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Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Tue May 14, 2019 8:48 pm
by sven
Hi all,

For a while now, I've been suspicious that ship upkeep costs in SiS are far lower than they ought to be. Thus I've started testing a build of the game that ramps up upkeeps dramatically, which makes for very different gameplay in a number of ways.

The most obvious result is that money becomes more important, fleet sizes get smaller, and metal becomes less of a critical resource. That leaves players with more opportunities and incentives to invest in research; when everyone has relatively small fleets, you want to make sure your ships are as well equipped as possible.

In addition to ramping up upkeep costs, I've also made some complementary changes, reducing refit costs so that keeping your ships up to date is a bit easier, and nerfing foreign trade routes to put an effective cap on the amount of income you can gain from trade charters.

I'm liking the results I'm seeing thus far from the changes. I think managing battles between smaller, better equipped fleets makes the game more fun. Finding optimal strategies in a high-upkeep game also becomes more complex; as deciding how much of your income to devote to ship upkeep at any point in time becomes an important strategic decision. This added complexity means the AI has generally gotten weaker. That said, I've spent some time tweaking the algorithms, and as of the latest revisions, I think the AI should still provide a challenge on the harder difficulty modes.

I've just rolled out the candidate changes to the various 'testing' servers (r37999). Technically, this patch won't break old save games; but you'll almost certainly want to start a new game with the new balance, as older saves will have very inconsistent ship upkeep costs, making for very strange gameplay.

Let me know what you think of the changes.

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Tue May 14, 2019 8:59 pm
by nweismuller
The capping of foreign trade routes based on domestic trade routes fixes a problem that's bothered me for a while, which is 'factions where 90% or more of their income comes from trade revenues from their trade pact with me'. It began straining credibility.

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Tue May 14, 2019 9:01 pm
by zolobolo
Does the AI refit ships? I have honestly never noticed that directly
Am a bit afraid if the AI got nerfed on normal as it was in a good spot but will start new game and test out. What issues it had before are more on the side of concentrating on building few expensive ships instead of escorts for them

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Tue May 14, 2019 9:06 pm
by sven
zolobolo wrote:Does the AI refit ships? I have honestly never noticed that directly


In prior builds the AI would never refit. That obviously became a problem under the new balance. The AI is doing some refit-ish things as of r37999, but it's still a bit of a work in progress.

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Tue May 14, 2019 9:20 pm
by nweismuller
Something is very off with income calculation in the current build. Uploaded game_8116, where coin income is at +42 where it should be something in the +20s. Hard to tell what exactly is wrong- calculations seem correct per planet but that overall total per turn is way off.

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Tue May 14, 2019 9:25 pm
by sven
nweismuller wrote:Something is very off with income calculation in the current build. Uploaded game_8116, where coin income is at +42 where it should be something in the +20s.


That's.... actually working as intended. There's now a "base" +15 coin income that everyone is getting to compensate for higher ship upkeeps in the early game. In my own playtesting, my impression was that this was about what you needed to keep the early game balance feeling about right. Arioch has argued that it's probably too high; and I am open to lowering it a bit. But, for structural reasons, I think that if ship upkeeps are going to be around this high, we probably do need some amount of base income.

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Tue May 14, 2019 9:32 pm
by sven
sven wrote: But, for structural reasons, I think that if ship upkeeps are going to be around this high, we probably do need some amount of base income.


Humans, in particular, just become unplayable without some base income, as their whole refugee fleet+small starting pop concept is untenable otherwise. Phidi, meanwhile, are sitting at the other extreme. They already tend to have an unbalanced income stream, and adding +15 in the early game just makes that issue even more acute. That said, mercenary upkeep costs have risen with the rest of ship upkeeps, so, the Phidi did get some partially compensating nerfs. Whether or not it will be a enough to keep them feeling "reasonable" remains unclear -- I haven't tried a Phidi playthrough with the new balance yet.

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Tue May 14, 2019 9:35 pm
by nweismuller
Ah, it's not immediately obvious in the top-level income breakdown that you get a base income now. It's not a bug, just an information presentation issue, then. It might be worthwhile adding an item in the income breakdown to make that more clear.

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Tue May 14, 2019 10:28 pm
by Dragar
I'll take a look tomorrow evening! I do think that ship upkeep was negligible to the point of non-existent, and I like that refits are cheaper.

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Wed May 15, 2019 4:53 am
by sven
sven wrote:I think the AI should still provide a challenge on the harder difficulty modes.


After a bit more playtesting, I decided the AI still felt too unthreatening, so I've reintroduced an old bonus in r38000. All AI's on normal or harder are now starting with an extra colony ship.

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Wed May 15, 2019 6:03 am
by Arioch
sven wrote:
sven wrote:I think the AI should still provide a challenge on the harder difficulty modes.


After a bit more playtesting, I decided the AI still felt too unthreatening, so I've reintroduced an old bonus in r38000. All AI's on normal or harder are now starting with an extra colony ship.

I would suggest doing that only on Hard and harder. I think that ideally, the Normal mode should have as close to a level playing field as you can get.

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Wed May 15, 2019 5:47 pm
by zolobolo
Arioch wrote:I would suggest doing that only on Hard and harder. I think that ideally, the Normal mode should have as close to a level playing field as you can get.

Agreed, there should be a leveled playing field mode. If the AI cannot handle the mehanic, it might also not be worth pushing it as it might create additional anomalies (think of 3 stack spam of small factions in Total War games)

There is a base income mechanic in most games though - through capital. If there were a sort of capital structure, it could have the assigned base income so you can inplement it via in-game elements+ human could also get a larger starting coin amount to keep them afloat for longer withouth base income but again the AI should not spend its funds then thinking it hasa lot to spend so workaround here again :)

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Wed May 15, 2019 7:08 pm
by sven
Arioch wrote:I would suggest doing that only on Hard and harder. I think that ideally, the Normal mode should have as close to a level playing field as you can get.


Ok, I've reverted the change in r38001. For reference, the AI's colony ship advantages are now +1 extra ship on 'Hard' and +2 on 'Brutal'. That's feeling very roughly right to me, in my current playtesting.

zolobolo wrote:There is a base income mechanic in most games though - through capital. If there were a sort of capital structure, it could have the assigned base income so you can inplement it via in-game elements+ human could also get a larger starting coin amount to keep them afloat for longer withouth base income but again the AI should not spend its funds then thinking it hasa lot to spend so workaround here again :)


Yeah. Humans are in a tough spot with these changes. The expenses of their starting fleet now make them by far the worst of the factions, and their small economy means that the old trick of building up a navy by capturing pirates no longer works nearly as well. I fear 'Brutal' playthroughs with humans may be truly impossible now. I think they probably need a strong buff to get them back in the game. A starting tech advantage might be more appropriate than altering the rules to give different empires different base incomes.... but, maybe I'm over-thinking this. I mean, the simplest way of restoring early-game balance to something like it's base state would just be to say that the Phidi's base income is something like +5, everyone else is around +10, and humans are like +20.

Playing with the starting techs would be easier to justify lore-wise. But, varying the base income by empire might be a simpler "fix".

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Wed May 15, 2019 7:36 pm
by Dragar
Could humans just have lower maintenance costs for their ships? They look like rust buckets that don't get much time in dock anyway!

Re: Testing Economic Balance Changes

Posted: Wed May 15, 2019 8:18 pm
by sven
Dragar wrote:Could humans just have lower maintenance costs for their ships? They look like rust buckets that don't get much time in dock anyway!


That does seem like a good fit thematically. I mean, if you've spent generations as interstellar nomads, you've probably learned a few tricks re: reducing maintenance costs.

This would give humans an interesting mid/late game perk; they'd be able to support much larger fleets than their economy would suggest. And it could restore pirate-capturing as a somewhat viable early game human strategy. Might almost be enough to get 'hard' and 'brutal' difficulty humans feeling viable again. I think it's worth playtesting. I'm going to start with a 50% upkeep discount -- that's a huge perk, but, if we're going to go this route, I think really committing to it as a serious racial advantage probably makes sense.

Coding wise, this is a very simple tweak -- it's up as of r38002. Like the base-income mechanic, however, it will need better in-game documentation if we decide to stick with the mechanic.