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Elemental: Citybuilding

What we're shooting for and why.

By on February 18, 2010 2:31:39 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

AnthonySalter

Join Date 10/2009
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Hi!  I'm Viridian, also known as Anthony Salter, and I just finished a major revamp of the citybuilding system.  I'd like to talk today about our design goals for citybuilding and how the system currently works.

First, let's look at how our major inspirations, Civilization and Master of Magic, handled cities.  In both games, cities were fairly abstract.  They consisted of a single icon on the map and a screen full of sprites and numbers.



And you would end up with dozens of the things as the game progressed; to the point where you'd probably end up ignoring some because they were too small or unproductive to help you win the game.  (Didn't prevent them from falling into civil disorder and bringing your whole empire to a grinding halt...grr...)

 

As strategy games developed, a genre of incredibly detailed citybuilding games emerged, including the Caesar series, the Settlers series, and the Anno series.

 

 

In these games, everything is simulated practically down to the atomic level.  These are the kinds of games where you need to mine ore to make tools to cut down trees to gather lumber to take to the sawmill to make planks to build new buildings.

Now, there's no doubt this can be fun.  I've enjoyed both the Settlers and the Anno series of games myself.  The only problem is that citybuilding, while important, isn't the only thing you do in Elemental, and thus we can't allow it to dominate the game the way it does in Anno-style games.  (I can hear certain people weeping on the forums already but it's true.)  So what we've tried to do is create a happy medium.

I've spent all this time telling you how citybuilding won't work; it might be a good idea to tell you how it will.

What exactly did we want when we set out to create our citybuilding system?

Well, first, we didn't want city spam.  Thus, we created a system where building a smaller number of larger, older cities is rewarded.

As you probably know, Sovereigns can create cities, thus creating a town hub.  There are five levels a hub can go through - they start as outposts, then upgrade to hamlets, villages, towns, and cities.  At each upgrade point you'll get eight new tiles to build improvements on - and your city will be able to support more efficient improvements that it couldn't before.

Another feature of cities is that they are (mostly) auto-upgrading.  If you expand your city to a village and you have the Housing technology researched, then all your huts will upgrade to houses - instantly, and for free.  Your city needs to be at the proper level and you must have the technology researched in order for this to happen.  Again, I can hear the cries of some forum-goers who think that this will negatively impact the game, but we're facing facts here.  Ninety percent of the time when we get a new housing tech we simply demolish our old houses and build new ones right where the old ones were.  Because of the hard forty-tile limit you can't just throw more out there - non-optimal improvements will literally be a detriment to your city.

Indeed, crafting a good city is going to be a continual series of trade-offs rather than a forever-growing list of improvements.  And as the city grows and the game progresses, you will find yourself continually repurposing your cities rather than building new ones.

An early city in Elemental.

 

Our goal is to strike a balance, so that we aren't overwhelming the player with city management, but we still provide a robust enough experience that you don't just think of your city as numbers and sprites.  When someone attacks your city and your little people start running around screaming, we want you thinking, "Hey!  Stop picking on them!  How 'bout a little FIRE, Scarecrow?!"

 

EDIT:  I originally stated that Sovereigns needed to expend essence to create cities.  This is incorrect; they expend essence to bring the land back to life so the city can be built.  I have fixed the error in the article.

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February 18, 2010 2:45:16 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Let's talk about the importance of cities: no cities = no game. So I think it's fair (I said fair, not any other word) to complain if other parts of the game gets more love/attention. And I'm not talking about a hybrid of The Sims meets Sim City 2000 meets Civlization IV meets... This is a TBS (with RPG elements) and not a city builder after all.

Just saying. In the end, all that matters is to have fun with what we get. And autoimproving cities sounds good.

 

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February 18, 2010 2:53:51 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

will towns, citys........ have defences? like highwalls? Turets? if so. how will that play into city planiing? How will it efect battles?

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February 18, 2010 2:57:05 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

A question : An hamlet upgrades to a village, but I don't have better tech for my houses. If I research a better housing tech AFTER the ciuty upgrade, will it automatically improve ? Or do I have to carefully plan those free upgrades ?

 

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February 18, 2010 3:02:13 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

What's the big shiny thing with the bolt of raw magical energy shooting up into the sky?  I want me one of those!

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February 18, 2010 3:02:18 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

GhostKingGeorge:  Right now you can research and then built better city walls, which will give units in your city defensive bonuses in combat (we're still working out the details).  I don't think we're planning on turrets.

 

vieuxchat:  No, the upgrade will be triggered by either the city levelling up or you researching the correct improvement.  So you don't have to worry; it'll upgrade either way.

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February 18, 2010 3:02:35 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Spending essence to create a city, just sounds wierd, spending essence to purify water in a area, thus making it habitable for you rase, sounds, to me, better

I like the approach to this kind of city making, but i think that auto upgrading should be made as a toggle, and that the upgrade should take time.

I am really looking foreward to beta 2

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February 18, 2010 3:04:25 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Well, first, we didn't want city spam. Thus, we created a system where building a smaller number of larger, older cities is rewarded.

Indeed, crafting a good city is going to be a continual series of trade-offs rather than a forever-growing list of improvements.

Those are two great starts.  I'm tired of games where "every city has every improvement," and I'm equally tired of city spam.  Both of those problems just turn city management into a bloated, tedious, generic mess.

 

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February 18, 2010 3:06:02 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Quoting MTCason,
What's the big shiny thing with the bolt of raw magical energy shooting up into the sky?  I want me one of those!

It's a magic shard. Looks like a fire-shard to be specific.

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February 18, 2010 3:07:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Lots of info this week!

I'm curious though, what is the strategy to stop city spam? In the last beta we got, you could still wind up with a huge amount of cities because resources only work if a city is in range. i know I wound up creating more cities then I actually wanted to just to harvest everything, then to put a city here, and there, etc.

 

So, what is the plan to stop city spam?

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February 18, 2010 3:07:47 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Does this mean there wont be locations on the map where you would want to build a town in order to get rare goods? EX: building a town next to alot of furtle land. or a mine, or ocean/lake/river, forest, barial grownds, swamp......exetra to get a bounes to resorces? I guess im saying how does location play into the stradigy of building multiple town?

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February 18, 2010 3:15:46 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

That outpost, hamlet, village, town sounds so much like Civ IV... Speaking of which, Civilization V was announced today and is planned for this fall... ouch for Elemental. :/

On the bright side, what they are planning to do with Civ V sounds horrible.

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February 18, 2010 3:18:10 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting tamides,
Spending essence to create a city, just sounds wierd, spending essence to purify water in a area, thus making it habitable for you rase, sounds, to me, better

I like the approach to this kind of city making, but i think that auto upgrading should be made as a toggle, and that the upgrade should take time.

I am really looking foreward to beta 2

 

To be honest, I had thought that was the way to think of the sovereign spending essence for cities.  Basically it was to improve the conditions of the land to make it favorable for habitation.  Kind of like purifying the "tainted" land, or something like that.  I could be wrong in looking at it that way.

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February 18, 2010 3:21:32 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Cauldyth,


Those are two great starts.  I'm tired of games where "every city has every improvement," and I'm equally tired of city spam.  Both of those problems just turn city management into a bloated, tedious, generic mess.

 

 

I totally agree, end game of a Civ or Total War game is just so tedious as you struggle to remember which city needs to upgrade next or whatever, kinda crazy.  I'm glad there is some specialization that'll take place.

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February 18, 2010 3:24:11 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The plan is that improvements become much more effective at higher levels (we're still hashing out how effective) so doing something like building a level 1 city and surrounding it with eight schools in order to try to rush your research will be a bad idea.  That city will never upgrade because it doesn't have the food and housing necessary to, and will be easily outstripped by a level 2 city with two colleges (for instance).  We are also putting a cap on the number of certain improvements you can build per city, and that cap goes up as the city levels up.

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February 18, 2010 3:30:52 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Out of topic but... Stardock badge? Not that I doubt you but I find myself curious by the lack of it.

Will the minimum space between cities increase too? And some extra info about why the Sovereign  is the only one who can create new cities even in terrain that is already imbued and of his type?

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February 18, 2010 3:34:23 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Damn, you heard me cry before I even knew I was going to! Can I have your time machine?

And will there be enough variety in buildings, and/or maybe other city features, that all of our full-grown cities won't be just variations on a theme? One of the things that I think add the most life to fantasy worlds is the uniqueness of many of their larger cities, even within nations.

I've been worried about this ever since you guys reneged on your initial resource system, which would have allowed for a great deal of uniqueness to arise quite naturally, in favor of a system with much less potential in that regard.

I must say, though, I am happy with the auto-upgrade of buildings so long as the city quality and research requirements have been met. I think it'll be a big time/annoyance saver without giving up very much in return, especially because your cities that don't meet the quality requirement will remain unupgraded. That said, though, might it be possible to manually upgrade buildings even in smaller towns, for a cost? So long as the cost is prohibitive enough to dissuade people from upgrading just because they can, it would provide us with quite a lot of strategic leeway.

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February 18, 2010 3:34:53 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

This all sounds very good. Like the voice of reason actually. 

But now we know more about how citybuilding shouldn't be than how it will be ...

What happens when you attack a city? I LOVE crazy battles where you have to break through the city walls and even better: its magical defenses. Please DO include turrets, mundane and magical, sniping at the enemy.

How is a city impacted by the tile it is built on? defense bonuses? (I sure hope so). More/less food ... By the tiles around it?

What about the population race. One thing which was kind of cool in AoW was that when you took over a goblin city it did not just turn into a human city. You actually had to stay with an occupying army there so they wouldn't revolt, and then you had the option to start importing your own race until it reached an acceptable level. Will we get anything along these lines??

For me the uniqueness of a city is very important to remember it and really care about it. And this I think is linked to where it is situated on the map as far as this has an important impact on the game. Furtermore, it would be cool if you get some kind of bonuses if you manage to build specialised cities instead of building "the best" and same buildings (baracks ...) in all of them equally spread out. In this way you would have benefits from building a centre of learning for example, or a real fortress. I will never forget a city I built in CivIV between several mountains, guarding a mountain pass and very difficult to take. What made it rememberable was that it was really part of the mountains. Cities need to be influenced by the nature and environment (hostile border zone etc) around them in order to end up rememberable.

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February 18, 2010 3:36:28 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

More resources and more city building options are always a great thing.  For me, it makes a more immersive game.  Just provide the ability to auto-manage for those who don't like/prefer that sort of thing.

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February 18, 2010 3:41:08 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Auto upgrade?  so no flowing cities where the balance of rich and poor is different? At least when cities were just one tile we had room to let our imagination do the work.... I don't mean to sound like a stick the mud, I really don't, because I want this game to be the greatest. I just don't see why if there's focus being given to Citybuilding, why isn't directed towards making it more engaging and immersive? From what I read above it sounds incredibly gamey, especially the way this was phrased:

...then all your huts will upgrade to houses - instantly, and for free.

So basically every serf in the village immediately and for no apparent reason just got wealthy and decided they needed a bigger house...

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February 18, 2010 3:41:17 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

That is a fire shard.  And yes, you do.

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February 18, 2010 3:44:49 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting AnthonySalter,
GhostKingGeorge:  Right now you can research and then built better city walls, which will give units in your city defensive bonuses in combat (we're still working out the details).  I don't think we're planning on turrets.

 

vieuxchat:  No, the upgrade will be triggered by either the city levelling up or you researching the correct improvement.  So you don't have to worry; it'll upgrade either way.

So what about different kind of housing ? Between a house with more room  or a house with more influence gained, how the computer will choose ?

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February 18, 2010 3:45:15 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting RisingLegend,
So basically every serf in the village immediately and for no apparent reason just got wealthy and decided they needed a bigger house...

A Sovereign did it!

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February 18, 2010 3:45:25 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Admiral100,

Quoting tamides, reply 6Spending essence to create a city, just sounds wierd, spending essence to purify water in a area, thus making it habitable for you rase, sounds, to me, better

I like the approach to this kind of city making, but i think that auto upgrading should be made as a toggle, and that the upgrade should take time.

I am really looking foreward to beta 2
 

To be honest, I had thought that was the way to think of the sovereign spending essence for cities.  Basically it was to improve the conditions of the land to make it favorable for habitation.  Kind of like purifying the "tainted" land, or something like that.  I could be wrong in looking at it that way.

Me too

 

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February 18, 2010 3:48:38 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Wintersong,
Out of topic but... Stardock badge? Not that I doubt you but I find myself curious by the lack of it.

Will the minimum space between cities increase too? And some extra info about why the Sovereign  is the only one who can create new cities even in terrain that is already imbued and of his type?

Haha.  I can vouch for Anthony that he is an official Stardock developer on the Elemental team.  I don't think he's used the forum very much yet and this is his first journal, so we still need to set him up with a badge. 

 

 

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February 18, 2010 3:50:37 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

And will there be enough variety in buildings, and/or maybe other city features, that all of our full-grown cities won't be just variations on a theme?

The current system has the 5 tiers of 'main' building types (Houses, Mundane Research, Arcane Research, Economy, Training), resource harvesting buildings, then countless other 1-time 'special' buildings (1 per Faction or 1 per World) to make each city as unique as possible.

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