Stargate Worlds Dev Journal: Cover in Combat, an Interrogation

Stargate Worlds is in development at the appropriately named Cheyenne Mountain. In the first of a series of developer journals here on WarCry, Lead World Builder Josh Kurtz supplies us with insights into cover in combat, a key part of their tactical combat design. He presents the journal in the format of a “question and answer session” with a “Jaffa Interrogator”.

Stargate Worlds Developer Journal
“Cover in Combat”
Article by Josh Kurtz (Lead World Builder)

Here at Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment, we get a lot of questions about the combat system we are building for our first title, Stargate Worlds.

Specifically, we hear these questions a lot:
What acts as cover?
Do open environments have cover?
How open are environments?

We locked lead world builder Josh Kurtz in a room with our Jaffa interrogator and refused to let him out until he gave us a clearer description of how cover will work in the Stargate Worlds tactical combat system:


Jaffa Interrogator: What acts as cover?

Josh Kurtz: Anything that looks like it should be cover should act as cover, that’s what we are operating under at this point. If you see a stump and it looks like it’s the right size to provide you cover, then it will. If you see a wall or a fallen log or a series of rocks that should provide cover, then indeed jumping behind them will help to save your hide.

In an urban environment you should have things like planters, benches, tables, walls, railings, trash cans and any number of other things to use. In a wilderness area you will have rocks and logs and stumps and other things organic to that environment to hide behind. The goal is to have any environment have cover in it for you to use, but for it to not feel weird or out of place that said environment has cover.

Jaffa Interrogator: Do open environments have cover?

Josh Kurtz: The short answer … wait for it … yes they do. The long answer, for those who like more detail, is that every environment has cover of one type or another. Even in real life, a natural open environment has cover. The key is to identify what objects in an open environment should provide cover and then use those. We want cover to be organic in the environment but still be fairly obvious to a player, we don’t want players wondering if something is cover or not, we want them making a fast decision.

That really only works if they understand what cover is at a nearly subconscious level, and that can be a challenge. Now, if the thought that pops into your head is, “But there isn’t nearly as much I can use for cover in a meadow as there is in a Plaza downtown,” well you would be absolutely correct. Our combat system being driven by ranged combat has a benefit for us in this area because ranged combat is employed almost exclusively (not always, but close) by sentient beings, and those with a militaristic outlook. What this means is that a majority of our combat-driven spaces will have a high density of sentient beings with ranged weapons, otherwise known as bad guys with guns.

Another thing that sentient beings with ranged weapons tend to have a great passion for is avoiding being shot by other sentient beings with ranged weapons, so they tend to either construct or use the existing resources to create hardpoints and locations where they can take cover. This makes it fairly easy to craft the combat spaces, so what about the open wilderness between these spaces? Well, these same sentient beings with ranged weapons are not very inclined to just wander a forest or a meadow or a desert, and when they do it tends to be as part of a larger group. What this means is that ranged combat in open spaces will likely be lighter and less common which means that we can make the cover lighter and less common.

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Jaffa Interrogator: But then what happens on a PVP server or in a wilderness space where there is PVP?

Josh Kurtz: That’s a really good question, I’m glad you asked. Basically what this means for PVP is that you need to be very, very careful when moving through wilderness spaces alone in a PVP space. Can a hidden enemy lay around for hours just waiting for unsuspecting players to wander through an unprotected area so he can blow them away before they find cover … yes he can, but by the same token a sneaky player can be aware of a wilderness space that looks good for an ambush and sneak around the outskirts looking for the ambusher and then ambush him in turn.

Jaffa Interrogator: How open are environments?

Josh Kurtz: That depends entirely on the environment and what we intend to use it for, there will be different levels of open. For example the meadow between two heavily fortified Jaffa camps may not be as open as the desert outside the ancient ruins. As a player you will need to examine an area you are about to wander through and think about what could be lying in wait for you before you go strolling into it. Obviously this will impact the PVP player a bit more than the PVE player but it should still be considered. Keep in mind that no environment will be completely without cover.

Jaffa Interrogator: How does all of this impact world building?

Josh Kurtz: When building a typical fantasy MMO you need to take into account how much room you need for your encounters and your points of interest and you need to make sure it looks good. For us, not only do we need to be aware of those things but we also need to be aware that every object we place, anywhere in the game, has a direct and significant impact on both the combat system and the AI, which means essentially that our construction of spaces directly impacts both the gameplay and the balance of the game.

And with that, we were able to put Josh back to work building worlds and the Jaffa back to work making sure the engineers don’t get out of line.

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