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4 X Economy & Layers

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Hi,

I'm currently in the process of designing my own 4X game (Galciv, Master of Orion series, etc).
The end product is to encompass more logistic than warfare, and as a result, I'm faced with the concept of what kind of economy I want to lay down, and how complex it should be.

I've already discarded all abstracted models (Galciv and Master of Orion for example) because they do not emphasize enough on micro-management of resources. I've been looking at a few examples such as Star Knights, and of course, VGA Planets.


VGA PLANETS
On the one hand, VGA Planets uses a very simplistic system based on 4 resources. You mine planets dry, carry the resources you need to your base, and build the components you need.
The resources are as follows:
Neutronium - Fuel (a consumable resource you load onto constructed ship to travel distances).
Tritanium - Mineral employed to build most ships
Duranium - Mineral employed in armors (armored ships) and starbase construction
Molybdenum - Rare superconductive mineral employed for high power / high tech component. Generally speaking, the higher tech the component is, the more Molybdenum it requires, in which case it essentially plays the same role as the Vespene gas in Starcraft.

The idea is that, in varying degrees, you need all of these for your empire to run, and you should avoid a shortage of any given mineral, or else, risk annihilation. In fact, if you're out of Tritanium for instance, it might actually be worthwhile to colonize an otherwise worthless planet that has 'scarce and rare amounts of Tritanium'. It could, in the end, give you that one shipment you need to complete the construction of a large freighter and continue your expanse to the next 'gold mine' planet.

The Pro here is that its relatively easy to manage: you need all of them, the more the better. When you see a number going down, you just keep on the lookout for that specific resource and shift your attention to planets that could give a better output of that resource and invest your supplies there to build more mines. Straightforward and simple.

The Con here is that resources matter more or less. Fuel certainly does, but everything else if a bit bland. Also, it assumes that once you've unearthed the minerals, they are instantly refined and usable. I feel it really takes one layer away from the importance of a strong economy. You essentially have two types of planets: colonies that serve as mining operations, and colonies that serve as 'assembling stations' where you turn these minerals into ships, fully equiped with top of the notch equipment.
This gives the player little reason to spread out or invest massively on the outskirts of his empire unless there is a very rich planet.

While it *works* I feel there is something missing. If you look at VGA Planet 4 (which I haven't played) I know they've brought the idea of refining the minerals. For example, you mine 'ores' which you need to process to actual minerals and then use. It only adds a linear layer (Duranium ore becomes Duranium mineral) but it feels like it adds a little depht. Depending on how this is achieve, you could have planets that specialize into being 'refineries'. Say you've colonized a cluster of 9 planets, there could be 8 mining operations, and one central refinery. Small freighters would bring resources from the mines to the refinery, and a larger freighter would make a convoy to your base. This adds a bit more depth, but it doesn't change the relationship the player has with each mineral type.

STAR KNIGHTS
Star Knights is an altogether different story.
It uses a system where resources are gathered, and then mixed-and-matched into various second-level resources, which in turn are used to produce components, which are part of ship-building.

Here is the breakdown of the resources:
GE Oxide
AI Oxide
Iron
Titanium
Coal
Silicon
Germanium
Gold
Pretroleum
Uranium
Hydrogen

Each of these resources can only be found on certain planet types (iron is generally common to nearly all types, but wetlands are primary sources of GE and AI Oxide, whereas Rock planets are good for gold, etc).
This first layer already forces the player to control different planets, not based on their inherent richness, but on the resources they can produce.

Through various means, the player is able to use the previous resources to assemble into other resources which are generally not naturally found on a planet:

Steel (Iron+Coal assembled at a Foundry with energy)
Aluminum (AI Oxide processed at an electrolysisPlant with a lot of energy)
Germanium (GE Oxide processed at an electrolysis Plant with a lot of energy)
Advanced Chip (Silicon, Germanium, Gold & Energy at an Electronic Plant)
Carbon Fiber (Coal, at a chemistry plant, with some energy)
Electronic Chip (Silicon + Gold with energy at an electronic plant)
Polymer (with Petroleum at a chemistry plant)
Explosives (with Petroleum at a chemistry plant)
Plutonium (using Uranium at a nuclear plant)
SupraConductor (using Titanium and Iron at a Foundry with a lot of energy)

Then, pushing this even further, it is possible to assemble other resources from the previous:

Buiding Structures units (Steel + Aluminum at a Factory)
Ship Structures units (Advanced chips + aluminum + Carbon fiber at a factory)
Component Structures (Carbon Fiber + Electronic Chips at a Factory)
Nanostructures (Polymer at a XMatter Lab)
Powercell (Polymer + Plutonium at an electronic plant)
Anti-matter (Hydrogen at an XMatter Lab)
Magnetic Cell (Supraconductor at an XMatter Lab)

and these components are then used to produce actual ship parts such as follows:
Magnetic cells are used in warpdrives
Anti-matter is used in shields
Power-cells are used in drives
Nanostructures and explosives in missiles
Crystal and diamond is used in lasers
ETC


The economy is thus core to this game. It is actually impossible to expand your fleet without controlling at least a dozen well developed planets, and the delivery of components across all planets can become a pain, but it IS fun, if not perhaps a bit too limiting.

The PRO here is that it adds for a layered economy, not only because you need all the resources, but because not every factory type can be built anywhere. You end up having many planets, of different types, scattered across the universe, just so you can supply your factories will all of the necessary components. The thought pattern for problem solving is actually straightforwards: If I'm lacking Component Structures to do what I want, then I need to look at a planet that produces Component structures and see why. Then I will see there may be a shortage of Carbon fiber. So I need to check places that are set to build carbon fibers, and see whether the problem is that I don't have enough places building carbon fibers, or if there is a shortage down below.
As Carbon fiber production depends solely on Coal and the amount of chemistry plant used to produce it, it can be either that I don't have enough coal-producing planets, or too few chemistry labs producing carbon fiber, etc. The end-result is generally fairly simple: I need a desert planet (a planet type generally rich in coal) is a very simple answer to an otherwise complex problem.

The CON here is that this system feels A - too complex and B - too artificial
A - While it is straightforward to identify the problem, it takes time, and you can't help but feel this system could've been simplified.
B - While the need for 'a desert planet' feels straightforwards, it eliminates the 'omphf' moment when scanning a planet for mineral and realizing this planet solves you problem. It also insures some combinations will never happen: I'll never luckily stumble on a planet that could, theoretically, produce carbon fiber on its own (have coal, ability to build a chemistry plant, etc). It takes away from the player's choice because of issue A.

---

What I'm looking is for a way to be in-between, that is, take advantage of a layered economy, but without it becoming too complex that I need to set arbitrary rules for the players not to get lost.

How many 'basic resources' and 'secondary' resources should there be before actually building components and ship hulls? I'm really looking for numbers/boundaries here so I can better adjust this design to a level that its both interesting but still fun and opened to creativity.
For flavor purposes, the idea of 'refining' appears to me less interesting than the idea of mixing resources to form 2nd level resources which resonate more with their purpose.

Thanks for reading this far if you did!

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I would go with quality levels. There would be few resources types, but they would have sub types. For example, Electronics would be a type with silicon chips and superconductors being sub types. When building something, you can use any sub type for a given category. Building a ship could require Metals, Electronics and Fuel. You could build a ship with Steel, Silicon chips and Petroleum or go with Titanium, Superconductors and Elerium. You could also mix and match quality levels.

The point here is to allow different strategies to emerge. The 2 main types are quality and quantity. Depending on the availability of raw materials, you could adapt your economy to optimize your output. If raw materials are abundant, going with a quantity strategy is optimal because it allows you to field more ships in a given amount of time. As materials get rare, it becomes better to invest time to turn them into higher quality components. One key aspect is to allow any sub type to become any other sub type. A low quality iron ore could be worked into a high quality armor, but would require much more time and energy than if you started with a high quality metal.

The advantage is you cannot lack any key resources so economics work at small and large scales.

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If you have a bigset of buildings some resources need to go through to become something like a ship engine, you could provide buildings or areas where there are multiple buildings, so the player can build an "engine building complex" or something instead of a huge array of various buildings.

Doing it manually should of course allow for more efficient design and all.

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What I'm hearing from you (please correct me if I'm wrong) is to keep the complexity of the raw materials (ie: the requirement for mining planets) and also the complexity of the assembly (ie: requiring a number of components for assembly) whilst doing away with the complexity of the production chain and its inherent logistics issues.

May I suggest abstracting the production chain then?

Maybe you can do away with the need for specific refining planets and just abstract to an overall "empire industrial capacity". So your mining planets stay as is. You colonise a planet with resources, and setup mining facilities. Your assembly planets stay as is. You colonise a planet a setup assembly plants (such as shipyards, construction yards etc). Then at the Empire level have a single industrial capacity. Have your assembly planets able to build the various refineries, and they go into a central Empire pool which is able to refine that resource from any location in the Empire. Then your assembly plants just take the components from the central pool.

What this does is it eliminates that entire layer of shipping materials between various planets on their journey through the production chains, whilst keeping the complexity of colonising and protecting resource planets.

If I can direct your attention to the following screenshot which shows how the Imperialism series (from the 90's) did it:
manufacturing.jpg

And I have to admit, it abstracted this well and it really provided for the game. On the question of internal trade and piracy, the game abstracted this level too and you had a central pool of transport ships. As you as you had more transport slots than resources, you had access to the full resource amount. If there was less, you would have to choose which resources were transported, and which were not (see screenshot below). You didn't need to transport refined materials (such as steel). Pirates could blockade your on-map ports (you could have it at the system level) and there was a chance they would intercept those resources. You'd have to send in troops to dislodge the pirates (or enemy ships if at war and they blockaded you). The whole game became a battle between transporting resources from the New World to help industrialise your nation so you could build the ships and troops necessary to defend those resources and expand.

Screenshot showing allocation of transport ships to resources:
Transportation_-_Imperialism_II_game.JPG

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Personally I've never been interested in managing basic resources, especially if I have a couple dozen planets and colonies to control.

What I do think would be really interested is adding rare materials into a 4x game. These rare materials would impact research and ship equipment. For instance using SG-1 as an example lets say you find a a planet with a rare element called Nequdria. Now once you find that you can research Nequdria based hyper drives which then allow you to build hyper drives for your ships that are 1/4 of the normal sizes but require Nequdria. These smaller drivers now give you a tactical advantage over other players who don't have access to Nequdria. The down side being though depending on extraction facilities you only produce 1 ton of Nequdria a turn just enough to build 1 hyper drive. So your fleet construction is limited so you might only use it for the top of the range ships or just limit yourself to 1 ship a turn. It provides new strategic options as well as now it make sense to setup colonies on less useful and more remote worlds. It might be worth building a mining base on a distant planet just to get access to a second source of Nequdria. It also means other players can better plan their attacks by targeting worlds that provide key resources to cripple opponents. Especially if the player never develops non-Nequdria based hyperdrives.

You could even if you wanted make some rare resources have limited amounts on a planet. For instance lets say you addict to you race to rare fungus that makes them completely happy and more productive. But your home world only has enough bliss fungus to last 50 more turns if you don't find another source by then it will riots and anarchy across the empire.

This way the players basic resource management is focuses on the standard production, income, research, food. Plus you have complex higher level resource management, which can tie into all aspects of the game. After all he who controls the spice controls the universe.

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@Tiblanc: Your idea could do, but I really want to emphasize shortage and its effect on the game. One of the reasons for this is that I believe a 4X game may tend to go on forever. If you deal a crippling blow to your enemy's economy (by, say, disallowing him permanent or temporary access to ability to produce shields or beam weaponry for example) it should lead to a downfall of that player and shorten the game. Always having alternatives just makes it artificially longer with comebacks, etc. I think keeping it more finite and black&white makes it easier to see the danger of space and plan accordingly. As a result, a player using a single base to mine a specific good will FEEL vulnerable, and so should he.


If you have a bigset of buildings some resources need to go through to become something like a ship engine, you could provide buildings or areas where there are multiple buildings, so the player can build an "engine building complex" or something instead of a huge array of various buildings.

I';m not sure I understand, but that's what I feel I'm rolling with. There would be only few buildings in total, but they would have production queue options. The Armory, for example, could produce pretty much any type of weapon, but if you plan on producing a larger fleet, you'll need to have more than one Armory, and its requirements in terms of power would be so high that you'd need to build the other one offsite (on another planet).


What I'm hearing from you (please correct me if I'm wrong) is to keep the complexity of the raw materials (ie: the requirement for mining planets) and also the complexity of the assembly (ie: requiring a number of components for assembly) whilst doing away with the complexity of the production chain and its inherent logistics issues.

Not quite. I do want to keep the complexity of raw materials, and I do want the complexity of the production chain and its inherent logistics issues. What I want to avoid is to have too many components that feel too narrow and reduce player decisions. I felt like Star Knights had probably one too many layers in their economy:
Layer 1 - Core Resources (Gold, Iron, etc)
Layer 2 - Secondary Resources (Aluminum, Steel)
Layer 3 - Tertiary Resources {With use} (Structure component, ship component)
Layer 4 - Ship components (Laser Array, missile launcher, cargo pod, etc).

I feel like Layer 3 and 4 should be merged. Layers 1 and 2 had too many different products and it quickly became hard to have an understanding of the general economy.
I would cut on materials found in layer 1 (I'm currently messing around with 5 of them only, and see what interesting combos I can mix up for layer 2).
Layer 3 should really be usable items that result in something that is no longer a resource. So, for example, a ship's Beam Canon should be made from components of the layer 2. As a layer 3 resource, it is loaded in a ship design as its weapon. It is no longer considered a resource. Likewise, a construction unit would be consumed to build a new mine, but it wouldn't be transformed into a new resource. Everything that is in layer 3 has a finite use.


What I do think would be really interested is adding rare materials into a 4x game. These rare materials would impact research and ship equipment. For instance using SG-1 as an example lets say you find a a planet with a rare element called Nequdria.

Star Knights does use that. Crystals are a natural-occuring resource you will find on the surface of some planets you explore. Rarely in amounts larger than 5, they can be picked up, but there's simply no harvesting them. High-tech weaponry relies on the use of crystals, so the more you 'find' the better (there's no real other way to acquire them, except when trading with other players through the stock market, but they, too, need to have found it). It brought that sense of rarity. I like how it allows a player to build a 'superior' component in a way that having the largest empire in the world wouldn't buy. If you're lucky, or out-manoeuvre your opponents, you can have a small empire, but defend it with sheer might. It will take larger numbers to overcome ships using crystals, and thus it encourages exploration of faraway lands.

Your concept seems to imply the planet would have this resource as something that can be mined, but at an extreme low efficiency. VGA Planets did that generally with Molybdenum. This was a rare resource, and most of the time, it was 'scattered' (this heavily reduce the rate at which it was harvested) and rare (which reduced the maximum amount of resource you could harvest from the planet in total). Better techs (tech 6+) would have large molybdenum costs, which often meant that you'd value quantity over quality and go with lower techs on more ships. This allowed you to cover more ground, thus, be on the offensive most of the time, but an enemy with a tech 9-10 arsenal would wreck your ships if they attacked, thus you'd be left picking at their undefended planets.

So your idea has put in light that my current intentions are a bit flawed. I have, all things considered, no 'vespene gas' equivalent (high-tier resource).
My initial approach was to specialize each resource in a given field. For example, energy and beam-weaponry are produced through crystalline resources. Missiles through radioactives. I have no 'rare resource' whose sole purpose is to be rare and be a means to empower a tech. Thanks for putting that in light!

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@Orymus3

Ahhh gotcha. If it's just the number of levels in the production chain, you could drop it back to three. In fact, some resources don't even need to be three. There's no rule saying each resource needs to go through those number of steps.

I would say that something needs to be pretty special to have four steps. Maybe only the highest level of ship or defensive space station requires four levels. That way it feels more special as you've put more work into building it. Thus, those two things have been raised in value above the normal stuff.
Edited by BRRGames

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I meant that, have a complex economy with a long chain of buildings you need to transform your metal ores and gases into space ship modules.

Now, allow the player to build those buildings individually (perhaps have the buildings be modules, and allow installing those modules on spaceships? would be cool.) which allows optimizing it. But, also add some pre-designed module combinations or something, which contain all the buildings required to transform your ores and gases into something usable.

eg.
Pros would do it 1 by 1, placing every building optimally without any overcapacity.
ores->metals->primitive components->components->module

Not-so-pros would construct a combined module (i dont know, industry module, ______ complex?)
ores->______complex->module


So you have the complex industry, and allow the player to make a complex network with complex logistics to make it as efficient as possible. But, you also have these "pre-designed" setups which you can build to get access to some collection of high-level objects by throwing in a bunch of resources.

Perhaps even allow the players define their own "pre-designed" factory complexes to make them more efficient than the ones provided.

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What I do think would be really interested is adding rare materials into a 4x game. These rare materials would impact research and ship equipment. For instance using SG-1 as an example lets say you find a a planet with a rare element called Nequdria.

Star Knights does use that. Crystals are a natural-occuring resource you will find on the surface of some planets you explore. Rarely in amounts larger than 5, they can be picked up, but there's simply no harvesting them. High-tech weaponry relies on the use of crystals, so the more you 'find' the better (there's no real other way to acquire them, except when trading with other players through the stock market, but they, too, need to have found it). It brought that sense of rarity. I like how it allows a player to build a 'superior' component in a way that having the largest empire in the world wouldn't buy. If you're lucky, or out-manoeuvre your opponents, you can have a small empire, but defend it with sheer might. It will take larger numbers to overcome ships using crystals, and thus it encourages exploration of faraway lands.

Your concept seems to imply the planet would have this resource as something that can be mined, but at an extreme low efficiency. VGA Planets did that generally with Molybdenum. This was a rare resource, and most of the time, it was 'scattered' (this heavily reduce the rate at which it was harvested) and rare (which reduced the maximum amount of resource you could harvest from the planet in total). Better techs (tech 6+) would have large molybdenum costs, which often meant that you'd value quantity over quality and go with lower techs on more ships. This allowed you to cover more ground, thus, be on the offensive most of the time, but an enemy with a tech 9-10 arsenal would wreck your ships if they attacked, thus you'd be left picking at their undefended planets.

So your idea has put in light that my current intentions are a bit flawed. I have, all things considered, no 'vespene gas' equivalent (high-tier resource).
My initial approach was to specialize each resource in a given field. For example, energy and beam-weaponry are produced through crystalline resources. Missiles through radioactives. I have no 'rare resource' whose sole purpose is to be rare and be a means to empower a tech. Thanks for putting that in light!
[/quote]


I was actually thinking something different what I was thinking that each planet would have say a 10% chance of having a rare resource on it. Most planets wouldn't have any. Rare resources would allow you earlier access to substantially better equipment. So getting access to Nequadria would allow you to build the equivalent of a level 5 hyper drives without the need to even research level 1 hyper drives. You can then continue to research Nequadria based hyper drives to get better and better hyper drives all of which require Nequadria to build. However if you lose access to Nequadria or use all your reserves then you'd have to start research of level 1 basic hyper drives to be able to build any more ships, and those new ships would be significantly less effective then your current fleet. Or seek new sources of Nequadria.

So rather then having higher tier ships require a more rare substance then lower tier ships. What I was thinking of was having rare substances be important strategic assets.

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Deadlock 2 had a nice quality system. There was iron, steel alloy, elernium (or whatever it was called), elernium allow. These all were the same "metal", you could just use iron all the time, no problem. But higher tier metals were worth more (you could refine iron into steel wich was worth 3 "metal points" as compared to "1 metal point" of iron). The game automaticly used up the highest (most efficient) metal type upon construction. So it was benefitial to make the higher tier metals, but if you forgot there was no problem in the form of stopped production.

As for logistics, I already said why I dislike it in other topic, so I will just add to my thoughts. I like the complex layered production mechanics, I loathe micromanaging every single ship that carry supply of toilet paper to a distant colony of my empire (it's not worthy of my position of the emperor you know :D). So I thought about fully automatic AI controled logistics. Something like Settlers had. You had to build the network (roads), you had to build supply depts (warehouses) and allocate enough resources for freighters (people that carry stuff). It was very interesting because you had to think about logistics in Settlers all the time, and the resources are comlex, yet you had never, ever, manually adjust the logistics (it's a system with heavily impotrant and complex logistics and zero logistics micromanagement, a very unique (and fun) combination).
I was thinking maybe like that. You define sectors (groups of planets) then assign transport ships to the sector (freighers, fuel carriers, passenger liners) and the AI had to manage these. You can see these routes, where each ship go to, what it carries, etc. But you can't change it. You can only adjust global, empire wide, priorities (what to carry first) and decide which sector (or to be more precise a local AI transport company :D) gets how many freighters. I think I would find it quite fun.

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