Territories are perhaps the single most important feature of a successful emergent geopolitics in the game. While the notion of a “construct” (a building, a ship, a space station, etc) properly conveys the idea of private property, it fails to extend to the level of a territory, which you can picture as a collective public property. How can players declare certains areas as their territory? What does it mean exactly? Do we need territories in space? What is the link with Organizations? How do you manage hierarchies of territories (think of cities, regions, states, alliances, etc). Can we set some territories as secure (non PVP)? Let’s have a look and try to describe how we envision all these crucial questions in Dual.
The first question one might ask is why do we need territories? Well, in short, territories are politics. Not all of politics, but an important part of it: territories can be used by a set of players that have settled in the same area to decide who is allowed to join them, how to share the burden of collective investment in infrastructures, and basically what is allowed or not in this area. This, by definition, goes beyond the capability of any single player, especially for large territorial areas.
We will discuss in a future blog post how the notion of territory extends to space, introducing the notion of “bubble territories”, but for the moment we will concentrate on the very specific topic of planetary territories. To simplify the process of planetary territory creation and definition, we have adopted the usual way of partitioning the surface of the planet with a large number of hexagonal tiles (note that you’ll also marginally have 12 pentagons in the lot: there is no way to have an isotropic uniform tiling of a sphere). Tiles are about 1km large and for a 30km radius planet, it basically looks like this:
Territory tiles, or simply “tiles”, extend from 1km above the ground to the center of the planet, partitioning the sphere completely. They are initially neutral but they can be claimed by a player or an organization by setting up a Territory Unit anywhere inside the tile (that can also be underground). Territory Units are rather rare and expensive units, made of materials that will be available only in remote areas away from the arkship, or even on other planets, and requiring advanced mining skills and tools. In other words, it will be close to impossible to build them at start. We expect certain players to specialize in the manufacturing of Territory Units, but even for them the challenge will be high, but then they can expect to get a very good price for them on the markets. We want the Territory Unit to be hard to make because we don’t want a sort of gold rush at the start the game, that would favor early players and reduce the gameplay to “get as much TU as possible before it’s too late”.
Now, why would you like to use one of your Territory Unit to claim a territory tile (instead of selling it for a profit)? A territory tile is an asset like any other, and when you claim it, you become its owner. Like any other asset, a tile is associated to a set of powers that define what can be done with it. For example: whether you can enter it, create constructs on it, mine it, open a market in it, etc. Compared to a neutral tile, an owned tile does not bring much more to its owner, because the owner has all the rights on it. What is interesting however is that, like with any other owned asset powers, the owner is free to grant or limit these powers for anyone by associating them with appropriate tags (see the previous blog post of “Rights & Duties Management System”, or “RDMS”). If those tags are granted with financial duties, the territory is effectively rented, against a certain monthly fee. So you can for example own a material rich territory and rent it for mining to a mining corporation. You can also decide that only very special people are allowed to build constructs on your territory, making sure that you surround yourself with friends, etc.
Suppose now that five players have claimed adjacent territories, on which they have already invited their friends. All these people get along pretty well, and they start to think that they would like to mutualize their efforts to protect the area, build a spaceport and create a sense of belonging to a greater collectivity. They want to build their nation! They can create an organization (see the blog post on Organizations) and sell their owned territories to it. But a less radical option is given by one of the mechanics of the RDMS: power delegation. When you delegate a power to an entity A, you give to A the “power of tagging”. In other words, A gets the right to set tags for that power, and possibly also to remove the “owner” tag that grants you, the owner, the automatic right on that power. “A” becomes the administrator of the power. Now, you can use this for territories as well: delegate all or parts of the territory powers to an organization that will represent the nation you want to build.
The crucial difference of delegation compared to selling the territory tile is that a delegation can be removed, granting all the powers back to the owner. The other legates of the nation might not like it, and start a war on you, but you are free to try. We can take a parallel with real life: I can declare my garden to be an autonomous nation, stop paying my taxes and break the law, but soon enough, the cops or the military will get me back in line. The de-facto balance of power is making my secession impossible. In the same way, what will keep several tiles united under a same delegation of power in Dual is not some formal game mechanics, but the de-facto equilibrium between forces and mutual interests. In other words: geopolitics.
The delegation mechanism can extend over several levels of hierarchy. A city can delegate to a region that can delegate to a nation, a coalition, an alliance, etc. At any point, anyone in this hierarchy can break the delegation (and face the consequences). Large territorial organizations can also acquire territorial tiles from their currently delegated tiles, or simply claim new tiles by buying/crafting and then using Territory Units. It will be a matter of price, and a matter of strategy. Once owned, a tile can then be rented or given access for free to any member/legate of the organization. The price to pay might be seen as territory tax, used by the organization to finance the military protection of the territory, or the need for infrastructures.
Now, a few words about war. You can get control over a territory by “convincing” its owner or administrator to give a delegation to you, or, more traditionally, you can enter it, find the territory unit, destroy it and plant your own, or simply hack it. Expect it to be well hidden and well defended. Territory Units can also be grouped into centralized territory units: getting access to those can grant you control over several tiles at the same time, but of course they will be harder to conquer. Setting up a territory unit can take up to 24 hours, so the process of changing tile ownership is not an easy matter. By default, all delegations will be preserved in case of a change of ownership (which can also happen peacefully via selling), so you need to review the status to decide if you want to keep or break previous delegations. Delegations, like power granting, can come with warranties, so be careful of the price to pay before revoking past commitments.
Note that for management purposes, entities that own or administrate large numbers of tiles can group them together into virtual tiles that represent many of them. The only constraint here is that all tiles that are grouped into a virtual tile must share the same level of delegation/power granting, so that they can effectively be seen as a single territory.
One last very important point about territory tiles is the notion of “arkification”. Arkification is the process by which you could turn your territory into a non-PvP area, similar to the safe area around the Arkship. Arkified tiles would be incredibly powerful areas, as they cannot be hacked, conquered, destroyed or tampered with in any way. No need to say, this notion is a very sensitive gameplay aspect, and we have not yet decided precisely how and if it can be integrated in the game. Alternatives to it is simply to say that you can hide your stuff deep underground on a remote planet, or within the heavily guarded castle of your powerful organization. But these ideas are not totally safe.
One idea we are playing with is that explorers in the game could sometime discover an “arkification token”, a mysterious item that can be used to enhance a Territory Unit to the “arkified” status. It would take about one week to arkify a territory tile, so it cannot be a quick and easy way to hide during battle. We are not sure however at this stage what kind of restrictions we should put on their use: if they are to be used as safe havens in remote areas, should we limit the right to arkify a tile to the fact that there is no other arkified tile in a given radius? No claimed tile at all? No construct even? Should it be allowed to de-arkify a tile (in other words: are tokens reusable)? What kind of abuse to the PvP gameplay should we fear? We are aware of how sensitive and complex these issues have been in other games, but we reckon that there must be a way for a player to feel reasonably safe about his/her assets when offline for long periods of time. We would like to have your opinion on this, start a debate about arkification or perhaps even other mechanisms.
The interplay of all these aspects is a complex emergent system of cross-interests, not unlike real world geopolitics and international business interests. We will have to test it heavily with the community to make sure that there is always an equilibrium and no obvious winning strategy. Meanwhile, we’ll be very interested to know what you think about it!