Advancement in technology is an already established system in strategy games. There are a few systems which are pretty commonly implemented throughout. Usually there is a technology tree, and research points are allocated into an available tech. Once that tech research completes, you are now able to build some new buildings or units another or a few more technologies open up to be researched. This is the way it works in the Civilization games and most other turn-based strategy games.
The downside to this is that nearly every civilization has the same linear progression and technological advances. It makes perfect sense from a game balancing perspective, but I don't like how your path is already laid out in front of you. I wanted to create something more fluid.
RTS games like Starcraft and Command and Conquer have a different system where by building a specific structure, you now have access to new units, technology and other structures. In Starcraft, these structures, units and tech trees are unique to each race which brings a great deal of diversity and different play styles, but again I wanted something less rigid. Even with multiple races, each with their own unique tech trees, you still know what your end game units will be every time. I wanted to create a system that would allow a variety of outcomes from a single beginning.
Most strategy games use some combination of the two systems above, and I wanted to branch out from this in a unique way.
First I decided to look at what I wanted to accomplish in this project. I want to have a game where you learn new technological advances based on your specific problems, and multiple solutions work for each problem. Different problems can include environmental disasters, lack or surpluss of a resource, wild animals, other tribes and so on. Does your town keep getting flooded? Build your houses on stilts or build boats to keep your people out of the water. Nearby crocodiles keep eating your villagers? Build a wall to keep them out or train beastmasters to tame them. It also quickly became clear that you don't need all the technology, only what's relevant to your play-through. You don't need boats in the desert or snow-sturdy roofs in the jungle.
So I began looking at other games and what works with their systems. Skyrim has a system where you get better at what you use, and therefor advance in what suits you, which works well. Minecraft has an interesting system where building items allows access to more items, but it's up to you if you want to pursue them or not. I also liked the sense of discovery that came with messing around with the crafting grid and finding a new recipe.
I toyed with a LOT of ideas including finding technology in statues scattered around the map, doing mini quests for different gods that would reward you with specific technology, crafting your technology from combinations of available resources, and many others. But they all seemed too forced and too temporary. You can't be running around doing quests for gods, asking for boats when your people are wandering in knee-high flood waters already.
Then I realized, I needed to look back at the focus of the game, and draw a solution from that. Suddenly it all became clear. In my first post I established that the game would fully explore the idea that units are your main resource, so in technological advancement this should be no exception.
I created the idea of a "Thinker". A main unit that you could use to think about different problems and he would come up with solutions. The thinker would engineer some technology based on the problem you have chosen and by reading the surrounding area and objects for inspiration. For example, you need to cross a body of water so you get the thinker and choose to think about the water. He may find you have quite a bit of trees around so he comes up with a boat blueprint, or perhaps he notices you have some elevation nearby so decides a rope bridge would work.
I really like this solution for a few reasons. First, it fits a design pillar of the game. Second, it creates a bit of "guided randomness" as you can only point to problems and you'll have to adjust to the solutions he comes up with. Third, there is quite a bit of discovery to be had from this. You might select the same object to be thought about multiple times and the thinker may come up with different solutions every time.
Also, there are a few unrelated gameplay hurdles this character solves. It adds a good losing scenario and purpose to the game as well. If you lose your thinker, you lose the game. So you must take care of this slow, weak or defenseless unit. Much like the king in Chess. Also, it can introduce unlockables to be used in future playthroughs. I like the unlockable system in FTL because you play the same basic game but with different ships slightly geared for one strategy or another. This system can work in a similar fashion, where different thinkers lean towards different playstyles. One can be heavily militaristic, another a fan of naval transports or something like that.
Finally, I like this system because, as far as I know, nothing like this has been done before.
The problem with this will be getting new players to understand the system in a clear way.
I create, design and develop video games I'm interested in playing.
The Fire System
Melee and Ranged Units
Weather and "Seasons"
Ladders and Elevation
Animating 2D units in a 3D world
Setting the Theme
Setting the Focus