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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Avoiding Research as "Overpowered Trait"

Quick update on the development side: I'm almost done adding Sliders to the new UI system, and is currently working on having "Screen within screen", where you can refer to another screen inside a screen to reduce typing.  For example, planet information display in both selected system display and planet list display.  After those are done, I will look into coupling C# scripts with screens, so you can specify which script file works with which screen, and have them share data.  This will allow you extra features such as screen transitions, space combat, etc.  When all of those are done, the bulk of new UI system will be done, and I can finally finish the Galaxy Generation screen.

Now, for the topic -

If I were to ask you which race was the best one in Master of Orion 1 or 2 (without customization), the obvious answer is Psilons.  Why? I mean, they're nerds, don't really have any other advantages in MoO 1, and has disadvantages in MoO 2.  So how are they so powerful?  The answer is that those games emphasizes technologies.  Other aspects in empire management don't affect your empire as much as technologies do.

Here's my approaches that I feel will balance this issue without nerfing the technologies' importance.

1. Production - Whenever you build a technology item, you automatically generate a certain amount of research points in a similar technology.  For example, if you build 100 laser cannons spread across 20 ships, you obtain Gatling Laser technology.  This is similar to real life.  Often when we build stuff, we also seek methods to improve how we build the stuff, reduce costs involved with building, or improve the quality of the stuff that we build (look at our cars for example, they're continuously being improved).  But the caveat is that production won't help you in a new technology field.  So building insane amounts of laser cannons won't obtain you the plasma torpedo technology.  This is to put the production-based races on par with the research-based races while still requiring some effort to research.  The amount will be randomized, and the tech tree randomized as well, so it'll be different each game.

2. Spying - In many 4X games, spying is weak, and is mostly to annoy other races.  Not often that they dramatically alter the outcome of games, unless it's to obtain technologies.  Again, note the importance of technologies?  For Beyond Beyaan, I want spying to be something that is worthwhile, and something that you'll want to invest time in about the same with research and production.  But how to do it?  Well, I'm going to add ability to target specific technologies to try and obtain it.  So instead of random draw of luck, you first scout out what technologies they have, then set bounties on each technology that you want.  You also set security funding on individual technologies (so you can put a lock down on Death Ray technology, but ignore the obsolete +1% Terraforming).  There will be technologies that improves the efficiency of your security funding.  Same for planets, ships, etc.  You can try and blow up their Death Star with your spies, but ignore their fighters.  Or try to incite revolt on a certain productive planet to cripple their economy.  In a nutshell, you micromanage the spying and defense, making them about as equally important as production and research.

3. Diplomacy - For diplomacy, most games basically make a diplomatic-race have good relations with other races.  But what I want is a intrigue-infused political system where you can play games with other races.  Beyond Beyaan will raise events, and those events will open up conversation options with other races.  For example, if your spy blew up a missile base on a race without getting caught, you can talk about it with that race, and your options would be something like "Haha, your defense sucks" (lowers relation without arousing suspicions), "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that, here's some money to help you rebuild it" (improves relations despite it being you who blew it up in the first place!), "I think that race did it, here's some evidence!" (can either impact your relationship positively or negatively, depending on your diplomacy skill).  Also, most of the conversation options that you see will be story/lore options that has a random modifier.  For example, asking about their race's history may improve your relations, and at the same time infuse story in the game.  Or maybe asking about their opinion of your clothes will negatively impact the relations.  As you converse, options will be opened up.  So instead of immediately opening up a trade agreement like in MoO 1, you have to converse with them before that option is even opened up.  The diplomacy perk will allow you to see what an option's impact on your relation will be, otherwise you'd be guessing.  So being diplomatically inclined allows you better control in politic scheming, which can be very valuable.

4. Economy - Another aspect that's largely ignored is economy.  Most games it's just a simple "Oh I have this amount of money, I can boost production or buy/finish this ship".  Anyone played as Gnolams and used their trade to win the game?  I didn't think so.  My approach is to have economy impact your military and production.  How does it impact them?  Let's say that you're not producing enough food to feed your people.  Let's say that you're farming about 25% short of what your people need to eat.  Instead of just them dying off, their production drops by 50% (double the shortage), which in turn drops income by 50%.  Let's say you have 100 upkeep, and 100 income, dropping by 50% means that your ships and ground troops perform 50% as effective due to defective/broken parts, insufficient fuel, etc.  Your weapons will do 50% damage, armor absorbs 50% of their normal rate, and so forth.  There will be a minimum efficiency, but the idea is that having a bad economy is not a minor inconvenience.  It will IMPACT your empire and your ability to fight.  If you just lost a planet that supplies 20% of food to your 100+ planet empire, well, crap, gotta fix that or you'll suffer.  If you lost a tourist planet that supplies 30% of your income, it will hurt.  But if your economy is in excellent shape, surpassing all your population's needs, they actually get bonuses.  Let's say you have 125% of what your people need to eat.  It means they reproduce faster, work more, research more, etc.  There will also be an upper cap on bonuses.  So with this in mind, destabilizing another empire's economy is now a viable strategy.  Instead of destroying all planets, just target those planets that supply the empire with food/money, and presto! their military is weakened, ready for you to attack them!  Spies will also play a part in this.  You can offer or receive empires loans or food supplies, and you can also have the option of declaring bankruptcy if you're in red, which will impact your relationship severely but helps stabilize your economy.

Now with all of those, suddenly specializing in research isn't so overpowered because other fields are now about equally as important!


Another problem that unintentionally caused research to be overpowered is the shields in MoO 1/2.  They basically cancel a part of the damage.  This can imbalance the game because weak weapons are no longer effective in later stages.  Think of a tiny ship with Shield X, and 1000 ships with basic laser that does 5 damage.  They can't kill the tiny ship because Shield X simply cancels 10 damage before starting to absorb damage.

For Beyond Beyaan, I'm doing the shields and armor a bit differently.  Both Shield and Armor will have "Resistance" threshold, with Armor averaging higher.  If resistance threshold is surpassed, the damage is passed on to next level.  However, both shield and armor have a limited amount of "HP", that if 0, they stop resisting and allows all damage through.  So a Shield I absorbs 1 damage, and have HP of 10, it means it takes 10 hits before it stops absorbing.  There's no damage canceling.  A powerful weapon can punch through both shield and armor, while a large number of weak weapons can whittle them down.  This way, you can still use weak weapons effectively (swarms of fighters for example) to attack a powerful ship.  You also can have layers of shields (three shield generators for example) to shield your ships.  The idea is to make the combat feel organic instead of a number-crunching game.  I want to avoid "Min-Maxing" where there's "The One Ship" that can handle everything.  An enemy built an ultra powerful Death Star?  Make massive number of boarding ships and attempt to take it over.  An enemy built thousands of tiny fighters?  Build ships with powerful area-of-effect weapons that easily destroys small ships, but is weak against large powerful ships.  And so forth.


  1. I like your ideas!

    1. Production - I don't think I have seen that in any game. Cool idea. Warmongers would develop a lot of military tech but would lack in other areas, terraformers would be good in "green tech" and so on.

    2. Spying - Playin as Darloks in MoO 2 can be rewarding. Psilons are usually tough to crack (spy defense bonus from dictatorship) but Sakkras and Silicoids won't surprise you with plasma cannon, admantium armor and thorium fuel. Generally spying in 4X genre is weak so it would be good to see some better desigend espionage system.

    3. Diplomacy - I like those ideas too but my biggest complaint to diplomacy in other 4X games is that AI never surrenders. Demand AI's city in Civ 3/4, not gonna happen no matter how may tanks you have on the border. Demand a system in MoO 2, may pass once but most probably will and up with holy war against you. Stating and proving that you are stronger and willing to cease fire if the opposing side surrenders certain part of the empire, no option for that in diplomacy GUI. Ultimatums too generally do not exist in the genre.

    4. Economy - I SM Alpha Century it's possible to use economy for winning. Either corner the market or buy raw buying power. Your idea is good too but not all things should scale down shortage. Armor for instance should be more tolerant to the lack of maintenance than weapons. Reactor without fuel is not going to produce energy. Armor without replacement parts will slowly decay, won't "regenerate" but won't suddenly be at 50%.

    Regarding damage reduction, I hate it and love it at the same time. I've seen a few methods for avoiding reduction cliffs (when all damage is neutralized): guarantied damage, applying DR to portion of damage and nonlinear reduction. In Starcraft 1 DR can't reduce damage below 0.5, in Titan Quest DR is applied to 65% (more with certain skill and items but it's capped) of incoming damage and in Warlords Battlecry DR is non linear. It's linear up to 50% of incoming damage after that extra DR is repeatedly halved and applied to the half of the remaining damage. That way damage is never going to be completely negated and there is no need for exception from the rule.

    Your approach is nice too just don't make absorption "HPs" too small. Also how would absorption "HPs" go with primary HP regeneration?

    1. About the damage reduction. You could consider some of the ways rogue-likes deal with it.

      Most (I think) use chance. If you have 15 "armor" then you will be able to block up to 15 damage, but I think it uses two numbers between 0 and 15 and averages them.

      Another uses two numbers to determine how much damage is blocked, an armor number and a "hardiness" percentage. The armor is the maximum amount blocked and the hardiness is the percentage of incoming damage that can be blocked.
      - This could lead to different classes of shields, some that have a low armor, but high hardiness, and others that have high armor and low hardiness. They would be good at large number of weak attacks and small number of strong attacks, respectively.

      To me, I think shields should be able to regenerate quite quickly. If a shield has 10 HP in your system, I think it should replenish ~1-2 HP per turn. If that's too overpowered, there could be some sort of shield generator which powers the shield and it too has a HP amount - although this might be too complicated. The generator could have maybe 30 HP while the shield only has 5 HP. The shield would replenish ~3 HP per turn and the generator would replenish slowly, ~0.5 per turn. This would make it so that in a prolonged fight, shields would be destroyed, but they still have the ability to regenerate.

  2. Generic comment: not sure if it's a problem at all if technology overweighted - psilon-like races serve as kind of handicap system for weaker players...
    Additionally to that, technology _must_ be important, otherwise the result will be something like Civ 1 - troops with bronze weapons can easily defeat a tank. I don't think that's either reasonable or desirable.

    Specific comments:
    Production - I already invented something similar, so it's definitely a good idea :)

    Spying - good ideas, I think I will steal some of them :) (unless you put a lock on them of course :) )

    Diplomacy - I am not sure if such level of micromanagement in diplomacy is a good idea or not (it may be, I really don't know yet) - however you gave me some new ideas for future improvements in this area - thank you.

    Economy - first, I simply hate the idea of dealing with food (or anything else specific) - money should handle those. To me this was one of the biggest weaknesses of MoO2. Good economy means more research points/industry points/whatever - and that's all. On the other hand, in MoO1 Klackons (with their production bonus) was considered as one of the strongest races - so yes, there are good examples as well, without building a whole system just for balancing purposes. But it may turn out to be a good idea - we will see.

    And the last part: those problems were all solved in MoO1 (except boarding which is a pity). Lots of weak ships could easily destroy a few large ships - especially if you used anti-shield weapons (like the neutron stream projector). On the other hand, large fleets were vulnerable to streaming weapons or to the black hole generator. I'll be curious if you can build a better system than that - it won't be easy...

    1. What do you mean by "invented something similar"? You work on a game too?

    2. Yes, I do, in my spare time - since 9 years or so :)
      I don't have too much spare time :(
      There is no publicly available webpage, repository or anything however.

    3. 9 years? That's a long time! You have some screenshots? Don't be shy, I see that you talk about it with great pride.

      It's easy to open repository on Google project hosting, Sourceforge or GitHub. It will save your work if something goes wrong with HDD and may rise awareness of your project.

      I work on a 4X game too, Stareater (also known to Google as Zvjezdojedac). 4 years of development, rewriting it for a third time and it may as well take another two years to finish it. I too don't have much spare time but it's slowly progressing. As I've seen, it common for grand strategies developed by a single guy to have this long development cycle. Development of C-Evo (similar to Civilization II) took about 7 years, FreeOrion in development since 2005 and Master of Orion III is still not finished. OK, I'm joking there :).

      I'm curious about your story.

    4. LOL - I am not hiding because of my shyness, but because of my pride :)
      I still has the misbelief that I can make some money out of it - and that my ideas would be stolen if I would made them publicly available. :)
      I think the latter assumption is reasonable - based on the length of my development and the fact that me myself regularly check other similar games for new ideas. :)
      In fact I have already checked your pages as well... months ago :)

    5. If stealing idea sounds easy but it isn't, otherwise there would be a game capturing the spirit of space combat in Master of Orion II. Can you at least tell where are you putting emphasis in your game? Colony management, combat, something else?

      Have you found something useful in my project for your game?

    6. I agree, ideas are usually hardly transformable to match into the structure of another game - for example your game has so different focus, that I basically haven't found anything useful to me. E.g. you seem to be rather use MoO2 as a base, not MoO1 like me.
      On the other hand, I have created a new research and diplomacy system (these are my main focuses), and I would hate to see them in a game before I release mine :(
      And I have found 2 guys, whose ideas are easy to use - I guess you can find out one :)
      Also there are several ideas which are coming from completely different games. E.g. check Gratuitous Space Battles [ ]
      I don't want to completely copy it as the solution for space battles (though I played with that idea), but it gave me several new concepts to use.

      So it _is_ possible to assimilate ideas (resistance is futile), and my hybris says: be careful :)

  3. TBSS - The problem isn't that technology is overweighted. The problem is that other fields aren't as important or good. Basically the races that can research and produce the most wins. Diplomacy, economy, trading, spying, etc. are "weak" perks.

    My aim is to boost them so they're more viable and people might want to select those perks.

    As for spying ideas, go ahead and "borrow" them :)

    Ivan, you bring up a good point. Maybe instead of affecting military immediately, I can have ships stay damaged after combat, requiring you to repair them. With population's production being lowered, it'd be more difficult repairing ships than if you have full production. The problem now is micromanagement. It'd be tedious telling your ships to go repair, and to which system, then having them rejoin your fleet. But the economy idea is the same. I'll need to brainstorm a way of making it enjoyable to manage repairing of infrastructures and ships (ground combat and space combat can damage both).

    1. I understood that you wanted to raise the importance of those areas - however it's still hard to imagine how could spying or economy decide a war - except of course by easing the acquisition of new technology.
      Diplomacy is a weak point I agree - that's why I have a brand new diplomacy system.
      Maybe better ecology could somehow attract the citizens of the other nation:
      - ease getting spies and agents
      - raise the chance of a revolution
      - raise the chance of quitting the war
      ... or something like these.

      On the repair ship/infrastructure topic: what if you don't have to manage that?
      I mean the infrastructure / ship question can be easily managed by your sliders (maybe add some kind of priority setting for repairing old ship vs. building new ones).
      The other question is simple: all ships repairs as allowed by the ecology of the planet they are orbiting around. The player wants to deal with moving ships to another planet for faster repair in only one case: when he is short of ships and in a war. In this case it's completely ok that he have to micromanage - in this situation everybody does that.