As you may know, often when I'm not working on the game, I think about it and how to solve different issues. Ever since I proposed the idea of three separate economies (planet, system, and empire), with research being rolled into empire production level, I've been gnawing on several issues:
First, with those layers of production, there's a lot of micromanagement.
Second, planets don't feel as special. It'll end up whoever gets the most planets wins.
I really dislike tedious micromanagement, but love rewarding micromanagement. What I mean by that is tedious micromanagement like in MoO 2 where every planet have the same queue, you repeatedly queue up the same buildings to build, and you can't queue up everything because there's limited queue spots. By rewarding micromanagement, when you micromanage something, and it gives you an instant reward that is not repetitive. For example, assigning scouts to explore stars, it's repetitive, but yet rewarding because every star is different. So how to have planet micromanagement that is rewarding instead of tedious?
Another aspect to consider is that if planets only have +/- 50%/100% output in certain fields, planets become a blur, you just gobble up the best planets, and leave the worst ones for last, and terraform them to the best planet in MoO 1/2. Artifacts planets are very rare compared to rich/very rich planets, so those are more important, but still it leaves something to be desired. How to make each planet feel special? MoO 3 tried to do this with DEAs and environment/gravity, but the end result is messy.
Just last week, a friend introduced me to a card game called "Race to the Galaxy" (Which is a very excellent game, I recommend it!) and it had an interesting concept. Different planets can produce different goods, or produce goods on other planets, or have other specials. That's when the new planet/economy idea started to take root. So ever since, I've been analyzing it from different perspectives, and trying to think of all potential issues/caveats, and how to resolve them.
Since I'm about to revamp the economy/planet to use scripts more, this is a perfect opportunity for me to implement this new idea, I think I will put squadrons UI on hold (right now they're still the same as fleet, in that you can colonize or move people, only the mechanisms for selecting and moving has changed), and develop this first.
Now, what's the idea? First, I want to explain the "special" planet feel. I want each planet to feel different from each other, and have some planets be highly desirable, not just for "100% production" that can be achieved by two normal planets, but rather for unique resources that they possess. So I'm going to introduce different materials that your empire can utilize. For example, "Gems", "Radioactives", "Heavy Metals", "Inert Gasses", and so forth. In empire/system production, different projects will require different materials, so if you don't have a planet that can produce a certain material, you'll have to either find a planet, or trade for it (making a trade agreement for 2 radioactives in exchange for 1 Inert Gas for example). This will make some planets very desirable as they may be the only ones in the whole galaxy that can provide a certain material. I really liked this aspect from an old game called "Planet's Edge", you have to have certain materials before you could produce firearms or armor for your guys.
However, that sounds like it'll add more micromanagement, but fear not! I liked the idea of MoO 3's DEAs, but disliked how it automated development of basically everything. This is where the "rewarding micromanagement" comes into play. Different planets will have different number of "Regions" that you can exploit. When you explore a planet, it may have various materials in different regions. Materials are of two types, one-time and renewable. One-time is when you settle the planet, it automatically consumes that material. Examples include ancient artifacts, native inhabitants, etc. Renewable includes food, ore that you can mine, etc.
Each region can be different from other. For example, in one region, you may mine radioactives, while in another of the same planet, you can harvest inert gasses. When you first settle a planet, all the regions will be undeveloped. Instead of "queuing" development, you click on a region, and it will prompt you which type of region you want it to be. When you select a type, it will deduct the cost for developing that region, and it will start on the next turn (each turn is 1 year, so 1 year should be long enough to develop a region?). For example, if you want a region that's rich in radioactives to be a "Mining" region, you click on that region, then click on "Mining", and it will deduce, say, 100 BC then next turn it will start producing radioactives automatically.
In a sense, it's rewarding instead of tedious because each region is different, and you have to examine which type of region you want it to be. If you chose mining on a region that can also produce food, you lose the food capacity, but gain the mining. However, if you want to change your mind, you can later change it to farming, which will gain the food production, but lose the mining. So that way, you enjoy the thinking process, weighing the pros and cons, along with the actual cost of development. If you're short on money, you want a "Commerce" region. If you need more production, you want "Industry". If you want to build defenses such as missile bases, you want "Military", and so forth.
One thing that I liked from MoO 1 is how it asks you after completing a research such as planetary shield, if you want to start development of that on each planet, with % of development allocated to it (0, 25, 50, and 75). With the regions, I plan on something similar. Instead of going to each region individually to build buildings, you can go to planet list screen, and select a region, then "add building" and select the building you want to be built on every region of that type. It will be then added to the development queue for that region.
Now, production of each region is independent of amount of population on the planet. The reason for this is that you don't need millions of people to operate a mine, especially if it's an automated one. Those regions are actually "government" owned, so they don't require much people to operate. However, the number of population do affect how much taxes you collect, how much food are required to sustain them, how many people will be defending your planet in case of an invasion, and the development time for building buildings on regions. New assigned regions will automatically follow the queue that you've created for that type. For example, if you add hydroponics farming and automated farming in "Farm" queue, every "Farm" region that don't have those buildings will then build them. If you decide that a building is too expensive, or obsolete, you can remove it from queue to prevent new regions from building it, or you can order it scrapped on every planet. Let's say that there's two buildings, but they are mutually exclusive. One doubles the industry output, and the other triples it. You have the first one on some planets, and you want to replace it with the newer triple one, you first order the first scrapped on every planet, and add the triple to the queue. Presto! Easy management.
The balance of having regions produce their full production from first turn is the cost of developing them. So you will have to manage your finances carefully, do you develop planets, or build expensive ships, or trade for those rare materials? The decision is up to you.
I'm having a very good vibe with this approach, instead of assigning population units (aka MoO 2), or sliders (aka MoO 1), the planet management is now more involved, but yet less involved, if you know what I mean.