Thursday, January 26, 2006

Strategy vs. Tactics 2

I'd like to see a MMORPG that actually offered real, honest-to-gosh strategic gameplay.

I previously wrote a little essay on the difference between tactics and strategy that focused on the concepts. Now I’d like to look at these concepts with more of a focus on their role in MMORPGs.


short-term small-unit actions in which the local environment can affect the outcome


medium-termtactical engagements organized to achieve a regional objective


long-term operations organized and logistically supported to win a war

Grand Strategy

very-long-term strategic actions intended to make military conflict unnecessary

Typically all we get in a MMOG is tactics... and not really even much of that because so few environmental factors are implemented. (Picking which special actions to spam at your PvP opponent while he does the same to you is not tactics. At best, you might call it "sub-tactical.") Line of sight is usually implemented, so sometimes you can hide behind a tree, but how many MMOGs do you know that really implement stealth? How many MMOGs allow you to ambush a column from the cover of trees alongside a road in the dark, firing in enfilade from concealed positions and cutting off their line of retreat with pre-placed mines? How would you respond if you were the lieutenant in command of a platoon that got ambushed like this? That's tactics.

Even those MMOGs that offer something like this rarely also support operational play. Usually that's a matter of guilds that plan raids, which is completely up to the players. There's no in-game support for this kind of company- to battalion-level activity. This is the level where you start benefiting from focused staff: Intelligence (S2) to acquire information about the battlefield environment and design counterintelligence operations, Operations (S3) to plan tactical engagements and conduct training, and Logistics (S4) to insure that supply, transportation, maintenance and services are adequate for any eventuality. I'd really like to see a MMOG that was rich enough for players to be able to do these kinds of things meaningfully. With them it would be possible to carry out sustained actions over more than just one night's play. Without them, the tactical engagement you enjoy today never even happened tomorrow. And that runs counter to the desire expressed by so many players to be able to "make a difference" in the game world.

And then there's strategy. This is the level of the brigade, the division, the corps, and the army. This is where the comment that Napoleon supposedly made that "an army travels on its stomach" comes into play, and where someone who (like George C. Marshall) is capable of consistently maneuvering the right resources to the right place at the right time over a long stretch of time can win a war, and can do it decisively. It's not just movie fiction that General George S. Patton was able to disengage part of his Third Army from an enemy force, turn it ninety degrees and march two days through drifting snow, and engage in operations to relieve the besieged 101st Airborne defending what was left of Bastogne. He could do it because he could think strategically; he already had plans for doing it before he needed it because the capability to do it was always a part of his strategy for winning. He planned in advance as best he could, and maneuvered all the resources he could get into position ahead of time as often as he could.

Has there ever been any MMOG developed that allowed some player the chance to exercise that level of long-term, large-scale command?

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