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Stellaris Dev Diary #152 - Summer Experimentation

Hello everyone!

Summer vacations are reaching their end and most of the team is back as of last week. Work has started again and we're really excited for what we have in store for the rest of the year.

While most of us have been away during most of the summer, we’ve also had some people who worked during July. July is a very good time to try out different designs and concepts that we might not otherwise have time to do, and today we thought it might be fun for you to see some of the experiments we ran during that period of hiatus.

Although we learned some useful insights, these experiments didn’t end up being good enough to make a reality.

Industrial Districts
As I have mentioned earlier, I have wanted to find a better solution for how we handle the production of alloys and consumer goods. I often felt like the experience of developing a planet felt better with an Ecumenopolis rather than with a regular planet. I think a lot of it had to do with their unique districts and that it feels better to get the jobs from constructing districts rather than buildings. Not necessarily as an emotion reaction to the choice, but rather that the choice perhaps feels more “pure” or simple.

An experiment I wanted to run was to see if it was possible to add an industrial district that provided Laborer jobs, instead of having buildings for Metallurgists and Artisans. Laborers would produce both alloys and consumer goods but could be shifted towards producing more of either.

This meant we added a 5th district, the Industrial District. By adding another district we also needed to reduce the number of building slots available. Since there would be no more need for buildings that produced alloys and consumer goods, this should still end up being similar.

upload_2019-8-15_12-14-17.png

A Laborer would consume 8 minerals to produce 2 alloys and 4 consumer goods, and that amount could be modified in either direction by passing a Decision. What I wanted was to have an industry that could have a military and civilian output, and where you could adjust the values between these outputs.

Having a laborer job that generates an “industrial output”, which could be translated into either alloys or consumer goods did feel good, but the specific solution we used didn’t feel quite right.

City Districts & Building slots
Another experiment was to see how it felt if city districts unlock building slots instead of pops. This experiment didn’t have a specific problem or issue it was trying to address but rather it was to investigate how that would feel and work. It was interesting but ultimately it felt less fun than the current implementation. It would have needed more time to see if it could be made to work.
upload_2019-8-15_12-15-12.png

This experiment did include increasing the number of jobs you would get for the building, so a research lab would provide 3 jobs instead of 2.

City District Jobs from Buildings
At the same time, we also tried a version where buildings applied jobs to city districts instead of providing jobs by themselves. One upside would be that you’d need less micromanagement to get the jobs, but the downside is that it would also be quite a large upswing in new jobs whenever you built a city district. In the end, it felt like you had less control and understanding of what a planet was specializing in.

Summary
Although these experiments were interesting, they didn’t end up quite where we wanted to, so they never became more than just experiments. We did learn some interesting things though, which we will keep in mind for the future. The industrial districts are still something I want to keep looking into, but we have to find a better solution.

Dev diaries will now be back on a regular schedule, but we will be looking into changing the format a bit this time around. For now, dev diaries will be coming bi-weekly, which means we will be back again in another 2 weeks with a similar topic.
 
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methegrate

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I remember having the discussion before, with you, about how the phase-shift in the economy is actually a good thing because why am I even playing Far Future Space Civ if I'm not going to become Fully Automated Earl Grey Hot Replicators Luxury Communism With Infinite Resources? The contrast between "desperately grubbing for +2 energy/month and crashing your economy if you can't get it" earlygame vs. "Lol just spend 50,000 energy on terraforming I don't even need" midgame is lovely. It makes you FEEL the progress.

I don't think I've ever agreed that it's good for an empire to generate a functionally infinite amount of resources by the mid-game. If I did, I either made a mistake or have changed my mind (and forgotten).

Still, I don't disagree in principle at all. It is a good thing that your economy graduates from its early, desperate phase into a bigger, more sophisticated economy. The problem is that your costs or problems don't scale with it. In the early game, your economic problems are things like how to feed your people and how to budget minerals for the districts and buildings you need. In the mid-game those are still your economic problems. The difference is that the 400 minerals that made such a difference when you had just one planet become a negligible sum to a sprawling space empire and no one is starving in a place that produces +150 food.

The scale of your economy grows enormously past your early problems but no new challenges take their place. That's the issue I have. The mid-game needs scarcity. It needs zero-sum problems equal to the scale and scope of the player's economy. Maybe what we talked about was graduating from basic resources to advanced resources? I do actually like that model in theory, even if I'd like minerals and food to at least stay relevant, but in practice even that doesn't work. You do nothing with CG's other than pay maintenance costs and functionally the same thing for strategic resources, and can produce all of those in amounts that dwarf your needs.

This is why I flag alloys as the be-all. Unlike every other resource, in the mid-game there's still something you can do with a stockpile of alloys. You build a huge fleet, it gets blown up, then you build a new one. Or you build defensive platforms or you save up for a megastructure. Having 5k alloys opens up choices, things I can do with those resources. Having 5k consumer goods or motes or (by mid-game) minerals or any other resource does not. If I have 5k minerals, I can put on Netflix and wait for more alloys to come in. What do I do with 5k energy? I buy alloys to build ships.

When you're fighting against resource scarcity, that's something to do. When you don't have resource scarcity, you need something else to do, which is not a problem if the games' systems do indeed provision you with something else to do. But what's supposed to fill this niche in Stellaris? War? I spend vastly more time travelling than I do fighting, and even when I am fighting, the 3-year-long mess that is the Stellaris components system makes this an exercise in "Big shrug emoji" because no-one understands what happens in combat or why.

This I agree with completely. It's why the midgame needs resource scarcity. That scarcity should come in a new form. You shouldn't be solving the same problems 100 years in that you solved on Day 1, but that's exactly what the game asks you to do. Instead there needs to be a new mechanism that drives scarcity and economic conflict in the midgame. Something as challenging and important as basic scarcity is in the early game.

There isn't anything like that. Along with the near-total absence of diplomacy and politics, that's why the only thing to actually do in the mid-game is build ships and declare war.
 
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CorpusIurisCivilis

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So when are we going to get a renovation for the Ground Combat Mechanics? Space Combat got reworked to some extent so Ground Combat should get a nice little update with maybe some new army types like Power Armour or Mechs. It'd give Organics a chance to actually fight back Machine Empires without having to rely on Super Soldiers, Clones, Psionics or Cyborgs
 

FlyingPhoenix

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When you're fighting against resource scarcity, that's something to do. When you don't have resource scarcity, you need something else to do, which is not a problem if the games' systems do indeed provision you with something else to do. But what's supposed to fill this niche in Stellaris? War? I spend vastly more time travelling than I do fighting, and even when I am fighting, the 3-year-long mess that is the Stellaris components system makes this an exercise in "Big shrug emoji" because no-one understands what happens in combat or why.
This is certainly true, but in general most of the attributes in the combat system don't matter. The combat system absolutely needs to give better feedback to the player. I really don't like the component system in Stellaris, even though finding combinations of components which achieve some task has been the most fun I've had in Stellaris.
 

Longherin

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When you're fighting against resource scarcity, that's something to do. When you don't have resource scarcity, you need something else to do, which is not a problem if the games' systems do indeed provision you with something else to do. But what's supposed to fill this niche in Stellaris? War? I spend vastly more time travelling than I do fighting, and even when I am fighting, the 3-year-long mess that is the Stellaris components system makes this an exercise in "Big shrug emoji" because no-one understands what happens in combat or why.
Very well put.
Way I see it, Stellaris wants to be divided into three phases. Whether if it's there or not is obviously up for debate.

Phase 1: Early game - Where you retool an empire with a planetary economy into one with an interstellar one.
Phase 2: Mid game - The economy is settled and it is now time to look outwards.
Phase 3: Late game - Uh...you fight a crisis I guess?

It would be a lot easier to see if the other systems are designing as intended if the AI is able to deal with the system, which...y'know, it's trying. But for now, I see Stellaris as Trying to hit those phases, but coming short because by the time the economy phase is settled there is...not much of an 'outwards' to look forward to.

In a nutshell: yeah, phase 2 needs some more functionalities to round it out so that by the time we're done playing in the economic sandbox we have something else to wade into. More DLC material, basically.
 

methegrate

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Very well put.
Way I see it, Stellaris wants to be divided into three phases. Whether if it's there or not is obviously up for debate.

Phase 1: Early game - Where you retool an empire with a planetary economy into one with an interstellar one.
Phase 2: Mid game - The economy is settled and it is now time to look outwards.
Phase 3: Late game - Uh...you fight a crisis I guess?

It would be a lot easier to see if the other systems are designing as intended if the AI is able to deal with the system, which...y'know, it's trying. But for now, I see Stellaris as Trying to hit those phases, but coming short because by the time the economy phase is settled there is...not much of an 'outwards' to look forward to.

In a nutshell: yeah, phase 2 needs some more functionalities to round it out so that by the time we're done playing in the economic sandbox we have something else to wade into. More DLC material, basically.

Another poster, I think, put it well when he said that the phases of Stellaris are:

1. Planetary - You control a handful of systems. As the player, you focus on things at a per-planet level.
2. Imperial - You control many systems. As the player, you focus on things at a per-sector level.
3. Galactic - You control or influence many empires. As the player, you focus on things at a per-empire level.

I thought that was pretty accurate, certainly to the intent of the game. The problem with the economy, as I see it, is that it never scales up to stage 2 or 3. You're still solving the same problems in Phase 2 that you were asked to manage in Phase 1, except by this point issues like "keep everyone fed" have become trivial matters. You need a new set of plates to keep spinning once you've solved the problems of basic subsistence, and another once you've solved the problem of empire.
 

Athrahasis

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The idea of the industrial districts, or shifting more to the districts seems very attractive. Leaving the buildings for specialisation, culture, (advanced) military, (advanced) production/refining political/ethic influencing etc. You could for instance have a planet designated as a naval base (decision), unlocking a district type which jobs increase Naval Capacity/etc and influence it's starbases shipyard production.
 

PirateJack

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Another poster, I think, put it well when he said that the phases of Stellaris are:

1. Planetary - You control a handful of systems. As the player, you focus on things at a per-planet level.
2. Imperial - You control many systems. As the player, you focus on things at a per-sector level.
3. Galactic - You control or influence many empires. As the player, you focus on things at a per-empire level.

I thought that was pretty accurate, certainly to the intent of the game. The problem with the economy, as I see it, is that it never scales up to stage 2 or 3. You're still solving the same problems in Phase 2 that you were asked to manage in Phase 1, except by this point issues like "keep everyone fed" have become trivial matters. You need a new set of plates to keep spinning once you've solved the problems of basic subsistence, and another once you've solved the problem of empire.

Agreed. If we could get the AI to a standard where I could trust it to actually run my empire well I'd want to see sectors becoming mostly autonomous by default so that they become more like CK2 duchies with leaders becoming the figures you interact with to get things done. That way your attention shifts from the now boring work of keeping your economy going to managing your leaders so they don't get any bad ideas in their head.

Ideally, I'd see leaders having ethics (just 2 ethic points worth), have them interact with different government types differently and give them a loyalty mechanic that ties into their personal ethics and (in the case of governors) the planets they govern. Link them to factions so that if a governor decides to rebel along with his sector, his faction-mates (and the fleets/science ships/armies they command) have a chance to join him based on their own loyalty. That would actually give some teeth to rebellions and either force you to carefully balance the ethics/factions of your leaders against the risk of them turning on you. Imagine how horrifying it would be to have your level 10 Dragonslayer Mercenary Admiral and their fleet are suddenly your enemy? That's the kind of rebellion I'd like to see. Much better than just spawning fleets out of nowhere.

As a side note it'd also be nice to have a morale mechanic for fleets that is then tied into the disengagement in place of the on hit chance it currently is. I could see it being a way to bring Psionics and Spiritualism into warfare more as they'd have higher morale and so stay in the battle longer than most (Militarists being the obvious exception).
 

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As a side note it'd also be nice to have a morale mechanic for fleets that is then tied into the disengagement in place of the on hit chance it currently is. I could see it being a way to bring Psionics and Spiritualism into warfare more as they'd have higher morale and so stay in the battle longer than most (Militarists being the obvious exception).

I would also really like something like a morale mechanic for disengagement instead of the current system. The only problem I see with that is that I usually *want* my ships to disengage when they take hull damage, because losing the ship permanently is much worse than losing the ship until the end of combat. If "morale" is supposed to be a good thing, then it would have to account for that fact.
 

PirateJack

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I would also really like something like a morale mechanic for disengagement instead of the current system. The only problem I see with that is that I usually *want* my ships to disengage when they take hull damage, because losing the ship permanently is much worse than losing the ship until the end of combat. If "morale" is supposed to be a good thing, then it would have to account for that fact.

Tie it in to war doctrines so that you can have some control over it. If you want your ships to escape as soon as their armour is down then that will be an option, while you also have the option to Never Retreat or just play the middle ground and try to score kills while risking some deaths on your own side.
 

Duuk

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Agreed. If we could get the AI to a standard where I could trust it to actually run my empire well I'd want to see sectors becoming mostly autonomous by default so that they become more like CK2 duchies with leaders becoming the figures you interact with to get things done. That way your attention shifts from the now boring work of keeping your economy going to managing your leaders so they don't get any bad ideas in their head.
See, this gets back to one of the fundamental problems Stellaris has as a Paradox title:

It has 4 built-in fanbases and has never really defined which fanbase it is aiming for. Personally, I'm with you. I want CK2-in-space. I'd kill to have leaders have more personality and more interaction and more meaningful purpose.

So you have the CK2-In-Space people. [Leaders, Roleplay, Grand Provincial Scale. Ok with revolts, Intrigue, etc. Don't want minutae management.]

You have the EU4-in-Space people [Some leaders, Map Painter]

You have Victoria-in-Space [Spreadsheet Economy, Leaders exist only as backdrop, everything is about the management of your empire.]

You have the Hearts-of-Iron-In-Space [Military Spreadsheet, Leaders exist only as backdrop, everything is about the warfare and expansion]

So every tweak that the team makes to the base game is going to annoy 1/4 of the fans because the team NEVER FIGURED OUT WHAT STELLARIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE.

After all, it is a "Given and Assumed" that we're going to get a "Sectors will revolt" DLC someday and those sectors will be led by Governors. That is a "CK2-In-Space" DLC. The people howling for espionage are HOI and CK2 people. The ones that want to micromanage their planets? Victorians. The ones that want to automate their sectors and have the AI be reasonably ok at managing them? CK2.
 

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Not a big fan of either the solutions in the OP.
Not sure what you mean. All the "solutions" in the OP were discarded, so neither were the Stellaris devs, obviously.
 

Kanzhuu

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Some of the ideas seem interesting, but I understand why they were not implemented and I think it is better the way it is.

Regarding the question of what should be a district what should be a building: I think it is important to maintain the distinction between Infrastructure for basic needs and ressources such as cities, infrastructure for mining etc on one hand and specialized buildings on the other hand. Mining and farming needs enourmous amount of land. A Laboratory and a Science Institute fit within a city district. In fact, they fit within a single city block. You do not build a police district, you build a police station. Arguably then you should at least have dense industrial districts on highly devloped planets (ecumenopolis), which is exactly as things are now. So flavourwise I am happy. If the amount of consumer goods is the problem, building districts (which presumably cost rare ressources to maintain) seems like a brute force way out. Can't you just make give an upgrade option to resource plants, much like the laboratory and others have? Tweak worker output, ressource consumption and output or maintenance of buildings, that seems like a much quicker and elegant way to relieve issues with consumer goods production compared to toppling an existing System. But then again, I have Mega Corp and thus access to the ecomenopolis, which others may not have, so for those people industrial districts may be a boon, yet still I think tweaking the existing buildings is the more elegant solution.
e/: Just realized that some may be unhappy about the fact that if you have access to an ecomenopolis it is pretty much a no-brainer to build it - Which makes it not really one possible ascension path amongst many, but pretty much a necessity, much like Galactic Wonders was before most of the mega structures became available through research alone.

After all, it is a "Given and Assumed" that we're going to get a "Sectors will revolt" DLC someday and those sectors will be led by Governors. That is a "CK2-In-Space" DLC. The people howling for espionage are HOI and CK2 people. The ones that want to micromanage their planets? Victorians. The ones that want to automate their sectors and have the AI be reasonably ok at managing them? CK2.

I have never played any other PDX title than Stellaris. so forgive my potential ignorance, but... These all sound great. Can't we have a competent AI? We have enough micro management, I feel, but if you want to crank it up, for as long as complexity serves a need, then I am with you. Espionage sounds great. Sector revolts sound great. Leaders with personality sound great. Spreadsheets sound... daunting? But bring it on! (As long as the implementation is done right.) The only issue I see is the time needed to design, program and balance all this. But then again, Stellaris will be around for another few years, I presume. Especially CK2 feels like PDX is a group of maniacal modders that went out of control. I have faith in the Stellaris team. :)

Please don't go the route of so many other studios and remain true to yourself. I'll take your quirks over loot boxes any day.
 
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So every tweak that the team makes to the base game is going to annoy 1/4 of the fans because the team NEVER FIGURED OUT WHAT STELLARIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE.

Agreed. I think it's because this is PDX's first foray outside of the historical genre, where they've got a lot more creative freedom to work with. Unfortunately, they hadn't worked out at that point that having all that creative freedom means you need to be much more willing to take an axe to the bits that don't work well together. Stellaris was originally conceived more as a 4X, I think, but then development steadily turned towards GSG because that's what they know best.
 

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I have never played any other PDX title than Stellaris. so forgive my potential ignorance, but... These all sound great. Can't we have a competent AI? We have enough micro management, I feel, but if you want to crank it up, for as long as complexity serves a need, then I am with you. Espionage sounds great. Sector revolts sound great. Leaders with personality sound great. Spreadsheets sound... daunting? But bring it on! (As long as the implementation is done right.) The only issue I see is the time needed to design, program and balance all this. But then again, Stellaris will be around for another few years, I presume. Especially CK2 feels like PDX is a group of maniacal modders that went out of control. I have faith in the Stellaris team. :)

Please don't go the route of so many other studios and remain true to yourself. I'll take your quirks over loot boxes any day.

They're all nice in theory, but some of them don't work well together. Spreadsheet simulators like Victoria II take a much more abstract approach to the game by necessity, because you're working with so many more 'people' than you do in the other historical games. Comparing to CK2's intensely personal characters, all of whom could fit into one demographic in a given Vicky II game, you get a much more zoomed in type of game. It's very difficult to bridge that gap and make it work and would represent a big shift in the focus of Stellaris if the Devs were to go for it. I wouldn't complain, mind, because CK2 is one of my all time favourite games.
 

Kanzhuu

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They're all nice in theory, but some of them don't work well together. Spreadsheet simulators like Victoria II take a much more abstract approach to the game by necessity, because you're working with so many more 'people' than you do in the other historical games. Comparing to CK2's intensely personal characters, all of whom could fit into one demographic in a given Vicky II game, you get a much more zoomed in type of game. It's very difficult to bridge that gap and make it work and would represent a big shift in the focus of Stellaris if the Devs were to go for it. I wouldn't complain, mind, because CK2 is one of my all time favourite games.

Thank you for your insight. As I said, I have not played any other PDX title (Could you bring Cities: Skylines to gog, pretty please?), but considering current pop management mechanics in Stellaris I wonder how they compare in complexity and depth (two different things) to the spreadsheet mechanics of Victoria 2? Is there maybe a DRM free release out there so I can see for myself? I don't wan't to speculate on a mechanic, only to see it in action and then go: "Oh... So THAT is what people were trying to tell me."
 

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Does that means "Jack-all-trade planets" play style will no longer available in the near future?
The "Jack-all-trade planets" play style means to build a lot of Food/Mineral/Energy districts with no or very few urban districts, house a lot of pops with housing usage reduce traits and buffs for building slot with industry and research buildings. With that we can provide primary industry (Food/Mineral/Energy), secondary industry (Consumer Goods and Alloy), and tertiary industry (Research Points and Unity) on same planet.
 

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May I make a humble suggestion re: industrial districts?

I think the idea is very sound, but needs a bit of complimentary reworking of the other aspects of resource production.

Right now we have four district options on standard planets - city, generator, mining, and farming. This represents somewhat of an imbalance toward what the districts are focused on, as in we have one that's devoted to providing housing and amenities (with some trade) to this planet, and the other three devoted to generic empire basic resource production (with some housing).

I think staying with 4 districts is a good working number, but in order to work in the industrial district, some tweaking needs to be done. Namely, I think combining the generator and mining districts into one "Extraction District" (I'm not a good namer) with "Extractor" jobs would be the key. By doing this, the overall number of districts and the balance that exists there would still be the same, but then you could pull the industrial districts in for producing alloys and consumer goods. The balance of the districts would then be: 1 to focus on the pops of the planet, 2 to focus on empire basic resources, and 1 to focus on empire advanced resources.

As a cascaded effect, this would also require a change in how planetary features work with regard to generator and mining districts. It would still be very important for some planets to be better at producing energy or minerals depending on their features. To accomplish this, you load the bonuses of the featurres into the Extractor job. To show how this would work, let's take Earth as an example (since it has predictable features) and assume a basic level of tech.
  • 3 energy features giving 8 Generator districts - 64 energy
  • 3 mining features giving 7 Mining Districts - 56 minerals
  • 15 total Generator and Mining Districts with 30 jobs yielding 64 energy and 56 minerals
The goal here is to have a comparable number of total districts, but to combine these two district types and have some left over for the Industrial District. Not knowing how many Industrial Districts will be appropriate as they don't exist yet, let's just call it 6, and it takes two features for these (one each of the +3 energy and mining). So that leaves us with 9 Extraction Districts, each with 2 Extractor Jobs giving us 18 jobs total.

Okay, now we fill in the resource production and laden the features with job bonuses. For the sake of easy numbers, let's call each bonus district from an old feature a +20% to the associated production of the job. That's +80% from the mining features and +100% from the energy features. So, to get to 64 energy, we need the 18 base Extractor Jobs (assuming no planetary bonus) to produce 32 energy. Or, just under 2 each. That's no fun, round it to 2! So, base Extractor Job is 2 energy, 2 minerals. With the bonuses, this makes our initial percentage from the features a touch high, so drop it to 15% per bonus district, or 75% bonus to energy, 60% bonus to minerals. Now we have this:

  • 2 energy features giving 5 Extraction Districts and +75% to Extractor Job energy production
  • 2 mining features giving 4 Extraction Districts and +60% to Extractor Job mineral production
  • 9 total Extraction Districts with 18 jobs yielding 63 energy and 57.6 minerals.
Now, this does reduce the number of jobs required to produce these resources, but that will be counterbalanced by the number of jobs the Industrial Districts will soak up. Alternatively, if the balance of jobs making these resources is crucial, you could make an Extraction District have 3 jobs each, and drop the corresponding feature bonuses again to tweak. That would look like this:
  • 2 energy features giving 5 Extraction Districts and +20% to Extractor Job energy production
  • 2 mining features giving 4 Extraction Districts and +16% to Extractor Job mineral production
  • 9 total Extraction Districts with 27 jobs yielding 64.8 energy and 62.64 minerals.
Again, this uses Earth as the model, which is purposefully a balanced planet in terms of planetary features. Finding a planet gushing in bountiful energy features might yield +10 of whatever the feature bonus will be (in this last scheme, for example, this would be a +40% to Extractor Energy Production).

Anyways, just my thoughts about it.

EDIT: Another way to approach it: have the Extractor Job produce nothing by default, but then have the features add the resources as appropriate. In this case, each feature bonus would grant +.5 of the resource produced. In our Earth example with 27 Extractor Jobs, that's 67.5 Energy and 54 Minerals. This might make the balance a little easier to tweak...
 
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