Gigantic Wall o'Text Alert!
Part 1: Read this first!
I've pondered this for a few days, then made some notes and decided to post during some downtime today. My thoughts follow. I've highlighted the most important snippets of my arguments/thoughts in bold for those that dislike walls of text, and I've wrapped my internal monologues around them. Possibly confusing, but it's more of a stream of consciousness (read: I've mentally vomited onto my keyboard) than a design document.
A. These are thoughts, and thoughts only. I'm not trying to offend or downplay the ideas of anyone that thinks differently. I've written this to stimulate some discussion on the topic.
B. Later on I give some example of abilities I'd have for Generals. If I use numbers or status effects like stun, it's for illustrative purposes only and I don't take balance into account.
C. There's a lot to take in on the minions section. Please bear in mind that my thoughts on minions only count if the general is heavily nerfed enough that he can't take on Assassins as they do currently.
D. I'd love to suggest some small changes that are easily implemented. Unforunately I'm a blue sky thinker. I'm aware that what I suggest below would take some serious investment time and effort to make it work.
Part 2: Initial thoughts on how Generals currently play.
To start, I do not think that Generals work as they do now. They play like Assassins with minions. Either remove the Generals concept entirely (leaving you with some Assassins that have unique minions as part of their character mechanic) and balance around that, or make deep, sweeping changes to how Generals work. I do not think that simply making Generals less powerful and making their minions more powerful will change how they feel to play.
A. So we get rid of the Generals idea...
This is straightfoward and requires no further design work. You simply balance them as they are, removing the standard minions and taking into account their unique minions which can play a part of their class mechanic (Oak getting more powerful when he has more sprits on the map). Perhaps you speed up how quickly priests come into the fight to compensate for them not being on demigods.
B. So we redesign how Generals work...
With the current generals, I see two options. You can either redesign the General concept from the ground up, and then make changes to the current Generals when this is done.
Oak and Erebus (can't comment on the other two) do very well as assassins. Alternatively, convert Oak and Erebus into assassins as a quick fix, as is previously mentioned in this thread. (with some balance, naturally, and removing their non-unique minions) It would however necessitate the creation of some more generals, which would, I imagine, be very time consuming (design, creation, balancing).
I for one think that Erebus and Oak should stay generals. So I'm going to assume we redesign how Generals work and run you by my idea on how to do that.
Part 3: How I believe a General should play, and (this is relevant) the key elements of "Wargames". Note that this does not include how minions handled.
I believe that a General should not be able to take on an assassin on his own (without minions) and win. Generals should be less powerful stats-wise than an Assassin. I think that Generals should have combat abilities (they are demigods for crying out loud), but they should not be able to break an assassin or even a fellow general on their own. They should debilitate the target/s in some way, and/or energise allies (demigods, grunts, minions, defences, whatever) nearby. A General's skill tree should mainly (not only. I recognise the need for some direct damage skills) consist of buffs/debuffs and utility skills to support his allies and hinder his enemies. However, A General with a complete retinue of minions should be able to compete with an Assassin if played skillfully. They don't necessarily have to be able to beat them, but they should certainly hold their own.
If Assassins are supposed to constitute the RPG part of Demigod, (they do this very well, and this has been said before) let's consider the key gameplay mechanics that go into "Wargames" (I refuse to be drawn into an acronym argument over RTT or RTS or whatever) so we can see what gameplay elements we're looking for from Generals. These are the ones I can think of. If you can think of more, feel free to add some more.
A) Economy/Resource Management. I think we can all agree that this is fairly boring in comparison to killing things/blowing stuff up. It's a pacing mechanic, which I think we already have covered by Demigod's Gold, War Score, etc. I do not think this needs focussing on any further.
B ) Unit Micromanagement. This is currently what is missing in Generals and what I think we should try expanding on.
C) Point and Click interface (with Hotkeys). This is already covered by Demigod. It's how we're playing the game already. Hooray!
D ) Base Building. This is something I think doesn't fit with Demigod. There is perhaps scope for a General being able to buff nearby defences into doing more/taking less damage, but I don't think it's necessary to go building more defences/buildings.
From this (admitedly) small look at the Wargames genre, I think the main theme we need to explore with Generals is Unit Micromanagement.
I think that having direct control over the grunts/creep is a bad idea. They're a demigod's main source of juicy, delicious exp after all, so it seems unfair for a team to deny the enemy that. I think the creeps/grunts work well as they are. Which leaves us with Minions. I think if we can make using minions a more interesting and rewarding experience, they will form a valid alternative in gameplay to the straight up RPG of the Assassins. So let's look at how we can deepen the idea of minions...
Part 4: Minions and Micromanagement
I dislike the way that minions are handled at the moment. They are weak, and with the exception of priests (healing, I believe is a percentage of the demigod's HP, so that scales) they all get weaker as the game progresses (even taking into account the higher level, more expensive minions) and there is no incentive to keep them alive, because you can summon more at any time. Anything they can do I can do better, and usually quicker.
Minions start weak and end weaker. That you can pay a lot of money to make them less weak is besides the point. They're still weak, and there is no incentive to keep them alive other than a meat shield. I think that Minions should level with their demigod, and minions should gain veterancy when they fight and stay alive, becoming quicker, stronger and more durable. The scaled levelling allows minions to remain at the same level of strength througout the game and the veterancy allows skilled players to make their minions stronger than an unskilled player that lets their minions die, adding a vital reason not to treat your minions like a glorified meat shield. This can also mirror the current scaling system with four levels of minion: Standard, Veteran, Elite and Legendary. For this to work there would have to be a tangible difference between the effectiveness of each level of veterancy, otherwise no one will bother.
ALERT. THIS NEXT BIT IS MY FAVOURITE BIT. INSULT THIS BIT IF YOU WANT TO DASH MY HOPES TO BROKEN PIECES.
To further add to this in an effort to add some depth and micromanagement, I believe that every general should have access to overarching, generic, context sensitive minion abilities. These would be an additional row of 4 icons on the UI and be accessible using hotkeys Ctrl+1-4 (1-3 for the standard minions, and 4 for the character specific minions). These would have cooldown but no mana cost. When I say context sensitive I mean that each ability should have different effects when used on allied units from the effects when used on enemy units. For example...
Minotaur Special Abilities: Frenzied Charge and Shield Wall. Cooldown 30 seconds.
When you use this ability on an enemy target, your minotaurs take a run up and charge the target, stunning it for one second and increasing their own attack speed by 10% for 5 seconds.
When used on a friendly target, the minotaurs form a ring around the target and brace their shields. Each minotaur guarding the target takes 5% of damage dealth against the target (to a maximum of 20%, as there are 4 minotaurs). Lasts for 10 seconds, or until the minotaurs or target die (whichever comes first). Works on friendly buildings and demigods (including the owner of the minotaurs).
This gives a lot of flexibility and depth to how the General can use their minions without cluttering the UI up that much more than it already is. It also gives you more options on the skill trees (each general has their own specialised minion after all) to pick from; you can play offensively and defensively.
In addition, it allows you to make each General more different in playstyle; for example let's say Erebus is focused on dealing damage and attacking, and Oak is focused on support and assisting his allies. You could have skill trees for Erebus that allow his Minotaurs Frenzied Charge increased stun time and attack speed, and Oak could have something similar that upgrades his minotaur's Shield Wall while making them more durable. It could emphasise the type of playstyles you envisage for each demigod.
Part 5: Wrapping up
So that's my take on the matter. We want Generals to be slightly more RTS-like in how they play, so let's at least take the interesting bits of the RTS to play with; using your units to kill things. As always, I'd like this to be taken with a grain (or a shaker) of salt; it's a stream of consciousness, with my thoughts directly transcribed into binary for your pleasure.
Merry Christmas everyone, and thanks to OrleanKnight for pestering me to post.
Edit: Removed a string of characters creating a smiley where there wasn't one. Added some more spaces for clarity. WHERE'S THE PREVIEW OPTIONS GUYS?