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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Transponder

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.

Overview
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.

patrol_hail

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Combat Officers

This update is shaping up to be adding a breadth of new features instead of focusing on any one thing in depth. This is a change of pace from previous updates, but it’s nice in that it’ll be easier to flesh out these features when it’s more clear how they should be interrelated. That’s something that would be more difficult to figure out without seeing more basic versions of these features first.

As you’ve no doubt divined from the post title, the new feature is “combat officers” – people you can hire to command other ships in your fleet, improving their performance and letting them keep up with your flagship as your character’s skills improve.

officers_fleet

Keep in mind that this is very much a “20% of the effort to get 80% of the way there” implementation. After laying down some related groundwork while implementing campaign missions,  this took a bit less than a week. Which, if I’m being honest, is shockingly fast, although it’s not particularly fast for the “pure” amount of work it was. It’s that game dev usually takes a long time because a lot of it is spent figuring out exactly where you’re going, trying this way and that, finding your way through the design space. That holds true on many levels, from grander things like designing core mechanics to more mundane things like making a button feel satisfying to click. This time, there was a clear path to an initial implementation, and everything came together very naturally.

What I’d like to do is talk about how officers work now, and then talk about possible ways of fleshing them out later, depending on how other parts of the game shape up.
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Post-Combat Mechanics

Given that New Year’s is coming up, it’s only appropriate to talk about how you acquire shiny new stuff in Starfarer. Oh, wait… Christmas is the “presents” holiday, New Year’s is the “get drunk” one. Never mind! But just the same, that’s what I want to talk about. Shinies, not getting drunk.

… now that my feeble attempts at humor are over and done with, let’s continue.

Battles are a key way to progress through the game. They’re not the only way – you’ll be able to build up an economic power base, for example – but that’s not what this post is about. Battles offer an opportunity to get stuff for free, even if you don’t fancy yourself a pirate, but something slightly more honorable-sounding. The flip side is you can easily lose some hard-earned assets, too – ships, crews, even cargo if the outcome is bad enough.

What I’d like to do is outline the mechanics as they stand, talk a bit about the motivations for doing it this way, and sprinkle in a couple of screenshots. For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume the player won the battle. If they lost, things happen slightly differently, but it’s more or less a mirror image.

Casualties, Boarding, and Repairs
If you’ve played the combat portion of the game, you already know that instead of simply blowing up when hull integrity reaches 0, ships become floating, disabled hulks. There’s a small chance for each of these to be repaired after battle (most likely, player skills will allow you to raise that chance).

So a friendly ship can emerge from battle in the following ways:

  • Completely unscathed or somewhat damaged
  • Disabled and subsequently repaired, with a minimal hull integrity and heavily damaged armor (non-fighters only)
  • Utterly destroyed (fighters and ships whose hulks are shot repeatedly until they blow up – unlikely for anything bigger than frigates)
  • Disabled and beyond repair, and subsequently scrapped for any supplies

The options for enemy ships are slightly different. Retreating ships have a chance to be captured after battle, and the player has a choice between boarding and scrapping these. Disabled ships that can potentially be repaired can also be boarded or scrapped, while ones beyond repair are scrapped automatically.

Also, if a ship takes hull (not armor) damage, then there’s a good chance that some crew will be killed, in rough proportion to how much damage the ship actually took. It’s possible to win a battle and end up losing enough crew that you can’t meet the skeleton crew requirements to deploy most of your ships – so it’s a good idea to carry enough extra crew for these kinds of emergencies. Outside of combat, it’s assumed that automated systems let you get by well enough to navigate the ships, so even extensive crew losses won’t stop you from being able to move around the Sector.

The Odyssey has taken some damage, but the pirate fleet has been eliminated as a combat threat

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