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Delayed Information

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I'm working on a trading game that takes place during ancient times. Ultimately you'll be controlling an entire trading cartel but the focus remains on a single point of control: you. Now given that you are in only one particiular city at any given time I'm trying to determine what sort of information system to use. 1. Instantaneous information. You are aware of the prices and events as they happen even if they are in a city on the other side of the country. (Civilization style) 2. Delayed information. Events occur and the news of them slowly travel across the land at a set velocity until they reach you. E.g. "5 days ago: price of food at Uruk is 8 shekels of silver" or "3 days ago: your eighth caravan has reached Lagash". Smaller events might depend on a messenger that if killed, will prevent the information from reaching you. Remember, that at this point of the game you're trying to control the entire cartel. Do you think a delayed information system would add depth to the game (single player) or would it be mostly frustrating?

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Simple. You should begin the game with delayed information, then as you build your cartel, your sources of information will become more rapid and accurate. By the end you might have instantaneous information from areas where your cartel is heavily present.

You could "hire" informants in various cities, to scout out prices, and you pay a small fee for them to update your info when you enter town.

You might even have a "Caravan Log" that keeps track of what prices you were able to buy and sell for in the past, and where.

There is no doubt in my mind that a game like you are describing should have delayed info in some form. I think it is critical in establishing the kind of immersion and feel of a desert caravan/cartel trade sort of world.

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I think it's a fantastic idea (as it's also part of the agent-based late-medieval world simulation *I'm* working on ;-) ). It absolutely forces a different kind of gameplay when information of all kinds is transmitted in a realistic manner. If a player is able to easily determine what a city produces and what they consume, I don't think it's a big deal, because then you can just set up trade routes and let them run, without worrying too much about exact prices. This means your underlings should be fairly intelligent on their own, though, and/or you should be able to issue them somewhat complex orders. Eg, go to these cities, buy these goods at this maximum price, sell these goods at this minimum price.

Once your trading empire reaches a certain size, you probably don't want to be micromanaging things anyway. Patrician II is a good example; you start out with an office in your home town and just one ship. You earn money by trading with other ports (whose prices you don't know in advance, but you can see what they produce), eventually buying more ships and hiring captains who you can program with trade routes. It works very well, and though you can build offices in other cities and then skip around as you like, checking prices and constructing buildings "in person", I don't think that's a crucial feature.

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After thinking about this some more, it seems displaying this information is going to be your real barrier to making it fun and usable.

I'm just making it up as I go along now, but maybe you have a map screen. Everything immediately surrounding you, you can see for yourself, and is displayed as current information in full color. Now say you received a message that a caravan departed city A for city B three days ago. The caravan could be displayed "grayed out" to a certain degree based on the age of the information. Maybe you want to put them at their last confirmed position (just outside city A), or maybe you want to extrapolate, so their map icon will reach city B at the same time the caravan actually reaches city B (though you wouldn't get a message to that effect until later), assuming they didn't encounter any problems. If you don't get any updates, these icons will fade out more and more until they're presumed lost.

Just a rough idea, and maybe you have a better one.

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Ancient trading sounds very cool. I also really like the idea of starting small and becoming a merchant empire.

If you do delayed information, how would you represent it on the map? Would it be visible (as other caravans, runners or flags) or invisible? Also, is it just you or do you have AI competition?

To me it would be interesting to have to rely on delayed information to put three factors together: The distance of a visible news or ally marker, so that I can think, "I'm waiting for news from Sumer before I buy all of this grain." If it's something that I have influence over (such as paying to protect a particular road) then all the better.

The second factor would be knowing what is bought where, but with quantity and price being variable. I'm not a big fan of the adventure cargo concept, where you buy a bunch of goods and then travel around randomly until you find a place to sell it because I think it leads to tedius note taking (meaning you're telling the player to scout the whole universe first).

The third factor would be being able to use my own intelligence and deductive skills to take advantage of trends and sudden events. If I know that the Nile floods every year around a certain time, or the Hittites really like war and so are going to need lots of my iron, then waiting for delayed information presents a strategic risk. I get to trade off waiting for a sure bet versus risking traveling blindly (or maybe I can meet a news marker half way, reducing the cost of my action).

I'm not sure how you plan to do the cartel level, but one way you could solve it is to not make dozens of caravans the player has to manage, but rather bigger/stronger caravans. Mansa Musa was supposed to have brought a thousand camels to Mecca, why can't you? [smile] The key, though, is that maybe you're only managing six or seven unit markers in total.

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Thanks for your feedback!

Quote:
Original post by Humble Hobo
Simple. You should begin the game with delayed information, then as you build your cartel, your sources of information will become more rapid and accurate. By the end you might have instantaneous information from areas where your cartel is heavily present.
I should clarify things a bit. The progression of information will always exist in the game and my question of instantaneous information vs delayed information only is relevant when the player is controlling more than one unit.

Lets say your main avatar is in Babylon but you have a caravan in Uruk which is 5 days travel away. An event happens nearby Uruk and news of it reaches your caravan stationed there. Should the player know immediately or should the news have to travel from Uruk to Babylon before the player knows?

Instantaneous information is like the fog of war in Starcraft. Your knowledge transcends all units.

Delayed information is like having a primary character in a strategic game among multiple units. You only know of events when news reaches that one character.

In both scenarios, news travels from the source outwards at a set velocity.


Quote:
Original post by drakostar
This means your underlings should be fairly intelligent on their own, though, and/or you should be able to issue them somewhat complex orders. Eg, go to these cities, buy these goods at this maximum price, sell these goods at this minimum price.
Agreed. In a delayed information scenario, any unit that is not in the immediate vicinity of the main avatar would need to be able to mostly operate on its own.

The position of remote units would be extrapolated. If your remote caravan moves in a predefined circuit then the player would have a rough idea of where it should be. As the player receives news of that unit, the position of the unit will be remapped to the more accurate location.


Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
I'm not sure how you plan to do the cartel level, but one way you could solve it is to not make dozens of caravans the player has to manage, but rather bigger/stronger caravans.
Great idea! My rough guideline is 5-7 units--that is the most things that the player should have to micromanage. The game will be a progression from a single player RPG to the full trading cartel endgame. When one starts forming a party, it will have at most 5-7 members. Likewise, at the cartel level, the player will no longer control single people within a caravan but instead the caravan as a whole. With 5-7 of them max.

Quote:
Original post by Wavinator
If you do delayed information, how would you represent it on the map? Would it be visible (as other caravans, runners or flags) or invisible? Also, is it just you or do you have AI competition?
Answering the second question first, the player will be up against AI competition that controls the other cartels.

For the first, your main character would be a solid colour. Other units would be slightly lighter/fuzzier depending on how long it has been since you've last heard news of them. For each remote unit, I would store a news history. Everytime something significant happens a news event will be launched that is attached to that unit. The news then spreads and once it reaches the primary character, the player is alerted. The less amount of time elapsed since the most recent news event, the darker the unit would be coloured. If too much time has elapsed, then the unit eventually fades from view and is considered lost unless physically found.

With remote units, the player would not be able to control them directly (ala Starcraft). Instead, the player would issue directives for that unit. The directive would be sent via a messenger and if the messenger reaches that unit, the unit will change behaviour as desired.

That's all the ideas I have so far.

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I've tried something similar a few years back in a 4X space strategy game and found it incredible hard to do right. Most gamers are used to have information available instantaneously from their own units and being surprised by events that happened some turns ago becomes REALLY annoying.

A few notes:

1) Represent news that is enroute to your character. Though you don't know what it is, you at least know something is coming. I (and a few testing friends) found this MUCH more appealing than sudden surprises of things that have already happened.

2) Don't punish the player for moving the main character, it will pretty much immobilize him/her/it. City A sends info towards the player in City B, but he decides he needs to be in City C and gets moving. Don't let the information chase the character, it pisses players off and takes away much interactivity from the character.

3) As mentioned before, you need an AI for units that's not too stupid. Nothing is more frustrating to a player than to loose money/units/resources because the computer did something moronic and he/she couldn't prevent it.

4) Progression! You should make delayed information a central feature in the beginning of the game, but then let it become less important as new technologies (foot messenger -> runner -> horseback -> chariot -> etc.) becomes affordable. Also, make cost vs. speed an element of the economy. If something is really important, a fast but expensive messenger should be available.


As you can see, delayed information is not a 'side-feature' that's nice to have but an important part of the gameplay that can easily kill it. Think hard about the implementation.

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