Skill Changes, Part 2

Part one of this two-part blog post is here.

In this part, let’s dive into a few details about specific skills, and some other points note. I don’t want to go through every single change – just highlight some interesting tidbits, and a couple of the bigger changes.

Elite skills
One of the goals was to do a pass over the “elite” effects of the combat skills and make them more interesting/powerful/appealing. For example, Helmsmanship’s elite effect now – in addition to its original “0-flux boost at any level” effect – grants a flat +5 to top speed, making it a consideration for slower ships. Combat Endurance and Damage Control got some brand-new, fun elite effects.

Combat Endurance brings back the “repair ship hull during combat” effect from several versions ago – repairs up to 25% of the hull level, with total repairs not exceeding the higher of 50% of the hull, or, as of right now, 2000 points. With Combat Endurance being a skill that’s great for small ships, the elite effect is, too, because of the potential to repair far more than 50% of the hull over the course of a battle.

Damage Control’s elite effect grants a reduction to large hull hits – any hull hit above a certain threshold of damage has the portion above the threshold reduced by (again, as of right now) 60%. No-one plans on being hit by a Reaper torpedo, but still, neutralizing that much damage when things go wrong is going to have a lot of appeal. To make the skill not completely neutralize the strike potential of certain weapons, this effect only triggers at most once every two seconds.

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Skill Changes, Part 1

The skill system – the one in the currently released version, 0.95a – has some things about it that I like, and some things that I don’t think worked out particularly well. One feature is in both categories – “pick one of two skills at every tier”. In some cases, it works well and you have an interesting choice to make. In other cases, the skills don’t lend themselves as well to it, and it ends up feeling unnecessarily restrictive.

The other high-level feature of the system that I really like is the ability to have some top-tier skills that you need to invest into an aptitude to get, and that can be powerful and game-changing. You can’t have that in a system where you can cherry-pick any skill you want at any time.

So, the goal of these adjustments is to keep the progression and high-impact choices, and add more freedom where “pick one of two” doesn’t have a compelling reason behind it.

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Writing Starsector

The next update will add strong narrative RPG elements to Starsector, among other things.

I feel no small amount of trepidation because this is both a change and it is a particular story about particular characters in a way the pure sandbox certainly isn’t. This necessarily constrains your – the player’s – experience of the game-fantasy and the meta-game fantasy of an “unfinished game” which has the potential to become everyone’s dreams in a free-floating quantum state… until you see it for real and it turns out it isn’t quite what you dreamed.

I suppose this seems like an awfully negative way to start off; this is what I mean about trepidation. And I am legitimately excited about sharing more of the world of Starsector, letting players dive in a bit closer and get a feel for what it’s like for people that live in this world. Find out what they think, find out a bit more about why movers and shakers move like they do. If I may say so, I think we’ve done some pretty good work!

The written wordcount has already exceeded the minimum definition for a novel (50k) a few times over by now. I’ve attempted Nanowrimo a few times in the past and always choked almost instantly. My experience writing Starsector has been a stark contrast – the words just flow! It seems so obvious, most of the time, what comes next, what feels right to be said. I suspect part of it is the constraint of the medium focusing creativity, but it may also perhaps be the very clear connection to an audience (that’s y’all out there!). A novel feels a bit like a bunch of words floating out  in (ha) space. A game, however, has a player. They must actively engage and progress. I know a player is committed in a way a reader isn’t. (Which probably isn’t at all true; people read books, after all. I’ve even read one or two in my day.)

Whatever it is, maybe I can’t rationalize it. But something works here for me in a way that hasn’t elsewhere. I’ll take it.

Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of this.

We’ve had to deal with certain constraints and design problems while adding written content to Starsector. Some of these are faced by all games which use writing, some are particular to the context of Starsector. I am not going to talk about any specific narrative beats or plot details, but I will talk about how the narrative is structured, so from a certain point of view one could derive meta-spoilers from this blog post. I think the most pure and magical way to experience Starsector would be with no foreknowledge of any of this, so I’ll give you fair warning now: if you don’t want to know anything, stop reading.

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Skills and Story Points

I’ve wanted to update the skill system for a while, but that’s part of the challenge with early-access style development – if you update something too early, you might have to update it again, when yet more things change and make that part not-quite-fit once more. With how many parts of the game the skill systems has tendrils into, it wasn’t something I wanted to do more than once.

Now, finally, the game is in a place where I can do that – I’ve got a good overview of what I actually want from the skill system, the number of unknowns is low, and most of the unknowns are probably known.

(Please note – some of the graphics and text in the screenshots to follow are placeholders.)

So, what are the goals of the skill overhaul? First and foremost, the skill system should increase the replay value of the game – that is, depending on what skills are picked, the player should be able to explore new ways to play the game.
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Salvaging Mechanics Update

This is going to be a shorter blog post – I’d just like to talk about refactoring one mechanic to work a little differently, since I think it’s an interesting one, and thinking it through gave me some trouble.

One of the things you do in the game is go to the fringes of the Sector and “salvage” various derelicts – abandoned stations, Domain-era probes, and so on. It’s a good source of valuable materials and lost technology. With the next release, salvaging will become even more important, since it’ll be the primary way for the player to get ship and weapon blueprints that in turn feed into the manufacturing capabilities of their colonies.

approaching_a_REDACTED

First, a quick look at how it works now:

  • Each derelict has a “salvage difficulty rating”, from 0 to 100%
  • And based on that, also a required amount of heavy machinery and crew to carry out the operation
  • A “Salvaging” skill lets the player salvage higher-difficulty derelicts
  • If the crew of rating requirements aren’t met, the player has the option of blowing up the derelict and scavenging through the resulting debris field
  • Bringing along Salvage Rigs (a type of ship) increases the amount of salvage by up to the difficulty rating of the derelict

This is definitely workable. The main issue is that the amount of salvage without investing points into the skill is too low, but that can be tuned because it’s just a numbers issue. Or… is it?
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