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Starsector 0.96a is out! (05/05/23); Blog post: Colony Crises (11/24/23)

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Topics - Kargul

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After falling in love with this game and playing it for more than 60 hours I 've got some thoughts about it's challenge progression, specifically related to the middle part of my playthroughs.
First, let me explain what I mean by challenge progression. At this moment Starsector offers two kinds of challenges to overcome for the player and diffrent tools to do so. The first kind is internal problems that the player needs to face, and the second are all the different external threats, both in star systems and in hyperspace. Internal problems are mostly related to logistics - fuel, supplies, crew and money management, and external are all your enemies and enviromental dangers like hyperstorms, dangerous stars etc.

At the beggining of the game the most important challenge is getting some initial funds to buy new ships and equipment. It takes some time and the player has many diffrent tools that can be used to achieve this, like early delivery contracts, some small scale trading, smuggling and early salvage. Most external threats need to be solved mostly by running away. It works pretty well and the moment when you finally can buy some new ships and fully equip them is very satisfying.

The problems arise when suddenly you realize that with very few initial investments you are able to basically travel to any system in the Sector, making any kind of gradual progression from the core worlds to the further reaches literally non existent. There's very little point in doing short range scanning intel missions when just having a few tankers is enough to go basically everywhere and do much more lucreative contracts. I've seen some people suggesting that the problem lies in the rewards related to exploration being too big. Personally I think that's the other way around - it's not that the rewards are too good, it's the challenges related to exploration being too easy to overcome.

And that's where we go back to the diffrent kinds of challenges that I mentioned at the beggining. Middle parts of the game simply lack both substantial internal and external challenges that the player needs to overome, making the time needed to reach current endgame simply too short.  I was thinking about this problem for some time and I think that I've got some ideas that can potentially make midgame more satisfying.

First of all I think that existing externall challenges should be made more serious, especially the ones related to exploration. Hyperstorms and in-system enviromental threats like black holes or pulsar beams are, at the moment, mostly an annoyence. They don't really pose any serious threat as long as you've packed enough supplies and fuel. For all the hours I've spent playing the game there was only one situation when I've actually run out of supplies, and it was mostly related to my own stupidity and not any external factors. I think that it would be great to see some more serious effects of all this diffrent threats, especially in the earlier stages of the game. Things like some of the crewman dying because of them, ships without solar shilding getting more seriously damaged when in hyperstorm or under in-system enviromental conditions, addition of some automated defences killing some of your crew when salvaging planetary ruins and orbital habitats/stations if you don't have enough marines (if there are already derelict defense drones in space, I think it would make sense for some kind of automated defences existing directly in ruins and on stations), addition of [REDACTED] fleets scouting the hyperspace around the most dangerous systems.  Also, regarding the most valuable finds like research stations or extensive ruins, it would be nice to have something not allowing to actually get to their riches right away, like hidden access codes that need to be discovered during exploration or bought in bars from scientists or other explorers.

For internal problems, I think that the most important and potentially interesting addition would be some kind of crew morale system, in some ways similar to this form Mount&Blade. What I'm thinking about is a system consisting of a fleetwide and ship specific morale, both related to each other and affecting other parts of the game. The base fleetwide morale could be affected by the total number of crews (so, basically number of ships) or total number of crewmen, or maybe both. Basically, at the beggining of the game the morale system would play very little initial role, because of small size of player's fleet. With the fleet growing it would make morale management more and more important, adding a completely new challenge to the midgame. The morale could be affected by, again, diffrent internal (skills and perks, whether or not the crew is getting payed enough) and external (winning//losing battles and ships, accidents during salvage, crew losses related to enviromental dangers) factors. With the morale falling too low it would be great to see situations like crews panicking during battles, or maybe even defecting to enemies.  It would also make a great way (in addition to supply management) of creating a soft cap for fleet size limit, making it possible to, for a moment, having more ships then currently possible, but adding a risk of actually losing some of them because of mentioned problems.

Of course, all of the mentioned challenges would need a new ways of dealing with them, so for example, making hyperstorms and enviroment more dangerous would make it impossible during early midgame to explore distant/more dangerous systems, forcing players to gradually progress by first doing less dangerous contracts. It would also create a great opportunity for incorporating a system of a player-created stashes, used during far-reaching escapades for refueling and resupplying on the way back, and it would additionally make all the enviromental safety skills/ship mods muuch more important and valuable. The same goes for the crew management, adding a new opportunity for player choices to incorporate new kinds of skills, both for player character and for officers. It would also create a new interesting conflict between creating potentially bigger or more flexible fleets.

TL;DR There's not enough new challenges introduced when player progresses from early to middle parts of the game, limiting the array of new choices the player has and in the effect wasting a great potential for extended gameplay options.

There's a multitude of ways the midgame can be expanded and I can't wait to see what you think about my ideas and what diffrent thoughts you have on the matter.
(Also, I'm sorry for potential spelling/grammar erros, English is not my native language and I'm also ill at the moment :| )

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