eleazar wrote:"Hiding complexity" is the mark of a good UI.
This is not (primarily) a UI issue... it's a game mechanic design issue. The UI should be designed around whatever system is chosen, not (primarily) the other way around. The ease of UI representation can be a factor in the decision, but there are other factors including making things easy-to-understand, modify and balance, and supporting good strategic dilemmas / decisions for the player, etc. IMO these are the more important considerations; making things appear neat and tidy by hiding the complexity at first glace is not.
You can read the precise in game effect if you want, but you don't have to.
That's not true; in SMAC the precise effect is usually the whole point. For example, nobody will care as much about getting from +2 economy to +3 economy as they do about getting from +1 to +2, because the effect of 1-to-2 is much bigger than 2-to-3. Placing that +1 somewhere else might be much more beneficial, as the numbers are meaningless to compare the importance of +1 between different categories at any given time / current numerical level.
If we use a numerical system, then we need the equal bonuses to be strategically as equivalent as possible. Obviously each game and empire and player will have different strategic needs, so a +1 here is never quite the same as a +1 there, and will not be the same between games / situations, but on average they should be roughly the same. Doing this with thresholded effects (eg. +2 for big bonus) would probably require similar-importance effects kick in at the same threshold level in all ratings. If we can do this, then a numerical ratings system might be better, as players can usefully compare the bonuses in the different ratings for strategic value, rather than dealing with separate ratings.
However, with social picks directly giving effects (not indirectly through a rating), understanding choices is simplified to picking between the available options in each category (mostly) independently. You're picking between the bonuses and penalties that each choice in a category gives, and don't need to consider what combination of choices across multiple categories will be sufficient to give you the minimum threshold to get some desired effect, while also considering what penalties and other bonuses the multi-category combination will produce, and what thresholds those other categories have and what effects will result, and what other choices you need to make to offset penalties to get other thresholdes, etc...
Part of the issue is how complex we want to make the social picks decision making process. Having to consider all the options and thresholds SMAC-like can be fun, though can also take away time and attention from other things that might be more fun for most people. We also need to condisder how to avoid making the "best" choices always the same in each game for a given strategic plan...
So there are more than one combination of governments that give you a +2 to whatever. I don't see what the problem is.
The (possible) problem is that it's not the simplest solution. Simpler is picking one choice to get / not get an effect.
Civ4 is simpler in one sense, that there are fewer pieces of information the player must deal with, however there is no order or structure to that information. Each of the civics is an additional independant rule.
SMAC however is simpler to grasp and use, (if you ignore the weird interface) because each "civic" follows the same basic pattern of +/-.
If all you care about is the +/- values, then yes, SMAC is simpler. But as above, the actual +/- values don't matter... they're a (meaningless) indirection from the actual choices and effects. Instead of "hiding" the effects behind non-obvious thresholds of ratings, Civ4 makes it clear what effect each pick will have. There's just as much non-structure in SMAC's system as there is in Civ4, but Civ4 makes that non-structure obvious. The actual effects in either game are fairly similar... +2 Morale vs. +2 experience to new units, +/-1 happiness for military units in/out of cities/bases, etc.
Geoff the Medio wrote:Picking some other civic might counteract that effect, but the net effect of each individual civic is always the same.
How is the italicized quote any different in substance from "...any particular effect could be activated or deactivated or altered by a variety..."
The difference is that in Civ4, if a civic gives +1 to something, it's a real something that's part of the game, and not an abstracted rating with nonlinear correspondance between rating and in-game effect. So you always get +1 to some real in-game thing from that civic, regardless of what other civics you've picked that affect the same thing. The "+1 to rating" isn't sometimes really like "+4 to in-game thing" but other times "+0 to in-game thing", as happens in SMAC.
Geoff the Medio wrote:How are unique bonuses/penalties for social choices different from those for races...?
The Klackons under a SMAC-like system could be given a +2 to industry, and a -1 one in something else, and it would seamlessly stack with the +/- of your governance choices. Nothing new for the player to learn. It would also be relatively easy to create unique user defined races, by placing reasonable restraints on how modified the race can be. With a Civ4-like system you either have to invent new rules for each race or make a certain civic choice redundant, by granting it's benefit automatically to a certain race.
Not all choices are on/off effects in Civ4. For FO, much like SMAC, if you gave an empire +2 (eg. University with research) to something, they could still get an additional +2 from a social pick that does the same (Knowlege values) without the first +2 being redundant.
Also, I'd want to have the possibility for different bonuses for races and for social picks. SMAC does this, eg. with extra or less drones for University or Peacekeepers, which has no analog from social choice effects. The net change in complexity and amout of things for the player to learn is not much, given that any building or tech can have fairly arbitrary effects in game anyway (like some SMAC wonders).
Ease of automatically balancing player-created races is possibly a good point, but IMO not worth designing the system around, and likely not a simple as you'd suggest... We'd need to weight different race picks either way... or make picks that are combinations of bonus and penalty effects, similar to SMAC or CIV choices. Note that in SMAC you don't just have to maintain +0 total social meters... you always have to pick from the categories, which have seemingly-random combinations of bonuses, which is necessary to maintain balance between the options.