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The ever iconic Bean Island - what goes wrong

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The ever iconic Bean Island - what goes wrong

Post  Master Knight DH on Sun Sep 10, 2017 3:32 am

http://gbwn.main.jp/ClassicMap_FCW/ClassicMap1_FCW.png
Bean Island. The very first map in the entire Nintendo Wars franchise. Boasting about 11 preowned properties per side and 6 Cities in the center, this map is a general meme. Unfortunately, it has far from aged well, because there are plenty of mountains to slow things down a lot and make units more susceptible to artillery. So what gives? Well, let's start from the beginning.

Origins in Famicom Wars

All games need a first level that sets the tone of the game. And as we know, Famicom Wars would be intending to be a Turn Based STRATEGY game. How do you make sure that is clear? Why, make brute forcing ineffective. Back in the stone age, humans had creating tools to overcome the animals out there, to make up for how they couldn't achieve their victories by raw physical ability. Famicom Wars uses a similar mindset with Bean Island: the Mountains force a twisting and confined path for the vehicles, making them easy targets for long range attack. At the same time, there are several Cities in the center to grab to make sure a successful offense is rewarded by extra funding.

Now I will say that yes, this works for a first level in an old game. It shows that the player has to think about the terrain, and it definitely deserves a place in history. At the same time, however, time passes and we see how increasingly dated the map becomes, especially when it ends up recycled repeatedly throughout the series. Some of the problems go without saying, but I'm going to speak of my experience from remaking it on Game Boy Wars 3 and playing against the AI there, because it REALLY exposes the innate design problems on the map.

Game Boy Wars 3 and Bean Island

Now Game Boy Wars 3 is drastically different on its own from not just Famicom Wars, but various other games in the Nintendo Wars series, most notably using stats based on Unit Families to determine matchup damage rather than the individual matchups themselves instead of having to make up about 2500 different numbers. Of course, being different isn't bad, and in fact, Game Boy Wars 3, which was released before Advance Wars 1 itself, actually aimed to be more kinetic than the Japan-only installments that came before it, with the following points:

  • Actual 1HKOs including through terrain. Most notably, Anti-Air Tank VS Grunt, due to their respective stats, actually results in a base of 17 HPs of damage. That's slightly more than the base damage of a 160 ATK Anti-Air Tank VS Infantry (168%) in the AWs.
  • Usage of raw subtraction for defense boosts. This favors base damage because higher base damage won't get affected nearly as much as lower base damage. Remember the 160 ATK Anti-Air Tank VS Infantry example I used? 3 Stars in Days of Ruin drops it to 129%, but in GBW3, simple Anti-Air Tank VS Grunt, that much already requires 80 Cover, which is more than the HQ itself. Important armors, meanwhile, will get to sponge attacks much more easily when on terrain, so they can approach through cover and get up close taking much less damage, which means they have some much needed offense of their own for the opponent to call out.
  • Direct flanking provides offensive and defensive penalties to the enemy unit. This rewards good usage of direct-fire units.
  • Movement Costs are generally reduced, using mixed numbers to stay within aesthetic. This makes rougher terrain still a clear obstacle, but something that can be overcome more easily, making offense easier. A few vehicles can even traverse Mountains and/or Rivers, though it's slow, so don't expect results.
  • Actual combat-capable car units that can snipe vulnerable units. Goes without saying. And yes, they can traverse Mountains, though the MC is rather high.
  • Bulldozer units called Work Cars that can upgrade properties to provide faster repairs and especially more income.

I also made a PAL-style balancing hack, creating an IPS patch that can be DLed here. You may need to use LunarIPS to apply the IPS patch, because I used it to create it. It generally tones up the good points, tones DOWN issues like the flagrant price gaps--it doesn't do everything I'd want to do with GBW3's balance because there are deeper complications that would arise from trying some of the things I would otherwise do because yes, I'm aware of the elephant in the room that isn't the price gaps; but it does also include some ASM hacking to make it MUCH easier to accumulate EXP. Yes, Game Boy Wars 3 also has a level up system. It's something I especially think about in light of whoisthisgit's complaints about the series in this video about Waylon Flies Again.

Vanilla GBW3's EXP system is ineffective outside its Campaign Mode, where the mechanics are a bit more along the style of Fire Emblem anyway. The EXP gains are simply too slow. The hack, of course, makes EXP gains faster, especially handy when believe it or not, the level up benefits are stronger than the ones in Days of Ruin: arguably, the B-Rank boost (2 level ups) is better than DoR's Vet level boost, as it provides +20% ATK and the base damage cut for EACH attack is 1 HP. It's an easy argument that it's actually weaker because the defense boost actually is affected by the unit's HP, but it does increase the demand for efficient 1HKOing and 2HKOing, and it's more likely units like MB Tanks are going to be in the forefront. The maximum level boost is the S-Rank boost, which for twice as much EXP as the B-Rank boost is twice as effective.

Suffice it to say that what I did with it helps to make the game feel more progressive, as sophisticated offense can provide easy EXP and the bonuses themselves, given proper EXP allocation, will be great for steamrolling newly built units. All of these changes generally lead GBW3 to have stable flow with remarkably quick cleanup phases. But do they suffice for making sure this happens with Bean Island when using GBW3's custom map feature to place it into the game?

Unfortunately, no. That doesn't happen.

I will say this first and foremost: Bean Island is at least made more interesting, because the car units are a bit capable of disrupting supply lines due to being able to move onto Mountains, and armor units can in turn wall the car units at the expense of still having their vulnerability to indirects. It does lead to unit variety, but because car units have underwhelming countering toward the units they don't hit, the interesting gameplay gets reduced for one reason: the map still favors indirects. You could try to flank supply lines with car units, but they're vulnerable to MGs, so Buggies could get hit by APCs (yes, APCs had MGs in the Japan-only games) or better, and Humvees would be easy targets for Buggies. You'd still have to use your own armor units to blockade attacks, and that's going back to square one where there's the problem of having to deal with a singular path with too many back-and-forth turns for its own good. To make things last even longer, GBW3's indirects cost a lot of Gold, obviously as a counterbalance to them being able to move and fire on the same Day, but it doesn't change how you eventually need them for an efficient push.

Having hacked GBW3, I know where all the Movement Costs are in the ROM, but I think any further MC reductions would just be outright broken, which is not worth it simply to make a single map, no matter how iconic, playable enough without taking too long. It shows how tepid Bean Island is that GBW3's design doesn't make enough of a difference.

Reasons for talking about Bean Island

So why am I talking about this miserable mess of a map? We here all get it: it's awful. It's not even good for competitive play even if we ignore the lack of checks against FTA, despite what some elitists in certain other AW communities would have you believe. We have known this for the longest time. And we have known that it favors indirects because of all the claustrophobic terrain. Having units able to cross Mountains to flank supply lines doesn't make much of a difference if they're easily repelled because their defensive power is abysmal.

You know what that actually brings up? Flanking. Or rather, having paths for flanking. There is a RPS triangle I came up with: Flanking beats Cover, Cover beats Focus, Focus beats Flanking. But with no Flanking, Focus loses its flow and Cover becomes the best option. That results in overly defensive gameplay, which as we know is absolutely bad.

Bean Island doesn't think about this, and while that's because map standards back in 1988 weren't going to be Godly, this is a map that practically rolls boxcars as far as early 90s map design goes, and it's from Fire Emblem and inevitably involving story stuff. Even with that excuse, there are still some clear-cut issues.

There's no reason to not have map design evolve enough to better show it has come a long way. What do we know about how to design with flanking in mind anyway? Probably a decent bit, but I'm up for more emphasis on it after this cautionary tale, given that we are talking about a strategy game.
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