PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

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PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

Post  Wolverine on Thu May 02, 2013 1:06 am

Welcome to the Developer Diary for PROJECT "RHUBARB", a dynamic battlefield campaign system for IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover. I'll be posting various interesting bits here regarding the project's development, good and bad, as they come up. I hope to make a post every week, but I suspect the postings may be more haphazard than that.

Please feel free to register and ask questions in this thread and I'll answer every one of them to the best of my ability.

I look forward to being able to bring this campaign type to as many people as possible soon.

Thanks for reading!


I'll be using a different colour for the diary entries to make them stand out for easy browsing! This is the colour!


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DIARY ENTRY #1

Post  Wolverine on Thu May 02, 2013 1:15 am

I just ran a quick preliminary test for the work to be done this Sunday and I was...very very surprised. Pleasantly so. I'll recap what I did:

So I needed to make sure that AI aircraft would interact across mission loads. Would the AI 110 zerstorer sweep attack ground objects of opportunity if that convoy was loaded in via a different mission? Would AI escorts attack the 110s if they encountered them. What would the 110s do if they were attacked while engaging ground targets?

I did not expect what occurred.

I loaded in a fuel convoy. A few albion trucks rolling down a road. Nothing else in the sky.

I simulated the chance that a recon identified the trucks and then loaded a separate mission with a random assortment of waypoints for a 110 flight with ground attack (target) waypoints given at each point.

The 110s went along their route and I was worried they wouldn't react...until they suddenly went into attack formation upon sighting the convoy and began engaging it fiercely.

Okay, so far so good! Now let's say the players detected that raid and wanted to put up a fighter sweep of their own. So I go and load a Spitfire sweep that crosses the area of attack.

The Spitfires sweep across and roll in on the 110s beautifully.

Now...what did the 110s do? This is the surprising bit.

They initiated evasive manoevers while still attempting to complete their mission of destroying the targets on the ground. Their attack runs became erratic, nervous, swinging about as they evaded the Spitfires while still trying to get their job done.

The Spitfires chewed two of the four up.

The last two, broke away and raced for friendly airfields! This is the even MORE surprising bit!

Not only did I not bother starting the 110s from an airfield, I hadn't put any friendly air spawns in, just a front line map. The 110s turned tail and tried to get to an airfield behind their lines once they assessed their situation as 'bad'.

I've encountered some of the same behaviour before in bombers (they'll ditch bombs and disperse if attacked by a large number of enemies) but that was all within one mission build. The action that came above was organically constructed from three separate, entirely distinct missions.

Keep in mind that none of the above was pre-ordained. That convoy may or may not be there. The 110s? Maybe the enemy has had all of theirs shot down and can't send more. Maybe they arrive too late and the fuel trucks have already reached their destination. The Spitfires? Maybe there are no Spitfires left operational and Hurricanes have to go instead. Maybe the Spitfires get sent out with the convoy and engage the 110s before they can attack the convoy. Maybe the players are escorting the convoy. All these decisions will happen real time and affect the progression of the battle.

If those fuel trucks reach the airbase they're heading to, maybe the Spitfires that couldn't fly now have fuel. If they get destroyed, maybe that airfield is out of action until another convoy can be sent successfully to fuel their aircraft. Maybe the players decide to get fuel there by sending a flight of fully fueled Wellingtons to the airbase and then siphoning the fuel out (that'd be a clever, organic idea that can be fully incorporated). What's abundantly clear from my test tonight is that everything I've been thinking and hoping will be possible, pretty much is.

More testing is required to see what happens in more situations, but these preliminary findings are very encouraging. A LOT of mission building will be required up front, but the results will be great. The living battlefield is definitely a possibility and I can't wait to get human pilots in the thick of it.

I will be your fighter command. I've got fun and excitement forming at cloud level. Let me vector you onto it.


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Re: PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

Post  StiC on Thu May 02, 2013 6:45 pm

This sounds amazing.
Excellent work.

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Re: PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

Post  No.310_cibule on Fri May 03, 2013 5:09 am

Looks fantastic. Thx for keeping us informed.

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DIARY ENTRY #2

Post  Wolverine on Fri May 03, 2013 4:05 pm

Map Building



Work begins in earnest in building the testing map for Project "Rhubarb". I've decided to use the small 'Fields' map as a test bed because the size is more managable for testing with small numbers, and the possibilities of action are reduced as well due to same. This means I can test the systems in scale.

When switching this kind of system (dynamic mission response) to a larger map, the work load doesn't increase on a 1:1 basis due to the exponential increase in possibilities. If two airfields per side becomes four, now instead of four possible bombing runs (A to C, B to C, A to D, B to D) you have a possible sixteen routes (A to E, F, G, and H / B to E, F, G, and H / C to E, F, G, and H / D to E, F, G, and H). Multiplied by the number of different assets beyond airfields (supply points, armour concentrations, town garrisons, etc.) and what seems like a relatively small map increase becomes a mountain of work.

So by testing with the tiny 'Fields' map, I'll be able to make significant revisions faster and iterate more quickly Iteration is key in developing a complex system. Even if something works okay, there's nothing to say that a different way couldn't work better. Constantly making quick changes in a 'what if' sort of way allows you hone in on the best design.

The placement of objects, and creating the templates to be able to load them quickly and efficiently, is an interesting design stage. My recent experience with the very well done Storm of War campaign run by 5./JG27 and ACG has helped greatly with the problems in such work.

You have to make sure a target is destroyable, but not TOO destroyable. How destroyable is fun? Is it more fun to have to make multiple raids on a target to destroy it? Is it better to have it set up so that an expert strike will destroy it, but novice runs will require more attempts? How much AA fire is too much AA fire? Lots of interesting puzzles.

One thing I'm working on is how to reveal that a target has been destroyed. Traditionally, the players receive a message that informs them that the target has been destroyed relatively soon after the bombs go off (if not instantaneously). This has several effects on gameplay:

First, the players immediately know that no more action is required. Defenders stop defending and attackers stop attacking. The target and the target area becomes a non-event point and the map (and the possibilities) is essentially shrunk in size.

Second, an instant message encourages 'suicide' runs. When there's a concrete indicator of whether or not you get the target or not, it seems to be that players are far more likely to 'go for broke' on targets with very little concern for if they survive or not. This comes out of a phenomenon that hard wires us to look for validation or reward. The 'DESTROYED!' message is pleasing to us and we want it.

More thoughts to come later in part two... (I've got to run for now!)
...
And now to continue!

By removing the instant message from the target, we can create a different sort of battle zone.

Recon flights become incredibly important not simply as a way of locating a target, but of also identifying if the target has been significantly damaged. Poor recon can mean throwing bombers at a target that has already suffered significant damage, or NOT throwing bombers at a target that has received only light damage.

Even just locating targets becomes different. In a spread out armoured advance, if 6 of 10 tanks must be destroyed to knock out the advance as soon as the sixth tank is destroyed, the rest of the armoured advance is ignored if instant messages are on. With them turned off, perhaps the 7th tank is spotted while the 6th tank is being destroyed. Now it's critical that the attacking aircraft identify just how big the attack is before deciding if they've done enough damage to it.

We also touch on the idea of partial results. Instead of a polar opposite result (alive or dead) we can open the infinite results of an analog scale. Partly damaged? Heavily damaged? Routed? Utterly destroyed? By leaving out any pre-keyed destruction quota, results from ground attacks are free to be more organic. This works in a situation in which someone can observe and report on the targets (the role of the warlord) and make judgements based on the attack. Perhaps the attacking aircraft sent a wave that destroyed four tanks in seconds before being engaged by fighter cover. Perhaps the speed and rapidity of that attack causes moral to fail and the attack stalls. Unencumbered by the destruction trigger, we can make a more compelling story from the game.

We've been trained to want iron-clad results. Did I destroy the target or didn't I? 1 or 0. I do not find anything poetic or interesting in that view. Many of us play the game as a way of trying to experience a small sliver of the conflict that embroiled Europe for so many years in the late '30s and 40s. There was very little about the war that was so cut and dry as destroyed / not destroyed.

In building the map, I have placed static cameras over all fixed targets (airfields, support facilities, etc.) in order that the status of these objectives can be observed when required to determine their current state. I'm intentionally leaving the condition for destroying targets vague and uncodified.

And now we get to one of the key parts of Project "Rhubarb" and something that will, I'm hoping, help the community develop something which sometimes seems to be very much lacking: trust.

We don't, seemingly, trust each other. Your aircraft are better. No, yours are. You're making missions to suit your side intentionally. You're not interested in seriously considering our recommendations. On and on and on... .

With Project "Rhubarb" TRUST is so important. Maybe not as much if run as a co-op campaign, but in the eventual move to VS. campaigns, trusting the Warlord's decisions will be of the utmost importance.

The ultimate goal of the Warlord is not to 'win the war'. Certainly he is pursuing that end as cleverly as he can with the assets he has, but the Warlord's true goal is to give the players a compelling narrative. It's easy to say that the players need to trust that the warlord can count properly and will get the destruction values right. That's not what I'm looking at. I'm interested in making sure that the players trust the warlord to make the right calls to provide a fun, interesting, and challenging game experience that is rewarding to players as lovers of video gaming AND history.

When I have to make the call of whether or not the players destroyed a town's garrison to allow them to take the town, but they only hit roughly half of the enemy's units, I have to decide whether or not allowing them to take the town in that turn is more or less fun, interesting, and challenging to the players.

The players need to trust that if I decide no, the town was held and their attack fails that I am making that decision in their interest, not mine. There is no room to debate. "No, we got that target! It's not fair. You're not being fair." That sort of response is exactly the kind of mistrust we have of each other in the community that prevents us from doing the more interesting types of games.

My hope is that in the above situation, instead of "It's not fair" I hear this instead: "Cool, this is becoming a huge battle. The Battle for St. Omer!" Because, if the situation above happens, that's probably exactly what I'm trying to do; tell the story of the Battle for St. Omer.

And let me tell you, that Battle for St. Omer is going to be
EPIC.

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DIARY ENTRY #3

Post  Wolverine on Sun May 05, 2013 1:25 pm

AIRCRAFT vs. PILOTS



It has been accepted by the majority of players, I believe, that the pilot is the more important of the pilot/aircraft combination and that being able to track pilots would be much more favorable to tracking aircraft. Issues develop, however, in that aircraft are far easier to determine if destroyed.

If a pilot bails out of his aircraft, how is it determined if he is recovered or not? It's difficult to track where on the map (if front lines are to be used) he lands. Also, if bailing out over water (the Channel for example) is the pilot assumed lost? Plenty of ASR boats and aircraft were available and attempted to bring pilots back from the water.

We are hindered in many of these issues by our lack of pilotable ASR aircraft (eg. Walrus). A player flown Walrus would possibly be able to fly to a last known coordinate of the pilot, land, and then take-off again, simulating the pick-up of a downed pilot.

I see the opportunity in Project "Rhubarb" to effect a type of ASR action via the use of pre-set flight paths for various ASR flights that cover the various water areas. In the event a pilot is downed in those areas, the ASR flight can be kicked off. If the ASR aircraft is protected and returns safely, the pilot is recovered. Following a test of the AI aircraft flights and attacking ground targets, ASR boats could also be used and potentially destroyed by the enemy.

The idea requires more thought, but it is promising. The setup of an ASR flight would be no different than a fighter sweep which is already possible. The risks to the ASR would be very real and escort would be required.

I look forward to testing and iterating the idea.


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Re: PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

Post  No.310_cibule on Sun May 05, 2013 4:07 pm

Hi Wolv,

I expected some info about Sunday's testing but have got nothing. Pitty I would haven taken part as announced. Later at night I spotted some of you on TS (but it was too late). How was it going ? Any news?

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Re: PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

Post  Wolverine on Sun May 05, 2013 4:48 pm

No.310_cibule wrote:Hi Wolv,

I expected some info about Sunday's testing but have got nothing. Pitty I would haven taken part as announced. Later at night I spotted some of you on TS (but it was too late). How was it going ? Any news?



Hi Cibule,

Sorry about that. We had 3 pilots to test the overall air combat aspect of the system and it went well in general. A few things to sort out (numbers of aircraft, how the AA is set up at airfields and other strategic positions, etc.) but the general concept is still solid.

RED received moderate damage to its bomber airfield, BLUE took large losses in aircraft. RED attempted to bomb a BLUE airfield, but the raid was dispersed with one Wellington being lost and the other two returning to home damaged.

RED managed to strafe an airfield and take out a few more aircraft that way.

Next week I hope to introduce a little bit of the ground war as well.

One thing we came away with from today is that the number of players is important. With 3 players, the battlefield wasn't dynamic enough. Squadrons need to work like squadrons in that there needs to be some people at the 'readiness' status to be able to take on new raids. It was the first time I ever got the feeling (in terms of campaigns that we've done with Cliffs of Dover) that the squadron 'scramble' would have actually been very important rather than just having everyone take off at the same time when the campaign started.

We'll be testing again same time next week (2:00 EST) so if you can join us, we'll have you.

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DIARY ENTRY #4

Post  Wolverine on Sun May 05, 2013 4:58 pm

MISSION TYPES

Having just run a test of the combat system, I'm generally impressed. The available options for combat are increased quite a lot from the old stand-by of online campaigns where everyone seems to take-off as soon as the mission starts.

Just to list some of the air combat actions that players can expect to encounter:

1. High altitude enemy recon flights and scouts

2. Enemy scrambles to defend airfields

3. Enemy bombing raids (escorted and not escorted) of all altitudes

4. Resupply flights bringing new aircraft to forward airfields

5. ASR flights to recover downed pilots

6. Enemy intercept fighters

7. Enemy fighter sweeps

8. Transport aircraft moving troops / officials

9. Enemy ground attack sweeps ("Rhubarb" missions)

And, keep in mind that all of those actions are undertakeable by the players when and where they decide and have real consequences. And we're just talking air combat! We'll be adding ground/sea attack/defend missions as well which can be supported by air power.

Looking forward to next week when I'll be able to speak more about how the ground war will work.

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Re: PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

Post  No.310_cibule on Sun May 05, 2013 5:13 pm

Sounds very impresive. Thx for the info. I'll try to be part of the testing next Sunday.

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DIARY ENTRY #5: GROUND WAR!

Post  Wolverine on Mon May 06, 2013 12:37 pm

Interesting things afoot!

Last night I began the implimentation of the test case for the ground war missions for Project "Rhubarb". This included adding ground assault missions for both Allied and Axis as well as some low level 'rhubarb' missions for the Axis with Me110s.

My first tests of how the ground units advance quickly showed that mixed force ground assaults are going to be very difficult to do. The tanks, armoured cars, supply trucks, etc., all move at very different speeds and there is no way to slow them down into a single column speed (or none that I have found yet). As a result, some armoured cars raced ahead towards the goal leaving the tanks in their dust. I believe this will be problematic as it leaves such units without any anti-air cover and also separates the units on the ground making for harder to find targets.

After this, I also noticed that the AA fire from Bofors, FLAK 38s, 3" QF and 88mm flak is incredibly effective against ground units. So much so that my planned idea for ground artillery and other defensive positions gave way to simply manipulating the AA positions in such a way that they are more visible as targets and placed in spots where they will engage any approaching enemy forces. This doesn't rule out the possibility of ground artillery defenses, but we'll have to see how hardy the assault columns are.

Victory conditions for ground units are also an interesting point to look at. If the ground unit simply reaches its goal, does that constitute victory? Does the ground unit have to stay there for a set period of time? Do all defenses have to be destroyed?

I've taken the approach of # of units + waypoint reached safely as victory conditions (ie. 6 of 10 units must successfully reach their end waypoint). I feel that this will level the playing field between attacker and defender. I may in future attempt to add a 'must survive final waypoint for X minutes approach in order to increase the importance of softening up a target. When the units reach their waypoints, it seems that if there is any artillery / aa available to shoot at them, they get destroyed relatively quickly.

My hope is that with properly moved units, they will begin to engage the artillery / aa on their own. Thus, giving the ground units some active role in battle and allowing for the importance of both destroying attacking enemy aircraft AND the ground units capable of putting up a defense.

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DIARY ENTRY #6: Squadrons and Sorties

Post  Wolverine on Thu May 09, 2013 4:12 pm

Something that will have to be considered by the Warlord of the Axis forces is how many flights / ground attacks / ships he can have active at any one time. This will need to be tailored to meet the needs of the players playing. If a large number of players are playing, then more enemy aircraft will need to be present to provide everyone with something to do and to keep the challenge level high.

But what is the best way to manage this? I have decided to try a Squadron activity approach.

All the various operations in the game will be tied to various squadrons (I./JG2, II./JG26, etc.) and any one squadron will only be capable of putting up one sortie at a time, however many aircraft are involved in that particular sortie. It may also come to pass that each individual squadron will be responsible for its own aircraft. If II./JG26 suffers 8 losses and III./JG23 suffers 2, II./JG26's effectiveness in the coming mission will be far more reduced than III./JG23's.

Attack the sectors that JG26 is responsible for in preparation of a bombing attack. Take out as many fighters as you can before sending your bombers that way. If JG26 is unable to put up a fighter intercept, it's possible that the bombers will get through without much molestation.

I'm hoping that this method will help to promote the decision making situations that spurred Dowding and Park to their conclusions. Only put up as many fighters as you can afford to. Also, Goering's task of getting the RAF to 'come up and fight' is key. If the Axis side can't goad the players into putting up fighters, they'll have little hope of getting bombers to target as they are engaged by fighter intercepts. AI bombers are far more likely (especially the rookie pilots) to drop bombs and disperse for home airfield after being attacked. Some have said this makes them easy targets, but I've never read any accounts of bomber crews 'staying on target' in the face of lots of attackers, weaving and looping and diving for the deck. Mostly they are split up and run for it.

So in this way I will be setting up squadron bases for the various Axis flights and assigning the flights to various crews. I will have a couple of fighter squadrons (109s), a couple of destroyer squadrons (110s), and four bomber squadrons (87s, 88s, 17s, and 111s).

Each squadron will have a formula for recovery of aircraft and pilots as follows:

II.JG26 Recovery =

+4 aircraft per mission

+2 pilots per mission

+1 aircraft per airfield held per mission

+1 pilot per town held per mission

So, if the Axis forces control 3 airfields and 2 towns, between missions II.JG26 will recover 7 aircraft and 4 pilots.

Why base recovery on territory held rather than factories or other 'supply point' type things? Because such things reduce the ground actions and therefore turn the entire battle into little air strikes that neglect the 'combined arms' point of the campaign. You can reduce the effectiveness of a squadron by bombing their airfield and destroying their aircraft, but unless those actions are accompanied by the capturing of towns and airfields, the warmachine will continue to produce aircraft and pilots. It's not enough to be good in the air. You have to support your actions by exposing your ground forces. If you've destroyed many 109s, but no 110s. You'll soon find that your ground attacks get turned away and the 109s recover in forces enough to support their own offense.

Lots to consider. We'll know more after testing the ground offenses.

In the next diary entry, I'll talk about what bombers can do to help the war and the various targets they can go after.
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Re: PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

Post  Wolverine on Sun May 12, 2013 1:57 pm

Project testing to begin shortly (Sunday 12th of May). We will be using the ACG teamspeak server for communication. Find us there!

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Re: PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

Post  GloriousRuse on Thu May 08, 2014 7:03 pm

May I add this sounds amazing to the others who have.

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Re: PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

Post  No.310_cibule on Mon May 12, 2014 6:25 am

Hi Wolv,

It really sounds fantastic.

As we have just finished SoW campaign (flown on Sundays) I wonder if there is a chance to take part in your great project. Any idea at what day time is it going to be flown?

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Re: PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

Post  Wolverine on Mon May 12, 2014 4:08 pm

Unfortunately, I got very frustrated in testing the AI ground and air units and suspended work on Project "Rhubarb" for quite a while. It's shocking to me now, but these test updates are now exactly a year old!

I'd still like to do something similar to this idea. At the moment, I'm focused on tweaking and improving the current mission on our server as it seems to be gaining some popularity with some members of the community.

If I can get some more time to do development, I'll look into this system again and try to work something out that would be playable.

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Re: PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

Post  AKA_Recon on Sat May 17, 2014 5:16 pm

I have experience in being a part of running virtual wars - ran one for 10+ years with AKA_Scorp - we started out manually building them, then shifted to use IL2 DCG - then eventually spun that off into our own creation.

In your last diary I see the frustration of the ground war. My take on this is to be creative and not have the traditional 'tanks roll into the cities, battle it out and take the city'. BoB offers some unique opportunities.

I can see this in some of the ATAG missions - where we take out airfields, strikes against radar towers, shipping raids, etc...

In battles on French soil, I view it more of the same way I would of a 'risk' game. Adjacent 'towns' have tanks, they don't have to roll down the roads - they can be defensive posts that if human pilots can bomb and take them out, and knock that defense out, then the tanks in the adjacent towns move forward.

What I like what you have here is the ability to have AI play a smart roll - where pilots can call them in to assist, you can have a lower amount of humans and yet still have commanders calling in AI fighters/strikes forces, etc...

Basically I'd minimize the need to have as much of a moving ground war - 'simulate' that, put the focus more on controlling the airforces, but have rules around taking territory....

Just some initial thoughts - as I'm very interested based on the past to see a system form, and I think your the right person to do it
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Re: PROJECT "RHUBARB" DEVELOPER DIARY

Post  AKA_Recon on Sat May 17, 2014 5:22 pm

in the late phases of the war, I started to create a 'supply' capability - whereas it gave bombers targets outside of needle in the haystack, on the deck attacks.

Basically 'factories' and other targets represented overall 'supply capability' - by knocking those out, it would have slow down the advancing forces.

These targets were especially designed to be level bombed (by tons of lower altitude flack, making it nearly suicidal to come on the deck)

Also, the ability to knockout forward airfields by bombing them.

This promoted bombing to a 1st class citizen, as typically all the fighter jocks just want to circle fight the whole time. Now they need to defend, help escort, etc.. if they want their side to 'win'.

To me, even an airkill was nothing more than a 'defense' - so I wanted more and more to downgrade that so we don't have 'aces' game

We ran persona's and 'DiD' concepts during this time as well - to promote people wanting to stay alive, but being passive won't win wars, so it creates a double edged sword
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