Elemental: Internal debates made external

Published on Saturday, May 23, 2009 By Brad Wardell In Elemental Dev Journals

So how complicated (as internal critics put it) or sophisticated (as internal advocates put it) should the Elemental economic system be?

We have the code in for handling a pretty sophisticated/complicated economic engine.  But the debate is, is the system sophisticated? Or just complicated.

Let me give you the arguments of each camp.


Camp #1: “Sophisticated”

1. Everything in Elemental is a resource. Food, metal, swords, armor, horses, you  name it. 

2. Resources can be processed into other resources.  Iron Ore into a Sword.

3. Part of the fun of the game would be running a proper empire (or letting AI governors take care of it). 


A mine is built on an iron resource. The mine produces 10 units of iron ore per turn. That iron ore is then directed to go to the city of Torgeto where a blacksmith is able to produce 5 swords per turn. The unused iron ore is stored in a warehouse that can store up to 100 units of iron ore.

Those swords can be directed to be shipped to various other places (with sliders or other UI  means to determine what ratio goes where). 

In some of those places, the swords are issued to soldiers. In other places, the swords are sent to an alchemist workshop who, taking potions that have been shippped in from Wellford which in turn had taken Aeoronic crystal mined in another town to turn into those potions.  The resulting magical swords are then shipped out to various places with the player (or governor) able to control the ratio in which they are shipped.

Caravans appear on the map to show the items being shipped. If those caravans are attacked, the items are lost.



Camp #2: “Simple and Fun”


1. There are only natural resources (food, iron, crystal, horses, etc.).

2. When a natural resource is controlled, the player assigns that resource to a specific town.

3. Only that town can make use of it. Towns that don’t have a resource assigned it cannot build units that require those resources.


Unlike camp 1, there are no ratio sliders to mess with. A resource is assigned to a particular town. That makes certain towns more strategic than others and a lot less micro management.  On the other hand, it means that there will be many towns that can only build weaker units.   Players can research technologies that increase the base (weaker) unit that cities can build over time but some cities will simply be more important than others.

Caravans would still flow from the natural resource to the target town and if those caravans are attacked, the enemy player gains a bonus and the victim player would get a penalty to their production until the next caravan arrives.

The Argument

Camp 1 argues that a lot of fun can be had in putting together ever more sophisticated and specialized items. If natural resources can be processed into new resources that can in turn be processed again and again and again, you can reward players who might be able to equip elite crack soldiers with very rare but very powerful weapons and armor.

Camp 2 argues that while some people would enjoy that, it would result in a lot of people who would find that system burdensome and turn them off to the game entirely. It also says that those who do like the camp 1 system would still be satisfied with camp 2 where those who like camp 2 would probably be totally turned off if the camp 1 system were used.  In addition, they argue that Elemental has so much other “stuff” to it (sophisticated diplomacy, tactical battles, quests, etc.) that many players might find they have to rely on AI governors which would put a heavy burden on having really “smart” AI.

Now personally, I could go either way.  I do like the idea of players having to choose certain towns that are absolutely strategic.  But I also like the idea of being able to have “processed” manufacturing that can keep specializing things until you get some rare but very valuable things.

On the other hand, I’m also worried that a complex system could turn out to fall apart in actual practice (the user interface for it would have to be incredibly good) and then we’d be stuck having to go to camp 2 late in development.

What do you think?


UPDATE: 5/21/2009

Camp #3: The Merchant



Today we looked at the feedback from here and Quarter to Three and came up with a way that may satisfy both camps and increases the fun overall. 

1. Everything is a resource.

2. Resources can be processed into other resources (iron to swords, crops to food, crystal to potions).

3. Resources are sent automatically to other towns based on the resource needs of that town. No micromanagement, no AI.

4. The fun of this portion of the game would be in watching your empire grow organically.


There are no ratios to set. If I build a town with a blacksmith, then one presumes I did that because I want to produce stuff that requires a blacksmith. If I build (or upgrade) more blacksmiths, then one presumes this town is a place where I want to crank out a lot of stuff.

Similarly, if I build a town with multiples barracks it presumes I am trying to train soldiers which means that stuff should be shipped there, particularly if I’m in the process of building a particularly type of soldier.

Caravans (which aren’t player controlled) send out regular shipments of resources to the various towns.  When these shipments arrive, they’re available for use on demand or, if the town has a warehouse, they are stored.

When players design a unit, they choose a category of weapon and that category of weapon (whether in the field or in a warehouse) will automatically upgrade as my tech gets better.  A short sword doesn’t become a long sword or anything like that. But A short sword would automatically become a better short sword if I research tech that improves is in order to remove the complexity of having to “upgrade” units.  However, the cost of keeping a soldier in the field will be fairly high and since soldiers come from population, there’s a real down side to keeping throngs of soldiers idle.

In addition, by building roads, my caravans will arrive a lot quicker (3X faster).  Similarly, I have to keep my supply lines secure.

This also opens the door for a lot more trading. Rather than just having “food” you can have “crops”.  Crops are processed into food and can be traded with other civilizations or used by special buildings (Inns, restaurants, etc.) to increase prestige (which adds to influence).

It also allows players to have the game be very simple (just keep everything local) or highly sophisticated (have weaponry go through multiple processes – a magic sword processed by a Aereon Forge doubles its damage. The town with the Aereon forge is the one that would get on the priority list of magic swords and the Aereon blades produced would be sent to the town with the barracks that is producing your “Night Guard” or whatever you call your designed unit.

But in this way, there’s no real UI other than providing players the ability to close down shops in a city or expedite their priority to get more stuff sent to them. The player remains the king/emperor and not a logistics manager but at the same time is the architect for success of their kingdom’s economy if they so choose.

UPDATE: 5/23/2009

Camp #4: Quarter To Three concept

Having read a lot of posts both here and QuarterToThree we’ve thought of another way to do it that might be interesting.

1. Everything is a resource.

2. Resources can be processed into other resources.

3. Controlling a resource automatically makes it available throughout your empire at a basic level. The more resources you control, the more that basic level is provided.

4. If there is a road to a city that connects you to where the resource is provided, that city gets a bonus amount of that resource.

5. Cities can build improvements that have caravans deliver bonus amounts of that resource to that city from the source.

6. Cities can optionally build warehouses whose only affect is that they can store caravan deliveries for later use. I.e. if I’m not currently building death knights, I can store caravans of “stuff” so that when I do build them, I instantly get the bonus at that point.


I want my army to be filled with trained knights who have plate mail, steel swords, plate helmets, etc.  Those things are expensive. If I control an iron deposit, I can build them though any town with a barracks. Let’s say it will take 30 turns to create that unit.  10 of those turns is the training of the soldier and the other 20 is the production of the equipment.  If I control 2 iron deposits, that production is knocked down to 18. If I have a road that connects this town to the the iron resource (directly or indirectly) then I can knock it down another turn for each resource.

I can also build a blacksmith shop. By doing this, caravans will be sent from the iron resource production area to the town with the armory. When that caravan arrives, it will reduce the time even further.

Similarly, if I want to make a magic sword that requires Aegeon crystal to be turned into a magic potion then as soon as I build 1 Alchemist lab in any town, then any town can build magic swords at a base level.  If I build 2 alchemist labs, I won’t get any further bonus unless I control more than 1 Aegeon crystal.

So basically, it’s a much simpler system that provides fairly straight forward bonuses for players who want to create a more sophisticated economy.