Stellaris Dev Diary #215 - Gameplay themes & Balancing considerations

Hello everyone!

First I want to thank you for the overwhelming support that you’ve shown us with announcing the Custodians initiative. It’s been really fun and motivating to see so many positive responses, and for that we’re truly thankful. At the same time, I must admit that it is also a bit scary in the sense that we shouldn’t have the expectation that this will suddenly resolve any issues you might have with the game, or that we’ll be able to deliver large amounts of significant changes with every update. Let’s appreciate this opportunity and make the best of it :)

Species Pack Gameplay Themes
Last week we already talked about what the Lem Update (honoring the author Stanislaw Lem) would focus on, but I’d also like to go into more detail regarding some things.

We mentioned that we would be adding gameplay to the Humanoids Species Pack and the Plantoids Species Pack, and although I won’t talk about the exact details yet, I do want to talk a little about how we approached it, and the themes we chose.

Plantoids was a bit easier, because there are some obvious fantasies. Going around the themes of growth and plants we’re adding some new traits, civics and origin. We felt like it made sense to open up these gameplay additions to both Plantoid portraits as well as for Fungoids.

Humanoids was a bit trickier, because there are no direct fantasies that apply to them in general, so we instead chose to focus on fantasies that align with things like dwarves, elves, orcs or humans. The Civic we showcased last week was an example of how we made something inspired by a traditionally dwarven fantasy.

Let us know about any ideas or thoughts you have regarding those :)

We will be talking more about these in much greater detail later, but that may possibly be in August.

Game Balance
We’re going to take a look at reworking some of the major outstanding balance issues that we’re having.

One example that I want to talk about is the issue with Research Booming, where power players can essentially outpace other empires due to focusing a lot on research. What enables this is usually Districts that provide Researcher Jobs, which is relatively easy to gain access to early on through Origins such as Shattered Ring or Void Dwellers (the latter not being nearly as strong).

For Shattered Ring we are looking into changing the start from a pure “end-game” Ring World, to be more of an actual “Shattered Ring” that you need to repair before you gain access to the powerful Districts of the Ring World. Putting additional emphasis on the fantasy of restoring this ancient megastructure to its former glory can be a fun addition to the Origin itself. Although we haven’t decided exactly what we’re doing, changing the start to be a Shattered Ring that you can restore with the Mega-Engineering technology is a likely route.

Unity & Empire Sprawl
Beyond Lem, we are also going to take a look at Empire Sprawl and Unity. The design for Admin Capacity was never really something that I felt worked out, and we never finished the design that was intended for it. Continuing to use Admin Cap as a mechanic also feels a bit like a dead end due to multiple reasons (ranging from design to technical), so we’re instead going to look into another solution.

I have a design for doubling down on using Unity as the resource for internal management, removing Admin Cap entirely, and to make Empire Sprawl something that you can never mitigate anymore. More sprawling empires will always suffer harsher penalties from Empire Sprawl, and we’ll instead focus on how Unity can be used internally to mitigate some of those penalties. Examples could be Edicts that have a Unity Upkeep Cost, and perhaps reduce the Research Cost Penalty induced by Empire Sprawl. Angry Pops could potentially also have a Unity Upkeep Cost, to represent the drain on your society.

Note that these ideas are very much in their infancy and very prone to change. We will probably start talking a bit more about that once Lem has been released, but I wanted to share some thoughts with you so that we could gather some initial feedback.

------

That’s all for this week folks! We’re in the middle of reviewing our dev diary schedule, so we’re hoping to be back with 2 more dev diaries before we take a summer break. We’ll keep you in the loop as we go.
 
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All sounds good :) the idea of expanding on the space fantasy humanoids seems sensible as humans are typically the neutral every-man in most sci-fi and fantasy.

Running with the elves I really hope some of the ornate ship designs we saw ahead of nemesis could be dusted off one day. They would really fit a decadent space elf theme.
 
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I'm very excited to hear more about this:
I have a design for doubling down on using Unity as the resource for internal management, removing Admin Cap entirely, and to make Empire Sprawl something that you can never mitigate anymore. More sprawling empires will always suffer harsher penalties from Empire Sprawl, and we’ll instead focus on how Unity can be used internally to mitigate some of those penalties. Examples could be Edicts that have a Unity Upkeep Cost, and perhaps reduce the Research Cost Penalty induced by Empire Sprawl. Angry Pops could potentially also have a Unity Upkeep Cost, to represent the drain on your society.

Overall, I haven't been this hopeful about the future of the game in a while. Thanks for all the hard work and enjoy the summer break!
 
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honestly, I prefer admin cap, but there should be more penalties for going over, like less governing ethics attraction.
 
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I have a design for doubling down on using Unity as the resource for internal management, removing Admin Cap entirely, and to make Empire Sprawl something that you can never mitigate anymore. More sprawling empires will always suffer harsher penalties from Empire Sprawl, and we’ll instead focus on how Unity can be used internally to mitigate some of those penalties. Examples could be Edicts that have a Unity Upkeep Cost, and perhaps reduce the Research Cost Penalty induced by Empire Sprawl. Angry Pops could potentially also have a Unity Upkeep Cost, to represent the drain on your society.

I hope, however, that you'll keep bureaucrats around for generating unity. It would be a great shame to lose the idea of a dystopian hell in which whole planets are dedicated to nothing but bureaucracy!
 
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Very cool! I'm very very excited to see what you all come up with!


re:
I have a design for doubling down on using Unity as the resource for internal management, removing Admin Cap entirely, and to make Empire Sprawl something that you can never mitigate anymore. More sprawling empires will always suffer harsher penalties from Empire Sprawl, and we’ll instead focus on how Unity can be used internally to mitigate some of those penalties. Examples could be Edicts that have a Unity Upkeep Cost, and perhaps reduce the Research Cost Penalty induced by Empire Sprawl. Angry Pops could potentially also have a Unity Upkeep Cost, to represent the drain on your society.
Thought: if unity is going to play a bigger role, integrate it with factions as well? Pops from happy factions generate more unity, and pops from unhappy factions less. This could then lead into spy operations to "poke the beehive" of unhappy factions in other empires and make them even more unhappy, which then leads to less unity which then leads to unstable empires duo to unity shortages.
The thought I have with this is, if your unhappy factions are big, and other empires actively rile them up with spy operations you could see rebellions (which almost never happen in todays game).
 
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Will the new mechanics for Plantoids/Humanoids be toggleable? Or will the new mechanics be tied to civics/biological traits?
 
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One example that I want to talk about is the issue with Research Booming, where power players can essentially outpace other empires due to focusing a lot on research. What enables this is usually Districts that provide Researcher Jobs, which is relatively easy to gain access to early on through Origins such as Shattered Ring or Void Dwellers (the latter not being nearly as strong).
You mention Void Dwellers and Shattered Ring starts, but the strongest origin right now is Necroid origin
 
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I don't understand this
Game Balance
We’re going to take a look at reworking some of the major outstanding balance issues that we’re having.

One example that I want to talk about is the issue with Research Booming, where power players can essentially outpace other empires due to focusing a lot on research.
I don't understand the issue of "Research Booming." I would expect that an empire that spends more resources towards tech and focuses on it should outpace one that does not. Why is that a problem? Or are you referring to an exploit that provides benefits beyond that of just merely making it a focus for your empire?

I understand the game by design props up weak empires and gives them protections (e.g. war goals to limit the scope of conquest) to make them harder to eliminate, thus giving them a chance to recover. This prolongs the game artificially for a more "epic" experience. Is instead the intention to do this with technology so that no empire can ever really be so technologically inferior that they cannot catch up?
 
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Beyond Lem, we are also going to take a look at Empire Sprawl and Unity. The design for Admin Capacity was never really something that I felt worked out, and we never finished the design that was intended for it. Continuing to use Admin Cap as a mechanic also feels a bit like a dead end due to multiple reasons (ranging from design to technical), so we’re instead going to look into another solution.
But why not remove the Empire Sprawl totally in the "Empire Sprawl rework"? Or just do nothing with it. Put a uncompleted mechanism into game isn't a good idea, now it just force players build more Administrative building.
A high "fixed" Sprawl base(like by tech or just the empire base), and increasable, but low Performance/Cost Sprawl(by jobs) at least perform better than the mechanism now, I think.
 
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Hey! Happy to hear about the overwhelming support for the Custodian initiative, I'm very happy about it aswell since I have been waiting for Necrophage Hiveminds and other things.

I have a design for doubling down on using Unity as the resource for internal management, removing Admin Cap entirely, and to make Empire Sprawl something that you can never mitigate anymore
When you guys added admin cap, you did some design changes, for example have less of a penalty for Hiveminds. However, as you might have noticed, Admin cap is way too easy to gain since you guys also ended up adding a bunch of modifiers which increase admin cap by a % amount. All it takes is a perk like +10% admin cap and when playing as a Hivemind, you might not ever be above admin cap ever again.

So when doing the rework on empire sprawl, you should pay close attention to NOT add too many % modifiers to your administrative capacity.

I'm very much looking forward to a unity design rework. A huge part of balance problems is unity vs science, or rather, the fact that you decided that Spiritualists should be good at Unity, while Materialists should be good at research. We all know how practice works out. More science is always the best. And ironically having more science gets you Ascension theory much faster, which is another +1 Ascension perk. So practically, even though Spiritualists may finish Traditions faster, there is no guarantee that they will end up with more Ascension perks. And given the fact that they are worse at science than Materialists, they will lack the techs which are needed for the important Ascension perks (like for Megastructures or other important AP).

I'm hoping that you will find a better balance between Unity and Research. Research will always be paramount and I don't see how unity is ever going to compete, especially as more techs are added to the game. Research is needed for more growth, and more efficiency. That being said, I hope that you will find interesting unlocks from Traditions.

Unlocks such as "Synapse Drones now produce 2 Amenities each" is a great example for a Tradition effect done right. Its a powerful effect and its unique in the sense that research does not grant such an effect.

I hope you could do more things like this tradition. Maybe even stuff like "+1 possible trait on species" as a Tradition finisher? Just an example of a bonus thats not available via research. And since we are going to have many different tradition trees to choose from, a species going for Bio Ascension is going to be able to make great use of a bonus like this.

Either way, you probably have realized that I'm really looking forward to some new options and especially balance changes which keep the game fresh and interesting, regardless of what type of empire you play. Because sadly the game has been lacking in this area, as nothing has been able to come close to Synth Ascension since patch 2.2.7.
 
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I’m not entirely sure that origins specifically catering to otherwise-under/overpowered starts really need balance changes that large. Like it’s effectively a difficulty slider/option, right? If I play a ringworld start I’m really not concerned with game balance.

This just seems like making a currently very unique game option much less interesting in pursuit of something that people are kind of opting out of if they select that option.
 
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Unity & Empire Sprawl
Beyond Lem, we are also going to take a look at Empire Sprawl and Unity. The design for Admin Capacity was never really something that I felt worked out, and we never finished the design that was intended for it. Continuing to use Admin Cap as a mechanic also feels a bit like a dead end due to multiple reasons (ranging from design to technical), so we’re instead going to look into another solution.

I have a design for doubling down on using Unity as the resource for internal management, removing Admin Cap entirely, and to make Empire Sprawl something that you can never mitigate anymore. More sprawling empires will always suffer harsher penalties from Empire Sprawl, and we’ll instead focus on how Unity can be used internally to mitigate some of those penalties. Examples could be Edicts that have a Unity Upkeep Cost, and perhaps reduce the Research Cost Penalty induced by Empire Sprawl. Angry Pops could potentially also have a Unity Upkeep Cost, to represent the drain on your society.

Note that these ideas are very much in their infancy and very prone to change. We will probably start talking a bit more about that once Lem has been released, but I wanted to share some thoughts with you so that we could gather some initial feedback.

One thing which I think needs to be considered regarding additional uses for unity is that, like science (which the game treats as a roughly equivalent resource), you should never be able to have 'enough' unity - there should always be a reward for generating more, faster.
 
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Magmapanda

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Would it be possible to make a subterranean trait or civic? I always loved the idea of vast underground empires that carve out their civilization from the earth. It is a much to RP as a dwarf, and I think it'd match up with Lithoids rather well too.
 
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Blayze

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I'd like to see more mechanics that promote or force empire division, like a Stability penality for each colonised system beyond the first.

That way the larger your empire, the more likely it's going to splinter, and the more resources you need to dedicate to spamming Stability (as opposed to just spamming research until science fixes your bureaucracy problems forever).
 
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