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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The types of planets in AotSS are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excelsior, Your Majesty!