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Developer Diary #2 – Economic System: Retail, aka Buy! Buy! Buy!

Hello everyone! In advance of the LP that will be out later tonight, I wanted this week’s DD to be focused on a new concept that’s really pretty neat, I think, and certainly unique to 4X-type games. I will be going over the economic system in detail, but because it’s pretty intricate, I will be going over chunks at a time, so as to dive more in depth into each system. First, retail!

 
So, to understand where retail fits into the planet economy, you have to know that all planets have a Gross Planetary Product (GPP) that is comprised of 4 ‘parts’: the ‘base’ GPP, retail revenue, trade revenues, and import costs. This GPP is used throughout the year to set an import budget (to allow the viceroy to know how much they can/should spend on imports) and to improve the ADL (Average Development Level) of the planet by building infrastructure. While most of the ‘economy’ is based on goods and materials, the GPP of the planet is important for one critical reason: it funnels tax money back to the empire (and by proxy, you), the province governor, the system governor, and the viceroy. Since money and power are two lifebloods of AotSS, it is critical that both the Empire (and you) and Houses have as much as possible. Poor planets are worth very little, and provide very little wealth and power to Houses who Hold them.

 
With that in mind, let’s talk more about retail. So in AotSS, retail is somewhat abstract, and is based around 4 things: merchants, their skill, the planet’s ADL, and the number of Pops on a planet. (There are some other things that can affect this, like Viceroy skills and traits, or planet traits, but these are the main levers.) Basically, the idea works like this:

 
1. CALCULATE THE MONTHLY ALLOCATIONS TO THE RETAIL SECTOR: A yearly percentage of a planet’s stockpile of food and energy (and basic if the viceroy or emperor allow it; heavy and rare materials are mostly used for military and space technologies and would not be widely available for retail as we know it). For this example, let’s say 4% is the hold percentage that the viceroy has selected for their planet. So by using the formula (x * .04) / 10 (for 10 months per AotSS year) we can calculate how many goods are put ‘on the market each month.

Let’s work our way through an example on the planet Argus. If we assume, say 10,000 food units are in Argus’s planetary stockpile, and we’re holding 4% yearly, calculating the monthly food units available for retail on Argus comes to 40 units (10,000 * .04) / 10 = 40.

2. DETERMINE THE MERCHANT EFFICIENCY: The next step is determining how effective your merchants (and remember, these are merchant POPS, not individual merchants, representing a million units with an average skill level and culture between them) are in actually selling the goods to the citizen Pops on the planet. So while I’m not going to give the exact calculations, I will give enough information so that you understand how best to utilize retail. The merchant efficiency (ME) is calculated using the merchant skill and total merchants on the planet to determine a ratio from .01 to 3.0. To get the best ratio, you need either a lot of Merchant Pops or highly skilled Merchant Pops (there is a bonus to efficiency after 50 Skill, 50 is average, and below 50 is a malus).

For the purposes of this example, let’s say the ME on planet Argus is .35 (there are only 20 Merchant Pops, and their average skill is 41). 

3. DETERMINE REVENUES FROM EFFICIENCY: So now you’ve got a set amount of food out on the market, and you have an efficient (or not so much) merchant corps distributing it throughout the planet. Great! There’s 2 other things that determine how much the planet actually wrings from a given retail network: the good price on that planet, and the ADL of the planet. Since ADL is derived mostly by the types of Pops that are on a planet, you’re going to have scientists and engineers who make more money going out to expensive restaurants and buying nutritious organic food, not your miners and farmers. So: the higher the ADL, the more money made.

So for our example, on Argus it’s a nice planet and there are a lot of scientists, government folk, and engineers, so the ADL is 17 (pretty high). After determining how much of the food is actually sold, the result is 11.5 units (Available Food Units / Merchant Efficiency) * (Average Merchant Skill / 50). That’s a lot of wasted food. So the last step is to determine how much revenue is made from those 11.5 units planet wide. We simply multiply the amount of goods by the current food price on the planet (we’ll say $.10 to keep it easy), and add a variable for the ADL (17) and… congratulations! Your merchants made $19.5 billion crowns (BC) from food this month!

4. DETERMINE THE PLANET’S CUT: Great! You now have your merchants out on the planet, hopefully finding a market for the finest food and finding buyers for every bit of goods you have allocated. One last thing: what part of that amount goes to the GPP? Easy. There’s a commerce tax that is set by the viceroy that determines how much of the profits the merchants make stay in their pockets. Keep the tax low? Not as many revenues, but your merchants will love it (and will stay, increasing their skills, and a planet with such a progressive tax structure for humble merchants will attract other, good merchants as well). Jack up the tax? You’ll get a quick spike in revenue, but be prepared for merchants, grumbling about oppressive fees, leaving for greener pastures. And your other Pops won’t love it either as their favorite retail establishments close up shop as well, leading to unrest and lowered Popular Support. So smart viceroys do not increase this tax too high unless there’s dire need. This is changed every year at the start of the year, like all other taxes and the Imperial Budget.

So for Argus, the viceroy set the commerce tax at 15%, so the empire’s cut (what goes to GPP that month) in food is only $2.9 BC. That’s our final number!! Remember that the same calculations are made for your energy sector and (if you have allowed it) basic materials as well.

So what happens to the goods that don’t sell? Well… they’re gone. That’s why it’s important to not set your retail allocation very high especially on a new planet. You won’t have the Pops or Merchants to support tons of retail, and the goods that are unsold are basically wasted. And if you waste too many goods, you risk running low on food or energy (or Basic) which creates its own issues. So don’t be greedy – you can overrule the viceroy on any given planet, and usually they’ll be OK with it unless you try to set the value too high, but be judicious. Also, you have the option to allow your Basic stockpile to be released to the retail allocation and since prices on basic units tend to be much higher than food or energy, this can be a quick way to boost your retail sector.

So some of you may be asking – can the retail sector cause prices to change? No. Remember that on a global scale, retail in this futuristic economy is not as all-encompassing as what we know today. Even 15% of stockpile allocation of a given good on a planet is extremely high, and that’s a yearly allocation. It’s not enough of a lever to move prices one way or another. But don’t fret. It’s possible, and I’ll describe how to manipulate prices of goods on the next DD.

So that’s a decently detailed explanation of how retail works. Now the real question: How can you, as emperor, affect the retail engine on any given planet? Several ways, in fact. Here’s just a few – you can use your imagination for others (that’s why it’s called strategy!)

  • Create shortages within a trade group of a certain good. The higher the price, the more the profit
  • Expand your trade infrastructure to attract more merchants
  • Look for ways to keep your merchants happy! Low taxes, high ADL, a benevolent (high Humanity) viceroy, and a nice planet (terraforming) all help.
  • Attract, shall we say, more noble folk (Pops) to your planet
  • Train your merchants! You will eventually have the ability to build Academies on planets that train Pops, and lower-class Pops will look to use those Academies to become another Pop, and existing Pops will use them to improve their skills
  • Change your retail allocation – but be careful, you don’t want to flood the market with unsold, wasted goods and decrease your stockpile!

A tooltip will give you your monthly allocation of goods and the merchant efficiency so you know how you’re doing there. Remember, if it’s low, you need either a) fewer goods b) more Merchant Pops c) better Merchant Pops d) lower Population.

That’s all for today! LP coming in hot – look for it as well! And next week: How goods work in the economy, what each good does, and how you can manipulate them all like a champ!

Excelsior!

-Steve

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Developer Diary: In-Depth – Trade System

Hello everyone! As we prepare for the first EA release in a few months, I will be writing some extensive diaries and focusing on specific systems that are already in the game, so you have a better idea of exactly how they work. The first system that I am going to explore in detail is trade. We wrote a trade primer several months ago, so this is going to build on that and focus on more detail, including using internal error logs to help readers understand how the system is thinking when trades are considered!

First, a short reminder of how the trade system works, macro-scale. There are 3 types of trade ‘hubs’: Empire, Province, and Secondary. Trade can only happen within these spheres of influence (SOI) that they generate- if a planet does not have at least a secondary hub, it can only receive goods, not create profit-generating trades of its own. If a system is not within any SOI, it can not receive any trades at all, just emergency goods shipments sent by a special Project from the Empire (at great cost, both materially and politically) Province spheres of influence are much larger than Secondary spheres, but any number of Secondary hubs can be built (one per system limit). The more merchants there are in a hub, and the more skilled they are, the more influence a hub can have. It is possible, though not likely that a planet with only a Secondary hub, but with many skilled merchants, can generate an SOI almost a large as a Province hub with fewer and less-skilled merchants. Contiguous SOIs create a Trade Group, from which any trade can take place as long as a system is within them. Empire Hubs can trade with any hub regardless of distance; Province Hubs can trade with any other Province Hub regardless of distance. You will be able to initiate Projects that increase a hub’s SOI permanently (this represents creating fueling stations in deep space, more docks, transfer stations between outlying systems, staff, etc.) Fleets are generated by Merchants that are at these hubs, and usually it takes 15 Merchants to create a trade fleet. While a trade fleet is active, these Merchants are not available for other trades.

So now that the areas where trade can occur are established, let’s talk about how they are generated. Basically, trade happens in these steps:

  1. A viceroy of a planet determines what the needs of their planet are. This depends heavily on the current production of the planet, what the Focus of the planet is, and their Humanity, Intelligence, and Caution. Humanity determines how likely they are to take care of their people as opposed to their projects, and make sure that things like Food and Energy are well-taken care of. Intelligence lets the viceroy make better decisions about what is most beneficial for the planet, and Caution influences how much of a planet’s total budget for trade they are willing to use (Viceroys with low Caution will blow the budget out early in the year, while more Cautious Viceroys will ensure that there is a reserve throughout the year). Here’s an example of a planet determining their needs through an internal error log – note: you do not see this log as a player but we use it for balance and to make sure all the systems are working as they should!
TRADE ANALYSIS THREAD FOR PLANET ISCANDRANIA OF THE CIVILIZATION CELESTIAL EMPIRE
VICEROY HUMANITY: 25 INTELLIGENCE: 57 CAUTION: 87
Viceroy Hiraniamalie Guerin on planet Iscandrania is calculating Importances….
Food Importance: 0.0
Energy Importance: 0.0
Basic Importance: 24.5
Heavy Importance: 0.0
Rare Importance: 0.0
Total Import Budget for this month is calculated at 20.5 based on a GPP of $52.0 less trade expenses this year of $0.0 and a percentage dedicated to trade of 45 %.
Viceroy allocates $0.0 MCs towards food imports this month.
Viceroy allocates $0.0 MCs towards energy imports this month.
Viceroy allocates $11.8 MCs towards basic imports this month.
Viceroy allocates $0.0 MCs towards heavy imports this month.
Viceroy allocates $0.0 MCs towards rare imports this month.
After allocations, there is 8.7 remaining this month to use for adjusting import bids, or if not used, to return to the yearly import budget.
With a monthly shortfall of 0.4, 0.2 food units are requested from the viceroy this month.
With a monthly shortfall of 0.2, 0.2 energy units are requested from the viceroy this month.
With a monthly shortfall of 19.3, 44.1 basic units are requested from the viceroy this month.
With a monthly shortfall of -7.1, 0.0 heavy units are requested from the viceroy this month.
With a monthly shortfall of 5.8, 13.2 rare units are requested from the viceroy this month.
New Trade Request generated! Taking export budget into account, Iscandrania requests 13.33 units of Basic at a max price per unit of 0.9.
No trade generated for rare – adjusted unit need was zero.
No trade generated for heavy – adjusted unit need was zero.
TRADE ANALYSIS COMPLETED FOR Iscandrania…

So let’s see what happened here. First, the viceroy determined the importance of each trade good for that month, up to a 100 point scale (100 is critical; 0 means no need ACCORDING TO THE VICEROY!)  In this case, since the viceroy has a low Empathy, they are not prioritizing food and energy, even though there are small shortfalls in those areas. They are prioritizing basic materials (the materials from which everything in the game is built from and maintained) and requesting 44.1 basic units to build a surplus IF POSSIBLE. Note that even though there is a shortfall with rare units, the viceroy is not prioritizing them, either because there is a decent surplus or because they do not forsee a need to use rare materials due to the Focus on the planet, their plans, etc.

Second, with the importances of the trade goods determined, the viceroy then proposes up to 3 trade proposals that are ‘broadcast’ throughout their SOI. In this example, the viceroy has allocated $11.8 BC (billion crowns) of their yearly trade budget, and because of their high Caution and reasonably high Intelligence has kept a reserve. They are asking for 13.33 units of basic materials and is willing to pay up to .9 BC per unit. Keep in mind that a ‘unit’ on this planetary scale is several thousand tons of materials (or several million kW of energy supplies, including oil, fissiles, battery power stored, etc.) Since even though there is a need for rare and heavy, the viceroy determined that the much greater need was for Basic. they did not allocate any money from the planet trade budget to buy anything but Basic.

OK! So each planet goes through that calculation, and from there a galaxy-wide list of trade proposals are generated!

2. Now, it’s time for the trade hubs to ‘go shopping’ as such. They start to look through the trade proposals that are within their SOI and make 2 passes: first, to see if they have enough goods to actually fill the trade request, taking into account the importance of that good for their own planet, and the amount of their stockpile they are willing to part with (influenced by Gluttony and Caution traits). Here’s what that looks like for the empire trade hub, New Terra. Since it’s the imperial hub, it can reach most all planets, so it’s a long list for the viceroy to consider.

I have highlighted the planet example listed above. Iscandrania, so that you can follow the trade flow through one specific example:

Looking within NEO-SIRIUS TRADE GROUP….
Checking civtradehub: New Terra.
Viceroy trade tendency for hub New Terra is 65; caution is 11
Checking on valid trades for planet Iscandrania….
Basic material request found for Iscandrania! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Basic materials requested: 13.3 units. Basic materials allocated for export on New Terra: 1,981(includes 17 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 13 Basic units of basic for 0.9 MCs requested from New Terra to Iscandrania.
Checking on valid trades for planet Dreamland….
Energy request found for Dreamland! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Energy requested: 0.9 units. Energy allocated for export on New Terra: 5,772(includes 29 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 1 Energy units of energy for 0.8 MCs requested from New Terra to Dreamland.
Heavy material request found for Dreamland! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Heavy materials requested: 0.1 units. Heavy materials allocated for export on New Terra: 4,328(includes 87 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 0 Heavy units of heavy for 1.9 MCs requested from New Terra to Dreamland.
Checking on valid trades for planet Falacer….
Basic material request found for Falacer! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Basic materials requested: 0.9 units. Basic materials allocated for export on New Terra: 1,981(includes 17 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 1 Basic units of basic for 2.9 MCs requested from New Terra to Falacer.
Heavy material request found for Falacer! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Heavy materials requested: 0.7 units. Heavy materials allocated for export on New Terra: 4,328(includes 87 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 1 Heavy units of heavy for 1.9 MCs requested from New Terra to Falacer.
Rare material request found for Falacer! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Rare materials requested: 0.1 units. Rare materials allocated for export on New Terra: 233(includes 23 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 0 Rare units of rare for 3.9 MCs requested from New Terra to Falacer.
Checking on valid trades for planet New Jove….
There are no active trade proposals on New Jove.
Checking on valid trades for planet Huanxiang….
Energy request found for Huanxiang! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Energy requested: 5.9 units. Energy allocated for export on New Terra: 5,772(includes 29 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 6 Energy units of energy for 0.8 MCs requested from New Terra to Huanxiang.
Basic material request found for Huanxiang! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Basic materials requested: 2.2 units. Basic materials allocated for export on New Terra: 1,981(includes 17 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 2 Basic units of basic for 2.3 MCs requested from New Terra to Huanxiang.
Checking on valid trades for planet Wuxiaci….
Rare material request found for Wuxiaci! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Rare materials requested: 0.4 units. Rare materials allocated for export on New Terra: 233(includes 23 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 0 Rare units of rare for 3.9 MCs requested from New Terra to Wuxiaci.
Checking on valid trades for planet Verdancy….
Basic material request found for Verdancy! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Basic materials requested: 0.1 units. Basic materials allocated for export on New Terra: 1,981(includes 17 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 0 Basic units of basic for 2.4 MCs requested from New Terra to Verdancy.
Heavy material request found for Verdancy! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Heavy materials requested: 0.1 units. Heavy materials allocated for export on New Terra: 4,328(includes 87 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 0 Heavy units of heavy for 1.2 MCs requested from New Terra to Verdancy.
Checking on valid trades for planet Adawia….
There are no active trade proposals on Adawia.
Checking on valid trades for planet New Ceres….
There are no active trade proposals on New Ceres.
Checking on valid trades for planet Orcus….
Basic material request found for Orcus! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Basic materials requested: 3.2 units. Basic materials allocated for export on New Terra: 1,981(includes 17 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 3 Basic units of basic for 2.0 MCs requested from New Terra to Orcus.
Heavy material request found for Orcus! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Heavy materials requested: 1.4 units. Heavy materials allocated for export on New Terra: 4,328(includes 87 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 1 Heavy units of heavy for 1.7 MCs requested from New Terra to Orcus.
Checking on valid trades for planet Conlong….
Basic material request found for Conlong! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Basic materials requested: 0.7 units. Basic materials allocated for export on New Terra: 1,981(includes 17 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 1 Basic units of basic for 2.3 MCs requested from New Terra to Conlong.
Heavy material request found for Conlong! Checking stockpiles to see if it can be considered…
Heavy materials requested: 0.4 units. Heavy materials allocated for export on New Terra: 4,328(includes 87 % allocated from stockpiles)
Trade request has been accepted and is now under review: 0 Heavy units of heavy for 1.3 MCs requested from New Terra to Conlong.

Hooray! Since New Terra has a s*itload of Basic in stockpile, they have put the proposal in their ‘shopping cart’, so to speak. This only means that they are willing to part with the resources. At this point, no analysis has been done regarding profitability, or whether they want to trade with that viceroy (their Houses are enemies, they personally hate each other, etc). That comes next.

3. So we have a list of possible trade partners. (By the way, a trade can be picked up by multiple parties). Now we need to look at profitability. This is a complex equation that simplifies into ‘the farther away trade partners are, the more energy and ships are required, meaning that the convoy will need to haul either less goods at a very high price (special delivery) or more goods at a lower price (shipping in bulk). Each viceroy has a ‘cutoff’ amount beyond which they will not consider a trade – it is not profitable enough for them! This is very heavily influenced by their Humanity and Gluttony. Let’s take a look:

Now determining trade profitability for the Celestial Empire.
Viceroy Gluttony: -15 Trade Aptitude: 0 Humanity: 41
Trade hub New Terra’s viceroy will not consider trades with less than $1.1 MCs per trade.
Viceroy is considering trade with Iscandrania for Basic. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 0.6 MCs, with total profit of 7.8.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is provisionally accepted, pending sufficient fleet availability! Final cost of trade, including fuel and shipping: $25.1. Total expected profit: $7.8.
Viceroy is considering trade with Dreamland for Energy. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 0.5 MCs, with total profit of 0.4.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is denied! Not enough profit to make the trip.
Viceroy is considering trade with Dreamland for Heavy. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 1.2 MCs, with total profit of 0.2.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is denied! Not enough profit to make the trip.
Viceroy is considering trade with Falacer for Basic. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 2.2 MCs, with total profit of 2.1.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is provisionally accepted, pending sufficient fleet availability! Final cost of trade, including fuel and shipping: $3.7. Total expected profit: $2.1.
Viceroy is considering trade with Falacer for Heavy. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 0.8 MCs, with total profit of 0.6.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is denied! Not enough profit to make the trip.
Viceroy is considering trade with Falacer for Rare. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 2.2 MCs, with total profit of 0.3.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is denied! Not enough profit to make the trip.
Viceroy is considering trade with Huanxiang for Energy. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 0.1 MCs, with total profit of 0.6.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is denied! Not enough profit to make the trip.
Viceroy is considering trade with Huanxiang for Basic. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 1.6 MCs, with total profit of 3.4.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is provisionally accepted, pending sufficient fleet availability! Final cost of trade, including fuel and shipping: $7.3. Total expected profit: $3.4.
Viceroy is considering trade with Wuxiaci for Rare. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 1.6 MCs, with total profit of 0.6.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is denied! Not enough profit to make the trip.
Viceroy is considering trade with Verdancy for Basic. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 1.0 MCs, with total profit of 0.1.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is denied! Not enough profit to make the trip.
Viceroy is considering trade with Verdancy for Heavy. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 0.0 MCs, with total profit of 0.0.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is denied! Not enough profit to make the trip.
Viceroy is considering trade with Orcus for Basic. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 0.9 MCs, with total profit of 2.9.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is provisionally accepted, pending sufficient fleet availability! Final cost of trade, including fuel and shipping: $10.2. Total expected profit: $2.9.
Viceroy is considering trade with Orcus for Heavy. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 0.3 MCs, with total profit of 0.4.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is denied! Not enough profit to make the trip.
Viceroy is considering trade with Conlong for Basic. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 1.2 MCs, with total profit of 0.8.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is denied! Not enough profit to make the trip.
Viceroy is considering trade with Conlong for Heavy. The current profit per unit based on prices and energy needed for the trip is 0.0 MCs, with total profit of 0.0.
…. After careful consideration, this trade is denied! Not enough profit to make the trip.

So what does this mean? First of all, the viceroy of New Terra has a negative Gluttony score, meaning that they are not very greedy, and aren’t looking for a huge profit margin. They have a 0 trade aptitude, meaning that they have no special skills in trade that will increase profit per trade (or decrease it), and they have a decently high Humanity, meaning that they will be more likely to accept lower-profit trades, especially on food and energy. So in Iscandrania’s case, they will be making enough from the trip even though it is a longer-based trip to make it worth the expense of merchants, fleets, and energy (remember that it costs the sending hub Energy to create a fleet, and the longer the trip, the more energy it costs – and energy ain’t free) So they have accepted the trade request, will be charging a total of $25.1 BC to ship 13 units of Basic. This will generate a profit of $7.8 BCs after paying for the energy for the trip, as well as the cost of the basic supplies themselves. Note that the viceroy likes some trades, but not others, so it’s worth going through the trades that were denied to see their ‘thinking’. Almost there! Now since there are enough fleets for the Imperial trade hub to send all this stuff, this example is done, but if there’s not enough fleets for all the accepted trades, there is one final step.

4. So let’s say there’s 5 trades that the viceroy likes, but they only have 3 available trade fleets! Bummer! So now hard choices have to be made. Generally, the most profitable trades will win out, but sometimes a high Empathy viceroy will green-light a trade for food or energy at less profit.

So that’s trade in a nutshell! This system still needs to be balanced a lot along with the general economic model, but hopefully it will answer some questions about how trade works. If you have other questions, please ask in a comment and I’d be happy to answer them! I will also post a video soon with this information in video form, for a more visual representation. Thanks for your time!

-Steve

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Update, apology, explanations, and the rebirth of AotSS!

Hello everyone! Well, it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything, and I’m sorry. Let me get that out of the way up front. I’ll be apologizing a lot so buckle up, folks.

Anyway, I could give you a lot of reasons why there hasn’t been a lot of activity on AotSS for the last 4 months or so, but in the end it comes down to burnout. As you may now, I have a new now 9 month old who is very healthy, energetic, and BUSY! I also have a full-time job that takes 50-55 hours a week depending on what’s happening, and I’ve been battling through some personal issues. So with all that going on, I’ve been working on Imperia/AotSS for almost 4 years in some form or another. Most of it is very low-level work on a hobby, but obviously the last year has been more focus on providing a product from our studio, KatHawk Studios.

So, as a human, when you have a lot going on around you and you have something that you’ve been hammering on for years, sometimes you just need to step back and take a break. And that’s what I did. Where I failed is to not keep those of you interested in the game in the loop. That was selfish of me and I deeply apologize for that.

So with that being said, I’ll start with the bad news first: Oliver has left the project. Completely understandably, since there hasn’t been anything moving on it for quite a while and you reach a point where you need to see some progress. I apologize to him for the lack of progress and I wish him nothing but the best and I certainly hope circumstances change in the future and he comes back at some point. Because..

The good news is that I’m restarting development of AotSS semi-full time. I have obtained additional funding sufficient to complete the entire game to 1.0 without ‘needing’ sales to fund development. Even though Oliver has left, we have an essentially complete GDD so I will be able to finish what is essentially our vision. There is a tremendous amount that was part of the game design, and while we will include about 70% of it in the initial release, some will have to wait for a future time. When you have a huge project, you must get to ‘what makes this game ‘this game’? and ‘if I cut this, will it change the core ‘feel’ of the game? With that in mind, I will be breaking down the new release schedule shortly, including pricing and the thinking behind it.

With the restart, some other things will be happening. We will be updating our web site by next month. We will be adding our forum, the blog, a news feed, and our eCommerce system for digital download of early release versions of AotSS. We will also increase activity on our forums, our Twitter, and our FB pages. Our KHG channel will have updates weekly, some a ‘developer’ update, some ‘game play’ and some LP, but you will get some sort of content weekly. To keep myself honest, I will be posting an update schedule shortly here on what channels will have what updates. But I vow not to leave anybody else in the dark on this project going forward. I am also always accessible on my email at steve@imperia5x.com or the twitter channel of @KatHawkGames.

So what about that early release schedule? We’re going to release our first version publicly around September 7-10th. It will be priced at $7.99. Why so cheap, Steve? Glad you asked! I’m not a fan (at all) of doing the ‘make early adopters pay through the nose to get in early’ model. Since this is a new property, and bluntly, I haven’t been consistent with my timetables, I want to give people the chance to come in on the ground floor at a very low price so that the risk is as low as I can make it. You will have a full game, but a lot of features will not be there. I feel that this is a good compromise between ‘release it for the people who want it early’ and ‘stay true to my promise of quality and not screw over your fans’. I got excited all over again when I get comments asking how the game is coming along, and we were mentioned on a lot of ‘strategy/4X games looking forward to for 2017’ lists – including 2nd on eXplorminate’s poll of ‘which indie game are you most excited about in 2017’?  That’s pretty cool.

So I’m excited again, and you should be too. Let’s do this together.

So without further ado, the release roadmap!

(.5) Currently in Testing – No Public Release (beta testing active)

(.6) ‘Archimedes’ Release – $7.99 – Release in early September through our web site
Will have all main screens, trade/economy/Pops/migration/unrest/popular support/planetary development systems, character Power system, alert bar, AP system, Focuses on planets (agriculture, mines, military, government, etc), about 30% of all Projects, core Houses/Cultures, economic screen, about 50% 3D planets, some sounds, about 15% of all Character Actions, ability to remove/fire Viceroys and Governors, love/fear systems for characters, basic win and lose conditions (win when Popular Support > 80% throughout your Empire; lose when Popular Support < 20% and depose/assassinate check fails), full turn engine cycle.
IMPORTANT!
No Character Decision/Goal AI (economic and role AI will be present, such as intelligently managing planets/systems)
No Music (or maybe 1-2 temporary tracks)
No Save System
Balance will be an issue

(.7) ‘Newton’ Release – $14.99 – Release in early December through our web site
Will have all of Archimedes, and:
– Music (a few tracks)
– More sounds
– Basic character decision AI (2 ‘ultimate’ goals: Survival and Status) out of 9
– 60% of Projects (approx. 50 in final release)
– 40% of Character Actions (approx. 100 in final release)
– Some mid-tier cultures, all inner cultures and Houses
– Science system implementation begin (about 50%)
– Continued polish on UI and UI for science system implemented
No Save System. It will be present in this version but not activated until .8.

(.8) ‘Hubble’ Release – $19.99 – Release in March 2018 through our web site
Will have all of Newton, and:
– Save System implemented
– All cultures implemented
– Emperor screen (diary) partially implemented
– Science system completed
– Intel system start implementation (Inquisitors, secrets, plots)
– Expanded character decision AI (added 2 more ‘ultimate’ goals: Generic (‘normal’) and Wealth)
– All 3D planets and nebulas implemented
– Most sounds
– More music (4-5 tracks)
– Very basic Xyl plot starters
– 80% of Projects
– 50-60% of Character Actions
– Continued balancing
– Bug fixes

(.9) ‘Sagan’ Release – $24.99 – Release in June 2018 (Steam Early Release Candidate)
Will have all of Hubble, and:
– Combat system partially implemented
– Religious system partially implemented
– Emperor screen fully implemented
– Intel system fully implemented
– All cultures and Houses implemented
– Expanded character decision AI (added 2 more ‘ultimate’ goals: Human Needs and Power)
– All sounds added
– All UI elements added
– More music (7-9 tracks)
– Intro/win/loss videos
– Xyl ‘ending play setup’ partially implemented
– 80% of Character Actions completed
– All Projects added
– Continued balance and bug fixes

(1.0) ‘Copernicus’ Release – $29.99 – Release in August-September 2018 (Steam Release)
Will have all of Sagan, all Xyl plot, and all remaining systems/music/sounds/’puff’ – the ‘basic full game’ as described in our GDD.

So that’s the plan. I’ll write a follow-up blog in a few days with more detail and possibly some new UI screens. Until then… stay safe out there, it’s a big universe!

-Steve

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Updated development video now out! Check it out here!

Hey everyone!

As promised, the new video is out, and while it’s a bit longer than usual (almost 50 minutes!) it’s chock full of content and showing some of the new graphics, UI, and systems we’ve been working on. We are targeting more frequent updates – every two weeks or so, just to keep ourselves honest if nothing else. There should also be 2 blog posts a week ideally, but at least one no matter what. We’re working on cleaning up the forums – we had an attack of spammers a month or so ago, and we’re just about done cleaning up all that nonsense. We hope to have a tentative early access release date pretty soon, where you’ll be able to buy in on the ground floor and be eligible for all future updates. We’re getting closer, as you can hopefully see from this video. I’m personally excited to be working on the game actively again and I think you’ll be impressed with the strides we’ll be taking over the next several weeks!

Anyway, the link is here:https://youtu.be/0u1D2FvLHig

Don’t forget that we have our own channel that you can subscribe to for updates in real-time. Hundreds have signed up, why don’t YOU?? 🙂

Until soon,

Steve

 
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When designers turn human: An introspective look into crafting a dream

Hello everyone; long time no see! It’s been a little while since I’ve written a blog, and this blog is going to be a little different. It’s not going to have any new features about AotSS, nor will it have a timetable or cool screenshots. We’ll have those shortly. No, I wanted to take a bit of soapbox time to talk about where I’ve been and why.

So, the first thing people need to remember about programming: it’s hard. Even for people who have degrees in this sort of thing, it’s hard. And I don’t have any kind of programming certificate, degree, or even a course. Everything I’ve learned has come from teaching myself, except for one computer science class in high school. I was very, very good at programming – was nationally ranked, in fact (yes, they have contests for programming in high school!) – but I didn’t think I could pursue it as a career since I didn’t much care for the math part of things. So I went to college, and put aside my programming.

Throughout the years, I kept coming back to programming for fun. I taught myself C++ with an Ivor Horton book that must have weighed 10 pounds. But I loved to learn, and slowly I put myself through pointers, address memory, OOP, classes, structures, and advanced topics like recursion and data structures. I had some knowledge at this point, but no game. So I started to imagine a world where humanity was hanging on by a thread, having been invaded by aliens that came through a stargate that humans built themselves – the ultimate Trojan horse. You were the supreme human commander, responsible for fighting the aliens (even then, called the Xyl) on Earth and holding them off long enough to accomplish your other objective: to assist the surgical team that went through the stargate using coordinates discovered during recovery of the plans to build the gate, only to discover that they were part of a galactic competition to determine the next master race of the universe for the next 100,000 years. That game design was called Perihelion, and I designed it almost 20 years ago. It seems quaint now, but back then I was roaring with excitement to program it and show it to the world.

Only one problem: I had no idea how to start a project of this magnitude! I was 22, and the Build engine was still being used. Programming games was still something of a black box process – there was no Unity, no DarkBASIC, no YouTube tutorials to walk you through creating levels, and certainly no iPads to download manuals and upload code – no, you had paper books and phones to call friends for help. So after a few false starts, I gave up on that for the time being.

Years passed – I grew my management career, got married, settled down, and looked at what life would be past 35, then 40, and wondered if I had truly given things a fair shot with game design. So I went back to the drawing board about 6 years ago, taught myself Visual Basic, and designed a strategic space combat program based on the Honorverse. You could command ships of different sizes and in the prototype, you had to detect and engage the enemy using gravity signatures generated from impeller wedges. It was surprisingly fun, and I did end up posting it in a few places, but obviously I couldn’t do anything real with it because a) Honorverse and licensed properties and stuff and b) it was still very rough, and I wasn’t comfortable with showing it off. However, for the purposes of this blog, for the first time in almost half a decade, I’m showing off screenshots of my first ‘real’ game project:

As you can see, even though it was Visual Basic and the graphics were basically one step above spreadsheets, it was a really fun game. The ships had very intelligent AI – they had numerous tactics that they could use, and their captains had a fear/bravery rating as well as an intelligence rating that would determine which tactics they would use, what range they would fire at, etc. Not bad for a first project, but I wasn’t happy with it, so I stopped working on it, and another few years went by.

About 5 years ago, I designed a solo board game called Star Requiem: Humanity’s Last Stand (https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/122248/star-requiem-humanitys-last-stand) that was based on a continuation of the history that I had started with the Perihelion design. I actually finished that game, and was working on a computer version when I had the idea to design a new game around what happened after humanity fought the Xyl to a standstill. What would their culture look like? How would the remnants of the human race spread? How far would society slide backwards? What would happen to technology? What would losing 70% of your entire species in another war do to a species? That’s what I set out to answer, and I knew from the very beginning that the game would be based on the last emperor – a child, with very little power, destined to bring humanity back from the brink of the final Xyl assault to destroy humans once and for all. And I knew at the core of the game would be the Action Point system: as Emperor, you would only be able to do certain things depending on where you were, and only so many actions per month – you were not omniscient and not a being with unlimited time and energy. I was so excited about the premise that I couldn’t wait to start! I taught myself yet another engine (Windows XNA) and set to work on what was to become Imperia.

So about 6 months into that project, I started posting pictures and almost immediately, people were interested in the concept. Very interested. I got offers to help and eventually took one from an artist named Pavlos who helped me refine the ‘hard’ science and the look and feel of the game. We reached a point where I had enough of a game and there was enough interest that there was one question: did I want to create a studio and actually sell this thing?

Well, the old self-doubt crept in, and I hemmed and hawed for months, until finally I decided to take the plunge. I made the agonizing decision to basically scrap what was complete with Imperia (basically it was about 60% done) and convert to a totally new engine and language. After some research, I settled on C# and Unity. After learning yet ANOTHER new language and engine, I was ready to work (Note to prospective indie programmers: Pick a popular language and stick with it. I wish I had!).

So it’s been a little over a year since that decision was made. I took out a loan, hired another artist (Ogi Schneider), and partnered with an amazingly intelligent and creative man named Oliver Milne who really helped flesh out the backstory and universe of Imperia, eventually to become Alliance of the Sacred Suns. And even working part-time, even having a baby and all that brings, even with challenges from my primary job, we kept chugging along. We were slow to milestones, but we were learning, and understanding what we could do and how much we could do in a given month.

And then January 2017 hit, and that old feeling came back that I’ve fought for almost 20 years:

Fear.

Fear that my best wasn’t going to be good enough, that this project was an immense undertaking for one person to program, that the concept of AotSS was so ludicrous because it’s not quite a 4X, not quite a TBS, not quite a political game, but parts of all 3. It’s certainly unique, but would people actually like it? I started to doubt my abilities to finish this game, doubt the premise, doubt the 4+ years I have spent getting to this point, doubt all the time and energy invested in programming, testing, designing, fixing, bug-chasing, and still feeling like there was so far to go. It was like that dream you have where you’re trapped in a room, and the door keeps moving farther and farther away from you, no matter how fast you run towards it. and you can’t go backward. What do you do?

I stopped. I was paralyzed, feeling despondent that I couldn’t reach that door, like it was taunting me. It was depressing me, literally. I couldn’t face programming. I’d code for about 20 minutes, then it felt like the screen was laughing at me, daring me to attempt to add a new feature, whispering ‘What’s the point? Nobody’s going to play your stupid game anyway…’ and I would give in to the voices and break off. It felt like an overwhelming task – like eating the elephant, except my elephant regenerated every morning, even bigger than before, but all I had was the same damn spoon to work with.

And that fear started affecting other parts of my life – it affected my confidence, my focus, and it impacted almost every part of my life. I could almost hear the little voice inside me every day: ‘So you’re going to give up on this one too, just like you’ve always done. All. Your. Life.’

No.

The line in the sand will be drawn here. And now.

I’ve decided that I don’t give a damn what the voices say, or what other people think, or how crazy our game design is. I’m very proud of what we’re trying to do, the design we’ve worked on for years, and the story we have written (well, Oliver mainly) for AotSS is amazing, and it deserves to come out. And I can’t let my doubts and fears override that need. It’s hard sometimes, especially when it’s not your main source of income, but I have made a vow to myself and the team that I WILL finish this game. I WILL see it through to the end, and I’ve written this very long post because I need to share this vow with the public and put out there my feelings and emotions to how I got to this point.

It’s been hard to type this blog, and it’s pretty personal for a game diary, but that’s the most honest explanation for why there hasn’t been a lot of progress over the last several weeks. I promise there will be a new video up in the next day or two. I keep putting it off because honestly, I never feel like what we have so far is good enough to show – the old self-doubt creeps in and I think ‘just one more feature and I can show it’ or ‘let’s stomp one more bug and then people won’t laugh’.

Enough. Enough. It is what it is, a work in progress by a small indie studio, not EA’s latest AAA title. I know I’m not as talented as some other developers, but I was once the 17th best programmer in the United States in high school, and by God I can finish this game.

And that’s just what I intend to do. I love all of your support and those who read these blogs and follow along and have done so for the last 3 years. Your patience will pay off. I swear it.

Now back to work on 4.7.0a!

-Steve

 

 

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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

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Progress report from the developer!

Hey everyone!

With the holidays in full swing, and with a new baby routine set up, life is getting less hectic and that means more work is being done on the game! We just finished adding constellations to the game system, and we are finishing up the culture/idea system. Our plan is to have the base UI completed very soon, including the province view/mode, and then we’ll start adding the AI for the characters.

We just sent version .4.3.0 out to the testers yesterday, and we’ve got plans to send about one new build a week. We also plan to create a new video in the next few days showing our progress. I have been concentrating on rewriting some base features so that the framerate and response time of the UI is increased greatly. We were having an issue with lag, so I rewrote the galaxy UI and main camera script to be much more efficient (it was one of the first things I wrote when I was still learning Unity, and it was one of those things where it could be much more efficient but I didn’t know it at the time). The UI and camera are much more responsive now. I also changed out the camera FOV and zoom system to work more like Stellaris as opposed to changing the FOV to zoom into the galaxy view. This makes the distortion at very high zoom-out levels almost nonexistent!

We’re also starting to implement the sound effects. It’s amazing how much a little sound can affect the UI experience. Makes it much more tactile. Unity makes it super easy to add sound effects to UI, as well as music. We’re still working on the music, but we have a few options already for a professional-sounding experience, especially for an indie game!

Oliver is continuing to write more of the game story and interludes, and Ogi just got back from holiday, so we’ll be seeing more art soon!

The next few builds will start to contain some of the command modes fleshed out more from a UI perspective, and we will start to add more Actions for characters, continue to add more art and remove placeholders, and start to generate the AI actions. We’ll start by testing 2 distinct ‘ultimate strategies’ that a character can be pursuing long-range (eventually, this will be around a dozen) and starting work on the ‘AI map’ to test it in the game. This is a very exciting time for the game and I’m excited to see what these characters will start to do!

Also on the radar: completion of the conversion of all stellar art assets to 3d, and adding volumetric nebulas/fog. That’s more of an ongoing task, however.

From a business perspective, we have finally finished our logo, and have begun design work on our new web sites. No ETA for those yet, hopefully before the end of the year. Our existing websites/forum are still and will continue to be up, however. We did have a spam attack on our forums (guess we’re getting bigger!) so for now if you want to register on the forums we will be handling those by hand.

We have started a news letter that contains some of this information, but it will add more in-depth info (an ‘insider’ piece, if you will) and will be sent on demand through signing up on our FB page or our web site.

That’s about all for now. Watch this space for more media soon!

Thanks!

-Steve

 

 

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The dreams of an Emperor

Hi all – we have something rather special for you today. I’ve put four (non-spoileriffic) samples of our dream sequences into Twine and uploaded them here on philome.la. They should give you a little bit of a taste of the interludes in Alliance of the Sacred Suns.

In the game itself, there will be over 100 of these scenes, each tying in to your progress as Emperor and the way you choose to rule. The approach we’ve taken to these is to try and make sure the scenes are either a response to something you’ve done, or convey important quests and other information. (Critical information will, of course, be available for you to look back on after you’ve had the dream sequence announcing it.) Of the four I’ve uploaded, ‘Introductory Scene’ and ‘Žemyna Appears’ are scene-setting, ‘Psychic Overload’ is a warning we give you if you’ve been over-using your psychic powers, and ‘Life of St. Ramu Nyquist’ is a reward for completing a particular quest later in the game.

I hope you enjoy them – please leave any feedback in the comments!

Oliver

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Constellations!

Hi everybody,

Today we have some very exciting stuff to show you. Finally, we have the proper constellations in! (With placeholder names, as you might have guessed – Ed.) The game is really starting to look like the concept images we showed you last year. Check it out:

astrography_main-interface
Here’s Pavlos’ mockup from February last year…
constellations-zoomed-map
… And here’s what we’ve got in the game right now

Constellations are geographically (or astrographically) vital to the game – not only do they set the placement of the stars, they act as the boundaries of Imperial provinces – the highest-level administrative units in the Empire. If you’ve got a character you want to promote to the highest levels of government, and you can’t or daren’t replace any of your existing province governors, you’ll have to secure some territory in a fresh constellation.

Bear in mind, too, that as cool as this looks, it’s only the start. As you can see, the system can still get a little unruly:

Constellations whole map.png
That dragon drank five litres of concentrated squash before it was recaptured.

We need to do more passes on the look of the grid (it’s a bit busy in the middle at the moment, and could do with some subtle decorations), the way constellation names are displayed, and implement internal divisions within the constellations so we can colour them by parts according to who controls which systems. We’re also still working on the algorithms for generating the right distributions and alignments of constellations – we need to ensure that every star is accessible and that all the constellations are roughly oriented towards the centre of the map, to reinforce the impression that Neo-Sirius, New Terra and you the Emperor are at the centre of Human Space. And we have longer-range plans to replace the 2D nebulae with 3D volumetric ones. Not to mention the effect the onslaught of the Xyl will have on the map…

Until next time, Ave Imperator!

Oliver