I'm going to go off on a rant again...
The thing that continues to bother me r.e. Elemental is that it is becoming more like the other 4x games out there, as the things that make it unique and interesting are removed, one by one. Examples:
The GalCiv series (up to GC2:TOA) allowed planets to build ships and infrastructure at the same time. Most other 4x space games do not do this. This makes GalCiv unique, and ALSO allows the AI to be more robust. If the AI doesn't have to 'decide' between guns and butter, then the AI coders can focus more on other, more important things (tech trees, which buildings to build, combat strategy, diplomacy, etc.), and if the AI gets that decision 'wrong' (guns vs butter), well that's an area that players can exploit. By removing that decision step, the AI benefits as a whole. Plus, it just makes sense that something as large as a PLANET can do two things at once. Same for cities. I may pass on GalCiv III for this very reason (it appears that 'one thing at a time' is the new mantra).
Simplification of unit design. While Derek may not understand exactly what encumberance brought to the table r.e. giving players tough design decisions, this is one thing that a few others recently brouht up in the 'things I like least about E:LH'. Intricate nuanced decisions in unit design are things that a lot of the more seasoned 4x players like. Oversimplification I expect from other franchises, but with the bar that GalCiv2 set, I expect more nuanced decisions in Elemental.
A good example of this is the 'focus sliders'. GC2 allows you to concentrate on research, buildings, or military, via the 'domestic' interface, as well as 1% increments for overall production (ties into happiness). Elemental missed the boat on this, and although it does have tax and 'production' increments, these are not as 'fine tuned' as they were in GC2. Focus sliders are a great way to simulate a planet or city's 'focus' on one aspect over another, and I'd LOVE to see them in Elemental. I.E. all cities produce research, infrastructure production, and military units simultaneously, but the RATIO of resources allocated to each is tweakable. You can still 'zero out' military in favor of infrastructure, etc., but with sliders the 'diminishing returns' concept of such focusing can be handled under the dashboard/in the background.
The latest trend seems to be going to hexes, 'cuz they are the latest cool thing' (that many of us older gamers were gaming on decades ago btw). Hexes have NO PLACE in Elemental, especially in city design. When is the last time you saw a city laid out in a hexagonal pattern? Cities have blocks for a reason!
Also, city design in Elemental continues to be simplified. Call me a crazy micromanager, but I LIKED having to build housing for my population. One more thing to worry about. Not much to worry about these days in city design...
I don't mind squares on the strategic map either. There are other ways to handle 'kitty corner' diagonal movement than hex grids, if you feel that is something that is being abused, via move costs and such.
Recently, Brad posted to the effect that 'powerful magic is hard to balance for in a 4x game'. I guess I see this differently. If powerful spellcasters can obliterate a number of units at a single stroke, that is fine, as long as the other side can do the same. Sure, this shifts the focus to spell users, but I don't see that as a bad thing. HOW you balance that is by restricting how much mana a spellcaster has at his disposal for such things. Individual mana pools (properly balanced) do this nicely. Sure you can cast that mega fireball that affects 25 squares in tactical combat, but if it costs ALL of your mana, and said mana pool takes tens of turns to replenish, well you won't be able to do that that each battle, especially if you are in the middle of a multi-turn war.
The thing about global mana is that it overly simplifies spellcasting, and makes the most powerful spells that much easier to cast, and decreases the intervals between said castings. Hence why I've opposed global mana from day one. It seems 'lazy' to me, and shifts the focus away from Sovs/individual powerful champions in the process.
On that note, powerful spellcasters that are limited in number work best when 'regular' units and such can be produced in larger numbers. I.E. more 'cannon fodder' for the fireball spells. Players will need to become 'less attached' to individual units in this environment, but if they can produce 10 'royal guard archer units' instead of say just 2, well then they can see those units perform on a larger scale/in a more epic environment. This also applies to cities. Summoning a volcano in the middle of an empire with only 3 cities will be devastating. If that empire has 10 cities, well it won't be as crippling (9 other cities to fall back on). As long as said volcano can only be invoked once over a larger span of turns (i.e. only your most powerful spellcasters can do it, and it eats up most/all of his mana in the process, hence you have to wait tens or even hundreds of turns between volcano spells), this can be balanced for.
Apparently multiple cities annoy some people. They never annoyed me. More cities equals more units being produced, hence larger armies, hence more involved multi-front wars. It'd be nice if a toggle was in place so that players could choose between a 'few cities' and 'many cities' environment in the game setup, so that both types of players could have thier cake and eat it too. Warlords does exactly that (you have a slider that picks the number of cities on a random map). In Elemental, this can be handled easily via the 'minimum distance between cities' mechanic. More cities? Cities can be closer together. Less cities? Cities have to be further apart.
Yeah, and on that 'toggles' thing. Several of us have suggested multiple times to allow finer customization in Elemental. Do you prefer Global or Individual Mana pools? We shoud have a toggle for that. Encumberance? Another great place for a toggle. Simlified or more involved city design? Another toggle.
More individual customization allows players to tailor their own gaming experience to their own tastes. Some prefer more roleplaying aspects versus straight up empire management, and toggles are a great way to allow both types of players to 'have their way'.
I've already beaten Dynasties and Ships to death. It'd be nice to have them back, and done properly, 'nuff said.
One other note. While I will admit that having '12 individual' units is something that I initially didn't like seeing removed, upon careful consideration, I think that unit groupings as a whole is oversimplified, and is part of the 'problem' of balance issues in Elemental. This is something that can be addressed in the next iteration, but to explain this in a nutshell, individuals in a unit should be handled as independent entities, not lumped into one combat value.
Anyone that has done miniature gaming can appreciate other ways of handling this. The most 'simple' way it is handled is giving a number of 'attack dice' equal to the number of individuals in the unit, with the total number of 'hits' scored after rolling that bunch of dice determining casualties. In this environment, most units only have one hit. Also, units with multiple ranks may only get attack dice for the 'first rank' of units, with perhaps the second rank getting a reduced strength attack die in the case of spears and such.
Elemental combat could do something along these lines. I.E. each individual in a unit will attack the unit directly in front of him, with combat handled individually between those combatants, instead of lumping together total damage and total hit points to determine who lives or dies. This would mean that you'd have individuals in units with varying amounts of damage, instead of one damaged individual (the next guy on the 'kill me next list') while his buddies are all undamaged. GalCiv II actually does this, where individual ships have their own combat damage, but of course in that game ships aren't 'lumped together' into units, only stacks.
To view this, essentially clicking on a unit would bring up a 'unit roster' menu, showing each individual in the unit and their current state. Healing spells would be targetted at individuals, not units (i.e. casting a healing spell on a unit heals the damage of one individual in the unit, with 'mass healing' affecting more individuals).
Between rounds, units with multiple ranks could 'cycle out' the damaged individuals into the second ranks, with fresh individuals taking their place in the front ranks as the opportunity presents itself (of course, doing so while engaged is a little more difficult, as 'opening' your ranks to swap out individuals could end up splitting your unit).
Also, along these lines, units with more than say 2 individuals (i.e. stacked 2 or more deep) would only have individuals in the front ranks doing melee attacks in any given round, with perhaps a mechanic for 2nd rank attackers getting attacks in, particularly in the case of spears. Units could have a 'formation chooser', i.e. box, line abreast, etc., which determines whom is available to fight against an adjacent unit. Between combat rounds, units would automatically 'fill' their front ranks to replace casualties.
I'd also limit the number of individuals in any given square, with more individuals 'flanking' into adjacent squares based on the size of the unit. In THIS environment, unit sizes of 12 make more sense, as you won't simply be multiplying damage by 12... This also allows for larger sized individuals occupying multiple squares (Giants occupy 4 'mini' squares, Dragons 12 or more 'mini' squares, etc.), hence 'exposing' the flanks of the larger units to a larger number of smaller individuals. In this instance, 4 'mini' squares composes a regular square, and units of 4 individuals or less normally occupying one square, 5-8 in 2 adjacent squares, and 9-12 in 3 adjacent squares Unless 'line abreast', in which case they all spread out in a single row of 'mini squares' equal to the size of the unit. Of course, line abreast will often have the 'downside' of the 'flank units' not being in contact with an opposing foe, if the foe is using a tighter formation.
Really, I'd LOVE to see the Elemental tactical model tackled in earnest. While the above concepts SOUND like they would overcomplicate things, if done right the amount of 'workload' for the player really won't be that much more. I.E. 'click on a unit, pick a formation on turn one, unit stays in that formation until you decide to change it. Otherwise, move towards opposing units as normal, click to attack, and the game 'handles' whom is attacking whom in the opposing unit in the background). Sure, this would require more work on the coding end by the Stardock guys, but in the end I think it would really make the next iteration of Elemental shine. The groundwork is 75% there already, no sense tossing out the baby with the bathwater, when in reality it is so close...
And, of course, LOS, range modifiers for bows, more involved terrain effects, etc. should be added too. A Combat DLC or full expansion could handle most/all of this!
I bring this up because I've read murmorings of removing tactical combat from the next Elemental iteration. That'd be a shame, because I do enjoy tactical battles a lot (being a 'former' miniature wargamer type), and I see SO much potential here!
I've been on the record multiple times about how I feel that Elemental keeps 'retreating' from good concepts. I honestly do feel that a number of good ideas have been left untapped, tossed, or dumbed down, and I expect better of the Stardock guys. To be honest, I think they don't have enough faith in their original ideas to spend the time necessary to make them shine, hence the 'retreat after retreat'. It's not that the concept sucked, it is just that the execution wasn't fully fleshed out in some cases.
So I'd simply ask that they take their time on the next iteration of Elemental, and just keep feeding us cool DLC content in the meantime. Some of these concepts could be implemented in the current version, and are great expansion/DLC material. Elemental is 75% of the way there for me, if it wasn't I wouldn't still be interested in this game. The rest of a lot of what I'd like to see can be added on to the current game without requiring a full redesign, and I think that Brad and the team can profit handsomely from such an approach.
Now back to your regularly scheduled saga, As The Shard Turns...