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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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For species themes, perhaps you can look to Space Empires V as inspiration. They had two 'unique' starts you could choose when creating a new empire: Crystalline Tech and Temporal Tech. By picking it, you started with lvl 1 of those techs which allowed you access to the rest of the tech tree (And the unique benefits it gave you). These lvl 1 techs were requirements for the rest of the tech tree but were also not able to be researched/traded/acquired in any other way, allowing for some unique playthroughs. If you met another race with the same specialty, you could trade/steal techs off each other, but normal races were not able to (Sort of like what the Arcane ascension perk currently does - but others of the same perk could get around it). Ofcourse, those empires could still trade their other technologies, just not those of their special areas
 

SteelCrow

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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 :)
I wasn't sure what to make of the announcement, tbh. It was clear to me that this doesn't automatically solve problems, just that the number of people working in either department are independently scalable depending on needs. Must be much more expensive, too.

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.
Can we have this portrait on the forums, please? It's the most beautiful fungoid/plantoid one:
ShouldbePlantoid.png
I appreciate the note about adding Fungoid things in with changes to Plantoids. They have significant physiological similarities, and on Earth we have some notable cases of symbiosis between them.

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.
I don't agree research districts have anything to do with the balance issue here. The problem is Admin Capacity, specifically how it totally cancels out Empire Sprawl. Research speed nowadays is mainly dependent on empire size rather than whether or not we focus on research. A small empire focusing on research will never compare to a larger also focusing on research. They have the same tech costs, but the larger can produce double, triple, or easily x10 more research than the smaller.

Yet it seems you already have solutions to that in mind. I've seen the suggestion of having Unity as an internal development resource, with Influence as a resource specifically for external interaction, pop up in the forums once in a while within the last year, and I think it makes a lot of sense. Things like megastructure construction and faction support and suppression costing Unity. Of course precise values will take a lot of iteration and testing to feel right, but I think an empire that produces a lot of Unity should be better able to build and maintain strength, cohesion, and well, UNITY as it encounters the great challenges and opportunities in reaching for the stars.
 
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wtrmute

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I agree with you, I was just arguing against the need for soil or whatever for plantoids as opposed to standard food. It's just unnecessary.

I love plantoids. I'm playing them right now.
And I agree with you, I was just saying that you could call food "soil" since it is organic matter all the same (and particularly we wouldn't simply be able to plant potatoes in Martian regolith and have them sprout). Plantoids continue using food just like everybody else, we just say that the food is actually soil for the people who want photosynthesis flavour for their plantoids.
 

HFY

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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.
Nice.

While you're in there, consider sharing Gaseous Byproducts with Fungoids (or just moving the trait), since in the game we see bogs and swamps and biological sources producing exotic gases.

The crystals and splodey-motes should stay with Lithoids proper, IMHO.
 
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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.
Personally, I STRONGLY disagree with gameplay tied to character portraits. If mechanics are added to certain types of portraits, the only way to get that mechanic is to play that portrait. Sounds obvious, but that means if you want to really customize your empire, you're stuck using a species either because it has the stats you want, or it DOESN'T have the stats you don't want (looking at you, lithoid growth penalties).

I think the better implementation is to add the new content (it can even be locked to the same DLC!) but allow it to be used however players want to use it. An example would be biological gestalt consciousnesses. Regardless of picture, they're all functionally the same which actually gives you the most customization and personalization. (Changing the currently existing systems to make them more accessible is a talk for another day)
 
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Just to note, it doesn't take a ring to seriously research boom past the AI right now.
 

Getty

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I have always thought that having admin costs scale up exponentially instead of lineally would be the easiest solution in order to make it more meaningful and ecourage more tall gameplay and focus on bureaucratic costs. Like 1 planet costs 2 bureaucrats to maintain, but 10 planets with the same characteristics require 30 bureaucrats and 100 planetsrequire 500 bureaucrats (not final numbers) and so on and so on...This being scaled so that conquering the ENTIRE galaxy wouldn't be optimal gameplay, but rather an expensive albeit available choice. This would also make hiveminds more competitive in wide gameplay since their synapse drones are more productive due to their extra unity production, along with their special effects with minor artifacts.

Also I'm not fully on board with replacing cultural workers, but I trust in your capacity to change the game for the better long-term by removing gameplay hindering development (cough-Patch 2.0-cough), so perhaps removing cultural workers will be worthwhile.
 
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devilmaycry616

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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.
Please do not!
 
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Dragatus

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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.

Have you considered the possibility of doing the opposite and instead making research districts available to everyone?
 
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cblue22

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For the unity and admin change idea it would be cool if high unity could effect how much stability comes from jobs! Also with Humanoids game-play it would cool to have a origin thats lets your species to be High-Human, elves, dwarves. Which would have traits and some lore behind it that you could dig into as a back story. Also Would be cool to see different civics affected by changes in the future too.
 

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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.
i feel like a rework of empire sprawl rework should come with systems to make hiveminds and machine empires stand apart like for example a hive empire that has a few queens each with its own have has to put in work to have more queens or a machine empire having to build data storage and processing facilities or a hive that needs to gather biomass to grow its hive mind (like the flood from halo) also instead of empire sprawl it would be called empire capacity and you would not be able to go over it
 
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steampvnc1880

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"and to make Empire Sprawl something that you can never mitigate anymore."

Strongly disagree.
 
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Nevars

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Unity & Empire Sprawl
Finally something that make spiritualist less of a useless ethic and also fixing current situation that empire sprawl is toothless cuz it's too easy to maintain more admin cap than sprawl thus getting no penalty.

So killing two birds with one stone.

Though I still hope for anything that buff psionic ascension too.
 
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MadCrow96

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Hello devs, thank you so much for the effort I have almost 1000 hours on this game and I have only been playing stellaris since 2.7 and it's incredible to witness the enormous changes and love this game have received since then. It's really a huge improvement and I can't say that enough, is just amazing.

I can't read the whole thread, my day has been too long and I'm very tired right now and I want to go to sleep but I really really want to give my opinion on this: I think we are on the verge of something that the community have been asking for so long by now and I can't hide my big smiley face. An specialized team dedicated to just balance and flavour is heartwarming ad makes me feel proud of playing this game. Congrats to Paradox, Stellaris team seems to be one of the most creative one of the company.
 
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MadCrow96

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About the changes I can see 3 main topics: tech rushing, species DLC's and unity/empire sprawl.

Tech rushing is meta, it's the standard, needs to be powerful but if that's the only way to go then there is something wrong with that. The technocaracy+meritocracy combo is just so standard right now that is not even funny anymore, add to it necrophages or ring world and you can rush anyone with cruisers on 2230 ez on grand admiral. This is no a problem to me. The problem is the next and is mainly with technocracy alone: what is the point on spending resources on unity when you only need researchers it's unfair, tech rush needs to be just that. Adding unity production to it is just gamebreaking and effortless.

I have one idea that can solve this civic for good that I wanted to share, and it's possible only at the light of the latest updates.
1. Remove the +1 unity production per researcher: I have already explained why.
2. Science directors shouldn't produce amenities: there is no reason why they should produce them lore wise, a science director must lead investigations and academies to in order to make them more efficient. You don't expect a university director taking care of the wellbeing of a society directly, that's the administrators job.
3. In this order of ideas, Science Directors should bring something different. I was thinking of 2 things, the first one is small % bonus to research of about 5% or something or a % bonus on researchers maintenance on the planet to help getting more researchers.

If this build is so great at generating science, it should struggle getting unity and amenities, that's the reason why science directors should not get those bonuses. Taking into account that unity production is going to be far more important now, I think this is a good starting point to balance the game in future updates.

I'm not even going to talk about the ring world origin, mainly because I can see that the devs have cool ideas about it and that's great, just waiting to se how it wil play.

About the species DLC's, I agree with most people here. It's pretty exciting to see content being added to old DLC's. Personally for the plantoids DLC I hope to see nice species traits and a cool origin to play with them, and for the humanoid DLC I expect something similar to the necroids DLC: some civics and cool origin.

Now for the unity and balance I have to say that I also agree with a rework on the system, right now is more like a chore than something funny. I would like to see how unity plays on this but I would like to keep burocrats, coordinators and synapse drones playing a job here. I would argue that they can be used to increase planet stability, but I guess there are so many ideas out there.... we'll see what happens with them but I think it might be logical that this kind of jobs can have an output on stability, something almost impossible to get higher than 60% for gestalts.

I also expect a rework on byzantine bureaucracy if this ever happens.
 
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PhroX

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While I'm all for new stuff, I really don't like locking things to particular portraits. Part of the strength of Stellaris is the ability for the player to create whatever they want as their race, and putting restrictions on this is bad. Adding something like a "Photosynthesis" trait which is thematically associated with Plantoids would be cool, but limiting it to only Plantoids would be a major knock on the players ability to customise. Why couldn't I have, say, a species that is reptilian but could photosynthesise?

If you do disappoint me and go with phenotype locked content, at the very least don't make it mandatory for every species with those portraits. Let us chose whether we want it.

And yeah, I'm still unhappy about the way you did lithoids....
 
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Zanza

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Plantoids should have some interaction with the Tree of Life origin.
 
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Alfray Stryke

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To put some concerns at rest, as I've said in every dev diary (I think, it seems like it at this point) we're always working on the AI and the work done on Humanoids, Plantoids and considering game balance isn't subtracting from that.
 
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