Expanded Battles

First, a brief summary of what this post is about – a new campaign feature that allows nearby fleets – naturally, including yours – to join ongoing battles.

If you’ve been following the development of this release, you’re probably aware that things are in the “polish things and make it fun to play” phase more so than in the “add more features” phase. Why, then, add a significant new feature at this stage? The answer is that it’s a direct response to playtesting, rather than a specifically planned-for feature on the roadmap – it’s meant to help address several important gameplay issues, some quite long-standing. Now was a good opportunity to do it, and here we are. Looking back, I’m glad I ended up taking this on now rather than later – with how many different pieces of the code this change touches, it would only get more difficult with time.


Let’s take a brief look at what the design goals are, and then we’ll dive into the specifics of how it works. Read the rest of this entry »

Hyperspace Terrain

In an earlier post, I’d talked about terrain. An astute observer might have noticed that the terrain discussed there is all more or less normal stuff – nebluas, asteroids, etc. Nothing that’s a good fit for hyperspace, which has more of a “weird” feel.


The first question is, what’s the goal of adding terrain to hyperspace? Obviously not having any terrain there would be a bit boring; spicing things up with some variety is not a bad goal, but something more specific would help guide the design better. So: “make hyperspace travel something that can be done well or poorly by the player”. This fits with the overarching goal of terrain making travel more interesting. Unlike normal terrain – which generally makes things interesting by impacting your interactions with other fleets, i.e. hiding from someone inside a nebula – the goal for hyperspace terrain is to be interesting by itself. This fits nicely with the primary role of hyperspace as a travel medium. Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.


Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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