Game design for me is a series of expansions and contractions and this is a contraction period for me. The game now is impenetrable, even to me, and so I’m paring it down. Right now, I’m focused on the first of the four Xs, the eXploration phase.
Cleaning up the tech trees.
My first goal was to clean up the tech trees a lot. I built them from the bottom-up. For both the techs representing the people and the techs representing facts, I put pieces in when I thought or read of something that would go well with the game. There was something of a structure there, but it didn’t look great when seem from a top-down perspective.
This is more clear-cut for the tech tree as the eXploration phase ends when the player discovers the tech to settle their cities and begins the eXpansion phase. To start with, I temporarily disabled all of the techs after the eXploration phase so as to keep the restructure manageable for myself. I then split the tree into an easy-to-understand bifurcation, exploration and growth, and sorted all of the early techs accordingly. An important goal here was to reduce the number of branches active at any given point so as to keep the decision of which tech to research next comprehensible for the player. I still need a little more cross-pollination though.
For research techs, I cut things down to a couple of quick, high-level questions and a brief examination into them. I chose that of Imperialism and of Winston Churchill As A Genius to start with and put some techs on both sides so as to get players started. Naturally, the sides are not balanced, but there is space there for player expression nonetheless.
Putting in space for the early military campaign and stances
It’s important for there to be scope for disagreement on the early questions as that supports early conflict between players. I needed some space for that as it gives value to a lot of the tech tree, which in turn gives the game forward momentum. I’m trying to add a lot more nuance into these wars than in Civ and the next week is going to focus on cleaning that up and in cleaning up the mechanism of the stance on questions and of writing sections of the group report. I’ve designed some broad approaches that I can take and it’s going to be quite interesting to see how they pan out. I’ll cover the results with the next update.
Besides those large pieces, I spent a lot of time playtesting and making small fixes and improvements to the game. One of the issues with Beyond Earth and even SM:AC is that the sci-fi setting adds a lot of complexity to the game. A tech like Iron Working is very easy to understand in Civ6, but when you take away the real world connection, these techs become much harder to parse for the player and so will be difficult in Syph. It’s very important that I make this game approachable for early players and playing regularly is an important part of that. Also, contraction periods require just spending time with the game as it exists and not as it is in my head.
I’m going to use these posts to share some of the interesting stuff that I pick up while researching this game. Today, I’m going to skip both the nature of Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s extremism and the many indiscretions of Churchill’s mother to talk about Gandhi recruiting soldiers in WW1. This was after his time in the Ambulance Corps in the Boer War and his return to India. He apparently felt that it was the duty of Indians to defend the British Empire and possibly even believed in the vague promise of Dominion status. More mystifyingly though, he also considered it part of his non-violent doctrine and stated, “You cannot teach ahimsa to a man who cannot kill”. It’s conceivable that this revolves around the idea that time in the military builds character, which he thought was lacking in the Indian populace of the time, but it puzzled the people who heard it then and it puzzles me now. I have to read more about this.