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Leveling and Questing in Endless Space


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#1 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 25 April 2013 - 04:08 AM

I've resurrected an old 2d project that died a couple of years ago, trying to fix what killed it originally. It's a space game in the spirit of Space Pirates and Zombies or the old Escape Velocity-- ship combat, trading and upgrading, basically, except that the map practically has no end. Aside from technical problems, the original game suffered from lack of direction in that you could wander and collect and sell resources and do a tiny bit of fighting but there wasn't much point to it all.

 

So I'm now trying out procedural leveling and questing to try to give the gameplay more meaning and am looking for feedback on a couple of points:

 

First, concept overall and any general thoughts/ideas/cautionary tales are welcome.

 

More specifically, the upgrading: I'm going for simple linear leveling of ship systems in order to allow procedural advancement and let you compare yourself to others. Leveling is a matter of having a system (engine, sensor, shield) of class X. Higher systems cost more, but I can't control grinding so I'm dividing space into settled regions with each having 5 to 10 levels of upgrades. ("Wilderness" bounds these regions and features survival gameplay, equipment degradation, random loot/artifacts and possibly perma-death with the option to "fast travel" between civilized regions as a reward for questing.)

 

I'm assuming that challenges with this system will be a bit arbitrary. Instead of hit points, damage from things like weapons or anomalies versus defenses is a matter of the difference between class.  A ship with class X shields versus class X laser fire can take about 8 to 10 hits, but only 6 to 8 hits from class X + 1 fire and so on. It's balanced now so that something 5 classes above you will one or two shot you while something five classes below can barely touch you.

 

Procedural questing is sketchy. I see a mix of low reputation earning linear quests (fetch, kill) and high rep earning puzzle solving with story elements similar to the old Starflight or Star Control: Clue hunting, pumping NPCs for info and whatever RPG skills I can squeeze in (hack, steal, bribe, etc.) all culminating in gathering items that will solve the quest. Story is conveyed low-fi via text from messages found / stolen and (hopefully passable) generated dialog. Solving the main quest opens fast travel to safe civilized regions and random special artifacts.

 

Not yet sure what failure means nor whether to play with regions having timed quests. I'm thinking losing all advancement in the new region or maybe you have to risk the wilderness.

 

That's the basics. Main worry so far is not making the universe generic, which I think regions & loot will help and whether or not  procedural questing will actually work (story who/what/why is dicey, as is decent procedurally generated characterization through dialogue).

 

Thoughts?

 

 


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#2 overactor   Members   -  Reputation: 198

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Posted 25 April 2013 - 04:42 AM

It seems like you have a lot of technical challenges to overcome, but I guess you know that fully well, so I won't address those.

 

From your post I seem to understand that you'll start in a region of space where systems of class 1 up till 5-10 are available and if you want higher systems, you'll have to venture out past a wilderness to a new region? If so, I see why you would do that, but it feels a bit off. Another option would be that when you start, your travel is relatively limited and you can't really get past your own solar system at first. When you upgrade your systems, your capabilities increase exponentially and so does your possible travel distance.

 

People who used to be on your level now seem more like ants and ships that were like gods to you before are now your peers. Since the area you can now explore is exponentially larger than it was before, you'll have roughly the same amount of peers within your reach as you did before, you can size up like this an unlimited amount of times if you think up what the universe looks like at larger scales. Though maybe you want an end game at some point, a travel speed that can't be broken. (Above the speed of light I suggest), at that point you would keep upgrading your ship but with diminishing returns.

 

As for quests, there are many things to be done in space, you can drill for resources, return a captive, kill someone for political or personal reasons, negotiate a peace between two factions, scout a planet for life, return an escaped prisoner. It would be interesting if you could jump to a lower level for a quest and for instance kill an entire faction on your own and see how their opponents worship you as gods. Or maybe you want to meddle with the people one tier above you and see if you can take one of them on to free your people from their oppression.

 

I think two games worth looking at (and I'm sure you have already) are spore (the space phase for obvious reasons and the cell phase to see how exponentially increasing in size can work) and mount and blade (they offer rather interesting, if limited procedural questing).

Anyway, if you really have the capabilities and resources to make this, it sounds pretty cool, if you're just fantasizing, it still sounds pretty cool.

Good luck


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#3 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 10652

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Posted 25 April 2013 - 09:14 AM

My personal take on this:

I would refrain from making procedural quests. They really turn me off. The concept of a player setting him or herself goals/objectives should emanate from good gameplay. If your system works as a whole, players will pursue various opportunities, but quests are really just a guiding hand you do not require unless you intend to implement a storyline (which you wouldn't with a procedural system).

 

Give players opportunities, freedom and features. Make tangibly difficult areas (procedurally if you wish) and increasing rewards in any way shape or form. Interested players will set out on a path to get there and survive whether they want to take greater risk (by being clearly underleveled, which in turn will give them rewards which will appear marginally higher, or by ramping up from various other areas of the game).

 

Interesting game idea. I'm interested!



#4 kseh   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2203

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Posted 25 April 2013 - 11:17 AM

It's good to see you again Wavinator. Hope things are going well. Here's a thought which I suppose will turn your simple system into something you weren't planning.

 

Because ship component quality is described by "class" could you have a sort of technology progression where over time old components are effectively downgraded by one class because of maybe a new processing technique, software paradigm, or some such generic thing improves efficiency on the old design. You'd never really have to identify the exact leap (maybe just refer to it as the Engineer/Corporation Advancement) and you end up with a need to invest in new technology which drives the player to take on missions. Maybe if you want to go a little deeper and complicate things further, you could maybe have it such that Brand X Class V Particle Cannon is effective class VI against Brand Y shielding.

Now, I think I remember in Sentinel Worlds you could have your engineer just spend a whole bunch of time on upgrading your system presumably through tweaks and software rewrites. The image comes to mind of a system that's been reconfigured so many times such that it no longer resembles the original component. It works great though it's safety might be questionable. Perhaps questionable enough that a routine inspection in one of the settled regions results in a fine and dismantling of the upgrade. You might see upgrades like this turn up frequently in the wilderness as people have to make do with what they have to survive. But then maybe you can take your upgrade to a corporation that can turn your upgrade into a formal upgrade and get some good money for it. But then after awhile your upgrade will be everywhere and you no longer have an advantage over other ships so maybe you hang on to your secret upgrade. Though then it might be possible that word of your advantage reaches the corporations and you become a target to have your tech stolen. Or maybe you get hired for such a mission yourself.

The short of it is that keeping pace with technology can be a driving force in of itself. I don't think it would lend well to an underlying "save the galaxy" kind of quest but it might integrate well for quests involving political ambitions. Even if it wasn't intentional by the player, any technology upgrade might redraw nations borders in some way. And that would have its own consequences which could be used to generate further quests. Or maybe the player has a stake in some of those consequences (a home base on a border planet which has just been annexed) which drives him to take his own action.



#5 TechnoGoth   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2797

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Posted 25 April 2013 - 12:05 PM

I was never a fan of SPAZ the game annoyed me maybe it was having to fight my way halfway across the galaxy all the time to buy the next upgrade I wanted or the fact that the game play lacked variety.  If you want to play a fun procedural space game take a look FTL I bought a copy last year on steam. It is a fun indie rouge like game in space.  The over all goal is to travel through half a dozen star systems being chased by an armada and defeat the big boss.  

 

The combat is simple an elegant a basic weapon does 1 damage a round and each point of shields absorbs 1 damage a round.  You can target any ship system you want and disable them.  So it possible to take out your enemies shields and weapons so they can't fight back or take out their engines so they can't run.  And if you have a teleporter and a large tough crew you can board enemy ships and kill their crew.  You also have to contented with hull breaches, fires, and enemy boarding parties on your own ship.

 

For components are you thinking straight linear progression or are variations between manufactures.  One manufacturer might be smaller, another more energy efficient  one bigger but cheaper.  

 

I like the optimizing idea where your engineer can improve a component to some degree. Perhaps the engineer has a tech level with parts and time you can improve any component up to that level.  So a level 10 engineer could theoretically upgrade you shields from level 1 to 10 without you needing to buy new shields along the way. 

 

How are you thinking of regions working?  Because it might be interesting if rather then endless there are fixed regions. Which you can level up or down through your actions.  

Help the federation forces in a region grow stronger and they start offering better and better tech and expand into nearby wilderness regions.  Or you can destroy their ships and pirate forces can run wild. 



#6 Norman Barrows   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2322

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Posted 26 April 2013 - 01:42 PM

Aside from technical problems, the original game suffered from lack of direction in that you could wander and collect and sell resources and do a tiny bit of fighting but there wasn't much point to it all.
 
So I'm now trying out procedural leveling and questing to try to give the gameplay more meaning

 

to what end? 

 

sounds like you had a space commerce and combat sim, with no objective. vehicle design, thats it. do commerce and fight to get money for parts to max out your vehicle. so now you make vehicle design fancier / more work (only some parts available in some places). and add in a questgen, just another way to get vehicle parts money. 

 

so is the objective of the game to max out your vehicle? sort of sounds like that's where your at now.

 

actually it sounds to me like you built this cool sim, without really having a "what's the object of the game?" in mind. no problem, i do it myself a lot.

 

if thats the case, i'd recommend sitting back and thinking about the cool games you could make with such an engine.  it could be used to build a star wars universe, a privateer/traveller universe, or a wing commander type game, just to mention a few that come to mind.

 

you may also find you need to add another level of gameplay, such as crews and skills, rpg elements, fleets and fleet combat, taking over parts of the map, etc.

 

or you may want to use it as the engine for a branching storyline mission based game, where you have the commerce and vehicle design features available for use by the player while advancing through the campaigns.

 

the options are almost endless. figure out something cool, then implement it.


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#7 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 26 April 2013 - 08:31 PM

Another option would be that when you start, your travel is relatively limited and you can't really get past your own solar system at first. When you upgrade your systems, your capabilities increase exponentially and so does your possible travel distance.
 
People who used to be on your level now seem more like ants and ships that were like gods to you before are now your peers. Since the area you can now explore is exponentially larger than it was before, you'll have roughly the same amount of peers within your reach as you did before, you can size up like this an unlimited amount of times if you think up what the universe looks like at larger scales. Though maybe you want an end game at some point, a travel speed that can't be broken. (Above the speed of light I suggest), at that point you would keep upgrading your ship but with diminishing returns.

 

This sounds really cool but I don't think I can do it like this. The first problem would be that of the map itself. I'm using fairly simple random seed generation to load a 2d map of several dozen stars per sector, 3x3 sectors at a time. Each sector has to process events, move AI entities and abstractly resolve AI-AI interactions. You can see at some point that would become untenable regardless of the system.

 

I do like the idea of you becoming greater and greater in power but one thing the wilderness/civilization division would hide is the problem I've seen in games like Freelancer where you have to cross through regions filled with unworthy, lower level enemies. I know you need some of this in order to have a point of reference to feel you've improved, but I'm hoping a +5/-5 or so level range in terms of class differentials per region will do this.


--------------------Just waiting for the mothership...

#8 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 26 April 2013 - 09:05 PM

would refrain from making procedural quests. They really turn me off. The concept of a player setting him or herself goals/objectives should emanate from good gameplay. If your system works as a whole, players will pursue various opportunities, but quests are really just a guiding hand you do not require unless you intend to implement a storyline (which you wouldn't with a procedural system). 

 

I agree procedural quests can be underwhelming, but as done in games like Drox Operative and Din's Curse I think they work. The low rep would be somewhat mindless like in Escape Velocity, but you'd really only take them to make money or build the rep (especially if they were along your intended path). I've seen procedural quests done ok in Din's Curse, which involves trying to save a town and makes them a bit personal, but Drox gets points for a more epic feel because you're interacting with civilizations. Honestly I'm usually on your side, a strong proponent for intrinsically motivated sandbox play (heh, maybe too strong, as in kitchen sink approach) but Minecraft has really showed me the weakness of not having a strong, overarching goal to give meaning to your actions.

 

Ideally the procedural quest in each region could be optional if there was enough sandbox gameplay, just as you might play a game like Fallout just to explore and fight for a bit. The wilderness would be ideal for this, as you could just hang out in the wilderness exploring planets, collecting stuff and fighting.


--------------------Just waiting for the mothership...

#9 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 26 April 2013 - 09:49 PM

I was never a fan of SPAZ the game annoyed me maybe it was having to fight my way halfway across the galaxy all the time to buy the next upgrade I wanted or the fact that the game play lacked variety.  If you want to play a fun procedural space game take a look FTL

 

Haha funny you mention that one. Played FTL a bit but the arbitrary randomness at game end really ticked me off. I never got far in SPAZ either honestly because I think they really botched the whole thing about your rep not transferring to new systems-- it makes everything seem repetitive (Just realized I might be committing to same sin with the regions idea, although maybe not so much as each would have more races and factions). 

 

Still, I really like the little guys running around the ship. I've been experimenting with a split screen view that would be a little Escape Velocity / FTL, by the way, but I don't think I'll go with it. FTL really only works when you have limited crew and more to do than there are guys, and I've had a precious few games that were dull because I was fully staffed (the rng usually takes care of that, tho :P)

 

I like the optimizing idea where your engineer can improve a component to some degree. Perhaps the engineer has a tech level with parts and time you can improve any component up to that level.  So a level 10 engineer could theoretically upgrade you shields from level 1 to 10 without you needing to buy new shields along the way. 

 

I'll give this some thought. I wonder if being able to improve and make your own gear breaks leveling, though. Let's say the core gameplay is explore / mine planets / pirate / linear missions, with the adventure game main quest for the region the overarching goal. In classic Starflight fashion your ship would be weak, range limited, enemies substantially powerful in progressive rings further out. So the loop would be to gain range and power and get stronger until you can take on the main quest. 

 

If you can sit in a spot and spam improvements I think it breaks the loop UNLESS the only way to improve would be to get stuff that is only available further and further out from the starting point.

 

 

How are you thinking of regions working?  Because it might be interesting if rather then endless there are fixed regions. Which you can level up or down through your actions.

 

 

I'm seeing the regions as these special FTL zones which appear and disappear, storywise say because they're around supermassive spectral class O giants that only last tens of millions of years. Civilizations migrate to them and the wilderness is maybe littered with the ruins of fallen civilizations, "monsters," lost artifacts, etc. I want this to go nuts with random history / alien stats generation but not have to worry about whether or not I'm creating logical errors which you'd get if you had a uniform, homogenous setting (as in, X did Y here, why didn't they do it everywhere).

 

 

I've been wondering if I should find a way to regenerate the main quest for a region and even let it grow over time. Growth could make it like Oblivion's crappy level scaling, and might break the loop again (little ship, big universe with challenges in rings). What about some intermission which lets you pause, abstractly do something, then presents you with a changed, somewhat leveled up region? I'm concerned staying in the same region will get old and have no mystery. I'm also trying to stay away from 4X gameplay and gardening / colonizing, which might be suggested by staying for a time in a region (thinking of those games that let you put down roots-- people always want a damn house or stronghold, and then that's another whole chunk of gameplay to add :D)


--------------------Just waiting for the mothership...

#10 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 26 April 2013 - 10:02 PM

sounds like you had a space commerce and combat sim, with no objective. vehicle design, thats it. do commerce and fight to get money for parts to max out your vehicle. so now you make vehicle design fancier / more work (only some parts available in some places). and add in a questgen, just another way to get vehicle parts money. 

 

Actually I'm thinking the questgen IS  the goal of the game, to the degree that quests are the soul of just about every RPGish game. Ideally in each region it will generate the threat / main goal, the reward, N items / artifacts needed to solve the quest and their locations and the clues for each.  Din's Curse is a working model for this, as is Depths of Peril, but they suffer from a lot of repetition. I'm thinking the same problem exists with this idea, but my theory is that if you generate characters, places and context (in the form of history) the possibility space that gives rise to the repetition will be larger and so the problem will be less pronounced. 

 

Then again maybe not. It will not create a good story or even good dialog, but I can see a decent basis for endless adventuring.


--------------------Just waiting for the mothership...

#11 Norman Barrows   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2322

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Posted 27 April 2013 - 08:07 AM

>>  Actually I'm thinking the questgen IS  the goal of the game

 

then you may find this helpful...

 

http://www.gamedev.net/topic/638940-types-of-quests/

 

its a thread about designing questgens


Norm Barrows

Rockland Software Productions

"Building PC games since 1989"

rocklandsoftware.net

 

PLAY CAVEMAN NOW!

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#12 overactor   Members   -  Reputation: 198

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Posted 27 April 2013 - 09:57 AM

This sounds really cool but I don't think I can do it like this. The first problem would be that of the map itself. I'm using fairly simple random seed generation to load a 2d map of several dozen stars per sector, 3x3 sectors at a time. Each sector has to process events, move AI entities and abstractly resolve AI-AI interactions. You can see at some point that would become untenable regardless of the system.

 

I do like the idea of you becoming greater and greater in power but one thing the wilderness/civilization division would hide is the problem I've seen in games like Freelancer where you have to cross through regions filled with unworthy, lower level enemies. I know you need some of this in order to have a point of reference to feel you've improved, but I'm hoping a +5/-5 or so level range in terms of class differentials per region will do this.

 

I feel like it could work, You could work in explicit levels, your ship's engine and other equipment determines which level you can access.

Each level consists of an endless amount of sectors and each level X sector contains n² level X-1 sectors, where n would be the order of magnitudes you allow.

When you are in a certain sector, what you need to generate is the neighboring sectors of the same level, the sector that is one level higher this sector is located in and the lower level sectors the current one contains.

 

To generate a level 1 sector which I guess would be a local group of stars in a galaxy, you would need to fetch some information from the level 2 sector it is located in, such as star density and civilization density. At level 2 these things would be trivial and close to unobservable, the things you travel between are bigger clusters of stars where advanced civilizations are located. Level 2 sectors fetch information regarding the density of star clusters form the level 3 sectors they are located in. You can see how this goes on. Basically, each level sector generates what is truly relevant for a person traveling at that level, the level lower is basically white noise but just important enough to be generated as well, but unimportant enough that it doesn't affect the higher level. The higher level sector your sector is in determines the parameters by which yours is created. Not that a level 1 sector can contain a level 2,3 or even 10 society, but the chances become exponentially smaller with each higher level. Similarly, a level 10 sector will likely contain millions of level 1 civilizations, but their influence on the level 10 sector is negligible.

 

I believe this could solve both of your problems, you don't have to travel between ridiculously big low level areas, as each level X sector will contain the same amount of level X civilizations. And map generation and AI-AI interactions, if a bit more complex is still doable. At least that's what I think, maybe I'm just underestimating how heavily this would weigh.

 

I'll conclude with sa (simplified) example of how map generation could work at the beginning of the game.

 

Start game:

 

Generate 1 level 10 (presumed highest level) sector:

  • Lay out structure of vains of superclusters. (generate supercluster density map)
  • Place level 10 civilizations.
  • Work out AI-AI interactions of level 10 civilizations.
  • Generate level 9 civilizations density map, based on supercluster density and proximity of level 10 civilizations.
  • Pick level 9 sector player will be located in.

Generate this level 9 sector:

  • Use supercluster density map to place superclusters.
  • Place level 9 civilizations using civlization density map.
  • Work out AI-AI interactions of level 9 civilizations towards each other and possible attitude towards close level 10 civilizations.
  • Generate level 8 civilizations density map, based on superclusters and proximity of level 9 and 10 civilizations.
  • Pick level 8 sector player will be located in.

 

Generate this level 8 sector:

  • Lay out structure of vains of clusters in superclusters. (generate cluster density map)
  • Place level 8 civilizations using civilization density map.
  • Work out AI-AI interactions of level 8 civilizations towards each other and possible attitude towards close level 9 and 10 civilizations.
  • Generate level 7 civilizations density map, based on cluster density and proximity of level 8, 9 and 10 civilizations.
  • Pick level 7 sector player will be located in.

I think you can see how this would go on. In the beginning, you need to generate a linear series of sectors and form then on, whenever you travel to a new sector, you need to generate all directly underlying sectors and all neighboring sectors of the same level.


"You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood."

"What mood is that?"

"Last-minute panic."


#13 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 04:12 PM

>>  Actually I'm thinking the questgen IS  the goal of the game

 

then you may find this helpful...

 

http://www.gamedev.net/topic/638940-types-of-quests/

 

its a thread about designing questgens

 

Thanks very helpful!


--------------------Just waiting for the mothership...

#14 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 04:20 PM

I think you can see how this would go on. In the beginning, you need to generate a linear series of sectors and form then on, whenever you travel to a new sector, you need to generate all directly underlying sectors and all neighboring sectors of the same level.

 

Maybe I'm not fully understanding, but with this system wouldn't you have to cap out at some level? With what I'm thinking of you get away with transporting the player to another location of space without really worrying about anything other than generating the challenge levels. It does have the disadvantage of never being able to go home again, but it makes it easy to have continuous, vast tracts of space with meaningful things to do.


--------------------Just waiting for the mothership...

#15 overactor   Members   -  Reputation: 198

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Posted 28 April 2013 - 11:35 PM

Maybe I'm not fully understanding, but with this system wouldn't you have to cap out at some level? With what I'm thinking of you get away with transporting the player to another location of space without really worrying about anything other than generating the challenge levels. It does have the disadvantage of never being able to go home again, but it makes it easy to have continuous, vast tracts of space with meaningful things to do.

 

Well, the problem is that I was using variables dependent of higher level sectors to generate sectors. And this of course only allows you to work downwards from the highest level. But come to think of it, I guess you could work upwards. You basically have to create a sector with the limitation that the sector you know it contains, fits in it.

For instance, if a level 2 sector has 12 stars and 3 civilizations in it, you have to generate a level 3 sector with at least on sector in it where the star density would be 12 and the civilization density 3. If the player now moves to that level 3 sector (i.e. gets  a ship upgrade that allows him to travel greater distances and uses it), you have to generate the level 2 sectors this level 3 sector contains as I explained in my previous post. With the exception of course of the sectors the player already traveled to and their neighboring sectors.


"You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood."

"What mood is that?"

"Last-minute panic."





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