Revisiting the Infantry Combat Overhaul
Posted on September 20th, 2023 03:54 PM EST
With it now being three months since we announced our commitment to reworking the infantry combat systems with Squad “Infantry Combat Overhaul” (ICO), it has been an active effort to bring our title closer in line with its roots and inspiration. With a shift towards more coordinated teamwork, longer and more tactical firefights, and a desire to provide a more diverse player experience.
Throughout the development of the Infantry Combat Overhaul, we have had an immense interest from the community to share what Offworlds processes are when implementing a feature change this large looks like, and we agree that it's a great idea! As the overall playtesting experience has greatly influenced our development regarding the future of combat in Squad since our initial announcement.
So, with this dev blog, we wanted to provide more insight to the community on the development of the overhaul and our experience of working closely with the Squad community through public playtesting. As well as share the ideas that have emerged from our passionate community's feedback, highlighting what has been successful and what has not, and providing a bigger picture on how Offworld perceives the current state and the future of infantry combat.
With this “Infantry Combat Overhaul,” we are reworking how the Infantry role plays within Squad. We want to create the most fun and immersive infantry combat and gunplay systems you can get in a gaming experience. With this, we have revisited and adjusted several core features in Squad. While also introducing some exciting additions that will work together to provide the gameplay we wish for you to experience. We’d like to take the time to revisit some of the core changes.
We have implemented Picture-in-Picture optics to replace our current optics system. We sourced physical optics to help dial in this feature as part of the development process. Our observations of the optics in person allowed us to accurately represent the optics magnification, field of view, eyebox, and lens quality in-game. The Picture-in-Picture optics system is done by rendering the scene from a separate camera and projecting the rendered scene onto the optic. We hope the change enhances the feel of the firearm and introduces new gameplay variables by offering trade-offs you must weigh when you choose your weapon and respective optic.
Suppression has received a complete rework in terms of its mechanics. We aim to bring suppression to the forefront as a useful tactical tool for attack and defense in any firefight.
- Complete rework of suppression VFX and mechanics.
- Varying suppression power based on weapon and projectiles.
- Friendly weapons do not cause suppression to players on their team (Except explosives).
We have extensively changed how guns and their mechanics play out in firefights. Our goal was to facilitate longer firefights, give players more time to think of, plan, and execute tactics, and highlight the unique roles of the various weapons in Squad, capturing the intense “fight or flight” emotional response in an encounter, all while ensuring that the overall gun handling remains satisfying.
- Weapon Aim Down Sight (ADS) speed, sway, and steady adjustments to provide an authentic combat experience.
- Accurate bullet travel (Bullets will follow the direction the barrel is pointing. This means animations could affect bullet direction).
- Overall tunings to gunplay visuals and feel.
- Reworked hip-fire into point-shooting.
- Implemented a more detailed recoil system.
Our aim with the Infantry Combat Overhaul was to slow down individual players and seek to promote more coordinated play, thoughtful positioning, and increased communication. Infantry will find their speed, stamina, and overall movement mechanics adjusted to reinforce a teamwork-oriented vision we had for gameplay.
- Fall damage adjustments.
- Stamina system rework.
- Left/Right-leaning adjustments.
- Vaulting and climbing adjustments.
With the Infantry Combat Overhaul, the Squad community has been instrumental in assisting us with playtests, playing a pivotal role in developing the Infantry Combat Overhaul by helping us assess our various playtest iterations. These playtests served as essential development milestones, enabling our team to gather a wealth of data and observations, which, in turn, have fueled more iterative testing and rapid refinement of the changes we've been working on.
We're extremely delighted to witness an extraordinary level of participation from the community, with a level of engagement shattering all previous records for public testing in Squad's history. What has truly been a pleasure for us to see is the remarkable passion and thoughtfulness displayed by participating testers. Their unwavering dedication to the future of Squad, coupled with the detailed and constructive feedback provided, has left us deeply humbled. Furthermore, the feedback we have received from playtesters was overwhelmingly positive, reinforcing our confidence in the direction we are taking Squad. The playtests proved invaluable, providing the design team with information quickly, allowing our team to continually fine-tune the changes we are implementing, and ensuring that our game reaches its full potential.
To shed some light on public playtesting, our observations, and the effect on gameplay. During our numerous tests, we noticed a notable shift in multiple areas. Regarding gameplay, in the RAAS and AAS game modes, we saw an increased back-and-forth capture and gunfight dynamic, resulting in more engaging and intense moments on the field of combat. The overhaul has introduced new dimensions of gameplay, not only affecting firefights but also map traversal and vehicle usage, offering fresh challenges and opportunities for players of all levels.
We have also learned more about how the overhaul plays into vehicular combat. Armored vehicles have now taken on more importance, their utility in resupplying friendly squads and supporting them with the enhanced suppression will encourage vehicle crews to coordinate with and stick close to friendly infantry. The updated gunplay tuning and value of heavy suppressive fire have made open-top vehicle turrets more survivable and viable compared to the current version of the game. Furthermore, while it was the design team’s intent to increase the effectiveness in vehicles as part of the overhaul, it has sparked discussions within our community and our development team as players raised valid concerns about a potential imbalance. Rest assured, our design team is carefully considering player feedback and contemplating adjustments to armored combat to ensure a fair and enjoyable gaming experience should the need arise in the future.
Among other insights, we also found our changes to the infantry role have a major benefit to new players. The overhaul finds these newer players no longer need advanced spotting skills to make a meaningful contribution to their team. Instead, they can actively cooperate and positively impact their Squad by providing suppressing fire where teammates direct. This level of approachability allows newcomers to dive into the action and feel like valuable squadmates from the get-go, making the new user experience much more welcoming.
With these playtesting efforts, we have gained useful information from our community and they have remained a guide through our ongoing efforts to refine and optimize the gameplay. As development progresses, we wish to continue our work with the community as we remain committed to maintaining a balanced and exciting environment where both veterans and newcomers can enjoy thrilling firefights and create their own unforgettable moments in Squad.
Work In Progress
For these past few months, and through our extensive playtesting sessions, we've generated, tested, implemented, and iterated on a myriad of concepts for gameplay systems, some of which were inspired by feedback we received throughout testing. We also encountered various failures, surprising outcomes, and interesting challenges while developing the overhaul, and we would like to share our thoughts on some of the more notable ones.
The "Clear Sights" system
- This system will automatically and smoothly transition the in-game camera to provide a view over the iron sights during moments of significant weapon sway. The “Clear Sight” system ensures the player's line of sight remains unobstructed by weapons with large rear iron sight features, which take up large portions of the screen while also being frustrating or difficult to use when maintaining a proper sight picture. This feature was implemented from player feedback as testers let us know about their frustrations with high sway while using ironsight weapons.
- To strike a better balance between challenging gameplay without undue frustration, we recognized early on the need to rework stamina when players enter the post-revive state. We found the pre-existing mechanics were overly punishing when a player's stamina failed to regenerate after being revived. Players now regenerate a percentage of stamina at a reduced rate after being revived to keep gunplay satisfying while encouraging the player to seek aid from a medic.
- For the fans of long-distance engagements, this feature offers players greater versatility by allowing them to adjust the weapon optic’s magnification level as needed. This feature is limited to only a few weapons such as some marksman rifles, and Australia’s EF88 rifle.
- As we iterated on particular weapons, we observed the need to adjust the damage falloff curves for particular calibers and weapons. This ensures that different weapon types can remain authentic and unique while maintaining fairness in the gameplay.
- In the quest to achieve authenticity, and for players to experience a more unique identity while playing certain factions, we have implemented some alterations to role inventories. Such as the addition of more grenades for the Middle Eastern Alliance.
- Surprisingly, the suppression system required minimal iteration and was finely tuned within the first three playtests. It effectively delivered the intended tactical benefits. When suppressed in real life, one's vision doesn’t become obscured like in Squad. But adding this effect encouraged our players to behave in what we believe is representative of a real-world combat experience.
- The new bullet penetration visual effects were a huge success. The bullet penetration effects allowed those getting fire upon to better understand their situation in a gunfight and how they were getting hurt in those engagement and we found players quickly grasped the tactical advantages of suppression and bullet penetration and began integrating the system into their combat engagements.
- Achieving the right balance in weapon handling, particularly for weapons like G3 and bullpups, proved to be a more iterative process. We dedicated multiple development rounds regarding adjustments and refinements to ensure handling felt right and met player expectations. With this feature we will continue to make any adjustments or improvements as necessary after the overhaul is released.
- We had various experiments with optic clarity involving techniques like TAA (Temporal Anti-Aliasing), and tint adjustments which underwent several rounds of refinement. A notable example during playtesting, we discovered environments and gameplay situations where tint was working against the player. Notably, some green-tinted scopes caused a loss of contrast on woodland maps, hindering target acquisition. A slight hue adjustment and trading saturation for a slightly dimmer picture proved to be the right compromise.
- We discovered through multiple playtests that the amount of optic blur we initially implemented was not well-received by many players. The feedback prompted us to investigate the specific discomforts players experienced and the physiological causes behind them. We actively sought player feedback to ensure these changes had the desired impact and pivoted our feedback collection to zero in on what was causing our players to experience these issues. Since then, we have adjusted the feature to retain some mechanical benefits while ensuring players do not experience any discomfort.
- Sway-Based Alternate ADS Poses
- Implementing sway-activated alternate ADS poses for the AK12 and AKM proved less successful than other features, as most players found it unpredictable and obstructive. However, we're open to revisiting this feature in the future, considering alternative implementations of this system to enhance gameplay.
Work In Progress
With all the recent changes, we anticipate a significant shift in how effective combat plays out in Squad. For attackers, strategic decision-making will become paramount. Gone are the days of launching reckless assaults; now, carefully picking your battles is crucial for success. The new ideal is to attack with overwhelming force and fire support, dissuading premature, uncoordinated assaults that can deplete valuable tickets.
Suppression will now take on a central role in the offensive strategy. It levels the playing field, especially against stationary defenders, and empowers smaller units to overcome superior numbers. The significance of suppression extends to coordinated fire and maneuver tactics, where elements like machine guns, grenade launchers, and vehicles play critical roles in locking enemies down to allow attacking elements to move forward more safely.
"Bounding Overwatch," a tactic where one squad covers the advance of another, will become key, especially for unsupported and smaller groups. Additionally, using armored vehicles to cross open terrain introduces an element of surprise, provided they can dismount and cover the remaining ground with fire support before defenders can effectively react. This new approach to combat intends to be dynamic and strategic, transforming how attackers and defenders operate on the battlefield. With this in mind, we’d like to take the time to share some of the general characteristics behind our newly defined weapon archetypes.
Short Rifles and Carbines (M4, AK74)
- Short rifles and carbines serve as a baseline for weapon behavior and performance. They offer the least suppression but are versatile, easy to point fire with, and effective at all ranges. Prioritizing snappy handling over recoil control and range, several riflemen equipped with these weapons can deal enough suppression to keep an enemy squad pinned down. However, with limited ammo capacity, rifles cannot sustain fire as long without resupply compared to weapons designed to output suppressive fire.
- These rifles have better stopping power at range, with less recoil and sway when firing from supported positions (crouch and prone), and more recoil and sway when unsupported (standing). You’ll find more inertia when looking around and point-firing with these weapons making them less ideal in CQB. With this in mind, these guns lend well to holding angles and having a “stop and pop” mentality.
- Bullpups boast excellent CQB handling and maintain stopping power at range, though less than full-length rifles. These firearms suffer slightly increased muzzle climb due to a focused center of gravity directed toward the rifle's rear.
- With more stopping power comes greater recoil. Battle rifles will deal high suppression, and the ability to penetrate through thicker walls. These heavier rifles also mean that target acquisition will be more challenging, especially when in an unsupported stance (standing). Masters of these weapons will move more deliberately and take a supported position before firing, as with a lower ammo capacity, every bullet matters.
- Automatic rifles provide a good mix of suppression and maintaining versatility in combat. The rounds from these rifles do more suppression than a standard rifle. However, your rounds will lack stopping power, range, and penetration compared to dedicated machine guns.
- A hybrid between automatic rifles and medium machine guns. These belt-fed weapons are perfect for long bursts to suppress a larger area. For more accurate fire, ensure you use it in short bursts. Though you better have the patience to reload. What it lacks in penetration and suppression compared to medium machine guns, LMGs make up for this by being relatively more usable in CQB, though mind the sway and recoil, as it's still a machine gun.
- Precision firing at longer ranges is much more difficult for medium machine guns. These weapons excel in area suppression and can more easily penetrate thick walls. Ensure you’re locked in using a bipod or prone, as recoil will not be easy to handle. As a noticeable, loud stationary target, ensure a Squaddie is nearby to watch your flanks and cover you during your long reloads.
- The heavy machine gun will shred through buildings and light armored vehicles while dealing high suppression from long distances. It is more accurate than medium machine guns but suffers from being more static, more noticeable, and longer reloads than their lighter counterparts.
- Use grenade launchers to displace, suppress, and destroy enemies behind fortifications, windows, and other cover or quickly. Alternatively, use smoke grenades to lay a smokescreen for an advance, mark targets or landing zones, and obscure enemy shooting positions. Use hand grenades to precede an assault or clear a room. Remember, grenades have no allegiance regarding suppression, so keep friendlies in mind.
- Most marksman rifles will fire full-power cartridges, making them a top-tier choice for accurate fire and suppressing a key enemy shooting position. Work with your team to deter the opponents from peeking corners or taking out entrenched gunners. These weapons struggle in CQB and close range, so it is ideal to stick with your squad.
- Fire powerful projectiles that maintain their stopping power to an extreme range. These weapons suffer from a low rate of fire, and you are virtually defenseless in close quarters. Always have a spotter to confirm your hits and misses and watch your back.
- Your backup if all else fails. The pistol has the lowest stopping power of all firearm archetypes in Squad, but landing a hit will always cause bleeding. You won't outrange a marksman, but your pistol can mean the difference between life and death in a close-quarter engagement.
The state of the Infantry Combat Overhaul in Squad is now one of great satisfaction, following an exhaustive and lengthy process of testing and refinement. We look forward to the release and are eager to let players immerse themselves in-game. After the release, we will remain ever vigilant to iterating as evolving needs arise.
As we move forward, our approach involves adding some final finishing touches post-launch while maintaining an open mindset to experimentation and innovation on this feature. At the same time, we want to maintain a commitment to trying new ideas and continuously enriching the overall gaming experience for players of Squad.
It's important to note that improving the core minute-to-minute gameplay is not an isolated goal. Instead, it serves as a crucial stepping stone toward enhancing various other aspects of the game. By prioritizing and refining the core combat experience, we set the stage for a comprehensive and engaging game that continues to evolve and captivate our playerbase.
As we continue our development efforts, we look to a bright future for Squad as we refine and revisit topics discussed in this dev blog. We’d like to once again thank the community for their enthusiasm and support with the overhaul. With the turnout for playtesting and feedback provided, we cannot describe how instrumental the community was in helping iterate our designs. Regardless, we hope this dev blog answers some common community questions and gives an interesting glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of developing the overhaul at Offworld. We hope the community stays tuned in for updates as we aim to deliver an even more immersive and enjoyable experience in Squad.