Here are some of my preliminary thoughts about diplomacy. The idea behind this is that, if I am not too actively around during the official diplomacy discussions I might still be able to contribute something useful. This is not a complete diplomacy system suggestion and it is more of a list of some ideas that might even be quite obvious. Also, some of these ideas have probably already been mentioned in the previous threads about diplomacy.
In my opinion one of the most important things about diplomacy is transparency. And by this I mean that it should be relatively clear for the player after reading/hearing the message of the empire contacting him/her, checking the foreign matrix, keeping track of possible sitrep news and using commonsense why something is happening in diplomacy.
To achieve this, first of all the foreign matrices of both parties involved in a diplomatic negotiation should be visible in the diplomacy window where decisions are being made. They shouldn`t be hidden in some other part of the game or even be placed behind a clickable window in the diplomacy screen as was done in MOO 3. For example, it is perfectly logical that an empire, which is at war with many other empires, would try to search for allies. Now if you are the player and this empire proposes an alliance with you, you will need information about that empire’s current political situation with other empires to make an intelligent decision. And if the foreign matrix of that empire isn`t easily visible to you when you are making the decision, you probably can`t see why this empire might want to ally with you. And so you could end up with a bad decision, simply because the game doesn`t offer you enough information. Also it is good to know who your friends are before you make deals with an enemy of your friend, and so your own foreign matrix is important too.
Diplomacy should work as a network where your actions towards another empire or another empire`s actions towards you will influence other in game empires. This is most likely quite obvious, since this is probably how diplomacy always works. However this should also help to make diplomacy more transparent, since if you attack an empire the friends and allies of that empire most likely aren`t that happy with your actions, and so your relationship with them will probably cool down. But in some cases it might of course be in the interests of the friends/allies of the empire that you attacked to break their ties with that empire. For example in a situation where the empire that you attacked is militarily weak and/or the friendly empire is not that loyal.
Diplomatic options should have a clear function and they should be important. This is something that at least in my opinion wasn`t completely reached in MOO 3 for example as there were like a million different improve trade, research or some other treaty options without any clear indication of why such a new treaty is needed. If diplomatic options are important and they have a clear function it is much easier for the player to influence and communicate with other empires and so the entire diplomacy system is more transparent for the player/players.
The actual diplomatic message that the player receives should make sense and have something to do with the issue in question. This might seem quite obvious, but I remember reading a rewiev of MOO 3 where its diplomatic messages where criticized for being too vague. So if there is a specific reason in the game code for the diplomatic message in question, this reason should also be presented to the player. Now this could of course be done discreetly, so that the player would have to use his/her head a little, but the message shouldn`t be like: "Stop your things now!"
If citizens of the empires are going to have some influence in diplomacy, for example major unrests in your empire, if you suddenly become friendly with your age old enemy, then it would probably be a good idea to present the peoples opinion about an empire together with the official political relationship. This way for example, if an empire whose citizens hate your empire proposes an alliance with you, it would be easy to see that this alliance might be a short one.
My basic idea of how the AI should function is this:
A. The AI should act like the race it represents.
So if the AI is a peace loving race then it shouldn`t be attacking your fleets and planets at every possible moment.
B. The AI should act like the military and political situation of the galaxy requires it to act.
This would mean that even a peace loving race could become quite aggressive if it needs, lets say more systems to protect itself from a growing hostile alliance.
Note that both A and B are important in this idea.
A couple more things that could be important to the diplomatic AI are: co-operation and military might. The idea behind this is that if you have for example a profitable trade agreement with your neighbour it reduces your willingness to attack that neighbour. At least compared to a neighbour that hasn`t got a profitable trade agreement with you. Also if you are considerably stronger than a neighbour of yours that neighbour will probably be less willing to declare war to you, at least if that empire doesn`t have allies. But of course there might be species that are for example so war hungry that a profitable trade agreement has only little weight in their decision making.
The AI should have some sort of a "survivor instinct". In many games that I have played the AI will always fight to the bitter end, even though it doesn`t have a change and you offer it peace. Now this is of course acceptable with some war hungry, honour driven species, but it doesn`t feel very believable that all races will always rather die than surrender. So it would be nice if the AI in some desperate situations would actually surrender or would accept your generous peace offer. Also as mentioned earlier AI in this sort of a situation could desperately search for allies as well.
Diplomacy screens and general diplomacy
One important thing about diplomacy is to get your diplomatic messages. To ensure this, when a player receives a diplomatic message it should either automatically start to play when a turn starts/ the message is send or at least be the highest item on the sitrep that is presented to the player that turn. This way we can make sure that the player actually gets his/her diplomatic messages, because if info about them is placed in the end of the sitrep for example there is a risk that the player doesn`t read the whole sitrep through and so he/she will miss important information and/or opportunities.
What comes to the overall experience of the diplomatic encounter it is important that the species actually look, behave, sound and send messages like they are described to look, behave, sound and act. This way they can be easily separated from each other and they also feel like representatives of unique alien species. And if we will have a MOO 3 kind of an emphasis system this is also important, because if aliens are truly unique it is hopefully possible for the player to make decisions about the right kind of an emphasis for each encounter based on the actions of the alien representative. Also it would probably be a good thing if the diplomatic encounter with its menus and foreign matrices would fill the entire screen, so that it would be possible to reach the kind of an intimate interaction that was at least in my opinion reached in MOO 2.
I also prefer the MOO 2 kind of a direct diplomatic contact over the MOO 3 system of video, mail type messages, because in MOO 2 kind of a direct contact you are able to see the reactions of the alien representative instantly instead of waiting for the response for a couple of turns. And so the interaction is more natural in MOO 2 type diplomacy. This system also offers an unique possibility for the player to observe a living member of another race hopefully moving and doing things that are natural for it while the player thinks about his/her response, and so it offers a kind of an aquarium experience. It also speeds up diplomacy, although I am not certain if this is a good or a bad thing.
It would probably be good to leave some empty space to the screen where you choose the empire that you wish to contact, so that in cases of possible civil wars there is space for extra representatives.
It might also be nice to have some sort of an influence system, where you could bribe another empire to become slowly more friendly towards you. This way there would be a direct way to try to change other empires views about you (at least in single player), although the success of this kind of an operation might of course vary between species. However for this system to be of any use in a multiplayer game some rules would be needed. Perhaps a high enough relationship is required between empires to form an alliance or full alliance etc.?
I must also say that I have always liked the "Thank you for this profitable trade agreement" kinds of messages from the AI, because they make me feel that I am dealing with a live space empire that has the ability to actually say something else also, than what is in your, in game diplomatic options list.