Planetary Annihilation, a futuristic RTS that's stuck in the past. (aesthetically speaking)

Discussion in 'Planetary Annihilation General Discussion' started by tehtrekd, January 2, 2015.

  1. tehtrekd

    tehtrekd Post Master General

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    Lately I've gotten into PA again after some time away from the game, and when I went back to playing it, something struck me. Specifically, the unit design struck me.

    This isn't going to be another topic on how they feel lifeless or whatever, because honestly that doesn't bother me much. Instead I'm going to criticize them on how unimaginative they are. Specifically because they all either currently exist or are just kinda cliché.

    Take the T1 and T2 bombers, clearly modeled after the American B2 stealth bomber, sure it's capable of VTOLs but they're still practically the same plane. Going further, the hummingbird looks extremely similar to the F16, the firefly looks and acts almost exactly like a military drone, even the kestrel and pelican have similar bodies to some helicopters.
    I wish I could say this is an issue with air units alone, but it isn't, tanks are just... tanks, bots, apart from the gorilla bot (which is AWESOME) are just humanoid mechs and boats are just typical destroyers, battleships and missile cruisers.

    "Why is this a problem?" I hear you ask. Well, it's a problem because A, it's boring and kind of typical, but more than that, it's just nonsensical in the context of the game.

    These robots are supposed to have perfect military technology after thousands of years of innovation and assimilation. If that's true, why do tanks still use treads? Why are bots still for the most part designed in the image of humans? Why aren't boats capable of also traversing on land with legs that grow out of the bottom? (wink wink Supreme Commander) most importantly, why is it that these "hyper advanced robots" are only using single-target nuclear missiles when the MIRV missile was invented decades ago in the real world? Yes I know MIRV missiles would bring more balance issues than an "I win" button, but just something to bring up.

    If the commanders truly were the end-all be-all of warfare, then I can only assume the progenitors were wiped out because they were still using swords and shields.
    Last edited: January 2, 2015
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  2. optimi

    optimi Well-Known Member

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    Good post. I'd love to see some cooler looking futuristic units at some point.
  3. KNight

    KNight Post Master General

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    It's like I recently said in another thread, it's okay to have some "typical" designs to help get players situated to the unit roster but you can't depend on those and fill out the entire roster with them. The Typical Designs need to be complemented with Interesting Designs, not bigger Typical Designs.

    Mike
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  4. BulletMagnet

    BulletMagnet Post Master General

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    Maybe typical designs are the most refined?

    Maybe people use these typical designs already, because we know they're good.

    Look up what the earliest tanks looked like. They look nothing like current designs. Humanoid shaped animals are the dominant species on Earth because that shape is just the best design possible... and if evolution couldn't beat it after 4 billion years, then robots aren't going to make revolutionary changes to it either.
    Last edited: January 2, 2015
  5. aapl2

    aapl2 Active Member

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    being original on units is too hard/apparently not the devs goal.
  6. tehtrekd

    tehtrekd Post Master General

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    Can you say that for sure? Sure our designs may be the "most refined" right now, but what about in the future? We're sure to find more ways to become efficient, aerodynamic and fast. And even if the general shape of a vehicle is kept (I admit it really doesn't look like we'll get more aerodynamic than the B2) that doesn't mean the design has to stay exactly the same. Tanks can use hover thrusters instead of treads, boats can walk on land, bots can use jetpacks, the list goes on and on. Sure this wouldn't be revolutionary but it'd be much better than seeing Panzers in what can only be assumed to be 10,000,000 AD or something.
  7. MrTBSC

    MrTBSC Post Master General

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    readability ..
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  8. crizmess

    crizmess Well-Known Member

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    There are two reasons I can see.
    The first one is intuition. If you want to design a game that people finding intuitively, you need to relate to things they know. Personally I find this still amazing, the moment a player sees a tank, and it actually behaves like a tank, he can put all his prior knowledge about tanks (in RTS games) into full use. We can still argue on how futuristic a tank should look like, since most people think they know how a futuristic tank would look like, but in terms of what can do what, you are relatively fixed to peoples assumptions. (In user experience design this is know as skeuomorphism, Apple did this prior to iOS 7 a lot)
    The second thing is fun. You basically want a game that is playable and fun, introducing things like MIRV may sound cool, when you imagine how you use one on another player. But it may impact game mechanics in a way that isn't favorable. So there is a tradeoff between "coolness" of a unit and the time you have to invest to make it work within the game. I would guess that this (time) was the most limiting factor when the PA unit roster was put together.

    By the way, if you are an advanced and futuristic alien robot race and (against all odds) you need to siege an plant, I would opt to use the full potential of the gravity well and drop so many asteroids on the planet until the temperature of the surface is risen to a point where life is no longer possible. Then wait a bit and voila, you have new lifeless planet without even one tank used. But this would be rather boring (from the perspective of game design as well as from a movie perspective). Therefore game designers and movie makers tend to ignore those options and go with the lots-of-tanks-and-explosions thing.
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  9. icycalm

    icycalm Post Master General

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    Might want to edit that title to add an "aesthetically" somewhere in there, because seeing it gives the impression that you are also talking about mechanics, or about the game as a whole, which is definitely not stuck in the past in any way. E.g.

    "Planetary Annihilation, a futuristic RTS whose aesthetics are stuck in the past."
  10. MrTBSC

    MrTBSC Post Master General

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    you want perfected futuristic units? soooo borgcubes???
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  11. icycalm

    icycalm Post Master General

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    I agree on the uninspired nature of some of the unit designs.

    But as a whole, Planetary Annihilation might well be the most aesthetically outstanding game in the history of videogames. I will analyze this in depth in my review. I mean just look at the screenshot threads. You can almost have "Planetary Annihilation photography" as a distinct artistic discipline. For what other games can you say this? The scale of what is happening on screen is unheard of in the artform, and inspires nothing less than reverence for the grandeur of the universe and the artists' aesthetic vision. PA might well be the most "good-looking" game ever, as far as I am concerned.

    And the casuals are making fun of the simplified, comic style in the journalist hack reviews and their silly forum posts...
  12. ace902902

    ace902902 Active Member

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    if we were being realistic, then all we would have is a giant swarm of tiny nanobots, following their own ai, each positioning itself perfectly in the swarm each capable of complete command, taking all available information and running a billion calculations at once to create the prefect battle stance while some in the back convert all the molecular material into more nano bots. planets would be devoured in mere hours, and most of the battle would take place in space. it would be great to watch if you color coded the units, but if we are being realistic, they would have every cloaking technology and be invisible on all spectrum's. And silent. The perfect combat machine. Now i'sent that boring?
  13. squishypon3

    squishypon3 Post Master General

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    I actually agree with you Icy. :)

    Though I personally enjoy the t1 and t2 wing bombers, wing bombers was kind of a must in terms of PA's aesthetic (they wanted to bring it over from TA) though I'm sure we can have more interesting designs even including said wing bomber style, as I've done a bit with it in the past. (My torpedo bomber)

    You see PA has huge ups and down in terms of unit design, for example: the t2 missile bot is a gorrila for god sakes, and the t2 sniper bot is eequally as fun to look at and it really stands out. (Skinny and ttall I suppose). I don't really feel the dox fits it's personality though, I think something more akin to a raptor would be interesting, and the current model could be used for something else. Ooh another nice looking unit is the grenadier with its rotating grenade cartridges, it's just fun to look at.
  14. KNight

    KNight Post Master General

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    You're right on the core concepts at play here but I think you might be misinterpreting their effects.

    You do need to make sure that at least some of the fundamental units in the game are completely or mostly "Stereotypical" to help plays grasp things and use that as a foundation to build the rest of the units off of.

    SupCom/FA is a great example of this because aside from a handful major changes all the T1 units are functionally identical between the Factions. The Exceptions being things like the Aeon Aurora being a Hover unit or the Cybran Mantis having minor Engineering capabilities. But all the Roles are still basically the same, each Faction had a Scout, Light Assault Bot, Tank/Assault Bot, Anti-Air Tank and Mobile Artillery.

    Once you got to T2 things started to get divergent between the factions and more "Unique Mechanics" were being applied to units, Each faction's Amphibious units worked differently(UEF-Dedicated Hover unit[Also UEF's only Hover unit]. Cybran-Seafloor traversing Tank(also one of the earliest units to have 2 different weapons that could shoot at once[in addition to a specific weapon for when traversing the seafloor]). Aeon-No Dedicated Amphibious unit[thought the Aurora was still usable in some cases and FA added the Blaze] but instead had Hover Mobile Shield Generators and Flak Tanks). Even the "Tank" units for T2 diverged quite a bit, UEF Pillar maintained it's "Joe average" cannon type with reasonable damage per shot and Rate of Fire while the Aeon Obsidian hogged all the Power with it's High damage, slow Rate of Fire Cannon and the Rhino swapped out a more traditional cannon for a Beam turret, doing low damage per pulse but with by far the fastest Rate of Fire of the 3.

    As I'm sure you can imagine things only escalated from there once you got to T3 where Unit roles weren't always shared between Factions(this was more so in FA than Vanilla thought). T3 had some problems, notably the Lack of an obvious roles(Mobile AA) and overall lack of role variety but those are separate really.

    PA might not have three "Tiers" per say but the initial plan for how the Basic and
    Advanced units would interact would have been a better system than what SupCom had. In short(because it's an old old topic and I don't really want to get into it here) doing a Flat Balance would mean that unlike in SupCom where you have to play tech catch-up up to survive 9 times out of 10 if you're opponent Techs up, in PA you could feasibly play without using any of the Advanced units, or at least not being forced to use Advanced units you aren't familiar with. It lets you gradually learn the Advanced units at your own pace using the foundational mechanics you've learned from using the more Stereotypical Basic units as a baseline.

    My classic example of this system is my 'AA Trinity'. You have a Basic AA Cannon that is the "Average Joe" of the trio, it covers a decent area and deals out adequate damage for individual units that are moderately tough or weaker units that come in larger packs. Once you're comfortable you can move up to Advanced where you have two new AA defences, Flak and Missiles. Flak is probably has shorter ranged and lower damage compared to the Basic AA Cannon but it does Area of Effect Damage, which makes it great against those swarms of weaker enemies while still less effective against the tougher ones. The Missile on the other hand has a much large range and tracking, making it much more accurate and deals a lot more damage but fires slowly, only getting off one or two missiles before an air forces closes the gap. They're not strictly better overall compared to the Basic AA Cannon outside of specific scenarios and work together well to create a nice layered defence, you have the Missiles to make the first strike, doing good damage to what they hit, you might have flak in two areas, the outskirts of your base to help fend off hit and run attacks and deeper in your base close to prime targets to make the most of Air units bunching up and their shorter Range and you have the Basic AA Cannon spread out almost 'in-between' them to lend aid where-ever they're needed.

    That same philosophy applies all across the unit rosters to varying degrees, Generally AA is a great example because it tends to be pretty Exclusive but for other things like Attack focused Tanks you can't be as rigid in the applications of this approach because you have a lot more variety to account for but the core idea is still the same.

    Another way to look at it is that you need unit Roles that work in mostly Unique ways. The Ant is great because it almost NEEDS to be the Stereotypical Tank and that's fine, but when you make the Leveler just a bigger version it's when you run into problems. Yes the Leveler does have different tracking rates for it's turret and over minor stat differences but those alone simply aren't enough most of the time no matter how many stats are different and how big the difference is.

    Imagine if the Leveler was a Tank Hunter, Longer ranged than a normal tank but the weapon was Hull Mounted instead of on a turret. Even if you changed nothing else about the Leveler it still instantly becomes a much more interesting unit because it works in a notably different manner on a Mechanical level compared to the Ant. No longer is it simply a bigger Ant, it requires a different approach to it's usage because it's super vulnerably from the flanks and against fast enemies as just one example.

    In the end things like Balance and the overall "Meta Goal" plays a big role in what ends up being compatible and actually improves the game but really it's hard to argue against depth and variety. because, so long as you don't horribly botch the balance and pay attention to how the players develop the "Player Meta" and keep on top with appropriate changes as needed things tend to work out.

    In short, having some Stereotypical units is okay but you need to contrast them with interesting units otherwise you're unit roster ends up lacking depth which is a serious concern for a game that is banking on long term appeal.

    Mike
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  15. Geers

    Geers Post Master General

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    I made a thread about exactly this a while back. I don't quite remember the same level of agreement though...
  16. BulletMagnet

    BulletMagnet Post Master General

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    How much energy do hover thrusters require when stationary? Unless you turn them off... a lot.

    How much energy do tank treads require when stationary? None.

    @tehtrekd, do you really want to debate how sure I am that revolutionary designs are not going to be more efficient than current ones?
  17. davostheblack

    davostheblack Well-Known Member

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    To surmise: WYSIWYG.

    Visually, everything you see needs to be immediately recognisable to be intuitive to use. And I think the devs have done very well on that score exactly because everything is cliché in looks.
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  18. Geers

    Geers Post Master General

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    Are we debating realism in PA now? Who cares!? I want something cool! Nobody plays PA for hard science fiction.
  19. g0hstreaper

    g0hstreaper Well-Known Member

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    Thought I would throw my 2Cents in, your right it is effective copy paste which can feel repetitive and seems very simplistic and unimaginative buuuuut. (As there always is:)

    I think it has a better purpose though. When you look at PA as a whole it's about Giant robots building by shooting colored jell into the air and building things which can be very unfamiliar to those who have never played TA (I grew up on SC so the whole concepts was kinda odd)

    Seeing generic units that did look a bit more realistic personally gave me a better scene of familiarity to an otherwise very weird and odd game (of course coming from SC I can't say much) I think it is more of a ballast for those who may be coming from other maybe FPS games and may be curious as to what an RTS is like and seeing things which a player is already familiar with helps boost that cohesion that a player gets when diving into theses games for the 1st time

    TLDR- Basic/generic units helps newer players adjust to a new game and makes them more relaxed coming into it
  20. Deletive

    Deletive Member

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    This make me want an oribital railgun.
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