Talvieno wrote: ↑
Wed Apr 01, 2020 8:35 pm
Sidenote, mostly directed at Flatfingers:
Black--Snow pointed out that my definition of "4X" might not be the same as everyone else's, so I figured I'd bring that up here. It could be I completely agree with you regarding 4X games and didn't even realize it.
I know that 4X is "expand, explore, exterminate, exploit", probably not in that order. However, I also tack onto it the meaning "a game that is played strategically, where you're meant to control an empire" and "if you make serious mistakes early on, it hurts you badly for the rest of your playthrough." The empire thing is fine to me I think. It's outside LT's scope for sure, but I don't personally have an issue with it. I do not at all
like the "early serious mistakes screw you" aspect that games like Civilization like to incorporate. I am not a fan of games that say "you screwed up in a way that wasn't obvious at the time, so now you lose without a chance to redeem yourself". Similarly, I don't like games that say "you did really well early on, so now you basically win and it's going to be a cakewalk where you're just grinding away at mopping everyone up".
More than that, though, I feel it goes directly against Limit Theory's philosophy of "anything is possible". It's not "anything is possible - as long as you do the right things in the first half of the game, and after you choose a path you're stuck with it". It's just "anything is possible". I always saw LT as something like a sort of "Skyrim in Space" with advanced economy/building bits. Endgame, I imagined you could maybe claim your own star system (buying a house in Skyrim), travel along with a fleet (your companions), clear out pirate bases (bandit camps and dungeons), perhaps fight for a faction (Stormcloaks/Empire war), and watch your actions create ripples that spread across the universe in fascinating, satisfying ways.
On another note: I feel like an obvious win condition is also against the spirit of the game.
There are, I think, actually two really good questions in your comment, Tal:
1. What elements of the 4X style game would add a fun strategic-level sub-game to the tactical (dogfighting) and operational/logistical (fleet/"RTS") sub-games without making either of those less fun for the folks who enjoy them? And how do you avoid the fundamental problem of all strategy games, which is that by implementing a very good or very bad strategy you've functionally ended the game by 2/3 of the way through and the rest is just clicking to play out how it ends?
2. What does (or should) it mean to "win" in a game like Josh imagined Limit Theory would be?
To that first question, if you've made a game where a player -- human or AI -- can, by devising and competently implementing a good strategy, effectively be unable to lose by 2/3 of the way through, or one human player no longer has any real chance to win by that point, then that is proof that you actually have made a good strategic sim! What it isn't is a fun game
. I've been calling this the fundamental problem of strategy games (including many 4X games) for years now because it remains an unsolved problem. After having put in so much time/effort designing the operational level of moving units around on a map, game designers just can't make themselves let that stuff go -- they don't have a check constantly testing whether the game's effectively over (because of a very good or very bad strategy) and then ending the game then and there. Instead, they make you keep slogging through their complicated turn-by-turn details until you just quit playing... which is exactly what happened to me in the one (offline) game of Stellaris I've played. And then everybody concludes, "Oh, well, I guess all strategic games are just like that. No more of those for me, then."
Which is a shame.
So when I say that a Limit Theory-like game can support strategic play, and that it's possible to add this kind of fun to the tactical and operational levels, it's with this understanding that it can't just be a strategic simulation. There's a particular way in which strategic games typically stop being fun, and a 4X mode in an LTlike game ought to address that or it's not worth doing.
My suggestion is that every faction gets a relative power rating. Successful strategic actions increase that rating, from one fighter to a fleet owned by a faction to multiple fleets and star systems owned by an empire, until one's power rating is X% compared to all the others... and then the game tells you you've won (or lost) and lets you know you can keep going to see how it plays out but you don't have to. (Another option would be to let the game simulate your future turns based on your previous strategic actions, and then just quickly show you how things might have played out, but that would require quite a bit more special-purpose programming.)
This is an imperfect solution to a somewhat difficult problem. But it's better than "make the player click pointlessly for another hour+ just to make the game end."
To the second question -- how do you "win" an LTlike? -- I have to point out this only became a question when Josh finally concluded that LT had to be a finite universe, not procedurally-generated forever.
In a forever-expanding universe, there is no conventional "win" moment because there's always more universe, more things to discover and do. But the instant you say "finite universe," you 100% guarantee that there will come a moment when the player feels that everything that can be seen and done has been. Maybe that's when every location has been surveyed (Exploration Victory); maybe it's when all other combat ships have been destroyed (other than ones generated by mission terminals) (Supremacy Victory); maybe it's when one player has fully researched all possible technologies (Technological Victory); maybe it's when the player's factional empire owns all star systems or has established diplomatic alliances with all other factional empires (Political Victory); maybe it's when one player has gained control over all banks and factories, or just has all the monies (Economic Victory); or maybe it's when the game decides one player is so vastly more powerful than all the others that there's no point in playing any further (Strategic Victory). All of these could be considered victory conditions, at which point the game congratulates the winner, consoles the losers, and proposes starting a fresh new game.
Does this achievement of some victory condition seem like it's a good fit for the Limit Theory that Josh said he wanted to create? I honestly don't think it is, entirely. I've mentioned before something James P. Carse said in his book Finite and Infinite Games
: in a finite game, the players compete with each other to force the game to end with one player as the winner; in an infinite game, the players cooperate with each other to try to keep the game going, and all players are winners as long as the game continues. I sort of feel Josh had in mind that second kind of game for Limit Theory... but it becomes very difficult to make an infinite game out of a finite universe.
So a finite-universe LTlike game will have an ending. And so it pretty much has to have conventional victory conditions of some kind. Yes, there's something a bit melancholic about that diverging from the vastly more open-ended Limit Theory that Josh strove to give us. But it's the nature of a finite game, and I'm not sure that's worth struggling against.