Skill Overhaul

The current skill system in Starsector was added quite a while ago. That in itself isn’t a reason to redo it, but as with all first-pass systems, some downsides of the implementation became apparent along the way.

But why update it now, rather than sometime down the line? New features in this release need skills to complement them, and adding more skills to the old system would just be adding more stuff to redo later – it’s more efficient to overhaul the system now, and add the new skills in a hopefully-final form. In addition, it’ll be nice to address some long-standing balance issues, but more on that later.

First, let’s take a quick look at the old system. There are 4 aptitudes – Combat, Leadership, Technology, and Industry – and each aptitude has skills under it. The maximum level of a skill is determined by the level of the aptitude it’s under, and the player gets 2 skill points per level and 1 aptitude point every other level.

Skills have 10 levels, a base effect that increases with skill level (e.g. 2% more damage per level), and two perks – each providing significant and sometimes game-changing bonuses – at level 5 and 10 in the skill.

Now, instead of talking about the issues with this system, what I’d like to do is talk about the new system, and mention the issues in the context of how they’re being addressed.


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Character Skills

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on the design of the character progression system. Now, it’s finally at a place where I can talk about it – meaning, I’ve gotten pretty far along in prototyping/implementing it, and feel reasonably confident the major points will not change… much. Probably. Unless they do. No design survives contact with implementation, and all that.

A player character has skills and aptitudes.

Aptitudes are the character’s core stats, but instead reflecting physical aspects (that aren’t much use in space), these reflect the character’s proficiency in different areas of expertise. The four aptitudes are “Combat”, “Leadership”, “Technology”, and “Industry”. The aptitude level acts as a cap for the level of every skill that the aptitude governs. As they level up, the player can spend aptitude points to increase these.

Skills have a direct impact on how the character performs – a skill may provide a damage bonus to weapons, extra ordnance points to use in equipping their  ships, or extra fleet points so they can command a bigger fleet. Skills also unlock hull modifications, with higher skill levels unlocking more important modifications. The effect of a skill is based on its level, and the player can spend skill points to increase the level up to the level of the governing aptitude.

Each skill also has a synergy with up to two other skills. For example, “Ordnance Expert” normally increases the damage  dealt by all of the ship’s weapons. But, if the character has points in “Mechanical Engineering”, “Ordnance Expert” will also decrease the ordnance point cost of mounting weapons.

Synergies go in both directions, though that’s not a requirement. It does, however, make for an interesting skill synergy structure – you have loops of skills that depend on each other, and if you’ve picked every skill in a loop, then they will all be fully synergized. For example, here’s what the loop involving most of the combat skills looks like (neighboring skills synergize each other):

Ordnance Expert – Gunnery Implants – Computer Systems – Target Analysis – Evasive Action – Damage Control – Mechanical Engineering – (back to Ordnance Expert)

That’s 6 skills, though – while the player could get all of them, it’d be a heavy investment, and one likely to hit diminishing returns. Getting that extra bit more effective in combat may not be worth nearly as much as forgoing some combat synergies and increasing the fleet size instead. A smaller loop of skills will be easier to get, and I expect that fitting these synergy loops and portions of loops together into a cohesive build is going to be a core part of building an effective character.

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