Thursday, August 16, 2012

Developing technology in games and real life

In many modern board games and especially in the empire building games, the games is won by accumulating Victory Points. There are usually many ways to do that, conquest, exploration, economic and technological development. Warriors & Traders and Exodus: Proxima Centauri fall under this category, of civilization games, where players compete on several "layers" and each direction brings Victory Points.

Exodus: Proxima Centauri tech tree
While play-testing Exodus: Proxima Centauri, several people asked me why are there no VPs awarded for developing their technology tree. The same things happened to a lesser extent with Warriors & Traders. I gave an answer to each person, but I feel it would be useful to elaborate on this a little bit more.

The topic I am going to debate is the reasoning behind our technological development and how are we benefiting from that.

First of all, what drives us - humans - to research. There's curiosity on one side, our constant need to discover and to find answers and on the other side there is the need to improve our lives, our existence, the need to prosper, but also the need to expand or defend.

I have read research (I cannot quote though) that most technological advancements in the history of humanity were achieved during the time of war or while preparing for war. Just think about World War II or the Cold War. Also, during the time of peace, most of our technology was not a purpose but means to achieve a greater goal. What I am trying to say is that we rarely research for the sake of science, but we have a purpose, a goal to achieve. 

It is possible that I am over-simplifying things, but I have this image in my mind of the first man on the moon. This was a peaceful technological achievement, but the technology that stood behind it was driven by the Cold War Space Race, which has mostly (if not solely) military purposes.

My point is that developing technologies, research in general is the path to achieving a goal, not the goal itself. Moving back to board games... in Exodus: Proxima Centauri, there is no VP award for learning any specific technology, although researching is an important part of the game. It may be an obsession of mine to make games (even sci-fi ones) realistic, but every technology gives an advantage and just waiving one's achievement in front of the opponents won't bring extra power, it would be just a threat at most. And this is exactly what happens during the game when a player has reached a technology that would potentially give him an outstanding advantage: his opponents see it, fear it and react. 

Imagine that during the Cold War the US would just tell the Soviets "we know how to make nuclear weapons" and the Soviets would suddenly say "you the greatest, you win". History proved that both sides had to actually make nuclear weapons and threaten to use them to get a strategic position. The technology served as means, not as purpose. I followed the same rule. In Exodus, most technologies bring some military or civilian know-how. Then, the players have to build the weapons or the ships to take advantage of the successful research. Nobody says that they have to actually use the weapons, just like the Soviets never attacked the US, but they can be used to build up influence and to score indirect points. 

Maybe I've taken the comparison too far, it is just for the purpose of exemplifying a concept that I believe in - technology is not greatness but it serves as a path to greatness.

Now I might be accused that I did not follow the same principle in Warriors & Traders, where the most advanced player on each of the three tech paths gets a direct award of Victory Points. The reality in the Dark Ages was different. The intelligence was not as developed as we are used to and enemies had to severe difficulties in spying on each other and gather relevant information. Hence, there was a short path from  reality to myth and a big discovery could easily transform into a legend which would simply keep the enemies away.

So, to keep the long story ...not so long, I am concluding my debate on technologies here wishing that people will simply enjoy playing our games.

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