Monday, September 19, 2016

Make Stellaris Great Again, Part 2

So last week I griped about a video game called Stellaris (link here). Today I'm finishing up on all the ways that a great game that's lost its luster could become great again.

Or Simplify Diplomacy. Last week I lobbied pretty hard to have the complicated diplomacy system improved. The thing is, I don’t actually want verisimilitude when I do diplomacy in a 4X game. I only need to know a few things about them: power/weakness, farness/nearness, do they like me, what do they have, what do they want, are we at peace, and how can I change those last four? I don’t know if I need a bunch of buttons telling me what I can’t do.

What I’d like are political packages which read “Make the Imarians Hate Me Less,” “The Rurthar Want Terraforming Gases and We Aren’t Using Ours,” “Special Project: Do Science with The Beldross,” or “The Yamacera are Dicks; Let’s Spend 400 Influence and 1,000 Energy to Steal a World of Theirs.” I need, “These Guys Hate Your Fucking Guts And Will Never Join Your Alliance” to “Here’s The Ludicrous Price Tag That Will Make These Guys Wanna Put Their Fungal Dicks in Your Small Intestines While Barry White Plays In The Background.”  

I only need to know how they feel about me on a scale of one to five. If I’m going to do something that will move allies into the negative on me, those better be big things. I mean big. It should be rare enough that you feel comfortable with throwing a pop-up on the screen asking if I’m sure every time I’m about to do one of those things. I should be able to choose and move toward changing those numbers by doing big things.

A New Minerals Outlet. It’s important to never stop building ships in Stellaris. That said, there will come a time when additional ships will produce an economic drag from their upkeep. During that time, my colonies will either be in sectors or fully developed. Ditto for space stations. I can create a fleet which is just the right size to suck up my mineral and energy production, but that’s very boring and unwise.

I’d love it if there was something else to spend minerals on in the mid to late game. A big science project (Lord knows, once I’m behind on science I can’t catch up otherwise). Special ships, or great projects which endear me to neighbors. The welfare programs available through empire policies are nice, and I’d like more things like that.

Having to pour minerals into fleets adds to the linear play model of “accumulate worlds, build fleets, mash them into enemy fleets” which gives me few actual play choices aside from edging out a few additional gems from my planets. I want options. I want a play style. I want choices.

Signposting Technology. I was talking earlier about only having one strategy for winning. With technology it sometimes feels like I have no strategy at all. I’m just making optimal decisions. I’m not planning for the future because I’m unaware of which research option will give me the option to research settling arctic worlds or developing intelligent AI later. I just make the best decisions I can in the short term and hope they meet my long-term goals.

This game is so glacially paced and the tech generation is so random (and sometimes ethos-specific) that I can’t actually learn through repetition. Though to the defense of Stellaris, I often have a lot of time to read over a wiki while playing so there’s that.

I just want a strategy I can stick to. Maybe some techs that are flagged for a specific ethos, like some of the event options are. Maybe I can choose scientists who can nudge the higher-level techs that come up in one direction or another. The research bonuses are nice, but the tech “types” for which scientists gain you bonuses don’t seem to have any throughline. A materials tech doesn’t seem to necessarily lead to additional materials tech so while it’s optimal for me to continue that kind of research under a matching scientist, it’s not strategy so much as a bit more myopic optimization.

More and More Relevant Events. A lot of my complaints are related to the inability of the game to efficiently scale in the late game. The falloff of significant events in the late game keys off of that directly. After the midpoint of the game, events that do come up are a hassle because I’m pursuing my own projects and their little bonuses don’t affect much in the galactic scheme of things.

There should be more early game when a player is waiting for ships to queue out and for survey ships to get done exploring and fewer late game. And that’s exactly what Stellaris does. But the only significant late game events are the galaxy-ending threats. I love the galaxy ending threats, but more events that are significant, but significant below that level would be nice.

They’re also great in solo play and I like that you can turn them off. In multiplayer, it’s harder to pause, read, and consider them so it would be nice if I could just filter through them according to my ethos.


SkilTao said...

I haven't played Stellaris, so I can't comment intelligently on this, and it's unlikely that I'll make a 4X of my own anytime soon, but I did want to say that I always enjoy game design stuff.

VanVelding said...

Well, if you want I can always bitch about Minecraft.

SkilTao said...

Pass. Feats of architecture/engineering and hapless exploration are kinda fun, but I'm full up on XP-grinding nonsense.