In the development of the AoC AU two curious questions arose – factories and game balance. While the two are not mutually exclusive to one another, there can be a direct correlation between the two in a playable game universe.
If we examine the canon BT universe, curious examples of nation-states without viable or recognized industrial capabilities are readily available. The now-defunct Bandit Kingdoms and the Rim Collection are two prominent examples. Factories or there lack of are not necessary an indicator of future success as a viable political entity. In terms of playable factions, a state without intact functioning factories is no less likely to maintain solvency than a state brimming with them, however easier a state with factories might seem. True, factories are helpful to enhance a nation-state’s longevity the BattleTech Universe has proven that stable kingdoms can exist for long periods of time even without the capacity to resupply military units with newly manufactured equipment. The trick of course comes down to a series of subtle interconnected plot lines – for example, the Rim Collection maintains its existence because the Lyran Commonwealth’s focus is directed elsewhere. A better example would be the old Bandit Kingdoms. These small nation states actually posed significant enough, in both threat and viability of action, to warrant some attention from their larger neighbors. Yet neither the Draconis Combine nor the Lyran Commonwealth addressed these delinquents.
The reason of course is fictional game balance. I call it fictional because the object of balance is not just a work of fiction, but the balance itself is fictional. Why did neither the Lyran Commonwealth nor the Draconis Combine eradicate the Bandit Kingdoms plaguing their border? The obvious real world answer is because the BattleTech Line Developers wanted the Bandit Kingdoms and their characters to remain components of the fictional universe. The in-game answer illustrates the subtly of maintaining “game” balance – eradication of the Bandit Kingdoms would leave either state perilously undefended. To keep the Bandit Kingdoms intact the fiction was written to maintain balance, despite what common sense might dictate as the contrary.
In designing the AoC development framework I ran into a couple of interesting roadblocks that touch on this very subject. Rather than shape the story to the reading community in a traditional manner, I wanted to create a framework that would allow the reading community to influence the story. This basically amounts to building a modified version of the “choose your own adventure” story telling system. As the Lead Developer of the AU, my goal is to create a framework that balances the creativity of the Member Developer with the general direction of the overall story and the other Member Developers. At first glance it might seem easy, but this balance can be tricky to maintain. For example, a nation-state void of factories in canon BattleTech is protected by the story line prescribed by the Line Developer. In the AoC, there is no such fictional or physical protection in place. One Member Developer may very well decide to eradicate their neighbor with reckless abandon and there is not a rule in place to prevent it from happening.
To help slow or even prevent an annihilation event from occurring immediately (after all, my goal is to maintain a worthwhile story and make participation in it fun) I have to thread or weave game balancing elements into the basic foundation of the AU’s framework. Factories become a key point in maintaining that balance just as the amount of usable military equipment and personnel are supplementary support elements.
Still, equipment, units and factories only underscore foundational balance points in setting the basics of the AU. Nation-state specific balance points also help in creating balance and can be applied at a micro level. These specific balance points include nation-state “Turning” Points and assignment or subtraction of ancillary resources such as specific unit types.
Another helpful element in building game balance is how macro development of the AU occurs. As mentioned in an earlier post, macro or gross development is broken down into “Chapters.” A Chapter covers a span of time between major AU altering events. For the initial development of the AoC, the two events that mark the beginning and end of the first Chapter is the fall of the HPG network in 28…something and its reactivation in 30…something. Between these two dates Member Developers set the tone and foundational elements of the universe by creating their playable nation-state/faction. Within this period of development Member Developers have the opportunity (if they so choose) to influence a couple of their “Turning” Points without having to worry about losing their nation-state to mass invasion. While the first Chapter is effectively a transitional period, it is extremely important by given everyone a taste of what comes next. Ultimately, if a Member Developer is hell bent on annihilating their neighbor it might just happen, but if I have done my due diligence it will occur through creative initiative rather than a matter of course.
I think the best way to maintain some control over this is to have a centralized decision-making process on the universe altering events. For instance, you could come up with some potential events, all the member developers vote and the results are used by the line developers to create the story. That way there is some control and oversight into that process. I imagine, part of the fun is the creation of part B between the knowns of A and C.
Another ficitional balancing factor…for factories is the fact that since they are so valuable, there is a lot of internal political issues that hamper productivity and actual control of factories. An additional layer might be for some places to have few, but high tech factories with other places having lots of low tech factories. The result effects the type of units and warfare that each faction conducts. IE the many, but low tech factory faction probably engages in war like WWII Russia, were the few but high tech is more like WWII Germany.
I couldn’t agree more. The way the AoC is currently mapped out has a distinct A-to-C feel about it in the First Chapter, where actual universe movement is essentially stagnant except for key areas where I’d like to see some flexible outcomes through play.
The 1st Chp. allows Member Developers the capacity to essentially create their own playable factions. Once that is accomplished the 2nd Chp. – i.e. after the HPGs turn back on will show forward progress. Here’s where universe altering events can and will be voted on and played for result.
Chp. 1 creates investment and involvement – Chp. 2 maintains and moves forward.
Game balance is difficult to fully achieve and even more to check.