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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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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.
good news, it'll be even more unique
 

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Thank you for sharing ideas in their infancy. In return, I will share my own experience with Admin Cap: the period starting from Admin Cap's introduction until the Bureaucrat job's introduction was a time when I could not motivate myself to push a single Stellaris campaign beyond 2250 or so. I was adjusting to the no-more-planet-tiles economy and seeing hefty research penalties for going wide early killed my motivation.

The earlygame is defined by "land grabbing": so many unclaimed systems to "plant your flag on". Anomalies and other narrative events don't hold as much traction for the repeat player. Your economy and diplomacy options haven't ramped up yet. Your meagre fleet is waiting on the economy to get big. You could pump out lots of alloy, but with trade lanes letting you control when pirates first appear, there's much less earlygame urgency to build up your fleet. So instead you pump out consumer goods so you can research and expand more. If the RNG happens to spawn your empire far away from other empires, you have all this empty space wanting to be claimed.

The idea of "research is your number one priority" is baked into player mindset and for good reason: it's sci-fi, we want to get to the cool tech faster as well as unlocking the big guns sooner. Seeing your 3 research bars go up faster and faster in the earlygame is a key reward of the earlygame experience. Even without selecting the OP research origins, the player still wants to maximise the experience rewards of the earlygame: secure more land, finish more tech. The no-bureaucrats-yet Admin Cap's research penalties made me feel punished for wanting to maximise my enjoyment of the earlygame, if only because the other reward structures of Stellaris hadn't kicked in yet. The rest of Empire Sprawl's penalties felt right - more expensive leader upkeeps, tradition prices and edict costs just made sense. Nerfing research with no way to mitigate was a deal breaker.

On the other hand, you don't want players to "power level" their tech really fast and break any challenge in the campaign (unless they're doing some stunt like 2250 End Game Year, x25 Crisis Strength). It feels like the only player stories I get to see involve Fallen/Awakened Empires, The Crisis and maybe the Khan. The regular empires played by the AI are mere speedbumps holding no substance after the first war with any of them.

I do not think Empire Sprawl -> Research Cost Penalty is the right way to slow down the research-focused player. Two lines of thought come to mind:

1) make other jobs more 'competitive' for the player to prioritise them

One obvious competitor is alloy jobs. More earlygame fleet demands (or other alloy sinks) to make player think twice and going all-in on consumer goods + research jobs. Doesn't have to mean military threats, could be events needing a certain fleet size for Xenophile purposes. For example "omg we need some concentrated firepower on this inanimate object to save these aliens!" or "oh shit, we need X alloy in the next Y months to save something valuable!"

Another would be unity jobs. Bad Things must happen to the player completely neglecting unity jobs to go all-in on research. Things like rebellions, pirates (even if trade lanes are secure), research progress loss, resource loss, internal sabotage (perhaps flavoured as espionage operations your own people do to each other), etc. An organic stick to make the player diversify from going all-in on research.

2) introduce soft caps per tech tier

Taking a page out of HoI4 (and a lesser degree, EU4) have tier-specific Research Cost Penalty if a player is trying to spike through a narrow slice of the possible techs to rush towards their goals. I don't think those penalties should be tied to the game year (which is an arbitrary number) but something more organic. Maybe whether other regular empires have similar tech (even without research agreements), or perhaps on having a certain number of the previous tech tier being researched, or even "it takes X years for this discovery to become commonplace in your empire". Actually that last one is based on an issue with most games' tech trees (which HoI4 subverts): "research complete" is immediately followed by "now everyone uses the new tech". EU4 institutions and HoI4 production line efficiencies paint a more granular picture - time is needed for new tech to become everyday common sense.

It'd be a much bigger feature than a simple balance change, but maybe that last idea has promise: the research bar represents the progress to the first successful prototype demonstration. That progress isn't affected by Empire Sprawl, but the rate at which tech is ADOPTED is affected. Not sure what it'd mean for a tech to be invented but not yet adopted: perhaps its benefits can only be found in the capital and specialised research colonies?
You do realize the research penalty for empire sprawl was in from launch, right? It was just hidden in tooltips rather than glaring in the top bar. The "mitigation" was that your empire is larger, therefore you produce more science.
 
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I have a design for doubling down on using Unity as the resource for internal management, removing Admin Cap entirely, and to make Empire Sprawl something that you can never mitigate anymore. More sprawling empires will always suffer harsher penalties from Empire Sprawl, and we’ll instead focus on how Unity can be used internally to mitigate some of those penalties. Examples could be Edicts that have a Unity Upkeep Cost, and perhaps reduce the Research Cost Penalty induced by Empire Sprawl. Angry Pops could potentially also have a Unity Upkeep Cost, to represent the drain on your society.
So... What you're saying is I finally get to abolish bureaucracy and roleplay stateless utopian abundance? ;)
 
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So... What you're saying is I finally get to abolish bureaucracy and roleplay stateless utopian abundance? ;)
Free Traders Megacorp stateless Utopian Abundance. It's literally just private business.
 
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Free Traders Megacorp stateless Utopian Abundance. It's literally just private business.
Nah, literally equal wages is not private business, it's coops maybe?

Mutualism? Don't know, not an anarchist, but sounds more like that.
 

zZander56

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Nah, literally equal wages is not private business, it's coops maybe?

Mutualism? Don't know, not an anarchist, but sounds more like that.
Welp, there goes my roleplay. I'll just have to settle for stateless decent conditions.
 
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It wasn't mentioned, but I'd love to see a weapon balance pass sometime soon. Right now, mid to late game combat boils down to just two ship designs: 1X4L battleships with neutron launchers, and corvettes with devastator torpedoes. Aside from an edge case involving FEs and no repeatable tech, or the Unbidden, those two designs beat everything else in the game so hard it's not even close.
 
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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...?

What if a system’s influence cost scaled by the distance from your nearest capital (empire or sector), rather than by the distance from your nearest claimed system (the current mechanic)?

That way you’d incentivize players to spread more organically, but they could direct their expansion by spinning off sectors.
 
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Please! I know it is a standard convention of the wide vs tall play, but I have always hated cause more scientists should mean more science, not less. Raising the costs of traditions which arguably represent cultural shifts, that makes sense empire sprawl would mess with that. Heck I could even see it messing with upkeep or poping off an event that breaks a building cause the infrastructure was looked after by such a bad bureaucracy.
In the real world, technology spreads even if you try to stop it. Stellaris doesn't have technology spread, so smaller empires stagnate while large empires advance faster the larger they get, which is both anti-immersive and bad for gameplay (several small empires can't effectively work together against a larger empire).

So you're right, realistically more scientists should mean more science, not less. But since Stellaris unrealistically does not have tech spread, it needs an unrealistic compensation to prevent incredibly unrealistic outcomes.
 
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Ok, hearing you want to re-balance tech rushing is cool, (no seriously), but be careful whilst doing that at the same time as messing with empire sprawl. I probably don't need to point all this out but i will just in case.

A huge part of what makes the best tech rush strats work is that they're able to economise on other jobs. In particular they tend to have ways of economising their sprawl so they need fewer bureaucrats for the same number of other jobs. Shattered Ring in particular does that by being able to have just the one colony with a lot more space based mineral income and district based researchers leaving so much else free in building slots to cover the minimal amount of other stuff needed.

If you mess with empire sprawl and with shattered ring at the same time you risk double dipping on nerfing them.

Also as far as entertainers goes. Aside from the question of what would happen to duellists i'm concerned at the idea of removing them because of how Machine Empires where setup and the issues thats created with anything that affects amenities production being to be avoided at all costs if it's negetive and super optimal if it's a positive effect. That really hasn't done trait balancing amongst other things any favours.
 
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Ok, hearing you want to re-balance tech rushing is cool, (no seriously), but be careful whilst doing that at the same time as messing with empire sprawl. I probably don't need to point all this out but i will just in case.

A huge part of what makes the best tech rush strats work is that they're able to economise on other jobs. In particular they tend to have ways of economising their sprawl so they need fewer bureaucrats for the same number of other jobs. Shattered Ring in particular does that by being able to have just the one colony with a lot more space based mineral income and district based researchers leaving so much else free in building slots to cover the minimal amount of other stuff needed.

If you mess with empire sprawl and with shattered ring at the same time you risk double dipping on nerfing them.

Also as far as entertainers goes. Aside from the question of what would happen to duellists i'm concerned at the idea of removing them because of how Machine Empires where setup and the issues thats created with anything that affects amenities production being to be avoided at all costs if it's negetive and super optimal if it's a positive effect. That really hasn't done trait balancing amongst other things any favours.
Yes, I really hope they nerf the START of the origin but leave its overall power as is, or else instead of a nerf to tech rushing it'll just end up making the ring a bad origin. Which it almost is for bio species as is, tech rushing on the ring now requires machine start almost.
 

LeonOfOddecca

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I like the idea of having to decide whether unity is to be used to focus on advancing traditions versus maintaining internal efficiency. However, for this to be interesting, you want to avoid making the decision be about 'maths'. The problem with admin cap and bureaucrats is that it is merely a question of whether you are better off employing a pop as a bureaucrat or as someone else (usually someone else). Ideally you want these sorts of decisions to take your empire into different directions rather than merely leading to a better or worse outcome (wherever the maths falls).
 

MathyM

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honestly, I prefer admin cap, but there should be more penalties for going over, like less governing ethics attraction.
That's not strictly a penalty. Sometimes I try to reduce the attraction myself, so I can force support for a faction to increase to 20%, so I can shift ethics :X
 

LystAP

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The thing about unity is it is useful until its not. By endgame, you can have all the unity edicts active and still have more unity than you can use. Maybe you can add some way we can continue to spend it? Something like technology, but using unity.

As for stuff to the humanoids pack, maybe you can update existing civics? Like Environmentalist, which currently isn't all that useful. Space elves fit with it, but there's so many better civics. Perhaps giving the Habitability bonus that the hive mind equivalent civic has.

Going into fantasy humanoids, another pre-existing civic to improve would be Feudal Empire. The civic doesn't seem all that useful as it is, although you do have feudalism in all sort of stories. Perhaps it should also give bonuses to Hegemony federations?

There's also this humanoid that I do not recognize from the Federations trailer. Will you be including her portrait in the update? I do not think her species is currently available. She's almost like the not-Klingon model, but she's pretty blue.
1623370094116.png
 
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MathyM

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As for stuff to the humanoids pack, maybe you can update existing civics? Like Environmentalist, which currently isn't all that useful. Space elves fit with it, but there's so many better civics. Perhaps giving the Habitability bonus that the hive mind equivalent civic has.
If they are going to rebalance neglected civics, I think that can wait until the rebalance patches come out.

There is a much more glaring issue of negative traits that are essentially free picks right now, especially for organic species.
 

splodgenik

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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 guess my point is that the game mechanics should, when possible, contribute to the thematic feel as opposed to pursuing strict scientific accuracy. So "photosynthesis alone would struggle to meet the energy needs of complex, intelligent, motile organisms" while true, should get less weight than "I wanna play a talking cactus space emperor", but food and agriculture working differently for plantoids I think is a good thing if it makes it feel more like you're ruling an empire of talking cactus people. Hopefully it might add an interesting gameplay variation too.
 
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Colonizor48

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Sounds good but pls dont make tall empires super op. Make it so wide empires can still tech rush but not as well. And give tall empires other penalties to balance it out.
 

bzflater

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Sounds good but pls dont make tall empires super op. Make it so wide empires can still tech rush but not as well. And give tall empires other penalties to balance it out.
The primary penalty to playing Tall is that you have slower pop growth (due to having fewer worlds) and thus a lower total population and thus less production of every type.
 
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15JTaylor

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Sounds good but pls dont make tall empires super op. Make it so wide empires can still tech rush but not as well. And give tall empires other penalties to balance it out.
Wide playstyles have been the meta since game launch and has arguably been getting worse and more 'op'. I can't imagine a nudge in the opposite direction will suddenly make wide unviable.

How I envision, in my ideal stellaris game, is tall playstyles have advantages with having better quality planets while wide empires have better numbers and overall production (but lower quality). In fact, in a sequel to stellaris, I'd love to see different stages to an ecunopolise. Wide empire have the weakest, less dense version available, maybe a few core worlds at level 2. And tall empires will have access to level 3 which allows the densest population centers and highest efficient production. But, that's just my happy vision.
 
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