My entire adult life has been dominated by 4X strategy games. Some periods have felt like the genre was in a bit of a rut. Other times (looking at Alpha Centauri and Distant Worlds) there are true moments of amazing innovation.
I can't go into specifics because of NDAs. But I can tell you that we're entering a new era for 4X and I thought I'd share with you why this is.
As some of you already know, my partner Soren's studio, Mohawk Games, is working on Ten Crowns which is a 4X game and Soren knows 4X inside and out. There's some real innovation going on over there.
There are projects at some of the other studios we're part of that aren't announced yet but are going to fundamentally change the 4X landscape and here's how:
Less abstraction. Historically, we've always had to play a fine balancing act between abstracting or not. It's either all in or all out. 4X games often feel like board games. One of the innovations Stellaris brought to the strategy genre which seems like a natural progression from Crusader Kings has been nuanced abstraction. That is, game elements that you can choose to care or not care about depending on your gameplay preferences.
This nuanced abstraction will become a much bigger deal over the next few years as we are able to simulate more and more detail.
So how is that possible? Cloud-coprocessing. Right now, in 4X games, we are constantly paranoid of hardware requirements. Because they're a bit niche, we have to keep the hardware requirements down. But soon, players will be able to have the Sim and AI processed in the cloud.
Specifically: Co-processed. That is, if you have a monster machine, you won't need the cloud. But it means that users with lower end hardware who have a decent net connection can experience truly detailed AI and sim.
I can tell you that internally, we've already started playing around with sending out AI jobs to the cloud to process. This allows us to have vastly more detailed AI (and smarter AI) and more detailed game elements.
But "better AI" isn't really that transformative. What is, however, is the more nuanced gameplay. Less abstraction means you, the player, can have much finer control over your empire based on what level you want to involve yourself in.
Right now, we get stuck between micro-management hell or overly simplistic. The player really doesn't get much of a say of how much they have to manage and we all know that throwing a "governor" on it isn't really that helpful.
But on the other hand, if I have a strategy game with extremely detailed mechanics that I can comfortably zoom in or zoom out (figuratively) on the detail and decide where I"m comfortable, knowing that the details will be handled just fine because the AI (or even entity scripting) is farmed out to the cloud, I get to play the game the way I want to play.
That nuance will, in turn, change the way 4X games are designed. I can't tell you how many times we've had to toss out some sophistication (especially late game) because computing times would take too long to have the process AI-driven and the only alternative would be to make the player manually mess with it (and again, governors are typically pretty terrible because they're so simplistic and arbitrary, there's no nuance -- manage entire city or do nothing).
Anyway, I can't wait for you guys to be able to see what I'm talking about. We are in for some exciting times. -b