Implementing feedback

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By on March 14, 2006 9:47:20 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums


Join Date 03/2001

A friend of mine at a big game studio once told me to be wary of giving users the impression that your design is open to heavy modification by user feedback.

Because in the end, you'll never satisfy everyone and it'll put people in the mode of thinking about game flaws that they might not have given much thought of otherwise -- and then suddenly those flaws bug them.

It akin to peer reviews in offices. For awhile, it was popular to have peers review each other. But then it was discovered that this was not such a good idea because it required people to start thinking critically of people in ways they may never had to otherwise.  And then, when they were done, they were much more aware of the flaws of their coworker.  Today, peer reviews are much more rare.

So I talked previously about putting in player suggestions. And what it boils down to is that each of us has our own idea on how games should be done.

For instance, I traditionally come from the camp who play games intuitively. I don't like having every number spelled out.  I was, for instance, against letting users see the tech tree.  Not even in a manual.

But as a game deveoper -- someone making games for other people -- I have to take other people's requests and wants seriously.  And so over time I've slowly changed to having mechanics more ane more transparent. Tech tree posters, tech tree in the game, morale info displayed, and so forth.

That doesn't mean that I think I was wrong though. I know I'm not alone. I may be in the minority to be sure but I'm not alone.  What gets me is when people try to argue that their preference is the "correct" preference. 

As someone form the intuitive camp, I want my game mechanics to work intuitively and feel like they make sense. But as I get older, I'm becoming more engrossed in the board game style of game design where every number has backing and is easily understood.

Galactic Civilizations II is kind of a half-way point between the two.  It still has underlying complexity in things like how tax revenue is calculated and how civilization bonuses are applied but it's much more straight forward than the original was.  And during the course of doing updates, I'll try to implement changes that bug others and admittedly bug me. 

But I don't agree that game mechanics should be necessarily transparent. But I do understand that many people want all the numbers laid out before them and can respect that.  All I can do as a game developer is try to make all camps as satisifed as we can.

To summarize what I've read:

There's 4 camps:

1) The board gamers (grognards). They want every number, every detail spelled out. There should be a way to click on anything and find out precisely how it came from. The cleaner and simpler the mechanics, the better.

Ex: 1 unit of populatoin should produce 1 unit of wealth. If I mouse over my income, it would display this information.

2) The intuists. These are the people who want the game to be more like a simulator. The more complex, the more realistic. They don't want the numbers spelled out because they want to use their intuition to lead the way. They considering learning how the relations work as part of the fun.

Ex: 10 billion people are made up of many different socio-economic classes of people, as the population increases, the wealth collected should increase at a sub-exponential rate.

3) The Realists.  These are the people who simply want a tweak here or there or a tooltip here or there or maybe just a clarification.

4) The armchair game developers. These are the people who really could make a much better game if only they had the money and developers to convey their genius onto the screen. To prove their genius, they'll use terms like "broken" or "unusable" to describe anything that they consider non-idea.

Group #4 won't ever be satisfied. It's not like there's a scenario where we'd put out some update that totally guts the economic system.

Group #3 will likely be largely satisfied by v1.1 since social production won't be "Wasted" and we'll likely put in additional tooltips.

Group #2 is going to be unhappy that social production is going to transferred to military production which is totally unrealistic. Shouldn't the economy have waste? After all, in the real world it's a fact of life.  A business, like Stardock, has to plan its resources accordingly. If we bring in too many employees, then we don't have enough for them to do and waste money on salaries.  If we don't bring in enough, we don't spend enough and the government gets that money in taxes.

But things like social spending drives some people nuts and so it's a matter of guessing whether changing a feature  akes more people happy than unhappy.

Group #1 would consider the change to remove social waste as "obvious" because such micro management wouldn't be in a board game. 

That group also was probably driven nuts by Warcraft 3 which had all kinds of fuzzy math in how battles were handled. 

This group could can probably be generally satisfied with simply more tooltips or some sort of analysis on how money is done.

For instance, tax income is non-linear.  It's your population taken to something like the .80 power.  There's a lot of exponential relations in the game.  What other games will often do is cap it or take out any mechanics that get near a race condition.

v1.1 will probably be the point where we start to reach diminishing returns.

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March 14, 2006 11:11:45 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
Nasa doesnt build more space shuttles when our construction industry slows down...
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March 14, 2006 11:58:50 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
I do not want to change what you have done at all. I have only asked for one thing and yet to get a single reply.

I just want the Main Game Window to Scroll when you push the Mouse into the corners of the Screen. It is currently not working and it sure seems like it should as in GalCiv.

The only other thing I have asked for is to make the Arrow Keys so they can be Remapped to move the Main Game Window and not the ships.
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March 14, 2006 11:59:03 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
I vote for the Group #3 approach. Starbase bonuses that are actually listed in the planet details screen. Being able to conduct espionage on minor races. Being able to combine a fleet and a military starbase, and to actually see the starbase do its job on the tactical screen, helping your fleet.
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March 15, 2006 12:19:34 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
Some of the things you mentioned for 1.1 sound pretty good but most of them are not things that I was clamoring for.

I kind of like the no tech trading option but I like the game as is and i will be happy with whatever you put in to smooth it out and make it better.

I think that I am more in the #2 group with heavy dash of realism. I am all for tweaks if they elliminate drudgery from the game and as a somewhat peaceful player I have to fight the onset of drudgery and tedium in late gameplay.

The one tweak that I would like to see is a visual cue for when a starbase is open or has become open for new modules. If I am servicing 15+ starbases I just can't keep up with which are at what point of developement and I would at least like to know which are maxed out by just looking at the map. This seems like an easy tweak and I hope you put it in but either way I will still be playing for a good while.

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March 15, 2006 12:39:51 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
I have to say you need to go with #1. I'm all for having a simulation and the idea of a game playing intuitively, but the problem is every player has a different idea for how things should happen "intuitively." Having an economics degree gives me a much different concept of what changing tax rates could/would do than someone my age who is a graphics designer who is playing the game as well. Same thing with production. Allocating BCs should return a diminishing benefit which should increase as your approach full capacity. Since that is what really happens and I know that, it's intuitive to me that it should happen. A 14 year old high school student isn't going to understand what's going on. And it you spell it out by saying "Allocating additional BCs increases production at decreasing rate" you're either going to confuse people or just cause people to run simulations against your production numbers then we will all be sitting playing with a folder full of game statistics we got off the boards and that's no fun.

Oh and I don't think anyone playing this game can be considered a realist. Too many unrealistic things go on in the game for anyone to quibble about military production going into social production...

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March 15, 2006 12:59:36 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
1) I'm just a lurker at the moment...must wait until my birthday to play the game or wife will kill me.
2) While I somehow missed MOO2 and GC, I've played most every other strategy game until the most recent generation.
3) I've also played the FASA Star Fleet Battles and the Task Force Games SFB (and most of the computer games too)

After a week of reading through the forums, journals, game examples, etc. I have the following few comments:
1) Sounds like there is finally an AI worth playing against and problems that have been reported will be getting fixed.
2) I am really becoming enthralled with the ability to mod my own ships.
3) I'm surprised that there aren't any race specific weapons. Part of the SFB allure was the variety of tactics required to sucessfully fight the varied races. ie: having two puny Hydran fighters lower a sheild (or cripple a ship) and then getting hit with multiple hellbores for a swath of internal damage and still having 5 good shields, getting hit by a Romulan S plasma torpedo, being raked by a bank of Tholian gatling phasers (curse the Federation for trading the technology to them!), not to mention the plasma wiedling Gorns, the Klingons, Kzinti, Federation, Lyrans... and the power absorbing technology of the Andromedans.

I'm fairly certain I will irritate my wife with the hours I'll be spending on the game and I''ve every confidence I will be more than pleased with the game. It's just reading through everything has my imagination going and I couldn't help but wonder how much more devilish the experience would be if there were more than 3 weapon and 3 defense categories.

In the end, as long as there is a method to discern my opponents' capabilities, a means to counter them and a non gimmicky AI...I'll be happy.
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March 15, 2006 1:03:13 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
I wonder what camp I would fall into?

All I'm concerned with is that a game has cause-and-effect rules that I can figure out. And IMHO this game does.

For one example, I don't really care about what the exact math is regarding morale. All I know is that population and higher taxes decreases it, morale techs, resources, and buildings increase it, and I can generally find the equilibrium I need on a macro level.

For another example, the fact that social spending can be "wasted" doesn't bother me; it's a game rule to deal with. So the fact that it will be changed isn't better or worse for me; it's just a new rule to deal with.

Yes, I'll admit that simpler numbers makes figuring out the cause-and-effect easier. But it's not necessary. As long as I have some indicator of what a given action does, I'm not very quibbly over the exact nitty-gritty of it.

Peace & Luv, Liz
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March 15, 2006 3:01:01 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
As long as I have some indicator of what a given action does, I'm not very quibbly over the exact nitty-gritty of it.

Yep, same here. I think I mostly fall into the #3 camp, with a dash of #2 thrown in. I like to know approximately what effects X and Y will have on Z, but I don't need to see all the numbers. To paraphrase Dr. Leonard McCoy, "I'm a galactic overlord, not a mathmatician!" As long as it makes sense (to a greater or lesser degree), and that it basically "feels" right, that's all I need.
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March 15, 2006 4:58:25 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
The Ultimate Question (tm), Brad, are changes made actually making a better 4x STRATEGY game with soul, or are changes being made to appease fans because you don't feel strongly about a feature or two?

I'm of the belief of, never compromise your design if changes arn't actually moving it forward or unless someone is holding a gun to your head.

I remember back when I was help working on a N64 golfgame (name withheld) back in the day. The lead programmer and designer had a pretty good intial design going. However since he didn't feel strongly about alot of the design, alot of it began to get changed from input by others. Most of the change came from an EA producer (the client), who was dumber than a sack of hammers, that wasted the teams time making silly requests. He thought it would be great to push us over budget and 6months delayed in release by requesting great little features like " hey if you hit that ball out of bounds could there be a cave nearby...with fireflies?" and " let's put some tombstones out there that if you hit them something funny will be said". And many other BRILLIANT ideas... that actually made the game worse and added nothing to it's actual improvment. Sadly, my team lead feeling presured and not knowing how to handle the client gave into these requests, so he is just as much to blame. That release actually hurt our company.

It could have been a great game and would have made us alot of money if the Lead simply stuck to his guns and believed in his design and didn't compromise it.

Just be sure to examine your game play design choices carefully before commiting to them. It's good to listen to others, but don't let them overly influence your design decisions.

While the social waste issue could have been presented better, it doesn't mean it's broken and needs to be fixed. Your design ideas are good, though some don't agree with them, I believe that the main issues are simply how you chose to represent and present those ideas in the game that is rubbing people the wrong way.
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March 15, 2006 5:23:43 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
I agree with the above poster; don't go out of your way to change your game because of a vocal minority. And I truly feel that all the people bitching on the forums about how things could be better if you did it a certain way, are that; a minority. Most people who are satisfied with product don't write thank you notes or anything...they just use the flipping product. People who dislike a product, however, will break their goddamn leg trying to complain about it to everyone who will listen. I'm sure most of you know what I mean.

The game is GOOD. And the thought of 'dumber' AI's is great. Just don't change the core gameplay so much that it starts to feel different, please.


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March 15, 2006 6:03:05 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
The problem with people, as a whole, is that so few of them have the ability to look at ANYTHING in an objective manner, rather than subjectively - with the 4th camp being the very worst... I guess I'm lucky enough to be able to look at things objectively - so I'm able to look at the quality of a product whether I like it or otherwise - for instance I don't like World Of Warcraft - (since it's waay too shallow for my taste in RPG's) - but I can look at it and understand why they did what they did, and why it's successful...

To me, the most IMPORTANT thing, about ANY game, is that it's CONSISTENT... Yes, if it's consistently broken, then it needs fixing - but a lot of people can't distinguish the difference between the game being broken, and their ability to play it (or not)...

Having said that - it all comes down to the group and the amount of people you were creating the game for, (to please), as to what needs fixing or not...
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March 15, 2006 6:59:22 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
While the social waste issue could have been presented better, it doesn't mean it's broken and needs to be fixed.

Well, in earlier betas, social production would work like military production and as the manual stated. So there were already modifications made about it compared to the initial design
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March 15, 2006 8:22:42 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
Taking a look at your player groups, I think I'm a realistic board gamer who has to fight down the armchair developer every once in a while.

My only criticisms have been about social wastage and hints about game cheese a.k.a. AI weaknesses.
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March 15, 2006 8:37:19 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
I am happy that I am in group 3. Just surprise me with your tweaks and new stuff, I love surprises.
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March 15, 2006 8:56:59 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
I guess you can call me a group #2 player with group #3 leanings.
Social wastage never bothered me much, as its something that happens in real economies all the time- I'm not real stoked that its magically going to military production but so be it.
But please, please, draw the line. I have to second citizen octavius vii post above .
If I wanted a board game, I'd haul out one of my old S&T or Avalon Hill boxes. One of the whole points of a PC based game is you can have complex background maths that provide a more "realisitc" feel to a game. While a lot of people are vocal about the social spending issue on the forums, I suspect that they are an equal # who either dont mind, or like it as is, but just dont bother speaking up on the boards.
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March 15, 2006 9:06:08 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
I think that's a very interesting observation, but I take one issue with it - namely, group 2 isn't a homogenous group. What's intuitive to one person is not necessarily intuitive to another. For example, I prefer an intuitive style of gameplay as well - I almost never look at the numbers, never look at the tech tree, just go by my gut feeling and experience. That means I'm slower to master the games but I have (I think) more fun doing so. Still, in the particular case of social -> military spending, my intuitions are different than yours.

It seems to me that in a free market economy, what you say would be true - social production would never get diverted to military production on any sort of massive scale. But GalCiv doesn't have a free market economy. There's a centralized economy controlled by the player. And in such an economy, it should be possible to divert resources. Maybe not fully - I'd probably like it best if there was some loss along the way, so that, say, you only get 75% of the production shifted over. But in the way I imagine the reality behind the game to work, I envision a future where factories can be retrofitted pretty easily to make spaceship components vs. buildings. Remember, military spending includes things like constructors and colony ships which are social projects anyway.

Also, I think the main issue for me is that it's possible to divert things on a global scale via sliders - which indicates that the society actually has the capability to shift production without any loss whatsoever - but not on a per-planet basis. That's what I would find the most realistic, after all. There's no reason for Gladstone II to stop building spaceships just because Earth is in a race to build a trade good before the Krox. My intuition tells me that the different planetary productions should be independent of each other. Then the whole issue wouldn't arise.

Note that this isn't a complaint. I'm actually fine with the game mechanics as they are now, and I'd be equally happy with them under 1.1. This is just an illustration of the fact that what might be intuitive for you may not be so for others.
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March 15, 2006 9:39:20 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
Interesting post. My bottom line is really how much fun do I have playing the game. And if I'm not having fun are there specific reasons (CTD) which may be "fixed" by a patch, or sometimes games just don't resonate with me and patches aren't going to change that.

I think GC2 is a great game. Will 1.1 make it better? I don't know, maybe just a little different. Sure I wanted random opponents but in all honesty not having random opponents wouldn't keep me from playing the game a lot and having a lot of fun. It also didn't keep me from buying the game and recommending it to all my friends.

I see the responsiveness from Stardock as great customer service, better than almost any developer I can think of. I will happily pay for the expansion pack, I will buy GC3. Heck, I might even buy society even though it doesn't sound like a game that will resonate with me. But, quite frankly, I feel like I am "treated" so well by Stardock that they have earned me giving it a shot.

Thanks for a great game - whether social production is wasted or not, whether you show me the exponential relationship of population to taxes, I’m still going to have fun and I’ll learn how to adjust my playing style to keep having fun…
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March 15, 2006 9:51:23 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
I understand completely. Suggestions are just that: Suggestions. They don't have to be taken, listened to or even given the light of day ... but you guys do most all of that.

I'm just happy to have a stable, enjoyable game for once!
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March 15, 2006 9:58:32 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
And I still think dependence of research and manufacturing spending doesn't make sense.

I'm in what "group" then? #4?
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March 15, 2006 11:06:10 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
Yes waste occurs in the real world, and things like factories always have both a fixed and variable cost associated with them. The thing is, the game already has a system to model the fixed cost: maintenance.

There was never any need for unused social production to use credits since the maintenance should be adequate to model the fixed costs. Now whether the current maintenance levels are high enough is another matter, and certainly open for debate, but the point is that system is in place.

I for one am very happy about the changes being implemented in 1.1.
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March 15, 2006 2:15:34 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
I apologize if this seems a bit long winded, but....

1) The board gamers (grognards). They want every number, every detail spelled out. There should be a way to click on anything and find out precisely how it came from. The cleaner and simpler the mechanics, the better

As one who cut their (wargaming) teeth on Avalon Hill and then on S&T boardgames and later in miniatures, I remember that you HAD to calculate everything on an ongoing basis just to play. Everything except battle results, of course, those were 'roll the dice and look it up.' Simplicity in the interests of keeping the game moving was paramount. And yes, occasionally I still play them. Having said that, though, why would I not want to use the best tool around for getting rid of the bookkeeping (the computer) and freeing me to view the forest instead of the trees? (Although I do admit having learned to switch from one viewpoint to the other has served me well in "real life".)

I will also confess that my favorite type of light relaxation reading is SF and Fantasy - here, you have to suspend your hard mental links to the "real world" and construct relationships based on the [hopefully] internal consistancies of the universe the author has presented. This is the same general mental attitude I take when playing computer games - "What are the parameters of the game universe and how do I operate within them?"

For the developers, though, the next question needs to be, "How similar to our experiences in the "real world" is the Game universe, and what is the expected base competancy of those (non-developers) who are playing?" A collorary question (formatted from the player viewpoint), the answer for which varies greatly from individual to individual, is "How comfortable are you in having to operate in a situation where you don't have a clue what is going on or how anything relates to anything else (and you can't sit back and observe before doing anything)?" The answer to this will determine how much information (and its transparency) an individual will want to have before she/he plays. I think the vast majority of the "suggestion/ FIX THIS/ etc." type posts fall here.

From the main post, I surmise that Frogboy is pretty comfortable in this situation (although as CEO of Stardock I bet he finds himself in that position more often in "real life" than he would prefer - ahhh, the fun of management.) But being the guiding light of the project and the AI programmer automatically puts him into the "very familiar with the parameters" category. The rest of us have to operate in the universe he has invited us into without his institutional knowledge. I applaud his recognition that he and the rest of the team are coming from a very different perspective than the rest of us, and the respect given for those differences.

In general, I think the development team has done a good job of laying out the base parameters so that everyone has a real start on the learning curve. What deficiencies there are/were have been covered in the forum posts. In particular, I feel the various difficulty levels provide the best path to gain the experience in the game universe to fully master the game. But that's me. I'm not interested in having a massive set of linear &/or exponential equations to solve in order to determine the "optimum" solution in a game. I prefer some uncertainty that will allow me to exercise some creativity in the process. And my ego isn't injured if the AI "beats" me (good thing, eh? ) As a suggestion, a "best of" the forum posts as a FAQ/Strategy Guide &/or a manual addendum for those interested - available for download with the updates - would help those interested in an addtional leg up the learning curve.

I do note that V1.1 will provide some significant parameter changes: Planet designations, Approval rating production bonuses, Re-allocation of unused social spending, Tech trade option, some minor changes (called tweaks), along with the gameplay enhancements like the constructor circles and autopilot routes. Please provide some guidance as to the effects of the "tweaks" to help keep me from backsliding on the curve. Of these, the social spending change will do the most to make the game more intuitive (and a bit more economically freewheeling) for me, but like I implied above, a parameter, is a parameter, is a parameter.

BTW, what is a grognard?
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March 15, 2006 3:04:52 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
Grognard: a soldier of Napoleons' Old Guard; a veteran soldier; grumbler (French) - Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed

Grognard: (slang) an experienced wargamer - John Young, Strategy & Tactics magazine
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March 15, 2006 3:31:35 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
I find it funny that the 'vocal minority' causes such a stir and outlash from the supporters - it's good to see here.

That being said - all of the ideas, concepts and 'amazingness' came from the StarDock team. You all led us into being apart of this experience - YOUR experience - and we love it. Keep to YOUR experience - as it's lead you to this point so far, and I think that if an idea from us (as the users) does make YOU think 'hmm', go ahead and tweak.

We are apart of your experiences, professionalism and skillsets - keep on that way and we'll all enjoy it because fo what you want to put into it.. because that's what started all of this!

Keep up the great work - can't wait for more and more!
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March 15, 2006 3:49:44 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
When it comes to the mechanics, it's not that I want to know how numbers are calculated. It's that I want to know what I'm buying when I buy it. If a building increases the planet economy by 5%, how much money is that? If I mine a military resource, what will the stats on my ships increase to? If I build a stadium what will the planet approval rating become? I don't want the algorithm, I want a report on how things will be after I expend resources on something before I have to spend the resources
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March 15, 2006 4:27:53 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums
I think it's important to make a distinction that I don't think the "grognard" camp has sucessfully communicated to the "intuitive" camp from what I've seen on the forum.

There is a world of difference between a simple, transparent [system] and simple, transparent [output].

A scenario to illustrate the difference: I am trying to decide between a factory or a research center on the tile that has just opened up on planet x thanks to Soil Enhancement. If I wanted a transparent [system], I would want to know that each factory will increase net production by 5 points X % funding. That's a simple [system], aka one that a grognard can do on paper while he plays his board game. However, if all I care about is transparent [output], the production can be governed by taking pi to the eth power and dividng by the cube root of the natural log of funding (or whatever else works for game balance and realism reasons) SO LONG AS, when I mouse over it or select the factory I get some form of feedback that says "With your current budget, this building will increase production by 3.27 units"

I think transparent output is what is really wanted by most of those complaining, even if they may say they want a transparent system. It's certainly what I want, and I have every confidence that I'll be satisfied by the improved tooltips in this upcoming patch. Don't let us get to you, Brad. You've done an AMAZING job with this product, and your support and responsiveness is light years beyond anything in my previous experience in dealing with developers. I just think that, like almost all engineers (myself included), you haven't quite perfected the art of communicating your vision / intuition to those with no familiarity with the subject. That said, I'll second the sentiment that you should remain firmly in control and true to your vision. Letting the customer have too much control over the project is just miserable for everyone.
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