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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: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics  (Read 1714 times)

itchylol

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There are two major issues I have with Starsector, the first is overcomplexity and the second being anti-fun mechanics. There is way too much under the hood number crunching. What do I mean? For example, the things that can modify the damage of an attack in combat (not including the base damage of the weapon):

Your flux (if you have the perk for energy weapons),
your passive damage perks for piloted ship,
your passive damage perks for all ships,
the enemy ships armor,
how much of the armor has already been destroyed,
whether or not the enemy ship officer has armor strengthening perks,
whether or not the enemy ship has armor D mods,
damage type of your weapon, etc. 

It's insanely complicated. An attack with a 100 damage explosive weapon could deal 120 or 250 damage to armor depending on circumstances and there's no way for a human to calculate that number given how many factors there are. You just have to shoot and find out every time, since the factors change every time.

And that's just for damage. There are also many factors that affect other things like ship speed, maneuverability, shield efficiency and similar stats. This is very annoying because a player might for example remember that ship A can outrun ship B, so they, piloting ship A, try to chase down a weakened enemy piloting ship B, but then ship B is faster because the enemy officer has some speed perk.

The amount of passive buffs also leads to a boring meta where the best strategy is to stack passive buffs to speed, damage, and shield/armor/hull tanking so your ships have superior stats to the enemy.

Having buffs which are weak but everlasting is very stale, while having buffs which are temporary but powerful are exciting. For example, the accelerated ammo feeder which doubles rate of fire but is only temporary. It makes a battle more exciting and fun for both sides compared to if a ship just had a passive 5% bonus to fire rate for the whole round.

Also, a second issue: Anti-fun game mechanics. The biggest two are combat readiness and deployment points. Both are added to solve the problem that large fleets would easily crush small fleets. But there is already a solution: A large fleet is likely slower than a small fleet, and has to waste fuel on emergency burns to catch up, and they get very little payout for defeating a small fleet, so its not worth it anyway. Why make it even less worth it by making ships require supplies to recover CR and limiting the number of ships in play at once?

In addition, deployment points are unfun for even matchups between large fleets because if two massive fleets fight, having giant 30 vs 30 war is more fun than a 7 vs 7 battle while the remaining 23 ships wait for their allies to be destroyed so they can join the battle.
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intrinsic_parity

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2021, 07:09:27 PM »

With regards to complexity, that's what I like about the game, and that's what makes the combat unique IMO. There are many factors to consider when outfitting ships to make them effective, and you can tailor your loadout to be effective against particular enemies you expect to encounter. I think the game would be extremely boring if all the guns just did x damage to any possible target. Most of the interesting loadout decisions exist because of all the armor, damage type, and flux mechanics.

In terms of specific numbers, I don't really see how calculating things is relevant. You're still just going to shoot shields until they drop and then hull/armor until they die, regardless of the exact numbers. If you understand the basic ideas/mechanics (damage types, flux efficiency, armor), you will be able to easily identify which weapons to shoot at which times/targets. Even if the numbers were always the same, you would do the same thing. You're never going to count/calculate the number of pulse laser shots it takes to kill something, you just shoot until it dies, and sometimes it takes longer.

I do think it would be nice if the enemy skills were more clearly communicated to you so you could know in advance what you're up against, but I have no issue with some enemies having skills that make them more difficult.

With regards to active abilities, Accelerated ammo feeder is a ship system, it's not something that can be added to a ship, so I don't really understand how it can be compared to skills and hullmods that modify stats. It would be impossible to balance the game if powerful active systems like AAF could be put on any ship. Also, I think having active abilities only available to specific hulls is really good because ships have unique and defining characteristics that are not stats. If you could add active abilities to any ships, ships would just become stat sticks where you put the best abilities on the hulls with the best stats, which seems like the opposite of what you want. Active abilities should be defining traits of ships, not customizable additions IMO. (It's also worth noting that there's a ton of back end complexity involved in active systems like adding UI and controls so the player can use them. Thats a ton of work to add from a development standpoint).

With regards to CR, it's definitely a divisive topic in the community. However, fundamentally, it's just a resource management mechanic. There are entire games (survival games) where the only thing you do is manage resources, so I don't think it's correct to call it 'anti-fun'. There are many people (myself included) who find resource management mechaincs to be interesting and fun. It's fine if you don't enjoy it, but lots of other people do. If you really hate it that much, you can edit upkeep costs and recovery costs to your preference in the game files.

With regards to deployment points, the reason that mechanic exists is computational limits, not balance reasons. It ensures the game is playable on low end hardware. Once again, you can go into the settings files and edit the max battle size to allow for any number of ships, although it kinda messes with the new skill system and you might need to tweak those numbers to compensate.
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Tartiflette

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2021, 10:44:49 PM »

I'm starting to have concerns about over-complexity, but those have more to do with the newer skills and coming hullmods. The skills that have diminishing effects depending on the fleet composition make it impossible to clearly know if buying a new ship will be a positive new addition, or a net negative by nerfing the rest of the fleet. The coming hullmods have various eclectic effects that aren't immediately graspable like "+X range" or "-Y supplies used".

As for CR, it is actually a simplification from previous systems that forced the player to track ammunition for most of their weapons and all fighters replacements, across their whole fleet.
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Yunru

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #3 on: July 21, 2021, 12:11:16 AM »

I don't agree the game has too much complexity; rather it lacks enough transparency.

For example, weapons never show their true range on a refit screen, only the base range.

TaLaR

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #4 on: July 21, 2021, 12:59:58 AM »

Making something pointlessly over-complicated is easy. Making only moderately complex system with enough gameplay depth is harder and more rewarding. And I find that SS is fairly good at having meaningful complexity.

At the same time, while AI does a better job than what can be observed in pretty much any other somewhat similar game, it fails quite hard compared to a competent player (basic range management, when and whom to engage/disengage, correct system use, etc).
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Talkie Toaster

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #5 on: July 21, 2021, 09:20:38 AM »

Quote
I don't agree the game has too much complexity; rather it lacks enough transparency.

For example, weapons never show their true range on a refit screen, only the base range.
This is an interesting thought. If the 'targeting' info box, as well as showing hull/armour/flux, also had a few indicators for buffs (e.g. a green arrow for boosted speed on that vessel via hullmod or officer) it would go a long way to making things clearer. As the OP points out, identical hulls can perform wildly differently and even just a vague idea of what kind of buffs they have would make combat a lot clearer and reduce the "WTF AI cheats" feeling a lot of new players seem to have. Yes, the AI ships do seem to randomly outperform yours, but... only because they have SO or a level 5 officer.
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SCC

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #6 on: July 21, 2021, 09:37:19 AM »

While it is true there are many factors that increase damage, it's also true that particular damage of any particular shot isn't very important. All the factors on the player side are also something that you know in advance (except for EWM and RS), so you can plan for that. For the rest, officer skills are pretty important and you can't view them on demand, but that's getting addressed. D-mods can't be seen either and no changes here. The state of the enemy armour you can view by targeting the ship. You can't see the stats of a ship quickly, but it can't really deviate too much from the baseline. A Medusa won't have insane armour or hull no matter what you try.

Battlesize is actually solution to the problem of "the overlap of people who play video games on NASA supercomputer and play Starsector is negligible", so in effort to save (some) people from running battles in single digit frames per second, battlesize was created. As for the maximum battlesize, I recall that with too many ships, AI ships end up stepping on one another's toes. Though you can experiment with it anyway, if you want to. Check out the Starsector\starsector-core\data\config\settings.json file, search for "BattleSize".

Combat Readiness you correctly identified as the mechanic to discourage the player from deploying everything to fight. You can bypass this by deploying only as few ships as you need to deal with the enemy fleet. It's possible to gain supplies from fighting, even without the salvaging skill, but you have to be efficient enough. It's just resource management.

The skills that have diminishing effects depending on the fleet composition make it impossible to clearly know if buying a new ship will be a positive new addition, or a net negative by nerfing the rest of the fleet. The coming hullmods have various eclectic effects that aren't immediately graspable like "+X range" or "-Y supplies used".
I like the DP restrictions, since it makes personal skills more appealing to people who aren't good at piloting ships. Where previously you had the choice between buffing your ship by a finite amount of power and buffing your entire fleet, where the fleet can be even 20 Paragons if you so wish, the more practical choice is going to be the fleet buff, since the power it gives you is limited only by what ships you can get. With DP restrictions, it's more about choosing a finite amount of power to boost yourself or your fleet.
I don't know what hullmods you are talking about. Neural Interface is hardly a hullmod on its own, more like a designation which ships you want your skill to affect.

pairedeciseaux

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #7 on: July 21, 2021, 02:11:39 PM »

Those are fair complaints.

On one hand I like gameplay depth. On the other hand I don't like the (rare) lack of transparency situations and some mechanics that IMO do not contribute to a good experience.

My pet peeve is ECM rating and weapon range reduction. I have disliked that since I started playing Starsector.

In addition, deployment points are unfun for even matchups between large fleets because if two massive fleets fight, having giant 30 vs 30 war is more fun than a 7 vs 7 battle while the remaining 23 ships wait for their allies to be destroyed so they can join the battle.

As suggested by intrinsic_parity and SCC, there is a workaround that some people use: change the maxBattleSize parameter in the settings.json file. Beware you may encounter game performance issues when raising the value, resulting in lowered frame rate. Personally I'm OK with 400, and I used to play with 500 in previous versions if the game.

Another way to have more ships on the battlefield is... use smaller ships. Yes, instead of one 40-DP ship you may use five 8-DP ships. Ain't that incredible? :P

In any cases, my understanding is you get the "true" vanilla Starsector experience by playing with battle size set at 300 or 400. And overall it works well given game's scope and content in general, and with game's ability to simulate battles in particular.
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TaLaR

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #8 on: July 21, 2021, 02:19:52 PM »

I'm OK with 400, and I used to play with 500 in previous versions if the game.

It's almost the same in practice. Old 500 was a hard limit, but new 400 actually allows 480 to be deployed in total.
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SCC

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #9 on: July 22, 2021, 07:59:05 AM »

My pet peeve is ECM rating and weapon range reduction. I have disliked that since I started playing Starsector.
I don't mind it per se, but it's disappointing that your only practical options are ECM spamming to outspam your opponent, or not bothering with it at all.

In any cases, my understanding is you get the "true" vanilla Starsector experience by playing with battle size set at 300 or 400. And overall it works well given game's scope and content in general, and with game's ability to simulate battles in particular.
I recall Alex plays on 400.

Megas

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #10 on: July 22, 2021, 08:28:23 AM »

Enemy fleets and fights have progressively bloated over the releases, while PPT and map size have not kept up.  500 was enough for deploy-all in earlier releases.  Now, it is probably a third of an endgame fleet, whether the enemy or yours.  300 is too small and turns combat into a series of Star Control style duels.  400 (the new max) is tolerable but not ideal.  Would prefer if max was raised to 600 or 800.  (1000 would probably be better, except UI does not like four digits.)

What use is a fleet if we cannot deploy it all?

Deploy all is more useful because the enemy will do it, and player can save more supplies by killing the enemy quickly and not taking damage, losing PPT from endurance battles (or cowardly AI), or losing ships by not having enough firepower.
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Helldiver

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #11 on: July 22, 2021, 08:47:53 AM »

I don't think that the game is overly complex. On the other hand, I think that the game does a very poor job of communicating information to the player. It feels like in an attempt at making things less confusing by reducing information on screen it instead leads to new players not knowing what things do or how things work, hence the eternally repeated questions on basic game mechanics like armor on forums and discord. And then there's things like having to go into game files to see basic info like projectile speed on guns.

and map size have not kept up.

Agree with map size being insufficient. Making a group of ships flank the enemy fleet is an exercise in frustration as the small size of the battlemaps makes it nearly impossible for them to not end up aggroing something on the way instead.

At the same time, while AI does a better job than what can be observed in pretty much any other somewhat similar game,

Disagree. Friendly AI in Starsector is the most frustrating I've ever had the displeasure of dealing with in any naval game.
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Nick XR

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #12 on: July 22, 2021, 10:28:57 AM »

Agreed generally that the complexity is spot on, but the transparency into that complexity can be frustrating.  For example it would be great if you could mouse over some states that would tell you:
Base value
All of the modifiers applied to it (in combat or where ever it actually matters)
Final Value

Then in the list of weapons for the love of god add the ability to sort on the final value.  When you have mods going it's pretty common to have a least fifty weapons that can go in a single slot type >.<

And as intrinsic_parity pointed out rather well, what you need to do in combat to be successful doesn't require you to know almost any of the stats in detail. 

Sutopia

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #13 on: July 22, 2021, 10:31:51 AM »

Hold ma beer

To be quite honest, you're just cheesing the battle size mechanics at that point - that's not something I can really worry about as a balancing concern. I think ideally the game would be played at battle size 400.

SapphireSage

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Re: My complaints about overcomplexity and anti-fun game mechanics
« Reply #14 on: July 22, 2021, 01:23:38 PM »

Also, a second issue: Anti-fun game mechanics. The biggest two are combat readiness and deployment points. Both are added to solve the problem that large fleets would easily crush small fleets. But there is already a solution: A large fleet is likely slower than a small fleet, and has to waste fuel on emergency burns to catch up, and they get very little payout for defeating a small fleet, so its not worth it anyway. Why make it even less worth it by making ships require supplies to recover CR and limiting the number of ships in play at once?

In addition, deployment points are unfun for even matchups between large fleets because if two massive fleets fight, having giant 30 vs 30 war is more fun than a 7 vs 7 battle while the remaining 23 ships wait for their allies to be destroyed so they can join the battle.

With regards to Combat Readiness, its actually the inverse to prevent a solo ship from being able to kite and slowly wear down a much larger fleet. If the time limit didn't exist it would be possible to take a fast ship like, say a Medusa, and use it to slowly work down the enemy fleet one ship at a time indefinitely. If you summon overwhelming force against an enemy and quickly crush them you can even get a reduction to the CR used for deployment for the ships involved.

With regards to deployment points, its purely a computational power thing so that people with not high-end hardware (like myself) can play the game at 1.0x speed at minimum even with Carrier spam. If you have a strong computer though, you can modify the ".\starsector-core\data\config\settings.json" file and change the "maxBattleSize", "maxShipsInFleet", and "maxShipsInAIFleet" options to make fleets both bigger and to allow more to be deployed in combat at once.
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