This update is shaping up to be adding a breadth of new features instead of focusing on any one thing in depth. This is a change of pace from previous updates, but it’s nice in that it’ll be easier to flesh out these features when it’s more clear how they should be interrelated. That’s something that would be more difficult to figure out without seeing more basic versions of these features first.
As you’ve no doubt divined from the post title, the new feature is “combat officers” – people you can hire to command other ships in your fleet, improving their performance and letting them keep up with your flagship as your character’s skills improve.
Keep in mind that this is very much a “20% of the effort to get 80% of the way there” implementation. After laying down some related groundwork while implementing campaign missions, this took a bit less than a week. Which, if I’m being honest, is shockingly fast, although it’s not particularly fast for the “pure” amount of work it was. It’s that game dev usually takes a long time because a lot of it is spent figuring out exactly where you’re going, trying this way and that, finding your way through the design space. That holds true on many levels, from grander things like designing core mechanics to more mundane things like making a button feel satisfying to click. This time, there was a clear path to an initial implementation, and everything came together very naturally.
What I’d like to do is talk about how officers work now, and then talk about possible ways of fleshing them out later, depending on how other parts of the game shape up.
Combat Officers Basics
As you’re browsing a comm directory, you might see a public listing for a mercenary. If you talk to them, they’ll offer to hire on for a sum depending on their starting level.
Once you have an officer in your employ, you can assign them to one of your ships. Officers have combat skills that directly benefit their piloted ship, drawing from the same skill pool as the player, and they gain experience from being in combat.
When an officer gains enough experience for the next level, you can level them up. At each level-up, you have a choice between two randomly selected skills – one already known one, and one that may be known or unknown. The skills are preselected at an earlier point, to discourage reloading until one gets a specific pick.
You could have a number of officers (currently up to 10), so keeping the choices simple but meaningful is important. To make your selection carry more weight, officers learn new skills at level 1, but gain ranks in already-known skills 3 points at a time. A few lucky picks, and you could easily have a level 10 skill on a level 4 officer. With a current maximum level of 20, an officer can theoretically max out 5 skills.
To sum it up: hire officers, assign them to ships, and level them up. The backbone of a system, with lots of potential avenues for expansion, should that be desirable.
One such expansion is giving officers personalities that affect their in-combat behavior. It’s possible to do this without officers, of course – one can easily imagine a set of “standing orders” given to a ship that govern how it behaves; no officers strictly needed for that.
Combining this with officers, however, accomplishes several things. First off, it makes officers more important and gives them some, well, personality. Second, it neatly sidesteps having to create an entirely separate mechanic, with its associated UI and content creation burdens.
The personalities (currently implemented and undergoing some testing and tweaking) are:
Default behavior – nothing to see here, move along.
A ship under this kind of officer will behave as if it’s civilian, refusing to engage unless directly ordered to. Unlikely to be destroyed, but also unlikely to fight up to its full potential. Some loadouts will definitely get more out of this than others. Somewhat unexpectedly, I think battleships might benefit a good bit, as no amount of timidity will make them able to really disengage due to their low speed – so they’ll just end up fighting very carefully.
Will prefer harassing and fighting outside enemy range/on the outer edge of its own weapons. AI-wise, this is the most difficult to get right. The goal is to strike a balance between some aggression and more reliable survivability, and I’m still working out some kinks.
Will try to engage at minimum weapons range to get the most possible firepower on target, and will treat civilian ships as if they weren’t. A handicap in many cases, though it might make some specific loadouts perform better.
I expect I’ll end up doing considerably more tweaking of these in the future, but these behaviors already feel strongly differentiated for little-to-none AI restructuring.
How officers don’t work (or, “things that could be neat/added later, depending”)
This is going to be a grab bag of answers to likely questions, ideas, and speculation. Consider yourself warned!
Officers don’t cost you anything after you’ve hired them on. It would make sense for you to have to pay them monthly, but there are also other places where it would make sense to have periodic expenses, and there’s no system yet. So, this’ll likely happen when all that comes together. For now, enjoy your officers gratis.
What about staff officers, you ask? Ones that benefit your entire fleet rather than just the ship they’re on? If you’ve been following the game closely, you know that skills in general need a bit of a revamp, and in particular, leadership skills are lacking and industry skills don’t yet exist. It makes sense to hold off on looking at staff officers until after skills get another pass.
Can officers get injured or killed? Currently not. I don’t want to add it as a mechanic until I know why it’s there, beyond “but it makes sense!”. That’s usually a poor reason to add something, especially if it’s the only reason one is able to articulate, which is currently the case for me here.
Can officers be assigned to fighter wings? Not at the moment, as it gets messy both UI, mechanics, and implementation-wise. I’d like to take a look at it at some point, though.
Some other ideas:
Limiting the maximum number of officers based on a (likely Leadership-based) player skill.
Having officers “acclimate” to their ships, growing into their full performance over the course of days or weeks. The idea there would be to 1) make officers feel more associated with a specific ship, giving both more personality and 2) to eliminate minimaxing-driven officer swapping. It remains to be seen whether the latter is a problem, and this is non-trivial both UI and mechanics wise, so it’s on the shelf for now.
And with that, back to working feverishly on everything all at once!
Comment thread here.