Colony Crises

What I’d like to talk about today is a re-work, and a major expansion, of the Hostile Activity system introduced in the previous release. It was released in a baseline state where the only two factions involved in it were the Luddic Path and the pirates, but it was always intended as a way to put a lot of different content in front of the player.

So, the changes here are two-fold: 1) taking some lessons from how the existing mechanics worked out, and 2) adding a *lot* of content to the system, so that it can be seen in its intended and more-or-less final form. It’s certainly possible that more content will be added to it here and there, but the amount of content it’ll have in the next release will be enough for the system to “work” – it just needs the variety, more on that a bit later.

First, a quick recap of how it works in the current release: you establish a colony and get “Hostile Activity”. This results in fleets you can fight being found in your star systems, and periodic major events where for example pirates send a raid at one of your colonies. As the hostile activity level goes up, your colonies get some penalties, and you can make the level go down by fighting hostile fleets. You can also resolve the various hostile activity causes in narrative ways – making a treaty with the pirate queen Kanta, or making some kind of deal with the Luddic Path.

This works, but some players feel like they have to keep the level down to avoid penalties, which both creates busywork for them, and in turn makes them avoid the more interesting events that occur when the activity level maxes out. It’s interesting to me, because objectively speaking, you can absolutely ignore the current activity level – if your colony is decently set up, it’s just a modest reduction in profits – but psychologically, the amount of incentive to keep it down is enough that plenty of players feel like they “have” to do it.

Taking a step back, why are the penalties there? One reason is to give the player a reason to fight these fleets – but that’s working a little *too* well, and is also working against the player seeing the more interesting events. The other main reason is just feel – it’s hostile activity, right? There should be some kind of consequences for letting it run unchecked.

Reframing as “crises”
Mechanics-wise, though, I think it’d work better without the penalties, the incentives line up better. So: rebranding “Hostile Activity” as “Colony Crises”, which doesn’t sound like something that should have penalties until an actual crisis happens. And along with this, removing all the along-the-way penalties.

So, the way it works is you’ve got a progress bar that fills up gradually, and when it does, a “crisis” happens. Hostile fleets still spawn in your systems before that point, depending on the types of attention you’ve attracted – giving the player a source of varied opponents is a big reason the mechanic exists in the first place. And you still have reasons to fight these fleets – first off, combat can be profitable on its own. Second, you can juice it up by building a Commerce industry and having a permanent independent bounty in the system.

And, finally, if you really don’t like the upcoming crisis, you can fight hostile fleets, reduce event progress, and cause the crisis to be averted, with another crisis being rolled when event progress goes back up again. Some crises can also be averted in other ways – making a deal of some sort, or disrupting the faction’s military capabilities.

An important new thing about crises is they’re no longer just a “massive bad thing happens and you need to stop it from wrecking your colony”. I mean, they’re definitely still that, but they also come with an opportunity; there’s a carrot to go with the stick. For example, fighting off a pirate raid will give your colonies a “Piracy Respite” condition that increases their accessibility, and fighting off a Luddic Path attack will disrupt Pather cells across the entire Sector, for a long time.

Given that a crisis is – if seen in the light of the opportunity it offers – potentially a good thing, the player might feel like they don’t want to fight hostile fleets in their systems to avoid postponing the crises too much. To make sure this isn’t a problem, there’s a “blowback” mechanic – basically, the reductions in event progress are temporary and those points gradually come back. You can fight a bunch of hostiles in your system, get some bounties, and not feel like you’ve delayed the crisis-related opportunities in the long term.

Defensive buildings at your colonies – Military Bases and such – slow down event progress instead of reducing it by a flat amount; otherwise you could end up with negative event progress and miss out on crises (and opportunities) entirely.

After a crisis happens, event progress is reset to a random value within a pretty wide range. The idea with this is to make the pacing of crises more unpredictable. You might get several crises close together, even so much so that one is still going on when another happens – but handing them through the main Colony Crises event makes sure you have a heads up about what’s coming down the road.

New content
In addition to the pirate and Luddic Path crises, there are now also crises for all of the major factions (except the independents, so: 5 of those), and … one for having a [REDACTED] base in your system. No longer will that be just a free source of defenders to thin out incoming raiders!

Punitive expeditions (except for the “you put a colony in the faction’s system” ones) have been replaced with the crises, which are more elaborate and customized versions of these to suit the character of each faction. Some of these went quite a bit farther than I was originally expecting!

The rest of this post is going to have spoilers about the new content, so consider yourself warned. I’ll try to keep it fairly light, but we’ll see. It’s always a balancing act talking about something interesting while at the same time trying to avoid spoiling it. So: if you’d like, feel free to skip to the “what’s next” section at the very end of the post.

Pirates & the Luddic Path
In the initial implementation, raids/problems from Pirates and the Path were unlimited – you would defeat one, but eventually another would come. Given that those were the only two sources of hostile activity at the time, that made sense, to get more mileage out of the system. However, now that the system has *a lot* more content attached to it – and it no longer has ongoing effects like penalties – it’s ok for things to just… end.

If you defeat a pirate raid or a Pather attack (the Pathers, btw, mean business more so than the pirates – they’re coming to saturation-bombard your technological base!), they won’t come after you in this way again. To me this feels refreshing – the system finally has enough content and doesn’t need to keep throwing the same thing at the player over and over. As a bonus, ending the pirate/Pather thread adds to the “opportunity” that these present. Of course, if you don’t defeat the raid, it’ll keep happening, periodically.

But, you might ask, where does this leave the original narrative resolutions to these problems? Namely, making a deal with Kanta to gain her protection, or giving something special to the Pathers that definitely won’t have any long-term consequences. Kanta’s Protection increases the permanent accessibility bonus your colonies get. The Pather deal makes all of their cells on your colonies become “sleeper” cells – defeating a major attack stops major attacks, but not regular cell activity, and the deal is a way to accomplish that.

Persean League
The crisis related to the League ended up being one of the more involved ones. The original idea was just to build on a simple punitive expedition a bit – dress it up with some narrative resolutions, and call it a day. But thinking it through – what would the League, an association of nominally-autonomous worlds, want from the player? How would they go about getting it? What options might the player have for dealing with them? It felt like a case of the story writing itself.

Even in this spoiler-section, I don’t want to spoil it too much, so let’s just say that while combat is very much an option, the League’s approach is not fundamentally hostile, even if it is very heavy handed. And the options for dealing with it include the political ones – of the shady backroom deal sort – and some of the benefits provided to the player operate on the same plane.

I will spoil it a bit – the “hostile activity” fleets that show up in the player system well before the crisis are “League Enforcers” that patrol the space, attack pirates – but also subject your fleets, as well as other trade fleets, to constant harassment.

Luddic Church
In keeping with the idea of minimizing spoilers, let’s just say the crisis is related to habitable worlds that are attractive to the Luddic faithful that want to get out from under the direct secular influence of the Church. Immigration, the Knights; various resolutions.

Sindrian Diktat
If you’re familiar with the Diktat, you can make a pretty good guess as to what the crisis is about!

Think of it as a high-powered business negotiation. There’s even a separate Event that progresses as you ensure that your position on the issue of healthy competition is understood!

The AI inspections are now a series of escalating crises, instead of being separate from this system. Defeating the inspections is narratively framed as defeating the Hegemony, and there’s a new way to avoid the inspections.

What’s next
The next release is going to be 0.96.1a – the .1 generally meaning that it’s a “bugfix, balancing, and polish release”. With this rework, and the additional travel options, this release has a lot more content than is usual for this type of release, but it just felt like the right time to build on the Hostile Activity foundation, and to finish out the campaign movement mechanics, to have both of these loose ends tied up.

What still remains is a a rather large spreadsheet of minor issues (of which not many strictly speaking *need* to be done, but a lot of which I’d like to at least have a look at), a list of balance tweaks I want to consider, and quite a large – given the new content – amount of playtesting. I’m looking forward to getting this release in your hands, so here’s hoping all that goes smoothly!


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This entry was posted on Friday, November 24th, 2023 at 5:01 pm and is filed under Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.