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Orymus3

4X Space Conquest Games: Ship Customization?

22 posts in this topic

Hi,

I'm a big fan of 4X games (Master of Orion, Galactic Civilization, etc) and I really like the experience that they provide.
I'm also a big fan of logistics/economics and how they factor into long-term warfare (as is the case of 4X games).
You'll notice that most, if not all of these games allow the player to customize their spaceships to some degree. In fact, its becoming a staple of this genre, and not without good reason:
Ship customization allows a player to plan ahead, define a strategy, and build fleets around that idea.

To the newcomer, this is a very complex set of rules, and leads to inefficient design, but through learning of the game, the player becomes able to build near-perfect ship designs for specific tasks/purposes.

While this is good gameplay, it does come with an alternative.

Games such as VGA Planets really established the genre decades back (1992). To this day, VGA Planets 3 remains my favorite of the lot. The UI was crappy, it required you to know the hotkeys, and the navigation and micro control was overall shit (it didn't quite take advantage of the mouse input).

More importantly, ship design was limited. There were 11 different "species" you could play, and each and everyone of them had these preset ships.
These "hulls" had preset settings: how many fighter bays, how many torp tubes, how many beams, cargo space, fuel tank size, number of engines, etc.
To a certain degree, you could customize these, such as you could choose to have beams that dealt more damage to crew rather than shields if you wanted to take over the ship instead of destroying it.
For the most part however, these ships are rather straightforward and end up in one of the key categories (freighter, explorer, gunship, carrier).

While this seems rather limiting, the community behind these games actually praised the level of customization this led to:
This created natural strengths and weaknesses for species as a whole, based on the distribution of ships that were available to them.
With clever ship designs, all races were able to attain their goals nonetheless, even if all they had were gunships/cloakers or the likes.
It allowed players to really embody the species they were playing with, and more importantly, adapt their strategies to the shortcomings of suchs plans. Only a few races could actual take enemies head-on, while others had to think outside of the box.

In the end, limiting ship customization really added to the game's fun and quality overall both in terms of feel and actual gameplay.

My question here is simply, what do you think are the pros and cons of adding more or less customization capabilities in a 4X game?
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Personally, I've always wanted a game that simplified the 4X element and basically turned into a [url="http://prinzeugn.deviantart.com/gallery/542863#/dr54dk"]TBS spaceship game[/url] on a large scale.

However, I think it's easy to get carried away with elements like ship design to the detriment to the overall game. I don't think it's in the interest of the game to have the player end up spending a significant portion of their time on a relatively small portion of the game if it distracts from the overall experience. Basically, I think it's best to avoid places where the player feels obligated to micromanage things to disproportiate degree in order to optimize their strategy.

I remember in Master of Orion 2 you could only set up an entire planet to build one thing at a time, but could allocate space to individual weapons and sytems on warships down to the scout level, and then take ships to battle in a fleet and decide which individual weapons to fire where and in what order. And there were times you had to go to that level of detail to eek out a victory. I personally loved it for the most part but someone who's into more grand strategy forcing (since it's often the optimum strategy) them to spend half their time micromanaging their fleets and the battles themselve might distract them from what they really want to be doing.
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Perhaps you could customize your ships beforehand. Edited by aattss
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In VGA planets actually, the micro-management comes from logistics mainly: Moving colonists and resources from planet to planet as is required. I think they've captured Sun Tsu's teaching remarkably. Minimizing focus on ship design actually helped showcase gameplay elsewhere. I feel like de-facto ship design steals away some much needed design-space.
Personally, I'm not too fond of macro-games such as Galactic Civilization. I feel they are too much of an abstraction. Whenever the game replaces resource economy with 'points' and 'science points' I feel the game could do with more in terms of economy and logistics.

Basically, I like what you've said here:
[quote name='Prinz Eugn' timestamp='1352245286' post='4998258']
I don't think it's in the interest of the game to have the player end up spending a significant portion of their time on a relatively small portion of the game if it distracts from the overall experience.
[/quote]
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I like when ships are clearly categorized (freighter, colony ship, war ship). And only the warships are highly customizable. I mean, what kind of decision is "how many lasers you want to put on your colony ship that will dismantle immediatley upon arrival and will lose any fight with any warship anyway"? It's just a fake question which always has one correct answer "none". If something has only one correct answer why asking it in the first place?

I think MMO2 did it right. On one hand there were heavily modified warships on the other there were clearly predefined utility ships you can't modify (the funniest was the freighter, which was not even a ship but a number that was displayed on the menu :D).
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Actually I tend to disagree. I know a lot of people fancy MOO2 (I'm assuming you were referring to master Of Orion 2?) and I won't go against that: its a great game.
That said, the game's take on logistics is weak at the most, and the freighters are largely responsible for this weakness.
As a matter of fact, I believe that basic mindset and functionality between a ship don't necessarily go hand in hand:
If the game encourages it, your regular ships (warships mind you) may be required to double duty as freighters as well, if only to maximize your empire's efficiency, or insure they are both the freighter and the escort.
VGA Planets worked in such a way that every time you built a freighter, you ended up with a dedicated ship that could never assist you in warfare, so a lot of players willingly chose to have a less efficient freighter fleet and used their torpedoe&carriers as freighters (once depleted from their ammunitions and fighters).

The upside that I personally see with pre-defined ships and less customization is that the player needs to think through before building a ship, often ending up building what appears to be a non-optimal ship, but surprising everyone else by how they're using it (say, a carrier with no weapons nor fighters turned into a freighter).
Having too much customization feels like I could end up with so many narrow designs that I have an answer for everything, but they're never at the right spot, and it really changes the game:

When playing an opponent, there's a huge strategic difference between knowing or not the base ships they have on their fleet (or could have). By limiting this to 12 known types with a few permutations and tech upgrades, you're playing a strategy game much akin to playing chess ot SC2. Thers's back-and-forth, tactics change and evolve, etc. Because you have a basic grasp of the opponent's strengths and weaknesses, you can attempt to surprise, play around them. If each player can do "anything", you end up playing a game of information where you need to know as much as possible about the enemy fleet, and if there are no limits to how many designs are available to a player, then the game can be pretty random if your opponent makes no single ship like the other.

To me, what in theory gives the player more choice actually ends up decreasing the fun, but I might not be seeing the whole pic there...
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[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1352469073' post='4999279']
When playing an opponent, there's a huge strategic difference between knowing or not the base ships they have on their fleet (or could have). By limiting this to 12 known types with a few permutations and tech upgrades, you're playing a strategy game much akin to playing chess ot SC2. Thers's back-and-forth, tactics change and evolve, etc. Because you have a basic grasp of the opponent's strengths and weaknesses, you can attempt to surprise, play around them. If each player can do "anything", you end up playing a game of information where you need to know as much as possible about the enemy fleet, and if there are no limits to how many designs are available to a player, then the game can be pretty random if your opponent makes no single ship like the other.

To me, what in theory gives the player more choice actually ends up decreasing the fun, but I might not be seeing the whole pic there...
[/quote]

I agree with you here. I've been toying with game ideas that involved customization and found out that without categorization, everything becomes a giant mess of random stuff and no strategy emerges. I'm sure there are counter designs to ships in MOO2, but without doing a spreadsheet analysis, there's no way to figure them out. Also, since tech evolves and designs become outdated, it becomes irrelevant.

What I felt worked best was providing ways to categorize designs into common features. Depending on the keywords attached to a design, combat dynamics change. For example, you use heavy armor on your ship which tags it with Armored. Armor Piercing weapons get a bonus against Armored designs. It becomes clear that using an armor piercing weapon is optimal in this case.

Also, going into micro details is a waste. The player will not care how many weapons can fit on a ship. The answer is always as much as possible. That's why I would go with these choices :
- Hull
- Main Weapon
- Secondary Weapon
- Armor/Shield
- Utility Slot

This gives you more than enough design choices without being a burden. Hull dictates the strength of other slots. A battleship would have 10 main weapons while a fighter would have 2 for example. It then becomes easy to figure a counter design because you're limited to few meaningful choices.

This also tie nicely in espionage. Your spies can report the tags of the enemy fleet which can be inaccurate. "We spotted a fleet of Nimble ships equipped with Tracking weapons". Nimble and Tracking are properties countered by various components so you can build accordingly. If the report is inaccurate, you can omit tags or give the wrong one.
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[quote name='Tiblanc' timestamp='1352477452' post='4999334']

Also, going into micro details is a waste. The player will not care how many weapons can fit on a ship. The answer is always as much as possible.
[/quote]

I think its best to think of this as "slots".
For example, you have 3 weapon slots, perhaps each of them is even limited in type (one can fire missiles, the other two beams, for example).
It goes without saying that, if this is to be a warship, all weapons will be loaded, but the player may choose different ones:
- 2 fast "cheap" lasers with a strong missile launcher
vs
- 2 Strong lasers with a cheap support missile launcher
vs
- Fullpower everywhere
vs
- 2 weak lasers and a weak missile launcher (cheap ship)
vs
- 1 fast laser (acting as point def) + 1 strong/slow laser and a decent missile launcher

You wouldn't approach these ships the same way, yet, they all fall under the light escort main design for example.
If main weapons are limited to "certain types of weapons" and secondary have a different set, it helps gauge expectations of the players as a result.

I think two very interesting things you've left out would be Generators & Engines.
Generators are still good because, ideally, they set a cap for overall ship functionality. Once you've purchased a certain generator, it limits what you can put in the ship (what weapons, what shields, what engine).
Engine is good because it allows to gauge mobility.
The reason why I think this is a good strategic element is because it lets you create fast scouts that are lightly armored by picking the topmost engine and the weakest beams.

I'm not exactly sure what you meant by hull, but one of the things I've seen working was dividing hulls not by size but by design.
For example, an "explorer" would define smaller amounts of weapons and more engines whereas a destroyer would have a lot more weapons onboard, secondary weapons and armor/shields but fewer engines (than say, the cruiser). A Science vessel might be filled with utilities in this scenario.

Your tag idea is nice. VGA Planets was too crude in that regard. Either you scanned right, or you didn't scan. There was no room for "error margin".
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[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1352469073' post='4999279']
Actually I tend to disagree. I know a lot of people fancy MOO2 (I'm assuming you were referring to master Of Orion 2?) and I won't go against that: its a great game.
That said, the game's take on logistics is weak at the most, and the freighters are largely responsible for this weakness.
[/quote]Hmm, I feel completelly opposite. To me the freighters (or to be more precise lack of logistics) in MMO2 was one of the most enjoyable parts. I think it's not about ship customization but about something more fundamental, micromanagement. I have low tolerance to micromanagement, I loathe it. So, for me the primitive logistic (or "high level logistic" as I would prefer to think about it :D) was a plus (when I think about it, I judge all games by this criteria so it might be highly subjective). It seems the predefined ships are not only about customization but also about the play style and the type of player it caters too.

It could help you if you decide what level of micromanagement you are willing to accept in your game before proceeding.


As for slots I'm not a big fan of these. You always end up obligatorily filling up all weapon slots under such model... On the other hand in MMO2 tonnage system I frequently was willingly sacrifacing weaponry in exchange for utility stuff. It was the only 4X game I ever did that.
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[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352483588' post='4999366']
Hmm, I feel completelly opposite. To me the freighters (or to be more precise lack of logistics) in MMO2 was one of the most enjoyable parts. I think it's not about ship customization but about something more fundamental, micromanagement. I have low tolerance to micromanagement, I loathe it
[/quote]
That's the very reason why I wrote this thread :) I love micro-management, but I don't make games for myself solely, so I want to be able to provide a suitable experience to the "other players". Thanks for stepping up!


[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352483588' post='4999366']
So, for me the primitive logistic (or "high level logistic" as I would prefer to think about it :D) was a plus (when I think about it, I judge all games by this criteria so it might be highly subjective).
[/quote]
I think high level logistic allows to shift design space and gameplay towards a portion of the game you might enjoy more.
MOO2 is a game that is a bit about economy, but a lot more about ship warfare. You basically just colonize planets, shift a few things, build fleets and go.
I'm trying to find a suitable way to simplify logistics in a game such as VGA Planets while keeping the core gameplay (which is logistic-oriented) and I'm at a loss because, they simply are not the same kind of games.
In MOO2, your primary threat is your enemy. In VGA Planets, your primary threat is yourself, or more likely, your lack of planning. Your empire can die just because your planets are out of fuel, overpopulated, and over-employed (too many mines). Challenging your opponents can often be a distant 2nd threat, and by then, only the players with good empire crafting skills will stand even a chance of surviving: everyone else's planet will be ripe for the taking.
I really like the fact that VGA Planets is more about building that empire, and less about space warfare, but I can totally understand the appeal of MOO2 and similar games.

[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352483588' post='4999366']
It could help you if you decide what level of micromanagement you are willing to accept in your game before proceeding.
[/quote]
The level of micromanagement I'm interested in is not necessarily intensive, but I'm looking for finite resources, fuel management, and resupplying. These are core elements to the idea of "space survival". I find a victory more satisfying when the reason for winning isn't that I brought my big ship in time, but because I brought sufficient missiles to back it up during the battle so that my ship could sustain a longer military campaign.
Logistics is something inherent to actual warfare. Sun Tzu, and generals from all eras have discussed the principles that won a war, and it is possibly the most important.
In WW2, the Germans were powerful not out of sheer firepower alone, but because of their train system which allowed them to quickly more reinforcements along the rails.
Without discrediting these games (after all, I do enjoy Gratuitous Space Battles a bunch!) I'm really interested in capturing this layer of strategy to make for a more complete and satisfying game. I fully understand you may not be part of my targetted user base, but I'm attempting to define whether I can make a few compromises on elements of the design that aren't core, and could potentially "turn you on" as a player.

[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352483588' post='4999366']
As for slots I'm not a big fan of these. You always end up obligatorily filling up all weapon slots under such model...
[/quote]
Gratuitous Space Battles is a very clever system. If you haven't had a chance, have a look. There is a campaign system now which is pretty light, but other than that, its just fighting all the time. The ships have this neat rock-paper-scissor system where some weapons are good vs shields, other vs armor, and other vs hull. The ranges also vary.
My most efficient ships are very non-linear designs: 1 missile launcher there, a plasma canon and 2 beams, one of which is fast and short ranged (acting VS Fighters) and one is long-ranged and slow (to take down these frigates once their shields are down) for example.
I'm trying to capture something similar, on a simpler and more narrow level.

I've been assuming that people knew more about VGA Planets because it has been the most played play-by-email game (ever) and its been active from 1991 to now, but I understand its community size is limited.
What I meant by limited ship design is this (example in hand).

There are 11 species, and each of them have a roster of about 10 different ships (all freighters are common to all races, and everything else is custom with rare crossovers).
The "colonies of man" (based on battlestar galactica's original series) have several ships.
One of them:
Little Joe Class Escort.
Can only be built when you have researched Tech 2 Hulls.
Has 6 BEAMS weapons (can equip any one type of beams)
No fighter bays (cannot be a carrier)
No Torpedoe launchers (cannot fire torpedoes)
has a mass of 65
has a cargo of 20
can store up to 85 fuel
is operated by 175 crew
has 1 engine (which you choose)

This ship is fairly straightforwards: it can't be a powerful frontman, but with so many lasers, it can fire down fighters. It is good to use vs a Carrier if you want to reduce the amount of fighters for example, or as a scout since it is fairly light.
Since it doesn't have much cargo, it can't really be used as an armored freighter, but it can still carry a few things (supplies for repairs, crewman to create small outposts while scouting).
85 fuel for such a small ship isn't bad at all, here again, fairly good for a scout.

Basically, you wouldn't expect this ship to take you head on, no matter how it gets customized, but by midgame, your opponent might use it:
- as a very light/cheap but fast scout (with a quick engine and nothing fancy)
- as a light dropship which drops a few colonists on undefended planets to take them over
- as a freighter interceptor using its weak beams against your freighters to either destroy or capture them (once again, depending on the type of beam equiped)
- as a support frontliner with heavy blasters to damage shields of larger ships or planets
- to smoothen carrier fighters by using several cheap blasters (1-shots fighters anyway)

The amount of things you can do is limited, but it does give you room for innovation. A good player is one that can plan ahead, build certain ships for certain purposes in mind, but also with the understanding that this ship's role can vary. Personally, I build carriers with a lot of fighters but extremely weak blasters so as to cut expanses. My thinking is that I can never resort to my beams doing the damage: my fighters are there for that. But having 4-6 weak beams allows me to destroy incoming fighters, etc. Since resources and scarce and finite, this allows me to defeat opponents that go for that "omfg" ship that packs torps, powerful phasers, loads of fighters, kickass armor, but consume so much resource they can't field more than 2 or 3 by midgame.

I hope my intent is a bit clearer now.


[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352483588' post='4999366']
On the other hand in MMO2 tonnage system I frequently was willingly sacrifacing weaponry in exchange for utility stuff. It was the only 4X game I ever did that.
[/quote]
Can you define why? and which utility?
VGA Planet's utilities are embedded in the ship design. For example, the PAWN has a bioscanner which allows 100% accuracy of planetary scanning. It simply can't be built on another ship. If you want to be able to have this powerful scanner, you'd better figure a way to make the PAWN a viable ship for any other objective. I personally use it as a light armored freighter, explorer, or dropship (on the outskirt of the enemy's empire, generally on the flanks).
Some ships are cloaked, others get their quick "warp" device, etc. I think it goes a long way to making each design unique, but it does cut off on ship customization.
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[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1352480780' post='4999344']
I think two very interesting things you've left out would be Generators & Engines.
Generators are still good because, ideally, they set a cap for overall ship functionality. Once you've purchased a certain generator, it limits what you can put in the ship (what weapons, what shields, what engine).
Engine is good because it allows to gauge mobility.
The reason why I think this is a good strategic element is because it lets you create fast scouts that are lightly armored by picking the topmost engine and the weakest beams.
[/quote]

That was abstracted in the Hull category. There's a strong correlation between engine type and ship size. You can't really have a fast battleship due to high mass and you wouldn't create a slow fighter. Same thing for generators. The choice between many ships with weak generator and weapons or few ships with strong generator and weapons is valid only if resources for both batches are different. If they are similar, then it becomes a calculation to determine which is superior based on your production capabilities and resources on hand. You can achieve the same results by skipping the generator and having different power ranks for a same weapon class. Cases where it would make sense to separate engine and generators from ship type are rare and add burden on the player. By making things simpler, other choices can be made more complex without adding complexity.
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[quote name='Tiblanc' timestamp='1352496008' post='4999428']
You can't really have a fast battleship due to high mass and you wouldn't create a slow fighter
[/quote]

Slow fighter == Bomber :) (Star Wars BattleFront!)
and fast battleship is a cruiser: larger hull but great speed. Packs only a little less power than a battleship. You get to see that in the naval forces too.
So yes they exist, and yes, they are viable.

If all generators are available to all, you'll figure out what you need. Lower tier generators will be for smaller hulls (2-3 choices) and higher tier will be used for hardened ships (2-3 choices) but you may occasionally build a very small 'hi-tech' frigate or a very big low-tech freighter.
But yes, I agree with your point, this may not be designspace well spent.
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[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1352486911' post='4999379']
I love micro-management
[/quote]I find this unhealthy intriguing :) I would never said that about myself, well, I belive there are people who like it, but that's a very strange concept, hard to gasp, to me :) Slightly offtopic, but why do you love micromanagement?

As for me, it boils down to a question "how much time a turn takes if I have X (where X is a typical end game value) planets"? That determines if I play the game or not.

[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1352486911' post='4999379']
In VGA Planets, your primary threat is yourself, or more likely, your lack of planning. Your empire can die just because your planets are out of fuel, overpopulated, and over-employed (too many mines).
[/quote]That's a very outdated design concept. It's considered "wrong" nowadyas. It's like these early point and click adventure games where you could stuck because you used the wrong item and can't finish the game anymore, in later adventure games they never used this mechanic.
While the logistic and micromanagement and almost everything else you wrote can be considerd "different taste", that one I would consider "incorrrect approach regardless of target player".
Punishing lack of long term planning is OK, but punishing that in the previous turn you were to tired to notice that planet #653 has not enough fuel and the fuel transporter #8533 will not arrive in time is not fun at all.


[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1352486911' post='4999379']
I really like the fact that VGA Planets is more about building that empire, and less about space warfare, but I can totally understand the appeal of MOO2 and similar games.[/quote]And that's the most surprising sentence. I feel EXACTLY the same way, except that I would switch the game names "I really like the fact that MMO2 is more about building that empire, and less about space warfare, but I can totally understand the appeal of VGA Planets and similar games" :D So, basicly we see the same end goal as desirable, but the means to achieve it...

Anyway, I have no problem with the spirit of your concept, I just don't like the means.

[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1352486911' post='4999379']
[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352483588' post='4999366']
On the other hand in MMO2 tonnage system I frequently was willingly sacrifacing weaponry in exchange for utility stuff. It was the only 4X game I ever did that.
[/quote]
Can you define why? and which utility?
[/quote]Well, almost everything :) I almost always had all 8 utility "slots" filled. The time machine that allows you to take 2 turns instead 1, is obviously a must. Targetting system (x3 hit chance for all beam weapons) is second must have. Of course the standard hull enlargement and structure enforcement (but no armour enforcement, I don't use that one). If it's missile launcher ship then of course the "double launch speed every second turn" is quite obvious, in case of heavily shielded ships probably shield matrix enchancement. Cloaking sometimes for some short range wepaons ships was nice. And many, many more.
Really, there was rarely space for weapons in my designs and it still made these ships superior to AI's :D I wildly enjoyed that it was not about "select a weapon type" when it comes to ship design, I never had this in any other game.
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[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352542649' post='4999605']
I find this unhealthy intriguing I would never said that about myself, well, I belive there are people who like it, but that's a very strange concept, hard to gasp, to me Slightly offtopic, but why do you love micromanagement?
[/quote]

Professionnal bias I would assume, I'm a manager. Quite ironically, at work, I like to stand back from micro-management. I also tend to have an engineering mind, so I like to know how things work at the lowest level and optimize if possible.

[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352542649' post='4999605']
As for me, it boils down to a question "how much time a turn takes if I have X (where X is a typical end game value) planets"? That determines if I play the game or not.
[/quote]
Thats turns me off only if the actions I'm doing are repetitive and mindless. The part I prefer in a turn is when I need to think things through rather than reroute each individual ship to the coordinates they need to go to or perform mundane repair/refuel tasks for example.

[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352542649' post='4999605']
That's a very outdated design concept. It's considered "wrong" nowadyas. It's like these early point and click adventure games where you could stuck because you used the wrong item and can't finish the game anymore, in later adventure games they never used this mechanic.
[/quote]
I disagree. I think it is simply overlooked: the part about survival is more important than the warfare aspect. It is possible for the environment to be your opponent/threat when well done. I agree that one of VGA Planet's flaw/shortcoming is that it wouldn't necessarily let you see that coming straight. Having food as a resource (as is the case in VGA Planets 4) would help accentuate that: you see your population dying here and there.
The important part is, to me, that as a player, logistics defeat isn't random: you see it coming. If you are spending 10 turns in a row without a proper duranium mining mine, then, what the hell are you doing with your ships? You're probably focusing on warfare, which is fine, but everyone knows that if you don't have the reinforcements coming at the end of the day, a victory now would avert a defeat later. It comes down to planning and strategy mostly.

[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352542649' post='4999605']
Punishing lack of long term planning is OK, but punishing that in the previous turn you were to tired to notice that planet #653 has not enough fuel and the fuel transporter #8533 will not arrive in time is not fun at all.
[/quote]
I agree. I would have appreciated a heads up of some kind. When one of your base (where you build ship) is 'dying', you don't really know. For all you know, you might be able to build 10 more ships, but without the proper dosage of fuel, these ships will remain in the drydocks until you plan to bring a freighter loaded with nothing but fuel.
That said, at higher tech levels, a ship can manufacture fuel (slowly) from a resource that is infinite (supplies) so it kind of evens out.

[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352542649' post='4999605']
I really like the fact that MMO2 is more about building that empire
[/quote]
I haven't played in a while. What would you say specifically appeals to the empire building strain in MOO2 (seriously, fix that typo frenzy, one might be led to believe you play too many mmos [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/tongue.png[/img])? I mean, aside from the whole politics aspect.
Since this is turning into a comparison, I might add that VGA Planets, to me, shines as a different kind of game because of the emptiness of space. It does not assume all species are sentient and have a will to cooperate. It is a harsh, relatively empty space, and when, occasionally, you meet up with another race, it generally means you're going to duke it out until one or the other survives. Then, if you have enough of an empire left, you can continue to expand. MOO2 always struck me more like one of these many 4X games where space has a consortium of races, with politics playing too much of a role. I loved Star Trek's universe for example, but I hated how everything was politics, and not, say, economics. Somehow, I feel it all falls back to the ship design psychology, but I may be wrong.

[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352542649' post='4999605']
Well, almost everything I almost always had all 8 utility "slots" filled. The time machine that allows you to take 2 turns instead 1, is obviously a must. Targetting system (x3 hit chance for all beam weapons) is second must have. Of course the standard hull enlargement and structure enforcement (but no armour enforcement, I don't use that one). If it's missile launcher ship then of course the "double launch speed every second turn" is quite obvious, in case of heavily shielded ships probably shield matrix enchancement. Cloaking sometimes for some short range wepaons ships was nice. And many, many more.
Really, there was rarely space for weapons in my designs and it still made these ships superior to AI's I wildly enjoyed that it was not about "select a weapon type" when it comes to ship design, I never had this in any other game.
[/quote]
Hmm, you see that's where the approach differs. In VGA planets, the core designs come with these rule-breakers. You can outfit them in one way or another, but everyone knows that an Evil Empire's scout will be a warper, so if you see its name anywhere, and you think its trying to escape, you won't try to run after it because it will vanish the next turn.
What I feel your appeal may be is to conjure interesting combinations using these 'utility' slots, as they all bend the rules of the game. I think that calls for good gameplay, but may bring too much attention to ship design, that might be spent on other micro-management, but I see your point and agree that it makes for a viable product.


EDIT:
Also, the thinking behind getting the best tech upgrade for every slot only works so long as there isn't any in-game encouragement to do otherwise.
One of the best encouragements in VGA Planets is that each starbase has its own set of levels (hull, engine, beams & torps). It costs a hefty bit to upgrade every sb to full (that's a lot of ships you won't build if you do that). However, erecting a sb on certain planets gets either the hull, engine, beam or torp to start at full (level 10) which means you can produce the components from these bases and get all items to a single sb to built your final 'top tier' ship. But more often than not, its better to just build what you can afford, choosing somewhere between quality and quantity (you want just enough to survive a fight vs a similar ship and repair, but any additionnal strength is a waste and may end up costing you the numbers advantage). Edited by Orymus3
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I have been thinking about micromanagement. Is is just a personal preference if one likes it or not or if it is always bad? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micromanagement_%28gameplay%29#Controversy_about_micromanagement_in_games I think, if we talk about turn based games it's always negative (with extemely rare case of players who might like it) and should be avoided if possible. I suppose most players do not loathe micromanagement nearly as much as I do, but still, they at least dislike it.

[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1352559226' post='4999646']I think that calls for good gameplay, but may bring too much attention to ship design, that might be spent on other micro-management[/quote]I just thought, maybe you want to make a game about simulating peaceful growth of a space empire without warfare? You know, if you like the economy better you are not obligued to make a wargame. You could go for economy space empire builder or something in that style. Just a thought.
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Obviously, different people like different types and amounts of ship design, micromanagement, logistics etc, and discussing which existing game is "better" implies a lot of talking past each other.
It might be more productive to consider the OP's issue (design what you want vs getting a fixed set of race specific designs) from a more objective viewpoint.[list]
[*]Custom designs aren't very newbie friendly. If I the game gives me a "freighter" design I can trust its weapons to be different from the freighters of other races but appropriate; if I have to design my own freighters, there is a wide variety of non-obvious errors I can make (arming them too much, making them too expensive or reducing capacity below important thresholds; optimizing for the wrong enemies; weapons that are good for fighters or bombers but not as point defense; and more if the system is complex).
[*]Not being newbie-friendly doesn't make custom designs automatically expert-friendly. Can you make something novel and specialized to enable an unusual strategy, or only choose a point within a familiar continuum of trade-offs? Can you adapt your fleet to the situation, or building ships is a blind bet?
[*]Custom designs need to matter. If my exotic missiles and lasers and targeting systems and my multiple layers and types of armor and shields on separate ship locations end up consolidated into DPS and defense figures that feed an abstract whole-fleet mathematical model of casualties, a slider labeled "attack <--> defense" would have been simpler to implement, easier to balance, more honest and equally strategic. All ship customizations the player makes need to be shown; extremely custom designs [i]require[/i] tactical combat with direct player control, while familiar standard designs can be sent into fleet battles against known enemy standard designs with no more player control than checking fleet sizes and compositions before battle and casualties after battle.
[*]Custom designs even out race differences. Giving every race the means to "max out" the exact same set of good ship designs is going to make races irrelevant, but providing a gap between what each race does easily and what's actually needed can be a good challenge. Having qualitatively different strategies for each race would be great, but you only need enough differences to make replaying the game interesting.
[/list]
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[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352632340' post='4999868']
I just thought, maybe you want to make a game about simulating peaceful growth of a space empire without warfare? You know, if you like the economy better you are not obligued to make a wargame. You could go for economy space empire builder or something in that style. Just a thought.
[/quote]

That thought crossed my mind actually, and I think it would be viable, but I was worried that interaction with another living species might feel 'boring'. Since I really wanted to avoid adding in 'trading' capabilities, warfare seemed like the only viable way to render the feeling of survival and hopelessness I wanted to create. You 'can' meet other people, you just won't be so happy you did ;)
This brings forth another question regarding what the winning condition should be, or whether it be a sandbox 'neverending' game.

[quote name='LorenzoGatti' timestamp='1352642558' post='4999903']
Custom designs aren't very newbie friendly. If I the game gives me a "freighter" design I can trust its weapons to be different from the freighters of other races but appropriate; if I have to design my own freighters, there is a wide variety of non-obvious errors I can make (arming them too much, making them too expensive or reducing capacity below important thresholds; optimizing for the wrong enemies; weapons that are good for fighters or bombers but not as point defense; and more if the system is complex).
[/quote]
Indeed, I think fixed design ensures an 'even start' for everyone.

[quote name='LorenzoGatti' timestamp='1352642558' post='4999903']
Not being newbie-friendly doesn't make custom designs automatically expert-friendly. Can you make something novel and specialized to enable an unusual strategy, or only choose a point within a familiar continuum of trade-offs? Can you adapt your fleet to the situation, or building ships is a blind bet?
[/quote]
One of the main concerns I have here is that its terribly hard to decouple custom ships and heavy tech tree. Most if not all 4X games that have allowed for custom ship design have included a very complex tech tree that can generally takeaway the victory of its own accord. It is very hard for me to determine whether my lack of fun during this experience was due to my inability to alter outcomes based on the ship design per se, or because I was simply out-teched or out-teching the opponent. If I've researched a level 99 beam weapon and you have level 3 beams, then whatever I do with my design, so long as I have at least one of them, I'm pretty much guaranteed victory.
Regarding technology advancement, and to insure there is more emphasis on choices, techs should not give so much of an advantage.
VGA Planet's approach once again supports this more efficiently: instead of researching a tech tree, it assumes you already know these techs, its just a matter of having the infrastructures to build it. Each individual starbase you build need to be upgraded to a level of infrastructure that allows you to build them, so it further increases your investment by creating an efficient currency drain, without actually ever increasing your technological advancement.
In most other games, there is a science investment race you need to invest it, otherwise, you will simply lose.

[quote name='LorenzoGatti' timestamp='1352642558' post='4999903']
Custom designs need to matter. If my exotic missiles and lasers and targeting systems and my multiple layers and types of armor and shields on separate ship locations end up consolidated into DPS and defense figures that feed an abstract whole-fleet mathematical model of casualties, a slider labeled "attack <--> defense" would have been simpler to implement, easier to balance, more honest and equally strategic. All ship customizations the player makes need to be shown; extremely custom designs require tactical combat with direct player control, while familiar standard designs can be sent into fleet battles against known enemy standard designs with no more player control than checking fleet sizes and compositions before battle and casualties after battle.
[/quote]
Tim Wisseman (dev for VGA Planets) created a limitation to emulate this: ship battles are always 1on1. So if one ship attacks 10 others, he will have 10 duels in a specific order to accomplish. While I think this limitation reduces a lot of strategical elements such as concentration of forces, it does emphasize the importance of every single ship. It also allowed him to craft a rock-paper-scissor mechanic that was well rendered on-screen: shields, armor and crew are three different 'life' meters, and you can attack with beams, torpedoes and fighers, some of which can focus on killing crew, and beams can intercept fighters, etc). There are few, but rather straightforward variables you can quickly understand but take a long time to master.
Translating this into Ships vs Ships can be tricky, as you need to implement clever AI (target what, move where, etc) or allow player input.
I don't want this game to be about reflexes, and it doesn't need to be an rts, thus, I would refrain from using player input in battles as much as possible (this simply isn't thought as 'that' game type, and I feel it would be out of context/add too much effort).
I'm also ok with a flawed AI, and I think allowing the player to customize the AI could be a nice feature, but the rest of the game pretty much consumes the designspace already, so I wouldn't want to make it any heavier on them.
So, dumb, dull AI (ala Gratuitous Space Battles' default AI). That also emphasizes the idea of having not-so-custom ship designs. For example, let's say I take the previous example of the Little Joe Escort. Who's to say he doesn't have an AI bias that commands it to always attack/hunt down fighters, then smaller ships? It would be 'in-character' with the ship. Then, another design heavy on torpedoes/missiles might always target the largest ship possible and act as a bomber. Basically, I could hardcore their AI accordingly with their design, and create some form of variance based on what's been equiped, or allow the player a choice of a few orders they can set out of combat (aggressive, defensive, intercept, etc)

[quote name='LorenzoGatti' timestamp='1352642558' post='4999903']
Custom designs even out race differences. Giving every race the means to "max out" the exact same set of good ship designs is going to make races irrelevant, but providing a gap between what each race does easily and what's actually needed can be a good challenge. Having qualitatively different strategies for each race would be great, but you only need enough differences to make replaying the game interesting.
[/quote]
I think that's what made VGA Planets (and Starcraft by extension) so appealing. There are die-hard Borgs out there, that would never cut it as a Reptilian because it requires a radically different playstyle. I briefly considered making custom designs, but limiting the components themselves. For example, Race A would have Access to Beam 1-10 levels, whereas Race B would have levels 1-5, but they would be cheaper, and they'd get 1 or 2 extra beams not part of the regular tech, that are especially good at killing crew to capture ships. I'm still considering to add a layer of that, but I don't think it is sufficient to be the core difference between races: radically different hulls has a much more profound impact.
Also, it has two main advantages that I can see:
- easier to balance (can relatively quickly test everything out, rather than face the countless possibilities)
- can work out their looks: by making fixed original designs, I can put some effort on actually rendering them on-screen. Anyone familiar with the Star Trek universe recognizes a Bird of Prey. Anyone familiar with Star Wars knows what an X-Wing is, just by looking at it. Within reasonable time, you can quickly identify what kind of threat this might pose, regardless of the tech level put on them. For example, the X-Wing fires several beams, but generally no torpedoes (I think the Y-Wing does?).
Being able to make recognizable designs really helps in this type of heavy games because it creates instant references that you might otherwise have to look into.
My custom-ship design equivalent came with a cap: you could only have 10-15 active designs at once. If you wanted a new core design, you'd have to scrap ships.
The problem here is that everyone of these ships would be exactly alike, whereas, using pre-defined hulls, you could still alter the techs inside of it without dramatically altering the outcomes.

Thank you guys, this is really helping me figure things out :)
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[quote name='Orymus3' timestamp='1352648640' post='4999932']
[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352632340' post='4999868']
I just thought, maybe you want to make a game about simulating peaceful growth of a space empire without warfare? You know, if you like the economy better you are not obligued to make a wargame. You could go for economy space empire builder or something in that style. Just a thought.
[/quote]

That thought crossed my mind actually, and I think it would be viable, but I was worried that interaction with another living species might feel 'boring'. Since I really wanted to avoid adding in 'trading' capabilities, warfare seemed like the only viable way to render the feeling of survival and hopelessness I wanted to create. You 'can' meet other people, you just won't be so happy you did ;)
This brings forth another question regarding what the winning condition should be, or whether it be a sandbox 'neverending' game.
[/quote]The answer is obvious, the goal is to annihilate all remaining players. Yes there could be alternatives or other variants, but it still boils down to some form of total annihilation (as the default and most usual winning condition). If it is not, it's not 4X game...

I really think you should consider choosing a different genre, from your posts it seems quite clear that you don't like wargames. Don't make a kind of game you don't like, it never works.

Maybe go into direction of Settlers where warfare is extremely simplified and just a side activity while economy management is the primary task?
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[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352649872' post='4999937']
I really think you should consider choosing a different genre, from your posts it seems quite clear that you don't like wargames. Don't make a kind of game you don't like, it never works.
[/quote]

That would actually be inaccurate. I'm a big fan of wargame, but I'm trying to do something else. I did lose countless hours to many of the 4X genre games, and I'm Diamond on SC2 leaderboards, so warfare is also my thing (especially in realtime though). However, I strongly feel there is a genre there that is under-exploited, but I have no idea of the size of the demographics it entails.

[quote name='Acharis' timestamp='1352649872' post='4999937']
Maybe go into direction of Settlers where warfare is extremely simplified and just a side activity while economy management is the primary task?
[/quote]
I might go about and do this, however, it would be shifting the problem I'm seeing with another.
In most 4X games, everything you do ends up in a science race: whoever gets the strongest economy gets the best ship components, and quickly, their ships are stronger. Through sheer concentration of force they win, and its not so much a wargame to me as would be games like Blitzkrieg or even commonground rts such as SC2.
VGA Planets takes one step back, and instead of giving major advantages for scientific upgrades, they have you focus on logistics, which is something you can never stop doing properly, else you lose your advantage. The existence of freighter makes it that much more interesting as, even if you have the biggest fleet on the outskirt ready to take over the opponent, you probably can't risk sending them without resupplying them. And your enemy, if they have fast-enough ships, can out-manoeuvre you, attack your freighters, and put your fleet in a position of weakness while they scavenge your planets.

Now, I don't want economy to be so detailed that it allows you to take the victory; I think what you do with your ships should determine victory and defeat. Economy helps, in its own way, but its mostly a question of: can you let your planets deliver their 100% rather than help these planets deliver 10000%.

In other words, in VGA Planets, a ship is always worthy. It doesn't matter if you are 200 turns into the game, and that your opponent's starbases are maxed out on tech. If you can produce a small scout, it can harrass, explore, scavenge, and chances are it can smoothen the shields of an ehemy battleship. In any other 4X games I've played, low-tech ships quickly become obsolete. Translating from a scientific model to an economic model would probably just increase the amount of spaceships you can produce, changing the quality problem into quantity. I feel this is not acceptable because it would lead to much larger fleets where only numbers matter.

I guess you could sum up my position by making each individual ship matter more, thus, increasing their costs radically compared to other games. One ship can destroy a starbase, one ship can kill many others if refueled, repaired and resupplied and well-manned (you gotta pick the fights you can win, but it works).
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You said you don't want to have it focused on warfare and not be about trade and not about research race also I recall you posted it should not be about politics and diplomacy either. Well, to me it leaves just an option to make a galactic love sim :D
Sorry, I can't help you more, I simply do not understand what kind of game you want to make.
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Perhaps I need to clarify.
It totally needs to be about warfare, but not quality nor quantity. Most 4X games focus on either very advanced tech to overpower the enemy, or large numbers. Here, tactics are more important: where you send your ship matters more than their tech level or numbers. Sure, having more helps you cover more ground and helps you be at more places, but at the cost of concentration of forces. If you spread out, you can't effectively take over a well defended base and so on.
I'd like a game where the player always controls less than 100 ships, in fact, if it could be below 40, all the better. Most games assume a ridiculous ratio where the planet:ship ratio is something like 1:1 or 1:>1. I'm interested in 1:<1

You are right though, no science if possible (infrastructures hardly qualify as science imo). Trade can happen, but the game won't create fancy UIs for that. If players want to trade, they'll do so using in-game mechanics such as messaging one another, dropping resources on the opponent's planet, etc. Politics will be a byproduct, but nothing formal will hold: no contract, just words.

I can see why this is confusing, but there's been a lot of games like that, but they are generally in the serious games or simulation labels rather than mainstream games :P
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Check out Starship Unlimited. It's an old game where you had 3 or 4 ships at the most. It could have benefit from a few more, but it's old and was pretty nice back in the day.

I see where you're going with this and it sounds like a good idea. The biggest challenge is making sure stack strategies do not become dominant. You don't want players creating huge armies and going from planet to planet obliterating everything. How to do it properly I don't know for sure. Resupplying sounds like a good deterrent. If you have too many ships around a planet, they would drain its resources faster than it can produce it, stranding them or requiring you to have a big supply fleet.

I think going up an abstraction level would work well. Instead of moving ships to specific tiles, give them missions like disrupt supply lines, sabotage communication satellites, etc. This would allow the player to wage the economic war instead of going all out in one glorious battle. The success of missions depends on the defensive missions the enemy assigned. The nice thing is you can do covert ops more easily like this. In standard 4X games, if you send a small squad to disrupt enemy lines, they will get crushed fast. With this system, they can do their thing and bail out when they get detected. That would work well to defeat the stack strategy because you cannot react fast enough to counter enemy missions. They would happen simultaneously so if you have all your ships at one planet, all other planets are completely vulnerable to whatever is coming their way.
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[quote name='Tiblanc' timestamp='1352816117' post='5000578']
Check out Starship Unlimited. It's an old game where you had 3 or 4 ships at the most. It could have benefit from a few more, but it's old and was pretty nice back in the day.
[/quote]

The name popped into my researches, I'll give it a try thanks! Most of my research revolves around retro-dos titles...

[quote name='Tiblanc' timestamp='1352816117' post='5000578']
The biggest challenge is making sure stack strategies do not become dominant.
[/quote]
That's one of the things I'm also very concerned about, but basically, each species comes with its own set of rules and limitations, and I do not anticipate this to be as much of a problem as it could be otherwise. Not only are ships very pricy (especially in finite resources) and that they require to be supported (fuel, supplies, ordnance, etc) but they also have their own limitations. Overall, it will be hard to dominate, in fact, I don't anticipate a player without any opponent would even be able to easily capture the entire system, nor would he care to.

[quote name='Tiblanc' timestamp='1352816117' post='5000578']
If you have too many ships around a planet, they would drain its resources faster than it can produce it, stranding them or requiring you to have a big supply fleet.
[/quote]
I actually have a race that behaves like that: it simply can't stay on a world for long, which implies most of its fleet is always spent towards colonizing new planets so that 'the resource flow' (winks at Dune's universe).

[quote name='Tiblanc' timestamp='1352816117' post='5000578']
Instead of moving ships to specific tiles, give them missions like disrupt supply lines, sabotage communication satellites, etc.
[/quote]
The game will be pixel-based, not tile-based. As a result, it will be easy to micro-manage interceptions, etc. Thus, there is no need for abstraction. An intercept course will try to match the X,Y of the intercept target and will be triggered once both ships end up at the same coordinates, etc. This does allow each player to play the economic war by using speed as their advantage to override interceptions and intercept ships of their own (freighters).
In VGA Planets, a well-cloaked ship could come in undetected, capture or kill a few freighters (then the opposing force would bring ships of their own). By that time, the cloaked ship would be long gone and the its action had acted as a good decoy.
I think that game captured the essence of doing more with less; there were no mentions of 'intelligence' or 'covert ops' anywhere in the game, but because the mechanics and map system were so great, people started to develop these strategies.

Spreading out will be one of many viable strategies that I've identified as something that I want to support. Each species have a set of strategies that work well, and others that are suboptimal (sometimes your core strategy is hosed and you need to do something else). During each review of the product, I intend on making sure these strategies remain viable and still make sense. In fact, racial bonuses/special rules and ship designs are to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of these species, and in turn, make these strategies stand out as optimal. There will be options, but not all strategies will be equal. For example, I don't anticipate player A and B to employ the same strategy to the same level of efficiency as species won't be on par with that strategy. This will avoid stagnation in the game (very few players can actually turtle, and they aren't aggressive in the same way, which avoids stalemates).
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