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Economy sim/rts - which production chain style do you prefer?

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Hi everyone!

 

For a while now, I've been working on this economy sim heavily inspired by games like The Settlers 3/4 and the Anno series. The core gameplay is that you create buildings which either "create" some form of goods, or convert one or two goods into something different.

 

For example, in those games, you might have an iron mine and a coal mine, producing raw iron/coal from some map deposits, then you might have some iron smelting plant which produces some form of refined iron and/or iron ingots from those raw goods. So basically, there's a single building for each conversion, and each building will typically only support one conversion.

 

Then I played some modded Minecraft (Beyond Reality pack, based on GregTech) which also have resources and production chains, even if it's in a very different way. In that case, you have a small set of machines that are capable of different conversions depending on input. For example, there's the Furnace which takes some form of ore, and some form of fuel, and creates an ingot of that ore type. IIRC, the game Factorio works a bit like this as well.

 

To compare the styles, in Settlers or Anno, we'd have something like

 

Iron mine (iron ore) -> Iron smelter (iron ingot) -> Smith (tool)

Gold mine (gold ore) -> Gold smelter (gold ingot) -> Jeweler (jewelry)

Copper mine (copper ore) -> Copper smelter (copper ingot) -> Whatever

 

With a Minecraft / Factorio inspired style, we'd rather have

 

Mine (iron ore, gold ore, copper ore) -> Smelter (ingot dep. on input) -> Smith/Jeweler/Whatever

 

With the Minecraft / Factorio approach, one might instead have different tiers of each building, with different efficiency or similar, and a certain conversion process might require at least tier N of that building.

 

Which style do you prefer?

 

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A great game that had a fantastic supply line system was "knights and merchants". I'd recommend researching that.

 

Supply lines/positioning costed everything from labor to resources. Each phase required a worker as well. Bread was (if I remember correctly)

 

worker flattens land > worker tills land > farmer plant seeds > farmer tends to wheat > wheat's harvested > wheat's delivered to mill > miller grinds the wheat > flour's delivered to stockpile > baker gets flour from stockpile > baker gets water from well > baker bakes bread.

Edited by conquestor3

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What is the transport method? In Factorio, having a single building capable of creating multiple products can be extremely fun because you then get to solve the system logistics of providing all those source materials and handling the output for each case. For instance, I enjoy building large networks of piping for my oil refineries which are capable of supplying any of the required liquids. But that is because actual distribution logistics is an important and engaging part of gameplay in Factorio.

 

Now, in the Settlers games, supply chain management doesn't require you to plan out the actual movement of the goods so much. Your settlers take things where they need to go automatically. Obviously there is SOME element of distribution management as well, given that you want to localize industries as much as possible to prevent wastefully long travel times - but that isn't actually a problem you would need to solve in the minutia. You place buildings, and goods are automatically transported.

 

So part of the answer will depend on which style your game takes. If goods are transported automatically or with minimal player intervention, it makes perfect sense to have one building for every different job. 

 

However, there could be other reasons to allow for dual use, especially with advanced industry buildings. Take a smelter, for instance. If you have a single smelter building, but it can eventually be upgraded (or rebuilt at a more advanced stage in a different location) to handle more than one conversion at the same time (say, iron+coal to steel and copper+tin to bronze) that may vastly change where the player wants to place it. They will also have to decided between building the single dual-purpose building vs building two more specialized and more aptly located buildings.

 

So, hm. I guess after the above rambling I would say I like the second option better, because I think with the right design it will allow for more interesting player choices down the road.

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Which style do you prefer?

 

Minecraft / Factorio.   Seems more realistic.    

 

In general I believe games rely too heavily on the "ok, one building for each type of thing, with 3 upgrade levels each..."   school of design.  While it can make for a nice upgrade tree, it can also seem contrived.

 

You do realize there's not much difference between upgrade smelter to smelt new ore types vs separate smelter types for different ore types.

 

Also, odds are the egyptians were smelting gold, iron, and copper in the same primitive smelters.  google it. I'd almost bet a dollar i'm right.

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Also, odds are the egyptians were smelting gold, iron, and copper in the same primitive smelters.  google it. I'd almost bet a dollar i'm right.

 

I think you'd lose the dollar, as I'm reasonably certain that the smelting processes for those three are very different. The process for iron->steel and its various steps was different than smelting for most other metals, at least. However, you are probably correct in thinking that ancient civilizations wouldn't go to more trouble than they needed. 

 

I also agree with your point on the "each building has three upgrades, no exceptions" thing is too rigid of a design philosophy. If that's what the designers aim for, great, but they will need to recognize when they can't achieve three upgrade levels for a building because no further upgrades exist/make sense/are worth it, or when even more might be beneficial to the game for certain key buildings.

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For the root question, I prefer the Settlers style generally.  Lots of little specialists means lots of player control.

 

Various games of the style have upgrade quirks.  Townsmen, for example, upgrading the building increases the capacity and also increases the number of citizens that can work there.  Each building has three upgrades.  A base sawmill consumes 1 tree to make 3 lumber, upgraded produces 5 lumber, upgraded again produces 7 lumber.  There were various guides when it was released giving optimal paths for what resources to sell to the traveling merchant, maximizing the cash productivity per worker.

 

 

Although some people consider it drawn out and slow -- which it is compared to the run-and-shoot-whatever-moves games -- I love the slow buildup for this type of economic and civil planning games. 

 

Economic games aren't about a rapid pace, it isn't about building a Zerg rush where milliseconds during clicking make a difference. I see economic games similar to the turn-based tactical games. Allow the player all the time they want to make their optimal choices.

These aren't RTS games and there is no rush.  Let the player savor, let the player think and study and build the best economy they can.

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I think the settler model works better when economic growth is accumulative: you're building a pyramid of resource consumption, but at no point do you stop needing coal or swords or whatever.

 

If I have to decrease economic output (in the mid-stage I needed 10 copper ingots/hour, at the late stage I need 2) I much prefer being able to change production of a building rather than razing it and building a new one.

 

At some level you're also trading flexibility (changing ratio of production on the fly) for complexity (an increase in one supply chain edges out another one, instead of both being separate). I found settlers very meditative, a game where you're rebuilding your economy on the fly to deal with external changes is arguably more exciting.

 

Having a small number of production buildings also makes more sense in a game like Minecraft where constructing an economy isn't the end-all-be-all of the game.

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I should probably have mentioned that I'm not going for realism or historic accuracy at all in this game, so that's not a factor in any way. I'm looking solely at what makes for fun gameplay. I should also note that it's in some form of sci-fi setting, so pretty much anything is possible.

 

Our current design/tech demo has units carrying resources between buildings, and single-purpose buildings, very much like the Settlers games. It's currently automatic, there's an AI which orders units around to work on construction projects or carry resources between buildings etc (again, like the Settlers). We want to add support for defining explicit paths, so that we can force the output from one building to go to a specific other building and similar.

 

In Factorio (I've only played it for an hour or so, years ago), there are conveyor belts everywhere, responsible for transfering most goods between machines. One of the major challenges there indeed seemed to be the transport logistics. IIRC, resouces were typically "pushed" into the next step of processing, until one reached the end of the line.

 

In modded MC, one can do it like in Factorio, but the more likely/common approach would be to use an ME system, which is pretty much a centralized storage solution. From there, you can "request" items. If they don't exist, it can recursively create those items using user-defined recipes. A recipe can either be a crafting recipe, which just combines a set of items internally, or it can be an external process recipe in which you basically say "To create N items of type A, export M items of type B to "port" P. The "port" must be connected to some kind of inventory, such as a machine, chest, transport pipe/belt or something else. It's up to the user to make sure the process actually works as advertised, and if it doesn't, the system gets stuck until the user manually fixes it. The challenges typically come from creating and optimizing recipes.

 

What I really like about the MC approach (aka the request approach) is that you can have multiple ways to process a single item/goods type, without having to wastefully preprocess rare goods into something you might not need right now.

 

I mentioned tiered buildings before, and I think I wasn't too clear. An example, a furnace can smelt iron or gold ore into their respective ingots, but to smelt titanium, you'll need a tier 2 furnace aka a high-temperature furnace (or something). The tier 2 version could still handle anything the previous one could in that case, but might be more or less fuel effient or whatever.

 

In GregTech (MC mod), there are multiple paths you can take to process a particular ore. The first one is to just smelt it right away for a single ingot. The second is to "crush" it into 2x crushed ores, each of which can be smelted into an ingot (doubling the efficiency!). Instead of smeling that crushed ore, you might send it to a washing plant, a centrifuge, a chemical bath, an electrolyzer or whatever, each with potential to create different side products or ease another step (ie make smelting faster).

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In Factorio (I've only played it for an hour or so, years ago), there are conveyor belts everywhere, responsible for transfering most goods between machines. One of the major challenges there indeed seemed to be the transport logistics. IIRC, resouces were typically "pushed" into the next step of processing, until one reached the end of the line.

 

The science-fiction theme opens up a lot of neat avenues for you, logistically.  If you already have an interface for ballistics in the game (like if there's artillery and you can aim them), overloading that to perform ballistic delivery would be a neat alternative to conveyor belts or minions.  Buildings wrap their end-units in giant bubble wrap and parachutes and launch them with a coilgun to their next processing step or final destination.

 

Or maybe mobile buildings that produce according to their current position and neighbors.  So if you want copper, you can move your extractor over the copper source, then move your smelter next to the extractor, and they hook up.  (Or vertically, like skyscrapers.)

 

Do you have factions, or the sort of tech tree that encourages specialization?  It would be really interesting if different factions were differentiated by their logistical strategies (minions, conveyors, ballistics, mobile buildings, etc.).  

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What are the goals and key factors to the gameplay you're looking for? 

 

Think of me, the player, sitting down to play your game. What am I thinking about as I begin and scroll around the map? When I go to place a building, what do I need to take into consideration?

 

Economy game can typically have thier map be broken down into various sections. Resource Nodes, where raw materials are gathered. Processing Nodes/Empty space, where you build non-gathering buildings (Management of this from a game designer's perspective is very important and easily overlooked), and movement control space. A big part of your gameplay will probably end up coming from another space classification of Choice Space, where you force the player to select what kind of space an area is actually used for.

 

Do I build the refining and processing buildings close to my mining sites in the handy plain there, or do I use that space for badly needed wheat production that doesn't fit in well on much of the rest of the map. Using it for the wheat can help me, but it will cost me more for all my other production due to the effort needed to move the raw materials. 

 

 

 

Do you process things on a One for One mechanic? One ore makes one metal which makes one tool? Or do I need to move half a dozen ore to make one metal, and a few metal to make one tool? Will the later stages of a production chain become easier and cheaper to move, encouraging initial processing close to resource gathering, but making it easier and more flexible how far away the later chain buildings are? 

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First of all, we're programmers mostly interested in the technical challenges, so the design is somewhat floating. Originally, the idea was pretty much to clone Settlers 4 but improve on AI (easy, right?) and combat mechanics a bit. Since then, I think we've moved away from that a bit. For example, I think we've dropped all types of borders and intend to allow building anywhere (terrain limitations and exploration are still factors).

 

The first thing you'll want to do is to find a spot where you can create basic industries, like basic building materials and perhaps food. Once you have a sustainable base (should be fairly quick), you'll want to expand to find increasingly rare/valuable resources. Depending on game mode (peaceful or not), you may want to find suitable defensive positions as well. I think we'll be fairly generous with space, but it might not be immediately available. A simple example would be a forrest. It would initially be rather hard/annoying to build there, but you can clear it using wood cutters etc. 

 

Do you process things on a One for One mechanic? One ore makes one metal which makes one tool? Or do I need to move half a dozen ore to make one metal, and a few metal to make one tool? Will the later stages of a production chain become easier and cheaper to move, encouraging initial processing close to resource gathering, but making it easier and more flexible how far away the later chain buildings are? 

 

We haven't really discussed it, but I guess we'll have early game tech that's mostly one for one, then later game tech that requires either exponential amounts of simple/common resources, or resources that are increasingly hard to come by. I expect that optimizing building placements to reduce goods transports will be one of the keys to success.

 

Do you have factions, or the sort of tech tree that encourages specialization?  It would be really interesting if different factions were differentiated by their logistical strategies (minions, conveyors, ballistics, mobile buildings, etc.).
 

 

We do want varied play styles, but haven't decided on how yet. We can go by factions, by a branching tech tree or by presenting the players with different sets of resources, effectively forcing them to adapt. For example, if you start in a toxic area full of "oil", you might be better off relying on a small set of highly efficient machines and vehicles, while if you start in a very "green" area, it might be cheaper/easier to rely on a large population and human workers.

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