# Orthogonal Unit Differentiation - what the what?

Discussion in 'Game Mechanics Design' started by B.Ultimus, Nov 13, 2014.

1. ### B.UltimusDrinker of Coffee

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Bit of a mouthful, isn't it?  But very important to game design.

So, what is Orthogonal Unit Differentiation?

In short, look at it as a term for multiple game elements having different functions when it comes to terms of gameplay.  The most common example that comes up in Orthogonal Unit Differentiation is Chess Pieces - each piece can do something different, which in the end effects the endless strategic possibilities in the game itself.

Tic-tac-to can be a simple example.  What if instead of a 3x3 grid we gave a 5x5 or even a 10x10 grid?  You earn points for every 3 in a row you have. What if we gave an additional element, like a square with an X or O that transforms anything next to it into an X or an O depending on what you are?

Same with RPGs.  You have 3 heroes, one that heals a target, one that taunts a target, and one that deals damage.  As a player, you have your taunter get the attention your target enemy, you have your healer heal the taunter for the damage they take, and your damage dealer hurt the enemy.  Adding additional elements only enhances the strategy (Taunter has a strong defend skill, damage dealer can put one target to sleep, healer can heal everyone once a battle, etc).

Once you get past the jarble of words that is Orthogonal Unit Differentiation, you can see it's importance.

What are some examples that you have of Orthogonal Unit Differentiation?

2. ### wildhalcyonVillager

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A couple solid examples I can come up with:

Rock, paper, scissors. Each element is orthogonal to the other. In terms of game play you see this a lot in elemental systems and in games like Fire Emblem where different units are more effective at damaging certain types of competing units.

You'll also see it in individual pieces of equipment. Disgaea does a great job of this with its weapon system. Different weapons are useful for different skills available. Fists are useful for moving enemies. Spears are useful for moving around the enemies. Axes have a small attack range but pack a punch, while bows have a long attack range but are weaker.

Borderlands uses this very effectively in their weapon system too - smgs are weak, but have a high rate of fire. Revolvers are strong but have a low rate of fire. Sniper rifles are typically strong with a great range, while shotguns have a weak range hut pack a punch when used effectively. One thing this game does well too is offer exceptions to the rule within each weapon class. Shotguns with range, Sniper rifles with burst fire, pistols with scatter shot, etc.

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3. ### WavelengthThe Indictables

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I just have to ask.  Why call it "orthogonal" when orthogonal very specifically means that things are lined up in a straight line (as opposed to 'askew')?  It seems like you're talking about some combination of unit specialization, team synergy, and characters' personality-mechanic matching.  But I'm getting lost in terms of trying to combine those all into one concept.

4. ### AndarVeteran

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wrong definition - if you check your mathematics, you'll see that "orthogonal" means two lines in an angle of exactly 90 degrees. One line of objects can never be orthogonal, because that word descibes the relative positioning of to lines of data.
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That said, the entire concept of organising a party and classes among the battle role is something that comes from the strategy side of gaming, not from the RPG side. And forcing all actors into their battleroles can be very limiting to the game.

In the game I'm planning the player will be able to choose actors that have no battlerole, being weak and untrained in that area. Yes, choosing one of those actors will cause the player problems in battle because he'll need to protect them in battle while they can't conrtibute - but they will have other abilities on the map, and there will be ways to circumvent a lot of the battles if the player takes care instead of just storming ahead.

So that is another version of unit differentation: the option not to give a battlerole, and the option to give special roles outside of battles. Yes, it is more work and planning than going with the usual distribution - but in my opinion there are already too many similiar RPGs that are easily thrown together from cliches.

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5. ### WavelengthThe Indictables

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Fair enough.  I should have said "straight lines" and even then it wouldn't be totally accurate.  But I was thinking of it in terms of buildings, where perfect 90 degree angles are thought of as straight lines as opposed to curves (or disasters!).

Which brings me back to the point I was making - what does this loaded term "orthogonal" have to do with the various things we're actually discussing here?  I'm not trying to be a grammar nazi here; I just need a clearer explanation of the term if I'm gonna be able to contribute anything here.  I looked it up on Google and found several results in game design discussions, but it just seems like an awful term for a rather hazy idea.

The clearest definition was something like "different units have differences in type, not just in scale" - which would make this a really unwieldy synonym for "Incomparables".  Am I correct in assuming this, or are the two actually different things?

Last edited by a moderator: Nov 13, 2014
6. ### AndarVeteran

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The term isn't loaded - the mathematical definition is quite simple and correct. And that is where the term originally comes from, and it's properties in the mathematical case that were the reason for using this term.

If an object is moved in a grid that is orthogonal, it will never affect anything that is in a different "line", especially not values that are orthogonal to it. If you expand that to the mathematical vector definition, it keeps each "line" different from each other.

Let's call one line "damage". If you change the damage values in one game, it will affect how other values like Armor behave - so those values are NOT orthogonal to each other.

If you want to balance a game, changing values that affect each other multiplies the balancing workload a lot, because each change of a value will cause need to correct all dependent values.

But if you change values that are independent of each other - orthogonal to each other - then you don't need that much balancing work to correct everything.

Most games start with balancing the damage dealer - how strong should each attack be, how much HP should each unit have, how much should the armor reduce the damage.

If you now add healing of HP into it, it will not change the damage equations, only increase or decrease the length of combat by available HP. So you can balance the healing independently of the damage dealer in most combat systems. That is the mathematical definition of values independent/orthogonal to each other.

And that's exactly the same reason for the definition of orthogonal in buildings - as long as the walls are orthogonal to each other, increasing the wall in one direction will not require more materials for the wall in the other direction. If the walls were not orthogonal to each other (say you're constructin a triangle building), then lengthening one wall will require you to lengthen the other walls as well, because they would no longer connect otherwise.

Check wikipedia instead of google for the correct definitions ;-)

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7. ### DiretoothLv. 23 Werewolf

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So, I'm guessing this is like tactical rock paper scissors? http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TacticalRockPaperScissors

The best thing I'd state would be used in this case is the four elements. In my elemental system that I apply to most of my games, fire consumes wind, blows away stone/earth, absorbs water, puts out fire. So, the system would be like: Fire<Wind<Stone<Water<Fire.

8. ### rikkiprinceWarper

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I was just about to draw a diagram to explain this, but Matthias Worch does it so much better in the context of Doom:

http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1020570/Level-Design-in-a-Day

Skip ahead to 32:00.

Essentially, imagine having two attributes of your unit that do not interact, like movement speed and weapon power. Being better in one does not make the unit better at the other (being faster does not improve weapon power). If you draw a two-dimensional graph of these attributes, the axes would be orthogonal (perpendicular, at 90 degrees to each other), you can then plot all your units, including player characters, their weapons, enemies and any other challenges, on the graph. The idea is to provide scope for the player to make decisions about which of their powers they use to take on each challenge - this is strategy! For example, in an RTS, which units should they build, the ones that are mostly good in the fast dimension or the ones with long range? Well, it depends on the enemies and what they are good at. However, the interplay of different challenges over time is also going to play a part in what the player chooses.

The next step after understanding this is to convert your understanding of this into N-dimensions. You can probably visualise what happens when this idea scales to three dimensions, but after that it becomes harder and you sort of have to just believe it works (that you can have a 4th axis that is also at 90 degrees to the other 3 is a mind blowing proposition)! I found learning about machine learning techniques helped me begin to understand things being processed in multi-dimensional space.