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Storyline in a 4X

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A 4X game, singleplayer only. There is an secondary audience mechanic where various personas come to you (the Emperor) with things and you make decisions. I made some mechanical events (like select a perk, start building a wonder and the like). But what I find missing is some sort of storyline. I mean something more exciting. Some plot, conspiracy, treachery, usurpers to the throne, secret organization forming, opportunity.

 

The main problem I have is how to connect the storyline with the 4X gameplay (how it affects the rest of the game). Also how to make it replayable is a major concern. Also how to introduce there meaningful choices...

 

 

So far I thought of these:

- penalty to the empire for X turns (if there was assassination attempt and you were put into a cryo chamber to recover, or rebels blew up part of the palace)

- spend X money to proceed with the storyline (at the end of it you get some goodies like a secret ship hull or permanent perk or alien artifact)

- maybe also a hidden storyline resource (like you invest your "focus" on a certain storyline and can't focus on other storylines)?

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Did you ever play the original Dune (not the RTS)? It's a strange combination of point-and-click adventure with proto-RTS gameplay, and a smattering of cinematic cutscenes. But one of the things that made it so engaging was that the strategy portion was all set against the backdrop of a larger conflict.

 

And I think that's one of the things that 4X games largely fail at, because almost to a fault, they tend to be framed with you as a major aggressor in the largest scale of conflict available in the fiction. It's very hard to tell an engaging story about an expansionist empire that is busy blitzkrieg'ing everything in its path...

 

I wonder how feasible it is to frame a 4X game as a relatively localised affair, within the context of a larger galactic war, such that political decisions within the frame of the larger conflict can have repercussions on the locality involved in the 4X?

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In a game about the emperor, every "faithful" civil servant may lie to the emperor, lie about the emperor's will ,not obey orders, take initiatives, etc. There might be player incentives for letting characters cheat the emperor, for example not offering enough time to read everything he signs.

Shock the player with the realization that the Empire is not a machine that does exactly what they say; and that if it is a machine, the emperor is only a cog.

Procedurally instantiating plots of "conspiracy, treachery, usurpers to the throne, secret organization forming" seems unavoidable; with rich models of NPCs, choosing appropriate ones for each role (e.g. embezzler, foreign mole, blackmailer and blackmailed, etc.) should be straightforward.

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Two major suggestions.

 

Firstly, you should play, or watch youtube videos of someone playing, King Arthur The Roleplaying Wargame and its sequel. These mix adventure and rts, though you may wish to see about mixing the elements a little more thoroughly than it's done in those games, to make the whole thing more cohesive.

 

Secondly, open up your history books, there are tonnes of examples of excellent stories during great campaigns throughout history. One suggestion is to watch Extra History on youtube, which gives a nice narrative about historical conflicts. Alternatively, you could read up on everyone's favorite war of treachery and strife, the war of the roses. Which is the basis for both Game of Thrones and Final Fantasy Tactics.

 

Hope that helps.

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You could expand upon your secondary mechanic and let the emperor visit cities under his reign. This could allow unique events, maybe recruitment of special units or generals, holding events to up morale in that region, etc. The trade off would be that you're less safe in cities that hate you (but you need to be there to boost morale) and there's a higher likley-hood of assassinations and security isn't as entrenched. Also, if the city/planet/whatever gets taken, you're dead.

 

You could also take your secondary mechanic to a more personal level. Instead of just requests and such, you could get more involved with your loyal (or treacherous) advisors. Invitations to palace functions, celebrations, and ceremonies could ensure loyalty, but there's only so many people who you can bring. Since SwiftCoder brought up Dune, have you ever read the books? The books have a lot of royal intrigue in them.

 

Depending on what kind of emperor you're emulating, you might even involve persona/family relationships. Long-lived asian dynasties in older times had huge extended families with family members holding key positions of power. Since emperors often had many wives, they had piles of kids, cousins, etc etc, all stabbing each other in the back or trying to usurp the throne. The reigning emperor might even have dozens of brothers/sisters, all hoping that he dies before he has a child, since they're next or 5th or 15th in line. For example: look up Thai Kings at Wikipedia. A lot only reigned for 1-2 years. Some for a few months. Alot were murdered.

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Did you ever play the original Dune (not the RTS)? It's a strange combination of point-and-click adventure with proto-RTS gameplay, and a smattering of cinematic cutscenes.

Yes. A very nice game, but... it was barely a strategy (more like an adventure game with a git of strategy added on top of it - while I try to do the opposite proportions, I suppose). Plus a lot of fun came from the book storyline (for fans of Dune, I find it almost pointless to play if you have not read the book).

 

 

 


Depending on what kind of emperor you're emulating, you might even involve persona/family relationships.

Well, I try to theme is a big bureaucratic empire, not a monarchy. So no nobles for example, but rather court factions.

More like the Emperor of China or Russian Tzar, not like european kings.

Edited by Acharis

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So... I see a lot of you thinking along the lines of NPC focused? Like simulating a lot of personas (imperial court, governors, admirals) and then they do something.

The alternative approach is plot/event based (something happened and you are to react to it OR you are offered to start some plot).

 


And I think that's one of the things that 4X games largely fail at, because almost to a fault, they tend to be framed with you as a major aggressor in the largest scale of conflict available in the fiction. It's very hard to tell an engaging story about an expansionist empire that is busy blitzkrieg'ing everything in its path...
What if the storyline focused on the internal affairs (rebels, court problems, mega corporations, factions) while the mechanics (typical 4X experience) is external focused (fighting aliens and conquering planets)? Then these meet somewhere to make one game :)

 

For example I will have a separate "rebellion" mechanic (which is 4X stuff) that could be triggered by the storyline.

 


King Arthur The Roleplaying Wargame
Downloading the demo :)

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Have you played Crusader Kings II? (I believe Europa Universalis might do the same, but it has been so long since I played EUIII, and haven't touched EUIV yet.)

 

They use a system of 'events' that trigger based on various factors and fill in various character names as needed. A handful of them are longer scripted events with some random factors thrown in, which build a tree of a handful of these popups that are linked, but most are just one off popups "So and So had a dispute with This other guy, Side with So and So to make them happy, side with Other Guy to make them happy, or take a middle ground that doesn't make either side upset with you." kind of things.

 

You could use something like that to string together a sort of "Pick your own adventure" book for a storyline and build a system that feeds into the 4x game (Bonuses, unlocks, rebellions, etc.) which in turn feeds back into the 'story engine' (Doing well putting down a rebellion feeds back in and may trigger event paths that give you choices that can lead to bonuses, or maybe you choose poorly and the rebellion leader becomes a martyr and your empire spirals out of control with rebellions.)

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Have you played Crusader Kings II? (I believe Europa Universalis might do the same, but it has been so long since I played EUIII, and haven't touched EUIV yet.)

They use a system of 'events' that trigger based on various factors and fill in various character names as needed. A handful of them are longer scripted events with some random factors thrown in, which build a tree of a handful of these popups that are linked, but most are just one off popups "So and So had a dispute with This other guy, Side with So and So to make them happy, side with Other Guy to make them happy, or take a middle ground that doesn't make either side upset with you." kind of things.
Yes, I played it a lot. Well, technically there is a system you described but it's so weak and insignificant and tedious I woud not count it :) There are choices like "someone want an office", "you made a friend yes/no", "your wife falls in love with you (free or need financial investment)", "someone wants to change law X (typically reduction of city taxes law)" and that's it...

 

I definitely want to avoid the CKII model since it's super weak in that regard. I would rather look more into the direction of King of The Dragon Pass maybe, with the predefined plots. CKII storyline mechanic is just an excuse to use the hordes of existing characters, it's not a story in itself (actually the story comes from your conquest, like you conquered something and then some AI did something). I'm simply not fond of it.

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The base game itself makes very little use of the storyteller function, but it is still something that can easily be built on. There are a number of mods that apparently really step it up in that regard, and I only mentioned it as an existing baseline of how 'story elements' are able to be thrown into what would otherwise be a pure numbers game, and how they built a two way system that feeds between each other in a strategy game.

 

They are using the system in CK2 to add some random curve balls and blimps to help change up the pace of the game from one session to the next and is generic enough that most of the content can apply to whatever character you choose to start with, but using their concept and scripting style as a foundation would let you build storyline elements that are flexible and as interesting as you want to put the effort into making them.

 

You may want to pretty the UI aspect up a bit more than what they're using, but Text > Choice Branch > Random Factor > Effect > Loop is a very flexible and workable solution to this kind of thing.

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