Ratopia DevDiary #13 - Research System

12 Apr 2023
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Hello all, it's Cassel, developer of <Ratopia>.

For this time in DevDiary, I'd like to talk about the research system in the game,

which has been worked on to prevent so many possible problems,

but which still has a lot of issue,

and which we are still working on.

Intentions of research system development

<Ratopia> is a game managing resources that citizens consume and produce.

Those resources are connected to each other following their functions, ingredients, and characteristics,

as mentioned in <DevDiary #7 - Production Chain>.

With their complex connection, the relation between structures are also quite complex.

The research system was to divide those structures' build timing,

so that the stress of learning new functions could be lessened.

In addition to that, I also expected this to make the player play in diverse styles.

With the randomly placed biomes and quests, the players would develop the city,

and freely make a choice on many possible situations related to economy, military, and diplomacy.

Moreover, even when developing <Ratropols>,

I wanted to make a tech tree like the one in <Civilization> series!

Those kind of research systems are so used to the gamers,

and they could be used to control the direction and speed of game play.

So I thought it is perfect to <Ratopia>.

Early research system of <Ratropolis>, which got withdrew

Research Tree

Before designing the research tree,

it was necessary to examine several games by looking at how their research systems are carried out,

and what effects they have.

The technology development tree of <Civilization> has the charm of looking at the history of mankind.

Depending on the technology researched,

bonus effects that the efficiency and unlock higher level buildings can be obtained,

and the number of research options that can be selected has been reduced to 4-5 to lower the entry barrier of beginners.

However, at some point, all lower-level research must be completed to progress to the next level,

so the part where choices only slightly differ from game to game was disappointing.

The research tree in <Oxygen Not Included> is divided into categories

such as food, power, and computers, making it easy to see where the researched items are used.

However, 4-7 structures can be unlocked with one research,

and there is a high entry barrier to research as there are too many options.

Some structures may require the use of the other structures on the other categories to function properly.

This could be difficult to many users since the player might not be able to use the structure even if they made the structure.

Various research designs of simulation games

While the research trees of the various games that were reviewed had their own pros and cons,

it was sure that they had chosen the most appropriate method based on their features.

Therefore, it was needed to reconsider the initial intention of incorporating the research system, and features of <Ratopia>;

The intention to kill two birds of providing high freedom while lowering the learning difficulty, with one stone of research methods.

<Ratopia> has a feature of using citizens to process natural resources in specific structures.

With that again it is necessary to make new resources with new structures.

Therefore, it seemed best to create the core of the research tree based on structures.

Since the structures were already classified by their properties,

It was easy to create mock-ups based on the structure categories.

Layout that is widely used in simulation genre

Not only on structures, but also on skills and technologies we had tried to input the research system.

But this would affect across the already divided caterories.

For example, even if the structure, ‘Grill’, has already researched,

if the ‘Mushroom farm’ has not researched yet,

‘Grilled mushroom’ cannot be produced.

Similar to this, when someone is trying to build just-researched structure,

The one could have to find structure that is needed to produce resource in need for construction.

This was exactly the same issue that was on <Oxygen not Included>, which we wanted to avoid.

In addition, it was even hard to maintain the connections of technology in names like ‘Felling’ or ‘Forestry’.

Some were connected way too many so that they were too long in vertical direction, unable to be checked in a single screen.

We could simply make each nod a bit smaller,

but this could ruin the experience of playing with gamepad or keyboard.

So we did more researched, but this time focused on console games.

Among those, games like <Forager> and <Rogue Legacy> adopted grid layout.

They have lessened the learning difficulty by revealing the later researches only after finishing the previous ones,

and enlarged joy of researching since the player cannot see what is beyond.

Of course there’s cons like players cannot make long-term plans,

But I thought it could be better to make players develop within the possible boundaries,

Rather than make a plan for the end of game and fall into eternal agony.

Grid layout, spreading researches to 4 directions

So this time, we’ve tried grid layout.

Unlike before, we did not name the techs but instead, we’ve put the name of the structures,

So that a single nod would unlock a single structure.

This attempt was made to organize the function as intuitive and simple as possible,

with a focus on unlocking the facility.

However, as the number of structures increases in the future,

The grid itself must also increase, leading to a problem of reduced scalability.

Endless cycle of research tree

Research point

The intention of developing the research system was not only to give diversity on playing style,

But also to control the game’s progressing speed.

To achieve this goal, we’ve put additional requirement for the research: the research point.

Produced by the laboratory, research point is a new style of resources,

but using the same system with the other items.

With this system, unlocking the new buildings is limited according to the speed of research point generation.

As a result, it was expected to provide time to experience other contents besides research,

and prevents the phenomenon of too many things being unlocked at once,

which can make the system difficult to understand.

Postgraduates are perfect for research!

However, players with expertise would find this a bit boring.

Thus to give them a way to boost up the speed of research,

Research point can be gathered through gaining a new resource.

As players collect or produce various resources, they can unlock other technologies faster.

This was expected to encourage the players to explore outside of the city and produce new items.

This would also reduce the time needed to utilize new biomes and special resources once they are discovered.

By diversifying the ways of obtaining research points,

It became necessary to have a way to check which resource the points were obtained from.

A new screen was created to display the discovered resources

and inform players that discovering resources can also earn research points.

We hope that many players would utilize this feature to pursue research more strategically.

Whether or not to show unidentified items are still under discussion

Simplifying modification process

With the introduction of the research system in the game,

it seemed like a good idea to have a tool to assist in creating and modifying the research tree.

We anticipated that the research tree would be subject to frequent modifications, as it is not fixed.

There may be limitation as a human being to add or change properties of the research tree.

So to increase the speed of modifications and reduce potential errors, a help tool was needed.

To facilitate the creation and modification of the research tree, I made a spreadsheet using Excel.

Just as the game screen, numbers were assigned to the grid,

and connected them with the corresponding slots of the research tree.

With this, possible crush or errors could be checked without the game running.

Furthermore, by utilizing the automatically calculated position values,

it was also possible to conveniently modify the structure of the research tree

With Excel, time for modification, rate of errors, and money for eye medication got reduced

After experiencing the convenience, I wanted to enhance the system for simpler modification process.

However, as there’s possibility of system changes making the sheet unusable,

I choose to satisfy with current state.

The current research system we're using has clear limitations and requires significant improvement.

As development progresses and the number of research options increases, organizing, categorizing,

and providing guidance for players is becoming more challenging.

We want to make it easier for players to find the research they're interested in,

but we're not sure of a clear method to do so.

For now, we'll maintain the current system,

but ultimately, we're considering a 1:N research system

that unlocks various blueprints and technologies with a single research, rather than current method.

However, even this may not be a highly effective solution to the problem mentioned earlier,

and we're still uncertain of a good method to convey the effects of multiple unlocks to players.

We are considering functions like the research suggestions, but there still is a long way to go

This time the system is not yet been finalized, so there’s a sense of unease about it.

We will constantly think about ways to improve the system,

So that it could be more accessible and user-friendly.

Thank you for reading this long article again.

Hope you have an amazing day.

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