I just wanted to point out that I don't think there is a way to stop the wall-ta-wall carpeting, just delay it.
I think that all depends on how big a cost versus potential return you give the act of settling in these regions. I think it would be totally possible to still have it being not worth your while to do so even by the end of the game.. it's just a case of whether players would accept not being able to tessellate the entire map with McCities or not (clearly some people on the forum really like the idea, as indeed I do, but I can imagine some finding it irritating not being able to totally "finish" a map if you like).
If I may I'd like to just speculate about how one of these little "natural kingdoms" that have been suggested might work in practice as I think I've got a decent set up that I'd enjoy playing. For my example I'd like to use the Tom Bombadil model of having one massively powerful creature/being holding sway over an area. Lets imagine a huge swampland, obviously it'd be relative to map size but lets say a 10 x 10 sized squarish region to give you an idea that it's at least something properly meaty in terms of size and significant in terms of settling area lost and travelling time to navigate. Now at the centre of this you'd have a special tile where our "beast lord" or whatever you want to call him lives, on this occasion he is going to be called.. errrr Geoff the Super Slug! Now Geoff should exist as a real unit on the map that can potentially take part in tactical combat etc (although he's very very unlikely to ever leave his swampy layer.. slugs don't like to get all dried out) but he is EXTREMELY powerful, think as powerful as an end game channeler or dragon, that way the idea of actually killing him in the early/midgame is totally unthinkable.
Now I'd think of the swampland itself kinda like the fungus tiles from SMAC, that is, they're incredibly dense wild environments and capable of supporting lots of hidden swamp denizens without this necessarily being apparent to those at a distance. What this basically means is that swamp denizen units under Geoff's command would be able to spawn pretty much out of nowhere so long as they're on one of his swampland tiles to represent them rising up from the depths of the swamp! Now Geoff would have under his command a fairly nice array of beasty units, all of which would be swamp appropriate lets say Swamp Things, Frog-Men and at least one type of really badass end game relevant powerful unit, such as Great Wyrms from MoM.
Now at the beginning of the game the swamp would be fairly treacherous to traverse as there would probably be movement penalties associated with moving on the swamp (e.g. most units moving at only one tile a turn even if they can usually move 2 or 3) and you’d have a certain percentage chance that every time you move a unit onto a swamp square a random assortment of denizens will spawn and attack it. This can obviously be balanced in a number of ways to make it appropriate depending on whether the devs choose to have the wilderness really impassable or merely potentially inconvenient. For instance you could change the probability that denizens will attack, the make up of the denizen force that attacks you etc.. and potentially these could scale during the course of the game if you wanted the same level of challenge to be at a constant level. It might also be the case that swamp denizens venture out from the swamp on occasion rampaging about the countryside and attacking your nearby units/settlements until they either get bored and head back or you defeat them, I think this would give a nice sense of the wild untamed nature of the world of elemental.
In terms of settling a city on the swampland I would have this bring about some really severe repercussions, I’m thinking along the lines of having Great Wyrms spawning outside and attacking your new settlement every couple turns (possibly indefinitely or perhaps it could have a cut off time where the swamp habituates to the new settlement and stops its assault after a set period). Either way we’re talking some seriously powerful units here and a lot of them such that the cost of settling and garrisoning the city is much higher than in a more hospitable location (not to mention swamp tiles will no doubt yield very little in the way of resources).
As it stands so far we have the swampland being both tricky to traverse and very tricky/conceivably impossible to settle on, which hopefully establishes a nice wilderness section of the map. However what I think will make the feature really fun to play (and as with most of my ideas this is something that other people have suggested, I’m just trying to flesh it out) is that the “beast lord” in this case our beloved Geoff will act as a diplomatic entity in the game. I would suggest that initially this should entail having to send a unit to the centre of the swamp to the layer of Geoff to open a line of communication. Obviously from a game design standpoint this would necessitate an option to come up on the UI when you got there so that you didn’t just automatically engage in tactical combat and get destroyed by the mighty Geoff! Subsequent to sending your first emissary you would then be able to talk to Geoff, and he with you, whenever you want without the fiddly micromanagement of actually having to send an envoy every time.
We have little detail as to how quests will work in game but I would suggest that this act of initiating diplomatic contact with Geoff could be a quest given to you should the borders of your empire expand enough so as to run adjacent to or actually over some of Geoff’s swampland. Indeed, it should be no mean feat making it to the centre of Geoff’s layer given that, as stated before you’ll have to fight more than a few of his denizens on their home turf just to get there. There could be some reward for going to see Geoff, perhaps some minor sludge incrusted magical trinket or whatnot J. I also think it might then be possible for Geoff to act as a quest hub from then on in the game giving you a bunch of potential minor sub quests during the game. For instance some annoying do-gooder NPC adventurer might have stolen an artifact from Geoff or killed one of his favourite Swamp Things and Geoff would like you to hunt him down and bring him to justice! The completion of any such quests could lead to rewards by way of resources, magical artifacts or merely, and possibly more importantly the good will of Geoff and a betterment of the relations between you.
Ok, so now we’ve opened up our line of communication, what kind of interactions might you have with Geoff and his Geoffly hordes!? Well I would envisage the situation as having a spectrum of 5 different relationship states you could have as follows, which I shall put in order from most hostile to most amenable.
- War – You have constantly traipsed across his swampland killing his denizens, you have repeatedly attempted to settle on his land, and have even had the effrontery to use your terrain changing spells to change some of his outlying swampland into grassland.. GRASSLAND!!! Geoff can stand no more and there will be a constant stream of high quality units pouring forth from the swamp to harass your settlements and raze your cities (assuming they’re not well protected), this state will continue until such a time as you apologise to Geoff and make amends by paying homage, or you manage to destroy Geoff himself (which as stated previously will be nigh on impossible until very late in the game, and at least always as taxing as trying to take out another chaneler).
- Distrust – This is where you start out having just made contact with Geoff, everything will continue as the starting state, occasionally his denizens will rampage out of the swamp, your units will be attacked fairly often if they try to navigate the swamp etc. At this stage you can better your relationship with Geoff by paying homage (in terms of gifting him resources, gold, possibly mana) and over time by just staying away from his land.
- Non-Aggression Pact – Geoff agrees that he will no longer allow his denizens to go on their customary rampages out into your empire and you agree to avoid his lands entirely, meaning no foot traffic, no attempted settling, and definitely no changing his swamp into GRASSLAND!!! At this level Geoff will begin occasionally offering you quests which may allow you to increase your influence with him further.
- Friendship Pact – Geoff now trusts you enough to allow you send units across his land and will no longer attack you when you do so. In and of itself this could prove very tactically useful if you are at war with a faction on the other side of Geoff’s land as they will still get attacked if they attempt to walk across it.
- Alliance – Having paid constant homage, stuck diligently and upstandingly to all agreements made and completed many a taxing quest on his behalf Geoff now really likes you. He feels you genuinely have the best interests of the swamp at heart and wants your empires to exist together as one into the distant future. As such he will now allow you to build roads across his swampland to speed your movement and will allow the building of a small structure to aid in garrisoning of the swamp (if there is such a thing as a fortress for garrisoning troops outside of an actual city then this would be perfect, if not we might be able to agree on a settlement capped at a tiny population with no external infrastructure, basically the idea being that you can now garrison troops on the swamp enjoying the protection of both your own fortifications and the fact that any attacking enemy will be travelling over swampland where Geoff’s denizens will attack them). As an added bonus Geoff’s denizens will now actively leave the swamp attacking any faction that you are at war with that stray within the local area (lets say another 10 tiles from the border of the swamp, although again obviously this is relative to map size etc).
So in summation here we have a model where you have a nice area of land that will remain as undeveloped wilderness into the late game, an interesting diplomatic entity to build quest interaction etc around and a really striking strategic feature that will make the map feel varied and interesting. Also I really like the mechanism whereby in the early game the swampland is a hindrance to those who start their empires nearby, due to occasional monster rampages, inconvenience to travel, curtailment of local settlement options etc, but by the end it can potentially make up for this and become a strategic boon while still remaining as a largely unsettled part of the map
Ok this post has just gotten so long and involved that I think I’ll also post it in the wilderness thread where it may also be salient, for anyone who hasn’t checked that thread out it can be located here: http://forums.elementalgame.com/330339