Stellaris Dev Diary #196: [REDACTED]

-ðsžšåÞя©Â£ŠŘ§Ů½æآé-
Attn: Spymaster Utra, daughter of Roba,


Our operatives have provided information on the activities of the vile Paradoxians. Despite their attempts at secrecy, we have managed to acquire some intel. The images our agents have taken appear to be of crude prototypes that they are still refining, but we thought it best to pass this dispatch along now so you can better prepare for the future.

Agent Tiny Sorbet signing off.

-‚ا© ŘŮ æ¢Ã£»£æ¢Ã -•

Hello and happy new year!

In Dev Diaries 193 and 194 we explored the mysteries of first contact, hidden information, and intelligence gathering through diplomatic means.

It may come as a surprise to many, but sadly there are starfaring civilizations out there with whom peaceful co-existence and mutually beneficial diplomatic ties are simply not an option. Against these threats, it may prove useful to utilize the more intrigue-oriented members of your society, and turn to espionage.

Espionage and covert operations are a frequently requested feature that seem to be natural extensions of the intel system that we’ve described in the recent dev diaries. With the obfuscation of knowledge, naturally there should be systems to acquire that information.


Envoys and Spy Networks

Envoys will have a new diplomatic task available to them called Build Spy Network. They will take their place as the Spymaster of a network of covert operatives and agents that they will grow in power over time. Needless to say, the other empire will not be informed of your envoy's new position.

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Build Spy Network diplomatic action

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Baby steps.

While an envoy is managing a Spy Network as Spymaster, the Network will grow over time - quickly at first, but slower as the Network gains in strength. Networks are far faster to build in large, sprawling empires, and if the target empire’s Encryption rating is much stronger than the spying empire’s Decryption, growth may also slow to a crawl. (Machine Intelligences have a natural knack for Encryption and Decryption, while Hives and psionic empires tend to excel at Counter Espionage.)

Unmanaged Spy Networks (those without an envoy directing them) pause all ongoing activities and rapidly decay.

Spy Networks initially cap out at a maximum level of 50. Several things such as civics or edicts can increase it, and if you have acquired (disposable) Assets within the target empire they also provide a boost - each Asset increases the Spy Network cap in that empire by 5.

Assets are useful pawns, hacked backdoors, deviant drones, or other resources that could come in useful to your Spy Network. An Asset could be a disgruntled Bureaucrat that's been passed over promotion one too many times, a faulty Pheromone Emitter that your operatives have found a way to manipulate, or even a Logistics System that you've hacked into. More details about the acquisition of Assets and their uses will be in a future diary.


Changes

Here’s a non-comprehensive sample of some civics, ascension perks, and edicts that have been updated during this espionage pass. Several new Encryption and Decryption related technologies have also been added. (Numbers are still subject to change!)

1610463931398.png

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Some civics lend themselves nicely to covert activities.

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1610463957215.png

Others can modify Counter Espionage, making the lives of enemy Spy Networks easier or more difficult.

1610463963720.png

Tell us your secrets.

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No, really.

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1610463977936.png

More of the new Edicts.


Putting Your Spies to Work

Now that you’ve built up your Spy Network, what can you do with it?

Back in Dev Diary 194 we had a redacted value shown in the Intel breakdown tooltip - Spy Network level is that third hidden value alongside Diplomatic Pacts and Trust.

1610463984843.png

No more redactions here.

While your Spy Network passively provides intelligence, you can also have them be more active. Your Spymaster envoy can send agents out, using the Network's bandwidth ("Spy Power") to run Operations within the targeted empire while they stay safely at their base.

Operations exist in the following major categories:

* Subterfuge - Information gathering and operations that improve the spy network itself
* Sabotage - Ruining things (physical or immaterial)
* Manipulation - Replacing the truth with your own improved version
* Provocations - Don't do these, they're bad

Most Operations also have a subcategory of Government, Diplomacy, Economic, Technology, or Military, matching the Intel Categories.

More details on how to perform Operations (and how Assets can be used to improve them) will be the focus of next week’s diary. See you then!

ops.png
 
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Reman

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I hope espionage will be a good feature, but I doubt it will be. Tons of strategy games have tried their own espionage systems, and most of them end up sucking. Way too many of them boil down to "click button for RNG chance of success/failure" that has little gameplay to interact with. Usually there's 1 or 2 good operations that the player will repeat forever like "steal technology", while the Ai uses the system to just be as annoying as possible by spamming whack-a-mole events like "sow discontent" or "recruit partisans". Espionage often degenerates to something that needs to be micro'd every once in a while for an overpowered RNG reward, then is promptly forgotten until the timer counts down again.

The HoI4 devs recently tried to create an interesting espionage system, but they were not successful in doing so. They EU4 devs tried to create an interesting espionage system a few years back, and they were also not successful. I'm hoping Stellaris can buck the trend, but I'm not optimistic.
 
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Archon87

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So what about Criminal Syndicates? Does having illegal branch offices increase your spy network's power in some way? Throw the criminals a bone!

Also Enigmatic Engineering seems like a good perk for a rework to make it impossible or at least much more difficult for aliens to steal your tech.

Will multiple empires trying to spy on the same empire ever have their spy networks trip over each other? Perhaps engage in a bit of spy vs spy?
 
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King Harkinian

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I hope espionage will be a good feature, but I doubt it will be. Tons of strategy games have tried their own espionage systems, and most of them end up sucking. Way too many of them boil down to "click button for RNG chance of success/failure" that has little gameplay to interact with. Usually there's 1 or 2 good operations that the player will repeat forever like "steal technology", while the Ai uses the system to just be as annoying as possible by spamming whack-a-mole events like "sow discontent" or "recruit partisans". Espionage often degenerates to something that needs to be micro'd every once in a while for an overpowered RNG reward, then is promptly forgotten until the timer counts down again.

The HoI4 devs recently tried to create an interesting espionage system, but they were not successful in doing so. They EU4 devs tried to create an interesting espionage system a few years back, and they were also not successful. I'm hoping Stellaris can buck the trend, but I'm not optimistic.

Each to their own. Personally I enjoy the Civ style of risk/reward lottery espionage that doesn't impede too much on the core gameplay.

It seems kinda odd to me that making it mandatory to get implants increases Authoritarian Ethic Attraction.
Wouldn't citizens (especially loyal ones) be less likely to support Authoritarianism when this edict shows that they are the target of surveillance and mistrust regardless of their loyalty?

Don't get me wrong, I like the concept of this edict and I think it fits really well with the Authoritarian ethic.

I think a big missing feature of the ethics attraction system is decisions that increase POLARIZATION rather than just attraction to one ethic. Just look at real world USA for reference. Something like these microchips should increase both Authoritarian and Egalitarian ethics attraction.
 
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Archael90

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It makes the criminals unhappy , loyal citizens are fine with it.
Im loyal citizen, but i dont thing i would be happy knowing that someone knows my every move xD
 
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Kalenicus

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well, i think psionics and hives should be best in gathering informations, stealing tech and manipulate, cause psionics are able to "read" and "manipulate" the Minds of theyr targets and Hives can assimilate them, same with Driven Assimilators.
Agreed mostly. I think it would be interesting and fit well to take Psionic, Cybernetics and Hive Mind into consideration for espionage and intel.

Psionic empires could have events allowing them to attempt to steal tech (much like the FE one from the Shroud), events to gather extra intel (invading the mind of another empires envoy), even influencing an AI empires ruler to declare war or become an ally. Some of these could even share a cool down with the Shroud.

Hive Mind could gain intel or tech from assimilating a pop from another empire through war, abduction (cool use of the raiding AP) or refugees.

Cybernetic empires or Synthetics could potentially work the same as Hive Mind via assimilation, but to a lesser degree. Once part of the uplink, pops from another empire would more easily give up secrets.
 
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Askorti

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I'm really not a fan of the fact that you have to use envoys to spy on others. It's giving me flashbacks from both HOI4 and EU IV, and it's not in a positive way in either case...
It makes absolutely no sense that you'd use the very scarce envoys to engage in ANY spying. It becomes a very 0 - 1 game, you either put a lot of resources into spying on a country, you put absolutely none. It does not sound fun.
 
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HugsAndSnuggles

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Interesting. Incidentally: any plans on making egalitarian rabble good at something? Because, it seems, that they will also be bad at espionage, along with being less-than-stellar at pretty much everything else.
 
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Organic hive minds use computers, though.
Perhaps we will have to agree to disagree here. For Hive minds I see:
1. Robots/Droids/Synths (independent computerised systems of all kinds are nonexistent)
2. Positronic AI/Sapient Combat Simulation re-themed to Positronic Implants/Autonomous Ship Intellects (so the computation is done by organic individuals and living ships being boosted with technology, not machines).

To me this all suggest Hive minds have a much more physical, innate and organic use of technology rather than having separate machines performing encryption/decryption and running computer programs. So hacking them doesn't fit, to me.

But I can see this is mostly an unimportant text/theme discussion. It is more important as a swap if a civic was added giving biomass/bioships. Even then it would be nice as a choice somewhere like you choose your ship names to allow players to roleplay however they wish.

thats a bit more specialised on Machine empires, but what i also wanted to say, the diferences between empires abillitys and potentials in espionage and its specialised "categorys" should be complex and based also on Civics, traits and later on traditions and ascensionperks...
but if that is done too complex, it could make synthetics even stronger, cause they would get the decryption bonus by being able to turn Minds into Algorhytms, so like DE, in case of xenophile synths they would also add the boons like DA and RS (you didn't talk about them).. and synths are way too strong already
There's a lot more to add it's true. I agree that pop traits, traditions and Ascension Perks should really factor in to the espionage system more.

With traditions you have to be careful since eventually everyone will have every tradition unlocked. It makes it more distinct and less repetitive if more of the +1 Encryption/Decryption/Counter Espionage bonuses from traditions comes from Tradition Swaps instead. Like how Adaptation gives +1 building slot instead of -10% Market fee. Civics could indirectly add their relevant bonuses by swapping a Harmony/Synchronicity/Versatility tradition, so they don't all stack and make an empire overpowered as you only need one relevant civic to get the swap.

Also since you asked, here's my take on RS:
Rogue Servitor
"A product of a brief golden age, the Machine Intelligence originated in a planet-spanning Servitor system that outlasted the decadent civilization it was created to serve."
+1 Decryption
-1 Counter Espionage
(They hate killing organics, so counter espionage should be reduced to reflect this reluctance to kill spies. But have events being slightly different - spies captured and forcibly given extreme luxuries and pampering until they reveal their secrets, selling domestic servants for information etc.)

As for Ascension Perks:

Eternal Vigilance
"To display weakness is to invite attack. The price of invading our space must be so high that as few as possible are prepared to meet it."
+2 Counter Espionage
(A purely defensive Ascension perk to prevent spy actions. Good for inward perfection empires that have a cautious approach to alien contact and want to hide their true power for as long as possible... so also delaying first contact time: "First Contact Target Difficulty +2")

Enigmatic Engineering
"Technology is simply not a way to solve a problem, but it is a language by which we ascend beyond the mundane. Lesser minds simply fail to understand our advances."
+3 Encryption
+1 Decryption
(Mysterious ships and communications that are very hard to spy-on. Also able to use their skills for more innovative solutions to code-breaking and espionage. Perhaps reduce the sensor bonus down to 1 to compensate for the additional intelligence uses... also delaying first contact time significantly: "First Contact Target Difficulty +3")


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First Contact Protocol Policy options.
Remember this? Being cautious gives +2 First Contact Target Difficulty. I'd like more of the Civics, Traditions, Ascension Perks, pop traits and Authorities that give Counter Espionage and Encryption to also tie into this mechanic and make it more difficult for other empires to initiate communications with you. (So you can at least try really hard to stay completely hidden and unknown for as long as physically possible, especially if you rushed for Enigmatic Engineering).


And I still want there to be pop traits relevant to diplomacy:
Shapeshifter (Shapeshifter Assets increase Spy Network cap by 10 instead of 5)
Mysterious (+1 Encryption)
Honest (-1 Decryption/-1 Encryption)
Treacherous (+1 Decryption)

So you can have a Mysterious race with Enigmatic Engineering with Cautious first contact to try to protect your empire. Or conversely an Honest empire that's easier to spy on. Though for species traits to apply they'd have to apply to leaders (envoys) which requires envoys to have traits (which I think would be good, if nothing else just so they aren't so annoyingly distinct from other leader types in being unable to lead/free to replace/never getting more skilled/etc).
 
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Interesting. Incidentally: any plans on making egalitarian rabble good at something? Because, it seems, that they will also be bad at espionage, along with being less-than-stellar at pretty much everything else.
The downfall of egalitarians came when they made it possible to enslave specialists. Prior to that egalitarians were the masters of influence and specialist output.
 
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Eladrin

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No, a Bureau of Espionage would definitely be represented by an Edict rather than a building. Edicts in non-Gestalt Empires represent the creation (or dismantling when cancelled) of powerful bureaucracies that promote specific policies - that's why you can implement Edicts above your Edict capacity at the cost of Administrative capacity.
That's the general idea - edicts can represent additional focus on certain institutions of the empire to a degree.

Incidentally: any plans on making egalitarian rabble good at something?
Egalitarians are pretty good at accumulating Diplomatic Weight from their happy pops. Fleet power does tend to overshadow it later, however.

Are we going to be able to Arm Rebels and Pirates? cause that sounds like something that would be fun
They prefer the terms "privateer" or "freedom fighter".

So, in simple words, what's the difference between Decryption and Counter-Espionage and why are these different values?
Decryption is cracking communications and is passively compared with the other empire's Encryption. Differences in relative *cryption are used to determine magnitude of failures, for instance.

Counter Espionage is active defense within your empire, increasing the chance of that failure occuring.

So what about Criminal Syndicates? Does having illegal branch offices increase your spy network's power in some way? Throw the criminals a bone!
The Disinformation Center is changing a bit, and will have benefits to espionage. A Ruthless Competition / Public Relations / Criminal Syndicate will be very good at what you would expect them to be very good at. (Especially if they're Authoritarian Telepaths.)

Im loyal citizen, but i dont thing i would be happy knowing that someone knows my every move xD
That was the thought there.
 
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Borgratz

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So whats the difference between counterespionage and encryption? Are they the same mechanic with two names for flavor? (That would be okay)
Or are they two slightly different mechanics that do the same thing? (that would be confusing and probably bad).
 

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I've wanted a system like this for ages, ever since Megacorp came out I've liked the idea of playing a battleship manufacturer that manipulates other empires into war so they can sell them weapons, and with this it sounds like we'll be halfway there (I do think a way to lease or buy ships and other stuff from other empires would be a great idea, but that's another topic).

I also think the use of Envoys for this makes it an even better idea to make them fully-fledged Leaders as was echoed in the previous DDs, so that we can have some that are skilled at diplomacy and others at espionage, and lets them have their own emergent stories that this game's so good at.
 
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Can assets be traded? Might be an interesting way for a criminal megacorp to make money (I hope criminal megas get some kind of bonus to spies). Maybe on a black market where the seller stays anonymous?
 
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methegrate

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Fleet power does tend to overshadow it later, however.

Is that worth fixing? It seems like the exact opposite of what we'd want. Diplomacy seems like it should counterbalance military dominance, not complement it. Plus it would be thematically appropriate. The Federation needs its Galaxy Class starships, to be sure. No one will take a great power seriously if it can't defend itself or its allies. But it's a diplomatic heavyweight because of its ideals, not its fleet.
 
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Pale Blue

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I've wanted a system like this for ages, ever since Megacorp came out I've liked the idea of playing a battleship manufacturer that manipulates other empires into war so they can sell them weapons, and with this it sounds like we'll be halfway there (I do think a way to lease or buy ships and other stuff from other empires would be a great idea, but that's another topic).

I also think the use of Envoys for this makes it an even better idea to make them fully-fledged Leaders as was echoed in the previous DDs, so that we can have some that are skilled at diplomacy and others at espionage, and lets them have their own emergent stories that this game's so good at.

A condottieri system that allows you to rent fleets to the highest bidder would be nice and also somewhat fit in an espionage system. And it would finally open new markets for militarist megacorps.
 
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HighChanceOfRai

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"you doesn't give you any intel about their strength" - I don't see that nearly as valuable as making someone your BFF.

"oesn't make them like or hate other nations, doesn't give you any tech boost, etc." - I must've missed the part where this new spy network does that.

Do you really? Like I can see how you'd want to get a couple of empires on board early on and make a federation but I would put a way higher premium on knowing the power levels of my threats or targets, that kind of thing. I'd say I'll definitely begrudge the few envoys I have to throw at the federation or the community later on!

And with regards to the technology, I think he's making a guess about the stealing tech and its implementation. He mightn't turn out to be exactly right but there will be some steal technology operation we can see in the screenshot at the end.