Design Review: RTS Economy Systems

31 Jul

I’m out of town right now so, sadly, no fantastical pictures will grace the page today.

Running these exercises weekly is proving to be an unappealing method of garnering user participation, and I believe making it routine has removed some of the pizzaz. So from now on, these little design workshops will show up on a more random schedule — that is, whenever I feel a subject warrants an exercise.

Duncan’s economic system — built for a ‘create your own unit’ RTS — acts as a sort of war economy trading game.

All creation requires the single resource of money. The concept is that the player makes money from designing and selling units. When a player has designed a unit they must create a prototype, or prototypes before they can market it, this does not cost anything but takes a period of time based on the complexity of the unit. The value of the unit is partially based on it’s complexity, but also on the perceived effectiveness. Rewarding players who can design units for a specific purpose and then employ them to it.

It could have all sort of interesting implications for a shifting economy and meta-gaming. Players could find themselves in the position of having their own units turned against them if a faction they had previously been selling to turned on them.

PROS: It seems like the idea is that players can acquire money through two methods: selling a blueprint and manufacturing and selling individual units. This can certainly create political positioning in a game with real, tangible outcomes — piss off your neighbor and say bye bye to that new fighter plane blueprint and that delivery of tanks.

CONS: It seems to be missing something — without some kind of secondary mainstay resource or way to acquire money, everything in the game relies on the player-controlled market. This means players have limited flexibility, and monopolies are sure to be exploited. Of course, a strong combat system might make up for it, allowing an underfunded nation to succeed through expert military action (or stealing blueprints!), but as is it seems a bit incomplete as a full economic system, and limits player choice.

One of my own ideas, this economic system is inspired by ancient Aztec warfare.

As your tribe’s war leader, warriors are your only resource. With a main city that supplies you with a fixed stream of new warriors, it is your job to capture as many enemy warriors in battle as possible. Bringing captured enemies back to your city allows you to sacrifice them to your gods, eventually increasing the size and prosperity of your city and giving you access to more warriors (+ to the fixed ‘income’ stream of warriors). Players can take over more cities, which increase the population cap overall.

As individual warriors capture more enemies in battle they gain experience and rank, becoming more intimidating and deadly warriors, and are worth more points if captured.

PROS: While the system only has one resource and everything in the game is dependent on it, the possibilities for influx seem to balance it out. If an enemy has gotten more warriors and cities than you, start killing his warriors and taking back cities — when the time is right, begin capturing his warriors. With only one resource to manage and that resource being your own troops, the barrier to entry is minimal, and the game objective is rather clear; allowing for a potential ‘simple to play and hard to master’ scenario.

CONS: I’ll try to do my best to criticize myself here. A lot of this concept hinges on the mechanic of capturing enemies — being so closely tied to the combat system means that if combat isn’t fun, the economy isn’t fun. I don’t want to get into game mechanics for this exercise, but it’s important to note nonetheless. Also, the game may have limited depth due to the lack of a conventional resource-fuelled technology tree. But who knows, a good designer might be able to come up with a way to ‘upgrade’ troops and cities on the fly, as opposed to the traditional tech-tree.

Ahem…another of my own concepts; this one hinges around a home country supporting colonies, (I seem to be very context-inspired!) with lumber, gold, food and governors acting as resources.

Starting out with a home country, the player will establish lumber camps, gold mines and farms in order to build a stable economy. Players accept and assign governors to manage provinces in their country, whose attributes and loyalty affect your income and hold on that region. The player also has military units at their disposal. Once ready, the player can begin building a navy to send to the New World. Competing with the indigenous population and other seafaring nations, the player must establish colonies, trade routes over sea and land, appoint trusted governors (or get rid of troublesome governors on some god-forsaken island territory!) and take other nations’ cities by force, or disrupt their trade routes.

PROS: There is a rock, paper, scissors mentality that governs things here — old news, but not when applied to empire building and resources. Should the player use their gold and food to train a strong military, or use that gold, food and lumber to build a strong navy? Should a treaty be made with a stronger seafaring nation to protect your supply lines; can you trust them not to break the peace and loot your treasure and supplies? Governors are also interesting; not only is the player dealing with other nations but must deal with internal politics — a local governor might not like that your resources are being spent developing the colonies and start a revolt on home soil, that the player now must deal with.

CONS: I rather like this one; (err, bit of bias here!) it’s simple but is capable of branching out into complexity to provide interesting and weighted choices. Like most economic systems in RTS’s, it won’t make the game fun if the game mechanics aren’t there to support it, but I feel it’s a good start nonetheless.

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