Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Butterfly Effect" Sources In The Last Federation

The Last Federation is a really unique game in that it is a strategy/tactics game set inside a simulation game.  Check out our first sneak preview about it, or our preview discussing simulations in the game.  Also our recent podcast with Space Game Junkie with lots of other details, the description of your role as an independent agent in the solar system, and details on the alien races.  Oh, and the forums for the game are filled with lots of other detailed tidbits, too.
Three posts in one day!  Okay, I wasn't planning on doing this, but madcow asked a really good question, and this also really is the answer to a question that Cyborg asked a week or two ago, anyway.

The different political factions and the like sound intriguing, I'm kind of curious if there are coded differences between them. For instance one faction/governor/whatever in insert race always tends to behave one way versus another. Or if the factions are essentially the same but with different random roles/circumstances .
(Paraphrasing, as I can't find the quote) In what ways is the game randomized each time.  In other words, how does the "butterfly effect" come into play from the simulation?
My response to madcow:

The factions are extremely different in code.  Specifically:

1. They each have various modifiers that make them react to circumstances differently.  Aka, Burlusts always do better on hot planets, and poorly on cold.

2. They each have a variety of specialized race actions that no other race can take (e.g. the Evucks unleashing a virus as a weapon, versus a virus just unfortunately happening).

3. The system of government is entirely different between each race, and has its own completely unique data structures.

4. The political deals between most governments are very much the same about 80-90% of the time, but the circumstances of when and how you can use them is different.  And there are key additions or omissions from certain races.  So you can use the Skylaxians to backdoor in another race into the federation, but for the most part you cannot do that otherwise.

5. There are certain inherent attitude-adjusters that various races have.  For instance, if too many of the "evil" races get into the federation with no other races there to balance them out, the "good" races start having negative sentiment toward the federation and toward you.  And vice-versa.

6. There are various alliance types that can spring up outside of the federation that are race-specific, like the Solar Axis Pact.

7. There are some other special things that can happen, like the federation actually betraying you and becoming a different hostile alliance if you leave it with just the Thoraxians, Burlusts, AND Acutians alone in it as a trifecta for too long.

8. There are various behavioral modifiers on each race, such that only the Andors and Skylaxians have the Honorable flag that makes them go to help other folks, whereas the Boarines and Burlusts are completely anti-trade.  And so on.

9. Bribes have different effectivenesses on various races depending on the type of bribe, and blackmail only works on burlusts.

10. Only some races can have leaders assassinated, and the consequences vary.  Also various other things politically vary in terms of how you navigate each race.

11. There are certain normal racial actions that some races will NEVER take, such as Andors will never capture a planet or turn to piracy, privateering, or raiding.

12. The attitudes of each race toward each other race is randomized at the start, but the range of randomizations and how many they are positive/negative/neutral towards varies by race type.

And... yeah.  On and on.  I know I'm forgetting a bunch of things.  There are also things that are randomized per planet, which have an effect on the circumstances of the race (but the ranges of randomization on the planets make sense for which of the 11 planet types it is).  And there are also various racial things that are randomized per game, such as the starting attitudes already mentioned, and so forth. 

Which race is first spacefaring you get to choose at game start, but how close each other race is to becoming spacefaring depends on how close in distance their planet is to the planet of the starting race you chose, and that's random.  Oh, and what sort of action the races will take when they hit equilibrium population is random per game, but weighted based on race type.  As is there percentage of ships that they try to keep on guard, picket, and raiding duties.

Gosh the list goes on and on.  Basically the model is incredibly detailed, we literally have around 200 pages of internal documentation on all this.  But there are also so many DIFFERENT models:
  • aliens model
  • planets model
  • trade model
  • randomized ship design model
  • fleet tech model
  • planetary tech model
  • construction model
  • economy/order/medical/environment model at planets (our "RCI" bars)
  • birth/death rate model (which is per race, but also affected by planet type)
  • the spread of racial minorities
  • the bouncing around of how attitude adjustments over time go
  • pirates
  • semi-randomized "events" that happen to planets and space installations (weighted based on the situation at each place)
  • semi-randomized racial actions that races take, again based on circumstances but with some randomization thrown in.
And lastly, of course, things change based on your influence as a player.  How you choose to influence the complex situation you are thrown into, and what ramifications that feeds back in to all of the many subsystems mentioned above (and some others I've forgotten about, I'm sure.

How You Go About Dealing With All This
Basically, the above sounds like it could get prohibitively complex, right?  I mean, this is definitely our largest and most complex game ever at this point, design-wise.

Where you as the player come in is that you look at the situation, and you decide what you want to change, and then you see what happens when you do.  Here's how an early game might play out:

1. Okay, so the Evucks stink this game, and the Burlusts are awesome.  The Burlusts are close to being spacefaring, but are not yet.  You can smuggle them that tech and they will like you a lot, but the Evucks (which, let's say, was the first spacefaring race) will like you a lot less.  So you smuggle the Burlusts their tech early, and suddenly they like you a lot more.  The Evucks like you even less -- in fact, they hate you more than anyone else in the solar system does, but that's okay because it is still early going.

2. All right, now let's ignore the other races because they are not yet spacefaring.  Let's instead run some contracts for the Burlusts, killing some pirates and helping them improve infrastructure, etc.  We'll bribe and blackmail away until we get a warlord that really likes us, and we'll use that to get favorable political deals out of them.  Such as preventing them from going on a war of conquest with the Evucks, which would be really dangerous.  We don't want our Burlusts being sent Plumping Tubers or something.

3. Now the Burlusts are doing really swell, and our own little mercenary fleet is getting pretty sizeable and strong under their umbrella.  We are peas in a pod, and thanks to my influence they aren't murdering anyone yet.

4. Now the Peltians become spacefaring, purely by the chance that they were on a really good planet for them, and were third-closest to the Evucks from the start.  Okay, they really stink right now, but I want to get this federation up and going sooner than later, I've decided for this game.  I could play long ball and let things go, but I don't want the Burlusts to get any more hostile and I don't want to have to keep spending BP to pacify them, either.

5. All righty, so time to go visit the Peltians and run a bunch of contracts for them.  Voting proxies in hand, I'm able to really help their economy and get them constructing a ton of buildings and techs, and now they are doing pretty decent.  I can't set up trade with them and the Burlusts, because the Burlusts aren't willing to trade.  But I can set up trade between the Peltians and the Evucks, and that makes them like each other better, even though the Evucks hate me.  Having the a race that is friendly to me also be friendly with the Evucks might be useful, so let's do it.

6. Okay, so now it's time for me to start bargaining personally for hull tech and fleet tech off the Burlusts, and I then start gifting that to the Evucks.  Suddenly they are just as powerful as the Burlusts militarily (in space, anyway), although their fleet is smaller.  They are loving me for all these big goodies that I'm giving them.  Meanwhile the Skylaxians become spacefaring.  I'll deal with them later, right now they mistrust me but won't bother me.  Let's see what they can do on their own, and just make sure war doesn't break out.

7. All right, I finally have enough goodwill with both the Burlusts and the Peltians that I can convince them to form the federation.  They sign the papers, and then boom -- alliance!  The federation has formed.  I'm off to a roaring start; this is the zerg rush of federation formation, heh.

8. Now, however, I start having to deal with Anti-Federation Alliance sentiment.  That's building rapidly on the Evucks homeworld, and in a very minor way with the Skylaxians.  The Thoraxians just became spacefaring, and are looking hungrily at the rest of us.  But they have some teching up to do before they are a true threat.

Now what?  The game goes on from here, we're just getting started even though we did get the federation up and going quickly.  That may or may not turn out to be a good thing in the end.  It did get the Burlusts on our side (and, well, the Peltians for what that is worth), but it's putting us in a worse and worse state with the Evucks.

From here I might:

- Try to get the federation, or even non-federation races, to quickly kill the evucks and take their planet before they blow it up or infect us with some horrible disease or whatever.  That's going to piss off the Skylaxians and the Andors, though.

- Make nice with the Skylaxians, and broker good deals behind the scenes with them and the Evucks.  Then try to get the Skylaxians into the Federation, and then use them to backdoor in the Evucks.  Doesn't matter how much the Evucks hate me.  But if I take the time to do this, the Thoraxians are likely going to sweep a few other planets and suddenly be really a big threat.  Whether or not they'll have time to get up a Protectorate or Fear Empire remains to be seen, but we might wind up with a divided solar system that then has to be repaired.

And so forth.  There are a lot of other options, too, from a grand-strategic perspective.  And how to achieve the grand strategic goals involves a lot of more subtle smaller choices, such as which political deals to take and which contracts to take.  And then inside that, there are tactical decisions in each battle, and the personal fleet composition choices, which play both into what kinds of contracts I can expect to survive, and so forth.

Meanwhile, there are all sorts of other factors banging around in the simulation, as noted above, and the situation very possibly is going to change drastically before I finish getting through with either of the two options above.  At that point, I have to kind of sit back and think of what to do to deal with whatever fresh situations have come up.

That's a portrait of how things would play out in one hypothetical starting scenario!


SpaceEnthusiast said...

This is going to be awesome. Sounds very Mountain Bladey in space.

How far along is this game in terms of an initial release?

Christopher M. Park said...

We're looking at mid-feb for the release!

Bear in mind that this is 2dand a strategy game -- I think the comparisons to mount and blade (which I've not played but have seen) are likely to lead to disappointment. We'll be showing videos starting probably in mid January, which should help clarify what the game actually is, since it's so unusual that there's not a lot I can compare it to.

But we're extreme excited about it also! :D

SpaceEnthusiast said...

I was more referring to the premise of being an independent agent among AI factions.

M&B is similar(if more simplistic) to what you describe. Background politics, war, etc.

Christopher M. Park said...

Ah, ok! Sounds awesome then. :)