We’re running two game design experiments on our internal build, both of which are going to fundamentally change the balance of the game if we stick to them, and it might be interesting for you to know why! Or turn back now and forever revel in blissful ignorance.
Experiment 1: The Seven Dwarves
Many of the start new game parameters are holdovers from when we needed to test things in the game quickly and easily, and we’re starting to re-examine what we give the player upon game-start with regard to what’s in their best interest. Usually we have been tending to reducing the resources the player has available at the start because we want to stress the importance of interaction with the environment. We toned down the number of logs given at the start as an initial test so that interaction with the environment is required to build anything and thus deal with an increased decision space. But we’re still dropping new players into a realm of “too much choice”. Starting resources can be allocated poorly, and players often designate dozens of jobs then get frustrated that they’re not all executed in the order or at the speed that they’d expect.
The Seven Dwarves experiment is a stark reduction in starting colonists so that player begins with just seven middle-class characters. This is designed to do a few things: It makes the choices on how the player must allocate resources in the early game have very clear results. You have seven characters, and if you give them more than seven jobs, they won’t be able do all of them. This was always the case of course (you could only do as many jobs at once as you had work crews) but new players unfamiliar with the work crew system would wonder why some characters were idling if, say, you had more people in a work crew than jobs that the work crew could do.
There are two issues with the reduced start. The first, which we can fix with a few other changes, is a simple matter of balancing. We need to make sure that seven characters working in optimal circumstances can make enough “stuff” (especially edible food-stuff) to ramp up your settlement. The second is that there’s less “interesting background noise” going on in a game where you have only seven characters working their asses off. There will be fewer conversation between the characters, strange occurrences, et cetera. We can balance this out by ensuring that there are different viable decision paths available in a timely matter, and that each has interesting outcome, via events or effects on the characters.
Spending the time to add new content to fill out the game start and re-balance is necessarily an iterative process. We need to see how it plays (maybe we should have six or eight people?). We’ll be doing our best to make sure that the super early game is still interesting for people that have a lot of experience with the game though, so don’t worry!
Experiment 2: The Stacking/Containers experiment
This is something that sneaked up on us, to be honest. We have talked about it many times in the past two years, but in retrospect we should have addressed this one sooner.
Nicholas mentioned containers briefly in last week’s blog post, but basically there’s an interesting problem of scale in our economics. Coal is either mined or Charcoal is made from logs: 1 or 2 units of work. Steel is made from coal, flux, and iron ore: 4 or 5 units of work. If we then require that guns use steel pipes (+1 work unit) and gears (+6-8 work units), then we’re beginning to introduce what’s getting up to exponential costs as items increase in complexity. We’re up three levels in a production chain but instead of three units of work (assuming they all get done at the same speed) we’re at 10-15 units of work, and the cost keeps rising like this. If we couple that to a (somewhat) hard limit on how fast characters can move, making a gun becomes a monumental effort not unlike that one scene in The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston, to say nothing of more disposable objects (referring to commodities in Clockwork Empires, of course, not Charlton Heston’s epic film career).
We could cut down on the branching of our production lines, but honestly it’s an interesting part of the game. More sophisticated machines can, of course, reduce the time required to make an object, but they can’t reduce the logistics time of getting an object over to the machine and the product from the machine. We could make some fast vehicles or something, but it’d really mess with the pace of the game. We could even consider the “conveyor belt” solution that games like Factorio are built on, but due to the way we’re set up we’d suffer from a “last-mile” type problem there even if we could implement it without any other issues.
So we need a concept of item collections (stacks or containers full of items). If cooking stew produces 2 units of stew as a thing a character can carry as if it were one commodity, then we halve the entire time cost of producing that object, the machine work time but also – and most importantly – the logistics time.
If a really well kitted-out metalworks can produce 10 units of iron in one job process, then suddenly we have a really nice “economics game” system: if you invest in one area of production, your costs can approach – and maybe even exceed – linearity (one unit of time per tier of resource being created). Otherwise, they stay exponentially difficult. That kind of cost difference depending on how you build your settlement will make a military settlement operate (and look) vastly different than the luxury goods economy settlement.
The seven dwarves experiment should be in the next experimental version we put out, and the stacking/container experiment might make it in, but we’re looking forward to what you think of the direction things are going!