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Caesar IV Heaven » Forums » The Town Square » Question about Citybuilder Development
Topic Subject:Question about Citybuilder Development
posted 10-26-17 19:10 ET (US)         
Hello all-

I've been browsing some of the recent threads here on newer citybuilder games- I particularly like the look of Ancient Cities- so I thought I might throw my hat in the ring, and maybe get some opinions on directions to take.

This is Stratos, a sci-fi themed settlement-simulation that I was working on intermittently for a couple of years:

There should be playable releases for Win/Mac in the downloads section, and a gameplay tutorial linked from the home page. As you can see, I got reasonably far, but I ultimately decided to shelve the project, partly due to the lack of any particular marketing reach on my part, and partly due to the internal complexity of the engine reaching the limits of what I could maintain.

Lately, however, I've been grappling with TDD and automated-testing techniques, which have allowed me to cut down drastically on the pain and hassle of other development projects. So I recently rewrote the Stratos engine over the span of about a month, purely as a backend-simulation (bare-bones graphics, but with most of the gameplay intact), just to see how much effort was involved. I'm tentatively optimistic that I might be able to revive the project going forward.

I am, however, also somewhat conflicted on what to do with the engine, exactly. I'm a pretty strong programmer, but only a middling artist, so coming up with sprite art and models/animations was either expensive or time-consuming (depending on whether I outsourced or not.)

So... one thought I had was to re-use the art assets from Caesar 3 (which the OpenCaesar3 project was good enough to extract), and use those to provide a version of the game with updated gameplay, borrowing from later installments of the impressions/tilted mill series and other simulation games- e.g, intelligent walkers, flexible cropland, wood-from-deforestation, specialised trading posts and get quotas, et cetera. (A separate 'planning mode' that let you lay out road networks and infrastructures before committing to pay for them would also be nice, and I'd quite like to experiment with Caesar 2's strategy-map 'AI governor', where you have to compete to secure provinces before a rival, for example.)

What are the feelings of folks here on the subject? I recall that a number of players were unhappy with Caesar 4 due to, e.g, paradoxically unreliable walker performance, but are you largely happy with C3 as is? Would there be any interest in such an overhaul? Or do you think sticking with Stratos is the best plan? Any other thoughts?

Cheers, MA

[This message has been edited by Pelagius_II (edited 10-26-2017 @ 07:21 PM).]

posted 10-26-17 21:42 ET (US)     1 / 5       
Any other thoughts?
How about collaborating with Pecunia on her upcoming sgreader & sgwriter project as she was the author of the sgreader tool that enabled the open C3 project to get to the graphics files. Link

Perhaps develop a plug-in for a free 2D graphics editor like GIMP. Maybe even a free 3D graphics modeling program plug-in, so the CB community can recreate the models from which the 2D graphics were derived.

Let your 'kungfu' aid the CB community

[This message has been edited by user3 (edited 10-26-2017 @ 09:44 PM).]

posted 10-27-17 04:45 ET (US)     2 / 5       
Hey there User3- I didn't realise Pecunia was the author of the SGReader utility, thanks for pointing it out. Do you have a direct link to the repo for that? I could *possibly* put together a GIMP or photoshop plugin, but I'd need to take a look at the source code. (I checked out the modding toolkit thread, but her github page only seems to have code for the .eng reader?)

How does the utility itself work at the moment? Is it purely a command-line tool, or could it use a basic GUI, drag-and-drop capability, etc.? I think if it was user-friendly enough on a standalone basis, then plugins for other programs might be redundant.

...On the subject of re-using art assets from C3- it appears that dalerank may have run into legal problems with that approach, so it might not be entirely viable. Hmm.


[This message has been edited by Pelagius_II (edited 10-27-2017 @ 04:46 AM).]

posted 10-27-17 08:30 ET (US)     3 / 5       
How does the utility itself work at the moment?
It extracts the images, but lacks bytes of data to properly edit the images as animations. Open C3 used a method of reimporting the image data only. So altering the animations was very limited.
Is it purely a command-line tool, or could it use a basic GUI, drag-and-drop capability, etc.?
Has a Gui, no drag and drop.

sgreader utility

The Modding Toolkit concept isn't looking to remarket the games and compete with Activision; but rather Value-Adding to their titles.

[This message has been edited by user3 (edited 10-27-2017 @ 08:40 AM).]

posted 10-27-17 10:23 ET (US)     4 / 5       
Yeah, I'm a little unclear on what was going on with OpenC3/CaesarIA in that respect- it looks like the SGReader code is actually present on the repo, but at the same time the game's sprite-images are also included as texture-atlases in .png format?

If the idea was to avoid legal problems, then the engine should have been extracting images from the .sg2 files and punting them straight into memory, rather than spitting them out on disk or making them available for independent download. Maybe that would help?

In terms of doing new art- I'm all in favour of supporting modders, but since C3 is something of a high-water-mark for isometric building-art I would just caution that finding 3D artists of the same calibre is going to be difficult.

When you say that SGReader lacks 'bytes of data' to edit animations, do you mean that the data is present in the .sg2/555 files but not extracted correctly?
posted 11-09-17 12:56 ET (US)     5 / 5       
Anyhoo- since image-extraction/compression seems to be working now, it got me thinking a bit about what gameplay features I'd modify, relative to C3:

Big changes:

No random walkers. Everyone seeks out their destination intelligently. All citizens are persistent and simulated individually- they have a specific home, a specific workplace, and visit each daily. (With each 'day' being an in-game month, let's say.)

All buildings (aside from a couple you need to start out) are constructed over time by your engineers, using wood or marble, a little more similar to, e.g, the Settlers. You can plan building-projects out in advance before committing to any spending.

Small changes:

Farming works in a manner similar to Emperor or Pharoah- you have centralised farming buildings, but can plant crops tile-by-tile wherever you like. Harvests are variable and seasonal. Mining might be adjusted as well?

Hospitals, large Temples and the Senate might function as something similar to entertainment schools- not actually required for health, religion or tax-collection, but help to improve their efficiency.

God effects are 'agnostic'- while random events like storms, plagues or bumper crops might harm or hinder you, you'll never know for certain if that was just luck or divine intervention. Festivals can be scheduled on a regular basis.

Possibly a few extra resources, like wool, silver, regular stone, and silk/spices as luxury imports. Wood might be consumed as fuel/firewood rather than just a building material? What about the slave trade?

Experience gains for troops and generals. Possibly some form of fog-of-war in dangerous or unexplored provinces? Maybe some day/night effects?

Radical changes:

Favour could be persistent between missions, and in principle you could visit any province on the map once your term-of-governance is complete. (Dangerous provinces give you more of a chance to win glory, and peaceful provinces give you more of a chance to line your pockets.)

Important citizens, such as generals, scholars or priests, might be used for diplomatic missions or lobby for particular decisions in the senate (e.g, lowering/raising taxes, or approving spending on health vs. military vs. culture.)

More elaborate military controls, with an emphasis on planning engagements in advance?


Some additional changes, specifically in connection with housing.

I would break down housing into 3 main development-sequences which evolve independently. Not quite like the pleb/equite/patrician model from C4, but as follows-

(1) Small -> Medium -> Large -> Grand Insulae.
(2) Small -> Medium -> Large -> Grand Casas.
(3) Small -> Medium -> Large -> Grand Villas/Palaces.

The size-footprint and housing limit remains constant within a given sequence- grand insulae don't house any more people than small insulae. The difference is that people are less happy living in crowded tenements vs. spacious casas, and upgrading housing helps to offset that effect. In effect, you face a tradeoff between quality of life and population density, which becomes most obvious in the case of villas.

Some other points one might ponder:

(1) C3 has a strange mechanism by which the state can somehow extract more revenue in taxes than it pays in workers' wages, despite the fact that all tax is presumably derived from said wages. There is no private market, so where is the money coming from?

(2) On a related note: the only reason why patrician housing would pay tax at all is because of their ownership of other land and businesses. Where does one find those?

(3) In the real world, immigrants don't stop coming and your population doesn't stop growing just because you've hit an arbitrary limit on existing housing. Immigrants keep arriving as long as conditions are less crappy in your city than wherever they came from, and birth rates actually increase under conditions of crowding and scarcity. In other words, you could conceivably see 'shanty towns' being generated on the fringes of your city whether you asked for them or not.

(4) Pan et Ludi? Should there be some method of providing provender and entertainment to the masses as a way to offset discontent from massive unemployment?


[This message has been edited by Pelagius_II (edited 11-15-2017 @ 04:05 AM).]

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