3. Technology: The Player Experience
Master of Orion 3 features a more "natural" model for the interactions between a government, a society, and technological advances. This is very different than the "abstract" models in most galactic strategy games, so please read this section with particular care.
The Technology Wheel
Science is not a unidimensional entity. Research in many areas is affected by that in other related fields. And, occasionally, a scientific advance can be prompted by what appears at first to be a rather indirect connection between fields. This is the concept underlying the Technology Wheel.
The Wheel is divided into six Schools:
- Biological Sciences
- Mathematics and Computers
- Social Arts and Sciences
- Economics and Business
The Schools are arranged so that related topics are next to one another. Within each School are a number of specific Fields of research. Internally, progress is monitored separately in each of these Fields.
Each time the civilization advances in one or more fields, it may be given access to new technologies, social institutions, or even new fields of research.
Keep in mind that the Wheel is merely a simplified, visual representation of the relationships between research areas. It is very useful for summarizing and categorizing the myriad fields of inquiry that make up our scientific infrastructure, but it cannot be used to compare relative values of different research fields. Biological Science is not the opposite of Mathematics, for example. And just because Psychology is a certain distance from Management does not mean they have no relationship.
Key Concept: "Big Picture" versus "Under the Hood"
Novice players of Master of Orion III may not wish to delve into the minutiae of scientific research. For this reason, the technology system offers the same "layers of the onion" approach as other parts of the game.
At the "big picture" level of the Fundamental Research screen, the player simply sees slider bars for the six major Schools (Biological Sciences, Mathematics and Computers, Macrosciences, Microsciences, Social Arts and Sciences, and Economics and Business). These can be adjusted individually to give general direction to the research teams.
The player can dig deeper "under the hood," if desired, and open up the display to show the current research priorities on each field within each school. Sliders for each field can be adjusted individually.
Applied Research is even more automated from the player's perspective. The various Leaders throughout the player's civilization will regularly generate "needs" for new or improved technologies, and of course the Military Command will constantly be seeking technological advantages for its vessels and installations.
The player will see a queue of desired projects, prioritized based on the requests from Leaders and the Military and by the empire-wide settings that determine the percentage share of resources to be split between military and civilian efforts. The player can examine the queues and reorganize them, as appropriate, or delete items which are not desirable. Or, the player can simply let the AIs take care of the details and focus on other parts of the game.
Key Concept: Opacity
In most games of this genre featuring the standard "abstract" technological discovery model, progress is openly shown to players. Often they will see a beaker or test tube filling up as a progress meter while a number below the icon indicates that technology will be discovered in "4 turns." That is not the case in this game.
One Side of Opacity
In Master of Orion III's natural technology model, no one knows exactly how close to completion a research project is. At best, one can query their scientific community about a Research Category or Program and get a vague answer back about how progress is coming along and how soon things might be completed.
Players will not be able to say, "in two more turns I'll get the Kill-O-Zap Device and then look out!" Instead, they're going to have to make the best of things and use all the other tools in their toolbox to stall for time while they wait hopefully for the Kill-O-Zap Device Project to bear fruit.
The Other Side of Opacity
But the opacity of technological discoveries does not always work against a player. There is one way that it works for a player. That is, when something is discovered, it remains a "Black Box" Discovery until it is actually employed in some way.
What this means is that spies will have a far more difficult time stealing secrets that have yet to be generally employed. Ones that have been in use in many places over a period of time will be much easier to acquire. Therefore, a player can "sit" on a breakthrough (by not employing its advantages right away) to help preserve the secret advantage of having it.
Key Concept: Research is "Need-Driven" and "Program Based"
In most games of this genre, research boils down to a player surveying the well-known technology tree and saying, "I want that discovery." It was very predictable, and very boring."
With Master of Orion 3's natural technology model, a civilization instead defines its own specific technological needs. When it does, their scientific community goes off and puts together a list of scientific projects ("programs") that can be launched to meet a defined need.
Program Based Research
The answer to a need consists of suggested "programs." Individual programs can be selected along with each program's funding level and production priorities. It is from these programs that practical items that can be built or applied to a civilization emerge.
For example, a decisive space battle occurs. The losing civilization's two primary offensive weapons, Heavy Gatling Phasers and Mark III Missiles, inflicted little damage upon the enemy's ships. Analysis reveals that the enemy's shields were penetrated but not their armor. As a result, the losing civilization defines a need for weapons that can penetrate the enemy civilization's armor.
During the next Turn, the scientists' reports are in. Four projects are proposed:
The first project is a straight request to increase the fundamental research in the field of chemistry. More breakthroughs are sought here to help address this problem.
The second project is to conduct applied research on an Armor Piercing Phaser.
The third project is to conduct applied research on Armor Piercing Missiles.
The fourth project is to conduct applied research on the Mark V Missile.
The player is also informed as to which other civilizations currently have in-place technologies that address this problem so that solutions might also be acquired from without.
This same mechanism can also help a civilization improve in areas where it is already strong. In the absence of a particular threat, for example, the AI could look for ways to improve weapons or other societal systems that are already in relatively good shape, further widening the gap with the competition.
Project Funding Levels
When a project is given the "go ahead," two important decisions must be made. The first concerns funding. Along with the description of each project are estimates of the time/cost and "confidence."
The time/cost estimate recommends what level of funding will "fully fund" the project for the fastest, most cost efficient research. Options to fund at higher and lower levels will also be presented along with revised completion and confidence estimates."
Confidence estimates are subjective assessments of the "risk" of that project. A project might sound very cool, but if the risk is high, it might not be worth the drain on the treasury.
Designer's Note: During times of war when needs are urgent, players will probably pursue low-risk applied technologies. This will give players quick new inventions that might appear in time to affect the conflict. During periods of peace, however, riskier projects and more fundamental research are appropriate for their potential long-term benefits.
Key Concept: "Cheating" the Design Process
Traditional research and development is only one possible means of obtaining a desired technology. If a player is in a hurry to control a new Application, that player can always try to buy it or steal it from someone else. In either case, the player will probably be able to obtain the item more rapidly than would otherwise have been possible, and possibly for a lower cost.
In addition, if a player obtains from another civilization a device whose technological precursors are much higher than those currently possessed by the player, then the player will also gain easier knowledge of those higher levels. Having a working model of something that uses an unknown Level of a given Field will help the player reach that Level more quickly.
Nothing is ever free, though. The drawback to obtaining specific Applications or Institutions from sources other than fundamental research is that the player does not truly "understand" the new technology. In much the same way that a factory worker can build a very delicate piece of advanced hardware without truly understanding its internals, the receiving civilization will be able to make copies of the item, but will be much less likely to improve upon it or use it as a springboard for further discoveries. In short, buying or stealing technologies is a "quick fix" but can quickly become a vicious circle as further discoveries become more and more difficult to achieve naturally.
Key Concept: Refinement (a.k.a. Miniaturization)
Technologies can be improved without inventing completely new ones. The discovery of the transistor was a major advance, but, even without moving to another level of sophistication like integrated circuits, transistor radios became better and less expensive year after year. This concept was known as Miniaturization in Master of Orion II, but has been renamed Refinement in this game because of its more general applicability.
Refinement is quite simple: once the player completes a given Advance, continued fundamental research will reduce the size or cost of the Advance. Each Level of additional research in the primary field for the Advance will affect these parameters by a defined amount (which will differ for each Advance). If the player builds a Phaser based on Optronics Level 10, the cost of the Phaser and its size in Interior Space Units may decline slightly when the player reaches Optronics Level 12.
The savvy player will want to perform research in fields which can refine a number of weapons, sensors and defensive systems, then go back to older ship designs and refit them with the latest technologies. Such ships may be able to hold more of the same weapons or be less expensive to build. This process is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but is still very important for the player. It is completely separate from the creation of new ship types with new weapons or other systems.
How Technological Research is "Paid For""
Research "income" is derived from two primary sources, government spending on research and Research Points generated by Research facilities. Their sum is allocated (via slider bars) to fund Fundamental Research in each Field as well as all Applied Research. In addition to providing Research Points, research facilities also determine the maximum optimal government spending limit on research."
Designer's Note: Like the purchasing of other things via the slider bar/build queue method used in MOO3, money invested in research "earns interest" each Turn in which that category/project continues to be funded.
Playing it Smart...
Many factors play into technology and research. The education level of a civilization is one of them. The more educated a society is, the greater the likelihood that they spot chance opportunities as they come along.
Governments, religion, and race all impact the pursuit, preferred areas, and even sociological acceptance of research. Some races are more inclined to make easier discoveries in one category and with greater difficulty in another.
...But Not Too Smart
All races, however, will fear the advent of too many new technologies changing their lives too quickly. If a civilization is too aggressive in applying its research, there could be social backlash.
Designer's Note: The game design goal behind this radical concept is to eliminate the pursuit of technology leadership as the only way to win the game. Technology is still an important part of the solution for achieving victory, but like everything else, stable societies tend to only accept changes in moderation.
NEXT IN TECHNOLOGY: "Technology System: Under the Hood"
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