The Clockwork Empire needs factories. It is an age of Industry, after all: Great Engines of Production grind through the bounty of the Earth: coal, ore, lumber, lower class workers! All are thrown into the gears of the great machines and boiled, mixed, stamped, lathed, baked, churned, then finally delicately extruded into sprawling stockpiles: the Wealth of The Empire!
Clockwork Empires is a city-building game which takes place in a fantastical industrial revolution. Factories are central to the character of the game because they are a physical embodiment of technological change and social & economic restructuring – progress! – from a medieval artisanal mode of production (something like Dwarf Fortress) in which individual craft skill is celebrated to a properly industrial machine-of-machines mode of production, alienated workers and all, in which the size and sophistication of factories is most important.
Besides, attaching together lots of moving machines is intrinsically neat.
Construction Design Goals
So let’s break this design problem down a bit. What are we here at Gaslamp trying to do with factories in CE?
- The structures themselves are going to be procedurally generated. So there is not just one model for all steel mills that you plonk down in rows – you get to make decisions about shape, layout, and decor up to a point and as much as you desire.
- Individual factories will make specific products (vs. generic factories making abstracted production points, as in a game like Civilization). CE is about an Industrial Revolution, after all, so let’s dive in on the deep end and relish the details!
- The choices made by players need to matter, from internal composition of the factories to their placement in the settlement as parts of a larger civil & logistical system.
- Factories need to be identifiable by type at a glance even with structural customization and, better yet, they must be interesting to watch.
- Even where buildings are concerned, people are important. Characters make a game more engaging because they build stories. And anyway, the effect of industrialization on people (rich and poor) is extremely important to what’s going on in CE.
We’ll get to how these points will be addressed more specifically. But first let us take a relevant aside into a few games that are, in part, inspiring Clockwork Empires and which have themselves made gameplay involving production and logistics compelling.
A-Train, on the right, is an early transport game that has a lovely concept of factories which produce building material (the white cubes) which a player can move to stockpiles created elsewhere on the map via freight train. The simulation would then use the building material to build structures and grow the city, particularly when encouraged by a player who has set up passenger rail lines to attach them to the greater transportation network. We’ve got building material here, an importance placed upon moving it around, and it being required for city growth, all solid assumptions to build on.
Caesar III, on the left, is one of many of the Impressions Games style city-builders. The screenshot shows some warehouses full of wine, arms, and a couple lonely-looking bits of furniture. Much more exciting than white cubes! Here the player gets a direct, rich graphical representation of the productive output of their settlement. Also, for bonus points, the aqueducts you can see there have to hook up water to reservoirs to supply fountains. Simple as it is, the concept of hooking up networks in certain places makes position of structures all the more important, though Sim City probably started all that vs. totally abstracted positioning like Civilization‘s notion of city buildings (or vs. making position a factor but actually irrelevant, which doesn’t do anyone any favours).
Which leads to a thought on player decisions: Bruce Geryk wrote some analysis or other of war games and had a lovely line that said: “If there is only one best move, then it isn’t a game – it’s a puzzle. Figure out the puzzle and you’re done.” and further, the roughly paraphrase, that a decision that is optimally made in only one way should not be left up to the player. Basically, if there’s a decision with one option, it’s a waste of time to make the player make it. Exception might be made for aesthetics but we want to be sure to make those sorts of decisions are opt-in. Relevant here is the staple Sid Meier quote: “A games is a series of interesting choices.” which is a notion we certainly wish to uphold with CE.
Settlers 2, on the left, gave a player control over a kingdom of identical little workers who would walk only on paths created by the player (Daniel called it “Lemmings crossed with Sim City”). The workers carry unique commodity types along these paths that can be visually identified per type — a worker carrying a log would heft a little log on his shoulder. Optimal path & flag layout is extremely important for balancing efficient transportation of goods with population and empire size, and visual feedback makes for wonderful graphical feedback for what would otherwise be a dry logistics problem. Instead, the player can see quite directly where a supply chain is backed up.
Along these lines, Settlers 2 was a very pretty game for the time with trees waving in the wind, sparkling water, and rabbits hopping around lush meadows. Remember, this is the 90’s we’re talking about and it was seriously amazing back then. There’s something singularly rewarding about chopping down a lush forest and turning it into planks via your sawmill which we want to capture in CE.
Anno 1503, on the right, and the rest of the Anno series are also beautiful games with lovingly rendered architecture, forests, and seas, though they’re a bit less dynamic in gameplay. Fundamentally Anno is about a player upgrading their settlements by building production chains which unlock higher population levels which allow construction of new production chains which unlock higher population levels and so on and etc. A key point here, like in Settlers as well, is that progression is made through actually building advanced industries conditional upon other, less advanced industries. There are no abstract ‘research points’, progress is embedded in the working physical infrastructure which a player sees and manipulates. This is mixed up a bit by requiring resources produced on different island types, so the player must trade or colonize. Anno 2070 mixed the formula up a bit by loosening island/biome resource limitations in some ways and adding a bunch of metagame, but Anno is still built on a far more rigid industrial progression than we’d like for CE. Beautiful art, of course.
And that’s just citybuilders. There are definitely design influences to discuss from Minecraft-style “redstone logic” or the notion that these production-logistics games are essentially a strategy game’s take on RPG-ish crafting systems that lie near the heart of games like Terraria and, again, Minecraft or … well, all that said, let’s get back to factories in Clockwork Empires.
How Productive Buildings Work : The Diagram of Doom
Now, the fundamental building blocks of industry in Clockwork Empires are these:
The Factory: A large building full of whirring machines and toiling workers. It takes in one set of “commodity” (in our design vocabulary, a generic name for any resource or good in CE’s economy) inputs and produces one particular commodity output. Factories require a lot of infrastructure, have very specific inputs and outputs, but they’re the most efficient means of production.
The Artisan: A home/shop run by one skilled craftsman, like the baker, butcher, or candlestick maker. (Note: Clockwork Empires will not contain candlestick makers as they’ve been made obsolete by scientifical clean-burning Perfectly Safe gaslamps.) Artisans are small and slowly produce specialized goods. And they will almost certainly be put out of business by the factories you get around to building. Yay, progress!
The Workshop: A sprawling, crude, generic production facility which cover a broad categories of industry (e.g. metals, woodworking, ceramics). A workshop take in a relevant set of commodity inputs and outputs any possible product that can be made with those goods, but far less quickly and efficiently than a Factory and somewhat less than an Artisan. The point of building a workshops is to fill in gaps in production chains, for example because you badly need some giant cogs, metal plates, and muskets but can’t afford to devote a factory to each separate commodity yet.
The Standalone Machine: A single machine that does one thing. For example windmills (to harness the power of wind for The Empire), water pumps (to pump water), boilers (to make water into Perfectly Safe steam), charcoal kilns (to make useless forests into useful charcoal), and other such devices that serve to carry out specific functions or commodity transformations.
This isn’t as confusing as it looks because all four of the above categories of production buildings work in essentially the same way: they exist in a physical location, they take in stuff, they output stuff. That’s all you need to know. And all the requirements for building each correctly will be given at the time of construction so you don’t have to look up on a wiki how to turn ore into cogs.
One very important point here, as per the design goals and inspirations previously mentioned, is that we want to show not tell what is happening in factories, workshops, and artisan shops. Therefore all of the individual machines (called “modules” in our design vocabulary) that are required for a production building will actually be outside of the factory structure, set into the perimeter walls. Putting the modules outside of the factory may seem ridiculous from a standpoint of realism (“What if it rains?”) but it serves important design functions: the player can see at a glance what their factory needs to operate, how mechanized the factory is, and it’s totally awesome.
It simply wouldn’t be proper there weren’t technically unnecessary gears and pipes stuck out in the open for us to appreciate.
Likewise, we’re putting the input/output stockpiles in the open air like Caesar and Settlers do. This lets you pile up commodities and gaze upon the bounty of your industry – or you can identify production and logistics bottlenecks, places where the system has broken down and requires your attention. A sawmill with a pile of fresh, quivering logs clogging its input and no planks in output is probably lacking workers or mechanical force to drive its power saw.
So with all of that explain, here’s the internal design doc’s diagram of doom:
With these parts, we can build anything. Well, there are two more things to mention:
The human component: It’s not in the above diagram, but you can get away with building an unpowered factory that operates entirely on human power. It’s not efficient, but your workers can run the Power Saw module off of some kind of Wheel of Pain inside the factory. As you build more sophisticated sets of interconnected machines — pumps, boilers, voltaic turbines, aetheric reactors — you can increasingly mechanize factories, replacing human workers with giant, whirling, Perfectly Safe machinery. This frees up workers to take up employment in other more different factories, toil in the salt mines, be conscripted into the New Model Imperial Army, or just lounge about unemployed in Perfectly Safe tenements. Yay, progress!
I forget what the other thing was. Here, have some concept sketches of some machine modules to hook up to your factories:
There’s more to it than all that, of course (like Megaprojects, the effects of inputting wrong inputs, Eldritch Influences, and so forth). Our ultimate goal is to give players a set of tools that they can put together in ways we never imagined to make ridiculously complex systems that explode gloriously.
Now I need to get back to bugging Sean about aligning pipes and axle inputs consistently on every single machine module so our procedural pipe/axle system can hook up properly. Til’ next time, keep your boilers stoked.