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Chopping Down the Tech Tree: Perspectives of Technological Linearity in God Games, Part Two
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Chopping Down the Tech Tree: Perspectives of Technological Linearity in God Games, Part Two

June 7, 2000 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

Author's Note: In the previous installment of this article, I mistakingly referred to the City Builder series as the Sierra City Builder Series when it is infact the Impression Games City Builder Series. My apologies and thanks to Chris Beatrice at Impressions Games for gently pointing out my mistake.

Welcome back to my look at technological linearity in God Games. If you're just tuning in and didn't get the chance to read the first installment of this article, let me re-cap. Basically, the crux of the article was that when designers create processual story based strategy titles (my fancy shmancy name for god games like Pharaoh and the Civilization series), a very simple approach to technological innovation and development is taken.

Generally speaking, designers really don't have a firm grasp of the process of social change. As a result, most games depend on a skewed view of human culture change that most often translates into the infamous tech tree. Consequently, despite their often-intricate nature, most processual story based strategy titles are terribly predictable and simple.

In light of this, the point of this article is to look at some variables that influence technological innovations and development. In addition, I look at the way some God Games approach these variables, look at how and why they go awry, and (hopefully) provide some useful constructive suggestions for creating more realistic gameplay based on actual cultural processes. In the first installment of the article, I looked at nutrition, life expectancy, willingness to bear risk, geography, and path dependency. In this installment, I'll dive into technology and science, religion, values, property rights and institutions, resistance to innovation, politics and the state, and war.

If you'd like to read the first part of this article before reading on, go ahead; there's a link at the end of it that will bring you back to here. Otherwise, let's get down to it.

Technology and Science

One of the most common mistakes made by designers is the assumption that science and technology are synonymous. There's no doubt that, historically speaking, science and technology are intricately linked. However, they are two very different things. Science is a method of comprehension, while technology is a method of implementation. With this in mind, the question that pops up is whether scientific ideas constrain and guide the creation (and implementation) of new technology.

A body of knowledge exists from which technology, either consciously or subconsciously, draws inspiration. For the most part, this body of knowledge, which is called metatechnology, is generated by purely scientific endeavors. Anyone who's familiar with Francis Bacon's distinction between inventions that depend on a state of knowledge (scientific or otherwise) and inventions that could have been made anytime will recognize this idea.

Most scholars agree that the pool of metatechnological knowledge, as well as the amount that inventors drew upon that pool, increased through time after the Scientific Revolution. Initially, in the West at least, science taught engineers the process of breaking problems into their component parts for analysis. Later, especially during the European Industrial Revolution, scientists taught engineers a rational faith in the orderliness of natural phenomena and physical processes. More importantly, they learned an appreciation of the importance of accurate measurement and control in experimentation, the logical difference between cause and correlation, and a healthy respect for quantification. In many cases, scientific knowledge directly contributed to (and maybe even made possible) technological development.

In all honesty, the distinction between science and technology isn't made that often in God Games. Granted, both terms are used, but they really mean the same thing in an in-game context. The intellectual institutions essential in developing technological innovations are almost always the same as the industrial infrastructure necessary to implement those innovations. There are, however, some notable exceptions. In Activision's Civilization: Call to Power, a number of institutions exist, including the university and the computer center, which are strictly designed to encourage science and increase a civilization's ability to research technological advances. While this is definitely a step in the right direction, there needs to be augmented focus on the fundamental differences between science and technology.

So, how could this be accomplished? Well, first, there needs to be an increase in "units" which generate and focus scientific knowledge. These units, like everything else, need to have a specific path of development that is affected by other variables within the game. For instance, scientific societies (which were responsible for the generation of much scientific knowledge in Victorian Europe) were only made possible by a class of citizens which were secure enough financially that they could spend a great deal of their time pondering the mysteries of the world around them. If a player wished to encourage the development of scientific societies within their civilization, they would need to make sure that economic conditions were favorable enough to allow the development of an upper middle class whose wealth was derived from merchant activities or industrial undertakings. Like most things, this level of economic prosperity would have to be arbitrarily chosen by the designer. However, a civilization's ability to reach that level of prosperity would be determined by a host of other economic variables including trade, industrialization, level of natural resources, and internal political stability.

Further, the development of many of such units would increase a civilization's ability to generate scientific knowledge. As the player encouraged the development of these types of units, their "science rating" would increase. It would also be interesting to create research institutions (like universities) that would focus their energies towards a specific area of science such as engineering, physics, biology, or history. This would allow the player to more directly affect the path that their scientific endeavors would take.

Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

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