Not sure if this is the right place, but I have a few issues with the current tech tree in civ games I'd like to discuss. Obviously, I have no hope of this actually leading to a change, but I'd welcome a discussion about the ideas anyway - they aren't exactly fully developed yet. And apologies if similar thoughts have been aired before, I haven't been here in quite a while.
The following is a suggestion to remodel the tech tree, and to make a large part of it optional. Scientific progress has many applications, but not every application is necessary for every civ. Not all civs needs to develop nuclear subs, or to develop the engineering/botanical skills it takes to be able to build the Hanging Gardens. By making a large part of the tech tree optional in-game, you can tailor your civs technological progress to meet your in-game needs. Research the basic scientific principle – then research the special applications you need, disregard the rest. You might need to use Bronze Working to build spearmen, or even Hoplites. Your more peaceful neighbour might need it to build the Colossus. Different needs leads to different choices – this suggestion will allow just that. For the rest, read on.
1. The issue with the current tech tree
The Civ tech tree is a universal phenomenon, in that every civilisation will progress along identical tech trees. Progress may be made at different rates, and the order in which the techs are researched may vary – but assuming that every civ survives to “fill out” the tech tree, each civ will end up with identical tech trees – and, excepting the nation-specific units – with identical applications of those technologies. Rather than resembling a tree, with different branches leading out in many different directions, the tech “tree” resembles a branchless trunk, as wide at the bottom as it is at the top.
This denies the game of potentially very challenging and entertaining strategy choices. In civ 5, your unique military unit is handed to you depending on the civ you choose, not the in-game decisions you make. The only civ allowed to build Ships of the Line is the English, even if that civ happens to be completely landlocked during a particular game and so has no need to develop those kinds of ships. By allowing each civ to specialise their tech tree (a different application of the same principle that has been applied to social policies) the unique abilities seen in different civilisations can be made a strategic, in-game choice instead of a given fact at the start of the game – in the same way that playing as the English doesn’t prevent you from building the Eiffel Tower in-game. ANY civ can develop longbowmen. But if they want to, they need to allocate resources to research them before they can build them - resources that could also be used to discover other techs or applications.
Any civilisation in the game will then be faced with decisions such as “should I allocate more resources to archery research in order to be able to train longbowmen, or should I settle for the weaker, normal archer – and spend the extra resources to develop better cavalry, or developing the technology needed to build wonders, or good cultural buildings?” You might prefer your research giving you better ships than your opponents, allowing you to build more advanced buildings, or improving your agriculture/economy/scientific/cultural progress. The decisions should be yours to make. These decisions will cause your civ to develop a unique tech tree compared to the rest of the world – even if the basic scientific principles behind the applications are similar. They will add a significant amount of strategy – tailoring your civs research to the needs that your civ have, prioritising some areas while downplaying others.
2. An alternative solution: Fragment the tech-tree
So the objective is to develop a system where every civ discovers the same basic scientific principles (the tree trunk), but where every civ can choose to apply those principles in different ways, according to their in-game needs (the branches). This is my proposal: Fragment the existing tech-tree into “base technologies” and special applications. The base technology is the tree trunk, in a hierarchal order – you still need to discover bronze working before you develop iron working. The special applications are the “branches”. These applications may be military, economical, cultural, scientific, or constructional (or other categories), and are independent of eachother. In order to advance further up along the tech tree, you need to have researched the base technology, and maybe a certain number of special applications. However, you don’t have to research every special application. Obviously, the resources needed to research all this will be adjusted, so that base tech + a certain # of special applications = the cost of the complete tech as it is in the current games. This is a matter of fine-tuning I won’t get into now.
I’ve tried to illustrate this in the poorly made bmp below:
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As in Civ-games today, you need to research bronze working before you can move on to research Iron working. This is the hierarchal tree “trunk”, or rather - part of the trunk. However, in order to be able to build units/buildings, you need to select your applications as well. For instance: you need a strong military, so you decide to research the basic military application, allowing you to build spearman. In order to ensure domination over your foes, you also choose to spend extra beakers towards military applications, and developing the military branch an even further step – giving you a stronger unit, the Hoplite. In order to do this, and not spend too much time getting to Iron Working, you decide to leave the cultural branch for now – so the cultural buildings and the Wonder will not be available to you yet.
Other times, you may not need as strong a military – you might prefer to focus on the cultural aspects, allowing you to build bronze sculptures (cultural buildings), or even a Wonder. Or you might go for all or most of the possible applications – which will give you the most out of bronze working, but might mean that your opponents discover Iron Working before you do. Similarly, you might decide to skip the branches and go straight for Iron Working – but during that time, your forces will be vulnerable to the enemies who decided to use bronze to develop a strong military. And culturally, you might lag behind the civs that decided to use bronze working for cultural aspects. Some techs – such as writing – will have scientific applications, requiring you to spend extra resources in order to be able to build libraries. (Obviously, the branches won’t be locked just because you discover the next piece of the “trunk” – if you discover Iron Working, and it turns out you don’t have access to that much iron, you may still choose to research military applications of bronze working. The branches will remain open once they’re opened – but you need to allocate resources to them in order to develop them.) Similar choices needs to be made with other techs – the base technologies will generally resemble the hierarchal order of the tech tree as it is in civ5 today, but there will always be independent branches – maybe with several levels, as illustrated above. Obviously, you can also choose to build many “shallow” branches – getting some benefits from all special applications, but not the best ones that come with “full” branches (special units, Wonders, etc)
This way, you need to make strategic choices in order to tailor your civs tech tree to your civs need – which might be different from game to game. And your enemies might surprise you in every new game as well. The Chinese might use every military application of horseback riding to develop elite cavalry in order to dominate the open terrain they happened to be located near in this particular game, causing the nearby Americans to spend extra resources on developing Hoplites to counter them – and so on. You – and the AI – will need to make dynamic, strategic decisions with regard to the tech tree based on what is happening in that particular game. The result: Truly unique civs with different tech trees. Specialised militaristic, economical or cultural civs developing full “branches”, for instance – or balanced civs trying to develop many “shallow” branches instead of a few “full” ones.
Obviously, a rearrangement of techs, as well as new applications might be necessary. Some application can be pure bonus effects – in the same way as the “farms yield +1 food”-effect in some techs work today. For instance, military application of a hypothetical “Organisational Theory”-tech might grant your units a bonus, either in experience or strength, while an economical application might grant you a gold bonus.
So, what does everyone think?