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Design Philosophy

There are a lot of cool features that could be included in a 4X space strategy game. However they can't all exist in the same game, and an attempt to cram everything into one game would end up producing something unplayable. The FreeOrion Project is an attempt to create one particular 4X game out of the myriad possible 4X games. One of the tools we use to guide development in the right general direction is the design philosophy. That doesn't mean we think all good 4X games can only be built with this philosophy, but simply that this philosophy can lead to a good game.

You don't necessarily need to fully agree with this philosophy to contribute to the FreeOrion design. However, you will need to understand it and make proposals which are consistent with the philosophy, as otherwise your time with will be frustrating and unproductive. Every few months someone new will come to the forums and write long, elaborate posts in support of some new feature. Sometimes the ideas are good in theory or could work in isolation, but they simply don't work as part of this game. The waste of time and frustration could be avoided if newcomers made themselves familiar with our design philosophy. That's what this page is for.


Often new contributors will make the argument that FreeOrion should work a certain way because that's the way things really work. That would be a valid point if we were trying to make a simulation, but we're not. We're trying to make a relatively simple, yet deep strategy game. Whether something violates the laws of the universe or not doesn't matter.

We do want to make things easy to figure out i.e. "intuitive", which means avoiding unnecessarily shattering the player's expectations. But the decades of sci-fi games and media have left a significant divide between what is probably possible, and the way the average player expects things to work in a game like this.


Is an acronym meaning "Keep It Simple, Stupid"

  • You should be able to explain the basic rules to a reasonably clever child without difficulty.
  • Making something operate in a really complicated way and then hiding it from the player or letting an AI manage it is not KISS. Nor does it give much value to the player.
  • Any idea that adds any complexity needs to be weighed against the increase in strategic depth, or fun gameplay.
  • When in doubt, choose the simplest possible solution. More details and rules can be more easily added than they can be subtracted.
  • The real world could be used to explain an idea, but never to justify an idea -- the real world is seldom KISS.
  • Given two competing ideas, we'll take the one that's more fun over the one that's more realistic, every time.

Avoiding Micromanagment

  • What is "micromanagement" ?
  • Micromanagement = Evil
  • The player should spend his time making interesting and significant decisions: i.e. not making slight tweaks to a huge number of variables.
  • Arguing that a certain micromanagement-heavy feature would be "optional" does not justify it.
    • If micromanagement is possible, those who don't choose to micro will be at a disadvantage, since micro should achieve a more desirable result, otherwise it is useless.
    • In multiplayer those who don't micromanage will be waiting around for those that engage in "optional" micromanagement.
  • Arguing that an optional AI can be turned on to handle a micromanagement-heavy feature does not justify it.
    • If a system is so boring that we expect most players to ignore and let an AI deal with it, it is not worth adding to the game.
    • If a system is so strategically shallow that an simple AI can handle it without need of player interference, it is probably not worth adding to the game.
  • Sliders suck. If your system/idea includes a slider to control some aspect of gameplay, rethink it.
    • Sliders are inherently micromanagment. For optimum results with sliders, players need to make choices between many very-similar options for where the slider should be set (eg. Is 5% better than 6% ?). It is usually more interesting and fun to choose between a smaller number of very-distinct options.

Relation to Master of Orion

This project is not an attempt to clone any of the Master of Orion games. Many of the features of MoO2 and MoO3 are not compatible with our design philosophy. MoO2 had a lot of uninteresting micromanagement, and MoO3 had extreme hidden complexity, often leading to a sense of or focus on managing the interface rather than playing a game. While there is a lot we admire in the MoO series, it should not be assumed that because a feature was in a MoO game that it fits in FreeOrion. Consider FreeOrion rather an attempt to make a good game in the spirit of MoO.