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Of Invasions and Accessibility
Published on January 16, 2018 By Frogboy In GalCiv III Dev Journals

Happy new year!

This month marks my one-year anniversary of returning to my beloved Galactic Civilizations as its lead designer.  And since then, we've made a lot of changes much to the joy and angst of many galactic conquerors.

Unintended Consequences

With the announcement of the third expansion pack to Galactic Civilizations III imminent, this serves as a good time to look at where we stand today.

For the past year, I've been going through and weeding out improvements, events and other game modifiers that had unintended consequences.   

The very first thing I did was read all the forum posts on GalCiv3.com, Steam, Reddit, elsewhere and see a lot of criticism for what amounts to unintended consequences of multiplying bonuses.  Getting rid of these has been good for the game but not all players appreciate the changes since it dramatically nerfs their gameplay.

For example, with the right combination, you could get ships with a base speed of over 40 moves per turn.  That's without adding an engine.  There are players who have posted complaints at how slow things get when they try to move their 90 move per turn ship around late game on a ludicrous sized galaxy.

The game itself was designed (and thus the underlying engine) on the premise that you wouldn't get many ships with more than say 10 moves per turn.   

While the AI could be scripted to do the same thing, it would destroy the game.  If you think it's slow for you to move a ship 90 moves per turn, imagine 60 AI players doing it with 400 ships per turn.  Even with a multicore Astar path finding algorithm, it would make the game both unplayable and not fun (what's the point of even having defenses or a forward line if ships can swoop in from sectors away every turn?).

So there's been a lot of work to get things balanced together.  It's not a matter of trying to change the game around as much as making the game play as had been originally intended.  As a math nerd, when I came in and saw the numbers it was just a matter of time to find all these unintended bonuses and kill them off.

Version 2.8: Invasions & Accessibility

One of our Fall tasks was to do more focus testing on why people don't find GalCiv III that approachable.  From watching new players, one thing was incredibly obvious.  The DESIGNER button at the top of the screen of the main screen was killing us.

Think about it.  You're new to the game and you are just clicking on buttons and you click on the Designer button and you get a super complex screen.  It's poison to new players.

The thing is, we don't really need that button.  For one thing, players can design ships from the main menu now.  Secondly, the ship designer, while super cool, isn't one of the features you need to use to manage your empire.  It belongs as part of the shipyard.

The second big task we worked on for 2.8 was the AI managing legions.  The concept of having to train legions and then put them on transports was relatively new as of 2.5.  And while the GalCiv III AI is somewhat genetic in how it works, I still have to make the "tests" that it has to pass to determine whether it's on the right track. 

Unfortunately, I was quickly schooled by other GalCiv players in not being very good at keeping a healthy supply of legions and transports ready to deal with opportunities.  And my own weaker assumptions got passed on to the AI.  Version 2.8 addresses this. Hard.

The rest of the AI changes were small but add up to a big difference.  For instance, previously, the AI had a one-size fits all fleet size.  While good enough for most players, our better players found themselves able to actually out compete the AI even on harder levels.  Thus, the AI gained the ability to evaluate different sized fleets based on a number of galactic conditions (instead of a fixed size).

Cleaning

Most of my work was on Crusade.  We brought over features from Crusade to the base game but we didn't bring what is arguably the more important aspect of it - cleaning and streamlining.

Put  your new player hat on and load up the base game.  You have tons of technologies to choose from with lots of improvements, weapons and modules that really just are hard to grasp onto.  Thus, we streamlined the base game for 2.8 so that there are fewer techs available at the start and what they provide is more obvious and more beneficial.

Population Growth

Population growth is tricky.  On the one hand, you want it to be realistic but on the other, you don't really want it to be realistic because realism can be pretty boring.

So we have population growth default to 0.1 population growth per turn.  Many good players recognized that if you loaded up transports with tiny populations to colonize you could get huge benefits by fast expanding.  And a big part of our work has been to support tall empires and not give fast expansion too big of a benefit.

For 2.8, we made the minimum population you can have on a colony ship be 1.  This makes colonizing a planet somewhat more serious than previous and allows us to avoid having to do a % population growth (do the math, there's no happy ending with a flat % growth -- boring or broken).

Diplomacy

We are in the process of adding some new diplomatic modifiers.  One of which is "We have a long, happy friendship" which essentially helps reward players who have been keeping the peace a long time from suddenly having players going to conquer them.  We already have various hidden mitigating factors for this but we haven't had anything a player could visibly see.

As always...

Anything you can do to spread the word on Galactic Civilizations helps.  Sales determine how many engineers we can put on the game.

When GalCiv III first came out, it was at a supreme disadvantage because it was on a brand-new engine.  But now, as we enter 2018, it's multi-core, 64 bit engine is looking pretty awesome as the rapid progress should, I hope, make apparent.  You'll be happy to know that the Spectre and Meltdown fixes you may have heard of will affect GalCiv III very little because we don't rely on single CPU core performance.  

Those of you who have moved to 4K probably have noticed just how future-proof GalCiv III is.   As time goes on, the game gets richer, deeper and more polished and with your help, we can ensure it is the ultimate 4X space strategy game.

 


Comments (Page 1)
on Jan 16, 2018

Ctrl-F5 to refresh if the new editor isn't coming up.

on Jan 17, 2018

As one who happily abused the speed improvements, i'm also glad you nerfed them. You might want to take a look at Cybernetic's Mechanics also. Can't get quite as fast with them but it can still get silly.

on Jan 17, 2018

Please, don't forget about Spanish translation as you promise years ago!

on Jan 17, 2018

I reposted this article and this is what I wrote >>>>

 

I'd like to point out that this is truly one of the best, immersive 4x space games produce with no equal on such an amazing artificial intelligence to play against!

Its a real challenge and a complete time sink you will have a hard time trying to walk away from!

on Jan 17, 2018

While I'm a huge fan of GalCivIII, I've been reluctant to play it recently, and the main reason, I feel is because of something mentioned above about accessibility.

I've been spoiled rotten by Stellaris, and the way there's a number of ways to achieve almost any action, and it's usually just 2 clicks away. After playing hours in Stellaris the interface for GalCivIII feels cumbersome and disorganised. Paradox of course has the advantage that their engine is almost seven years old now, and they've had lots of time to improve it. 

Accessibility, and the ease of use of the UI, visual feedback etc, are the main hurdles I face whenever I return to GalCivIII. Which is a shame, because when I get past them and relearn where everything is, I can totally lose myself in the game again.

on Jan 17, 2018

Interesting read.

on Jan 17, 2018

So the new update sounds good and I look forward to it, and of course the upcoming expansion.

I think it is interesting that you mention diplomacy and various mitigation that you are currently not showing the player... 

Why is it interesting to me? Because it relates to yours (and others) recent commentary regarding UI and "ease of intro" for the new player. Here is my short list of what is really hurting GC in terms of being a approachable game.

  • Zero Documentation. I don't think there is a independently and properly maintained wiki now either. Tutorials are out of date, don't function, or simply don't tell you anything useful. (And hey... maybe this isn't worth fixing)
  • Features that do not truly function (as intended, or simply not relevant/too esoteric)... are seemingly not worthwhile, or otherwise confusing. Specifically, Ship Roles, Ship Threat, Ship Value, Ship Tactical Speed, Tourism, Trade Routes/Licenses, Alliances and Treaties.
  • UI hiding information. Diplomacy being one of the greatest culprits with a highly imprecise visual on relationships +++ or --- tells me very little. Some factors are listed but apparently some are hidden from the player. 
  • UI Being very "page happy" meaning, that we get new pages through portals (buttons) to do things, instead of more information on one page (with a scroll button as needed). For example, the planet screen allows me to build buildings, and has plenty of room to fit in the various governor management options, but instead they are relegated to another screen. Another example, is needing to enter the shipyard screen in order to edit sponsors... when it would be more useful to edit sponsors from the galaxy screen where I might actually be seeing the planets I'm assigning (and assigned planets could glow on the screen/minimap to give a sense of distance/etc.

These are the biggest challenges to accessibility in my opinion. 

I'd really consider less overall management screens, it may be overwhelming to have more features per-screen, but at least they are not hidden from the player.

 

 

on Jan 18, 2018

I'd like to do more 'management type functions directly from the galaxy screen as well. I am not sure if this is possible but again the shipyard  planet assignments should be as simple as licking on a planet and draggin it to the shipyard and getting  pop say 'do you want this plant to sponsor 'Vulcan Prim Shipyard'? Y/N.  

on Jan 18, 2018

Ibeg to differ

Xzanron

While I'm a huge fan of GalCivIII, I've been reluctant to play it recently, and the main reason, I feel is because of something mentioned above about accessibility.

I've been spoiled rotten by Stellaris, and the way there's a number of ways to achieve almost any action, and it's usually just 2 clicks away. After playing hours in Stellaris the interface for GalCivIII feels cumbersome and disorganised. Paradox of course has the advantage that their engine is almost seven years old now, and they've had lots of time to improve it. 

I bought Stellaris and GalCiv3 at the same time. I played through the tutorial of Stellaris and it basically told me to do things to show the interface but the game was not playable (it ran me out of resources) and only by watching YouTube videos was I able to figure out what some of the tutorial was trying to do. But I don't find it accessable or easy to play and quite frankly I'm not even sure what that game's purpose is. It seems to be more of a space civ simulator than anything else.

I have not made it very far past the tutorial in GalCiv3 but it seems to be more of an engaging game at this point.

 

on Jan 18, 2018



Unintended Consequences

For example, with the right combination, you could get ships with a base speed of over 40 moves per turn.  That's without adding an engine.  There are players who have posted complaints at how slow things get when they try to move their 90 move per turn ship around late game on a ludicrous sized galaxy.

 

90 moves??? Late Game Ludicrous Map my main battle fleet has over 800 movement, no mods. Yes, it is an unintended consequence. Multiple movement enhancement module ships with five or more commanders in the same fleet. It does make mop up easier.

Perhaps you should limit one of each commander type to a fleet. Right now you can separate a single ship from the fleet, add a new commander, and recombine them with the original fleet to increase the number of commanders.

 

Kudos for adding the diplomatic modifier for long and happy friendship. Cultivating relationships with AI Civs has the possibility to immensely add to immersion.

on Jan 18, 2018

Gauntlet03

So the new update sounds good and I look forward to it, and of course the upcoming expansion.

I think it is interesting that you mention diplomacy and various mitigation that you are currently not showing the player... 

Why is it interesting to me? Because it relates to yours (and others) recent commentary regarding UI and "ease of intro" for the new player. Here is my short list of what is really hurting GC in terms of being a approachable game.

 

    • Zero Documentation. I don't think there is a independently and properly maintained wiki now either. Tutorials are out of date, don't function, or simply don't tell you anything useful. (And hey... maybe this isn't worth fixing)

 

    • Features that do not truly function (as intended, or simply not relevant/too esoteric)... are seemingly not worthwhile, or otherwise confusing. Specifically, Ship Roles, Ship Threat, Ship Value, Ship Tactical Speed, Tourism, Trade Routes/Licenses, Alliances and Treaties.

 

    • UI hiding information. Diplomacy being one of the greatest culprits with a highly imprecise visual on relationships +++ or --- tells me very little. Some factors are listed but apparently some are hidden from the player. 

 

    • UI Being very "page happy" meaning, that we get new pages through portals (buttons) to do things, instead of more information on one page (with a scroll button as needed). For example, the planet screen allows me to build buildings, and has plenty of room to fit in the various governor management options, but instead they are relegated to another screen. Another example, is needing to enter the shipyard screen in order to edit sponsors... when it would be more useful to edit sponsors from the galaxy screen where I might actually be seeing the planets I'm assigning (and assigned planets could glow on the screen/minimap to give a sense of distance/etc.

 


These are the biggest challenges to accessibility in my opinion. 

I'd really consider less overall management screens, it may be overwhelming to have more features per-screen, but at least they are not hidden from the player.

 

 

 

Oh man, I AM a new player and everything you just wrote there, is SUPER accurate to my experience.

I just started playing GalCiv3 like, three weeks ago? Dipped my toe in on New Year's Eve and a little bit the next day. I'm on my 2nd campaign now after a very easy diplo win with the Terrans.

I'm enjoying the game, make no mistake. It's why I decided to check out the official forums. But I've been figuring stuff out entirely by trial and error. There is basically no documentation anywhere in the game, and none of the wikis are helpful. All of the ones I found were just lore on the universe. Which is nice. But it doesn't help me understand the systems the game has.

Coming from just, regular non-Galactic Civilization as my main 4X and the old Birth of the Federation as my first space 4X (from ages and ages ago) I've been able to figure out how to play pretty well. But the fact that there's no reference list anywhere for finding out what is *supposed* to happen on any given question I have how a thing works is a bit frustrating.

And the "tutorial" isn't much of one. It's a sandbox really. Which, I mean, I guess that's nice. I actually appreciate not having my hand held and letting me figure out systems and mechanics in a game. But when I just have a basic question about what X does (does it do Y? or does it do Z?) I'm still left hanging about it since there's no rules list in the game anywhere.

A Civilopedia is a feature that would help new players a LOT I'd suspect. Especially the ones less experienced with the genre. Just somewhere I can click on the main menu that lists what building upgrades exist. What they do. How diplomacy is supposed to function. How tourism works. How trade routes work (there's a lot more to them if you want to optimize them). All that stuff.

 

Oh, and to the OP/Dev - you're completely correct about the "DESIGN" button, in my experience.

I clicked on that and was just completely confused as to what the heck I was supposed to do with it in my first game. It's a pretty robust tool now that I'm screwing around with it a bit in my second game as Iridium, but it was just a bit too much to be on the main screen when I was just starting out. Because that's exactly what I do: click on everything when I first start a game and try to figure out what everything does. And when it's a huge creation engine sitting in front of me before I know what any of the variables even mean, you just end up wanting to discard it. Either entirely, or at least for a while.

 

BTW this leads to a confusing bit as a new player: installing precursor items you find in events. Right now I've gotten some events in a survey mission that just add a laser or something to a ship automatically. I've also had ideology choices that give me such and such precursor weapon.

However, I have zero way of adding these precursor weapons to any of my ships without entering into the designer. And even then, I'd be designing a whole ship type to slot my single use precursor weapon. That's way too much effort to just try an add an extra bonus of an extra laser or missile or shield module or something. Especially when you're new and you don't want to mess around with the designer just yet.

As a result, in that first run as a total newb, getting a precursor weapon as a "reward" meant absolutely bupkiss because I didn't want to go through effort of spending a few hours figuring out the system of desiging ships for a +1 laser to a ship. And, now that I AM messing with the designer, these things are REALLY underpowered. Mostly due to mass. They take up as much mass as their weapon type on average, but don't produce a noticably larger effect. At least according to the stats in the designer.

A midpoint option needs to be in here somewhere. Like, instead of a full on "upgrade" option, I should be able to hit "retrofit" and just add a single cannon or something to a simpler designer window on a current ship that doesn't allow any alterations to the ship parts, but just installs weapons or modules. Either because I get a mass reduction specialization tech upgrade and can fit more stuff on an extant ship, or I get a precursor weapon and want to toss it on to one right away. Either replacing a current gun/module of equal mass, or using up any extra mass alotment so it fits.

Right now, it's better for a new player hesitant to get into the ship designer (which I was also hesitant to get into because there's no tutorial on it and there are a LOT of buttons) to get that survey event which just adds guns to a survey ship for free than it is to get what seems like it's meant to be a stronger reward from an ideology point choice.

on Jan 22, 2018

ZekramBogg

However, I have zero way of adding these precursor weapons to any of my ships without entering into the designer. And even then, I'd be designing a whole ship type to slot my single use precursor weapon. That's way too much effort to just try an add an extra bonus of an extra laser or missile or shield module or something. Especially when you're new and you don't want to mess around with the designer just yet.

 

It is not that complicated. You do not need to design a whole ship type, there are ready made templates that all you need to do is add the weapon to.

on Jan 22, 2018

Best thing they could do for the designer is remove the requirement to physically place ship components... they should be "invisible" items on a ship that you just add to a list. This would make it much faster to design a ship since it would not require selecting a hardpoint, sizing, etc.

on Jan 22, 2018

You can double click on a component and it auto places it.

on Jan 23, 2018

Sorry, let me be more clear... I'm saying it should be completely abstracted from position/placement... this would open up the opportunity to separate "ship design" in terms of ship components... from "model design" (aesthetics/physical pieces).

A "basic" designer could then exist which doesn't allow "modelling" but would be far more simplistic for a new player. 

To me... its wholly unnecessary, but I was thinking of how to address other's comments above.