Date: 1993-11-09
From: John
Subject: Tape Helper

My Dear Mr. Duk:

Just finished recording the tape and, as expected, ran out of tape long before exhausting my Alexander notes. Here are a few topics to chew on. In case the message exceeds the internet size limit, I am also transmitting a copy to your AOL account.

Attachment Hierarchy

My original intention in devising the attachment matrix was to provide flexibility in the order of attachment. The first draft of the matrix, for example, allows paratroopers to attach to spies OR VISA VERSA. Upon attachment the user could decide who is "on top."

But upon further reflection I think it might be better (and much simpler) to provide a fixed heirarchy. Most of the pieces, as currently defined, already follow a heirarchy. A heirarchy is imposed whenever A can attach to B but B cannot attach to A. Thus engineers can attach to armies but not the other way around. This means that armies are always on top of (and so conceal and protect) engineers.

Here is my initial proposal for a fixed heirarchy among land pieces:

  1. Infantry
  2. Army
  3. Artillery
  4. Engineer
  5. Ranger
  6. Spy
My current thinking is that players would automatically attach pieces by simply moving them into the same square. Upon double-clicking they would be presented with an attachment window containing a top-to-bottom list of checkable items (e.g. "army, army, artillery, spy"). The player could then detach any item by unchecking it. Detaching would be used to leave one piece behind when the rest of the pieces move on, offload a transport, eject a ranger (paratrooper) from a bomber, drop a bomb, etc. We could also make the attachment window more elaborate with special buttons and default indicators.

New Pieces

You will notice several newly proposed pieces in the above list; they grew out of your tape and my still-evolving reaction:
  • Infantry would function just like an army except that it could not capture cities and could be transported by helicopter. I think only armies should be allowed to capture cities. In addition, the infantry is the only piece that can cover (and thus protect) an army.
  • Rangers replace paratroopers and are like infantry except that they can parachute from bombers, and (after landing) cannot be seen until they attack or are stumbled over (or uncovered by an enemy spy). I like your idea of rangers landing randomly near the jumpoff site.
  • Helicopters can move 10 units a day and carry 10 units of fuel. They can carry ONE infantry, engineer, ranger, or spy and can also land on carriers.
  • Engineers should be able to move across any terrain and one unit offshore. They should function like mobile cities, but must remain stationary to produce a product. Double-clicking an engineer should bring up a city-like dialog with choices like road, bridge, canal, fuel dump (for helicopters), radar installation, anti-aircraft gun, landing strip, timebomb (for destroying structures), minefield, etc. Multiple structures cannot occupy the same square (except for timebombs). Structures are protected by any piece occupying the same square; by the same token an unprotected structure can be occupied by the enemy. Enemy armies can use your road. They cannot capture a radar installation, but they can park an engineer on it and the engineer can then leave a timebomb.
Will players have sufficient motivation to build infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.)? Probably only if continents contain impassible terrain (mountains and swamps). It would be interesting to explore some case studies. Under what conditions could all cities in a new continent be captured more quickly using roads?

Hovering Vs. Landing

I agree that we should allow some distinction between hovering over a city/carrier and landing in a city/carrier. I also think that air battles should be separate from land battles directly beneath, that is, I don't think a fighter should attach to an army as you suggested. A fighter should not have to destroy an enemy army to get at an enemy fighter; an army should not have to shoot down a fighter to get at an enemy army. I propose that if a square is occupied by both land piece(s) and air piece(s), an attacking air piece must first deal with the opposing air piece(s) and an attacking land piece must first deal with opposing land piece(s).

There are a number of undecided issues here. How can we draw these distinctions without imposing a burden on the player? The distinction implies that air pieces become land pieces when refueling or (in the case of the helicopter) picking up troops. How is this indicated on the display screen? Perhaps a grounded helicopter should cover all land pieces in its square, but protect them with zero strength. Ideas?

Planning Missions

I wish there was an easy way for players to define missions for a set of pieces in advance. For example, when I first land on an undefended continent I already have a basic plan in mind. I know which order to capture the cities in and what to produce. The final result will be something like all cities captured, port city producing a transport, two nearby cities feeding armies to it, and the other city working on a bomber. It would be great if I could sketch out my plan and let the details unfold automatically. This would greatly reduce both tedium and playing time. Perhaps we could even display pert charts or production schedules that predict when the final city will fall.

But how could we do this? Writing a program would probably be too difficult and time-consuming for most players. The computer could analyze a situation and propose a plan, but perhaps this would be TOO MUCH automation.

Maybe the player could spell out the plan by pointing and clicking in a special daydream mode where all movements are instantaneous. Thus he could choose army for his first city, instantly move it to the next, chose army for that city, direct THAT army to a third city, switch production of the second city to a transport, etc. Once the "daydream" was complete the program would produce a summary of troop movements and production choices and then proceed to carry it out automatically over the next 15 days or so. Part of the information brought up whenever a piece is double-clicked would include a current mission statement. What do you think?

I have LOTS more to say, but may have already exceeded the limit on internet messages. Progress on smoothing has stalled, but I may be able to restart by the weekend. I look forward to your reactions.

Yours in haste,