ColRosenberger -> RE: Advanced Tactics Gold 2.0 (12/17/2020 3:08:47 AM)
I have a few things in mind :) .
Personally, I discovered Advanced Tactics Gold by playing People's Tactics first. I really enjoyed the initially fairly simple, easy to approach and tongue-in-cheek fictional campaign that gradually scaled up to bigger scenarios. It let you familiarize yourself progressively with the available units and tactics. I had a really hard time getting into AT Gold because of the lack of a similar campaign - small scenarios were mostly very dry affairs without context, and big ones were a bit too large-scale and intimidating. Not to mention that all you have to know what a scenario is about is a file name with no preview of the contents! And I'm actually not aware to this day of a single campaign shipping with AT Gold.
So I hope that an AT Gold sequel provides a similar campaign which starts small and introduces units and mechanics somewhat gradually (NOT asking for a "use WASD to move the map" tutorial here, just starting with infantry scenarios with no production and building up from there should be enough) to get your feet wet.
A proper scenario/campaign browser with preview image and description is kind of a must too.
Generating dynamically a fictional campaign where you get to take your core units from scenario to scenario would be a nice stretch goal. (Very cool, but a big chunk of work to get it right.)
Hopefully, manually setting up campaigns should also be dead-easy. Right now, barely anyone dares to use the campaign system in AT Gold.
Empire Deluxe-style map conquest
The other role that People's Tactics/AT Gold fulfills for me is a kind of more advanced successor to Empire Deluxe (or somewhat similar games like Advanced Wars, Battle Isle, even M.A.X.), or perhaps a more complex computer game adaptation of Axis&Allies. Basically, painting the whole map your color with satisfying Land/Sea/Air combat, conquering resource and production points, and managing your logistics is what I'm after. In that sense I really like the old Risk for Three scenario (recently revived by ernieschwitz - thank you!) which is basically a mad land grab where you can produce from any city you capture.
So I hope that even as Advanced Tactics Gold 2.0 no doubt becomes even more complex to satisfy the demands of its grognard audience, it gets along the way these abilities:
AI able to handle land, air and especially SEA units properly.
AI able to recognize that the situation is a land grab and that it should rush to capture production points to gain an advantage (currently, it spreads a lot and takes its time even if every town is neutral, the enemy is far and there's no fog of war).
Availability of a somewhat casual ruleset where you can use anything you conquer Risk-Style and don't have to worry about town nationality for production purposes.
To be clear, I'm also interested in more realism and in historical scenarios, but personally I save those for when I have more energy and time.
Learn from other modding communities
I wish AT Gold 2.0 would open up to modding on a larger scale using some of the same strategies I've observed in other very successful modding communities I've been a part of:
Tolerate reverse engineering for modding purposes like Cities Skylines, Minecraft and Kerbal Space Program (this implies a change of EULA). For C:S in particular, this allowed an explosion of interesting mods including the mind-boggling Traffic Manager where someone completely rewrote the traffic AI, to great success: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=1637663252 https://github.com/CitiesSkylinesMods/TMPE -- it's mostly done through injecting hooks into the Unity C# code through the Harmony library. For Minecraft... well, the sky is the limit. Let's just say that people have coded tornados ripping through the map, new fluid systems, and completely replaced world generation thanks to this permissive approach.
Open-source part of the game code like Civ IV, V, and VI. This allowed among others the majestic and unprecedented Fall from Heaven II and Rise of Mankind mods and their modmods, which modify the C++ open-source code released by the devs.
Let people script in something standard. If you want to provide "safe" visual scripting, the best frontend these days which seems to match and exceed the capabilities of your current script editor, seems to be https://developers.google.com/blockly/ or other similar techs. But I'd strongly recommend finding a way to let more advanced users code in C++, Java, C# (perhaps .csx hosted with ScriptCS or Roslyn) or a well-known scripting language like Lua (like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat does). No matter what you do, the ability to dig through text files using standard tools and make mass changes is key, otherwise you're severely restricting the scope of mods that can be built and maintained.
Provide at least a basic modding API. Cities Skylines provides one which allows basic modding through code and provides a good place for people who reverse engineer to set up their hooks. Civ of course lets you interact with the closed-source part of the game with a fairly extensive API.
Organized game data into records that can be overriden through mod load order, like Skyrim and its predecessors. This allows combining an unprecedented number of mods, lets any mod depend on another mod and tweak it (a more advanced application of the Master File concept in AT Gold) and is overall the most solid way I've seen to handle tweaking single values for balance without needing to replace a whole file.
Specify up front that mods should be open-source and that building upon other people's mods and combining them into modpacks is allowed. This lets the community grow to its full potential and avoids the incredibly bitter internal wars I've observed around modpack permissions in the Skyrim and Minecraft communities. If your game is successful, in the end you can end up with thousands of mods, and end-users who don't have hours to wade through user-generated content databases honestly just want to download a pack with the hundred best ones and start playing. But for this very good thing to happen you must set clear rules from the start for mods.
Some communities such as the Civ one has a much more relaxed approach to this which helped people build on each other's advancements with minimal bickering and helped build such incredible mods in the first place.
Try to have in mind some popular modding organizer as the go-to way to download, install and manage mods. This way mod packaging can be standardized from day 1. The Nexus Mods community spawned Vortex and Mod Organizer 1 and 2, which are worth looking at. Of course there's always also the Steam workshop, but while very easy to use for simple stuff it shows its limits quickly and isn't friendly to Matrix Games or GOG purchasers.
I think the modding possibilities with such a flexible engine as AT Gold (2.0) are very exciting, if the proper conditions and infrastructure are put in place.
EDIT: added new section:
Overall quality of life
This might seem like an obvious addition for a sequel or iteration, but I'm afraid the consideration might get buried under the feature requests. (The following points BTW go beyond mere quality of life. They can make the difference between a game people feel they can play at a somewhat casual level, and one that requires so much minutiae that only the grognard need apply. All of that based on differences in the interface.)
Less clicks to do common things, especially to create a unit:
Creating a regular unit: Click Create Unit -> Select Unit Type -> Click Map to find and cycle to desired HQ -> Click out of the way button to confirm -> Click Map to find HQ to transfer from -> Click Transfer or hit T -> Click Map to find and cycle to unit we just created again -> More clicks to transfer stuff. Total clicks most of the time: 8+, but more likely 11+ as a typical unit will be composed of three subformation types.
What creating a regular unit could be, most of the time: Select unit on map -> Clone Unit button -> Summary screen appears showing which commanding HQ, source HQ for subformations, amount and type of subformations to be transferred and cost in Transport Capacity of the source HQ will be used, based on what was done for the cloned unit -> Adjust HQs, types and quantities as needed and select a highlighted location to clone the unit to (highlighted locations are those reachable with the selected source HQ/transport capacity total). Total clicks most of the time: 4.
Creating a TOE unit: Click Create Unit -> Select Unit Type -> Click Map to find and cycle to desired HQ -> Click out of the way button to confirm -> Click Change Model Type button -> Select desired TOE -> Click out of the way button to confirm. Total clicks most of the time: 7+.
What creatin a TOE unit could be: Select commanding HQ -> Create TOE unit for this HQ button -> Select Model in screen that opens -> Select location. Total clicks most of the time: 4.
Location, Unit and HQ cycling
A simple concept present in Civ and Panzer General-style games that helps you go through every unit with movement points left. Typically paired with a feature to skip a unit for this turn or put it on standby (or "guard until enemy spotted") to remove it from the cycling until called upon.
The absence of this feature in AT Gold means I often double-check and triple-check my stacks to ensure I didn't forget to move or attack with all units before ending my turn, which is a waste of precious time.
Either a single key that cycles through Locations, HQs or formations depending on what you have selected (defaults to formations if nothing is selected)
Or more power-user oriented, separated keys to cycle between locations, HQs and formations.
An actual Scenario Browser
It's not much, yet it's missing from every VR Designs game I've tried so far.
Expand the scenario and savegame format to include any number of screenshots, and a title, short description and long description. Also information on whether you're looking at a single scenario or campaign.
When opening a scenario or savegame, instead of being dumped to the system's file select dialogue you get an interface where you can preview what each scenario looks like because the game parses the beginning of each scenario file to extract the preview data.
You've just made your game 85% more accessible than AT Gold as-released. Having to figure out what you want to play from a list of short folder and file names is a huge turn-off.
A sizeable proportion of the male population (and a small portion of the female population) is partially color-blind. That's why things like the supply indicator being just a small square that switches from green to red ain't a great idea. You need to change shape not just color if you don't want those players to completely miss out on that UI element.