Skills and Story Points

I’ve wanted to update the skill system for a while, but that’s part of the challenge with early-access style development – if you update something too early, you might have to update it again, when yet more things change and make that part not-quite-fit once more. With how many parts of the game the skill systems has tendrils into, it wasn’t something I wanted to do more than once.

Now, finally, the game is in a place where I can do that – I’ve got a good overview of what I actually want from the skill system, the number of unknowns is low, and most of the unknowns are probably known.

(Please note – some of the graphics and text in the screenshots to follow are placeholders.)

So, what are the goals of the skill overhaul? First and foremost, the skill system should increase the replay value of the game – that is, depending on what skills are picked, the player should be able to explore new ways to play the game.
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Salvaging Mechanics Update

This is going to be a shorter blog post – I’d just like to talk about refactoring one mechanic to work a little differently, since I think it’s an interesting one, and thinking it through gave me some trouble.

One of the things you do in the game is go to the fringes of the Sector and “salvage” various derelicts – abandoned stations, Domain-era probes, and so on. It’s a good source of valuable materials and lost technology. With the next release, salvaging will become even more important, since it’ll be the primary way for the player to get ship and weapon blueprints that in turn feed into the manufacturing capabilities of their colonies.

approaching_a_REDACTED

First, a quick look at how it works now:

  • Each derelict has a “salvage difficulty rating”, from 0 to 100%
  • And based on that, also a required amount of heavy machinery and crew to carry out the operation
  • A “Salvaging” skill lets the player salvage higher-difficulty derelicts
  • If the crew of rating requirements aren’t met, the player has the option of blowing up the derelict and scavenging through the resulting debris field
  • Bringing along Salvage Rigs (a type of ship) increases the amount of salvage by up to the difficulty rating of the derelict

This is definitely workable. The main issue is that the amount of salvage without investing points into the skill is too low, but that can be tuned because it’s just a numbers issue. Or… is it?
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Ship Recovery

In the previous post about the skill overhaul, I mentioned a different playstyle enabled by the Industry aptitude. That’s what I’d like to talk about here, but as part of a larger set of changes.

Ideally, you want to solve multiple problems with the same change. This is of course common sense (two birds, one stone) but for game design specifically, it can get tricky. There’s always an option of making a change just to solve a particular problem, and sometimes it’s the right answer.

However, if this is done too often, the danger is you end up with features that are only loosely related to each other – and you end up with a lot of them. A single solution that brings multiple systems together is going to make the design both simpler and deeper.

Let’s look at “industry needs its own playstyle” as a design problem, and see what else can be taken care of as part of the solution.

recovery_fleet

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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.

skills_strike

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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, ┬áthis 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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