Ratopia DevDiary #26 - Improve Diplomatic System

Cassel
1 May 2024
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Hello all, it’s Cassel, developer of <Ratopia>.

Weather warmed up all the sudden and it already feels like we are in the middle of summer. We too are sweating profusely as we prepare for the next 'General Leader' update. It often feels like our office turns into a sauna when we engage in heated discussions about what to prepare.


For the next update, we've decided to include new dungeons, the invasion of the lizards, and improved diplomatic and conquest systems. There's a lot of combat-related content, which means a lot of testing and balancing to be done. With public holidays and events following one another starting in May, I'm worried whether we'll have enough time. Although we're still in the middle of development and don't have much to show yet, in this development diary, we will briefly introduce the upcoming changes to the diplomatic, conquest, exploration, and trade systems.




Diplomacy


In the General Leader update, we aimed to enhance the previously simplistic diplomatic system. We introduced the need to manage Relations with city-states and also wanted to create a system where a city could use its military power to conquer other city-states. This provides additional motivation and goals in the later stages of the game when the player's economic and military strength is robust, and it also offers benefits when a player has rapidly developed their city.


In the improved diplomatic system, Relations will fluctuate through various means. Moving away from the previous system, where Relations could only be increased through gifts, we aim to create more complex influences similar to those in games like Civilization, Total War, and Crusader Kings. For example, criticizing Nation A could increase intimacy with Nation B, which is hostile to Nation A. Going forward, relationships with city-states will be categorized into four stages: vassal states, allies, neutral, and enemy nations. Players will need to gather various information about the nature and competitive relations of the city-states to determine their diplomatic stance.



The method of sending gifts will also become more refined.


Once sufficient favorable relations have been established, it will be possible to form alliances with other nations. Allies can provide economic support by sending resources or offering loans at low interest rates. Militarily, they can assist by sending reinforcements when the player's city is attacked by threats like the Infected or Weasels. However, maintaining multiple alliances will require substantial economic backing.


Adding diplomatic events such as betrayal, anti-national alliances, monetary integration, and world wars could lead to a richer and more intriguing set of scenarios. For this to happen, it was necessary to enable city-states to engage in diplomatic actions with each other. We envisioned a system where city-states either ally or fight against each other in an intricate international situation and global warfare system. However, due to the high development difficulty, we plan to start by implementing simple diplomatic systems first and then gradually expand them.


Would the developer fulfill their greed and Rest in Peace? 




Conquest


A major change in the diplomatic system is that players can now attack city-states. The goal is to invade city-states, plunder resources, and thus enable economic growth. Players can declare war and dispatch troops to the city-state that has become a war zone. These troops, along with allied forces, then move to a new battlefield map where the combat unfolds.


Combat on the battlefield begins with the deployment of soldiers across the units positioned on the map. After deployment, pressing the "Start Battle" button initiates the assault, with soldiers from both sides charging in sequence. During combat, players cannot issue rally orders to adjust the positions of their soldiers; instead, the battle progresses in an automated manner where soldiers follow a predetermined path to engage the enemy. This design choice was made because in the structure of <Ratopia>, massing soldiers for attacks could potentially become the focal point of all battles. To prevent this and enhance the strategic aspect of the game, battles are designed to offer a more distinct and strategic combat experience.


Funny that we cannot dig a hole when we need the most.. 


The size of the battlefield and the number of defending soldiers increase dramatically depending on the prosperity level of the city being invaded. We aim to facilitate battles on a large scale, up to 100 vs. 100, on these new battlefields. We do not intend for all civilians within a city to be conscripted into soldiers; therefore, we plan to encourage the active use of allies and mercenaries. In the future, if it becomes possible to deploy siege weapons or defensive structures before the battle starts, this could add even more diversity to the combat scenarios. 


Ratopian~~!  Ataaaaaaaaaack~~! 


In battlefields, the side that first destroys the opponent's headquarters wins. If the player is victorious, the player can choose to take specific resources produced by that city-state as spoils of war, or they can turn the city-state into a vassal state to periodically receive resources. Additionally, if it becomes possible to construct unique buildings from a vassalized city in the player’s city, this would further enhance the allure of conquest. However, with over 20 city-states appearing, this adds a layer of complexity that requires careful consideration.




Explore


The current exploration system primarily serves as a foothold for illuminating the map to facilitate trade, and we have long intended to improve it. Given that the General Leader update also addresses content outside the player's city, it seemed like an opportune moment to enhance the exploration aspect as well.


Previously, exploration involved simply selecting an area to explore, and after a set period, the exploration would be completed. This method allowed players to discover hidden areas and potentially find other city-states, which then enabled trading for desired resources. However, once all necessary cities were discovered, there was no further need to explore, and exploration itself became repetitive and lacked rewarding elements, leading to a somewhat tedious experience.


Just come out and let’s trade already! 


I wanted players to think more strategically on the exploration screen and gain more from their efforts. For example on the current system, what I wanted was to create situations where players would need to calculate which terrain to explore for maximum benefit, and use clues gathered from explorations to deduce the locations of desired cities. However, the first priority was to diversify the rewards players could obtain from exploration.


Therefore, we added a feature that allows players to acquire resources through exploration. This enables the procurement of scarce or depleted resources within the city, significantly diversifying the previously straightforward objective of merely discovering cities. This enhancement makes exploration a more dynamic and rewarding component of the game.


However, if exploration alone could satisfy all resource needs, it might undermine the incentives for trade and military expansion. Therefore, the resources obtainable through exploration were limited to basic resources related to the targeted terrain, and only a small amount could be acquired to ensure that exploration did not become the main method of resource procurement. This was intended merely to mitigate situations where a small amount of a specific resource was needed, but obtaining it through trade or military expansion would take too long and be frustrating.


As exploration can now bring resources, we changed the system so that ratizens must be assigned to conduct the exploration. Ratizens assigned to exploration missions temporarily disappear from the city and cannot be utilized, and the city's food supply is also consumed in proportion to the exploration time, necessitating careful cost calculations. Additionally, the exploration speed, required food, resource acquisition, and success rate all vary depending on the abilities of the ratizens involved, enhancing the complexity and ensuring that sending just anyone on an exploration could result in a loss for the player.


Ah, who I should send to those barren lands, this agony as leader truly never ends! 


While the exploration system has become a bit more complex and now includes additional rewards, which I find satisfying, it still seems to lack the fun of deducing which terrains might be best to explore. I'm pondering how to solve this issue. Should similar terrains be grouped together more closely? If you have any good ideas, please feel free to share them.




Trade


Following the enhancements to the exploration and diplomatic systems, we are also working on improving the trade system, which had its own set of issues.


Initially, some resources could not be imported through trade, resulting in situations where players might never encounter certain resources due to bad luck. This was particularly true for animal and plant resources. The decision to make some of these resources unobtainable via trade was intended to encourage players to seek them through exploring the field. For instance, structures like silk farms exist in the game that can continuously produce more silkworms if you start with just four. Allowing silkworms to be imported through trade would greatly diminish the joy of discovering them and the necessity to seek them out. However, ultimately, this design led to unintended problems by colliding with other systemic limitations.


One notable problem was the silkworms. How would I produce what does not exist at all? 



Another issue was that the pricing system in trade was not functioning properly. Although it was intended for players to check resource prices and trade according to the conditions of their city, most players imported needed resources regardless of cost and exported produced resources even at very low prices, leading to a rigid pattern in trading behaviors.


Some raw materials, even when priced high, could be processed into other resources without any loss, and since the city-states importing these resources were fixed, there were not many choices available in trading. Consequently, prices did not provide enough incentive for players to deliberate whether to engage in trade or not.


This situation was further exacerbated by the arbitrary adjustment of resource prices. The city-states in <Ratopia> have their unique market rates for the resources they import and export, but these rates fluctuated based on probabilities, independent of the player's trading activities. Since it was impossible to predict how prices would change, from a player’s perspective, it was simpler and more convenient to just buy the needed items immediately, regardless of whether the prices were low or high.


THEY GOT COPPER?! IMPORT IT ALREADY!! 



To address these issues, we implemented several system improvements. First, we ensured that every city-state can export special resources unique to their biome. For instance, city-states based in maritime regions are now required to export items like Luminators, fish, salt, coral, and hermit crabs. This change should prevent situations where certain resources are completely unavailable, making production impossible or leading to perpetual resource depletion as the game progresses.


However, if players could continuously import desired resources from one city-state, there would be little incentive to interact with various city-states or to directly explore specific military regions themselves. Therefore, we made it so that the special resources each city-state sells rotate periodically, preventing the constant availability of all special resources.


For example, if a player has built a city environment that consistently needs salt, and the trading partner ceases to sell salt, the player must either cultivate diplomatic relations with another nation to procure salt or directly mine salt tiles oneself. Alternatively, one could wait until the original nation starts selling salt again.


This system is also designed to make players consider supplying resources through conquest, not just trade. Choosing between obtaining a perfect half or a destroyed whole is always a dilemma.


Of course, you might get nothing but enemies. 



Finally, we plan to refine pricing to reflect two key aspects: First, we aim to make prices more responsive to the player's actions. Many players may have repeated the action of selling easily obtained resources to acquire scarce ones. This behavior, lacking any real strategy and merely exploiting repetitive gains, is not only uninteresting but also does not offer a way to maximize profits. Therefore, we intend to reduce the benefits gained from such repetitive trades and instead increase the benefits of engaging in more varied and strategic trading.


To enhance this, we need to add a bit more realism to trading. For example, as a country becomes more dependent on a particular resource from another nation, that nation might gradually raise its prices. Conversely, if a country becomes too reliant on exporting to a particular nation, it might attempt to continually lower its prices. Such dynamics can lead to players reconsidering their strategies, pondering, "Wouldn't it be better to sell to a different country?" Rather than importing at high prices or exporting at low prices, finding new markets could prove to be more beneficial.


At the same time, we needed to think of ways to stabilize the prices of resources for which players have ceased trading. Previously, even if a product was not being actively traded, its price could continue to skyrocket or remain stubbornly low, which significantly diminished the meaning of stopping trade on that resource. Therefore, we want to introduce a mechanism that pulls prices back toward a baseline as they deviate from it. The further a price strays from the base price, the higher the likelihood that its fluctuations will be more pronounced.


In other words, while the probability of price increases remains higher for goods that a player imports continuously, if the price of an item has risen significantly, we intend to increase the likelihood that when it falls, it does so sharply. This adjustment ensures that players do not have to wait excessively long for prices to return to normal or resign themselves to continuously rising prices—a situation all too familiar in reality. This mechanism is designed to keep the trading market dynamic and prevent players from feeling helpless against an ever-inflating market.


Time to say good bye to never falling prices 



There is a concern that these improvements might excessively increase the amount of management required compared to before. However, these enhancements are expected to increase the enjoyment of trade itself and, concurrently, the fun of interlinked diplomatic engagements. I believe that this improved trade system will contribute significantly more to city development than before.




I intended to write briefly, yet the text has become quite lengthy. This likely indicates just how many aspects of <Ratopia> need improvement and how many features we wish to add. In the next development diary, I will introduce new dungeons and the lizard invasion, providing even more for you to look forward to. Thank you for taking the time to read this long article!

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