Whither Workshop?

In the comments section of my last post, José asked a question about why we didn’t incorporated either the commodity-based economy from Colonization or the Unit Workshop from Alpha Centauri into the core Civ franchise. It’s a very valid question as a number of ideas from these spin-offs have made their way back into the original series; for example, the civics system in Civ 4 is quite obviously an adaption of Social Engineering from SMAC. In the case of Colonization, its commodity system is simply too complex to match the simplicity of the other sub-systems in Civ. A detailed commodity system fits Colonization because that game streamlined many other aspects of the standard Civ model, such as technology or even military. As for the Unit Workshop – well, that is a very interesting question indeed. To many fans, this system was one of the highlights of SMAC, a unique feature that put Alpha Centauri in a class by itself for turn-based strategy games. However, it may surprise people to know that – by and large – the Unit Workshop was not seen as a success inside of Firaxis. I’m curious if anyone can guess what was the fatal flaw of this feature?

6 thoughts on “Whither Workshop?

  1. ref guessing the fatal flaw in AC’s unit workshop feature.

    While I did enjoy the fact that I was given control over this aspect of the game(it helped you feel you were in control of an important aspect of your empire – its war machine), it was also true that for all the effort I spent in designing my super troops – they would pretty soon be superseded. Ultimately you wouldn’t have long to play with your new toy.

    Looking at games like Total War, or the older Warlords games where you in effect have a similar type of mechanic, in these cases a hero unit that improves(or gets worse) over time, I would say that the important feature is to make the players efforts in steering the evolution of those units pay off. Let them play with them for a reasonable amount of time. SMAC always felt a bit rushed on the unique units side of the game.

    Still for that small imperfection, I wouldn’t want to play the game without the Unit Workshop, it was part of what made SMAC such a great game.

  2. re: the flaw in the Unit Workshop

    The thing that always struck me about the workshop was that, out of the vast number of possible units, at any given point in the game, there were always 2 or 3 that were the obvious best choices. I need a strong defender and a strong attacker. Everything else is fluff.

    If you’re going to present choices to a player, 99% of them shouldn’t be obviously poor choices.

  3. Apologies for the formatting, linebreaks just broke for me on this site for some reason!

    Don’t get me started…

    There were several huge flaws with the design workshop – although I do think it was a good feature, for its time. Let’s see.

    1. The AI. Sorry, I just have to mention it, you know how much of an AI freak I am. The AI couldn’t use 90% of the stuff – not an inherent failure of the workshop, but still.

    2. Too many useless choices. This is, IMO, the biggest flaw. Games are, as we know, about fun choices. The design workshop offered lots of choices, most of which were not fun or useful. While I always needed more than 2 or 3 unit types, I would never too many. Special abilities alone gave lots of useless abilities in their numerous combinations.

    3. Fast obsoleteness. Again, not inherent to the workshop itself, but the way the game worked, even if you built the ultimate DOOmUnIT!!! you would get the ability to create a better design soon.

    These are the main flaws in my view, although there are several secondary ones. Cmon Soren, cough up, which do you think is the worst? By the way, nice to see you’re updating on a regular basis now 🙂

  4. Soren:

    As a matter of fact, I have to agree with you it’s too complex the way how Colonization had it’s commodity-based economy on the core: the commodities were very quantitative. I have seen some opinions on the civfanatics defending not only quantities of production reflecting on the units and products but also qualities, just to reflect a more realistic trading system – but no one has found a great idea in how make it simple! I have to admit the commodity-based economy, for people that love colonization, is indeed a carismatic feature! Certainly a simplified way would be great – because either shields and hammers are really too simplistic, sometimes the production is sometimes too slow in the early period of time in civ game!

    In relation to Alpha Centauri, indeed we have too many options and it reduces the fun factor! For example, let’s suppose Egypt had composite bow archers and other types of archers typically from the ancient period! The features of each units would make the system unviable for the civ 4!

    Now I ask you: how to make a commodity-based economy without falling on the risk of being too complex for the civ standards?

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