Firstly, for people who aren’t crafty enough to follow along on Facebook/Twitter (hint!), here’s a screenshot of how things are currently looking in-game. Trees have been redone and shaded according to season and time of day. Here’s a taiga night-time scene, after you’ve been running for a little bit, with the new time/date system on the far left (it rotates, going from dark to light and back, and right now is near midnight, hence the sliver of blue on the left), a food meter, and trackers for your willpower, stamina, and exhaustion:
…but today we’re talking about how the game’s going to play out for those who seek to rule. A major challenge in coming up with the Rule skill tree has been deciding exactly what ruling entails in terms of game mechanics, and therefore where boosts/upgrades can be logically inserted. Whilst I have some ideas down (I’ve been thinking a lot about how foreign relations are going to work), what has proven particularly tricky has been coming up with an interesting mechanic for cities/towns/villages/etc within your borders. To illustrate this, I think it’s worth saying how another game manages relations with cities – in this case, Civilization V – because I think it does some things very well, and some things very poorly.
Civ V has civilizations and City States. The latter are one-city ‘civs’ that play a special game role. It’s not worth going into detail about the specifics, but in one sentence, any city within your empire is very likely to remain friendly towards you (with a few exceptions, but those are high-level strategic choices) whilst you vie for City State influence with other civs. It’s this vying-for/reinforcing-of influence that I think is interesting. To give the player something to do to gain influence with them, City States routinely give out missions. These might go to any player, or to specific players. Missions of the former category might be “Who can discover the most technologies in the next few years?” or “Who will intimidate this other city state I have a grievance with?”. The latter category take the form of “We’d like to build a road between our cities” or “We’d like to trade some spices/ bananas/ iron/ whatever with you”. Completing these missions raises your standing with the city state significantly, as does other tasks like promising to protect them, helping them out in any wars they may be in, liberating them from an occupying force, giving them money, and the like. Meanwhile, your reputation with a given city state constantly decreases over time. A policy tree – “Patronage” – reduces the speed at which your reputation degrades, but it nevertheless does. If left unattended, even a city state you liberated from occupiers, defended against attackers, traded with, insulted the foes of, and built a road to, will eventually think no more kindly of you than the ex-aggressor on their borders, with whom their relationship has also “normalized” (negative city-state relations go upwards whilst positive ones go downwards).
Thus, keeping friends with a city state – a policy with benefit including mutual defence, financial income, trade, military units, and diplomatic support – means constantly renewing your ties with that city state. In my experience, this mechanic is one that sometimes works when a city state’s mission clearly links up with your own, but one that falls comparatively flat when the seemingly arbitrary demands from twenty different city states rack up on your diplomacy chart. City states are, I believe, supposed to give missions according to their type (e.g. city states concerned with faith, culture, science, whatever), but in practice I’ve rarely noticed a difference. I think a fundamental correction, and improvement, to the mechanic would not be doing what the states ask you to do (though a reduced number of quests might work), but in a way the opposite – your friendship with a city state is contingent on what you decide to do for them. If you want to build them a road, attack their foes, defend them, they’ll like you for it because you did it without asking. Even if they aren’t a city state that normally cares about trade, for instance, giving them a Great Merchant would still surely be worth some positive diplomatic effects. Equally, that will affect the city – a city might start off wanting X, but if you give them lots of Y for your own reasons (say, impending attack from that direction?) they’re going to, like any sensible city, try to align with the objectives of the benefactor paying them so much attention.
Thus, this is the kind of mechanic I propose to fix the problem of “What do you do as a ruler?” in URR. Cities within your empire will gradually become peeved from a lack of attention, harsh military policies, poor economics, poor welfare, etc. You can naturally adjust these by policy choices and internal choices, but this will only go so far. Only using these mechanics will merely delay the inevitable decay of friendship – and in turn revolution, or uprising, or secession – but other mechanics yield far larger benefits. If you want a city in the south to like you, travel there yourself and bring with you resources from the north of your empire. If one city is reluctant to join the war effort, go to them and give a stirring speech, or promise industrial business for the city in the weapons industry. And so on. Such events will, I think, raise the “bottom” level of how much a city respects its ruler, so that you can’t get the example that a city you’ve done everything for will eventually be unconcerned by your presence. As well as the objectives themselves giving you gameplay outside the civilization screen, they give ample chance for things to happen along the way. You make your way to a city, but a taskforce sent by your military foe ambushes you; someone tries to assassinate you in that city; or you’re half-way there and hear of a usurper attempting to seize the throne back in the capital! If you survive but lose your position, a Ruler player will have a potential battle to regain their empire, so even if you fail to keep your empire happy and are overthrown, the game – assuming you escape intact – will certainly not end there. Additionally, there will likely be some major bonus to leading a military force in war, but that shouldn’t overlap with any special abilities of the General class. Regardless, in this model you select the best ways to keep your empire ticking over from the (hopefully many) options, rather than waiting for your cities to make demands upon you. Not just should it improve the flexibility of rule, but it will also ‘get you out of your capital’, so to speak, and allow the Ruler player a greater diversity of gameplay.
In other news: I’ve also figured out languages are going to work. The specifics aren’t important just yet, but it’s very, very cool. In the mean time, development is going rapidly ahead (check the development plan for updates): it’s going to be the end of November, but we are definitely on for a November release. A lot of what’s left to do is user-friendly UI stuff; listing saving/loading progress, how many saves you have, details of your saves, etc etc…