What is the purpose of pops?

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Jazzbanana

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Hey all,

Pops have been a cause of performance issues and mechanic perplexity for a long time now, and a solution was certainly needed, but I feel this isn't it.
In this thread I would like to have a discussion about the design philosophy of pops in general and their role in the game.

In the earlier versions of Stellaris and the tile-based planetary building, pops were a pretty direct and intuitive mechanic: you dragged and arranged them in such a way that yielded the best results based on pop traits and resource production.
I think it was quite gamey, not particularly exciting but it excelled at what it meant to achieve: giving the players direct and intuitive control over their empire pop and production.

As the amount of content grew with Utopia, Synthetic Dawn, Apocalypse - the pop micro started to feel stale and the production a bit oversimplified, and so LeGuin/Megacorp were developed.
Most of the control over pops was given to automation; now rather than playing tile-tetris, you would develop the economy based on abstractions like housing, jobs, and districts, while pops shuffled to their preferred jobs automatically.
Granted it wasn't implemented flawlessly, but purely as a concept, the new system was designed as a medium to tie the now abstract economy mechanics to the still concrete pop entities - with their traits and strata and ethics and habitability and the corresponding calculations.
As we know, the result was an explosion in pop numbers and a severe hit on performance.

A fix here and a fix there, we get to the present day and the current system. The pop number is reduced by an empire cap and the production adjusted to try to achieve a smoother game.
Again, it's not implemented flawlessly. It makes the mid/late game expansions slow down to a slog, it encourages gamey managament of planetary mechanics, or silly vassal release/integration cycles. I'm sure however that the team will be able to patch this in the coming weeks.

But this brought me to the leading question: what is the purpose of pops?
The more I try to consider the pop mechanic from a zoomed-out perspective the more I feel that it's a living fossil from old Stellaris, hindering the more 'grand-strategy'/less 'tile-builder' direction the game has since evolved towards. A sort of bump in an otherwise smooth shape, that feels weird no matter how many times you paint it over.
I find myself thinking: is it necessary that every single pop has an happiness value? A strata? An ethic? An upkeep?
What if population underwent an abstraction process, similar to what happened to production in 2.2? Job, stratum, political affiliation, traits and all the jazz could be represented by pie-charts, graphs, and statistics, or anything really.
I honestly can't come up with many reasons why pops are a necessary or even desirable mechanic in modern Stellaris, but I would like to hear as many opinions as possible.

What do you think? How do pops contribute to the experience you seek from Stellaris?
 
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Lordinquisitor

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I agree with your assessment that a far more abstracted population system would be sensible. Whether we will embark on this sensible journey, i don´t know, but i hope so.

Stellaris, as a whole, at least it appears to me, sadly suffers from the fact that some of the core systems and mechanics, the game was intended to have and use, had to be changed afterwards, because they didn´t work so well- For example, the different approaches to space travel, the tile system or the simplistic economy.

Other systems still in place would need a proper rework, like the population system, the lackluster faction and internal politics system, the a.i and the, in comparison to the early game, boring mid game, the sector system...

Yet any of those changes made caused other issues and any changes made would also cause further issues. Be it complaints from the player base, lag, an a.i which can´t handle the changes, or the fact that some changes would require an unreasonable amount of work to implement.

Stellaris is a good game, and i enjoy it quite a bit. But i´m not sure how much you can fix up a game which required and still requires drastic changes to it´s core mechanics and gameplay.

I guess that´s the issue of being an ambitious first tile in a series. The mechanics of games like CK3, EU4 and HoI4 have been tested and honed in previous iterations.
 
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I honestly couldn't agree more.

I feel they existed initially as a nod towards old school 4x space games like Master of Orion and the like and as a means of differentiating Stellaris from other PDX titles. They served a purpose.

Now I honestly feel they are a dead weight. Performance problems, the biggest cause for me not playing and not buying DLC, can largely be traced to pops and jobs. Associated mechanics, such as factions, flat out don't work and I think this is because they are reliant on pops for their functionality. The AI can't adequately manage the more complex pop/job system and so, automating sectors remains a hamfisted, shallow mess.

I feel that factions will never be fully realised or become meaningful, all the time we have pops. AI and sector management will always be shallow, while we have pops.

Once they number in the hundreds, who is paying attention to individual ethics, rates of happiness etc.

I understand some might be reluctant to have spreadsheet like pie charts replace them, but I find that idea far preferable myself. I don't really need to see those little pops. Abstract population and if there needs to be some visual and character representation, have it be in the form of specialists or leaders, that can be moved from planet to planet, within a sector or across the entire empire, to keep they whole feel alive.

I do suspect that such a rework isn't likely at this point in Stellaris development cycle and we might have to wait for such a thing come a sequel, if we get such a thing. At the very least I hope that PDX will recognise that the pop system has become an albatross around their necks, as oppossed to a workable system.

But if it was on the table, I'd be placing bets on this kind of population abstraction, being the best solution to alot of Stellaris issues.
 
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kwanzaabot

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I started playing long after the tile-based pop system was dead and buried, but yeah, I honestly don't see the point of pops in the current game.
As far as I can tell, they're basically there to prevent you from maxing out your planet's resource production in one fell swoop. But it's an artificial difficulty, because all you have to do is wait; eventually you'll have enough pops to fill all your jobs.

The only time pops are ever relevant for me, is when I'm starting a colony and I need to account for habitability. Who do I send to this lava planet? Not the Plantoids, maybe the Lithoids. That's a good mechanic. But besides that, pops aren't very useful.

While writing this post I started riffing and thought about making them an empire-wide resource, ala Unity or Influence, where you have to spend Pops to upgrade buildings or fill jobs, and things like Reassembled Ship Shelters, Planetary Capitals and Housing would passively produce Pop-resources, but I don't think that would be all that good actually--habitability lends a level of realism that I quite like, losing that wouldn't be worth it.

I'm not sure what the solution is, to be honest.
 
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Jazzbanana

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I understand some might be reluctant to have spreadsheet like pie charts replace them, but I find that idea far preferable myself. I don't really need to see those little pops. Abstract population and if there needs to be some visual and character representation, have it be in the form of specialists or leaders, that can be moved from planet to planet, within a sector or across the entire empire, to keep they whole feel alive.

I agree, I too would gladly accept a more 'generic' representation like a spreadsheet if it means finally addressing the elephant in the room. I wonder what kind of user-friendly implementations could be devised.

In any case yeah, I feel it's pretty unlikely that changes of this magnitude will be made before a Stellaris 2. I hope that the final result of the current system will be fun.
 
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Madzai

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Well, IMHO, original purpose of POP system was different from we have today. In retrospect, it's plainly obvious that Stellaris 1.0 had cut a lot of corners to be released. Some mechanics were overcomplicated for for the role they performed. Like individual POPs ethos and bonuses. They felt like a part of something much more complex that never appeared - like internal politics and struggle. After some time all those were seemingly cut in favor of other gameplay elements what gained more popularity from players. Old plans were scrambled, original POP system was just sitting in the not improving game in any aspect. And then rework happened that for some reason didn't abandon individual POP system, but made each negative aspect of them to stand even more and wasted most of good aspects. And now we're stuck. And wasted probably years of work trying to fix this system.

And, BTW, i think people who did original Stellaris knew something with their 25 POPs per planet limit. Something about PDX engine limitations. And i honestly dunno how someone could decide that new amount of POP in Galaxy going to work.
 
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In theory, pops have ethics attraction, which means that they should want society to go in a certain direction and to receive certain things. In practice, they do whatever you tell them to do, and their output doesn't change too much based on their happiness.
 
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Hey, I haven't written here for a while, but this thread caught me.

I was one of the people who vehemently opposed getting rid of the tile system. However, I have got used to the change. In a way, it's nice to have abstracted population, as the planetary screen looks more complex now. It's great for immersion and roleplaying, which are my main reasons for playing Stellaris.

However, if population is to be entirely abstracted, there's one thing that shouldn't be forgotten: specialization and genetic modification.

It's great for both immersion and roleplaying. It creates stories - where before you had only your own species, you now have developed butler-bots and super strength foot soldiers. It's also something that makes Stellaris stand out. I can't think of any other 4x game where you have such an extensive population modification system.

If population was just a piece of pie in a chart, or a number in a list, how would you have modding pops to professions work out?
 
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Andakingu

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I agree, I too would gladly accept a more 'generic' representation like a spreadsheet if it means finally addressing the elephant in the room. I wonder what kind of user-friendly implementations could be devised.

In any case yeah, I feel it's pretty unlikely that changes of this magnitude will be made before a Stellaris 2. I hope that the final result of the current system will be fun.
I imagine a vicky 2 style pop system. It doesn't even need to be that complicated. Pops, rather than be social order specific (and the jobs to which that social strata belongs) you could simplify it to race specifics. Jobs could be streamlined significantly. Production and resource bonuses, could come from specialist units, that are granted to a planet or sector, by buildings, leaders, events, civics etc. Multiple specialist buildings/civics/whathaveyou, instead of producing multiple specialists, buff and increase the stats of the ones you have been granted.

You might have a planet in a sector, with a number of upgraded research buildings, the prerequisite for which, requires x amount of pops. The first building granted a scientist specialist for deployment to that planet or sector, granting moderate bonuses, or is represented on the planet screen, ala CIV style. Additional bonuses could be added to this specialist, as pop increases to reflect the planets science focus, additional science buildings and racial, civic or science bonuses, could be applied to increase the specialists abilities. Perhaps another building might provide an artisan specialist and relevant districts and buildings will boost that specialists bonuses too. So you might have a planet that focuses on manufacturing and resource extraction, while another focuses on science and agriculture.

In this way, we can customise planets to have specialisations and pop-like character, without creating huge pools of pops for the system to track.

So a kind of fusion of Civ style specialists, you get in cities. With a vicky style pop system. This is all very loose rumination ofcourse and is certainly very far from a workable approach, but I feel that anything would be an improvement over the current system, which is... to be fair... meh.

Hey, I haven't written here for a while, but this thread caught me.

I was one of the people who vehemently opposed getting rid of the tile system. However, I have got used to the change. In a way, it's nice to have abstracted population, as the planetary screen looks more complex now. It's great for immersion and roleplaying, which are my main reasons for playing Stellaris.

However, if population is to be entirely abstracted, there's one thing that shouldn't be forgotten: specialization and genetic modification.

It's great for both immersion and roleplaying. It creates stories - where before you had only your own species, you now have developed butler-bots and super strength foot soldiers. It's also something that makes Stellaris stand out. I can't think of any other 4x game where you have such an extensive population modification system.

If population was just a piece of pie in a chart, or a number in a list, how would you have modding pops to professions work out?
This is where having a hybrid system would play well. If you have some kind of unit, leader or specialist that can demonstrate racial expressions. By which I mean, genetic nuances, or racial ones. Certain ethics or traits, could produce certain specialist bonuses or unique behaviours. So you can get rid of the cumbersome and system resource demanding pops and the tons of jobs to keep track of (which actually isn't as fun as it could have been, I like micro but in Stellaris it's not like in other games.) while at the same time, retaining the character and diversity through individual and personalised characters, fewer in number, easy to keep track of and become invested in.
 
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I agree with the OP wholeheartedly and would love to see the whole "pop" system abolished. That would be a very long-term project however and would require a Megacorp-sized overhaul of the economy. I'd love to see it, but for the time being we need a better short-term solution.

A population growth cap ruins more than it fixes. That has to go ASAP, and a more elegant solution to pop bottlenecking needs to be found. Even if it's just a flat % nerf to population growth, or a better/more robust sprawl mechanic - give us something to reduce micro and CPU slowdowns without throwing the baby out with the bath water and ruining such a wildly diverse set of play styles.
 
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As currently constituted, pops don't really contribute anything. They just represent your empire's labor force--there are effectively no political impacts. In like 1400 hours of play I've never paid the tiniest bit of attention to factions or elections.

And if you think about what production must look like in the 24th century they don't even make sense as workers. It really takes hundreds of millions of people to produce a tiny bit of refined metal each month, but the huge space ships built with that metal assemble themselves at nearby starbases? More hundreds of millions of people to extract or refine rare materials? Feh.

Some sort of abstract 'development' score per planet that unlocks build slots as it increases would make just as much sense, if not more.
 
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HugsAndSnuggles

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What do you think? How do pops contribute to the experience you seek from Stellaris?
Seeing how all pops mostly just add extra frustration for both players and dev team by never being where they are supposed to, I can't say that they contribute to the experience I seek.
 
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They're a relic of the previous design and right now they contribute nothing productive to the game experience. At this point I'd rather just have Gal Civ's sliders than what Stellaris is doing with the Nemesis update.

They obviously can't figure out how to make the current "pop" system work so we may as well just go with something that isn't abstract and just say:

Planet A has 8.5b people

Use sliders to determine how many of those people work each job.

Build XYZ improvements on planet A to provide various planet-wide bonuses


I mean it's kind of dull but it's not like the current system is particularly interesting either.
 
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I've been thinking about this recently.

Tbh I'd much prefer it if they got rid of pops completely and just had numbers.
Building functionality requires x number that takes away from a pool of unused pops that grow.
Like an alloy foundary requiring an arbitrary number like 50 and that can't even be pre-built until the requirements are met, just like spending alloys to build a ship, spend pops to build a building.

When it comes to choosing which pops to use for the building which may have better traits, just use a slider to fill it's capacity with available species etc.

Star trek new horizons has a similar system for ships that require crew to even make.

I also wouldn't mind them completely ditching the stratum system and instead have something like training buildings that turn a % of grown pops into more specialised pops required for better buildings.

Just a passing thought but the whole pops problem has been annoying me since they became such a performance issue.

What worries me is the community comes up with far better ideas than what we end up getting. Every time.
 
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fourteenfour

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Hey all,


But this brought me to the leading question: what is the purpose of pops?
The more I try to consider the pop mechanic from a zoomed-out perspective the more I feel that it's a living fossil from old Stellaris, hindering the more 'grand-strategy'/less 'tile-builder' direction the game has since evolved towards. A sort of bump in an otherwise smooth shape, that feels weird no matter how many times you paint it over.
I find myself thinking: is it necessary that every single pop has an happiness value? A strata? An ethic? An upkeep?
What if population underwent an abstraction process, similar to what happened to production in 2.2? Job, stratum, political affiliation, traits and all the jazz could be represented by pie-charts, graphs, and statistics, or anything really.
I honestly can't come up with many reasons why pops are a necessary or even desirable mechanic in modern Stellaris, but I would like to hear as many opinions as possible.

What do you think? How do pops contribute to the experience you seek from Stellaris?

The two main areas where we need pops are specialist and workers. There is a small number needed for leadership roles. This can ALL be abstracted and population management could be made simpler. How?

First rule is, there is no penalty for moving pops between specialist and worker roles. It is odd they can move to specialist without penalty but are penalized moving back?

So at the top level, this is not refined, you assign pops via +/- buttons to switch between worker and specialist rows. The game will determine based on which districts and buildings are active the percentage of output they are capable of performing. Players to force the distribution to a resource they want more than another would disable the buildings not to be used. So if you have 20 worker jobs and only 10 workers then all jobs defined as worker produced 50%. Get it? This is subject to planet modifiers and population happiness.

Now you say, what about factions and such? Factions and happiness are used to determine planet happiness which then applies to work/etc.

The idea here is that no individual pop matters. We are dealing with pops in the aggregate . We don't know Tom from Sue from Bob. We don't care. A Pop unit is merely a representation of many.


The +/- could simply be sliders, you assign X and that would make it silly easy to fit on the main planet screen. Buildings and districts would be simple click to enabled/disable etc... the idea is you really don't need to tweak it all that much. We take the focus from type of job to type of work. All specialist jobs are the same to this system as is all worker positions.
 
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Yes. It seems that the pop-job matching system is the cause of all these problems; removing any one of the aspects that break that system would be way better than an overall cap on pop growth.

(Nerfs to snowballing are fine! But the actual nerf being "pop stops growing entirely" is not a good one.)
 
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I don't even really understand what the problem is with snowballing.

This is a 4x game. If you're able to gobble up territory and resources faster than your opponents, you should be rewarded for that. If you get too big and become too much of a bully, the galaxy can form coalitions against you like in EU IV. That's a great mechanic.

Don't just slap arbitrary per-Empire limits. That feels awful, it breaks immersion and it penalizes you for just playing the game well.
 
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I don't even really understand what the problem is with snowballing.

This is a 4x game. If you're able to gobble up territory and resources faster than your opponents, you should be rewarded for that. If you get too big and become too much of a bully, the galaxy can form coalitions against you like in EU IV. That's a great mechanic.

Don't just slap arbitrary per-Empire limits. That feels awful, it breaks immersion and it penalizes you for just playing the game well.
Because if its too easy to snowball as soon as you get a lead you might as well just end the game.

Its no fun if every time you snowball the coalitions against you are just there wasiting everyone's time because they can't stop you.
 
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