DevDiary 19 - Legion Battle Update and Gamepad Support
Ave! After a small break, we have another DevDiary for you with an update on two of the major things we’ve been working on for Expeditions: Rome. Since our last update, we’ve made excellent progress on the new legion battle system, and we’re pleased to report that it’s shaping up to be a lot more interesting than the old minigame. At the same time, we’ve been working to improve our gamepad support to get rid of the cursor emulation in most parts of the game, to make it a better experience to play Rome from the comfort of your couch.
First, let’s take a look at the state of the legion battle system. If you didn’t read our last DevDiary where we talked about our plans, you may want to go and skim over it now so we’re all on the same page before you read on.
All caught up? Great. Now: our technical designer Casper finished a prototype implementation of the improved legion battles a week and a half ago and started working on some basic rebalancing. Once this was in place, we were able to play around with the system and get a sense of how it feels. As hoped, the changes have both made the legion battles easier to understand and greatly improved the sense that your stratagem choices really matter. One wrong decision or reckless risk taken can cause the death of one of your centurions or mean the difference between the enemy army scattering or retreating to fight another day.
The fact that you now interface with the system entirely through the specialisation points from your centurions and stratagems, gives you a better overview of the ebb and flow of battle. The unpredictability of the previous behind-the-scenes dice-rolls is replaced by which stratagems are played by your enemy, but since you get some up-front information about that, you can adjust your choices based on what the enemy does. This adds a feeling that your enemies are working against you, which supports the fantasy of legion command much better than the randomness of the old system (and makes you curse your enemies when they counter your Artillery points, preventing you from reaching the next tier in that specialisation).
One discovery we made as we were testing was that we still needed to keep the more specific direct effects on the outcome cards. As you may know from playing the current game, the stratagem selection you get at the end of each battle changes depending on whether you won or lost. Since these cards take effect after the outcome of the battle is already determined, it made little sense to keep adding more points to the specialisations, since many of the specialisation effects are no longer relevant once the battle is won or lost. For this reason, you’ll still see specific effects on those cards in the new system, such as Show Mercy costing you a few Morale points while replenishing your Legion Manpower with fresh recruits.
Once we knew that we had achieved what we wanted with the new system, Casper started working with our intrepid UI designer Anca to update the interface to look good and communicate the new features. A lot of work was put into adding new animations to help the player understand what’s happening. The tutorials have also been updated, explaining the legion battles in substantially more detail than the old system was.
The other major update we’ve been working on is proper gamepad support. As you know if you’ve tried to enable controller input while playing Expeditions: Rome, the current version relies heavily on cursor emulation. Our first priority was to remove cursor emulation from the exploration, worldmap, and combat parts of the game. The character is now controlled directly by the Left Stick outside of combat. Movement uses the same sort of pathfinding as you get if you hold down the left mouse button when playing on mouse and keyboard, so your character will automatically move around objects, avoid obstacles, and so on. It can take a little getting used to, but it feels very organic after a moment, and prevents you running into walls.
In combat, the camera moves freely but the cursor is replaced by a crosshair at the center of the viewport that selects characters and tells them where to go. You can of course still cycle characters with the bumper buttons as you’d expect. Skills are cycled with the D-Pad by default, and the face buttons swap weapons, toggle the character tooltip, and reset the camera focus.
The next big task before we can consider the controller implementation final is to update most of the UIs to get rid of the cursor emulation as well, allowing you to navigate with the D-Pad and the sticks instead, and assigning new shortcuts to common functions. We’ve already updated the dialogue panel so you cycle the options with the D-Pad and continue or skip with the face buttons, and we’ve just updated all the UIs related to character creation as well. We’re probably going to keep the cursor emulation in the party panels (the skill and inventory screens) since it allows you to read all the tooltips and frankly makes inventory navigation faster than if you’d have to navigate with a D-Pad, but we have other solutions for all other interface panels.
The legion battle system may be released within the next couple of weeks, but you should expect full gamepad support around the beginning of April. Thank you so much for playing Expeditions: Rome and giving us your feedback, and please do join our DevStream this Wednesday, March 16th, at 1:00 PM Eastern / 5:00 PM GMT at http://twitch.tv/thqnordic. We’ll show off a little of the new legion battle system and answer your questions about it, about playing Rome with a controller, or really about anything you’d like to ask about the game.