I originally posted this in an old threat about co-op mode, but for whatever reason it doesn't seem to be coming up onto the main page. So i'm going to take the liberty of creating my own post and hopefully thus jump-starting discussion on this particular issue. I think Co-op mode would be a huge plus for this game, especially in a LAN environment. I was reading another thread here that mentioned that the game would support a 1:2 ratio of serials to players in game. Having a co-op mode will help encourage casual players to get into the game (without the frustration of necessarily always losing, or having to practice on one's own for a long time before jumping in) and maybe buy it themselves. Anyway, without further ado:
This thread hasn't been talked about for a while, but I can't find any other threads on co-op mode for this game. I want to throw my own two cents in to encourage the designers to implement a co-operative mode. In particular, I support a more free-form version of co-operative mode rather than a role-defined one. First, though, why co-op is a necessary part of multiplayer - ESPECIALLY for a game of this scale:
Many gamers, especially those who can't devote the kind of time they'd like to a new game, simply aren't good at all aspects of strategy, grand strategy and tactics. People who play TBS games, for example, are more likely to be good at the macro scale stuff, but have a harder time instinctually with fleet combat, and especially the constraints of real time. Some players are going to be better at economics, or war fighting, or any number things. While this is true in all games, here, having a disparity in your abilities on one front or another can be really lethal. If you're a great fleet commander but just suck at organizing research and your economy, you are going to have a hard time enjoying the game, because you simply can't win without simultaneously being a competent fleet commander, economist, political scientist and so on. The learning curve will be daunting for all but hard-core players - people who can put in the time to practice extensively. Casual gamers - people who may be inclined to buy the game, but have to fit in careers and other such things around their play time - are going to have a hard time doing the same thing. If, on the other hand, they can work with other people to manage the same empire, they'll have an easier time picking up the game and are more likely to enjoy it. If they enjoy it, they are more likely to stick with it. This gives us all a more lively multiplayer experience, either in LAN or in internet form.
In my own case, while I think this game is fantastic, I'll have a hard time getting to play the game with any of my friends (who are all now in college/getting ready to graduate), as they may be inclined to play and buy the game, but aren't willing to spend hours and hours learning the game well enough to be competetive. On the other hand, if I can work cooperatively with them, then I can ease them into the game (giving them a more fun and sociable way of learning it) and also have a more fun time myself, playing with people I know and enjoy doing things with. (I also like random matches online and such, but even there, one often makes a few select friends that one at least sometimes likes to play explicitly with).
In 90% or more of all cases, co-operative play is going to involve people playing with other people they know (either RL friends or people they've gotten to know online). Accordingly, there should be a relatively large amount of flexibility in the organization of a co-op empire. The option to control anything and/or everything should be available to all of the players, who should be able to work out what each of them wants to work on at any given time. This allows players' roles to evolve as the game progresses. I might start, for example, with the initial build up and expanion, but then get very interested in a particular campaign, or a particular fleet. I would want to be able to say to my comrades "Hey, you take over the empire, or fleet X for a while, and I'll do such-and-such." I've found in games like Starcraft or Rise of Nations, that this can work quite well. One of the best games I ever played in RoN involved me managing a naval invasion while my co-op partner covered the landing with air power and cruise missile strikes. Later, he took over managing the bridehead we'd made on the enemy continent while I prepared reinforcements. This flexibility is key to exploiting the capabilities of the game and overall system; had I been confined to an "economic" role, or he to an "air power" role, what we accomplished would have been impossible.
In a game like Sins of a Solar Empire, this can only have even more potential. There is so much going on that no single player will ever be able to manage everything completely, regardless of how good they are. The best they can do is a little micromanagement in a lot of places, or a lot of micromanagement in a few places/fields. With multiple players managing the same forces, however, the potential exists to have a lot of detailed, human control over a lot of aspects of gameplay. This can only be a good thing.
Now, I can see an argument for a role-specific command interface as well. In clan-based play, where individuals aren't as personally familiar as one might like, or highly competitive games where tension can get high, it may make sense to have designated roles. Whoever was designated Emperor (or primary leader) of the Empire would then want to be able to assign competencies to his lieutenents. In these cases, I'd advocate a tiered system based on two axes: Scale and Roles.
On the Scale side, the Emperor should be able to assign the limits of a lieutenant's competency on a sliding scale, from maybe the planet level all the way up to the Empire level. There might be specific region and sub-regional levels as interim stages. On the Roles side, the Emperor should be able to assign players control over Resource Gathering/Economics, Construction/Development (Infrastructure), Construction/Development (Ships and Fleets), Research and Military Affairs, to name a few hypothetical categories. Someone with more gameplay experience might be able to come up with better categories than me. Each Role should be assigned a particular scale, and each of these scales and roles should be flexible, meaning, the Emperor can change them as the game goes. So, if the Emperor wanted a fleet commander, he might give him the Military Affairs Role, and give him a regional scale of operation, allowing him to use units in an entire theatre of war. If he wanted a planetary governor, he might give him Economic, Infrastructural, Fleet and Military Affairs Roles, but limit them all to the planetary scale. He could then assign the planet, and that person would be able to build up the planet economically and increase its defenses (and, manage units in orbit to organize the defense in the event of attack). Another possibility would be to give someone the Economic and Research Roles at the Empire scale. This person would be responsible for interplanetary trade, and general research orientation. And, of course, the Emperor should be able to give someone complete control over everything (sort of a viceroy power), so that the Emperor can go to the bathroom, get a sandwhich, enjoy his harem or more realistically, focus on a particular area.
The advantage of this flexibility would be that different Emperors could assign roles based on their own play styles and the play styles of their subordinates. If you're the kind of emperor that likes to give his lieutenants a lot of independent control, give them more roles at a larger scale, and they can effectively manage entire district of the empire for you. If you tend to be someone who wants to only delegate a particular duty to your subordinate, well, you can do that too. At one end of the scale, you have effective co-leaders who work entirely together to manage the empire collectively. At the other end of the scale, you have a bureaucratic empire, with particular generals, planetary commanders and suchlike in a hierarchy of power.
I feel like such a system could fit in well with the already fantastic empire tree management system. One way of implementing the scale part of the roles/scales system I mentioned would be the following: When defining roles, you could simply select the parts of the empire you want to assign to a particular player. Everything below the level you select that fits withing a particular role would be useable by that player (those units might have some indicator on the lieutenant's screen so that he'd know what he could control. This might include changing the color or some such). If you had a guy you wanted to make a contruction manager for an entire region, you'd select the role and then select the level in the empire tree corresponding the area you want to give him jurisdiction over. Every construction ship (for example) in that area would now go under his control. If you wanted to give him control over particular fleets, you give him the military role, and then select the relevant groups of ships, or, select a set of planets, and all of the ships at those planets will become 'his.' Of course, the emperor still can control any unit he wishes, and if there is a disagreement over policy, the emperor can remove units from a player's control as a sort of *Imperial Veto*.
Well, that's all for now. What do you guys think?