisible) modifiers that Tactics gave ships... not to mention that some tactics affected orders and some didn't. In the end, this made it hard for the player to predict what their units would be doing, something that is a cardinal no-no in RTS games. For HW2, Tactics determine a unit's retaliation stance.
- Units set to Aggressive will pursue any enemy targets in range.
- Units on Defensive will jump to the aide of any friendly ship under attack (within a certain range), while also defending themselves. They key difference is that units on Defensive will not pursue attackers past a certain radius.
- Finally, Passive does what it sounds like. Your unit does nothing, even if attacked. It may sound like a bad idea, but there are many examples (such as keeping a ship that's cloaked from retaliating) of when not fighting back is just what you'd want." -
Dan Irish, Executive Producer

For squadrons of strike craft, the Tactics setting also determines the formation of the squadron.

Command Interface

"Homeworld2 uses many of the same conventions as Homeworld did, however, we've included a few standard RTS features like camera panning and a taskbar on the lower part of the screen that shows how your units are being used. The GUI is scalable according to the desires of the player. Camera Panning will certainly help ease traditional RTS gamers to Homeworld2's 3D world. It makes maneuvering ships easier as the player can pan their view-point to the designed destination." - Dan Irish, Executive Producer

"One of the main three areas of improvement was user-interface. So, we have the ability to now pan around the screen; you have much more flexibility with the mouse in setting up exactly the view and the shot that you want, still able to spin around and create any sort of 3D angle, and position, anything… the way that you want. There’s… the user interface is completely customizable and ranges from totally invisible, like this where you have a completely cinematic feel, to something with a lot of information and overlays that tell you what kind of ships you have, where they’re going, that their next command is, and you can switch very quickly and easily between these, to get an overview of the situation, and get right back into the really gorgeous graphics, so that you’re not experiencing the game as symbology, but rather as the adventure that it is." - Alex Rodberg, Brand Manager (Sierra)

"One of the key things we've done that will make Homeworld2 easier for players to get into is the camera. Homeworld's camera was always anchored to ships so if you wanted to move a camera around you to select the ship you wanted to look at and focus on it. So it made it more difficult for the player because they essentially had to do two steps. As you can see that kind of functionality is still in Homeworld2, however like most common RTSs, you can now pan the camera. This makes it easier to look around, find units, select them. " - Josh Mosquiera, Lead Designer

"We've also made some improvements to the camera, making it easier to manipulate. The introduction of camera panning, a staple in RTS games, will help ease new players into Homeworld 2's 3D world. Panning also makes it easier to move units, since the player can pan the camera to the desired destination, something that was not possible using Homeworld's camera. You can indeed pan up and down. This is used by holding down a key since it is a more advanced command. Right-click context-sensitive commands also make simple tasks like moving, attacking, and harvesting easier to execute. As you can see the usual means of movement is selecting a ship and then moving it using the M key. So usually moving a ship will require 2 to 3 actions. Now you can just right click in relative space and your ships will move there along the horizontal plane. To move along the vertical plane, you just hold down the mouse and adjust the height." - Josh Mosquiera, Lead Designer

"In Homeworld, when you wanted to build something you had to do it through the build manager. So you had to leave this very pretty environment and go to this very static UI screen. So now our build manager is part of the game screen. The Sensor Manager remains, but we've added more functionality to it." - Josh Mosquiera, Lead Designer

"We've refined it so the user can use an onscreen interface to manage the construction of new ships, as well as manage the fleet. This eliminates the need for the player to constantly switch screens, back and forth from the game environment to the build manager. We've also included an advanced tactical overlay on the screen that can be toggled so the fans can select any degree of the user interface that they choose--all, some, or none. Of course, we've employed the standard RTS features like a taskbar, a fleet manager, and hotkey grouping. This was one of the weaknesses of Homeworld, so we're really focusing on improving its implementation in Homeworld 2." - Dan Irish, Executive Producer

Artificial Intelligence

Games Domain reported that there will be AI characters to help you control your fleet, but Relic says this isn't so.

"Should you feel the game is getting too heavy for you to control in any case, then another of the game's innovations should come in handy - AI characters to whom control of vital ships and fleets can be ceded, freeing you up for other concerns. Whether they work well will have to be seen, but we are assured that not only will they have their own personalities, but that the player will come to care greatly about them, should they but follow the storyline." - Steve Hildrew, Games Domain

"This is a misconception. You won't be able to hand control of your units to the AI to fight on your behalf. Strikegroups are designed to help manage your fleet, not take control away from the player." - Dan Irish, Executive Producer

"The Homeworld2 CPU opponent will be known for providing competition that's as stiff as Homeworld's! We've implemented a ton of changes that enable the CPU to play like a human, and not have to resort to cheating. One of the major improvements of Homeworld2's AI player versus Homeworld's is that it'll take advantage of specific tactics and implement those into overall strategies. We're relying on playtest data to provide us with a catalog of strategies from which to choose. The amount of mistakes the AI player makes will be dependent on the difficulty level the player selects; the harder the difficulty level, the fewer mistakes the AI player will make. We've identified a few different AI behaviors so far, and as such, will use a combination of random behaviors rather than follow the same predictable patterns. This ensures that no game will be exactly the same, and that you're always in for a unique challenge." - Dan Irish, Executive Producer