In Alpha Centauri (and previous Civilization games) you are able to trade maps between players. These maps are effectively a list of tiles that the other player has already discovered; once the trade is complete, your map is updated and all those tiles become visible and roll back from the fog of war. Although normally a matter of trade, in AC a “Defensive Pact” with another player yields regular updates – in this instance acquiring a map from another player becomes more like a gradual incremental uncovering of the map, rather than a one-off discovery of their land and any exploration they’ve carried out. Regardless of the method, though, you are able to transfer information between players about the world, and I’ve recently been wondering about how these games try to quantify the value of these maps, and what this means for buying/selling/trading maps in URR in the future.
When you trade with other players in AC you have a range of things you can trade. You can decide to exchange money, technologies, votes on the planetary council – and, potentially, your world map. The world map of you or the other players is an item just like any other. You can offer to trade your world map for two technologies, say, or see if they’ll agree to give you their world map for five hundred credits. Something that has always intrigued me is that this is the only case where player information – the location of their cities, disposition of their forces, etc – is traded on the same screen as in-game resources such as money or technologies. The world map doesn’t speed up your technologies or allow you to purchase more items, but it does give the player, not the army you play as, important information. It is as if you give the AI some in-game items and in exchange they give you a hint, or a tip, or a clue towards solving a puzzle.
This raises the fundamental question of this post – how can we value a map? Can we try to quantify the kind of information given by a map? In Civ/AC games, to the best of my knowledge, the value of the map is determined according to how many tiles have been discovered. The more tiles, the more valuable the AI considers the map to be, and thus the more they will demand in exchange. Naturally, one could consider a dozen other metrics - perhaps a map that shows a lot of coastline should be valued higher, given the strength of naval warfare in almost all Civ games to date? Perhaps the value of trading the map should be modified by international relations; trading a map to an enemy should, presumably, cause the AI to demand much more than giving a map to a trusted friend?
Equally, though, this still requires the map to be quantified. One thing I think that impacts the value of this map is something that cannot be defined within the game’s code, and this is the skill and knowledge of the player. I would suggest the more skilled the player, the greater advantage they will be able to gain from acquiring a map of enemy territory. The more they understand about the game’s mechanics, the more useful the map is. Consider two players: for one player, the map might only have the value of telling them where on the map the enemy empire is, and they just charge their units into the breach; a second player, on the other hand, may take the time to figure out where they can attack from, how best to move their units in, chokepoints, which cities are weakest, etc. The more the player knows the potential value of what they’re looking at, the more value that map obviously has, but the computer can’t account for this.
On one level, therefore, the value of the map depends on the skill of the player. This is obviously true to anything in a game to an extent – an item will be of more use to a player who really knows what to do with it – but I think it is particularly relevant with a map. The map doesn’t support your character or your faction, just the player, and that makes it a rather unique trading item.
So what does this mean for URR? I’ve a long-standing fascination with old maps and I’d like to reflect this in the game; if you’re in Civ A and buying maps for Civ B, the distance between the two will affect the accuracy of the maps. Some maps will be spot on, some maps will be somewhat less so. Most maps will have an accurate representation of who lives in those lands, but perhaps some maps will speak of entirely fictional lands, or rulers who’ve never existed, or lands where strange creatures roam?
You’ll probably be able to purchase maps in stores in 0.8 or 0.9 once NPCs and conversations and whatnot are implemented. My current intentions are:
- A range of different types of map. You might be able to buy maps for districts, for cities, or for nations or chunks of land. The different scales will be reflected in the prices of the map, and the proximity to where you are buying the map for; you can presumably buy maps for City X when you’re close to City X, but distant nations are unlikely to sell them (unless the trader happens to have found such a map). I may also add some unusual types of “map” that show you a full road, for example, or highlight a mountain pass or a naval trade route, but we’ll see.
- Their value will vary (which brings us back to the questions posed by Alpha Centauri). Naturally this is one of those things that requires playtesting, but the larger map = higher cost is a logical opening point, and different price ranges for world, city and district maps. I will also be implicitly assuming that the player is aware of the value of maps and pricing them accordingly; the strategy layer implemented in a few versions which will focus around navigating your way around the world will be greatly assisted by maps, and this makes their value significant.
- You will not inherently know WHERE a map fits into your world map. By this I mean if you get a 7×7 map of land, you don’t know exactly where that land fits into your world map. Maybe the trader tells you that land lies to the west, but how far to the west? And are they even right? There’s thus a tiny “minigame” (for lack of a better word) in recognizing when you stray onto land that is depicted on a map you have, and it also allows for an interesting class trait (once these are implemented) – the Cartographer class will automatically know where on their world map an acquired map item should be located, which is in keeping with my desire for classes to give you one unique and significant ability that isn’t to do with combat, stats, etc.
- As above, some maps might be inaccurate. The more distant a map you buy, the more likely it is that some falsehoods will have crept in. Given the emphasis of the game’s themes on truth/fact/reality/falsehood etc, I think this will be interesting, and lend an added impact to discovering the world – is this what I thought it would be? How certain can I be of the nations that lie in the undiscovered shroud of the world map?
I’m very much looking forward to making maps; I think they’ll be very interesting in terms of both gameplay and the kind of procedural graphics I have in mind for generating them. Their future implementation is what got me first thinking about how to try and quantify the value of something like a map in a game, and it’s certainly possible I’ll wind up rethinking this before maps are implemented. Until next time, internet friends.