- Nick Thomadis
Deep Battle System
In Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts, every design aspect of your warships shall be proven in combat. However, even the best possible design cannot guarantee victory on sea, since you must also command your ships effectively against an AI that will adapt to your tactics as a human captain. In this article we are going to present all the important combat mechanics that you should master in order to achieve consistent positive results in ship-to-ship combat.
Divisions and Flagships
At the start of a naval battle, the opposing fleets are automatically divided into divisions, with each division consisting of ships of the same type. The strongest ship in each fleet becomes the Flagship, and your AI opponent will operate using formation tactics around its own flagship.
You can attach/detach to and from divisions and give command to the AI fully or partially to selected divisions. Ships can maneuver intelligently according to special commands, such as “Screen” which makes one or more divisions to automatically protect another division against nearby threats.
Drag-and-drop commands allow easy creation of line-ahead or line-abreast formations, or laying “Smoke Screens” with destroyers to mask your moves against the enemy. Intuitive commands allow you to execute naval tactics with ease, even with large fleets, but you might be intimidated when you notice that... the AI opponent can be equally capable and use realistic tactics to find and engage your fleet. More on this later, since finding the opponent AI whereabouts will be an initial challenge.
Realistic Visibility (*)
Depending on battle conditions, fleets may start an engagement from beyond visible range. Spotting the enemy in Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts will be a realistic procedure that succeeds in accordance with ship technology and tactical maneuvering. Screening with light ships ahead of battleships will ensure the enemy does not surprise you with a torpedo attack.
Torpedoes will be visible according to their propulsion technology and your ship's own countermeasures. Early technology will allow hydrophone stations which will help detecting standard torpedoes at long ranges. Electric torpedoes though will be so stealthy that only sonar equipment will be capable of catching them.
Realistic Weather Effects (*)
Visibility is restricted during bad weather or night. In such harsh battle conditions, destroyers and torpedo boats will be able to closely approach their targets unseen and launch their torpedoes with increased hit chances.
Even the mightiest battleship might be sunk by a successful night ambush of deadly torpedo boats. However, ships need to be sufficiently sea worthy to withstand rough seas, especially during stormy weather. Ships of low stability will see their combat value heavily penalized, as their guns will be inaccurate and their maneuverability decreased.
Thus, designing light ships would be a special challenge to make them maintain sufficient speed and maneuverability in all weathers. Otherwise, they will be slowed down so much by heavy sea waves that will either become easy targets or fail to outmaneuver and close with bigger ships.
In Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts ships have limited ammo, that contributes to the total tonnage of the ship, placing realistic constraints on ship design and tactics in battle.
Firing at maximum range while fire control technology only allows for a miniscule chance of a hit, would be unwise since you risk wasting all your ammunition with little damage effect to the enemy, and then become vulnerable to his close-range counter-attack. Ammunition management will be even more important with torpedoes, which depending on technological development may be fired at long range but have little chance of hitting an enemy that is spread out and maneuvering.
To avoid excessive micro-management, ships by default will conserve ammunition until chances of hitting are reasonable. You can override this default mode to be more aggressive and fire at will at any range, or to hold fire. Consequently, your command skills will be tested not only in maneuver but also in fire control.
Realistic Ballistics and Targeting
By default, ships select targets efficiently. Capital ships with multiple main and secondary guns may de-centralize their fire and target multiple enemies simultaneously according to threat. So, in most circumstances, you can trust your ships and focus on their maneuvering while letting them choose their targets automatically.
Guns slowly improve their aim by firing “bracketing salvos” methodically, placing shots in front of and behind the target to gradually determine the correct gun range and bearing. When the target is fully acquired, the guns switch to rapid fire at the maximum rate.
Gun aiming depends on multiple factors. The ship's fire control and gun technology increase aiming speed, while the distance, speed and maneuvering of the target may slow down or even completely reset the targeting procedure.
It is very important to invest in gun technology, which increases their range, penetration and accuracy as well as muzzle velocity. Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts uses a realistic ballistic system, in which the shells follow a trajectory according to their speed and weight. Air drag is calculated so heavy shells maintain a flatter trajectory over large ranges compared to lighter shells which decelerate faster. Shell ballistics also affect penetration mechanics in a realistic manner, as described below.
Realistic Penetration Mechanics
Firing at full broadside usually maximizes your firepower against the enemy, but also makes your ship more vulnerable to enemy shells. Shell penetration power potentially depends on the “angle of hit”, with shells that strike perpendicular to the armor face having the greatest chance to penetrate. Plunging hits (shells that hit from the top) have more chances to penetrate an armored deck if their fall angle is steep.
Consequently, firing from long range reduces the side armor penetration but the plunging angle increases the chance of penetrating from the top. These “plunging hits” can be devastating if the targeted ship has insufficient deck or turret-top armour.
An effective practice to lessen the chance of enemy shell penetration is to angle the bow of the ship towards the enemy. This way incoming shells strike at a smaller angle and have reduced penetration or may even ricochet with no effect.
Deep Damage System
Armour piercing (AP) shells are usually the preferred choice against heavily-armoured targets. If guns are weak against strong armour, or the distance of target is too great, then High explosive (HE) shells may prove more effective as they can wreck unarmoured structures that might otherwise be over penetrated and potentially start devastating fires.
Damage to ships is tracked across their multiple sections and weapon systems. As ships become damaged they may slow down due to engine failure, flooding and structural deterioration.
The maximum damage of a shell hit occurs when there is a complete “penetration” of the hull. In that case the shell can explode deep inside the ship with devastating effects depending on its explosive charge and the penetrated section of the ship.
A “semi-penetration” inflicts light damage to the hull, as the shell fails to pierce the armour completely and explodes embedded in the surface. Even in this case, there is still a chance of fire ignition after such a hit, depending on the surface of the ship that became damaged.
“Over-penetration” happens when the kinetic energy of the shell greatly overmatches an unarmoured or lightly-armoured surface, causing the shell to pass from one side of the ship to the other, before the fuze detonates. Shells that over-penetrate still cause significant damage, as they can destroy structure and weapons in their path, as well as cause flooding if holes are punched below the waterline or cause fire if the shell detonates close to the ship.
Very strong armour can "block" shells that hit its surface. The deflected shells may still explode and ignite fires on the above-water sections of the ship.
There are many other damage factors simulated, such as funnel destruction reducing engine performance and creating extra smoke obstruction or towers hits deteriorating fire control and spotting. In Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts you will feel that your ships are real, powerful but also vulnerable to critical hits that they can realistically destroy them.
Crew Importance (*)
Crew is another factor that must be considered for your ships, especially in campaign play where you will have to keep your fleet frequently trained in order to fight efficiently. A well-trained crew may compensate for the lack of advanced technology or the opposite, a poorly-trained crew may seriously limit the capabilities of even the most state-of-the-art ship.
Crew will greatly affect ship accuracy and other combat factors. Shell and torpedo hits can kill crew and if losses are great, the ship’s overall effectiveness can deteriorate significantly. After a battle, depending on ship performance, the ship’s crew experience level may rise or fall. In this way you can create veteran-ships that have legendary performance in battle, or… end up with ships that should better hide than fight.
Radio Communications (*)
Before the invention of Radio Telegraph technology, ships communicate mainly with flag or light signals. Poor visibility conditions can cause a breakdown in visual communication between distant ships and their flagship, reducing combat effectiveness.
When Radio Telegraph becomes available, all ships gain a significant boost in their communication radius, depending on their towers. The side-effect is that their radio signals can be traced by enemy if "Radio Direction Finder"(RDF) is researched, revealing their relative bearing within a margin of error.
Invention of Radar (*)
The invention of Radar will revolutionize naval warfare by granting supreme combat effectiveness over long ranges. Ships fitted with Radar will not only have much better gun accuracy at their maximum range, thanks to precise ranging, but will also be able to detect enemy ships far beyond visual spotting range, within a margin of error according to technology.
Radar will also bring benefits in campaign play, increasing the chance of favourable offensive missions and protecting convoys against enemy raids.
Unpredictable and challenging AI
All the above mentioned features are also utilized by your AI opponent. First of all, the AI will maneuver realistically, maintaining a protective screen around its flagship and sending light ships, such as Destroyers and Torpedo Boats, far ahead to engage nearby threats with torpedoes.
Unlike in most games, the AI is able to make estimations of the optimal firing distance, and will not simply fire at anything visible regardless of range, wasting ammo prematurely. Instead, it is going to evaluate what is the most effective engage range and will start firing when it approaches close enough.
Furthermore, the AI makes estimations on the damage potential between its ships and the player's. So it will try to keep every ship in its own “immunity zone” depending on the armour and firepower of the engaging ships. If the AI becomes overwhelmed by player numbers or sustains significant damage, it will try to evade until it regains superiority, or will withdraw from combat by retreating.
The AI does not know everything, so if the player's ships are not visible, it will try to estimate their position in a logical manner. When visibility is limited or there is harsh weather, all AI estimations and tactical choices are adjusted accordingly. For example, during night the AI will attempt to engage closer to the player, exploiting any advantage it has in guns and torpedoes, while in clear weather it will keep a safer distance, against a player fleet with superior firepower.
The AI also does not see the player's torpedoes until they are detected by spotting or sensors. When torpedoes are sighted, the AI will try to evade them intelligently, as a human player would.
The dynamic AI behaviour is going to be enriched with AI personalities, that make the AI more defensive or aggressive depending on nation fleet.
We believe that the AI in Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts should have a realistic behaviour, so that player is not only challenged but also immersed from the combat interaction.
In next articles we will further analyze the aforementioned battle mechanics and a variety of other gameplay aspects that make Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts a unique experience for naval enthusiasts.
(*) Features under development at the moment of writing