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The Aitvaras AI System: A Day in the Life of a Character in ‘Alliance of the Sacred Suns’

Hi all, Oliver here! Today I’m going to be talking in a little more detail about how our AI system will work.

Because Alliance of the Sacred Suns is a turn-based game, the AI isn’t constantly calculating what to do. Instead, each character, including the player, takes a turn, and over the course of that turn, the (other) AIs mostly just react to the active AI’s actions. (We may do some clever things with AI decision-making in the background of other characters’ turns, in order to shorten the turn calculation time, but the basic principle is IGOUGO.) The active character, in contrast, will be running quite a sophisticated algorithm to decide what exactly they’re going to do with their time.

First of all, they have to take stock of their situation. At the start of each character’s turn, they check their Attention Bidding System. This is a function that chooses between different possible goals for the character to work towards, based on weights assigned to those goals. For some goals, such as getting rich, these weights are pretty constant, only varying with the character’s fundamental personality and Ultimate Goal (their overall desire in life). For others, the weight will depend on their circumstances – ‘Survival’, for example, takes a weight determined by the highest Threat Level of any character to the active character. (Threat Level is a figure set by a combination of a character’s Power with modifiers for other factors, such as threats they’ve made and Secrets the active character knows about them.) The goal they’re currently working towards also has a bonus to its weight, to make sure characters stay plausibly focussed.

Once the Attention Bidding System’s check has been made, the character then starts moving on the Strategy Tree. This is a branching tree of hand-written decision nodes, designed to try and emulate real human reasoning by proceeding from ultimate motives, through general strategies, to specific actions. But rather than starting from the top of the tree each time, unless they’ve changed their end goal, the character will pick up wherever they left off at the end of their last turn. (Again, this is to make sure they maintain coherent courses of action over time.) The character will then proceed through the tree according to the rules on each node they come to, until they come to a node telling them to perform an action of some kind. When they come to a node of this sort, they will spend an Action Point, perform the action, and then check their Attention Bidding System again, to make sure circumstances haven’t changed what they ought to be doing – for example, if they’ve Challenged a character more powerful than they are, they may suddenly need to move to the Survival branch of the tree! Then, if they have Action Points left, they will start moving through the tree again, repeating the process until they run out of APs.

So that’s the overview of the system. Let’s have a look at an example, to see how this’ll work in practice.

Mancy Ononoke is the young viceroy of the planet Lucidia. Her Ultimate Goal in life is Wealth, which means that’s one of the goals she has under consideration, and since she’s a very Driven young woman, its weighting is quite high, outbidding the moderate threat from the popular Gaius Locke, also resident on Lucidia, for her attention. Now since she was busy on a pilgrimage until last turn, she starts from the top of the Wealth branch of the strategy tree. First, she decides what broad strategy she will pursue to make her money: since she’s a Viceroy, she makes the easy choice to Develop her Territory (a node directly under ‘Ultimate Goal: Wealth’). Now, how to do that? ‘Develop Territory’ has three child nodes, but two of them are available only to senior clergy and province governors, respectively. So she opts for the third, ‘Improve Economic Sector’.

‘Improve Economic Sector’ is a node that can be accessed from a number of different places, so it has options for which planet and sector of the economy to improve. Choosing which planet to improve is easy when there’s only one option, but selecting which sector to improve is more complex. Mancy considers unemployment, production capacity, and the skill of her workers in order to pick the Energy sector. She then, following the node’s script, determines that the best way to improve that sector is by building more power plants. Therefore, she moves down to Adjust Build Plan, and spends an Action Point to alter her planet’s build plan to favour building them. The instructions then tell her to wait to see how effective it is, so she discards the rest of her Action Points, and the turn ends.

Mancy doesn’t have to just sit around waiting, of course. Many goals can be pursued as ‘break activities’, meaning they can interrupt other activities without disrupting them completely – once the break activity is finished, the character goes right back to what they were doing. ‘Survival’ – in this case, tackling the threat of Mr. Locke – is such an activity, and, since she’s waiting, she gives break activities a higher weighting in the bidding for her attention. So, next turn, she might decide to deal with Locke once and for all! But she might also choose to start building a family, spend time with her friends, do something for the Church, or any one of a number of different things. There are over 500 nodes on the strategy tree, with twelve different goals bidding for characters’ attention, and many different ways to achieve those goals, creating a dynamic, storytelling system in which characters act plausibly in pursuit of believable motivations.

Not only that, but since the system is completely modular, modders will be able to add new nodes and modify existing ones. Different branches can cross-reference one another (with a customisable limit on absolute tree depth, to prevent infinite loops) meaning that some nodes added to one branch can be used intelligently by characters pursuing other goals. (Assuming, that is, the nodes are well-written!)

Now some of you will be reading this and thinking, ‘That’s all well and good, but how many hours am I going to have to sit and wait for each turn to resolve?’ We’re very aware of the potential performance issues involved in such a procedure, so we also plan to iteratively develop an ‘AI director’ system to switch characters between this process and a much simpler, more efficient one, in order to provide the player with a better experience. This other system will be much lower-fidelity and have many fewer options, making the decision process much faster, but crucially, you won’t know which character is running what at any given time – a character who doesn’t seem to be doing much proactively might not be, but on the other hand, they might be busy plotting behind your back…

It’s a very exciting time for me right now, because having worked on the detailed design of this system for almost a year, we’re on the point of beginning to implement it! Keep your eye on the blog – we’re going to have a lot to show off in the coming weeks and months.

Ave Imperator!

Oliver

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Small .4 preview – some new UI teaser screens!

Hey everyone!

Wanted to show you some WIP screens as we work on getting .4 out the door. It’s been a while, but we’ve made tremendous progress with the new build! We’re going to have all 3D planets and stars, a completely new UI, and we believe even easier ways to access the information you need in conjunction with the Command Modes! Anyway, with the exception of the Project Screen, all screenshots are from a live build of Imperia!

New Main UI WIP 6.9.16

This is the mostly-ready-to-go main UI. Note the resource bar on the top, the Projects in progress bar to the left, and the sub screen buttons have been completely redesigned and moved to the upper-left, while the next-turn button has been segregated and the date added. The huge addition is the Emperor Status bar, with your remaining AP in bright white, as well as your Power, your Popular support, and your location in an immediate place to find always. We rebuilt the UI with the viewpoint that you, the player, are the Emperor and what is most important for you to know always?

project mockup clean.png

This is the new WIP Projects Screen. Along with Actions that you do with Characters in the game, Projects are the most powerful tool you have to shape your Empire and change the game. They also define how you shape your relationships with your Characters – it is considered prestigious to be part of an important Project, but having different Characters from different Houses – especially ones that do not like each other – will slow down the progress. Actually creating a Project is as easy as dragging and dropping in an Administrator, then adding additional Contributors that add money and ADM to the project, and we wanted the window to reflect the information that you need to know, as well as creating several filter tools to best find certain Characters.

Also note the 3D planet spinning in the background with real-time lighting and lights depending on the level of civilization on the planet! (Yes, this stuff is not new, but for a small indie game we’re pretty proud of it!)

Opening Screen WIP 6.9.16

We now have a new front end as well – the pics don’t really do it justice, but everything you see is 3D and moving! The planets slowly spin around the sun, and the option panel is a 3D object. We’re not done tinkering with it yet but this will give you an idea of what we are shooting for…

New Game Setup WIP 6.9.16

The start of the Setup New Game screen. You will also be able to select your empire’s emblem here, as well as set the # of AI civilizations. The next step is where you will design your Emperor.

We’ll post more pictures soon, as well as a new video so you can see this stuff in motion! But we’re very excited about the direction of the UI in Imperia!

-Steve

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Developer Diary – UI and Command Modes

Hello everyone! Steve here with a small blog about one of the subtle, but important UI design choices: the concept of Command modes.

When we revamped the game design, we put a lot of thought into the UI. Imperia is a game with a lot of information, and we wanted a system where a player could get that information easily – but within the context of what they were working on.

If you play strategy games, you tend to think in terms of ‘what do I want to do?’ These tasks can be anything from ‘raise taxes’ to ‘build a fleet’ to ‘put a building in the queue on my capital planet’. But you are almost always doing these things within a larger context; in other words, you’re trying to accomplish a larger strategic goal by doing tactical things. So we thought, What will players do most? We settled on 4 broad areas that we felt most players would assign strategic value in Imperia: economic, military, diplomatic, and  demographic (pops), and created dedicated Command modes that focus player interaction on a particular area of strategy.

What this means in game terms is that if you select, say, Economic mode, then all map submodes, Actions, Projects, and data will be relevant to the economy of that view level, be it province, system, or planet.

So for example, if you are looking at a planet screen in Economic mode, you will see the taxes, production, trade to and from the planet, planet-level economic Projects in the Project bar, etc. If you move out of the planet screen, the system screen will have system trade, system-level economic Projects in the Project bar, and so on. Any submodes will be economic-related as well.

In essence, Command modes act as a smart filter so that you can act within the strategy you are pursuing without having to move ‘sideways’ in the UI. You can switch between command modes at any time, and for traditionalists there will be ‘override’ options that allows for Action- and Project-level filtering independent of the command mode (in other words, you can see all Projects for a planet even if you are in Military command mode) but we think most players will appreciate this setup once they start to play.

More to come soon, including some new screenshots!

-Steve

 

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Introducing the Cultures of the Empire

Hi everyone! Oliver here. Today we’re going to be looking at the Culture system: what it is, what it means in gameplay terms, and a little introduction to some of the diverse cultures you’ll find among the heartworlds of your Empire.

One of the things we want to capture in Imperia is the sense that you’re bringing different ways of life together, in a cultural ferment, to renew the hidebound and crumbling Celestial Empire. To that end, rather than have different civilisations have different units, unique technologies, and so on, in Imperia the unique units and ‘technologies’ attach to different cultures, which you can integrate into your Empire. (I put ‘technologies’ in scare quotes because our Reforms system has some important differences from a normal technology tree – most significantly, it’s much broader than it is tall, enabling (indeed, forcing) you to customise your Empire rather than simply progress it along a linear track.) Once you have integrated a culture into your Empire, you can enact a number of special Reforms that build upon the interaction between the six core cultures of the Empire and the influence of the freshly-assimilated culture, as well as making Pops of that culture considerably happier under your rule.

Cultural integration isn’t simply a matter of joining hands and singing Kum-Ba-Yah, however. In the 31st Century, the differences between cultures that have developed over many lifetimes in almost total isolation from one another can be stark indeed. To represent this, alongside the Religion system (on which more in a later blog post) we have the Ideas system. Every single character and Pop in the game will have a position on each of ten different Idea scales, including technophilia versus technophobia, unity versus divisibility and illusoriness of the self, authoritarianism versus anti-authoritarianism, and more, each representing a fundamental question about human nature and society in the future. The Idea positions of characters and pops will be derived from their culture’s default positions on the scales, and will affect their opinions of many of the moves you make in-game, from colonising new worlds, to passing Reforms, to crushing rebellions – and when you are considering who to ally with and which worlds to take into your growing Empire, you will have to consider whether the cultures you are looking to rule will look kindly or angrily upon the moves you wish to make after you’ve won. Not to mention that wars and migration may cause tensions between Pops of different cultures, creating difficult political situations to manage (or, if you are Machiavellian enough, take advantage of).

But Cultures are not immutable. Both you and other characters can ‘lean towards’ one foreign culture or another, to improve your relations with characters and Pops of that Culture, but also to affect the opinions of your supporters. Your cultural leaning will, of course, set the tone at Court (as Peter the Great’s Europhilia did in Russia) but your viceroys and governors will have political needs, preferences, and agendas of their own. It will take cunning and sagacity to manage the varying affiliations of your vassals – for shared tastes can create shared trust – shared trust, shared interests – and shared interests, shared plans…

The Core Imperial Cultures

The cultures in Imperia are divided into three groups, separated by space – one group at the centre of human space, another found arrayed around it, and a third, strangest and most unfamiliar of all, at its very fringes. Not all of the cultures will appear in every game – slightly more than half ought to show up on a normal-sized map – so each game you play should provide a unique cultural landscape to navigate. We’ll give you some glimpses of the weirder cultures in time, but today I’m going to restrict myself to summarising the history and character of the six core Imperial cultures – the cultures of your people at the beginning of the game.

Neomerican: The worlds described as ‘Neomerican’ are those most heavily influenced by the popular movement of the same name that took hold in the late 28th century. Against a largely small-t traditionalist background, this renaissance of ancient American culture (as filtered through a 28th-century Solarian worldview) infiltrated all areas of art, politics, and life. Notably, the publications of Neomerican public associations influenced writers and journalists far beyond the Neomerican Renaissance’s heartlands, leading to the foundation in the 29th century of The Solarian, by far the most widely-read news distributor in the Empire at the time of your accession to the throne.

Traditionalist: Of all the Empire’s many social orders, ‘Traditionalist’ society is the most conservative and the most oriented towards implementing Solarian social doctrines. Traditionalism as it is today grew up around the families who formed the first oligarchic aristocracy of the Terran Alliance. The obvious problem they faced in the early years was how to justify their accumulation of wealth in what – in those first, hopeful days of the Exodus – seemed like a new start for Humanity, a chance to start again. The calamitous arrival of the Solarian revolution gave them an answer: the majority of the aristocratic families were early converts, forming the funding base of the Solarian Stewardship Party and propagating the ‘Wahhabaptist’ movement. They used public displays of piety and maintenance of the new Solarian church and customs to validate their preëminent position in society. The heartlands of the new faith became the heartlands of what would be thought of as Traditionalist culture, and among the foremost duties of Traditionalist scions has always been the maintenance of the perception that their society represents the divinely-ordained order of things. Their outspoken confidence in the righteousness of the Imperial way of doing things often belies a creeping doubt and fear of slipping ‘into shadow’ off the true path – like those Techniks, Mercantilists, and ‘Gilded World’ sybarites…

Technik: The Technologists or ‘Techniks’ burst onto the scene in the 2850s as an intellectual movement calling for the revival of technological projects long held taboo by the Empire, beginning with the publication of Lucida Nevsky’s multimedia manifesto, Technology for Humanity, in 2851. It soon evolved into a more all-encompassing philosophy and way of life, as the technologies revived – including varieties of mind-machine interface and unusual prosthetics – lent themselves to transformative, sometimes quasi-spiritual experiences. Though many of their discoveries eventually became widespread, their transformative social effect was never so strong as in the Techniks’ heartworlds. To survive at the top of Technik society, their Houses take the rôle, more or less, of media and entertainment empires: by providing – or monopolising – the ‘peak’ experiences central to the Technik way of life, they sell their subjects on their rule.

Spartic: The Spartic movement is actually very old – it can trace its antecedents right back to veterans of the First Xyl War who, on arriving on the new world, resolved that society ought to be ordered in such a way that it could move to defend itself against an unknown threat at any moment. In this way, they are a reaction to the Exodus. They are a militaristic culture with strong focus on discipline and personal hardiness, and this idea of a disciplined social order is what maintains their leaders’ positions. All citizens participate in extensive national service and related training, from quite a young age. Cybernetic implants for battlefield purposes are common amongst all classes. They tend to have poor economic performance, but produces great troops and generals.

Gilded Worlds: The Gilded Worlds exemplify an alternative solution to the problem of how an élite can maintain its position over the very long term. Rather than pacifying their subjects with ideology, the great Houses of the Gilded Worlds go straight for the limbic system, maintaining chemical acquiescence through the judicious deployment of recreational narcotics, Soma-style. The leeway this lends the privileged in Gilded society leads them to notorious excess.

Mercantile: Somewhere between Venice at the height of its glory and England in its nascent days of empire: built on a revival of interstellar trade, this culture loves wealth and will work and even innovate to get it. Renewed interaction with previously-long-separated worlds makes this culture a little bit of a melting-pot. Its great Houses are trading powers – a mixture of old families who took advantage of the return of interstellar trade in the 2820s and 30s and new trading families who arose from that flowering. Prominent among them are the Ilioaias (a mining clan with a tragic past) and the Milaks (whose unexpected geological windfall propelled them to sudden glory in a few short months in 2915).

Join us again next week, when Steve will be taking the blogging reins once more!

Oliver

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Developer Diary: Houses, Holdings, And You, Part I: How do they affect you?

Hey everyone! Steve here, with yet another new blog. We’re back to active development, so we look to have some screenshots soon but for now I wanted to talk about Houses: what they are, why we have them in the game, and how you can interact with them (and what can happen when things go bad).

So the entire structure of civilizations (including your Empire) are simply the sum of which Houses swear fealty to that particular civilization. What’s really happening is that there is always a ruling House (in the Empire, this is your House, with you as the head of House) and other Houses choose to swear fealty to that House, similar to the feudal system of yesteryear. All Houses have a head of House, their own treasury, their own crest and colors, and many Great and Minor Houses have a bespoke history as part of the Imperiaverse. Houses also have bonuses and specialties, and belong to a specific Culture group (which we will cover soon).

Holdings are simply what a House owns as part of the stellar landscape. Usually this means a planet, but if they have Holdings on a majority of the planets in a system, they are considered to Hold the system as well. This has implications for security in the system, as well as trade.

There are 3 broad sizes of Houses in Imperia. The largest and most impressive are Great Houses – they may have hand-crafted histories and special rules, they sometimes have Holdings of system size or larger, they may have their own military capability, and their leaders are often the most influential people in the game. There are 10 bespoke Great Houses that may appear in your Empire, though only around 5 are active at game start (selected randomly) while Great Houses in other civilizations are procedurally generated.

The second tier are Minor Houses. Within the Empire, these Houses are still bespoke, with a history and a base of operations, but do not have Holdings of any great size, usually no more than a single planet. Their leaders yearn for their House to rise to Great House status. There are 10 custom-made Minor Houses in the game, of which around 5 will be active in your Empire at game start, along with other, procedurally-generated Minor Houses.

The lowest and most common tier are Common Houses. These Houses are basically the ‘normal’ Houses of no great note, representing average families and House groups. There may be dozens of these Houses in the game. They do not have Holdings or military.

Houses are the entities that you are in conflict with throughout the game. As Emperor, you must work with the Great Houses to ensure that they support your Projects and Actions, and keep a close watch that they do not ally with each other in order to overthrow your House (and thus you). Your Inquisitors will be vital to stand watch over less-loyal Houses. It is important that you cultivate solid alliances with the Houses that you feel will benefit you the most. Due to ideology, it is impossible for you to ‘ally’ with all Houses – the other Houses are natural rivals, and acting in the best interests of one House will make other Houses jealous. Balancing your relations with the Houses is a critical part of your rule: do you more or less try to keep them neutral (‘a quiet dog is a safe dog’) or do you try to boost one or two Houses above the rest to gain their loyalty, but anger the rest of the Houses, especially those Houses’ sworn enemies? It’s up to you. You can also stop supporting Houses, but you might up angering everyone along the way.

To quickly pacify Houses, you have four powerful tools in your arsenal. The first is Projects. Proposing Projects that benefit a certain House will usually bump their Loyalty towards you and your House, depending on the benefit they will get.

The second is your administrative positions. You can assign a Character from a specific House to a viceroy position of a planet, a system or provincial governor, or even a Prime on your Council. The more power you give a character from a House, the happier and more loyal they will be, but obviously this will anger other Houses.

The third is more drastic, but has a huge impact – you can give a House a Holding of a planet, a system, or even a province (if it is yours to give). While this will delight Houses to no end, there are a few drawbacks. First of all, you no longer ‘own’ the Holding, so you can’t tax it or get supply from it as you did before. Second, you can’t get the Holding back by any means except force. In other words, if you decide you made a mistake in giving that system to a House that was threatening war, too bad – unless you decide to go to war yourself.

Which brings us to the fourth and final option: troops and guns. You can always use your military to destroy a House if you feel the need to do so. Keep in mind that this will raise your Fear rating to dizzying heights, and other Houses that are not cowed will actively plot to curb your power (unless the House that you took down was hated by all else, but even then self-preservation takes over). Repression – from military occupation to targeted kinetic strikes against their home planet – can keep your nobles in line, but such extreme measures will have repercussions…

Part II tomorrow!!

-Steve

 

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Territory in the 31st Century: Houses, Holdings, and How Empires Work

Hi all, Oliver here! This week I’ll be talking about how territorial ownership and soverignty work in Imperia.

One of the problems we came across designing Imperia was the seemingly simple question: who owns what? We knew we were going to have chains of command involving characters from different Houses, but how, precisely, would that work? How were Houses to relate to the game’s civilisations? How would a House declaring independence work?

What we came up with is (we think) quite an elegant solution. Each House in Imperia has Holdings – planets over which they’re sovereign – and may or may not swear fealty to another House. But a House’s holdings need not be administered by House members. The House Head can bring in characters from other Houses within their jurisdiction to administer their territories, meaning that each character is simultaneously a member of two different power structures. So there’s always a potential conflict of interest going on. The elegant part is that this structure means there’s nothing more to civilisations than independent Houses – even your Empire. Your Imperial worlds are simply the Holdings of your House.

This opens up multiple ways to expand your empire. Do you try to build a loose federation of powerful vassals, or claw fresh Holdings for yourself out of the carcasses of enemy Houses? Do you tempt sovereign Houses to join your growing domain with their territories intact, or help their treacherous inferiors overthrow them to become a puppet government, in hock to you? Do you trade away your existing Holdings in return for the loyalty of your vassals, or does that risk making them to powerful? You can promise a share of the spoils to House Heads who send Forces to aid you – but are you planting the seeds of your own overthrow? What if, instead, you empowered smaller Houses, presently without territory, by giving them Holdings of their own – along with the obligation to raise a Force and fight for you when the time comes? The conflicting imperatives of feudalism will (we hope!) create all sorts of fascinating gameplay opportunities in the universe of Imperia.

Next week, Steve’ll be blogging again, and over the coming weeks we’ll also be starting to show off some sections of our Game Design Document on the forum. Now that the design is mostly in place, we’re going to be getting back into the cycle of producing regular alphas, which I’m really excited for. Watch this space!

Oliver

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Developer Diary: Trade and Trade Fleets

Hey everyone! Steve here with yet another new diary – now that we’ve wrapped up the large-scale system design, we can talk more about what we’re putting in! Let’s talk about trade today, because even though it’s not the most exciting part of a 4X type strategy game it can have long-term effects on how you play.

The first thing to understand is that there are 2 types of trade hubs that generate trade in a given area: province trade hubs and system trade hubs. (The Empire’s province hub is also considered the Empire trade hub, with a slightly larger radius of effect) Every province in the Empire at the start of the game will have at a province trade hub. Any system that is covered by the province trade hub range may trade with any other system or planet that is also within range. Province trade hubs have a large radius of effect. Province trade hubs can also trade with other province trade hubs, which will allow goods to move between provinces, and from there to the systems in the province.

System trade hubs are smaller, and not built at the start of the game, but can be used to expand your reach if you expand a province to the far corners of a given constellation. To build a trade hub, you must have a trade station built first. Any planet may import goods, but you must have a trade station to export goods to other planets for money.

There are 2 types of trade agreements – Supply and Economic. Supply trade agreements are created by the Empire to move goods from outposts to the Empire trade hub, and to the province and system trade hubs as well. Outposts are created to generate a certain type of good – food, energy, materials, etc. – and are not considered settled colonies. They can only export resources and do not generate income by doing so. Economic trade agreements are generated when a planet has a need for a certain resource and another planet has a supply of that resource that they have earmarked for trade. When that happens, a trade request is made to a certain planet, and that planet may choose to accept it or allow the planet to bid more to accept it.

Often, many planets will have a need for a resource, determined by the Viceroy through a stat called Importance, and if there is not enough resources set aside for all the trade bids, the price of a resource will go up. Trade bids also take into account distance and security between the systems, so if there are a lot of pirates or there is a war going on in the destination system, the price will be much higher to take the bid. Merchants are used to administer trade fleets, so a planet can only have as many active trade fleets as they have merchants allocated for them – merchants can either be allocated for exports or retail on a planet.

Once a trade agreement has been set, a trade fleet is created. This is a real object in the game world that can be examined and even attacked by pirates, other Houses, or other civs, or it can simply have a mechanical failure out in the depths of space. Once a fleet has made its journey and dropped off its goods, it becomes available again to fulfil a new trade agreement.

Here’s a game example of a viceroy from the planet Heaven trying to create a trade agreement for food, since they are a desert planet and cannot generate enough to feed all their Pops.

Example:  Since the viceroy of Heaven has determined that the Importance of Food is high enough to make a trade request, Heaven has made a trade request for 10 food units. Melanon is the only planet in the radius of the Province Trade Hub that is currently trading food and has trade fleets available. 
Since there are 5 Merchant Pops on Melanon dedicated to exports, they may only have 5 trades active at any one time. Right now, there are only 2 Trade Fleets available, as 3 Trade Fleets are out in space (Supply Trade Fleets do not count against the merchant total). Melanon has 4 trade offers outstanding from within the province for food, and Heaven’s bid is 3rd lowest (the higher 2 planets have a higher Importance on Food, and so have bid more). When considering trades, the distance and security risk is also taken into account, so planets that are farther from the trade hub may have to pay more because the trip is less profitable (energy to power the fleets is paid by the exporting planet as part of the costs of maintaining trade fleets)
For this province, even though the base price of food is ¢0.5m (that’s 500 000 Crowns, the basic unit of currency for 31st-century humanity) per unit, heavy demand has increased it to a new base of ¢1.8m per unit. In addition, the cost per unit for a trade between Heaven and Melanon is ¢4.1m due to distance and low security in the system where Heaven is located. The two planets higher on the list have offered ¢2.2m and ¢2.4m per unit of food, and their cost per unit is only ¢3.3m and ¢2.9m, respectively since they are closer, so their total bids are ¢5.5m and ¢5.3m per unit of food.
So essentially, because of the shipping costs, the viceroy of Heaven has to increase his bid to at least ¢5.4m per unit (¢2.9m cost per unit + ¢2.4m bid per unit + ¢100k to increase the total bid from the lowest-eligible planet on the list)
As the ‘bumped’ offer, the Heaven Viceroy may choose to increase their bid to make this trade happen. As his people are starting to show high unrest as their food stocks plummet, he decides to increase his bid to ¢5.45m. The planet who is offering ¢5.3m declines to adjust their price, and the lowest bidding planet does not do so either, so the Melanon trade request moves to the 2nd slot. No further bids take place, so as there are 2 fleets available, the Heaven request is filled and the trade price is calculated at the ¢5.45m base. These crowns come from Heaven’s Gross Planetary Product (GPP) budget that has been devoted to imports, and are removed from that budget immediately.
Once the trade is completed, if Heaven wants to trade again with Melanon, they must put in a new trade request, and the cycle begins again.

So as the Emperor, there will be plenty of ways to manipulate this system. One easy way is to flood a province with additional resources when prices are high, or perhaps to create a temporary bubble of need with a Project request. Let’s say that you have a Character who is a new Viceroy of the planet Tableau, and belongs to House Hawken. You want Hawken to be on your good side, and you feel that this Viceroy has the skills and loyalty to be a tremendous asset to your rule in the future (perhaps being given a Governorship down the line if all goes well). But for now, his planet is struggling, which is hurting his overall Power. What can you do?

Here’s a long-game option: You know that you are going to be building more military fleets in the next 2-3 years. Now, you could give those shipyards (which are built through a Project) to your putative friend, which would be a heavy industry and would bring wealth to the planet, but you have a longer-range plan. No, you know that Tableau has a very high concentration of rare minerals on the planet, and you also know that there is another viceroy of the planet Remola from House Ilioaia, who specialize in trade and mining, that you would like to improve your relations with since they are opposed to House Van Rigel, who most hate you and your ruling House. So what can you do?

Why, give the shipyards to Remola, which will initially make that viceroy (and House) happy, who will then need a tremendous amount of rare materials to build and power those fancy shipyards once they’re built, which will only come from the rare mineral mines that have been thoughtfully built by your order on… Tableau. And Remola’s viceroy will pay out the nose for the privilege, while your viceroy on Tableau’s GPP skyrockets from exports, and his Power increases, all while your ships of war get built by your loyal and greedy subjects.

Now that’s Imperia.

-Steve

 

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Exciting News! The Game Design for Imperia Is Nearly Complete… And You’ll Get to See (some of) it!

Hey everyone! Well, Oliver and I have been working hard on the refined game design for Imperia, and after an original version that was banged on for a while, several months of work and balancing, and a lot of cussing and sore fingers, we are excited to announce that the game design document for Imperia is just about through its first draft!

While this may or may not sound exciting, you may have noticed that we haven’t put up any new screens for a while, and we haven’t released any new builds to our testers. It’s been almost 4 months, in fact. We made a decision among the 3 of us (Oliver, Pavlos, and myself) that as this was becoming a large and commercial project, it made more sense for us to pause, rework and get the design on paper, lock down the critical game systems and design elements, and flesh out the lore of the universe of Imperia. It’s been a lot of work, and I have to say Oliver in particular has put a lot of work into the AI systems, the lore, and the military systems, among other things.

We challenged each other, took a critical eye at everyone’s thoughts, and looked at every single aspect of Imperia from a new perspective. Some of what we have changed we have discussed in these forums and blogs as developer’s diaries, but there’s more. Much more to this design. Over 60,000 words and over 160 pages so far, in fact. And still growing as we add lore and things like formulas, art, etc.

Is this the right way to design a game? We don’t know. But when you have 3 people working from across the globe, with different time zones and responsibilities with the game, you have to have a concrete Bible that everyone can work from. We have project management and such as well, of course, but as we quickly found out, a game of this complexity and scope simply could not be ‘made up as we go’ as we got deeper into the design from what I started in 2014. So much like starting over with Unity, we took a deep breath and plunged into the task.

And you know what? It was absolutely the right thing to do. These last few weeks, as we have tied down the major systems and bridged the lore with the systems and the UI plan, we realize we’re creating something incredible here; something that has never really been tried before. With a working GDD, we’re going to be able to start developing code and art again in earnest, and frankly, with all we’ve done with Imperia, I can confidently say this:

Imperia is about to lift off, and for those of you who have been following us for a while (y’all are awesome and seriously devoted, BTW!) your patience is about to be rewarded in a big way. We’re going to start sharing portions of the game design in about a week, but for a little something right now, here’s a new ‘back of the box’ description of what Imperia is:

“Happy birthday, Your Excellence. I am your AI regent. As you have now reached your eighteenth birthday, you are now the Last Emperor of the Celestial Empire, and as such are now authorized to receive this briefing, classified Omega-One Level.

“The year is 3050 AD. You are the last Emperor of the last Human Empire on the first planet founded after Mother Earth fell over an eon ago to the wrath of the Xyl.

“Our race, scattered amongst the quadrant, thousands of light-years across, has shattered like cosmic glass after the Second Xyl War. Scattered survivors have formed small civilizations, new cultures have sprung up, and even strange religions have formed to the very edges of the quadrant in a feeble attempt to fight the flickering of humanity’s flame. Recently, our outer colonies have seen disturbing signs of our ancient Xyl enemies once more, and New Terra’s historians are increasingly wary of what they see.

“The Celestial Empire, or as it is known colloquially, the Last Empire, stands as humanity’s final bastion against the winds of the Xyl that would seek to extinguish this flame. These creatures that are less than Gods but more than mortal have planned centuries for this time, and they do not intend to fail in their goal a third time.

“Your House rules dozens of worlds, but the other Great Houses of the Empire seek to usurp the Crystal Throne upon which you sit. Powerful Primes sit on the Celestial Council, gathering power for the time when they might strike for the Empire themselves. Only your House’s vast holdings, your control of your unimpeachable Inquisitors and their attached squads of fanatical Judgements, and your divine right to rule which is still revered by the Empire’s people, has prevented a cataclysmic civil war between your ruling House and the other Houses.

“Your people still support you, but as the last in your line, the Last Empire, along with your House, will fall with you. The great religion of the Empire, Solarianism, threatens to schism your Empire as they pray not to you, but to Father Sun to turn back his demon Xyl, to no avail.

“We can not hope to fight this final war alone, Your Excellence. Our military technology has grown stagnant, and our warships have become relics with our slide away from technology. You must unite these broken shreds of humanity, lost though many of them have become, and bring them – however you must – under the banner of humanity one last time.

“The Xyl are coming, Your Excellence. The quadrant is watching. Your people are praying. Your enemies are plotting.

“Your empire awaits your first command.”

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The Inquisition (and how to make sure nobody expects them)

Hi everyone, Oliver here. Today’s blog is about the design – and the design challenges – of one crucial part of your Imperial intelligence network: the Imperial Inquisition.

The Inquisition are an elite group of highly-trained characters, able and licensed to arrest and prosecute the highest-ranking aristocrats in the Empire. They are your most precise and deadly weapon against treacherous underlings. But with great power comes great responsibility – responsibility even the Sun Emperor cannot override. The Inquisition, when they interrogate a suspect, will find the truth – even if that truth is not what you thought or hoped it would be. And, if the suspect is innocent, they will be free – and extremely angry.

The first design problem, building the Inquisition, is to make sure they don’t step on the corruption- and secret-hunting gameplay I described in my last post on the Intrigue system. They provide the payoff – they’re how you find out whether or not your reasoning (or guesswork) was correct – but you mustn’t simply be able to sic them on every character who looks at you funny. Thus, they always find the truth, but setting them on an innocent character will turn that character implacably against you. If that isn’t enough to stop Inquisitor-spam displacing interesting detective work, we might make you pay compensation to innocent victims of Inquisitorial investigation.

The second problem is how ‘human’ to make them. Can any character become an Inquisitor? If they’re simply ciphers who do your bidding, there’s not much point having them at all. The solution we’ve settled on for the first iteration is that any character can, with your permission and years of training, become an Inquisitor – and that their relationships with characters will affect how likely they are to catch them if assigned to interrogate them. An Inquisitor would never come up with false results in an interrogation, but the target might suddenly take a long holiday on a fast ship just before their friend the Inquisitor arrives. So your assignment of Inquisitors will depend on how much you trust them to get the job done.

One of the problems the Inquisitor system solves is the question of how to give you control over your information and intelligence flow. By assigning Inquisitors to monitor particular territories, you can receive more information than you otherwise would about that planet, system, or province – the smaller the territory, the better the information you’ll get on it. This also helps make the Inquisitor-assignment gameplay interesting: where will it be useful for this particular Inquisitor to be? Where do you need good information? Who do you want them to be near to, just in case? One thing we might do is increase Inquisitors’ flow of Secrets from characters they’ve got good relations with, making placing Inquisitors in their friends’ territories a double-edged sword – more likely to produce information, but less likely to catch wrongdoers if you ask them to.

Two options for Inquisitorial work is not quite enough to make the choice of assignment interesting, however. The final piece of the puzzle (at least in the design for the first full alpha) is military commissar duty. By assigning an Inquisitor as a military commissar, you can reduce that Force’s chance of rebelling – but at the price of slowly degrading it, as officers get Inquisited and troops desert to escape the suddenly hostile work environment. Can you afford that cost, for loyalty? Can you afford not to pay it? The commissar system adds another interesting aspect to your military decision-making.

The key thing to understand about all this, though, is that it’s provisional. This is what we’re going to implement for the first alpha – after we (and our testers) have tried it, and seen how well it works, we might well find it’s either too much, or not enough. Perhaps we’ll need to give Inquisitors another function; perhaps they ought to be able to investigate corruption on their own; or perhaps they’ll turn out to be a layer of mechanics we don’t need at all. I hope we’ve got it right first time round, but the proof of the pudding’s in the eating.

I hope this post has let you see a little bit of the sort of thought processes we go through as we’re designing Imperia. In the next post, Steve will be talking about UI design, and how we’re reworking it from the bottom up.

Ave Imperator!

Oliver

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Imperia Concepts – System/Sector Focii

Hello again!! What what? 2 posts in a day? Must be getting active!

Anyway, in continuing to move Imperia towards its macro control design document, we introduce the concept of System and Sector Focii. Governors run their territory under a master ‘plan’ depending on their personality, traits, and the needs of (what they) feel is most important to their particular AOR (area of responsibility). Sector governors always set a top-level primary focus, with a corresponding secondary focus that show the ‘direction’ that the governor wishes to take. System governors are generally forced to run their system under their sector governor’s primary focus (using the sector secondary focus as their primary) but may pick an independent secondary focus depending on their ambition and/or will to do so. Viceroys, who are generally the low head on the totem pole, will be forced to more or less go along with their sector and system governors’ requests. Here are some examples of sector focii primary and secondary:

-Raise Revenue

Secondary: Increase All Taxes, Expand Economy, Expand Sector Economies, Cut Waste, Change Designation

-Build Military

Secondary: Expand Military Sector, Expand Starship Production Sector, Increase Taxes, Stockpile Materials, Build Sector Navy, Build Sector Army, Change Designation

-Promote Migration

Secondary: Terraform Worlds, Decrease All Taxes, Expand Economy, Expand Sector Economies, Build Starbases

-Promote Trade

Secondary: Build/Expand Starbases, Decrease Industry Taxes, Build Logistical Stations, Improve System Security

-Advance Technology

Secondary: Expand Science Sector, Increase Industry Taxes, Improve System Security, Build Science Colonies

-Expand Sector Territory

Secondary: Build Sector Navy, Build Sector Army, Request System Annexation, Colonize Planets, Create Colony

-Improve Admin Capabilities

Secondary: Expand Government Sector, Lower Industry Taxes, Improve Personal Popular Support, Cut Waste, Change Designation

As the Emperor, you can request that these focii be changed, or demand change with a sector or system Edict. You can also make changes at the planet level that go against the general spirit of the sector governor’s demands. For example, if your sector governor wants to raise revenues, asking your system governor or viceroy to lower taxes will not go over well. Depending on the relationships and power that a sector governor wields, some viceroys may be too afraid to make changes that they might otherwise be agreeable to! Again, Edicts trump all focii; although remember that if you involve system or sector assets, and the Edict goes against what the goals of the governor are, they might hang it in committee for a while…

Locking down a governor to ‘Nominal’ or ‘None’ Autonomy will allow you to choose the foci for a sector and have it enacted immediately. Of course, it takes a significant military presence in a sector to force an uncooperative sector governor to simply have their power reduced in such a way. The game will tell you what force ratio is required to be present on the system/sector capital to allow you to change a governor’s autonomy downward. Even if the governor is forced to change, they may still plot behind the scenes to change their situation! Oh, and yeah, locking down your governors this way is considered very, VERY tyrannical.

The full focii system will not be in .410, but should be in by the .5 release. But I wanted you to know what was coming and what another piece of the full political/social system of Imperia will look like!!

-Steve