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Starsector 0.95a is out! (03/26/21); Blog post: Skill Changes, Part 2 (07/15/21)

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Author Topic: A Professional Critique Of Story Points  (Read 4696 times)

ModdedLaharl

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A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« on: May 03, 2021, 03:36:44 PM »

By Laharl

in this essay i will

Before I begin, let me be a little transparent; I'm going to be very wordy, and very opinionated. There are a lot of things about 0.95 that I'm less than thrilled with, but this is all in the context of how I personally enjoy the game. DP balance and arbitrary incentivization of certain playstyles are things other people have already gone on about, but these things are of less immediate concern to me. I mean, yes, I hate those too, but they're easier to work around and also seem to be generally agreed to be bad already. The reason I have chosen to confront the concept of Story Points specifically is because I find them to be an offensively bad choice of mechanic for this game on a level that goes beyond personal preference, and while I understand the work that went into them and that perhaps no amount of derision will cause their removal, I believe it would be hypocritical of me not to say anything.

I also want to be clear that my purpose is not to bash, insult, smear, mock, or otherwise derisively attack Alex or his game. This is meant as constructive criticism, if impassioned, which is why I will be offering multiple clear examples of how to fix or address everything I bring up, as a matter of courtesy and good faith, and as a demonstration that I am not merely complaining, but actively seeking an improved future.

I am not writing this essay to tell anyone else how to play the game or how to have fun. I'm not some kind of elite or genius or guru, and I have no illusions that I am some kind of authority. In fact, if I do not receive a healthy round of criticism for everything I outline, resulting in this essay receiving multiple edits, I'm going to be rather disappointed. Nevertheless, this is important enough to me, and in my opinion to the game as a whole, that I feel it deserves my time.

This is all my opinion. That should go without saying, but I'm saying this here so I don't have to preface every sentence hereafter with 'in my opinion' or 'I believe'.

Let me begin with a summary: When I heard about the changes coming to 0.95, story points were the one that scared me. I admit this may have prejudiced me, for reasons I'll address in the following paragraph, but I want to be clear that much of 0.95 is in fact lovely and I started my campaigns in it with the conscious intention to be open-minded and give everything a chance. I admit to my potential bias, but I did my best to be consciously aware of it and prevent it affecting my actual opinions.

On a conceptual level, I despise story points. In a broader sense, what I hate is arbitrary mechanics. It'd be like if I started an FTL run and had a magical 'explode enemy ship' button that I could use X number of times a run. It has nothing to do with the rest of the game, I didn't in any way earn it, it actively hurts the entire rest of the game and makes me much less engaged, and it doesn't even have any thematic or mechanical engagement with the game besides, essentially, lowering the level of thought required to play it.

I want to be clear that I'm not criticizing the various systems and mechanics that are accessible via story points; I hate the points themselves. In every instance in which they are found within the game right now, story points do one of three things; devalue an existing mechanic or system, circumvent the same, or directly harm the game's foundations.

This is because, regardless of their balance, story points ultimately are an arbitrary resource; they have no thematic or mechanical fit in the game, and not only that, but they are only a 'resource' in the loosest sense. Credits and experience bars are some of the most famously generic resources and systems in games over time, but they are inexorably worked into how such games function, and almost always have thematic reasons to exist, as well as directly supporting the mechanics borne from them. Experience is perhaps the ripest target, but at least that gives me a sense that I%u2019m growing and becoming more adept. It is, ironically, a far better way to make me invested in my character than story points are.

Story points, however... The easiest way for me to sum them up is to compare them to cheat codes. The kinds I used to abuse a decade or so ago when I began playing computer games. I can distinctly remember the day I realized how much I was cheating myself by using them to circumvent the game, the challenges, the fun presented to me. Story points leave me with that same awful, hollow feeling; and in many cases, the way they're used is barely a step removed from a console command, or in the case of SP disengage, literally equivalent to a console command.

But I'll get to that in a moment. These things do not make me feel like I'm writing my own story, or that my character is having moments of brilliance, or that I've in any way earned something. I imagine that these things were the intent behind them but, in fact, as I'll address later, in some cases they go from merely being meaningless or disappointing to hurting the immersion because of how idiotic they make my character appear to be. In other words, there are multiple cases where these things make the story worse despite their name.

The most offensive thing about this is that Starsector is NOT a hollow or surface-level game. The potential for significantly better mechanics, and more interesting ones, exist at every point where these things are used, and in many cases have already been demonstrated before by well-known mods. More to the point, Starsector is a game that has thrived because of how beautifully those same systems can make you invested without needing to tell you as much. This might be a less egregious point if Starsector were a game developed by some big corporation that paid only lip service to their community, but that's not the case. Alex is deeply involved and very aware of what goes on with his community and the modding community specifically.

There's not even a reason to call them story points. Again, they have a connection to the game about as solid as frog snot; you could call them magical genie lamps and it would be just as appropriate, and in fact would probably be more appropriate given the way they're used. And no, not Robin Williams genie. Will Smith genie.

Enough conceptual whining from me. Let's get specific.

I brought up the SP Disengage earlier, so let's start there. This is one of those circumventing options. The player has a great many options available to them in order to avoid a fight; the player is generally aware of what kind of fleets are in their immediate vicinity and can reasonably predict what kinds of fleets they'll find in a given location (outside of medium warning beacons I mean for Lobster's sake those can be anything from a few frigates to several Ordos).

They have a suite of hiding and running options, get warnings at jump points, and in most cases have to go out of their way in order to meet fleets that pose a serious threat and are immediately hostile, not to mention that if you have a small fleet, you can fight a disengage battle, which has its own well-made mechanics that gives you a fighting chance at escape, and that's assuming you can't just outspeed the enemy in burn level.

This is one of the worst implementations of SP because it allows the players to get themselves into trouble; easily avoidable trouble, no less; and just say 'nah' at no cost or consequence; it severely devalues all the above mentioned mechanics, and basically asks much less of the player's intelligence and thought.

I'm not advocating for hardcore mode here; in fact I'd argue in favor of quicksaves when you touch base or make difficult accomplishments and just reload, personally; but there's no meat here. You rub your magic genie lamp and Will Smith comes out and makes the pirates unable to catch you. I don't feel like I outfoxed the pirates or enemy fleet or whatever; I don't feel like I made good choices and was able to get away with this. I don't feel like I earned my magical carpet ride escape.

You didn't have to use some kind of resource you worked for. You didn't take any kind of consequence. You didn't engage with any of the game's existing mechanics or systems in any meaningful way; you may as well have typed in ForceDismissDialog or EndCombat for all the difference it makes. And the most frustrating part is that this has already been done better.

While I don't personally care for Archaeon Order; it's very well made and I respect the author but it's not my thing; it's worth noting that being caught by a hostile fleet in that mod doesn't immediately mean death. Generally, it means open negotiations, depending on the faction in question and your relationship with them. Another good example can be found in the Underworld mod, the Starlight Cabal specifically, who generally just want you to hand over credits or maybe a nice thing you happen to have. And even if you do get blown to space bits, some other mods make the aforementioned respawn more interesting, and Nexerelin's insurance is also a worthwhile consideration. Barring all of that, it's not even as if it's a hard game over, even if the respawn system is a little lackluster

Hell, if you do want to have a forced disengage option, make it require some meaningful level of thought on my part in terms of preparation, like an FTL blue option. What if, say, I have enough minelayer-capable ships to cover my retreat? Or if my fleet is all or nearly all phase ships, maybe that could also be a reason? Though in that case, how the hell did I get caught in the first place? That's a tangent for later I suppose.

Yes, some of those suggested consequences certainly suck, but it's reasonable to weigh such things against annihilation and make some decisions, and also to be making decisions to avoid having to make that choice. And that's what this kind of mechanic should be, and what any good mechanic should be; something that makes the player engage with the game. To consider their options, relative fleet strengths, possible strategies, what they can afford to lose... Even in the simplest implementation of all of this, it would be better than Will Smith snapping his fingers in a way that completely removes all such engagement, damages engagement in other areas, has nothing to do with the game's mechanics, and isn't even thematic.

EDIT: Wyvern points out that, with missions and sometimes in hyperspace, sometimes fleets just barrel into you. He also mentions that hyperspace just isn't very interesting in general; it could certainly stand to be more interesting. Shad suggests that fleet fresh out of a storm should either not be able to fight, or be forced into a 'drive-by' fight.

There's apparently a forced engage option too but that, while not being as egregious, is similarly pointless if not more so. There's already pursuit mechanics for Lobster's sake. And then of course you have 'make some repairs real quick'. I hope I can just indicate that this devalues the whole point of CR deployment costs and be understood, but I did promise constructive criticism, so as an aside, you could simply, say, buff Hardened Subsystems so that mere deployment costs less CR, or perhaps have certain ship classes that speed up repairs or mitigate CR costs for deployment. There's already a skill that takes away the cost of Emergency Burn, which is a good way to get away from fights you're not ready for, as well. I am assuming, of course, that it doesn't allow you to make up for CR due to missing crew. I've yet to try.


What about SP salvage? This is a devaluing option. Let us consider, for a moment, the 0.91a salvage mechanic. Of the ships destroyed, a certain number will be made available to the player. The player does have a bit of advance awareness about which ones may be up for grabs, since Disabled ships are much more likely to be available than Destroyed ones, but even those do have a chance. A clever mechanic here would be to give the player even a small amount of control over that as opposed to RNG being the end all, perhaps something to do with how much damage per second was done to the hull to signify particularly catastrophic impacts that would split a ship apart (e.g. the impact of a Reaper in a single second versus that same damage spread out over time by a Mark IX), and one person on the forum by the name Ad Astra suggested finishing a ship via EMP damage (I'd argue for 'majority of damage was EMP'); any good XCOM player can tell you that RNG is acceptable if you're able to manipulate the inputs and outcomes in a meaningful manner, which is essentially what I'm on about here. But I digress. Again.

The player considers salvage. There are a lot of choices here to make; taking on a ship immediately costs supplies, and then more for repairs. It requires crew, it'll need outfitting. And the D-mods have to be considered, too; Faulty Power Grid can be devastating on a combat ship, but with every D-mod the maintenance costs come down, and that can be enticing to a player on a budget. This a pretty decent mechanic; room for growth, yes, but decent, deep, and giving the player lots of space in which to think and theorize about both present and future. It's precisely what it needs to be; engaging and worthwhile.

Incidentally, restricting D-mod types doesn't make sense, especially if there's any system in place that's supposed to allow for civilian or logistics ships to potentially put up a fight at all (which there is), so it's kind of nonsense both on a thematic and mechanical level. I'm a bit baffled that the separation was made. I do understand the lack of Compromised Storage on non-logistics ships; such ships generally don't have enough cargo space for that to matter, I suppose, but even though I get that one I'd still argue against its exclusion on a personal preference level. Anyway.

SP Salvage devalues this somewhat; from what I understand, it doesn't actually reduce the normally available salvage (though it sure as hell feels like it), but it's another one of those things that feels like a child's crayon drawing in an art museum. This adds nothing to the salvage mechanic system as a whole, besides making it easier I suppose, and at worst makes it less meaningful as well, since your new options are in fact just limited to using Will Smith, and it also matters less how you choose your targets if you're hunting for a particular hull. And once again, existing mods have repeatedly demonstrated how this can be done better.

I already mentioned that giving some control over Destroyed VS Disabled would be appropriate, but for more concrete examples, Vayra's Sector brings us ghost ships. Now, this mechanic within VS is currently somewhat simple; you either have marines or don't; but assuming you do, it's a risky decision. You have no idea what might be aboard this thing. Do you take the risk? And once you do find out, do you keep it?

Mods like RogueSynth and Starship Legends add some spice as well; no two ships are alike, so salvage choices become more meaningful. This Enforcer has fewer D-mods, but the other Enforcer just so happens to have an SSL reputation that improves armor and weapon health, although it also worsens PD accuracy, so that's worth a thought. This Hammerhead has a RogueSynth variant that increases ballistic damage and rate of fire but also cuts in the flux, and on top of that has Faulty Power Grid; can I work with that? Can I work around the cons enough to make use of the pros? In fact, something like this is good for reasons that go beyond salvage; iterations on existing hulls incentivize new strategies. Yes, a perfectly acceptable Hammerhead build might be HACs and Harpoons, but if you get one that has some interesting bonuses, perhaps you'd be more keen on exploring loadout configurations you normally wouldn't. Again, this would be a good thing; engaging and worthwhile. This is where you can have multiple mechanics and systems in the game directly strengthening each other in terms of their fullness and richness.

And it's not as if this is barren ground for ideas. Here's some freebies: If you want ships to be salvageable at different levels, that's a great way to incentivize highly specialized tools like the Salvage Rig, or things like specifically trained crew, or perhaps a type of hireable professional.

Perhaps, if a desperate captain really needed that one hull from this battle, 'attach' it to an existing salvage-only ship, like the Salvage Rig, (read: mothball both ships, effectively), and tow them slowly back to a port with heavy industry, and pay to have it welded back together.

Perhaps introduce the concept of D-mods that are resistant to restoration, or a special suite of D-mods that are particularly nasty and costly to remove. Hell, introduce more D-mods in general, I'd say. Pristine ships are supposed to be noticeably good, yes? I mean, I%u2019ll note that ships tend to get somewhat stingy amounts of OP; what if you pumped up the base OP on all of 'em, but then D-mods cut into OP, or if there was an OP reducing D-mod?

Those three ideas are all things that not only make the salvage mechanic itself deeper and more interesting, but also make the rest of the game matter more in its context and asks more of the player in terms of engagement and considering their options and other game mechanics. A player who comes across, say, a Salvage Rig will think about what that could mean for potential salvage; a player who's been salvaging a lot is going to be thinking about Salvage Rigs, to reference the first idea. Good systems encourage and strengthen each other; they make each other engaging and worthwhile.

My point is that there's fertile ground here for mechanics that actually engage with the game (get used to that one) and have to do with how it works, and ask of the player to make careful considerations that have to do with everything else going on. It makes everything matter more in context, weaves together existing mechanics, makes the game deeper, and gives the player more and more interesting and meaningful decisions they can make. These things are paramount and are what make a glorious and long-lasting game, or anything for that matter. These things are why I started playing Starsector, and indeed many other games. Moving on.


So what about those built-in hullmods? Well, if you've been paying attention, you already know where I'm going with this. This is one that I'd argue borders on harming the game itself, but let's call it a combination of devalue and circumvent. The game has an incredibly deep system for ship customization, and Ordinance Points represent just how much you can get out of a given ship. While I was inclined to say that most ships have a stingy amount, the solution was NOT to summon Will Smith to magically bind hullmods to the ship for not so much as a single point; which, given what any half-awake player will pick, lets them save tons of points on particularly good or mandatory hullmods. Excellent, being being less awake and exercising less mental effort during loadout design was exactly what I wanted. (it wasn't)

There's a conversation, of course, about making certain hullmods less stupidly good and/or less mandatory, but that's a separate conversation and probably ends with needing to improve the AI, which sorely needs to be done.

It goes without saying why this circumvents the mechanics, but how does it devalue them? Well, it means that the entire system for shipbuilding requires less thought, less consideration. It means less because you can now 'cheat' it out of quite a bit of value. Once again, I'll point out how uncomfortably close this is to just flat-out cheating.

And the real kicker is that this; the concept of taking a given hull and 'making it better'; is perhaps one of the most explored territories in modding out of the ones I'm going to bring up, next to colony-related mods. HVBs and IBBs offer many unique takes on better versions of existing hulls, of course, but RogueSynth and Starship Legends are much more direct examples. And if you really need a direct upgrading system, there are admittedly more obscure mods like Extra System Reloaded (By Iridescens) and Colony-Based Campaign Content (By Cabbs) that have treaded this ground in significantly better ways; in ways that actually meant something in game context, that required half an ounce of effort.

I would criticize those two mods for being player-facing only; that is, the AI gets to use none of it (at least the last time I tried them), but neither seem to be fully done in any case. Despite this, what they offered me in terms of ability to customize and upgrade my fleet was much more worthwhile, and actually weaved in with the existing mechanics. They were a bit lacking in meat and needed work, yes, but they were better than Will Smith.

Officer/player skills are currently a mess and it looks like they might be under fire for changes so you'd think I wouldn't comment on elite skills. I'm going to anyway.

The concept of acquiring particularly elite personnel; and becoming one yourself; is fine. But the game already has mechanics by which you could access such things. Particularly high wages are a given, but rather than simply hiring such officers for small fortunes, that's where very difficult missions have a chance to tempt the player with rewards. You can also reward exploring this way, such as with that one salvage event where you find an officer in a cryopod and wake him up and he's just so chuffed at being alive he joins you; such officers won't always be amazing, but sometimes... And yes, that one specific example is in the game, so it feels concerning that the opportunity for more engaging methods was recognized yet not fully explored.


As for how the player themselves become an elite? Considering this is a permanent change to the main actual player, it should of course be quite difficult to acquire such a thing. Using 0.91a as an example, what if I saved up three of my level up points to become an elite in salvaging? That's a relatively simple example, and it's also a decent reason to do to more things; snap off the level cap, thus continuing to reward the player with experience for the things they do, which they can then invest in becoming a legend, which they ought to be by the time they get into their two-hundredth 500DP invasion war fight thing.

Yes, I'm aware that fleet sizes were made smaller, but it was done artificially and arbitrarily in a way that feels at odds with the already existing systems that account for size, such as maintenance, and seems to have been a poor attempt among many others at incentivizing smaller ships when, again, examples already exist of better ways to do that. I don't want to go into that as well, considering it's not the point of this essay and deserves a few pages of its own, buuuuut I'm going to anyway for just one paragraph because it's very dear to me.

Bring back combat-level terrain. I'm aware this existed at one point, and apparently confused the AI. It baffles me that the solution to this was apparently to just can the system and not, say, improve the AI that repeatedly demonstrates why it needs improving. Nebulae having an effect on sensors and movement is good, Secrets of the Frontier demonstrates an actually interesting way to incentivize holding tactically useful points, asteroids are already sometimes a problem in fights so an asteroid field with tons of them and bigger ones would make cumbersome ships much more of a liability (and also incentivize 'mining' type weapons if you wanted!), debris fields can do something similar, electrical storms FTL-style could be an interesting challenge to work around... Oh yeah, and teaching the AI how to flank, which is what small, fast ships should be doing. I could go on for some time and if anyone wants to hear I will gladly write an entire second essay on the topic that gets a lot more specific. But let's get back to my main point.

I'll take a second to potshot the idea of bribing inspections costing a story point; for Lobster's sake, it already costs me credits if not a fight, and with the new contacts system there could easily be other costs involved; maybe a favor I need to do for some Hegemony official; and this is another one of those accursed situations where for some reason I am incapable of taking a simple, obvious action; saying 'yes'; without the help of Will Smith.

This doesn't make me feel clever or like I'm writing my own story or like I earned... Well, anything. This makes me feel like I'm being asked to identify with a self-insert character who has brain damage and can't take painfully obvious actions if I'm out of cattle prod charges. I apply this exact same feeling to pretty much every use of story points regarding contacts, as well. I go on about this a bit more when I address bonus experience; but let me be clear; the idea of the new contacts and mission systems is excellent. Bravo, Alex, sincerely. Now please remove all the thrice-forsaken story points so that I'm capable of interacting with it without needing to taze my POV character into using the tongue in his head.

Additionally, I didn't notice that bit in the changelog about promoting from your crew; I experienced that blind, and it hurt me deeply. For a few precious seconds, I was genuinely excited. What was this new system I had been unaware of? Had there been some new changes to crew? Could I raise and nurture this potential-filled young officer? But no, my hopes were dashed, as once again I was being asked for a story point to say 'yes', and once again I found myself in a situation where the moment in which I became filled with joy to experience another one of the lovely deep mechanics that drew me to this game in the first place turned out to be a cardboard box that Will Smith has to open for me because apparently the meatsuit I inhabit for this game can't figure out scissors.

And then there's colonies. I don't really mind the nerfs; sure, they were strong. Personally I never managed to make them broken or all that strong but maybe that's because I avoid using AI cores. If that's the case, and you'e balancing them around AI usage, you clearly do not have enough consequences for AI usage. If it becomes grindingly hard to make colonies without AI after this, that'll have been a mistake. But that's okay, because you gave me the option of having Will Smith sprinkle his fairy magic all over my colony to make it better.

And by okay I mean please make the pain stop. This should have been the easiest one to avoid inflicting story points upon. I mean, do I even need to point it out? Mods that expand the player's power to build and to create, that deepen and complicate and flesh out the colony system and so much more have existed for a long time. Several different kinds have come and gone, and the big players are still here, and have integration with most other mods. Sir Hartley's lovely Industrial Evolution is perhaps the prime example, but it would be untoward of me to not also mention Boggled's Terraforming and Station Construction or Kentington's DIY Planets, as well as the touches Nexerelin places upon it, and also to pay at least lip service to the five or so other mods that dip their toes in this territory in some form or another. But no, none of that, apparently I'll just magic my miners happy and give them pickaxes made of their hopes and dreams.

And finally, bonus experience. Look, if you want a way to encourage the player into certain actions, or give them ways to become stronger faster, you already have perfectly good ways to do that organically without Will Smith. Let me reference Starship Legends again for a moment; I would gladly fly halfway across the sector for a famous derelict cruiser if it happened to be one I particularly cared for, or if I was hurting for a ship whose role the derelict could fill, and for a variety of smaller reasons as well. You don't need to use the promise of faster level ups to encourage the player, unless skills are overly dominant, which arguably a couple of them are, but I digress. If you really want to give the player a way to grow faster, congratulations, 0.95 already grants you the tools.

Sure, you could blow that station away and send a marine raid in to get that prisoner. But, alternatively, you could make some friends on the black markets or among the faction's government, do a couple of favors for people (Hint: your big chance to point the player in the direction of other things here that you want them to notice) and in return an arrangement gets made and the prisoner gets handed off. Not only could you make that worth more experience, but you wouldn't even have to, since it generally involves more effort and they'd be picking up more experience anyway. But hey, you do want to reward the path of more than usual resistance, and experience isn't an awful way to do that. Shouldn't be the only way, but it's not a bad present.

EDIT: Thaago pointed out that my rhetoric is a bit circular in this area, and he has a point. The crux of my argument regarding colonies and bar events is that story points are being used as a paywall where a paywall has no business existing. It does not make sense that I need story points to interact with characters when there are already costs and consequences in these spots; or, for where there's not, there so easily could be. Considering how weak and disconnected story points are, it admittedly isn't much of a paywall unless you get into the fractal costs colonies have, which is just... That alone should be an indicator how poor an idea it is, but I digress. I was not exaggerating, however, in my statements of how idiotic it makes my character look and how grossly unimmersive that is, that if I don't have a story point, I'm incapable of taking what you would think would be very basic courses of action. It'd be like requiring me to use a story point to allow a cargo scan, or to buy trade goods. That's not a story, it doesn't feel good, it's not rewarding, it's... Frankly pretty stupid, and it has no business existing when Starsector already has better options that could have been used as cost or incentive even if you only ever used things in 0.91a without putting any more work in. My thanks to Thaago for correcting my emotional tangents that were muddying my point in these regards.

In conclusion, I think it's pretty clear what my objections are to story points. My personal usage of them so far has basically always been as a 'screw you button', where I refuse the consequences of bad decisions on my part, usually getting away from fleets I had full warning about, or salvaging ships because I did a poor job of commanding and outfitting and they got blown apart, and I can't say I feel good about it. Now, of course, you might say 'But Laharl, nobody else seems to have a problem with them'. And, well, first off I'9d say you're wrong, but secondarily, people aren't very good at knowing what they want. Most people just want more of whatever's in front of them; see every failed nostalgic kickstart project for proof; and I think story points are being glossed over as acceptable partially because of how good some of the things locked behind them are, and also because frankly it's just not hard to get lots of them, which ironically means they devalue themselves at the moment. I wrote this because I genuinely believe that if the missed potential is pointed out, a lot less people would be okay with story points.

It could be that I'm completely wrong and making an unnecessarily wanky pseudo-philosophical argument because the game is trending away from what made me love it. I accept that, but I also sincerely believe that I'm on the right path when I say that, overall, story points devalue this game and remove both the desire and the need to engage with the beautifully built mechanics and systems it has. I sincerely believe that huge potential yet lies in this game and in Alex, and that many of the ideas I've presented herein represent that. If anything I've said helps this game to grow, even in a small way, then this was worth my time and I will consider that a victory, however small.

bloody hell posting this makes me nervous i have no idea if i'm actually a raving idiot

EDIT: Why the hell does modifying this post turn every apostrophe into some kind of %2019 garble?
« Last Edit: May 11, 2021, 10:54:26 AM by ModdedLaharl »
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Wyvern

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2021, 04:02:04 PM »

Hm. This... is very interesting feedback.

I can definitely get behind some of the stuff here - there are a lot of interactions where the 'story point' option is just... why do I need a story point to take this blindingly obvious course of action? (For me, the worst offender here is that one Luddic Church vigil fleet that you have to get out of your way to scan a thing. Somehow it costs a story point to offer them supplies? Why?)

For the disengage, though... that one's kindof tricky. Because, yes, normally you have all sorts of options and warnings for avoiding a hostile fleet. And then sometimes the plot (or in rarer cases pure RNG) drops, say, a Luddic Path armada directly in your way, zipping towards you out of the fog of hyperspace at a storm-boosted burn 30. There is simply no way to avoid that short of literal prescience: if you've played the mission before, or happen to have saved your game at the right time, then you can just... not be there. If you didn't? Welp. Have fun with that.

(Then again, I'm not a fan of the current iteration of hyperspace travel anyway. Yes, sure, it accomplishes the goal of making sure you can't just set a course and then tab out for a bit. But it doesn't do so in a way that's engaging or interesting; you don't have ghost ships surfacing from the fog of deep hyperspace, you just have a tedious little dodge-the-storms-or-hold-s mini-game. It's not fun. I'd almost prefer the entirety of hyperspace was replaced with a narrative interface - Plot course to Zagan system! Captain, we're picking up hostiles! Spend fuel to outrun them? Close in and engage? Comm up and bribe them to leave us alone?)
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Wyvern is 100% correct about the math.

ModdedLaharl

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2021, 04:06:40 PM »

I personally like the chaos of hyperspace travel, and admittedly I'm actually a fan of the idea that sometimes things can just *happen*. Having said that, there're ways to address your point. Off the top of my head, perhaps engage protection for fleets coming in or out of jump points for a few seconds, or not allowing fleets that are getting tumbled by storms to engage. I'd also emphasize those things I mentioned regarding Archaeon Order and the Cabal.

"you don't have ghost ships surfacing from the fog of deep hyperspace"

And THAT is a bloody lovely idea. Hyperspace could definitely stand to be more interesting!
« Last Edit: May 03, 2021, 04:08:15 PM by ModdedLaharl »
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Shad

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2021, 04:15:47 PM »

I would much agree with most of what's written (yes, I read the whole thing!). Story points being magic gameplay bypassing things at their core hurts gameplay.

@Wyvern I think the 30 speed warpstorms are a separate issue, and I'm pretty sure there was a thread last year about how the current impementation of the storms is not ideal. But there are actually mods that let you negotiate with hostiles. There are gameplay mechanics which could be used, like bribes, or tossing some cargo etc, or just plain "kill 100 FP" for a guaranteed disengage.

Ideally, there should be more engagment types and more ling between hyperspace burn and ship behaviour. Fleets riding the storms cannot just stop on the map, so why should they stop in battle? Make it into a drive-by shootout between 2 fleets instead, with the storm riding fleet forced to burn ahead without possibility to fully stop. But I digress.
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intrinsic_parity

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2021, 04:50:08 PM »

To me story points are far more interesting that just save scumming. Even for a very experience player, there are lots of situations where 30+ hours can be lost in an instant with virtually no warning (usually involving hyperspace storms bouncing fleets into you at speeds you can't possibly avoid, but there are lots of situations where terrain makes it nearly impossible to avoid fights). Instead of eliminating the consequences of my decision for free by reloading an old save, I can now eliminate them for the cost of some long term fleet or colony power, which is at least some tangible cost that isn't explicitly cheating by save-scumming. The game isn't a rogue like that's balanced around losing a lot as a means of learning the game IMO (I do enjoy and play lots of rogue likes), and I don't think it's very fun to play it like that. You have to play safe to the point of not having fun (IMO) to reliably avoid all the things that can instantly wipe you.
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SafariJohn

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2021, 05:51:02 PM »

I agree with Laharl and I also agree with this:

To me story points are far more interesting that just save scumming.

Save scumming sucks, especially when saving/loading takes a non-trivial amount of time.
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HUcast

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2021, 05:53:41 PM »

I think that you're right on most counts. It's obvious Alex created story points as a means of defining your character, but they do not do that adequately. If they were rarer, and involved in specific scenarios with multiple outcomes that permanently changed your characters, they would do so. But as it stands they're more or less bonus points that make you win more, so to speak.

I don't entirely agree with how much you slam story points on their impact in ship customization. While it's true that building in several essential hull mods is a no brainer,  even in doing so you still have plenty If things that demand your attention. You never feel like you have everything you want. I would go as far as to say the problem isn't in the fact that you can build them in, but that there are hullmods in the game that are considered "necessary", like hardened shields. That sort of thing removes creative thought from ship building far more than story points ever could. In fact, having them become after thoughts with building them in might even free up the player to try new builds while still being end game viable.
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Megas

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2021, 06:03:44 PM »

I don't entirely agree with how much you slam story points on their impact in ship customization. While it's true that building in several essential hull mods is a no brainer,  even in doing so you still have plenty If things that demand your attention. You never feel like you have everything you want. I would go as far as to say the problem isn't in the fact that you can build them in, but that there are hullmods in the game that are considered "necessary", like hardened shields.
I save most of my points for colony improvements, due to 2^n costs!  When I need 32 or 64 points for just one more improvement, I hoard points just in case I am crazy enough to do it.
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ModdedLaharl

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #8 on: May 03, 2021, 06:05:25 PM »

In response to SafariJohn and intrinsic_parity: While I agree with your points, I think that SP is a particularly fault attempt at bandaging over the actual problem there. I make notes about potential better solutions, both existing and theoretical, in the essay itself, which I think would better serve. I also think that deepening the tactical layer with more... Well, STUFF in it would make disengage battles more viable.

In response to HUcast: I agree with you that simply building in the 'mandatory' hullmods does give you some more design space while still being viable. However, I think that SP as a system is a particularly poor means of achieving that particular goal. I go into a lot of detail about mostly existing methods that would allow for such things, as well as criticizing both the stingy amount of OP and that some hullmods are simply too necessary due to the current limitations of AI behavior.

I'd actually be willing to write an entirely new essay regarding approaches that could be taken with the tactical layer, both loadout and actual battles. There's a lot I have to say and a lot of potential there, I believe.

In response to Megas: Honestly I can't fathom why SP colony improvements exist. The mods regarding colony content are so rich that I'd get metaphorical diabetes from them.
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Sundog

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #9 on: May 03, 2021, 06:16:12 PM »

I'm pretty sure story points are intended to be a means of circumventing game rules, and for a game like Starsector (unlike FTL), I think it's a good thing to be able to do that every once in a while. I think the only real problem is that story points are so easy to earn that we can circumvent rules as a matter of course, instead of only when we really need to.

ModdedLaharl

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #10 on: May 03, 2021, 06:20:11 PM »

I'm pretty sure story points are intended to be a means of circumventing game rules, and for a game like Starsector (unlike FTL), I think it's a good thing to be able to do that every once in a while. I think the only real problem is that story points are so easy to earn that we can circumvent rules as a matter of course, instead of only when we really need to.

This is of course telling about how I like my games, but my feeling is that if breaking the rules of the game is a good thing (outside some kind of meta context of course), then it points to flaws in design. I'd furthermore note that many of the places SP show up don't have to do with circumvention but with, to paraphrase myself, tazing my stupid meatsack of a character into taking basic actions.
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Soda Savvy

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #11 on: May 03, 2021, 06:31:01 PM »

Maybe the problem in certain cases is that the options to circumvent the regular rules are tied to the points, instead of tied to dedicated alternatives?

Instead of using a story point to escape an ambush, have an option to do something like a 'Tactical drive field collapse' or something similar that can't be done again until you both get to a shipyard and purchase a supply limited(as in, planet Y only makes X per cycle) item. It's there for when you really need it, it makes more sense, and it can't be spammed.

For speech checks, why not tie that to faction reputation or fleet size? It's easier to threaten a pirate when you have an Onslaught. It's easier to talk your way out of an inspection if you're well known and liked. But don't do it too often or they might call your bluff.

Hull Mods is a whole other can of worms, especially considering so many are considered 'Essential' for many people. Maybe the problem in that case is that too many of them are straight benefits over sidegrades.
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ModdedLaharl

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #12 on: May 03, 2021, 06:34:03 PM »

Maybe the problem in certain cases is that the options to circumvent the regular rules are tied to the points, instead of tied to dedicated alternatives?

Instead of using a story point to escape an ambush, have an option to do something like a 'Tactical drive field collapse' or something similar that can't be done again until you both get to a shipyard and purchase a supply limited(as in, planet Y only makes X per cycle) item. It's there for when you really need it, it makes more sense, and it can't be spammed.

For speech checks, why not tie that to faction reputation or fleet size? It's easier to threaten a pirate when you have an Onslaught. It's easier to talk your way out of an inspection if you're well known and liked. But don't do it too often or they might call your bluff.

Hull Mods is a whole other can of worms, especially considering so many are considered 'Essential' for many people. Maybe the problem in that case is that too many of them are straight benefits over sidegrades.

What you're talking about is essentially what I'm arguing in favor of. Having actual mechanics and parts of the game woven in to interact with instead of magic points. It doesn't become a circumvention of the rules if it's part of the rules.

Tactical level balancing is a long, long road, which again, I may write a second essay about.
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Megas

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #13 on: May 03, 2021, 06:44:54 PM »

If not for colony improvements or the historian charging 4 SP per colony item I may want (he offers them instead of blueprints if all are known), I would spend a lot of SP on s-mods.  At first, I planned on burning two points per ship (I took Automated Ships instead of Spec.Mods.), until I saw how much colonies can consume.  In the end, because Doom is overpowered with new skills, I only s-modded Hardened Subsystems to about a dozen phase ships.

I spend story points mainly on the following:  colony improvements, s-mods, recovering my ships (guaranteed recovery can be difficult), mentoring officers, and elite skills.  I also like to reserve some for the historian.  Legion XIV blueprint is only available through the historian.  And I like to reserve some points for respec.

Burning five points to create a stable point in the system would be nice if I found a good system to colonize without one, but there was no need for my current game.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2021, 06:47:15 PM by Megas »
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FooF

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Re: A Professional Critique Of Story Points
« Reply #14 on: May 03, 2021, 07:07:12 PM »

I read 90% of that and I'll disagree on a few levels, though I will commend your thought process (and no you're not a raving idiot :))

SP Salvaging, to which you mean getting ships. This was one of the most complained about mechanics in the game prior to 0.95 and I'm glad SP addressed it. As it was (and still is to some extent), whether a ship is "disabled" or "destroyed" is predetermined when you enter the battle space. It doesn't matter if you hit a ship with a Vulcan or Reaper for a parting shot, its fate is sealed. Now, why it's this way is important: if the player had a modicum of control over whether a ship was disabled or destroyed (and therefore had a greater chance of recovery), the most efficient way to play would be to solo everything that had a ship you wanted. If there was some measure of skill involved in order to get a disabled status, and since you can't control AI allies to the precision necessary, the min/maxers out there would either try to solo fleets, have to modify ship loadouts to Nth degree before "important" fights, or save scum until they got the desired result. None of these options are "fun."

Not that I'm not sympathetic, I've advocated for something similar in the past, but I see the logic. SP give the player a greater chance at the desired outcome given they had little control over the outcome to begin with. Where I might tweak the system is paying a SP before the battle to designate a "high value" target or some such that would give it a higher chance for recovery. Generally speaking, I know which ship I would like in a fight and if there are multiple, I'll be spending multiple points! But as far as making ships recoverable due to player skill, that is simply a non-starter due 90% of the battles being fought between AI. You can argue for better AI but that's a much bigger issue.

Re: S-Mods. S-Mods are a sidegrade to what we had in 0.91 and to while certain hull mods are obviously more "automatic" than others, it's no better/worse in my opinion that Loadout Design 3 that just gave a flat bonus to OP. There was no thought to that or meaningful choice if you simply picked up the skill. From my vantage point, S-Mods are just part and parcel with an evolving loadout feature for the game. You are never forced to build in any hull mod and I find that S-modded enemy ships are not that common. If gives the player a slight advantage if they choose to invest in maxing out their fleet and it makes you think about permanent alterations to a ship, which can have long-lasting consequences on ships that stay with you the whole game.

On the whole, I don't think you're wrong but I don't think you're particularly right, either. I've enjoyed how they've been implemented, though the rate and uses of them are definitely in the "first pass" stage of a major game mechanic (i.e. there's some ironing out to do). I think if the game was simply littered with SP options (most of them rather impactful), their value would actually improve. As it is, I save them for "big" decisions and rarely use them in the smaller, more mundane ways I think they were intended to be used for in the early game. I mean if they were everywhere and each one could have major implications on a run, you'd be tempted to use them more and the glut of SP that you get early wouldn't feel like a bad thing. You call it genie magic or cheat codes but it's more like choosing where to aim your shot to me. If everyone has a 6-shooter in a crowd of enemies, you have to prioritize your targets. The problem is that the player has a machine-gun right now so they can be a lot less discriminating!
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