Blueprints, Doctrine, and Production

How starships get produced has been heavily abstracted so far – there’s a colony, and it spawns fleets made up of faction-appropriate ships, and that’s about all there was to it. To be fair, that’s all that needed to be there, since it was not something the player could interact with in more detail than attacking those fleets.

Now that the player can establish colonies and manage a faction of their own, we need more detail. Not so much that it’s a chore to manage, but enough to cover the things the player will naturally want to do.

If you’ve been keeping track of the backstory, most heavy manufacturing in the Sector is done using “blueprints” – precise specifications for building a ship or a weapon, that an automated factory can use to build the item. Copying these is difficult-to-impossible, and their dwindling supply contributes to the gradual decline of the Sector. This is the base we’ll use to develop the manufacturing mechanics, making adjustments to cover the demands of gameplay, as needed. That is to say, if blueprints have to work a certain way for the gameplay to come together, then hands will be waved.

A “blueprint” is an item the player can find and right-click to “learn”. For example, they might acquire the blueprint for a Medusa-class destroyer or a Heavy Mauler, a ballistic weapon. This works similarly to how players learn new hull-mods. After a blueprint has been learned, the player’s heavy industry becomes capable of producing the items in question – there are lots of details here, and we’ll get to those in a bit, but that’s the basic system.


This is in line with the design principle that exploration should yield stuff that feeds into the player’s colony-building. The rare blueprints are to be found on the Sector’s fringes, and not for sale at one core world or another.

That’s a lot of blueprints, isn’t it?
Indeed it is. If we’ve got one blueprint per ship, weapon, and fighter, it’s… oh, something like 100 for the core game. If you include mods, the total easily gets into the low thousands.

That’s too much to ask the player to acquire from random drops. Not everything is guaranteed to be available in every campaign to begin with, but if you raise the numbers of possible drops, and the player, say, only gets a hundred total opportunities for a rare blueprint from different locations on the fringes – it just doesn’t add up. Having to acquire blueprints for basics such as a “Light Machine Gun” also isn’t very exciting.

We need to cut the numbers drastically here. The first step is making some blueprints (such as the aforementioned LMG) known from the start, by every faction. Let’s say they’re so common they’re burned into autofactory firmware. Or the blueprints themselves are so common that the player doesn’t need to be bothered with it, and we can just assume there’s always some around. Or maybe the tech is simple enough that they don’t require blueprints at all.

The second step is bundling up certain not-entirely-common, but also not-very-exciting blueprints into “packages” – a single item which lets you learn multiple blueprints at the same time.

For example, there’s a “Low-tech Blueprint Package” that lets the player learn a couple of the more common ships and weapon from that design period. It’s not going to include the Onslaught-class Battleship, but it will include the somewhat less exciting Dominator (cruiser) and Enforcer (destroyer). Unlike the rare single-item blueprints, these will probably be found for sale – more or less reliably, to avoid having to repeatedly sift through markets looking for one.


Presumably, mods would provide their own blueprint packages for the workhorse ships and weapons, and only designate a few individual blueprints as “rare”.

This two-pronged approach should bring the number of rare blueprints down to something manageable.

What will the player want to do?
Given the blueprint-learning system, I think there are two core things the player will want to be able to do.

The first is being able to build the ships and weapons for their own use. If they find a “Light Needler” blueprint (a rare, highly effective anti-shield weapon), you can bet the first thing the player will want to do is make a bunch of them to equip their ships.

The second – the player controls colonies, and those produce their own fleets – patrols, trade fleets, and other such. The composition of these is based on what blueprints are available, and I think many players will want to be able to fine-tune the fleets further, even if it has limited practical impact on their effectiveness.

For example, if they’re aligned with a specific faction, they might want to use similar ships or weapons. In the context of using mods, the player should be able to play as a faction the mod adds – using their weapons and ships, and – provided those cover all the bases – not much else. We also want to avoid any situations where learning a new blueprint is a bad thing.

Let’s talk about fleet composition first.

Blueprint Management
The first thought I had was letting the player enable the blueprints they want. This is broadly workable, but gets weird if they disable too many things. For example, how does a colony create a trade fleet if all freighters are disabled? So, instead of a “hard” on/off setting, blueprints can be “prioritized”.

If a fleet needs a small freighter, and one kind is prioritized? It’ll use that. If there isn’t a priority one, it’ll pick among all the available ones – and since there’s a “base” set of blueprints that’s always known, we don’t need to worry about specific ship types being entirely unavailable.

The player can do the same thing with weapons and fighters, determining how the ships in their fleets will be outfitted.

Management UI
The sheer possible number of ships and weapons for the player to manage is, once again, a challenge. If there are 500 known ships, putting them in a simple list and asking the player to check the ones they want to prioritize is unreasonable – we need to provide an interface that makes this as smooth as possible.

So, what are our design goals? One is to make the basic task of “prioritize everything for a particular style” quick and easy, and for that to serve as a base for further fine-tuning; this is for the player that’s going to be interested in customizing their faction in that way.

To that end, every ship/weapon/etc gets a new property – the “design type”. In the core game, that’s “Low-tech”, “Midline”, and “High-tech”, with a few other ones (such as designs hacked together by the Luddic Path or pirates). Modded factions would presumably give their ships and weapons a new design type, making them easier to identify and select.

The UI lets the player filter blueprints by design type and then press a single button to prioritize everything matching the filter. Blueprints can also be prioritized individually by clicking on them.


The other goal is for everything to function smoothly if the player doesn’t even open this screen; both for the player that’s not particularly interested in this customization, and for the new player that doesn’t know about it. The flow should be “ah, I’d like the fleets my colonies launch to be different, how do I do that?”, not “everything is on fire, how do I fix it?”. That just involves having sensible defaults for everything, and having the always-available “base” set of blueprints goes a long way towards making sure things will work when left alone.

Faction Doctrine
In addition to deciding what blueprints to use, the player can also specify some broad faction-wide settings for their fleets – a “doctrine”.


The warships/carriers/phase ships set of selectors let the player set the overall ratio of those types of ships in their fleets, with 7 points to distribute among the three. They can also decide how much to favor officer quality, ship quality, and the number of ships, likewise with 7 points to distribute. (What’s “ship quality”? More on that in a bit!)

Then there are two separate controls, one for ship size, and one for ship captain aggressiveness. There’s also a handy display showing a “typical” fleet using the current doctrine and blueprint configuration.

Non-player factions are configured using the same set of doctrine controls (and, indeed, use the same concept of blueprint availability and prioritization).

The aggressiveness control is particularly interesting because applies not just to officers, but to “default”, no-special-captain-assigned ship behavior. For example, pirates and pathers will have a high aggressiveness on all their ships. Alongside the other options, it’s a good one to have for differentiating the various factions a bit more.

For example, pirates might have low ship quality, high numbers, and high aggressiveness. Tri-Tachyon (a technology-focused corporation) might have poor combat officers (more concerned with the business side of things), and low ship numbers, but high ship quality, along with low aggressiveness (all those repairs won’t pay for themselves!).

Ship Production Quality
In the current release, certain factions use hulls with built-in d-mods (i.e., defective or damaged hulls, with subpar combat performance). Having a variable ship quality is a way to extend that concept to work on all sorts of ships, not just ones with hand-made (D) versions. Low production quality results in ships with more d-mods, and low quality ships are also less likely to be equipped with higher-tier weapons.

In addition to the doctrine “ship quality” setting, ship quality can be increased by finding a “nanoforge” and installing it in a colony’s Heavy Industry. Various quality nanoforges can be found in the ruins on the fringes of the Sector. (Another instance of exploration contributing to colony development, if you’re keeping track!)


Not every colony is capable of ship production – in fact, most aren’t. Ship production is based off importing a “Ship Hulls & Weapons” commodity produced by Heavy Industry. When the supplier of ship hulls is in the same faction, all is well. When, on the other hand, ship supply is coming from another faction, it’s limited to clunkers – that is, there’s a significant quality penalty. The idea here is to encourage the player to develop their own heavy industry, but to also give them something to get off the ground with before that point.

Custom Production
We’ve covered fleet customization options, and a few things that grew out of that as far as general-purpose faction configuration. Now, the more basic feature – being able to build stuff from blueprints, for the player’s personal use.

There’s a screen similar to the blueprint management one, but instead of prioritizing blueprints, it lets the player create a production order. The monthly production capacity depends on how much Heavy Industry the player’s colonies have. It’s expressed in credits, with ships, weapons, etc, costing about half of their normal purchase price to produce; the cost is added to the monthly income report. If an item costs more than the production capacity, it will take more than one month to finish.

The price point – roughly half of the purchase price – means that 1) it’s beneficial to custom-produce your own ships and weapons, but 2) it’s not profitable to do it just to sell them off.

The player can also choose a “gathering point” where the production order will be delivered, along with some fuel, supplies, and crew.


What’s interesting about this screen is that looking at it now, it’s very simple. You just click on things to produce them (or, er, control-click to produce more of them, but that’s a minor point), and there’s a cost limit. That’s it! But it started out a lot more complicated – the initial idea had the concept of how long something takes to build, a priority queue for the order in which things should be constructed, which colonies are working on which part of the order (and tracking the current progress), and so on.

Now, I was never at a point where that mess was something I was happy with and wanted to actually build – it was a starting point to simplify from. It came to be from a “let’s think about how it would actually work” approach, or “realism” in some sense. And I did need a starting point, so it did the job of providing one.

The key simplification was to take one step back in terms of abstraction and express production costs directly in credits. After all, at the level the player is operating on here, they really are just deciding how much money to throw at their problems – and this is consistent with other mechanics on the colony level, where credits are the primary resource. Once that became clear, everything else just fell into place, and the result is a screen which probably looks like it just came out fully-formed the way it did.

(There is one concession to realism here, however – most items have a hidden “how long would it take to build at a minimum” time. So regardless of the production capacity, if one queues up a battleship the day before the end of the month when custom production “ticks”, it’s not going to materialize out of thin air.)

So, there you have it – blueprints, with a side order of faction customization!


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This entry was posted on Monday, February 12th, 2018 at 7:24 pm and is filed under Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.