Skill Overhaul

The current skill system in Starsector was added quite a while ago. That in itself isn’t a reason to redo it, but as with all first-pass systems, some downsides of the implementation became apparent along the way.

But why update it now, rather than sometime down the line? New features in this release need skills to complement them, and adding more skills to the old system would just be adding more stuff to redo later – it’s more efficient to overhaul the system now, and add the new skills in a hopefully-final form. In addition, it’ll be nice to address some long-standing balance issues, but more on that later.

First, let’s take a quick look at the old system. There are 4 aptitudes – Combat, Leadership, Technology, and Industry – and each aptitude has skills under it. The maximum level of a skill is determined by the level of the aptitude it’s under, and the player gets 2 skill points per level and 1 aptitude point every other level.

Skills have 10 levels, a base effect that increases with skill level (e.g. 2% more damage per level), and two perks – each providing significant and sometimes game-changing bonuses – at level 5 and 10 in the skill.

Now, instead of talking about the issues with this system, what I’d like to do is talk about the new system, and mention the issues in the context of how they’re being addressed.


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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.


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.


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.


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.


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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