Elemental: How game mechanics evolve (long)

Published on Monday, March 29, 2010 By Brad Wardell In Elemental Dev Journals

Internally we are constantly playing, testing, and trying out new ideas. 

Here are some examples of discussions we have had:


To:    Team
From:  Brad
Date:  Feb 2010
Re:    Tile density

One of the things I’m a bit concerned about is how barren the world is. We want to make sure that Elemental’s world is filled with interesting things that make each game different.

Here’s a picture with an example of what someone might find early on:

Here’s another:

To:    Team
From:  Brad
Date:  Feb 2010
Re:    Making turns count

One of the absolute goals in Elemental is to make sure we balance it so that every single move means something.

I want us to avoid what we had in GalCiv where there were a lot of “pass” turns, we want to enrich the world such that game flow proceeds with a disciplined design.

So as we’re balancing things, we should be cognizant of how different elements fit together.

For instance:

Turn # / What happens

1. Player builds city.

2. Player clicks on city, queues up a command post and a study to be built, sovereign explores.

3. Command post gets completed (hence, we need the command post to only take 1 turn to build), player trains a pioneer, moves sovereign again.

4. (a quest tile comes into view this turn), player moves sovereign (getting a goodie hut)

5. Player sees quest objective in LOS and moves towards it, a low level champion shows up on LOS (this champion is simply a free pioneer). Player can recruit this champion easily.

6. Study gets built (which means study should only take 3 turns to build). Champion pioneer is near a rock quarry which provides 2 material per turn when built. Player moves Champion pioneer towards quarry. Player moves sovereign again towards quest, player queues up a hut in their city. Civilization level 1 technology achievement is made. I choose farming. Add farm to my queue. First tech should take 5 turns to get. I switch tech to adventuring.

7. Player reaches quest objective (killing local bandit terrorizing people). Reward: 10 people go to your outpost plus you receive boots of speed which, when equipped, gives your sovereign +1.

8. Pioneer in city gets built, player moves it from city, queues up a peasant defender. Sovereign sees a sider and moves towards it.

9. Sovereign attacks spider, wins, gains 50 gold. Champion pioneer reaches stone quarry, builds quarry and is consumed.

10. Pioneer continues north. Sovereign moves west. Hut gets built.  Adventuring level 1 gets completed. I choose Ruin Delving.  In my LOS 1 ruin is displayed along with a stone golem. I choose Warfare level 1 next.

11. Sovereign moves west. Encounters champion builder known as “Boboth the Builder”. He has an a magic hammer that causes things in cities to be built 1 turn faster. I send him to my city. In my city, a peasant defender is built in my city. Gold is too tight to build another one at this time.

12. My pioneer is heading towards stone golem in his LOS and heads towards it. My sovereign moves north. Boboth the builder heads words my city.

13. My pioneer closes in on the stone golem. My sovereign sees an ancient ruin (goodie hut) in his LOS and heads towards it. Boboth the builder heads towards my city.

14. My pioneer reaches the stone golem. An event pops up with a piece of artwork (like a quest dialog) telling me how the Titans built golems as soldiers and they obeyed whomever activates them and asks me if I want to activate. I choose yes. I now have a golem with my pioneer. In my LOS I see an ancient spring, I send my pioneer towards it. I send the golem back towards my city. My sovereign reaches the ancient ruin which contains jewels worth 100 gold. My farm is complete and the hut is now queued up.  Warfare level 1 is reached. I choose “equipment”.  Some crummy armor is added. I go to the design screen and design a unit that has crummy armor. The crummy armor adds 5 gold to the cost of creating the unit (hence, we now know that designing units involves gold, metal and/or crystal). The pop up card design randomly chooses “Imperion” out of its lengthy random unit name. I am okay with it and am also okay with the randomly generated quote “I fight for my people”.  My unit has a club so it has 3 attack and now 1 defense thanks to the crummy armor and costs 6 gold total (5 for the crummy armor and 1 for the club).

15. My sovereign encounters Lord Capitar and we agree to be friends. Boboth the builder reaches my city. My pioneer reaches the spring and builds a majestic spring on the spot which increases the prestige of my city by 1 and consumes the pioneer.  I queue up another hut in my city. In my sovereign’s LOS I see an orchard and head near it so that I can build my second city when I reach there.

And another:

To:    Team
From:  Brad
Date:  Feb 2010
Re:    City / Unit construction

One TBS crutch I’d like us to try to get rid of is the reliance on things taking N turns to build where N is dependent on resources.

The reason is that this forces us to abstract out the economy in such a way that trivializes the kind of economics that I think a lot of players would like to see.  In GalCiv and Civ, players produced “shields” or what have you and that determined the number of turns it took to do something.

In Elemental, I’d like us to move towards a system broadly describes as “Materials & Labor”.  Labor is what determines the time to produce a thing and materials is the up front cost. 

This way, I could have a given thing require a lot of different types of materials (depending on how powerful and sophisticated it is) without the user having to sit there calculating out the time it takes.

For example, with this system we could have all kinds of rare and interesting things that can effectively only be built once.  I find the plans to build a Dread Golem and it requires a midnight stone to build. As a player, I now know that if I want to build this, I must find a midnight stone (that maybe I can find on a quest or something).  In essence, I can have units and buildings that are very precious, rare and interesting by having a richer economic system without making the game a spreadsheet.


A lot of these discussions make it into the game. A lot of them end up being rejected or not working out because it turns out not to be fun or turns out to increase scope too much or what have you. 

In Elemental beta 1Z, we have started going towards the direction of making the game a lot richer and more interesting – more density.


A lot of this becomes possible by alterations in the economic system – simplifying construction thus enabling greater sophistication.

For example:


One of the big changes we’ve made that resources are now global instead of per city.

I’d like to take credit for that one but the beta group collaborated on this:


And it turns out to make the game much much more fun. I can’t even begin to describe the potential for fun by having this system.


When a player acquires a resource, it shows up on screen in their resource list.  At the start of the game, all they have is food and population.  Build a workshop and now you get 1 “materials” (our catch-all for building materials) per turn.

Build a garden and now you have 2 food available (food is handled as your net food production).  A hut provides population but consumes food.  But now you don’t have to worry about where your food comes from.

Roads and such increase your production through trade.

Moreover, now quests, goodie huts, and such can provide as many different types of resources as we (or modders) want to provide and have weapons, equipment, buildings, etc. consume these resources.

From a “fun” perspective you end up with a much more sophisticated economy but one that is remarkably straight forward to understand and play.

Beta 1Z also introduces the pioneer.


Pioneers are the answer to an often requested feature by the beta group that also solves the “density” issue I was complaining about previously. 

Originally, only cities could build improvements because resources were local to the city.  Now that they’re global (again thanks https://forums.elementalgame.com/378334) we can let players build pioneer units who go out and can build on resources that aren’t part of a city.  The pioneer is “consumed” (since they’re settling on that resource) but now you get that resource.  Of course, the downside is that someone else can capture those resources pretty easily unless you send out units to protect your territory. 

Pioneers also give players a logical rationale to control their territory rather than just their cities.  Historically, control of the countryside has mattered and now it matters in Elemental as well.  Hence, the player that creates a massive single army may indeed be formidable but could quickly find themselves starved out by a more nimble (but smaller) opponent that controls their countryside.

I won’t even get into how cool all this stuff looks in the full mode (graphics engine turned on).  But this way, every game feels and plays very different because we can have lots and lots of different resources. You might play 200 games and suddenly get a quest that gives you the plans to build a diamond golem – provided that you find the star diamond located on some distant island (you get the idea).