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Wavinator

Up, then Down the Tech Tree???

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If you're building a space empire, you'd probably would react poorly to falling down the tech tree. So how should somethings like a dark age be handled? Should dark ages be a result of poor gameplay, or a natural process that can happen to some empires? I think it would depend on whether the gameplay was a pain. I see dark ages having unique gameplay, and I'm not entirely sure that it wouldn't be fun even for a good player to "save their empire." Here's the gameplay I had in mind: Tech Tree Scrambled When you enter a dark age, one possibility is that the tech tree links or strategic material requirements reorganize. The former would only be useful if research was semi-blind, though, while the latter would just represent losing knowledge of how to do something a specific way. It's Like Fallout Although you'd be limited to building earlier tech, the old stuff would still be around, just decaying. So players would have to be a lot more strategic in how they used limited assets. Map Scramble The player would be used to a fixed map. A dark age with spin and reorient the map, Colony names would drop off or change. Players would not even know what resources they had until they expanded from their best colony outward. It's Really, Really Like Fallout Bandits, raiders and secret factions would start appearing, causing internal trouble. They would act as agents inside the player's own territory, and would have to be defeated to restore their empire. If dark ages are a natural process, then players would get into one due to an event out of their control (a massive epidemic, a market crash). But if it's a result of poor gameplay choices, then a good player might never see one and have to play poorly just to get into this mode. Is that a good thing?

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I dont see dark ages as a natural phenomena, but more as an era you gradually move toward because of the actions of influential people.

It's probably a little too simplified, but you could say in Europe, the dark ages where 'caused' by religion, mostly the way people misused religion to control the masses. Because everything that was different was seen as against God, technology didn't move forward. Many technologies where even forgotten, because the reason they worked was unknown, and where therefor seen as magic and heresy.

I think the player would have to be the cause of the dark age to justify it, or at least there should be a clear reason for it.

In that way I could see the vanishing technologies working ok. For example, if you're in an age in which you mostly colonise other worlds, you might gradually loose weapon technology, making it more difficult to build weapons quickly, or even loose the technology completely. So the player would have to pay attention to weapon technology anyway, maybe by assigning some minimum of resources to weapon research.

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I could imagine a rebellion - parts of your empire declaring independence at some point - say your empire reaches a certain size. The rebels would accuse you of being a mean and ruthless emperor taking away all those resources to build battleships in order to conquer the universe. Your empire would be thrown into chaos.

This gives you a good explanation for the dark age. And it also can be the reason for the dark age: with parts of the empire gone, technical advancement is impeded. You also lose income so your production will drop. And you have to spend time to straighten your empire out to overcome the dark ages.

Oh yeah and the rebels got all the blueprints for your hyperdrive system. Or your research supercomputer and particle accelerator happen to be located at one of the rebels planets. Sorry, no fusion bombs until you get that colony back.

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Original post by Wavinator
If dark ages are a natural process, then players would get into one due to an event out of their control (a massive epidemic, a market crash). But if it's a result of poor gameplay choices, then a good player might never see one and have to play poorly just to get into this mode. Is that a good thing?


It depends on perspective.

If your entire game revolves around the dark age feature, then you should probably push the player right into it, so he actually gets to experience the key aspect of the game. Still, a dark age should affect every side in the game (on the map). Perhaps the key challenge could be to "hold back" the dark age for as long as possible, making best use of the technologies before they are lost.

On the other hand, if it's some form of a classic strategy game, then I'd say it's a bad idea either way, and especially so with a "poor gameplay" as dark age trigger. In most classic strategy games players are already punished if they are not fast enough or smart enough - not by the mechanics, but by their opponents who were faster and smarter. If somebody makes poor gameplay choices in a strategy game, he will lose the game either way - he will only lose it faster with a dark age on his hands.

(All of this disregards the possibility of heavily scripted scenarios and some advanced diplomacy options, taking only strategy itself into account)

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I'm out of the game loop (the only 4X's I've really played are CivII and Alplha Centauri) so maybe this isn't such a new idea, but I've never heard of a game where there was some cost to maintaining your tech tree.

Let's say if you devote X resources to technology, you'll gradually climb toward some position on the tech tree (perhaps something like charging a capacitor C*X(1-exp(-t/RC)). If you then drop funding to Y<X, you'll start falling down the tree (C*(Y+(X-Y)*exp(-t/RC))).

If the player is making good decisions, chances are they will be gaining resources and therefore, assuming a constant percentage of resources are dedicated toward research, they'll be climbing the tech tree. If a market crash outside of the player's control reduces their resources, then they can decide how much of their technology they want to save based on their current needs. I think this setup allows the game to be designed such that a dark age can be a smart choice (a sort of cutting one's losses).

EDIT: This also makes the reasons given above for a dark age ((mis)using religion to control the masses, crumbling empire) naturally lead to a dark age.

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What is the intended time frame and scope of the game? Decades or centuries in the life of an empire from the "golden age" to possible decadence (and probably back again)? An interesting limited period of the dark age (maybe the very beginning, including the catastrophe that started it), with recovery far beyond the horizon? The end of the dark age, when new developments and/or a capable leader promise a bright future?

An even more basic question: is the "dark age" an acceptable permanent situation that nobody wants or hopes to improve significantly (e.g. post-holocaust clichés) or hard times that everybody works hard to leave behind (e.g. post-war reconstruction)?

From the point of view of the player, technological and economical decadence taking place during play is not all equal. It could be:

- Scripted and acceptable as a plot device (example: if the player knows a comet is going to obliterate the empire's homeworld in X turns, with X comfortably large, the exploration and exploitation game will be temporarily or permanently replaced by a grim but enjoyable damage control game).

- Scripted and perceived as unfair punishment (example: the same comet as above, but without forewarning and with no way to buy up astronomy etc. to know in advance next time).

- Unavoidable but affected by the player's policies (example: oil runs out, goodbye cars and airplanes).

- Directly caused by defective play (example: failing to satisfy maintenance requirements because of insufficient transportation); how fast is decadence? How easy is recovery? What is more likely, struggling and alternating between expansion and recession for a large part of the game or falling apart and losing the first time there is a problem? Are the feedback loops driving towards recovery (example: forfeiting overly ambitious initiatives immediately frees up lots of resources that can be spent on something more suitable) or towards extinction (example: falling behind in the arms race causes an unavoidable loss of conquered, destroyed and disabled assets)?

- Deliberately embraced by the player as a bold sacrifice or a strategic necessity (example: in a 4X game, it might make sense to scrap advanced stuff to convert to a war economy, proceed to win the war and then rebuild; in the "Diebuster" anime series mankind has been stagnating for 12000 years after deliberately retiring from space to the Solar System, abandoning extraordinarily expensive and presumably dangerous warp drive technology, and while the standards of living are decent they can barely afford to take care of strategic defense with a trickle of giant robots).

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Original post by Tree Penguin
I think the player would have to be the cause of the dark age to justify it, or at least there should be a clear reason for it.


I didn't express this right. By natural process I meant something like inflation or how old empires can become decadent. If it's like that, then its something for all players to deal with, whether they play poorly or not.

Of course, that raises an ultimate question: What's the point of building the empire if it'll just naturally fall apart.

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In that way I could see the vanishing technologies working ok.


The vanishing tech was only supposed to be after the dark age was in effect, but this along with Way Walker's idea of spend or lose it is very promising (and a natural way of losing your tech).

I also thought, based on culture, that colonies would specialize, which would also make it easier to lose tech-- that is, if your empire knows nothing but peace, you build few war machines and those don't specialize.


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Original post by oneofthose
I could imagine a rebellion - parts of your empire declaring independence at some point - say your empire reaches a certain size. The rebels would accuse you of being a mean and ruthless emperor taking away all those resources to build battleships in order to conquer the universe. Your empire would be thrown into chaos.


Haha! I was going to include civil wars and interregnums in the post, but thought if I wanted replies I'd better keep it simple.

But yes, this would be another mechanism bringing on a dark age. I was thinking you might do this by giving each colony a loyalty rating. I'd like to include characters as well so that you situations like the great wars in Rome between competing generals could emerge as either an event to head off or profit from.

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with parts of the empire gone, technical advancement is impeded.


How do you think this should be represented?

With your research supercomputer example, are you thinking that each colony should have its own tech tree?

One thought I had was not so much tech, but production of parts. Each colony would specialize in one or more tech parts. In order to build, say, a hyperdrive, you might need parts from three colonies. These parts could be vital to society, things like medicine or supercomputers. Without them, all of dependent society slowly drops to a certain level.

If war or disease or whatever takes out a critical colony, the entire empire could collapse.

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Original post by Talin
Still, a dark age should affect every side in the game (on the map). Perhaps the key challenge could be to "hold back" the dark age for as long as possible, making best use of the technologies before they are lost.


Yes, a dark age would affect everyone because in the twist I'm thinking about, all players are playing from within the same empire. Or society, rather-- it's Earth, it's more a squabbling confederacy of nations and factions, and if the empire goes down, everyone goes down (though not equally, based on individual reserves).

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In most classic strategy games players are already punished if they are not fast enough or smart enough - not by the mechanics, but by their opponents who were faster and smarter. If somebody makes poor gameplay choices in a strategy game, he will lose the game either way - he will only lose it faster with a dark age on his hands.


Good point, and if you're already behind then I don't see this as being fun. In fact, rethinking the Fallout example, it's only fun if everybody is in the same boat, otherwise you're just a third world country being bullied by stronger entities.

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(All of this disregards the possibility of heavily scripted scenarios and some advanced diplomacy options, taking only strategy itself into account)


What did you have in mind in terms of diplomacy options?

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Original post by Way Walker
I'm out of the game loop (the only 4X's I've really played are CivII and Alplha Centauri) so maybe this isn't such a new idea, but I've never heard of a game where there was some cost to maintaining your tech tree.


Natural tech loss could tie into something I've been trying to beef up-- the civil / noncombat side of empire building: Funding knowledge institutions, fostering a culture that values learning, stabelizing the society and its economy.

Maybe this could really be a system of tradeoffs. If your people are highly interested in art and entertainment, VR tech improves and people are happier, but science and business suffer.

I wonder though: Are you maintaining your position on the tree as a whole, or each branch (or even groups of nodes)?

I wonder if it might not make more sense to put in a notion of industries and institutions that must be supported. In reality, if you burned all the libraries and universities in a society, they wouldn't lose immediate knowledge, but future generations would be drastically affected. It's harder to come up with a generational model, but it makes a lot more sense.

(I like the basic premise, though)

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