Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tactical Maps: a true WTF? moment.

When I started typing what would grow into the first episode of The DOLT Chronicles, I expected to churn out a couple quick illustrative examples of Exegesis new mechanics, each no longer than a paragraph or two…
How I got carried away probably says a lot about my own tendency to contextualize and think in a systemic way, but it also has to do with the intrinsic magic of Design by Tales, that pretty much requires you flesh out concepts until they grow legs and start walking while you try to explain about a piece of design through a story.

A cool example of how storytelling can lead to 'emergent' design of sorts can be found no farther than in the very first sentence of this short tale:
Marz El Duchamp, The Poutine Pie Clan CEO and newly-founded DoubleOreganoLimeToast [DOLT] alliance's grand poo-bah took another long look at the tactical map of the CL4M-1T system in SH-3LF constellation, for what seemed like the thousandth time of the night.
Believe it or not, this reference to a tactical map was not meant by me as a segue for a new feature I had in mind for Exegesis. It just happened because it was an obvious tool of the trade you'd expect any strategist in a spacewar-themed world to have at his disposal, and because a guy peering over the master plan for what his group is about to jump into is a classic way to start the exposition.

I retrospectively bang my head on desk at the notion it never occurred to me how critical a TacMap would be to make non-blob fleets a viable feature of EVE, and it's quite frightening to consider CCP and the players have been seemingly OK with EVE lacking such an invaluable tool for the past 6 years — short of the various in and out of game 'sovereignty' maps, which are strategic at best, but certainly neither tactically nor sub-tactically usable.

For Pete's sake, X-Wing had a TacMap… in 1992 !

There is a lot of cool stuff old games had that EVE doesn't and should — and I'm not talking about joystick controls — but I'll try to stick to one problem for the moment: situational awareness of the map kind.

A clear picture of your and the enemy's troops whereabouts on the battlefield is not mere eyecandy for a combat group leader: to a large extent the tactical map is the reality of the battle, seen from a strategist perspective.

In a strategic or tactical game you can even expect the map to largely become the territory, and to directly order units to go after a given objective directly from the TacMap, using it as a Commander interface.
I personally would love to see that idea developed in EVE, but even as a strictly informative tool (as opposed to an input interface), TacMaps would seriously change the life of EVE players at large, not just Commanders'.
…and because this is EVE, it would not be all good news, ofc: the candy comes with razor blades fillings.

Because I have no idea how hard it would be to make tactical maps truly interactive and a two-way communication/command interface, I'll split this feature description in two versions: TacMap v1, which only shows you what's happening on the battlefield, and TacMap v2 (Combat Leader edition) which allows to use the TacMap as a control surface to transmit orders and assign objectives to units directly from the TacMap interface.

TacMap v2 being an extension of TacMap v1, it is recommended to read the v1 article before v2 to fully understand what TacMap Combat Leader edition is about.

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