Star Dynasties is a simulator of the human dramas of a ruling elite in a dark age future. In the 22nd century humanity had spread to a hundred small colonies, established mainly as industrial bases for commercial exploitation, but the sudden destruction of Earth abandoned these fledgling colonies to an uncertain fate. Two hundred years later the remnants of human civilization have regressed to a more feudal and traditional society.
The player controls the head of a leading family through multiple generations; finding the right political marriages, acting as the patriarch or matriarch of their household, keeping the colony rulers of their faction in check, and waging war where necessary to ensure that their house survives and grows in influence. The game simulates the personalities, emotions, and opinions of over a thousand characters to procedurally generate a narrative for the player that is both grand and human. Characters will fall in love, betray each other, aspire to rise in status, commit murder, and in general engage in the behaviour you’d expect from an aristocratic elite obsessed by power and personal pleasure. The game’s main inspirations are Crusader Kings, King of Dragon Pass, and The Sims.
I’ve been developing this game for three years, primarily building the engine that drives the character simulation. Recently I’ve started to extend the prototype with a graphical user interface and art, so it seems like the right time to start talking about it. I’m hoping to have an alpha version for public feedback in a few months, and in the meantime I would like to maintain a devlog and start getting some feedback on what I’m doing from a wider audience.
The rough prototypes I’ve experimented with have implemented gameplay as either a branching narrative, where the player plays through a sequence of procedurally generated choices, or as a more traditional turn-based strategy game. The graphical prototype I’m now building is implementing “story mode”, and I’m hoping that player feedback will clarify whether the right strategy is to offer both modes or concentrate on just one. In either mode the game plays from a bird’s eye view, with the primary interface being the galactic map, and popups that move the story forward and present the player with choices to make.
The character simulation has some interesting properties, which I’ll go into in more detail in future posts. Key points;
- Characters have emotional reactions to events that happen (and that are related to them).
- Characters have personality traits that modify their emotional reactions and influence their behaviours.
- Characters empathise with what happens to each other. For example, your character will be pleased when an ally successfully puts down a rebellion on one of his systems, and also pleased when an enemy fails to do so.
- Characters form opinions of each other based on how they act. They are more likely to be friendly and helpful to those they like and unhelpful or outright aggressive to those they dislike. This is the central driver of political behaviour in the game.
- There is a moral system (albeit one which is primitive and retribution based) whereby certain actions are looked down upon or approved of near universally. As a design principle the game doesn’t explicitly stop the player from taking some nasty or irrational decisions, such as declaring war on an ally, but social pressure will.
- Characters remember favours owed to each other and hold grudges. This leads to interesting interactions with the moral system, for e.g. torture is immoral, but torturing your father’s murderer will be forgiven in the court of public opinion.