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Starsector 0.95.1a is out! (12/10/21); Blog post: Hyperspace Topography (10/12/22)

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Author Topic: Problems with midgame challenge progression and some ideas how to solve them  (Read 2623 times)

Morrokain

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Well, I don't see any reasons for the mentioned gatekeepers to not be literally just that - an entities or some sort or other challenges that make it necessary for the player to actually fight, in one way or another, to access some very valuable salvage locations. I think that that's exactly what FooF had in mind when first talking about this concept, and that's very much what I was thinking about. Especially in the context of challenge progression, addition of some very high reward locations, like some sort of quarantine or weapon testing zones, together with some sort of defences blocking access to them would make a great expansion of current exploration system. What's also so great about all of this is the fact of how easy it would be to actually incorporate it all in game lore/narrative. We already have the setting being remnants of a derelict galactic civilization, so why not expand on this concept?

Exactly. The "gatekeeper" that requires combat doesn't have to be literally at the "gate" each time.

Tutorial Spoilers Here!
Spoiler
Using the tutorial story as a proof of concept for how this could work:

The player comes across a destabilized jump point in hyperspace they can't traverse through, and the star is a black hole. You'd either have to use the hazard as your entrance to the system (bad idea), or you can get the "algorithm package" from either raiding or destroying a nearby Tri-Tachyon base (battlestation :) ) and you would find this information out either through a "Warning - Property of Tri-Tachyon Corporation - See (battlestation name) for access clearance." beacon that you could question local bar patrons about, or some other way.
[close]
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intrinsic_parity

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You could also do something like having abilities unlocked by (story) quests. Something like transverse jump being unlocked by raiding a well defended research station, and then having some systems that have no jump points (or unstable/unusable jump points), so the you can only go in through the gravity wells. Those systems could then have more advanced enemies and better loot. 

There are also already gatekeepers in the game: the planetary shield is locked behind the red planet fleet and the cryosleeper is locked behind the guardian. These don't feel out of place to me, so I think it can be done in a way that doesn't break the feel of the game. Just adding more of that type of stuff is the right direction IMO.
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Plantissue

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I ws thinking gatekeeper as a challenge for range. That if you can't bypass the gatekeeper, you can't explore any further If it is merely just a challenge for a reward, then gatekeeper isn't just the right word. Personal bounties are basically that game mechanic already. I suppose the only problem is that you will lose the feeling of exploring the universe and stubling on something nice.

Exploration doesn't really give that much money. A few rare finds doesn't hide that procurement missions are safer, more reliable and give you much more money in both real and game time. All you need is cargo space and enough burn speed and sensor to avoid massive pirate raids. 5-20 lightyears and you get a 50-200k profit. Done in a minute or two. Compare that with exploring. Take many minutes to explore several systems, hoping you don't accidently hyperspace into the path of a pirate raid, needing much larger amounts of fuel and fuel capacity, and supplies and cargo capacity. Even if you do find an Alpha AI core would you ever sell it? It is worth far more than 450,000 credits. If you wanted 450,000 credits, just do 4 procurement missions. Much less time and resources needed. If you wanted to make money, you wouldn't explore.
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intrinsic_parity

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Yeah I was thinking of gatekeepers more as something that locks a certain aspect of gameplay or certain technology that isn't available anywhere else, not just general loot. Maybe cryosleeper and planetary shield aren't really significant enough right now to alter gameplay meaningfully, but something like transverse jump would. If there were threats that really challenged ground defenses and planetary shield allowed you to defend against those when you otherwise couldn't, then that would definitely fall more into the gatekeeping category. Probably not the greatest examples on my part.
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Plantissue

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Hmmm, imagining certain skills like transverse jump is tied to defeating certain challenges. That's actually not a bad idea. It makes sense since you  are the only person with that ability in the entire universe. I hate it, but only because transverse jump is so convenient :D

Imagine ITU or Augmented Drive Field hullmod could only be gained at the Red Planet... Actually I hate that idea too :D

What if...you only gain the ability to use remnant LPC or gain remnant fighter blueprint after Red Planet...
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FooF

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Intrinsic_parity is summing up my thoughts pretty well.

Gatekeepers don't have to by physical entities, though combat gatekeepers for a combat game make all the sense in the world. Anything that prevents a player from having access to certain skills, perks, areas of the map, etc. function as gatekeepers. The experience/skills system is a gatekeeper. High-tier loot, skills, etc. being locked behind these things would be cool, as long as it doesn't become ultra-repetitive or the only way of accessing this stuff. There does need to be alternate routes.

What we don't have a lot of currently is non-access to the map. Things being inaccessible make me want to access them. It's negative space that gives the positive space meaning. The only thing that prevents me from going to the any star system is fuel/capacity. Certain "off-limits" sections, with missions/quests/keys, needed to enter would give the player a reason to try something else. However, brute-forcing your way in should be a possibility in some cases. I don't want everything to be tied to a story mission because the game becomes too linear. It is a sandbox, after all. I'm thinking of Breath of the Wild, to some degree, where the whole world is open from the start but there are things that aren't realistically possible until you advance your character. "Prohibitively difficult but not impossible" is the kind of stuff I'd like to see.
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bobucles

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The "high danger" sectors are pretty open access. It's impossible for every single jump point to be perfectly guarded. I mean, you'll probably die a few times before you get the hang of it, but after that the system is largely free reign. That entire attitude can change dramatically if the enemy fleet gets bonus speed+sensor range, or even if your own fleet gets a speed penalty inside the system. If you can't out run them and you can't hide from them, you are forced to face them. The only way to really explore such a system is to break through. It's not a hard obstacle, but it's very firm.

A system can also be hard gated just like the tutorial system. No one can enter or leave, and only transverse jump is viable. Maybe there's more than one system like that out there?

Kargul

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The "high danger" sectors are pretty open access. It's impossible for every single jump point to be perfectly guarded. I mean, you'll probably die a few times before you get the hang of it, but after that the system is largely free reign. That entire attitude can change dramatically if the enemy fleet gets bonus speed+sensor range, or even if your own fleet gets a speed penalty inside the system. If you can't out run them and you can't hide from them, you are forced to face them. The only way to really explore such a system is to break through. It's not a hard obstacle, but it's very firm.

A system can also be hard gated just like the tutorial system. No one can enter or leave, and only transverse jump is viable. Maybe there's more than one system like that out there?

Having some systems that would open up for exploration only when player acquires transvere jump ability would be really nice addition I think. Especially when taking into account that something like that is, to some extent already implemented in the game, just in different context. Regarding high danger sector, I don't really feel like there would be a need to actually force player into fighting all the time. What I mean is, of course it makes sense to have systems so heavily guarded that break trough is the only option, but I don't see it in any way excluding an existance of diffrent levels of threats and rewards, with some of them giving the player an actual ability to use his/her sneaking/smuggling skills to evade danger, or maybe acquire some special information/items opening up new options. It all really comes down to creating not only new challenges, but also giving player many different ways of overcoming them. Just like FooF said, it's always good to have many alternatives, becouse having them creates choices, and having more choices is always a good thing in sandbox games like Starsector. In this context it really comes down to balancing challenges and rewards in a way where different playstyles can be incorporated, with some problems having multiple possible solutions to them, and some beeing locked in one, specific way, possibly favouring one specific playstyle over the other. I think that an additional benefit of this approach is that it  creates a new layer of replayability and roleplay, something that works really well in many of the best open world RPGs, because it basically allows to make every playthrough an unique experience.
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Morrokain

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I ws thinking gatekeeper as a challenge for range. That if you can't bypass the gatekeeper, you can't explore any further If it is merely just a challenge for a reward, then gatekeeper isn't just the right word. Personal bounties are basically that game mechanic already. I suppose the only problem is that you will lose the feeling of exploring the universe and stubling on something nice.

Yeah I was thinking of gatekeepers more as something that locks a certain aspect of gameplay or certain technology that isn't available anywhere else, not just general loot. Maybe cryosleeper and planetary shield aren't really significant enough right now to alter gameplay meaningfully, but something like transverse jump would. If there were threats that really challenged ground defenses and planetary shield allowed you to defend against those when you otherwise couldn't, then that would definitely fall more into the gatekeeping category. Probably not the greatest examples on my part.

Honestly I'd say those are both great examples of good gatekeeping. Why not utilize both approaches? From a coding/design perspective I'd say they are equally gates, but used in different ways to provide unique challenges and more importantly unique rewards. IMO this is good for exploration because otherwise once you've solved one challenge you've effectively learned the strategy to solve them all. Its less engaging to just take one template of a design principle and use it in every case anyway. The more variety the better I say! :)
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Plantissue

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Thinking on what Kargul was writing about accessability of systems. Ignoring accidently stumbling into the path of giant pirate death fleets, sometimes when you are exploring, you face patrolling pather fleets outside the system where they have a station, or you are doing a survey mission or personal bounty and there just happens to be a pirate station over the planet. If you want to survey/fight that bounty safely, you often have to hide and lead other fleets away. Those kind of systems are a lot more lively. In many ways remnant stations are already a challenge to rare loot. If all loot had challenges I feel like the mood of exploring the unknown might be lost. Perhaps for the better. But the problem remains that trading is essentially unchallenging for the money. Would trading then should be changed to be gated like exploration? Larger contracts would involve breaking planetary blockades? Would that even be preferable?
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Kargul

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Yeah, after thinking about this for awhile I must agree. I've even started a new playthrough just to challenge my own past experiences and assumptions, and I must say that you're completely right that facing potential roadblocks all the time while exploring would probably spoil the experience to some extent. Actually, now that I think about it I feel like what started my initial thoughts about the matter was probably more related to the variety of exploration-related encounters. As stated before, I feel like it all really comes down to adding new and varied choices for the player to make and encounters to experience, not simply making the grind longer/more annoying. That's also why I think making procurement missions harder isn't really necessary in this context. Having a safe but a bit more boring option for progressing isn't really a bad thing. Maybe the rewards should be a bit more balanced to make this way of progressing a bit more streched in time, or as you've mentioned adding some sort of sporadic blockades that the player would need to sneak by/fight trough would also be an interesting idea. Actually, when thinking about it I really feel like most of the currently present activities could potentially benefit by being expanded like that, without necessarilly making current variants more difficult, but by adding new, more complex (and potentially rewarding) ones.

Going back to the topic of exploration, I feel that it's not like all the rewards need to be locked from the player in one specific way. Well, thinking about it I feel like there's really nothing wrong with the player accidentally stumbling upon some amazing treasure troves by pure chance and accident. As you've said before, it's not like the world itself (not talking about [Redacted]) should really feel like it cares whether it is explored by the player or not. I just think that it would be really nice to have some new types of encounters while exploring, both threat/fighting related and not. For example, addition of more "passive" type of gatekeepers, on top of more "active" ones, like some kind of access codes that you would need to found while exploring other systems or by talking to other explorers in bars would make an excelent way of making exploration itself more varied, without making it necesarilly simply more difficult . I think that the example given before by Morrokain sums it up pretty well. There already are informations about locations of caches and ruins that you can stumble upon while scanning probes and derelicts, it would be great to see this system expanded even further. At the end the player is not the only person going on this expeditions, having a possibility to find a bankrupt explorer in a bar, ready to sell some vital information about some of his last interesting finds would be a nice, very natural possibility to have, adding a new layer to exploration gameplay. Of course, I'm saying that as a possibility on top of all the other ideas that we all came up with during this discussion.
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