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Everything runs out
July 26, 2017

A friend of mine summed up a design theory for this game as "evolve or die."

Essentially, there should be no steady state, where you finally break free from the survival struggle and can be fat, dumb, and happy for the rest of your life. The garden of Eden can never be returned to. No living off the fat of the land. The land is too thin for that.


On a larger scale, the same is true for a village. Maybe it can start to feel like a steady state for a few generations, but in reality, those generations are making a grave mistake by living that way. If they're not developing the next level of survival technology, they are dooming their village in the future.

The graph of progress should look like saw teeth, with catastrophes every so often when we realize that what we thought we figured out isn't working long-term.

As I was playtesting yesterday, testing some server fixes, I was noticing how infinite anything makes that particular thing robotic and uninteresting. I don't need to care about it or think about it or consider it or spend it wisely. I just go to the known spot and get more of it, as needed. I was keeping a fire going, and like a robot, every so often I'd walk back to the branchy trees, pick a new branch (respawn time for branches is something like 60 seconds, and yew branches are infinite), chop it into kindling, and feed my fire. It was tedious. The computer might as well have done this action for me, each time my fire ran out. I never had to make a decision. Should I use this wood for fuel?

So.... what if each tree only has one branch to give? Each yew tree only one yew branch? What if the clay node only gives 4 clay before running out? What if the fertile soil node only gives 4 tilled rows before running out? What if each tule reed patch can only be harvested once? What if the ponds run dry (and geese leave) after enough water trips? What if rabbits don't respawn after snaring?

As Eve, you are literally plopped down in Eden, with all of these wild resources in their best possible, full state. Every tree has a dead branch waiting. Fertile soil nodes just brimming. Berry bushes full.


It could even "feel" easy at first, but that feeling is an illusion. You won't make it past age 30 unless you kick it into gear and carefully shepherd these actually-limited resources toward better survival tech before they run out.

And, this pattern should continue, all the way up the tech tree. You are planting berries and carrots, which helps you survive when the wild bushes and rabbits run out, but eventually you run out of water. You are developing the steel ax to harvest more firewood and building wood after the branches run out, but you eventually run out of trees. You develop a pump to pull water out of the ground, but eventually you run out of fuel for the pump. You are developing fertilizer that lets you make your own fertile soil, but eventually you run out of the base ingredients for the fertilizer.

It seems like all of this engenders difficult decisions every step of the way. If I have a bit of grain, do I plant more wheat with it, feed it to my horse so I can travel distances, or feed it to my cows so they produce milk? If I have a bit of fuel, do I put it in the plow to till some rows, put it in the pump to get some more water, or put it in the mill to grind some grain into usable flour?

One question that arises: when I say, "run out," do I really mean it? I'm not sure. Like, if one population strips the wild world bare in some radius, and then time passes before a new Eve, she could actually be stuck with no means to re-bootstrap if nothing comes back, ever. If branches and berries are permanently exhaustible, there's no starting over, for anyone, without moving elsewhere. And wandering around looking for greener pastures isn't very interesting. Salvaging progress from the last failed civilization is much more interesting.

So, I'm currently thinking that everything is "lifetime exhaustible." As far as a player is concerned, each tree only gives a branch once. Each berry bush can be emptied once. But they replentish every hour, so the next Eve has a chance. Wild stuff is always there, slowly building in the background, as a possibility if needed, but it can't be depended on for more than a short bootstrapping phase. After you've got a farm or whatever, a trip out into the forest to pick berries can still happen from time to time.

But some things are perma-exhaustible. Like if you chop down a tree and don't plant a new one, that's it. If you dig a wild carrot up, that's it. And a few trivial things, like tinder and leaves, are still infinite, because it would feel too weird to make them limited.

I do worry that this encourages an Eve strategy of "quit playing and come back in an hour." Like if the wilderness feels too lean, or you mess up too much, waiting an hour will bring it all back and give you a new start.

I could also refresh everything on each new Eve, but again, that seems to make Eve suicide a viable strategy.

If it refreshes on Eve, but only if she's different than the last Eve, then it encourages multiple accounts.

The only way around this seems to be to make everything perma-exhaustible. There's no timing trick that you can use to work around it. If you, or the person before you, exhausted the wild resources, your only choice is to find greener pastures to re-bootstrap. You can find you way back to the old city later.

This reminds me of the book Ishmael. There's an analogy in there about civilizations being like flying contraptions, and it's easy to confuse falling with flying for a while, when we jump off the cliff with our flapping wing suit or whatever. The ground seems to be getting closer, so we flap the wings harder. We look down on the ground below and see an array of other crashed flying contraptions. Why did they crash? We'll never know. But we're not going to crash like them! We have it figured out.


Like every time we find the ruins of an abandoned civilization, we scratch our heads. Why would they ever leave all of THIS? Well, we're never leaving ours, that's for sure.


Just to prevent the map from forever expanding into greener pastures, maybe wild resources could respawn on some kind of glacial time scale.... like every 24 hours, or every week, or something.
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