Rob Zacny

Episode 216: Lost in Space

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I find the timing of this episode appropriate, as Eclipse just got realized for iOS and seems to be making a considerable impact within the iOS gaming community.   On one hand, the game is being praised as an excellent port of the hit board game, condensing its systems to the ipad in a particularly elegant way.  Two, and more relevant to the topic of this podcast, the game itself is smart about distilling the 4x concept to its core, and by limiting itself to nine turns, the gameplay remains focused and tight.  

 

just my two cents

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Some thoughts:

 

1. I think that keeping the game from being too complicated conflicts with a lot of ideas you've outlined.

 

2. War is Fun . Even outside of space, non-war related strategy is few and far between. A Crusader Kings in Spaaaace might work, but what would setting it in space really add? Sci-fi models of space societies have generally been just copies of historical ones, so you'd need a lot of original thought to make this interesting and still intuitive.

 

3. Needs and wants are hard to do in a simple way. Maybe something like Shogun 2's clan missions? In particular, I think that individualisation of races needs to be used carefully. This is because interaction with other races requires the player, and the AI, to understand intimately both their own priorities and those of other races. It would enormously suck to unknowingly hand victory on a platter to an enemy because you forgot that he only needs to capture Red planets that are useless to you. Having too different a tech tree would also add an obfuscatory layer before the player - if Hivers don't like the internet, what happiness boosting tech do they want? How do we encourage tech trading if techs are unique?

 

4.

 

5. Hard to do without erasing the point of doing it in space altogether. I'd say, embrace nodes and edges, but more it easier to navigate, and perhaps manipulate. If you want the player to run an empire of bazillions of worlds, then suppress the complexity of a bunch of them. The minor worlds they don't care about can be just dots that change colour, like the resource points on Company of Heroes. Let me draw a selection box around fifty worlds and tell them to build ships. Focus on making interesting core worlds, worlds with ancient ruins and stories.

 

6. I think the thing is, people want ships to blow up. A ship blowing up when you only have a few ships SUCKS. The Enterprise is great and storied, but what about all the ships the enterprise fought? If individual ships were so precious, the game would probably devolve into a WWI style situation where opposing fleets sit in dry dock, staring at each other, afraid to be committed, running instantly for home the moment shields dip below 80%. And that'd be no fun. Probably a Total War style compromise would be better - fleets and squadrons get characteristics, but individual ships can just die. Also, I don't like refit cycles - sending a ship back home again and again feels like the definition of busywork.

 

7.+8. I don't think significant tech interacts well with indirect research. People don't want to be handed a massive advantage, or miss out on one, due to the vagarities of a system they do not directly control and understand. I overall prefer choices that are direct and chunky, in any case. Carapace or Laser weapons? Click, bam. If the game calculated whether to give me carapace or laser weapons based on some complicated formula based on who I promoted and what I fought with, then it'd either feel unfairly random, or worse, could lead to the player doing perverse things to min-max results.

Hi there,

 

I think there are plenty of examples of the game you outline - I think many of them are mentioned in the podcast and in this thread in fact! What I took from the podcast, and the follow-up comments here, is that there is a group of people that would like to see something else.

 

I think the warring inkblots model can work fine for multiplayer: especially where everyone being more or less identical and player strategy and diplomacy being the determining factors (e.g. Neptune's Pride?) is a plus. I think this isn't an asset in singleplayer games and I got the distinct impression that SP was the focus; I might have been wrong about that though?

 

Cheers,

 

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Cosian, you are making me want to give Distant Worlds a try - at least until I see the price tag! With an 18 month old to look after I can't really justify that kind of expenditure anymore :(

How you've hit on one of things that I like so much about SotS too - that the galaxy is populated with Artifacts and other NPC races that make it come alive and it isn't just a blank space to be uncovered. Far too many 4x games seem to concentrate on expand and exterminate to the detriment of explore. There should be more out there than just "this planet has a nice herb that gives you +1 population growth". SotS covers that so well by having real artefacts for your ships to interact with during the combat phase, I think abstracting out the exploration side of the game really hurts the space 4x genre more than most.

Space is supposed to be a big unexplored unknown, not something filled with +1 modifiers.

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I think this is my first time posting on the idle thumbs forums, but this episode came popped up at a weird time.  I don't have anywhere near the experience most of you have when it comes to 4X games.  I've dabbled with Civ and Alpha Centauri and Gal Civ 2 a bit, but never more than one or two games of each.  The only 4X game to really sink its claws in deep for me was Sword of the Stars (let's not mention the sequel).  

 

My big issue with 4X games in general has always been that I enjoy the early game, but towards the mid to end game, it starts to feel a bit tedious for me.  Too much city management/build screens, moving of troops, etc.  This has especially been true for me with the Civ games (but mostly just because they're the ones I've tried to get into and failed to get into the most).  The little bit I've played of Civ 5 feels better if only because the scale feels smaller?  Maybe that's just my inexperience speaking.  I've only played 2-3 games at this point.

 

The thing that drew me in with SotS was that it cut out a lot of the micromanagement screens that seem so common in 4X games.  They focused more on making it a faster paced multiplayer friendly sort of game and I really liked that.  Pick my research, adjust the research slider, get on with my turn.  There was a little more to it than that, like building ships, but it never felt as time intensive as some of the empire management I've encountered in other 4X games.  One thing it did have that I absolutely despise in so many 4X games is the stack of doom stuff that so often happens in the later games.  Civ 5 remedied this.  I cannot stand having some super stack of armies and just moving them place to place crushing the enemy until the game eventually ends. SotS has real time combat, but after a certain point it just made more sense to mash the auto-resolve button since it was clear that you really couldn't lose.

 

All that said, the whole reason I listened to this episode was that just yesterday I ended up breaking down and buying Distant Worlds.  $70 for it was hard to swallow, but everything I had read and everything I've experienced so far in game reminds me of what I liked about SotS, in a sense.  It's a lot more in depth and can be really overwhelming, the UI is pretty questionable at times, and I really am not sure what I'm doing most of the time, but it doesn't matter.  I can ignore almost everything that I don't want to do and just focus on one or two things.  So while this game is probably unrivaled in overall scale, it's also potentially one of the more simple 4X games out there if you want to just let the AI manage everything.  Then you can slowly add more and more stuff to the list of things you manage.  It's neat. 

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I'm still why I'm yet to see a sci-fi 4x game set in the near-to-mid future about man's expansion throughout the solar system. Something heavily influences by the Mars Trilogy. Each faction could represent a giant multinational company each with their own business interests and expertise.

 

Do you develop your own spacecraft, or sign a contract with the company that specializes in rockets?

Do you seek your fortune in space, or do you try and stake a claim to the melting Antarctic and get rich off the natural resources?

Invest in biotech and make a fortune

Set up a moonbase? Or invest in the long game and try and get to Mars first?

When do you launch your ships? as the travel time will vary as the planets rotate around the sun.

Maybe you decide to invest in some prototype warships and launch an offensive on your competitors colony on Mars, knowing that reinforcements won't show up anytime soon as Mars and Earth are on opposite sides of the sun.

 

mix in some of the ideology-based lore from SMAC, and I think this would be really interesting. Maybe somebody has already made it.

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Maybe somebody has already made it.

 

I'm pretty sure they haven't, at least in the past twenty years, because I still have all my money. Near-future space exploration is sorely underutilized as a game setting, who knows why.

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I'm pretty sure they haven't, at least in the past twenty years, because I still have all my money. Near-future space exploration is sorely underutilized as a game setting, who knows why.

 

What we're working on at the moment isn't exactly that (it's a wargame, not a 4X), but I think you'll like the setting...

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I'm surprised this wasn't brought up in a post before mine but all through listening to this podcast episode and reading this thread, one game in particular strikes me as 4X but so very, very different than the pack:

 

Space Rangers 2: Reboot

 

Maybe others don't consider it 4X? Its certainly meets the criteria for Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate, it just so happens you just control a single space ship captain, not a whole empire. Please, do yourself a favour, check it out, at least watch a Let's Play of it for a bit or something to that effect. It even has a RTS and text adventures in it for when you need a break from trying to be the best Ranger that saves the universe. And you better be strategic in your decisions or you will end up vapourized.

 

Surely there are other games that might be considered 4X but have given it an enjoyable twist. How about something like FTL, Space Pirates and Zombies, or Starscape, could any of those be considered 4X even though they may not be as high up the strategic scale as empire builders? You do have to be careful in selecting your next destination for its strategic value in these games.

 

And if you want a recognizable thematic property that would put more life into its space tech than just "Lasers mk3 +3", look no further than shamelessly ripping off Firefly (or good luck acquiring the rights).

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Two noteworthy exceptions (I believe) so far, and their contribution to 4x in space.

 

Space Empires series: This series emphasised "everything including the kitchen sink" and to be honest thats what made it great, especially as if you didn't like something in the game it was very easy to simply disable (mines anyone?). If I could I would combine the ui and turn based battles of 4 (ui because ui in 5 is crap) with the feel and extra tech options (level 3 scanners? Ha! I just developed level 4 stealth and now have invisible satellites in all your systems :) ). Space Empires shows why ship customisation is fun, IMHO its the best example of it as it really has effects on both the individual ship level but also at the fleet composition level. You need all the combat ships roles filled, plus support ships in the same fleet like repair ships, ram scoop ships and construction ships. I am surprised it was not mentioned.

 

Stars!: Some great concepts I have not seen elsewhere. The detection system was fantastic. I cant remember what they were called but the mineral cannons you could build to shoot mineral packets across space and be caught by a receiving cannon. If the enemy does not have as good mineral cannon tech as you then shoot mineral packets at his planets like interspace artillery. BOOM!. A real unique 4x experience and again I'm surprised it was not mentioned.

 

Great show.

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Cosian, you are making me want to give Distant Worlds a try - at least until I see the price tag! With an 18 month old to look after I can't really justify that kind of expenditure anymore :(

 

I agree with cosian about Distant Worlds. One of the things I like about it is the options for galaxy set up. I've played various scenarios including a few "barbarian at the gates" where I had one large galaxy spanning empire and a lot of smaller empire. I've done variations of it with havign the large empire be very low tech and the smmallers one having a higher starting techlevel and vice versa. I've done traditional 4x starts where everyone starts off the same.I recently did a human pre-warp start while all my opponenst started with level 2-3 techs.

 

You can even customize how many independant planets you'll find or the number of habitable planets. I've set these to very low before. Each faction had to rely on 1-2 shipyards and more mining stations for resources. The amount of customization can be almost daunting when you first look at it, and the game does have a bit of a learning curve. But with the AI able to manage entire portions of the game (research, ship design, etc.) for you its not too bad.

 

The game isn't perfect. The AI will occasionally do stupid thigns when you have it controlling things. And pre-shadows (the new expansion) the game did have some issues with money bloat in the mid to late game. But all these are very minor issues IMO.

 

With the release of the new expansion Distant Worlds and all the expansions are on sale for $20 USD each until July.

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I'm ill-equipped to discuss this episode. The last 4X game I played was Galactic Civilizations 2 and never finished it. I agree with a lot of what I heard in the podcast from both hosts. The one that resonated most with me was the detachment from the world/empire you were building.  Nothing in Space 4x games really makes you care about what you're doing, except for you, the players, drive to win the game. That's a poor motivator and tells an even less interesting story...  

 

I'd really like to see Space 4x games take more from Star Control 2, not the combat model but the exploratory aspect. SC2 was/is great at making exploration new and different, it captures the romanticism of space exploration quite well. If that could be married to a game model that also lets you create colonies and manage them in some sense (though I'd like to avoid getting bogged into details with colonization and colony management.) Theme and placing the player into a universe with history would be great too. 

 

Thinking of it now I suppose I'm really more interested in that first X in 4Xs. Especially when it comes to space and a game centered on that while having elements of the other 3 X I think would be more compelling to gamers. Though perhaps not to the TMA crowd.

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Moo3 did the following things extremely well that I almost never see in 4X games before and since.


 


- 3D space map: There's very few games that make good use of this if they use it at all.


 


- Race Variety: Huge number of races with race 'groups' that have their own histories and back-stories that are linked within one another. Ithkul were an amazing concept. Almost every race had a distinct 'feel' to them. Each empire (even the custom ones you could create) felt much more 'alive' than races in any game before or since. There were even 'magnate' species or minor races that could add to the demographic complexity of the galaxy.


 


- Policy Direction: As a gameplay element, this was incredible. You could create planetary, system, and empire policies (and save and load them between games) and then set up your planets and systems with these policies and franchise out the management of your huge empire to smooth out gameplay. This also allowed you to focus on a handful of planets to get them up and running quickly or to fix problems that your policies haven't anticipated.


 


- Political Systems: The political, social, and economic areas of your empire were malleable in many ways that had direct and clear effects on the character of your empire. The sheer scope of the differences between each government style, economic plan, tech path, and infrastructure policies made this aspect so incredibly important.


 


-Social/Cultural/Racial Politics/Issues: On planets, in systems, and empire-wide, it was incredibly important to keep track of the demographic makeup of individual planets. People had character, and they would interact in specific ways. Managing the demographic makeup of your planets was incredibly important.


 


- Colonization, Migration Patterns, and Terraforming: People moved on their own. The conditions on planets create push and pull factors that are different for each race. These factors made a HUGE difference in how each planet develops, how your population terraforms it, and what race populates it. The other thing about terraforming is that it mostly happened on its own based on your population's wants and desires along with your technology and infrastructure.


 


- Espionage, Unrest, and Oppression: These were done incredibly well. There were so many mission types for espionage, so many unrest factors and ways to deal with them, and so many ways to keep the lid on your people (each with their own consequences).


 


- Theme and Lore: Guardians, Galactic Council, the Orion fleet, Ithkul. The 'space opera' elements of this game were incredible and deeply part of the map/game. You didn't need to play along a plot line, but the universe sort of comes alive through these elements.


 


So why does everyone hate it?


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Moo3 did the following things extremely well that I almost never see in 4X games before and since.

 

So why does everyone hate it?

 

I think because it isn't Moo 1 or 2...

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Moo3 did the following things extremely well that I almost never see in 4X games before and since.

[8<]

So why does everyone hate it?

 

As I recall, the main complaints with MOO3 are that the game is a complex mess of systems that don't interlock properly, and that the AI is like a babe in the woods.  It's been too long since I've played it to site chapter and verse, though.

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Moo3 did the following things extremely well that I almost never see in 4X games before and since.....

 

 

So why does everyone hate it?

 

Go back to it and take a look at the UI. Look at the planet screens. Its absolutely hideous compared to MoO2.

 

It like playing a funky spreadsheet thats kicking you in the balls for trying.

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Just wanted to comment that this podcast is getting a lot of attention over at the Stellaris forums. I really enjoyed it (and fully agree with the sentiments expressed). I really hope you are planning to take a look at Stellaris once it comes out, as it looks to me like it will address many of the issues with space 4X games that were presented in this podcast.

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Just wanted to comment that this podcast is getting a lot of attention over at the Stellaris forums. I really enjoyed it (and fully agree with the sentiments expressed). I really hope you are planning to take a look at Stellaris once it comes out, as it looks to me like it will address many of the issues with space 4X games that were presented in this podcast.

 

It's pretty safe to say that we'll have a Stallaris show. It may not be immediately after launch as whatever panel is on will need some time with such a beefy game.

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Well, the Stellaris podcast came pretty much at 1 minute past 00 hours of release day. 

 

I am listening again to this podcast, as I think it will be interesting to revisit it after listening (twice) to the Stellaris show.

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Moo3 did the following things extremely well that I almost never see in 4X games before and since.

 

- 3D space map: There's very few games that make good use of this if they use it at all.

 

- Race Variety: Huge number of races with race 'groups' that have their own histories and back-stories that are linked within one another. Ithkul were an amazing concept. Almost every race had a distinct 'feel' to them. Each empire (even the custom ones you could create) felt much more 'alive' than races in any game before or since. There were even 'magnate' species or minor races that could add to the demographic complexity of the galaxy.

 

- Policy Direction: As a gameplay element, this was incredible. You could create planetary, system, and empire policies (and save and load them between games) and then set up your planets and systems with these policies and franchise out the management of your huge empire to smooth out gameplay. This also allowed you to focus on a handful of planets to get them up and running quickly or to fix problems that your policies haven't anticipated.

 

- Political Systems: The political, social, and economic areas of your empire were malleable in many ways that had direct and clear effects on the character of your empire. The sheer scope of the differences between each government style, economic plan, tech path, and infrastructure policies made this aspect so incredibly important.

 

-Social/Cultural/Racial Politics/Issues: On planets, in systems, and empire-wide, it was incredibly important to keep track of the demographic makeup of individual planets. People had character, and they would interact in specific ways. Managing the demographic makeup of your planets was incredibly important.

 

- Colonization, Migration Patterns, and Terraforming: People moved on their own. The conditions on planets create push and pull factors that are different for each race. These factors made a HUGE difference in how each planet develops, how your population terraforms it, and what race populates it. The other thing about terraforming is that it mostly happened on its own based on your population's wants and desires along with your technology and infrastructure.

 

- Espionage, Unrest, and Oppression: These were done incredibly well. There were so many mission types for espionage, so many unrest factors and ways to deal with them, and so many ways to keep the lid on your people (each with their own consequences).

 

- Theme and Lore: Guardians, Galactic Council, the Orion fleet, Ithkul. The 'space opera' elements of this game were incredible and deeply part of the map/game. You didn't need to play along a plot line, but the universe sort of comes alive through these elements.

 

So why does everyone hate it?

 

 

Because it was far too complex for most people; and it was buggy on release - as are most games

Also many people cannot handle a genuinely 3D star map - that was also an issue for many players with Sword of the Stars

But most of all it was hated because it was not just a MOO2 update

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