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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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Original post by LorenzoGatti
What is the intended time frame and scope of the game?


I'd like the say that the scope covers centuries, but I have to work out what exactly that means in terms of gameplay and what I can personally do. In theory, there would be golden ages and dark ages.

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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)?


Good question. I think they could end up permanent if no player rescues the empire they're all a part of. But I think getting out would be preferable because that's really the only way to be stable and expansive.

This points to game goals, though, and that's an area I'm having a hard time with at the moment. I don't just want "eliminate all your rivals." If it was that, then permanence would make more sense.

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- 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).


Based on this thread I'm now considering dividing the game into linked scenarios with their own victory conditions. Your comet example would be the closest parallel to what I have in mind, except that it would really try to maintain the sandbox style gameplay common to 4X games.

Since every player starts as part of the same empire (just a different faction within it), balance isn't such an issue as it would be with separate starts. I can be free with a wide variety of goals and initial conditions: Diaspora, civil war, or machine revolt, or even starting players directly in a dark age.

What would be ideal is if player actions chose the next scenario dynamically, rather than as some external mode you pick. I'm not yet sure how to do that, though.

You present some VERY tough and useful questions, btw. Thanks for the invaluable input!

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Original post by Wavinator
What did you have in mind in terms of diplomacy options?


Nothing elaborate, really. It was just coming from a generalized point that finding allies could even the odds for the declining empire/kingdom facing a rising or stable one. It was a sidenote.

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Original post by Wavinator
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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)?


To keep it simple, I was only considering the tree as a whole, but I think it'd be better to split it at least a little. I hadn't given it too much thought, so this'll be something like thinking aloud.

In Civ II, technologies were labelled as military, social, economic, academic, or applied. So, one way would be to have different trees with hard dependencies among them. For example, I think explosives was military and chemistry was academic in Civ II, but you needed chemistry to get explosives. One trouble here is that a tree might be blocked until you get advances in other trees and the player will just be shovelling resources into a dead end.

You could also soften the dependencies. Maybe you can get explosives without learning chemistry, but it'll cost more. It should probably be cheaper to research just explosives than chemistry and explosives so that specialization has some benefit. This could lead to the interesting situation where your military research spending is enough to maintain knowledge in explosives but not enough to learn it (e.g. if you learned it by first learning chemistry but then lost chemistry).

Another option would be to gain an advance when some linear combination of military(M), social(S), economic(E), academic(AC), and applied(AP) research reached some level. So you might gain chemistry when
2(M) + 1(S) + 2(E) + 4(AC) + 3(AP) = 100
and explosives when
4(M) + 1(S) + 2(E) + 2(AC) + 3(AP) = 100
Note that the RHS can be the same for all technologies by scaling the coefficients on the LHS.

Anyway, that's the sort of picture that I get when you say investing in different industries.


I also have a picture of something inspired by FFX's sphere grid which I think could make oneofthose's research supercomputer idea more intuitive (though my explanations may make it sound plenty confusing). I think it also goes along with your comments on not losing all the knowledge just because you've lost all your tech centers.

Advances are laid out on a 2D plane. At the start (in a game like Civ II that starts out very early) you have one research center (the palace in Civ II). You can associate each research center with a point on the 2D plane. At the very begining, you'll be limited to points labelled military, social, economic, academic, and applied. A circle will grow from the point you choose as time passes up to a maximum radius/area determined by the resources dedicated to the research centers associated with that point (or possibly the research centers are the resources dedicated to that point).

You can rededicate a research center to a new point within its associated circle (perhaps restricted to advances, or just certain advances, within that circle). The original circle will decay losing advances but a new circle will grow gaining new ones. If a research center is captured or otherwise lost, the circle about its associated point will start to decay. If you capture a research center, you'll gain some portion of that circle, the portion decreasing with the distance to your nearest research center on the tech plane.

I think you could also incorporate different sorts of tech centers. I'm thinking something basic like Civ II's libraries, universities, and labs. Perhaps libraries are a small investment, corresponding to a small circle on the tech plane, and can only be associated with low level advances on the tech plane. Universities provide more resources and can be associated with higher advances, and labs provide even more and can be associated with even higher advances. This could encourage players to remember mathematics even though they're off researching the latest and greatest, and give a low cost way to acheive the basics in economics mid-late game for a militaristic player.

Or, you could go further with the different sorts of tech centers. Maybe libraries and universities are good for academic advances, theaters and museums are good for social advances, barracks are good for military advances, etc.

Or, maybe there are different tech planes for each area and they interact in some way, which is bordering on suggesting it's in 3D (or higher dimensional?) space.

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I like the idea but it would have to be a very different kind of strategy game to pull it off.

That said I think I've narrowed it down two game play mechanics

1) Technology Trading

Rather then the standard strategy game idea of each empire producing everything, you could implement a system where goods and services are traded utilized by other empires. Those goods and services are then utilized by other empires either directly or to produce higher levels goods. For instance rather then everyone racing to produce the most cutting edge star drive one empire might specialize in that technology and make it available to other empires to use. In that way other empires could become dependent on that empire for supplying the engines for their ships.

In this way if that empire collapsed for whatever reason it could trigger a dark age as there is no longer anyone with the production capabilities or technology to produce new star drives of the current sophistication.

2) Sophistication Levels

This idea is loosely based on the loss of knowledge centres. The idea is that each colony has a set of sophistication levels or you could keep simple have just one like education. Now based on a ratio between population size and education determines that colonies tech level. A colony’s tech level determines that max level of technology they can research or produce. So, in this way if you had a colony of illiterate farmers you will be unable to produce star ships there by simply building a shipyard and just having a research lab won’t allow you to research combat AIs. You’d first have to increase the over all education level of the colony which is long term or a short term fix of transporting a contingent of skilled workers.

In this way if you loose your knowledge centres it would trigger a dark age as your empires overall education level drops. You could make it so that players have to re-research technology that is a greater then its current technology level.

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Have technology advances represented by objects (data disks, libraries, etc). These can be traded, stolen, copied and destroyed.

So, if you discover a "Laser Weapon" technology, then this is stored as an object. You can only build Laser Weapons so long as you have access to this Laser Weapon Tech object.

Yo could safe guard this object by making a copy, but with more copies comes the risk that your opponent could infiltrate and steal it (or copy it from your objects), so having a few, easily monitored copies would be sensible.

However, as they can be destroyed, it is possible for your opponents to target your storage facilities and destroy your techs. As these advances can only be used while you have the tech objects, you would then loose all those tech advances and enter into a Dark age until you could build up.

Now, as some techs become obsolete (that is nothing you currently use requires them), they might get forgotten, or even destroyed to make space for the needed tech objects. When this happens, the loss of the latest techs becomes more of a problem and you can be sent way back.

A carefully targeted assault by a weaker force can then have a greater effect than it could in a game where once a tech is discovered, then it remains discovered. It creates a game where asymmetric warfare becomes possible and where infiltration (and counter infiltration) can be a strong mechanic.

And besides. Being able to "blow your opponent back into the stone age" just sounds like so much fun. :D

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Knowledge has to be past down from generation to generation.

In the Dark Ages a lot of knowledge was no longer being past down, mostly due to economic reasons and lack of technology that helps people pass it down(or people that know how to use it). There is also the potential for devestating events like the burning of all the books in Egypt and Mongols attacking the Persians.


From a strategic standpoint a player could decide to place more emphasis on their military in a desperate attempt to stay alive. During these times economic technology could be forgotten.

Or the player could focus on their economy and lose some of the military knowledge the is really only born from experience.

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From a strategic standpoint a player could decide to place more emphasis on their military in a desperate attempt to stay alive. During these times economic technology could be forgotten.

I prefer for knowledge loss to occur through emergent gameplay rather than from some hidden formula. Firstly it makes it easer for the player to understand what is going on

Oh I let my libraries decay and the knowledge stored in them went as well.

as compared to:

Hmm, I'll reduce my spending on research. Hey where did my tech tree go?.

It also allows the player to manipulate it better. Instead of having a prefixed action that causes the decay of knowledge (reduce the spending on its maintenance), they might work out some way of shuffling things around that allows them to keep certain parts and let unneeded parts decay (they can have their cake and eat it too).

Emergent gameplay is much more strategically interesting than a prefixed formula.

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Instead of loss of knowledge, could it be shifts in available resources that bring different tech flavors in and out of vogue, with "dark ages" in the awkward time between your graviton-providing binary black hole system collapsing and your neutrino-based infrastructure getting up and running?

The relics from the past age would be either dismantled to build new stuff or used sparingly. I envision this being like Mad Max, where you've got all these cars, but suddenly there's no gas, so you run what you've got, and as the supply dwindles, you start stripping down the Buicks and hitching camels to them.

So your Deuterium-besed fleets, which are all leveled to 8th tier, become prohibitively expensive to fly, and you're researching antimatter reactors to level 3, and in the meantime you've got a bunch of level 2 units and factories and a few irreplaceable level 8 units and defunct level 8 industrial sites that you're stripping down to build level 2 industrial sites of a different color.

It's an awkward few generations, and it has the "dark age feel", but you aren't totally crippled by a deus ex machina, and probably had some warning that your ion well was drying up, so you're faced with the dilemma: Do I sprint to the finish and have the greatest possible stockpile of high-tech artifacts with which to rule the dark times, or do I start redirecting resources before the crisis occurs, softening the blow to my economy and infrastructure and ensuring a shorter period of disarray?

That would be a useful and nuanced gameplay feature, and wouldn't feel like a kick in the balls to the player.

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Thanks, great replies everyone.

I really like the object oriented approach: Knowledge centers, education levels, colonies that form an interlocking system of tech production and specialization all sound groovy. It does occur to me now that it would be more obvious if you could see things about to decay, then lose them because you allowed them to decay or you lost them in conflict.

More than ever I see now how important it is to determine why dark ages happen. The trouble I'm having is that while I can see it being a really intriguing mode of play, I can't see it as being anything other than happening for a negative reason.

How fair would it be to make it both a matter of internal (player managed) circumstances and external (unpredictable) forces? That is, on the one hand, losing your tech centers and failing to produce enough food so that your people have the time to go to university causes a dark age; but a huge barbarian invasion can also cause a tech loss for the same reason.

I suppose in a strategy game the latter has to be optional because your focus is on beating your rivals. I don't see a way to frame it as, "hey, you've lost half your empire and all those hours of work, but you're actually doing quite well!"




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How personal do you want to get?

A civilisation that can span the galaxies probably has something alot better then the internet - losing specific buildings then does nothing, because the data is 'on the web'. However, its usually *key* people (eintstien for example) who forward technology, if a building was destroyed that had key people in it, those people die, and tech is knocked back a couple of years.

Individual people can be taken out, die of natural causes, change alligence etc.

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Original post by Interesting Dave
Individual people can be taken out, die of natural causes, change alligence etc.


I do like the idea of people (and intend to use them as critical modifiers throughout the game), but I don't see it making sense that tech is lost. An advance delayed, maybe, but your same argument about an interstellar internet might apply.

It building, or even datanet loss, makes more sense if colonies are treated as isolated. Light speed delays could effect this kind of an idea.

In any event, I'm starting to see this more and more negatively in terms of the scale I'd like to do (from high civilization to Mad Max). I don't see a way of making this positive overall outside of a scenario, which officially sanctions everything and balances all players.

I have another take on this that's different enough to merit its own post, so I'll put it there.


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However, its usually *key* people (eintstien for example) who forward technology


Not really in our current reality, although maybe you're just saying that for the sake of gameplay or speculating about the future. Sure we have Newton's mechanics, Maxwell's electromagnetism, and Einstein's relativity, but you can't really attribute quantum mechanics to any one person. Attributing the others I listed to individuals is also questionable (Einstein is the most legitimate case I believe) and Newton himself is quoted as saying that he was standing on the shoulders of giants. Also, I think that there's often some question as to which people a Nobel Prize should be awarded to since only so many names can be attached to the award and it's often hard to say which particular advance was the key advance (on a side note, I hate when people say something like "the Nobel Peace Prize in Physics").

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Original post by Wavinator
In any event, I'm starting to see this more and more negatively in terms of the scale I'd like to do (from high civilization to Mad Max). I don't see a way of making this positive overall outside of a scenario, which officially sanctions everything and balances all players.


I don't have any specific suggestions, but as long as the causes affect everyone equally, there shouldn't be much of a problem. Like, say, finding that MAD really did assure mutual destruction (cf. Einstein on the weapons of WWIV).

Another thing would be that if the gameplay went through periods of ebb and flow so that the player wouldn't expect to always be on the rise. Maybe there are natural fluctuations in the playing conditions where food and other resources increase and decrease in output.

Also, maybe large empires start to crumble under their own weight so that it's not possible to maintain an empire of the size needed to maintain such advanced technology. I think this would be ok if there were more sophisticated winning conditions and means of advancement than dominating other societies through combat. What if I control a given commodity? What if I control some religion's holy land, or its head is based in my country?

Or, shortly, it could be just a matter of defining progress in the game by something other than a simple head count.

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Generally, information can be described as being in a storage device of some sort. The reliability of these devices can vary, as there are many kinds. Our first and most familiar example of an information storage device is the human being. Not very reliable, really. Others are books and electronics. These are, fundamentally, the basic storage containers available. Depending upon tech level, the types of devices realistically usable change.

Due to this limitation, it is probably a good idea to look at each container individually, and think about why information would be lost in each medium. Fortunately, for both books and human (bio-computer) storage, it is pretty obvious how this can happen. Forgetfulness, burning, etc. It only requires a bit of totalitarianism to adapt to larger models.

Electronic storage, on the other hand, seems to be regarded entirely differently, regardless of the fact that it is, in fact, remarkably similar. Electronic storage, as it truly works, is simply information that is stored inside your solid hard drive. Huge amounts of data can be stored on a single device, but still must go through the process of being processed. The thing about the internet and it's seemingly endless resources is that each website is hosted on a PC very similar to your own. All of that data is stored in a static position. Due to this, it is always vulnerable.

Interestingly enough, this leads to some more points on information distribution. Important or vital information, as opposed to technology, would be hidden, of course, but all vitally important technology would likely be available to the entire populace. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, but this is dependent entirely upon the economic system. Corporations dislike handing out blueprints on how to build what they make. Governments feel this to be a less important factor than friendliness with other nations/empires, on average.

Due to these factors, complete loss of technology is horribly easy in certain systems. Unfortunately, if we use humans as our central pedestal of government, this style is the most desired form of government, as it allows more individual "freedom". Moving away from that, it comes to mind, finally, that we were discussing methods of abstraction for these real-life systems.

As we are discussing space-type empires, our tech trees would end up being immense and very specialized. This immense size says some things about the fundamentals. In some areas of technology, there is the "Oh, everyone knows that,"-type technologies, and there are more complex technologies. Due to this, determining how decay would work past a certain point becomes difficult, because while it may be object-based at higher levels, are we really aiming for Dwarf Fortress-style data tracking in even determining the tech tree?

The answer is no. All colonies need to either use a transmitter or a ship to transfer data to another colony, colonies given to only encompass a single celestial entity. If data is easily obtainable from a planet, it will register in the displayed-to-player generalization for less micromanagement. Players should also be able to manually track how the system works if they wish. For example, if they order a war factory to produce warships, it copies the technology data needed to build the warships into the factory. The amount of data this copies depends entirely upon how specialized factories are in the economy of the colony in question. If the war factory needs to outsource for parts that its blueprints/facilities do not provide for, then if all facilities for the production of said part or parts are destroyed, the war factory does not produce.

The tech tree has always been a generalization. If the parts of a tech are not all in one place, but are still easily sourced,(eg: the internet) this makes them both more difficult to steal and destroy. Hierarchical object trees seems to be the concept in question, so I have done nothing more than add another dimension, zoom, to said object tree. While this is still an abstraction, it comes far closer to the truth. As this seems to be the objective, I feel it appropriate. Peace out.

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because the data is 'on the web'.

The various governments (players) will usually want to stop other players from stealing their techs. So putting them on "the Web" so to speak would not be sensible for them (as it would make them easier to steal).

Maybe old techs might go on the Web and this would provide a resource that a player could access so that they don't fall too far behind.

You could also utilise this into game play. If you had signal blockers that prevented a system/city (basic unit of colonisation in your game) from accessing the Net, then strategic use of these could force knowledge embargoes on a player. Of course these would be hard and costly to enforce, but if a player really needs another to have restricted access tot eh Net, then it would be an interesting gameplay mechanic (the embargoed player might then target the signal blockers so as to allow them access, or might cut a deal with another player to smuggle information in).

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More than ever I see now how important it is to determine why dark ages happen.

As not all dark ages are caused by libraries (or their equivalent) being wiped out, you might consider other methods for the collapse of a system.

I recomend reading "Collapse: How Societies choose to Fail or Survive" By Jared Diamond (ISBN: 0-7139-9862-8). It is a big read, but it goes into a lot of detail and several case studies on how collapses can (and have) occurred in the real world.

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I really like the idea of the stuff sticking around, but you can't make any more of it. I think that would add an interesting dimension to it, particularly if it was crucial to survival. I also like the map changing, but I think you should just stick with a fog of war descending (representing loosing control) and colony names changing as soon as the fog of war covers them. The fog could start at the out edges to indicate a dark age is coming, maybe there would be some things that a player could do to avoid it, but these could have a negative impact on whatever causes the dark age.

As for whether it should be random or player caused, definitely go with player caused. Maybe expanding too quickly could cause it, or pursuing military technologies excessively. I think it would just be annoying if you were treating all your people well one minute and then suddenly it's a dark age.

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