Brad Wardell's site for talking about the customization of Windows.
Published on February 14, 2019 By Frogboy In PC Gaming

My entire adult life has been dominated by 4X strategy games. Some periods have felt like the genre was in a bit of a rut. Other times (looking at Alpha Centauri and Distant Worlds) there are true moments of amazing innovation.

I can't go into specifics because of NDAs. But I can tell you that we're entering a new era for 4X and I thought I'd share with you why this is.

As some of you already know, my partner Soren's studio, Mohawk Games, is working on Ten Crowns which is a 4X game and Soren knows 4X inside and out. There's some real innovation going on over there.

There are projects at some of the other studios we're part of that aren't announced yet but are going to fundamentally change the 4X landscape and here's how:

Less abstraction. Historically, we've always had to play a fine balancing act between abstracting or not. It's either all in or all out. 4X games often feel like board games. One of the innovations Stellaris brought to the strategy genre which seems like a natural progression from Crusader Kings has been nuanced abstraction. That is, game elements that you can choose to care or not care about depending on your gameplay preferences.

This nuanced abstraction will become a much bigger deal over the next few years as we are able to simulate more and more detail.

So how is that possible? Cloud-coprocessing. Right now, in 4X games, we are constantly paranoid of hardware requirements. Because they're a bit niche, we have to keep the hardware requirements down. But soon, players will be able to have the Sim and AI processed in the cloud.

Specifically: Co-processed. That is, if you have a monster machine, you won't need the cloud. But it means that users with lower end hardware who have a decent net connection can experience truly detailed AI and sim.

I can tell you that internally, we've already started playing around with sending out AI jobs to the cloud to process. This allows us to have vastly more detailed AI (and smarter AI) and more detailed game elements.

But "better AI" isn't really that transformative. What is, however, is the more nuanced gameplay. Less abstraction means you, the player, can have much finer control over your empire based on what level you want to involve yourself in.

Right now, we get stuck between micro-management hell or overly simplistic. The player really doesn't get much of a say of how much they have to manage and we all know that throwing a "governor" on it isn't really that helpful.

But on the other hand, if I have a strategy game with extremely detailed mechanics that I can comfortably zoom in or zoom out (figuratively) on the detail and decide where I"m comfortable, knowing that the details will be handled just fine because the AI (or even entity scripting) is farmed out to the cloud, I get to play the game the way I want to play.

That nuance will, in turn, change the way 4X games are designed. I can't tell you how many times we've had to toss out some sophistication (especially late game) because computing times would take too long to have the process AI-driven and the only alternative would be to make the player manually mess with it (and again, governors are typically pretty terrible because they're so simplistic and arbitrary, there's no nuance -- manage entire city or do nothing).

Anyway, I can't wait for you guys to be able to see what I'm talking about. We are in for some exciting times. -b


Comments (Page 1)
on Feb 14, 2019

This sounds really exciting, being a fan of not just 4x, but, specifically, complicated strategy games with depth that might be off putting for more casual fans just looking for the 'one more turn' itch.

Although I am a bit surprised to hear that the genre is/was being held back by hardware limitations, even if it's only the necessity of hitting as many people as possible due to how small the genre is relative to the bigger, more popular ones.

Looking forward to where the genre goes, in any case.

on Feb 15, 2019

I feel like we're on the cusp of a new era of strategy gaming.

on Feb 15, 2019

Without a truly better AI though Brad, I gotta say that, to me, this is all moot.

What attracted me to Galactic Civ was your ability to code non-cheating AIs that can challenge the player.  If the other 4X makers are going to continue with the "Cheat cus we suck at coding" model, then I could care less what else they have to offer.

It ruins the fun, because I'm not actually competing with the AI, I'm trying to subvert its cheating, and I just can not enjoy that.

on Feb 15, 2019

I like the sound of what you are proposing.  Mainly that the "co-processing" can be local (beefy machine) or cloud based.  Maybe even a decent blend?

The trouble I do see, is if there is a multiplayer aspect and AI co-processing going on locally, how do you stop memory sharks from manipulating the game live?

 

on Feb 15, 2019

This sounds a lot like another revolutionary 4X game ... MOO3. That went down well!

on Feb 15, 2019

leiavoia

This sounds a lot like another revolutionary 4X game ... MOO3. That went down well!

 

Master of Orion was over-rated.   

on Feb 16, 2019

If I can farm out AI to the cloud, then I can just use brute force algorithms which makes writing good AI much, much easier.

on Feb 16, 2019

Frogboy

If I can farm out AI to the cloud, then I can just use brute force algorithms which makes writing good AI much, much easier.

 

I do have ONE major concern, though.  Wouldn't using a cloud be a form of Always online DRM?

on Feb 16, 2019

JerkClock


Quoting leiavoia,

This sounds a lot like another revolutionary 4X game ... MOO3. That went down well!



 

Master of Orion was over-rated.   

 

Master of Orion was a complete disaster, if you know what it is that they were trying to re-create.  Just a total and complete disaster and pointless mess.  The people in the computer game industry are so incompetent that they then spent 30+ years imitating the "Command Points" which are completely meaningless and pointless the way they were done wrong in MOO... and yet they STILL imitate it TODAY!  One of my favorite examples of just how incompetent they are.

on Feb 18, 2019

JerkClock


Quoting Frogboy,

If I can farm out AI to the cloud, then I can just use brute force algorithms which makes writing good AI much, much easier.



 

I do have ONE major concern, though.  Wouldn't using a cloud be a form of Always online DRM?

only if your machine is low end. Think of it as a coprocessor.  You could also choose to not use it and have much longer turn times.

on Feb 18, 2019

Good point, the cloud exists, and by the time its servers are down, PCs have gotten faster by enough for this to not matter.

on Feb 18, 2019

The first thing that came to my mind was the infamous SimCity example... but I trust that Brad is sincere about this. 

But this leads to the question how you pay for such a cloud service? Will it be free (like multiplayer, that use the companies servers)? pay per game? pay per 'level' of cloud assistance? monthly subscription? Personally, I don't want to pay any extra for a single player game.

on Feb 18, 2019

DST1348

The first thing that came to my mind was the infamous SimCity example... but I trust that Brad is sincere about this. 

But this leads to the question how you pay for such a cloud service? Will it be free (like multiplayer, that use the companies servers)? pay per game? pay per 'level' of cloud assistance? monthly subscription? Personally, I don't want to pay any extra for a single player game.

the developer will pay in either rented CPU time or the full cost of setting up their own server farm. Either way, these are ongoing hard costs to the developer, so it would likely necessitate a subscription model for players.

on Feb 19, 2019

leiavoia


Quoting DST1348,

so it would likely necessitate a subscription model for players.

 

I for one will find other games.  I will not pay for a subscription model game.

on Feb 19, 2019

I can see why 4x developers would be excited about this, but yeah.. how long before we start being concerned about exactly what data is being sent and what it's used for, or if the dev/publisher decides it's not profitable to keep using their cloud co-processors to support a niche market anymore and hit the "off" switch. I'm sure it will start off innocuously enough. Hopefully it will stay that way, but recent history in the game industry begs to differ.

Then again, grumpy old men like me are probably becoming less and less relevant to the market, lol