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Morri

4x games, why not ship-design-driven research?

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I am a big fan of 4x space strategy games. However, tech-trees where you go tech by tech are a bit boring. AND Ship design where your ship remains essentially the same, but it just upgrades in the size and equipment tech-levels, is boring too. I have not figured out the solution for these problems yet but I believe ship-design-driven-research might be one of the possible answers. This thread is mostly for brainstorming this idea further.

In ship-design-driven-research (let's call it SDDR) you don't have tech-tree where you pick up what you research, instead you research what engineers (you) design! That's the big idea, but how to make it interesting and implementable is the tricky question. Obvious thing is that the game will need a bit more complex lego blocks from where to build than traditional 4x ship design. Each block taking some amount of points and in-game-resources with ship size enabling certain amount of points for the design, would be the very obvious features.

Each component will provide essential features for the ship and need others, life-support, power, armor, hull-structure, weapons etc. To add more complexity you could also add other features like radiation, heat, funny shaped components that need special hull design to make a good ship (large ring shaped component for particle accelerator that is needed for mass drivers for example). You could also be very inventive with component shapes, who knows what shaped gadgets you need for phase-shifting tech? How about tech that runs on life force?

Certain designs will be high on the requirements of certain fields and low on other. Building a prototype generates more research than mass production of designs. Productivity etc. research could be included either as "city" design or make the world more based on space stations that have certain purposes. For me this sounds perhaps a bit too complex to be implemented in very huge scale, though I like the basic components: Shape, plus/minus-features(heat needs coolin etc.), point limitation to model hull-size, prototypes generating most research.

Anyway, I have to go for now, but I'll be back tomorrow. Feel free to throw any ideas at me!

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It isn't space-based, but rather very similar to Civilization set on another planet -- but check out Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri for an example of something that sounds pretty similar to your idea -- as you unlock the tech-tree, certain discoveries unlock "components" for building new units, and the player can then mix-and-match these parts to customise units to their liking. Check out the first image in this review.

Another game with a somewhat similar feature is Star Control II -- you can download and play a free version called The Ur-Quan Masters -- most ship designs in this game are fixed, but the player's flagship is a massive "pre-cursor" ship which the player can customise by installing different pods (weapons, generators, crew-capacity, cooling systems, thrusters, etc.) into "slots".

My third example of a similar system -- and probably closest in complexity to what you're actually describing -- is the Mech Warrior games, where different mech-chassis allow different weights and amounts of equipment to be installed, and the player can create vastly different mech designs by making different decisions about what to install.


In short -- yes -- such an idea definitely has potential. I think the important thing is probably to make sure that taking the time to design interesting/different ships actually has a meaningful impact on the game.

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Quote:
Original post by Morri
Obvious thing is that the game will need a bit more complex lego blocks from where to build than traditional 4x ship design. Each block taking some amount of points and in-game-resources with ship size enabling certain amount of points for the design, would be the very obvious features.
Go play Kingdom Hearts, and tell me about the gummi ship. The only difference is that you want the pieces to be even more specialized than in Kingdom Hearts.

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I think I get the idea. Instead of having a tech tree where you research technologies and then combine the results, you instead, somehow describe what you want and then the game tells you how long it would take to research.

So instead of using predesigned components (like lego blocks), you are using a more customisable system (like playdough).

It sounds interesting.

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Thanks for quick and quality replys!

I have played Galactic Civs, didn't like too much the unit design, it felt cheap and artificial way to get the Civ space-edition seem more like traditional 4x space startegy games. I will give the Star Control a try, but jbadadams, I believe you misunderstood the depth I would like to take this idea, I want to drop the tech-tree but not the discovery of new techs.

Platinum_Dragon, funny that you mentioned the Gummi ships, I liked the Gummi ships more than the actual game! (Thouhg Kingdom Hearts is awesome!) I would kind of like to see Gummi ships on steroids.

Edtharan, yes, you got it. I think if I could somehow make the higher tech components less easy to use in design if you want to have a manuverable, well armored, effeciently crewed and high speed space ship.

For example: huge mass driver will need huge particle accelerator and a lot of energy, in other hands the outer rim of your ship will be huge ring like they have underground in CERN. If the particle accelerator gets broken, your mass driver is not functioning. If you want to protect the particle accelerator from incoming fire you perhaps want to put all the power supply, crew, bridge etc. components in the front section of the ship and put some armor plating and hope that enemy interceptors never get close to the vulnerable parts of the particle accelerator.

Other choice is to use lower tech mass drivers with smaller particle accelerators (that you can afford to cover with proper armor etc.), which are of course less effective and can not pierce well that high thickness armor your enemy is using.

Anyway, you end up making those ships with huge mass drivers if you want to keep your general mass driver tech growing, perhaps even the military use of the huge mass drivers would generate research bonus, but the downside is that you have to protect that very expensive prototype investment and risk it in the battle. Though it might be much of fun to show your prototype of advanced tech to the enemy and watch the devastation your big guns can do.

Another aspect that I like about the idea is that it actually models the reality very well. The Apollo program and USSR space progam both advanced technology very much, and all these big engineering projects that envision something never done before do the same for technology.

In the system I believe that extremes of technology should be extremely vulnerable and easy to take down with modest level of anti-tech-weapons (power-disturbance weapons, gravity weapons can cause collisions in mass driver PA etc.). Also it would be fun if the prototype ship's shapes would reveal them easily in espionage, but espionage raports would not tell you directly what it really is (because your gov doesn't possess anything similar AND prototypes are much better protected for espionage than mass produced ships).



Perhaps this flight of thought describes well what it could be like. What kind of issues and risks there could be with the fun factor of this kind of solution (expecting that the players would be the kind of people who like to engineer things). The examples were about mass drivers because we today know how to make matter accelerate to high-speeds, but what kind of tricky shapes could for example phasing weapons have, how shield generator would look like. How about ideas on discovering new tech areas? I also know that building a prototype of this would be quite challenging since the ship-design would be quite complex. How could I strip down features so that it would be easier to implement as prototype? Anyway, this is still just brainstorming on the idea, I don't have enough time to do the prototype in near future, though if someone wants give it a shot I would be happy to help all I can.

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One way you could do this is to have some base level techs that essentially give the player access to a certain type fo tech (eg: mass drivere, laser, armor plating, etc), but then have various aspects of each tech improvable with research.

For example, with the Mass drivers, you could research them to make them smaller, more powerful, use less energy, etc. With armor, you could have its resistance to damage, how much damage it could take, etc.

So this way a player can choose the actualy values that go into making up each piece of technology and set them at the levels they want.

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First of all you should check what a mass driver is, it's something like a cannon.
According to what i've readed is like a coilgun, or the same. So no particle accelerator, just a long pipe.

PAs can be used in directed energy weapons, particle beams.
Also you can use it to manofacture antimatter, although having it stored as plasma in a magnetic container seems better.

Parts you can put:
-most kinds of cannons are like pipes
-solar sails would be enormous silver sheets
-fusion reactors can also be ring shaped (tokamak), you can make ring and sphere shaped reactors to have diferent properties
-specialized weapons can have weird shapes, imagine a planet destroying ray that has five pipes around a focus point in a star-like formation

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Quote:
Original post by klefebz
First of all you should check what a mass driver is, it's something like a cannon.
According to what i've readed is like a coilgun, or the same. So no particle accelerator, just a long pipe.


This is actually a very interesting point, because doing mass driver from a single pipe vs. a mass driver that has a circle are two different solutions for the same problem. You can accelerate a mass of particles faster in circular system because you can accelerate the mass for multiple rounds before making it exit, while with pipe the structure is less enormous but the speed you get is lower.

Quote:
PAs can be used in directed energy weapons, particle beams.
Also you can use it to manofacture antimatter, although having it stored as plasma in a magnetic container seems better.

Parts you can put:
-most kinds of cannons are like pipes
-solar sails would be enormous silver sheets
-fusion reactors can also be ring shaped (tokamak), you can make ring and sphere shaped reactors to have diferent properties
-specialized weapons can have weird shapes, imagine a planet destroying ray that has five pipes around a focus point in a star-like formation


Yeah, I think that there is much more room for imagination and innovation in space strategy games, not everything has to be pure physics. I have always been big fan of sci-fi meets fantasy kind of setting. Why not to have a race that uses necromantic powers etc. since it adds much of the needed variety to 4x games, not every race has to be similar. Though I think I should include a back ground story to every "weird shaped component" and I believe it should hint the player how to get towards the next level of techonology.

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Check out an old game called STARS!. There used to be a fairly decent demo of it floating around.
The neat thing about STARS! was the ship building and the automation abilities. If you haven't ever played it (and you can stand looking at WIN 3.1 era graphics) then go try it. It has spawned many ideas for me over the years.

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[quote]doing mass driver from a single pipe vs. a mass driver that has a circle are two different solutions for the same problem. You can accelerate a mass of particles faster in circular system because you can accelerate the mass for multiple rounds before making it exit, while with pipe the structure is less enormous but the speed you get is lower.[/qoute]

A projectile is not a particle, sometimes in physics classrooms they make a [italic]simplification[/italic] saying a ball or a bullet is a particle to make it simpler, but you can't call particle accelerator a sequential acceleration track.
PAs are for atomic or subatomic particles that acelerate up to fractions of C.

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on the system i'm working on research is need to advance technology IE energy weapons, ballistic, rocket/missile based then reciprocation defense tech with bonuses provided by having a ship large enough to host a command center/communications

there is no real limitation on ship size beside the time it takes to build and the size of the ship dock,

my game is really designed for me to resource management and acquisition is important to handle things like requiring a transport fleet, man power distribution

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Although I think this is an interesting idea, I don't think it's fit for a full-scale 4x game. Most 4x players don't want to actually design mass drivers, etc. They just want to use them to do other things.

On a more basic level, I think you have two different concepts put together. One of them is about setting goals and getting results based on those goals. This is basically the way a lot of government-contracting work is done. The government will request proposals for things that meet certain requirements, and contracting companies will submit proposals for them.

The other concept is about dependencies existing between different components. For example, an unmanned spacecraft doesn't need a life-support system, but a manned spacecraft does. Certain weapons or other active components may need certain amounts of power generation, etc. So the idea is that the actual ship stats (power, speed, offensive/defensive capabilities, etc.) are somewhat emergent based on the components used.

Hope this helps. I think both of these concepts are interesting and would like to see them better developed in future space 4x games.

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Thinking why I myself have not chosen to go in such a direction, I realise that actually maybe by the time you see the ready to play game the designer has already done all of that for you.

Basically if there is an advantage to be had in a certain design direction, the game designer maybe already followed through on it to its actually useful conclusion and maybe or maybe not then "abstracted" the fundamental advantage into a concept that any number of different-in-detail implementations can nonetheless see themselves in.

For example consider whether to arm a ship or leave it unarmed. Unarmed ships might be able to carry more units or cargo, travel farther per unit of time, and or be permitted to go places where warships would not be tolerated.

Accordingly a designer might think okay then to account for where one might go with the idea of focussing development on things other than weapons, let us have some kind of unarmed scout unit or lineage of units, some kind of unarmed transport unit or lineage of units, and maybe some kind of diplomat unit or lineage of units. Hmm, what else? Aha, how about terraforming units? Do they need to be armed?

So when you see the final tech tree the designer has developed, maybe a whole lot of the ideas you might have had in detail and implementation has already been thought through toward "well why would one actually want such a combination of elements" and a final design that presents the what you'd want instead of how you'd mess around with components trying to figure out the benefits in order to determine what combination might be something you might actually want.

I think marketers or advertisers or some such folk have some kind of saying about that, like, the customer doesn't want a drill, what the customer actually wants is one or more holes.

Thus there is maybe a tendency for designers to drill down through all the combinations in advance, looking for specific min-max points among the possibilities, and present windows, a kind of hole so to speak, giving visibility to that specific possibility and thus saving you from having to drill down through all the possible details yourself.

Maybe we can now refute the marketers or advertisers by pointing at you and saying aha, lookie here, here is a person who actually does want a drill, not one or more holes!

(Maybe some designers would retort this customer is not a player, this customer is a designer looking for a playtest testbed tool for testing designs to find the ones most worth making available to actual players actually trying to play some game or other... :))


NOTE: if you are interested in ship design, maybe you might enjoy taking a look at the currently quite simple and sparse selection of ships currently found in Freeciv's Galactic Ruleset. Are they unbalanced? Are they a sufficiently simple and elegant solution? Is there some glaring lack (such as "carriers" to carry fighters bombers and missiles, a gap already noticed...)

Galactic Ruleset for Freeciv: http://forum.freeciv.org/viewtopic.php?t=3900

[Edited by - markm on December 21, 2010 4:29:18 PM]

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[quote]Original post by klefebz
Quote:
doing mass driver from a single pipe vs. a mass driver that has a circle are two different solutions for the same problem. You can accelerate a mass of particles faster in circular system because you can accelerate the mass for multiple rounds before making it exit, while with pipe the structure is less enormous but the speed you get is lower.[/qoute]

A projectile is not a particle, sometimes in physics classrooms they make a [italic]simplification[/italic] saying a ball or a bullet is a particle to make it simpler, but you can't call particle accelerator a sequential acceleration track.
PAs are for atomic or subatomic particles that acelerate up to fractions of C.


Sure I know what a particle accelerator really is, but the general physics is the same. Before particle accelerators used to be pipes, because they were easier to build. Later the circular design took over, even though it was technologically more challenging, in circular accelerator you can accelerate particles a lot longer distances than in pipe. Same goes for mass drivers.

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Quote:
Original post by markm
Thinking why I myself have not chosen to go in such a direction, I realise that actually maybe by the time you see the ready to play game the designer has already done all of that for you.

Basically if there is an advantage to be had in a certain design direction, the game designer maybe already followed through on it to its actually useful conclusion and maybe or maybe not then "abstracted" the fundamental advantage into a concept that any number of different-in-detail implementations can nonetheless see themselves in.

For example consider whether to arm a ship or leave it unarmed. Unarmed ships might be able to carry more units or cargo, travel farther per unit of time, and or be permitted to go places where warships would not be tolerated.

Accordingly a designer might think okay then to account for where one might go with the idea of focussing development on things other than weapons, let us have some kind of unarmed scout unit or lineage of units, some kind of unarmed transport unit or lineage of units, and maybe some kind of diplomat unit or lineage of units. Hmm, what else? Aha, how about terraforming units? Do they need to be armed?

So when you see the final tech tree the designer has developed, maybe a whole lot of the ideas you might have had in detail and implementation has already been thought through toward "well why would one actually want such a combination of elements" and a final design that presents the what you'd want instead of how you'd mess around with components trying to figure out the benefits in order to determine what combination might be something you might actually want.

I think marketers or advertisers or some such folk have some kind of saying about that, like, the customer doesn't want a drill, what the customer actually wants is one or more holes.

Thus there is maybe a tendency for designers to drill down through all the combinations in advance, looking for specific min-max points among the possibilities, and present windows, a kind of hole so to speak, giving visibility to that specific possibility and thus saving you from having to drill down through all the possible details yourself.

Maybe we can now refute the marketers or advertisers by pointing at you and saying aha, lookie here, here is a person who actually does want a drill, not one or more holes!

(Maybe some designers would retort this customer is not a player, this customer is a designer looking for a playtest testbed tool for testing designs to find the ones most worth making available to actual players actually trying to play some game or other... :))


NOTE: if you are interested in ship design, maybe you might enjoy taking a look at the currently quite simple and sparse selection of ships currently found in Freeciv's Galactic Ruleset. Are they unbalanced? Are they a sufficiently simple and elegant solution? Is there some glaring lack (such as "carriers" to carry fighters bombers and missiles, a gap already noticed...)

Galactic Ruleset for Freeciv: http://forum.freeciv.org/viewtopic.php?t=3900


It obviously is not evident enough from my previous posts, but my idea was more like giving the players certain ready made components to design the ships with. In the example of the mass drivers the design of the models of circular and pipe mass drivers would be given to the player, not in the way that they would have to discover the shapes by themselves, since that would be too complicated. The idea was more like making more advanced tech appear as components that would be harder to put in well designed ship. In order to use higher tech the ship designs have to make compromises on armor, speed etc. relevant factors.

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Something like that might work well in a multi player game that offers players many different roles they can play, so that a player going through all of this detail work coming up with ship prototypes would not have to be the same player whose available playing time is already maybe running short just trying to get ships to the battle front or to the threatened regions of space.

Basically it would be crafting for ships. Just as in many games some players go out fighting while others stay at home crafting, some players could use ships out in space doing stuff while others stay at home in their shipyard designing ships for sale or trade.

With such a setup, one could go into more and more and more detail about the construction of the ships, because it would not be taking time away from the player who is actually trying to use the ships.

I have actually seen a game online though that sounds similar to what you are describing. Ship skeletons or hulls or whatever can only fit certain shapes or sizes or types of whatever of components in certain areas, you get to worry about which direction you are more likely to be attacked from even. Like will you most likely try to run away, thus want your least vulnerable things in the rear to help keep the vulnerable stuff up from from getting hit? Or the other way around?

I wish I remembered the name of the game as you kind of sounded like you were trying to describe that very game.

I think it might have been the same one in which that process of selecting parts and where to put them ends up producing a design, then you allocate a lab or maybe even a number of labs to research how exactly to put it all together the way you have said you want it put together. Only once the points of research have been spent to solve all the fine details of how to make your design actually work can you start building ships using that design.

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I'm hoping to implement something similar in a game I am making (no name yet). My idea I am currently developing is that each module (engine,cockpit,cargo bay,thrusters,under carriage etc) developed by a player can be placed in an ingame 3d editor and access corridors between them all placed to connect them. The data for each module, i.e. Energy usage, power etc can be altered by the player but increasing the values will have some negative effects like increasing the MASS/WEIGHT and making that unit cost more in credits and/or resources to build it. Then once all of these blocks are placed the engine will then automatically create a smooth skin around them hence creating the ship design. The user can then manipulate this to get the final result if they want to before taking the prototype for a spin in an ingame simulator. Im making a 4x space MMO and the idea is that the player can sell their blue-prints on to others :P It's all very much in the beginning stages but thats the plan anyway. It also means that a ship can crash land on a planet, the skin will deform and if a module is beneath the part which is deformed then it will be damaged/destroyed :P

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Star Ruler doesn't have the mechanic you describe [i]per se[/i], but when you design ships you can attach subsystems to certain systems that will modify them with bonuses and penalties.

For instance, you can modify weapons by attaching one of two subsystems. One subsystem increases rate of fire at the expense of increased ammo consumption. The other subsystem increases alpha damage at the expense of higher power consumption. It's a choice between higher damage per second (useful over time) and higher initial damage (useful against armored targets).

P.S. If you've played Star Ruler before and did not like it, please consider checking out the new demo. The developers made dozens of significant improvements to the game since its initial release.

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this seems like a really cool idea.

so you have components that have requirements to work (need power for the railguns) and you have a system whereby commonly used techs grow in level faster (use a lot of railguns and you unlock a better capacitor)

i think you're game should have a 2/3 dependency on contracted work to accelerate technology levels. the over 1/3 should be created by laboratories and directed towards special techs. this way players can force breakthroughs in a new tech and begin building ships wth that tech to advance it further. just to stop a player from getting angry because he cant get his first laser to start down that path.

this game seems like it would work best in a game where there is a small scale (5 solar systems with 3-4 planets each) and with realtime battles on these planets (which in my opinion is the only way to elaborate on ship components beyond "this one is cheaper and does more damage" galactic civilizations cheated me with eye candy.

another suggestion i have is that certain components must be "linked". for instance a Fusion reactor needs to have tubes built that connect it to drive plasma storage. this would also give ships things such as range, ammo, effective runtime. there could be different types of the same general component that each give tradeoffs (spherical reactors give better power but have short lifespans and are prone to malfunction.) this would add to the importance of design, and give each players empire a special "tone" (one empire has a lot of powerfull ships with short effective range meant for deffense, another empire has super fast ships sporting a single cannon.)

it might also be a good idea to have "realistic damage" whereby weapons will penetrate ships and damage components, so placing only one feul line and leading it along the outside of the hull may save a ton of cash but it will make you're reactor vulnerable. this will further increase the importance of good design. it will also mean that ships designed for deffence may be more willing to place engine components near the outside to protect their presious mass driver, but pirate ships would probably tack on their weapons with duct tape so that they can run if things get "dicey"

spliting the ship into a grid would be a really good place to start. i wouldn't limit the ship to a hull simply because it forces players to limit their creativity. (some players want death stars and why should they suffer for it?) i feel that most of the problems with balance in games where ships are designed by players can be solved with appropriate attention to metagaming and ship design. giant death stars may look bad but having only one gun makes them extremely vulnerable to kamakazi ships.

another idea i had was that you would have two types of research upgrades. components and upgrades. where components are actual objects that can be placed in the grid, upgrades are things such as a cryogenic pump for a nuclear reactor that increases reactor output by 5% this wold increase the perception of advancement without rapidly obsoleting current designs (a serious problem with most 4x games is that you can never build a decent navy because the ships are useless by the time they are built.)

i have a metric ass tone of ideas that i can contribute if you want. i had put a lot of thought into a game that serves this function and would love to see someone proceede with a game.

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