Faction Music

The addition of faction music in the upcoming 0.7a is probably my favorite audio feature in Starsector. Here’s a small video breaking down some of the music for the Hegemony faction, along with an explanation on how reputation affects the soundtrack.

Comment thread here.

The Trouble With Greebles

I started working on Starsector in the middle of 2010, over five years ago. An artist grows and changes in that kind of time. It’s only natural that I’d refine my technique and artistic opinions regarding the art of Starsector. No, I’m not proposing the redraw everything! – just, perhaps, this and that which was inelegantly handled in light of my current experience. This applies to many aspects of Starsector, but in particular let’s talk about greebles.

The artistic (re)thinking the led to this post is entirely inspired by Niklas Jansson‘s writing On the topic of good spaceship design which I re-read every six months or so. I highly recommend reading it along with basically everything on his webpage, particularly his thoughts on making art generally and pixel art if you’re the artistic type. Let me pull a relevant quote from the spaceship design article from Jansson:

Sometimes when I do a design, I find myself filling the remaining last few areas/surfaces with irrelevant nonsense and greeble, and I may think that I can get away with it because I’m happy with the rest of the design. Unfortunately it brings down the overall quality of the design. What could have been contributing is not.

Guilty as charged.

Now I do like what the larger forms in this design suggest, and the impression of a flying oil refinery, but it is totally greeble city.

Now I do like the impression of a flying oil refinery, but it is totally greeble city.

Greebles are little doodads encrusted on spaceships without discernible purpose. At the best they are visual texture which contributes to a sense of scale, or – to borrow from Star Wars – to a sense of a “used universe”, to industrial-grunge aesthetics. I love all of those things. But at worst they are visual noise which muddles artistic intent, or even a crutch upon which to support a design which has a weak overall sense of form and composition. They can be a cheap path to adding visual interest with busy patterns and high contrast. Greebling can be a useful tool, but I’m much more wary now about it than I was five years ago.

I’ve always tended toward greebliness in my sci-fi art. Let me present an example from 2008: I was making a portfolio website totally covered in greebles to show off how cool and greebly I could be. Compare what’s going on here to Starsector ships you can doubtless see a continuity of style:

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In the spirit of continuing to liven up the campaign layer of the game (and also knocking out a swath of high-level features in the most-straightforward-possible way), I’ve been working on terrain in the past couple of weeks.

But first, in the name of putting something shiny before the break: fleet contrails!


In addition to being eye candy, these also serve as visual indicators of ability use. For example, using the “Emergency Burn” ability brightens up and extends the trail, while activating “Go Dark” reduces its length and duration.

With that, onwards to terrain. What does it do? It affects fleets that are in it – their speed, detection range, that sort of thing. Why is it there? As usual, part of the answer is “to give the player an opportunity to make interesting decisions”. Without terrain, if you’re being pursued, running one way or another is pretty much the same.

If you might lose your pursuers in an asteroid belt, or hide inside a nebula, then you’ve got reasons for going one way or another. Beyond that, adding terrain to star systems gives them more personality and makes them more interesting.

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I’d mentioned transponders in the last couple of posts, mostly in the “here’s roughly what they do, details TBD”. Well, I’ve spent the last week or so working on it, and now it’s time for those details!

A transponder, much like in real life, is a shipboard device that sends out identifying information on a public channel. Smugglers, pirates, and other shady types find some advantages from turning it off, offset by increased attention from patrols.  Conceptually, each ship has one, but in terms of game mechanics, it’s controlled on a fleet level. All ships in a fleet either have their transponders on or off.

Because I’m pretty sure someone will bring it up: you could probably squeeze some nuance out of allowing per-ship transponder control. However, I think it’s better to keep individual mechanics as simple as possible and get complexity out of the interactions of different mechanics instead. It’s the same idea as having a few simple rules that work together vs one really complicated rule. In the first case, you have a game. In the second, you have a mess.

Before diving into the complexities, let’s summarize what the transponder does, mechanically:

Turning the transponder off attracts the attention of patrols, makes you harder to see, reduces the reputation impact of your actions, and allows trade that might not be possible otherwise due to your reputation.

I think it’s interesting to see how something that can be summarized relatively succinctly nonetheless gets very involved in the details. With that in mind, let’s dive into those.


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The focus of the last couple of weeks has been on improving campaign gameplay. In practical terms, this means giving the player some choices as they move from point A to point B, and making sure there can be a positive or a negative outcome depending on how well the player does. A simple case, useful for thought experiments, is one fleet trying to chase down another – what options does each of them have, and how do their choices interact?

Before answering that, it’s a good idea to take a step back and consider what kind of feel we’d like the campaign to have. Should it be more visceral, or more detached? The answer is going to drive the design of the gameplay mechanics. For example, if we want visceral-feeling gameplay, then giving the player more direct control of the fleet might be a good idea (e.g. WASD vs click-to-move), and we might also want to give the player less time to react.

Now, I happen to think that this isn’t the right way to go, and something more detached, slower, and tactical would work better. The player is going to be doing all sorts of things in the campaign that don’t involve dodging or chasing enemy fleets, and a visceral-type design could easily bleed over into those activities. We don’t want “interact with market” to be a nail-biting experience, or even something that’s a challenge to do – at least, I definitely don’t. Some of this comes down to personal preference; much of any design does – but now that it’s settled on, let’s take a look at how we’re going to go about it.

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