Game Vision / Concepts

I’ve been working on building support for the two separate game modes that Star Dynasties will have, but in trying to write a post about it I’ve realized I first need to talk about the fundamental concepts and vision of the game.

What is Star Dynasties about?


A game about being a king that focuses on human drama

The initial spark was the thought, after countless playthroughs of Civilization and other classic strategy games, that history (particularly ancient and medieval history) looks very different from the narratives that arise in those games.  Kings and emperors were much more dependent on social and political skills than they were on their technical and administrative skills.  And in societies where political power was primarily personal or dynastic, kingdoms rose and fell as much on the basis of human foible and drama as on the basis of economic and military strength.  Alliances were built on personal charisma and friendships, wars have been fought over a lover, thrones have been lost through social ineptitude, rebellions have started from feuds between a monarch’s rulers and their personal friends, etc.

It’s this personal dimension that makes a lot of history, fantasy, or future feudal sci-fi fascinating.  When you strip away the context of a story about a medieval or fictional monarch, the narrative is full of human experiences that we can relate to.  A king worrying about his heirs is no different from any father wanting the best for their children’s future.  Acts of personal betrayal or indiscretions that lead to the ruin of a realm or royal dynasty, may be events with much higher stakes and on a much grander scale than our lives, yet in their essence there is something that resonates deeply with our own human experience.


A simulation of a feudal society that generates believable narratives

There is something deeply fascinating in observing, and interacting with, a complex system.  In part, the “fun” of playing a game is the sheer thrill of working out patterns, and manipulating them to achieve certain goals.  And what can be more complex, yet universally resonant, than a human society; with all those individuals trying to live out their own lives, seeking happiness, avoiding isolation and pain, and bending the rules and culture of that society to their personal benefit and wellbeing?

Games such as Dwarf Fortress and RimWorld have proven that you can generate elaborate and convincing stories from a world simulation that reaches a certain level of complexity.  When a player experiences two events in succession, they will inevitably link them in their minds in a story, especially if the events have a logical sequence in a narrative sense.  For example, if in the first event character A does something nice for character B, and in the second event character B does something nice for character A, any human observer would say that this is a reciprocation and that the two events are linked, even if the second event was not triggered explicitly by a simulated “reciprocity rule”.  The fact that the player perceives the two events as a quid pro quo is an emergent property of the simulation, rather than something that was necessarily explicitly coded in the simulation rules.

This is also true for more complex event chains; a sequence of negative acts that happen to escalate will appear to be a planned strategy of conquest or harassment, a sequence where positive acts are unrewarded at a critical moment will appear to be a betrayal.  The critical prerequisite is to make sure that the sequences of events that occur in the simulation are not unbelievable or immersion breaking – we can then trust the human brain to do the rest.


A feudal frontier sci-fi setting

The choice of a science fiction setting allows for interesting design decisions or world building that would not be possible in a historical setting.  I love sci-fi because it creates what-if scenarios that couldn’t be set up in a historical context, and it allows us to strip away ancillary details to focus on the core properties of a social or political pattern.

Furthermore, it provides the freedom to solve some knotty game design or implementation problems by altering a detail in the setting.  For example, Star Dynasties has a population control mechanic that serves both to limit runaway population growth in the simulation over time, and provides an interesting political tool by which you can reward your favourites.

At the same time, it’s important to note that the requirement to model a realistic feudal system that persists through multiple generations does create some hard constraints.  Marriages and kinship relationships are the key enablers of legitimate power transfer and alliances, the economy must be land-locked (or planet-locked) and relatively disconnected to maintain the long-term stratification of the society, technological growth must be relatively stagnant, etc.


Similarity to existing games

Star Dynasties was inspired originally by a love of empire management strategy games such as Civilization, Total War, Knights of Honor, etc.

In choosing to focus on the human drama, I have drawn inspiration from roleplaying simulation games such as The Sims, King of Dragon Pass, and choose your own adventure-style games such as Nation States and Reigns.  In understanding how complexity creates emergent narratives, games like Dwarf Fortress and RimWorld have been instructive.

The game that shares the most concepts and similarities with Star Dynasties is Crusader Kings.  To the maximum extent possible (I am a solo dev with some help), my intention is to build a game that has an even greater emphasis on, and mechanistic understanding of, stories of human drama.  For example, the simulation in Star Dynasties understands the notions of empathy, simplistic morality, social obligations, grudges and favours; and uses that to build logically consistent sequences of events.  I would also like the player experience to be focused on navigating a branching narrative that rewards strategic thinking, with less administrative micromanagement tasks such as troop movement.

Want to Comment?

Please share your feedback about Game Vision / Concepts and join in other discussions on the Star Dynasties reddit

Please follow and like:

Portrait Generation

I’ve been out of the country visiting my folks so progress since the last post has been slow.  I’ve built a few more basic UI screens for the game, but I thought I would talk about something relatively done and dusted – portrait generation.  Characters are the central focus of Star Dynasties, and bringing them to life visually is an important design goal.  The game generates over a thousand characters for a game, so portraits also have to be generated dynamically.

Dynamic Portrait Generation
Dynamic Portrait Generation


Portraits are assembled from a library of sprites designed to stitch together seamlessly.  Each component of the portrait is drawn on a seperate layer in a pre-determined order to create a human face.  Some of these components are handled as multiple sprites.  For example, the hair component is split into two seperate sprites; one is drawn beneath the face, the other is drawn on top of the face.  Most components are also re-colored to further differentiate characters from each other; allowing for a dynamic range of eye colors, skin colors, dress colors, etc.

One complexity stems from the fact that through the game you will play through the lifetime of many characters.  Thus characters age, and their facial features must age appropriately.  Some features (such as eyes) change significantly as we age, so we need a version of each different type of eye sprite for each age group that we are representing in the game.  Some other features age more slowly, so we can get away with less granular modifications.  In addition, hair color changes as we age, so hair color is lightened for older characters.

There are other less immediately noticeable aspects of portrait generation that I hope players will appreciate as they become familiar with the game.

  • Facial feature sprites for male / female faces are drawn in matched pairs.  This allows me to have children that inherit features from both mother and father, and leads to entire families that share facial similarities.
  • Dress color is picked so that it advertises the affiliation of the character to their house.  Characters of a house whose flag is blue will be wearing blue and yellow, blue and green, different shades of blue, etc.  Seeing all the characters of a house in one list will show a clear chromatic theme.
Characters in house with violet flag
Characters in house with violet flag


This is a good time to give a shout out to the awesome artist for Star Dynasties, Ven Locklear.  Check out his portfolio.

Want to Comment?

Please share your feedback on Portrait Generation and join in other discussions on the Star Dynasties reddit

Please follow and like:

Basic Concepts

I have been working on the information panels the player will use to explore the state of the world in Star Dynasties, so this feels like a good opportunity to provide a quick tour of some of the basic concepts of the game.

Justice / Morality

One of the core features of the character simulation is the concept of moral acts, i.e. actions such as declaring war, cheating on your wife, helping a family member in need, etc., that will trigger a universal condemnation or approval.  An example of a non-moral act would be marrying off your son – the newly weds and new in-laws will be happy and pleased with you (presumably), but the rest of the world won’t really care.  With moral acts, the world is watching and reviewing it’s opinion of you.  On top of that, many moral acts will result in someone bearing a grievance (the victim of the action) or someone owing the doer a favour (the beneficiary of the action).  The value of this “social memory” is that it modifies how subsequent moral acts are interpreted.  For example, deposing one of your rulers from power is an immoral act, and will usually trigger a widespread opinion change against you for being tyrannical.  However, imagine a narrative where the ruler had recently refused to muster their forces and come to your assistance during an attack by another faction.  This was an immoral act that granted you a grievance.  If you move against the ruler now and depose them, your action will be seen as justified… a punishment of the ruler’s misdeed.

You’ve been quite nasty to Willard Wilson

Visibility and Secrets

Visibility is an important part of the game.  Your visibility is limited to the visibility of your character, so at any one time you will only see a small portion of the galaxy and its inhabitants.  This can lead to some interesting consequences.  For example, if your heir is a widely travelled ambassador, you will have a much larger awareness of the world around you when they inherit.  If instead you keep your heir locked away in some unimportant role on your home system, you may find that your view of the world shrinks when they take the reins.

As a general rule, if you know of a character then you have full visibility of what they get up to.  There are some explicit exceptions to this rule, for e.g. committing murder, which are secret.  Secrets stick around in the background and can be discovered by characters with a high Security skill (or by your house’s Security wing), and subsequently revealed to inflict political damage.

Naughty naughty


Apart from characters, houses are the most important unit in the game, and most of your political dealings will be with the heads of these houses, be they the ruling houses of colonies, the leading houses of factions, or lowly noble houses that vie for power within a colony.

Within a house, characters can be assigned to a role from Administration, Military, Diplomacy, Security, and Medical; with one character in each area appointed as the council member of that area.  Right now, the members you have assigned in these areas largely contribute passively to your house’s attributes (e.g. Administration increases your income, and Military increases your combat bonuses), but the plan is to flesh out these systems so that each role has it’s own narrative building blocks.  For example, characters assigned to Diplomacy can be sent as ambassadors to other houses.  An ambassador could (based on their skills and relationships) create a rapproachment with a rival or commit a faux pas that triggers conflict.

House Glass focuses on administration and diplomacy


When a dynasty has ruled for a long time, it’s head acquires a legitimate (and inheritable) right to rule or lead particular systems.  Claims interact with the morality system in that it is generally considered immoral to replace the ruler or leader of a system with someone who has less of a right to rule that system.  But if someone has no legitimate claim, then they are mostly considered fair game.  Similarly, if you can find someone with a strong claim on a system, you can use them as a political excuse to declare war (although you’ll still suffer politically later if you annex other systems).

Cebalrai is claimed only by it’s current owners, so there is no way it can be acquired without political fallout


Factions are the highest level of social grouping of the game and relationships and conflicts between factions will generally be the most important strokes of the narrative you play through in the game.

Leader Strickland retains tepid support from his followers despite the war with the Wilson Collective

Want to Comment?

Please share your feedback about Basic Concepts and join in other discussions on the Star Dynasties reddit


Please follow and like: