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Whats wrong with city-buildings/sims/survival?

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Hi

Im very fascinated by games such as

-Rimworld

-Banished

-Stronghold (the economy campaign)

-Don't starve (some gameplay elements apply to this discussion)

 

I.e. games where you manage a town/people and tend to needs such as food/shelter/entertainment/fuel etc. You run the construction, collect and refine resources etc.

Problem is, often when you've set up (and understood) the basics, there is not much more to do that simply "grow".

 

Being sandboxy by their nature, maybe this is hard to alter, or could it? What would be the goal? How to keep it interesting?

 

Timed goals:

Stronghold has this, it makes it more of a mission style campaign where each mission has stuff like "produce 300 apples and 50 swords in 2 years". Doesnt help in a open world town-builder (where you donät restart towns for each mission) but can be ok.

 

Ramping difficulty:

Such as don't starve: more and more hounds attack you as time passes; you need to increase your resources/defenses over time. Not seen much in city-builders, but could it be used? ; so you have food/water/whatever for the people, now what?

Introducing new dangers that need to be dealt with? (possible backfire and killing your town if not planned for):

 

at 50 pop: fires can start

at 100 pop: rats thats to plague the town

at 200 pop: bandits starts attacking you

 

(or trigger new dangers with time rather than size of your settlement? Or combination of both).

 

What is your thoughts on all this? How was it handled in ceasar and such games?

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You could take a leaf out of rts games, e.g. ensure that the game state is reset and new objectives added on a per level basis.

After competing each map you're "promoted" to a more complex scenario, where as well as extra difficulty, additional features are gifted to you as privilege of your new rank that allow you to solve the problems, e.g. a rat catcher for rats to prevent plague. Of course, with the new facilities comes more learning, so you will always be entertained until you complete the game, after which you could unlock a free play mode where all the facilities are unlocked on an absolutely huge procedurally generated map.

What do you think to this?

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Don't underestimate the power of simply giving random assignments to the user.

I wrote BusyBee, an OpenTTD GameScript that just gives "transport X tonnes of cargo Y to Z" assignments (always a fixed amount are available). There is a time limit, but no consequences if the user fails to deliver (it's mostly a failsafe way to remove non-interesting or unobtainable goals).

 

Several users argued they would need to get some compensation for their efforts, but being the sandbox game that it is, it doesn't make much sense to me. On the other hand, someone forked the script, and added a payment for completed goals.

 

There are also more goal-oriented scripts, expanding a city is a very popular way of playing, also against each other.

 

 

Other users look at competing against each other in multi-player games, under very harsh financial conditions (default game gives way too much money for competing, pretty soon you can do anything you want).

 

 

There are also "modelers", people that treat the game as a model railway, and decorate the scene to make pretty pictures (often complete with invented stories and events in the history of the transport company), or simulate a real-life area.

 

Finally, there is a group of people that go deep. They know everything about the mechanics of the game, and know exactly how to tweak trains, settings, and tracks. They invent 'weird' constructs that suits their goals. Their game looks like total chaos at the surface, but I am sure there is a lot of system in it.

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It's a tough problem because imposing goals seems to imbue a game with meaning, yet imposing goals runs counter to the very freedom that draws people to sandbox games. Minecraft gets by with a massive amount of complex, emergent gameplay arising from how the blocks interact with the environment and each other, but still faces that "but what now?" sense (of existential angst?) over time. "Where is this all going? What's it all for?" seems difficult to avoid.

 

Ramping difficulty (ala Dwarf Fortress) could help but might seal late stage gameplay behind a competency wall.

 

Some ideas:

 

* Steal minecraft's blocks, but make them people generating effects you have to deal with: Merchants are great for taxes, but merchants selling too much ale convert laborers to drunkards; introducing priests lowers drunkenness by increasing virtue, but causes people to be less happy and productive; troubadours make people happier, but make priests angry; etc. etc.

 

The game could introduce a wide range of "people blocks" with different interactions, even maybe changing behavior based on time (priests become less effective over time as population grows), population density (troubadours form an art district, creating new trade goods) and proximity (labor district next to docks amplifies productivity, but increases smuggling crime)

 

* Player defined disruptive randomizers (within a range): Let players specify before game a range of events with percentage chances of happening. Similar in spirit to SimCity & spawning tornadoes or earthquakes, but more integrated into the game along the lines of difficulty. Better if you can throw a bunch in a big list, some delayed by time (so the barbarian invasions never happening in the first 30 min of playing).

 

* Rulebreakers: You understand the rules and are bored? What happens when someone opens the ancient tomb or pandora's box or invents a new technology which upends them? Houses built from wood from the mystical forest no longer burn, but attract a procedurally defined threat (orcs one game, bandits another, cultists the next); metal mined from a cursed mine procedurally affects gameplay, in one game allowing construction of boats that are twice as swift but mysteriously cause fish to die (disaster for an island nation), in another making it possible to build greater buildings which sometimes attract ghosts! (I'd suggest making several items have multiple, overlapping effects, by the way, so that effects like fish kills can't easily be just the result of cursed metal, but also farming practices or an evil, aquaphobic cult)

 

Rulebreakers & people blocks actually might work well together: Imagine gems which attract the best artisans, which make nobles happy, which are (initially unknown) from a cursed mine, which then turns nobles quarrellous and greedy. 

 

A variant of all this could be more of a hybrid game, by the way, like one which funnels gameplay variation and rule changes through a "choose your own adventure" style overlay similar to King of Dragon Pass. The replay value would be phenomenal if the "story" were more loose and procedurally generated, maybe with one game pitting players against a rising threat while another accentuates settling conflict between fractious populations while still a third is more of a murder mystery involving a powerful traitor creating chaotic and disruptive effects. Much tougher to implement and a nightmare for balance, but experimental players would probably love it! 

 

A big advantage of such a hybrid game would be that it has an ending, which drives that satisfying internal sense of completion and sidesteps "growth as if you're a cancer" ethos I think people find unappealing over time.

Edited by Wavinator

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I am not even sure your problem is actually a problem. If people get bored of a game, because they know it inside out, and played it to death, then you basically achieved all you can ever ask. There is little that such people haven't seen or tried in your game.

They used all your content!

 

What more can you want?

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I think you are missing some games from your playing experience of this genre.  You should try Artist Colony, a game from the Timebuilders series, a game from the Virtual Villagers series, All My Gods, and Rebuild 2.  Each of these games takes a different approach to blending story/quests and building.

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I am not even sure your problem is actually a problem. If people get bored of a game, because they know it inside out, and played it to death, then you basically achieved all you can ever ask. There is little that such people haven't seen or tried in your game.

They used all your content!

 

What more can you want?

I don't agree with this - as a player, I just need more structure to enjoy a game than some other players do.  Games like The Sims or Viva Pinata, which are extremely interesting in concept to me, always lose me before I've fully explored them because the lack of goals and structure means I don't feel oriented or motivated within the game.  Even something like Elder Scrolls Oblivion, which is objectively a high-quality game, I have a hard time staying invested in.  And the same is true for most open-world MMOs; the only one I ever managed to play for along time is A Tale In The Desert because it has a specific set of tests (aka quests) to pursue in between more sandboxy sim play.

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Posted (edited)
How was it handled in ceasar and such games?

 

it wasn't.   i played all 3 versions of Caesar.   in regular gameplay, once you completed your mission, you got a new mission (new city to build), with new and different challenges.  There may have been an option to keep playing around with your current city before moving on to the next mission.  In open play sandbox mode, it was just you, the map, and the buildings.  The map size limited how much you could build.  But there were many types of buildings with very in-depth economic modeling. This would lead to endless tinkering and optimization.  It was also rather difficult to get and maintain the highest value housing units. So while they didn't add any extra stuff to try to give the player more content once they had used up the game, the game itself was in-depth enough that its was very difficult to use up in the first place. Also, Caesar was the franchise that used "Walkers" rather than distance to determine the influence radius of buildings. So road layouts were much more important, and something you almost never stopped fiddling with.

 

in simcity 1.0, the map size was the big limitation, and a population of 1 million (maybe you should try urban planning or perhaps VLSI chip design) was the ultimate prize.  they added stuff like godzilla cause it got old after a while. it didn't have the depth of a Caesar type game necessary to keep you trying to master it. just surround the housing with parks, and when crime breaks out, tear down all the churches and put up police stations. guaranteed win, every time.

 

generally speaking, at all times, in any game, a player needs a goal, either provided by the game, or a self determined goal. and they need to be challenged, and they need a continuous supply of compelling new content. and they need for there to be some point to it all.  this is what's required for long term play

 

no goal = nothing to do = stop playing

no challenge = boring = stop playing

nothing new, or nothing i'm interested in = boring = stop playing.

no point to it all = no motivation = stop playing. kind of a meta version of "no goal". but no overall goal, as opposed to no goal right now. whats the point of skyrim? buy all the houses and horses? 

Edited by Norman Barrows

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Well, Caesar is outlined just above and Pharaoh from same company was on the same boat as well but with an addition of pyramid building which was taking serious time and material.

 

Simcity up until Simcity 4 (best game in known universe) was single city challenge, SC4 added regions where you can manage several cities loosely in interaction with each other. For Simcity series, after certain point it wasn't about beating game, packing millions of population into region but creating something appealing to your sense of achievement and aesthetics. If you check Simtropolis City Journals, you can find amazing things.

 

But returning to what you actually asked,

 

I think Tropico is a good example showing that there's room for improvement. Tropico also has city building elements but also includes factions , foreign powers , balances etc. So it poses a challenge rather than building a banana republic.

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two ways to add game play come to mind:

 

1. SIMCity with tanks.  I've now been saying this for 27 years now. and nobody has built it yet.   like an rts, but with realistic build times - more simcity - less RTS.  Caesar II was the best example.

 

2. Ages - as in AOE.  after x years, new building / technologies become available.

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Posted (edited)

One of the ways I'm dealing with this is to pay special attention to details. The tree isn't just a tree. It's pine (light and soft) or oak (hard and grainy) or cedar (Boats! Cedar-bark baskets!). And for that, you'll need a character on your team who knows a thing or two about trees.  There's also a marked difference between "Discovered: a small portrait!" and "Discovered: Rembrant's portrait of a young woman in pearls, 1632."

 

And even if it doesn't affect the gameplay much, drawing on the players' associations with these sorts of things can make the experience more immersive.

 

Or, say that you've found a beautiful grand piano in a ruined concert hall, but how the heck are you going to move it to your base without ruining the piece? And if you manage to save it, who has the skill to play it, or the knowledge to tune it? And there we've sneakily added in several unofficial side quests-- foraging for sheet music and maintenance reference books and skill grinding-- with the reward of having a stirring concert at the end for the town. The stats might be nice, but it also shapes your builder with story it might not have had otherwise.

 

Now, granted, my game's a post-apocalypse last-humans-on-earth sim/builder 2d thing, which lends itself to this format. The setting also implies that longer you take to forage and explore, the harder it will be to find intact items. So (like most things) it's not universal advice... still, worth a thought or two.

Edited by Eliza

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Hi Suliman,

 

I think the problem really comes down to the goal of survival games.

 

I think the main goal of any survival games is to, well, survive. In order to survive you will need to manage different resources and dealing with hazzards in an environment etc.

When you set up the basic, no longer need to worry about surviving, you have actually finished the goal and the game is over.

You have found the solution to the puzzle, of course you will feel bored after that.

 

Games like Don't Starve varies the environmental conditions every time you start a new game to change things around, but that does not change the fact that the game will end.

 

I don't think there is anything wrong with city-buildings/sims/survival.

Like you said, it is just the nature of it.

 

You simply cannot make a survival game that forces you to stuggle on surviving constantly.

That is like a puzzle with no solution, it is not a puzzle.

 

Maybe, instead of making one game that lasts forever, how about making it worth re-playing?

 

Or maybe, like Minecraft/Terraria/Don't starve etc, survive is only one aspect of the game. Building stuff and exploring dungeon and what not can also be fun.

 

 

 

 

 

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Simulation games are system games. The challenge and goal of these kind of games is to master the system, to understand
how it work. Once you have mastered it, there's nothing more to learn.

You can try to introduce features from other kind of games. There are story driven games (are you able to write an interesting story), competitive games (multiplayer and some kind of ranking), game mechanism (similiar to system, once you have mastered it you need more challenges) etc.

But this could end in making two games in one and each game part competing with each other.

You can add options to challenge the knowledge of the player:
1. Add some kind of time pressure, so that the player need to execute his knowledge more optimized.
2. Limit certain resources, so that the player is forced to find alternative routes to solve the challenges.
3. Forget knowledge, i.e. like the potion colors in some roguelike. Instead of always using the red potion as healing potion the player need to learn, that after restart it could be the blue or yellow potion.
You can extend this to crafting:. you can only craft obsidian weapons in one game and after restart you can craft only metal weapons, or stone or bone etc.

 

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The trick with open-ended, open-world, and sandbox games is that they by and large rely on emergent narratives from non-linear story lines.  That means that despite the efforts of the developers, the story told by the game is made up by the player and exists only in the players mind.  Sometimes that can be prolonged by either human storytelling insertions (ten thousand fetch-from-a-cave quests in Skyrim) or random events (another wave of zombies in Rust, a tornado in Sim City) but after a while even that gets as tedious as doing another hundred integrals for your calculus homework.

 

Games like Minecraft and Factorio succeed because the emergent narrative is forced to be almost entirely in the players mind.  They're like an old-fashioned set of Lego (the ones before they cam with assembly instructions for the one single model you you're supposed to build).  But eventually even such games come to a "OK, now what's the point" where you stop playing.  Maybe after creating a video decoder using in-game technology.  Maybe that guy just needed more calculus homework.

 

My long-term fascination, for over 30 years now, is to create an effective generative storyteller that can alter storylines to meet and alter the emergent narrative in such a way as to continue player interest with compelling plot, location, and character.  30 years ago the technology just wasn't there.  Today, well, it's still not there but I see a few flashes of brilliance every now and then.  I think maybe in another 30 years, people might just immerse themselves in their own personal interactive entertainment using AI generative storytelling and an artificial or augmented reality human-computer interface.  I see social collapse and unethical exploitation for personal profit in that, but I'll be dead so not my problem.

 

Anyway, I think the only way to give open-ended games extended playability is to have a better storyteller continue to keep the player personally engaged with non-repetitive and appropriately levelled challenges.  As if they're playing against a matched human.  Real AI, not the fixed human-programmed ruleset currently referred to as AI.

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Banished I found quite dull.

Dwarf Fortress conversely, I still play on and off. 

 

DF has much more creativity - you can build skyscrapers or manage a city of militant dwarves (or psychotic ones, or maybe do a settlement full of fish-cleaners and traders). Banished is much more focused...but it has like, no focus. It's a sandbox where I don't feel compelled to be creative, there's no direction. In DF, I feel like there are lots of things to grab my attention - I can focus on gathering valuable resources like gold or platinum to make giant gold-plated graveyards for my soon-to-be-dead dwarves. Or, I can focus on building a mighty dwarf barracks. In banished, I just make a town and it it just eventually flounders with not that much to say about it afterward. When my dwarf settlements inevitably spiral into self-destruction, it always starts with an interesting story, "So some crazy dwarf just had to pull a lever that controls the lava-flow to the forge..." Plus, I can ALWAYS go back to my destroyed city at some point, reclaim those old rooms with new settlers. That adds an interesting element to the game - you can fail, but when you do, you don't have to start over from scratch!

 

It's hard to compare the two games as they're really different. I would just say in Banished's case, it needs more direction or stuff to do. It's like a skeleton of a game, or at least the initial version that I played was like that.

Edited by anubite

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