Hi all, Oliver here. Today I’m going to be talking a little bit about redesigning the military system, our carrot-shaped design strategy, and not being afraid to kill your darlings when you’re hammering out a design.

We’re right at the end of build .4 at the moment – we’ll probably have it out to the alpha testers this week – so we’re looking ahead to the next few builds. Coming up in .7 is the military system, which we’ve had the design for sitting around since we finished the GDD (Game Design Document), but which we’ve not really touched while we’ve been putting together the other elements of the simulation. When Ogi and I took a preliminary look at it, we realised it was too fiddly – there were a lot of cool ideas in there, but the amount of information conveyed and control required would be out of step with the rest of the game. For example: I’d written in a ‘tour of duty’ system, whereby you would be able to adjust the amount of time your troops spent on deployment versus home on leave, trading off their morale and loyalty against the immediate strength of your forces. It could have been an interesting system, and might have worked well in another game, but in AotSS it would just be too much detail – not something the Emperor would personally control – so that’s getting scrapped.

Similarly, we were going to have a slightly involved system whereby you would give your forces orders, but the orders would have a ‘lead time’ before they could be executed, with a fixed cost for giving any number of orders on a single turn. The point of this was to encourage the player to set up queues of orders that the AI could then spy on and use to intercept your forces. Again, this could have been a cool system in principle – but in a non-combat-focussed game like AotSS, it would probably be too complicated and unintuitive. Instead, we’re allowing you the player to spy on enemy war plans and find out where they’re planning to move and attack, but enemy spying will simply provide their forces with extra damage against yours and allow them to intercept you in deep space (which you can only do if you know where the target fleet is going to be). This keeps the fun bit – finding out the enemy’s plans and foiling them – without subjecting you the player to the weird constraints of the original design, making the game much more responsive and playable.

This all ties in to our overall development strategy. Although obviously when we wrote the GDD we didn’t realise that specifically these features were going to be streamlined, we knew that streamlining would be happening down the line: knowing how easy it is to get caught up in feature creep, we made a conscious decision to get all of ours in right then and there, and from that point onward only cut features, not add them. That’s a strategy we’ve largely stuck to, and it’s allowed us to stay focussed and on-task through our development process. Of course, it’s much less fun cutting things than adding them – part of the reason we’re making AotSS is that we like the idea of having a massively detailed universe simulation happening underneath your feet while you play, hence the Action Point restriction, the systems for delegating power, and so on – but it means we’ll make a better game on a shorter timescale than if we just let our maximalist instincts run wild. And who knows – maybe the features we cull this time around will make it into another game in the years to come.

Until then, Ave Imperator!

Oliver

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