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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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!
I’ll do you one better: a size 25 Ecumenopolis with nothing but city districts and bureaucrat offices.
Speaking of Trantor, how about you add a Bureaucrat district to Ecumenopoli? It'd be a massive win from both the flavor and gameplay sides of things, and Ecu's currently are "short" a district.
Although I would love this as well. Really emphasize that soul-crushing machine that is excessive bureaucracy.
 
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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.

That sounds awful please don't do this.

And that's coming from a not wide player who fully agrees that tall is to hard to do.

I have hated nearly every core worlds / sectors / scheme this game had before the current admin cap.

The current system is flexible, punishing if you go too far but not enough if you don't go too far over the cap. The game right now is a compelling three way tug of war between your expansion desires, your economy, and your capacity. And you have to manage that and it's fun, for me at least.

In my mind I don't understand how admin capacity is unfinished, or a dead end. It does exactly what it was meant to do, and provides an added layer of consideration to your game / plans. And if it is unfinished then why doesn't it get finished instead of presumably scrapping part of bureaucrats and admin cap, and just lumping Unity into this.

Unity which already two uses even if one of them is more endgame.

I'm sorry but, I'm a tall player in nearly every Paradox game but this is just heavy handed.

Finish / improve admin cap.

Or up the penalties for going over across the board and give them more teeth.

But don't just chuck what is a really flexible system, that the player has gotten used to that has a solid foundation, and wholesale replace it with mounting penalties with a unity buy down.

I've always admired this game and its various teams over the years for being willing to reach into the guts of this game see what was wrong and pull out whole systems that weren't working from FTL methods to the tile system. But that's not what this is, you're looking for a solution to a problem that debatably doesn't exist.

Are we really going to do another gut / core system tear out just to continue to chase at making tall more viable?
 
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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.
You will understand if you play some multiplayer. Difficulty sliders are for adjusting the difficulty of AI empires and AI crisis, while origins and civics change your power relative to other players. Playing against 10x crisis strength and playing with some player who set themself to 10x...

Yes the host can have rules against it, but it's not fun to spend as much time writing, discussing, informing about and enforcing rules as you spend actually playing the game. And you won't know that some guy ignored/forgot the rule until you're already well into game and decrypted him.
 
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Speaking of Trantor, how about you add a Bureaucrat district to Ecumenopoli? It'd be a massive win from both the flavor and gameplay sides of things, and Ecu's currently are "short" a district.

Personally I'd like to see the culture worker stick around, but significantly buffed and produced only in special situations.
Another type of district I think will be kind of expected in an Ecumenopolis is a Trade/Commercial one, working the same way as the Ring segment with the same name, providing Clerk and Merchant jobs.
 
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splodgenik

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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.
Fair enough. I hit 'love' on DD#214 because I was just glad to see you (collectively) acknowledge the problem and talk about how you're going to try to address it. Stellaris is a cool experience (otherwise I wouldn't still be playing and posting here), it just needs a bit more polish.
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.
It feels like Plantoids should be game-mechanically different somehow, like with Lithoids. Isn't it a little strange that they currently consume food just the same as other pops - wouldn't that be cannibalism for them, or at least becoming animals rather than plants? I hope one of the new traits can address this somehow.

Thanks for the updates,
 
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i can feel in this Dev Diary a serious and sincere desire to improve the game better and more !! it's really nice and it makes me want to continue to invest in this fabulous game.
Bravo for the efforts , you have all the support of the Stellariens !!! ;)
 

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The main problem with the spiritualist vs materialist balance is that research is always more important than unity even if unity were to be buffed, and as such spiritualist will always be a bad choice since you cannot access both. One thing that I think would help make spiritualists competitive is a civic that is analogous to technocracy. My idea would be something like one of these:

Revered Prophets (replaces Exalted Priesthood):
Replaces Priest jobs with Oracles. Oracles generate 3 unity, 5 amenities, and 4 of each research, but cost an extra 2 consumer goods in upkeep.
Replaces some Administrator jobs with High Prophets. High Prophets generate 4 unity, 5 amenities, and 5 of each research.
Empire modifier: +5% research speed.

Numbers subject to balance changes.

This would lean into the fantasy of finding technological revelations from the gods or the shroud, with prophets and oracles to divine new technologies. Much like technocracy allows fanatic materialist empires to ignore unity generating buildings and get all they need from researchers, oracles could fully replace researchers for science generation with this civic, providing the same science output as a researcher along with a slightly lowered unity output. The small empire modifier would in lore represent the society's focus on communicating with the gods to receive new insights, while in balance terms allow the spiritualists to keep up in line with regular materialists but not fanatic materialists.

The extra two consumer goods upkeep on the Oracle jobs would exist to keep the jobs from being too completely overpowered but would allow the condensation of pops (which lines up with psionic empires having lower growth than synthetic and biological ascension), since one pop can basically do both research and unity jobs fully efficiently but still require the full upkeep cost of two jobs.

Alternatively, something like this that doesn't affect jobs but just gives an empire modifier:

Divine Revelations:
-10% unity output.
+20% research speed.

This would be simpler but in my opinion less immersive/fun than the previous option, and less directly comparable to technocracy.
 
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Honestly, I prefer the admin cap mechanic. Though, I've always felt that there should be a developed vs undeveloped system modifier that affects empire sprawl. So, like, if you're just blobbing everywhere without building stations in the systems your claiming, that should have a bigger drain on your admin cap than a more controlled approach.
 
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to make Empire Sprawl something that you can never mitigate anymore

Please, don't go with the route where people have to leave some stars unconquered and have to snake systems because if you grab some more you get less rewards than not taking it.

Why not go with the route that the bigger the Empire, the higher Empire Sprawl it generate and more bureoucrats he needs to make...?
 
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Admin cap has been absolutely terrible since inception. The fact some people actually try and defend it is proof its been allowed to infect the game too long.

You can give going over cap infinite penalties. You could make going over make you lose the game instantly. Beurocrafts make it far too easy to just increase healthily and thus make the whole system pointless.

The old semi-hidden penalties were considerably more intuitive and less drama inducing.
 
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fourteenfour

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best be damn careful how you decide to treat sprawl with large expanding empires because that has been a constant point of 4X games. If we are not given the tools to manage sprawl and get magical penalties because of it, as in totally nonsensical, it will not make for a happy player base.

Admin capacity, managing a large empire, would work just fine using the naval cap method where it starts to cost a lot more energy to manage your systems if you do not specifically build the districts/buildings required to manage it properly.
 
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I can't wait to hear about your new ideas. I really really love plantoids portraits, so you can't imagine how happy I was when I heard you are going to add flavour to them.
 
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fourteenfour

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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).

yeah, because all empire and specie are exactly the same.

oh wait, they are not.

So situations like what you want should be bound up in specific empire and specie combinations, there are specie traits which make them less likely to want to expand so in effect its handled already
 
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Janx14

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best be damn careful how you decide to treat sprawl with large expanding empires because that has been a constant point of 4X games. If we are not given the tools to manage sprawl and get magical penalties because of it, as in totally nonsensical, it will not make for a happy player base.

Admin capacity, managing a large empire, would work just fine using the naval cap method where it starts to cost a lot more energy to manage your systems if you do not specifically build the districts/buildings required to manage it properly.

You couldn't manage pre-2.2 and the player base wasnt making a big deal out of it.
 
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DrFranknfurter

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I hope it will still be possible to choose a purely cosmetic plantoid/humanoid portrait without any special traits. Necroids pack did this well by having the Necrophage as origin. I would really dislike if the patch changes Plantoids/Humanoids species to have a special traits with no option to just have "normal" pops.

Suggestion: Purely Cosmetic Lithoid would be great, too. Sometimes you just want to look like a rock and not be a rock.
My small suggestion:

1. Make old and new Phenotype Traits into a set of exclusive 0 cost traits that can be used with any portrait in empire creation.
2. Make Random empire generation always match traits to the appropriate portrait class (exactly like now).

That way you avoid problems with empire generation creating confusing combinations like almost exclusively furry robots (which would otherwise be guaranteed to occur due to the much larger number of organic portraits than machine portraits). Players can create whatever odd, or ugly combinations they desire like metallic looking Plantoid spider trees... hopefully everyone is happy.
 
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Tindalosihound

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Speaking of Trantor, how about you add a Bureaucrat district to Ecumenopoli? It'd be a massive win from both the flavor and gameplay sides of things, and Ecu's currently are "short" a district.

So does this mean that Megacorps get Managers...
Spiritualists get Priests?

Both of these go well together, as this would give Spiritualist Ecumenopoli some sort of Shrine district and ultimately have worlds just covered in temple cities. (Which could be fitting for the Holy Guardians as well.)
 
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Grenartia

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Admin cap has been absolutely terrible since inception. The fact some people actually try and defend it is proof its been allowed to infect the game too long.

You can give going over cap infinite penalties. You could make going over make you lose the game instantly. Beurocrafts make it far too easy to just increase healthily and thus make the whole system pointless.

The old semi-hidden penalties were considerably more intuitive and less drama inducing.


I've been playing since August 2016. I have 4500 hours in game. I remember well the days before Admin cap. It was a welcome change, and I fail to see any reason why it should be gotten rid of.

Granted, I'm not a dev, but it strikes a great balance between allowing a wide play style, and penalizing you for overexpanding. Infinite penalties and insta-game-overs for going over cap are just pants-on head.
 
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jose2534

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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.
My artistic heart is crying! Please create some use for artists, we are important for the well-being of society, being this stellar or not! At least give us some events in exchange, or something like that, I don't know, a sculpture that is so majestic that inspires authoritarianism, a novel so good that inspires egalitarianism, a philosophical treaty that inspires spiritualism, you know, something D:
 
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Critical Ethics

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We felt like it made sense to open up these gameplay additions to both Plantoid portraits as well as for Fungoids.
Little things like this are what make feel optimistic
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.
Big things like this are what make feel optimistic
 
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Martenzo

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Is there some consideration going on to make artifacts obtainable in a more diverse manner, like war (i.e. Galatron), trade or via imperial seizure? (I specifically didn't mention espionage, as there's no real defense against that)
I could see a niche for an expensive and/or time-consuming espionage operation that generates minor artifacts out of a target empire, without actually stealing any away from the target's national stockpile. But yeah, stealing actual relics by espionage is just bad, because there's no way for a defender to stop it: the biggest issue of espionage right now is that the attacker always eventually succeeds if they're persistent enough and have the energy to spend.
 
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