game report

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Mal
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game report

Postby Mal » Sun Nov 13, 2016 3:46 pm

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Sorry it took so long for me to provide feedback. A few weeks ago I ran a game from beginning to ultimate conquest of 80 systems. I conquered the galaxy at 1500 by destroying all major and minor factions (except for the borg-looking pirates). I then ran 30 more turns to completely finish the technology tree -- to build some more ships and see what else was working.

I going to focus on the problems I think I found and likely make some recommendations. I don't think gushing too much over the good parts are very helpful, so mostly my comments will be about the mechanics and dynamics of the game I think can be improved. My goal is to not recommend new features, but offer suggestions on how to improve existing features. That said, if I stray to far into significant enhancements, I apologize now ahead of time.

I can't write it all in one go, but will come back and add more over the next few days.

Overall Feel

While certainly some people will not like the cartoon-ish graphics, I think it's your strongest differentiation from other similar products. It's a good theme and unifies everything in the game. Most importantly, I did NOT fall into the uncanny valley of an interface that looked like it was trying to be state-of-the-art, but then fell short due to poor uniformity and cheap illustrations. Well done.

I would also like to quickly highlight the "undo" and "redo" functionality. While it did offer some insight to how things were working under the hood, it was a very novel feature. Some might argue that it is a "cheat" mechanic, but I've never believed in the concept of cheating in single-player games. It's not a sport. Kudos on an ingenious way to help new players learn and understand the game's feedback as they play.

Sequential Mechanics

In terms of a general statement, much of the game's mechanics seem to be based on sequential progress, vice concurrent progress. Both the "build queue" industry converter and "research project" research converter come quickly to mind.

First, I would recommend research conversion on concurrent projects given some prioritization system.

Regarding conversion of the industry resource, the build queue seems closely coupled to planet. It's a sequential, FIFO queue. Perhaps consider separating the one queue into two potential concurrent converters (i.e. a planetary construction queue and shipyard queue).

Strategic Resources

Also regarding the industry resource, it appears to be at odds with the other strategic resources like food, metal, research, and money. While the sources, factories, are much like the other resources' creators, the industrial drains, converters, and traders seem unnecessarily limited. If I understood the mechanic, the industry resource is limited to only its host planet; so that all the other functions (drains, etc.) are only meaningful to the extent that the planet's build queue is producing something tangible.

If that's true, it might force the player into an onerous dominant strategy of producing factories first in order to build other structures; only to later destroy them to purchase the final structure (farm, etc.). Given a large, growing empire that seems too limited and promotes painful micromanagement. At the very least, many factories end up not working on anything.

My recommendation is to make the industry resource more like the food resource. The sources fill a strategic pool that are also drained by the population resource (e.g. as domestic goods). Trade ship capacity is required (like food) to move the needed resource between exporters and importers based on population demand. It can be used for the build queue work and the surplus for foreign trade. Shortfalls create unrest on net import planets where industry is unfulfilled. You could envision other dynamics such as demand rates for each species and under certain economic conditions (e.g. peacetime, wartime, etc.).

For the same benefits, I would also recommend a similar drain for the research resource (i.e. population-based demand). Innovation isn't just the state's interest. I'm reminded of Buzz Aldrin's quote on the cover of MIT Technology Review magazine, "You Promised Me Mars Colonies. Instead, I Got Facebook."

In both cases, the strategic resource drain is proportional to the population growth (i.e. a negative feedback loop).

Back with more later.
Last edited by Mal on Sun Nov 13, 2016 4:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: game report

Postby bjg » Sun Nov 13, 2016 4:31 pm

it might force the player into an onerous dominant strategy of producing factories first in order to build other structures; only to later destroy them to purchase the final structure (farm, etc.)

Doing this all the time, and not only with factories (for example, it's helpful to build some mines at the beginning to accumulate some metal and destroy them later). What is wrong with that?

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Re: game report

Postby Arioch » Sun Nov 13, 2016 6:48 pm

Thanks for the feedback.

Mal wrote: First, I would recommend research conversion on concurrent projects given some prioritization system.

I'm not sure what you're suggesting here. Research projects are sequential rather than concurrent, so there's no need to assign priority. If you mean an ability to queue research projects, that's something we'd like to improve on when we revamp the research UI (currently you can queue a series of prerequisites to a target tech, but you can't queue an arbitrary number of unrelated techs like you can in most games that have a tree display).

Mal wrote: If that's true, it might force the player into an onerous dominant strategy of producing factories first in order to build other structures; only to later destroy them to purchase the final structure (farm, etc.). Given a large, growing empire that seems too limited and promotes painful micromanagement. At the very least, many factories end up not working on anything.

I do agree that the game could benefit from an idle factory activity. In most similar games, the "Research" and "Trade" activities are conversions of production, so factories would benefit in that output, but in our case they're just multipliers on Science/Coin yield so that you don't have to build factories on worlds which are going to be dedicated to Research, Mining, etc. This does leave some cases in which factories are sitting idle.

Simply making the Production (wrench) resource global would present a number of problems, the largest being that the speed of production of large/expensive units is gated by the limited production output of individual planets; if you could pool your entire empire's production and funnel it into a single planet's production target, then you can trivialize the cost of very expensive units, manufacturing Dread Stars in a single turn. It would also require an additional management/UI system to determine which planets have priority access to the production global resource.

I think it would be useful if we had something like a "Spare Parts" production activity (I seem to recall seeing this in a 4X game before) which could be used to dump wrenches from idle worlds with factories (especially small ones without labs or mines that may not benefit from the other production activities). Spare Parts could then be a global resource which is stockpiled, and can be drawn on to boost production at other planets, but only by a capped percentage, say 20%. While it would be cool to have Spare Parts transported by the Trade Pool, I think that would be an unnecessary complication (we'd have to track Spare Parts supplies on every planet), and so it would probably work like Metal currently does, though we could have access to Spare Parts interrupted in the case of a blockade. The biggest question is how the player manages the allocation of Spare Parts; whether it's something that is automatically used as available by an automatic priority (perhaps the highest production planet priority), or whether there's a "Use Spare Parts" button in each planet's production screen, which lets you choose which planets will draw from the Spare Parts pool and when, and allow you to stockpile the resource if desired.

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Re: game report

Postby bjg » Sun Nov 13, 2016 8:30 pm

The "spare parts" is an interesting idea, but not very practical with the current balance. In my recent game the metal was the limiting factor (probably because of my errors in planning), not "wrenches". The Dread Star was taking 5 turns to build, but I've had enough money to buy it if wanted (and had enough metal).

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Re: game report

Postby Arioch » Sun Nov 13, 2016 9:39 pm

Another, simpler option would be to have an activity that converts production to currency (at a low efficiency rate -- maybe 15-25%). Could be something like "consumer goods". Maybe even add a small local morale boost (maybe tied to or boosted by the presence of a local Market).

It would do essentially the same thing as spare parts, since currency can be used to rush production, but would be much simpler and more flexible.

Currency is very plentiful now, but as we increase the maintenance cost of ships and offer more things to do with currency in diplomatic trades (and hiring mercenaries), it will probably be less plentiful.

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Re: game report

Postby Mal » Sun Nov 13, 2016 11:20 pm

It's an interesting discussion about the conversion of surplus industry.

First, as a new player, during the first dozen worlds or so, you are struck immediately by the long build times for non-factory planetary structures. Farms are ok, but research centers in particular are long duration projects -- usually indicating 200+ turns -- until factories on the world are produced first. You obviously can use money to offset that shortage of industry and reduce the build time to one turn. That is certainly a mid to late game strategy once sufficient money is available. If that is good enough, then so be it.

However, I'm going to go down a rabbit hole here if you feel like reading more and make a very fine conceptual distinction.

Imagine that industry represents the empire's capacity to produce manufactured goods. A factory in the naive mind of a player is a place where goods are manufactured and assembled. Metals represent the raw resource component of that conversion. If you agree with that premise, then I think the use of money to speed a build is conceptually a bit off in the game as in now stands. I didn't get to mentioning it in my first post, but I'll try to explain briefly why.

In terms of such build projects there is a concept known as the "Iron Triangle" that establishes the constraints of any such project. The triangle has three vertices -- scope, cost, and schedule. When you push or pull on a vertex (i.e. change), the other two vertices are affected. A simple way to describe it is, you are given the options of fast, good, and cheap, and told you can only pick any two.

In 4X games, scope (i.e. the project's deliverable features) are usually fixed. Every factory structure is the same as every other. Every battleship of a given a design is a copy of another. That implies, as a game designer, that only two of the vertices can be manipulated by the player-- the cost and schedule. That's why almost every game lets you pay more for speedy delivery. Schedule decreases and cost increases.

The issue here with SiS is that you are actually converting money to industry AND time. You aren't the only game.

Instead, in reality, the increased cost vertex of that iron triangle should not produce the industry resource needed to complete a project. It should actually only reduce the schedule of assembly. Why? A battleship or factory of fixed scope requires the same requirement of components (manufactured goods and raw resources) to complete. That money is actually used for added work to assemble the project (e.g. added fabrication man/hours, express delivery of components, etc.). You're paying for time, not goods and raw resources.

That's splitting a fine hair I know, but consider that my point is that the money resource should only be converting the "turns" resource (i.e. time) and not both the turns resource and the industry resource. You are giving the player a hefty benefit by using money. As late game approaches, richer empires can use this advantage to greater effect -- accelerate it. It's a significant positive feedback loop in other words.

I suggest you make the player still pay the iron price in industry resources. As 4X designers, I would suggest that you want to maintain the "conflict" (challenge) of the game for the player as long as possible -- an even pace.
Last edited by Mal on Mon Nov 14, 2016 12:42 am, edited 8 times in total.
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Re: game report

Postby Mal » Sun Nov 13, 2016 11:34 pm

Arioch wrote:Thanks for the feedback.
Mal wrote: First, I would recommend research conversion on concurrent projects given some prioritization system.

I'm not sure what you're suggesting here. Research projects are sequential rather than concurrent, so there's no need to assign priority. If you mean an ability to queue research projects, that's something we'd like to improve on when we revamp the research UI (currently you can queue a series of prerequisites to a target tech, but you can't queue an arbitrary number of unrelated techs like you can in most games that have a tree display).


I was suggesting that concurrent (parallel) research projects should be possible. Not simply a FIFO queue that, in my opinion, is much more sequential. For example, I am working on three different research nodes at the same time. The number of research resources dedicated to each is either fixed or variable (player set). Or, I could choose to focus entirely on a single node. More meaningful choices.
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Re: game report

Postby Mal » Sun Nov 13, 2016 11:57 pm

Arioch wrote:...if you could pool your entire empire's production and funnel it into a single planet's production target, then you can trivialize the cost of very expensive units, manufacturing Dread Stars in a single turn.


Using population demand as a industry resource drain is the offset to hyper-production. The elegance is that it can give the early game player with a lower population a modest boost to building toys quickly -- ostensibly their homogeneous focus and specialization. That's stimulating for them and promotes learning and experimentation. As the empire's population grows large, the needs of the population continue to tax the player's ability to hyper-build. Population demand is the conversion regulator. And as I suggested, you use some instance of shipyard converter (and/or barracks converter) to further regulate units. Those specialized converters aren't just important to you as production gates, but also for a few other reasons.

Arioch wrote:...It would also require an additional management/UI system to determine which planets have priority access to the production global resource.


In the same way the player ensures his key shipyard world is first to get food now-- you use the same mechanic you use now for food such that planets with factories satisfy local needs first. If you want to get creative, then perhaps system demands next. Finally, transports provide net exporters access to net importers. It's logical and it already works for food. (for more fun, use a heat map from net exporters)
Last edited by Mal on Mon Nov 14, 2016 12:24 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: game report

Postby Mal » Mon Nov 14, 2016 12:07 am

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One last post tonight-- something less pie in the sky to bring it back down to the trenches.

I recommend that the "X" used to close event reports at the bottom of the screen doesn't move in relation to the UX. As it stood during my game, the title of the event would push that "X" horizontally depending on the size of the title text. When the player is cycling through a lot of event messages, being able to hold the mouse steady and click, click, click, is a lot better than chasing that "X" button on each event.
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Re: game report

Postby Arioch » Mon Nov 14, 2016 1:18 am

Mal wrote:Instead, in reality, the increased cost vertex of that iron triangle should not produce the industry resource needed to complete a project. It should actually only reduce the schedule of assembly. Why? A battleship or factory of fixed scope requires the same requirement of components (manufactured goods and raw resources) to complete. That money is actually used for added work to assemble the project (e.g. added fabrication man/hours, express delivery of components, etc.). You're paying for time, not goods and raw resources.

That's splitting a fine hair I know, but consider that my point is that the money resource should only be converting the "turns" resource (i.e. time) and not both the turns resource and the industry resource. You are giving the player a hefty benefit by using money. As late game approaches, richer empires can use this advantage to greater effect -- accelerate it. It's a significant positive feedback loop in other words.

In SIS, the amount of time it takes to produce an item is determined by the amount of wrenches per turn that a planet can produce. So reducing the amount of time by definition requires a reduction in the wrench cost of the item. Trading coin for wrenches is the same thing for our purposes as trading cost for time. The Metal requirement (the physical resource) is not reduced by rush-buying.

Mal wrote:I was suggesting that concurrent (parallel) research projects should be possible. Not simply a FIFO queue that, in my opinion, is much more sequential. For example, I am working on three different research nodes at the same time. The number of research resources dedicated to each is either fixed or variable (player set). Or, I could choose to focus entirely on a single node. More meaningful choices.

Mal wrote:Using population demand as a industry resource drain is the offset to hyper-production. The elegance is that it can give the early game player with a lower population a modest boost to building toys quickly -- ostensibly their homogeneous focus and specialization. That's stimulating for them and promotes learning and experimentation. As the empire's population grows large, the needs of the population continue to tax the player's ability to hyper-build. Population demand is the conversion regulator. And as I suggested, you use some instance of shipyard converter (and/or barracks converter) to further regulate units. Those specialized converters aren't just important to you as production gates, but also for a few other reasons.

We only have roughly two months to complete the game in our current schedule, and there's still a lot to do; I hope you don't feel I'm being dismissive when I say that it's really not feasible to change the fundamentals of how the research and production mechanics work this late in development.

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Re: game report

Postby Mal » Mon Nov 14, 2016 9:52 pm

Arioch wrote:We only have roughly two months to complete the game in our current schedule, and there's still a lot to do; I hope you don't feel I'm being dismissive when I say that it's really not feasible to change the fundamentals of how the research and production mechanics work this late in development.


It's a good game; better than many. I'm happy to comment about it. If the comments are useful so much the better; if not, that's as well too.
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Re: game report

Postby Mal » Mon Nov 14, 2016 10:35 pm

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Tool Tip Reports

These reports are informative, but I recommend standardizing the format and information where applicable.

For example:
o Brief description
o Top Producers
o Top Consumers
o Top Exporters
o Top Importers
o Other specific remarks about the resource

I also recommend increasing the alpha to reduce transparency some more.
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Re: game report

Postby Mal » Mon Nov 14, 2016 10:47 pm

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Planet Picture

The illustration of the planet in this dialog uses 40% of the screen area. It does a fine job of conveying the planet's climate type. I understand the desire to place illustrations at the forefront; for static images it's actually great. It will serve you well for screenshots used in reviews, etc.

However, for the player and UX, it's nearly half the area and should be used in some additional way to provide more information (used for decisions) or made somehow interactive in way that serves to help player control. I think you are up to the challenge of integrating the illustration in a more active and useful way.
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Re: game report

Postby Arioch » Mon Nov 14, 2016 10:58 pm

This is an issue of upscaling; you're running at a much higher resolution than the target res, which is 1920x1080. The bottom solar system panel doesn't scale vertically as resolution increases, and so that leads the rest of the UI to become unusually tall, which in turn leads to the planet image dominating the display (since it's trying to remain square). Normally, the display proportions look like this:

Image

We should probably allow the planet display to scale vertically or constrain it horizonally, but it's still going to look a little weird at such high resolutions.

(It doesn't help that neither Sven nor I have access to a display this large, so it makes it difficult to test.)

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Re: game report

Postby Mal » Mon Nov 14, 2016 10:59 pm

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Planet Names

This element appears often as a base in different dialogs. I recommend you add the planet's name to each world's element.
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