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Balance (early game difficulty) [strategy]

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The game is a 4X space empire building. But rather far from a traditional one :) It's strictly single player and assymetric (the AI plays by differnent rules and have different goals - it's not trying to "win" the game or prevent the player from winning, it has its own goals and agendas).

 

The first problem I encountered is the early game. The thing is, only the player starts with just one planet, all other "races" were there for a long time and the most of the galaxy is already taken. So, I wonder on some mechanic that prevents the player from being wiped out immediately.

Also I would prefer if there were some planets that are still not colonized by anyone (not many, just some, for the player to grab early).

 

 

Available tricks:

- aliens (AI) can use completely different and arbitrary rules (for example one race I designed is a mindless insectoid race that has only one planet with super defences and every 100 turns they go on a breeding rampage, they attack many nearby planets and feed on any population there, after X turns they go back to their single planet and leave whatever they invaded (usually in ruins and with decimated population). So they do not conquer per se or colonize or try to take over the galaxy.

- don't worry about long term difficulty, at the late game another race of super strong invaders from another dimension enters and they will actively try to kill the player, so making it too easy is no problem (just because the player took half the galaxy does not mean it will be easy when they come).

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A thought that comes to mind is having the player start in a region of the galaxy that primarily holds pre-spacefaring species, with the nearest empire a little distance away, and somewhat sedentary by nature.

 

Another idea is to have the established empires be culturally indisposed to further expansion; perhaps they've been through that phase, and simply lost the taste for it.

 

Finally, the player's home-planet might well be in a province of some empire, but have been overlooked or left alone for whatever reason (perhaps the controlling empire has a culture that rejects interference with sentient species, but sees little threat in pre-spacefaring cultures; the planet is then overlooked for so long that the development of spacefaring technology goes unnoticed until it's too late). To add to the viability of the player's rise to power, the controlling culture might have atrophied, no longer being the great power that once they were, holding their territory simply by sheer inertia.

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I think making it so your enemy AI can't attack early is primordial. You want the player to have a certain level of understanding of your gameplay mechanics before threats come up.

As a colloquial to the above, while enemies may have very deep empires, you may have it so that no ships are already constructed, so they'll spend at least a few turns building up an army. Then, if lucky enough, they'll duke it out on their own.

 

In a 2d map setting (fairly illogical but standard to most 4X games), you may choose to have the player start nearby a corner so that he can't be surrounded early on. This decreases the statistical chance of being attacked early assuming most erratic AIs will attack somewhere near and the player will share edges with fewer empires as a result.

 

Also, you need to have something that grants the defender's advantage: that way, despite being in smaller numbers, the player is able to hold his ground for a bit. Arguably, it is best if he can start conquering fast.

 

Think: how does one single planet starts to rule them all?

You could have it so that a single faction occupies most of the territory around the player, and that this faction is at war with most of the other species. This would simulate the "ashes of an empire", where the player is really just rebelling from an empire that is crumbling down. As the game progresses, you'd see a weakening empire around you leaving fewer and fewer defenses, giving you a chance to quickly claim valuable planets without much resistance. This should allow you to ramp-up to a mid-sized empire fairly quickly after just a few turns (10-20 or 30 maybe?)

Then, you'd come face-to-face with the other factions and the player would find himself confined to whatever he was able to grab, and improve his defenses.

The cool part here is that it would shift the flow back and forth and that different games would net different outcomes:

- Capture too many planets in the first expansion phase and you'll have trouble setting up appropriate defenses vs all players, and your empire may find itself shrinking rapidly.

- Capture too few planets in the first expansion phase and you'll have trouble setting up an economy that allows you to build said defenses

*This would teach the player more about your economy and they would learn through trial and error and direct feedback 20-30 turns into the game.

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The way I see it, balancing the early game is easy because you can control the initial setup completely. So as I understand it, your question is what should that initial setup be?

 

So yeah, I guess a lot of arbitrary circumstances are possible, for example:

  • There's something unusual about the area of space that the player starts in which disables the aliens advanced drives but allows the humans' slow crappy drive.
  • The aliens overlooked the area because it didn't seem valuable and/or it isn't valuable for their technology tree.
  • The aliens are busy fighting each other and don't notice you initially.
  • The aliens are busy dealing with some large disaster, e.g. a supernova, black hole, etc.

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If there's a bunch of other planets that are not colonized, is there maybe a reason for that? Presumably the existing empires have known about these planets for some time. So whatever reason that those planets aren't under the control of an existing empire could be the same reason why they won't bother the player in the first place.

Might existing empires simply ignore the player until a certain level of tech is reached?

Or maybe the home planet is just simply cloaked by some ancient technology and the power source is going to die out in X turns.

Or maybe not so much a cloak but some other piece of tech the player has come into possession of or invented that returns false scan data and it takes time for the existing empires to devise a counter measure.

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I think it would probably be best served to have the player start in a more barren part of the universe.  At least on easier difficulties =)  You might try using distance from the player in your algorithm to populate and place the other races. The closer they are to the player, the more likely they have a crappy tech level.   This has a nice effect of giving the player time to expand before headbutting into a stronger race.

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Interesting concepts you have :) Thanks.

 

 

I bit more about the mood and feel of the game:

First, let's not call various aliens "other empires". There will be only one empire in the whole game, the player's empire (it will be referred to as "The Empire"). The rest are just some alien scum, factions, pirates, rebels and more aliens :) So, the player starts small and builds the Empire (so no hiding/starting in the corners, the player needs to start somewhere in the center and spread from there). That's the overall mood I aim for.

Next, by the mid game the player should control around half of the galaxy and THEN the real challenge starts (invasion of more aggressive aliens or something). So the balance (if we speak of traditional "many planets = you can afford strong fleet") will be always upset (first the player has just one planet, then the aliens (except invaders from another galaxy which do not even have their planets on the map) have much fewer planets).

Note also that I want to discourage taking over all planets in the galaxy by the player (but that's a small thing and not that important, anyway, the goal of the game never will be total conquest, the player will always win the game much earlier).

 


Think: how does one single planet starts to rule them all?
I can comment on that one more :)

 

First, the player's race could be the baddest, smartest and the most technologically advanced race around (exceptions). The aliens could be (exceptions) just some smarter animals that somehow managed to get access to interstellar travel and their advantage is only in numbers and that they started far earlier. But they for example don't need to have any research capabilities (maybe some crawling speed evolution) and go on on their instinct, which can be easily beaten out in the long run. Or they could be some race of robots and they have mental restrictions (like they wait for their masters to return and galactic conquest is not in their programm as long as self preservation routines are not in danger :D). Or they are merchants in nature and they want to "conquer the galaxy using merchandise", so they even can be big friends of the Empire if the player allows them free trade (or some trading privileges) inside the empire.

You know, something like that. Asymmetry, aliens are not like players.

 


So as I understand it, your question is what should that initial setup be?
Yes and no :)

 

I want to stress out the possibility of utilizing the asymmetric nature of the gameplay. The aliens (AI) does not need to play the same style a human would. So it does not need to be setup only (I would say setup is half of it).

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So many possibilities smile.png

 

Here are some thoughts

 

1. Factions have interests and the player get only in focus once he surpass the threshold of an according interest. Eg one faction wants peace and feels threatened once the player surpass certain military power. One faction want to keep to themself and feels threatened once the player colonize close to their home planet. Other factions keep passive as long as you dont attack them directly or an ally. And eventually there are aggressive factions which will raid/conquere your planets once they have a certain value.

 

2. The player have the option to choose from multiple starting points. The neighborhood will define some kind of danger-level, like the placement of the settlement in dwarf fortress.

 

3. Use diplomacy to form alliances with different factions. One faction could start to support you with cash/equipment/resources once you start war vs one of its enemies. You could pay some tribute to keep peace with an other faction etc.

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I have been playing with a prototype and I'm trying something like this:

 

There are expansion limits, based on the distance from the homeworld and the number of planets controlled. BUT, the trick is, these restrictions apply to AI races only, not to the player :) The player, is "destined" to build a huge empire, there are some inconveniences with size as well, but these are, unlike for AI, soft limits.

Also, some weak AI races don't have such restrictions, so they can spread everywhere, but due to their pathetic nature (space nomads and the like) they do not pose a real threat.

 

I addition, the AI value planets near their homeworlds much more and will be simply unwilling to conquest too far, unless left no (better) choice.

 

 

Example:

* The Hive is a race of insectoids, there are 3-5 overminds that reside on various planets, they can spread the psyhic control over minions at 3 systems distance. Therefore, they are unable to expand too far from their planets with overminds (and because there are more than one overmind it does not look like a boring circle). In addition, the Hive will fight much more desperately for planets near overminds.

* Methane breathers do not exist at the beginning of the game, they come in the middle game via the galactic outskirts. Then they start colonizing planets nearby their "warp point planets". They are not limited by distance, but by the number of planets (they are doing it slowly and don't take more they can chew), they simply compare the current turn number to number of planets they posess and it determines their aggressiveness. Even though they are powerful they try to avoid confrontation even with weaker ones (they prefer uncolonized planets).

* Space rodent's monarchy, they are the most traditional ones (they can be negotiated with and recognize the player's Empire). They have a homeworld and up to 6 "core planets" that are exactly 2 jumps from each other, then they try to colonize planets near their core planets (at 2-3 distance) prefering to maintain uninterrupted route connecting all core planets. They have no hard distance limits and can expand quite far from core planets (if they can't spread equally) but they do not feel strongly about protecting these (and you can even negotiate buyout of the far away ones, also in some cases these far one can willingly seceed and join your Empire if within your cultural influence). They do not have a hard limit on number of planets but the more they have the more likely is a civil war and other internal calamity that will trimm their kingdom).

* The Elders, declining race, they should extinct (negative breeding rate) around mid game. Very powerfull, passive, hedonistic, do not expand, do not conquer. They have several clusters of planets in like 3 parts of the galaxy (and many planets owned by others are planets previous owned by Elders), these planets die out over time leaving sometimes interesting artifacts and infrastructure (the player can speed up the process by proper use of military :)).

* Parasites, the most odd ones, they have exactly one planet. Once every 100 turns they go on a mating spree infesting a huge part of the galaxy ("conquering" planets one by one) and then after a while they abandon these planets and return to their homeworld (leaving decimated population and ruined cities - the infested planets then are able to rejoin their original owner, if someone is still alive there). After 100 turns the cycle repeats (until someone destroys their homeworld which is very hard).

 

Not sure how it will work in practice, but on a quick simulation of the galaxy map it looks OK... Note the player starts AFTER these aliens are run for several turns with fast colonization mode (so all/most of those aliens have many/maximum planets already).

 

Anyway, comments, more ideas (I'm also gathering ideas for alien races and their mechanics)?

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If, at the beginning, the player is weak, infighting and balance of power between AI empires would take priority over investing resources to wipe out the small player empire.

The player isn't much of a threat, and brutal aggression can have severe diplomatic consequences.

 

Imagine more rational counterparts of European powers in 1939: the player can be more or less like Poland (or a more peripheral place like Norway), but Germany wouldn't be strong enough to believe in successful world conquest, and invasion attempts would earn them momentary expansion followed by crushing defeat.

 

Another historical reference: the expansion of the Roman republic and empire due to the high fragmentation of other powers and its inclination for relatively peaceful mergers rather than destruction and extermination. How compatible are alien races with each other?

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How compatible are alien races with each other?
There are 3 categories:

1) Uncivilized - insects, bugs, etc, no negotiation possible, you are the food :)

2) Civilized - humanoids, could be assimilated in some cases

3) Smart invaders - no negotiation possible, they want to wipe out the galaxy of all life and take over, they don't find you worthy of assimilation

 

So, basicly most of the races do not conduct diplomacy and don't care. Only the second group is somewhat compatible.

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However "simple", I'm really interested in seeing how the Elders would impact gameplay overall.

Originally, your thread stated that you were looking for a means to keep a balanced level to prevent player annihilation in the early game, yet, the Elders start strong and decline, leaving YOU more room to expand as the game progresses (as opposed to scaling up the difficulty).

While very interesting from a mechanical standpoint, it also seems like it goes against precisely what you've showcased as your primary concern...

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However "simple", I'm really interested in seeing how the Elders would impact gameplay overall.

Originally, your thread stated that you were looking for a means to keep a balanced level to prevent player annihilation in the early game, yet, the Elders start strong and decline, leaving YOU more room to expand as the game progresses (as opposed to scaling up the difficulty).

While very interesting from a mechanical standpoint, it also seems like it goes against precisely what you've showcased as your primary concern...

Yeah, that post was with my findings AFTER I made a prototype. Making a prototype changes a lot :) Overall, with the latest mechanic (distance + num of planets alien preferences/limits) + starting locations it should prevent the player annihilation... I suppose (need to test it). But if you have further comments on my initial concern (or ideas how to improve the last mechanic I described), post.

 

Yet, I think I should add some another mechanic to supplement it (not only for the player but also for various AIs, so they are not wiped out too quickly if starting too near each other).

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