Environmental Tech(s) / Planet Status

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shrinkshooter
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Environmental Tech(s) / Planet Status

#1 Post by shrinkshooter » Fri Apr 04, 2008 6:22 pm

I am finishing up my semester in Environmental Biology. Some of the material I have learned from this extremely insightful class I thought perhaps I could bring to bear on improving this game. The professor who has taught it is retiring after this semester, but he has won several awards, been to many conferences, and wrote books on environment and how it relates to everything. There are only 11 of us in the class, so it has been quite an experience, and I came up with this idea a couple days ago...

Taking a look at history, the Earth's regions, through millions of years, were always constantly changing but at the slow speed of evolutionary rates (excluding those extinction events). Thus a balance was developed, and ecosystems became stabilized over time. Although every once in a while something would come along to knock the ecosystem out of equilibrium, it always got back to it given enough time. Humans have changed that. The Earth has changed so much in the past 200 years and so many species have gone extinct that the past two centuries could be considered a minor extinction event, which is actually not a minor thing at all. Ogranisms that have evolved through millions of years have gone extinct due to our industry, culture and colonization. If the world continues its current actions with little to no change in policy, environmental degredation and extreme decrease in biodiversity will destabilize the global environment and civilizations (read: countries) all over the world will see their governments collapse. If the world is unchanged this will likely occur in 40 years, give or take a decade, and most certainly occur within the next 100. But what does this have to do with FO?

We could possibly do something that no game like this has done before (at least I've never seen one), and that is a game that takes into account the environment of the planet. Western culture worships growth like nothing else. People generally want more money, more material possessions, more children. The tech tree of FO itself is a testament to this. How many techs are there that concentrate on increasing growth of the population, or of food, etc.? Yes, I know, growth is the cornerstone of a game like this. And growth in space is fine, but every planet has constraints. I'll make this very simple: If something grows too much, it does not hit a plateau and stabilize. Bad things happen. If max population for a planet is 60, and it hits 60, there's no way that detrimental effects will not happen to a planet. Not without globalized, environmentally-conscious technologies and methods.

So along with other status bars, i propose we give every planet an environmental stability bar. The smaller the population and industry on a planet, the greater the stability. The greater either gets, the stability decreases exponentially. After the planet is fully upgraded in population and industry, stability is dangerously low, but for a while things can go fine on the planet. After a time of too low a stability, a planet can "crash"; environmental degredation leads to economic collapse of the planet, reduction of resources, loss of government and thus peace, possibly civil war and population die-off. This "crash" would occur quickly, probably over the span of one to three turns. Of course this is worst-case scenario; a mid-level stability would allow the planet to continue its current activities with no drawbacks for a while, and then slowly the population and industry etc. would decrease. A depression more than a crash. And a mid-high level would have a recession instead of a depression.

So what would prevent these catastrophies? Environmentally-friendly techs. Ecological Economics is a good one to start. Environmental Industries would be another good one. Population Wisdom is good as well; without this tech, population can grow too large and could cause a major chain-reaction effect in the global envrionment, causing a crash like stated above. With Population Wisdom the global population can be educated and informed on the catastrophic effects of having too large a population and so will restrict themselves. If we had two exact same planets, one with and without this tech, the one with it would have a lower population cap but a permanent level of environmental stability. The other would have a much higher population cap but would crash later on, as that population is not sustainable. The More environmental techs owned, the higher the permanent level of stability, until everything is environmentally-minded and there is no hope ever of the environment collapsing the civilization(s) of the planet.

Thoughts?
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eleazar
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Re: Environmental Tech(s) / Planet Status

#2 Post by eleazar » Fri Apr 04, 2008 7:42 pm

shrinkshooter wrote:We could possibly do something that no game like this has done before (at least I've never seen one), and that is a game that takes into account the environment of the planet.
The environment and pollution is an extremely common element in 4X games. Most (all?) of the Civs, MoO1, & especially Alpha Centauri had some sort of environmental element.
shrinkshooter wrote:The tech tree of FO itself is a testament to this. How many techs are there that concentrate on increasing growth of the population, or of food, etc.? Yes, I know, growth is the cornerstone of a game like this. And growth in space is fine, but every planet has constraints. I'll make this very simple: If something grows too much, it does not hit a plateau and stabilize. Bad things happen. If max population for a planet is 60, and it hits 60, there's no way that detrimental effects will not happen to a planet. Not without globalized, environmentally-conscious technologies and methods.
You need to step back from your global theories, and consider how this would work from the player's standpoint. Growth is indeed the cornerstone of the game. There's no reason for you to suppose that the max population set by the game is an "unsustainable" max population. And i think it's best to assume that it is sustainable, because the player is given no fine-grained controls to combat "overpopulation," (assuming that the game had such a concept). Basically you can control the amount of food available to your total empire, and possibly research some techs which do what? slow population growth? Kill "excess" population?

This kind of stuff seems to make the player more of a spectator in a simulation, since the only way he could really participate in this kind of thing is through the addition of the sort of micromanaging controls that this project abhors and won't include. Planets will be a radically different points of development, simply researching new techs while some new colonies languish in smallness, and others colonies have gone too long and destroyed their environment seems excessively clumsy and not much fun.


The other basic method is simulating pollution due to excessive industrial production. Realistically his is somewhat of an anachronistic concept since even with our current technology we are getting beyond polluting sources of power to sources that are both better and cleaner (nuclear, solar power stations in space, etc.) It's entirely reasonable to assume that a space-faring civilization might never have to choose between industry or the environment.

But more importantly our focus system is designed to discourage and make unnecessary continual tweaking. You are supposed to be able to have planets focused entirely on industry, (and other planets focused on everything else). Unlike most 4X games our planets don't need to produce more than one resource to flourish.

shrinkshooter wrote:So along with other status bars, i propose we give every planet an environmental stability bar.
We have a lot of bars. There are other's we'll need to add such as "defense shields" and "security", and social meters. I don't think this one has as strong a need to be added to the UI.



Which doesn't mean that there can't be some sort of environmental aspect to the game. We do have fake environmental techs in the tree that don't do anything. But the kind of thing that you are proposing, as i understand it, doesn't mesh well with the game.

With the exception of Alpha Centauri (which had a very different system), i've personally never found the environmental aspect of 4X games much fun. In the absence of any really clever ideas which work well with what's already been done, i think we are best skipping environment/pollution.

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Re: Environmental Tech(s) / Planet Status

#3 Post by shrinkshooter » Fri Apr 04, 2008 8:52 pm

Alright, well, I just wanted to get the idea out there. I really had no idea how well it would or could get incorporated into the game, so if others feel the same I can see why it would not be the best to implement it. If there are going to be more bars added and larger, more important concepts then I guess we don't use it; especially not if it takes away from the fun element.
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Re: Environmental Tech(s) / Planet Status

#4 Post by utilae » Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:45 pm

eleazar wrote: And i think it's best to assume that it is sustainable, because the player is given no fine-grained controls to combat "overpopulation," (assuming that the game had such a concept). Basically you can control the amount of food available to your total empire, and possibly research some techs which do what? slow population growth? Kill "excess" population?
You miss the method to this. If your population grows too much, ie overpopulation, then the best answer is expansion. You need to build more colony ships, which would be default take away from your population perhaps. If you let overpopulation continue, then the comfort/morale/health of that population declines.

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Re: Environmental Tech(s) / Planet Status

#5 Post by Geoff the Medio » Fri Apr 04, 2008 10:25 pm

If the only way to combat overpopulation is expansion, then the player has to build a lot of colony ships for every planet that gets overpopulated, and needs to continuously expand, making the problem grow geometrically. This makes it impossible to play a game with a smaller well-developed empire (as opposed to a large and continuously growing empire). There's also a problem of what to do when there aren't any available or easily available places to expand.

As eleazar notes, there's not a lot of fine control over what planets are doing individually. There are a limited number of levels of emphasis a planet can put on doing something (ie producing a particular resource, such as minerals, industry or food) through the focus system: a planet can be primary (heavy) focus, secondary (weak) focus or various other options and combinations that should probably be all grouped under not focused for clarity and simplicity.

A tech could give bonuses to planets that are primary specialized, with the cost of (somehow) making the environment worse, but that means every planet will be affected, which is probably too broad an effect in practice. We could limit the bad effects to high population planets, but the player can't directly control which planets these are, would have to watch the populations to ensure they weren't getting too high, and would have to come back and fiddle with focus settings as populations did get too high, which is all too much micromanagement.

There could be a building that has an area of effect, where primary focused planets get a negative effect on "environment" of some sort. These would function independent of population (as long as it's not zero). The area of effect is fixed, so wouldn't require babysitting the planets.

If that were to happen though, we'll probably want some way to implement environmental damage other than yet another meter. This also has to be applicable to the whole environmental preference wheel; this game isn't just about humans living on Earth-like planets... there are barren and radiated and ocean planets as well, all of which would need to be handled under an environmental damage system. How would heavy mining on an inferno planet affect the environment? We probably don't want nine special cases. That said, focus on farming might "damage" barren, radiated or inferno environments just as mining would damage a terran, ocean or tundra. Probably industry should be in there as well... Ideally each of mining, farming and industry would degrade three contiguous environments on the wheel, though this might be difficult to do logically.

That all said, we'd need to figure out what environmental damage does. Sudden and/or undpreditable "crashes" don't seem like fun or particularly strategic. Linking civil wars / unreset, economic collapse, loss of resource production, government effects, etc. directly all into one feature (environment) is a bit much, and probably inappropriately restricts what other subsystems can do. Limiting direct effects to resource production and/or population health and/or capacity would likely be sufficient.

A thought: There could be resource-production-induced environmental "damage" specials that can be spawned on planets from time to time. These would be like mini / partial terraforming steps, in a sense. The modifiers would make the planes less suitable for some races, and better for others. A race that likes a terran planet would find it less suitable if a lot of mining had been done there and resulted in mining-induced environmental damage. Conversely, a race that dislikes barren planets might like one a bit better if a there was farming-induced environmental damage. Any actual terraforming might remove these specials.

(Various other environmental modifying specials could also exist, and these could be integrated within that system, if it were implemented)

Doing something like this would require sensible conditions for spawning such a special, though. I don't like randomness in this sort of thing, but am reluctant to add additional meters without good reason.

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Re: Environmental Tech(s) / Planet Status

#6 Post by eleazar » Sat Apr 05, 2008 12:31 am

shrinkshooter wrote:I really had no idea how well it would or could get incorporated into the game...
That's the hard part, working out the details so a theoretically cool idea actually plays that way.
If you head is full of environmental ideas why don't you see if you can implement some of those concepts in a way that works with the game?

utilae wrote:You need to build more colony ships, which would be default take away from your population perhaps.
Unless it changes, the current plan is that there is no active shuffling of population, since it can be such a micromanagy chore.

Geoff the Medio wrote:If that were to happen though, we'll probably want some way to implement environmental damage other than yet another meter. This also has to be applicable to the whole environmental preference wheel; this game isn't just about humans living on Earth-like planets... there are barren and radiated and ocean planets as well, all of which would need to be handled under an environmental damage system. How would heavy mining on an inferno planet affect the environment? We probably don't want nine special cases.
9 special cases would be rather confusing.

Geoff the Medio wrote:That said, focus on farming might "damage" barren, radiated or inferno environments just as mining would damage a terran, ocean or tundra. Probably industry should be in there as well... Ideally each of mining, farming and industry would degrade three contiguous environments on the wheel, though this might be difficult to do logically.
...
the modifiers would make the planes less suitable for some races, and better for others. A race that likes a terran planet would find it less suitable if a lot of mining had been done there and resulted in mining-induced environmental damage. Conversely, a race that dislikes barren planets might like one a bit better if a there was farming-induced environmental damage. Any actual terraforming might remove these specials.
It's probably impossible to do logically— an unavoidable consequence of the EP wheel we have. It's best not to go into too much detail about these things. Whatever kind of "farming" a barren-planet-dweller does is necessarily nothing like what a terran-planet-dweller would do. If you try to make sense out of what is "barren-planet-dweller" food, and indeed what environmental damage to such a planet would be, you end up with unique techs, rules descriptions and/or specials for each of the 9 EPs, many of which probably still wouldn't make sense. And it would tend to defeat the purpose of the EP wheel which is:
1) to be simple
2) to give all EP's an equal chance at galactic real-estate, in it's original state, and via terraforming.
...which IMHO are still worthy goals.

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Re: Environmental Tech(s) / Planet Status

#7 Post by Krikkitone » Sat Apr 05, 2008 6:12 pm

Well one possibility could be

1. the "default" status is sustainable populations

However, if you choose "unsustainable populations" (across your empire) populations on Green or Better worlds can get above the "sustainable" maximum... the disadvantage is that it risks an "environmental collapse" a special that is added to the world that makes it Worse than the "sustainable level" for a green world.
Once that happens, the planet reverts to "sustainable practices" until the 'special' disappears (which it will after some time). and then it goes back to whatever the "Imperial policy" is.

An "environmental damage" special would be specific to one position on the EP wheel. So it would probably prevent Terraforming while it was there.

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