Since our last dev update, we’ve released the Trade Routes and System UI overhaul we discussed in our last update and have fixed a truckload of crashes and bugs in other areas of the game. Anyone who’s been getting an OutOfMemoryException crash on saving the game will be happy to know that we’ve managed to solve this problem and tested it with a fully explored galaxy. The next patch will also add the highly requested sound and music volume sliders in the options panel, and we’ve added new graphical effects and race music to the New Game screen to add some much needed immersion.
The main focus of the next patch is on Diplomacy, so I wanted to take some time out to talk about our plans. Diplomacy is a huge part of any 4X game, and one that is often overlooked in favour of combat and economic mechanics, but we want it to be an important part of Predestination. Ideally, a clever player should be able to play a fully diplomatic game without ever being forced into war and combat if they don’t want to. We recently reached out to you for your feedback and ideas on Diplomacy, and in this article I’ll delve into our final design, which has been broken down into four smaller patches. Note that we may take a break between patch 2 and 3 or between patch 3 and 4 to work on other major gameplay systems.
The first patch will introduce the core gameplay systems and most of the finished user interface for diplomacy, and with any luck it will be ready within the next week or two. Once it’s released, we’ll take your feedback on it and make any necessary tweaks before moving on to the more complex features.
Diplomacy Screen / Menu: The diplomacy screen has been overhauled with new visual effects and race music, which helps give each race its own unique style and lends immersion to our stylistic 2D artwork. We’ve also added the new visual effects and music to the New Game screen so you can check them all out when selecting your race. The drop-down menu for Diplomacy will give you an overview of each of the races’ current diplomatic ties with each other, and how much each race likes you. You’ll also use this menu to contact other races, opening the diplomacy screen.
Better First Contact: The First Contact event is just a popup notification right now, but we’ll be improving this with a more Master of Orion feel by opening the diplomacy screen and showing you the race’s first greeting. The tone of your first contact will depend on who made the contact; If one of your warships entered the other race’s sensor range, for example, they may greet with you with extreme caution. Having the First Contact Policy technology will improve your first contact, and having an ambassador ship in the fleet will give you a big bonus to initial impressions.
Diplomacy AI / Favour system: The most basic form of Diplomacy AI will be able to look at your offers and decide whether they’re worth taking. We’ll also build in a Favour scale that lets you see how much a race likes you, which will go up if you offer them fair deals and could go down if you propose a poor deal (even if they begrudgingly accept it). We’ll program in a series of text responses for each race based on whether they accept your deal or not to give each race a bit of personality. The AI will also tire of repeated contact and will cut off diplomatic contact for a number of turns if you constantly badger it with offers or demands.
Core Diplomacy Options and Treaties:
- Technology / Money Trading: When you research one branch in a technology tree and the other options become locked, you can contact a race who picked a different path and negotiate a trade for their technology. You’ll also be able to offer money to sweeten the deal, or demand some money to get the most out of an agreement.
- Research Treaty: Grants both sides bonus research each turn based on the other side’s research output. The agreement will start out giving each side bonus RP of 1% of the other’s research per turn, and will grow stronger over time as your scientists develop a closer working relationship. The bonus will increase by 1% every 25 turns the agreement is in place up to a maximum of 5-10%, becoming more valuable to both sides over time.
- Trade Pact: Grants both sides money per turn based on the size of the other race’s economy. The agreement will start out giving each side a bonus money equal to 1BC per star system in the other race’s empire, and will increase over time as your people begin figuring out how to market products to the other race. The bonus will increase by 1BC per star for every 25 turns the agreement is in place, up to a maximum of 3-5BC per star, subject to later economy balancing. Star systems that you share with the other race will contribute double toward trade pact revenue.
- Non-Aggression Pact: Ships from both sides agree no longer blockade each other’s trade routes or attack each other. This will make the enemy less cautious of protecting its planets near your borders, but if you break a Non-Aggression Pact by attacking the race then you’ll incurr a diplomatic penalty and all races will remember that you’ve done it.
- Declare War / Peace Treaty: Declaring war through the diplomacy system rather than launching a surprise attack is considered good form, and will incurr no diplomatic penalty with other races. If you’re at war, you’ll also be able to request a Peace Treaty to end the conflict or a Temporary Ceasefire to stall fighting for 10 turns. Peace will be impossible to achieve within the first 10 turns of a war.
- Sensor Treaty: Both races agree to allow the other access to their sensor networks, allowing your ships to travel inside their territory and vice versa. You’ll also be able to see any ships and stellar anomalies in the other race’s space. This is equivalent to a combination of the Open Borders treaty and sharing maps in Civilization. If the treaty is cancelled then you lose your ability to see ships and anomalies in the other race’s space and all of your ships outside your sensor range will return home.
After the main diplomacy patch, we plan to release a smaller patch that adds a series of unique strategic resources to planets throughout the game. These will be harvested with existing infrastructure and will give global bonuses across your entire empire. They’ll be super rare deposits like a rare metal deposit that gives you a bonus to the armour of all new ships, a rare plasma gas that improves the speed of all of your ships, or a plant that improves intelligence and gives a bonus to research.
Some will always be found within nebulae, and others only on one or two planets of a specific type in each game. We’ve discussed this before over on the Steam forums and got some great ideas from backers, so we’re ready to hammer down this feature. This patch will also add a few new diplomacy AI features and the Diplomatic Advisor technology, and the whole patch should take no more than a week after the main diplomacy patch is released, or slightly longer if there are any bugs to fix.
- Treaty – Share Strategic Resource: As part of this patch, we’ll add the ability to offer access to each of your strategic resources as part of a diplomatic deal so that both your empire and the other race’s will get the bonus. If you play a very diplomatic game, these agreements will add a lot of value to your offers and act as a strong deterrant to war as they’d lose the advantage. If you’re not playing diplomatically, holding strategic resources could attract war because the enemy will want to conquer the planets with them.
- Treaty – Military Alliance: Signing a Military Alliance agreement with another race is committing to join them in any wars. If war is declared on you, your allies will declare war on the aggressor. If war is declared on your ally, they may contact you to demand you join their war or risk losing the alliance. Other races will consider the threat posed by your allies when deciding whether to declare war or attack, so having an ally with a strong fleet can prove to be a strong deterrant to war. This will let diplomatic players potentially avoid war altogether by playing the AI against each other, allowing them to maintain smaller fleets or use their ships for non-military purposes.
- Technology – Diplomatic Advisor: Sometimes you’ll want to estimate whether the deal you’re offering is likely to be accepted or even cause offence to the other race. If you have the Diplomatic Advisor technology, you’ll be able to click on the Diplomatic Avisor button on the Diplomacy Screen to get some insight into how your offer might be received. Races with better diplomatic skills will have more accurate predictions.
- Feature – Leader Types: When you start a new game, each AI race will be randomly assigned a leader who will have his own name and can be a Diplomat/Citizen, Scientist/Engineer, or Soldier/Pilot. When you contact a race in diplomacy, you’ll see the Scientist or Soldier character if that’s what type of leader they have, rather than always seeing the Diplomat. The type of leader a race has will affect how it values the various treaty types and trade options. This also opens up the options of random events such as a political coup that changes leaders.
- Feature – Counter Offers: Before this patch, the AI will just accept or reject your offers. With this patch, we’ll give it the ability to sometimes pitch a counter-offer if your offer is almost acceptable. The AI will add technologies and money to the deal to make it acceptable to them, and if you accept then the deal goes ahead. You can modify the deal again yourself, but there’s no guarantee that the AI will accept.
Some of the best games of Master of Orion II or Civilization IV I’ve had were those in which I pulled the strings in the background and pitted the other races against each other. To that end, this patch will add several Coercion and Threat options that you can use to manipulate the other races:
- Coercion – Declare War on Race: Demand that the other race declares war on another race they’ve encountered. The diplomacy AI will consider the value of any agreements it will lose with that race and the chances of success in war to determine whether this is a good idea, and you’ll have to offer something of considerable value to convince them to do this. The war will last a minimum of 10 turns, and after that either side may decide to request peace.
- Coercion – Break Treaty with Race: Demand that the other race breaks a specific treaty they have with another race. You won’t know the details of any of these treaties, but will know if they have a trade agreement, research treaty, non-aggression pact or alliance. Again, the AI will consider the value of the lost treaties and you’d have to offer something considerable to convince them to do this. The treaty can’t be re-established for a minimum of 25 turns, and breaking the treaty may harm the race’s reputation anyway.
- Coercion – Make Peace with Race: If the race you contacted is at war, you can demand that they make peace with their enemy. If they accept, the war ends the next turn.
- Coercion – Claim Star System: Use this option to formally declare that you have a claim over any uninhabited star system that falls within both races’ sensor range. If the other race agrees to your claim, it will not send any survey ships or colony ships to that star system and any that are already on their way will return home. This can be done only on uninhabited star systems.
Not all diplomacy is the touchy-feely war-is-evil kind, so there may be circumstances when you want to use your military might or existing connections to put political pressure on another race. The Threaten system allows you to do just that, by threatening to take some detrimental course of action if the deal currently on the table is not accepted. Threats will add a positive score to the diplomatic negotiation and so make the other side more willing to accept a poor deal, but the enemy could refuse and call your bluff. It’s then up to you to follow through on the threat, as the enemy will remember whether you do and will take threats more or less seriously in the future as a result.
- Threaten to Declare War: You threaten to cancel all existing treaties and declare war on the other race if they don’t accept the deal on the table. The diplomacy AI will weigh up the value of the lost treaties and its chances in a war against yours and figure out if it’s worth the risk. This threat could backfire if you’re bluffing, as the other race could declare war themselves in response.
- Threaten to Cancel Treaty: You threaten to cancel a specific treaty with the opposing race. As most treaties benefit both sides, the value of the threat will be assessed based on the relative difference in benefit the treaty gives both sides. For example, if you threaten to cancel a research treaty that is actually benefiting you more than the other race, it will actually harm the odds of your deal being accepted rather than improve them.
- Threaten to Remove Access to Strategic Resource: You threaten to remove access to one of your strategic resources. This is a pretty universally good threat as these deals offer benefit only to the opposing race, but they could always call your bluff and then you may have to take the diplomatic hit of cancelling such a treaty.
Feature – War AI: Up until this patch, the AI will declare war and send ships to defend its systems but won’t actually attack its enemies. In this patch, we’ll give the AI the ability to spot an opening and send ships to attack its enemies. The AI will also bomb planets and drop troops.
In order to make diplomacy as realistic as possible, this patch will implement a memory system into the diplomacy AI that will remember your actions and influence future dealings. Each race will have its own separate memory of its dealings with you, and there will also be a global memory for events of significant importance that all races will take into account. To avoid some of the AI memory problems that we’ve found in Civilization, the impact of each remembered event will reduce slowly over time. Examples of what will be stored in the diplomacy AI’s memory include:
- The number of times you accepted and then violated another race’s star system claim.
- The number of your spies who are caught on another race’s planets (once we implement spying).
- The number of coercions and threats you’ve made against a race.
- A list of all of the treaties you’ve cancelled with a race in the past, and how old each treaty was.
- The number of times you attacked a race’s fleets and planets.
- The number of deals you’ve honoured in the long-term (i.e. active treaties over 25 turns old, with bonuses every 25 turns).
- The number of threats you followed through on, and those you welched out on.
- The number of times you used a superweapon or biological weapon.
- Years of continuous peace
Diplomacy AI personalities: Each race will given a list of its priorities in diplomatic negotiations that tweak how it values each diplomacy option. The Kazzir might value technologies and research treaties more highly, for example, or the Renegades may really like Trade Pacts. The Sauros may respect military might, and the Z’loq could aggressively claim good planets and reject other races’ claims. This will combine with the priorities of the three Leader types, so a scientific Z’loq empire will still act like the Z’loq but with slightly different priorities.
Spontaneous Diplomacy: Up until this patch, the AI will respond to your attempts for contact but won’t spontaneously formulate its own offers and demands. This patch will add the ability of the AI to periodically check for advantageous deals it could make with other races and initiate diplomacy with you or another AI itself. You’ll be able to accept the offer, or modify it and propose a different offer.
While discussing diplomacy with our backers and in the office, we came across a ton of great ideas that we want to do before release to make diplomacy the best it can be. These ideas will require a fair bit of development time and will require more of the core game mechanics to be implemented, so they’ll have to wait for a later patch. I’d like to stress that while we can’t promise a timeline on each of these features, we do want to implement them before launch:
- Coercion – Mediate Peace Treaty: If the race you contacted is at war and you demand that they make peace with their enemy, it should be possible for the enemy to say no. When we implement this feature, you’d only be assured of a demanded peace if you contact the strongest military power of the two warring races. If they’re not the strongest military power, you could alternatively offer to Mediate a Peace Treaty with their enemy. This would give you 10 turns to contact the enemy and convince them to ask for peace, at which point you’d get a major diplomatic bonus with the race. This option will be a little complicated to implement and isn’t essential to the core gameplay, but we’d like to add it before launch.
- Coercion – Slander Race: This is an experimental idea that we’d like to implement just to add flavour to the diplomacy system. It would provide options to slander one race when in diplomatic contact with another, giving a small diplomatic bonus with your current contact but a small penalty with the race you slandered. When we implement spying, we may also make it so that you spies can sometimes uncover secrets about an enemy that you can then expose using the Slander system for a much greater effect. This isn’t necessary for the core gameplay, but we will add at least the basic version of this before release.
- Trade – Inter-race trade routes: We’d eventually like to expand on the Trade Pact idea by letting players actually set up trade routes with other races. When you set up a trade pact with another race, you’d then be able to propose a maximum trade limit of food, metal, and energy per turn using three separate sliders. This would be the maximum limit of the resources you can take from the other race’s planets via trade routes, and if you want to increase it then you’ll need to call up your trading buddy and re-negotiate the deal by changing the sliders. Each slider could be left at 0 to disable trading of that resource, dragged to the left to offer your resources to the other race, or dragged to the right to request resources from them. I really want to put this feature into the game, but when we started fleshing it out it became clear that it would take a lot more manhours to implement than we initially thought. This feature will need us to have written a complex AI routine to handle the AI creating its own trade routes, and there are a lot of edge cases to consider that could introduce new bugs as we develop further gameplay. We will definitely need to revisit this feature closer to release.
Thanks for checking out this month’s dev update, and as always we really appreciate any feedback or ideas you would like to share with us. If you’re a $20 backer or above and would like a Steam key for the Early Access, please mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the email address you used to pre-order or on Kickstarter and we’ll send you one. I’d also like to let people know that Tina and I will be at Gamescom next month to show Predestination to some press and other businesses, so we might see you there if you’ll be attending!
— Brendan Drain, Lead Developer