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My Take on "Immersive Empire Names"


Dec 26, 2020
I left a rather lengthy comment on a recent JumboPixel video about the upcoming update, which will supposedly include a mechanic for consistent, era-crossing empire identifiers. I thought it might be worth sharing here to get others' thoughts on how I've come to think of the whole culture-swapping feature of Humankind. The following is what I wrote.

I have to admit I'm a bit disappointed in the "immersive empire names" mechanic. I love the idea of titles that change according to civics and ideologies, but the leader names are already constant throughout the game, and in any case, that's no substitute for some consistent identifier for the empire itself, at least for purposes of true immersion. In my own head, I've gotten into the habit of basing it off my insignia, which is a turtle on a deep green background. Hence, I mentally refer to my empire as "Testudinia" and my people as "Testudinians" (from the Latin word for turtle/tortoise), who just happen to take on the cultural aesthetics of the Egyptians, then the Greeks, etc.

The ideal, for me at least, would be for a dialog box to appear either at the very beginning of the game or upon advancing from Neolithic to Ancient. That dialog box would ask the player to provide a toponym (place name) and demonym (people name), maybe splitting that last choice into noun and adjective forms for a total of three inputs. Maybe the computer could randomly generate these at first and present the option to either accept or customize each. Those become your empire's constant identifiers for the rest of the game, maybe with shifting country titles to match shifting leader titles (e.g. the Testudinian Kingdom of the Medieval Era becoming the Democratic Republic of Testudinia in the Industrial Era).

Something like that might help better convey what I suspect was the original intent of the whole culture-switching mechanic. Any Humankind game is one big alternate history, so the associations we make in the real world don't really apply. That's why you don't have to be French to claim and build the Eiffel Tower, for example. When, in my case, the Egyptians become the Greeks, I interpret it as my people, who have assumed the aesthetics and affinities that we in the real world recognize as Egyptian, transitioning into the aesthetics and affinities that we in the real world recognize as Greek. To the people living in the world of the game, however, there is no Egypt or Greece with which to associate the traditions that they only know as Testudinian. There is only Testudinia at different stages in its history. It's like how, in the real world, Spain is still Spain despite, for instance, their fashion having shifted from the tights, pantaloons, and doublets of the Early Modern period to the contemporary three-piece suit.
Thanks for your feedback.
I understand where you're coming from, and I think something like this was considered... But as far as I can tell, it runs into a lot of the same problems that our original attempt to have names like "Priest-King Midas of the Nubian Kingdom" had... Namely, localization, and specifically grammar. Since many languages use gendered nouns, and adapt their adjectives to the gender and case of the noun they are describing, entering a custom name and adjective could lead to some weird results... I know there are other games that have this option, but I don't know how they handle the other languages, and I don't think we have a system to handle it in place right now.
Ah! Now I feel a bit short-sighted! You'd think someone with my background would've thought of that! I have a PhD in linguistics, a BA in Spanish (a gendered language) with a minor in software engineering, and at least a working knowledge of several other foreign languages, all of which have gender and some of which have case systems. It completely slipped my mind that Humankind has international players who might need or prefer the interface to be in something besides English! Maybe my fond memories of Civ 2 clouded my thinking there.

The obvious solution would be to expand the dialog box for certain languages so that the user can input all possible gender and/or case forms of the empire names, but I can see how that would get unwieldy and tedious (and therefore not marketable).

Ironically, I had another brainstorm on this forum that might be a more efficient solution, but it's almost certainly too radical to implement as any kind of update to the current game. The idea was to stop treating Cultures as packaged deals and have Emblematic Units, Emblematic Quarters, and Affinities each be earned and chosen separately, perhaps similarly to how Cultural Wonders or World Deeds are. For example, maybe if your generic Spearman is the first in the world to earn three Veterancy Stars, you get to choose an era-appropriate Emblematic Unit in the anti-cavalry class, while if you're the first in your current era to earn an Agrarian Star, you get to choose an era-appropriate Agrarian Affinity. Alternatively, maybe you just buy one EU, EQ, and Affinity per era with Influence. So for instance, in the Ancient Era, the same player could end up with the Affinity currently associated with the Harappans, the EQ currently associated with the Mycenaeans, and the EU currently associated with the Egyptians. This could really enhance the alternate history aspect of the game with some truly creative mish-mashes! More importantly, though, it would mean that those culture names no longer refer to any consistent, pre-packaged set of unique traits for each era, and they would then be free to refer instead to the empires themselves across all eras. However, again, while it might be food for thought in the development of a potential sequel (Humankind II?), I doubt it's feasible for a mere update.

In any case, thanks for your insight! I wish I could think of a solution that was more localization-friendly and doable within the current game's framework.
I definitely understand the desire for it. But at the same time, as somebody who grew up in German: F German... Or at least, localizing into it. It can be such a pain, between the grammar and the often long words.

Still, I should look at how other games did it. Stellaris comes to mind immediately, but there are probably others...
I think the immersive empire names are, at least, a step in the right direction. The way I see it, Humankind does have a bit of an immersion problem related to how each empire/player is identified. With Civilization, you basically get a clear and recognizable identity for free, as each player is primarily identified by a famous leader from real history, and is leading the civilization/culture/nation to which they belong. Each civ/leader has a set of cultural associations and gameplay expectations tied to them, and this remains constant. Other games which do not use real-world leaders and nations can still have consistent identities based around strong characters and clear motivations. The guy in my avatar picture, for example, is called Zakharov, and he cares mostly about science and gaining knowledge. If you make research a priority too, chances are you will get along. Some games mix customizable characters with pre-defined ones, an example being Fallen Enchantress.

In Humankind, however, you don't really have neither easily identifiable characters nor consistent cultural identities throughout the game, and to me, this feels a bit schizophrenic when my neighbours, led by some guy, suddenly become a different culture. I get that the changing cultures are a key part of the game, and it is something which is both fun and sets the game apart. I think that the game would be improved by giving the leader characters more focus though, and perhaps even some gameplay effects.

For a future Humankind game, I would have liked to see cultures too implemented a bit differently. My idea would be that you create your empire with name, colour and emblem in the beginning, and as you advance, this is who you remain. However, you get to "level up" by adopting the abilities of a historical culture, which you pick from a large bonus/skill tree. I think this would also add some nice depth to these choices, as you would have different paths through the tree, and may have plans related to it which could be altered by the circumstances you find yourself in.
I would not like that. Cultures come and go, new ones arise with different names and trajectories. This is what humankind gives us. It actually gives more because you get to keep the benefits of each prior culture as you advance, which did not necessarily happen in history. I don't consider the character we start with to be a leader per se, rather it is a representative of a leader for whatever culture we choose as we advance.
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