The Geryk Analysis
Master of Orion 3 rebuttal

You could still design a system like in the original Master of Orion, where everything was still very abstract. Simply add a restriction where you could only change a certain number of sliders per game turn. However, this would feel artificial (and very boardgamey) to computer gamers. To get around this, you would have to create some kind of game logic that justifies AI misbehavior. It would have to be a fully functioning universe of numbers that ran on its own logic, a logic that would make sense to the player, but not always coincide with his ambitions. To bend the game to his will, he would have to allocate his limited resources while it resisted his interference. It would be the first real empire simulation, where you're the emperor and not just an omniscient super-being who can control every single planet in his dominion, down to whether the natives voluntarily starve themselves in order to build a battle station.

Sounds spectacularly ambitious, doesn't it? That's because it is. Making it work depends on creating an AI which can not only micromanage efficiently, but which is also aware of the overall game situation. The AI would have to be aware how actions it takes on behalf of some imaginary in-game special interest group might not fit into a player's global strategy, but still make sense for role-playing reasons.

Imagine, for example, a viceroy who is managing a planet in some part of your empire where you're generating a lot of trade income, thanks to nearby Klackon spaceports. You decide that there are some regions on some of these planets that need to be developed for industry, because you are going to be launching an attack on the Klackons. However, your viceroy sees that if he simply developed more Recreation and Spaceport DEA's, he could increase his trade and thus make more money (some percentage of which was going into his pockets through graft). So he ignores your orders to build mines and factories, and builds amusement parks instead.

In a game with infinite micromanagement, you simply go to those planets, uncheck the viceroy box, assign the DEA's yourself, curse the bad AI, and move on. But if your ability to intervene is limited by something like Imperial Focus Points, you have to decide: do I waste time straightening this guy out? Or do I ignore him and try to get the production points somewhere else? In a good design, each of these would have consequences: meddling with a popular viceroy who is enriching the worlds he controls through trade would anger the populace, who would resent imperial meddling at their expense; removing him outright may even trigger a revolt. Leaving him alone might embolden other viceroys to follow his lead, so that the more tolerant you get of disobedience, the less the AI follows your orders. If your viceroys had personalities like your leaders, it would be even better.

It may sound like this is just excusing bad AI, but as I said above, this whole thing is dependent on the AI doing things that make sense for role-playing reasons, which is another way of saying that you can explain them in game terms that don't resort to "the viceroy is insane" or "the viceroy just likes building lots of transports but no troops to put in them." Like the "favorable trade relations" example above: the planet is happy and is making money for everybody. Now you, the mean emperor, want it to start making warships to attack your trading partner. If you want to upset the status quo that much, you're going to have to devote a lot of attention to this. You're going to have to use a lot of Imperial Focus Points that you would otherwise have used to do other things.

In this case, note that abstraction works against you as a designer. I guarantee that no matter how well you justify it in scary role-playing terms, no player is going to be very happy when you move the Shipbuilding slider from 10% up to 60%, and the next turn it's right back at 10%. It will seem artificial and broken. However, if you create a system that goes into enough detail where it is possible for the AI to partially follow your orders, you can get away with it.

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