Forums » Suggestions

The Concept of Conflict - Military Rank Structure

Jul 14, 2010 incarnate link
People have been asking about my plans for rank structure in this thread, so I'm copy/pasting some design notes as an FYI.

Please keep in mind, these are notes, not concrete design (if there is such a thing), they're also a few years old, have not been touched in that time, and need some revision. So, DO NOT TAKE EVERYTHING IN HERE AS GOSPEL, but I do think a lot of the fundamental concepts, and most of the rank structure, will make a good forward-looking underpinning for large-scale gameplay.


* The Concept of Conflict *

In the VO universe, the primary areas of conflict are between the Serco Dominion and Itani Nation, the continuous PvE war against the Hive, and occasional clandestine and regional conflicts between UIT corporations. For the moment, the Serco/Itani war should be limited to Deneb. Eventually, once we have proven gameplay mechanisms for sector and system conquest, the universe can be expanded to include additional systems "outside" of the current base ring. These systems can become battlefields in the expanded Serco/Itani war, and other possible conflicts. However, we cannot allow system conquest to infringe on the base systems of these nations, as it will adversely impact newbies and those who wish to avoid combative gameplay.

The PvE Hive interaction should take place in all three regions for which it was intended: Sedina, Metana and Rhamus. The Hive should be able to expand into adjacent systems, but not beyond that. Competition with the Hive, for the moment, should be primarily based on competition for resources. Each Hive will attempt to expand as much as possible within the three systems where it is contained. The Hive should be hostile to anyone who approaches within their sensor distance (3000m), and especially hostile to any miners the encounter.

Corporate conflict should be more subtle and story-driven than either of the above two scenarios. Of the minor corporate factions, only TPG and Dau Senate will be excluded entirely, seen as the "responsible" entities of UIT space, they will only intervene (in a peacekeeping sense) if they believe things have gotten out of hand. The other corporations should have shifting alliances based on convenience. It is expected that they all distrust one another, and are mostly all on equal footing with Corvus. Espionage, sabotage, and assassination are the norm, open war is less common but happens regularly. Motivation (and justification) for these continuously shifting alliances should be more complex, more.. human, than the simple parameters that drive the Hive to acquire as many resources as possible. In addition, the shifts should be common but not frequent occurrences, factions remaining at war for weeks or months, before making peace. At any given time, one or two low-grade "wars" might be taking place between corporations in grayspace, but no more than this. Expect justifications based on false-flag operations, border disputes and espionage.

* Militaries, Assassins and Rebels *

The broadest strokes of conflict in the VO universe can be boiled down to: the Serco and Itani are at war, the UIT profits from it. Given that many competing corporations make up the UIT, it's natural that they should squabble over financial and technological gain. At the same time, the UIT and Grayspace are also useful to the two major Nations for other reasons: they are a source of off-the-books operatives and personnel who can be hired to do dirty work. The Serco/Itani conflict is kind of a "warm" war, with occasional bursts of "hot", but it's been going on for so long that many elements of a colder war are applicable. This can include proxy conflicts, hired attacks on enemy borders, and other indirect aspects that permit the inclusion of UIT or unaligned characters in events of a larger scope.

In general, a military structure should be established for any given faction that makes war upon another, allowing people to join said structure and effectively pledge themselves to advancing that faction's interests in a conflict. This circumvents many of the problems with UIT people wishing to take part the Serco/Itani conflict: they may be allowed to join one side or the other, and allowed to resign, but the act of resigning will effectively make them untrustworthy to all other militaries for a lengthy period (months). Progression within this structure can be considered another system of advancement, with rank progression leading to commanding other pilots (PC/NPC) in combat. The endgame of this will involve large-scale command of an entire battle, using an interface not unlike Homeworld (the nav interface planned for capital ships, with an added tactical element). Much of this hinges on lots of added development, gameplay and interfaces, so for the short term it can be assumed that no users will progress beyond a low "non-commissioned" level, limiting the sizes of their commands to around 7 other pilots. Once the additional required gameplay is added, an OCS (Officer Candidate School) mission tree can be added, allowing individuals to progress to higher ranks.

From the player standpoint, a military structure will not greatly impact their involvement in most baseline conflict missions. They will have to take an entry mission, where they essentially pledge themselves to the given military and emerge as a "recruit". More baseline training could be required, but near this point, any number of missions looking for "grunts" can become available. The mechanics of these missions should be such that the "recruit" is trained in the process of working within a group, following direction from a higher ranking individual. This would include, discussions of tactics when approaching an objective, receiving targets from group leaders, and the like. It is probable that NPCs will be "leaders" in many of these situations, so a system of target-priority management will be required, as well as sending various chat information based on context. Essentially, it can be seen as another mechanism for actually interacting with a mission, a little more complex than the "mission computer", but training for people working together on high level goals.

* Military Rank *

A ranking system provides a couple of benefits. For one thing, it's an additional character progression mechanism for players to pursue. For another, it provides a clear breakdown of combat hierarchy for large-scale events. In most online games, to date, this type of "raid" has either been exclusively the provenance of organized guilds within MMOs, or somewhat the chaotic type of conquest found in larger multiplayer FPS games (the Battlefield series, etc). It may well prove that using a character's military rank for conflict organization could be meaningless, as most players will pursue advancing their rank as much as possible (ie, ending up with a lot of admirals and no grunts); plus players lower in the system may opt to not play within the framework. However, it's up to us to create a ranking system that provides some generalized indication of experience, while also making the highest level both difficult to reach and meaningful to acquire. Ultimately, Guilds will be the most organized player groups, but "Nation" militaries can provide an alternative way of engaging in large-scale conflict, with a view towards story context and role-playing, without requiring membership in a Guild.

The military, like other aspects of the game, should have interchangeable PC and NPC roles, as mentioned above. This provides a mechanism for filling out battles when player densities are lower, plus giving higher ranking player-characters command positions (NPC "grunts"). Joining a military should require some commitment on the part of the user, to offset any advantages of swapping sides. When a user wishes to join, the minimum requirements of service should be explained to them, along with the ramifications of resigning before their service is complete. For instance, a military might require participation on 30 completed missions, or a minimum of 10 hours of military-mission based play time, before offering an "honorable discharge". Should the player choose to resign before the requirements were met, as mentioned above, they would be shunned by all other militaries for some period of time (probably a month or two). This would not necessarily have other faction standing ramifications, but it might create a "Resigned" marker on their displayed character stats for the above time period. Additionally, those who, in some way, are seen to desert, abandon or act against the interests of their chosen faction might be met with much stiffer consequences. However, this should be approached carefully, we must avoid penalizing those who have suffered real accidents or other situations that might be misread by an overly draconian and poorly designed system. In addition, the process of joining a military should be lengthy enough that there are many confirmation levels one must agree to before you are considered "completely" part of the system. The entire rank level (see below) between "Recruit" and "Private" might be used for this purpose.. giving all recruits basic training, while also confirming and informing at several points in the early advancement process what the user will be expected to do, and the ramifications of leaving after their final promotion to Private and fully-active military status.

A few general concepts and definitions:

* Flight Squad - Eight players (PC/NPC), 7 basic pilots and one squad leader of Corporal rank or higher (more involved descriptions of ranks below).
* Combat Wing - Four Flight Squads, commanded by an officer (1st Lieutenant) who is supported by a Sergeant.
* Chain of Command - In the event of leaders being disconnected, or dying and respawning so distantly that they are effectively removed from the current campaign, a chain of command system should exist. Rank is determined by 1) the fundamental rank of the individual and 2) the date that that rank was achieved. Thus, obviously a corporal will always outrank a private, but of two corporals, the one who reached that rank earlier will be considered the higher rank. Thus, we must store the date of rank advancements for comparison in the event of these kinds of situations. Additionally, users must be continually aware of who they should be taking orders from. Their Mission Log or some other region should display their immediate superior. If a squad leader or other superior should be removed by one of the criteria above (disconnected, respawned too far away), a message should go out to A) the original squad leader (if still online), B) the members of the squad, and C) the new acting squad leader, informing of the change in leadership. This should be some kind of HUD message that is fairly obvious even in the heat of battle. The reasoning behind this being: the leader of a given military action should always be present in some form, and able to react to whatever circumstances appear. Should a squad leader or other individual get respawned far away, and eventually return to the battlefield, some mechanism should be available to return command back to them (a transfer of leadership). Perhaps an option appears in the mission log, "Incarnate has returned to the battlefield" with a "Turn over Command" button, allowing the acting leader to return command after bringing a returning leader up to speed, and not invasively requiring action while in the midst of the heat of action. Of course, some acting leaders may choose not to return command, which may cause some personal issues between players, but I see this as a relatively minor issue that can be addressed later. In the event of a character assuming command who is lower than the required rank for that command, they will be promoted to "Acting (rank)". Thus, a PFC could be promoted to Acting Corporal, or a Captain could be promoted to Acting Commodore due to the immediate need, but returning to their original rank after the completion of whatever situation (battle/mission/etc) created the advancement. These situations of taking command under difficult combat situations could be seen as a factor in high-rank advancement, and be information found in the character's Military History, which will be discussed later.

* Enlisted and NCO Ranks *

What follows here are general "notes" for a military ranking structure, with some ideas, this is not a concrete or well-defined specification. The basic components could be implemented in the short term (the lower ranks, as mentioned in the previous general section on militaries), but a full implementation of this system will require more thinking into the ramifications of ranking, methodologies of higher-level advancement, and so on.

* Recruit - The basic entry rank into the "military" system, this allows them to take training missions, in following orders, flying in groups and receiving targets specified by superiors in grouped combat. They must effectively pledge themselves to the military to acquire this rank.
* Private
* Private First Class
* Lance Corporal
* Corporal - The lowest "command" position, this rank is eligible for leadership of a Flight Squad (see above for definition). All ranks from corporal and above are considered non-commissioned officers.
* Sergeant - The highest common NCO command position (further promotions are much more difficult), and the first to permit entry into OCS (Officer Candidate School).
* Master Sergeant - Allows further specialization, usage of more advanced single-character equipment. Specialized mission trees for "special forces training", clandestine missions, espionage, infiltration, demolitions, etc.
* Sergeant Major - Highest normal NCO rank. May serve as support staff to a Flag officer.
* Sergeant Major of the Fleet - Unique rank to a single player-character, an honorific only given to individuals who have excelled in completion of their duties and are an example for all to follow. Changes monthly, selects a new Sergeant Major each time from those considered most "advanced" in some way. Selection does not begin until there are at least 10 SMs of a given faction military.

In the short term, I expect we'll only implement ranks up to Corporal. Later ranks will follow when we're ready to have larger conflicts with player-run capships and the like.

* Officer Ranks *

All ranks can be seen as an advancement allowing command of A) more people and B) more advanced and expensive equipment. Essentially, enlisted and NCO ranks, above, are limited to "commands" of not more than a single flight squad. Larger scale commands (Combat Wings, etc) require status as a commissioned officer. Unlike most "real" militaries, our structure will require all officers to come from the enlisted corps. Users advance up to Sergeant rank, at which point an option (mission tree) for Officer Candidate School may appear. Advancing above Sergeant in the NCO ranks (Master Sergeant, Sergeant Major, etc) may also incur totally separate benefits, such as selection for "special forces" type training, and admittance in specialized elite clandestine groups that only work in single-squad sizes anyhow. Those who elect for OCS will go through more training relating to the leadership at the multi-squad level (defining objectives for squad leaders), capital ship command, maintenance and defense, and so on. Basically, the further one progresses in the military tree, the larger the "scope" of command, moving from the direct FPS interactions of the pilots up to RTS direction of an entire sector-size battle on a Homeworld-styled interface.

Commissioned officers may also be "skipped" ahead one rank, to an Acting rank of higher level, if the related mission has a requirement of such an individual. For instance, a Captain may become an Acting Commodore and command more than one vessel if needed. A 2nd Lieutenant could be an Acting 1st Lieutenant and command more squads. This is done in the hopes that more "humans" in high ranking positions of major battles is a better option than high-ranking spawned NPCs.

Reaching Flag rank should be very difficult. In real life (in the US), it requires recommendation by a group of existing flag officers, approval by the President, and confirmation by Congress. In our game, I expect there to be quite a few people who reach Captain, and a lot less flag officers. One method of promotion could use a Council of Captains that choose the next flag officer from amongst them (a little odd, lower-ranking officers choosing who to promote, but effectively deciding who they would choose to serve under). In this case, the game would keep a running list of "active" Captains, ie, those with that rank who had logged on within the last 7 days. Every few weeks, five of those captains would be randomly chosen, and told to select an officer for promotion (not on the council, nor another character of a user on the council) from a list provided by the game. The list of those up for promotion would be based on overall advancement (successful missions, so on) along with recent activity. The Council would be given two weeks to decide, unanimously, who should be promoted. If no decision was reached, the council would be disbanded and the process started over again. Problems would inevitably arise with players offering to sell their votes, so additional confirmation mechanisms might be require to try and make the process fair.

Note, I'm a bit leery about some of the CO/XO capship command stuff below. Again, this is a couple of years old, and I haven't looked at it recently.

A few more definitions specific to capships:

* CO - Commanding Officer The skipper of a given capship, authoritative for anything and everything relating to the effective usage of said ship, while usually reporting to a superior for direction in where/how to apply the vessel. In our case, this may also include direction and command of pilot wings attached to said ship (although a flight officer, piloting a small craft, will still be "on the scene" to directly command squads).

* XO - Executive Officer Second in command of a capship. In our context, this individual could be responsible for maintaining and balancing the shields while under fire, directing which turrets should be occupied, repelling boarders, etc. The interface for this functionality should also be available to the CO, but given the CO's involvement in navigating the ship and attempting to apply the ship's aggressive firepower towards the enemy, having the XO handle other duties may make the CO (and the ship) more effective. Any Capital class vessel (Trident+) should have interfaces for CO and XO, but having an XO should not be a requirement (especially of civilian ships). For a smaller ship, the needs may be sufficiently minor that a single person can handle all duties easily. For our bigger capships in large battles, this may become more stressful on the CO.

* Flag Officer - A term dating from an age when a unique flag was flown on a vessel to denote the command personage's presence and authority there (hence, Flagship), flag signals from that ship directing the battle. In our case, any officer who is authorized to command more than a single capital ship at once in battle. Capships other than the flagship (and possibly including the flagship) will still have individual COs and XOs, but they will take direction from the flag officer with authority for the fleet. Basically, the flag officers will direct the battle from the highest-level perspective, the fully RTS "vision" for how they intend the battle to play out. In the event of multiple flag officers being present, the ranking officer will have ultimate authority, but each officer is responsible for direction of their respective fleet.

Commissioned officer ranks:

* Midshipman - Training rank after an individual takes on the OCS training process. Successful completion of the process results in a LtJG grade, failure results in whatever previous NCO rank the character held.
* Lieutenant Junior Grade - Initial "active duty" officer level. Begins commanding single squads (with a squad leader) doing light duty, moves up to supporting roles in larger engagements (half-Wing, full Wing) as second-in-command for 2nd and 1st Lieutenants.
* Second Lieutenant - Able to command two flight squads, a half-wing, 16 pilots.
* First Lieutenant - First rank able to command four flight squads (a full Combat Wing) of 32 characters.
* Lieutenant Commander - First rank able to serve as XO on Capital grade vessels of Frigate size or smaller (Trident, Teradon). Serving as XO, also effectively in training for capital ship command.
* Commander - First rank able to serve as a CO on Capital grade vessels of Frigate size or smaller.
* Captain - Full rank for command of capships of any scale (HAC, Constellation, etc).

Flag officer ranks:

* Commodore - Single star flag officer, may command up to three capital ships.
* Vice Admiral - Two star flag officer, may command up to five capital ships.
* Admiral - Three star flag officer, may command up to eight capital ships.
* Fleet Admiral - Four star flag officer, may command any number of ships, likely the highest common rank, limited to command of engagements within a single sector.
* Admiral of the Skies ("Sky Admiral") - Five star flag officer, special promotion only, possible command of fully strategic engagements on system-wide level (simultaneous multi-sector engagements).
Jul 14, 2010 peytros link
but you are forgetting dr lecters rank of rear-admiral (between commodore and vice admiral)
Jul 14, 2010 Dr. Lecter link
Ha, I'm a surely a Commodore - I have the hat.
Jul 14, 2010 tarenty link
It all looks good to me, other than the Flag officer promotion. Since everything would have to start with NPCs, and slowly players would advance to fill the military, what if the players to reach Captain were randomly chosen by NPCs/some program to fill the Flagship Officer rolls until there were enough Flagship Officers to make a vote on which Captains became Flagship Officers?
Jul 14, 2010 incarnate link
..because I don't want a crony-ish club at the top that only promotes other people they like. I would prefer it closer to the bottom, and randomly selected from a larger pool, in the hopes of getting a more honest appraisal. That's the goal anyway.

There's really no rush to get flag officers anyway, since any captain can get a temporary field promotion to "acting whatever" for the purposes of a single mission. The outcome of those temporary promotions can be factored into who is selected for appraisal by the council of captains.
Jul 14, 2010 ryan reign link
"..because I don't want a crony-ish club"

+1, to much of that already.
Jul 14, 2010 peytros link
disregard this post i was mistaken
Jul 14, 2010 Dr. Lecter link
Voting is retarded and exploitation thereof cannot be avoided; you should know better.
Jul 14, 2010 incarnate link
I don't expect to avoid exploitation, but I did want some manner of high-level progression that was not simply contingent on a variable hitting a specific number and going "ding". A randomized voting group, selecting from a pre-determined pool of candidates made on an automated basis, might be interesting. Plus it could be combined with other game-driven factors behind the scenes. But some other mechanic might be better. This is just what came to mind several years ago.

But, really, it's not like that aspect is the one we'll be dealing with in the immediate term. Nor is that super critical to answering the whole "what will the ranks be like" question, which was the original intent of this post.
Jul 14, 2010 peytros link
the randomized pool of voters inc is talking about could be easily explained RP wise with say the NPC group of itani/serco senates picking who would vote or w/e
Jul 14, 2010 missioncreek2 link
Lets see the strategic battlefield display first. Without that most of this rank complication is superfluous.
Jul 14, 2010 Dr. Lecter link
really, it's not like that aspect is the one we'll be dealing with in the immediate term

Oh, of that I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever.
Jul 15, 2010 pirren link
Thanks for very interesting post, incarnate! Hope to see this soon in the game!

* Lieutenant Commander - First rank able to serve as XO on Capital grade vessels of Frigate size or smaller (Trident, Teradon). Serving as XO, also effectively in training for capital ship command.

I suggest to change this rank to Captain Lieutenant as it is first rank before CO in many navys.

* Vice Admiral - Two star flag officer, may command up to five capital ships.

Does Counter Admiral sounds more interesting? ^^
Jul 15, 2010 incarnate link
pirren: Interesting naming ideas, but not to my taste, thanks.
Jul 15, 2010 davejohn link
Interesting read, I look forward to it all Inc.
Jul 15, 2010 Alloh link
Realy BIG ideas and long-term plan. Flag officers does not have room YET. But soon(TM)...

The 'senate' idea can complement this, like the guild leaders composing the senate, with a Dev as chairman.

and one last idea: Consider Tridents as corvettes, a light ship without the strategic room. Only bigger ones get that command interface required for flag officers/fleet cmd. So tridents can be flown by players as a big slow moth!
Jul 15, 2010 ryan reign link
"The 'senate' idea can complement this, like the guild leaders composing the senate, with a Dev as chairman."

-∞ Worst idea ever, no, no a thousand times no. Something like this should NEVER be put into the hands of guilds. The end result would be care bear, pick your friends crap of a monumental proportion.

"So tridents can be flown by players as a big slow moth!"

+1 although I still maintain that Tridents do not qualify as cappies.
Jul 15, 2010 diqrtvpe link
"The end result would be care bear, pick your friends crap of a monumental proportion."

So you a real Senate? I thought we WANTED to add more realism to the game!


A lot of this looks like very interesting stuff. It'll be nice to see some good military development.
Jul 15, 2010 ryan reign link
It's the future the senate has evolved.
Jul 15, 2010 blood.thirsty link
Sometimes evolution is not for the best...

: )