I have been playing this wonderful game in progress since it was opened up to the general public (Kickstarter cred, aw yeah). In early builds, it wasn’t unusual for me to make it through the early stages of the game before something happened, and that was fine because alpha is alpha and I go in expecting these things. This is not a post about complaining.
The latest build, the best so far, has uncovered a new problem I long suspected would be an issue; map scale. The scale was fine when you stayed in your bubble, making basic homes and roads and not touching 70%-80% of the map but as of Alpha 8 I can really start branching out. I’m closer, now, to the giant, map-spanning city I’ve always wanted, in terms of stability, and that’s great! The issue with it thought is that Hearthlings…are slow. Especially when carrying things, which they are about three quarters of the time, even on roads which they often don’t take anyways (The nerve, right?) and even with the option to speed time up, which has just become my default time setting.
I won’t be so presumptuous as to assume that you (the devs) haven’t already considered this. Far from it, you’ve mentioned in the past that the map will likely be infinitely explorable and in your latest Alpha release video, you referred to a tree mining operation as an “outpost” so clearly it’s at least on your mind. But your mind is not my mind and I’ve got no clue what you plan on doing to make whole map occupation more feasable. That in mind, here are my thoughts on the subject.
Scaling Up by Scaling Down, the Storage-Transport Issue
One major crippling that occurs when moving over even medium distances is transport. If I have a stockpile and a building project, the length of time the project takes to complete gets exponentially longer related to how far the two are from one another. If my grand dining hall is halfway across the map from my wood and stone stockpiles (I am a rubbish city planner), then the project might be completed sometime before Ragnarok and Revelation have time to argue over who gets to end the world. There are a few potential solutions for this.
1. Stockpile Workflow
Stockpiles, as they are, are pretty basic. In a perfect world, I’d like to be able to decide exactly what items go into them, rather than just the broad category but that’s me. What I’m talking about here is less deciding what exactly goes into individual stockpiles, but having the ability to assign smaller stockpiles to pull from larger ones. This would have a number of benefits, including being able to simultaneously transport materials while other Hearthlings work on the project, pulling from the closer stockpile and letting crafters have their own, private stockpiles meaning I don’t have to keep the giant, ugly stock rooms as close to the crafting areas if I don’t want to. Hooray! It doesn’t solve our problem yet. Not entirely, anyways.
2. Condensing Stock
The problem with those mini-stockpiles is that Hearthlings use up building supplies pretty fast, but walk pretty slow. If I place my project and primary stockpile far enough away, they’ll burn through the mini-stockpile faster than my supplier Hearthlings can refill it. You could slow down building but that’s a terrible idea! A much more player-friendly solution would be to create craftable storage. Barrels, pots, pallets, chests,coffers, and so on. Turn a stockpile with eight tiles taken up into a stockpile with one tile taken up, transported either by a Hearthling directly or some sort of secondary device (more on that later) at X times the speed to our mini-stockpile where our building project is, where X is the number of items stored in our container.
With this solution, the player would be able to expand their operations without necessarily having to resort to giant, city-spanning, below ground item storage which, while cool in theory, is wildly impractical and also kind of ugly. It would also keep lower-tier crafters busy (weaver for bags, Mason for chests and jugs, Carpenter for chests and barrels) even while their cooler, more upgraded versions pump out all the high-tier stuff like fire swords and bows that shoot snakes instead of arrows. Please let that be a thing we can do, incidentally.
3. Upscaling the Transport of the Downscaled Stock (Confused Yet?)
So now let’s say that our building project is completed, but now we want to make something REALLY far away, like other side of the map away for reasons I haven’t gotten to yet. You could have Hearthlings just carry the new containers, but, I mean, sometimes they walk so slow they forget where their beds are, you really think they could take an epic walk like that? Hobbits they are not. Which is why I instead suggest BAM K. BAMmington’s patented Trails n’ Carts System™!
Step one, the cart. Pulled by animals tamed by either your hunters or shepherds, loaded with things you need transported to a faraway location, this can further condense stockpiles for transport and makes large-scale city production possible. In the interest of Frontier Tamesmanship, the cart should be able to lay a dirt trail down whenever it passes over non-constructed ground (i.e. not road or your nice wood floors), conferring a smaller-than-proper-roads speed bonus to any unit that subsequently walks over it. You could also do a cool system where trails fade over time but that’s bonus cool stuff that we won’t worry about right now. Another cool thing would be to up the rate of monster attacks along this trail because they know it’s going to be a lot of stuff that maybe won’t be super well-guarded, meaning the player will have to respond by assigning guards and…you can see where this could go.
Regardless though, there is at least one potential hangup with this cart system. What do we do when there’s a mountain or some kind of natural barrier in the way? Well, ideally go around until the player builds something more permanent to expedite the path, but if that’s not possible, the cart et al could construct a lesser version of whatever construction it needs, in the same way it builds a lesser version of roads. Rudimentary dirt ramps, cruddy stick bridges which take time for the cart to build the first time and (to encourage the player to build that permanent solution) actually slow the cart DOWN while traveling over them, as opposed to the trails, but still making the previously impassable areas passable. We’ll just call it the “rough terrain” debuff.
A Quick Aside There’s also the possibility of having wheelbarrows and the like for more medium-distance transportation within towns, but that’s really just kind of a tangential thought.
Maybe you don’t want to do that though, maybe it’ll be a programming nightmare or you think it’ll be too abusable, well that’s okay, I get that. just make it so that players HAVE to build a permanent constructable for the cart to pass. Done. Those tools are already there.
4. KNOW YOUR PLACE, PEON! Making Sure Hearthlings Work Efficiently
So now we’ve got our trail, supplies are going to our far away building project pretty consistently with our fleet of sheep-drawn carriages. Everything’s Gravy. Except…
Hearthlings that I have no need for on this project are still walking the whole way to help, rather than staying home where I actually need them. What jerks! What is a civic management-minded demigod to do? From a design standpoint, the solution is fairly simple. Take your existing party system (which is wonderful, by the way) and expand it into a boroughs system. We’ve got a red button for “ATTACK THIS THING!” and a blue button for “DEFEND THIS AREA!” so why not a green button for “STAY ROUGHLY IN THIS ZONE” Drawn with a box or series of boxes similar to how the player draws stockpiles. That way, the workers you need on that far-flung building project will go, you know, build stuff, and your super high-tier, valuable, please-oh-Cid-don’t-die Magma smith will stay right at home, smithing magma. Just make sure he has access to food and beds and stuff because…Well, I’ve killed some dwarves with this. Now all of these separate-but-connectable systems are leading up to one big thing that I would be super excited for. That thing being…
HOLY JEEZ REALLY FOR REAL OUTPOSTS (WARNING: Wishful Thinking Ahead)
So you’ve got barrels which are shipped in carts, which are protected by guards, along the trails your carts made, which take those supplies to the area which you’ve designated a collection of Hearthlings live now. That new area is now hypothetically independent from your main town. Sure, there’s a shipping relationship, maybe that new area ships ore out while the main town ships food into the infertile hills, but in general they build for themselves, they harvest for themselves, they defend themselves, they sleep, eat, and generally live within the confines of that area, they’re functionally independent. Hooray! This is the very definition of an outpost! But wait. If we keep adding Hearthlings to that outpost, shifting new arrivals there instead of the main town, before long it’ll be a village, a town, a city, maybe even with it’s own outposts and now we’ve got an empire on our hands. This could lead to all kinds of cool things down the road such as custom banners for each of the little towns and outposts, custom insignias to go with it, tiny town governments to aid in large-scale production, coordinated military actions, armies, captains, generals, HEROES! If walls got polished off, we could even build ONE GIGANTIC SUPERPROJECT WALL around the entire thing which would take about a billion hours but you know what? This is the Internet. Somebody has that kind of time.
##Some Quick Caveats##
This isn’t a request list. This may not even be your vision for Hearthstone and that’s okay. At best, this is a smattering of suggestions for future development and I would be honored if you took any of them and gleeful if they were already in the design. This is me trying to take what I know about where you intend to take this game and trying to visualize how that would work, how I would approach making it work, and how it might work in my wildest dreams. You’re making a great game and if it never made it beyond the scale you’ve got it at currently, I would still be playing it. I would just play it until I die if I could build a gigantic Hearthstone Empire, but that’s just the kind of guy I am.
If however, I have inspired you with some of my brilliant but no doubt challenging design solutions, words of thanks are always appreciated. Just saying, guys. Everybody likes to be loved.