[Balance] Natives

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alleryn
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[Balance] Natives

#1 Post by alleryn » Fri Sep 13, 2019 7:49 pm

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This is a continuation from Morlic's Reducing planet's population upon conquest thread, with the focus shifted to natives.

Some relevant material (post content may be pruned for relevance to this topic):
  • Start of the conversation:
    Morlic wrote:
    Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:41 pm
    Relevant PR: https://github.com/freeorion/freeorion/pull/2281

    Invading enemy or native planets seems way too strong compared to peaceful expansion. Besides getting possibly a new species or weakening your enemy, conquering a planet will keep the current population alive - compared to early game 1 pop colonisation, this can easily mean 20+ turns of growth. In particular, the capture of an early native planet with high pop can snowball into a victory.

    I propose that part of the population (between 80-90%) doesn't survive the conquest for balance purposes.

    In the future, various effects could be added that affect that percentage:
    - Certain techs
    - Influence / Interspecies relations
    - Policies
    ...
  • My objection:
    alleryn wrote:
    Thu Sep 12, 2019 11:31 am
    I am a little wary of this idea as it stands (even as a stopgap).

    I do find early native conquest snowball highly problematic. But i would suggest an alternative method to curb this.

    I think that it is important for military conquest to remain a viable strategy in the early-mid game in order to maintain some approximation of species-balance. Some species are naturally more inclined to war and others to peace. Take for example, a three player game Eaxaw vs Gysache vs Gysache. Given relatively equal starts, the Eaxaw cannot hope to compete if the empires stay on peaceful terms.

    My thinking is that the Eaxaw's strategy "should" be to go on the offensive early against one of the opposing empires, hoping to claim the capital and gain enough value out of the conflict to hope to come back against the other empire, which surely has noticed the war and is making advances of their own, etc.

    Also, the latest (i think) added species, the Fulver, are built around early aggression using their Fuel and Stockpile advantages to create deep bases and build forward Shipyards. If we are to maintain interesting tactical variety like this in species(es), then i would suggest that it is important not to limit conflict(which is by its nature a lose-lose proposition at least at the start)'s upside.

    Of course, coming back to the original point, which i think is mostly about invading native planets (i'm not so convinced about the enemy part of
    Morlic wrote:
    Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:41 pm
    Invading enemy or native planets seems way too strong compared to peaceful expansion
    since one would usually expect reprisal from an enemy), here there is no enemy and what's more, native planets (apart from the Moderate/High Tech versions) have no defenses and can often be taken with very little industrial investment (considerably less than establishing a colony 'normally').

    So something ought to happen here, be it making Moderate Tech natives the default, capping the native planets' population at some low number (even 1), putting guard ships in orbit of native planets, ...

    I mean i could live with the plan if you go through with it, but if natives are the real problem (and i think they are), i think there are alternatives that are more pinpointed at natives and don't limit overall tactical diversity as much.
  • labgnome wrote:
    Thu Sep 12, 2019 8:58 pm
    So as someone who likes native species and having a diverse empire I don't think I like the idea of penalizing the only way to diversify your empire before we establish mechanics on how to otherwise integrate new species into our empires. I especially don't like the idea of loosing a significant portion of the population of a planet from invasion. I think that acquiring natives should be a good option, and should be a better option than just colonizing.

    I think that an alternative, and this might be off-topic, solution is a re-working of the happiness mechanic to have more penalties for low happiness. This has been proposed before and if we really think we need a stop-gap would be a better solution.

    Basically we raise the "general contentedness" level to something higher, having it take longer to get to that point, while also having minimum happiness levels for things like establishing colonies, constructing buildings and building ships. This way you could not take full advantage of a conquered planet for a while. Maybe something like the following:
    • Happiness < 50, cannot produce troops
    • Happiness < 40, cannot found colonies
    • Happiness < 30, cannot build ships
    • Happiness < 20, cannot construct shipyards
    • Happiness < 10, cannot construct other buildings
So basically, as i see it, natives are extremely imbalancing currently. There are multiple reasons why, including:
  1. Some minor species are extremely powerful. For example, 57 have ultimate research. An empire with an industrial starting species picking up an early 57 planet have their main weakness addressed with a single planet acquisition. And this isn't even a species that can colonize planets, so probably not the worst offender.
  2. Minor planets are poorly defended. Compared to a planet with a Tidally locked rotation, even some less powerful specials, which are automatically (i think, at least often) guarded by a Space Monster, native planets are by default unguarded, leaving only (in the absence of Moderate Tech/High Tech Native special) the troops to get through.
  3. Troop Ships are much cheaper than Outpost Ships + Colony Buildings (or Colony Ships). Even an empire with a starting species that has Bad Offensive Ground Troops will find it more cost effective to build enough troop transports to capture a native colony instead of building a new colony, except perhaps in the most extreme circumstances (Raaagh, and even then it can be borderline, and Ancient Guardians of course) [Edit: Probably an exaggeration. Merely Great Ground Troops (e.g. Hhhoth) combined with Bad Offensive Ground Troops already makes the necessary PP investment of Troop Ships vs. Outpost/Colony fairly even].
  4. Native planets often have high starting population. Capturing a native planet can potentially double a player's empire population within the first ten turns.
Is this a problem? I think so. Starting position in terms of number of nearby habitable colonies, and to a lesser extent monster placement, already plays a massive and random role in determining speed of empire development, The presence of natives exacerbates this random feeling, which can be frustrating.

There are some counterpoints. One is that it feels nice to get a really satisfying start, so the random factor can be viewed as a positive, though i'd imagine it's a goal to keep the starting situation somewhat balanced for the sake of multiplayer, etc. Another point is that it's possible to limit or entirely disable natives in game options, which is a reasonable alternative for players who think natives are in a bad place. Still, i'd suggest that the game should be balanced as much as possible around default settings.

If we agree that natives are imbalanced, and that that imbalance is a problem, what is to be done?

Some proposals have been indicated in the quotes above:
  1. Not quoted above, but Geoff indicated in the other thread that Influence will take care of some of these issues.
  2. Morlic's suggestion of reducing planetary population upon conquest
  3. labgnome's suggestion of using the Happniess mechanic
  4. My suggestions of making Moderate Tech natives the default, capping the native planets' population at some low number (even 1), putting guard ships in orbit of native planets, (not quoted: increasing the Native Homeworld troop contribution)
I would extend my objection to Morlic's proposal to labgnome's as well. I think this is a problem with natives, and i think military conquest is already usually a dicey affair in terms of early game strategies (more about this in another thread i'm planning to create soon). So i'd like to see a solution (if one is to be implemented) that targets natives, rather than conquest in general.

This thread is meant as a place to discuss Minor Civilizations (known in game usually as Natives, i suppose due to the influence of MoO2 -- although yikes speaking of imbalance, Splinter Colonies were enough to give Transcendental Lucky species a shot), what their role in Free Orion should be, and especially whether they are balanced or should be. Thank you for your interest and comments!
Last edited by alleryn on Tue Sep 24, 2019 12:16 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: [Balance] Natives

#2 Post by labgnome » Sat Sep 14, 2019 8:09 pm

So one thing I think we need to establish, if native species are really a problem, is where the imbalance lies. There seems to actually be two arguments at play here.
  1. Native species are too fast of an option
  2. Native species are too cheap of an option
Now one does not preclude the other, but I think we need a consensus on which is the bigger problem, before going forward with a solution.

If native species are too fast of an option, then I'd say going with more penalties to low happiness, while raising general contentedness to a higher value would be the most strait-forward solution. I think that having to wait a fair number of turns to make new colonies or use troops, and thus get the most out of them, is the way to go.

If native species are too cheap of an option, then making moderate tech natives more common might help. Several species have "ultimate" traits so maybe they could be tagged to always have moderate or high technology. However it might be time to give the relative costs of troops, outpost ships, colony buildings & colony ships a balance pass. If conquest really is just too cheap, then maybe invasions should just cost more to do.

Something pointed out here has been the randomness of native species. What might be a possible third option, is to give species in Free Orion different spawn rates in the game, so that better species to get spawn less often than other species.

This seems to be more of a problem in more recent versions of the game, where there are more playable species and fewer natives. This means that the better natives left come up more often, making them less of a rare find. Although getting people to randomly generate more creative juices for native species to spread out the better natives might be a bit tall of an order.
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Re: [Balance] Natives

#3 Post by Oberlus » Sat Sep 14, 2019 10:00 pm

The problem (IMO) is mostly getting early access to homeworld planets with good research/industry outputs, and less important the early access to extra environments (this is more relevant in sparse galaxies where you can devote more PPs at start to colonisation).

The solution should be to balance the earnings of early invasion of natives with the cost to get them. So I think the idea about increasing their defenses is the way to go.
Natives without the tech special should have some defense by default. Just 5 seems little to me if it does not come with a nice planetary shield to let it shot 3 times at least. So maybe give them the two first planetary defense techs. What is that? 15?. Or the first one and the first level of shields (10 I think).
Moderate Tech special should give more defenses (+30?), and maybe more troops and planetary shields.
Same goes for High Tech special (+50?).
If it does not happen already, better species should all have moderate or high tech special depending on how good they are.

Another way would be to increase cost of troop parts.
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Re: [Balance] Natives

#4 Post by labgnome » Sun Sep 15, 2019 1:52 pm

Oberlus wrote:
Sat Sep 14, 2019 10:00 pm
If it does not happen already, better species should all have moderate or high tech special depending on how good they are.
It does not happen already, currently there is only one species that always has the high tech special, the Lemba-lam I believe, and they give technology. I suppose one question to ask is: if we want to go down this rout, do we want to make the high tech and moderate tech specials determined by native species strategic value and no longer random?
Another way would be to increase cost of troop parts.
This is a tempting solution. However I wonder how much we want to penalize invasion in general for aggressive species.
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Re: [Balance] Natives

#5 Post by JonCST » Sun Sep 15, 2019 7:46 pm

I'm probably a heretic.

I'm not a big fan of randomness giving bonuses to players. I get that "random" is supposed to imply that every player should have equal chances to get something.

In practice, there are some natives and/or specials which will tip an even game heavily in favor of the player who reaches them first.

In multi-player, i'd prefer universes with no natives, monsters, or specials, unless they're crucial to the plot of a scripted scenario.

Multiplayer seems to me to be more about which person has better strategies and tactics. Granted, random assignment of starting species, and random generation of the initial galaxy does have an influence, but that's not as bad as "i got a native with Ultimate Pilot two hops from my home planet!", or even Computronium Moon.

I understand wanting specials and natives as "seasoning" in a single-player, but still usually play without them.

If you want natives for purposes other than scripted scenarios (see also campaign mode), especially in multi-player mode, then yes, they should be carefully balanced so as not to give a big bonus early on.

As usual, my opinions/preferences.

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Re: [Balance] Natives

#6 Post by alleryn » Sun Sep 15, 2019 9:15 pm

JonCST wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 7:46 pm
I'm probably a heretic.

I'm not a big fan of randomness giving bonuses to players. I get that "random" is supposed to imply that every player should have equal chances to get something.

In practice, there are some natives and/or specials which will tip an even game heavily in favor of the player who reaches them first.

In multi-player, i'd prefer universes with no natives, monsters, or specials, unless they're crucial to the plot of a scripted scenario.

Multiplayer seems to me to be more about which person has better strategies and tactics. Granted, random assignment of starting species, and random generation of the initial galaxy does have an influence, but that's not as bad as "i got a native with Ultimate Pilot two hops from my home planet!", or even Computronium Moon.

I understand wanting specials and natives as "seasoning" in a single-player, but still usually play without them.

If you want natives for purposes other than scripted scenarios (see also campaign mode), especially in multi-player mode, then yes, they should be carefully balanced so as not to give a big bonus early on.

As usual, my opinions/preferences.

Jon
I have somewhat similar preferences regarding settings. These are my preferred prefs for single player, but most (if not all) would apply to multiplayer as well:
  • natives - I prefer setting these to off (probably no surprise, as i did make a whole thread about how i think they are imbalancing :p)
  • specials - I usually play with these on low or even medium. I can see why off would be good, but i don't object as much to specials as i do to natives basically for two reasons:
    1. Specials just don't have as profound an effect early game. Most of the prod/research enhancers (e.g. tidally locked rotation) are based on population, so it's not such a big deal. There are some big exceptions in Philosopher Moon and Eccentric Orbit which grant flat bonuses that i consider pretty highly imbalancing.
    2. Specials are often guarded (as long as Monsters are not set to off). Hmm, well, i just looked into the scripting and they aren't as guarded as i thought. I was going to say that you never get a computronium moon for free, that it's usually guarded by one of those 835 structure sentinels, but that is way off. In fact it can be unguarded, and the random guards are only SM_GUARD_0 (Maintencance ship) or SM_GUARD_1 (The little Sentry), with the 835 structure guys ('Sentinel' and not "Sentry' -- we really should differentiate these names more :p) reserved for Panopticon (which is this even that great), Fortress, Gaia, and Anicent Ruins. [Edit: there's also Honeycomb Warehouse or whatever it's called that i think gets an even bigger guard, and probably other stuff i'm forgetting]. So hmm okay, i can see why you like these off.
    3. Also (3rd reason) it's at least a little bit more costly to take a special compared to natives, b/c colony vs troop ship cost.
    4. These aren't a contrast to how imbalancing specials are vs natives, but i just want to add that i think it's nice to have something to differentiate systems so that there are things to fight over. Be it galactic resources (which i think are planned eventually) or Planetary Specials, i think it's interesting to have tacitcal objectives apart from chokepoints or just high population systems. Specials can also create for interesting decisions that affect your overall development strategy (e.g. Terraforming becomes much more attractive when you're applying it on a Temporal Anomaly).
  • Monsters I like to set Monsters to low so that Specials have guards. I find that the situations where you are hemmed in by Monsters at Low are pretty rare, which is the main reason i used to play with Monsters off (in which case setting Specials off becomes even more desirable for a balanced start). I also find wandering monsters slightly annoying (but not imbalancing). The odd situation where you have to fly your outpost ship past a star system because a vacuum dragon is going to be there next turn, then turn around and come back just feels like it disrupts the flow of the game for no good reason. It doesn't create any interesting strategy since the dragon isn't even a threat in the early game due to how wandering monsters never sit anywhere. It just creates an occasional minor nuisance. Also the number of sensor ghosts you have to dismiss when monsters are high is just insane, but i'm really starting to just rant at this point, i think.
That said, i do sometimes set natives and specials to random in part just for variety and in part because it's interesting to see how that affects species-balance. For example, Trith are even more overpowered with Specials off, since the standard metabolisms do not have access to Growth Specials to catch up.

For my final point i would like to come back to general concordance with you that a sort of "tournament" conditions with extremely high balanced positions would be awesome. I'd like to possibly even imagine some kind of weighted function for determining number of Good/Adequate planets (based on Empire's starting species) in nearby systems (higher weights for better habitability and closer proximity), as a system with 3 good-habitability planets, a gas giant and asteroid belt is probably at least as unbalancing as any special. :)

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Re: [Balance] Natives

#7 Post by Ophiuchus » Mon Sep 16, 2019 7:24 am

alleryn wrote:
Sun Sep 15, 2019 9:15 pm
That said, i do sometimes set natives and specials to random in part just for variety and in part because it's interesting to see how that affects species-balance. For example, Trith are even more overpowered with Specials off, since the standard metabolisms do not have access to Growth Specials to catch up.
Somebody could champion splitting specials setting into growth special (as they are crucial to the population mechanic balance) and other special settings ;)

Would love to see that.
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Re: [Balance] Natives

#8 Post by Ophiuchus » Mon Sep 16, 2019 7:36 am

Oberlus wrote:
Sat Sep 14, 2019 10:00 pm
Another way would be to increase cost of troop parts.
I think it is better to lower the immediate benefits after invasion.

I think capping (non-high tech) natives at pop 1 is a good idea gamewise and also easy to implement. Changing troop part cost does also affect all invasion not only natives.
They would grow to full potential but start of like a colony (so easier to compare to building a colony).

For all invasions the coming stability/happiness.. mechanic is going to address this also.

For short term maybe happiness unlock values should be doubled?
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Re: [Balance] Natives

#9 Post by Oberlus » Mon Sep 16, 2019 8:40 am

Ophiuchus wrote:
Mon Sep 16, 2019 7:36 am
I think it is better to lower the immediate benefits after invasion.
That's why someone suggested (in another thread) to reduce population of invaded colonies. If we can do that (lower pop.) to native worlds, I think we should do it too to non-native worlds. That would make invading a planet (any planet) "so easier to compare to building a colony".

BTW, how do you cap the population to 1 while it is a free native world and let it grow normally when dominated by an empire?
For short term maybe happiness unlock values should be doubled?
I don't think that solves anything here. The problem when you get a native or non native HW is that you get the research/production of several standard colonies at once. What the world can produce (ships, repairs) or whether it can be source of colonies for the first 5 or 10 turns won't change that.
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Re: [Balance] Natives

#10 Post by Ophiuchus » Mon Sep 16, 2019 1:34 pm

Oberlus wrote:
Mon Sep 16, 2019 8:40 am
Ophiuchus wrote:
Mon Sep 16, 2019 7:36 am
I think it is better to lower the immediate benefits after invasion.
That's why someone suggested (in another thread) to reduce population of invaded colonies. If we can do that (lower pop.) to native worlds, I think we should do it too to non-native worlds.
I dont think strongly decreasing population after invasion is a good idea. 20% would be OK I guess. I would prefer more delaying getting benefits (slower growth or delayed start of growth).

Invading an empire's planet and invading unguarded natives are very different things. You would rather compare how much PP do I need to colonize a planet vs how much PP do I need to build the invasion force than how and at what cost can i invade the enemies planet.
Oberlus wrote:
Mon Sep 16, 2019 8:40 am
BTW, how do you cap the population to 1 while it is a free native world and let it grow normally when dominated by an empire?
Easy. Adding a late population effect which caps the population for unowned planet without high tech special.
Oberlus wrote:
Mon Sep 16, 2019 8:40 am
For short term maybe happiness unlock values should be doubled?
I don't think that solves anything here. The problem when you get a native or non native HW is that you get the research/production of several standard colonies at once. What the world can produce (ships, repairs) or whether it can be source of colonies for the first 5 or 10 turns won't change that.
Ok, maybe have value growth depend on happiness? No increase if happiness is less than 5.
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Re: [Balance] Natives

#11 Post by Oberlus » Tue Sep 17, 2019 8:34 pm

Ophiuchus wrote:
Mon Sep 16, 2019 1:34 pm
Ok, maybe have value growth depend on happiness? No increase if happiness is less than 5.
That sounds great: production/research/influence stay at 0 and does not start growing until happines reaches 5.
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Re: [Balance] Natives

#12 Post by Ophiuchus » Sat Sep 21, 2019 9:07 pm

Oberlus wrote:
Tue Sep 17, 2019 8:34 pm
Ophiuchus wrote:
Mon Sep 16, 2019 1:34 pm
Ok, maybe have value growth depend on happiness? No increase if happiness is less than 5.
That sounds great: production/research/influence stay at 0 and does not start growing until happines reaches 5.
Implemented in my branch 201909_ResourcesNeedHappinessToGrow_FOCS.
It is only FOCS changes in two files and single git commit: diff.

I guess if fetch the state from my remote you could also e.g.

Code: Select all

git cherry-pick --no-commit 5bdcb99be9d1e608a55edce28c622e0d8d54558c
to get the code on top of your current branch.

Please playtest everybody and tell if it has the intended result ;)

edit: added energy force structure support and posted new revision
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Re: [Balance] Natives

#13 Post by The Silent One » Sun Sep 22, 2019 7:26 am

I think there is some growth tech (pure energy metabolism?) that modifies resource growth, that should probably also be modified?
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Re: [Balance] Natives

#14 Post by Vezzra » Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:45 am

My 2c:

The fundamental problem with native/minor species is that originally they haven't been balanced at all. There have been natives that were basically crap but very hard to conquer (because they had the ultimate ground troop species trait), as well as natives that had very powerful boni, no weaknesses, and were easy to conquer. This inbalance is further aggravated by the medium and high tech natives specials, which (with one already noted exception) are bestowed upon native worlds completely randomly.

But aside from the initial costs of invading and conquering them, acquiring new species into your empire doesn't come at any costs (aside from having to wait a few turns for happiness to reach the limit required to e.g. being able to build ships, which isn't really much of a cost).

There have been revision passes to address this imbalance (mostly by Mat IIRC), but AFAICT these only helped to alleviate the problem a bit.

The most obvious way to solve this would be to thoroughly revise the entire roaster of native species. Make the more powerful natives harder to acquire (by spawning guard ships like the Acirema get, by providing them with special boni that increase their ground troops, etc.), make easier to acquire natives less powerful. And do away with natives that have great industry, weak ground troops, and can build ships and colonize planets (I'm looking at you, Kobuntura).

And/or have the more/most powerful natives as a non-colonizing species.

There are probably several reasonable ways to achieve this. If you consider giving the medium and high tech native specials to natives that should be harder to invade instead of distributing them randomly like other specials, I'd suggest to remove these specials entirely and just script the desired buffs to ground troops etc. directly into the respective species (gives you more flexibility and more fine tuned control over how strong/weak you want them to be).

Ultimately, with the introduction of influence and related mechanics, integrating new/additional species into your empire should become a far mor involved and costly affair, which (hopefully) will address the major problem here.

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Re: [Balance] Natives

#15 Post by labgnome » Sun Sep 22, 2019 2:10 pm

Vezzra wrote:
Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:45 am
The most obvious way to solve this would be to thoroughly revise the entire roaster of native species. Make the more powerful natives harder to acquire (by spawning guard ships like the Acirema get, by providing them with special boni that increase their ground troops, etc.), make easier to acquire natives less powerful. And do away with natives that have great industry, weak ground troops, and can build ships and colonize planets (I'm looking at you, Kobuntura).
I've designed native species in the past before, but I'm not always inspired about creating names. If you want to make that an assignment with some more specific parameters, like what gaps we want to fill first, I'm willing to start trying to crank out native species. Personally I think native species could use some love after their roister got cannibalized to make for more playable species. However I don't know if we want to wait until influence is a thing or not to do that.

On the subject of the Kobuntura, I'd be hesitant to get rid of them completely, as currently they are the only colonizing natives you get for barren planets.

Also, something else to consider is giving species spawn rates so that "average" species are more common while "good" and "bad" species are less common.
And/or have the more/most powerful natives as a non-colonizing species.
IMO any "ultimate" quality species should be planet-bound.
There are probably several reasonable ways to achieve this. If you consider giving the medium and high tech native specials to natives that should be harder to invade instead of distributing them randomly like other specials, I'd suggest to remove these specials entirely and just script the desired buffs to ground troops etc. directly into the respective species (gives you more flexibility and more fine tuned control over how strong/weak you want them to be).
I'd prefer to leave the specials, as the icon is a good visual indicator to the player that you are going to have to invest more effort into conquering the planet. I think this is doubly the case if we are going to make the better species harder to get. I think having "always high tech", "always moderate tech" or even "always high or moderate tech" traits for species could serve the purpose fine.
Ultimately, with the introduction of influence and related mechanics, integrating new/additional species into your empire should become a far mor involved and costly affair, which (hopefully) will address the major problem here.
I agree with this wholeheartedly. I think influence will change the game a whole lot, and I am hesitant to make major changes to native species first as I think that could potentially be putting the cart before the horse. I'm not suggesting that any of these changes are bad ideas, just that we may want to see the effects of influence first, before we commit to any major changes to native species.

This is also something that I think a species values/opinion system could help address by balancing "better" species to be harder to please. But those are something of pet ideas of mine.
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