Enemy HP visibility tied to tech

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."
Fear of the unknown is a primordial part of this game. And in war you don’t always know your enemy, so you must plan an strategy around that ignorance and make some choices without every kind of information you would want. So yeah, if you see it that way, strategy itself is partially a guessing game IRL.


Yes, and even in smaller scale tactical engagements this is a huge factor.

Take the “sight lines” for example:

PP shows before actual movement happens, what enemies can be seen from a specific position. IRL you often move to a position to get better line of sight for a clean shot, but in some cases the position is not as you thought it would be. When I was hunting with my father this regularly happened; he thought a specific position would be better for a clean shot, but when we reached it, some obstacles obscured the line of sight (branches etc.) and we had to move again.

IRL tactical engagements a lot of things are unclear and this is what makes for interesting decisions. It is not just “guessing” - maybe it could be called educated guessing or tactical anticipation. At the moment PPs BattleScape just shows too much info to create the feeling and atmosphere of an “authentic” firefight.

Aye, that’s pretty much how I see it. Once a game starts giving me information like HPs I pretty much lose interest in it.

An element of educated guesswork, be it from visual cues/past experience/or whatever else it may be, makes it feel like I’m playing a game. But once HPs start rocking up along with all the other visual aids and whatnot, I start to feel like I’m using a spreadsheet. If the game is going to tell me; where to stand to get the best shot, which gun to use, or limb to target, whether that target has armour, whether I’ll kill it etc I ended sitting there thinking ‘‘what’s my role in all this?’’ cause really I might as well let the game play itself.

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Ok, let me rephrase that to “too much of a guessing game” :wink:

Guessing is almost always part of strategy games (except for those with complete information, like chess for example), but the amount of guessing varies. I played poker profitably for a while, so I am accustomed to guessing and can actually enjoy games based on it, but it is not what I want from a game like Phoenix Point. Guessing is fine (What kind of enemies will I face? Will I hit this shot? Does the enemy have some surprise defensive mutation? Will they hit their shot? Will he use a special ability? Where will they move to? What is hiding outside my line of sight? Will my soldier panick? Etc.) but too much of it and a strategic approach is reduced to “lets move here and then see what happens”.

I want to be able to plan in advance. To use the abilities of my squad for the best outcome in this round and if possible, the next round, too. And I want to be faced with difficult decisions: Do I take the gamble of a 70%-kill or do I use a limited resource to guarantee it? Do kill the big guy first and let the smaller ones live for now, or vice versa? Do I take out half of the fishman-squad now and take the return fire of their survivors, or do I retreat and look for a better engagement?
I like these “puzzle-like” elements a lot. But if the available information is so obscure that I can not extrapolate the likely outcome of my own actions, all that remains is just firing at opponent A until he falls, and then continue with opponent B. Player agency goes out of the window and the strategy boils down to “Have as much shots at the enemy as possible, while minimizing their shots at you”. Which is a skill in itself, but I want more.

And as it was brought up: I don’t care about realism or “authentic firefights”. Gameplay is about a million times more important to me. I also don’t think that turn-based strategy is able to simulate authentic firefights. Turn-based is highly abstracted concept that barely touches realism at all.

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Well said. “Realistic firefights” in a turn based game. Gimme a break.

Still, if anything, HUD info on enemies should be a toggle, if it’s going to change much from how it is now. The little damage-schematics over enemies are one of my favorite things in the UI as it stands right now. It would be a shame if all that went away in a vain pursuit of “realism”.

A UI toggle for those who like less information would be neat, of course. As long as the game is balanced around having the information, the toggle would not affect my enjoyment at all.

Turn-based strategy/tactics is of course an abstraction. But you can still create gameplay mechanics that somehow feel “authentic”, and more important: lead to realistic decisions. Fog of War, unclear information, etc. creates that kind of environment. A firefight should not play like a “puzzle” IMO.

I like puzzle games too (Tetris Attack is one of my favorite games), but I think that especially a survival-horror themed turn-based tactics game like PP would be “better” (more immersive and atmospheric) if it would use simulation like BattleScape mechanics like the original X-Com.

Did you like the old X-Coms? They did not have much “puzzle-like” elements… I had the impression that a lot of people backed PP, because they love the original X-Com way more than the new ones…

I don’t want to put words in the guy’s mouth, but I think you’re maybe misunderstanding what the “puzzle-like” element is that is being referred to here.

What I understand the puzzle to be in each firefight you get into in the course of a mission would be things like:

  • trying to minimise your exposure to return fire
  • as much as you’re able, having the right soldier with the right tools to kill the enemy
  • making sure a flanking unit doesn’t activate more enemy
  • ensuring your units aren’t caught out of place going into the enemy turn and etc

That’s the puzzle in an encounter in a squad combat game.

Your are wrong there. In chess you have little (or zero) important information at hand. Sure, you know where are his pieces, but you don’t know what is the endgame your opponent is planing, and that is the information that matters in the game. What makes a chessmaster is his ability to read his opponent to make the best educated guess and then plan a lot of turns ahead in a way that makes it hard for his opponent to notice that plan or even better, make it easy for its opponent to read a completly different plan. Ergo, guessing (or should I say “reading the opponent”) is a primordial part strategy itself, not just a recurent part of strategy games.

What PP needs to do to become what the devs want it to be, a great strategy and combat tactics simulation with a turn-based presentation/framework, is to balance how much information will they give to the players so they can take calculated risks and make educated guesses and make a tactical execution without turning the game into a RNG tabletop game in which players will play with a notebook at hand to write down hit chances multiplied with damage, crit%,critMult so they can calculate and know for sure which is the rute that will guaranty the best chance to alphastrike.

Of course, they could add toggles to switch between strategic and puzzle (read: spreadsheet) modes

Edit: added a bt of extra info

I played the old X-COMS (including Terror from the Deep and Apcalypse) to death back in the day and they still have a very dear place in my heart. But I can still recognize that game design developed a lot since the 90s. A legion of strategy games were published since then and experimented with different approaches and ideas and I would greatly prefer if the lessons from 20 years of game design were applied to Phoenix Point instead of just reskinning the BattleScape from the olden days.

And yes, I think the new XCOMs do the BattleScape much better. Not perfect, as they are too Alphastrike-heavy for my liking, but a big step up from the old X-COMs. They did drop the ball in the GeoScape by being gamifying them too much, though.

I would also not completely agree with your assessment that the artificial obscurity of information was the main reason or needed to convey a survival-horror atmosphere. If we ignore the graphics/sounds/general theme here and focus on gameplay aspects, the vulnerability of your soldiers, not knowing what is around the next corner and the technological disadavantage of your troops added much more to the tension. The night missions for example were much more terrifying; Not because you did not know how many shots that lobsterman could take, but because he could kill you without you even seeing him.
We can still have all of that, without further obscuring the result of your own actions.

This either absurdly wrong or we are talking about completely different things. Chess is a game with 100% information. At every moment both players have absolute knowledge about the game state and they both re-assess the best possible move after every single turn. That is why AIs are able to defeat grandmasters nowadays. Because they don’t need to guess (computers can not guess), but because they can calculate the best move regardless of the opponents plan.

Is this actually what the devs want? Do they really put the simulation aspect before the gameplay? For the GeoScape at least Julian Gollop cited inspiration from games that clearly put gameplay before realism and aimed to create meaningful decisions for the player. So I guess they have similar targets for the BattleScape in mind.

But that does not matter that much anyway, as this discussion is not to determine the intent of the devs, but to explain what we like to see in the game and why.

hmm, ok, we have a little misunderstanding here. We both are right. It is true that every phisical information is available in the table in Chess, but what I meant with “information” was not the position of the pieces (i’ll call it “obvious information”), which is information that only requieres a single functioning eye to obtain it, or how can each piece move (“basic information”), which only takes 10 minutes to understand and then a couple of minutes to see which squares are being threatened, but the hard to obtain information in the game (“important information”), which takes years worth of expertise to get, which is “what is the opponent trying to do now and x turns in the future”

It is getting that “Hidden”, or not so obvious, information that makes a strategy game challenging, and it is around that information that a tactic is planned.

What we agree on is, as you said, “this discussion is not to determine the intent of the devs, but to explain what we would like to see in the game and why.” :grinning:

I have to say: knowing the rough or general status of your enemies is rather important in a game like Phoenix Point. I’d rather have the details of their loadout more hidden than lack any concept of how much health an enemy has. Being able to assess threats is an essential part of any strategy game. One of the major flaws (imo) of the original X-Com games was the lack of knowledge of the status of your foes. It made it nearly impossible to evaluate the different threats you encountered.

The night missions are a perfect example (I liked them so much, that I used a hack to only have night missions in X-Com):

There is little known how PP will handle night missions (will it even have “light management”, flares etc.?) and “fog of war” is also not implemented at the moment. But one thing seems to be clear, soldiers have “360 vision” and encounters like your example cannot happen - at least melee attacks in the back. Hopefully they will bring back those creepy “shots from the dark”…

But even if they bring them back; the moment an enemy silhouette will be visible, we already know everything about the creature: its HP, armor points, and body parts. In X-Com I absolutely loved seeing enemy silhouettes in the darkness, without knowing much more about them…

Not everything is about “pure” gameplay (at least for me): immersion and atmosphere are equally important. If I want “pure” gameplay I play chess or for example “Chaos Reborn” (with “spell decks” etc.) and not a tactical game with simulated ballistics, penetration systems and realistic graphics…

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This is something that I would be very careful of - The idea of a toggle sounds great in practice. it’s the perfect solution which pleases everyone - Until you start to think about balance.

A version of the game which shows more information to the player requires different balancing to a game which shows less information. So if you balance around information being shown, then the game is potentially unbalanced for any players who toggle that information off, and vice versa - My personal preference in this case would be to balance around HP information not being shown, and then allow other players to toggle that information on.

Possibly your way around this is to link the amount of information being shown to the selected difficulty level of the game. (But then we’ll start to debate whether information should be on or off in ‘normal’ mode)

Info on - Easy
Info off - Normal

Or is it?

Info on - Normal
Info off - Iron Man

I don’t think that a strategy game without HP information becomes a ‘guessing game’ so much as a it becomes a ‘predicting game.’ (Poker being a case in point; if you can predict which cards are coming, in the long term you’ll come out on top of a player who isn’t doing the same).

Even without HP information it’s not going to take a player long to realise that you can one shot those pesky spiderlings, whereas that cephalopod behemoth is going to require a bit more of a pounding. Likewise through experience, if not visual clues, you’re going to discover that a fully armoured crabman isn’t susceptible to being taken down by buckshot from a shotgun, whereas he doesn’t enjoy a flamethrower to the face.

Whether you have HPs turned on or off you’re still playing a strategy game, the game doesn’t becomes more or less strategic depending upon whether this type of information is shown, but what does change is the type of strategy game that you’re playing.

With HPs on, I feel that it’s (like others have mentioned) a puzzle. On each turn there’s a clearly a ‘best move’ to make, and once you figure out that best move, logic then dictates that you go ahead and make that move. The game can still throw some unknowns at you, but it’s done via the things such as positioning of hidden enemies on the map, new enemy types.

With HPs off, those unknowns become a more intrinsic part of the game. Every turn still has a ‘best move’ that you can figure out, but that best move is now based on probability rather than absolute values. - The game can still throw the same unknowns at you as it did previously, but now you have an element of risk involved in any decision that you make, and your ability as a player to manage that risk is essential.

I prefer that second option, with risk management, every battle, every turn, every play through has tension. I’ll keep coming back to a game like that time after time after time, because there’s always that possibility that even when I am making the best moves, that I’ll have a bad run of luck which I need to deal with, and that makes me play different, in the long term play better, I keep discovering something new about that game.

With the first option, where everything is laid out flat, I’ll work out the best way to play the game, play it once if the story line is worth following, and then leave it to gather dust.


One thing to note in relation to chess. In chess the AI is able to play and defeat grandmasters because in relative terms the game is quite simple.

NB I’m not saying that chess ‘is’ simple, it’s a complex game, it’s more complex than noughts and crosses (tic tac toe) for instance, but in comparison to most turn based strategy games in the mold of Xcom; chess is simple.

I don’t think you could program the AI to always make the best move in a single turn of an Xcom game, never mind think ahead or predict an opponent, all you can do is give it variables to consider and rules to follow, and then it makes the best move dependant upon those variables. In a like for like battle, the human player will always outclass the AI once they’ve learnt the basics of a game. This is why you often get situations created by the devs where the enemies outnumber you, or have better tech, some hulking crab queen, or you get set-piece jump scares or whatever. It’s because they know that you’ll play better than their AI.

This is also why those AI soldiers become more numerous or have more HP in ironman mode, as opposed to becoming more intelligent.

In consideration of this, adding in unknown elements, (not showing HP information in this instance, RNG in the grander scheme of things) is another way of mitigating that gulf in class between the players and the AI.

I wouldn’t tie any difficulty choice to ironman. The ironman setting should only affect the ability to save, and almost nothing else. That means no extra equipment, preferably no cosmetics aside from a possible “ironman medal”, and a very limited number of achievements. You should be equally able to play easy mode with full infolink in Ironman mode or impossible difficulty going blind and savescumming.

Which is exactly what I was hoping someone would say in response :slight_smile:

I agree with you, ironman should be used in just the way you suggest.

Once you start saying that you can only play a game in x or y way if you go in at a certain difficulty you’re marginalising players who want to play that way. I’d prefer UI elements to be off, but beyond that I don’t want to play at Ironman difficulty, likewise a player who wants the UI elements on probably isn’t seeking to only be able to do that in Easy mode.

I just wanted to make the point that a balanced game with toggles included isn’t necessarily going to remain balanced once you start turning those toggles on or off.

I think it’s a tough choice for the devs to make, whatever they do it’s hard to please everyone.

That’s a very good point, but then you’ve got two kinds of balance. The “absolute” balance would be what devs intended and they could come up and say “The game was balanced around hard mode, with ironman enabled and advanced infolink, we recommend these settings for an optimal experience”.

While this would be crucial in a multiplayer game as everybody has to play by the same rules, it’s not as important in a single player game as this would merly give you a rough indication of what to expect but, ultimately won’t matter if you’re a vet of the genre and breeze through or a complete beginner and can barely kill a crab.

If a game has multiple option and mod support, you ultimately create your own balance and the level of challenge you’re comfortable with, and that’s for more important in a solo game.

Yeah, that’s a fair point :slight_smile: