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Help Me, Rhonda: The In-Game Help Dilemma

Hey everyone!

Steve here, to talk about what will be by far the primary feature in this weeks’ update: a complete revamp of the help system, starting with this update. I wanted to talk a little bit about what it will look like, what’s coming, and why it took so long to add!

First, a look into help in general in games, and where I stand on it. As a developer, I think I suffer from ‘game immersion’ where you play a game literally for years – you know every nook, cranny, and line of code. You know exactly how to do everything in the game, what everything does, and you can visualize what’s happening ‘under the hood’ – so you know why something did or didn’t happen, even if there’s no feedback with that info.

Here’s the obvious issue; your players don’t have that same feedback and insight. So what you know to be gameplay working correctly might come across to a player as a broken feature, a bug, or something that just doesn’t do anything. If that happens enough, they will most likely quit out of frustration, and will have a negative impression of your game! Fairly enough. This issue multiplies when you’re trying to do something ‘different’ whose game mechanics are not common.

As an example: If I’m playing Dominus Galaxia, a great MOO1 update currently in development, as a 4X gamer I already know many of the concepts I’m working with. Research, colonization, economy, build queues, combat, diplomacy, etc. Even though I haven’t read a manual of the game, I can still get around and use and play it with very little help because I have a grounding in the basic concepts. Maybe I need help with specific UI conventions, or some new twists on features, but generally I can pick up the game and play with little help.

A game like AotSS, on the other hand, has several unique concepts that are not common to other 4X/strategy games (Projects, Actions, trade system, production system, etc). While the ‘back of the box’ feature list would lead one to believe that these games are similar (Colonize! Expand! Explore! Exploit!), in truth the systems are different enough that it’s much harder, if not impossible, to ‘pick up and play’ AotSS as it currently stands.

When developing a game, it’s a lot more fun to add features and AI than it is to document it, and I think almost any game developer would agree with that. So help and documentation often get kicked to the back burner, but with the growth and sales of AotSS, I have enough feedback to see that the game can’t grow and gain an audience without stopping to plan and implement a real, thorough, in-game help system. So at last, players can wrap their arms around this huge game.

So what will the help system look like? It will be made up of 6 key components, 2 of which will be implemented this week and 1 which is already in:

  1. Tooltips for every single icon and value, explaining in greater detail what the value is AND how it can be affected (key change) – In for .7.1
  2. A larger help screen for each panel that explains what you do in this panel and how to do it – In for .7.1
  3. A grand vizier window that reviews current goals, opportunities, gives advice, and game progress – In as of .7.0.3
  4. A grand vizier chat for each screen that gives advice on what to do with this panel and some strategies – TBA
  5. An in-game Alliancopedia (working title) that goes into detail into concepts, history, Houses, etc). – TBA
  6. In-game links to the written documentation and tutorial videos – TBA

Hopefully, this will be enough to get players up and running. With AotSS poised for growth and on the verge of being known to a wider audience, the last thing I want is some influencer trying to play the game and not having a clue about what to do. Plus, the game has evolved enough that customers need and deserve a comprehensive help system.

So here it is. I would love your feedback as it evolves!

Steve

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Dev Update 2.2.19: The Living Galaxy, and a Lack of Control

Hey everyone!

This will be a pretty short diary, but I did want to touch on a topic that has come up a few times lately and I wanted to make sure that people understood the design behind it and the gameplay that will result.

Even though AotSS is a turn-based game, it has a living world around it. You can do nothing, and planets will still grow and develop, Houses will expand and/or execute their grand strategies, Characters will (soon) look to fulfill their personal goals, etc. and this will happen with or without you. Unlike many other 4X games, since you’re already starting from a base (you have an established empire that you’re trying to rebuild/corral) it’s a different style of gameplay than you having to build your empire from the ground up. AotSS will never be a game about maximizing build queues, it is a game about maximizing your relationships and best placing your talent throughout your Empire in a way that benefits you and benefits those you most want to benefit (e.g. Characters & Houses).

The idea of APs completely changes the game and makes AotSS what it is. Think about it. In most other 4X/GS games, you can really do everything. Even in Paradox ‘real-time’ games, you can pause and execute 200 orders if you so desire. APs give you tradeoffs and don’t allow you to control your universe in a way that you can with most other games. One big balance point is how many APs to give the character every turn? Too few, and there’s almost nothing you can do from turn to turn, and too many would almost defeat the purpose.

So the target feeling is that you as the player are not trying to control the empire and the galaxy, but influence it from turn to turn. Enough so that you can gradually shift your strategies over the course of a year or two, but not so that you can completely burn your strategy down to the ground in one ‘turn’ and start completely over. That’s not how life works, and it is highly illogical that a star-spanning empire can be driven and turned direction like a Maserati, but that seems to be how too many games give you that kind of power. Running an empire should be about almost hanging on for dear life, trying to nudge something or someone JUST A LITTLE BIT so that you have an advantage in the next nudge you want to make. Change should be numerous nudges, with the occasional Imperial hammer (military action, Projects, etc) to nail down an important piece of strategy.

That said, you can’t just sit around and do nothing. There is a game mechanic called Power Decay. Each turn, your Power drops about 3-5%, depending on several factors, and more if you’re more powerful. This represents the fact that at the end of the day, humans are very much a ‘what have you done for me lately’ bunch of people, and the longer you sit ensconced in your palace, not doing anything of note, the less Power you are willing to be given by others. After all, Power is as much perception as reality, at the end of the day!

So if you want a game where you can control all around you, AotSS isn’t that game. You won’t have the ability or the resources. But if you want a game where your results come one chisel and hammer at a time, where hard choices have to be made, and the realization that not all opportunities can be take advantage of, then AotSS just might be the best game you’ve ever played!

Look for the big .7.0.3 update Tuesday, with (at last!) save and load functionality, some bug fixes, and the start of a Grand Vizier screen!

Until next week!

-Steve

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The Humble Viceroy: Your Field Guide

Hello!

This is Steve with another blog post about an important topic of AotSS. This time, we’re going to talk about viceroys, since they play an incredibly important part of the game and in order to be successful, you need to understand how they work.

First, what do Viceroys do? Basically, they head your planetary government and are the House who holds that planets’ representative to the Imperial government (you).

Viceroys have a thankless job, really. They are accountable to 3 levels: their House, you, and their Pops who are living on the planet. Any one of those entities could cause issues for the viceroy, but it is essential that a good Viceroy understand how their Pops feel about them. They must also try to set forth the goals that their House Leader has set for their House, whether it’s raising cash, creating more infrastructure, building up the planet, or generating more materials for the House to use; this may or may not be at odds with what you want that planet to be doing and how the Pops feel about it!

So let’s talk about about the plight and month in the life of a viceroy on a fairly minor planet, and some of their considerations:

Rural Triglav, in the Kathy System

So what’s the situation? This is a small system capital, with no other planets in the system worth a damn, so it is unlikely there will be any neighbors soon. The planet has just under 100M people, but even though it has a system trade hub, there are not enough merchants to generate even one trade fleet! In addition, the planet is hemorrhaging money, and is a serious drain on the Empire (it’s a holding). Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Not a great economy.

Woof. The planet’s base GPP is only $11 billion credits, and its retail sector is barely making an impact (probably due to the lack of merchants – see the efficiency is only 4/100! Also, there is no trade going on, and the infrastructure of the planet (it’s a desert planet to begin with) is very expensive. Looks like Viceroy Malhin has decided to focus on admin buildings since the base ADM is so low (3 ADM, which is terrible for a system capital – ideally they should be at 50+) with secondary needs for food (makes sense, on a desert planet) and mining (might make sense – depends on the planet mining values) There are plenty of open jobs for engineers and miners, but there are a ton of administrators that are unemployed, so it makes sense that he would prioritize the admin sector. He has decided to run the manufacturing sector at almost 80% of capacity – that’s quite high, and will result in higher build points, but over time engineers will get more and more unhappy. Let’s take a closer look at the viceroy’s information now:

Here’s a close look at the good viceroy’s character screen. For our purposes, we’ll consider his admin skill, his traits, and his personality matrix to try to understand what he might do. He has an admin skill of 1 (not to be confused with the government skill which can go from 0 to 200; we’ll look at that in a minute) which isn’t great for someone who is running a system capital, no matter how crappy. On the positive side, he has high Honor and Empathy, which mean that he will tend to take care of the Pops under his rule (hence the high Food build). He has a low Charm trait, meaning that he’s basically not a great politician, but fortunately he’s a decent guy so his people are generally OK with him (40% Love, no Fear).

The important stat for a Viceroy is their Intelligence, basically how smart they are and what they consider when faced with multiple priorities. Rosko is pretty stupid, meaning that he will often make a poor choice when faced with a task; i.e. recruit certain Pops to the planet, create an intelligent build plan, or run the economy and make good trades that make sense for the planet. It also explains why he’s running his manufacturing sector flat out when there’s not really a critical need (and he’s in the negative with net production of all materials!) So ol’ Rosko will probably need to be micromanaged to some extent to make him useful, but that’s probably not the best way to spend your APs with a sprawling empire to run.

On the down side, he’s avaricious (basically a highly material person) which explains why he has managed to accrue a $28 billion personal account even though he’s on a backwater world, a sybarite (meaning he’s highly likely to take bribes) and superstitious (meaning that he is very likely to change his planetary strategy after an event of some kind). This last won’t matter as game events aren’t in (yet!) but the first two certainly will.

He already has a friendly relationship with me as the emperor, and characters who run Holdings that are of your House are already highly disposed to do what you ask them, unless it really goes against their personality or they really, really, REALLY hate you. So I probably won’t need to bribe him, even though it would most likely work.

Let’s take a look at Rosko’s skills:

Well, the low Intelligence is borne out by his skill values. Remember that they go from 0-200, where 50 is average, 100 is skilled, and 150+ is exceptional/genius level in a skill. From left to right, his Government Skill is 28 (used mainly for determining ADM that can be pulled out of a planet’s administration infrastructure), his High Tech skill is 4 (used for adjusting the High Tech/energy production on a world/system), his Academic skill is 0 (determines how effective Academies are on a planet, how many Pops they can take, and how likely Academics are to want to migrate there), his Engineering skill is 10 (determines how effectively the planet can generate Build Points and attract Engineers), his Farming skill is 7 (determines how effectively the planet can generate food and attract Farmers), his Mining skill is 9 (determines how effectively the planet can mine materials from the surface, how quickly the planet exhausts its reserves, and attract Miners) and the Economic skill of this savant is 10 (determines how much GPP the planet generates, how effective trades are with other hubs, how effective the retail sector is, and how much Merchants are willing to relocate there).

This is not a smart man. Small wonder that the planet is struggling to make money and mine enough materials to stay positive. In addition, he’s wasting some nice Trade infrastructure – a Level II starbase will allow at least 2 trade fleets to run each month, but merchants don’t want to set up shop on his planet (he’s an economic idiot, meaning on a local level he’s not passing laws that help merchants, making it harder to open/stay in businesses, etc.) so they’re steering clear. So what’s the effect of all this foolishness? Well, let’s first take a look at the planet details to see what context all of this is being placed in:

Well, that’s not exactly Gaia, now is it? 8 regions are desert, 2 mountainous, and the rest are so inhospitable that they are uninhabitable. The bio level is 43/100 which is on the very low end of what you would want a planet to support a large population with. Food will be difficult to grow. Energy reserves are pretty good (65) which is what you would expect from a desert world, and heavy materials are pretty abundant (68) but basic and rare materials are in very short supply. In short, this is a crappy world, and getting the most out of it will take a lot of work. And it is clear that this viceroy does not have many of the answers.

Which is where you, the astoundingly wise emperor, come in! You have several choices! You could:

  • Replace the viceroy with someone else who is currently not in a post in your House. Brutally effective, but it will create Fear in your Empire, and specifically in that planet/system.
  • Manage the viceroy build plan to one more of your liking, perhaps skewing towards mining? Friendly way, but eats up APs that you could be using for (many) other things
  • Find someone from another House (who is willing to serve) to take the reigns of the planet, possibly a courtier from House Ilioaia with their huge mining tradition? If that House is not friendly with you and their members won’t work with you, you’ll have to do something else…
  • Make a Designation Project for the planet. This is sort of a scorched-Earth way of bending a planet to your will, but it will take a lot of the decision work out of the planet’s growth and future plans
  • Stay the course and hope that the Viceroy will learn from experience over time (coming to a version soon is character skill growth if they are in positions where they can learn)
  • Give the planet as a Holding to a House who might do more with it. Maybe Ilioaia won’t allow their House members to work for you, but give them the planet and they’ll put one of their own in charge who might be able to at least take the loss off your hands and get some of those materials into New Terra eventually. Of course, this will upset the other Houses, so choices must be balanced…
  • Reassign the Viceroy to a less-critical planet. You can do this instead of simply removing them, but you have to find them a new posting within 3 months or it will be treated as a broken promise with Fear effects (and the character won’t be thrilled either)
  • Or find your own way to deal with it! Experiment!

Hopefully you can see a taste of what a Viceroy means to a planet, some of the decisions they make, and the options you have to deal with a low-performing Viceroy. This is some of the high-level strategic gameplay that AotSS is aiming to develop and create.

Thanks for reading!

-Steve

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Now that .7 is out… what’s next? A sneak peak of .7’s evolution!!

Hey everyone!

Well, it took a little longer than I intended, but finally .7 is out the door and ready to be played! Now, please remember that this is still an alpha version, so there are still plenty of things to do and fix! I wanted to give you a revised update of what’s to come and what the broad timeline is. I do want to say that I will be changing the update schedule to have one or two updates every few weeks, and more if people want it. The updates tend to be very large downloads (working on that) so once I get the assets cut down in Unity, that should help the file size significantly!

Anyway, the very first priority with .7 is to finish adding the economic system and riot system. They weren’t quite ready to go so with the first update you’ll see riots and the affiliated Actions/Projects that you can use to fix them. That should be about a week-2 weeks. Also, you’ll have working sliders and a new category of Actions: Economic. This is where you’ll be able to set tariffs, embargos, etc. These are not ‘choicable actions’ meaning that a character won’t have a choice about whether they happen, but you’ll still see their reactions (and any relationship change) in them. Also, obviously, any major bugs will be fixed during this time.

Next comes the save/load system. That’s a huge priority for me and in truth, there’s already save capability – the trick is loading. Really, the only issue is structuring the scene flow so that the program can redraw a new galaxy with saved data. The vast amount of data is deterministic – in other words, it generates based on some core saved data, so that should cut down on save game sizes. I hope to have that working within 2-3 weeks after the economic/Riot systems have been added and tested.

After that, I’m going to start adding the intel system, Challenges, and secrets, along with the required AI and Command Mode. This is a huge system that will also be integrated with the Character AI. Basically, you’ll be able to deploy and train Inquisitor squads that can be sent to planets to either gather information (spying, essentially) about a given planet/system/province, or they are there to actively investigate a potential Plot that you might have intel about on either you or another character. They are also used to execute black ops on specific characters, which include assassination, smear campaign, bribery, extortion, blackmail, and theft. Inquisitors basically gather op intel on a specific character for a period of time – until they have enough intel, they can’t act at all! Once they have a baseline amount of intel, they’ll be able to execute certain black op Actions; the more intel they can gather, the better their odds of success. If they are interrupted, they can try again, but the intel they have gathered will decay, and they may have to ‘re-intel’ what they’ve already learned.

Challenges are in the game, but nothing happens with them as of yet. With the Challenge addition, you will be able to challenge another character in the game, and then there is a 6 month period where you ‘recruit’ Characters to support your Challenge. Your challenged character is doing the same, and at the end of the period, whoever has the most support wins the Challenge. Winner gets a proportional increase of Power and Love from their respective Pops, while the loser loses Power, Love, and may have to give up their post to the winner depending on the Challenge.

Secrets are scraps of Intel that you might get from either gossip or from your Inquisitors. They are parts of a puzzle that the more you attain, the more info you have to potentially stop a Plot. I will be writing a full blog about this concept soon, but it’s really cool!

So after that is added, .7 will round out with the Science/Reform system. In AotSS, you don’t research like you do in a typical 4X. Your academics don’t research hard science as much as they do doctrines that allow you to take or unlock more Actions and more powerful Projects, especially with military and planet development. The thing is that your Cultures may approve or disapprove of the Reforms that you are undertaking, and they may react poorly if they have an Idea that is at odds with that specific Reform, so you do have to keep in mind who will react if you start researching world-killing lasers.

Finally, .7 will end with expanded House to House diplomacy and more intelligent House AI. Currently, Houses have relationships but they don’t really change and there is no specific alliance or war code for Houses who are opposed or allied with each other. This will be added in .7 leading up to .8.

And as always, the UI will be improved, more tooltips will be added, more Event pictures and descriptions will be added and the Grand Vizier will have more influence, including giving suggestions as to what to do next, how a character might react with a specific Action, and giving you a monthly report on what has happened and some advice based on that.

That’s what’s coming during the .7 development roadmap – No ETA, just ‘coming as soon as I can code it!’ Hope that sounds exciting – thank you for your interest in AotSS – please let me know what you think!

-Steve

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Home again: An update of development (and why the pause)

Hey everyone – been a while, right? So I’ll get to the good news right off the bat: I’ve been working on the game for a little while and have started on 3 key features: pops opinion feedback (in other words, why is my stability dropping on a planet?), the character/House AI, and the save/load system! Those are my 3 huge priorities before I call .6 complete. There will be some other tweaks, including more planets, an easier font typeface for some parts of the UI, the completion of the financial main screen, etc. but those are the big ones.

So that’s all well and good, you say, but where have you been? Good question. It started a few months ago with a 2-week trip out of the state for work, and I didn’t have a chance to do anything with the game at that time. When I got back, I had some issues that I had to take care of from a family standpoint – nothing major, but necessary. By then it was June and when I finally had some time to restart development, I realized that I wasn’t looking forward to it like I always had. In the past, I’d stay up until 2-3 AM working on something (I’m a night person) and not think twice about it. Now, I almost dreaded going to the computer. And I realized something at that point – I was burned out on the game.

You have to understand that I’ve been working on Imperia/AotSS more or less by myself (from a coding standpoint, anyway) for almost 4 years. In that time, I’ve had some artistic and game design support, most notably by Oliver, but for anything to actually be done in the game, I had to code and implement it. Even the smallest indie studios that release commercial-quality games typically have 4-8 people working full-time. The smallest I can think of that make games that people who would play AotSS would be Zero Sum Games (one person; StarDrive series) and Arcen Games (two people; AI War, The Last Federation, etc) but even they do it full-time as their main job. I am not in a position to make KatHawk Studios a full-time proposition (for now, anyway) so I’m caught in the position of assuming 100% development responsibility for a project that I can’t devote 8 hours a day to. So I’ve worked around the gaps in my life that don’t involve family, other social events/duties, and work. That leaves very little time for… me. And I think that finally caught up to me.

Since then, I’ve been refreshed and gotten the nice break that I needed, but of course I could have been more forthright about where I’ve been. One thing that I’ve always struggled with, even professionally, is taking relatively small issues and letting them spiral because I have an unreasonable fear of the results. In this case, all I would have had to do is post a blog saying that I was taking a month or two off and I’m sure most people who understand the development situation would understand. However, since I let it get to this huge thing in my mind, it became harder and harder to respond. So I take full responsibility for not explaining things sooner, and I’m sorry for that.

So that’s the first part. The second part is this: I have taken out some small loans to fund AotSS. This project was never about me making any substantial amount of money (I have not made a single dime on this project – all monies received have gone towards development, profit share, or loan repayment) and I don’t expect that to change. However, I do have to raise some money to keep development going (art, mostly) and continue to pay off the company debt. It’s not much, just a few thousand, but it’s not nothing either and I can’t use my personal income to pay it off instead (kids aren’t cheap, folks!!) So I have basically a few options left:

  1. Raise the price on AotSS
  2. Start a massive advertising/marketing campaign to increase sales
  3. Take out another loan
  4. Start a Kickstarter
  5. End the project and write off my losses

I don’t want to do #1; in fact, my plan is to keep the price at $7.99 even into .7 as a good will gesture. Naturally, this will not help my cashflow, but it’s the right thing to do.

#2 is a necessity, but I’m not a marketer and the person who really did that well (Oliver) is no longer an active part of the project due primarily to his own projects and life goals. And of course, actual advertising takes money which I am not flush with. So any sort of marketing would have to be guerrilla in nature.

(Huge shout outs at this point to eXplorminate and Space Game Junkie; y’all have been tremendous in your support!)

I really don’t want to do #3 since I already have 2 loans outstanding and unless I was going to do this full time (in which case I would bite the bullet and really do it right and take out like $150K to staff up and office out) I need to keep the debt load where it is.

I don’t want to give up 4+ years of work and let down numerous people and customers either, so I can’t face #5 as an option.

That leaves #4. I once swore that I would not do a Kickstarter – the idea of people paying for a project that they might never see gave me chills. However, as I study my options in my unique development situation, it may be the last resort. Many people have reached out to me over the years asking whether I would do one, and I always told them ‘no’. I am proud of the fact that AotSS is self-financed and funded, and I never asked for a penny for Imperia because I believed (and still do!) in the game and idea. But business considerations have made it to where I need to bring in some revenue to pay for art at a minimum. We don’t need a lot (relative to game development costs), but I estimate it will take about $5,000 to finish the game at a basic level.

So after much deliberation, I will do my best to do #2 and #4 to keep AotSS and KHS going. I don’t have any firm details about backing levels, but I can tell you that virtually all of the rewards will be game-based. I know for sure I will have unique characters for backers and for higher tiers, custom Houses, and things like planets and systems and provinces can also be named. Beyond that I have a few ideas but I’m still deciding on them. Once the project launches on Kickstarter I will let everyone know. Also, anyone who has already purchased will get a KS reward to be determined.

In addition, if anyone out there is interested in helping with the project on a part-time level, let’s talk. You can email me at steve@imperia5x.com and let me know what you would be willing to do, your skill set, etc. I primarily need some programming help (C#/Unity knowledge required) and a new artist who genuinely loves this project and what we’re trying to accomplish. Art would be paid per asset project; all other assistance is negotiable. (But obviously, if you’re looking to make $60K on this, keep looking. 🙂

Once again, I’m sorry about my communication and lack of progress. I’m human, and I don’t have a lot of support at this point WRT actually creating and coding the game. I’m not looking for sympathy, but I do want y’all to understand the situation. And believe me, I’m far from the only small indie to struggle. It’s an inherent risk in developing a game of this complexity. If I simply wanted to make money, I’d churn out puzzle games on mobile platforms. I have the expertise to do that. But it’s not my passion. This project is, small blips notwithstanding, and I will see it to the end.

Somehow.

-Steve

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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 on AotSS – Release Date Announced, New Video Released!

Hey everyone!

Well, I have some exciting news – AotSS version .6, aka Archimedes, will be released Tuesday, January 9, 2018!!

The cost will be $7.99 for the initial entry. This means that you will get Archimedes and every other build going forward, including patches and content additions after 1.0. Why so long, Steve? Good question!

As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of projects that promise much and deliver much less. If anything, this version of AotSS will include more than the original plan called for, including some basic House AI and more Actions and Projects (and corresponding UI) then called for originally. I want to make sure that I deliver a product that I’m proud of, and given my irregular work schedule, this is what it will take to not only deliver the build, but update the web site, add secure ecommerce, and do some basic cleanup of my sites and consolidate everything under the wordpress site under the www.allianceofthesacredsuns.com domain, since there are several sites floating around.

I have also released a new video that you should see if you want to get an idea of development – its here: https://youtu.be/0DLUH1JX6cI There is a slight echo but it is workable. I will release a new video every week until first alpha release with additional feature spotlights.

Later today, I’ll be writing another blog talking about a very good point that a commenter had in the video – who are you competing against, anyway? It’s a multi-layered questions and one that I feel deserves a larger answer, so I’ll talk about that later today!

Until soon… Excelsior!!

-Steve

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Update – ‘Archimedes’ is still on schedule for early October initial alpha release!

Hey all!

Well, despite a hurricane, a super busy time at work (when you sell cars and you’ve just had a massive flood, you tend to be very busy), and a very tricky stack overflow bug that took days to hunt down, AotSS Archimedes release .6 is still on track for an early October release. It will still be $7.99, and purchase of Archimedes will allow you updates throughout the lifecycle of the game. I’m not a huge DLC fan, so rest assured there will be plenty of updates (more Projects, more Actions, more dialog, more planet types, more Houses, etc) that can come for free! Details on how to purchase will come next month; we’re still working on revamping our website.

Also, we are restarting the alpha tester program. We’re far enough along now that there is a lot going on with the program and it is now impossible for me to track every little permutation. While there should now no longer be any show stopper/crash bugs, logic bugs, UI errors, data inconsistencies, etc. are something that need to be looked at. Balance is another huge aspect at this point. Other than adding a few data views, Archimedes is essentially feature-locked at this point, so testing can begin. If you’re interested, please email me at steve@imperia5x.com with your contact info, a brief background of your game interests, and any relevant experience. If you were a prior tester, I will be reaching out to you to see if you’re still interested, so no need to write. (If you were a tester for the previous (non-Unity) verion of Imperia, you will need to contact me as I no longer have that contact list.).

I will be releasing a new LP tomorrow as well. This will be a true LP, walking through some of the strategic choices and what you can do so far in this version of AotSS. As always, remember that this is a pre-alpha – there is a lot left to add!

Thanks for reading!

-Steve

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Video Development Diary #2 is out!

Hey all!

Thanks for everyone’s patience on the video thing. I’m terrible about always wanting to add one more thing or fix one more bug, and I have to remind myself that it’s just a pre-alpha and people will understand. (ha!) Seriously, though, it’s a good overview of the new stuff that we’ve been working on. There was so much that I didn’t cover, I’m going to do another video on Sunday. Anyway, sorry for the echo sound, but there’s some good stuff in there. Check it out!

Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/xhIZidSxZOw. Enjoy!!

-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