The Last Federation is a really unique game in that it is a strategy/tactics game set inside a simulation game. Check out our first sneak preview about it, or our preview discussing simulations in the game. Also our recent podcast with Space Game Junkie with lots of other details, the description of your role as an independent agent in the solar system, details on the alien races, information about the "butterfly effect" in the game, and the finalscene art for all the alien races, and some of the planetary art. Oh, and the forums for the game are filled with lots of other detailed tidbits, too.
Alpha Information! Private alpha testing with players is going to be starting around the 27th of this month. If you're interested in signing up, please see this forum post. Right now we do have open spots still, but we may wind up needing to close signup past a certain point, because we're getting such a huge response to this (and there's only so much feedback we can process at any given time).
Lots Of New Kinds Of Information Coming Soon (In Bits And Pieces Starting Now)!
As you may have noticed if you've been following the game, I've been talking extensively about the simulation and races in the game, how the world works, showing side-view ship art, and showing various scene art.
But I haven't shown true screenshots of non-scene-art stuff yet, no videos yet, and I have not talked in any substantial detail about the combat model at all. Believe me, I've been itching to do all of the above, and for those longtime fans of the company you know just how hard it is for me to keep my mouth shut on something like this, heh.
We unfortunately learned with A Valley Without Wind 1 that even the earliest images/videos/info that gets put out about a game tend to haunt it for the rest of its life. So in that light, I've really wanted to put our best foot forward with everything that I tell you or show you, and to that end have only been showing and telling about final or near-final stuff.
Since there have been so many bits and bobs with the art that were still in progress, and interface design stuff, and very substantial iterations on the combat, those things have remained kind of hidden until now. But over the course of the next couple of weeks, I'll have new information and graphics and so forth to share with you every few days. Stay tuned!
First Up, Some Combat Art!
In the past, I've shown you the side-view art for the ships, such as this one for the flagships:
Originally we were doing combat from a side view with 1v1 ship combat, and so this was the art we were actually using in combat itself. But that combat model was not as satisfying as hoped, for a wide variety of reasons, and so we've shifted things heavily to instead be a more top-down RTS approach. (This is exactly what I'm talking about with not showing things too soon with images or details publicly, incidentally -- people are uneasy seeing "how the hotdog is made" a lot of the time.)
These side-view images that you've seen before are still in the game, but are used mainly for show now. You'll see them flying by in the main menu, you see them in certain scene art from various perspectives, and a few other contexts. But no longer combat itself. Instead, in combat, you have this:
You can click both of the above images to get full-scale versions, by the way -- they are scaled down a bit from actual in-game resolution, due to the width of the content column on the blog.
It's also crucial that I mention that the top-down ships above are a WIP still -- some of the smaller ships have some details on them that are still a bit rough, and the smoke plumes behind the ships likely won't remain since those don't animate well.
Those caveats out of the way, I'm really excited by the look that Blue has come up with for these ships. You can see how wonderfully the colors shift to show which faction they belong to -- way more attractive and smooth than in AI War, and extremely clear even from fairly zoomed out because of how the engine jets themselves are colored.
The largest ships, in the center, are vanilla flagships -- what is shown from the side-view higher up in this post. The smaller ships are (from left to right, top to bottom): pirate fighter, fighter, frigate, and armed spy drone. Basically all of the smallest-possible ships, next to one of the largest-possible ships.
Combat Tidbits Round #1
So now that you've seen how some of the graphics look, there are some things that I'd like to share about how combat itself works.
All of the ships in the game are organized into fleets. You have one fleet, period. You live on your flagship. You can purchase squadrons of ships and staff them with either AI or with commissioned mercenaries of various races.
The 8 races, however, will wind up having hundreds and hundreds of fleets, between them. All of them are piloted by members of their own race, which has some effects that I'll mention a bit lower down.
Remember, You Are A Mercenary
This game is very different from other strategy games, in that you are not remotely a Major Power in the solar system. You are puny. By the end of the game, you might be 1/100th the strength of one of the factions on the map.
This might remind you somewhat of AI War, but unlike AI War I would not classify this as a David vs Goliath situation. In AI War, you are directly facing off against the AI -- in TLF, you don't really have any "opponents," per se.
You have various people trying to kill you at various times, sure -- and you may anger some race to the point that they hate you forever, sure. And yeah, okay, there are pirates, assassins, and Anti-Federation Alliance people that might specifically be sent to kill you. But those last three are more on your scale, they aren't major planetary powers.
Your role is to run contracts throughout the solar system, which typically involves combat of your fleet versus another fleet or in some cases fleets. Through your actions, you either coerce, convince, or bargain with the major powers to do what you want. And you exploit holes in their forces to do so, as they war against each other, and try to become more powerful, etc. It's amazing what you can do as the little guy.
All of your ships, and all of the ships of other fleets as well, are organized into squadrons. A squadron is a homogeneous group of ships, such as two battleships or 10 fighters or whatever. Higher-level fleets can have larger numbers of ships per squadron.
Squadrons are auto-bound to the hotkeys 1 through 0, so that you can easily move them as groups if you like. Or you can split your squadrons -- during battles, you can give orders to ships individually just like in AI War, or at the squadron level, or in any arbitrary groups you like. The AI keeps its squadrons together more, but still uses its ships individually within that group.
There aren't a huge number of types of ships in this game -- the basic roster is just 5 kinds of ships (Fighter, Frigate, Destroyer, Cruiser, Battleship). Overall there are 24 different ships in the game, but a good 14 of them are very specialized, and six are pirate vessels.
But! This is where pilots come in. Depending on what race is actually flying a type of ship, that ship gets behavioral or stat bonuses or penalties. This means that the fighter vessel from each of the 8 races is different, with different bonuses.
Your vanilla "ship AI" ships don't have any special bonuses, but you also don't have to pay any pilots to run them. If you want to hire mercenaries from a given race, then you can do so for each kind of ship class. Aka, you could have Burlusts flying your fighters, and Evucks flying your Battleships, if you want.
But the mercenaries from each race want a commission that depends on what kind of ship they are flying and how many of that ship they are flying. The commission gets taken out of your earnings from any contracts you undertake -- so that gives you extra abilities, but at a cost of some of your earnings. Figuring out exactly what combination of stuff you want to use in your fleet is really interesting.
Let's do some quick math. In the early game, you can have up to three squadrons, and by later in the game you can have up to 10. There are 5 basic types of ships that can go in each squadron, or 10 if you get all the small pirate ship technologies. There are then 8 different options for pilots for each of those 12 types (ship AI, plus then every race except the Thoraxians -- they are a hive mind per planetary queen, so they have no mercenaries or pirates or other independent thinkers).
Now let's use the awesome combination calculator. Since we have 10 different kinds of ships, out of which you can choose up to 10, repeats allowed, that is a whopping 92,378 possible fleet makeups you can have. But then you have the pilots added on -- 8 different choices, applied to 10 kinds of ships, again with repeats allowed. That's a further 19,448 different ways that you can choose your pilots. To get the unique number of squadrons+pilot combinations, you multiply those together and get... 1,796,567,344.
1.8 billion? Not bad for variety, I'd say -- you have some room for creativity. ;) If my math is wrong, someone please correct me and I'll update the post. Those numbers seem egregiously high to me, to be honest, but I can't find fault with my formulas, so... Anyway, one way or another, the numbers are really big.
Another thing that is really important about squadrons is how they are deployed in battle. When battle starts, all you have is your flagship out. It's kind of like an aircraft carrier -- it's scrambling its ships to get them into play.
The order it scrambles them is in a little queue at the bottom of your screen, and initially matches the order of your squadrons from your customization screen. However, you can reorder the queue as the tactical situation evolves, to better react to what your enemy is deploying off their flagship. This is a really important consideration during combat.
The Goal Of Combat
In most types of combat, the combat ends when one of the two "centerpiece" ships is destroyed. When talking about military fleets, that's always a flagship of some kind. If you're doing something like raiding a freighter convoy or a spy squad, though, then the centerpiece would be a freighter or an armed spy drone, respectively.
Once the enemy centerpiece is destroyed, you win the combat. Or if they destroy your flagship, then you lose. The entire game, because you just died -- not just that one battle. Sometimes retreating from a battle that is unwinnable is the only thing you can really do.
The Ramifications Of Combat
Combat is usually done in order to resolve a contract, for which you are rewarded with money and/or bargaining power. There is no other way to get bargaining power other than completing contracts, and money can only be obtained through either contracts or taking out temporary loans.
Here is another place that squadrons are important: the individual ships within each squadron, if they survive, are small enough that they can be auto-repaired for free for you as soon as combat ends. However, any ships that were completely lost have to be replaced for money. This is as simple as simply flying into dock at any planet, or at the black market, and it "refleets" you instantly and automatically. If you don't like the expenditure of money that took place during a refleeting, you can sell your ships back at full value, so there is no need to worry or be fiddly about it. Your flagship also has to be repaired for money, as it retains whatever damage it sustained during a battle.
What this means is that every ship you lose in battle is cutting into your profit margin. If you want to do well in the game on higher difficulties, you don't want to just win the combats -- you want to win well. Some ship losses are inevitable and necessary, but you don't want it to be too many. At an advanced level of play, this might be a tough decision: do you hire stronger mercenaries for commission who then help you lose fewer ships? Or do you avoid the commissions, but lose more ships that you then have to replace?
Interestingly, this means that if you are going to win the game, you are either going to have won or retreated from every battle you entered into. But you can still do that and lose, because of the larger solar system situation deteriorating and the federation collapsing. The larger game is made to be difficult even if you win every battle. Depending on your difficulty settings. Don't let that scare you off if you're more of a casual player -- difficulty options abound, and this game is often going to be more about having fun and seeing what stories develop than actually winning, anyway.
Other Cool Stuff
Depending on where your battle is taking place, you might find yourself in empty deep space, in the ice belt, in the asteroid belt, or in orbit around some planet. All of these things matter.
In the asteroid belt and in the ice belt you have to deal with floating asteroids and ice chunks. Don't worry, these won't harm your ships, so you don't have to micromanage your ships to go around them or anything. But these objects do block shots from both yourself and from enemies, so they provide interesting tactical cover. Ships can cross over them without taking damage, as noted, but to do so causes them to slow way down as they are crossing over (aka around in the Z axis) the object.
Around planets, you have gravity wells of various strengths (depending on the type of planet -- ice dwarfs have almost no gravity well, while a hypertonic gas giant has a very strong one). Gravity wells are represented very simply. They don't actively cause ships or ships to get pulled anywhere when the ships are stationary, but they do cause a speedup when things are moving south on the screen, and a slowdown when things are moving north on the screen. This can cause shots to bend, and makes it so that having the "high ground" of being in a higher orbit can be really valuable.
Space junk also makes an appearance around planets. The more large ships that get destroyed at a planet (via either your battles or via wars between the factions, it doesn't matter), the more junk starts floating around in their orbit. These pieces of junk wind up floating through your battlefields around that planet, basically working like asteroids or ice chunks, but moving much faster and providing only temporary cover.
Extra cool is that races can then harvest the junk around their planets if they are so inclined, which provides a boost to their planetary/ship construction projects during the harvesting, as well as reducing the amount of junk in their orbits. There are a lot of grand-strategic implications to this.
Also, unlike AI War, the shots in this game are all simulated ballistics (as in games of ours like Valley 1 and 2). So in other words, shots can be dodged by ships, or ships can move in front of other ships to shield them from shots. Your shots don't hit your own ships (there's no friendly fire, that would just be insane), but it makes for some really interesting shielding strategies to protect your flagship even from long-range shots by sacrificing (for instance) some fighters.
This isn't a twitch game, but at an advanced level of play, adjusting your trajectories in response to enemy actions is a good thing to be doing. I should also mention that both your ships and enemy ships "lead" their targets (again unlike AI War), so you may be wondering "why the heck did that ship just shoot over there at that empty space?" and then the shot collides with something that was on a trajectory to be there at the time the bullet arrives. This is one of those cases where, if the shot from the enemy is slow enough and from far enough away, you can change trajectories of your ships to get out of its way.
That's it for today. Hopefully that gives you some tantalizing details on combat, finally. Enjoy!
Originally posted by Chris Park on the Games by Design blog.