So, quick recap. Kickstarter is going on, and I've been taking the month as downtime to do some of the things that are more game-related than engine-related. This is just the next thing in that process that I wanted to accomplish over that 30-day period.
For a long time now, I've wanted to pursue removing the "kill everything" goal from its prevalence (or its in-vogue use) in story events in these types of games. Now, I have no problem with that goal as it relates strictly to battle; getting out alive may necessitate it; clearing out savage monsters may require it; protecting a target may make it a tempting option (for expediency). My problem comes in when games apply it to non-battle scenarios (i.e. situations without appropriate context).
Now, how can the current system realistically be adjusted to avoid over-dependence on kill-everything tactics? For one, provide the player the opportunity to actually plan their own encounters; this process can go easily between the encounter transition and the formation screen. This process can even inform the formation screen's behavior. Secondly, provide a different set of goals. Lastly, plan for failure.
So, what would such a system be called? Anything related to battle seems to presuppose kill-everything tactics. Calling it any variation of "plan" seemed tedious. I settled on "Rendezvous" (in part because of the word's use in the franchise). Here's the mock-up of what the rendezvous system would look like:A Flattened Top-Down View of the MapA Flattened Side-View of the Map
How does difficulty factor into that? If you have a really good tactic, such as someone online finding a sure-fire win for a given scenario, that would effectively defeat the system. As an example of that, imagine if you're given access to a winning tactic to place your ranged units on the high ground at the start of a battle versus a host of short-range melee units. There's probably no real challenge in that.
What can be done about that? For one, limit the player to simple tactics if they choose a simple difficulty. Tactics are broken down by potential company counts; this simulates complexity of maneuvers. Simple tactics require a maximum of one company. This relates directly to practically all battles in FFT. Yes, there may be some distance between the units of a company, but they're all still in the same sphere of influence to begin with, with nothing really differentiating their position. This also doesn't prevent the alternative goals from being pursued.
What happens if you increase the difficulty? You have access to more complex tactics; higher difficulties result in more complicated (and potentially more useful) tactical approaches. This happens at the cost of having to deal with much stronger enemies. AI units can be made to appear to plan to handle whatever general observable company size you have. In other words, if you roamed around with 50+ characters at a time for the past 10 battles and took 3 companies into battle each time, you can expect your enemy will have heard of this and heavily fortified their positions if they knew you were antagonistic to them. Because you aren't required to kill everything to win, this is still a balanced situation. However, you might fail several times (at a cost to unit morale and currency, since you'd probably have to pay non-fanatical units to listen to your orders).
So, what are some of the side effects of this system? Most notably, the planning for failure hopefully keeps unwanted casualties on your side to a bare minimum (something probably important for perfectionists) without forcing you to do so if you don't want to (pick an emergency exit tactic that doesn't care about your unit's lives). Secondly, it can support a system where your choices actually reflect your alignment. In other words, if your character is good, it doesn't have to be good in name or just be "on the side of right" or the unassailable protagonist. If your character is evil, it's also not just in name. Decapitate your enemy's leaders, take prisoners, trick your enemy's soldiers into thinking you're surrendering -- then attack them; you're a bad character, and you ought to be given the opportunity to be that (and suffer the consequences of good units disbanding, having to resort to black markets because no legitimate business will sell you weapons after you get a reputation, etc).
Anyway, that's the plan. The basic tactic would be called "Brute Force" with a company size of 1; higher difficulties would get access to a "Brute Force with Reinforcements" tactic (potentially no company size limit depending how far up the difficulty curve you go). The per-company unit counts expand in that area (if you have 3 companies, you'll pick 3 sizes). Exit strategies offer the ability to trap monsters, take prisoners, plunder captured units, search the map for treasure (limited by skilled units available in unit list), and many other things (like specific limitations for airship and boat combat). Emergency exit strategies are for retreating. Commencing advances to the formation screen state. The map I used for this mock-up is the "Inside of Riovanes Castle" map you can find here: http://ffhacktics.com/maps.php?id=7
I have a list of planned tactics, exit strategies, and emergency exit strategies if anyone's interested in seeing those.