Repost from deep in a previous thread, but I wanted to give it some chance of actually being seen by someone on the team. I'm 95% sure that all of these changes can be made through the xml without serious (or any) modification to the game engine. I fully expect this post to be ignored (or at least unacknowledged) by the developers, so my second aim is to drum up support for a small modding team to collaborate on a new research system. Let me know, if interested, and we can brainstorm a bit, and try to get things tied down before release.
So, I've mentioned a couple of times that I feel like the tech tree can be improved within the existing xml framework of the game. I don't really understand why the developers would willfully ignore the best aspects of other games in the genre, especially when they are so easy to implement. For example:
1) Multiple food source types (other than fertile land, very fertile land, and bee hives) influencing tech progression. Feeding your new society would seem like the first and most important step in rebuilding it. The tech that you use to feed your people could then affect the techs you pursue in the early game and should have implications beyond just 'I can build this improvement.' Agricultural societies that develop from Fertile Land, Wild Wheat, etc. would then develop somewhat differently than those built around hunting abundant game. Say... a slight leg up on animal domestication vs. bow and arrow and mobility techs.
2) It doesn't make that much sense to me that the ability to use a specific type of spear has been lost after the apocalypse, but written language hasn't, and most of your new citizens are automatically fully literate. Make written language a tech. One advantage might be that it's required for advanced horse-breeding (keeping records of the abilities of stallions and mares). Then you could create a building that had an upkeep of, say, 1 horse every two weeks to produce a purposefully bred charger in four. Or whatever you want to call it and whatever timeframe you want to have it in. This is all codable in about 20 minutes, guys (and gals). The written language tech could also be extended to give a bonus to research, if you'd like.
3) The development of metallurgy and the domestication of animals should be a major advance that spans both civilization and warfare improvements. Have it as a prereq for advanced weapons as well as techs that yield food bonuses. I'm sure that you've heard of or seen a plough before? Digging out roots and stumps really is easier when your plough has a nice sharp edge to it and has some strong beast of burden to pull it.
4) The development of calendars could also provide a slight food bonus. In addition to whatever bonus to this or that type of magic or magic research that seems appropriate and consistent with the game lore.
5) Rhetorics. It's just an example, but have some abstract scholastic thing give a bonus to both diplomacy and domestic education.
6) There are just tons and tons of interesting confluences between the different magic schools and 'mundane' research techs. Why not let factions that have pursued advanced Water magic get access to the same buildings as factions that have spent time developing advanced irrigation techniques. Or factions that have pursued Earth or Life research finding that they can grow slightly faster with limited farming or game resources than factions with the same resources and other magical research programs can't?
6.5) Why not use (6) to make the magic schools 'feel' a little bit different? If you can identify specific advantages for a couple of the non-offensive schools, then you can feel free to make, say, the Fire school a little bit more offensively powerful. Sure, it might be a little unbalanced on the face of it, but if the others are able to carry a higher troop load, isn't that the diversity that we're looking for in a game like this? Advanced Fire research as a pre-req. for advanced Weapon Tempering tequniques accessible only way down the line to other factions (or the most advanced levels not availabe at all to others)?
7) What about engineering, masonry, and mathematics? What about their hypothetical relationship to the study of magic? What about the relationship between mathematics and tax revenue? There could possibly be different paths toward weatlth accumulation. There's also a plausible story to be told about the relationship between them and magic in your game world. An interesting linkage in technology and some flavor text is all you need to tell it. Or maybe magic completely defies logical characterization. Then, no tech linkages, but definitely some flavor text to demonstrate the difference.
8) Better use of World Wonders. I think(?!) that these are in the game already, but I don't really think that they're being used to their fullest potential. For me, they are a way of maintaining distance in a certain aspect of technology that would otherwise naturally shrink as the game progresses. Why not have a wonder for the first faction to discover a critical farming or mining or abstract reasoning or horse-breeding technology? An agricultural/mining/rhetorical/husbandry college- you name it whatever you want. The point is that they are used in fairly arbitrary ways in WoM, and I think that their potential is being wasted.
You see, those are just eight examples off the top of my head. Someone getting paid to do this could easily come up with upwards of 30 of these kinds of technological intersections. That's what I mean by 'nuanced tech function.' And you're right, the other two aspects of my first post would be just refraining from naming the techs as explicit descriptions of the bonus they provide you or mechanic they unlock. This doesn't do any favors for immersion. And flavor text is certainly important. Ambience is possibly the most important thing that separates a good game from a classic. And, luckily, they are low cost additions to the game in terms of man-hours.
If the developers actually consider one thing I've said in the year and a half I've been posting here I would want it to be this:
Please, be brave and have some imagination.