Terra Invicta Dev Diary #16: Tough choices, and not-so-tough ones

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johnnylump
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Terra Invicta Dev Diary #16: Tough choices, and not-so-tough ones

Post by johnnylump »

As we’ve been circulating more videos of Terra Invicta gameplay on our Steam page and elsewhere, one aspect of the game we have been getting feedback on involves our decisions on portraying Earth’s geopolitical situation in a modern-day start.

We take it as a positive sign that the game is garnering enough attention that people feel compelled to contact us about the state of the world.
With the reminder at the outset that this is a fictional video game with ray guns and aliens from outer space, I wanted to describe some of the decisionmaking process that went into the design.

In particular, we’ve heard from people on our decisions to aggregate real-world nations into a single game “nation” entity, particularly in Europe, and how we're portraying real-world territorial conflicts.

Aggregate Nations

These are an abstraction of the real world that we made to make the game run and play better. We merge several real-world nations into a single “nation” (in game terms). This doesn’t mean we think the countries are, or should be, merged in the real world, just that it works better within the design. The general guidelines for aggregating nations are:

-They are geographically on the smaller side and adjacent.
-There is some historical justification for grouping them within the scope of the scenarios were planning for TI.
-They might have more impact on the game if aggregated than if they were modeled individually.
-In most cases, there are at least three countries can be aggregated into a single nation in a single region. This one has the most exceptions.

The Central American States is an example. They are individually small but collectively can have a meaningful impact on the game. This is obviously a simplification – Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala (to name three) all have their own unique and rich histories, identity, and political interests, and we certainly don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But it’s also hard to make them count individually in a game that covers the Solar System out beyond Pluto, but together they comprise a more interesting locale for the factions to fight over.

Other aggregations include the Caribbean States, the Pacific Ocean states, Benelux, the Baltic States, groups of nations along the western coast of Africa, and the Caucasus States. The last one is certainly problematic; Azerbaijan and Armenia just fought a war. We have an event to cover conflicts like that, but it’s mostly below the scale of the simulation relative to the larger wars that nations can fight against each or against alien armies marauding through the countryside.

An additional consideration is practical – every region and nation has its own AI and stats to track, and each one we add does affect performance a bit. Certainly we could add another one, and everything would be fine, but another 50 regions and nations could be noticeable. It's one thing among many we have to keep an eye on.

Another is overloading the map – we’ve got a lot of information to fit on Earth’s globe (councilors, armies, aliens, space facilities, certain events), and all have icons and/or models. Any can be relevant at any time during play. For various small coastal regions and islands we’ve implemented little overflow triangles to hold icons that otherwise don’t fit in the mainland, but that’s not available for landlocked countries.

And the obvious solution to declutter things -- zooming in on the map further -- only works up to a point; if the game plays best when you’re able to view an entire continent, Europe with every nation portrayed individually will simply be overloaded at that scale, with icons bleeding over into other countries and the map becoming unreadable. We can hide certain icons until a closer zoom, of course, but we're potentially losing important information that way.
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And Europe is where we’ve been getting feedback about. In addition to Benelux and the Baltic States, we have the Alpine States (Austria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein), the Central European States (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary), the Eastern Balkan States (Romania, Bulgaria, and Moldova), the Southern Balkan States (Greece, North Macedonia, and Albania), and the Western Balkan States (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Montenegro).

Keen watchers of our screenshots may notice we made some changes along the way. The four Nordic nations (Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark) were merged in earlier iterations of the game; we broke them up primarily to support the Cold War scenario, as Norway and Denmark were in NATO and Sweden and Finland were not. (Plus we had plenty of map space to do so.) We rearranged Austria and Switzerland to merge them into the Alpine States, as both were neutral in the Cold War, and collectively form a geographic barrier in Europe, which affects how armies work.

Nevertheless, we understand that these explanations may not be satisfying to someone in the Czech Republic or Romania who really wants to see their nation individually represented in the fight to defend the Earth. They’re not fully satisfying to us, either – we want that, too, and we’re well aware we’ve put important world events and individual nations below the scale of the simulation and lost some verisimilitude because of it. But I hope it’s clear the abstractions and simplifications we’ve made aren’t out of spite or a lack of knowledge of history or geography, but instead in the service of the overall play experience.

Portrayal of Real-World Conflicts

Another issue we hear about is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

For historical background, in 2014, Russia seized the Crimean peninsula, which had been under the authority of Ukraine since the Soviet Union broke up.

Our initial pass at the map simply ignored this; Crimea was part of the eastern Ukraine region and we considered the conflict there beneath the scale of the simulation. I changed my mind and later added it as a separate region and assigned it to Russia. Ukraine has a “claim” on it, meaning it can be returned to Ukrainian control, either peacefully or by force. Crimea is on the smaller side for what we consider a region in Terra Invicta, but we decided the conflict there merited its addition. Since, we’ve heard from Ukrainians and other interested parties about how Crimea is colored wrong and should be shown as part of Ukraine.

A similar issue arises with the Taiwan Strait conflict and the disputed territorial claims there. Terra Invicta attempts to reflect the real-world situation: the People’s Republic of China controls the mainland and has a claim on the Taiwan region. The region begins the game under the control of the Republic of China. We created a whole new mechanic during development to represent the situation there – the Republic of China’s legitimacy is not recognized by the mainland, and it operates in a restricted environment in its foreign relations to reflect its lack of formal recognition by most governments. Other new nations can form around the world via this mechanism – from Quebec to Catalonia to the Republic of California – so it’s a mechanic that enriches the overall simulation.

The common thread between Crimea and Taiwan is that starting territorial control in Terra Invicta was designed with an eye toward portraying the “de facto” situation in the world, not the “de jure” one – the world as it is, not as one nation, some group of nations, or the U.N. have legally determined things should be.

The way I frame it to myself is this: If aliens actually did invade Earth today, what government would the military in a given region take orders from? And ultimately, Terra Invicta’s starting condition is just that, a start — the geopolitical makeup of the world will change based on player and alien activity.

But that doesn’t mean every conflict has made it in. Disputes over Cyprus, Kosovo, the Falkland Islands, Aksai Chin, and the Western Sahara didn’t fit well and are not specifically represented. The competing claims over Arunachal Pradesh are only broadly included.

And maybe all that’s unfair – after all, we have a region for Northern Ireland, a relatively small area that’s been the source of a great deal of conflict in my lifetime. I’m aware that as a Westerner and American I may place too much emphasis on, well, the West and America, so I do have to question whether the calls that I make are rooted in some kind of bias.

And while we haven't heard from anyone about it that I'm aware of, the one that’s given me the most trouble is the portrayal of Israel and Palestine, the source of so much conflict throughout the Middle East and beyond. As of today, Palestine isn’t on the map as a separate region; it would be tiny if it was. Israel already has an “overflow triangle” in the Med because of its small size. We’d need another for Palestine – we’ve in fact created it in our art files but turned it off in our current Beta builds, because it’s just really messy to look at and manipulate. (Lebanon, too, is just merged into Syria, further oversimplifying things, because it’s also so darn small). Israel is shown as in control of that territory as part of Israel’s sole region. The conflict is instead portrayed as Israel having a high inequality, high unrest, and low cohesion. While they have a meaningful impact on Israel’s economy and research production, they are just numbers, and not as satisfying to someone looking for a deeper portrayal of the geopolitics there based in the geography.

Anyhow, please know with many of these issues we’re looking at them and thinking about them, and we may yet make changes within the bounds I’ve outlined above. Between our artist and me, it’s a several hours work to add a region and nation to the map, and of course many hours observing play and receiving feedback to see its impact on the broader campaign.

(Not to the space travel and combat DDs yet, but they will happen)
Rathalos
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Re: Terra Invicta Dev Diary #16: Tough choices, and not-so-tough ones

Post by Rathalos »

Yay, the dev diaries are back!

I think one of the biggest downsides of the merges is that you lose a defining feature of regions. Having a more unified balkan region for example is like having a United States that isn't the major economic and scientific power on the planet. Both of those examples are a deviation from how you would expect the world to function.

I think the considerations of performance and map cluttering are enough of a reason by themselves to make the choices that were made, but I wanted to touch specifically on:
But it’s also hard to make them count individually in a game that covers the Solar System out beyond Pluto, but together they comprise a more interesting locale for the factions to fight over.
Is it a problem if they don't count individually? I guess that would just make them regions that have less value, but as a result also have factions not compete over them fiercely. I think that's the most realistic outcome you'd expect from this whole scenario, Just like how competition over China will dwarf competition over Finland.

By the way, how do these aggregates function mechanically? Obviously the population and economic can just be added up, but do you just take the average for things like the democracy score? Do you lower the cohesion score (compared to the average of its parts) to show that these are aggregates rather than unified countries? (Especially relevant in cases like the Caucasus states, and setting them apart from aggregations that at least don't directly oppose each other.)
TopKai
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Re: Terra Invicta Dev Diary #16: Tough choices, and not-so-tough ones

Post by TopKai »

First I want to say I think it's really meaningful that you as a team are having these discussions at all. There will always be people who will be left out when you build a game like this, the fact that you want to talk about it is really cool.

I don't know if we really have a lot of data about how interest groups in states or regions will work yet, if there's info I've missed I apologize. However I was wondering if you had considered creating some sort of "super interest groups" in certain states or regions that could help make up for some of the missing nations. While no rational person would argue that all Palestinians are a monolith you could make it as simple as, at least at launch, "The Palestinians" are some sort of "super interest group" in the Israel region.

You could however, especially if the basic work is there for interest groups, potentially add several with different weights. (Call it a 0-5 scale. 0-is an American political party, 1-is Quebec Separatists, 2- is the IRA, 3-is Greenland, 4-is Iraqi Kurdistan, 5- is Palestine. So in Iraq you would have Kurdistan at a 4, but also say Assyrians at a 2.

I assume this is likely a far more complex game system than I can understand, but generally I was wondering if you had thought about something between being a full region and having no influence at all?
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johnnylump
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Re: Terra Invicta Dev Diary #16: Tough choices, and not-so-tough ones

Post by johnnylump »

Interest groups are generally abstracted under the "cohesion" value, which impacts whether a region declares independence. A non-existing nation is reflected in a region's claims.

So the nation of Quebec claims the Quebec region, but it doesn't exist. If Canada's cohesion drops low enough along with other factors, particularly unrest, Quebec may declare independence and begin to play as its own nation.
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johnnylump
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Re: Terra Invicta Dev Diary #16: Tough choices, and not-so-tough ones

Post by johnnylump »

Is it a problem if they don't count individually? I guess that would just make them regions that have less value, but as a result also have factions not compete over them fiercely. I think that's the most realistic outcome you'd expect from this whole scenario, Just like how competition over China will dwarf competition over Finland.
Sure, there's diversity in the relative utility of various nations in the game, so the "greater utility if unified" is just one reason among many. It's a question of what lines can we draw -- Nauru, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Ghana, and Honduras didn't make the cut to be represented individually. Singapore, Uruguay and Kyrgyzstan did. Ultimately it's just a judgment call, with the decisions for Eastern Europe and the Balkans causing the most, um, spirited feedback.
By the way, how do these aggregates function mechanically? Obviously the population and economic can just be added up, but do you just take the average for things like the democracy score? Do you lower the cohesion score (compared to the average of its parts) to show that these are aggregates rather than unified countries? (Especially relevant in cases like the Caucasus states, and setting them apart from aggregations that at least don't directly oppose each other.)
Mean weighted by population for the scores.
No real science to cohesion; kind of a measure of "between" and "within" the nations in these cases. There are a few social cohesion and "risk of state failure" indices out there but they don't quite fit our model (which elevates a reasonable level of internal conflict over a monolithic or shattered society).
Grisk
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Re: Terra Invicta Dev Diary #16: Tough choices, and not-so-tough ones

Post by Grisk »

johnnylump wrote: Thu Dec 09, 2021 3:16 pm Sure, there's diversity in the relative utility of various nations in the game, so the "greater utility if unified" is just one reason among many. It's a question of what lines can we draw -- Nauru, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Ghana, and Honduras didn't make the cut to be represented individually. Singapore, Uruguay and Kyrgyzstan did. Ultimately it's just a judgment call, with the decisions for Eastern Europe and the Balkans causing the most, um, spirited feedback.
I think I speak for the majority of players if I was to say that an abstraction to reduce the number of individual "countries" from 200 down to something more manageable is desirable, particularly as far as extra processing power goes. Late game lag is brutal in a lot of games as it is, its why I have never seen a stellaris crisis in my own games.
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