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Balance (early game difficulty) [strategy]

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#1 Acharis   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3596


Posted Today, 02:00 PM

The game is a 4X space empire building. But rather far from a traditional one :) It's strictly single player and assymetric (the AI plays by differnent rules and have different goals - it's not trying to "win" the game or prevent the player from winning, it has its own goals and agendas).


The first problem I encountered is the early game. The thing is, only the player starts with just one planet, all other "races" were there for a long time and the most of the galaxy is already taken. So, I wonder on some mechanic that prevents the player from being wiped out immediately.

Also I would prefer if there were some planets that are still not colonized by anyone (not many, just some, for the player to grab early).



Available tricks:

- aliens (AI) can use completely different and arbitrary rules (for example one race I designed is a mindless insectoid race that has only one planet with super defences and every 100 turns they go on a breeding rampage, they attack many nearby planets and feed on any population there, after X turns they go back to their single planet and leave whatever they invaded (usually in ruins and with decimated population). So they do not conquer per se or colonize or try to take over the galaxy.

- don't worry about long term difficulty, at the late game another race of super strong invaders from another dimension enters and they will actively try to kill the player, so making it too easy is no problem (just because the player took half the galaxy does not mean it will be easy when they come).

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#2 Thaumaturge   Members   -  Reputation: 1225


Posted Today, 02:23 PM

A thought that comes to mind is having the player start in a region of the galaxy that primarily holds pre-spacefaring species, with the nearest empire a little distance away, and somewhat sedentary by nature.


Another idea is to have the established empires be culturally indisposed to further expansion; perhaps they've been through that phase, and simply lost the taste for it.


Finally, the player's home-planet might well be in a province of some empire, but have been overlooked or left alone for whatever reason (perhaps the controlling empire has a culture that rejects interference with sentient species, but sees little threat in pre-spacefaring cultures; the planet is then overlooked for so long that the development of spacefaring technology goes unnoticed until it's too late). To add to the viability of the player's rise to power, the controlling culture might have atrophied, no longer being the great power that once they were, holding their territory simply by sheer inertia.


#3 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 8319


Posted Today, 02:31 PM

I think making it so your enemy AI can't attack early is primordial. You want the player to have a certain level of understanding of your gameplay mechanics before threats come up.

As a colloquial to the above, while enemies may have very deep empires, you may have it so that no ships are already constructed, so they'll spend at least a few turns building up an army. Then, if lucky enough, they'll duke it out on their own.


In a 2d map setting (fairly illogical but standard to most 4X games), you may choose to have the player start nearby a corner so that he can't be surrounded early on. This decreases the statistical chance of being attacked early assuming most erratic AIs will attack somewhere near and the player will share edges with fewer empires as a result.


Also, you need to have something that grants the defender's advantage: that way, despite being in smaller numbers, the player is able to hold his ground for a bit. Arguably, it is best if he can start conquering fast.


Think: how does one single planet starts to rule them all?

You could have it so that a single faction occupies most of the territory around the player, and that this faction is at war with most of the other species. This would simulate the "ashes of an empire", where the player is really just rebelling from an empire that is crumbling down. As the game progresses, you'd see a weakening empire around you leaving fewer and fewer defenses, giving you a chance to quickly claim valuable planets without much resistance. This should allow you to ramp-up to a mid-sized empire fairly quickly after just a few turns (10-20 or 30 maybe?)

Then, you'd come face-to-face with the other factions and the player would find himself confined to whatever he was able to grab, and improve his defenses.

The cool part here is that it would shift the flow back and forth and that different games would net different outcomes:

- Capture too many planets in the first expansion phase and you'll have trouble setting up appropriate defenses vs all players, and your empire may find itself shrinking rapidly.

- Capture too few planets in the first expansion phase and you'll have trouble setting up an economy that allows you to build said defenses

*This would teach the player more about your economy and they would learn through trial and error and direct feedback 20-30 turns into the game.

#4 jefferytitan   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2041


Posted Today, 02:48 PM

The way I see it, balancing the early game is easy because you can control the initial setup completely. So as I understand it, your question is what should that initial setup be?


So yeah, I guess a lot of arbitrary circumstances are possible, for example:

  • There's something unusual about the area of space that the player starts in which disables the aliens advanced drives but allows the humans' slow crappy drive.
  • The aliens overlooked the area because it didn't seem valuable and/or it isn't valuable for their technology tree.
  • The aliens are busy fighting each other and don't notice you initially.
  • The aliens are busy dealing with some large disaster, e.g. a supernova, black hole, etc.

#5 kseh   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2012


Posted Today, 03:58 PM

If there's a bunch of other planets that are not colonized, is there maybe a reason for that? Presumably the existing empires have known about these planets for some time. So whatever reason that those planets aren't under the control of an existing empire could be the same reason why they won't bother the player in the first place.

Might existing empires simply ignore the player until a certain level of tech is reached?

Or maybe the home planet is just simply cloaked by some ancient technology and the power source is going to die out in X turns.

Or maybe not so much a cloak but some other piece of tech the player has come into possession of or invented that returns false scan data and it takes time for the existing empires to devise a counter measure.

#6 ferrous   Members   -  Reputation: 1946


Posted Today, 04:07 PM

I think it would probably be best served to have the player start in a more barren part of the universe.  At least on easier difficulties =)  You might try using distance from the player in your algorithm to populate and place the other races. The closer they are to the player, the more likely they have a crappy tech level.   This has a nice effect of giving the player time to expand before headbutting into a stronger race.

#7 Acharis   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3596


Posted Today, 04:11 PM

Interesting concepts you have :) Thanks.



I bit more about the mood and feel of the game:

First, let's not call various aliens "other empires". There will be only one empire in the whole game, the player's empire (it will be referred to as "The Empire"). The rest are just some alien scum, factions, pirates, rebels and more aliens :) So, the player starts small and builds the Empire (so no hiding/starting in the corners, the player needs to start somewhere in the center and spread from there). That's the overall mood I aim for.

Next, by the mid game the player should control around half of the galaxy and THEN the real challenge starts (invasion of more aggressive aliens or something). So the balance (if we speak of traditional "many planets = you can afford strong fleet") will be always upset (first the player has just one planet, then the aliens (except invaders from another galaxy which do not even have their planets on the map) have much fewer planets).

Note also that I want to discourage taking over all planets in the galaxy by the player (but that's a small thing and not that important, anyway, the goal of the game never will be total conquest, the player will always win the game much earlier).


Think: how does one single planet starts to rule them all?
I can comment on that one more :)


First, the player's race could be the baddest, smartest and the most technologically advanced race around (exceptions). The aliens could be (exceptions) just some smarter animals that somehow managed to get access to interstellar travel and their advantage is only in numbers and that they started far earlier. But they for example don't need to have any research capabilities (maybe some crawling speed evolution) and go on on their instinct, which can be easily beaten out in the long run. Or they could be some race of robots and they have mental restrictions (like they wait for their masters to return and galactic conquest is not in their programm as long as self preservation routines are not in danger :D). Or they are merchants in nature and they want to "conquer the galaxy using merchandise", so they even can be big friends of the Empire if the player allows them free trade (or some trading privileges) inside the empire.

You know, something like that. Asymmetry, aliens are not like players.


So as I understand it, your question is what should that initial setup be?
Yes and no :)


I want to stress out the possibility of utilizing the asymmetric nature of the gameplay. The aliens (AI) does not need to play the same style a human would. So it does not need to be setup only (I would say setup is half of it).

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