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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wtrmute

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The main elven fantasies imo are:
-Smugness
-Purity/Nobility
-Being generally ancient or even immortal
-Magic/Psionics/Spiritualism
-Being in tune with nature
I could see any or all or even those being made into civics.
You know that Vulcans were to Roddenberry what Elves were to Tolkien, right?
 
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Troyen

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I really don't think it's coding the AI that's the time-consuming part. It's the validation.

There are many variables and interconnected systems in Stellaris. Increase the priority of one resource and you might see deficiencies in another resource (the reasoning behind deprioritizing research in 3.0.3 was to stabilize AI economies better). You also have to deal with galaxy modifiers, origins, ethics, neighbors, and many kinds of other systems that can make your AI empires get lucky or unlucky and do better/worse than expected after a given change. Not to mention letting the simulation run (even on an abbreviated or faster speed) takes a bunch of time. If someone were to make even the most simple change to the AI resource plan, how much time does it take for them to be reasonably confident their change improved the game and plays out as expected?

A more drastic overhaul touches more systems at the same time, which muddies the testing results even further. If you changed ten things, how would you evaluate which of those changes worked and which caused other problems? Especially since I assume it's a given you don't want every AI to play exactly the same every game, since that would just bore your players.
 
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ImaTomato

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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).
In my last game I never bothered to build a ring world or abuse the ringworld start and I still managed to get to the repeatables before 2300.With the current planet system it's possbile to spam city districts to get building slots so it's possible to easily build research planets even in the early game.

The problem is the AI ,it can't build proper specialized planets so it doesn't matter how much you nerf ringworlds.Even a normal build can reach FE empire level tech before 2400 which the AI will never manage.


have a design for doubling down on using Unity as the resource for internal management,
Can't say that I'm a fan of adding more mana.
removing Admin Cap entirely, and to make Empire Sprawl something that you can never mitigate anymore.

So like 1.9 before you added bureaucrats?That's not excactly new .
 
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Korp

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I wish. I've been trying to form a federation with my neighbour and the only thing stopping me is the malus for hives
Oh, you mean the penalty for federation acceptance. I thought you meant the opinion penalty.

You are right about that one existing. But I don't think that it should necessarily be removed between hives since it is meant to represent a general aversion to federations rather than a dislike of the empire in question. (though you could very well argue that they should not have such a aversion in the first place)
 

7ED

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First, I think folks here bashing bureaucrats have an overly-rosy view of the pre-2.0 Stellaris, when admin cap and empire sprawl was something you couldn't mitigate. Dumbing the game down by merging in admin cap with unity seems a bit strange to me--unity was already so abstract a concept, and now its supposed to also fold in over-extension concepts as well? A poorly defined resource that you generate with no concrete analogue in reality sounds awfully like a mana system to me.

Second, I don't think districts is the reason folks can tech rush.... Prosperous unification is perfectly capable of hitting 3k science by 2300, and anyone who is at 2k science should be rolling the megastructure tech pretty darn soon. In fact, on older patches without all the fancy districts, I was able to get to megastructures sooner than I am now. But the nice thing about Stellaris is it rewards smart play and pre-planning. Nerfing the human player for being too good seems short-sighted to me. I don't understand why "tech rushing" is a problem. If the goal is to slow down the game, I am all for that, but the solution is to add more content to the mid-game, and stretch out the end game so that you don't have war in heaven and end game crisis all showing up at the same time pretty much the moment you hit 2400.

In any event, if the devs go through with trying to slow down tech progression, they're probably also going to need to push back the end game crisis. I like playing on 25x crisis strength, and I don't think I'm the only one here. If that spawned right at 2400 when the game balance has been skewed such that I can't tech rush anymore, it means I would have to pick between foregoing all the end game content to a point where I can take on the crisis, or keeping the end game date where it is but have no chance of fighting the crisis.
 
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Colonizor48

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Pls dont nerf ringworlds. If anything they need a buff not a nerf in the lategame. This is my idea for a ringworld rework.
1. Make each ringworld segment the equivilent of a size 50 gaia world with large bonuses to pop assembly and population capacity. having a population cap of around 300 pops per (normal, non hive/machine/euco)ringworld segment(This may seem like a large amount but keep in mind an irl ringworld would probably be able to hold millions of pops assuming 1 pop is around 500 million people) While were at it make an asthetic change to the ringworld, remove the frame and just make it a ringworld with the entire ring being habitable. But still only 4 segments.
2. The ring world would give an empire wide buff to the amount of growth/assembly needed to make a new pop, lowing it considerably but halfing the bonus for every ring world built. Each segment would also have 32 building slots.
3. Ring world districts: Ring world districts would be equal to normal planet districts with a few exceptions(you can build 50 districts but just normal districts). First mining districts are replaced with new star lifting districts, which act like normal mining districts that also produce a bit of energy in place of upkeep. They give 3 miner jobs per district. and produce 5 energy per district(no job required for this). Ring worlds would also have habitat research districts and habitat leasure districts.
4. Eucemenopolis and hive/machine ring worlds. Euco ringworlds would give euco districts + science and trade districts but would get rid of agriculture and mineral districts and would reduce energy from jobs by 50%. Keep in mind each euco district would still give 10 jobs and same with other arcologies. The science distrcits would give +6 researcher jobs and +10 housing. They would also have management districts which would just give +10 bureaucrat jobs with +10 housing. They could be obtained by doing the arcology project on a ringworld. This arcology project would simply require 25 districts to be filled with industrial/city/leasure districts on a ringworld.
Hive ringworlds would be similar but would be different at the same time. They would keep all normal districts form before with the exception of the industrial district, which would be replaced with an alloy district that just gives +10 metallurgist jobs. Hive ringworlds could be made by terraforming a normal ring-world for 50000 energy. Hive ringworlds would also have a pop assembly district that would give +5 organic pop assembly jobs. Finaly they would have a synapse district that would give +10 synapse jobs. Machine ringworlds would be the same but with any changes needed to make them for machines instead of hive minds.
 
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HistoricalScore1

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First, I think folks here bashing bureaucrats have an overly-rosy view of the pre-2.0 Stellaris, when admin cap and empire sprawl was something you couldn't mitigate. Dumbing the game down by merging in admin cap with unity seems a bit strange to me--unity was already so abstract a concept, and now its supposed to also fold in over-extension concepts as well? A poorly defined resource that you generate with no concrete analogue in reality sounds awfully like a mana system to me.

Fair point. I only played since 3.0.2 though I was gifted the game years ago. I do think that it may not be fun for everyone, but it seems realistic if it's really, really, hard to mitigate empire sprawl. Think of how divided countries are, how many political parties they have. Now think of colonies several star systems away. You sure that Governor doesn't think they can overthrow your current Ruler? That they promised a large amount of Pops more wages (increased upkeep) if they join. I'd like something like benefits/negatives to going tall. Benefits/negatives for going wide. Not a, if I just have enough of x, I can have my empire take up the whole map without any risk of rebellions, etc. How long did it take for people to communicate before internet, before phones, before vehicles, before horses, etc. etc. Do you think phones can travel immediately across multiple star systems? What we see from the our Sun (Sol) is actually the past. In Star Trek a lot of messages were past recordings if they were too far away. Communication is probably important when it comes to x Researchers on this colony and x Researchers on this other far away colony.

Second, I don't think districts is the reason folks can tech rush.... Prosperous unification is perfectly capable of hitting 3k science by 2300, and anyone who is at 2k science should be rolling the megastructure tech pretty darn soon. In fact, on older patches without all the fancy districts, I was able to get to megastructures sooner than I am now. But the nice thing about Stellaris is it rewards smart play and pre-planning. Nerfing the human player for being too good seems short-sighted to me. I don't understand why "tech rushing" is a problem. If the goal is to slow down the game, I am all for that, but the solution is to add more content to the mid-game, and stretch out the end game so that you don't have war in heaven and end game crisis all showing up at the same time pretty much the moment you hit 2400.

100% agree. Players get access to many events/anomalies/precursor the AI do not which is sometimes free tech/research points/unity (faster research tradition/ascension). Technocracy, oh now my researchers provide Unity (faster traditions/ascensions). Ooh, do I need to build a fleet to defend against my neighbors since I'm tech rushing? Nope. Do I have a high cost to resource to perform research (example, to build buildings you spend an amount of minerals, to build ships you spend an amount of alloys). Nope, it's just a per month amount. I can just use the Market. Am I able to do a research agreement with every diplomacy-able empire, regardless of civics/ethics? You bet! There should be pros and cons. Pros of tech rushing, I can have a the best of the best. Cons, I'm wide open to someone who wants to just take my shiny things. You could have 1 person with a gun. But your neighbor with 10 people with spears will still be able to take you out.

Slow down tech rushing would be, for each time you start a Research Project there's a base cost of a resource depending on the type of research being done. Better armor (alloys), better miner production (minerals), etc.

Pls dont nerf ringworlds. If anything they need a buff not a nerf in the lategame. This is my idea for a ringworld rework.
Ring world start with lithoid or machine empire = way high habitability, so ringworld origin doesn't matter. A lot of the emphasis is on the early and mid game mechanics needing to be reworked. If what you do in the early to mid game makes what you do in the late game not matter in the slightest, that's the phase of the game to prioritize balancing first. Right now, Ringworld DA is insanely busted. It's not even close. If you're a normal empire with Ringworld, yes it's more reasonable. Still though, make robots, synth. Habitability doesn't matter again. Migration Treaty. Habitability doesn't matter again.
 

sacha-t

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Its simple techlab are too much powerfull now that you can easelly unlock building on planets. You need to impose a pace to player, before it was you pop developpement, now there's none and it because from science boost. Everything is related to science. So you could make tech lab more costly in maintenance, either they count in empire sprawl, either you put a advancement penalty (like EU4) either you erase or put in end game the tech that burst your ressources. But in the end its a way to impose the pace that we need, a pace that is hard to accelerate. Like CK3, if not game will never go to the end in multi. Their is even more problem with the artefact that you can sell for so much money that here it also boost your ressources at a point of breaking.
 
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slv

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I'd rather not assume where I don't need to and have @slv speak on it himself. Salvor, do you have an idea how long you spent scripting StarNet in total? How long before the first release? And as we've discussed you're limited by what is modifiable, correct? You can't add behaviors that don't exist. For example, an AI Empire Force Resettlement of Pops. Or am I mistaken?
It took 2 weeks to prepare the first release (probably around 40 hours). I don't know how much time was spent in total, but I can tell that I've spent over 1000 hours in observe mode, so for a rough estimate whole development probably took 2-3 thousands hours.

As for being restricted, yes, I am restricted by what's moddable and what's not (resettlement isn't doable by AI). Note that sometimes I am willing to use workarounds that will simulate some game mechanics.

For example in this patch some of the AI interaction methods seem to be bugged (among other things the ai_resource_production field doesn't impact the AI as much as it should have or maybe it doesn't impact it at all) and I had to implement a workaround . Namely the AI will ignore buildings that don't create new jobs that provide resources, so as a result it will never build a stronghold and the only time AI will consider building city district is when it lacks housing or amenities (it's impossible to force it build a city district on a tech world just to give space for a new lab).

On paper every building/district has a special field "ai_resource_production" and if I add a resource to this field the AI is supposed to think the building/district produces the resource. Thus if a modder wants AI to build a stronghold under some conditions they can make AI think the stronghold produces 1000 alloys under these conditions and AI will build it. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to work and AI ignores those building even if your ai_resource_production numbers are huge.

My workaround was to introduce a new hidden resource that doesn't do anything and make those buildings/districts create new jobs that produce this resource. Then if the economic_plan requires AI to mine this resource it will try to make jobs that produce the resource, and the only way to do it is by building city districts, strongholds and any other building I want them to build.

Gameplay effect is the same (AI now builds strongholds and city districts whenever I want them to), but the way to achieve it is very far from intended. So sometimes I can use a roundabout way to achieve the same goal. Usually it is a terrible idea and such workarounds need to be used with extreme caution, the scripts are very limited and are not too convenient to use, especially if you are using them in an unsupported fashion.

The best example of such usage is the "Aggressive Crisis Engine" mod. Fleet movements are not too moddable (only few numerical values in defines are changeable, the overall logic is hardcoded. This isn't neccessaily a bad thing, if fleet movements take a lot of processing power it's much better if fleet management is done with fast C++ and not with slow scripts) and authors of this mod faced a problem of crisis fleets being stuck due to bad pathfinding. The only solution was to completely switch off crisis AI and instead implement it from scratch using events to issue orders and analyse the circumstances. The event subsystem is Turing complete, so if you are really into it, you can implement anything you want. It will take a huge amount of time and it's not convenient, but if there is no other way then it can be done.

I used to have such workaround with resettlement (an event that was essential doing the same thing as the Automatic Resettlement mod does to player empires) but in 3.0. with resettlement taking influence I tried to make AI use automatic resettlement instead (by leaving pops unemployed until they get automatically resettled using the new 3.0 feature).
 
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Shirasik

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Where did you get the impression you can't have a solid backend using scrum? Oo. That's simply not true
Strictly speaking, you could. Buggy, slow, with unstable codebase. But still, solid.
 
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SilverBurst23

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Strictly speaking, you could. Buggy, slow, with unstable codebase. But still, solid.
No. Just no. You've worked with a shitty scrummaster or for an employer that simply doesn't know scrum.

Scrum is a methodology for prioritising work and deciding what to work on. That does absolutely not lead to "buggy, slow and unstable codebase". Please read some books on software engineering before pulling that kind of uninformed statements
 
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Shirasik

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No. Just no. You've worked with a shirty scrummaster or for an employer that simply doesn't know scrum.
Even worse: I been never employed in any project that managed as agile. Can't imagine anyone ever using scrum on LTS uC and SoC solutions while using mix of C and asm. But if you know some, I'm curious.
 
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SilverBurst23

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Even worse: I been never employed in any project that managed as agile. Can't imagine anyone ever using scrum on LTS uC and SoC solutions while using mix of C and asm. But if you know some, I'm curious.

Using abbreviations maliciously is a great way of dodging the issue. :) could you please spell them out? SoC can mean six different things in computers only. You can employed in security, chip systems, military or health, all of them have systems that abbreviate as SoC.

And I fail to see what your experience in what looks like low level chip programming or hardware drivers (which is why you use something like... Assembler) applies to "omg,scrum prevents you from having a good backend". But hey, I'm pretty sure 99% of modern software companies including Paradox, Netflix, Google and Amazon are wrong and Shirasik is right and we should just go back to Waterfall.

Also... Backend. You use a Web programming concept (which believe me, doesn't include "C and asm"), to criticise a DESKTOP game, and then claim that its the fault of the METHODOLOGY (agile /scrum).

So yeah. Using random concepts from software design to just criticise the game in a total non sequitur is a new one. I have no further intention of discussing this, and would be healthier if we return to talking game improvements, humanoid civics and all that. Just please don't confuse people with computer science terms that aren't related :)
 
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Ex Mudder

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I would love to see empire sprawl fixed somehow. In the mean time, I am convinces the Unity penalties and Research penalties should be switched. In fact, the Research penalties may need to be boosted even more before admin buildings are no longer irrelevant to tech rushing.

But if you could get rid of Admin buildings completely, so much the better. Waste of PoPs as it is.

Any reason Administrators (Ruler Stratum) don't give Admin Capacity? That alone would nerf Research Directors / Technocracy, who would not grant Admin Points, just as they do not grant Unity. If Priests / High Priests provided Admin points, that would buff Spiritualists, who need it. Nobles should provide Admin, Merchants should not.
 

Shirasik

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could you please spell them out?
Long-term support microcontroller and system on a chip solutions.
Well, officially I shall use the 'MCU' term, but I thought uC is quite obvious.

Also... Backend. You use a Web programming concept (which believe me, doesn't include "C and asm"), to criticise a DESKTOP game, and then claim that its the fault of the METHODOLOGY (agile /scrum).
Because of such things like "a.b version definitions for y.z version" people SUDDENLY need for mods, what directly points out at some degree of chaos that rule in local "API" for frontend and modding. That's how agile works: it is not intended to produce code that will be in heavy use for years without altering its structure. While agile works perfectly for web projects, where programmer faces a zoo of html/css/node/whatever implementations being changed every month, agile don't fit well for long-living code that needs gradual improvement.
While I agree what at 1.0 Stellaris had to be a pure agile project, it came a long way and now has some part of its data structures and core logic to be standardised.

Also... Backend. You use a Web programming concept
You could logically divide any project into some sort of back-/front-end dichotomy. Frontend uses API provided by backend, whatever this 'API' is.

I have no further intention of discussing this
k
 
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HugsAndSnuggles

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Oh? What happened to the original idea of
Origins are not meant to be balanced against each other, but rather balanced within themselves (as in they don't start in severe resource deficits or "feel broken" by themselves). There are Origins that are "stronger" than other Origins.
Why the sudden balancing rush?

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.
Penalty is not necessarily all about stacking debuffs, wasting jobs on bureaucrats can be penalty by itself. Of course, if you suddenly remembered original vision:
The game can appear deceptively simple for new players. I.e. it can have a much smoother learning curve than our infamously hard-to-learn historical games
(which is not true since 2.2, since no one bothered to even update tutorial to say that it is possible to build districts - at least, before 3.0... no idea how things are now) then by all means - go ahead and remove bureaucrats and bunch of other unnecessary stuff... as long as you remember to properly explain this in game and balance it out. Too many things that were added are simply noob traps (like demotion timer), existing for the sole purpose of game saying "ha! got ya, n00b!" rather than balance.
 
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Kaoru Sen'nin

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Will the Humanoid specific civic be locked for Humanoid portrait or will we be able to use them for any empire if we have the DLC ?

I feel like there is no reason that my "Space Elves" can't be Avian for instance.

Oh yes! If its a worker that goes, its the Culture Worker since its so generic. Bureaucrats would be the Unity producing job. That would mean shifting around some job-swaps (like managers for megacorps) to be swaps of the bureaucrat instead.

We absolutely need to maintain the idea of Trantor.

Well I guess "Consumer Goods" are somewhat an abstraction of both physical product and immaterial products (movie, game, theater...) but that feels a bit bland to just mash up all that together if we lose Culture Worker. Granted I don't have any idea what we could use these for mechanicaly wise.

Tying unity to Sprawl and being "used" by pop feels weird unless the Traditions unlock change.
Because you can have Thousands and positive production of Unity, then select a tradition or activate an eddict and reach near 0 Unity because you consumed it. If for some reason at the same time your unity output takes a dive, then you may very well hit the 0 Unity stock, which I suppose would hit heavily on happiness and / or Sprawl.
 
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jayparadoritox

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Sounds excellent! I almost always focus on unity-heavy empires (just as a roleplaying/aesthetic choice; I know it's been illogical as a powerful strategy). but this sounds like unity could become an excellent investment for your empire with a lot of interesting choices and impacts over the course of the game. Really looking forward to seeing what comes of this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!
 
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Sam Illingworth

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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.
I agree that starts don’t need to be balanced, but this change sounds like it’ll make Shattered Ring more interesting and fun, which is a worthy goal in and of itself.
 
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