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Syphilisation Update - 2020-06-07 - Stock-taking

You can read about what Syphilisation is here and the manifesto for the game here. You can subscribe to the mailing list here.

Work Done

I started a very small closed alpha this week and we'll see how that works out. The game still has major holes, but I want to see how the pieces in play feel.

I also spent a lot of time this week taking stock of where the game is and what I want to do next.

Goals

  • Demonstrate that we have lower ethical standards for nations than for individuals - I think that we allow, expect and even celebrate a kind of inhumane dog-eat-dog approach from nations and from leaders, especially when they have been abstracted into history or into video games, and are not present in the moment. By taking what would normally be a nation and making it into a person, I want to criticize this belief.
    • Non-zero-sum - The biggest change of Syphilisation is that the game isn't built around the idea of a single winner or even a concrete win state. I feel that current 4X games are anyway more single player than multiplayer as the focus of the game tends to be more on managing your empire than worrying about that of others. However, the fact of a single winner animates a significant amount of the game. It's what pushes the player into things like wars of opportunism and sabotaging the space travel of other nations. Taking away the competition between nations is a fundamental change to the genre archetype.
    • Space for Generosity - Similarly, I want the game to give players the space to be generous. What would it be like to give other players in a 4X game a hand in the way that we give people we know and people we work with a hand? The goal is that players can have the space to do that without going against the grain of the game.
    • Anti-nationalism - Following from this, I want the game to counter the idea of always doing what is best for your nation at the expense of other nations. I don't agree with it from people and I don't agree with it from nations.
  • Decolonize the 4X Genre - It's not at all contentious that the 4X genre has deep rooted colonialism running through it and challenging that makes for an interesting game design challenge. I personally and unsurprisingly hold strong anti-colonial sentiments and I would rather my game reflect that, but I am not building this to convert. This is an aggressively political game, but the reality of a game like this in a market like this is that it is unlikely to ever be played by that many people and the people who do play are likely to already mostly agree with the game. To believe otherwise would just be ego-tripping on my part. However, building a game from this perspective has been interesting so far and I expect it will stay interesting for the rest of my time on it. I'm not going to put down an exhaustive examination of colonization in 4X games here, but I will note down the following points:
    • Add Tech Skepticism
    • Bring in the Organic - The 4X genre believes in history from above and the result tends to be antiseptic. It also holds a narrative that believes in centralized government and in benevolent dictatorship. I doubt that I can build a full counter to that given the position of the player, but I can at least muddy it a bit and I expect that the game will benefit from the interplaying pieces that will require. Still, this is one of those places where the master's tools cannot dismantle the master's house.
    • The Pain of War - 4X games pull the camera out pretty far and that lets a lot of the horrors of war get lost in the abstraction. The systems of the genre actively encourage warfare and again, there's only so much that can be done there. However, I want the game to at least have a more complex representation than is standard.
    • Dispute Growth For the Sake of Growth - This is fundamental to 4X games and why they can never really represent something like the danger of climate change. This is the goal which I'm really allowing myself to go all out to represent. This game has catastrophic end-games and is intentional about it.
    • Counter Terra Nullius
  • Let Players Engage with the Writing and Thought of the Independence Movement
    • Give the players scope for self-expression here - I want players to be able to make decisions about what thoughts they want to hold. The game disdains both-sideserisms and explicitly points out a lot of pro-colonial thought for the bullshit that it is, but there are a lot of competing thoughts in this game and I want players to have the freedom to fully engage with them and to choose what resonates most strongly with them. Players can choose to be pro-colonial if they're willing to fight the game, but more importantly, they can choose their stance on questions like the effectiveness of the Dandi March or Churchill's conduct in WW1.
  • Delineated Game Stages - I'm trying breaking the game out into clearly different stages in which different mechanics take priority. This way, I can make the late game more interesting and avoid the traditional slog to finish a 4X game.
  • Interleaved Goals - This dynamic is what makes 4X games flow. I would like there to be short-, medium- and long-term goals at every point.

Gameplay Stock-taking

  • The game is fun in a Civ sense right now. It's not hard to get into the one more turn flow.
  • There is no eXploitation phase.
    • Generating finished goods is a strong approach here. The code is already in place, but I need to try out some examples here. The history of colonial economics further strengthens this approach.
    • I need to figure out where the output goes too. I'm going to try the obvious approach of requiring them for buildings and units and possibly upkeep and see how that goes.
  • There is no eXtermination phase.
    • The report is a solid approach, but needs to be tested.
    • The pollution system in place now is solid, but needs to be played with some more.
    • The game currently feels directionless though because these pieces are missing.
  • The player doesn't engage enough with the politics.
    • I want to put more things in the research tree that players can use for things other than the report. I want players to pick up little things like a phrase of Tagore and use that in their discussions with other players.
    • I don't have a solid approach for this right now. I'm going to try reintegrating the timeline better and letting players put facts on that. I'm also going to see if filling in the report helps with this. I'll get back to this problem when the game is a little more developed.
  • The game needs to be more organic - I have a lot of small ideas for this and I think that they'll add up to give the feel that I want.

Colonialism

  • I like the solution for the tech tree right now. The decks function well and they're much more interesting than the standard tech tree solutions while also being less Western.
  • Pollution isn't fully in place right now, but it is critical to counter the idea of unlimited growth.
  • Diplomacy is not in place. This is a necessary piece for a lot of the goals. The adhoc player system that I recently added is very promising here, but this will change a lot of how the game feels. So, even if the approach seems very solid, I worry that there will be spillover.
  • There are no stories for the people yet and I want this piece to emphasize that we need the same standard for nations as for people
  • The game still holds too much growth for the sake of growth. There are a couple of small pieces that will help here, like the projects and preserves, but I still don't have a complete solution for this issue.

Monthly Plan

  • Finished goods - I have to think a bit about their use and then put in an example
  • Reports - I need to go through the steps for adding pieces to the report, put in an example and put in scoring the report at the end.
  • Diplomacy - I need to implement trade, a status war and forcing someone to take a compliment.
  • Personal projects - Projects that the players complete to grow past a personal flaw. I need to design it out as a multi-step thing and implement an example.
  • Redo the parameters - I want to get the parameters to a place where the game makes sense. Essentially, it needs to feel complete, but bare-bones.

With that set done, I should be ready to expand the closed alpha and in a good position to get ready for early access.

Interesting Fact

If a store's windows must be broken to prevent a protestor's facial bones from being broken or eye being permanently damaged, that is more than a fair trade. If a building must be graffiti-ed to prevent the suppression of free speech, that is a fair trade. - US District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson, Restraining Order preventing the Denver Police from using chemical weapons or projectiles of any kind against persons engaging in peaceful protests or demonstrations, yesterday.

- @murthynikhil

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