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This document describes the design of a new RTS game which doesn't exist. Everything described in this document is purely theoretical. The game design itself has been inspired by other titles of the RTS genre, it is almost a mix of several different RTS games which have all been proven to be good titles in the past. Among these games are Age of Empires 2 & 3, Starcraft 1 & 2, Total Annihilation, the Total War series and Rise of Nations.
This document is made up of three sections which each describe the design of a part of the game. This RTS game could be set in either the Middle Ages or the Antiquity. The units in this game would be archers, mounted warriors, spear men, swordsmen and so on. Harvesters would be Peasants and Caravans. Civilizations could be those of the Franks, English, Chinese, Mongols, Romans and so on.
This document focuses primarily of the game design of a multiplayer 1v1 game, yet the design could easily be used for team games or single mission campaigns.
I. Military & battles
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1. Hard counter system
Military units in this game will use a hard counter system. Every unit has a unit type it's good against as well as a unit type that it's weak against. Due to the setting of the game, the units are mostly based on historical infantry, cavalry and siege weapons. The unit types are as follows:
Every unit type has a hard counter and every unit type serves a different role. Generally speaking, lighter units are more fragile than heavier ones but also more mobile. Support units are there to support the army but don't fight specifically, they're for scouting (scouts), healing (field doctors) and army support (generals).
The choice of using hard counters means that players won't be able to get a single unit and use just that unit all game long. They need to get a proper unit composition and be able to micro that composition correctly against the other player's army. It's really important to note that this means that micro revolves around good positioning of each unit type. Two players of similar who micro against each other will have long, drawn-out fights where both strive to obtain a better position than the other. Attack move definitely has its place in the game but a player who uses just that without good positioning will lose.
Different unit compositions are possible and they work differently. This brings a lot variety to the game as well as allowing different play styles. Cavalry based compositions will have the advantage of mobility, but they'll be expensive compared to slower and cheaper infantry based compositions. More detail on different unit compositions later, when the unit types themselves have been described a bit more.
Also important to note is that every Civ in the game will have each unit type. Units of a certain type fundamentally work the same way for every Civ. Uniqueness can be given to a Civ by fiddling around with the tech tree.
NB: The hard counter system proposed in this RTS is largely based off of Age of Empires 3. So it's a proven system and fights in that game were very fun to micro and drawn out. They're given even more "oomphf" in this game though, thanks to the addition of several features.
Military fighting units, infantry and cavalry, have a “Morale” bar. Basically, whenever an enemy unit dies in proximity to a unit, their morale goes up. Whenever a friendly unit dies, their morale goes down. The morale bar itself gives a bonus or a penalty depending on its status. If the bar is completely filled up, the unit receives +5% attack and +5% HP. If the bar is completely depleted, the unit receives -5% attack and -5% HP. This means that at most between two armies, the morale will account for a 10% difference. This is significant enough be to be relevant in a fight but it won't make a unit beat its counter. For example, Ranged Infantry at full morale still won't beat Heavy Cavalry at no morale. Out of combat, a unit's morale will eventually go back to a neutral setting (+0% attack and HP).
Morale fills several roles. First of all, morale bars are visual indicators to players as to how the fight is going. It serves as a tool to help players make decisions. If morale is dropping, it's better to retreat. If morale is rising, it's good to press the advantage.
Morale will rise if the army is correctly micro'd, meaning units are well positioned. This means morale rewards a player who micromanages well. It also allows for "cute" tactics such as retreating hurt units right before they die to deny the opponent morale.
Morale also works as way to pressure players. If a player has his army's morale rising, it's better for him to press the advantage quickly by using units that are stronger. However, he must not over extend either. He has a timing window to achieve something before his units morale decays back to neutral morale. On the other hand, the defending player needs to make sure to lose as few units as possible. If he lost morale it's because he didn't micro as well as his opponent. He's paying for his mistakes. He will want to get closer to his reinforcements, meaning he'll lose ground.
This means that morale is a way to reward a player with good micromanagement by giving him terrain advancement. The ground that he gains turns into map control, which is an important edge (see economic section as to why).
Furthermore, morale adds to the variety of the game through morale upgrades, Civ bonuses and even support units such as the General, who would act as a way to maintain morale in fights.
3. Unit types
I will now describe unit types a little more in depth so as to understand the role of each unit, what it counters and its counter.
Before I do so, it is important to note that units are given a group ability. A group ability is where a bunch of selected units of the same unit type work together to accomplish a certain effect. This effect could be damage, splash damage, position or other things.
For example, a group of Ranged Infantry could use a group ability called “Volley”. They would all shoot at the same area at the same time. The result would be splash damage on a certain area. However it's possible to use this same group ability in different ways. A player could select his entire force of Ranged Infantry and shoot a powerful volley on one area, or select half his force and spread the damage over a larger area.
The idea behind group abilities is that it gives players more room to use their units. It also procures different roles to different unit types outside the scope of how hard counters work. Some units will work well supporting the an army's core units. Some units will be able to quickly obtain a favorable position (highly important in hard-counter fight). Even without group abilities, this holds true.
On to unit types. This will describe each unit type, what they are, what they counter, what their counter is, their group ability and the role they play in an army.
Ranged Infantry (RI):
They're units which deal damage from at range with weapons such as bows or javelins. They're relatively fragile but as light infantry, they're also relatively mobile. Given their fragility, they're not supposed to be on front lines taking damage; these units fight from farther away. They're units that offer strong ranged support for melee units. They can also be used as harass units by picking off enemy melee units without taking damage in return. They can also pick off retreating units, due to being relatively mobile.
They counter Spear Infantry and Ranged Cavalry.
They're countered by Heavy Cavalry and Light Cavalry.
They're Light Infantry.
As a group ability, they use “Volley”. All RI units fire at the same time at a certain area, dealing splash damage.
Spear Infantry (SI):
They're melee units armed with spears or other shafted weapons. They're also light infantry and they lose to almost every other infantry unit. However as light units, they're more mobile than Heavy Infantry. They have a more specialized role than other units, they're only effective against Cavalry units. Given the strength of Cavalry units in this game, Spear Infantry become an important addition to an army facing any sort of Cavalry, especially Heavy Cavalry. Heavy Cavalry in particular excel at initiation, which is why Spear Infantry have a very important "counter initiation" role. Spear Infantry also serve to cover a retreat against Heavy Cavalry.
They counter Heavy Cavalry, Light Cavalry and Ranged Cavalry.
They're countered by Ranged Infantry and Heavy Infantry.
They're Light Infantry with Shields.
As a group ability, they use “Stand Ground”. This causes Spear Infantry to form a solid line and a wall of pikes. This causes damage to any unit entering the wall of pikes. Massive damage is dealth to charging units (see the group abilities of Heavy Infantry and Heavy Cavalry). When in Stand Ground, Spear Infantry also gain some resistance to ranged damage. Using this ability renders them completely immobile however. This ability is a very strong defensive ability. A player looking to initiate a fight will have to take the position of Spear Infantry into account, as Stand Ground should deploy quite quickly.
Heavy Infantry (HI):
They're melee units armed with swords and other such weapons. They're heavy units, making them quite resilient. Heavy Infantry will beat most units in a melee fight, however as a trade off they aren't particularly fast. This means that Ranged units such as Ranged Infantry and Ranged Cavalry are their soft counter. Light Cavalry won't be able to fight cost-efficiently against HI. HI are front-line fighters, they take most damage and deal some back. Only Heavy Cavalry truly win a straight up fight against HI.
They counter Spear Infantry.
They're countered by Heavy Cavalry and soft countered by ranged units.
They're Heavy Infantry with Shields.
As a group ability, they use “Charge” which allows them to quickly cover short distances to initiate a melee fight. This confers Heavy Infantry a sort of assault role where the goal is to force fights and gain ground. An army consisting of Light units will be forced to back-pedal and harass from range without engaging into a straight up fight.
Light Cavalry (LC):
They're fast and mobile Cavalry units armed with spears and whatnot. In a straight up fight, they're only really effective against fragile RI. Their other role is that of raiding the other player's economy, which they can do thanks to their mobility. They're good at killing off Peasants and Caravans. In a game where the economy is very important, this confers a very important role of the game to Light Cavalry which is raiding. Heavy Cavalry, while also effective against economic units, aren't as fast as Light Cavalry and are also more expensive units, so having them raid would be somewhat of a waste and Heavy Cavalry can't catch Light Cavalry.
They counter Ranged Infantry.
They're countered by Spear Infantry and Heavy Cavalry.
They're Light Cavalry.
As a group ability, they use “Pillage”. This is basically big bonus damage to buildings for a short duration of time, to complement their raiding role. The idea is that a group of raiding LC can take out economic units such as Peasants and Caravans but they can also take down a building here and there. This helps them especially kill Peasants garrisoned in houses.
Heavy Cavalry (HC):
They're fast, resilient and dangerous mounted warriors. In a straight up fight they beat pretty much everything except for Spear Infantry. They can initiate fights with their group ability and pick off retreating units. They're really used to pick fights and dictate the pace of the game. They have their obvious limitations. They're still countered by SI and while they're faster than every infantry unit in the game, they're also slower than Light Cavalry and Ranged Cavalry. They're also expensive to produce and to sustain. Nonetheless, they fill mostly the same role as HI but their mobility is what makes them truly dangerous. HC are also perfect units to harass a retreating army and punish a bad engagement from other other player, who has to use Spear Infantry to deal with HC picking off retreating units. HC serve as a means to obtain and maintain map control over a wider expanse than HI.
They counter Ranged Infantry, Heavy Infantry and Light Cavalry.
They're countered by Spear Infantry and soft countered by Ranged Cavalry.
They're Heavy Cavalry.
As a group ability, they use “Charge”. However unlike HI, they form a triangle when charging. Once the triangle is formed, it can be aimed into an enemy formation to cause damage to units. It also positions Heavy Cavalry so they can start doing what they do best. The triangle serves as a visual cue for the other player that a HC charge is imminent. This gives the other player time to set up his defense through Spear Infantry in Stand Ground or by splitting his units. It's important to note that Heavy Cav which charge into a wall of pikes will die. The defensive player must set up his Spear Infantry properly to not die to a charge and the aggressive player will try to find openings.
The Heavy Cavalry against Spear Infantry mechanic is designed to spice up fights and add a bit more explosiveness to them. Units won't instantly die however good positioning can be obtained very quickly. Also note that Heavy Cavalry work well in wide open spaces but less so in enclosed areas against Spear Infantry. That is where map design comes into play.
Ranged Cavalry (RC):
Fast mounted warriors with ranged weapons such as bows or javelins. They're faster than Heavy Cavalry. This unit works as a soft counter to every melee unit. With proper micromanagement, it's a perfect harass unit that can whittle down an opponent's army for little damage taken in return. They aren't as good in a straight up fight as they don't really counter any unit and Ranged Infantry do counter them. For balance purposes, they don't do as well against economic units. They do serve as a good anti-harass unit, Ranged Cavalry is a good answer to Light Cavalryy raids. They're units which require careful use to be used to their full potential. They can also be used to contest map control against Heavy units as neither HI nor HC can really engage RC cost-efficiently.
They soft counter every melee unit.
They're countered by Ranged Infantry.
They're Light Cavalry.
As a group ability, they use “Hit and Run” which allows them to fire while running for a short duration of time. This is a harass ability as well as a counter raiding one as well as one suited for chasing fleeing units (or perhaps raiding Light Cavalry).
Siege Engines (SE):
As their name implies, they're large ranged weapons which do good damage against buildings. They can also fire shots at certain areas for splash damage, similar to RI's “Volley”, however their primary role is really to take out buildings. There's not much to be said about SE except that Cavalry units are best suited to take these out, due to their mobility. Obviously, fights can be forced with SE if a player is taking out another player's buildings with impunity. Nonetheless, the strength of SE against military units as opposed to just buildings is limited.
Support units (SU):
These are units which augment the overall effectiveness of an army. They're utility units. Field doctors can quickly heal wounded units. Generals provide passive bonuses to help maintain morale. A morale boost can be provided if a General is used in a charge with HC (the general is mounted)(this obviously backfires if the General is killed). Scouts can also be trained very early on and have excellent line of sight. They're important units due to the importance of scouting the opponent's strategy, unit composition and army movement. A Scout has better line of sight than military units. It's noteworthy that they're faster than Heavy Cav but slower than Light Cavalry.
This finishes the different unit types, their counters and their roles. It's important to note that while every Civilization will have access to every unit type, uniqueness can still be achieved by mixing up the tech trees. For example, the Romans might have access to Heavy Infantry earlier in their tech tree compared to other Civs (at the expense of something else).
4. Other aspects
Units with shields have a secondary ability which is “Raise Shield”. At the expense of a lot of mobility and damage output, they become highly resistant to ranged attacks. This is the “counter” ability to “Volley” and ranged harass. The idea behind using shields is that Ranged units aren't meant to be the backbone of an army but they're meant as more of a support unit. Nonetheless, it also means that “Volley” can be used as a way to soft initiate. HI with their shields raised are both immobile and do little damage, meaning they're easier to initiate into.
The goal is to create more diversity in fights and more room for each player to control what's going on. If player A fires a Volley, then player B can answer by raising shields. In which case Player A might have his HI charge. This is just an example but it shows how each player will be given the tools to fight for the outcome of the fight at all times. One player should not be left with no choices so a given situation.
Another aspect in this game would be veteran units. For each kill a unit makes, it gets a very small attack and HP boost as well as more resilient morale. The idea is that a group of units that has been well micromanaged earlier in the game will be slightly more effective in the long run. This is a passive reward to a player who has done well in the game up to a certain point, but it's a reward he can lose if he's sloppy with his units afterwards. Looking at the amount of kills a unit has becomes relevant rather than being an interesting yet useless statistic. This also allows players to use a small army made of powerful, high tech units rather than a large army of lesser units (drain and income can hopefully make this viable)
5. Hard counter system again
After all of that, we can now come back to the hard counter system and examine it in more detail. The hard counter system means that players will be looking to properly utilize army compositions. Players will strive to find synergy between different unit types. Several different kinds of compositions are viable, as long as there is a possible answer to every unit type.
For example, we could go for a composition based off of Heavy Infantry, Spear Infantry and Ranged Infantry. HI will work well against melee units, Spear Infantry will protect HI from Heavy Cavalry and RI will counter the threat of Ranged Cavalry harassing our melee units to death. This composition works especially well if we have high quality Heavy Infantry units. As a fighting force our army has completed the counter circle. The advantages of having such an army composition is that it doesn't have expensive Cavalry units so it's a cheap army that can reach a considerable size. On the other hand, it lacks mobility. This would be the type of unit composition that would work well for defensive, economy-oriented, long term strategies (well in theory anyway).
Another possible composition is using Heavy Cav, Ranged Infantry and Spear Infantry. This also completes the counter circle. This composition is more expensive than the previous one and requires more tech but it has all the advantages that Heavy Cav procure in terms of initiation, map control and picking off retreating units. This composition would be better suited for aggressive, expansive play. In this case, our Heavy Cavalry can effectively take out anything except other Heavy Cavalry and Spear Infantry. This is where Spear Infantry help our Heavy Cav fight enemy Heavy Cav and our Ranged Infantry can take out their own Spear Infantry. Or, we could replace our Ranged Infantry with Heavy Infantry to deal with enemy Spear Infantry.
Yet another composition would be HI/HC. Using only heavy units can be expensive but they're also quite effective in battle, as long as they're correctly positioned. If they aren't, then ranged units can pick them off. Proper use of Stand Ground can also throw this composition off.
The hard counter system, coupled with group abilities and support units, will make fights dynamic and drawn out. Small details, such as retreating a hurt unit before it dies, or pulling out just a few Cav units to attack an exposed flank to get the morale bonus can still make a difference. Many different unit compositions are viable, leading to diversity even if every Civ has each every unit type in their tech tree.
This concludes the micro section of this document. We now move on to part II, where resource gathering is explained and the relation between economy and military is also portrayed.
II. Economy, harvesters & buildings
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There are 5 resources in the game. They are Grain, Currency, Timber, Manpower and Horses. This may seem to be a large amount but all of these resources have different roles which are linked together. It's actually simpler than it looks. We'll examine each resource and how they work in the game, then we'll look at how the resources are gathered.
1. Income & drain for two resources: Grain & Currency
Grain and Currency are two resources that work in a very similar manner. These are the two resources are very important and define the economy of the game. This is because these two resources are affected by the drain & income mechanic of the game.
Simply put, any unit on the map will drain either Grain, Currency or both resources at a certain rate. The better the unit, the more it drains. Cavalry units will drain more than infantry units which will drain more than economic units. The role of a player's economy is to produce new units but it's also sustain those he already has. New units are trained with excess resources; resources that are stockpiled when our income is greater than our drain.
Let's have an example. These numbers are purely arbitrary. Let's say we have 5 Peasants farming Grain. They will generate a certain amount of Grain per minute. For example, they'll generate 250 Grain every minute. Now, as the Grain is being gathered and stockpiled, it's also being drained at a certain rate to sustain the Peasants. Let's assume that Peasants drain Grain at a rate of 10 Grain a minute. So our 5 Peasants are draining 50 Grain a minute.
So, our Grain balance is of +200 Grain/minute. Every minute, we will stockpile 200 Grain and we can use that excess Grain to train new Peasants or military units. To continue our example, let's assume that we can train a new Peasant for the cost of 100 Grain. We can put him on a Farm to generate Grain as well, so our new balance is 300 Grain per minute minus 60 Grain per minute of drain, which gives us a balance of +240 Grain/minute.
Grain is used to support pretty much every unit in the game and Currency is used to support military and support units. Currency is also uesd to research upgrades. Harvesters (Peasants and Caravans) can generate infinite amounts of Grain or Currency but only at a certain rate. This rate can of course be upgraded to improve income.
In the event that a player doesn't have the income of either Grain or Currency to support his units, then units will drain stockpiled resources. If Grain is depleted, then the player's Civilization goes into Famine, where random units lose health and die. This is obviously catastrophic. The first priority would be to quickly set up Grain income again as soon as possible.
If Currency is depleted, then the morale of every player's units will slowly decay to 0. This can be circumvented by winning engagements, but the negative effects are still there and can have dire (but not game ending) consequences if left unattended.
Furthermore, there is a limit to the amount of Grain and Currency that can be stockpiled. To raise this limit, players must build special buildings to stockpile these resources. For Grain and Currency respectively, these buildings are Silos and Banks.
Economy plays a big part in the game. A player needs to make sure that his income is sufficient to both train new units and sustain the units he already has. He must correctly balance production and sustain. Disrupting the other player's economy can lead to interesting results.
The interesting aspect of this is that this balance is a choice from the player. If he wants to set up a huge economic infrastructure quickly, he'll have to do so at the cost of having a lot of military units. He'll have to play carefully and defensively with a few units, while powering up his economy. On the other hand, he can choose to power up his military to the point where he can't produce anything else with the economy he has. That would mean that the entirety of the player's economy would be focused on supporting an army. This gives that player a timing window where his army is much bigger than his opponent's. It's up to him to do immense damage during that window before the other player catches up.
The size of an economy directly reflects the size of the army a player can have. This attaches great importance to the management of the economy in this game. It's important that harvesters be correctly allocated in terms of production and drain depending on unit composition. Some units drain differently than others, so the economy must be set up accordingly. It also gives developers a new lever to balance the game. A unit that is over-performing may see its drain increased to better reflect its capabilities rather than the classic changing of attack and/or HP. We may find unique units from different nations that perform quite differently yet remain balanced through drain. This adds to the diversity of the game.
The fact that income reflects the size of the army also forces players to expand and fight for map control. The more room to set up farms and establish trade routes (more on that later), the higher the income is, the larger the army that can be supported. Map control equates to military power, as a spread out economy will generate more resources than one which is clumped up in the corner of the map.
The drain mechanic also means that raiding the opponent's economy can be a very strong tactic, it makes the game more dynamic overall as players strive to raid their opponent's economy while protecting their own.
The focus of economic management is making sure income is good enough to sustain a population of civil and military units. Easier said than done. Economy in an RTS shouldn't be neglected and in this game, it's given a primary place.
2. Timber & buildings
Timber is the most generic resource as it works much like resources in classic strategy games. Timber is gathered from trees and used to construct buildings. It can also be used as an upfront cost for some units such as Spear Infantry, Ranged Infantry or Siege Engines, but it isn't drained like Grain or Currency. Trees are grouped up into forests around the map and trees are the game's only finite resource.
As with Grain and Currency, there's a limit to the amount of Timber that can be stockpiled at once, this limit is raised by building Warehouses.
Timber remains a very important resource considering the fact that it's the resource which is used to make every building. Important buildings (Forums, etc) may have an additional Currency or Grain cost.
Population hasn't been talked about much up until now. It's fairly straightforward; each unit takes up a certain amount of population space and houses must be built to raise the total amount of population to support more units. Houses don't serve in that role only however, economic units can garisson in houses to hide from attacking enemy units (in limited numbers obviously). Peasants can also garrison in Forums, in larger numbers.
Some buildings serve purely military purposes. These, for example, are Castles and Watch Towers. Castles will serve as strongholds to control some areas of the map. However, if Castles are to have vision and a ranged attack, they MUST have ranged infantry in them. Castles are meant to be expensive investments so that a player can't build 10 of them in his base (that said, even if he could, turtling in this game equates to giving up the map which is game-ending). Also worth noting is that a player can use an opponent's castle if it isn't garissoned. Watch towers only require a single infantry unit in them to gain immense line of sight. They're cheap but also fragile.
An (uncomplete) list of the buildings in this RTS:
Forum: Produces Manpower, can train peasants and caravans use this building
Stables: Produces Horses
House: population building and economic unit protection
Barracks: can train spear & heavy infantry
Archery Range: can train ranged infantry
Cavalry Stables: can train cavalry
Farm: grain Production
Olive Orchard: currency production
Market: economic upgrades, can train caravans and caravans use this building
Armory: military upgrades
Temple/Church/etc: interesting upgrades
Warehouse: extra wood stockpile
Banks: extra currency stockpile
Grain Silos: extra grain stockpile
3. Manpower and horses
Manpower and Horses are resources which are generated and used in the same way. Manpower is a resource which is generated at a certain rate by the Forum, Horses is generated in the same way by Stables. Units, whether they're for military or economic purposes, will cost Manpower and/or Horses to train. To obtain more Manpower generation, players must build additional Forums (same thing with Horses and Stables).
For example, the cost of a Peasant might be a certain amount of food, but it'll also be 1 Manpower. So, the amount of Manpower a player has at his disposal regulates the amount of units he can make at a time. If a player has 5 Manpower, he can train 5 units which cost 1 Manpower each. Similarly, Cavalry units will use up 1 Horse (and 1 Manpower) when they are trained.
Production buildings such as Cavalry stables, Barracks and Forums are able to transform Manpower and/or Horses at a certain rate. For example, a Forum might be able to use up 3 Manpower at a time; so a player can train up to 3 Peasants at the same time if he wants to (that decision might be unsafe as he'll have very little military units to defend himself). Either way, it's possible to upgrade the amount of manpower a building can spend at the same time. Early game, a Barracks might be able to produce up to 3 infantry units at the same time, however later on a player can get an upgrade which allows Barracks to train 5 (maybe more?) units at the same time.
The reason behind having Manpower and Horses is that it forces players to expand on the map. To get more Manpower players will have to build more Forums. If players are building more forums, then they might as well build forums around the map to obtain map control and exploit the map's natural resources. This leads to fights between players as they strive to control more space on the map to obtain better production.
Forums become very important buildings as well as they provide the backbone of production. Having proper infrastructure will be key to having strong production capabilities as well. Players need to make sure that they get enough military production buildings.
The use of Manpower and Horses also procures more flexibility to players. This is the real reason that these resources are in the game. A player can choose to quickly develop his economy by using all his Manpower on Peasants. Or he can quickly power up his army. The idea is that Manpower allows players to quickly shift between investing in economic and military units. More flexibility gives players more options which is something the game is working towards.
Every player starts with a forum and a few peasants, so Manpower is generated from the get-go. Stables however must be built by the player to commence Horse production. This means that a player who wants to forgo Cavalry units can do so by simply not making a Stable. It also means that investing into Cavalry will be something more significant than merely building a Cavalry Stables building.
4. Resource production
This topic deserves its own section as producing resources in this RTS will be more than simply putting harvesters to work. A player will have to fine-tune his economy. However this tuning isn't mechanical (ie higher APM doesn't equate to higher income), this tuning comes from the experience of a player. It'll come down to a player knowing how many harvesters he needs to allocate to each resource, in which order he'll be getting economic upgrades and overall just keeping an eye on everything. Better management equates to higher income. However once everything is set in place, a player has little to do in terms of resource generation.
First of all, it's important to note that this section will especially focus on the gathering of Grain and Currency, as gathering Timber, Manpower and Horses is pretty straightforward. Furthermore, the drain and income mechanic on Grain and Currency makes those two resources especially important, so a lot of the economic focus of this RTS will be centered around these two resources.
There are two different kinds of harvesters in this game. They are Peasants and Caravans. Both function differently when gathering resources.
Peasants work the same way harvesters do in classic RTS games. If they're put to work on a Farm, they gather Grain. If they're chopping a tree, they're gathering Timber. Peasants are also the units that make buildings in this game.
The important thing about Peasant income (we're still talking primarily about Grain and Currency here) is that it's centered around Farms and Orchards (olive oil is valuable so it can be sold for money, hence it creates Currency). It's fairly straightforward. A Peasant put on a Farm will generate an infinite amount of Grain at a certain rate. A Peasant put on an Orchard will generate an infinite amount of Currency at a certain rate. Given the relative importance of Grain compared to Currency (and how relatively safe Peasants are when close to Forums and houses), Peasants are more efficient at gathering Grain than Currency. Running out of Grain can have dire consequences, running out of Currency is not as bad (just -5% stats on every unit!). Peasant production and sustain is centered around Grain as well.
This makes Peasants the backbone of a player's economy. Peasants are quickly made and can be put to work in the safety of a player's base.
Now, an additional aspect to Farms. In this game some terrain is fertile. Building a Farm or Orchard on fertile terrain will give that farm or Orchard a very nice income bonus. This means that a well-made map will have players looking to control areas that have fertile terrain for an economic edge. Even more fighting for map control, even more map diversity.
Caravans function quite differently. For starters, they can only "gather" Grain and Currency, whereas a Peasant can also gather Timber and make buildings. However, they're slightly more cost-efficient than Peasants, especially when generating Currency. They also cost 1 Horse (similar to Cavalry units).
On the map there are neutral sites called Trade Posts. A caravan basically travels between the neutral Trade Post and the player's Market (or Forum) and as it moves, it generates resources.
The idea is that the Caravan generates resources only when it's moving directly towards its destination and when it's not under attack. So while Caravans are cost-efficient resource gatherers, it's also more difficult to keep them safe. Caravans will reward a player who has obtained map control and Caravans also reward players who contest map control with Cavalry raids.
To add to this, economic upgrades are included in the game. Peasants can be upgraded to gather resources faster, as can Caravans. New questions arise for players. Does a player upgrade both Peasants and Caravans and have them gather Grain and Currency respectively? Does a player upgrade solely only peasants? Does a player upgrade Caravans as fast as he can?
All three solutions are possible. With a hybrid economy, a player might be getting very efficient income, as Peasants will focus on gathering Grain and Caravans will focus on gathering Currency. However, upgrading a hybrid economy takes longer than upgrading just one gatherer.
Imagine instead a player who focuses on upgrading just Caravans. He can get a pretty explosive economy rather quickly (due to the cost-efficiency of Caravans). The down-side to this is that a Caravan-centered economy is really vulnerable to enemy raiding. Still, in some situations it can be a good idea to go with a Caravan economy. For example, perhaps the opponent has an immobile army. Perhaps a player has wrested map control and is looking to get the most out of it. Perhaps he is playing a Civ that favors the use of Caravans.
Upgrading only Peasants is also viable. Caravans take time to tech to and it also takes time to get the upgrades going. If Caravans are skipped completely and a player focuses only on upgrading Peasants without getting even a single Caravan, then he's going to get his economy running relatively quickly. His economy will also be somewhat safe as Peasants stay close to the protection of a base.
The idea is to give a player several viable options on how he wants to set up his economy. He can choose based on what play style he's going for. Setting up an economy correctly can be tricky at first because there are so many different ways to do so and harvesters need to be allocated properly. However, setting up an economy is based less of good mechanics (high APM) but more about good macromanagement. Once Peasants or Caravans are gathering Grain or Currency, they don't need to be touched anymore. They can be left alone until the end of the game since they're generating infinite resources at a certain rate (obviously they'll have to be relocated if they're under attack).
III. Unique Civilizations
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A brief but important section on how to make every Civ unique. There have been several allusions in the material written in earlier sections, but this is going to be a bit more complete.
Every Civilization has roughly the same tech tree. They each have access to the same unit types, the same upgrades in both military and economy, the same kinds of harvesters and buildings, and so on. Nonetheless, it's possible to make small, subtle changes to tech trees which give each Civilization a unique feel. It could be making some unit type available earlier in exchange for another unit type. The position of branches could be different, etc.
More importantly, Civilizations have unique bonuses. The bonuses are big enough to make a difference and change the feeling of the Civ, but not too big so that it limits a Civ's option. It could be bonuses to morale, it could be better production of Manpower or Horses, it could be slight economic bonuses and so on. Perhaps all the units of one civ are all slightly more powerful than from other civilizations, but also drain more. There are many aspects in this game that can be fiddled with when looking for Civilization bonuses.
Finally, every Civ should get at least one or more unique units. Units that are different through the stats they have or even their group ability. They would still fundamentally fill the same role as other units of the same unit type, but they wouldn't "feel" the same.
By playing around with these three aspects of a civ, it's quite possible to make each Civ feel unique and different from the others while staying in touch with proper game balance and design. This is especially true given the amount of options a player has at his disposal in terms of play style (unit compositions, economic set up..).
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This concludes the document. Unfortunately it's too difficult to talk about map design without having done any play testing at all. Nonetheless, core game design is there. It's designed to give players many different options and it's designed to be a challenge. Fights are long and drawn out and demand constant attention. The economy in this game needs to be set up with care and then fine tuned. I hope that you, the reader, have at least enjoyed this virtual tour of a game that exists only in our minds.