The blueprint system – Fixing the micromanagement problem

Every single 4X game has the same basic flaw — as the game progresses, the micromanagement that was fun gameplay at the start becomes a bother later in the game when colony numbers scale up. Building up one colony is fun, but building up dozens that are all at different stages of development is irritating. When you’re busy sending ships all over the galaxy and playing the political endgame, there’s usually no time for colonisation or to direct conquered worlds. The only game to solve this issue was perhaps Master of Orion III, and it only did so by putting an AI in control and making the game essentially play itself. That’s not a solution, it’s a disaster.

I propose a simple, elegant solution to the colony micromanagement problem that should let people continue colonisation well into the endgame, but without taking direct control away from the user.

The blueprint system:

Each planet will have one capitol colony from which everything is managed. This is where the important buildings like factories, defensive structures and research labs will be built. The capitol colony’s buildings will be arranged on a grid, and when you’re managing the colony down at this level you’ll be able to place buildings into a build queue by putting them on the grid.  The arrangement of buildings on a grid, and the order in which to build them, can be saved as a blueprint. New colonies can then be built using this blueprint, and they’ll automatically build all the recorded buildings in the specified order. A mock-up of a colony is below:

The clever part is that the blueprints will be updatable; Add a new building to the blueprint and all colonies using that blueprint will start producing it. So if you’ve just researched a new building and want it on every production planet, you can just edit the blueprint and add it. The area marked out by blue squares in the image above (including the ones currently occupied by red and green ones) is reserved for the colony’s blueprint, so you can’t manually place buildings there.

The squares around the outside that aren’t part of a blueprint can be built on manually, allowing customisation of a colony even though it’s following a blueprint. For example, you might have a “production colony” blueprint, and if your planet is close to enemy territory you might want to use the squares around the edges for defensive buildings like turrets or shipyards. If your planet has more mines than usual (if it’s mineral rich), you could build extra factories in these squares too. Blueprints could also contain population percentages assigned to particular jobs, spending decisions, and anything else a colony might need.

Maintaining control

This system solves the micromanagement problem by turning dozens of repetitive colony management actions into one single action and then propagating that decision across your empire. But because every action done to a blueprint is manually chosen by the user, he is still in direct control of every decision. There’s no AI calling the shots, blueprints are literally just a productivity tool to make control of an expanding empire much simpler. It’s also a completely optional system, I intend to let people play the game without ever using the feature, but I don’t really see a down-side to using it.

About Brendan Drain

Director @ Brain and Nerd
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