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The 5 Levels of AotSS, Explained. AKA ‘Who Are You Playing Against, Anyway?’

 

Good morning everyone! Just so you know, as we get closer to launch, you will see more and more blogs explaining various things about AotSS, and this particular blog was inspired by a comment on the YouTube channel – basically, the question was ‘Who are you playing against?” It seemed like a silly question, right off the bat, honestly… until I thought about it. It’s actually a complicated question, and one that is significantly different from most 4X games. So I want to talk about it here.
There are basically 5 levels, each more or less sitting on top of each other, and part of your challenge as Emperor is to determine which level needs attention at any given time. As the game continues to develop, more of these levels will become more emergent, which will give you more interesting choices as the player to decide how best to use your very limited time!

LEVEL 1: You

Yup, everything starts with taking care of ol’ number 1. You are an entity in the game, much like Crusader Kings, and if you die, humanity’s screwed, so you need to keep yourself healthy, learning new skills, stay (relatively) popular (or feared, either works) by your Pops, and striving to keep yourself out of bad situations. For example, just because you CAN travel to a planet where you have a 5% Popular Support doesn’t mean you SHOULD travel to said planet. Improving your skills and keeping your popular support high enough to avoid widespread revolt is the absolute foundation of AotSS, and almost every decision and action you take should address that in some direct or peripheral way.

 
LEVEL 2: Your Pops
A Pop is the basic unit of population in the game, and it is the smallest entity that you can see results and interact with, albeit not directly. Pops do just about everything in the game – they settle new planets, they manufacture materials to build more stuff, they fight wars, they grow food, they mine minerals, they accumulate knowledge, they generate Admin points, etc. They also act as an additional pressure point for characters in the game to support your initiatives when your popularity is high. This is all good stuff.
What’s not so good is when Pops are unhappy or there’s tension between 2 (or more) Cultures on a given planet. Then bad stuff happens, like strikes, desertion to other civilizations, riots, and even full scale takeovers of a planet. Not good stuff. And even worse: If enough of them are unhappy with your rule, your reign may become very short, Emperor. So you can’t just ignore the signs of discontent smoldering around your Empire, unless you enjoy watching the world(s) burn…

 
LEVEL 3: Your Houses
Especially Great Houses, but Minor Houses can become a pain as well, these institutions can make or break you as an Emperor. At the most basic, Houses who hate you will strongly discourage their members from being a part of your government, which may make it difficult for you to find competent Viceroys with skill sets you need. Remember, at the heart of AotSS is about finding the right people for the right post. There are very few ‘amazing characters’ with high stats across the board, and even a great-looking character may have a hidden cost (psychopath, backstabber, etc) So the more people you have available for a given position, the better.
At a more advanced level, having Houses on your side means they will trade with you, share more of their Holding revenue with you, and be at your side when other Houses attempt to expand their territory or even attempt a breakaway war against you. Keeping your empire as strong and united as possible is a huge part of the game (esp. for Level 5) and while you (almost) can’t make everyone happy, you do need to have several strong allies, or else Houses will band together to achieve goals. Remember, Houses have relationships with each other and some Houses are mortal enemies who will never join together, but the vast majority are more or less neutral towards each other, and are simply looking out for what’s best for them, not necessarily you or your Empire. Don’t forget about your Minor Houses! If you can’t find an ally among the Great Houses, maybe you can construct one from a Minor… and perhaps even lift them up to become a very, very grateful new Great House… at the cost of another Great House… who will most likely be very, very angry at this state of affairs. Be careful!

 
LEVEL 4: Breakaway Civilizations
The Celestial Empire, nee the Terran Alliance, once stretched across the parsecs before the Xyl came for the second Xyl war. As a result of that war and the interregnum of weak leaders that followed, many colonies and even whole provinces simply lost contact with New Terra over the ensuing centuries. At this point, those systems, planets, and Pops have developed whole new cultures and technologies after half an eon of living alone without Empire support, and with the Empire’s resurgence under you, some of those civilizations are looking to get some back by taking back some of the current Empire. Most of the civilizations are angry with the Empire, but in order to deal with Level 5 and ultimately ‘win’ the game, you will have to expand into uncharted space and see what’s out there. You will need a strong and united Empire with as many able bodies as possible to fight, so it is to your advantage to try to reclaim systems and provinces that once belonged to the Empire, long ago. Whether through diplomacy, espionage, or old-fashioned military force, a significant investment at this level could make or break your long-term game. Because at the end of the day….

 
LEVEL 5: The Xyl Rescension
Without giving too much away, at some point (50+ years) in the future you will have to deal with the return of the Xyl, and they are not happy about your continued existence. Humanity battled them to a draw 500 years ago, and they are finally back to finish their job, which is to bring their ‘god’ back into this universe by using the power of billions of human souls… and there aren’t too many sources of human souls around anymore, if you catch my drift. All that you do in the previous levels of play lead to this level, and you will be given clues throughout the buildup phase as to when the first Xyl attacks may happen and the size of the overall force, as well as the countdown to Rescension that, unfortunately, due to an unknown (to them) flaw in the Xyl’s Rescension gate, will end life in the entire universe. So yeah, you gotta deal with that as your endgame. Pretty important.
So there it is. Your 4 increasingly complex and expanding levels of play. They will build upon each other – you will probably spend the first 10-15 years or so reshaping your empire, building up your military, researching technologies and Progress projects to advance your capabilities, sorting out your planets and systems, and possibly tending to your Houses’ affairs before you go charging out for any galactic adventures, but you are certainly not forced to wait – that’s the freedom of play in AotSS: nothing’s stopping you from pursing any strategy you want, when you want!!
Good luck, Emperor!
-Steve

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Update and DD #4 – How a Universe is Created, and what it means to you!

Hello everyone! Wow, what a week it’s been! We went from living life to evacuating our home within 45 minutes due to Hurricane Harvey. While we didn’t end up suffering any damage, it certainly did a number on Houston and Texas in general. We’re fine, but this is a storm that we’ll remember for a long time. (And oh yeah, as I write this Irma is about 4 days away from the US. Joy.)

Anyhoo, I wanted to wrap up the economic series of DDs by talking about the planets themselves. Now, everything around AotSS revolves around power. At the end of the day, those that have it, make things happen, and those that don’t, can’t. So the most important building blocks of power are…you guessed it, planets.

When I sat down to design Imperia years ago, I knew even early on that I wanted detailed planets. Maybe not Aurora-level detailed, but certainly more detailed than 3 stats and a planet type. I feel that in a good 4X game, a player should see planets (and systems) not as disposable entities but as things that they care about and actively guide throughout the game. Cheesy as it may sound, I feel that a successful 4X-type game allows each planet to tell its own story, to write its own history, and to contribute its own glory.

In Imperia, once I met Pavlos, the design really started taking off. Pavlos brought the idea of planets down to a science, and proposed no less than 14 different star types with 15 different planets that could be generated. After months of working on different generation models, we designed a model that is both true to science and playable.

To start with, each star is generated randomly and can be a single, binary, or trinary star. This affects things like gravity and what types of planets are generated. Stars also have a spectral class from OB all the way to a D star, with our good old sun (‘K’) and red giants (RG), supergiants (SG), small blue stars, white stars, brown dwarves, neutron stars… they’re all here, and each modeled by size, traits, and metallicity. These determine what types of planets and how many minerals are on each planet.

Once stars are generated, they are placed into constellations. This is another ‘true to life’ way of generating stars in a realistic manner. Not only does it provide a way to create provinces in ‘grouping areas’ but it makes it easier to find systems when you know what constellation it’s in. The game has 30 constellations, each named by the game lore, but the only one that’s guaranteed to show up in any given game is Enosis, your home constellation.

So now that you’ve got your stars and your constellations, what about planets? Well, planets (and asteroid belts and ice belts) are procedurally generated from the type of star that is currently being generated from. There are only certain types of planets that can be generated, and each type has a weighted chance of being created. So you won’t find a SuperEarth planet in a Red Giant, for instance, but you might find a Barren or Ice planet. Each system has 5 spots, from closest to farthest from the star, and the planets types are generated as well based on how far the planet ‘slot’ is from the star. So closer to the star, you will have lava and barren planets, while farther away you will have more ice and ice belts, as well as gas giants. Again, just like science.

So once the planet type is generated, we’re not done! Next comes size and axial tilt (determines habitability) to determine how habitable the planet is to humans. Basically, the closer it is to a star, and the more tilted it is (violent weather changes), the Bio rating of a planet is generated, based on the base type of planet, size, location, and some variability.

Next, the industrial multiplier is generated. Certain planets are easier to build things like factories and mines (like desert planets and barren planets) as opposed to gas giants and lava planets, both for mineral richness and tectonic stability. This effects output of mines and factories.

Next, moons! Moons provide a few traits to a system, and tides, that sometimes improve the Bio of a planet.

Now we drop minerals and energy resources onto a planet! Again, each type of planet has a range of minerals that it may have, depending on the type of star and the metallicity of the star. Some planets are very likely to have a lot of energy (gas giants, lava, greenhouse planets) but lower levels of minerals, and vice versa. Since a huge part of the game is building up a strong resource economy, and since mining outposts and colonization projects take a lot of resources and time, finding the best planets and systems is part of your responsibilities as emperor to direct!

The types of planets in AotSS are:

  • Asteroid Belt
  • Barren
  • Greenhouse
  • Desert
  • Terran
  • Ice
  • Ice Giant
  • Gas Giant
  • Ice Belt
  • Lava
  • Irradiated
  • Super Earth
  • Ocean
  • Brown Dwarf
  • Organic
  • Dust Ring
  • City

Some of these planet types are created rather than generated, especially City (think Trantor/Coruscant) and Organic (think living planet) but most can be found out there in the void. What will you find?

The last part of planet generation is the concept of regions. Now, regions are interesting in that most of the time, the player will not be aware of their existence. If you play a flight simulator, and you want to turn the plane left, you don’t have to know the lift forces acting on the ailerons, nor do you have to know the yaw forces acting against the body to provide lift, drag, and spin. Nope, all you the player have to do is turn the mouse/stick to the left, apply some rudder, and voila! The plane turns left. Good simulations work under the radar, while immersing the player in their model of reality without them actually having to know how it works.

AotSS’s region system works in much the same way. When a planet is generated, it’s not one contiguous planet. Just like Earth is not all grassland, mountains, etc. most planets are an amalgamation of different terrain and biome types that put together create the overall planet structure and resources. Small planets might just have 4 regions, while large terran planets have as many as 20, and gas giants might have 36! (Of course, the vast majority of them will not be habitable!) Each region is generated procedurally, and depending on the planet type, your planet will have some of the following types of regions:

  • Plains
  • Mountains
  • Lava
  • Volcanic
  • Ocean
  • Forest
  • Grassland
  • Jungle
  • Barren
  • Uninhabitable
  • Frozen
  • Desert
  • Helium Islands
  • Dead

Each type of region is more conducive than others to support life. That said, with the proper infrastructure ANY planet can sustain life, but your Pops don’t have to like it (one reason why it’s so important to build outposts in the right places – build it too far from other planets and you’ll have a hell of a time convincing miners and engineers to come join, even if you are paying top dollar, if it’s on a raging inferno planet)

So each region has its own type, but it also has unique modifiers for activities in the game, such as farming modifiers, bio modifiers, manufacturing modifiers, and even for ground combat (attack and defense mods). A plains region is going to be more attractive to a Pop than a lava region, obviously, but when a planet is colonized cities will be built in the regions that are most conducive to high production.

Cities, you say? Of course! Regions also have an infrastructure rating, from uninhabited to tiny outposts to small towns, all the way to super cities and megalopolises. The more resources your viceroy puts towards infrastructure, the larger your cities can grow, which will allow more people to be housed comfortably. That’s the key. Each region has a maximum safe population level at which Pops will not grow discontent. You can exceed it, but then Pops will start to get unhappy with living stacked on top of each other, so they will eventually move to another region, or if there’s not another region with jobs and there’s a better planet nearby, they’ll simply leave. Building more infrastructure will prevent this.

So planets are not just a box of ratings and values, but a tapestry of regions that collectively form the planet. Again, as the player, you won’t see most of this. You’ll know how many regions the planet has, what types they are (percentage wise), what the base development level of a planet is, and the base population level it will support, and as infrastructure is built, you’ll know how many more Pops the planet can support without Pops going haywire. Regions can be bombed from space or destroyed during ground combat, so losing a region with a Large City and numerous developments such as academies, factories, etc. will really hurt a planet’s output. But the region system is why you will have one Terran planet with an 80 bio rating that has so-so farm output, and another Terran planet with a 75 bio rating that has awesome farm output, because the second Terran planet has a lot of ocean and plains regions with high output farming modifiers, while the first Terran planet has a lot of grassland and jungle. Still great for life, but not so great for farms. With mountains, however, it might be great for minerals! This is one facet of how planets tell their story and start to become unique.

And yes, Pops migrate around the planet looking for a better job, or a better opportunity (*just like us! Hmmm) I haven’t decided yet if I will allow the player to see this – it’s happening on a scale that you as the emperor wouldn’t control (you’re not able to manipulate regions; that’s your viceroy’s job) but it might be nice to see the living world a little closer. But yes, if you have a region on a planet that just opened up a new batch of farms, your farmer that is living with 4 other people on the other side of the world just might move to that new region for the same job, but now he’ll be a lot happier. As Emperor, you can create an Infrastructure Project on a world where you can send a massive construction armada to build more cities and towns, but this is much more expensive than to allow the planet to grow organically (a certain percentage of the planet’s build points ALWAYS go towards expanding infrastructure, and automatically go where growth is creating the most problems). You can ask the viceroy to focus on infrastructure as well.

So what happens if you don’t have enough materials (basic and heavy) to maintain your planet’s infrastructure? Well… it starts to decay. And Pops don’t like that so much. So it is incumbent on a good Viceroy to make sure that they beg, borrow, trade for, mine, or steal whatever they have to to ensure enough materials are on their planet to keep their lights on, their buildings up, and their roads from collapsing.

Well, that was a long post, but the region and galaxy creation system are what I consider a defining feature of AotSS. We give you a richly detailed world to work in, culturally, literarily, and scientifically. What happens in it is up to you!!

Excelsior, Your Majesty!

-Steve

 

 

 

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DD #3: Economy, Production, and The Circle of Life: Part 1

Hey everyone!

Today, I wanted to talk a little bit about how the production side of the economy works, and specifically what the materials do, and how they are used.

So first, an overview of the system. There are 3 main materials that represent various minerals, materials, goods, and resources, collectively called ‘basic’, ‘heavy’, and ‘rare’ materials. Basic materials are used for virtually everything in the game – from building and maintaining infrastructure to building everything from mines to spaceships. Fortunately, basic materials are fairly easy to produce and mine. Heavy materials are used mostly for space installations and ships, so any Projects that have space-based applications will use a lot of heavy materials, as well as upkeep. Rare materials are mostly used for science and for energy stations, as well as labs. While they are rare, they are not generally used much, especially for agriculture-based planets.

So how do you get these materials? Easy – they need to be mined. All planets have a basic, heavy, and rare material rating, that represents how easy it is to get materials from the planet. This is done by miners, using mines. The more mines on a planet, that are staffed by miners, with high skill ratings (and backed by a Viceroy with a high Mining aptitude) the more materials that can be mined. These are raw materials that are then stockpiled for use. A certain percentage of the goods are set aside for maintaining existing infrastructure, and another percentage of goods are set aside for trade, while another small percentage is set aside for retail (explained earlier, if you are allowing basic goods to be traded). Now we get to the second part of the process, which is creating Build Points (BPs) that actually go towards construction of infrastructure, ships, etc.

BPs are split into their three types – basic, heavy, rare. Each structure that you build in AotSS takes a certain amount of BPs. For example, to build a new farm takes 30 basic BPs, 5 heavy BPs, and 0 rare BPs. By contrast, to build a new power generator (High-Tech), it takes 70 Basic BPs, 40 Heavy BPs, and 15 Rare BPs. These BPs are generated each turn and accumulate based on the build plan of the viceroy. The actual math to determine how a BP is generated is rather lengthy, but the basic calculation is to take how many factories are online (meaning they are staffed, one Pop to one factory), take the amount of raw materials that are allocated (based on the build plan; this can be overdriven as well if you have an aggressive viceroy) and take into account the engineer’s ratings and the viceroy’s Engineering aptitude (if any) plus their House’s engineering skill, take a industrial multiplier (kind of like the overdrive in MOO3) that the viceroy can use to overwork their engineer pops to get more build points at the cost of unhappiness and possible revolt) and voila! BPs fresh out of the oven. Next, the BPs are allocated to the planetary build plan.

The build plan is basically how the viceroy chooses to allocate the BPs that are generated monthly. So, for example, if the viceroy focused on farms, they might allocate 50% BPs to farms, 25% BPs to infrastructure (houses, apartments, and the like), and 25% to high-tech. So each month, farms would get half of the BPs, infrastructure would get 25%, and so on. Focuses can swing these build plans, and are one way you as the emperor can change the build ratios of a planet.

You also need to be able to pay for the upkeep of each level of development on your planet, which takes materials. If you are running out of materials, your most high-tech structures will start to decay and shut down, putting your Pops out of work (and they won’t be happy about it). Eventually, your farms will shut down, your food supply will dry up, and you’ll be living on stockpiles and/or trades until you get your development rebuilt. In game terms, there is a percentage chance that increases slowly each turn a level of development can’t be maintained. Once it’s shut down, it effectively needs to be rebuilt and restaffed.

So that’s the process in a nutshell. As the emperor, you want to make sure that your planets have enough raw materials to ensure that their factories can run at maximum efficiency. You also want to attract engineers and miners with high skill ratings, and you want to install a Viceroy who comes from a strong engineering and mining House (probably Ilioaia or Hawken) (Now you start to see why you might want to keep certain Houses in your good graces – it’s hard to build a manufacturing powerhouse world if you can’t get a Viceroy who’d be suited to run it!) You will be able to bring ‘prefab’ factories to planets in emergencies, but this is a Project and will cost much more in materials and coin than building factories would in the first place, but if you let your factories go this may create a ‘death spiral’ where you don’t have any factories left to rebuild! Don’t let this happen.

Well, that’s about it for now! Have a great day and we’ll talk soon in DD#4 about how food and energy work and how they factor into your Pops!

-Steve

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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

Posted on

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

 

 

Posted on

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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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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Writing Sol Invictus, the God of the Empire

Hi everyone, Oliver here. Today I’m going to be talking a little bit about the challenges and opportunities of inventing a religion for the game.

In many games, you have an in-game religion or set of gods that either definitely are or definitely aren’t real, within the game’s fiction. Fantasy games, in particular, do this all the time – all their pantheons, even the mutually exclusive ones, tend to be unproblematically there, working approximately as advertised. Any philosophical issues thereby brought up tend to be swept under the carpet, in time-honoured style (Judaism was originally henotheistic in this kind of way, about three thousand years ago, and indeed the word ‘Baal’ – now thought of as naming a demon in Christianity – means ‘lord’ in Hebrew and originated with a Canaanite god known to the Israelites simply as ‘the Lord of the Canaanites’). This didn’t seem like a satisfactory solution for Alliance.

Having the Empire’s religion simply be true would be a cop-out from the idea of faith, to start with. You don’t need to have faith in Tolkien’s Valar, for example, any more than you need to have faith in your refrigerator – they’re just there. But we didn’t want to simply opt for an absentee God, either – the player’s natural assumption in that case would be that the religion is simply false and cynical. Much as the Alliance of the Sacred Suns universe is full of falsehood and cynicism, we didn’t want to do that, either. It would be too easy.

What we chose to do, in the end, is take a third way, more interesting than either of those alternatives. In Alliance, you are personally acquainted with Sol Invictus (the God of the Solarian religion), without it being clear whether he actually is all he claims to be. On the face of it, it’s quite possible – he has a plausibly Godly agenda, he has unexplained knowledge, he speaks with the narrator’s voice (something that just happened naturally when I was writing the first dream scene in which you encounter him) – but there are tensions at the very heart of the idea of the sort of God who picks favourites and pursues agendas within his own creation, and you can get the chance to tug at one or two of these, depending on how you play the game, and see how he responds and whether you find it convincingly Godlike or not.

This, of course, means I have to convincingly write the voice of God.

Wish me luck!

Oliver

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First glimpse of the military system

Hi all, Oliver here, with our first mockup of the military screen!

mil-sys-planet-mockup-v4

This mockup – which Ogi produced in Unity, meaning that the finished article will look a lot like this – shows a massive battle happening on a planet. Your forces, arrayed down the left-hand side, are ranged against the enemy, in red on the right. Each Force can have up to six units – which might be anything from ground-pounding local militia to massive starships and superweapons – each of which has its own Captain, under the command of the Force’s General. At the bottom of the screen, just above the ‘selected Force’ panel, you can see a tooltip for a unit, showing its strength (or damage dealt last turn, as this is a battle!), its health and the damage it took last turn, its icon (currently a khaki blob, but we’re working on it) and its Captain. You have to think carefully about who to put in charge of your units and Forces – military skill can turn the tide of an entire war, but a disloyal Captain might leak secrets to the enemy, making your Force much more vulnerable to interception and attack, while a disloyal General might run off with the whole Force!

As well as your commanders’ loyalty, though, you have to consider the loyalty of their troops. Every Force has a single homeworld, and the affection of the Pops on that homeworld for you and for their commander determines the loyalty of the troops they support. You can think of the troops as simply their homeworld’s Pops, abroad. Thus, if you oppress a Force’s homeworld, you’d better watch out – sedition in the ranks can lead to civil war. If, on the other hand, you have a Force from a world that loves you to pieces, you can be relatively sure that their General won’t be able to run off with them – unless they impress them sufficiently with their charisma and command ability. Even where the Force is posted matters – a Force far from their homeworld will be much less able to join in rebellions there. All these considerations – inspired by the troubles of the classical Republic of Rome – will impact on your military decisions as Emperor.

Now to return to the battle screen , you can see that at the top of the screen, just under the Action Points counter and button, you can see the planetary Devastation and the balance of power. The balance of power shows which way the war is going – wars on planets can take a number of turns to complete, as each turn represents a month, creating a strategic back-and-forth as you redirect your fleets and try to prosecute or stymie an invasion. Devastation represents the horrors war inflicts on the poor, suffering population of the planet. It drives waves of refugees from the planet, dramatically depresses its economy, and outright kills Pops. Certain units will cause more Devastation than others – in particular, Xyl forces will wipe out every human they come across. Wars can have wide-ranging consequences in Alliance of the Sacred Suns, far beyond diplomacy and conquest, and as Emperor you will have to find a way to handle them – for better or worse.

I hope you enjoyeed this preview of the military system – until next week, Ave Imperator!

Oliver

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An intriguing prospect…

Hi all, Oliver here! Today we’re showing off our first mockups of the Intrigue view. In this mode, you encounter the seedy underbelly of your court – the plots, the schemes, the secrets and lies! And this isn’t just a spy-assignment minigame, oh no. The idea is to collect parts of secrets (for example, ‘Baron Nogood is plotting something with Count Crapula’ ‘Count Crapula is plotting an assassination against somebody‘ ‘Baron Nogood is plotting something against you’) and try to match them together into accusations that your Inquisitors can use to take out the culprits (such as ‘Baron Nogood and Count Crapula are plotting to assassinate you’). But how, I hear you ask, do you actually do this?

intrigue mockup clean.png

The way we have it working is very simple. On each planet, system, and star (on which more later) you have a list of Clues – incomplete pieces of information, displayed like sentences with character portraits in place of names and so on – and at the bottom of the screen, in the selection area, you have the cases you’re currently working on. Clues are supplied by your Inquisitors’ diligent monitoring work, gossip you hear or overhear at court, and characters you charm or coerce into revealing them. Each clue also has one or two leads – characters who are listed as potentially knowing other, connected clues. You just click-and-drag the clues you think belong together into the selection area to put together your accusation, and when you’re confident you’re right, you can click ‘ACCUSE’ and fire it off! You’ll choose which of your limited number of Inquisitors to send it with, and shortly (or immediately if they’re in the same place) you’ll hear the outcome…

Now the Imperial Inquisition is a unique and frightening institution. They will never convict an innocent man – this is the reason the Great Houses allowed the institution to continue – but the experience is nightmarish for the accused. If found innocent, they and their family will despise you not only for the insult, but for the accused’s having to endure the mind-bending horrors of the Inquisitorial process. So beware!

One thing you might still be wondering is: ‘Why have separate lists of clues on each system and planet? Surely it would be less of a pain in the ass to just have one big list?’ While we do indeed have one big list available in the summary screen (accessible from a button in the top left of the screen), the point of dividing up clues this way is to prioritise them. At the start of the game, when you’re mostly dealing with individual planets, the doings of individual characters on those planets will be of paramount interest. But as your empire grows, you’re going to be moving up through the levels of control, simply because you only have so many Action Points in the turn. By hooking the clues to game locations, putting clues to bigger and more important plots at higher levels, we can make the same process of moving up through the levels that you’re engaged in with regard to the other facets of gameplay work here, too.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy playing with the Intrigue system! Ave Imperator!

Oliver