When it comes time to wipe the beta for a major build, we hold a 25 players versus 25 developers Battle Royale. As you may know, we hosted our first Battle Royale a few months ago. The testers dealt a devastating defeat to the developers we lost all 25 ships and only sank one. I personally sank twice due to bugs (fixed!), but I saw neither death because I was staring at my desktop. Most of the developers suffered a similar fate, as we completely overloaded our internal net connection and we all crashed. In all honesty, that had little impact on the fight the testers were going to crush us regardless. We were scattered around the battlefield like ants after someone stepped on their hill, and the only tester we sank was probably link dead.
Now were ready for another beta wipe, which means Battle Royale II took place on Saturday, June 23. In the first battle, we all picked our ships, setup our characters and just fell into the battle where ever we wanted. After suffering such a humiliating defeat, it was obvious we were outmatched and we needed to take a different approach for the second battle.
The people coordinating the battle drafted me to serve as our fleets admiral. The fact that we had to draft an admiral says everything you need to know about our fleets organization. So, I spent the next two weeks preparing for battle in addition to my usual design responsibilities.
Preparing for War
I decided to lay everything out and leave minimal wiggle room. I wanted everyone to have a role to fill and know how theyre expected to fulfill their duty. That meant I needed to build a fleet and estimate an appropriate power level to match what the beta testers would field. They outgunned us somewhat in the first battle, but it really did not matter.
I broke our team of 25 down to 5 units: Alpha, Beta, Delta, Omega and the odd man out. We support groups of 6 players, which means our battles are actually supposed to be 24v24 instead of 25v25. DrewC volunteered to be the odd man out. Each group would need a commander. Jess Lebow, Aether and BrendanW filled those positions. I worked on building one solid group and using that template for three of our teams.
Teams Alpha, Beta and Delta:
Navy Commander The leader of the group sails a First Rate Ship of the Line with skills focused on survival. I didnt want the commanders dying because they needed to lead the groups.
Navy Flagship The second First Rate in each group, with skills focused on weakening the enemy.
Navy Escort (2) These captains sail Second Rate Ships of the Line and serve as escorts providing maneuverability support, defense and serving as the backbone of the fleet.
Privateer Escort Sailing a Heavy Frigate, the Privateers had a critical role. Whenever the Commander issued an attack order, the Privateer needed to light up the target with a signal flare. The flare made it easier for the rest of the group to spot and attack the right target.
Freetrader Support The three main groups had a Freetrader sailing a Galleon to provide support in the form of group buffs.
Each role had a specific ship and set of skills they needed to take, along with a standard armament (ammo, repairs, etc.). Team Omega followed a different setup and they were entirely composed of Privateers sailing heavy frigates. I sent out the roster and let everyone sign up for the roles they preferred.
6 First Rates
6 Second Rates
9 Heavy Frigates
I met with my commanders to share my battle plan, which is illustrated in this terrible photo:
The fight took place in the same area as the previous Battle Royale. That meant I already knew the devs would spawn somewhere west-southwest from the testers and the wind was coming from the south. When we spawned, the commanders would split off from the fleet and their teams would form up in lines behind them. Each group would operate independently under their commander while following the overarching battle plan.
I planned to lead Team Alpha to form the main line south of the testers, with Aethers Team Beta right behind us. Our line would move in a figure 8 loop so that we could avoid turning into the wind. BrendanW would lead Team Delta in a similar pattern going the opposite direction. I had him go the opposite direction because I was not sure how much space wed have and I wanted to open up additional opportunities. Oftentimes, someone survives an encounter in the line and they can easily escape when all of us are traveling the same direction. Team Delta was intended to help alleviate that issue.
Jess Lebows Team Omega filled a different role. Composed entirely of heavy frigates, they were our decoys. Before each Battle Royale, Jess goes to our beta forum and starts a giant thread and taunts the testers. Of course they taunt us back and its all in good nature. I knew the testers wanted to sink Jess (Admiral Elbow) badly, just as they did the time before. Troy was another target they wanted to sink (they saved him for last the previous battle), so I placed him right in the center of the main line. Team Omega would break off from the main line of battle and form up west of the group of testers. They were positioned to accomplish any one of these three goals:
1) Harass the enemy, firing on their bows/sterns while they focus on the main developer fleet
2) Distract the enemy and expose their bows/sterns to the main line of battle
3) Draw as much enemy fire as possible and run away
Finally, we have the odd man out sailing a cutter. Hed sail behind the main line of battle and then approach the enemy fleet from the east and generally harass them until he sinks.
Each team had a set of guidelines they needed to follow for the battle. We needed to be coordinated and focus our fire, keep our teams buffed and screen our wounded allies. Whenever one member of a group gets severely damaged, the other ships are supposed to form a screen to protect the damaged ship. Then the damaged ship can work on repairing and/or disengaging.
The commanders liked the plan and we scheduled a meeting with the rest of the fleet to present our strategy. We needed to rally the troops and prepare them for the battle. Our expectations and hopes were low after our last crushing defeat. I took the traditional rally approach and told a story of mine where my coordinated group of newbies outplayed a more experienced and skill opponent. Through all this, our goal was clear: we must sink two testers this time!
Approximately 100 emails and two meetings later, my fleet was assembled the day before the scheduled battle. There was nothing left to do but wait.
The Battle Begins
Saturday afternoon rolled around and our fleet crowded into a small Spanish port. Battle Royales are somewhat canned, so wed wait until everyone was ready and wed get teleported into the instance where no one is allowed to fire. Once its clear that everyone is in the instance and ready, wed lift the firing restrictions and the battle would begin. This needed to be a fair fight, so I was prepared to make last minute adjustments to my fleet. I scanned across the army of testers and tried to compare our overall gun count. It looks like the devs had an advantage, but it wasnt significant enough for me to strip the ship out from under one of my captains. The testers appeared to have more First Rates, but they also had some Light Frigates and fewer Second Rates. However, the real problem in evaluating this came from the stewing ships. While no one can fire, everyone was moving around and we were quickly entering into battle formations and maneuvers just without the cannon fire. I decided we had to start before people started mixing up the lines and ramming each other. The GMs lifted the firing restrictions; the battle had begun.
As it goes, the best plan lasts until the moment the first shot is fired. In my case, it didnt even last that long. Team Deltas plan for an inverse figure eight turned out completely unnecessary as we had plenty of space and not enough time to set it up. Shortly after the first shots were fired, it looked something like this:
Two of our groups were entangled with the majority of the tester fleet. I was not watching the map closely to know how accurate my image is, but it gives a general overview. It looked like we were going to suffer some quick losses.
The devs were split on verbal communication. Devs outside the office could use Ventrilo, but devs inside the office could use Teamspeak. We couldnt join the internal server from home, and they couldnt get to external servers from work. I ended up in a Ventrilo channel with Rick FLS-EPFBM, the Privateer Escort in Team Alpha. This worked out great, because we could coordinate our targets and fleet maneuvers.
My group engaged a squadron of testers, exchanging several volleys from each ship. Neither side took any losses, although a few ships were severely damaged. Right around that time many of us crashed, including me and several of the testers Alpha was engaging. Were playing on a beta build that is months old and doesnt have low poly models of many ships, so its more prone to instability in major fights (both the client and the server). Unlike the first Battle Royale, everyone was able to reconnect (although there was difficulty for a few). When I returned, one of the testers escaped in a frigate that was a 1-2 batteries away from sinking. My First Rate had taken quite a bit of damage and I needed to repair.
When I regained control of my ship, we were heading right for a rock formation and we had to quickly turn to best west instead of east. I wanted to cut off the testers on the east side from their fleet so that we could sink a few of them. Some of the testers got scattered, and a couple ended up behind our lines. Our groups began to split up to fight in different locations and try to overwhelm the outnumbered testers.
Looking at the map, the fight appeared to be coming to an end fast. Ten minutes into the battle, I only saw 10-15 ships per side. I couldnt have been more wrong. Unbeknownst to me, Team Omega had successfully drawn away a large portion of the tester fleet. I believe Team Delta was also out there, or they had been splintered. Teams Alpha and Beta were most of the ships in the main battle.
As our fleet headed west, a squadron of enemy ships was heading south, rather similar to the initial setup. We had a couple wounded ships in the area. I wanted to sail into the middle of their formation and get into a skirmish where our superior firepower would quickly take down a couple of the enemy ships. Unfortunately, our SoLs were gaining speed too slow to cut off the enemy. We would have needed to sail at an angle that was too close to the wind, thereby reducing our speed below acceptable levels.
Ricks frigate was the only ship able to reach the enemy ships in time, but his ship was extremely vulnerable out there alone. He ended up spitting the enemy, but when the rest of us arrived all of the ships were to the south off our port sides except for a ship or two entangled in an engagement with Rick. This worked out quite well for us, because we were able to provide support to Rick while pounding on the ships to the south as they approached our outnumbered and damaged ships (probably the remains of Team Delta). While I chased the ships south, the rest of my team managed to screen Rick and keep him alive long enough to repair.
With the combined arrival of Alpha and Beta, it wasnt long before we were able to destroy the remaining testers. It looked like the battle was over, because I still didnt know about the engagement off to the west. We regrouped and sailed west to hunt down a couple straggling ships. As we sailed west, ships kept appearing on the horizon there were many testers still alive. They had defeated our western fleet except for one or two ships that fled, and they were sailing east to take care of the rest of us.
Just as we did not know about the fate of our western fleet, the remaining testers didnt know what happened in the east. They were severely outgunned. They had about 10 ships left to 15 or so developers. Most of our First Rates were still in the water.
I called for our frontline ships to slowdown so our fleet could regroup. When the testers saw us, they started to break north. We formed a makeshift line with every ship that could make it in time and sailed north. Both lines met and exchanged broadsides, severely damaging a couple testers. In order to line up to fire, I had to sail directly towards a giant rock. I only had time to fire once before veering off course to avoid the rock. At this point I was heading straight into the line of testers. A couple player ships followed me and we sailed through the enemy line.
Our fleet was able to sever the tail of the snake and sink a few ships while 5+ testers sailed northeast into a bay to recuperate. Some of us carefully followed and I believe we caught one more tester before he reached safety. At this point I was disjointed from our fleet and forced to head south to avoid another rock. I had taken a beating from sailing into the enemy and my ship was in poor shape. Dismayed, I saw a testers undamaged First Rate sailing directly towards me from the south. We were going to pass within 100 yards of each other and there was no way for me to escape. Most of my port armor and a good chunk of my structure were missing, and with how we were lined up he would have a free shot before I could retaliate. That meant he would destroy several of my guns in the first broadside.
We sailed past each other and exchanged fire. I lost all my remaining armor and most of my structure. The rock was the only chance I had. If I could make it to the other side of the rock, the hostile First Rate wouldnt have a line of fire. My structure dwindle as he fired off his light, fast-reloading batteries. In a huge battle that lasts over an hour, my survival was going to come down to a few seconds difference. I made it around the rock with less than 10% structure remaining, and he would have easily sunk me in the next shot. At that point I furled my sails to begin repairing my ship. The rest of the developer fleet arrived in short order. The valiant First Rate captain had no chance at that point. My allies sank him and we all began to repair our ships.
There were still 5 testers left, and we had abandoned chasing them to engage the First Rate that nearly sank me. The five testers were holed up in a bay with a narrow entrance, where they could unload all their deck guns on whichever ship approached. There wasnt much space for us to sail north in formation in an attempt to sink them as our line passed. With the layout of the bay, they could have easily pulled back and repaired. We needed to engage them in a way that ensured they could not get out of the range of our guns.
The battle lulled for a significant period, as it takes a long time to fully repair a Ship of the Line. There was no reason for us to approach until we repaired; the testers were already fully repaired. Once I finished repaired, I sailed out and had the line form up behind me. There was an outlet on the other end of the bay, and we were going to sail directly at them and through the other side. The first ship in was bound to take a significant pounding and I was worried that my ship would not hold up. Still, I thoughts the odds were good enough and I knew it would ensure my fleets victory without any potential losses beyond the first ship.
We sailed into the bay, while I had a moderate lead on the other ships. First Rates can travel fast, but they accelerate slowly. I needed speed running into the bay or Id be a sitting duck, so I couldnt afford to slow down until I took the initial volleys. They tore through my bow armor and ate up all my repairs in no time. We had yet to fire a single shot in retaliation. As I slowed to for my fleet to engage, I had a collision with a ship that caught me and sent me off course. We were able to untangle ourselves and get back on course, but I had no armor left on my bow or port sides. The testers used the opportunity to sail past me,. They had already blocked off the east outlet in the bay. If I sailed down my original course I didnt have a chance to make it past them.
I turned to head west back out of the bay, which is an incredibly sluggish maneuver in a Ship of the Line. I couldnt take any more shots. My starboard armor was intact, but it is not a shield only a portion of the damage is blocked and the rest hits your structure. I kept my sails low, just enough to make the turn while bleeding speed. I needed to slow down so the ships behind me could pull out and screen me from enemy fire.
It worked and my allies blocked the enemy line of fire to my ship. Over a few minutes, the testers had completely shredded my battleship after I fully repaired. Their formation was broken at this point and it was just a matter of time for us to sink the rest of them. One of our frigates was heavily damaged to the west, just outside of the bay, where another tester had been trapped. I thought we were going to lose that frigate, but it the remaining tester was also severely damaged.
Almost 90 minutes after it started, the battle was over. The developers were victorious at the cost of 12 ships. We all lost but one member of Team Delta and the same for Team Omega. Team Alpha survived intact. Team Beta lost one ship and the odd man out lost his cutter late in the battle. We had successfully executed our plan, even though it looked like it had gone to hell in the first five minutes.
The devs had a few advantages in this battle and there are several small things we can fix for future Battle Royales (and hold them in non-wipe circumstances). First, the wind was more in our favor. The groups started closer than I expected, and the testers didnt have a lot of space behind them. They had fewer guns, but not enough to determine the fight. More important, they were just outclassed in coordination. The testers did not know their teams nearly much in advance and the Battle channel didnt work in that encounter (which was supposed to be their global communication for the fight). Multiple nation fleets dont work well because of grouping restrictions.
Overall, I believe theres a general consensus that the devs won this one through better coordination and tactics. Eventually, well fix problems with the battle and make it easier for the testers to coordinate. I fully expect the testers to rally and defeat us next time. They will know were coming prepared and theyll take the appropriate measures to fight back.