Crew Management and You

The title of this post is deliberately misleading. It’s mostly about crew management and me, you see. Specifically, about how the current system came about – and what it is. But now that I’ve tricked you into reading, I hope you’ll stay with it – you won’t get those couple of seconds back anyway, so might as well keep going!

There are three main reasons to have crew in the game: to increase immersion, to add another avenue for advancement, and to introduce interesting resource management mechanics. In other words, having a tangible crew is neat, watching them go from raw recruits to seasoned veterans is rewarding, and having a say in how the crew is used to get the most out of them is engaging. The crew is far from being the main mode of advancement, though – the player also has their own skills, officers, ships, and weapons to upgrade – so it’d be a mistake to look at it solely from the player advancement angle.

However, figuring out just how to model the crew of your ships has been a difficult process. There are two components to the mechanics: advancement and assignment. Advancement is how the crew progresses through experience ranks. Is it linear, or can crewmen specialize in gunnery, piloting, and such? Assignment is just how the player matches up the crew to the ships they run – what amount of control they have over it, and exactly how it works.

The Problem
Those components depend on each other a great deal. Suppose the player just has one ship – we don’t need to worry about assignment at all, then. Free from this concern, we could come up with an involved scheme for crew advancement – with individual crewmen progressing through the ranks all the way from raw recruit to master gunner or somesuch.

On the other hand, suppose the player has a large fleet. Do we really want them to worry about making sure the ISS Unlikely to Survive has the right number of gunners? If they’re losing a ship or two every battle – and with large fleets and battles, that’s quite likely – having to re-crew new ships afterward would quickly become a chore. What we need is to strike a balance – enough detail for immersion and sense of advancement, but not so much that the mechanics become a bother for large fleets. The mechanics should let the player make meaningful choices with a minimum of fuss – not make them perform rote actions over and over.

The crux of the problem for me was the need to assign crew to specific ships. I kept turning that over in my mind, and just couldn’t get around the awkwardness of having to manually do it. You’d have to handle it for new ships, for re-crewing ships after losses, and for switching crews around for key battles – to name just a few situations. It’d be a royal pain.

Not the Solution
An idea I had in mind for some time was to not model crew directly and instead keep track of the experience level for a given ship. That’s simple – the player doesn’t need to worry about manually assigning crews – but it falls short on immersion and mechanics. The crew gets so abstracted away it’s hard to have an emotional connection to them, and you can’t manipulate it in any way at all. Worse yet, it’s a bit of an immersion breaker – you can’t move experienced crew from one ship to another, even if it’s the same type – which is hard to explain away in-fiction. You can certainly try, but it goes something like this:

Game designer: “Well, you see, the ships all have unique quirks that the crew has to learn, and that knowledge doesn’t transfer over to another ship very well.”

Pesky player: “But they’re all made in an auto-factory from the same blueprint!”

Game designer: “Well, you see… hey, what’s that over there? <runs away>”

Ahem.

The Solution
As with a lot of problems, I stumbled onto a much better solution while working on something unrelated (the fleet screen), and all the pieces fell into place.

The crew is now a tangible asset – on par with cargo, and managed through the same interface. Crewmen advance automatically through 4 experience levels – Green, Regular, Veteran, and Elite. After each battle, chances are you’ll lose some crew – and that some crew will also advance to the next level. Crew is assigned to ships automatically based on the order of the ships in the fleet screen (shown below), starting with the most experienced crew. Each ship has a “skeleton crew” capacity that must be filled for the ship to be ready for battle, and after it is, the next ship in line is crewed. After every battle, crew is reassigned to account for both ship and crew losses. All the player has to do is set a priority for which ships to crew with more experienced personnel by arranging the ships in the desired order, and the rest happens automatically.

70 brave crewmen were thrown out of the airlock in the making of this screenshot

You can see rank insignia in the screenshot indicating the experience level of each ship’s crew – and a “needs more crew” message when there isn’t enough crew to man the ship. The fleet screen is still a work-in-progress, by the way.

One downside is that managing crew assignments by rearranging the order of your ships isn’t very intuitive. Hopefully, seeing the most impressive-looking insignia at the top – and seeng the insignia change as ships are moved around – is enough to make it clear. All of the “needs more crew” messages always being at the end of the fleet roster should help, too.

Overall, I’m happy with this approach – it works equally well for different fleet sizes and humanizes the crew somewhat (you can actually see them in the cargo screen). The player also gets to take their crew from green to elite, and to see shiny icons (not to mention much-improved ship performance) as their reward. Most importantly, it gives the player some choices with an absolute minimum of work – once the choice is made, the system maintains itself in the face of losing and gaining ships and crew. No input from the player is needed until they make another decision.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 at 11:15 pm and is filed under Development, Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

38 Comments:

  1. Nice
    I like it :)

    by Letsparty
  2. Absolutely loving how this is shaping out, and how much thought you’re putting into getting it right!

    by Sudsuga
  3. Does this system however means that loseing your ship that you had first on the screen make you lose all of your best crewmen?

    It feels a little bit like putting all your eggs in one basket 8Z

    by SpaceOtter
  4. Thanks, glad you guys like it!

    @SpaceOtter: Well, that’s a choice – you don’t have to do it that way. If you want to preserve your elite crew (presumably, for some more important battle) you can just stick a few troop transports at the start of the roster and then not deploy them. You also wouldn’t lose *all* crew from a disabled ship – some would survive.

    But, yes – using crew in battle also means risking them. The more fragile the “basket” you put them in, the greater the risk.

    by Alex
  5. Interesting way of dealing with the problem. What fleet sizes are you thinking will we be dealing with in the campaign?
    I guess you need to be flexible so it all works from the smallest elite fleet to the largest sprawling mega fleet of conscripts.
    Looks like a good compromise and I cant wait to give it a spin.

    by The Old Farmer
  6. A small, elite fleet might be a cruiser and a couple of fighter wings. Or, heck, even a single destroyer would be good for certain types of jobs.

    On the large side of things, I’d say around 20 ships and fighter wings all told. More if they’re mostly smaller/cheaper ones, less if it’s the opposite.

    You’ll start out with just a single frigate, though.

    >>I guess you need to be flexible so it all works from the smallest elite fleet to the largest sprawling mega fleet of conscripts.

    Yeah, that’s really the main design constraint. As far as crew sizes, it should go from as little as ten to the low thousands.

    by Alex
  7. Will we be able to mod the levels gained by the crews? Perhaps, space out the branches by applying more ranks inbetween the existing ones.

    by Horrigan
  8. Would it be worth adding in escape pods? If you win the battle, or pick up the pods with a ship which then escapes, your crew survives. You could also pick up enemy crew and make them a compelling offer…

    by DraxisOfWerner
  9. @Horrigan: No – there were a couple of good low-level reasons to keep the ranks fixed.

    @DraxisOfWerner: Hmm, interesting idea! I’d say that all ships are equipped with escape pods (it’d be weird for them not to be), and that the base survival rates of crew (and capture of enemy crew post battle) reflects this. A hull mod to up the odds sounds like it’d be neat, though.

    by Alex
  10. Will the system allow for if I want to load up a couple of elite ships with all the best crew, and leave the rest with green crews? Or spread out my professionals throughout the fleet evenly for more balance?

    An option I would personally like to see is the option to set a given ship to ‘skeleton crew only’ in the event I don’t expect it to live or if I intend to use it irresponsibly…

    by Angaroth
  11. Hmm, you can’t spread out the crew evenly. You can however either spread out the high-level crew into a lot of ships (by putting them the smaller ships first) or focus them in larger ships and leave the smaller ones for green crew to fill. Still, spreading the crew out evenly seems like a reasonable choice – and this approach doesn’t allow it. Not sure if this is a big deal or not, need to think about that a bit more. Thanks for bringing it up!

    As far as skeleton crew, that’s pretty much how it works by default. Crew losses beyond the skeleton crew should only occur if a large number of ships are destroyed – basically, assuming that non-essential crew is automatically moved off to non-combat vessels prior to battle.

    by Alex
  12. I really enjoy these blog posts, keep it up!

    Say, do the crew members appear as listed individuals or are they just shown as lump of resource(like in SPAZ)?

    I mean, can you see a list of all the people you have with actual names (with the ability to rename them perhaps!) and their skill level displayed next to them, or is it just coldly “you have 60 out of 100 crew members, and thats it”?

    One thing that felt really nice in XCOM was the named people. It made me care for them much more, improving immersion and tension. Its nothing more than just saving a string of text, but it was a significant feature in itself.

    by Reactorcore
  13. Thanks!

    It’s somewhere in between – crew members appear as stacks in the cargo interface, so you can get a visual feel for how many there are, what rank they are, etc – but not down to the individual level. The reason is that you might have a few thousand of them in a large fleet. I’ll write up another post about that section of the UI in the near future, I think.

    Officers, on the other hand, will be named individuals with a portrait and a set of skills.

    by Alex
  14. Thanks for the quick response to my message, and I’m not sure that how you spread the experienced crew out is really that important, just curious.

    Just trying to understand though, if I have enough crew to man all the ships at a minimum (skeleton crew), will the left over crewmembers be added to the first ship until it is filled, then on to the next priority one until it fills, etc.?

    by Angaroth
  15. @Alex: I see. Its just that I fear humans will feel like a cheap commodity and not as humans if you cant view them by name.

    If you’re familiar with Rollercoaster Tycoon 1 or 2, you might try having a similar “general guest manager” window where there are 2 categories; “Individuals”, that simply view a name and his/her experience and “Alike Groups” that automatically collects similar individuals by their stats and displays them as groups.

    The first few minutes of this video demonstrates it pretty how it looks like. Especially the menu that is opened at 0:05.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5OBMBmDU_k

    That game often deals with many thousands of individuals and it keeps it all simple and managable at the same time. Maybe this idea might be of use to you.

    by Reactorcore
  16. Maybe you couls add a percentage selection to the crew.
    You could choose for your fleet a mixed percentage of different crew levels, like 10% elite / 25% veteran / 40% regular / 25 % green.
    Be it avaible per ship or only for the whole fleet it would add a logical repartition of crew experience along the fleet.

    by Troll
  17. @Anagroth: If you have excess crew, they’re just assumed to be mainly on ships that you don’t deploy into combat. So the actual assigned, skeleton crews will take the bulk of the losses, while the rest of the crew will be in much less danger. Unless you take such losses that there simply isn’t anywhere the rest of the crew could have plausibly been to avoid getting shot up.

    @Reactorcore: Thanks for the link, that was interesting to see – I like their approach. I think what remains to be seen is whether other elements will humanify the crew enough. There’s also this: life is cheap in the Sector, so commodifying the crew to *some* extent would be thematically consistent. Just enough so that you as the player feel vaguely uneasy about it.

    @Troll: Right, something like that could definitely work. Main thing is to make sure it pulls its weight re: interaction complexity compared to added gameplay benefit. And to make sure (by playtesting) that it’s actually a problem that needs solving :)

    by Alex
  18. Yeah I understand that a feature needs to be useful to exist, no need for superfluous decoration that eats the time that could have been spent on real core features.
    If such a way was to be implemented I’d first tet it with different percentages coupled with the autoresolution, that way you get a “quick” test with scores wich can be compared to scores without the crew selection. Then on to personnal testing.

    by Troll
  19. Alex, should we infer from your previous post that crew management and officer management will be entirely separate systems? Do you think you could just abstract the skill of the crew as the skill of their commanding officer, and sort of merge the two?

    by JuffoWup
  20. Yeah, that’s correct. You could certainly merge the two, but I think crew is an interesting resource to be managed in its own right.

    If you combined it conceptually with officers (rather, let’s call it what it actually is – removing crew as a mechanic altogether), that would place additional requirements on the officer mechanics. I think they could become burdensome as a result.

    For example, right now you can advance ships without the need to explicitly assign officers – and the number of officers you can have will be fairly limited. Think of them as a bonus certain ships get, not something every ship has. If crew wasn’t there, it might be tempting to allow more officers – which have more detailed interactions, and thus are more suited for smaller numbers.

    You could probably come up with an alternate take on officers that lets them fill both roles neatly – but at some point you’ve got to make a decision and go with it :) Personally, I like the crew + officers approach – imo, it’s a bit better for immersion, and gives both clear roles.

    by Alex
  21. Personally, the ordered-list approach strikes me as… somewhat clunky. You can put all your best crew either in a ‘single basket’ or two or into… smaller ships? Just as an outside observer not party to the thought process that went into all stages of this decision, this strikes me as unintuitive, more of a consequence of a mechanic than any sort of logical or immersive outcome.

    I mean, it’s by no means a deal-breaker, but is a bit weird.

    An alternative might be something similar to a percent system like Troll suggested. Perhaps for each ship there are 4 sliders (Like in the 4-x games of yore, with tax sliders) that you can adjust either individually (in the beginning when the fleet size is kind of small, or if there’s a specific ship you want to max out with a specific kind of crew) and later by selecting groups of ships and adjusting the sliders as a group.

    Then, the order of the ships in the list determines who’s quotas get filled first, and who any overflow experienced crew go to.

    The player activity is very simple – one or two mouseclicks per ship when it matters or group of ships when it doesn’t as much, not to mention that there would be an adjustable ‘default’ slider-state for newly acquired ships.

    It gives more control to players that want it, seems less clunkily unintuitive (to me anyways), scales well with the number of ships used, and is barely any more effort than manually arranging a ship order. May be easier in fact, as you don’t have to think about how to finagle a list ordering distributing crew in the specific way you have in mind.

    Wells, far be it for me to tell you folks how to make your game, it’s your baby after all :) Once again, lots of love for the comment-reading and blog-updating. I love reading development blogs, in case that wasn’t clear :)

    by Konstantin Vernikovskiy
  22. Also; Possibly a fifth slider that is some sort of ‘percent of crew you want on this ship’ slider.

    If every ship is set at 100%, then just like now, those ships at the bottom are what come up empty.

    However this would let you set all of your ships to say, 75%, with the exception of Very Important Ships A and B (Who are at 100%) and Unlikely To Get Hurt C and D (Who are at skeleton-crew levels) so that you can field more ships, albeit with a reduced crew-per-ship, when it suits you to.

    It seems like both having a concept of a skeleton crew and not letting the player try to run more ships with fewer crew is either a waste of the concept of skeleton crews, or unnecessarily removing control from the player.

    by Konstantin Vernikovskiy
  23. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You’ve clearly put a lot of thought into it, and I appreciate hearing your ideas.

    There’s a big gap between something a bit higher-level that sounds like a good idea, and something that’s actually ready to implement. I hope that doesn’t come across as patronizing – I certainly don’t mean it that way. It’s just something I wanted to share, having had to learn through hard experience. Throwing away what I thought were good ideas initially – for seemingly trifling, often UI-related reasons – is no fun at all. And I’ve had to do a lot of that :)

    So if you don’t mind, I’d like to cherry-pick a couple of things in your suggested approach that set alarm bells off in my head. (It’s entirely possible that you’d thought through the use cases more fully and didn’t write out every detail, of course.)

    >>Perhaps for each ship there are 4 sliders (Like in the 4-x games of yore, with tax sliders) that you can adjust either individually (in the beginning when the fleet size is kind of small, or if there’s a specific ship you want to max out with a specific kind of crew) and later by selecting groups of ships and adjusting the sliders as a group.

    First of all, this requires being able to select a ship. I know, I know – sounds so stupidly simple – but do note that with the current implementation, that’s actually not a requirement. Since it seems that we’ll also want to move ships around – due to needing to arrange the groups – left-clicking to select is iffy (moving ships around is accomplished by clicking once to pick a ship up, and once to drop it). We could do something where click-and-drag moves a ship instead, and left click “selects” it, but that’s prone to user mistakes – accidental mouse moves while clicking. Also, moving a ship to the end of a long list would need you to hold the mouse button down while using the scrollwheel – again, less than ideal.

    Right-click is out of the question because it’s used to scroll lists / pan around everywhere that you can do that. So what we’re left with is either some modifier key + click to select a ship (yech – modifier key for such a critical function?), or some non-mouse related way to move ships, such as “move up”/”move down” buttons once a ship is selected. Another option is to click on another button (say, “assign crew”) and then click on a ship – this avoids having to select a ship, but almost requires bringing up a modal dialog. For this, it’s a no-go, because you really want to see how adjusting the crew on the one ship affects the rest of the fleet.

    I’m not saying there isn’t a good solution to this – but at least, the first couple of things that come to mind have downsides.

    Another requirement is that we’d need to display the crew selection preferences for each ship somewhere. Since they’re all interrelated – due to drawing crew from the same pool – they all affect each other. It’d be nice to know that, say, the battleship is actually drawing elite crew – all of it – despite showing up as “green” (there’s just not enough of them to make a dent), and the player is left wondering why none of their other ships get any elite crew, even though they’re set up to draw it. This is actually a big problem – that’s a *lot* of data to display, especially after you take the need to display ship groups into account as well.

    Also, there’s a sinister pitfall with “and later by selecting groups of ships and adjusting the sliders as a group.” Either adjusting crews individually is helpful to gain an advantage – and the advantage is perhaps only slightly reduced in importance as you gain more ships – or it’s not advantageous at all (if it’s not, why do we have this in the first place?). So assuming it’s advantageous to tweak crew assignment in detail, some players will always want to play optimally and continue to manage everything. You can’t just count on players stopping to micromanage when it becomes boring – the design has eliminate that possibility as much as it can.

    Now, I’m not saying that the current approach doesn’t have any pitfalls – like you said, it’s a bit unintuitive, and doesn’t give you perfect control. I think that its simplicity makes it easy to learn, and that not having perfect control is both an up and a downside.

    Something that I think could be added with good effect is a single slider for the entire fleet that sets the crew distribution from “elite first” to “spread out”. I’m finding it a bit hard to come up with a good way to map that slider to the specifics of crew distribution, though… but I do like that idea.

    Oh, re: skeleton crews – I think I didn’t make it clear – no ship takes up more than the skeleton crew’s worth of crew. So that’s not an issue – a ship simply can’t take up more crew than what it needs to be combat-ready in the first place. The rest of the crew space is used outside of combat to carry replacement crew and marines.

    by Alex
  24. Wow, that’s a lot of response! Like, actually reviewing my suggestion step-by-step with regards to implementability? That’s fantastic! Thanks! I get free game design lessons :) I’ll just clarify some of my points along the lines you mentioned, not because I stubbornly think you need to use my ideas instead of your own, but, you know, just cuz.

    I’ll confess I first thought of click-and-drag for ship movement and click for ship select with shift and control clicking for group selection, as something people ought to be familiar with from operating systems, having forgotten that dragging something through a scrollbar is persnickety if the list is much longer than about 200 items. A possible solution is to have control-clicking and shift-slicking for selection at all, but as you’ve said, modifier keys for such critical functions, etc. A possible solution would be having every ship icon having a ‘button’ or ‘area’ right over the ship icon that one clicks to ‘pick it up’ for ship repositioning, with all other clicking – click-and-drag allowing you to box off a group of ships – selecting ships (And de-selecting all other ships) and doing it while holding shift adding ships to your selection instead, a convention that’s been used in RTS games for generations.

    The displaying-of-crew issue can actually be quite simple – under every ship, have there be a bar that is colored by the percent any given level of crew takes up. If the ship has all elite crew, the bar is light-brown. If the ship has half veteran/half green, the bar is half orange and half green. It won’t necessarily let you differentiate between a 10/70/10/10 and a 11/69/11/9 split, and I’d have to actually see such a bar on the screen to know whether it’s fully useful or not, but it seems like it should be fine, and may in fact be useful even if you use ordered lists. (I understand testing that function would be a bit of extra coding time, which is perhaps something you don’t need.)

    I realize that between the ‘grab here to lift’ button, the crew-bar, and group selections it may feel like it’s using a lot of icon real-estate. I personally think it can all fit, with ship icon, bar, button, and an icon background color (and little number in the, say, top-left corner, but most importantly background color) to indicate group – the way you have the screen set up up there indicates there’s some ‘free’ real estate that can be used that way, to my designer-eyes, but I could be in the wrong.

    Skeleton crews – I’m glad that works the way it does and I misunderstood it about having a skeleton-crew with the potential to over-staff. Having a binary ‘is there enough crew yes/no’ works much better with your system, and especially if you can be assumed to be able to buy/get green crew relatively trivially, the staff-percentage mechanic may not need to exist.

    Finally, the most important thing of all – how much the player is encouraged to babysit crew layouts by their usefulness. This one is harder to just ‘solve’ in the comment of a dev blog. I figure that this system allows you to boost, say, the effectiveness of all your fighters in an engagement where fighters will be more important, or reduce their crew-skill if you think you will tend to lose a lot of fighters this engagement, without having to worry about indirectly impacting the overall effectiveness of the rest of your fleet by more than very, very slightly. (This type of thinking may actually require the fleet ‘list’ to have a series of tabs up top that allow you to view ships you have by role [a concept that already exists in the game] and may be a useful feature regardless, esp. for larger fleets) I also just feel that secretly, this system may be simpler than ordered-list, because while the ordered list may seem easier to use, it becomes ‘hard to master,’ in that engineering specific crew layouts, while presumably still advantageous, becomes very finicky, with you having to – if you want to prioritize fighters for example – having to find and move each of them to the top or bottom of the list, one at a time, or placing your ‘training’ vessel very carefully somewhere in the middle of the list – and having to place it one or two higher every time you get the initial placement wrong. All the reasons to modify your crew values would still be there, and the controls for manipulating them may even be simpler, but the thought process behind ‘how to make your crew layout the way you want it’ seems more difficult.

    Wellp, some musings for me, intended in the friendly spirit of discussion. Thank you very much for your time in reading these ramblings, and more, responding to them!

    by Konstantin Vernikovskiy
  25. Also, if this is still under discussion at all, an alternative, and far more simple (though not necessarily better) system of crew-related leveling would be to treat the crew as being fleet-wide. Meaning, You have a single counter that tells you how experienced your crew is over your entire fleet, in terms of percentage of effectiveness, a total crew in the fleet value, and individual crew-per-ship values. As you fight with the same fleet and gain no new ships, the crew in general would gradually become more effective, with the percentage counter rising to 110, 115, etc. As you add more ships to the fleet, you are adding more green crew to the pool, diluting it down to lower, closer-to-100 percentages. (Thus, if you keep losing ships and replacing them with new ones, your crew will be habitually green, and if you are a hearty crew that takes few losses, and only expands carefully, it will function as a well-oiled machine.) Behind the scenes, the crew capacity of each ship matters for determining how many crew level up how much, and how much a new ship dilutes the total crew by. Also one could add more experienced crew to the fleet somehow, such as by capturing it, special events, buying training, or contracting hardy mercenaries. To figure out new crew levels, one merely has to weighted average total current crew (Number of crew members, determined by ship size) and their percent effectiveness versus total new crew and their percent effectiveness. You never have to fiddle with it, and it can nicely get across the idea that your crew is improving in a way consistent with your play-style – i.e., whether you are willing to take massive losses or not, and how quickly you like expanding. It also has some parallels to realism – armies didn’t like recruiting massive numbers of men because you get a lot of green peoples wiping out the discipline of the entire army, not just specific units. Basically this parallels having a mandatory even-spread of the crew, and instead of having there be 4 distinct skill levels of crew to oversee, you have a more fuzzy percentage. Also this assumes that new ships come with crew, and you don’t need spare crew, and allows for out-of-combat training with easier math.

    That was a lot of text to say a simple thing. That happens when you don’t have time to edit things down a lot. Oops O.o

    by Konstantin Vernikovskiy
  26. Thank you for being so open-minded, I was half afraid you might take my response as being negative. Everything I said was, as you say, “in the spirit of friendly discussion”, and I’m happy you saw it as such :) I’m no master game designer, just figuring out my way as I go.

    I realize that between the ‘grab here to lift’ button, the crew-bar, and group selections it may feel like it’s using a lot of icon real-estate. I personally think it can all fit, with ship icon, bar, button, and an icon background color (and little number in the, say, top-left corner, but most importantly background color) to indicate group – the way you have the screen set up up there indicates there’s some ‘free’ real estate that can be used that way, to my designer-eyes, but I could be in the wrong.

    Yeah, I’d considered something similar – the trouble is, that’s a lot of stuff – and the are also, unbeknownst to you, another bar showing hull damage (if any) and small officer portraits for officers (if any). I think showing all of those things would cause information overload. Having tried similar layouts (at least in as far as displaying lots of information per grid tile), the point where adding more information makes everything unreadable at a glance comes surprisingly quickly. Having a separate hotspot to click on to pick up something is clunky, too.

    Still, these types of issues could probably be worked through with time and effort. The larger question, to me, is whether the payoff is worth it – we’d end up with a system that’s considerably more complex, harder to figure out (creating/managing groups, 4 sliders?), and nets you a little more direct control over crewing ships – at the cost of a *lot* more effort on the part of the player. I know you’re saying it’s not that much more work if at all, but I strongly disagree on that point :)

    I also just feel that secretly, this system may be simpler than ordered-list, because while the ordered list may seem easier to use, it becomes ‘hard to master,’ in that engineering specific crew layouts, while presumably still advantageous, becomes very finicky

    That’s a good point, there’s potential for that – it’ll take some playtesting to see if the system works well in covering the common things you want to do, or not. I don’t think the two approaches are much different in this regard, though – they both rely on prioritizing to draw crew, which is the root of the (potential) problem.

    Also, if this is still under discussion at all, an alternative, and far more simple (though not necessarily better) system of crew-related leveling would be to treat the crew as being fleet-wide. Meaning, You have a single counter that tells you how experienced your crew is over your entire fleet, in terms of percentage of effectiveness …

    I like it! It’s nice and simple, but creates some interesting dynamics. For my taste, it’s abstracting the crew too much – and of course, you also lose the ability to choose crews for ships in any form. But that’s a matter of preference, and I think that approach would work really well.

    by Alex
  27. (We’ve established how great I think this conversation is? Yes? That’s still true. Moving on.)

    Well, that makes your thoughts on the subject clear and evident, which is all one could hope for! I won’t beat a dead horse further – your points are all valid and well-thought-out, not to mention time and testing being a far better judge of things than drawing room discourse :)

    I would however like to point out that the ability to select more than one ship at a time, as well as tabs for browsing ships by role, may still be rather important features. Otherwise, in a fleet of 500, you have to manually find all of your strike craft, which are not necessarily near each other in the list, and one by one move them to the top of the list, if for the next mission you foresee needing your best crew to be in your strike craft. But that sounds like the sort of minor niggle you would solve one way or the other anyways :) I’m looking forward to playing with this some when it exists!

    by Konstantin Vernikovskiy
  28. Likewise :)

    Ahh, I think we’ve found a differing premise – a fleet of 500 is way beyond what I was thinking in terms of size. It’ll be around 20 ships and fighter wings for a large and balanced fleet. About 30 maximum for one that’s both large and focused on small ships. A pretty reasonable medium-sized fleet might be 5-10 ships. Exact numbers pending some much-needed playtesting, of course – but if they’re too far off that, I suspect the UI would need some adjustments.

    I absolutely agree that manually moving stuff around in a truly large fleet would be a huge pain. For a size like 500, I’d say the current UI wouldn’t work at all – for one, showing 16 ships per screen would be woefully inadequate. Tabs, like you suggest, would almost be a necessity – barring a total paradigm shift, that is.

    by Alex
  29. Ha, ha, I guess when I see the terms ‘mega fleet’ and ‘ten to the low thousands’ thrown around I completely forget that people concretely mention the fleet sizes being no more than 20. Welp, I feel foolish >.>
    Not a lot to add other than, looking forward to next blogpost!

    by Konstantin Vernikovskiy
  30. [...] Finally, the developer of Starfarer has a new blog entry about crew management. [...]

    by Spacey Snippets – 12/1/11 | Space Game Junkie
  31. I know I’m a little late to this party, but I had a few comments.

    First, I like the idea of crew management, and beyond that I absolutely love that you’re involving your community in this kind of discussion.

    Every passionate developer wants to cram all sorts of interesting features into their games. Unfortunately adding features often presents unintended dilemmas, and I think you’ve stumbled into one here.

    Implementing crew in the way you’re proposing might make it easy on the player to “just do something” with the crew, but it’s going to leave power gaming and min/max oriented players with a seriously tedious headache (and lets be honest with ourselves here, the majority of people interested in this type of game are a little on the hardcore side and tend to be prone to min/maxing when the opportunity presents itself).

    As a player, the second you tell me I have crew on every ship, and that crew gains experience, and I can shift the crew around, I’m immediately going to want to find a way to shift that crew around to get the most benefit in whatever situation I’m in. This is the player agency and engagement you’re referring to. But if I’m left with a system that forces me to do backwards, counter-intuitive things like crewing transport ships with all my elite units to preserve them, or putting small ships at the top of the roster in an attempt to spread the “elite” benefits around (since if I don’t, they all seem to end up on my battleship, which has such a large crew roster that it doesn’t make much of a dent on its effectiveness in battle). This all seems overly troublesome. Not to mention the awkwardness of crew advancement from this standpoint. You were worried about in-fiction explanations earlier… what about the inevitable situation where my elite fighter pilots (elite because they kicked serious ass last misssion), after refitting at a starbase (or whatever), are now all automatically crewing my battleship because my crew priorities have the battleship as number one. Or consider the inverse, where I, after prioritizing my battleship for several engagements (and ending up with an elite-crewed battleship), realize I need really good fighters for… something… switch my crew priorities around and, presto, my green fighter squads are instantly elite. Never mind that, probably, being an ace battleship engineer probably doesn’t give you the skills to be an ace fighter pilot.

    So, at this point you’re probably wondering if I have a suggested solution. I do, or, actually, you do already. My advice is to stick with convention when it comes to crew experience for the sake of gameplay. That is, each ship should have a static crew that gains experience. As an individual ship survives an engagement, it’s crew improves. Those ships which have survived numerous engagements will then be elite, and those just off the line will have to fight their way to elite. Ships produced as squads (ie, fighters, etc) should gain and lose experience as a whole, with ships lost in combat and replaced reducing the total squad experience level by that ships percentage of the whole.

    This leaves you with officers as a crew component which players can move from ship to ship and manage at a more individual level. Again, we’re talking 30 ships or so maximum and while I’m not sure how many total officers, I’d assume a fleet of thirty might have 10 or so officers.

    I guess compromise in favor of gameplay and meaningful player decisions is my point here. Crew management, while an interesting idea (and officers are definitely good to have), is likely going to be tedium.

    Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that the idea of not having enough crew for a ship I’ve already built and deployed is cringeworthy at best in my opinion.

    by CleverLikeMe
  32. I think you make a good point about ace fighter pilots vs experienced battleship crew, that’s definitely something that’s a bit off fiction-wise. As you know, the solution you suggest is something that’s been considered – among other things, it won’t work well with the need to shift crew around between outposts and your fleet. It removes crew as a resource, and I’d like to keep it as one.

    As far as potential tediuousness, I’ve yet to spend much time playtesting it, but my gut feeling is it’ll be easy to use. Keep in mind that a likely end-game scenario involves enough elite crew for every ship – or at least for the ones you want to use in combat. Of course, if you take serious losses, then you’ll have to train crew back up, so assigning it comes into play again. Anyway, it’s something to keep an eye on – making the player do something boring is the last thing I want, but again, I don’t think it’ll play out that way. If it does, it’s certainly tweakable.

    by Alex
  33. I won’t be able to mess with the current beta build till this weekend (waiting on parts for my new rig to come in… assuming I can figure out which parts go where when I get them)

    Is this feature implemented in the current pre-order build? Or will it be implemented soon?

    by CleverLikeMe
  34. No – this is all part of the frighteningly large feature set for the next release :)

    by Alex
  35. Not that it is too important but, when you lose some of your fighter wing ships and then repair them at carriers, will crew be taken from the carrier to pilot the rebuilt ships?

    by misterjscape
  36. Good question – still TBD just how that’ll work.

    by Alex
  37. While I wait for my money to arrive at paypal (only to be directed again in your way) I started to read some blogposts. While I enjoyed all of them and agreed with most, I absolutely dislike your current solution (keep in mind that I’ve never played the game (yet) and apologise should I made false assumptions here.

    Your systems currently allows me to make a priority list of ships. The first one will receive so many elites until I’m out of them or the ships fighting strength has been reached. Then the second ship will be filled with elites and veterans and so on.

    The problem that I’m seeing is that if I loose the too biggest ship in a contemporary naval battle, I’d loose my admiral and vice-admiral while the rear-admiral is shitting his pants because he suddenly has to command the remains of the fleet.

    If I got you correctly, I’d loose my admiral, vice-admiral, rear-admiral and everyone of my top X% of my staff if my top ship that holds X% of my staff gets destroyed.

    The only solution to this problem would be to park the elites in a big vessel far away from the heat and only deploy them if their service is crucial.

    So I’d have to manage my personnel before every battle just to avoid losing either them or the battle.

    (I’m aware that the commander is a different story and has his own portrait etc. but I think my point is clear)

    by Arkonos
  38. I’d also be interested in how much of a difference an experienced crew member makes and how they level up.

    Will the experience be based on the amount of destroyed enemies, outcome of battle (defeat, decisive victory etc.)?
    I’d be really strange for a battleship member to receive XP for a fighter group that has been killed by a destroyer while it’d be also strange for a crew not to have learned anything from a defeat.

    by Arkonos