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Starsector 0.95.1a is out! (12/10/21); Blog post: The Pilgrim's Path (07/19/22)

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Author Topic: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either  (Read 3568 times)

michail

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Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« on: March 26, 2022, 05:05:30 AM »

I play Starsector mostly for its exploration, with combat being something I do
not do without a very good reason. I've noticed over several runs that my
interest and enjoyment tends to dry out the further into the game I progress,
followed by either a restart or an extended break from the game. This is an
analysis of sorts why this happens. There is a small "suggestions" block at the
end, but it's more of a brain dump than anything serious.

It should be noted that the following applies mostly to "sufficiently vanilla"
runs with stipend disabled and no commission, or with "Ruthless Sector".

Early game: the bliss

Early game is the part I enjoy the most. It has a very simple, clear goal of
not dying - physically and financially - and a variety of well-balanced ways to
achieve it. Whichever way to make money I choose, be it trading, exploration
missions or bounty hunting, potential gains are about the same. Risks are not,
and there are some hints of risk-reward imbalance already. Exploration's and
trading's risks are low-probability, high-impact - cargo loss, fleet wipes,
getting stranded - and limited resources make the impact a lot more painful,
which helps keeping me on my toes. Combat's risks are less binary, but much
more probable. Higher expected losses, comparable gains and my exploration bias
mean that I just don't see the point of doing combat in early game. "Ruthless
Sector" helps by evening out the field a bit.

Because all of the ways to progress at this stage involve a possibility of
things going horribly wrong, I need to think and to work towards minimizing the
risks while still making a profit. Do I want to go through with an exploration
mission in a system with yellow danger level? Is this delivery contract worth
dodging the pirates? Is exploring this system worth a chunk of very limited
supplies still left? It's a lot of decisions, and it's very fun.

Middle game: temptations

This is where the hamster wheel starts wobbling a bit. At this point, I have a
decently combat-capable fleet with good cargo capacity, as well as a solid
reserve of money. I am also most likely to have befriended pirates and pathers,
leaving me with no enemies except derelicts and [REDACTED]. Rewards and risks
change. Trading becomes the optimal strategy, because it no longer carries any
risks at all, and rewards scale with cargo capacity, which is trivial to
increase. Combat risks are still relevant, but rewards - as many have brought
up before - are not well calibrated against them. Why would I fight anything if
the reward is less money than a good deal provides and some XP? This only
applies to bounties though - piracy becomes extremely lucrative at this point,
especially considering its relatively low risk. This is where I go all out on
exploration with some bursts of trading and piracy in-between. The exploration
is different though: quests are no longer the main source of money, I take them
to essentially pick a direction at random and to compensate fuel costs in case
I find nothing of value. I'm after loot bombs, blueprints and colony items.

Blueprints and colony items I acquire in the process begin to tempt me to set
up a colony. This is a big gripe of mine with exploration in Starsector. Unlike
trading and combat, its game loop becomes self-destructive at some point. If
you trade, you make money to make more money. If you fight, you make XP (and
SP) to make more XP (and if you are good enough - make money to fight more). If
you explore, you gather things which are not useful for exploration and push
you towards settling down, disrupting your exploration until the colony is
finally able to fend for itself.

End game: why would I do that?

This is where the hamster wheel breaks and I quit. I have a fleet that can
crush most fleets in the core. My money printer is on the way. I can go and
explore more or less freely... but why would I do that? There's no spice to it
anymore, unless I go into red systems. But why would I do that? Another colony
item is not worth the hassle. I can give bounties a shot (no pun intended), but
what's the point? Fighting for fighting's sake is not my jam. [REDACTED] and
Omega? Same, what do I have to gain except bragging rights? Trading is still
kind of fun - who doesn't love a fat profit from a killer deal - but do I
really need another million? A megaproject might keep me running for a short
while, but they tend to be grindy and not particularly fun.

Nexerelin helps massively at this stage, by providing great challenges and
risks worth taking.

Suggestions I guess?

The main problems which lead to the breakdown is, I believe, the ease of
removing risks and lacking rewards.

The lacking rewards is probably a mostly numeric issue (seriously, 40k for
taking out a station?), although there's also the problem of money becoming
irrelevant and being able to obtain nearly anything. The game could use some
more unique rewards only obtainable through a couple of very specific channels.

Risks should neither be opt-in nor fully removable. Risk removal can be
done in a way that doesn't completely trivialize the game by transferring the
risk elsewhere. Befriending a faction could get you targeted by its' enemies'
special forces. Or the faction could demand a display of loyalty every now and
then, either straining your relationships with its enemies or being generally
risky ("scan us a Nexus or we revoke your docking privileges"). A well-known
wealthy trader should be targeted by pirates and privateers. Competing
scavengers and explorers could be more aggressive and have a chance of
attacking you regardless of your faction standing (like some story fleets do).
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Amoebka

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2022, 08:56:33 AM »

Unavoidable combat in a game where the only punishment for losing is wasting real time grinding back is suboptimal design. I would rather see more carrots than sticks. Bounty hunting is worthless because everything it rewards can be obtained easier elsewhere. You take a major risk and do a difficult battle, with your reward being badly d-modded ships (buying pristine ones is cheaper than restoring) and pitiful sums of credits (one heavy armaments trading run makes more than triple s-mod ordo bounties).

High-end bounty content has to have unique rewards. Ordo farming gives alpa cores (with frustratingly random results), hypershunts give superweapons (after the game is already over), mercenary/deserter/pirtate bounties give nothing. There should be unique ships there somewhere, or at least the ability to retain s-mods on recovered ships.
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michail

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2022, 11:16:29 AM »

Unavoidable combat in a game where the only punishment for losing is wasting real time grinding back is suboptimal design. I would rather see more carrots than sticks.
I suppose this depends on specifics of "unavoidable". I would not (and do not) appreciate the game saying "you will fight this fleet, NOW". I would not mind however if the game were more insistent on having to fight someone at all. It is all too easy to befriend everyone. For exploration in particular this pretty much leaves just logistics failure and [REDACTED] as a danger.

High-end bounty content has to have unique rewards.
Considering that to get to them one needs to grind contact missions, I'd rather that all bounties provided something of interest, or a lead to it - kind of like exploration does. Fun things being locked behind grind gates is grating. Although for the early-mid game a good chunk of money is still an attractive enough reward, so maybe it'd be a decent segue into the harder stuff?
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SCC

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2022, 11:34:34 AM »

I would like the game to have some player bounty system, to make fights come to you, if you're a trader. Currently trading present nearly no risk and the best profit. Exploration is similarly low risk, but it's slower at least.
When it comes to bounties, I've thought about tying some mechanics to high faction reputation or ownership of colonies. Some "advanced supplies" that are required by certain ships to run, in addition to regular supplies. Or maybe something else. Currently, both faction reputation and bounties are something you are more likely to do for fun, than because it gives you something you wouldn't get otherwise.

Amoebka

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #4 on: March 26, 2022, 12:23:07 PM »

I'm pretty sure competing salvagers and distress ambushes still attack you, even if your rep with pirates is good?

As far as bounties are concerned, I would prefer to see them unified. Right now you have random relay bounties, which are always lame and pay less, and contact bounties, which are just better and more varied. Would be cool if having military contacts or even just high enough bounty score allowed you to get "advanced" bounties like derelicts or mercenaries from relays.

Bounties from contacts DO already point you towards "interesting" systems (most of the time), but there should be actual unique rewards as well. IBBs should be vanilla, basically.
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Candesce

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #5 on: March 26, 2022, 12:52:47 PM »

I'm pretty sure competing salvagers and distress ambushes still attack you, even if your rep with pirates is good?
They do.

More irritatingly, other pirates will join in when that happens - including, potentially, stations. This can be a very unpleasant surprise if you were docking to buy supplies at the time.
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Nameless

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #6 on: March 26, 2022, 09:28:32 PM »

I think the main issue is that ships are too cheap.

You can really get a good fleet going within an hour if you know what you're doing and then use that to make a really strong fleet under few hours.

With that the game essentially goes from start to mid to end game within a relatively short period of time, and pretty much allows you to negate most of the intended mechanics that you are suppose to exploit to get strong. This also made finding derelict ships unexciting as you can simply just have a million or so credit and just camp a few planets until something good shows up.
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Candesce

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #7 on: March 26, 2022, 09:38:35 PM »

I think the main issue is that ships are too cheap.
Nah.

More expensive ships just means people grind more smuggling to get the fleet they want, and are that much more likely to ragequit on losing a fight.

The better way would be to make the Core much more dangerous for traders; preferably also fix the retreat-fights so they're a lot less all-or-nothing in the process. So people can't just grind until they've put together the end-game fleet they want and then - only then - start interacting with the combat system, once most of the combats are trivialized.
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Linnis

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #8 on: March 26, 2022, 11:58:55 PM »

I remember Alex saying that the design goal was to "all activities leads to combat".

Except right now it doesn't happen (as of this version). Unless you install NEX and try to mine an asteroid, then an pirate fleet of equal power spawns and rushes at you, engaging in balanced and fun combat. Trading, raiding, smuggling, and exploring, should all perhaps have this kind of enemy spawn that comes at you. I understand that spawning fleets by the player is "cheap" but I feel like we are stuck in between this 4X and RPG gameplay and campaign combat occurrences has fallen to the wayside.
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SafariJohn

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #9 on: March 27, 2022, 03:42:16 AM »

OP's experience is similar to my own, in retrospect. I intentionally hunt down combat, but it still gets to the point where I get muddled on why I should progress and I quit playing before I even get to the top encounters.


Trading is too safe in Starsector. It is one of many games that kind of misses the point that civilized areas are safe because they are really dangerous - for those at odds with the top dogs. For example, big trades could require commissioning with a faction, so by expanding your opportunities you have (in theory) made big enemies too.
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Delta_of_Isaire

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #10 on: March 27, 2022, 04:18:33 AM »

I think the main issue is that ships are too cheap.
There is a precarious balance between the ease of buying ships, and the cost of replacing ships lost in combat. If ships are too cheap then it is too easy to amass a powerful fleet in the early game. Conversely if ships are too expensive then losses from combat hurt too much and cause reloads/ragequits. The point of balance between these extremes is very narrow, and I think the game is already close to the optimum. Maybe a bit towards the 'too expensive' side even. Without a completely new mechanic to ease the pain of lost ships, ship prices cannot be increased.


I agree that trading is currently too risk-free, allowing the player to skip a lot of combat until he has a powerful fleet. This really shortens/cheapens the early game, which is sad because early combat with small fleets can be really fun.

Although this is part of the more general problem that the early game is too short. It is too easy to amass a combat fleet capable of beating 90% of the game (i.e. anything besides high-end bounties, high-danger systems and hypershunts). And the root cause of that is, indeed, how easy it is to buy or salvage ships, weapons and hullmod blueprints.

IMHO the best solution is making access to ships/weapons/hullmod blueprints much more difficult than it is now. Which is hard and requires big impactful changes:
> Severely restrict Black Market purchases. Require the player to build up an underworld reputation before high-quality gear and ships can be bought, and severely increase the reputation penalties for being caught trading on the black market.
> Same goes for arms dealers: the blueprints they offer should scale with underworld reputation so the good stuff isn't available right off the bat.
> Weapon drops from destroyed opponents should be more rare. Yes that means more grinding to get the weapons you want, but that's kind of the point of this suggestion.
> Similarly, enemy ships (but not your own!) should be much less likely to be recoverable after combat.
> As mentioned, ships should be made more expensive, but that requires a new mechanic to ease the burden of ship losses, and I'm not sure what that mechanic should be.

The main point of these changes is that game progression should require a lot more combat than it currently does.
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Grievous69

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #11 on: March 27, 2022, 04:39:11 AM »

No offense but all of those sound like terrible changes. Instead of solving the root problem, you're here suggesting even more RNG and reputation grinding, both very unfun elements. The root of the problem is that there are ways to make crazy amounts of profit from doing relatively safe things. With proposed suggestions, playing as a bounty hunter would be the most miserable experience ever.
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SafariJohn

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #12 on: March 27, 2022, 04:44:30 AM »

If defeat in combat didn't instantly mean death, then a lot of the game would make more sense.

Mid-battle parleys, picking up escape pods win or lose, pirates demanding things before attacking, ships escaping after being disabled, etc.
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Megas

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #13 on: March 27, 2022, 05:51:17 AM »

Bounty hunting is already miserable unless my fleet is overpowered and can win without casualties (or I have Hull Restoration or Derelict Operations).  They generally underpay.  Also, several bar missions pay even less.  Pay about 40k-80k to raid a world, then a revenge fleet equivalent of a 150k-200k bounty hunts the player fleet down.

I rarely buy ships from market.  I buy them cheap from the bar (from base commander or powered armor pirate) and possibly get a contact.  I also get Hull Restoration and start getting new pristine ships directly from enemy loot.

If we make ships more expensive, then the world needs to level up slower.  By midgame, I avoid fighting and do trading runs.

By endgame, I have collected all the blueprints and can build more ships than I need, except Remnant ships.  However, I also have some ships with s-mods and do not want to replace them at all.  s-modded ships are effectively permanent party members in a JRPG.
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FooF

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Re: Exploration, combat, and why I eventually stop doing either
« Reply #14 on: March 27, 2022, 06:42:15 AM »

Almost all I ever do is bounty hunt and system bounties. Combat is the best part of this game, IMO. Exploration is also fun (and has a “just one more system” thing going) but I explore primarily to find a good colony and preferably with a Redacted System nearby to farm them. I’m usually the underdog in most fights but that’s where the fun challenge comes in. Losing ships sucks but it comes with the territory.

Others have different play styles, sure, but I’ve always found the folks saying they want to avoid combat as trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Combat is the heart of the game. There are better ways to make money than pure combat but generating income isn’t an end unto itself.

Personally, what I would like to see player-hunting parties out there. Large pirate fleets do hunt you, which is fine, but faction-specific ones would be cool as well. You don’t really encounter them unless you do the main story.
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