Comm Relays

Since the last post, I’ve been working on a lot of framework stuff. All of it is directly in support of the content for the next release, but until now, it hadn’t all come together in a way that would make it easy to demonstrate. Now, though, there’s a good vertical slice to talk about; a new piece of content that uses many of the new pieces – the comm relay.

We’ve talked about events and information gathering in the previous blog post, and that’s where comm relays come in. You need to be in a star system with one to receive news reports and other kinds of intel. Here’s what one looks like in-game:

 comm_relay

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On Trade Design

An Aside
It’s that time again when I get to talk about stuff that’s going to be in the next release. This time, though, I’m going to talk about it a little earlier in the dev process than I’m usually comfortable with. Why is that? Well, for one, I’d like to talk about it. It’s fun! For two, waiting until it was mostly done would mean this blog post would come out a week or so before the actual release, and I don’t think anybody wants that.

In short, instead of talking about the actual implementation of something, we’re going to talk about the design and the motivations for why things are going to work a certain way. This also means that things almost certainly won’t work exactly as described here, because implementation gets in the way of finely crafted theory on occasion. Consider yourself warned!

Trade
Now, what was I talking about? Oh, right, trade. The trouble with trade is that in its most basic form, it’s boring. You go someplace, buy some stuff, go someplace else, sell whatever you bought, hopefully make a profit, and then repeat that until you have enough credits to do something that’s actually interesting.

freighters_over_planet

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Combat Readiness Update

With CR being one of the main features (perhaps the main feature) of the 0.6a release, it makes sense to revisit it after seeing how it’s played out so far.

(If you haven’t been keeping up with the details: CR (“combat readiness”) is a percentage rating each ship has that’s reduced each time it’s deployed into combat and governs how effective it is, and whether it can be deployed at all. Recovering CR costs time and supplies, thus rewarding the player for winning with fewer ships. That’s not the only reason for CR’s existence, but there’s a whole blog post devoted to it, so I won’t talk about it here.)

Overall, I think CR accomplished its intended goals, but that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect and can’t be improved. One of its effects in the current form is that ships go from “pretty much working fine” to “can’t even deploy this rust bucket anymore” awfully quickly, without much of a transition period. For reference, right now a ship below 10% CR can’t be deployed at all, while a ship below 20% CR suffers weapon and engine malfunctions. In theory that should be the aforementioned transition period, but in practice deployment costs are high enough that it can get skipped altogether.

With that in mind, the changes:

Ships have their deployment costs and CR recovery rates halved.
This means the supply cost per deployment and the recovery time remain the same, but more consecutive deployments are possible.

Malfunctions start at 40% CR, critical malfunctions start at 20%
This is all about extending the transition period between “working fine” and “not working at all”. A ship in average shape has roughly the same number of deployments as before until it runs into malfunctions, but now it’s possible to continue deploying the ship well beyond that.

Just what are critical malfunctions, you ask? Conceptually, it’s a chance for things to go very, very badly wrong. For example, a power junction failing catastrophically, ammo exploding inside a magazine, an engine containment field failing, that sort of thing. In game terms, it’s a chance for weapons and engines to go offline for the duration of the battle, and cause major hull damage in the process. Simply deploying a ship at low CR will cause some of these, an continued use in battle has a chance to cause even more.

Say goodbye to the starboard-side Heavy Blaster and some engines; and that’s just the beginning!

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Starsector 0.6a Release

Update: Hotfix for crashes from picking up a ship in your fleet under some circumstances and from showing the tooltip for an over-capacity crew bar is up. Please re-download the game using the links below – make sure the file you get ends with RC4.

Starsector version 0.6a is now out! You can get it here:

(Alternate download links: Windows Mac Linux)

While that’s downloading, let’s take a look at what’s new in this release:

  • Hyperspace, a new star system, and a new faction
  • Complete combat sound overhaul
  • New campaign battle mechanics – use of travel drive to enter the battle space, a new battle type for chasing down escaping ships
  • Reworked logistics system
    • “Combat readiness” used to deploy ships into combat
    • “Logistics rating” combines fleet points and other supply-consuming expenses
  • New logistical support ships – Construction Rig, Ox-class Tug
  • Campaign UI overhaul – takes advantage of higher screen resolutions, displays more pertinent information while traveling
  • Improved fighter mechanics
  • Adjustable battle size
  • A ton of modability improvements

The above is a rough outline; if you’re interested, the full list of changes is here, and it’s… sizable.

I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about why 0.6a took until now to get out the door. It’s been a little over 8 months, certainly much longer than I’d like a release cycle to take. The reason for this is that almost all of the features in this release are interrelated, and so 1) are difficult to separate and 2) are dependent on each other to work well.

Except for the addition of hyperspace and a new star system, this release is dedicated to reworking how the combat and the campaign layers interact. Combat readiness is central to that, as discussed in a prior post.  The new battle mechanics are inseparable from it. The logistics rating and the new fighter mechanics are, if you will, its tendrils, reaching both into the combat and the campaign.

Would it have been possible to separate out some of these? Sure. But, I don’t think introducing a feature without related mechanics that actually make it work is a good idea. Given that, the best approach was to wait until enough features were ready to make a coherent whole, which is where we are now. On the bright side, this makes the development process more efficient – the amount of placeholders, temporary UI elements, and the like is reduced significantly.  So, yes, it did take a while to get here – but would have actually taken a good bit longer if I tried to force out a couple of releases along the way.

With that said, thank you for your continued support, and I hope you enjoy this release!

Comment thread here.

Hyperspace

A little while ago, an update to the patch notes revealed hyperspace and multiple star systems as some of the features that will be in the next release. Patch notes being what they are, there wasn’t much detail, so I thought I’d write a post about how hyperspace works.

First, perhaps obviously, hyperspace is a means of moving from one star system to another.

The way it works is a ship transitions to hyperspace using a jump point, travels to its destination (another jump point, whether it’s naturally-occurring one or artifical), and then transitions back to normal space. Movement and combat in hyperspace work just the same way they do inside a star system.

The Corvus system, as seen from hyperspace (the background is a bit of a placeholder)

Well, not exactly the same. Movement in hyperspace also consumes fuel, based on the ships in the player’s fleet. For now, in the absence of an economy and only having two star systems, fuel is plentiful and cheap. Ultimately, it should become a significant limitation. For example, to explore distant star systems, the player might go out and create an outpost to stash fuel and supplies. They could then use a smaller, fuel-efficient fleet to poke around in the nearby star systems, resupplying as needed.
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