States of Things: Abstract Resources & The Metagame

Our current iteration of the Clockwork Empires meta-game follows you, a bureaucrat of The Empire, on your (in)famous career.  In game terms, preceding every instance of the city-building game, you will be presented with the choice of a number of objectives to attempt to complete during the game. Completing these will generate prestige points, which is currently designed to be a voucher system that can be spent to “break the rules”, from something as simple as calling in a favour for some rare machine parts to, perhaps, an airship bombardment strike against an attacking enemy. It’s like using mana to cast a magic spell, but in a strategy game. And it’s politics rather than magic. And you’re a bureaucrat. The pen is your wand; the spreadsheet is your tome. (We can go on like this for some time, you know.)

But a downside of the system that we’ve been discussing is that this mechanic rewards only the people who actually do what the Empire wants and so penalizes people who want to do something totally weird (and possibly awesome/terrifying) that has nothing at all to do with what the Prime Minister wants you to be doing. To solve this we’re considering a system in which prestige is no longer won just from The Empire;  other factions will exist throughout the game and, say, by helping or hindering them you will open up the possibility to unlock new objectives for yourself.

Are the Stahlmarkians running dangerously low on festive lager?  Send ’em a few barrels and maybe they’ll train some pilots for you. Are the Squamous Crater Beasts running dangerously low on human brains?  You probably have a few you weren’t using anyway, and you never know when you’ll need a favor from the Squamous Crater Beasts. Maybe they’ll be so good as to eat the brains of someone you don’t like the next time they come around; Her Majesty’s Detective-Inspector from the Ministry of Extradimensional Containment, say — why, you can’t have him wasting time questioning your overseers about the digs going on beyond the Screaming Hills when there’s Important Digging to be done.

It’s useful to make friends. And they come in all shapes. Some wear pointy helmets. Some are incomprehensible to a sane human mind.

Why not produce Perfectly Safe steam via clean-burning Madness?

Posted in Clockwork Empires, Game Design | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

33 Responses to “States of Things: Abstract Resources & The Metagame”

  1. Mhoram says:

    Yes. Do this. This would be great. Ahh, I am very much liking the sound of this game.

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  2. Psiweapon says:


    First post dance?

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  3. kikito says:

    Yes. Yeshh. Yesahshdfhasldf.

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  4. Alejandro Moreno says:

    A diggle’s quibble of the day:

    It’s sanatorium, or sanitarium, but not sanitorium. In British English, the former is slightly more popular that the latter.


    Just doing my part for the betterment of the empire.

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      Ach! Photoshop needs a spellcheck.

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      • Wootah says:

        Well maybe it should be called a sanitorium…. because the facility isn’t so much designed to treat/handle the insane as it is designed for sanitation of cleaning up the chunks or other giblets left behind by the not so-accident free process of producing Perfectly Safe steam.

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  5. peteKon says:

    Haha, I love the photo and caption. This sounds so awesome. The mechanic sounds good. Can’t wait to see how things mull out in implementation.

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  6. Darren Grey says:

    I’m jealous of whoever gets to be your foley artist…

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  7. jhffmn says:

    What if there with things that ruined prestige that granted more of other resources like money or say madness.

    So you could choose between playing a bureaurocrat a rebelious capitalist or a mad scientist/arcanist.

    That leaves the player 3 classes sort of. And you could change the tech tree and the units available depending on the path chosen.

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  8. Headjack says:

    Construct straight jackets from cotton: 30

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  9. Kamisma says:

    “how to win friends and influence tentacle horrors,”

    This is so full of win, where can I find this book ? 😀

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  10. Godwin says:

    Yup that sounds really good.

    I guess you’d also need those other factions to carry over from scenario to scenario then? Because otherwise you could only really progress from scenario to scenario if choosing the Empire.

    And if you do that, why start from the Empire at all? Why can’t you just create a Squamus Crater Pioneer and play that, and expand from that?

    And if you do that, why not be able to attack the Empire, and take it over!

    And if you do that…

    My point is: I like the general idea, but without knowing more I have no way of knowing what kind of slipstream it brings.

    But yeah, sounds fun, just do not destroy other fun 🙂

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  11. Wootah says:

    I love it when the art is so intense that I am scrolling down reading and trying to stay focused on the last paragraph or so and the art is just ripping my eyes away trying to make me look at it when I am just about done reading…

    I had to reread the last paragraph twice more to make sure I had really read it all between involuntary eye twitches to the amazing art. I must admit the stuff you guys come up with for awesome feeling in a game will be absolutely immense… The obeleskian symbiote seems like a dark horror you would summon up to attach to the sanatorium out of the dark depths and offer it up your insane so that you could hook it up for clean energy.

    As for the prestige system, two things need to be in place. First, you gotta be able to completely ignore your motherland, or at least get good and settled and then turn around and give them the finger (or bird or whatever you called it over in canada) much like how America got assistance from the british for a good chunck of time and then when it got powerful, rebelled, told them they didn’t need them anymore and broke away. Of course separating, must surely have consequences. This is what I assume you are going for, because, yes, the player is definitely going to want to have other goals than what is assigned from the empires top management.

    Second, you gotta be able to screw over the indigenous. Kinda like how settlers would move in with natives (again like us jerk Americans did) trade with them a while then just kinda take their land and then run them off. Sure the Crater beasts got shipments of brains, but once we didn’t need them anymore, we sent in an army and ‘tried’ to wipe them out. The difference between this and the former, is that the latter is ephemeral, almost like an exchange service for prestige in some sort of ‘game market’ while the latter here would be actual factions you interact with.

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    • It all depends on what level of simulation they’re going for. If the game is broken up by new maps (and new objectives) every few hours, then that kind of branching story you’re talking about won’t work, or will be very difficult to implement at the least.

      If the game is more “Civ” style, where one map contains a whole storyline, there could be more freedom in terms of breadth of choice, but you’d be sacrificing detail of choice, and a meta-game wouldn’t make any sense.

      I like the way it’s going now. Yeah, you’re working for them, but you have your own issues and objectives.

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  12. John Philip Sousa says:

    Having various factions to do things for sounds really fun, and interesting. But please don’t base it on a consistent progression or tree of rewards (ie the Pastaluccians will give you a shipment of food for 5 favormunnies, send a few poets for 15 favormunnies, send you a mistress for 50 favormunnies, etc.) I think it’d be much more engaging to have a large array of nice (or naughty) things from which they randomly pick your reward.

    Having a diplomacy tree or technology tree or any kind of set path toward advancement, even if it includes choices, even if all options are well balanced, makes a game into a puzzle to be solved — once you’ve tried all the paths, you know pretty well which is your favorite. The greatest strength of games like dwarf fortress, in my opinion, is that it’s not a puzzle to be solved but an ever-growing pile goals to achieve and disasters to manage that combine to make every game seem fresh.

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    • Having an “Optimal” progression through the prestige of various factions is definitely a concern that we will need to address during prototyping. If it’s obvious that each play style has a best choice, we need to re-evaluate whether it’s a good idea.

      The Prestige system was initially proposed as a way to inject some flavor and setting into the meta-game that we are already really confident is going to be fun and different. It has at its core the concept that your actions in previous games should impact the future. The details of this, such as how to convey this to the player, to what extent this happens, and what other things are persistent, are still a bit up in the air, so these are great opportunities for you guys to help us with some ideas =D

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      • Wootah says:

        I was honestly picturing a list with deeds at associated prices. One that fluctuated entirely and had such a large pool of possibilities as to make it so you could never count on the same option (or option combination) to come up when replaying the same campaign or allow the same strategy in multi-player.

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    • Headjack says:

      The office is your library, the suit is your robe, the seal is your…seal.

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  13. Noreg says:

    Would you be able to uprise against the empire yourself? Or maybe will the people who are tired of high taxations, etc, be able to riot against the Empire themselves, and if so, would I as the leader of the colony be able to choose side (either directly or inderectly) with either the Empire or the uprising colonists?

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  14. Dr. Quackzalver says:

    Praise Cthulhu, this game just looks more and more exiting for every blog-post and tidbit I read about it…

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  15. Warlock says:

    Gaslamp <33333333

    Dorf Fortress will soon have nothing on Clockwork Empires. No offense to Dorf Fortress or Toady One, though.

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  16. amjh says:

    Will there be different motivations to the factions, possibly changing between games? Maybe the thing made of tentacles just wants friends and wants to find someone who doesn’t dig out their eyes when they see him.

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  17. Coaldust says:

    I have to agree with this author’s concern.

    I’ve been very pleased with most of the proposed concepts for this game, but I don’t want it to become ‘linearized’ (or… yech ‘streamlined’).

    The closest thing Dwarf Fortress has to a ‘ending’ is being declared the dwarven capital and having the king move in. This is a fine and dandy ‘reward’. I’m okay with something like becoming the capital of the empire being a explicit goal, and even having a little cinema scene and credit roll with a pleasant tune when you achieve that…

    Just, please, let us keep playing after the ‘ending’, and please don’t shove us down a (branching or otherwise) pathway of levels with set goals. I’m quite content with this kind of game “telling me stories” that I can steer to amusing or pleasant ends.

    To draw an analogy, adding set goals to a Dwarf-Fortress-like game is like turning Legos into a game where you can only build one thing, and you’re penalized for deviating from the plan. It’s not a improvement, even if it’s more “like other games”. What makes Dwarf Fortress fun is the fact it /isn’t/ like other games.

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  18. Red says:

    I’m not too sure of this solution. From what I understood, the problem is that you want to reward the players for being awesome in general, not just for being awesome doing what the empire asked. If that is the case, won’t adding more factions just add more “empires”, without really solving the problem at hand?

    It will certainly alleviate it… with only the empire, from what I understood, you will only be rewarded for doing “traditionally” productive things, such as growing your city, producing wealth, research, etc. Meaning a standard, “productive” play style is the only one rewarded. With each faction you added, a new “reward-able play-style” would be added with it. So, say, a man-eating cosmic horror faction would reward you for feeding them populace, which is something the empire obviously wouldn’t. This would indeed make more play-styles and crazy dreams possible, but still, there would always be gaps.

    What if you want to get your whole population infected by parasite X, but said parasite isn’t affiliated to any faction? That would be a “worthy” and possibly even difficult pursuit, but one you wouldn’t be rewarded for.

    So, perhaps, in order to increase the “crazy-idea coverage” potential of the whole thing, it would make more sense to replace this faction prestige system with a more abstract “fame” system, where you are rewarded with fame for doing… essentially anything, with bigger and harder things netting more fame. This represents, as the name suggests, your character’s fame. After all, being a brilliant administrator makes you famous, but so does being the one that caused a disaster of epic proportions.

    Fame gain would essentially occur through the recording and evaluation of statistics regarding your city. For example, you could gain fame whenever your population beat a previous population record, whenever someone was eaten by a rare beast, whenever your farms wielded more fruit than ever, etc. It would essentially reward you for everything, wherever its good or bad, taking in account only how hard it is to pull off. For example, having your city destroyed by a hyper-rare beast that is almost impossible to find is bad, but finding the beast was a great achievement, and therefore you are rewarded for it even if the beast spelt your doom.

    So, essentially, what I’m talking about here is a really flexible scoring system that scores you on how hard the things you did are to do, ignoring their intentions. I think it befits a sandbox game like this.

    Sorry for the huge post =)

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  19. Coaldust says:

    Instead of only rewarding the player for doing what the Empire, or a set of factions including the Empire, wants I’d suggest the following.

    * Make sure the game is fun without giving steady pats on the head from the factions.

    How to do that is difficult to describe, and I suppose /the/ issue with developing a Dwarf-Fortress-like.

    The only element not found in most other game designs is deep simulation to the point of the game writing interesting stories on its own, that you can steer, but not fully control, the outcome of if you desire.

    Allowing players to build machines out of parts is one way to encourage them to “be awesome”, and is generally rewarding on its own due to the inherent fun of building rube goldberg contraptions, effective traps, and effective terraforming (e.g. pumping water to a safer, or dry area).

    A good, but warped, sense of humor helps too. Dwarf Fortress is mostly a hilarious disaster simulator, when viewed from several miles overhead. I don’t think you guys will have the slightest problem with the last part from what I’ve seen.

    * Implement faction ‘reputation’, that can go from favored to hostile.

    This would govern the frequency and quality of trade, and possibly aid (sending you things when you’re having trouble with plague, war, etc.). Being extremely hostile could result in the faction attacking your city(ies).

    Reputation can be influenced by almost any act, including attacking them, doing/not-doing things they requested, your interaction with the environment (e.g. cutting down most of the trees), your interaction with the spirit world (e.g. braiding several tentacle monsters), and ‘fairness’ of trade (e.g. how much you give for what you get when using a barter system, or how high a profit you turn on what you sell them).

    That should avoid any ‘railroading’ of the player, while still making playing rewarding.

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  20. Ben M says:

    Is that mercury leaking out of that pipe?

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