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Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Sorry, no screenshots in this post, because I saw something on SpaceSector that caught my eye.  The author discussed micromanagement in terms of managing colonies (, and while I made some comments there, I thought of another micromanagement issue: the end-game "final war" where you're either winning or losing, and the tedious task of going to each star system and ensuring that it's eradicated of your enemy.

Let's say that you're playing in a 200-star galaxy, with every star being inhabited by either you or your enemy, with about 50/50 distribution.  And each star averages 4 planets each, that'd be about 400 planets to invade/bomb!  This got me to thinking, what if that isn't the problem, but is actually how fleets are portrayed/managed in the game?  It gets tedious sending a fleet to a planet, then attacking, then ordering it to attack another planet, or moving to next system.

I think the most fun aspects of a space 4X game are colony development/colonizing, research, ship designing, and space combat.  Others are just fluff to help move the game along.  What if the fleet management were minimized or even eliminated, thereby focusing on those fun aspects of the 4X game?

At this point, I realized that nearly all 4X space games have basically the same fleet management.  No matter how they move, they're always represented in the galaxy view, and you have to issue orders one way or another for them to move to or attack a star system.

If we were to eliminate traditional fleet management, what are our alternatives that can perform the same tasks but are less tedious?  Consider the fact that we want to support colonizing, exploring, transporting population/troops, attacking, and defending of planets.

Note, this is just speculation!  I want to make the end game about as equally enjoyable as early game and mid game!

Perhaps we could try the idea inspired by Castles series (Castles 2: Siege and Conquest in particular) where instead of having army icons, the land is divided up into territories, and you select a territory then select an action (spy, attack, etc).  You have a limited list of actions that you can perform at the same time.  Would this work for this kind of game?  Let me illustrate what it would look like:

Exploring would be done by "hiring" people to explore it for you.  You select a star system, and click on "Explore".  The price and time taken for this action will be based on distance from nearest owned system, and you confirm by clicking on "OK".  This is then added to in-progress actions (actions are not arbitarily limited, it is limited by amount of resources that you have).  If starlanes are enabled, then you can only explore systems that are connected to an explored system, and is not blocked by an hostile empire (blocked in the sense that they occupy a star system that connects your empire to the unexplored system.)

Colonization again would be done by "hiring" people to build a colony base on a planet.  The cost and time will be based on distance and hospitality of the planet.  Technologies can reduce either factors.

Attacking would be done by selecting a planet then clicking on "Attack".  It will then prompt you asking which ships to send for the attack, then the cost will be calculated by the fleet's upkeep cost and time taken to arrive.  After a successful attack, it asks you for three options (depending on what equipment your ships have): Bombard Planet (kill off all people, this have diplomatic repercussions, you'll be branded as participating in xenocide), Destroy Planet (same as Bombard, but more severe repercussions), or Invade Planet (no diplomatic repercussions, but more involved).

Transporting population can be partially eliminated by having people automatically migrate from crowded planets to less crowded/more hospitable planets.  But for invasion, maybe you need to build up an ground army similar to Castles, then clicking on a planet and selecting "Invade".  Invade would be similar to Attack, in that you select ships to escort your troops, and you select troops to attack.

Defending will be done by displaying list of planets being attacked, and which ships are attacking.  You then select which ships to defend which planet, then resolve each battle.  In this case, you have "home field advantage".

Spies can be used to find out the enemy's actions and see if they're planning an attack on you, or to find out intel such as explored systems, fleet strength, etc.

Your list of actions will be displayed in top right of the galaxy view, to remind you what you're doing.

Pros of this system:
A lot less management of your fleets, you don't have to worry about splitting fleets, moving them to defend a system, or attacking, or adding troops to a ship, etc.
More streamlined management of your empire.  You're an emperor, you say "I want to attack this system", and it is done, you don't worry about supply lines or fleet formation, those are left to your underlings.
It scales with your empire size.  More resources means that you can explore more systems at once, instead of having to build scout ships and sending them out.
It will be a lot simpler to program, meaning the game will be finished sooner.
It focuses on the fun features of 4X games - Exploration, Colonization, Battles, Researching, and Development.
Ships are now built at empire-wide level, because they're managed in an empire-wide level, which further reduces micromanagement.  You can order up 10 battleships, and don't have to care about where they're built.

Cons of this system:
Less tactical decisions in the galaxy level.  You'll feel a lack of micromanagement if you're a micromanagement freak.  This is not a problem for me personally.
May be a bit imbalanced being able to attack one system on one end of galaxy, then attacking another system on the other end of galaxy shortly afterwards with the same ships.  But this is offset with the ability to defend systems in the same manner.  Again, not really a problem for me.

What are your thoughts?  Personally, I find this to be very alluring, both in terms of simplicity for me to program, and in reduced management in general.  If there are no major issues, then I will go ahead and attempt this venture.


  1. Actually, the more I think about it, the better this new approach sounds!

    It will also simplify space combat (I originally planned on supporting multiple sides) so there's only two sides, making for much simpler ship placement and shorter battles.

    The new approach also enables the diplomatic option of lending an empire some ships for a set number of turns. No need to worry about managing those ships, they're just in your list of available ships to use when attacking.

    When exploring a system, once it's explored, and if you don't colonize it, it will say "X turns since last explored", and it's possible that you launch a colonization effort only to find that someone already colonized it!

    With that in mind, all empires will be in contact with each other from the beginning, but their locations will remain hidden unless you find them, or you sign an alliance treaty.

  2. So there's no such thing as a poorly defended position under the new system. You and your enemy are equally strong across their entire territory and there are no strategic decisions below the diplomatic level.

    Brent. This system sounds awful.

  3. :(

    I really like the concept of being an Emperor and telling people to go explore this system without worrying about details. But on the other hand, it sacrifices a lot of strategic features, once you colonize a planet, it instantly falls under your defense...

    You're right, part of the fun is the strategic aspect... I'll think on this and see if I can come up with something that merges the two approaches...

  4. That sounds like it would make 85% code already done useless. But aside from that I'd really like to return to the "final war" issue. For example, in Master of Orion 2, why it happens almost every time?

    The AI doesn't surrender. Nor does it give up planets without the fight. That led me to idea of a game mechanic that would resolve the "final war" at some point prior the total annihilation. For instance, if player A proved it self to be superior by having more industry points in ships and higher win/loss ratio than the player B, he has an option to trigger the mechanic. The mechanic can be something simple as complete surrender of B's colonies to player A, surrender of some colonies or something more complex such as arranged duel. The duel would require from inferior (B) player to defend a certain system. If B wins, A can't take aggressive action against him next X turns but if he loses it has to "reduce" his presence in the galaxy. Again, it could be complete surrender or giving up some colonies.

    There is also another thing that almost always happens in the Final War. In order to speed up the war (in terms of real life time, not in game turns), human player simply bombs the AI to the stone age or destroys the planets to prevent recolonization. Preparing and performing ground invasions on every besieged colony takes extra effort and time and the reward is minimal. This is lot less severe issue that the Final War it self but it would be nice that colonies under heavy bombardment sometimes show the white flag in order to survive.

    And one more thing, what is your opinion on mind control/reprogram feature as an option besides bombardment, destruction and invasion.

  5. To be fair, I think the colonization and exploration stuff sounds ok. I'm planning to do something kind of similar in my game. The player can build an abstract "interstellar transport infrastructure" that enables movement of people and goods between systems. It's really just a bunch of abstracted transport ships. If the player wants to move something, he just says "move this from here to here" and if the ship capacity exists to do it a transport ship will appear to move things. This subtracts from the remaining capacity, so its possible to be moving so much that you have to wait a few turns until capacity becomes available.

    I also plan to make it so that having this system enables automatic/AI controlled migration, but that this migration does not take away capacity points. You'd want to build the infrastructure to allow your populations to migrate on their own, but you don't want to fight against it.

    Finally, I might use this system for exploration and colonization too. Just say "explore here" or "colonize here", maybe go through an extra step to choose what population to move there (if colonizing), and a transport ship is dispatched. Perhaps pay a fee for the ship to carry a colony module or an exploration module or something. No need to specifically build colony ships or to worry heavily about maintaining exploration ships.

    Of course, the player is also free to build dedicated exploration and colony ships if he or she likes, but this system would just make things simpler if needed.

    However, wrapping strategic fleet positioning into such an approach sounds like it goes too far. It takes away a key element of this type of game. Better to figure out ways to make management of the fleet/ships easier while maintaining strict tabs on their locations and speeds.