Concerns about Fallen Enchantress

By on July 29, 2011 5:26:41 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Das123

Join Date 05/2003
+79

I want Stardock to do well and I want Elemental to be a great game but where things currently are I am really concerned about the various decisions and releases over the last 12 months.

If past history is a good indicator of what to expect in the future, what are the most likely outcomes:

1. FE will be a little different than WoM but still suffer from the same game-breaking choices regarding the underlying game mechanics.

2. Decisions will be made affecting FE without really having a grasp of the big picture and the impact it has on long-term replayability,

3. We'll be playing catch-up for yet another 12 months going through the same flawed rinse cycle.

A year ago, before WoM was released, many people on the forums expressed concern about the game and they were unceremoniously shot down in flames. It's true that I have no real idea of where FE is in its development but the big difference between now and 12 months ago is that we have a very flawed game that is the older sister of a new game that both share much of the same development decisions and advances (at least - that is what we were told when given the promise of what to expect regarding the pending release of WoM1.3).

If FE shares any of the development process we've seen with WoM1.2 and WoM1.3 then I'm sorry to say I'm not really going to be expecting a lot from Fallen Enchantress. Basically it makes no sense what-so-ever to release something like WoM1.3 if all the issues have been ironed out in FE. Surely if the products are being developed concurrently then any lessons learned would be applied where possible to the other - and I'm talking about the underlying game mechanics - not the surface veneer.

I was really disappointed when FE was announced given the state of WoM and thought it was a strange decision to split the development tree at that point before the main issues had been sorted. If it was part of a bigger decision to abandon War of Magic and allow Fallen Enchantress the opportunity to distance itself and hopefully enjoy a more favourable launch then that would make sense. But instead we are told that FE is awesome and that WoM will borrow many of the advances so players have a choice between the two. Before WoM was launched we were similarly told it was awesome and we just had to trust that it was all going to come together - and that the development team were playing a very different game than the beta testers were. And so on and so on. Based on past dealings with Stardock I believed the spin at the time but I don't believe it this time around. I trusted that the right decisions would be made to make the game great last time but that trust has eroded away with the last 12 months.

I've rabbited on longer than I wanted to but please, if anyone from Stardock is reading this, please don't even release the beta of FE until it works. WoM has done a lot of damage to your reputation over the last year and this one really needs to be as close as possible to hitting the nail on the head. For all I know I may be completely off the mark and WoM and FE may have completely different teams that work in isolation of each other - but I wouldn't be prepared to money on that horse.

Sorry for this being a negative post but I really think there is an awful lot riding on FE now as far as Stardock and community trust is concerned. Just really trying to say - don't rush the beta out the door!

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July 31, 2011 11:43:47 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

@Winni - thanks for the link on MOM. I bought it from GOG a month or so ago, had no idea there was a cool update like that. Will check it out.

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August 1, 2011 4:25:38 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

@Frogboy

 

Enlightening as always. I like your lengthy posts (though you should sticky it since you have explained why WoM failed like three times now)

 

 

@Winnihym (the poh)

 

http://realmsbeyond.net/forums/showthread.php?t=4208 <--- For all your Master of Magic needs

http://www.realmsbeyond.net/forums/showthread.php?t=4211 <--- 1.40j <--- The version I use.

 

I've never played MoM much so I figure I better start with a bugfixed version than a new one such as 2.0 seem to be.

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August 1, 2011 4:50:58 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,
Hope this helps.

It does. It sounds like the classical IT problem with so many prjects: Too many hats, too little time. I keep hitting my boss with that ( its part of my job as a lead engineer to do that)...

I really really really hope you make it with FE. Nothing would please me more than to see a true classic come forth. Good luck!

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August 1, 2011 9:45:01 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

@Campaigner:

Well, depending on your definition, you've either called me the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH), the partial concentration of hydroxide ions (pOH),  or a sound of disgust or disbelief (Poh!).   Or, a misspelling of Pooh.  A. A. Milne would have your guts for garters...

Winnihym's been my only online moniker for almost 2 decades now; I picked it when I was in the Everquest.  They Winnihym were the wild, intelligent horses of SR Donaldson's White Gold series.  For some reason, they always appealed to me.  You...erm...aren't the first person to make the association with the OTHER Winni. 

Winni

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August 1, 2011 10:17:25 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting jshores,





. A better idea would have been to design the game within the limitations of the engine rather than modify it to fit in the engine. 


 

 

 

Based on what I have read from Frogboy's previous posts, that's what they tried to do. However, being an engine in the progress of being built, it's capabilities ended up being changing... In fact, I think Frogboy ended up taking some sort of emergency leadership position because of this.

Point being, it's hard to judge the capabilites of an engine until you've tried to use it to create a game already.

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August 1, 2011 10:30:38 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting tanafres,
Do you still think you'll have a chance to dig into the tactical AI in WoM?

Yes.

I'm inclined to do a 1.31 first because there are some crash issues that are still in the game that I find highly annoying and the cause is known but the fix is difficult (multithreading related in case anyone is interested). Then in 1.4, I want to continue the AI improvements particularly in the area of unit design, city design, etc. I didn't really do any AI work in v1.3, ran out of time.

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August 1, 2011 10:38:37 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting jshores,

Quoting Winnihym, reply 23



@Frogboy:

I know you don't mean what you said in your post, or at least I hope you don't.  Games existed before computers, and the essence of fun comes from good design of the interplay of resources and strategies.  I know there's a lot of work to do under the hood.  But unless the core game elements all play together well, all the stable, graphically amazing engine in the world won't make FE good...



 

Exactly what I was thinking.  The only thing I would add is that you guys were putting the cart before the horse. A better idea would have been to design the game within the limitations of the engine rather than modify it to fit in the engine. 

You guys carved a square peg, realized you had a round hole and tried to push it in, shaving a little off until it fits (It still doesn't). A better strategy would have been to see the round hole, and then carve a round peg.

 

 

Sorry to say this guys but I don't think you understand what i was getting at here.  If I design a board game that calls for 12 pieces per side but it turns out I only can have 8 pieces per side due to manufacturing costs of the board game, I have to alter my design.

Every game, regardless of how it manifests itself (board game, video game, card game) makes use of the resources at hand.  Try playing Texas Holdem if some of the cards in the deck have been lost. You could either not play the game or try to alter the rules of the game. 

The WOM original design was dramatically different from the final design (the tactical battles being the most obvious example) because of what the underlying game engine turned out able to do.

Even today, we struggle with limitations (how long have we been battling memory limitations for example) that require us to make changes.  I originally wanted to see battles involving tens of thousands of units.  But we also wanted to have units that players designed.  Only one of those things was possible to do so we had to dramatically lower the number of units on screen and the size of armies and such.  The list is nearly endless on things like that.

With Galactic Civilizations, we knew what we could do because the engine was 7 years old by the time we made it (Pear was the engine and we used it for Entrepreneur, The Corporate Machine, LightWeight Ninja, The Political Machine and other games).  

It's easy to make facile analogies like square pegs and round holes but that presumes that it is possible to simply make a carve what you want. 

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August 1, 2011 10:50:08 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting markmenm,

Quoting jshores, reply 25

. A better idea would have been to design the game within the limitations of the engine rather than modify it to fit in the engine. 


Based on what I have read from Frogboy's previous posts, that's what they tried to do. However, being an engine in the progress of being built, it's capabilities ended up being changing... In fact, I think Frogboy ended up taking some sort of emergancy leadership position because of this.

Point being, it's hard to judge the capabilites of an engine until you've tried to use it to create a game already.

Precisely.  As the beta group can attest to, my direct (daily) involvement in WOM didn't begin until a few months before the game shipped because at that point it became clear that what the engine could do versus the design were dramatically different. And there were memory reasons for this, most of which included technical decisions like choosing pixel shader 2 instead of 3 which greatly increased the memory use of our unit textures, a lack of technical experience with dealing with lots of animations on-screen (the zooming in and out in a fluid way), etc.

My particular error -- i.e. the biggie -- was believing that I could just design around these problems. "shave a square peg to be roundish" and that it would be "good enough".  This wasn't the first time we had run into this.  The original design of The Political Machine was drastically different and we redesigned the game and added multiplayer the last 25 business days before we had to send it to manufacturing and it worked out pretty well.  

The problem here is that while I had been the Project Manager on GalCiv and The Political Machine, the company had grown and as some people are aware, the games unit is not Stardock's core revenue generator so I had other things on my plate. So even when I assumed "emergency" project manager responsibilities at the end of WOM, I was still doing my "day job" of running a fairly substantial business operation.

Anyway, the point being that making a video game is a fundamentally different endeavor than making say a board game or a card game because the materials involved are so overwhelmingly technical (software) in nature.  

With Fallen Enchantress, we already know what the engine can and can't do and can design based on that. That's why is it so different from WOM in gameplay. It was designed from scratch with the engine in mind.  When WOM was designed, there was no engine yet. There was a list of capabilities we assumed the engine would have.

 

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August 1, 2011 11:00:01 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I am going to be honest with you Brad but I would have rather have had the option of thousands of units on the battlefield than the option of customizing units. In my opinion, having the ability to customize units obviously killed that idea of having thousands of units but it also killed the individuality of factions. If you had several unit types for each faction rather than customizing units, each faction could have been more unique and you could have kept in those thousands of units running around. I think people would have been much happier that way.

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August 1, 2011 11:36:44 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Okay, Frogboy, fair enough, I know that the real resource limit is time to implement design, and time to refine engine.  There was a great post over on the escapist about this very subject this weekend by the good folks at Extra Credits.  Out of curiousity, how old is the Kumquat engine now?

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August 1, 2011 3:13:33 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting BlackRainZ,
... In my opinion, having the ability to customize units obviously killed that idea of having thousands of units but it also killed the individuality of factions. If you had several unit types for each faction rather than customizing units, each faction could have been more unique and you could have kept in those thousands of units running around. I think people would have been much happier that way.

I think this is an important point. If the units for each faction were pre-designed and the variable squad sizes had been dropped then the game would have been much easier to balance and each faction would have felt unique.

I also believe that AI is the least of the issues that need addressing in Tactical Combat. If the system isn't redesigned to allow units to be balanced then it is always going to be an up-hill battle. Here is an earlier post about this, and while there was disagreement on the specifics of how combat should be approached there was consensus that the system needs work to allow balance.

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August 1, 2011 6:32:29 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Thank you very much for that update Brad, I think it put to rest almost every question I had about EWOM in it's current iteration.  I will set it aside, comfortable in the knowledge that someday in the future, it may be possible to tame the design enough that it plays nice with the game engine.  I look forward to FE, whenever it comes out, because I know that it will be as awesome in it's own way as GalCiv2 was.

 

On a related note,  I purchased the three versions of Master of Orion through Impulse, back when it was still under the control of Stardock, and frankly I still love to play that first DOS version.  It's amazing the amount of randomness that can occur in a game, while each race's AI acts consistently as you face them in the game.  I just bought Master of Magic from GOG, and it plays just as I remembered it did, you have to get on top and stay on top of all aspects of your empire ( though in fairness, diplomacy never worked too well for me ). 

A thought struck me the other evening, and it's this;  Some of the real fun in those two classics came from the randomness of your advancement tech/magic tree.  In MOO, you could never be sure what technologies you would obtain.  I played a game as the "bear like" Bulrathi, and despite my best efforts, I couldn't get the speed 2 nuclear engines for my ships!  I got longer and longer fuel ranges, engine based weapons, a module to increase tactical maneuverability, but no engines faster than the default speed 1. I frantically tried every trade and offer to get some faster engines, I put my spies on overtime trying to steal the plans for faster engines, because everybody but me had them.  When I finally got them in a trade, I hooted like my football team had just scored.  It made that game memorable for me ( even though I lost ).  The same thing happens with spell research in MOM, you know what some of the spells you can research are, but you aren't guaranteed to get them until late in the game or ever.  That degree of randomness really forces you to shape different strategies to win.

I think great games do that.  My only gripe about GalCiv 2 was the methodical path that was pioneered by many of the games best players to conquer the huge galaxies.  It seemed so mechanical to me.  There are lists of the first 20 tech's to research in order to win a certain type of victory in a certain size galaxy.  It's probably not in the design for FE, but I would prefer to have a wider selection of spells, some slightly similar, some only useful against certain opponents, but always randomly available for research.  With only a few spells, that everyone knows they will be able to get every game, it's pretty much a race to research the most powerful one quickly, and then pound the AI with it.  That's okay, and obviously in a game like Civilization, you know the entire tech tree beforehand, but it just seems to me to be more fun for research to actually be like RESEARCH.  Knowing what direction you are going in, but not sure exactly what you will uncover.

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August 2, 2011 6:48:28 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

You put on a good point- one of the areas I feel SD games could use improvement in as they sometimes they feel mechanical.  I think Derek will cure that, given his history with FFH though, so I haven't said much on thaat.

 

I'm just hoping the AI gets fixed for FE at some point, as that has been a crippling weakness to me when it came to WOM, and what made me give up on the game.  I'm still of the belief a strategy game can only be as good as its AI.

 

 

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August 2, 2011 8:43:59 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,


With Fallen Enchantress, we already know what the engine can and can't do and can design based on that. That's why is it so different from WOM in gameplay. It was designed from scratch with the engine in mind.  When WOM was designed, there was no engine yet. There was a list of capabilities we assumed the engine would have.

 

There's one thing I don't get. You keep making it sound like Kumquat just appeared out of nowhere, or as if you just coded a random engine with no idea what it would be used for. Why didn't you code the engine to fit a TBS game to begin with, with unit abilities etc etc?

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August 2, 2011 10:36:07 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Magog_AoW,

Quoting Frogboy, reply 33

With Fallen Enchantress, we already know what the engine can and can't do and can design based on that. That's why is it so different from WOM in gameplay. It was designed from scratch with the engine in mind.  When WOM was designed, there was no engine yet. There was a list of capabilities we assumed the engine would have.

 

There's one thing I don't get. You keep making it sound like Kumquat just appeared out of nowhere, or as if you just coded a random engine with no idea what it would be used for. Why didn't you code the engine to fit a TBS game to begin with, with unit abilities etc etc?

In software, you don't control all the variables.  You're constantly making choices that have both good and bad consequences.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

Early on, we wanted the game to be able to run on Netbooks. That meant picking Pixel Shader 2 as the means we would interact with DirectX. But it turned out that Pixel Shader 2 had a lot of limitations that we had not counted on (we had never made a strategy game with "organics"). 

This, in turn, had another consequence that was totally unforeseen -- newer video cards don't handle the older Pixel Shader 2 very efficiently in terms of their drivers. This is the biggest source of "memory leaks" that really came and was pretty crushing.

Now, all of these things could have been addressed with sufficient time. And that is where the key error in judgment on my part came into play. I believed I could re-design the game at the 11th hour based on what the engine could do (this is back in May 2010) and still have it come out really good rather than stick with the original design and add 18 months (the estimate on how long it would take including the abandonment of pixel shader 2).

With Fallen Enchantress, one of the first things we did is drop support for Pixel Shader 2. So no old netbook support. A lot of "bugginess" disappeared overnight just with that.  It's almost tempting to retrofit that into WOM but there'd be riots (because N% of users could simply no longer play the game) so instead we continue to find workarounds (if you want to see a pixel shader 2 driver bug in WOM, look for a case where the portrait becomes all black, if you have an older video card, that won't happen but if you have a "Good" video card it'll happen occasionally).

Anyway, to summarize, when you make an engine, you're really creating middle where. There is a whole world underneath that engine (DirectX, video drivers, the OS itself, and of course the hardware) and the interactions of those aren't always -- or even usually -- what you'd anticipate.

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August 2, 2011 10:56:48 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Ah, cool. Thanks for answering!

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August 2, 2011 11:16:35 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Any chance for a variation of these tactical battle Sovereign AI enhancements in the next WOM update?

  • AI sovereign will cast wind shield if the opposing army has archer units and ranged attacks are projected to cause notable damage.
  • AI sovereign will cast magic shield to protect himself from enemy magic if enemy army contains sovereign or magic casting champion.
  • AI sovereign will cast Spell Blast or Flaming Arrow
  • AI Sovereign will cast Guardian Aura to improve dodge rating of targeted friendly unit
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August 2, 2011 12:39:50 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Edwin99,
Any chance for a variation of these tactical battle Sovereign AI enhancements in the next WOM update?


AI sovereign will cast wind shield if the opposing army has archer units and ranged attacks are projected to cause notable damage.
AI sovereign will cast magic shield to protect himself from enemy magic if enemy army contains sovereign or magic casting champion.
AI sovereign will cast Spell Blast or Flaming Arrow
AI Sovereign will cast Guardian Aura to improve dodge rating of targeted friendly unit

That's one of the big things I'm looking to get into -- rewriting the tactical battle AI.  I didn't write the original AI for tactical battles and it might be quicker for me to just start from scratch.

In FE, I'm going to press to have a lot of the AI logic in the XML so that modders can improve on whatever I put in.

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August 2, 2011 12:40:09 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,

Quoting Magog_AoW, reply 39
Quoting Frogboy, reply 33

With Fallen Enchantress, one of the first things we did is drop support for Pixel Shader 2. So no old netbook support. A lot of "bugginess" disappeared overnight just with that.  It's almost tempting to retrofit that into WOM but there'd be riots (because N% of users could simply no longer play the game) so instead we continue to find workarounds (if you want to see a pixel shader 2 driver bug in WOM, look for a case where the portrait becomes all black, if you have an older video card, that won't happen but if you have a "Good" video card it'll happen occasionally).

Anyway, to summarize, when you make an engine, you're really creating middle where. There is a whole world underneath that engine (DirectX, video drivers, the OS itself, and of course the hardware) and the interactions of those aren't always -- or even usually -- what you'd anticipate.

 

Question- how hard would it be to drop support for 32-bit OS's and make a future Elemental game a 64-bit application?  I think that would drop most of the memory issues, at least until the very long term.

 

I know this isn't practical for FE, and am not asking for that, but would it be practical for the 2nd expansion, both technically and in a business sense?  I think the amount of "free copies" that are being given out in a way, gives you guys some freedom to take some experimental approaches if FE does well, and I can't see GalCiv3 not being a 64-bit application (Assuming that's next) when you get around to doing that in 3-4 years.

 

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August 2, 2011 1:11:54 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,

That's one of the big things I'm looking to get into -- rewriting the tactical battle AI.  I didn't write the original AI for tactical battles and it might be quicker for me to just start from scratch.

In FE, I'm going to press to have a lot of the AI logic in the XML so that modders can improve on whatever I put in.

Isn't XML a really horrible format for AI logic?

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August 2, 2011 1:51:39 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Not if he just puts in tags and weight measurements.

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August 2, 2011 2:09:07 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I worked on a wargame game awhile back, and we had a user-modifiable text file based AI for strategic level decisions: research, production, diplomacy, and territory objectives. We also had non-user modifiable AI code for operational and tactical actions.

One aspect that set our AI apart is that it had global variables that were generated at game start; which allowed the AI to have an integrated but varied strategy, and random variables that were generated each time a routine was called. 

Global Variables; generated at game start, were used to select a strategy for the AI. This allowed the AI to choose between a range of pre-written strategies at game start. This meant that if it choose Strategy 1 it would apply that same strategy to research, diplomacy, production and strategic objectives.

Simplified Example:

{1,3,1,50} For Country 1 if global variable 3 has a value of 1 to 50 execute Russia First Strategy (and there were Russia first AI rules for research, production, diplomacy and strategic objectives)
{1,3,51,100} For country 1 if global variable 3 has a value of 51 to 100 execute England First Strategy

Turn Based Random Variables were used to vary the turn based choices within that strategy

Simplified Example:

For Russia First Strategy 1: Composition of 10 units would average: 5 infantry, 5 armor and 0 bombers.

{1-51}{2} - Produce Infanry Unit = 50% to product infantry unit that turn
{51,100}{3} - Produce Armor = 50% to produce Armor unit that turn

For England Strategy 2: Composition of 10 units would average: 5 infantry, 1 armor and 4 bomber

{1,50}{2} - Produce Infanry Unit
{51,60}{3} - Produce Armor
{61,100}{4} - Produce Bomber

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August 2, 2011 3:35:03 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It's good to see you back, Brad

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August 2, 2011 4:16:30 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Quoting Alstein,
Magic - to me the only disappointment was the number of spells, not the system itself.

Quantity is more easily fixable then quantity.

 

I'd love Derek to rip off some spells from AOW:SM.

 

 

I am 100% in favor of ripping off spells from AOW:SM and feel free to rip off anything else in AOW:SM that you want

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August 2, 2011 9:22:26 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,
It's very easy to forget that game development is really an exercise in software engineering. What I mean by that is that the "Game" you play is a very very thin layer on top of software whose development is much like any other type of software.

When Winnihym said "I know you don't mean what you said in your post, or at least I hope you don't" my feeling is he was referring to this sentence in particular.

I'm neck deep in the software industry so I entrely get what you say about the engine and its limitations. But I think a strong case can be made that the fundamental problem with WoM is that it is just a very very thin layer over the engine. And I don't just mean when it first came out, I mean now too.

The key point being that the game part needs to have a great deal of depth to it, both conceptual and implementation. That means an overarching design which includes limited competing resources which are applied to try to achieve multiple competing goals with many meaningful and hopefully interesting (read fun!) choices along the way.WoM has a very disjointed resource model, there are many resources but most of the time only one (or none) of them is limiting and there are few meaningful choices in managing resources. Conversely on the goal/choice side there are few meaningful choices because certain strategies are so much more powerful than the alternatives that you would only choice the suboptimal choice if you are trying to gimp yourself. And of course the lack of depth and fun factor in the available fluff is a topic covered in many other threads.

FE clearly has a more overarching design so I am cautiously hopeful that it will be decent. But I fear they are not going nearly deep enough at balancing these core mechanics. I am confident it is a difficult thing to get right BUT it is also the sort of thing that distinguishes mediocre games from brilliant gems.

BTW for what it is worth I feel that this is where they went wrong with Civ 5 compared with Civ 4. I find myself having to make much more difficult decisions about resource allocation (primarily trade and production, but also settling and improvements) in Civ 4 than in Civ 5. This is because in Civ 5 your gold income/happiness/research/culture rates are largely preset based on choices you have already made whereas Civ 4 you have that but also the big lever of how much of your trade you allocate to gold/research/culture. Similarly in Civ 4 almost any building or unit is semi-viable to build at any time (depending on your overall and regional goals) while in Civ 5 due to the much higher maintenance costs of both buildings and units there is almost always just one or two obvious choices. These things don't seem like much but they make all the difference (of course there is also the core problem that the Civ 5 unit AI just can't run a decent war on the hex grid but that is a separate discussion!)

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