Technology tree

Technology tree

In strategy computer games, the technology tree or tech tree is an abstract hierarchical visual representation of the possible paths of research a player can take. Typically, at the beginning of a session of a strategy game, a player may only have a few options for technologies to research. Each technology that a player researches will open up more options, but may or may not, depending on the computer game the player is playing, close off the paths to other options. The tech tree is the representation of all possible paths of research a player can take.

A player who is engaged in research activities is said to be "teching up," "going up the tech tree," or "moving up the tech tree." Analysis of a tech tree can lead players to memorize and use specific build orders.

Types of tech tree

Prerequisites for technology advances

In many real-time strategy (RTS) games you need particular buildings in order to research specific techs or build specific advanced units ("Starcraft", "Age of Empires", "Total Annihilation"). In many turn-based strategy (TBS) games the prerequisite is one or more lower-level technologies, with no dependency on specific buildings ("Master of Orion" series, " Civilization" series, "Space Empires" series).See the relevant games' manuals.] ["Master of Orion" (1993), the "Galactic Civilizations" series and "Sword of the Stars" have no research buildings; players simply allocate some of each colony's output to research (see game manuals). In the " Civilization" series (1991 onwards) and "Master of Orion II" (1996) one can do research without buildings, but it's much faster when supported by the right buildings (see game manuals). In the "Space Empires" series (1993 onwards) and in " Ascendancy" (1995) research can only be done via buildings, but these can research any technology (see game manuals).] cite web | url= | title=RTS Basics: R & D and the "Starcraft" manual. Although multi-epoch games like the "Age of Empires" and "Empire Earth" series have a larger number of research options and a significant proportion of civilian research options, the research options all depend on having the right buildings. See the relevant games' manuals.]


The structures of tech trees vary quite widely. In the simplest cases (e.g. "Master of Orion") there are several completely separate research areas and one could research all the way up to the highest level in one area without researching other areas (although this would often be suicidal). In the most complex cases (e.g. " Civilization") every technology above the starting level has more than one prerequisite and one has to research most of the lower-level technologies in order to research any of the top-level technologies. And there are many possibilities between these two extremes, for example in "Space Empires" researching to a specified level in one field may enable the player both to research to a higher level in that field "and" to start research in a new field which was previously not available.

Major 4X games like "Civilization" and "Master of Orion" have a much larger technology tree than most other strategy games; as an extreme example "Space Empires III" has over 200 technologies. cite web | url= | title=Joystiq interview: Ironclad talks 4X strategy with Sins of a Solar Empire | date=Feb 1st 2008 | accessdate=2008-06-14 ] In "Warcraft III" one can reach the highest level of one branch of the technology tree in five steps; "Master of Orion" (original version) has 10 levels per subject, and 2 to 5 technologies per level; the "Civilization IV" technology tree requires nearly 60 steps to reach the end (see game manuals).]

Are all technologies available?

Some RTSs make different techs available to different races / cultures (especially "Starcraft"; but many RTSs have special units or buildings for different cultures, e.g. "Age of Empires" expansion pack and later versions, "Red Alert 2"). Most TBSs make all technologies available to all cultures (e.g. " Civilization"). "Master of Orion" (original version) is a complex special case in this respect: the full tree is the same for all; but in each game each player gets a random subset of the full tech tree.

Balance between civilian and military techs

In many RTS games tech advances are almost exclusively military (e.g. "StarCraft"). But in most TBS and some RTS games the research and production costs of top-end military techs are so high that you have to build up your economy and your research productivity first (RTS - "Age of Empires" and "Empire Earth", where one of the most significant costs is going up an epoch; TBS - the " Civilisation" series and "Master of Orion" series).

What happens after you've researched everything

In many games there's nothing useful to do and the player may scrap research centers to save maintenance costs and / or devote the resources to something else ("Space Empires" series).

In the " Civilization" series researching "future technologies" increases a player's score. In "Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri", researching everything leads to victory (this is tied with the storyline).

In the "Master of Orion" series more advanced research reduces the size and cost of spaceship components, and "hyper-advanced" research in areas which have military applications therefore enables players to build more high-tech weapons into a given ship size and at lower production cost.


Tech trees started showing up in the early real-time strategy and turn-based strategy games in 1990, where Mega Lo Mania had a system of research levels/epochs that allowed the deployment of better units and defenses. "Civilization" (1991) was probably the first game to feature the same basic structure of tech trees seen in games today.Fact|date=May 2007 1992's "Dune II" is another example of an early game featuring tech trees.


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