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Acharis

Flow in an asymmetric game

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Acharis    5979

Asymmetric 4X, the player starts in the middle surrounded by various aliens the goal being conquest of the galaxy (50% let's say) and survival against late game invasion of aliens from another galaxy spawning around the edges of the galaxy. Purely singleplayer game.

 

 

I have implemented most of the things, the player starts with 50 planets in the middle, AI attack, etc. Everything is fine except the game flow. If I made the AI too strong it crushes the player, if I made it too weak the player conquers everyone without effort, if I made them balanced... there is a stalemate :D

So, it's kind of "overbalanced" I need somehow to make it so the game can progress (player can win but with effort).

 

I'm not sure how to make it... The AI produces a static number of units per turn (partially based on number of planets), the player can produce units highly depending on population size (planets are needed to house population) so the player's production capabilities grow over time, with a soft cap (bureaucracy eat up most of the income after reaching 20 billion population), also the payer has research.

 

Somehow, I need to make it so the player can upset the balance. Or change the flow of the game? I don't know...

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Waterlimon    4398

If the player is better than alien, they win, else they lose.

 

You can add random events and hidden knowledge to create opportunities to change the tide of battle, if that fits the game. So if alien is winning, maybe player can strike a weakness to prevent defeat.

 

That would make the "uncertainty" region of who will win, bigger, since theres more unknowns. So game remains interesting for longer, when its not just the first moments of gameplay that determine the winner.

 

 

Then, the problem of momentum. Once a side is winning, what prevents them from pushing through all the way?

 

First, just make everything slow enough, so it takes some time. Maybe taking over a planet is not instantaneous, maybe you need to build infrastructure before being able to push further.

 

Second, let the battlefront oscillate. Like a spring with ever increasing energy, until it finally exceeds a limit in either end and one side is victorious. You push hard, both sides lose resources, but you are left with weakened force, allowing alien to push back, repeat.

 

One way to implement that would be to give limited offensive power to both sides, that takes time to regenerate, and isnt sufficient to wipe out the entire enemy in one go. Basically, you 'spend' your offensive capability to hurt the enemy somewhere, but have to go defensive after that, giving enemy an opportunity to do the same.

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powerneg    2010

Additionally, there should be multiple ways of dealing with threats/aliens, 

Destroying their fleet, destroying their planets(make it not too-easy to do both simultaneously) making a treaty(less resources, but bigger threat later)

scorched earth(destroying they could otherwise conquer, in such a way they can no longer move towards the player's other planets)

 

Things like these mainly exist to make all games differently, instead of there being one "road to victory" there are multiple roads,

they should not all hold the same chance of achieving victory, but they should all be the best chance of achieving victory in different situations that may/will occur.

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Acharis    5979


If the player is better than alien, they win, else they lose.
It's not exactly like that.

 

Typically, in 4X, everyone starts with 1 planet. The AI gets early bonuses so instantly becomes stronger than the player. The player lie low in that phase. Then, since the player is smarter eventually there comes a point when sides are equal (mid game). After a while the player becomes stronger and starts extermination of the AI (late game).

 

In my case it works different. You basicly start at the mid game (a lot of fleets guarding planets, 10-50 planets under your control, most planets in the galaxy already colonized). So, it start in a quite balanced state... which is not best for the gameflow :)

 


Once a side is winning, what prevents them from pushing through all the way?
Asymmetric nature of the game. AI does not have the goal of crushing the player (or at least not all AIs). So, much powerful races can exist alongside the player without breaking the game.

 


One way to implement that would be to give limited offensive power to both sides, that takes time to regenerate, and isnt sufficient to wipe out the entire enemy in one go. Basically, you 'spend' your offensive capability to hurt the enemy somewhere, but have to go defensive after that, giving enemy an opportunity to do the same.
That's quite similar to how it works now. It results in a stalemate on strategic level (you conquer one planet, you lose one planet and after 100 turns nothing really changed).

 

I have the problem with the stalemate.

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kseh    3840

With the weaker AI do you think that the game is too easy or do you know that the game is to easy? How long does the game actually take with the weaker AI? Have you laid out some sort of road map of just what sort of progress you expect a typical player to experience?

 

What if you were to implement both the easy and hard AIs and have them switch on and off periodically (possibly with some mechanism to alter the period)? Maybe this represents shifts in leadership or other internal events of some kind.

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DifferentName    1371

This is where I would start on a 4x game, before all the little details about population and food, or what weapons the ships would have. Everything else should be built to serve whatever you come up with to give the game good flow.

 

When I play civilization on an easy setting, I get to a point where I can tell that I'm far in the lead and that I'm going to win, but still have several hours of game play until I win. This can ruin the state of flow for me even more than a stalemate. A game that allows bigger swings in battle can help with this for both the winning and losing players. If you're winning, you could take advantage of your lead to defeat your opponent quickly, while a losing player could take a risk to quickly even the playing field. This might make it more challenging to achieve a balance so a player that wins one war doesn't move on to take over the whole world/galaxy every time, but I think has more potential for an exciting game. When you do have a well balanced war, instead of feeling bored by the stale mate, you would be excited to know that either player can tip the war in their favor at any moment.

 

Also, in civilization a stalemate in wars can still work because there are other victory conditions that you'll eventually get to after you've researched the end game tech. An end condition like the space race allows players to always be making progress towards something, instead of simply gaining and losing ground.

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valrus    2238

Everything is fine except the game flow. If I made the AI too strong it crushes the player, if I made it too weak the player conquers everyone without effort, if I made them balanced... there is a stalemate biggrin.png

 

Maybe have the AI strength oscillate over time.  For a while the alien leader is a bit of a doofus and it's relatively easy to make gains against them.  Then for a while the alien leader is a strong tactician and your progress is impeded or even set back.

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Acharis    5979

So, to trivialize the suggestion: the player has a "rage bar" when it fills up the player can fire it up and all ships get +100% damage for 30 turns :)  AND/OR AI has -50% damage for 20 turns then +50% to damage for 20 turns and the cycle repeats? :)

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SirWeeble    1060

If you've managed to scale the difficulty, why not make it scale-able in-game? Essentially cheat it a little. Set the initial difficulty to your "easy" level. Create some kind of non-player-visible "scorecard" or something that gives you a good indication whether or not the player is losing. If it appears the player is getting his ass kicked, scale the difficulty down by say 5%. If he's still getting beat, go further down. Do the opposite if he's winning. You can keep the flow slightly in the player's favor, maybe ramping it up a bit occasionally to offer a challenge.

 

Most 4x games I've played completely cheat the AI resources. Try isolating a planet late-game and watch them somehow continue to churn out dreadnaughts and super-weapons despite apparently having no access to resources. If you don't do a little bit of cheating, the end-game is generally anti-climatic. After you've conquered 60% of the map, the remaining 40% is just clean-up. Depending on game-length, the final clean-up can take hours and hours.

 

If it becomes too obvious, you can either make it more subtle or add randomized -10% or +10% based on nothing to make it feel like surges. Unless the illusion is broken by a sole planet churning out dreadnoughts, the player should think that it's all a result of their own actions.

Edited by SirWeeble

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Deflinek    1619


If it appears the player is getting his ass kicked, scale the difficulty down by say 5%. If he's still getting beat, go further down. Do the opposite if he's winning. You can keep the flow slightly in the player's favor, maybe ramping it up a bit occasionally to offer a challenge.
This is absolutely no go! There were a thread here recently (that I can't find right now) about adjusting difficulty to player skill. If I remember correctly the conclusion was that it infuriate players more than unbalanced difficulty. It's the player who has to be in charge or changing difficulty below or above his skill.

 


So, to trivialize the suggestion: the player has a "rage bar" when it fills up the player can fire it up and all ships get +100% damage for 30 turns AND/OR AI has -50% damage for 20 turns then +50% to damage for 20 turns and the cycle repeats?

This or (semi)random events that can strike the balance. Something like sabotage resulting in much lower defense for X turns for otherwise large, stable and strong empire (be it player or AI)

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Norman Barrows    7179

use dynamic difficulty.  the better the player does, the harder it gets, the worse they do, the easier it gets. start them at medium setting.  do it real-time, in the background, without the players knowledge. and don't make it an immersion breaker, such as a cut-off planet that continues to produce arms unabated. you'll probably need to adjust a number of variables by small amounts to shift the difficulty without making things fakey. there's no problem with doing this. it can actually be a selling point - especially with harder core users, who will make up the majority of your users, given the game type. i've used this in the past in games like SIMTrek. if done in a believable manner, its a feature, not a cheat. its only when you do it to an unreasonable degree that's beyond the player's control that its a problem. and note that the player should still have a manual difficulty setting as well that also applies - and should most likely have more influence that the auto-difficulty adjustments. so for example they can play at easy, medium, or hard, and no matter which they play, it gets a little easier or harder, depending on how they're doing - but probably not enough to make a medium game a hard game for example. testing will determine how much it should automatically vary during one play through, as well as how "far apart" the user controlled diff levels should be, so the two systems work well together. if you do this, i think at the end you'll be pleased with the results. but you may find you don't have enough "wiggle room" to adjust things and get the desired behavior while still maintaining believe-ability and a sufficient range of user selected difficulty levels.

Edited by Norman Barrows

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Acharis    5979

Eras - maybe just say it upfront to the player? Like first you are faced with pirates and you need to deal with them, at turn 100 a new era starts and now aliens become a real threat, at turn 200 aliens become decadent (50% military production, aggression reduced) and you can conquer them more easily, at turn 300 some ancient threat weaks up and try to kill everyone.

 

AI government type - switches between pacifistic and militaristic (scripted). In addition there could be dynamic triggers, like if an AI race is below 10 planets it would switch to militaristic regardless of other considerations.

 

dynamic difficulty
Dynamic difficulty is the root of all evil. Over my dead body. The hell would freeze first. Etc, etc :)

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Acharis    5979

How it works in other games (I found 3 models):

 

1) Standard "everyone has one  planet" - the most populat, everyone start small and grow over time, early conquest impossible due to distance and unfeasible due to aboundance of uncolonized worlds

2) AI Wars - the player starts with 1 planet and the AI starts with all other planets, the whole concept here is the agressiveness of the AI (it increases over time and each time the player conquers a planet)

3) Paradox's games (Europa Universalis, Crusader Kings, Victoria, etc) - quite similar setup to my game, all/most territories are already taken by various countries. The flow is controlled by the need to obtain a "permission" to conquer something (claims, casus beli) and you can conquer one territory at a time ony (you get only a small fraction of the territory your troops physically occupy during the war)

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suliman    1653

Or make it endless survival: The strenght/spawn rate of enemies grows exponentially and the player must expand to rival the enemies (survive). Eventually it will be too much (preferably many random events to keep it interesting, not just 5 ships attack, then 7 then 10 then 13 etc. Throw in other dangers).

 

So the player will try to beat his/her record. Can i make it for 12 years this time?

So basically it becomes an epic 4X strategy game, but also a tower defence sort of game:) How long do you want a match to be? 1h? 20h? This is important for your design.

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Acharis    5979

OK, today instead of coding I'm taking a whole day dedicated to design and thinking :) Here are some ideas (feel free to build on these, comment, fix, improve, give counterideas, anything you think could be useful).

 

Strong/weak cyclic AI state

50% of the time neighbour races (standard only, so no pirates, etc) are STRONG and 50% of the time are WEAK. It's cyclic. In addition if a race loses homeworld or 5+ planets (for any reason to any enemy) it instantly switches to the STRONG state. These states could represent government type (militaristic "everyone is to be our slave" and peaceful "become one with the universe"). These could switch every 30 turns let's say (for each race separately). Also the player could affect these switches (intelligence trying to support the peaceful/religious faction in the alien government/senate).

 

Imposing limits on player's conquest

Actually, I think the player might be the biggest threat to the balance. The AI is obedient and behaves as I, the designer, dictate, while the player... will definitely google for tricks and try on purpose to break the balance to his/her favour :) So a way to stop the player is important.

One solution I thought of is the "number of newly conquered planets". Like you have imperial worlds and colonies/settlements. These new conquered world is a settlement and slowly progresses to the full world state. Only 3-5 planets can progress at once (the rest do it at the crawl) and while settlements these couse problems. In short if you have 10-15 newly conquered worlds and don't wait till these assimilate you face a civil war or at least a lot of border planets trying to go for the independence. The trick is a world does not lose its status if conquered by aliens (or lose it slowly over time), so you can reconquer your planets without additional penalties.

I wonder how to call this mechanic feature? Some sort of "administration level" or "local government" or "government infrastructure" or "integration level" or "imperial ideals level"?

 

The need to protect borders at all times

Maybe not related 100% to the flow, but I also want the player to keep fleets on the border planets to protect these (it looks & feels super cool). Like there is no war going on there right now but you still keep these there and if you try to remove them (break the frontline) you are punished for it.

At the moment I solved this by cyclic weak attacks of pirates (they target border planets only) so keeping moderate and even weak fleets to fend of these is benefitial. But that's, well, not so great solution I would say :) Ideally, I would like some mechanic which punishes you for not having minimum 10 ships over a planet (regardless of planetary defensive installations).

 

 

Or make it endless survival: The strenght/spawn rate of enemies grows exponentially and the player must expand to rival the enemies (survive). Eventually it will be too much (preferably many random events to keep it interesting, not just 5 ships attack, then 7 then 10 then 13 etc. Throw in other dangers).

 

So the player will try to beat his/her record. Can i make it for 12 years this time?

So basically it becomes an epic 4X strategy game, but also a tower defence sort of game:) How long do you want a match to be? 1h? 20h? This is important for your design.

Yes and no. Tower defence is definitely the right way to go, it's one of the premises. But without survival, the player is to win in the end, the game is supposed to end in a definite conclusion "Game Over" or "Congratulations you won". So, it must be winnable. But I liked the overall feel of your post, that would be compatible, only without the survival part if it could be removed somehow...

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Waterlimon    4398

Maybe you want some kind of stabilizing factor that is strong in early game and weakens toward the end.

 

Early, aggression will give you little benefit.

 

Late, aggression can gain momentum and swipe out entire alien empires.

 

 

Maybe you can even control it to shape the stability curve over time - maybe some games end up with early aggression, others with stability-aggression-stability, yet others with the stability-aggression progression.

 

 

Ideas:

-Tech development that gives you powerful attack weapons near the end (planet destroying lazors etc)

-Early tech that discourages heavy aggression (like nukes do today) but becomes less of a danger later (better defenses, maybe you capture so many planets they cant strike all, maybe population moved underground...)

-Finite resources with high cost to begin extraction, so early game you dont have need nor the resources to capture planets for their resources (too costly to begin extraction). But late game, you NEED the resources, and the enemy already build full extraction facilities (lots of money and time went into it)

-Make player unaware of enemy locations early on (information takes time to travel in space, poor 'radar' tech, etc), so you might find one or two planets of an enemy empire, but cant find the rest without going all over space.

 

Thats for stable-aggressive progression, but you get the other ones with little modifications (counter-counter weapons, access to new tech, multiple resources that shift importance in long term to affect gameplay...)

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powerneg    2010

Weren't you implementing multiple different races for a single player experience ?

How about just giving them all their own threat-levels and behaviours ?

The only thing you need to make sure of is that if some race beats the player's forces that race won't become super-powerfull and take the player's entire empire.

(Maybe conquering a few planets make them less aggressive again?)

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Acharis    5979


Maybe you want some kind of stabilizing factor that is strong in early game and weakens toward the end.



Early, aggression will give you little benefit.



Late, aggression can gain momentum and swipe out entire alien empires.





Maybe you can even control it to shape the stability curve over time - maybe some games end up with early aggression, others with stability-aggression-stability, yet others with the stability-aggression progression.
Actually, I wanted more or less a static aggression level. I don't want "you start small, wait and build forces, then attack everyone and win", I find it boring plus it does not fit the game. Here you start with a few planets but everyone else has many planets, there are only a few uncolonized ones. So, the player needs to attack early and do it till the late game.

 

The ideal (but not needed, just someting the game works best with) pace is 0.3-1.2 planets conquered by the player per turn. Then after 150-200 planets owned the game would discourage the player from getting more (not prevent it but more like "it's not needed/worth the hassle/has more important things to do").

 


Weren't you implementing multiple different races for a single player experience ?
How about just giving them all their own threat-levels and behaviours ?
I did. It's not working very well. I mean the premise is OK and overall it works, but it does not fix the balance, it merely gives more diversity. The varried behavour of races turned out to be insufficient.

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powerneg    2010

Does the player have the ability to (research?) counter to specific races he 's having trouble with ?

 

Can the player still expand to the west if an AI is rampaging over his colonies in the east ?

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Acharis    5979

Does the player have the ability to (research?) counter to specific races he 's having trouble with ?

 

Can the player still expand to the west if an AI is rampaging over his colonies in the east ?

1) Partially. No techs, but one can build more ships which are good vs that race.

2) Yes, in theory. In practice one would rather relocate offensive forces to defence. I think :)

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powerneg    2010


1) Partially. No techs, but one can build more ships which are good vs that race.

 

Are these ships suffuciently overspecialized, aka a real waste to use against other races but enough to turn the tide in the (current) war vs that one race ?

Also, maybe implement a few techs to counter certain races as well.

 


2) Yes, in theory. In practice one would rather relocate offensive forces to defence. I think smile.png

 

Hmm, isn't the player supposed to be colonizing empty planets throughout the game ?

 

Lastly the player should also have the option to specialise in defenses, forfeiting some of his (future, offensive) expansion to have a stronger internal security.

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Acharis    5979


Are these ships suffuciently overspecialized, aka a real waste to use against other races but enough to turn the tide in the (current) war vs that one race ?

Also, maybe implement a few techs to counter certain races as well.
Yeah, I could implement these... but that's not the root of the problem, really.

 

It's more like a standard race (which protects their territory and make some sort of diplomacy, no pritates or some larvas/bugs/parasites) has either too much power or not enough power. And since they react to player's actions (anger, threat) it quickly leads to a stalemate. If they are strong they invade some player's planets and then stop since they are satisfied with their revenge. If the player is aggressive vs them they start become aggressive vs the player more too which means they redirrect more forces to deal with the player, again stalemate. And if they are weak the player eradicates then in 20 turns because the player is a vicious beast with no mercy or anything :)

 

With special (dumb) races I have no such problem (or at least it's not a big problem) since they do not react to the player but just attack everything around equally. So, the player can grab their planet, fortify, wait and then go for a next planet. The pressure from these special races is constant (it increases when you are near their howeworlds).

 


Hmm, isn't the player supposed to be colonizing empty planets throughout the game ?
No :) Definitely not :) It's kind of a unique game, you don't start with one planet and colonize the galaxy and then fight others when there is no space left. You start with no space left and everyone else having a bigger chunk of thae galaxy than youy have. Your job as the Emperor is to fix it :)

 


Lastly the player should also have the option to specialise in defenses, forfeiting some of his (future, offensive) expansion to have a stronger internal security.
Well... yeah... to a degree. But I hate to rely on it, overall I dislike this sort of pace in games. Leads to turtling. I wanted the feel of a grand empire that expands! Or crushes rebels! Not forfeiting offense because they are afraid (actually, origionally I planned that if you do not control 50 planets by turn 100 you face a big rebellion because your people think you are incompetent and do not expand enough :D).

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Waterlimon    4398


I don't want "you start small, wait and build forces, then attack everyone and win"

 

You can still have aggression throughout - if you are not aggressive early, then when aggression becomes more "powerful" later on, you will lose!

 

Its more to make it less likely that something dramatic will happen when its not desirable, and to prevent the game from drawing out too long (stalemate) by making it easier to conquer territory when everyone is weak and tired of battle already.

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powerneg    2010


You start with no space left and everyone else having a bigger chunk of thae galaxy than youy have.

 

I see.

And now you noticed that the player is either:
A) progressing

B) in a stalemate

C) getting beat

 

Which are generally the only things the player is doing in a game.

 

Also, if i understand correctly, planets("starsystems") also have connections to the nearesst other planets, but not to further-off planets, which means a player(and an AI-race) can't skip a planet and go for that "other" planet that 's more to his taste.

 

I'm sorry but the game seems to be designed for a quick try/challenge to see whether the player can make it,

there is no way to have a chance on final victory without annihilating AI-races, and you made it part of the early-game(as there is no colonizing) so the early game is equal to the late-game in most other 4X-games.

 

Personally i 'd make each AI/race a challenge, so the game is build-up around multiple challenges(AIs) that the player can declare war on on his personal leisure,

to at least give some chance ona  longer game.

(Note, i 'm a big fan of having different races that are totally weird, letting them have different diplomatic mechanics would make each play-through different,

aka one race would have an "agression-level" another would have official declarations of war/peace, a third would strike when they think the player is weak)

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