I’m almost done with the first of the four stages of the game, the eXploration phase. The contraction phases and the more straightforward of the tasks are now complete. This week allowed for some very interesting work as a result.
I’ve been trying to make sure that there are more uses for units than just violent conflict. The unit and war systems are very important in grounding Civ and providing some variety for it, but are naturally brutal as they represent war. I wanted to have them be usable for less aggressive actions. I feel that having units around that exist for nothing but war is brutalizing for the player.
Conflict in this game is built with different classes of units that represent kind, devious and brutal things to say. Most wars proscribe the harsher units and the brutal ones pollute constantly. I put in a couple of small “wars” right now that only allow kind units. One of them is mutually beneficial and the other one represents a calm discussion of your beliefs on the major questions of the game. That one can escalate quickly, but also can allow two players to resolve their differences in opinion amicably.
I made a tech for builders as it let me tie together the two major branches of the research tree. One of them was building oriented and the other unit oriented and having a tech for builders let me make those two branches merge naturally.
A major thing that I noticed was that, while I like tying the major questions of the game (such as Was Winston Churchill A Genius?) to the cities, mixing their building options in with all of the other ones is tough for players to resolve and results in players not engaging with these questions to the degree that I would like. I’m going to try splitting the production queues such that each city is always working on something related to this side of the game and see if that is closer to what I want.
Thinking on Colonialism and Industrialization
I set aside a lot of time to think about colonial and industrial mechanics and how to design intelligently when talking about them. I have the bones of an article done about the abstracts of this, but I naturally started work on integrating these thoughts into Syphilisation already.
I’ve implemented both city health and city happiness. For the Civ series, these have largely functioned as ways to keep people from an infinite city sprawl. Syphilisation avoids the ICS issue by having explicit limits on cities and having each city be distinct. Health and happiness push the player into more reactivity and also serve as the foundation of one of my strongest critiques of Civ. In the real world, I want governments to focus on improving my quality of life. In Civ, governments focus on beating each other. That is not a healthy approach to geopolitics.
I have a couple of immediate features to integrate. Barbarians are another strong point to critique in Civ and my systems so far have been minimal around them. I’m going to make city states generate them, have them come up from your own cities and have polluted places result in lots of them. I’m also going to make it so that they’re not all harmful and aggressive as in Civ and have the type formed be heavily influenced by the global pollution level. I dislike a system that draws a strict line between the civilized and the barbarians and I dislike a system that paints all of the other as unthinkingly aggressive. I’m looking forward to adding some nuance to my interpretation of this system.
I’m also going to build something around foraging as a verb. I plan to have creeper-like things covering the world and spreading and allowing players to gather passively from it or to clear-cut it and use the space for something more directed. I also want this to be very sensitive to global warming. I think that having these die en masse is the kind of dramatic gesture that can really bring home to players the effects of letting their world become toxic.
I also want to do something in the line of National Parks in Civ 6. I want to give players the option to acknowledge what is already there and not simply view the world as a canvas on which to draw. This is going to require a little thought though because I want them to have more utility than the National Parks of Civ 6 but I do not want these to just be factories that give the players lots of stuff they want.
Games To Play
Both Gathering Storm and At The Gates have come out and I absolutely have to play them. I haven’t had a chance yet to open either one or even to play the Civ 6 scenarios that I bought a while ago. The hard fact of video game development is that it gives you far too little time for playing games yourself. Also, Yakuza Kiwami is coming out on the 19th. I loved Yakuza 0 and I’m really looking forward to Kiwami. I feel like I could use a bit of a break from playing 4X games. However, I do really need to look at both of the new ones. I expect that Gathering Storm may have implemented a bunch of things that I was looking forward to being able to highlight in Syphilisation, but seeing what they’ve done will let me make my own implementations deeper and so I’m pretty happy about that. Also, At The Gates should be interestingly experimental and I’m excited to see how Jon Shafer’s pushed the form.
This week had a couple of interesting facts about Churchill. I didn’t know about his terrible stint as Chancellor of the Exchequer and the economic disaster of returning Britain to the gold standard. I also didn’t know about his statement “If I were an Italian, I would be a fascist too” after meeting Mussolini.
The most interesting fact though was Lala Lajpat Rai’s travelogue of America, title The United States of America (1916). Lal was an extremely well known Indian nationalist and spent a few years in America around WW1. During his time there, he travelled extensively and wrote this book. It opens with a photo of W.E.B. Du Bois as Lal quotes him, Frederick Douglass and other African American intellectuals of the time extensively. It’s easy to think of civil rights in the United States and self-rule in India as wholly separate issues of the times, but a world stage had developed by then and moral questions were debated all over it. You can actually get the book in its entireity from archive.org here. I expect that it will be quite an interesting read.