Although in general I’m pretty happy with the design of Production Line, its clear that there are some issues with the way research is implemented in the game. Something I really like is the idea of a BIG tech tree, and players making decision as where to concentrate their resources in terms of competitive advantage. For example, you may focus on production efficiency, or maybe on product range, or maybe on costs, or on high-technology to making high-end cutting edge cars. Different strategies should work.
The trouble is, despite the big tech tree and different approaches, the research-choice decision (which should always be *interesting* as every decision in a decent strategy game needs to be), tends towards more of a nuisance in the late game than a joy. The reason is that research seems to get quicker and quicker, and the costs of doing it become trivial.
At the start of the game, I really need the player to be able to buy some research facilities, otherwise they cannot progress. The problem is, as we go from a tiny little factory to a big one, the cost of ‘one more facility’ becomes relatively trivial. Of course, I can make later techs more expensive in points to research, but you can’t go ‘too far’ in that direction without it automatically herding the player towards doing ‘lvl 1′ techs first and removing that initial flexibility. The flip-side is that if you *not* scale the tech costs, then later in the game, someone who has ignored a specific branch of the tree can normally just go click click click’ and research it in seconds. again: unsatisfying.
FWIW I note factorio has this problem to some extent too, although generally it works better overall because the mechanics of research there are way more involved, rendering the ‘cost’ of the facilities fairly minor compared to the manufacturing of tech ingredients.
Anyway, how do I achieve the following in my design?
- Make tech tree choice interesting from the start, with multiple paths accessible.
- Allow tech to continue to be researchable at a reasonable, but not annoying rate.
- Prevent tech-spamming where the research cost becomes moot.
I’ve mulled over a lot of possibilities. here are some solutions that I have considered, either together or separately:
- Have hard caps on the number of research facilities that can be built before some other (expensive) admin tech unlocks ‘advanced’ research, thus putting the brakes on research in the mid-game
- Have variable costs to run or buy research (probably let scientist wages rise as more are hired), making research spamming non-viable in the late-game.
- Allow research queueing, so that the player can ignore research for longer periods. (Not ideal, as each research SHOULD be a catalyst for production line and car model re-evaluation).
- Have different ‘types’ of research require purpose built facilities. Maybe design-related research requires dedicated design studios? Maybe super-high tech research requires very expensive dedicated and large labs?
- Reduce or prevent the immediate construction of any research facility, but require a construction or hiring people for staff. Maybe placing a research facility means it takes 3-4 hours before the staff can be located to fill the facility and start work?
- Maybe introduce licenses, or patents that act as gatekeepers for research. To research reversing cameras perhaps you need to license a patent for it ($400,000) AND then research it once you have put that money down.
The problem with 1) is it seems very ‘gamey’ and arbitrary, and not intuitive for the player to understand. 2) sounds like it would actually make sense, although I need a decent way of letting the player know about the changes. 3) seems a quality of life improvement in general, but its also treating the symptom (research-popups are annoying) rather than the true cause (research happens too quickly in the late game, and does not seem to have enough of an impact to demand attention.
4) is interesting, and certainly one I’m attracted to. I like the idea of having to place down a design-studio facility, and to effectively research car designs entirely separately. I like the idea of a purely ‘design’ based arm of research for stuff like interior styling changes, new paint colors and types, and so-on. It also seems unlikely that someone who helps design the tire-making press is also working on voice-recognition software.
5) Sounds like its acceptable because build times for facilities are quite common in games, but then how do I justify the fact that everything else in the game is placed down instantly?
6) Could be interesting, and probably plays into a wider revamp of the research system where I need research-pre-requisites not to be limited just to other research items.
I need to get this right, so I don’t want to rush into a solution. I also feel this post is way too designy, I haven’t even tried to pimp the game. QUICK! Add a steam widget!