Cartography

The map UI in Starsector hasn’t changed much since it was first introduced, back when Corvus was the only star system and there was no hyperspace. It’s been tweaked here and there to support new features along the way – terrain, for example – but the core functionality has remained the same.

map_fixed

With the upcoming update drastically increasing the number of star systems the map has to handle, and its focus on exploration, it was finally time for an overhaul.
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The Grim Visage Of Space Pirate Ivaylo

Ivaylo has been kind enough to grant permission to be used as a subject to show how I draw Starsector portraits – so now I shall show you how I draw Starsector portraits. Before we put pen to tablet, it is worth revisiting the stylistic standards and artistic goals in play.

Let’s pull up an image of some portraits to demonstrate principles.

screenshot050

Design Principles

First, the basics: These are painted in Photoshop on a black background at 512×512, resized down to 128×128 for the in-game art. This was not the case in early releases of Starsector – then, I drew portraits at-res. Going higher res allowed me to use a more painterly technique and otherwise focus more on just making the image rather than worrying about where individual pixels end up. I’ve historically been enthusiastic about small-scale painting, but if it holds back technique, it’s gotta go.

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Orbital Stations in Combat

Like exploration, orbital stations are a bit awkward to talk about because I’d like to avoid spoiling things, and this rules out talking about all of the content currently using these mechanics. So, the mechanics are what we’ll talk about instead, with a placeholder station for reference.

Before we go on, a disclaimer. Talking about pure mechanics is also tricky, because we’re talking about potential. Potential is very exciting, but often for the wrong reasons – it can mean whatever you want it to mean. Two people can talk about the same ideas, agree that they love them, and mean entirely different realizations of said ideas that the other person would hate.

Finally, the details of the mechanics may point towards specific content that isn’t in the game yet. That doesn’t mean that it will be at some point, though it probably means I’m intending to look at it very closely. Whether that’ll pan out or not, though, is impossible to say until it’s actually done.

All I’m asking for, then, is some brakes for the potential hype train. Really, this applies to any blog post to varying degrees – things can and do change all the time – but it feels more important to mention here, perhaps because the idea of orbital stations in battle really makes my own imagination take off.

With that out of the way, I introduce to you the ISS Placeholder, an orbital station that you will (almost) certainly not see in the game.

station_base

The main thing that makes this otherwise smart-looking (if I do say so myself) station a placeholder is its size, barely battleship-level. That’s not to say it could never see action in a different role, but it’s not big enough to be, say, a hypothetical battlestation defending a planet. If such a thing were a thing, which right now it isn’t.

So, how does this all work?
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Fighter Redesign

Let’s begin by taking a look at how fighters started out, to see how they got to the point of needing a redesign.

The first playable release of the game only had combat missions, and the way fighters worked was heavily influenced by that. My understanding of how the campaign would work was at that point quite fuzzy, and so once the campaign did come about, fighters had to be adjusted to fit in. This led to some awkward mechanical interactions and obscure rules.

fighters_mora

For example, if you have any ships with flight decks in your fleet, then you can’t lose fighters permanently. However, you can still have fighters in your fleet if you don’t have any carriers, they just don’t get any replacements in combat, and if you lose all of them, you permanently lose the wing. And if you do have carriers deployed, and lose all the fighters in a wing in combat, they may get replacements or be lost for the duration of the battle, depending on whether any flight decks were available at the exact moment the last fighter was destroyed.

Very much a “good enough for now” state of affairs, and something that’s been gnawing at me for a while. It’s too much of a mess to continue ignoring indefinitely, but why clean it up now, seemingly when there’s exploration, salvage, and everything related to work on?

The answer is, of course, that fighters tie into those things. Can you recover fighters through salvage? Can automated defenders use fighters? What about the eventual/upcoming skill revamp? That certainly needs to include fighters. Despite being a relatively small part of combat, fighters are still a part of that foundation, and it’ll help moving forward to finally have it be solid.
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Exploration & Salvage

Exploration is a bit awkward to write about – a large part of the fun is discovering stuff for yourself, and I don’t want to totally ruin it for you. On the other hand, I think it’s an interesting topic, so, a compromise: most of the blog post will be focused on the mechanics and systems in play, with less in the way of specific examples and screenshots.

If you’ve read the previous blog post about planetary surveys, you know that procedural generation is already in the dev build. In a literal sense, flying around new star systems every game and checking them out is exploration, but clearly that by itself wouldn’t really merit being called that, not as an official feature. Even if (if I do say so myself!) the procedural generation produces some pretty nice starscapes.

salvage_trinary

So, what makes exploration fun, and why do we want exploration in the first place?
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