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Posted: 12 March 2016, 02:12
by Serenissima
Apologies if this one has been brought up before, or is already on the cards and just not implemented yet, or is actually in the game somewhere, undocumented, and I'm too dense to find it, but...

Where are the formations?

While I understand that the battles, at least so far, are fairly small-scale and micromanagement-based, I think this game could definitely benefit from groups being able to adopt formations. At the moment, all movement with multiple ships selected just defaults to a line abreast formation; and while I believe it is intended that faster and slower ships will match speed and stay together, this doesn't seem to actually be working in the game very well right now - my escorts, even when selected with larger ships, tend to rush ahead and get themselves killed, rather than actually escorting.

Similarly, formation was always very important in the tabletop game, at least for the Imperial fleet. Their advantages of prow torpedoes and frontal armour were maximised with ships working in concert and formation, and they performed poorly when operating independently. The final point is that the dreadnought battles (such as Jutland) that Battlefleet Gothic is largely inspired by usually involved formation maneuvering as an important tactical element, one we're currently missing. And the game is lacking for it, most of the time becoming a bit of a circling melee of messy ships, lubberly in their clumsy movements and overall just being a brawl between starships rather than a duel between admirals, calmly sitting on the bridge at the hololith and pondering the next regicide-move in the game.

Now, I also know the other objection people might have - using the Tactical Cogitator, it is in theory possible to simply micromanage each individual ship into maneuvering in formation. But given the limitations of the time it takes to set up the orders, and the existing problems with ordering multiple ships at once, I believe it would be easier to manage ships using automatic formations, as other RTS games have implemented, even going back to Homeworld and Age of Empires II. An admiral can surely trust his captains to at least be able to stay in the battle line, rather than breaking off to engage individual targets of opportunity in a general attack!

Our ships' armaments are almost all broadsides, as it stands, with some frontal weapons, but the current control scheme without formations is more suited to a traditional RTS where the orientation of the unit doesn't matter. Unfortunately, it matters very much that this is got right. There are already very welcome functions to order ships to use their broadsides or their frontal armament, and for engagement ranges, but it feels like a very incomplete toolkit to me.

So, for consideration, I present a few of the more common formations (and formation maneuvers) and a brief explanation of why they're useful, from my knowledge and long experience of the tabletop game - at least from His Divine Majesty's Navy's side. Apologies for the low quality of the diagrams, and my inability to do curved lines: for the record, I'm not implying that ships should have any greater maneuvering ability than they currently possess just by clicking and rotating their position, just that they should be able to do it in formation.

Line Abreast is the one 'formation' that we currently have, in the sense that it's automatic if you have multiple ships selected. However, the ships don't currently stay in formation with one another if they have different speeds, the faster ones race ahead and leave the slower ones to proceed to their destination at their own pace. Generally, ship types with a lot of frontal armament or armour might want to use this formation to maximise their firepower or their defence. Most of the time, however, it isn't a very useful formation in combat, because the broadside firepower of the middle ships is negated and not pointed at anything except friendlies, which leads us to:

Line Astern - also known as battle line - is probably the formation that would see the most common use - it was what was most commonly used in battles in both the Age of Sail and the dreadnought era, due to its flexibility. It allows all the formation's firepower to be focused at the sides, which is where the majority of the firepower is arranged, though it has the disadvantage of not allowing frontal armament, like torpedoes, to be used, and being somewhat slow to react to changing battlefield conditions and threats. Line Astern and Line Abreast are essentially interchangeable and rapid to switch between, using simultaneous turn maneuvers:

Turning from line astern into line abreast. This is a simultaneous turn, where every ship in the formation just makes a ninety-degree turn at once to re-orient the line. This could be useful to deliver frontal armament attacks, turn prow armour towards the enemy, or just efficiently reposition the battle line by turning one direction and then back in the previous direction.

Similarly, turning from line abreast into line astern. This one's particularly handy for Imperial admirals, it has to be admitted, because this allows for the enemy to be approached using the stronger frontal armour and torpedo attacks to be delivered before making the turn to bring the broadsides to bear - but it is, of course, useful for everybody.

This is the Turn in Succession - it's a simple enough follow-the-leader kind of turn for maneuvering the battle line, whereby each ship turns to follow the ship in front in order to maintain the line astern formation. Once two fleets have passed one another, this is likely to be the kind of turn used for them to engage each other again, as it maintains a concentration of broadside firepower and unit cohesion.

This turn is a wheel - it's simpler and easier to understand than other kinds of turn used for turning in line abreast while preserving formation, but has the disadvantage of the ships on the inside turn only moving a little and then being stationary while they wait for the ships on the outer edge of the turn rapidly trying to get into position. Consequently, it's a bit awkward in the thick of battle, to say the least.

This one - the Turn in Line Abreast - might be a bit of a pipe dream as far as implementation goes, but the game does attempt to do this one already sometimes when you tell multiple ships to turn via clicking and rotating. It's more complicated than a simple wheel turn, but allows each ship to move roughly the same distance and stay closer together for mutual support.

On, now, to a few slightly more complex formations, for which I couldn't be bothered to produce turn diagrams:

Echelon - it can also be mirrored, of course - is a tricky one to use properly, but combines some of the advantages and disadvantages of line abreast and line astern. It's best to say that it's flexible and unpredictable, being possible to switch into line astern or line abreast with ease - it's halfway between them, after all. It also looks pretty, and can be used by smaller ships such as escorts to screen ahead of a battle line of heavier warships.

Vee, or Delta, is useful for one thing, and one thing only: breaking through an enemy's battle line and causing a general brawl. That said... it's very useful! In terms of Battlefleet Gothic, I can see the Orks particularly benefiting from this one, as it makes ramming a lot more certain than the line abreast, allows the frontal vessel to absorb punishment for the vessels further back, and puts the attacker in an advantageous position if they successfully break through the enemy formation.

Finally, the Diamond is normally used for mutual support, minimising the vulnerable profile of the ships while maximising their firepower. This formation also allows for the point-defence guns to support each other against torpedoes or strike craft attacks, all being close enough to shoot at incoming threats together. A rotated variant of this, the square or inverted triangle, could be used as an Escort formation, with the outer ships protecting a valuable vessel in the centre. More on that and the function of escorts in another post upcoming.

All this being said, I'm uncertain of the exact details of the technical implementation of these formations - especially the turns - into the game. Most of it could, in theory, be achieved by huge amounts of micromanagement already, but given the ships' automatic behaviour and turning and moving as they please without orders in battle, it's very much an experience of trying to herd cats. What I do know, however, is that other comparable games have included these kinds of formations and maneuvering - naval battles in Total War games, for example - and so it's definitely not impossible. And the addition of more formation control for our admirals, on top of the already-existing large suite of controls available to command individual ships to burn retros, go all ahead full and make more rapid turns, and suchlike - would, I believe, be a definite and enormous improvement to the game, in the spirit of old, tabletop Battlefleet Gothic.

And failing that - disappointing as it would be - any kind of decent interface just for making multiple selected ships actually stay near each other would be appreciated. As that is, sadly, currently lacking. But perhaps that's just my two Thrones.

(Source of the Dauntless-class top-down silhouette. Not mine!)

Re: Formations

Posted: 14 March 2016, 18:24
by Superchibisan
This is exactly what I want. Manual formations are just too hard to manage as the AI for movement will often run into each other when trying to re-orient your fleet for an engagement.

Re: Formations

Posted: 14 March 2016, 18:39
by Ironhide
I think formations would only be feasible if all the ships in the squadron were the same type and went the same speed. Unless you introduced some mechanic where the ships matched speed with the slowest ship in the group.

Re: Formations

Posted: 15 March 2016, 09:31
by Harkole
I would love to see this and yes ships should match the slowest speed ship. All too often I find my ships stopping to avoid ramming because one has turned left and one has turned right and so they become sitting ducks until I micro mange their flight paths, all the while, the hostile targets have either butchered them or flown out of range.

Re: Formations

Posted: 15 March 2016, 09:49
by Ultroth
As I understand it,the formation thing was implemented, but was removed due to some weird happenings such as overlapping voids creating unkillable ships and stacking of abilities of ships close together.

Re: Formations

Posted: 15 March 2016, 12:05
by Ravensburg

Nice post, very interesting. Many tests has been made during development in order to include the formation system, some of them was very close to your proposition. Finally we decided to remove formations because it made the game over complicated for not a great tactical enhancement.

We know that this is an important feature of the TTG and I would love to see it in the game. But it must be ergonomic/tactical/balanced/understandable, So maybe later...



Re: Formations

Posted: 15 March 2016, 12:11
by Torte86
I wasn't in CB but i think the problem is to bring the formation rules from the TT to a RTS. Here some pros and cons from the TT formations i rembered:

+compaind their firepower (devastating macrocannon salvos, huge torpedo salvos, swarms of ordnances)
+all ships in formation shard the highest moral value and given spacial orders

-when the formation was broken you had your ships move back to formation (15cm max distance to next ship in formation), until then your ships couldn't get any spacial orders

-with bad luck, you could lose an eskort formation or one captial ship was destroyed and an other was heavily damged by enemy fire, because hits on a formation were allocated on the nearest ship till it was destroyed, each hit left hit the next ship in formation and so on.

Sorry for my bad english

Re: Formations

Posted: 15 March 2016, 14:30
by VanHoven
Could we get instead of advanced formations sth basic like choose if we want to move our ships that we have selected in a horizontal line, vertical line or maybe a spear formation? and the ability to move all selected ships at the speed of the slowest ship? those basic options would improve things a lot in my opinion

Now we are always going into a horizontal line and at least the option to change that into a vertical line would be sooooo comfortable... since its the most used formation for naval warfare it would make a lot of sence :)

Re: Formations

Posted: 16 March 2016, 12:30
by pivole
I would very much like to see formations in the game, as in the Total War naval battles, they really added to it. At the very least, I would like to be able to manually put my ships into a formation and then tell them to hold whatever weird and wonderful pattern I might choose. This would be particularly useful for just getting escorts to stick by their assigned capital ship, in lieu of a guard command.

I wouldn't want to presume to know more than the people who actually made the game, but with the 2-d nature of Armada by which you can't seem to fire through your own vessels, I expect that no matter how rudimentary or clunky it was, people would find good use for formations, or at the very least would enjoy the visual aspect of it.

From what I've read on these forums, a lot of the PVE players seem to enjoy the roleplaying aspect despite what the PVP players complain about as broken and exploitable.

Re: Formations

Posted: 16 March 2016, 16:17
by VanHoven
+1 for a button that says "keep formation" ---> including keeping the same speed. would go a long way in my opinion.

every time you move more than one ship they are trying to get in this close together line formation, that's annoying imo :)

btw you can fire through your own ships without hitting them in my experience