Soooooooooo DW:Universe is out. So DW development is stopped outside of patches right? You know what that means! It's time for me to post all of my ridiculously long suggestions for the Sequel!
So one of the gradual improvements to DW over the expansions I actually have mixed feelings about. I'm talking about Influence and Borders, and this is the system I would like to see for Distant Worlds 2.
In the earliest versions of the game there was no real Influence or Borders, and you could build inside other nation's borders as much as you wanted. Now, the borders are rigid and you cannot build inside another nation's territory without a treaty expressly making it possible. I think both systems have their advantages and would like to incorporate both into DW2.
See, I think we take this for granted in our modern world where everything is mapped out, but borders tended to actually be very fluid and uncertain in the past. The lack of GPS and standardized Global Maps made charting out who owned what difficult, especially when the two people trying to figure this out didn't necessarily get along. And this was on a planet! Where you can, if all else fails, build a big ass wall around your land and effectively get the last word in on the argument!
Now in the early days of Interstellar civilization, I expect that a similar situation will arise. After all, who owns a planet will be rather simple to figure out, it's land, we can understand the ownership of land. But what about Space? Who owns the Space around the Planet? How far out does their ownership extend? Is it Radial? Does your influence punch out further in one direction because of a Mining Base? Does your influence Curve "Around" a foreign world? How close does it get?
These are all questions that would need to be answered, and have those answers acknowledged by everyone involved for them to work. And it will be more difficult in Space, because you can't build a Wall around Space!*
And Personally, I just kind of miss the massive number of disputed bases and colonies you would wind up with. It made the diplomatic situation feel more alive, more chaotic and uncertain. Now I don't mind not having to worry about people building mining bases in my territory. But I can't help but feel an opportunity for an interesting gameplay feature was missed. Automatic Influence is nice, but with a few relatively minor tweaks I think we could get an interesting and active gameplay system.
So Here goes!
I want to keep the Influence System, I just want to modify how it is gained and how it is affected and how it interacts with several game systems. You will still gain Influence in Systems, Planets, and the space between them, and this will be represented as a numerical value with no upper limit, and will be painted onto the map much like it is now. The number itself will probably not be displayed.
A Planet/Asteroid/Space will need to have some influence before a Private Sector ship will consider doing anything in that system other than passing through. You will still be able to establish Military Facilities outside of your influence.
When two countries both exert their influence on a system, they will compare their influences. However by default you will still be able to build in territory that is more influenced by a rival nation, and Private Sector ships will still trade in, mine in, and build in their territory as well provided you have your influence there. However for the Private Sector AI the influence of the other nation, and their relations with you will take effect. Private Sector ships will be less likely to build in territory with a hostile Empire's Influence unless your influence is much higher in that area.
This provides a handy way of "Quarantining" places from your Private Sector. If there's a system with a Silvermist, Ideally you will be able to flag it as "off Limits" and what that will do is just drop your influence in that system down to 0 permanently. However even if that option is not available, the Silvermist will gradually "Eat" your influence and prevent it from spreading, using the system below, which will in turn prevent Private Enterprise ships from going there.
This also means that starting off "Inside" another nation is not an instant defeat like it is now, because even though that country has more influence than you, you will still be able to build in their territory. You may just need to step carefully, but a difficult situation is better and more interesting than "Guess I'll need to restart because I literally cannot play the game from this point".
I also want to increase the number of ways you can gain Influence. Obviously the best way to gain influence will be to colonize a planet in the system, however that will not by default give you much influence. The colony will need to grow before it starts projecting power outwards, and its rate of influence growth will be slow even once the colony is huge. No more will you discover FTL drives and have your Homeworld instantly claim ownership of everything nearby. Instead the influence will slowly "Bleed" outwards, getting slower the further from the planet you are.
To assist you in spreading your influence, you will also gain Influence from building Bases. Mining Bases and Tourist Traps will provide very small but notable influence. Instead, the biggest way to get Influence? Drop a Military Base there, the more Firepower the better.
Yes, Military ships, with Guns, are the best way of exerting your Influence in an area. We may talk today about our "Social Contract"s and our "Consent of the Governed"s and our "Post-Westphalian Concept of National Sovereignty"s, but let's be honest, at the end of the day, Might Makes Right, and all that matters is whether you have the firepower to keep others off your land. If you don't, or you don't have allies willing and able to help out, well hello there Crimea...
Plopping a Major Military Installation will give you a considerable boost to influence. It will even give you influence at a faster rate than most Colonies, however it will have a smaller range. This will allow you to assert your influence in newly colonized systems by adding Defence Batteries, or establishing dominance over even a remote Gas Cloud.
And lastly but certainly not least, just having a ship in the system will give you some influence, albeit a very small amount for most ships. So if you cannot or are not interested in establishing a permanent military Base in a system, you can instead park a Fleet there, base it out of the local Mining Facility, and exert your dominance that way.
Again, this will scale with Firepower, but also based on Ship Class, so sending a scout through a system will give you a negligible boost, and unless you keep the scout there for years, won't provide even enough for your Private Sector to consider establishing a Mining Base there, although Mining Ships may head to an asteroid the scout discovers. Those Mining Ships and Freighters will themselves also provide a small bit of influence, more than a scout, less than a Frigate. On the other hand, sending a Super-Dreadnought into the system? That people will notice.
This lets the Influence of a Nation grow dynamically, and provides players with an active roll in developing their influence, while also letting the Private Sector help out. It provides a legitimate choice between short and long term factors, and should get more interesting influence webs. It will also help establish major Trade Routes that will be visible at a glance, as they will have more influence than the surrounding space.
It also provides a valuable tool for the AI and the Private Sector in particular to help them understand what areas are safe and well patrolled. And because of the system below, will also help them recognize which systems have long term threats in them.
Influence Decay and Loss
You can also lose Influence. Influence will naturally decay depending on how far from one of your colonies it is. This is actually the primary purpose of Colonies in the Influence Game. Even a well developed Colony will create influence slower than the Spaceport in orbit around it. Instead, the Colony will help slow the decay of that Spaceport's Influence.
Military Bases do not slow the decay directly, but since they generate Influence at a high rate, they will still be important and can, in a way, stall it/ However without a dedicated Colony to slow the decay, the Military Base's Influence will likely not be able to bleed out far enough to overcome the normal decay. You may get a good amount of influence in the system itself, however outside of that system's borders your influence will be negligible. If you want to establish a permanent presence, you need to get your people to live there, or get used to dedicating an entire fleet to constantly patrolling an area.
In addition, losing a ship in the system will provide a penalty to your Influence in that system and the surrounding areas. Your Private Sector will re-evaluate how confident they are in investing in that location based on this new information.
At the same time, a hostile ship (or creature!) even being in a system will slightly decrease your influence, while building influence of their owner, if they have one. This provides a dynamic, automated way of "Quarantining" systems in addition to or instead of being able to flag them as "Off Limits." If there's a massive Silvermist Cloud or Pirate Base in a system, your Influence will have trouble spreading there even if your homeworld is next door, and every Private Sector ship that dies there will further decrease your influence and ensure that subsequent Private Sector ships don't try and go to that system. No more will you have to worry about your stupid Freighters "Feeding" a Silvermist Cloud until it can eat an entire planet!
It also provides a way to aggressively combat an enemy's influence, and provides a nice way of slapping them in the face. If you notice an Empire you don't like is trying to establish a bunch of mining facilities in a system near your Empire, park a fleet in that system and destroy their influence! With no influence, their Private Sector ships won't want to fly there, and you've crippled the effectiveness of their Mining Facilities! Thereby lowering their cost and letting you buy them for cheap, while your Influence continues to grow in the system.
They will have to counter in some way to preserve their influence, or surrender the system. Either way, it's a recipe for a Cold War. And what isn't fun about that?
What Happens when Influences Collide
Now just because you exerting influence somewhere decreases someone else's influence, doesn't mean that only one person can have influence in a system, far from it. When two (or more) countries have influence in a system or bit of space, on the map, this will be shown by 'blending' the colors together, because everyone loves gradients. So long as you have enough influence, your Private Sector ships will still build and mine in the area, even if other Empire's Private Sector Ships are doing the same thing at the same time.
Now there can be disputed bases, a lot of them in fact. Even if you aren't #1 in Influence in a system, so long as you have some influence you can dispute the ownership of that area, just be prepared to back up your disputes with Force.
But what if you want to be, Diplomatic? Well that's where "Border Treaties" come into play. See, despite all the fancy stuff I talked about earlier, Modern Borders are all entirely based on Recognition by the international community and, more importantly, the disputing parties agreeing to live and let live. So the game should have something similar. As two countries begin to get more comfortable with each other, they will start signing Border Treaties. Now these won't prevent warfare or capturing colonies, what they will do is make your borders static.
In essence, if you have more influence than them in a part of space, it will remove all of their influence and they will stop accruing influence there. If your ships are in their territory they will not give you influence, and the same will happen in your territory with their ships.
Disputed Bases will have to be handled on their own terms, although I would like to see there being another version of the "Border Treaty" diplomacy option which automatically cedes bases to the owner of the territory.
This gives a greater degree of strategic choice to the game, as in some cases it may be preferable to leave your borders vague, if you can profit from the situation. On the other hand, not having a Border Treaty will eventually start to hamper your relations, while signing a treaty will give a considerable boost, serving to help encourage trade between the two nations, both directly, by improving relations to make a Trade Agreement more likely, but also indirectly, since as you are not negatively impacting each other's Influence, your Traders will feel more secure.
And that is the system I would like to see. It's dynamic and interesting, more realistic and far more active in its gameplay, and I also think it would help the AI far more than it would hurt it, by providing countries with a hard limit to how far out their Private Sector is willing to tread. It also prevents spawning inside another nation's borders from being an instant de-facto game over.
*Although I still Love "The Last Starfighter".