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Command Window and Chain of Command

Page: DesignArticle.Article-CommandWindow - Last Modified : Thu, 23 Dec 10 - 1285 Visits

Author : Eric Pietrocupo

I have played video game called "Pacifc storm" a few years ago which had a huge command window problem and I will use this game as an example to illustrate the concept. In that video game, you played as the commander of the whole navy of a nation. I am not sure if you had to also manage the army. The game had the following data structure to hold describe game objects. It could be expanded like a directory tree. Here is an example of how the structure looked like.

  • Navy
    • Fleet
      • Ship
        • Plane Squad
          • Plane
            • Pilot

Each object type had a series of properties from annual money income to soldier morale. Now the concept of "chain of command" is that high level decisions will be taken by high level officers who generally work at the "Navy". These decisions will impact what the objects at the lower level once they are set in motion. So if the navy decides to attack midway, fleets will be mobilized, ships will follow their fleets and planes will prepare for the air strike.

The data structure above would probably have worked well if they were making a computer system to manage navy data, but not to make a game. The problem is, if the player is the leader of the navy and take decision regarding the whole pacific theater of operation, does he really care if pilot number 2304 has a low morale because he had a depression or the flu? No. And that is what the command window is used for.

The command window is the information that the player should be able to know in order for him to make meaningful decisions. So for example, if the player is the leader of the navy, the most the player need to know is:

  • Navy
    • Fleet
      • Ship

If the player was a airplane squad Leader, the information he would need to know is:

  • Ship
    • Plane squad
      • Plane
        • Pilot

If the player was the captain of a ship the information he would need to know is:

  • Fleet
    • Ship
      • Plane Squad

So the player only need to see a portion of the information to actually play the game. The rest of the the information should either be hidden or abstracted.

Now there are some people who think that you could leave the information there and ask the player not to bother about it. This is wrong because the players will eventually consider theses information. In a video game called Master of Orion 3, you had a very high level of detail with artificial intelligence to manage the routine stuff. One of the problem is that you end up realizing that the computer was doing a bad job, since you could see what he was doing, and end up doing everything manually anyway because the player could have the control. If you abstract some game elements by a single value, the players cannot try to control the detail of this element anymore because the details does not exist.

The command window is a problem that generally appears in video game since the computer can manage a lot of information. In board games, many information is being abstracted to make sure it can be represented with simple components like cubes and chips.


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