4X games are predicated on exploring some unknown geography, expanding your control into newly discovered regions, exploiting resources from those regions, and using those resources to build up forces and exterminate your opponents (who are trying to do the same to you!). Typically, 4X games aim to convey the machinations of entire empires, and hence have a large geographic scale in mind.
This basic premise of large-scale empires fighting for resource control to fuel a military domination struggle creates some fundamental challenges for 4X game design, which has been central to whole quest to make the net big 4X game to live up to Master of Orion 2’s legacy. I covered some of the failings of 4X games in an earlier post, A Failure to End
, but want to expand on some of those points in this post. As I see it, the challenges are inter-related, but stem from a set of relatively simple issues:
- Issue #1 - City Spam & Snowballing
- Issue #2 - “One Big Battle” and the Steamroller
- Issue #3 - Micromanagement, Tedium, and Drag-out
These three issues are, I feel, the central challenge of 4X game design. And how the design of different games in the genre handles (or fails to handle) this interlinked challenge does as much to differentiate titles as to account for a game’s overall success, failure, or lasting legacy.
Edit: The awesome crew over at eXplorminate
covered this topic from the perspective of the "endgame" experience: The 4X Endgame and its Follies
and their article is also worth looking at in light of this fundamental challenge perspective.