Skill Changes, Part 2

Part one of this two-part blog post is here.

In this part, let’s dive into a few details about specific skills, and some other points note. I don’t want to go through every single change – just highlight some interesting tidbits, and a couple of the bigger changes.

Elite skills
One of the goals was to do a pass over the “elite” effects of the combat skills and make them more interesting/powerful/appealing. For example, Helmsmanship’s elite effect now – in addition to its original “0-flux boost at any level” effect – grants a flat +5 to top speed, making it a consideration for slower ships. Combat Endurance and Damage Control got some brand-new, fun elite effects.

Combat Endurance brings back the “repair ship hull during combat” effect from several versions ago – repairs up to 25% of the hull level, with total repairs not exceeding the higher of 50% of the hull, or, as of right now, 2000 points. With Combat Endurance being a skill that’s great for small ships, the elite effect is, too, because of the potential to repair far more than 50% of the hull over the course of a battle.

Damage Control’s elite effect grants a reduction to large hull hits – any hull hit above a certain threshold of damage has the portion above the threshold reduced by (again, as of right now) 60%. No-one plans on being hit by a Reaper torpedo, but still, neutralizing that much damage when things go wrong is going to have a lot of appeal. To make the skill not completely neutralize the strike potential of certain weapons, this effect only triggers at most once every two seconds.

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Skill Changes, Part 1

The skill system – the one in the currently released version, 0.95a – has some things about it that I like, and some things that I don’t think worked out particularly well. One feature is in both categories – “pick one of two skills at every tier”. In some cases, it works well and you have an interesting choice to make. In other cases, the skills don’t lend themselves as well to it, and it ends up feeling unnecessarily restrictive.

The other high-level feature of the system that I really like is the ability to have some top-tier skills that you need to invest into an aptitude to get, and that can be powerful and game-changing. You can’t have that in a system where you can cherry-pick any skill you want at any time.

So, the goal of these adjustments is to keep the progression and high-impact choices, and add more freedom where “pick one of two” doesn’t have a compelling reason behind it.

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A Tale of Two Tech Levels

This blog post is a tricky one to write – all the pieces are interrelated, and figuring out where to start, and how much background info to provide – to make sure this is comprehensible without having a PhD in Starsectology… well, right, tricky. So, let’s start by taking a brief step back and looking at the kinds of ships there are in the game. There are lots of ways to slice that pie, too, but let’s look at tech levels – namely, “Low Tech” and “High Tech”. There are others, and it gets blurry in places, but for this post, these two are what’s important.

The key thing is that high tech is not intended to be better than low tech, just a different way of doing things. High tech has speed, good shields, and fairly inefficient (but varied!) lower-ranged weapons. Low tech is slower and more ponderous, has high armor and hull integrity, with efficient longer-ranged weapons. The dynamics you get when they face each other is that high tech ships dart in and out of engagement range, relying on shields to see them through, while low tech ships try to make them pay a price for closing in. This is simplifying things a great deal, of course, and there are exceptions, but this is a high-level overview.

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Writing Starsector

The next update will add strong narrative RPG elements to Starsector, among other things.

I feel no small amount of trepidation because this is both a change and it is a particular story about particular characters in a way the pure sandbox certainly isn’t. This necessarily constrains your – the player’s – experience of the game-fantasy and the meta-game fantasy of an “unfinished game” which has the potential to become everyone’s dreams in a free-floating quantum state… until you see it for real and it turns out it isn’t quite what you dreamed.

I suppose this seems like an awfully negative way to start off; this is what I mean about trepidation. And I am legitimately excited about sharing more of the world of Starsector, letting players dive in a bit closer and get a feel for what it’s like for people that live in this world. Find out what they think, find out a bit more about why movers and shakers move like they do. If I may say so, I think we’ve done some pretty good work!

The written wordcount has already exceeded the minimum definition for a novel (50k) a few times over by now. I’ve attempted Nanowrimo a few times in the past and always choked almost instantly. My experience writing Starsector has been a stark contrast – the words just flow! It seems so obvious, most of the time, what comes next, what feels right to be said. I suspect part of it is the constraint of the medium focusing creativity, but it may also perhaps be the very clear connection to an audience (that’s y’all out there!). A novel feels a bit like a bunch of words floating out  in (ha) space. A game, however, has a player. They must actively engage and progress. I know a player is committed in a way a reader isn’t. (Which probably isn’t at all true; people read books, after all. I’ve even read one or two in my day.)

Whatever it is, maybe I can’t rationalize it. But something works here for me in a way that hasn’t elsewhere. I’ll take it.

Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of this.

We’ve had to deal with certain constraints and design problems while adding written content to Starsector. Some of these are faced by all games which use writing, some are particular to the context of Starsector. I am not going to talk about any specific narrative beats or plot details, but I will talk about how the narrative is structured, so from a certain point of view one could derive meta-spoilers from this blog post. I think the most pure and magical way to experience Starsector would be with no foreknowledge of any of this, so I’ll give you fair warning now: if you don’t want to know anything, stop reading.

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Personal Contacts

One of the bigger tasks for this release cycle has been adding new content into the game. Since a lot of it is story content – think the “Red Planet” mission, but on a bigger scale with things tying together and building up – it’s not something that I can really talk about without spoiling it.

But, not all the new missions are “story” missions. A lot of them missions are just new things you can do in the game, without being unique one-offs. Consider, for example, the current missions to scan a derelict, survey a planet, or collect a bounty – these new missions are all roughly along these lines, with of course more variety thrown in.

The question is, how do we make them available to the player?
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