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Time limits- unrealistic?


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After so long i have got back into playing Combat Mission again and its a great sim of ground based warfare with fire support elements, all well modeled. At the moment i've been engrossed in the scenario "Into the Green" based on the recent real life conflict in Afghanistan carried out by ISAF against the Taliban to rid the country of these extremists and to install a democratic government. Its a great scenario, realistically made which depicts a typical operation carried out by British forces alongside ANA to clear compounds in Helmand province, shout out to Combatintman its been fun and had to stop and think a lot about what to do (playing in real time with a lot of pauses!).

What bothers me though about Combat Mission as a whole and not just this scenario is time limits. In this scenario i have 30 mins left and progress has been slow to minimize casualties. I have another two compounds to clear after clearing the first and both assault and support groups are on there way to get into position to assault compound two. I will have enough time to clear compound two but not three. I find this unrealistic as in real life they're not gona just stop as they're out of time they'll carry on till the objectives have been met as long as casualties, fatigue or ammo/supplies isnt an issue and even then fatigue wouldnt be an issue as the troops could lie up in a compound for a while or overnight to rest if needed. Like you see in the documentary Ross Kemp Return to Afghanistan when 5 Scots go out on patrol to clear an area of Taliban and they stop overnight in a compound they cleared to then carry on the next day.

I think CM should be changed in this respect- remove time limits and instead just allow the commander to decide if the mission is still achievable up to a point, for example if his forces are running out of ammo and theres' no more resupply available. Or if casualties are too high and any remaining objective(s) would be too much for a force that is now lacking firepower. If none of those such conditions are an issue for either side then ending a mission can just come down to the force morale for each side, when it drops to a certain level they automatically withdraw, or if surrounded they surrender. This would make missions more interesting as there could be the odd occasion where the objectives could be met such as all compounds cleared but the enemies' morale could still be decent enough to carry on, so you'd carry on trying to find them and make contact. Failing that or if you dont want to hunt down the remains of the enemy in the AO you can just press a button to withdraw, ending the mission and you'll have been successful still with securing the objectives providing casualties arent too high, ammo isnt too drained and your forces' condition is in decent enough shape.

What does everyone think? and what are your thoughts on why time limits should carry on being used in missions? how can it be deemed to be realistic?

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The AI can't think / react to your moves so if you remove the time limit it's just becomes a matter of sniffing the AI out. Against a human player maybe since both player can move their guys around. By the way this has been discussed your years. The general consensus is what I said above.  

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I see what you're saying. That said i'm at a point now in this scenario where all movement orders for the AI seem to have been executed as i'm no longer spotting any enemy on the move but even then...as the enemy are on the defensive (defending the compounds) i wouldnt expect them to be moving, i would expect them to just be laying ambushes in defensive positions (lot of irrigation ditches in this scen and the compounds themselves for good defensive terrain, providing cover) so it would be ok for there to be no time limit in this scenario imo. There was a load of Taliban spotted to the south heading towards my FOB to attack it but were easily cut down in the open desert terrain. The way i see it the enemy dont need to react to my moves if they're defending something, they just need to be ready for my troops in good defensive positions. If you're talking about a meeting engagement battle then yes i'd agree for a time limit with those against the AI.

That said i havent played with the scenario editor so i dont know the exact mechanics of how the AI works or for giving them movement plans, i've only just got back into playing CM as i've said.

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10 hours ago, cns180784 said:

<Snip>

What bothers me though about Combat Mission as a whole and not just this scenario is time limits. In this scenario i have 30 mins left and progress has been slow to minimize casualties. I have another two compounds to clear after clearing the first and both assault and support groups are on there way to get into position to assault compound two. I will have enough time to clear compound two but not three. I find this unrealistic as in real life they're not gona just stop as they're out of time <Snip>

I think CM should be changed in this respect- remove time limits and instead just allow the commander to decide if the mission is still achievable up to a point, <Snip>

or if you don't want to hunt down the remains of the enemy in the AO you can just press a button to withdraw, ending the mission and you'll have been successful still with securing the objectives providing casualties arent too high, ammo isnt too drained and your forces' condition is in decent enough shape.

What does everyone think? and what are your thoughts on why time limits should carry on being used in missions? how can it be deemed to be realistic?

In RL it is routine or even SOP to get a No Later Than (NLT) time on many (most?) combat missions.  The assigned mission is part of a larger problem that higher HQ is dealing with.  The battalion orders Bravo Company to secure the crossroads NLT 0800 in order that Alfa Company can advance through the crossroads at 0830.  And of course battalion issued these orders in response to a mission received from brigade who is working for division etc...

If the assigned unit runs out of time they may not stop but higher HQ will have to adjust for whatever consequences result from the failure to meet the NLT.  Maybe 2nd Battalion had better luck taking objectives so brigade will shift the main effort to 2nd Battalion.  But this starts to get into the operational level beyond what the game typically portrays (Some campaigns touch on this with branch scenarios).  I try to plan and play the mission to fulfill the commanders intent in the given time frame.  It does not always work.  Sometimes I will get a tactical victory instead of a total and sometimes I will take a defeat.............. just like in RL.

For the withdraw button......... if I understand what you are asking for I think you can just hit cease fire and get much the same result.

Also if you want to add time to a scenario (for your own enjoyment) you can open it in the scenario editor and add time.  (Just modify the file name so you remember you made a change)  In the newer titles I think you can go up to four hours.  Can't remember off hand what it is for Shock Force.     

In any case it is a very cool game.  :)         

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I see what you're saying, as for the withdraw button i meant that you could click this when you want to end a scenario instead of having to stick to a time limit. But yea cease fire is pretty much the same so you could press that to end a scenario for whatever reason (i.e. low on ammo, or all ground objectives have been met and dont want to pursue the remaining enemy) without worrying about how much time is left- that is if the enemy hasnt surrendered which would end the scenario itself.

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The time limits thing has been discussed before on pretty much all of the CMX2 boards. I will give you my tuppence worth but it is worth reading JonS’s Scenario Design tutorial to get further perspective.

 

http://community.battlefront.com/topic/109190-the-sheriff-of-oosterbeek-–-a-scenario-design-daraar/

 

It is also worth reading my Planning Tutorial to get an insight as to how militaries plan and the importance of time as a factor in that planning both in terms of potential enemy actions and friendly force actions.

 

http://community.battlefront.com/topic/120527-no-plan-survives-first-contact-with-the-enemy-planning-tutorial/

 

Warning this contains some ‘Into the Green’ spoilers (although some timings referred to are not exactly as played out in the mission). 

 

The essence of it is to use the card game analogy is that you can only play the hand that you have been dealt as both the player and the scenario designer.

 

With all of my scenarios I think about the narrative/what I want to achieve first.  This allows me to determine whether it is achievable before starting and if it isn’t achievable then I move on.  The thought processes behind ‘Into the Green’ went something like this …

 

When I read the books referenced in the Designer’s notes I thought that some of the typical Company level framework operations described would make a great CMSF mission.  The essential elements of those missions involved cautious patrolling interspersed with sudden violent action.  Another factor was the precarious nature of operating from a FOB which itself was often subject to attack and was heavily reliant on resupply.  Finally the other factors that come into play in Afghanistan is the need to avoid collateral damage and to keep casualties low.  In what was a departure from the norm for me, I opted not to fight it on the actual ground.  The reason for this was quite simply that I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of creating it compared to the far easier process of creating a generic map reflective of the Green Zone.

 

So with all of that established I had to look at the tools available to me and consider the constraints.  As this discussion is about time let’s talk about that.  CMSF gives you a time limit of four hours with the possibility of up to 20 minutes or so variable extra time.

 

There are however nuances in that such as that once you get over the 2 hour point, mission time limits can only be set in 30 minute blocks (ie 2 hours 30 minutes, 3 hours, 3 hours 30 minutes).  Another factor is the way in which the TO&E is handled in that if you want a Rifle Company you have to ‘buy’ the whole Battalion and strip out the bits you don’t want.  Unfortunately you cannot strip out the higher headquarters elements which means that as I don’t want the ANA Kandak HQ to show up in this scenario the only device I have to stop this is to set it as a reinforcement that never arrives (ie it has an arrival time after the scenario ends).  The problem here is that the latest time of arrival I can set a reinforcement for is 3 hours so straight away the maximum scenario length is 2 hours and 30 minutes with 15 minutes variable time.

 

This gives me a starting point from which I can design the mission and in this instance I am pretty sure that I was aiming at a ballpark of 2 hours but in the end testing showed that it had to be longer.

 

So from there I can start thinking about my map and the flow of the scenario.  In this instance and in keeping with the narrative I was looking at the unit patrolling out, dealing with the Taliban ‘dicking’ (British military slang for insurgent scouts) screen before conducting compound clearances.  The method I use is to put a unit on the map and see how long it takes to get from one end to the other at ‘move’ speed and my rough rule of thumb is a 1/3 – 2/3 rule.  By that I mean that if it takes 15 minutes to traverse the map, the mission length needs to be 45 minutes minimum meaning that the player has 30 minutes to deal with deliberate tactical manoeuvre and minor skirmishes with Enemy recce or outposts. 

 

For ‘Into the Green’ I had decided on three compound objectives and again I have a rule of thumb for that which funnily enough is 15 minutes per objective.  So we now have 15 minutes movement, 30 minutes deliberate movement/the recce/outpost battle, 15 minutes for Compound #1, 15 minutes for Compound #2 and 15 minutes for Compound #3 which rounds out as 1 hour 30 minutes.

 

Now I have to work out my Friendly and Enemy Forces.  Friendly Forces were pretty simple because I wanted to generate a Company Group mission and I had three compound objectives plus the requirement to defend the FOBs.  If you work on the principle of a platoon per objective this means that there are more objectives than there are platoons.  This creates the tension and choices that I want the player to consider because I wanted this mission to be challenging

 

For the enemy force, I needed to replicate typical Taliban tactics and make the mission sufficiently challenging.  This meant that I needed a ‘dicking’ screen, IEDs on avenues of approach, close-in defence of the objectives and some form of reinforcements/reaction force.

 

Back to timings again.  The AI has to be programmed, in that units execute orders within time windows or at stated times.  It goes something like this … exit after 5 minutes or exit before 10 minutes. Or exit after 8 minutes and exit before 10 minutes.  So now I have to work out what I want these forces to do and when I anticipate they should do them. 

 

So for units in the Green Zone on this mission, I envisage the reaction force as being called to assist the defence when the ‘dicking screen’ has identified that the Blue force is coming out in force.  CMSF does not have triggers so I have to estimate it.  We again come back to time and distance calculations in that I have to work out where I want them to set up to react and how long it takes them to get from there to the place I want them to be.  Let’s say that it is reasonable to assume that it takes the ‘dicking’ screen 15 minutes to identify that the British are coming and that reinforcements are required.  Let’s say it would take the group 10 minutes to get from where they are to where they need to be.  Let’s say that it would take the British force 30 minutes to get to that same area.  I appreciate these timings are ‘convenient’ but I’m trying to make this simple.  So the solution is to set the first AI movement order at ‘exit after 14 minutes’ and ‘exit before 16 minutes’.  This gets them to where they need to be in good time.

 

The other component in this mission is the enemy vehicle mounted group.  I want this unit to attack at a time when the patrolling group is too deeply committed into the Green Zone to help defend the FOBs thus punishing the player who has ignored their order to make sufficient provision for FOB defence.  I also want to make sure that they arrive at a time that the British Force has probably used a lot of their indirect fire support (mortars, artillery, AH and air).  So 30 minutes is long enough into the scenario for the patrolling force not to react but not long enough for indirect fire support to have been heavily used.  So let’s make that figure 1 hour.  This has the added advantage that the British player is probably committed to a fierce battle around one of the compound objectives and thus creates tactical problems/dilemmas for the player – exactly the effect I am trying to achieve.  So I set the reinforcement time at 1 hour and then programme individual moves towards the FOBs in, say, 3 x 5 minute bounds/orders.  This conveniently comes under my already calculated 1 hour 30 mission length.

 

So now I test it – and test it – and test it which is what I did.  As a result of that I had to make various tweaks to individual force elements, victory points, parameter and casualty factors and some timings.  In the case of the latter I kept finding that I needed to send Landrovers out to resupply ammunition and that it was not possible to complete the tasks in 1 hour 30 minutes.  By a process of testing I finally arrived at the final mission length of 2 hours and 30 minutes with 15 minutes variable time.  Although I can’t remember how it ended up that way I had to keep in mind that this was my ‘hard deck’ to stop the unwanted HQ element arriving as a reinforcement at the 3 hour mark so I’m pretty sure that as part of that calculus I had to either strip some enemy out or add more Blue forces to ensure that we ‘came under budget’ in terms of time and make the mission achievable.

 

In simple terms then – generally the mission designer has not pulled the mission length timing out of their backside – some due diligence has been applied.  As others have said, if that is not to your taste then you have options:

 

1.            Go into the mission editor and set it to 4 hours.  However if you do this, potentially you could sit on the FOB for an hour and a half and completely smash the vehicle group without penalty.  You could then go into the Green Zone and know that any moving groups will now have moved to their final destinations and therefore be easier to acquire and defeat.

 

2.            Don’t play the mission.

 

3.            Play the mission as intended and accept the fact that if you didn’t get a total victory or lost, then you probably need to improve your planning and execution.

 

As for timing and realism, the planning tutorial explains their importance and remember that Napoleon (who lost at Waterloo because he did not defeat Wellington’s force before Blucher’s force appeared on his right flank) once said ‘In military operations, hours determine success and campaigns’.

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Just now, cns180784 said:

Interesting and i can see how much work you put into the scenario. I agree with the time limits now i have to say, thanks for that.

What i found odd was when the Taliban technicals arrived they didnt fire a single shot as my section from 4 Platoon and the RE hit them with small arms and rifle grenades, any ideas why they didnt fire? i was expecting to take casualties from that. Despite leaving the forces behind to defend the FOB according to the TASKORG i expected to take casualties due to the number of technicals and their weapons. Find it hard to believe none of them could see my men.

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