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A better tech tree?

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Hey ya'll, I've been lurking around here for awhile, and made a few posts as an anonomous user (too lazy to sign in) but this is my first real post. Exciting. Whatever. I've been toying around with a game idea for a while. Think of it as being similar to a typical space based empire building game. Technology and research. I want to employ something a little different than a typical tech tree, and give the player more of a sense that they are contributing somehow to the development and research that their empire is producing. Rather than just sort of go through a pre-existing tree uncovering what's already there, I want to create a sense that they are almost coming up with ideas on their own, and then implementing them. So far, what I've come up with is having a list of known "parts" that can be improved such as a ships hull, armor, weapons, scanners, and so on and then a list of known "generic research" such as lasers, biotechnology, radiation, nanotechnology, etc. The player can pick something from the reseach list and combine it with something from the "parts" list, and then the scientists will get back to the player with what kinds of technology could be developed. The player could then pick one of those things, research it, develop it, and build it. Or try something else if it doesn't suit their fancy. There are other options and conditions here, but this is the basic idea. So if you combine biotechnology with armor, your scientists might develop a kind of self-healing armor, or they might come up with a kind of living exo-skeleton for your marines, or whatever. My question is, do you think that this gives the players more flexability and customization for their empire (they could focus heavily on electro-magnetic research and make most of their technology reflect that, if they want, or focus more on optical technology, making holograms and cloak technology...focus on weapons research or on propulsion technology... whatever...) or! Would this get annoying as players may end up trying many different combinations until they find something good. (Which, in my opinion, may be a good thing, since real R&D works similarly... try lots of ideas until one works.) The game isn't spanning hundreds of years or anything, so there doesn't have to be huge leaps and bounds of technology. The game should only last long enough for players to make a few dozen unique enhancements to their forces, and maybe two or three major scientific breakthroughs... building wormholes or or almost impervious shields. Hope this makes sense. Let me know what you think.

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Unless you come up with a very clever way to implement this, it still sounds mostly like a static tech-tree (or tech-something else, but still static). For example, "So if you combine biotechnology with armor, your scientists might develop a kind of self-healing armor". This self-healing armor is almost definitely going to have to be predefined as a combination of biotechnology and armor. You'll still have to program this into the game. In fact, this may make the whole tech-tree even more daunting, because now in addition to all the basic types of tech that you have, you have to specify what the combinations of each type of tech would produce.

But I acknowledge that your desire is one I share. If you could get a very basic but flexible scripting system together, you might be able to get technology to be defined by simple scripts and equations. Then, you may be able to get one technology to manipulate the variables of another tech when combined. And research on a specific tech might tweak the equations in the tech. For example, weapon tech might be defined by a script that takes distance as a parameter, and returns damange. A really sucky, early weapon's script might basically return a/x + b as damage (where x is distance and a and b are some constants). Researching more on this weapon type might increase a or b. It's still roughly the same type of weapon, but it gets better as you research it. And this could change a bit every time you replay the game. Those constants a and b for each level of the weapon could be randomly generated, and thus sometimes you might make major breakthoughs quickly, but other times, research would be slow. And if you research more in weapon tech, you might find a different type of weapon, like one that uses an equation that is just a constant, thus constant damage regardless of distance. Obviously, this is overall a better weapon. But it might have a lower damage than the previously described weapon at a close range. It's a different type of weapon, and thus has different properties, based on the script.

These are just very vague thoughts in my mind right now, though. Maybe it'll spark something in your mind, however.

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Sounds like a good idea but..

Multiplayer
in start craft i plan for the fastest way to get to a certain technology and i do R&d path just to get to it, with out knowing what will happen when I devolve optical it really limits me and slows down the game play.

but in single player this would be really neat to have it would add a lot of realism to the game.

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I've been working on something similar for my space game. Basically, the only problem you have is that you must be able to define all abilities and equipment which new technology can provide in-game. It may be possible to create a tech engine which occassionally allows for odd abilities to crop up, but the difficulty in coding and designing something like this is daunting.

You're best approach is something like what Agony has proposed. As new tech is developed, it can modify a master equation on that ability.

For Agony's second weapon type example, it would be as easy as setting a=0. Then you'd arrive at the second, constant equation. So as long as you could define some master function for all weapons, like ax^3 + bx^2 + xln y + c + d/x = damage, then a tech tree for weapons could be fairly dynamic depending on the player's research goals, while still remaining simple from the game's standpoint. The only step left is defining some system for modifying all these variables based on R&D, and assigning these variables to various equipment, which all decide damage through this master equation.

A system like this could work for all the other tech tree areas too. For qualitative results, you'd need switches instead of variables. For instance, if you had a tech which allowed oyu to destroy one enemy craft, you'd need a simple boolean variable for the tech which describes if it can do this or not, instead of an integer or float variable telling the degree of its action.

Since I'm trying to put a system like this in my game, I obviously think it's a good idea. So you'll have at least one guy willing to play your game Taolung. [wink]

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Thanks for your responses, this is very helpful.

"Unless you come up with a very clever way to implement this, it still sounds mostly like a static tech-tree (or tech-something else, but still static)."

Yes, this is exactly part of the problem I'm running into. Much of the content is already generated, and in a very real sense, the tech tree still exists, but behind the scenes, I guess.

Maybe I'm just trying to find a good way to create the illusion that there is no tech tree, even though there is one.

I'm thinking about some games where you physically see the tech tree, but it's all greyed out until you get to it. I hate the idea of knowing that there's "something" there to research, you just need to get to it. I want to create more a feeling of exploration.

"in start craft i plan for the fastest way to get to a certain technology and i do R&d path just to get to it"

I totally recognize this play style, but what I'm shooting for would actually discourage this. This is much more of an empire simulation kind of game, where research could be bought or stolen from others, and others will be trying to steal yours.

It isn't a race to see who can get to weapon X first, but more of a challenge to see what kind of technology one player develops, and then how the other player develops technology to counter it, etc.

I really like the ideas here that will allow the game to sort of evolve and generate new tech on the fly, and I think that it can be encorporated well into the "tech tree" approach. For example, combining "Lasers" with "Weapons" would clearly result in more powerful laser weaponry. The more time and money spent on this combination, the more powerful they become... Compared to combining "lasers" with "scanners" which would would develop more accurate and longer range lidar. In this example, perhaps the knowledge and experienced gained from developing better laser weapons could be carried over to the lidar, as well. They both use lasers, so when your scientists start to tackle a better lidar, they already have some research to go from.

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How much time do you want to put into this idea?

If you want to make this a central feature you might come up with a very large number of small, incrementable stats that directly impact gameplay in a wide number of areas. It would not be trivial, but the more granular the changes you can make in theory the more combinations you can come up with.

Having said that, though, if you're talking about doing this for an empire game I'm a little concerned about taking control away from the player in this manner. 4X games thrive on long range strategic planning. What is the player to do when they find that they're behind the tech curve, maybe being bombarded by weaponry that they have no defense against? In a planned tech tree you can at least strategize ahead, thinking things like "okay, they have orbital barrage; it's going to take me three turns to finish researching city shields... that means I'm going to lose 4 colonies, but then I'll be okay."

I know an awful lot of players chose the Creative attribute in Master of Orion 2 so that they could get control of their own tech tree choices, btw. It sounds a little like the same effect.

If you don't want the feel that the tech tree is determinant, could you simply use a tree that had modifiers to each leaf as well as a bunch of semi-random situations allowing you to jump branches or levels?

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My tech tree for my current project is at least a bit different. There is no research per se. Almost everything that units can do is a 'project'. Under the hood, projects are simply a series of function pointers. In gameplay terms, projects are something to spend resources/skills/time/effort to get something in return.

For example, to make a building, you might have the prerequisite that your empire controls the land. Then the project requires a bunch of wood, a bunch of manual labour and a little craftsmanship. When those things are provided, you get a building.

Research is handled the same way. For example, to learn ironworking, you might have the prerequisites of having bronzeworking and some iron. The project requires a bit of iron, a bit of craftsmanship and a bunch of thought. When those are provided, you get the requisite knowledge to make iron weapons [or perhaps only prototypes! ]

Since the setup is so generic, things can be mixed together rather easily.

Some technology cannot be researched though. Some things can only be gained through use. [Would anyone create a longbow without using a shortbow frequently? or similarly, the above prototype comment can be used through this mechanism... To get good guns, you need to use shoddy prototype flintlocks for a while] And some things can only be found. [Who would make boats if they knew no oceans?]

I think mixing up technological advancement like this will be much more interesting than "spend $x research points, get $foo".

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What it sounds like to me is that either, you're going to end up with an ordinary tech-tree anyway. (You combine biotechnology with armor, and get self-healing armor. Doesn't sound much more flexible than the standard version)
Or alternatively, you're going to end up with people researching a bunch of "grey goo". If you research armor 8 and biotechnology 4, you get self-healing armor 1.

I'm not sure if this makes sense, but I think it's important to make some distinct items that the player can latch on to. If you see a suit of exo-skeleton armor, with unique graphics, a proper description and a name, that is much more satisfying to research than simply "armor 14", which is what you got after researching armor 13 (which, in another game, might be called Powered Armor", and reactors 7 (which could have been called "Portable Fusion Reactor".

Players need to be able to see the difference between having a tech and not having it. They need to know which branch promises the most interesting inventions.

Anyway, you should definitely give the player some kind of pointers on what he should expect to get if he researches something. The scientists should have a pretty clear idea of what they're attempting to do, so they can give you some brief report on what potential improvements you could get from each.

Then again, maybe I've misunderstood part of your idea. In either case, something better than the standard tech tree is a great idea. :D

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What I'm trying to avoid is a tech tree that just moves from "Laser turret 5" to "laser turret 6" and so on. I definately want to add more flavor and distinction to research, even if it is to an extent an illusion. What I mean, is that at some level, players are going to develop a better laser turret. It's slightly more powerful, has a longer range. Logically, you could just add a number to it to denote that it's better than a previous version, but I feel like this gets boring. Even if it just gets a spiffy name and brief description just to set it apart, rather than a number, I'll be happier.

I'm rethinking my approach, though.

My intention was to create a system that would allow a player to decide what they wanted, and find a way to create it. For example, a player may decide that he wants to improve his ships speed, deciding that this will greatly improve his tactical advantages.

He selects "engine" as the item or "thing" he wants improved. He could then match it with "engine" again to indicate that he wants to conduct general research into engines. This will most likely simply improve his existing engines. They'll get faster, use less fuel, whatever. His scientists will report back with what kinds of improvements they're making, or other enhancements that they see as being possible. Through a random event, they might stumble upon something really unique and revolutionary.

Conversely, the player could combine "engine" with "graviton research." His scientists come back with a design that would form a small gravity well just in front of the ship, allowing it to "fall" faster and faster in any desired direction. They give him figures as to how much energy something like this would require, how much time and money it'll take to develop, how big the engine will be, and so on.

Maybe that isn't what the player is looking for, so he combines "engine" with "string research". His scientists come back with a design that uses interdimensional strings to pull the ship along.

What's the difference? Despite differences in power requirements, time, size, and other statistics, there should be a strategic difference. For example, perhaps the other player has already developed a graviton scanner, which detects changes in gravity wells to locate, track, and identify ships. Creating a graviton engine would be like sending up a flare, so the player elects to develop the string engines, which will move much more silently.

What I want to try to do is enable a system where the player gets to identify a specific need, create the technology that meets that need without having to develop other, unimportant technologies first (the ability to skip around the tech tree, to an extent, as desired), and that allows opportunities for various strategic advantages and struggles. I want to see a kind of chess match where players try to come up with a technologies that will outsmart, not just outgun the enemy. One clever technology, used just the right way, could trump the massive armies that the other player has developed.

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Perhaps what you really want is to allow the players to reasearch improvements and counter measures. So if one player develops a metal eating microbe that they use to destroy enemy ships. Then the player on reciving end, after learning of this weapon can begin to research a counter measure for it. Perhaps their scientists come up with a couple of diffrent possible solutions and the player choose the one they prefer.

The other player now discovering that their enemy has a defense against their main weapon has a choice, they can start developing an alternative weapon or they can research an improvement to the microbe weapon. The player decides to continue with the microbe weapon and their scientists give them a couple of option: from a new strain which is fastest to reasearch but also easiest to counter, to transforming the mircobes into a swarm of nanites. The diffrent options all have their own trade offers in terms of time, resources and strategy. As well depending on the opponents technology effectiveness of an improvements/counter-measures wil change.

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Original post by Taolung
What I'm trying to avoid is a tech tree that just moves from "Laser turret 5" to "laser turret 6" and so on. I definately want to add more flavor and distinction to research, even if it is to an extent an illusion. What I mean, is that at some level, players are going to develop a better laser turret. It's slightly more powerful, has a longer range. Logically, you could just add a number to it to denote that it's better than a previous version, but I feel like this gets boring. Even if it just gets a spiffy name and brief description just to set it apart, rather than a number, I'll be happier.

I'm rethinking my approach, though.

My intention was to create a system that would allow a player to decide what they wanted, and find a way to create it. For example, a player may decide that he wants to improve his ships speed, deciding that this will greatly improve his tactical advantages.

He selects "engine" as the item or "thing" he wants improved. He could then match it with "engine" again to indicate that he wants to conduct general research into engines. This will most likely simply improve his existing engines. They'll get faster, use less fuel, whatever. His scientists will report back with what kinds of improvements they're making, or other enhancements that they see as being possible. Through a random event, they might stumble upon something really unique and revolutionary.

Conversely, the player could combine "engine" with "graviton research." His scientists come back with a design that would form a small gravity well just in front of the ship, allowing it to "fall" faster and faster in any desired direction. They give him figures as to how much energy something like this would require, how much time and money it'll take to develop, how big the engine will be, and so on.

Maybe that isn't what the player is looking for, so he combines "engine" with "string research". His scientists come back with a design that uses interdimensional strings to pull the ship along.

What's the difference? Despite differences in power requirements, time, size, and other statistics, there should be a strategic difference. For example, perhaps the other player has already developed a graviton scanner, which detects changes in gravity wells to locate, track, and identify ships. Creating a graviton engine would be like sending up a flare, so the player elects to develop the string engines, which will move much more silently.

What I want to try to do is enable a system where the player gets to identify a specific need, create the technology that meets that need without having to develop other, unimportant technologies first (the ability to skip around the tech tree, to an extent, as desired), and that allows opportunities for various strategic advantages and struggles. I want to see a kind of chess match where players try to come up with a technologies that will outsmart, not just outgun the enemy. One clever technology, used just the right way, could trump the massive armies that the other player has developed.


I see what you're getting at, and I agree with your goals.
I've been playing around with a couple of other ideas to solve some of the same problems. In most games, the tech tree is basically linear, and you don't actually choose whether to focus on, say, faster ships or bigger guns, because you just research in a basically linear fashion, starting with slow weak ships, progressing to average ships with average guns, and ending up with fast ships with insane guns.

First, you might separate theoretical inventions from the practical applications.
The stuff you actually use on your ships, or as guns for your infantry, is practical applications of some theoretical research. But theoretic stuff is what grants access to further inventions.
For example, you might research nuclear fusion as a theory, and then, depending on your needs, you might choose to use this to jump directly to a new theory that this gave you access to, or you can stop and research something practical using your theoretical knowledge. You might decide to create a fusion reactor, or use it to power your new super-lasers, or, well, anything else.

The point is that if you already have good weapons, you can do the general theory, but don't have to waste time researching fusion lasers (And as you actually have the choice to skip this tech, your opponents actually stand a chance of catching up with your weapons technology). You can skip that and move on to something useful, like, say, the reactor to improve the speed of your units, which might be lagging behind. Or you can move straight on, ignoring the practical aspects of fusion.

Second, you could make different routes to the same technologies, and based on this, offer different paths to progress along.

A simple example:
In reality, steam power was invented as an energy source for propulsion. Someone came up with the idea of using expanding steam to create pressure that could be used to move stuff.

What if someone had come up with the idea of using this pressure to fire projectiles? Then steam power could have become associated with weaponry, and the peaceful guys looking for an engine might never even have considered steam. On the other hand, we might have gotten an entire line of interesting weaponry.

My point is that if you can approach some new invention from several directions, with different goals in mind, then isn't it possible that this also influences what other people can think of using it for? If you have a specific goal in mind when researching a technology, then you might be closing your mind to a zillion other opportunities.

If my empire is focusing on building really powerful shield generators, then maybe it wouldn't even occur to them that some of these inventions could, with a few modifications, become powerful weapons.

Another empire might end up with a similar technology, but use it purely to power their ships engines. Not because they're not interested in getting better shields, but because the people who came up with the technology were focused on producing faster engines, and since then, that is what people have associated with the technology.

While it might not be completely realistic, it does provide a reason to specialize. If you've done a lot of research into faster engines, then you'll probably start to see the engine potential in any new technology, and you might miss out on all the other things it could be used for.


Not sure how useful this is, just some ideas I've been tossing around. (Not sure if it even makes any sense. It was pretty late when I wrote this ;))

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I really like most ofthe ideas I just read, including the OP's original and revised posts.

Now some extra points worth mentioning. Be carefull not to unbalance the game completely for the sake of a few randomly accessable techs - because then it's like getting heavy bombers in Axis and Allies, and completely pisses off your opponents when they loose primarily because you gambled your money away and got luckey, while they played it safe and thoughtfull (although in a game called "risk" a little gambling is good).

Another thing, in response to the OP's OP. You will almost definately want some low level tech improvements to be happening in the background without the direct mandate from the ruler, IE you shouldn't have to not research "armor + biotech" in order that your laser guns get progressively better (maybe even with occasional breakthroughs).

What about the idea of the player having a total (GRP - Gross Research Product) that is the size of his tech / research engine - and based on this, various amounts of tech improvements will be made by his people / corperationgs / goverments branches or whatever, without the "great ruler" having to do a thing. BUT, the "leader" does do something, he/she/it sets goals, makes choices, and inspire vision. So when the leader picks that "Biotech + Armor and Quantum Gate Reasearch" are the mandate of his times to defeat the enemy, then people believe him. They work less on other things, and create projects to dramatically increase the rate and odds of improvements and advances in those areas (and nearly related areas). And perhaps, the odds of any line being started without the leaders vision should be really low, but using the technology you already have could automatically increase the improvement odds / rates ...

For instance, if you don't have guns and lasers, and the leader wants wormholes, the odds of inventing a "laser cannor" are almost 0. But if you have laser power grids researched, and laser rifles researched, then you might research a laser cannon even when the main project is wormholes. And, most importantly, if you are producing laser rifles by the dozens, your odds of improving them should rise greatly. And also, if you are fighting with laser rifles a lot, your odds of discovering a usefull idea could rise just as dramatically (people who have been in trenches when their laser rifles run out of power, are much more likely to invent "power pack emp detonators" to disable enemy drones seeking to kill them - than if some researcher just had laser rifle plans in his filing cabinet).

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Quote:
My point is that if you can approach some new invention from several directions, with different goals in mind, then isn't it possible that this also influences what other people can think of using it for? If you have a specific goal in mind when researching a technology, then you might be closing your mind to a zillion other opportunities.


I completely agree. I think that part of the tech tree will be that as your scientists are developing something, by say, combining "nuclear physics" with "power generators" with the goal in mind being building an advanced fusion reactor to power your ships, some of this research will slip through to build up their general knowledge of "nuclear physics" and "power generators" independently, and on some rare occassions, it might lead to a sudden breakthrough in an unrelated field, like weapons. While they're working on these fusion reactors, they figure out that with a few modifications, it could make a wicked bomb instead. You never planned for it, but those scientists got playing around in the lab one day and they came up with something cool. And because this research built up their general knowledge of nuclear physics and power generators, if they try any other combination that uses either of these, they already have some "points" in their research. After developing a fusion reactor, you decide that you still need more power for your ships, so you start to develop an antimatter reactor. You've already worked on your knowledge of power generators, so this next reactor will be developed more easily.

Quote:
The stuff you actually use on your ships, or as guns for your infantry, is practical applications of some theoretical research. But theoretic stuff is what grants access to further inventions.


I think that I'm thinking along the same lines as you. What I'm envisioning is that wherever you're at on the tech curve, your scientists will tell you what could be possible in the near and the not so near future. It gives you something to look forward to and to plan for, but it keeps the tree somewhat flexible, since they're just theoretical. They haven't been proven yet. As you develop more of something, more theories become available.

Quote:
In reality, steam power was invented as an energy source for propulsion. Someone came up with the idea of using expanding steam to create pressure that could be used to move stuff.

What if someone had come up with the idea of using this pressure to fire projectiles?


This is why I'm trying to make this combination method work. I want to provide opportunities for doing exactly this. Two players may research "Electro-Magnetism" for all its worth, but come out with completely different applications. Indeed, I'd like for technologies to emergy that make players go, "Oh, yeah! I could use *this* to make *that*!" Maybe they've developed some great plasma shielding that cloaks their ships from scans and deflects energy weapons. A little tweak here and research into weaponry, and their plasma technology suddenly allows for a cool attack as well. It was a direction that made sense, and that made good use of existing technology, but that perhaps wasn't expected or thought of before.

Quote:
You will almost definately want some low level tech improvements to be happening in the background without the direct mandate from the ruler


Micromanagment is a concern, certainly. However, I also want to keep the player in the pilots seat as much as possible. Scientists will come up with stuff on their own once in awhile, as I mentioned earlier, while working on something you've ordered them to.

I described this as a typical empire builder, but maybe I should clarify it a bit more, since it might make more sense. This game will have many/most of the elements of an empire builder, but it's entire design operates on a "smaller" scale. By that, I mean that rather than take over a galaxy over many many many years (Masters of Orion III) your goal is to take over the solar system in 5 - 10 years. This isn't a game where you take these people from humble beginnings to galactic overlords, but rather, you're fighting a single conflict in a limited space.

In this kind of scenario, I feel it's appropriate to issue strategic commands that are, by comparison, small or minor upgrades. Because in the scope of the game, there will only be a few dozen of these anyway. Each one counts. If one player gives his marines even a slight advantage, it will go a really long ways. In real life, think about maybe World War II. A lot of neat breakthroughs were made, and a lot of advanced technology was developed, but we didn't jump from Wright Bros. airplanes to bombers. We went from slightly less equipped planes to slightly more equipped bombers. If one side had even marginally better airplanes, it meant quite a bit on the battle field.

Additionally, there would be other organizations, factions, and corporations doing their own thing. There would be independent companies doing their own research. This could be purchased or stolen by players. So maybe Company X comes up with a really great reactor design that you simply don't have the time to research yourself. You could obtain it, one way or the other, and use it in your forces.

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I'm thinking that you might want to block certain branches of the tech tree, depending on, how you got there. To one empire, fusion engines might not even be an option. They have the technology, but simply don't see how it can be used as an engine.

What I'm after is some kind of bonus for specialization. If an empire puts a lot of focus on a specific area of research (say, propulsion), then they should be able to produce new engines out of practically any technology, but on the other hand, they'll probably miss out on a bunch of other applications for it.

This way, they'll keep their strength. They have better engines than other empires, but in return they'll have a harder time keeping up in other areas. Some of the weapons research branches of the tech tree would simply be blocked to them, because they've focused so much on different goals. They just can't see the potential weapon in a given technology.

Of course, this shouldn't limit them too much. Some weapons should still be available for research, and with a bit of effort, they should be able to turn things around and catch up in their weaker areas. But it would encourage specialization, and it would mean different paths through the tech tree would become viable. Instead of just starting from the bottom, and researching everything you can, you can follow different pathways, that each offer different technologies. You might be very advanced in one area, and yet hopeless in others. But at least part of this should be out of the player's control. Players could simply be offered different research choices leading from the same technology.
My point is that if it's completely up to the player which parts of the tech tree to focus on and which goals to pursue, then I'd expect everyone, in every game, to follow roughly the same route. And this would probably be a very mixed path, basically researching all areas without ever letting any areas fall behind.
Basically like you do with any other tech tree in any other game... Boooring :P
Instead I think that based partly on your past decisions and partly on your current orders, the game should decide what your scientists are focusing on, and this in turn should determine which opportunities they see in a given technology, and so limit the research options offered to the player based on this.
An empire that has been working on weapons since the start of the game, and where you order them to find even better weapons, will probably come up with weapons that wouldn't occur to a more peaceful people, or one where the ruler had different goals in mind. They simply wouldn't realize these weapons were possible. They might research the same technology, but it would never occur to them to use it for weaponry. The player wouldn't even get the option.

Btw, sounds like an interesting project. The scale seems to be somewhere in between X-Com and Master of Orion... Should be interesting. :)

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