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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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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 :)

Don't know if it'd be viable or workable or even make sense. But for humanoids, you know how you occasionaly get Hard Sci-fi settings with no or minimal aliens? I feel like an Origin that makes it so the only Empires that spawn are of your main species, so it's like Lost Colony+ or whatever. Obviously disabled for AI to take, but that's just something I figured might fit for the Humanoids pack anyway. I always like the idea of having one species having lots of different Empires with different ethics; like you can tell how they've fragmented. Diversity is usually one of the most common traits for Humans in science fiction after all.

Either way, all of these changes look legit, I'll be happy with however this turns out. Just glad to see older content get updates and polish!
 
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DreadLindwyrm

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Don't know if it'd be viable or workable or even make sense. But for humanoids, you know how you occasionaly get Hard Sci-fi settings with no or minimal aliens? I feel like an Origin that makes it so the only Empires that spawn are of your main species, so it's like Lost Colony+ or whatever. Obviously disabled for AI to take, but that's just something I figured might fit for the Humanoids pack anyway. I always like the idea of having one species having lots of different Empires with different ethics; like you can tell how they've fragmented. Diversity is usually one of the most common traits for Humans in science fiction after all.

Either way, all of these changes look legit, I'll be happy with however this turns out. Just glad to see older content get updates and polish!
Rather than being a "humanoids" thing, it'd be an interesting game setting overall, at least for a few games.

Maybe it sets one progenitor empire and gives *everybody* Lost colony?
 

Nebbie Zebbie

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This is good, but I will note it's not just the research districts that are the problem (though please consider giving organic empires energy districts on ringworlds and axe research districts on them outright; if districts are for physical resources, and buildings non-physical, research districts really should be only on habitats over worlds with deposits, not a "well we study this advanced stuff we created..."). The general problem with research is that the CG cost isn't much to slow it down, and doesn't exist for MEs, so it can really easily be spammed; I think you guys should really consider a design that isn't "spam some industrial districts in a corner of the empire to make researchers happy", but instead something that uses more local resources like amenities.
 

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Also, while conquering is certainly the most efficient way to gain worlds, I would wager that the majority of players aren't conquering aggressively in most of their games.

I wouldn't agree with this. As far as I can tell, waging war and conquering other planets is often the only thing to do in the mid-game.
 
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I wouldn't agree with this. As far as I can tell, waging war and conquering other planets is often the only thing to do in the mid-game.
Sometimes I conquer, sometimes I vassalise, or "persuade" other empires into the federation. It depends.

Sometimes I just seize choke points, turtle down and get ready for the end game whilst trying to be just big enough/strong enough that everyone else leaves me alone.
 
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I wouldn't agree with this. As far as I can tell, waging war and conquering other planets is often the only thing to do in the mid-game.

It's been a while since they've mentioned it but, to my understanding, xenophile has long been the most popular ethic for players. While that doesn't mean players aren't conquering at all while playing it, I think the forum is probably very overrepresented in miltarists and slavers.
 
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I'm all for a rework of Empire Sprawl and Admin Cap. But that said, I think it should go hand in hand with a rework of sector and vassal mechanics. As the game stands, empire sprawl means little and it's too easy to make galaxy wide empires. Every sector is the same and I never create vassal empires from the sector menu. I'd like to see large empires be prone to collapsing under the weight of the bureaucracy needed to manage them. And rimworlds, outer worlds, inner planets, and core worlds be meaningful terms. And having a need to create vassals to reduce empire sprawl in a large empire.

For sectors, I would like to see a mechanic where distance from the capital plays a role. Maybe worlds x number of jumps from the capital are prone to high amenities needs/have higher sprawl impact and going over admin cap increases that amenities penalty. This way rimworlds are less stable and more prone to crime, rebellion and more ethics divergence than core worlds. And if you build a gateway you can reduce the x number of jumps from the capital so the penalty is reduced in late game. And by having too many rimworlds you may be more prone to creating vassal states from the sectors to deal with the empire sprawl impact.

For vassals, I would like if the integration time was eliminated or made as a modifier penalty with differences between vassals created from sectors and vassals created from other empires. This way I could create and remove vassals at will to deal with empire sprawl's impact. Maybe the feudal society or nobles civic could play a role too in terms of penalties or bonuses from vassals. And vassals created from sectors would contribute taxes and levies (unlike how vassals work today (only levies)) that could be modified based on empire sprawl (if the empire is too big, vassals pay less taxes as the central administration is too overwhelmed to handle it). And maybe distance from the capital could play a role too with sector vassal mechanics (further from the capital vassals are more likely to rebel/pay less taxes/levy).

These are just my thoughts to make empire sprawl and admin cap more meaningful with some mechanics of the game I rarely use. I think the original thought behind Admin Cap was to mimic centralization and authority from games like CK2. And from the other comments using Unity to balance it out makes sense to me as a game mechanic and I look forward to what you'll do. As the system stands today it feels like a number I'm just trying to not make red.

As an update to my last post, I would like to elaborate on the changes I think would rework Empire Sprawl, add in core, inner, outer, and rim worlds, and utilizes vassals more. Please note all numbers are arbitrary and none of them are final.

1) The first change is that Empire Sprawl would affect amenities. Amenities impact pop happiness (-1 amenity = -2 pop happiness) and reflect the ability of the bureaucracy to make life comfortable (like short lines at the department of motor vehicles or having access to high-speed internet). Therefore, the larger the empire the harder it would be for the central government to grant amenities to everyone. Each point of Empire Sprawl over a cap will add a negative amenities multiplier to each planet. So like 1 point of Empire Sprawl = -1% Amenities per a world.

2) This change plays into the second idea to add core, inner, outer, and rim worlds. The term core world, inner world, outer world, and rim world are based on the distance of the planet from the capital world. The further away a planet is from the capital world, the less amenities it would have access too. This is a flat negative number, not a multiplier. Distance does not impact sectors like I previously suggested.
  • Core Worlds would be up to 1 jump away from the Capital and have a -1 Amenity due to distance
  • Inner Worlds would be up to 4 jumps away from the Capital and have -2 Amenities due to distance (the jump range represents the distance of the Core Sector)
  • Outer worlds would be up to 8 jumps away from the Capital and have -3 Amenities due to distance
  • Rim worlds are planets more than 8 jumps away from the Capital and have a -5 Amenities due to distance.
I do not think there needs to be additional modifiers to simplify the mechanics. With the minimal amenities impact, by maintaining sprawl the game will operate as normal. However, with high sprawl a rim world is more likely to experience negative pop happiness, crime, and rebellions due to the above-mentioned multiplier effect. Additionally, the distance from the capital can be modified by gateways so in late game strategically placed gateways can reduce the impact of high sprawl by reducing the distance of a planet.

3) To counteract the issues of a rebelling rim world in a high sprawl empire, the third idea is to rework vassals. Vassals can be created and integrated into the empire instantly. Therefore, when the empire has sprawl under control, the planets could be governed by the capital. But when sprawl is high a localized autonomous region can be set up to govern itself. However, integration additionally applies a negative modifier on the integrated region, with the effect varying if its vassal created from a sector in the empire or a vassal created from another empire. Vassals should also pay tax in addition to a levy. The tax rate is based on a new mechanic discussed below. Additional vassal expansion and vassals fighting each other can be based on the mechanic discussed below. I kind of want vassals to be more like how they work in CK2.

4) The fourth idea is the new mechanic Empire Centralization. Centralization represents the effectiveness of the Capital planet to govern over the numerous worlds of the empire. Centralization modifies the Sprawl Cap, or the point where the impacts of sprawl start to take effect and vassal actions. It is a policy that can be enabled (or maybe works like an edict requiring influence) and is broken into these five categories. Going from a lower to a higher tier adds a -10 stability penalty for 5 year.
  • Centralized: This is the default setting (lore reason being the government is highly centralized now that it has unified the planet). There is no Admin cap bonus. There is a +5 Amenities bonus and an increased Unity multiplier. Vassals pay 80% tax rate and cannot expand, cannot go to war, or have external diplomacy.
  • High Centralization: This adds +25 to admin cap. There is a +1 Amenities bonus. Vassals pay 60% tax rate, cannot expand, cannot go to war, or have external diplomacy.
  • Medium Centralization: This adds +50 to admin cap. There are no bonuses. Vassals pay 40% tax rate, can expand, cannot go to war, or have external diplomacy.
  • Low Centralization: This adds +100 to admin cap. It increases pop ethic divergence. Vassals pay 20% tax rate, can expand, can go to war, but cannot have external diplomacy (can fight amongst other vassals).
  • No Centralization: This adds +200 to admin cap. It increases pop ethic divergence and adds a minor unity penalty. Vassals pay 0% tax rate, can expand, can go to war, and can have external diplomacy.
The idea of centralization is it lets you be able to control your expansion with regards to the mechanisms above. To mitigate sprawl penalties, you can either improve your bureaucracy or reduce your centralization. So you can be a wide empire with no centralization and lots of vassal infighting, a wide empire with a strong bureaucracy and high centralization, a tall empire with no bureaucracy and medium centralization, etc. If admin cap is eliminated, maybe centralization can impact amenities, so Centralized adds +5, High +3, Medium +2, Low +1, and None 0.

5) To complement centralization, I also propose adding more edicts/events that modify Happiness. Happiness indirectly affects stability, so an alternate method to improving the bureaucracy is improving happiness. Things I think should be done are strata focused edicts that are made by spending unity. An example could an edict that improves the ruling class happiness, who having high political power greatly improves stability. It should be scalable by pop count per strata. and can be a blanket all pop edict. There could also be more events that impact happiness. For example, a ruler is installed from a faction that opposes the nation’s ideals a happiness debuff should be add (like electing the leader of the xenophobic faction to president of a xenophilic democracy). Or a member of the ruling class has a scandal that debuffs the happiness of the lower classes.

All the changes above I believe would lead to a more dynamic empire and cater to both a tall and wide playstyle (though kind of leans tall). I also think it could lead to some interesting internal politics to manage, such as a possible need to move a capital to improve empire stability, or deciding to create a vassal state to handle the impacts of sprawl in a low centralized government. I am hoping the idea could lead to a warring states or Battletech like scenario where a large empire collapses into a bunch of feuding smaller nations in a mid-game crisis type event. Please note again none of these numbers are final and were thought up since I made my previous post as examples.
 

Timurtash

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How about adding pre-FTL game, what if game starts with primitive ages? Just asking don't judge me :D
 
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How about adding pre-FTL game, what if game starts with primitive ages? Just asking don't judge me :D

What would the gameplay loop be, then? Researching primitive techs and building the occasional primitive factory/laboratory?
 
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What would the gameplay loop be, then? Researching primitive techs and building the occasional primitive factory/laboratory?
You could add an ability to colonise equivalents of Mars/Venus/asteroids/etc. with severe difficulties and penalties, the ability to explore nearby star systems with STL drives (meaning a single jump would take at least 5-10 in-game years), the ability to colonise those nearby star systems, and also the risks of various colonies (both inside your system and in nearby systems) declaring independence, with you having to solve that later.
 

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"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."

meanwhile gestalts

see my foot note
 
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DreadLindwyrm

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You could add an ability to colonise equivalents of Mars/Venus/asteroids/etc. with severe difficulties and penalties, the ability to explore nearby star systems with STL drives (meaning a single jump would take at least 5-10 in-game years), the ability to colonise those nearby star systems, and also the risks of various colonies (both inside your system and in nearby systems) declaring independence, with you having to solve that later.
5-10 years would represent a near light drive for us. And that's assuming that Proxima Centauri and Barnard's star (or rather their equivalents) would be represented for the species in question.

It would also be terribly boring to have it take that long for one ship to travel one system, whilst you essentially just sit there and research to try to get to FTL.

In system colonies won't be possible for most species - for us there is no chance of colonising *anything* else in the Solar System with the way Stellaris handles it. Mars has a mid-late game tech requirement as it's a barren world. Nothing else is ever habitable, unless you do the Worm.
So that would leave habitats - also generally a mid game tech, and prohibitively expensive for a "primitive" single system species.
 
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bzflater

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In system colonies won't be possible for most species - for us there is no chance of colonising *anything* else in the Solar System with the way Stellaris handles it.
Then you could change the way Stellaris handles it. For example, you could add a new type of colony called "Planetary Habitat" or something like that. It would represent things like cloud cities in the atmosphere of Venus or gas giants or domed cities on the surface of Mars and be very limited and weak compared to normal planetary habitation or even voidborne habitats. You could even allow similar (but even more limited, perhaps supporting only 3-5 pops when maxed out) structures on asteroids if you went all in on this pre-FTL idea.
 

DreadLindwyrm

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Then you could change the way Stellaris handles it. For example, you could add a new type of colony called "Planetary Habitat" or something like that. It would represent things like cloud cities in the atmosphere of Venus or gas giants or domed cities on the surface of Mars and be very limited and weak compared to normal planetary habitation or even voidborne habitats. You could even allow similar (but even more limited, perhaps supporting only 3-5 pops when maxed out) structures on asteroids if you went all in on this pre-FTL idea.
That's then a *big* shift in the whole game, and not really in the "lets give primitive gameplay" milieu.

You'd have to basically give all "normal" starts full "planetary habitats" on all their planets. But that's also the role that basic, level one habitats are meant to fulfil in the game at the moment. They're also more powerful in some ways than standard habitats if as you initially suggested you could put them around asteroids. You can't do that with habitats at the moment.

It's an interesting mod idea, but it would change the balance enormously, as *literally* everything becomes a site for habitation, even if it's only tiny.
 
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TalyonUngol

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Hey Devs. You guys do amazing work. This is a fantastic game and I've never been truly disappointed. However, if you guys were to look at swinging a balance update towards Origins and such, could you look at Doomsday, Post Apoc, the Javvox Pox?

For example, the post apoc should do nicely alognside the Pox but the Pox doesn't do very well in turning things into tomb worlds. Maybe look at that?

But if you wer to buff Post Apoc... maybe look at giving the ability to Terraform worlds into Tomb Worlds? That would be great with it. And do something with bonuses? Idk.

Doomsday is tricky, but just some better Roleplay additions would be nice to this tough start. Leave the start tough, but make it a better bonus later on?
 

DreadLindwyrm

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maybe look at giving the ability to Terraform worlds into Tomb Worlds?
It's called Armageddon Bombardment, and you get to terraform worlds you're at war with. :p
 
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TalyonUngol

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It's called Armageddon Bombardment, and you get to terraform worlds you're at war with. :p

Yea but i don't play Determined exterminator when i play post apoc. I roleplay that they were crash landed and had to adapt... Or that they were invaded as a pre ftl species or whatever. So It's for my roleplay needs. Haha.
 

TheSavorings

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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 :)

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.
All of this sounds great to me. Take your time. Also it's very appreciated to see a Developer to not only acknowledge the same things players see but to actually act on it. Not a slight in the least, one of the things that drew me about Stellaris was that it was obviously a labor of love. I've enjoyed every second of playing this game (I'm pushing 2000 hours since 2017).

Custodian Initiative sounds great as do the ideas listed above. Can't wait to see what you guys n gals have in store. I'll keep expectations low like I usually do in life in general but whatever it is I'm for sure checking it out.
 

laggless01

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If you want to distinguish Plantoids from Fungoids in some extent, why not give Fungoids an optional trait like 'Shade Dwellers', where their habitability and pop growth speed on regular planets is reduced (too much sun), but increased on habitats?
--
When it comes to he idea of dwarves (or fungoids like above), it could also be an idea to create 'tunnel worlds'. This just one-ups real-life concepts of building underground on dead planets to protect against radiation, by expanding it over an entire planet. (Moria would pale in comparison.)
These could then function as somewhat regular planets with Hive-world quantities of districts, however they would have certain advantages and disadvantages.

First off, rather than building districts, you would 'dig them out'. In other words, rather than use minerals, you'd use energy and gain minerals when building them. This could also apply to the project, requiring energy and alloys to build such a world (but gaining some minerals in the process, perhaps).

Next, the districts themselves. Energy districs due to no radiation protection would require a bit of additional upkeep and would perhaps be limited due to a lack of geothermal sources. Farming would rely entirely on hydroponics/shielded planting, so that could use an energy upkeep penalty. But mining and metallurgy/artisanry could get some nice boosts to compensate. And of course, little to no sunlight in underground habitation means a habitability penalty (could work nicely with that shade dwellers-trait before). These things could be done through a modifier or custom districts if you want to be fancy/create lore.

All of this could be put behind an ascension perk, or perk+tech.
 
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