MatGB wrote:how hard would it be to distribute players around the edges of a map and avoid the centre?
Hard to say, lets I expect that to be quite challenging. The algorithm we have now is, despite all the improvements we made, still comparatively basic... well, LGM-Doyle's recent revision probably lifted it from that to something more sophisticated.
But once you want to take global positioning into consideration, things reach a level where we actually have to replace the current algorithm with something that does a far more sophisticated evaluation. Basically an algorithm would be required that assigns each system a merit value which factors in a number of different, weighted parameters. The home system selection process more or less would have to be rewritten from scratch (although I think LGM-Doyle's work could serve as a very good starting point).
Some maps (Disc) would be a very good balance then, others you could have serious problems (Spiral can end up with 2 players on the same spiral and one with nowhere to go). But if we recommend specific maps for multiplayer (or even have a couple designed for it) then it could help the blockage problem substantially.
Any home system selection algorithm that aims at taking the global position into consideration has
to be "galaxy shape aware", so to speak. No way around it. Anything else would only be a half measure.
If we decide to take that road, we should go all the way, IMO.
I suppose we could also look to ensure specials that generate guards are further away, or that guards within X jumps are always Ancient Guardians not sentries?
The basic problem here is that two things get mixed up. The guardians spawned at specials (or natives like Acirema) are supposed to protect that particular special/species, so a player can't get it too easily (to avoid overpowered/unbalanced gains very early in the game). Only that, nothing else. Because we use space monsters for that, such a guardian not only protects the special/species, but also blocks the entire system, which is not
what we want. We just can't prevent it, because space monsters simply work that way, and so we get something we actually don't want because it's tied to the thing we need (protection of powerful assets).
The correct way to solve this would be to change game mechanics so that we can have guardians which only protect one planet, without blocking the entire system. The Ancient Guardians are certainly a step in the right direction. However, what I'd like to see are space monsters that only protect a single planet. They let you pass through the system, even colonize other planets, and don't initiate combat. But unless you destroy them (in which case you
have to initiate combat), you can't do anything with the planet they protect. So in order to get to whatever it is on that planet, you'll have to defeat the guardian. Only now you have the option to ignore them when you're not ready to fight them yet, and they won't block your expansion otherwise.
That would take care of some serious issues regarding starting positions.