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Forum Game The problem with stellaris MP


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I'll split this up into 3 parts called: The Platform ; The Problem ; The Proposal

The Platform - Stellaris as a game
Stellaris is a deceptively complicated game. In truth, it is just a GUI over a spreadsheet, passed thru an RNG generator and spread over a rock-paper-scissor gameplay. This is an excellent platform for endless hours of fun... as long as it is set in the right frame. Put in the wrong frame, it is just... awful. In some ways, it'll be worse than singleplayer. Why?
Because it's just a platform.

Stellaris has no "objectives" and "plans" and "missions" or any other mechanic meant to steer the player than any other PDOX game.

In EU4 you have missions, edicts (or whatever those things are called which let u turn from one tag to another) and victory cards to help steer the player and, thru these simple mechanics, generate intrigue and gameplay stories.
In Vicky2 you had those edicts/national goals, you had population of your nationality to integrate to steer your path to conquest and certain mechanics like tension (flashpoints) which lead to crisis which lead to great war and can make and break alliances.

Stellaris has none of those. Acumulate planets (planets = pops), accumulate chokepoints and, in lategame, accumulate megastructures are just the equivalent of "get more provinces" in the other pdox games.

If you want compelling, interesting stories and scenarios, the player must provide those. In SP, the player is just 1 / X many empires and all those empires have their own personalities and you stand out like a sore. "The Imperium Of Man" themed from 40k stands next to "Yl'Khahan Combine" or "Cevelli Tranquil Mandate" (literally had to boot up the game to go to random generate them coz I couldn't think of them) or some shit that nobody remembers. That's why nobody remembers the names of nations in Stellaris.

This is what the Stellaris Platform is. Now playing on such a platform can be fun, but I have been trying to make the Proposal that the most amount of fun you can have on such a platform is thematic. Think of it as costume parties just with less alcohol and no girls. :p ; The platform is blank slate on which you "paint", not in the colors of the empire you play as, but with the theme of the game. I'll get more into this on part 3, The Proposal.


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The Problem - Stellaris is as deep as the shallow end of the pool + Opportunism in players = Disaster

This will probably be the largest segment of the conversation because the problem basically pertains to us, the players. We all want to win and it's fine. We're all winners here. You're all champions. Now lets discuss the problem this causes.

This is a community built around wc3, coh and other such strategy games where the agency of a player to declare war or peace is taken away from him. You start off in a certain alliance and unless some gimmick allows you to switch sides, you can't. You're locked in. Not only that, but because of that, those games, which are still a GUI over a spreadsheet, take away some of the RNGness and some of the rock-paper-scissory stuff and give you clear objectives and clear missions. It pitches people in clear, structured battles that can lead to chaotic and interesting results.

Stellaris is NOT that. So I think we need to "learn" how to play such games better because it is a lot more unstructured than even the other Pdox games played by this community.

The problem with this is that alliances and wars of convenience and opportunity will always trump roleplay/gameplay/logical actions. Why? because you can make them and the game doesn't say "no".

So lets analyze the scenario of yesterday as a means to display or capture the essence of what I said above.
Me and Ogerman made a federation. We were both martial so we made a martial alliance. And I was a communist. And Gamon was everything I hate in the world. A fucking capitalist megacorp who also opposed the workers' liberation. And a necrofag on top that literally "eats the poor" when it should be the other way around. And he made a federation with a fucking hive mind that cannot trade and doesn't understand the concepts of capitalism coz they're stupid bugs.

This is offensive for the purpose of narrative because there were so many steps they could take BEFORE making a federation.
Pona could have guaranteed Gamon in exchange for a large sum of money. Or someone else could have done that
Pona could have entered a mutual self-defense pact with Gamon (still pretty opportunistic and makes no sense).
But because guarantees and mutual def alliances are a drain on influence and give less benefit in return, a federation was made because federations give bonuses. This... is the problem. Federation is the min-maxxing equivalent of diplomatic options and the concept of a federation should also be reserved for factions that have something in common. You know... LIKE COMMON GROUND.

The 2nd reason this offends me from a roleplay perspective is because when I looked at the map, I saw endless possibilities of LOGICAL fun. Me and Ogerman were sandwiched between Matthew and Pona, both HIVEMINDS. The moment I realized that I was thinking, in my head:

"This is going to be a fun mid game, with me and Ogerman holding the line against the threat of the hiveminds as they ally together. Hive minds strip the worker of his individuality and his (humanity) speciaty". Etc etc, commie roleplay noises.
That was the beautiful scenario that was playing in my head and I was anticipating to see happen. I was ecstatic for it because it ticked all the boxes. I couldn't have asked for a better gameplay scenario from the game. RNGesus delivered.

The reason why that federation happened tho was clear. It was necessary. Gamon was facing a war and he wanted allies and they both jumped at the opportunity.
It's an alliance of convenience. It's "convenient" to do and therefore, it will be done. I don't blame them. After all, there was no rule for it except the statements I made constantly that I would like a more narrative-driven/thematic game.

That offended my narrative sensibilities and ruined the game for me, at least. And then I probably ruined the game for everyone else and I'm sorry for that. But as I said, if I wanted to play a game where nothing made logical or narrative sense, I would play SP. But even there the AI has some rules to whom they will ally with.
Last game proved to me that we're worse than that, we have no hardcoded values.


So using what I talked about above as a launch pad for The Problem, you can see the big issue. The big issue is that unless we drown the community in rules about what X can do and can't do, there is no way to have an unstructured game that keeps to some narrative sense. It's just not possible because convenience and opportunity trump everything else.

I am not a fan of 1000 rules. Having 1000 rules means that you need people to learn the rules and memorize them and also judges to judge if someone is in breach of the rule or not. It also means that you need to outline punishments for violators of the rule. And let me tell you, people HATE punishments.
I am not a fan of such a method. It offends me as a programmer.

I am a fan of making a system by which you don't need that many rules even if it means that the system runs in a more structured and limiting way, as in, you limit the inputs and the processes in it to clear degrees. The outliner of such a system will be made later today or tomorrow in part 3, the Proposal.

I hope this makes sense. See you soon.


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The Proposal - A stellar systematic structure for the perfect sandbox experience

Previous use of the words "theme" or "narrative" would have triggered an association in your memory that made you either happy or sad depending on your previous real life experience. For some, it may even cringe u. But here I will detail what those words actually are meant to convey.

In real life, the best way you have to govern peoples' actions to act a certain way is thru incentives and a reward structure that works off of that.
The other means you have to govern peoples' actions is thru creating a situation by which the actors in the situation can only act a certain way to win.

A good system aims to make both those things a reality. And the "theme" of a system for us is just the flavor of the experience we could have which I think will makes things far more dynamic and enjoyable for all.

I'll illustrate this by means of examples. here are a few "themes" we could play.

Last Xeno Standing themes:
A Clockwork Contest -> As you explore the galaxy, the opponent you find clockwise of you is your rival for X years. You can only declare on that person and he on you for X years. Once those X years pass, you now have the person anti-clockwise from you as your rival which you can only attack. A person cannot have more than one rival at a time, so if you meet clockwise someone who already has a rival because he met his clockwise enemy first, you then will be rival of the person anti-clockwise from you.

Team Based themes:
Gestalt Gangs -> 2 equal sized teams, one of hiveminds, one of machine empires duke it out. The hives win if all machines are dead and disassembled and the machines win if all the hives are toast.

Orange Catholic Bible Belt Revolution -> 2 teams version is that one team is made up of spiritualists (needs to be to some degree spiritualists) and machine empires one the other side. The machines are DAs or RSs (better that they are all RSs really) and they want to make sure the spiritualists know that there is no god greater than the machine spirit! The theme name is from the fact that in Dune, 10k years before the events of Dune, machines "enslaved" humanity and it was a rebellion of humans with religion on their side that defeated the machines. The way humanity got enslaved is that they left more and more things to the machines until they were helpless in the face of them.

Competing Interests -> 3 teams version is that 1 team is organics who are to some degree spiritualists, one team is DAs and the other is RSs. The interests of the DAs are different than the RSs because the DAs want to make sure the organics are integrated while the Rogue Servitors want to pamper them.

This Food is Mine -> In a universe where we set primitives to a higher-than-normal value we have Necrofags on one side and Hivemind Ravenous Hordes/Terravores on the other side. The Necrophage Origin Necrofags want the primitives so that they turn them to be more like them, like some liberal arts brainwashing university... while the Ravenous Swarms just want to eat everything. Now dead things taste bad but what can you, food is food.

So you can see that I put a lot more Team Based themes in here because I think those will come more natural to us rather than the FFA one. Now I know reading it out doesn't seem like much of a system, but it is more than what we have now because it will prevent the biggest issue we have... and that is opportunistic and convenience alliances detailed above. It does seem like it takes away some agency from players, but that's the point. We need some agency taken away from us because that's the kind of players we are.

So how would this work?
Well obviously we need a few rules regarding war and such, depending on the theme, but generally, you get the idea.
Obviously there would be a few differences on how many fallen empires and raiders are on the map, depending on the theme.
Wormhole and primitives and such are also things to tweak depending on the theme.
Hell, maybe even lane density to create more chokepoints.

So it will work like how our games work now, except that the goal for the game will be clearly defined. It's not just a sandbox where you win by being as opportunistic as you can be, you win by doing your part according to the theme we have. Because that's exactly what all the other games, like WC3, COH and the like do. And it will lead to far more interesting scenarios.

Here's a bit of idea of how to think about the FFA one with clockwork rivals. You could choose NOT to engage with your designated rival but if your next-to-be-rival did and he does eat his opponent (or gets eaten by another one) you will have a lot of trouble on your hands now as the smaller fish. It also adds time stress on you... anyway, I think it leads to far more thinking and planning and strategizing, as befitting a GRAND STRATEGY GAME than how a normal sandbox does.

Same for the team based one. say the Orange Catholic Bible Belt Revolution ; sure , some spiritualists COULD go fanatic purifiers while the machines all go rogue servitors... but then they'd be locked out of the galactic community (purifiers can't be part of the GC) and their non-purifier friends may not have the power to vote benefits their way. The resolutions in the Galactic Community favor organic empires but if the machines monopolize power there, they could turn it on them.

This is The Proposal for a better game.
Feedback welcomed. Cheers.


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Basically, what the Proposal is saying is that you people are horrible and you need rules to make you not be horrible.
COH2 in space.
AOE2 in space.

Turn Stellaris in to a classic team deathmatch with predefined teams so that you people will be less awful and be better.

Or if not a team deathmatch, into a deathmatch with clear rules.