A rant about the good and the bad of most 4X games

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A rant about the good and the bad of most 4X games

#1 Post by SgtCycle »

A rant about the good and the bad of most 4X games

What’s so cool about 4X games? You build ships, organise big fleets, attack your enemy fleets and then invade his planets. Repeat that process X times in the game, and at the end, you win. That’s 4X games explained in very few words.

Ok, let’s look at the progression of a game.

I want ships. I need planets to build them. Initially though, I only have one tiny half-colonized planet and no fleet at all, or maybe a scout and a colony ship. Fine. So, before I can have my big fleet, I have to colonize a bunch of planets. Okay. Let’s spend say 5 hours of game time of exploring, finding planets, sending colony ships. Great. We’re making progress.

Now a new problem: I have to manage these planets because they’re bare, there’s nothing on them. Now, the next 5 hours of game time is clicking on all these planets and make sure that all these food/mineral/industry/etc… factor are all balanced so that my planets can grow healthy and big, so I can build my ships at some point.

Okay, I got my planets, let’s start building ships. Ah yes, I have to design them. Hum, with the tech I have, those ships are not going to be too effective. Let’s do some research to have new goodies to use in my ship designs. Okay, many hours later, got some nice tech. But still no ships.

All right, finally, let’s start building ships. It’s been like 12 hours of game time, and I finally have a decent fleet. Let’s attack! Now here’s my favorite part: you just spend the last 12 hours in order to build this kick*ss fleet, at least that’s how you feel about it, and you have no idea what the other guy has. There’s no game (or I never played it) where I could have spent some ressource to get some real intel on the opposition. But no, it’s all a leap of faith. Oh, you’ll have those scanners around your systems, so you can detect what’s coming to you, but on their territory? Forget it.

“Admiral, assemble the fleet, we’re attacking the neighbors”
“Yes sir, what system sir”
“Sector 1023”
“But sir, we don’t know what’s waiting for us there?”
“Yes, and your point is?”

At that point in the game, you can finally get your fix: you have fleets, you can attack your enemies and invade their planets. Unfortunately, you still have to manage those gazillion planets, and to worsen the insult, you have to manage the newly conquered one. And it took 12+ hours to get there…..….

…end of rant
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#2 Post by Nightfish »

If you're only interested in combat I think you might enjoy a game like homeworld or something similar a lot lore. This genre isn't called 4X for nothing. You only seem to like 1 X, though.

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#3 Post by EntropyAvatar »

Still I think we need to do what we can to encourage wars and conflict throughout the game, rather than have significant battles as a phenonmenon of the later third. Maybe include a bunch of minor powers that you can invade or diplomatically sway to your side if you don't want to focus on building new colonies from scratch.

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#4 Post by SgtCycle »

Just to clarify something, my rant was not a critic of free orion, it was a rant on what you actually spent your time on most 4X games. You want to play with units (armies, ships, etc...), you end up managing planets/cities.

I doubt that most players will say that managing the growth of planets/cities is fun. It's tedious, extremely repetitive, and very time consuming. Does it mean they should take them out completely? No. But it would be nice to abstract a lot of the management. IMO, of course.

Think about it, when does the game actually becomes interesting, or at least more fun? Usually, when there is no more expanding room. All planets are occupied, they are able to contribute to your economy in order to build units and to your research and spying initiative. Then you start thinking, okay, now lets start building a nice fleet and backstab the neighbors.

What is fun though in 4X games is that they do offer multiple game strategy/feature than just plain vanilla unit combat, ala Homeworld. Things like diplomacy and spying, which can be very, very fun if implemented properly.

In Civ3, I was amazed by the cultural influence feature. If your faction generates a lot of culture, cities of other faction might join you. Not that was something new in a genre that's been around for a while.

If you ask me, what is a good space 4X game? It would be a game that
- you have ships. Lots of them.
- you have planets. The only thing you need to know about the planet is how much it contributes to your economy. Call them economic point. Planet A is worth 5 pts. Planet B is worth 8 pts.
- you have a research tree. Research improves your ship and your economy.
- you have diplomacy, which allows you to make treaty, alliance, declare war, embargo, trade, etc... on other faction
- you have spy, which allows you to gather intelligence, sabotage, steal tech, etc...

In recent years, the diplomacy feature of 4X games is really good. Spying still need some improvement. It seems it's just a bonus feature than a viable component of your strategy.
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#5 Post by Krikkitone »

Well the way I see it cycle identified the first of the two 'problem' times in the game.

I see these games as basically 3 stages.

1. Explore/Expand.. you have no real opposition, you are colonizing

2. Contact...Exploit/Exterminate: developing your economy, building up a fleet, some colonization.. but basically any new territory is going to come through Conflict

3. Mop up... no significant opposition left, you Will win at this point assuming you want too.

part 1 and part 3 are the boring ones, because they involve no real opposition.

The transition from part 1 to part 2 depends on a number of factors
1. Average distance between worlds vs. speed of ships
2. Starting defenses v. Offensive build up capacity

So to keep # 1 short
make empires closer (either smaller galaxy..which we generally want larger or more empires to start)
make ships faster moving/faster building... this has the advantage of allowing some 'exploration' in phase II because not all the galaxy is colonized when phase II begins...but faster ships to start out mean less effect of tech on ship speed later.

Phase III can be shortened in two ways
1. Making AI opponents recognize an enemy that is REACHING stage III and successfully ganging up on them... attacking them until they are weak enought for the victors to start fighting over the spoils.. preventing the previous super power from being completely eliminated.

2. making AI opponents recognize when an enemy has REACHED stage III and having them behave accordingly (submission to the point of outright surrender...which includes designing the 'Victory Points' so that early surrender to the winner gives you a bonus too.... which can provide a rationale for a 'Senate win'.. and has some reflection in real life... ie uniting my country to yours is a good decision if people in the new country end up doing well.)
I doubt that most players will say that managing the growth of planets/cities is fun. It's tedious, extremely repetitive, and very time consuming. Does it mean they should take them out completely? No. But it would be nice to abstract a lot of the management. IMO, of course
Actually I am one of those who thinks it is fun, just not the way it is done in almost any 4x game today.

Actually, a lot of the time I have a lot of Units I don't want to bother with managing either (MOO2's final battles for example). I would say the reason that unit management is more favored over planet mangement is because there are many more repetitive, obvious decisions in planet management. Unit management Often involves more risky or complex decisions, that are more interesting and less repetitive.

After all I don't really want to manage planets OR units. I want to manage empires and wars.

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#6 Post by gralves »

Maybe this can be solved by using "scenarios"(like simcity 1 had) - pre-colonized galaxies on the verge of war.

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#7 Post by iamrobk »

Yeh, SC2k had them too. They were fun. If you guys never played those Simcity games, basically you had a well-developed city/town, and then a big disaster happened, and you had to fix it up, and meet some goal within X amount of time. Fun and challenging, and pretty much instant action.

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#8 Post by Daveybaby »

Absolutely. In its simplest form these could just be read only saved games which are accessed from the game creation menu.

You would, of course, need a savegame editor in order to create the scanarios themselves.

To make them fully customisable you'd have to have a pretty flexible way of defining win conditions. But thats not impossible.

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#9 Post by Impaler »

SMAC used a Player vs Environment (Ravinous Brain Devouring Mind Worms to be Presise) to make stage #1 a bit more interesting and "dangerous". Much like Civalizations wandering barbarian it adds early game conflict. Rather then expand unmolested the player has something to strugle against untill they make contact with other players/empires.

I think we should use a similar strategy, instead of Mind worms though I propose we adopt the insidious....



As out Barbarian stand in, these barnicles would be a free space floating crystalin life form that attacks and encrusts/digests ships and is reminisent of the tiberium from the Comand&Concour series. I can just imagine the currese of rage "DAMN another colony ship Lost to Stellar Barnicle infestation"
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#10 Post by Daveybaby »

Did somebody say 'space monsters'?

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#11 Post by Krikkitone »

I prefer barbarians to 'environmental menaces' because barabarians are closer to something that can be 'turned' and absorbed by conquest. (which they should be able to be.) Ideally, you would start out with most systems having an 'empire' just most of those 'empires' are merely nonstarfaring industrial worlds that won't expand and don't use the 'Player' AI. Essentially they are there to be taken... although at a potentially high cost...if you can't absorb them properly then they may be more trouble then they are worth (just wipe them out to put down the rebellions and you end up being left with a single world with environmental collateral damage, and possibly some ships lost.)

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#12 Post by tzlaine »

I enjoyed the BOTF minor races, and running into an unfriendly one early on was sometimes like releasing a barbarian horde.

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#13 Post by SpaceHamster »

For managing planets etc, i think that instead of moo3 approach with millions of things to fiddle with, it should be simple and easily presented to the player.

E.g, here are the choices of things you can focus on, and these are the consequences, so what do you want to do? Not a million different things to manage.

I liked moo1 sliders, where you could simply choose what to focus on, but id like to see a bit mroe depth than that. i also like EU2 provinces, where there are a limited number of thigns you can upgrade / build in a province, which are usually very expensive, otherwise the province just goes along by itself, making money and growing in population. But agian, it would be nice if you could give some standing orders to a province, eg improve economy or industry or manpower there, or tax it dry so it doesnt grow in any way.

Basically id like to see a game which has depth in that it offers a number of choices to the player, not just depth and complexity for its own sake. Moo3 was trying to be a galactic empire 'simulator', whihc is impossible. I want to play a game, but to beleive it could be a galactic empire if i wanted to.

balancing depth / complexity / micromanagement seems very difficult to get right.

For making stage 1 more interesting, what if races didnt start out 'united'? e.g while the player is the dominant power in the homeworld, what if theres other factions on your homeworld that might want to found their own colonies, or try to take over the homeworld? Only by 'stage 2' does a race become united because of threats of other races. Or the other factions could get so powerful as to make their own independant nation based on a colony world.

I also think that homeworlds should be much more important in 'stage 1', Early colonisation could happen mostly to get rare resources that cant be found on the homeworld. Then only later on, colonisation happens for living space, and to make new centres of industry.

I think minor races owuld be very cool, that you could try to bribe convince to join you, part of that could be protecting them from attack by other majors.

Dynamic creation/destruction of empires is very important, not just x players form start until they die.

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#14 Post by Satyagraha »

some good points made here...

1) Yes, there should be some sort of cloaked scout that can be used to investigate within enemy borders, so you can adjust your strats.

2) more early combat (like mind worms in Alpha Centauri, Creeps in War3). Besides, uhm, teh spooky stellar barnicle space-monstahs, there should also be other enemies. F.e. if your ppl are unhappy, they may break away & turn against you, do terror-attacks etc. so your own empire will sometimes create enemies to keep you busy. 1 big empire may permanently break into 2 (or more) small ones.

3) "easy to learn, hard to master"-approach to design: less statistics to learn & more fun descisions to make. if you think that "dumbs down" a game: would you call chess a dumb game? The rules can be learned in 2mins...

4) micro is fun if you got 10 planets. micro is a pain in the ass if you got 50. *BUT* the possibility to set everything to auto is just as boring. The game will basicly play itself, then. Maybe if you pick a governor for a planet, in addition to the pro´s & cons he gives, he will start to auto-micro that planet. each governor will do this a bit different, depending on his ideology (environmentalist, industrious etc.)

btw. all scenarios suck imo :P

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#15 Post by Redbook »

Actually I felt that abstraction and a removal from micromanagement may not be a good idea per se. The last thing you need is to abstract the game to the extend where you don't feel part of the empire you're running.

In fact, micromanaging a few colonies (e.g. 10) can be fun.

What you need are ways to allow players to move from micromanagement in the beginning to a more generalised gameplay later in the game if they choose to. Or at least, break the monotony towards mid and end game. Some ideas off the hat:
- at a certain point in the game, allow the player to control groups of colonies instead of singular colonies. E.g. move the basic unit of administration from "Meklon Prime" to "Meklon System" to "Capitol Sector" as the game advances.
- allow for the specialisation of planets to break monotony, perhaps by forcing a limit to terraforming, or unique planetary features, or Wonders (as per Civ). Make it rewarding to players to concentrate planets on *something* rather than *everything*
- give quests. e.g. leaders with backstory/personality, the mysteries of Orion, etc.

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