How could 4X be fun till the end? (endgame discussion)

How could 4X be fun till the end? (endgame discussion)

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Vjeldan

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A broader discussion about end game flow is very interesting. There is a growing belief among strategy game designers that end game and victory conditions aren't that important, because few people finish large maps after a point of no return has been reached. Come back potential is a fantasy trumped by cold mathematical reality. (luckily gamers are more sensible than Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan). A promising way forward for strategy games is treating them as sand boxes with people setting their own objectives. PDS Grand Strategy games have been very successful at this.

We don't want to give up on end game though. Whilst one player is achieving victory, I think it should be possible for other players to have fun by achieving secondary objectives. ( not talking about head 2 head PvP here) In Planetfall you can become a vassal for one of the dominant powers. We want it to be a fun ride and an achievement to survive till the end-game screen. Even with cool new game victory conditions, we still need to avoid attrition and slog coming from growing empire. Anti-snowballing mechanics like War Wariness might actually fix one thing, but increase slog. To get around this, how far would you like to go? We've discussed finite resources, but how do you feel about endgame operations and weapons that cause large scale irreparable economic damage - permanent changes in the lay of the land that reduce repetition but increase strategic focus. The ability to waste sectors, with floods and hazards, remove nodes, quickened razing (or conversion) of cities - doomsday stuff!

Looking forward to your thoughts.
"Secondary objectives" and the option to still achieve something after you had to surrender sounds very interesting to me!

In AoW3 the AI sometimes will surrender on their own. I like that. It helps to avoid a very slow going war to annihilation, makes sense from a roleplaying perspective and it feels right to then have their leader as your new hero fight for your cause. Of course you could decline and conquer them through force.

I think it would be a good thing to have for the next AoW too, maybe even expand on that idea.
Instead of giving you a "Congratulations! You've met obscure victory condition #362!" you could overpower one foe and then have a few options of what to do with him. He might become a vassal of yours, not under full control, but no threat to your rule. He might surrender his lands but be granted a position as a new hero, and this option might cost lots of gold/energy, depending on how strong you are. Essentially you buy his loyalty. Also this might give you trouble, since your newly aquired lands are likely not too fond of you, so you might manage your population happiness (or equivalent) to get full advantage of your new lands. And a third option might be, if you nearly erradicated your enemy, ignoring his begging for mercy, your enemy might decide to escape from this world, burning all his remaining lands so you cant profit from it. This would also put and end to a sluggish crawl to victory, but is A a funny moment, and B it hinders you from gaining too much strength from winnning over one opponent.

In most 4X, and AoW is no exception, in a match with more then 2 opponents, the one who assimilates another opponent first essentially has won the game, since he gains all the ressources and cities of the defeated opponent and is basically at double strength now.
With partial victories over single opponents that all have some kind of flaw or drawback, so you won't get everything they had (but you may strategize to get the best parts!), the game is not over at that moment, but has become bigger, as you now struggle to maintain your expanded lands, while enemies try to use your moment of inner turmoil, displaced armies in burned lands, or whatever, to strike out against you.

A mechanic like this, so i think, could delay the point of no return, and also, when it has come, the session might find a natural end soon, as overpowered enemies beg for vassalage or escape the planet, etc..

This could be especialy interesting, if you had to invest in your lands (i.e. cities and sites), to reap full benefits of them. And maybe upgrades from a different faction are not at full efficiency to you, until you found a way to harmonize your empire with those alien technologies, or you replaced them by your own.

@LennartGS hinted at different racial technologies.
Related to tall vs wide discussion - The racial tech trees mean there's the option to acquire other races' techs while playing. We're still playing with how much access players get to these auxiliary trees, and at what cost.
 
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Jolly Joker

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No idea what you guys are playing, but endgame in AOW 3 CAN be all that. There are two different victory conditions.

One is Seals. In theory this should work because it amounts to a domination victory; keep enough places of interest over enough turns (and that is even adjustable), and you win a domination victory. In practice, though, it doesn't so well, because the AI doesn't play it the sensible way (not as a human will), and it's setting the AI at a disadvantage.
Bottom line is, I like the mechanic as such, but it would have to be worked on to make it more practical for the AI. In human vs. human, though, it will put a strain onto players accelerating things.

Second is beacons, and that works pretty well, because you can set the amount of beacons you need to light, and since you can have only one beacon per race and you need RG up to 3 to start one, if you make, say, 3 beacons a VC you need to get 3 races up to RG 3 and build and light a beacon. You obviously don't need to conquer the whole map for that, but you also cannot win via migration. Of course this option might be slightly changed to get a migration victory condition as well, allowing to build some monument when reaching X RG points with a race, X being adjustable obviously.

Depending on the game you play in AoW 3 it's not over when you beat an opponent, because the AI can do that as well. If you play with 8 and you and an AI kick one out, the game is far from won (again, depending on what game you set up with what mods and so on). The same thing is true in PBEM, when you play with a larger group
 

Quark02

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I think it would be a good thing to have for the next AoW too, maybe even expand on that idea.
Instead of giving you a "Congratulations! You've met obscure victory condition #362!" you could overpower one foe and then have a few options of what to do with him. He might become a vassal of yours, not under full control, but no threat to your rule. He might surrender his lands but be granted a position as a new hero, and this option might cost lots of gold/energy, depending on how strong you are. Essentially you buy his loyalty. Also this might give you trouble, since your newly aquired lands are likely not too fond of you, so you might manage your population happiness (or equivalent) to get full advantage of your new lands. And a third option might be, if you nearly erradicated your enemy, ignoring his begging for mercy, your enemy might decide to escape from this world, burning all his remaining lands so you cant profit from it. This would also put and end to a sluggish crawl to victory, but is A a funny moment, and B it hinders you from gaining too much strength from winnning over one opponent.
The vassalage/surrender might even get tied to a quest - if an AI is being badly beaten by an opponent, he might give you (a third party) a quest to somehow strike at his main opponent (or defend him, which would be more difficult due to temporary alliance) hard. Like a promise - if you come and save my knickers I will owe you the ultimate debt. He'd rather have you in charge rather than the despicable aggressor that has been unjustly punishing and slaughtering his people.

Now imagine an AI you are beating to a pulp enlists the help of someone to help fight you, suddenly bringing a third party to the... well, party. I suppose a human could make the same promise (trade) via diplomacy, but I fear that will be more difficult to implement.

The fact that human players will be able to give up and promise vassalage to each other or AI (in the hope that their liege will bite the dust from other causes or win the game giving shared victory) is a fantastic one, I for one cannot wait to become some AI's humble servant... at least once.

For 4X games in general... the end game ennui is most often remedied with the alternative VC-s. As JJ said, the beacons work well, and I do hope PF will have something similar.
 

Vjeldan

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This does sound important to the discussion:

Without giving away too much, yes, with the expansion of the diplomatic systems we will indeed be supporting vassalages. While at war players can offer themselves as a vassal to another player, so they may be spared from annihilation and can continue on playing. Opposed to that, players may also demand that the other player becomes their vassal instead. Either form of vassalage binds the players together in an alliance, effectively forming a team. Declining a vassalage offer/demand currently holds no additional penalties as the players are already at war anyway. AI players will be using both of these options as well if the right opportunity presents itself.
 

The Mentat

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For 4X games in general... the end game ennui is most often remedied with the alternative VC-s. As JJ said, the beacons work well, and I do hope PF will have something similar.
I completely agree. The only reason why I don’t use beacons as much as seals is that the neutral forces that attack the beacon are in my view a bit unrealistic (they just appear from nowhere and why do they dislike the beacon so much?) and unfair (the AI doesn’t get attacked).

The idea to vassalize players sounds really good. It could again be tied to reputation. So a player with a high reputation has better chances that his vassalage demand is accepted whereas in the other case the opponent may prefer to be a vassal of a third party.
 

Qai Sova Antorak

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Here are a few of my ideas to combat lategame bore:

- Don't make racial gimmicks obsolete: Often seen with some Leaders in Civ, the already weak differention falls away after the early game because of tech changes or Saturation of the map with players.

- Balance Lategame Units and Buildings around perconditions not long buildtimes: Nothing is worse than having to wait 10+ turns for a late game building in a linear upgrade chain. looking at you, total war, but many other 4X fall back onto this.

-while i can apreciate a good comeback story, these should be based around midgame comebacks. the lategame is often enough about an endwar(fun) or cleanup(unfun). Don't try to enable Comebacks in this late stage, it's to late now or the game never ends, but the other fun stuff( tech and city upgrades) will run out.
 

Jolly Joker

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I completely agree. The only reason why I don’t use beacons as much as seals is that the neutral forces that attack the beacon are in my view a bit unrealistic (they just appear from nowhere and why do they dislike the beacon so much?) and unfair (the AI doesn’t get attacked).
Unfair, lol? Nah! You know, what's coming, and you need to guard the beacon town. Nothing unfair or unrealistic about it. On Emperor you cannot hope to beat the AI on ONE beacon anyway, I think, because they can build and lit them in 3 turns each, which means, they are roundabout 10 turns faster, and you cannot hope to get to RG III 10 turns earlier than them on Emperor. So you need more than one beacon on that difficulty level anyway.
 

Fenraellis

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Here are a few of my ideas to combat lategame bore:

- Don't make racial gimmicks obsolete: Often seen with some Leaders in Civ, the already weak differention falls away after the early game because of tech changes or Saturation of the map with players.

- Balance Lategame Units and Buildings around perconditions not long buildtimes: Nothing is worse than having to wait 10+ turns for a late game building in a linear upgrade chain. looking at you, total war, but many other 4X fall back onto this.

-while i can apreciate a good comeback story, these should be based around midgame comebacks. the lategame is often enough about an endwar(fun) or cleanup(unfun). Don't try to enable Comebacks in this late stage, it's to late now or the game never ends, but the other fun stuff( tech and city upgrades) will run out.
The first point I'm hoping they aim for more Warhammer or, perhaps more known to most, Starcraft style asymmetry. Each race having their respective versions of melee range/ranged/flying/utility units, defensive structures, but all doing it fairly differently, and having different focuses therein.

Extend this to different focuses in building tech. Such as Dvar having more defensible cities by what they can build, and better utilizing road infrastructure for their mine carts :)P). Kir'Ko being able to utilize a psionic web to detect hidden foes in their domains, or even as another forum user alluded to, Amazons blending their cities in with nature, similar to the Elves from AoW:SM, although for a mix of reasons, that was always kind of lack luster in execution.

---

The second point, based on the previous games, I don't foresee being a specific problem, aside from something like building a doomsday device or preparing a doomsday operation. Those could certainly have restrictively long preparation times, and a warning to other players of said preparation. Normal high end units and buildings can generally be produced at about twice to two and a half times the cost of the tier before them.

---

Outside of something like another player doing whatever they can to achieve an alternate victory condition, despite otherwise being on the back foot, and succeeding, I fully agree. Late game comeback mechanics can sometimes trivialize the effort invested by the player(s) that is(are) in the lead. Mid game swing mechanics on the other hand can be fun, and are often a core play style method of various factions in games.
That is, to be weaker at the start compared to others, but around mid game things start coming together from different factors to make them really start competing with other factions.
 

The Mentat

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Unfair, lol? Nah! You know, what's coming, and you need to guard the beacon town. Nothing unfair or unrealistic about it.
I meant it is "unfair" not because it was too difficult but from a story perspective: Why are the neutral armies attacking my beacon but they don't bother with the beacons of other factions - that doesn't make sense.
 

Jolly Joker

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They START with YOURS, which is always the most offending one. Also you need more time than the AIs, so that's giving them a better chance to attack your beacon before you can lit it.
Also, from a playing point of view it's good that the AI doesn't need to bother because that would need them to ship a lot of units to guard the beacon which would disrupt all their operations.
 

BloodyBattleBrain

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imho end game boredom comes from 2 things mostly:

  • You've already won, and you're just mopping up
  • It's physically repetitive and boring - lots of end turn clicking with nothing happening, OR, lots of clicking to do stuff, but the tension is gone...
How does one address these?

Seals imho are one of the best ways to play this game - the tension is maintained throughout, and you can win the seals game whilst your empire falls apart. It's essentially a timer that gets started/stopped/sped up/slowed down based on player actions.

So a seals type victory (aka variable timer) should be in for sure. I'm not sure, but I believe the doomsday victory covers this?

Second on my list would be something akin to a space race victory, only make it challenging. I say this because it'd give an alternative to hunting down all other players...

I believe domination is already in - owning or controlling 60% of the land mass.

Ditto last man standing - outlive the rest.

It's not confirmed afaik but I hope thrones of some sort are in. I think Thrones are a great mechanic, removing alot of the AoW2/SM slog but not as random as the original AoW1 leader dies=loss condition.


I'd also like an end game invasion. This being sci-fi, there could be all sorts of lore to dress it up. Something big and scary at the end of the game, to mark the end game as a distinct phase *and* keep it interesting.

That naturally leads onto discussing what makes the early game interesting.

For me it's risk/reward and not having enough resources to do everything, and fun to be had from optimizing the details, e.g. fighting those initial clearing fights manually. Also, feeling a power increase when T2 and then 3 units come online (although arguably t3 is solidly middle and not early game.) or when you get another city, especially one of another race.

In the end game, i may have 4 or 5 cities from 4 different races, so the excitement is, naturally, relatively less.


Your first t3 unit might make a real difference. Your 8th T4 probably doesn't.

So, having t5 or t6 units could be useful?

Also, guided quest victory could be nice, *if* done well.
 

Nerdfish

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This is set in the future, there should be ways to leave an unwindable war without resigning or surrendering ? Perhaps evacuating the colony by launching your remaining population into space, or send them to another planet with a warp gate ? To reward players for perseverance in a bad situation, a successful evacuation should be considered a draw for that player. There should also be achievements for successful evacuations in various situations.
This also take some steam away from dominant conquerors, if nearby rivals simply disappeared instead of resigned, the conqueror cannot use those cities to springboard future invasions.
 

Jean-Luc

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I had a similar idea with converting your capital into a colony ship or building a "stargate" or something to evacuate with. The problem with it I think is that most players who find themselves in a situation like that would prefer to just quit and start over rather than "waste" time trying to lose with style.

Maybe if it allowed you to bring some units and a somewhat leveled up faction leader and allowed you to tie it in with beginning a new game where you'd get a bit of an advanced start (land on a new world). Make it a quasy mini-campaign of sorts. AoW1 style where you bring stuff over onto a new map. I dunno, might be relatively too much effort for something few would use. Not sure if I'd use it myself.

I think there's a similar problem with the vassal victory. Might be fun in multiplayer but how many would go through with it in SP where they've been reduced to almost nothing but are still playing waiting for the AI to win the game for them by proxy. At least the vassal mechanic has value from the dominant player's side since it eliminates the need to hunt down a beaten AI faction.
 
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ashbery76

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1.Good A.I that can compete to the end.This actually comes from better programmed A.I that knows how to play the game rather than high cheating ones that usually start to fold mid game and fall apart.

A.I doesn't really get better until later patches in the games cycle when they have the devs have the time to do it.

2.Story.The end game race that destroyed the Star Union says hello when you start to dominate.It attacks all races too.This is somewhat cliché but it's the only thing that really works based of all other 4x games I have played.
 

Fenraellis

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2.Story.The end game race that destroyed the Star Union says hello when you start to dominate.It attacks all races too.This is somewhat cliché but it's the only thing that really works based of all other 4x games I have played.
I was under the impression from the snippets of lore we've seen that what brought down the Star Union was actually relatively internal, rather than external.

I suppose the cosmic storm(one might even refer to it as a Cosmic Event) was relatively external, but the resulting loss of access to the Star Union's form of FTL travel and interplanetary communications, and the breakdown of government(s) which occurred due to the planets becoming isolated was arguably an internal affair.

Is there an extra-planar race... perhaps akin to the Shadow Demons(and possibly the original source of the Kir'Ko slaves) that might exist as an antagonistic force within the Planetfall universe? Perhaps, and it would be a lore link to the concept of Highmen doing their whole terraforming gig, but being opposed by what (I think?) was ultimately revealed to be the Shadow Demons in their Shadow Realm.
I know the devs have outright implied there is no direct lore link between the games, but they may yet change their mind, or even think this is something spoiler-y enough to temporarily deceive us about.

-----

If we really want to reach, one might consider the Shadow Realm similar to The Warp, and when the All Devourer was slain, the resulting pyschic backlash caused what was called a Cosmic Storm, preventing all travel through 'The Warp' for a long enough time that the Star Union collapsed. That, or when the Shadow Realm was sealed, somehow the storm was created, effectively sealing the realm for everyone everywhere. Unsealing the realm eventually, for better or for worse, has also ended the storm.

After all, just because the Age of Wonders games have appeared relatively medieval, could simply be representative of the fact that Athla has been a planet in the earlier developmental stages(of the Highmen human evolution project). Pretty much any sci-fi universe includes both advanced civilizations and relatively primitive ones existing on various planets(and sometimes the same planet).

Random conspiracy theory to throw out there. The leadership, or leadership caste, so to speak, of the Star Union were related to the Highmen faction lore wise. This is why the Vanguard/C.O.R.E. are all human. They are simply the end result of completed planetary development projects.

-----

I realize in retrospect that I was almost entirely off-topic for the thread, but the contents of the post are interesting enough that I don't feel like deleting it.
 

Quark02

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Fenraellis, I for one would argue against your last statement by saying that lore is connected to the possibilities for keeping the end-game interesting. As for what lead to the collapse of the Star Union, I thought it was internal as well (an experiment gone awry or something).

This, however, does not rule out that the Union had enemies in its lifetime. An outside force, akin to the Antarans, that come to wreak havoc now that the factions/species are no longer united against them, but meddling amongst themselves.

Then again... isn't this like the Cosmic Happening Boss Fights with the exception that the "Boss" doesn't necessarily appear smack in the middle of the map (well, near the equator now), but near a specific player. And didn't they already mention having something similar (with custom non-producible non-summonable T4 units possibly raining down)?
 

Rhaeg

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Nice to see a discussion on this topic. My 2 cents:

I'd like to see as many optional victory conditions make it into the game. @BloodyBattleBrain mentioned them, but I really, really like @Nerdfish his idea of an evacuation goal for a losing player too! I've never seen a strategy game where you still have something to fight for when all is lost for you.

I see endgame crises events get mentioned here, but I think it's hard to implement them in a fun way. I'm familiar with this type of event from Stellaris and Total War:Warhammer and in both these games they tend to feel quite unfair to begin with. In TW:WH it mostly screws the Empire player (to counter that they had Chaos armies popping up out of nowhere on other places of the map, which made no sense at all. Even the devs have admitted to really hating the way the Chaos crisis is working at the moment... ) and in Stellaris a crisis can pop up in the middle of your Empire (big ouch!) or on the other side of the map (Huzzah! I can sit and watch while enemy players get demolished!). There are other problems I see with crises events, but this is the main reason for me why I don't think they've been very successful sofar in the games that I have played.

My advice to the planetfall devs would be: don't be afraid of the victory screen. The best way to beat endgame boredom is to not get there at all. Give the option to the winning player to keep playing after the victory screen so they can go on and play in the sandbox if they like that. But I think it's only a good thing that games don't have to take 5+ or 10+ hours every time. When things become too repetitive for players, it's simply gone on for too long and you will always reach that point when you keep letting a game go on.

So I do not agree with what Lennart mentioned, the "growing belief among strategy game designers that end game and victory conditions aren't that important". Victory conditions are important, and I'd like to see different ones so different types of players have things to work towards in their game. And then they can make sure you don't get into that boring endgame phase at all. Not everyone likes to play in a sandbox and I'm not sure if AOW would work as a sandbox game either....
 

Draxynnic

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I was under the impression from the snippets of lore we've seen that what brought down the Star Union was actually relatively internal, rather than external.

I suppose the cosmic storm(one might even refer to it as a Cosmic Event) was relatively external, but the resulting loss of access to the Star Union's form of FTL travel and interplanetary communications, and the breakdown of government(s) which occurred due to the planets becoming isolated was arguably an internal affair.

Is there an extra-planar race... perhaps akin to the Shadow Demons(and possibly the original source of the Kir'Ko slaves) that might exist as an antagonistic force within the Planetfall universe? Perhaps, and it would be a lore link to the concept of Highmen doing their whole terraforming gig, but being opposed by what (I think?) was ultimately revealed to be the Shadow Demons in their Shadow Realm.
I know the devs have outright implied there is no direct lore link between the games, but they may yet change their mind, or even think this is something spoiler-y enough to temporarily deceive us about.

-----

If we really want to reach, one might consider the Shadow Realm similar to The Warp, and when the All Devourer was slain, the resulting pyschic backlash caused what was called a Cosmic Storm, preventing all travel through 'The Warp' for a long enough time that the Star Union collapsed. That, or when the Shadow Realm was sealed, somehow the storm was created, effectively sealing the realm for everyone everywhere. Unsealing the realm eventually, for better or for worse, has also ended the storm.

After all, just because the Age of Wonders games have appeared relatively medieval, could simply be representative of the fact that Athla has been a planet in the earlier developmental stages(of the Highmen human evolution project). Pretty much any sci-fi universe includes both advanced civilizations and relatively primitive ones existing on various planets(and sometimes the same planet).

Random conspiracy theory to throw out there. The leadership, or leadership caste, so to speak, of the Star Union were related to the Highmen faction lore wise. This is why the Vanguard/C.O.R.E. are all human. They are simply the end result of completed planetary development projects.

-----

I realize in retrospect that I was almost entirely off-topic for the thread, but the contents of the post are interesting enough that I don't feel like deleting it.
There's a dialogue at the end of Shadow Magic where the Archons assert that it was Shadow Demons that they drove from Athla in Athla's past. That said, though, I don't think the Shadow Demons are their only opposition. The Undead in AoW1 were themed as being the legions of Hell come to Athla, not simply the tools of death wizards and necromancers they became in later games.

I don't think it's that likely that the Star Union was a desired result of the Archon projects - the Archons themselves, after all, are fairly low on the technological scale. Instead, I have a suspicion that there's a point at technological development where becoming an Archon might actually become impossible (one could come up with all sorts of reasons why this might be the case, especially if apotheosis occurs more at an individual level than a cultural one), and the humans of the Star Union have passed that point.

Nice to see a discussion on this topic. My 2 cents:

I'd like to see as many optional victory conditions make it into the game. @BloodyBattleBrain mentioned them, but I really, really like @Nerdfish his idea of an evacuation goal for a losing player too! I've never seen a strategy game where you still have something to fight for when all is lost for you.

I see endgame crises events get mentioned here, but I think it's hard to implement them in a fun way. I'm familiar with this type of event from Stellaris and Total War:Warhammer and in both these games they tend to feel quite unfair to begin with. In TW:WH it mostly screws the Empire player (to counter that they had Chaos armies popping up out of nowhere on other places of the map, which made no sense at all. Even the devs have admitted to really hating the way the Chaos crisis is working at the moment... ) and in Stellaris a crisis can pop up in the middle of your Empire (big ouch!) or on the other side of the map (Huzzah! I can sit and watch while enemy players get demolished!). There are other problems I see with crises events, but this is the main reason for me why I don't think they've been very successful sofar in the games that I have played.

My advice to the planetfall devs would be: don't be afraid of the victory screen. The best way to beat endgame boredom is to not get there at all. Give the option to the winning player to keep playing after the victory screen so they can go on and play in the sandbox if they like that. But I think it's only a good thing that games don't have to take 5+ or 10+ hours every time. When things become too repetitive for players, it's simply gone on for too long and you will always reach that point when you keep letting a game go on.

So I do not agree with what Lennart mentioned, the "growing belief among strategy game designers that end game and victory conditions aren't that important". Victory conditions are important, and I'd like to see different ones so different types of players have things to work towards in their game. And then they can make sure you don't get into that boring endgame phase at all. Not everyone likes to play in a sandbox and I'm not sure if AOW would work as a sandbox game either....
This pretty much summarises my thoughts on the matter.

Having an 'evacuation' goal does seem like a suitable move for a multiplayer game: the player who evacuates gets to lessen their loss, the player who presses them to that point has incentive to prevent them from evacuating, and other players are at less of a disadvantage against the victorious player because the winner didn't manage to absorb everything the loser had.

But at the bottom line... there is a strong element of not being afraid of the victory screen. Most efforts to 'reduce endgame tedium' often have the effect of actually increasing it by essentially delaying the victory, and if they ever do prevent a victory than it can feel like the player has been cheated. Scaling victory conditions might be a better approach, whereby the player can choose how much endgame they want (since the game finishing too soon can also be unsatisfying).