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Designing by Analogy

Hi everybody, Oliver here again – this time, to talk a little bit about some of the design philosophy underlying our decisions here at KatHawk Studios! Alliance of the Sacred Suns is the first game Steve and I have ever made, and as such it’s been a real learning experience – we’ve come across a lot of game-development phenomena that are new to us, and found out a whole bunch of things the hard way that at a larger studio we might have taken in stride. One of these things is what you might call ‘design by analogy’ – that is, designing systems by direct analogy to (some aspect of) the real-world phenomena they’re supposed to represent. This is a method that has come up quite organically again and again through our development process.

Part of the reason for this, of course, is that Alliance is designed around a particular aesthetic sensibility that appreciates detailed simulation: we feel there is somethign deeply satisfying about a game system that represents its subject matter through its very structure. This is most obvious in the detailed economic model underlying the game. But it crops up in many other places, too.

Take the AI, for example. This system works by giving the agents motivations and then going into progressively more and more detail on the methods they use to fulfil them. I was inspired, in the design process, by Kurt Vonnegut’s advice that “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water“. The analogy here is not between games and literature – although you could draw that comparison – but between the structure of the AI and the thought processes of the people being modelled. The system even naturally lends itself to allowing the characters to explain their actions and motivations to you, the player – simply attaching a sentence to each node in the tree of possible courses of action allows them to say ‘I am doing X because I am doing Y because I want Z’.

Another, less obvious place where design by analogy has borne fruit is the UI. One element that we are hoping to introduce is a tooltip for characters showing a brief summary of your interactions with them, designed to individuate them and remind you who’s who – inspired by the kind of advice politicians receive from their advisers when hobnobbing with dignitaries of whatever kind. In this case, the information the player needs and the information their character would need are the same – you want to know ‘who is this guy again?’ And so we present the same information.

I hope this week’s post has given you a little bit of insight into the process of game design! Keep your eyes open for more exciting Alliance news – we should have a video showing off our most exciting new developments soon. Until then, Ave Imperator – and Merry Christmas!

Oliver

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Cultures and Ideas Update

Hi all, Oliver here, with an update on the new features in our latest alpha build! Steve’s been hard at work on the Culture and Idea systems – aspects of your population which affect many different systems in-game.

The Ideas system revolves around eleven different hot-button issues of the 31st century – from tolerance of genetically-engineered human subspecies, to trust in technology, to the proper attitude to war – and each individual Pop and character has their own opinion on each one. This, in turn, affects their support for different Projects, Reforms, and other actions you can undertake – giving each of your decisions political ramifications. You may find you need to soften up a particular constituency with propaganda before you push through a particularly unfashionable Reform, or throw them a bone afterwards to placate their dissatisfaction; perhaps a character you need to run your grand Project is an implacable ideological opponent of it, forcing you to find a way to seduce or blackmail them into getting the job done.

Ideas Screen.jpg
The Ideas display is visible in the top-right. The average is shown by the idea names; the graphics below, not yet implemented, will show the distribution of Pops’ positions across the spectrum on the planet, system or province selected.

The main determinant of a Pop or Character’s Ideas is their Culture. Human Space contains many diverse ways of life, with their own traditions, names, styles of dress, and so on – each of which is represented in-game with unique character names and portraits, ranges of Ideas, unique Reforms that can be implemented once that Culture is integrated into your empire, and more. But Cultures are not passive entities – there can be inter-cultural and inter-religious tensions on your worlds, leading to conflict and even full-on civil war. You must carefully consider how best to resolve these situations as you lead the Celestial Empire.

Cultures Screen.jpg
Cultures displayed on the system screen. Note the leftmost planet box shows the placeholder graphic we used before implementing the system, while the other three show the actual cultural breakdown. Full details on all the cultures on a planet are shown on the planet screen.

Alongside these systems, we’ve been hard at work polishing up our existing ones, creating content to plug into the game, and more. Next week, we’ll have a video update for you. Until then, Ave Imperator!

Oliver