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Orymus3

"Research" System in 4X Games

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Hi,

 

Most 4X games I've seen over the past decade have been using the mainstream Research system (a system I've even seen employed in various other games, such as XCOM to state a contemporary title).

In essence, the system gives you resources (research points) that are a measure of time invested towards achieving a discovery in a given field.

In many 4X games, you have control over this resource by building variants of a research complex / science building of some sorts.

 

There are two side-effects of this system I'd like to discuss here:

 

1 - This creates a time reference where a game turn appears "longer" and "slower-paced"

The concept itself hints that you're actually doing the research in fields never before experimented with. Researches take time, and discoveries take even more. From the player's standpoint, if 5 game turns yield you a major discovery, you'd be tempted to count these turns in matter of months or years, and the overall relative time flow of the game will be affected.

 

2 - It becomes a "must" as it increases exponentially your army's efficiency, and it becomes impossible to achieve victory with sub-par technology

Let's face it, most 4X games are won by technology. Efficient ship design will not matter, not matter how well you can concentrate your force, if your opponent's science is two notches ahead of you. And it's extremely hard for developers to balance technology in a way there there aren't necessarily bad choices.

In most games I've played, investing in economy, in an effort to bring numbers, was always much weaker than investing in tech and have the next-gen shield/laser.

It's not necessarily a bad thing, as a tech-race might be fun gameplay too (especially given the choices) but it generally gets old, especially after playing yout 101st 4X game in a row.

 

 

Therefore, I'd like to discuss an embryo of a suggestion I believe might work better, which assesses both of the previous side-effects.

 

The concept, in and of itself, is that rather than having the player perform the research of new technologies, they'd rather need to fit their infrastructures in order to support existing (but hardly mainstream) technologies.

This system supposes that Beams/Shields techs 1-10 already exist and are established facts amongst the scientific populace, but have yet to be used outside of their testing labs.

As a result, rather than invest in scientists and their labs to come up with proof of concept, all you need to do is retrofit your starbase with the necessary tools/components/resources to build such gear.

Each "technological advancement" is a sizeable investment you need to make in terms of resources, and just because one of your starbases has acquired the capability to produce tech 7 beams doesn't mean the others do.

This creates a form of localized investment which is repeatable and requires consideration.

 

It assesses # 1 in that it would be possible to think of a game turn as 1 day or 1 week, given that the tech already exists and only requires you to burn overtime hours in setting up your infrastructures to build it.

It assessed # 2 in that it hardly scales. While its quite possible that one of your starbase quickly becomes maxed out with high-tier components, it doesn't help you defend the outskirts as your built ships will require you to move the extra distance. Likewise, if you want several starbases to be maxed out, you'll be spending a hefty count of resources to keep them up to speed, and that will mean that much less ships in your fleet.

It also comes with a finite endpoint (say 10) so that it avoids power creeping past the initial state of investments.

 

More importantly, it can factor local resources and whatnot, in such a way that you can only produce level 10 beams from a specific starbase in your empire, which is nowhere near your level 10 shield starbase. Assembly requires you to ferry parts aboard large freighters and find a suitable starbase to assemble the actual ships.

 

I've been tinkering with such a system and I'm trying to find the potential pros/cons I may not have discovered so far.

 

Thoughts?

 

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This is definitely interesting. I must say, I'm not all that bothered by issue number one but it'd definitely be a pleasant change of pace to have it be a bit different.

I especially like that you would have to do this at each base separately  In a sense, total war games already have this sort of system though and I think it works well if implemented in a way you suggest.

 

You might want to consider merging the two systems in one, you could require the player to research certain technologies before they can even build them in teh way you suggested, but have a bunch of technologies ready at the start of the game.

It could be easier (faster and cheaper) to research technology if someone else has already discovered it.

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I'm not all that bothered by issue number one but it'd definitely be a pleasant change of pace to have it be a bit different.

That's why I call them side-effects. Its not irritating, and I can see the interest of going on the macro-level of 4x (more planets, longer time periods / distances) but it became clear to me that a 4x game focused on micro-management would have to have a different pace and that this was one of the obstacles from a "feel" perspective.

 

 

total war games already have this sort of system

I see what you mean, but the implementation would be drastically different here, as you pointed out.

 

 

You might want to consider merging the two systems in one, you could require the player to research certain technologies before they can even build them in teh way you suggested, but have a bunch of technologies ready at the start of the game.

 

Yeah, I actually thought of that as I typed it. But it does feel like a trap towards power creeping. I mean, sure, the distribution of starbases limits that, but if you can reach warp engines level 19181383, it won't matter that you operate from a single maxed out starbase because the speed gain will allow you to be virtually anywhere with 1 turn notice...

 

 

It could be easier (faster and cheaper) to research technology if someone else has already discovered it.

Interesting, but it does become a game of catching up, thus, making the research race more important. Getting an edge is possibly that much harder with this method, but there's no denying that the focus on research will be that much more important. People would literally cripple their economy to keep 1 level ahead of their opponent.

Perhaps it can be balanced though. Thanks for the idea smile.png

Edited by Orymus3

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I like the idea. Before getting into the meat of my response, I have follow-up questions:

 

-How do related technologies fit into the retrofitting scheme? I mean, how much is involved in going from Laser 2 at a starbase to Laser 3? I would have to imagine that it's not a dramatic change, maybe the base needs more power to use Laser 3 and obviously the physical weapon itself, but does that cost compare with, say, adding a new facility to the base?

 

-How would you handle more self-contained technologies? A rail gun needs power, but otherwise really just needs to be mounted into a window or general turret bay.

 

-What is required to re-fit a ship or station? Better weapons might need more power to operate, but I'm having trouble imagining what other major work would need to be done to install a new weapon system that has already been manufactured? By major, I mean large enough that it would register in a 4X as something that would take a turn. Maybe something like training operators to use the new system?

 

As for the concept, I admit I've never been bothered by either of the issues you raise. The time-scale for a turn usually isn't consistent across all applications within a single game (explicitly so in games like Civ, where the year is shown and each turn causes a varying number to pass), and the amount that it's possible to do in a turn is based around your empire's capacity to do them. So if you invest a lot in manufacturing capacity you can crank out facilities, ships, etc. very very quickly.

 

The "research race" aspect only becomes really heavy for me in longer games. A game of Master of Orion II can be won with poor research capacity as long as it's offset by something else, like high production capacity or espionage skill. A shorter game, involving a smaller map, causes non-research elements to be more important as you can't rely on executing a turtle-and-tech strategy. What's more, I feel like a heavy research lead should confer a serious advantage elsewhere. Having Laser 2 while your enemy only has Laser 1 shouldn't decide the game, but Laser 9 vs. Laser 2 probably ought to.

 

For me to feel comfortable with a system like this I would expect the game to have an explicitly short timescale, like, a whole game encompasses less than a century of simulated time. Production, population growth, and travel time would also have to be tweaked to fit. A standard 4X game typically encompasses centuries or millenia; I expect radical technological progress to be available over that span and I also expect there to be at least some differences in research capacity between groups. I might just be overly biased by the standard game model, but a game with a mechanism like you propose sounds like it would need to be structured very differently from other 4X's in most other respects as well.

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having technology increase your efficiëncy *exponentially* is a matter of numbers-tweaking, in most 4x-games i win with technological superiority because i was winning the game already, it just took some time, and i didn't stop researching in that time.

numbers-tweaking can mean making every next technology cost more(exponentionally, often) or making the technological improvements smaller relatively.

 

if technologies becoming cheaper when an opponent already discovered them the new strategy is lagging behind, getting the same technologies(eventually) yet having more resources available for other things.

(although usually we implement a certain spy-element here)

 

lastly, having multiple technologies available but only implementing one at a time means a player makes choices, instead on playing on "auto-pilot" which most players will enjoy(not all), but, the same can be said about discovering new technologies, so i realy wouldn't scrap that(though given as an option for a skirmish-game to start with all technologies could be a nice addition)

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Too complex.

 

I have been thinking about something similar as well and really liked it as a designer. But when I asked myself if I would want to play such game my answer was no... In a game I have a decision to make if I want to invest in industry or if in science.That's a strightforward decision. But here I would need to make a decision if I want invest in science, in industry or in a "science unlocker" in form of infrastructure that is required only to make the research usable. From my, the player, point of view this step is useless and should be merged with research step.

 

I'm not saying it will never work, actually I would love to try a game with a system like that in place, but I suspect it could work only in some specific circumstances. As the minimum requirement I would say it needs to be simple (as simple as research for example).

 

Assembly requires you to ferry parts aboard large freighters and find a suitable starbase to assemble the actual ships.

That does not sound fun to me.

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-How do related technologies fit into the retrofitting scheme? I mean, how much is involved in going from Laser 2 at a starbase to Laser 3? I would have to imagine that it's not a dramatic change, maybe the base needs more power to use Laser 3 and obviously the physical weapon itself, but does that cost compare with, say, adding a new facility to the base?

 

Interesting question. I would imagine this would require a different assembly line of some kind, but its quite possible that only a few subcomponents of the laser would be affected.

As a reference, building a whole new car requires a genuinely new assembly line whereas a 2013 iteration of the 2012 model might just make a few adjustments so to speak. I imagine both are viable approaches, although, from a gameplay perspective, the investment should be sizeable.

The investment in resources doesn't necessarily need to translate to physical components changed in the assembly line. It could represent time spend by a "lean" team to iterate on the current assembly line, or as you pointed out, greater energy intake.

 

-How would you handle more self-contained technologies? A rail gun needs power, but otherwise really just needs to be mounted into a window or general turret bay.

I'm not entirely familiar with the inner workings of the rail gun, but I imagine that any technology that can be enhanced would generally come at a cost of option, otherwise, why would we still produce weaker designs at all? Most high-techs are generally not mainstream because their cost of production is inefficient. As a reference, its possible to build supercomputers for millions of dollars, but the average joe won't commission this because:

a - they cost too much (largely because b)

b - the demand is low because the average joe has no practical use for so much power

 

That said, you seem to have insight on this matter. Feel free to share, I'd like my system to account for loose ends :)

 

-What is required to re-fit a ship or station? Better weapons might need more power to operate, but I'm having trouble imagining what other major work would need to be done to install a new weapon system that has already been manufactured? By major, I mean large enough that it would register in a 4X as something that would take a turn. Maybe something like training operators to use the new system?

Retrofit is an ability I plan only few species using. With that said, I agree with you, retrofitting appears simple enough, but don't overlook QA process. Before launching a shuttle into space, even a minor human error could lead to destruction. Diagnostic of the current implementation might be the reasoning behind waiting for 1 turn for retrofit to be complete.

 

So if you invest a lot in manufacturing capacity you can crank out facilities, ships, etc. very very quickly.

I'm ok with that, so long as your choice is quantity over quality. It will allow you to cover more ground with the same amount of resources, at the cost of having to generate concentration of forces on the fronts you wish to cover. Which inherently means that an opponent that focuses on quality will have a hard time to cover his bases, but might catch several of your ships unaware, evening out the fleet. Both are viable strategies and require skill to master.

 

A shorter game, involving a smaller map, causes non-research elements to be more important as you can't rely on executing a turtle-and-tech strategy.

That would come in conflict with a design decision I've previously made for my game unfortunately. The map will not be "limited". In fact, it will be near-infinite to better depict space as an environment where its possible to expand. Sensor ranges will thrump movement speed by a tremendous margin to account for this. Thus, I can't choose to artificially limite the breadth of the galaxy to "fix" the turtling strategies here.

 

Having Laser 2 while your enemy only has Laser 1 shouldn't decide the game, but Laser 9 vs. Laser 2 probably ought to.

Interestingly enough, having laser 9 tech should also cost a lot more resources to implement once researched. The idea is that only few ships will benefit from that top tech. Most games assume researches as linear upgrades that affect previous ship retroactively at no cost, not further increasing ship production costs. That's the aberration I'm trying to solve.

Also, please note that while a ship with 1 level 9 laser would technically defeat a ship with 5 level 1 lasers, it should be helpless when faced with 10 ships with 1 level 1 laser each. Once again here, its a matter of choosing quality over quantity, and a sturdy battleship with few yet powerful lasers should lose to a fleet of unarmored fighters.

There are a few rock-paper-scissor strategies in space warfare that I'd like to keep, and this implementation allows me to scale it efficiently.

 

For me to feel comfortable with a system like this I would expect the game to have an explicitly short timescale, like, a whole game encompasses less than a century of simulated time.

I was thinking that a game would probably be no longer than a few years at worst, depicting weeks (52 turns for 1 year). I'm still trying to figure whether it would be possible to create an assembly line efficient enough to build up small ships within 1 week though.

 

Production, population growth, and travel time would also have to be tweaked to fit

The one that I'm worried about is population growth. I mean, I would hardly imagine population to increase more than 3% over the span of a single year, so it could make each crew lost that much more important. Crew shortage could be an issue that needs balancing, but I'm ok with that. I've rarely lacked population in any 4X so far, thus it might be refreshing (there was a Star Trek Armada game though where pilots were actually trained over time and always in short supplies as far as I can remember).

 

A standard 4X game typically encompasses centuries or millenia; I expect radical technological progress to be available over that span and I also expect there to be at least some differences in research capacity between groups. I might just be overly biased by the standard game model, but a game with a mechanism like you propose sounds like it would need to be structured very differently from other 4X's in most other respects as well.

That's actually a good thing. Like I said, I'm not opposed to the current model, and the project I'm tackling is meant to be different. I'm trading macro with micro, and I anticipated that several game elements would need to change in order to accomodate for this shift. If you have any other specific examples popping into mind, feel free to share as it would unmistakably help me establish the core gameplay elements of this design.

 




Posted Yesterday, 10:28 PM


having technology increase your efficiëncy *exponentially* is a matter of numbers-tweaking, in most 4x-games i win with technological superiority because i was winning the game already, it just took some time, and i didn't stop researching in that time.

numbers-tweaking can mean making every next technology cost more(exponentionally, often) or making the technological improvements smaller relatively.

 

I'm not arguing the logic of it. I just want this game to be won by logistics rather than tech.

 

lastly, having multiple technologies available but only implementing one at a time means a player makes choices, instead on playing on "auto-pilot" which most players will enjoy(not all), but, the same can be said about discovering new technologies, so i realy wouldn't scrap that(though given as an option for a skirmish-game to start with all technologies could be a nice addition)

Why not make everything available to them so this is a constant choice? A lot of modern games like to bring you the content over time and grant you a permanent ability to produce these things, which has been largely influenced by a strong focus on tutorials, for the casual player audience. My system gives it all to you, but limits your ability to produce things based on various factors (was your starbase destroyed? could you muster the funds to implement this infrastructural change?)

While it could be considered negative feedback, it forces you to cherish what you have and plan what you need. It also hurts when your opponent's strategy counters your efficiently. If they've figured Starbase-BT01 was your strategic implementation for "fast scout ships" and they're struggling to keep you out of their backyard, they should be rewarded for destroying it, by making you less efficient. You can't just turn your head to the nearest starbase and instantly produce scouts to compensate: you need to make the logistical adjustments to this starbase before you can, and the opponent can take advantage of this delay.

I think it emphasizes player skill, though it can be abrupt/unforgiving to newcomers.

 

I'm not saying it will never work, actually I would love to try a game with a system like that in place, but I suspect it could work only in some specific circumstances. As the minimum requirement I would say it needs to be simple (as simple as research for example).

The VGA Planets (an old DOS-era game still largely active to this day with its 5th reinstallement)'s implementation, from which this originally was derived, is actually fairly simple:

Each starbase has a level in HULLS, ENGINES, BEAMS, TORPEDOES.

It costs credits for an instantaneous upgrade which allows you to build tech components of that level.

That's it. That simple (much simpler than researching). Each level has 1 or 2 components only (crew-killers or more powerful weapons).

I'm looking for a relatively similar system with as much ease of use.

 

That does not sound fun to me.

I must admit I'm a bit concerned as well. This was one of irritating parts of StarKnights. However, I'm looking for ways for individual starbases to operate different techs without impeding the player's ability to assemble "master ships".

Example:

One starbase is level 1 engine and level 10 weapons, the other is level 5 engine and level 5 weapon. I'd like the player to, somehow, be able to assemble a level 5 engine, level 10 weapon. Perhaps however, its best to keep the cost of option present here and simply not grant them this ability?

VGA Planet's solution was to build a level 5 engine level 5 weapon ship, move it to the other starbase, and retrofit it with local weapons.

The idea of moving components merely gives non-critical ships (freighters) the ability to do the moving instead.

I'm not hellbent on implementing this mechanic though.

 

Thanks all!

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maybe you could see research-allocation as a way to give choices on macro-level, and implementation as a way to give choices on micro-level.

research allocation may be easier to teach to players, while not immediately forcing the details upon them.

then again, if you got a good but mainly clear system on micro-level  for them ready that could be all you 'd need.

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Interesting question. I would imagine this would require a different assembly line of some kind, but its quite possible that only a few subcomponents of the laser would be affected.
As a reference, building a whole new car requires a genuinely new assembly line whereas a 2013 iteration of the 2012 model might just make a few adjustments so to speak. I imagine both are viable approaches, although, from a gameplay perspective, the investment should be sizeable.
The investment in resources doesn't necessarily need to translate to physical components changed in the assembly line. It could represent time spend by a "lean" team to iterate on the current assembly line, or as you pointed out, greater energy intake.

 

This makes me think of your idea in a new light, and one that is even more intriguing than the original idea. It's not the research that matters (although you could easily have a research component if you wanted) or even your production capacity, but your production facilities that are the key. So if you can make Laser 5, it might take a significant amount of resources and time to retool each individual factory to make them. So even if your society can pump out Laser 5 units pretty quickly, you have to make a substantial upfront investment of time and resources to begin producing them at all; it's a major decision to put your Laser 5 tech into production. That means that you would want to have an overarching strategy for any tech you want to actually use.

 

Do you want the advantage of deploying Laser 5 enough to lock yourself into it for a while? Is it worth the risk that an opponent might put Laser 6 into production soon after, leaving you with an inferior weapon for a period of time? If you need to produce more units than you can afford with a Laser 5 weapon for whatever reason, you still have to invest time and resources to retool for Laser 4 even though once you've done so you can produce more individual weapons. That adds a really interesting layer, well beyond correlating research points and construction points.

 

This would also account for my self-contained weapon systems question. The interesting decision isn't really deployment or installation, but specialization of your production capacity and high cost for switching.

 

Interestingly enough, having laser 9 tech should also cost a lot more resources to implement once researched. The idea is that only few ships will benefit from that top tech. Most games assume researches as linear upgrades that affect previous ship retroactively at no cost, not further increasing ship production costs. That's the aberration I'm trying to solve.

 

In most of the 4x games I've played, retroactive upgrades are pretty limited. When they're even possible they require a refit at a shipyard, and its often more practical just to have a fleet of slightly outdated ships headed by newer models. New ships cost more than older ships, but it's often not noticeable because your economy is ramping up at the same time new techs become realized. There are some exceptions (new drives tend to be included with all ships, and cost doesn't increase), but to stay competitive you need new weapons, shields, and so on, all of which are more expensive as they advance.

 

The one that I'm worried about is population growth. I mean, I would hardly imagine population to increase more than 3% over the span of a single year, so it could make each crew lost that much more important. Crew shortage could be an issue that needs balancing, but I'm ok with that. I've rarely lacked population in any 4X so far, thus it might be refreshing (there was a Star Trek Armada game though where pilots were actually trained over time and always in short supplies as far as I can remember).

 

This sounds fun to me. On a shorter timescale it might be more fun to use the population as a limited resource. You have 1,000,000 individuals, maybe 35% of which are prime military aged. You can draw from the population to crew your ships and fill out your military infrastructure, but every soldier you lose represents a serious loss that will take a long time in-game to replace (if you ever can). The population doesn't grow very much, but your forces can absolutely shrink.

 

I'm really warming up to the game you're describing. I think it has tons of potential to be novel and fun while still playing like the 4x games I already love.

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