All Formed Up!

Notice anything new? :)

Notice anything new?

The last week or so has kept me extremely busy with the implementation of formation changes in the actual game.

Formation modelling has always been part of Ancient Armies, but until now, the only way to get at this modelling was via the Army Editor. Not any more! 😛

I originally estimated 7 hours for the job, but in the end it took a tad over 26 hours – a lot of time and effort.

Part of the reason for this can be seen in the screenshot above. The orders symbology had to be updated to cope with the fact that a unit’s formation can change at any time. Any subsequent orders would need to take the last formation change into account!

In addition, I wanted the leading edge of a unit to remain in the same place regardless of which formation it transitioned to. This is a requirement to allow units to keep their place in line. Of course, this wasn’t entirely simple because different formation types have different centre of masses.

So what is modelled in an Ancient Armies formation?

Three characteristics are modelled:

  1. Formation: This defines the formation’s actual shape (Ancient Armies supports many historical shapes)
  2. Frontage: This defines the number of people in each row and column. Of course it’s a little more complex than this as certain shapes don’t have rows and columns 🙂
  3. Density: This defines the gap surrounding each person in the formation. Depth and width are both independently modelled.

These characteristics allow the user to model practically any historical formation!

Density menu filtering in action!

Density menu filtering in action!

The above screenshot shows a unit that has a formation shape of ‘Hipparch’, a frontage of ‘Standard’ and a density of ‘Standard’. As you can see, the upper menu is quite long….

I decided to add menu filtering to the system that would allow the menu options for formations to be intelligently pruned to keep them manageable. This can be seen in the screenshot above where the bottom menu has received pruning.

This pruning makes it much easier for the user to interact with formations and removes a number of what are essentially unnecessary choices.

This filtering also extends to frontages:

Frontage menu filtering in action!

Frontage menu filtering in action!

And it will even remove the entire ‘Change Formation’ entry if a unit only has one formation that it can be:

Formation menu filtering in action!

Formation menu filtering in action!

Formation changes take time to accomplish. These changes are defined per formation and frontage within the Army Editor. However, these timings are not fixed, they are merely a base timing.

In terms of gameplay the timings will always vary slightly, plus there are chances for units to take additional time for the formation change. This is based on the unit’s training and discipline.

Of course, changing the formation of a unit reduces its cohesion somewhat (again based on training and discipline). This reduction is such, that players should try to allow enough time for the formation change before enemy contact!

If any enemy contacts a unit in the middle of a formation change it could be game-over for that unit!

So how have I handled the transitions?

In an ideal world I’d precisely model the position of every man and show them moving to their allocated positions. But alas, this is not really practical due to the many different drills adopted by the various nationalities.

So in the end, I decided to take a functional approach. I wanted the graphics to be able to show a player when a unit was changing formation and I also wanted them to give that player a rough idea as to how far through the transition the unit is.

A time lapse composite showing a Macedonian Phalanx transitioning from Synaspismos to Open.

A time lapse composite showing a Macedonian Phalanx transitioning from Synaspismos to Open.

The above screenshot shows the compromise I arrived at. Here a Macedonian unit is expanding to open order. One can see how the graphics show the transitioning of the formation.

The individual dots don’t necessarily represent the positions of actual men, they are purely indicative of the formation change in general.

I’m rather excited by all this and the fidelity that Ancient Armies brings to the table.

For the first time that I know of, we have a simulation that explains why a Macedonian Phalanx had three formations and demonstrates to the player how these formations work.

Just by playing the game, you will soon get to understand why the Macedonian Phalanx operated 16 deep, then switched to the 8 deep Pyknosis formation prior to contact. If you don’t do this, you might run into the same difficulties that the real life commanders faced!

Of course, I have just singled out the Macedonian Phalanx here, but the formation modelling is so detailed that it applies equally well to other formation types.

The simulation has now got to the point where it is providing me with genuine insight into the workings of Ancient formations and is also enabling me to probe the authenticity of many Ancient historical texts!

I’m not aware of any other game system that has this level of fidelity – hence the excitement! 😎

To show off the formations change system and to demonstrate the subtleties of operating a  Macedonian Phalanx, I have put together the following video – enjoy (Best viewed in HD):

As with any large update there are a few more additional bugs that I will need to sweep up. My intent is to switch back to maintenance mode and address these as a priority.

Once this is done I will start working on the next subsystem for which architecturally, the formation change system has provided me with a bit of a leg-up…

So be ready for road and track movement – Ancient Armies style!




5 thoughts on “All Formed Up!

  1. Very neat Rob. I love everything about your formation change system and am really looking forward to playing with it myself someday. The fidelity you are incorporating into this game is impressive.

    One thing that bothers me though is not being able to tell at a glance whether a unit is in close or open order just by looking at it… an open order formation is as solid as the closed order formation graphically. Perhaps some graphical representation to indicate open order or skirmish order is warranted? I would suggest maybe using the third of your formation change images shown above to indicate open order, and second from the top would be beautiful for skirmish order troops. Just a thought.. but some kind of visual language, especially for units under the player’s control would be important.. for enemy units you might want it to be less obvious.


    • Hi bil,
      Thanks for the comments. 🙂

      Ancient Armies does currently show order, but I admit it’s not that obvious. If you look top right on most infantry units (it’s located in other places for other unit types), you will see ‘CO’, ‘O’ or ‘OO’ which stand for Close Order, Order and Open Order.

      These designations will auto-change, but they still need some more calibrating. (I need to arrive at a decent set of requirements that define each type)

      • I should probably mention that the order markers are independent of whether the formations are regular or irregular – that’s shown by the different unit graphics 🙂

      • Yes, but I’m a visual person.. a clear visual representation is always superior to a text label. Maybe its fine as is in practice, but of course there is only one person in the world that can make that comparison right now, eh? 😉

  2. Aye I am! Just got home though and had a chance to read your post properly – I was kind of skim reading at work. 🙂

    I think what you want is already in! See

    The unit on the far right is a skirmisher, the unit to its immediate left is a standard unit with a fair bit of cohesion damage.

    In-game the two styles stand apart, mainly as the skirmisher formations have larger gaps and patches and also in that for those units they don’t move around. Cohesion damaged solid units, have much smaller ‘holes’ in them that tend to move around as they either gain or lose further cohesion.

    So in theory you can tell right away between line infantry and skirmishers, and by looking a little close at line infantry you can tell roughly how dense they are too, by the CO, O and OO markers 🙂

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