OTC Designer Notes #10: Optimization Center

The following is an excerpt from the Designer Notes for Offworld Trading Company. The game, an economic RTS set on Mars, releases on April 28, 2016, and is available for purchase here.

Unlike the more orthogonal Patent Lab, the Optimization Center provides consistent and straightforward production upgrades for every type of resource in the game. Originally, the Optimization Center (whose name has become a bit of a running joke in our community as it has also been know as the Engineering Lab, Efficiency Lab, Industrial Lab, Upgrade Lab, and Research Center) gave bonuses not for resources but for buildings. Thus, the player could research Solar Power Production or Wind Power Production. In practice, however, most players were not switching between different sources of Power (or other resources), so the extra complexity of upgrading a building instead of a resource was dropped. (Essentially, claiming a tile with high wind was already a significant commitment.) This simplification also greatly improved the UI for the Optimization Center as each upgrade could be listed right next to the corresponding resource.

The Optimization Center improves the efficiency of buildings (how much of resource X is output per input of resource Y) instead of their speed (how fast resource X is converted into resource Y). For example, a Steel Mill with Perfect Steel Production will produce twice as much Steel but still consume the same amount of Iron. From a gameplay perspective, improved efficiency encourages resource diversification between players and is an important counter-balance to production cycling; if a player researched Perfect Chemical Production, then it might make sense for that player to keep producing Chemicals even if the price drops well below that of Electronics (which is also primarily built from Carbon). This player has a quasi-monopoly on Chemicals as she might be the only player in the game who can make Chemicals profitably (unless, of course, another player starts upgrading Chemical production).

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