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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Battle Plan

If you’ve been keeping track, about 3 months ago, I decided to push back the next release in order to get the initial version of the campaign implemented first. I thought I’d talk a bit about the progress that’s been made, and what to expect in the near future.

First, a minor matter of nomenclature – the next version is going to be called 0.5a (up from 0.35a) to reflect the large chunk of features it contains.

Now, what’s actually done already? I’ll try to keep this on a high level to keep the post from spiraling out of control – there is already a forum thread with the gory details, if you want to dig deeper.

Everything takes place within a single star system for now. You can manage your fleet, cargo, and crew, and engage hostile fleets in battle. You can engage in post-battle boarding actions and salvage what remains of the enemy (and your!) ships. You can refit your ships using available weapons and hull modifications. Ship weapons and engines can get damaged and disabled in combat, adding a whole new layer of tactical considerations. There have been many UI improvements – most notably lots more tooltips, and much-improved existing tooltips. There are also several new ships and weapons. You can create a new character – just a name and portrait for now – and there’s the save/load functionality you’d expect.

When I put it that way, it sounds just about playable, doesn’t it? The trouble is, right now those things are just disjointed features, and what I’ll be doing over the coming weeks is cobbling them together into something that’s actually fun.

The next step is to add factions and faction-specific fleets into the game. There won’t be any higher-level campaign mechanics yet – for now, fleets will spawn somewhere in the star system. There also needs to be a way to hire crew and buy/sell weapons and ship hulls – so we’re probably looking at some basics of interaction with a populated planet. I’d also like to add player skills and character and crew advancement – though that’s separate enough that it could be deferred to a subsequent build if need be.

But none of those are particularly time-consuming as features. The major, major task remaining is intangible – it’s simply going to take a lot of play-testing, balancing, and more play-testing to get all of the above right.

So, what can you expect?

First of all, I’m going to get a just-barely-playable version of the above together and put out a preview release to those interested. It won’t be balanced, it will have bugs, but it will help a whole lot to get some feedback. This should happen in January. After that, I’ll spend some time polishing it up and making it generally more enjoyable, while incorporating any feedback from the preview release.

I’d also like to release a demo. What I’m thinkining is to make the missions playable in the demo, and only make the campaign available after the game is activated – but to release both in the same version. That way there’s still just one download, you can make sure the game runs on your system before buying it, and it’s just all around simple.

All in all, I’m very excited that the initial campaign release is finally drawing close! … I guess I better wrap up this post and get cracking on it. That code isn’t going to write itself, you know.

The Armada

David sent this to me a little while back, and I thought it was very cool to see all of the ships together like that. Most of these are in the game, but some aren’t just yet and a few may or may not make it.

A lot of the ones not currently in the game hint at features under consideration. Let the rampant speculation begin!

Click on the image to view at full size

Introducing: the Paragon and the Odyssey

I just added two new ships to the game, and thought I’d talk about the process that’s involved in determining ship stats, the types of weapon slots that they have, and the role they fill in the game. First of all, there are already lots of ships – around thirty if you don’t count fighters, and about a dozen more if you do. If you’re like me, that might set off some alarms in your head – why are there so many? Is it just variety for the sake of variety, or is it in fact meaningful? That’s what I always wonder about when I see a game tout “500 this” and “200 something-or-other” in their feature list.

Not every ship needs to bring something unique or interesting to the table – if nothing is “average”, then it’s hard for anything to be special. On the other hand, if two ships fill the same role in the same way, that’s a bad sign – it’s a wasted art asset, and complexity added to the game that doesn’t pull its weight by giving meaningful choices to the player. Still, having more ships is good if they pull their weight – it gives the player more choices and avenues for advancement, never mind more varied opponents. Having enough ships to give factions a stronger identity is important, too.

So, what are the factors that differentiate ship designs?

First of all, there are 5 size classes – fighter, frigate, destroyer, cruiser, and capital ship. We’ve also established three tech levels for ship designs – low tech, midline, and high tech. Low tech ships have high armor and a mix of ballistic and missile weapons. Midline ships have a mix of all types of weaponry, and average armor and shields. High tech ships rely on energy weapons and missiles, and typically have lower armor and excellent shields, in addition to improved mobility. Ships can also have launch bays for fighters – with some ships being dedicated carriers.

Just those factors combine to create a lot of combinations – a low tech cruiser? A high tech carrier? You can also easily make a ship distinct by giving it something special – such as, say, a weapon slot that’s too large to be normally found on ships of that size, or exceptional movement speed. Where the weapon slots are located and what arcs they cover is key to how a ship plays out – for example, having an important weapon battery point slightly to starboard will affect the best way to pilot a ship and will be a constant tactical consideration.

To top it off, not all ships are dedicated combat vessels – they have stats such as cargo, fuel, and crew capacity. Down the line, I’d also like to add active ship systems (such as afterburners, a combat teleport, or an ECM device). Between all these, keeping ship designs varied is easy.

Up til now, we haven’t had any particularly large high-tech ships in the game that could also put out a lot of firepower. But that’s about to change – allow me to introduce the Paragon-class battleship and the Odyssey-class battlecruiser. These two are anything but average.
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