Some of the concepts we're talking about will be hard to envision without actually having the game but one of the real innovations we're trying to introduce with Elemental is the concept of unlimited expansion.
The key to this is not hard coding civilization capabilities but rather leaving them open-ended.
So let me start at the beginning:
When someone first gets into Elemental, the relationships will be simple between things. A player who wants to design a horse mounted knight will need to have researched animal husbandry which lets them train horses. They will need to have a city that has used one of its tiles to make use of a herd of wild horses on the map. They will need a mine on a metal deposit to create the armor. And once they have all those things, it'll be a matter of training and equipping the knight.
The above example is one of the more complicated relationships one will see initially in Elemental...
But what about users who want to keep making more and more sophisticated relationships?
Maybe I want to have knights equipped with sunfire dread chain mail riding tamed Demon steeds and the knights have a secondary power of carrying tomes of unmaking which vastly increase their damage in battle?
Well, there would be a host of technologies one would have to have researched. There would have to be spells researched as well and new city buildings that produce these tomes and then have been enchanted to make these tomes magical. The demon steeds would require various technologies and the finding of demons to be tamed in the first place and so on and so on.
How do you control the level of sophistication here so that it doesn't become too complicated? The answer is with a new series of game options that are practically games unto themselves.
Because, did I mention, that all the things mentioned in the second example were things produced not by us but by players and broadcast to all other players so that you have access to them automatically? No expansion packs needed. No paying for mini-content needed. It's just thousands of players creating cool stuff and broadcasting it to one another.
So here's how players control it. They have a screen called the Bestiary where they can control what types of creatures are in game. When someone broadcasts content, Stardock moderators rate and define it more closely. From this screen, players can decide what types of creatures they want, the quality of the submission desired (we will rate the broadcasts in terms of production values as well), etc. These creatures will have associated technologies that are attached to them that are required.
There will be additional screens for managing resources, techs, etc.
So for most players, they will probably stick with what we include or maybe a handful of expansions that Stardock provides. Others will insert some content made by other players. And still others will go for a truly huge scope experience. But the point is that players control this.
Now someone might say that a lot of this sounds too ambitious. But Stardock already does a lot of this, today, right now, on WinCustomize.com with its non-game stuff.
Now what is the gameplay result of this? One of the cooler things that will result is that the units that players make use of will really be different from game to game. And there will be a real pay off in the battles for players who have managed to assemble the necessary components to create some of the truly sophisticated units.
In multiplayer, the default it going to be the least common denominator settings. We will probably have other options but we won't know until we've had a chance to play it online with you guys to see what other settings are the most fun.