Before we could build even one Roman building or unit, we had to decide what buildings and units they had. Previously, we discussed how we approached designing the 18 Roman buildings. HERE. Now that we are beginning to reveal more and more Roman units each week, we want to provide you with some context for their design, as well.
Just like with buildings, we started our unit design by first analyzing what everyone could agree on: the designs of the Original 6 Civs. In the game files, every unit is categorized as either a Common Unit, a Military Unit, a Unique Unit, or a Scout. This can be pretty dense reading, so please buckle up.
======Common Units: Just like Common Buildings, every civilization in AoEO shares the same Common Units. There are four Common Units: Villagers, Caravans, Fishing Boats, and Merchant Transport Ships. Though these units can have small statistical differences in different Civs, to date, no Civ has anything particularly unique with any of them.
======Military Units: Almost every other unit in the game is a Military Unit, and so most of our analysis focuses on these units. They include all Land Military, Siege, Priests, and Ships.
======Unique Units: In rare situations, a Civ can have an extra unit that is neither a Military Unit nor one of the Common Units. There are currently three in the game: the Celtic Sacred Deer, the Babylonian Ox Cart, and the Norse Raven.
The total number of units varies among the Civs and ranges from 19 (Celts) to 24 (Norse). However, since the four Common Units and Scouts are essentially identical in every Civ, in designing the Romans, we focus primarily on the Military Units (and in small part, the Unique Units).
The game files describe Military Units in three ways: their Class, their Role, and their Attack Type.
======Classes: There are six different Classes of Military Units in Age of Empires Online: Infantry, Archer, Cavalry, Siege, Priest, and Ship. (You will see below that our analysis adds a 7th Class for those three Unique Units, as well.)
======Roles: In addition to being a member of a single Class, each unit also has one of 13 different Roles:
Note: Certainly any unit can be balanced to have more than one role (an Anti-Cavalry Camel Rider may also be effective against Archers, for example), but for Unit design purposes, it is helpful to see that the original Devs creates the Civs with a specific Role in mind for each Unit. Therefore, in designing the Romans, we do the same.
- Basic (e.g. Sparabara, Bowman, Asabara, Trireme)
- Anti-Infantry (e.g. Hypaspist, Axeman)
- Anti-Archer (e.g. Slingers, Carpentom)
- Anti-Cavalry (e.g. Spearman, Camel Riders, Podromos)
- Ranged (e.g. Mounted Archer)
- Heavy (e.g. Cataphract, Champion, Sapper, Berserker, Chief)
- Ram (e.g. Ram and Siege Tower)
- RangedSiege (e.g. Catapults, Ballista, War Wagon, Catapult Trireme)
- Trebuchet (e.g. Palintonon, Stone Thrower)
- HealOnly (e.g. Priestess of Ra, Druid)
- Unique (e.g. Priest of Set, Unique Units)
- Convert (e.g. Priest of Ptah, Magus)
- Anti-Ship (e.g. Ram Ship and Fire Ship)
======Attack Type: Every unit is assigned one of four different Attack Types: Melee, Ranged, Both (such as Immortals), or None (such as most Priests).
Note: The "None" attack type refers to being able to attack enemy military units and does not include Priests' ability to attack and kill huntable animals.
Overall, the 7 Classes, 13 Roles, and 4 Attack Types combine for many dozens of possible permutations of Units. So in order to get a handle on how to choose among them, we summarized this information for each Civ and spotted patterns. We don’t have space to go through everything, but let’s take the Greeks as an example since they are considered by most the "baseline" civilization.
Here are the Greek Classes sorted by which Age they become available:
Here are the Greek Unit Roles again sorted by Age:
And the Greek Unit Attack Types:
For example, in Age 1 (top row of each chart) there is just one unit available, an Infantry unit that is AntiCav with a Melee attack (the Spearman).
By Age 2, the Greeks add four more units for a total of five: a second Infantry (the Hypaspist), an Archer (Toxotes), Cavalry (Sari), and Ship (Trireme). By Age 4, the Greeks have 3 Infantry, 3 Archers, 3 Cav, 3 Siege, 1 Priest, and 3 Ships, which combine for 6 Melee, 9 Ranged and 1 Unit that does not Attack (the Priest).
We made charts like this for each of the six Civs. Then to detect some overall design patterns, we created a composite chart that took the average, min, and max numbers for the civs.
Here is the composite chart for the Unit Classes of all six existing civs:
Let’s look again at Age 1. You can see that every single civ has a single Age 1 Infantry. The only other Age 1 unit in the game is the Babylonian Ox Cart. In Age 2, on average every civ gets an additional Infantry plus an Archer and a Cav (though there is some deviation – the Celts have no Age 2 Cavalry. (The Celts arguably balance out because their Druid is available that early.) In Age 2, Civs have somewhere between 5 and 7 of these units available. (These are in addition to the four Common Units, which are all available by Age 2.)
By Age 4, the total number of Military and Unique units varies between 14 (Celts) and 18 (Norse). On average, every Civ has about 4 infantry, though Egypt has only two and the Norse have six.
Here is the composite for Unit Role:
Here is the composite for Attack Type:
So for example, on average, each civ has 7 ranged units, but one civ has just five (Celts) and another civ has as many as nine (Greeks). You can really get lost in these charts, and they provide an excellent framework to measure whether our proposed Roman Unit roster fits into the game. That doesn’t mean the Romans must be boring. Obviously we retain the right to do new things with them. In fact, every civ pushes the minimums and maximums of a few categories, and the Romans should be no different. It would be no fun if they felt like a perfectly average civ with nothing wild about them. So this analysis is more than just looking at averages. We also looked at the frequency of category outliers in the Original 6 civs, etc. We need the Romans to feel like an AoEO Civ while also expanding into new territory.
For instance, in Age 1, we see there is a rebuttable presumption that a new civ have a single Age 1 Spearman. Though we can certainly go a different direction (like the Persian Sparabara), but if we do so, then that civ would almost certainly need to have at least one Anti-Cavalry unit no later than Age 2. Since most civs have an Age 2 Cav unit, they’d need a counter.
Similarly, if we give a unit an Attack Type of Both (melee and ranged), in order to keep some balance, we likely want to limit the civ to no more than one Age 3 unit (which is exactly what we are doing with the Centurion).
Finally, we also observed a unit design rule whereby if a building trains new units (or technologies) in more than one age, then it trains them in successive ages without ever skipping an age. This is a subtle but super important point. In other words, if a building trains a new unit in Age 2, then it would never skip Age 3 and have the next new unit available only in Age 4. So if the Barracks has an Age 3 Unit, you know it also has an Age 2 Unit. And if a Dock has an Age 4 Ship, it always has an Age 3 Ship, etc. Now this rule is less about overall unit choice and balancing and more about creating a tight, intuitive civ design. And it’s much harder than it sounds to pull off. It’s really tempting to ignore this rule because it creates a hurdle that doesn’t at first seem all that important. I mean, what’s the harm really if a Stable has an Age 2 and Age 4 Unit but skips Age 3? But if you skip an age, it really would feel like a sloppy tech tree that was just thrown together. Unless at some age the building completely stops training new units or techs (such as the Celt Archery Range, which has no Age 4 unit), players intuitively expect a new unit in each successive age. And if this wasn’t really a design rule, then surely some building in one of the Original 6 Civs would have ignored it. Yet every single building follows this rule. And the civs are stronger and more intuitive because of it. Again, breaking this rule won’t necessarily make an unbalanced civ, but it sure would make a disorganized, unpredictable one that lacks the same quality and artistic flourish of the original civs. So we had to follow this rule whether it was convenient or not. And it gave us absolute fits.
This is the kind of hidden detail that tends to go unnoticed until you try to create your own civ and realize something feels terribly wrong. The more we studied the original civs, the more we appreciated them. The original Devs were master craftsmen.
So let’s take these rules together and discuss the Romans. The original Devs intentionally over-designed the Romans with too many units and ideas to fit into a single civilization. They did this with the understanding that during testing they would pare it down and make changes. These charts helped us fully diagnose those problems.
For instance, the original design included a massive Age 2 army that had more than 10 military units, including four Infantry units and two military Ships (recall that no civ has more than seven Age 2 military units, of which no more than two are Infantry and no more than one is a military Ship). There would simply be no reasonable way to give the Romans extra units in every category and keep them balanced. Meanwhile, by Age 4, the Romans were slated to have 21 total Units (not even counting the four Common Units). Not only is that about six units more than the average civ, but three units more than the largest civ (the Norse have 18).
So there was just no question that we could not launch the Romans as designed and that we had to make cuts. Deciding that we had to make cuts was easy. Deciding where to make cuts was exasperating. There was no obvious perfect solution with the perfect number of units in the perfect Classes with the perfect Roles and the perfect Attack Types that appear at the perfect Ages from the perfect buildings that perfectly capture the spirit of the Romans. We came up with a solution, but it took us weeks of sculpting the tech tree and countless hours fussing and squabbling.
Building a civ is so much more than coming up with fun ideas and snapping your fingers. Everything has to fit just so. If we were to shift one unit from one Age to another, it would throw off the balance in a different area, requiring us to shift something else. In this way, one little change echoes across the entire tech tree causing all sorts of unexpected headaches. At times it felt like we were using tweezers to move sand from one side of a scale to the other. Ultimately, we ended up cutting a few units while adjusting (or reinventing) many, many more. And all of this had to be adjusted with an eye on the rules for Building Design (see the Building Design Blog) and Technology Design (we will later post a Technology Design Blog to explain these considerations in more detail). Overall, designing the Romans is very complicated but also a source of endless joy.
We look forward to revealing everything to you all. But it is necessary for you to see what we are up against. It’s one thing to decide we aren’t giving your favorite unit justice. It’s quite another to find a solution that maintains this delicate balance without throwing the entire tech tree out of whack.
We won’t spoil the entire unit roster now, but since you have gotten this far, we think you deserve some inside info. So let's reveal a few specifics. First, our Romans are going to run large. In addition to having the four Common Units and the Scout, the Romans are slated to have 19 different units, which will make them the biggest civ in the game (one more unit than the Norse, five more than the Celts, and about three more than average). Our primary justification for this is that since four of those units are Officer Units with build limits, we can take some liberties and let the Romans draw from a wider roster. Second, our Romans are going to have more Siege Units than any other Civ in the game. We haven't even begun showing you any of these, but Roman Siege will be a huge part of their playstyle and the strongest in the game. Finally, the Romans will have their own Unique Unit as well as two Priests. As you can see, there is a lot yet to be revealed. The Romans are so much more than just Legionaries and Centurions. And they follow all of these design rules, with everything fitting just so.
Thank you for reading, and we will see you all next week!
Project Celeste Development Team
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By PF2K on Jul 23, 2019 at 8:08 PM
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