Author Topic: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.  (Read 5906 times)

Offline x4000

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Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« on: July 01, 2015, 01:46:39 PM »
Original: http://arcengames.com/stars-beyond-reach-release-date-pushed-back-to-september-25th/

SBRWide600contrast

First of all, the TLDR: the time has come to push back the release date yet again, this time to September 25th.

Finances (Just Because I know People Will Ask)


So, yet another month -- whew. This is now our most expensive-to-make game except for Valley 1, and our most time-consuming-to-make game in terms of man-months by quite a margin.


Arcen just had a reasonable windfall what with the Steam Summer Sale and the Daily Deal for TLF. Between the two of those, that was more than a third of our income so far this year (it's been a slack year). This delay does raise the bar yet again on how much the game has to gross to break even, but that's frankly unavoidable at this point.


And I do think that we can really recoup this. Both TLF and AI War have exceeded the amount it will take to break even on this game, and I think this game will be notably more attractive to customers than TLF -- if we finish this up right. As for the total yearly income for the company, I think that the biggest blow would be releasing a substandard game rather than a delay of (sigh, yet another) another month.




Diplomacy In Games Kinda Stinks


And that's me being nice. There are a huuuuge number of reasons for this, and I'm not going to sit here and enumerate issues with other games. But I spent a goodly amount of time reading the complaints of players (both our own and just in general forums on the internet) about diplomacy in other games, and there were a lot of consistent themes. Some of that is in here: [Forum link]Chris: Hiatus from new beta players for a bit (diplomacy), but keep signing up!

The TLDR there is that even with the games that people like the diplomacy in, it's still in a "well it's not for everyone, though" and a "it's also got xyz major shortcomings, but it's better than anything else by far" way.

People REALLY Want Good Diplomacy In Some Game


It comes up again and again in reviews and forums and so on and so forth. Always has. And I feel that desire as well. There are lots of wishlisty sort of desires that people have, of varying degrees of feasibility and practicality. And people know what frustrates them, too.

There are a lot of possible interpretations of things, but what I've chosen to take away as the key requirements are this:

  1. It can't be ancillary to the main gameplay, or people won't use it. It has to be front and center.

  2. It has to give a sense of personality in order to be very interesting.

  3. It has to have a certain level of simplicity in order to be any fun for most people, and to not have an insane learning curve.

  4. It has to have a certain amount of flexibility, or people start feeling like it's an arbitrary game-y sort of system and not very realistic.

  5. It shouldn't be mounds of spreadsheets or text that make things impenetrable. That feels like you're going down a rabbit hole away from the main game.

  6. There should be a definite sense of momentum and consequence, where it's clear that the AIs are remembering what happened and where it's clear how that affects their future decisions.

  7. All of this information should be on as few screens as possible (ideally one), in some sort of digestible fashion, so that the player can look at things and understand what the heck is going on.

  8. This whole thing can't just be one big feedback loop into the "main" game, or this is just one more way of affecting the main game. Rather, it does need to have some separate systems of its own, but it also needs to have crosstalk with a variety of the "main" game systems, just like other game systems have with one another.

  9. There has to be a huuuge cost for war, or people will just do that.


My Solution For Diplomacy


Now, I don't claim to have all the answers on this by any stretch of the imagination -- not the One True Diplomacy Model or anything, I mean. But I have designed the framework of a system that meets all of the above criteria quite well, and which I feel like I have "clear line of sight" (as my dad would say) to solutions for the details. There are still tons of details that need to be filled in, but I can easily visualize solutions for ALL of those, which is a real first for me with this area of the game.

The short explanation for how diplomacy will work is this:

  • There's an overall International Relations screen that is new (coming up), which is a new hex grid with sections for all the other races (but not you).

  • The cells on this start out mostly blocked out, inaccessible to you. However, as you interact with these races, the cells get filled in by either good or bad icons, and you gain access to larger and larger rings of hexes with each race.

  • Most of the bad icons will come from fighting with them, not agreeing to requests from them, and so on. Actually "cashing in favors" will be negative in the sense that it lowers your overall balance with this race.

  • Good icons will come from a variety of sources, such as trade, sharing resources, and so on.

  • If your relationship is souring for too long, then the bad icons can start overwriting the good ones, and blocking them.

  • If your relationship is something you want to focus on improving, then you can remove some of those negative roadblocks by doing exceptional positive things for that race.


Further:

  • Rather than "dominating" other races per se, you now will win the game (standard victory) by increasing all of the races to have enough rings filled in with positive stuff that they are "no threat."

  • Races that die or become militarily subjugated get darkened on this screen and are no longer someone you have to have international relations with directly in order to win.

  • A ton of the positive icons are going to be mutually beneficial, so if you want to increase in power a lot of that is going to come playing nice with others. And if you turn on an ally that is fine, but you'll gradually lose all the benefits that you otherwise would gain from them. So you have full flexibility to be a turncoat, but you need to really be in a strong position and know what you are doing in order to succeed at that.


You have the tempo:

  • This game isn't about beating the other races; it's about you finding a safe and established place in an existing complex world that is already long-term established. Therefore, things are more focused on you and your changing relationships with the other races, rather than having the relationships of the other races with one another fluctuate too much over the course of a particular game.

  • There are some other cool positional things about races that are near one another on the International Relations having positive historical relationships (long before the start of the campaign you are in now), and those that are very far from one another having more negative relationships. There will be a variety of explanations for why the relationships are what they are, but overall these will be pretty static.


Specialty Victories become mostly cooperative:

  • Rather than being the only race to escape into space, you'll have to work with some other races in a more meaningful way.

  • Same if you want to destroy the planet, etc.

  • Code-wise this isn't going to be a major challenge or a major change, but it means that forming some sort of relationships on the International Relations grid as part of accomplishing that is still important.


A variety of subsystems get subsumed by this:

  • The old style of diplomacy and trade was already planned to become obsolete, and so of course it comes into this.

  • The current system of International Incidents will be heavily, heavily altered to fit this.

  • The International Incidents screen will go away, instead becoming a Military Conflicts panel on a new sidebar in the International Relations screen (right above a "Requests For Aid" panel that is new.)

  • Overall there will be far fewer military conflicts, and they will matter a lot more. Rather than just guns flying about all the time everywhere.

  • The existing Victory Progress screen will also be combined into this, since that's basically what this is tracking. As a happy aside on that front, your Victory Progress will actually go up in percentage a lot more granularity and a lot faster, since you won't have to completely dominate a race in some fashion in order to get any percentage points at all. As you progress towards making a race No Threat, it gets progressively higher percentage.

  • The idea of dominations goes away, of course, which means that the specialty hybrid victory conditions that I've been touting actually become even MORE hybrid, since now inside one race you even get a hybrid way of making them not a threat. Before it was just a mix of how you did things from race to race, but now it's something that is a lot more varied even with one race, which is super nice.

  • Planet rage will also be subsumed in this to some extent, I think. Or at least will tie into it heavily. Not having casus belli and going to war a ton will not win you friends outside of the Thoraxians and Burlusts or people who hate the people you're attacking. But the planet itself has reasons for not wanting you guys to wipe one another out, at least, and will get more and more threatening if you want to go all genocidal.


What About The Rest Of The Game?


So, we've already delayed this game at least twice. How did things turn out, in retrospect, from those?

TLDR: Very, very well. Though I forget all the individual things, and I'm leaving off all the general stuff like performance improvements and bugfixing time on so on, here's a partial list:

  1. The shift to Districts instead of Cities was definitely a big win, but had various problems. It was a major step in the right direction, though.

  2. The further shift to Territories instead of Districts has been an enormous win on all fronts, I feel.

  3. The military has shifted in a wide variety of ways, becoming further and further streamlined and clear, and it now meets the goals of the original Risk-like design I had in mind.

  4. Too much fighting gets wearying with the military, but that's true in most any 4X. The system is so solid that I am feeling really good about having that be something that is a really strong subsystem among many systems for the game.

  5. The citybuilding has been getting increasingly strong and clear, and has really come into its own as a mature core for the game.

  6. A lot of the remaining complaints about citybuilding from a really fundamental fashion boil down to some bits needing to be a bit more differentiated from one another, or a bit less fiddly in a few areas, etc.


Just as territories made the military vastly less fiddly (and citybuilding), the new international relations stuff is also aimed at those last pieces of differentiation and fiddlyness-removal on the citybuilding side. I have what I feel is extremely clear "line of sight" on all the issues that players have raised on this area, too.

Valley 1 was a game that we kept delaying and delaying, and we kept making major changes to it, but it was a lot of changing back and forth and wobbling around. With SBR, the changes have all been honing the core ideas that this game is based on, and have been focused on making things simple, clear, fun, and deep -- without just tacking on tons of extra complexity or content in the subconscious hope that quantity will make up for quality, heh.

Other Benefits From This Delay:


Erik and I will have time to fully do the marketing the way that we want. I'll have time to actually do interviews and livestreams that he sets up for me, and then he'll have time to do... everything else. ;)

We'll also have a much better shot at getting launch-day reviews, which would be a big win. The reason this is affected is because we can't let reviewers have the game until it's a certain amount polished, and if we're running right up to the deadline on that, then that gives them next to no time.

And lastly, this will give us a longer period for just-polish, which is going to be sorely needed, along with a hope of an extended period of Chris-testing-time, which is also something we've identified as key and yet which has been really falling by the wayside lately for a variety of reasons.

Oh, and lastly lastly, I'm more comfortable with late September as a release time of year in general. August is right in the middle of the sales doldrums, which made me fairly nervous in general. Late September is a period where sales are starting to uptick some, but it's still before the wash of the holiday rush of AAA games. August was already bugging me a lot just because it was August and historically that has not been a good month for game releases, so this solves that.

Last Notes:


Anyway, that's the long explanation of what's going on, why, and what the plan is. I figured it was time to catch everyone up and to go ahead and make this call.

The diplomacy section is the last truly weak part of the game, and this gives us time to address that and hopefully come out with something that people are excited about not just because it's good on its own, but hopefully superior to other similar games and meeting a longstanding unsatisfied desire. We shall see. The biggest change in my own head about this aspect of the game is that I no longer think of it as "the diplomacy section," but rather just expanding on the existing already-good parts of the game and providing a new consolidated interface to track those and how they feed into victory.

The "diplomacy" work is larger than I had expected in terms of the number of changes it's going to make to the game, so it's going to take us a few weeks at the absolute bare minimum to complete. Until then there won't be any new waves of beta players (no point!). Unless I'm really turning out to be missing the mark with this new stuff, then after that point and the initial week or two of inevitable revisions, we'll be in a position where all the features are settled enough that we're into refinement, bugfixing, balance, polish, etc, for the remainder of the time.

Thanks for sticking with us through this ride!

Chris

 
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Offline Captain Jack

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2015, 02:06:41 PM »
So wait, are you saying that diplomacy is going to be a *third* leveling mechanic distinct from technological advancement and social progress, tied to the other races, with opposing bonuses and penalties depending on how your relationship with them develops?

Just brilliant. I'm super excited for SBR again.

One thing that I do strongly recommend is to add BONUSES for NEGATIVE relationships with races. Not at every level, and maybe not very strong (5-10,15% at the highest), but a player shouldn't feel that they have to be Gandhi (with or without the nukes) to get ahead. Alpha Protocol did this well: you could get positive bonuses for having negative relationships with your handlers representing how every word out of their mouth galvanized you to outperform them or their expectations. Spite can a motivating force, along with terror, envy and opportunism. Piss off the Evucks and your scientists keep a closer eye on emerging diseases, cheese off the Burlurst and your soldiers get more difficult training in preparation for battle.

And if relationships with another race hit rock bottom, your propaganda machine can go ahead and make an enemy race out to be baby eating monsters, since relations will clearly never recover in an individual's lifetime.

That's not to say it should be all good for being bad, you lose out on mutual benefits and your people become more closeminded, less able to create products with broad appeal, and that's before you get into issues of racism and institutionalized hate and what it does to domestic as well as foreign policy.

Bit of a rant, that. Still looking forward to SBR. Best of luck, Chris.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2015, 02:26:10 PM by Watashiwa »

Offline nas1m

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #2 on: July 01, 2015, 03:27:00 PM »
Thanks for the write-up - very intriguing indeed! I feel like if anybody can pull of the deed of coming up with a diplomacy system fullfilling all the things outlined above there's a good chance that person is you ;). Looking forward to it!
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Offline x4000

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #3 on: July 01, 2015, 03:44:58 PM »
Thanks guys. :)

Notes:

1. Yep, this is a third way of gaining in power.  It's not a leveling system per se because you can rise and fall in power with this system.  It's more like capturing production points that then further your power.  But that's semantics, it is a general design along those lines, anyhow. ;)

2. In terms of bonuses for negative relationships with races, I think that would mainly be expressed as a positive perk on a race that hates the race you did something to.  That is something I have planned.  Having a "negative thing that was a positive" on the race in question would be really confusing, I think; but basically if you are stomping in the faces of the Acutians the Fenyn might be all "yeeaahh" and the Burlusts are all "hahahaha" and the Evucks are all "that was scary, stop that" and the Andors are like "boo, they're my robot buddies!"  I wrote that with Aziz Ansari's voice in my head, so try to read it that way if you know his standup. ;)

3. This definitely isn't going to be Gandhi simulator, I can tell you.  To some extent this also means more avenues for non-military competition, thus wearing down a race by means completely unrelated to your armed forces.  That might in turn result in armed conflict or not, or an armed conflict might be the finishing move, up to you.  It might be that you simply run the Boarine economy into the ground, engineer massive starvation, and watch their population fall, much to the happiness of the Yali who were hating them for some historical reason in that campaign.  And thus you didn't really "gain" anything directly per se, and in fact you lost a lot with the Boarines, but you did indirectly gain much favor with the Yali (and perhaps specific bonuses from them in response to specific requests).  And then you might be able to further make it so that the Burlusts go over there and subjugate the Boarines, if they also hate them; and you then are maybe never having your hand militarily visible on the map with that, despite causing their military downfall.  Either you suggested the Burlusts do it, or you just made it too sweet a target and knew they'd do it (how very devious of you).  And at that point, if you're making the Burlusts into No Threat, then you've just won two races because the Boarines have no choice but to come with.


Whether or not you are directly the one pulling the trigger is up to you, but probably on the highest difficulties you will need to get others to do the dirty work for you as much as possible so that you aren't getting the planet stomping you in the face.  If the Burlusts get a bit too crazy and outright murder the Boarines, and then the planet comes down and decimates the Burlusts, well then now you have two options anew, heh.  Well, more, really.  Make the Burlusts more miserable, to the delight of someone else.  Finish them off yourself and have them subjugated, and just suffer a bit from the planet's wrath.  Help the Burlusts now that they really need it, racking up goodwill from them a lot more easily than normally would happen.  Or encourage someone else that you like to go and subjugate them, keeping up the chain reaction of indirection to the mayhem you're causing.


Anyhow, thanks for the vote of confidence, guys. :)
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Offline Tomasdk

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #4 on: July 01, 2015, 03:56:02 PM »
I suspected this might happen when you outlined your plans for the diplomacy, but in my opinion it's always better to take the time and refine the systems so that at release everything is done. The game probably would not be well received if it shipped without diplomacy and with a tag "diplomacy will be patched in later." :D
So take as much time as you need to perfect it. :)

Offline x4000

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #5 on: July 01, 2015, 04:24:24 PM »
Heh, we definitely would not have been planning to try and patch in diplomacy later, goodness.  The question was whether we could come up with a simple enough model that was quick to implement and that we could make fitting for the rest of the game.  Turns out the way it panned out is larger than I'd thought it might be, so here we are.
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Offline Despayre

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #6 on: July 01, 2015, 04:42:39 PM »
Wow Chris, you rock!

Thanks so much for the update.  Wish other companies would follow your lead and be so open about the dev process. Really excited to see how the diplomacy stuff shakes out!

Offline crazyroosterman

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #7 on: July 01, 2015, 04:52:12 PM »
I'm actually quite surprised this game got pushed back again then again I didn't realise just how quickly august has come along for the most part thought I'm tomasdk take as long as you need/want with this provided it doesn't molester your finances to much.
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Offline x4000

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #8 on: July 01, 2015, 04:57:47 PM »
Cheers guys. :)
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Offline TheVampire100

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #9 on: July 01, 2015, 05:29:43 PM »
"Better safe than sorry, better safe than sorry, better safe than sorry."
I bet you say this all the time to yourself when pushing a release date back XD

The diplomacy idea sounds fun 8on the paper) but I have to see it ingame if it works out well. I guess this also means a lot of work for Blue because he has to design all the diplomacy icons now, lol.
In my mind I see this now similiar to a board game (which is a good thing, I like board games), you place your "tokens" on the field if you make certain actions and so fledging out the attitude of the other races towards you.

I'm really curious how this will look int he final game and I think this will make the game very unique to other 4X titles. Currently I don't know another game that has something like this.

Offline Tolc

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #10 on: July 01, 2015, 05:32:30 PM »
Yay! Glad to see everything is (slowly) coming together for you and thanks for sharing it all this openly! I'm certainly excited for the diplomacy stuff :)

Offline Captain Jack

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #11 on: July 01, 2015, 05:40:32 PM »
I actually really like the change from needing to dominate the other races to rendering them mostly harmless. It's much more thematically appropriate, though you probably need a pithy one word phrase for it.

Offline Gwmngilfen

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #12 on: July 01, 2015, 05:41:24 PM »
Oh boy, that sounds exciting. I *loved* manipulating races in TLF, and spent considerable time setting things up juuuuuuust right before triggering some almighty war, etc etc etc. This sounds like it has similar or even more depth to it, and that's really what's needed. The hex system sounds great, looking forward to testing the prototypes :)

Big +1 for the co-op victories too. My space-escape victory in 0.894 felt... hollow. I just turtled with a ton of missiles and lasers around the space facility for 50 turns, job done. Doing it as a co-op sounds way more for an achievement.

So, err, hurry up! :D


Offline Shrugging Khan

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #13 on: July 01, 2015, 07:26:58 PM »
Hooray for most of this, with one caveat.

Combat is still not fun. There really is no strategic thinking to it other than either "have military buildings everywhere because saucers can pop up in any place" or "just spam military buildings next to a target race and get the first strike". The fiddly-ness of having to match interceptors to attacker types; the limitation to attacking only the next territory over, and quite generally the lack depth of the whole affair is really sub-par for a 4x.

Now, if you really don't want to have complexity above that of Risk, then that's probably enough, and diplomacy will be the focus of the game anyways. But for bellicose old me, the martial aspect of SBR is, so far, rather unexciting.
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Offline x4000

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Re: Release Date Pushed Back To September 25th.
« Reply #14 on: July 01, 2015, 07:36:50 PM »
Thanks guys. :)

1. "Better safe than sorry" is less the sentiment and more "ah crap I did it again!!"  There's two sides to "safe."  Burning through cash reserves, and making sure the game is as good as humanly possible.  Anyway, I feel good about this.

2. The similarity to boardgames is not lost on me at all.  One of the earlier things that this made me think of is the separate scoring track for Princes of Florence.  There are plenty of other games that use a similar thing, but that's just the one that popped into my head the most.

3. I agree that this definitely won't look like anything from any other 4x, which I'm hoping will be a really standout aspect.  Something to really help sell the uniqueness of the system from a visual standpoint in the trailer and screenshots.  So many things with diplomacy normally can't be shown, but this visualizes it more, which I like for a whole host of reasons.

4. Blue is a woman, by the way, but yeah she has a plenty of icons to do now, heh.  At the moment it's something like 80 already on her list.

5. This is definitely going to take us some time upfront here, because it's just such a big thing.  The visual area and manipulation of this new board is going to take Keith until Tuesday, as one giant chunk of it.  It's a whole other coordinate system, because these hexes are flat-topped and not in perspective, so the way you translate point to hex and hex to grid location is completely different from the main game view.  Fun!  I mocked this up with a perspective view in photoshop, and it just looked horrible, so here we are.  It's definitely worth the time, but that's one thing that adds some upfront time to the new model.  But there's plenty of other stuff, and while he's doing that I'll be writing up details, filling in data, and trying to figure out the most efficient path through the bulk of this, and then what pieces can be left until after an initial release of this (so that we can be playing with it in the beta while those last bits are added in).  Certainly not every strategic/diplomatic option will be in day 1 of the first beta release of this, so I have to figure out which things need to be for testing purposes, and which can fall to the week or two after that.

6. Totally agreed on co-op victories being important.  I felt the same emptiness when doing the space stuff myself.  Ultimately part of that emptiness was because the game just let you turtle without anything bothering you, which is a problem in and of itself when you go for those sorts of special victories.  So that's still something that will need some addressing anyhow, because that just never got fully satisfactorily implemented.  But even in the best case with it being solo and a hard battle, having to cooperate with another AI is way better because that increases the interest of that scenario in a wide variety of ways.  Most likely I'll just ditch all the special victories from the very first prototype version of this so that I can focus on the standard style victory first, and then swing back around to give each special victory some special love one at a time, top to bottom.  The current build has a lot of half-implemented ones, which is no fun. ;)

7. I'm glad that there is so much interest in this aspect of the game in general -- that really does reaffirm to me that it's not just me who is hungry for this sort of thing.  I mean, I already knew that, but it's nice to have confirmation in big bold letters that it's a worthwhile endeavor. :)

8. Regarding the combat, we'll see what happens.  It's something that I've been enjoying, mainly because I prefer the buildup and positioning to the actual in the moment combat.  That said, there are definitely some ways the system can be made better, and I'm not blind to that.  nas1m brought up some really good points about just spamming military buildings in territories, and the game thus has planned a form of population cap per territory in terms of military buildings, based on the size of the territory.  The other thing that's really going to change the whole nature of the military combat is when it's one part of a discussion or engagement, not the only way to resolve something.  For instance, right now there are problems with building up feeling fiddly because you have to do it repeatedly and with minutia.  That tends to be the definition of fiddly, or at least a big part of it.  But making it so that you don't do it all the time, and so that you're having to target select a lot more carefully and really want to think through the build-up phase more than the combat phase... I think that will make a big difference, but we'll see. 

9. Ultimately at core this game is about empire building, not combat, and the combat is a vehicle for more empire building.  Now the diplomacy is also going to be doing that, although it's going to be sucking up some of the attention from raw empire-building in a way that hasn't been the case at all so far. I think that the overall ratio of "what am I spending my time doing" has a big impact on the fun factor of a game, so getting the diplomacy aspect in is my chief goal at the moment since that has the largest effect on that equation.  I think that will then change the perception of combat quite a bit because combat then takes a different role; which is not to say that combat is then done, but it will let us consider combat from a more advanced light in terms of how it fits into the final game.
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