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irreversible

Turn-based startegy: innovations and cliches

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I've played a number of startegy games in my life and to me the top few that have stuck are the Civilization model and notably the Imperialism (2) model. I'm also a big fan of the Colonization model and to a lesser degree the Heroes of Might and Magic model. I also enjoyed Master Of Orion 2 thoroughly, although I liked the initiative sysem in Stars! (which MOO borrowed everything from) a lot more - in fact, the lack of an initiative system ruined MOO2 hotseat multiplayer for me (in endgame, the army that attacks always wins). I've not played the latest games or smaller ones that might boast more innovative ideas. Since I have an idea brewing that borrows a fair bit from each of the mentioned game models, it has ultimately become a blur. As I'd like to try and come up with something a bit more original and concrete, I thought that I'd try and compile a list of existing innovations and the most common cliches to get a clue as to what's hot and what's not. Cliches
  • a simplification to 2-4 resources
  • amassing an army and the concept of an endgame
  • an exponential military strength curve
  • a tech race
  • the concept of unique buildings (eg world wonders) that often give inbalanced advantages
Innovations
  • The initiative system to determine, which unit attacks first in battle (Stars!)
  • The concept of Culture (Civ 4+)
  • The concept of non-offensive "minor powers" to fight over as cannon fodder (Imperialism)
  • The concept of an alternate world (Master Of Magic)
  • The concept of roaming/static independent armies for cannon fodder (Master Of Magic, HOMM)
  • Being able to acquire the same resource from more than one type of source (eg wool in Imperialism 2, which can be extracted either from sheep or cotton fields)
  • Social models (Civilization)
Things I've personally not seen around
  • One-click economic and political models similar to the Social Models concept (edit: on closer recollection, political models have been around since Civ 1 in the form of government types!)
What would you add to these lists? How would you feel about a strategy game without a combat sytem, but a more complex economic system instead? How important do you consider a combat system to be in general? What about an implied combat system where you're not in control over armed forces directly, but have influence over them based on your status?

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Sounds like SimCity.

Although I've played other games that are similar to what you're mentioning.

Combat systems aren't that important, if you can make the rest of the game compelling enough.
Doing maths isn't fun, so what can you add to make it worth it?
It's not like Wall Street, there's no real reward. So how can you make economy and treasury management, appealing?

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Original post by irreversible
Things I've personally not seen around

  • One-click economic and political models similar to the Social Models concept (edit: on closer recollection, political models have been around since Civ 1 in the form of government types!)

Alpha Centauri has this. 'Social Engineering'

I'd suggest getting a copy and playing a game or two to get a feel for how it elaborates on and deviates from the Civ formula in several aspects. The unit customisation is interesting too, if a little simple.

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How would you feel about a strategy game without a combat sytem, but a more complex economic system instead?

I can imagine a system might be interesting if you had different ways to compete with others, eg. making secret deals, industrial espionage, influencing governments and populations, etc.

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How important do you consider a combat system to be in general? What about an implied combat system where you're not in control over armed forces directly, but have influence over them based on your status?

I'm not particularly bothered whether it's combat or not, but conflict is interesting, and if you're writing a galactic-scope sci-fi game it would seem likely that combat forms a part of that. But if you have an alternative, go for it.

Lacking direct control would be absolutely fine, providing that you still feel some significant degree of influence over the battles. I play a lot of Football Manager (the 2005 edition, specifically), which is all about games of soccer that you have no direct control over. You can tell your 11 players how you'd like them to play but once they're out on the pitch you don't get much input. Yet you definitely get enough feedback from the game to see how your previous decisions have affected the game. Thus the game provides ways for you to take all the information available to you and plan ahead, and learn from the results. This, rather than manually pushing units into individual battles, is true strategy to me.

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Have you ever played the Europa Universalis games? They have an incredibly obnoxious fanbase so I'd avoid the forums except to quickly grab a mod or a patch, but they're pretty interesting and almost more... simmish in nature.

For starters, I'll say that I'm tired of 4x games focusing on military almost entirely in lieu of diplomacy or alternative approaches. This is why I find the EU games interesting, for instance, or the first GalCiv (in comparison to the second, which sort of axed the a lot of the non-militaristic options).

Additionally, city management/building is my least favorite aspect of every single 4x game I've played because it's... a means to get bonuses and produce new units/techs/whatever, but the entire notion of needing to keep your cities happy or provide infrastructure or whatever is such a minor aspect of most games, when in reality, infrastructure and internal politics should be a huge deal.

Imperialism 2 sounds neat. Is it on any direct-to-drive service anywhere? GOG doesn't seem to have it.

Anyway. Comments on your comments.

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a simplification to 2-4 resources


Less of a cliche and more of a gameplay necessity. For every resource you have, you have to balance it somehow to make it useful. HoMM is sort of bad about this. They have TONS of resources but after you've got your town built, gold's the only one that really matters.

And on the flipside, even if you DO get resources well balanced, you run the risk of turning your game into a spreadsheet.

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a tech race


I think tech trees are sort of silly because they lead to this (or worse, lead to a situation where you click through a million turns waiting for something to get researched without actually doing anything. Dull!). I think there are other, better ways to represent technology in games than just "Click a research node, wait till it's done cooking." Then again, the alternatives might require a more simmish approach and a lest... typically strategy approach.

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The concept of non-offensive "minor powers" to fight over as cannon fodder (Imperialism)


GalCiv had these as well, although they weren't strictly non-offensive and some of them could actually be a pretty huge risk. And then you get to the EU games, where you have like, 180ish playable nations, some minor, some less minor, all meaningful in some sense.

So, continuing on.

In epic, broad level strategy games, I don't like tactical combat much. I feel like it's... too much of its own thing, and it's hard to do a really great 4x game and a really great tactical game at the same time because your thoughts and resource are divided, so you end up in a situation like you described with MOO2 where you get little imbalances like the lack of an initiative system.

Also, as the player, I want to be able to focus my attention more on a single mode of gameplay. If I'm building an empire, I don't really want to get dragged into a twenty-minute tactical battle.

I think political, social, and economic policies are a good idea, but I'd like to see them more open-ended -- maybe creating a party with a particular set of goals/philosophies/morals/whatever. I'd also like an internal politics thing in place. GalCiv one, for instance, had the senate, which conveyed various bonus/penalties to your civilization depending on things. EU: Rome also had a senate if you played as a republic, and they literally would block you from doing certain things if it didn't match their beliefs/the will of the people. Pretty neat.

And as I said, less militarism. I think a system where you can never be entirely self-sufficient and need allies to trade with would be really neat. And maybe a system, like in Crusader Kings, where if your empire gets to large you get efficiency penalties and need to start giving it away to vassals (or, in other contexts, local jurisdictions, state governments, semi-autonomous planets, etc).

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Original post by Cpt Mothballs
So how can you make economy and treasury management, appealing?


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KylotanLacking direct control would be absolutely fine, providing that you still feel some significant degree of influence over the battles. I play a lot of Football Manager (the 2005 edition, specifically), which is all about games of soccer that you have no direct control over.


This is pretty much exactly what I'm thinking - to allow the economy not dictate, but sufficiently leverage the military aspect, and avoid direct ownership of military units. Unfortunately, this entails a pretty prolific AI system, which might be out of the initial scope of my game as I'm not planning to put on a full production or anything.

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Sounds like SimCity.


Ah! There's a big difference here - SimCity and the Tycoon games are realtime, which completely changes the game mechanics!


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Alpha Centauri has this. 'Social Engineering'


Thank you for reminding me! I was actually thinking back and trying to remember if there was anything in Alpha Centauri that I should add to the list and I totally forgot that it implemented social engineering. I actually have an idea, which further breaks this up - however, I'm not entirely sure how many players want to give up that level of abstraction.

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meshgearFoxHave you ever played the Europa Universalis games? They have an incredibly obnoxious fanbase so I'd avoid the forums except to quickly grab a mod or a patch, but they're pretty interesting and almost more... simmish in nature.


No, I haven't - I'll make sure to read up on them, thought - not sure if I can afford to buy them at this time.

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Imperialism 2 sounds neat. Is it on any direct-to-drive service anywhere? GOG doesn't seem to have it.


I'm not sure if it's available for download, but it should be pretty cheap to purchase at this time. All in all - personally, I think Imperialism 2 has the most immersive an incredibly balanced and innovative model I've ever played. I mean, Civilization is a classic, but Imperialism 2, especially together with its absolutely fantastic soundtrack, is a true treat. It's also a LOT of fun to play in multiplayer.

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Less of a cliche and more of a gameplay necessity. For every resource you have, you have to balance it somehow to make it useful. HoMM is sort of bad about this. They have TONS of resources but after you've got your town built, gold's the only one that really matters.

And on the flipside, even if you DO get resources well balanced, you run the risk of turning your game into a spreadsheet.


I'm considering a system where the player doesn't need the resources directly - instead, he's responsible for the collection.

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I think tech trees are sort of silly because they lead to this (or worse, lead to a situation where you click through a million turns waiting for something to get researched without actually doing anything. Dull!). I think there are other, better ways to represent technology in games than just "Click a research node, wait till it's done cooking." Then again, the alternatives might require a more simmish approach and a lest... typically strategy approach.


I agree. The whole problem with tech trees is that they're not persistent enough. The constant need to stay on the cutting edge means you never build any units if you can help it and only resort to building an army when someone declares war on you. The solution, in my opinion, would be to prolong the time during which any given technology remains cutting edge, encouraging the player to actually take advantage it. The problem becomes keeping the player happy with an adequate number of technological breakthroughs. To this, in my opinion, the only true answer is to increase the number of faculties/fields in which research is being conducted. A third option - perhaps the best one - is to remove most of the research from the player and only allow them circumstantal control over the outcomes. This means that a pretty big chunk of the game has to be reorganized to provide alternative things for the player to do in the meantime.

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Also, as the player, I want to be able to focus my attention more on a single mode of gameplay. If I'm building an empire, I don't really want to get dragged into a twenty-minute tactical battle.


I agree. I think HOMM's MOO's autocombat and games like Rome: Total War handled these pretty effectively, even though you were provided with an option to play those ghastly half-hour tactical battles.

Personally, I think controlling whole armies takes the fun out of it - in the end nothing beats the tactical battles from the X-COM games (especially the two-parters from Terror From The Deep).

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I think political, social, and economic policies are a good idea, but I'd like to see them more open-ended -- maybe creating a party with a particular set of goals/philosophies/morals/whatever. I'd also like an internal politics thing in place.


This is precisely the line of thought I'm following right now.



Any further comments? Any additions to the lists in the OP?

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Having to wait between every creation and building put down just to see the economic side of things is going to be even more boring than a stock exchange simulator.

And individual towns and cities wouldn't have their own personal army, unless there was an immediate threat to their very existence (like Jerusalem), and even then, having troops control themselves turn by turn could just be like two chess computers playing each other.

I think you need to go along the lines of randomly generated cities that, through the player's input, change and evolve until you become the capital city and the player is the president and you can choose to invade lesser countries for resources and such to build up the economy whilst losing political strength.

The turn by turn system interval could change, from days to years, so you can choose what level of control you have and how quickly your city changes.

You'd have to set-up programs to train people to deal with emergency situations and at some point, even prevent natural disasters or direct attacks on the city.

And since when does turn basing anything make it completely different?
In SimCity there were turns, you could choose the speed of the game and every financial year you'd be given a score then you could continue.
The management was real time, but you could pause it to manage the numbers and taxes.
If it was completely turn based it'd just be frustrating.

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The constant need to stay on the cutting edge means you never build any units if you can help it and only resort to building an army when someone declares war on you.


Aaaactually that's another thing I liked about GalCiv 1. It had no ship customization at all, and doing weapons research was just an empire-wide stat boost. Ship customization can be fun but it can also turn into micromanagement hell pretty fast. GalCiv 1 basically had a number of ships with specific purposes and they never really got outdated given how the tech tree worked.

In any case I think a less-is-more solution might actually work better. Do you REALLY need 15 incremental levels of laser tech (Space Empires IV, I'm looking at you).

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A third option - perhaps the best one - is to remove most of the research from the player and only allow them circumstantal control over the outcomes.


I'm a fan of blind research. Alpha Centauri does that, where you pick a field-of-focus you get new techs their from time to time. I'm also a fan of the system Master of Orion, Europa Universalis, and Theme Park used. Instead of a point-and-click tree, you invest money into different areas in different amounts. Sort of... tangential.

Speaking of tech. Crusader Kings, by the EU people, has this system in place where tech has to spread to a province before it's useful there. You can control what you research in your capital, but outside of that, it sort of has to spread. Interesting side effect is that your research can spread to enemy lands and vice versa.

Anacreon: The Revolution also had an interesting system where your tech level normalized. You could have hightech planets and low tech planets, but they'd all trend towards the tech level of your capital.

Also worth noting that a real time game might work better. Or auto-advancing turns. Something like that.

Designing 4x games is sort of... awkward to do for the reasons that have come up. I think the problem is sort of inherent to the genre, given the scope of it. It might be a situation where you have to focus on one specific are. For instance, the Capitalism series is ESSENTIALLY 4x although they're entirely economically oriented.

I will say that a strong, underlying event system can add a lot of interest to the gameplay.

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Actually, the idea I'm pondering is putting the player in charge of a large mega corp that deals with traditional economy-oriented development (eg building huts, gathering resources, etc), but has access to the political system of a number of countries through back doors, bribes, funding, etc, which allow them to directly or indirectly influence the political state on a global scale - in so far as causing two states to declare war on each other, etc. I do not consider real-time as an option at this time.

BTW - a similar auto-upgrading research system is used in Warzone 2100. The game has something like 1200 research items, but never ever do you feel you're being abused by it. It's really quite fantastic how they've managed to pull it off.

I really like the tech spreading system! Thanks for mentioning it!

Incidentally, I found these 6 changes in Civ 5 to be rather inspiring - especially hexagonal tiles, tactical combat and city states. I always really loved the first part of a Civ game, but endgame always ruined the experience for me because it turned into little more than umpfing out more troops than your opponents. Looks like that's about to change.

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There is a saying that 4 world war would be solved with sticks & rocks.
Soo loosing tech level should be possible in game.

And how to do it? Maybe each Tech neads some level of resources to work.
Like (Tech: Panzer) neads 25 factories + 5 iron mines. If at any time player
controls resources neaded for techs "upkeep", the tech is usable, but at the moment when player looses control of some critical resource the tech fades away.

Different tech resources:
- universities
- factories
- legendary scientist
- mines / strategic resources
- corporations / factions
etc...

/Tyrian

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An interesting idea - how would you quantify something, though? By just showing "supply present"/"supply not present"?

>> There is a saying that 4 world war would be solved with sticks & rocks.

Well, I think people love researching. I certainly do. Also, I'm not sure if this kind of dumbing down would benefit playability. Although ATM I am entertaining the idea where the player is literally at the mercy of external research. He can't even pick the fields or broadly choose what is being researched - instead, he'll have to influence the naturally occurring research to either speed up or (I don't know why yet) slow down through the use of power, money (same thing, really) and control over resource acquisition.

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how would you quantify something, though?


Shorter answer? You don't.

I've actually been toying with this idea in terms of RPGs. A statless RPG, where instead of having enemies with stats and items with stats and the like, you have enemies and items with specific *behaviors* that determine how they interact. I actually have the first iteration of the engine done and I'm going to upload it somewhere later today when I get some demo levels made with it, so I could put it up if you want to play around with it. Theoretically it should be possible to do strategy games in it, to.

Anyway, back on track. Specific examples from actual games:

1. GalCiv 1 and 2 have "Trade Goods", which are objects that you manufacture. They're sort of like Wonders, in the only one exists per game, except you can trade them and whoever has them gets the benefits. They have specific stat boosts themselves, but the notion is that they're singular, non-quantifiable objects.

2. Resources in Civ 4. Quantifiable in a sense, but going from the idea that if you have a resource in your domain and the means to access it, you have it. No varying amounts of resource. No "need 15 iron to build axemen." You have iron, you get axemen. That sort of thing.

3. No concrete examples in terms of units, really. That could actually be the trickiest part to do.

Realistically, with a strategy game you'll have some degree of quantification since you can have multiple units and structures and whatnot. This is more to get away from spreadsheety number wonk, "you need X amount of Y to do Z" stuff.

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