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Polis - constructive criticism

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Greetings all. I thought I'd gather some recommendations from the experienced designers here on a game concept I've been toying with. Executive Summary I'm considering a multiplayer game, taking place on a world dense with Aegean and tropical islands. The player represents a heroic figure, in charge of a single tribe, whose job is to score the highest number of points before the tribe's civilization collapses. Possible actions include the usual suspects: trade routes, displacing or subsuming neighbors, exploration and colonization. At the moment the concept feels dull. I hope that's just because I've explained it badly. Anyhow, that's it in a nutshell. The main issue I have is how does the player interact with the system? What should he have control over and how does he control it? If you're interested in more detail: More Detail The world is persistent and huge, with complex dynamic systems for weather, tectonics, vegetation growth, etc. Potentially, then, over-exploitation of an area could shift weather patterns. Population demographics follow three axes: size, developmental stage, and organization. Size ranges from extended family to nation. Developmental stages range from lithic to classical (i.e. literate bronze age). Organization ranges from the band to the city-state. Each stage along each axis may affect population growth, trade dependence, offense and defense, internal stability, or the rate of technological improvement. Moreover, the player can directly influence one of these - organization - and for example can convert a settled tribe into a horde in order to wreak havoc. Or take a nomadic band and settle down in a fertile land free of trouble. Different mixes of populations should offer distinct archetypes that can be exploited, so the player can pick from building a trade network to building a conquering city-state to raiding the coastline with a small fleet of corsairs. Scoring is relative to what the player starts with. The harder the beginning, the bigger the final score. Thus some experienced players might try to do something noteworthy with as little as possible, while others want to inherit an aging empire, and sustain it against internal and external forces as long as possible. The computer manages all unclaimed colonies, generally in a manner highly sensitive to the actions of its neighbors. Goodwill tends to be exchanged with goodwill, while resistance is returned for hostility. This may be modelable with simple Adaline networks, or less. The effect is that computer players can be indirectly manipulated by a strong player, further magnifying the player's power and adding yet another layer of complexity for the one who seeks more challenge. The underlying theme is that no civilization is forever. The player gets some undetermined amount of time to do what he can. Internal division, external foes, famine, plague, disease etc are a constant drag, and eventually contribute to the demise of the civilization. And when things collapse the player takes his score for this round as a bonus into the next round. High scores get trumpeted along the trade networks and inscribed in stelae. Technology I'm a veteran programmer, with years of paid experience with Java, Perl, and SQL, so the technical solution is in a 3-tier model, with the lowest tier being MySQL, the middle layer in Java or Perl, and a Java client with an embedded script interpreter (Jython, or Sleep, or my own LISP variant). And primitive 2D graphics.

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There are good ideas here, but my first reaction is that it's information overload (to the player). Right now you have all these complex high-level systems interacting in rather non-deterministic ways. Read a few reviews of "Master of Orion 3" to get a good idea of what can happen with this method if it's not very carefully employed.

My suggestion would be to work out a very tight surface presentation of all the game data so that, on first glance (and playthrough) the game seems very simple. The underlying math and mechanics can be as complex as you like, as long as the player's interface to the game is extremely straightforward.

It's hard for me to give any specific feedback or suggestions in this area, because you haven't really described the player's interface to the game at all. What's the moment-to-moment gameplay like? What do I actually *do* with all of these complex high-level systems?

On the positive side, I've always been intrigued by the idea of very deep simulations, and it sounds like you're shooting for an overall shorter gameplay time than the average marathon Civilization session, which is a good thing for those of us (like myself) who are slaves to the 9-5 grind. :)

-Josh

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Thanks Josh. I'm aiming for some deep simulation, yet with a low granularity interface to the player to prevent some micromanagement.

I was thinking that the "hero" would be the player's interface to the world. Actions the hero could perform would include planning: marking paths, city limits, watercourses, friends and foes. Marking could be done primarily by movement: wherever the hero moves, a path is made. A dense patch of paths are candidates for buildings. Watercourses are specialized markings, and therefore probably require a special command. Similarly allies and enemies.

Paths would probably fade over time. Or perhaps they, too, are a special mode.

The 'citizens' would naturally carry out 'orders'. You'd slowly see your patch of ground magically, invisibly being worked and improved over time. It seems reasonable to me to divide the population evenly (and invisibly) into work groups when orders are marked. The more plans you specify, the longer it will take for them to be complete; so prioritization is pushed back onto the player, rather than the game engine. It also seems reasonable that the larger your population, the more (or faster) you can build. Thus a smaller population makes for a greater challenge.

Additionally the hero and his cohort would be able to scout and attack, which I suspect are things the player would want to manage more carefully (i.e. if direction matters, and when to withdraw or abort, etc).

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lol, well unfortunately, this game idea is already out in various forms. Mostly by Sierra Online.
Caesar (1993)
Caesar II (1995)
Caesar III (1998)
Caesar IV (2006)
Pharaoh (1999) and Cleopatra: Queen Of The Nile (2000)
Zeus: Master of Olympus (2001) and Poseidon: Master of Atlantis (2002)
Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom (2003)

PLUS Age of Empires
All of these apply all of your ideas of gameplay.

"wherever the hero moves, a path is made. A dense patch of paths are candidates for buildings. Watercourses are specialized markings, and therefore probably require a special command. Similarly allies and enemies."

Age of Empires

"The 'citizens' would naturally carry out 'orders'. You'd slowly see your patch of ground magically, invisibly being worked and improved over time. It seems reasonable to me to divide the population evenly (and invisibly) into work groups when orders are marked. The more plans you specify, the longer it will take for them to be complete; so prioritization is pushed back onto the player, rather than the game engine. It also seems reasonable that the larger your population, the more (or faster) you can build. Thus a smaller population makes for a greater challenge."

That's big in the Sierra games. But the genius with Pharaoh is that you have character classes. Each class lives in a certain type of house. You got the poor slaves and such, bums, common folk, workers, arteseans, politicians, and rich bastards who flaunt their money all the time. You have to keep middle class people in town to work but you can't have too many or you get bums. And you really need them especially when you have low populations and lots of jobs and low housing. Then economy suffers cuz new people can't migrate, not enough people to work jobs so buildings lay decaying and people die cuz ur food goes bad, not enough doctors, not enough fishermen, etc...But really, how long would a small population last without certain things. People had trades in their families and didn't dawdle in 3-4 careers in one lifetime. You had fisherman, Bricklayers, and artists. But they were never the same person doing all of that.

"Additionally the hero and his cohort would be able to scout and attack, which I suspect are things the player would want to manage more carefully (i.e. if direction matters, and when to withdraw or abort, etc)."

Age of Empires again

but anyways, In order for this to work, you need to make something way out of the ordinary and new. These ideas are old and you may update em a lil bit but people will knock your game as a spinoff. Gotta be fresh with something. I like the idea cuz Im an RTS fan myself so I'll brainstorm a bit and throw some fuel in the fire if needed =D

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