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Wavinator

Flexibile Upgrade Paths for Alien Ships

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I've been thinking about what a sort of Star Control 2 meets Escape Velocity would look like-- several alien races with their own ship themes mixed with the idea of upgradeable ships-- and was wondering how best to mix both universal upgrades and unique ships. One of the best parts of the old Star Control 2 was how each ship had unique combat strategies due to unique weapons / defenses. Now compare that to space trader games like Escape Velocity where you have a point system for upgrades but can really mix and match just about anything. How would you get the best of both worlds, assuming about 8 species which each have 8 to 10 unique hulls (so 64 to 80 unique ships, not counting factional or make and model variants)? What I'm leaning toward is unique, species specific upgrades and universal upgrades which have a species specific cost. Example: Upgradeable Androsynth Blazer Let's say you have a race that has a transformable ship. In form 1 the ship has whatever handling characteristics, internal space, crew requirements, etc as other ships. In form 2, it can transform for a limited time into something like a comet, moving fast, turning slowly, immune to damage and able to ram. In form 1, the ship uses whatever universal tech you've outfitted it with. But in form 2, you employ a unique line of upgrades to get variations of this special ability. No other race's ship can ever use it, and short of capturing the ship you'll have to restart as a new race to ever get it. I'm not entirely sure this is a good idea. It will create a huge balancing challenge, but I'm wondering if it's worth it in order to encourage replaying as different races and employing unique strategies. Can you imagine yourself both trying out the various universal upgrades and replaying for the special upgrades?

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I thought you were heading towards the RPG realm. Encouraging a seperate play-through for each unique species seems more like an RTS feature. One that will significantly change other aspects of your game. Would it not be more interesting and engaging to make alliances or steal technology from these other species in order to acquire their spacecraft and upgrades? Star Control style for allies, X-Com style for enemies. It would pack more fun and complexity into the game without requiring players to start over.

To answer the question, it sounds like it would work fine. I don't think you really need to worry too much about perfect balance outside of multiplayer gaming. Dynamics like being required to upgrade Spathi ships to have a chance against bare-bones Ur-Quan ships just adds more flavor to a single player game.

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Original post by Wavinator
I'm not entirely sure this is a good idea. It will create a huge balancing challenge, but I'm wondering if it's worth it in order to encourage replaying as different races and employing unique strategies. Can you imagine yourself both trying out the various universal upgrades and replaying for the special upgrades?


Absolutely. The immediate case in point example would be Starcraft and the Zerg race.

Creep Colony -> Sunken Colony (Attacks ground only) or Spore Colony (attacks air only).

Mutalisk (Flying unit that can attack ground or air, rather weakly) -> Guardian (Strong anti-ground flying unit) or Devourer (Strong anti-air flying unit)

Hydralisk (Medium powered ground unit that can attack air or ground units) -> Lurker (Ground unit that excels at attacking ground units only while burrowed)

Their whole race stems from the fact that everything comes from a larvae, to which you can build a drone or other combat units. The drone then can morph into their buildings or harvest resources. The unique aspect to the race is the fact that the peons, the drones, are consumed in order to build the city, so you must constantly spawn more form larvae.

I'm sure you can extend the idea even more with various changes, but it gives a level of certain flexibility when playing and employing different strategies. It is hard balancing all those though.

In context of a space game, you have your various classes of ships to begin with, such as speedy scout ships, large slow transports, fast medium armored attack ships, etc.. all of which can take different parts and whatnot. You could make it so certain weapons don't work with others to force a specific upgrade path. Freelancer is a fun little game that shows most of that concept.

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Original post by Kest
I thought you were heading towards the RPG realm. Encouraging a seperate play-through for each unique species seems more like an RTS feature.


I'm somewhere between RPG and strategy. I do like the idea of stealing tech and such, but what about the sense of enforced uniqueness you get from things like having multiple classes in an RPG? The magician is worth playing because the barbarian and rogue are nothing like him.

Quote:

To answer the question, it sounds like it would work fine. I don't think you really need to worry too much about perfect balance outside of multiplayer gaming. Dynamics like being required to upgrade Spathi ships to have a chance against bare-bones Ur-Quan ships just adds more flavor to a single player game.


This is a good point. Come to think of it, so long as there's a way of escape, such encounters could be the very reason to upgrade. Thanks!

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Original post by Shannon Barber
À mon avis, 2 completely unique races is better than 12 with 1 or 2 things different.


Any other ways to vary them?

Space traders usually stand on upgrading, trade, combat and missions. Although my upgrading topic was a complete non-starter, I'm still looking to make leveling different for the different races. You could vary trade a little, but I think it's risky to try to add lots of variation there because economics is dry.

That leaves movement and combat.

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Original post by Wavinator
...but what about the sense of enforced uniqueness you get from things like having multiple classes in an RPG?

You could do Culture, to which Military Doctrines might derive from (as in combat roles, or also the equivalent of Classes). One culture might favor the turtle (ranged offense, little mobility, high defense) more than the hit-&-run (high mobility, little defense).

You could vary each species' life support requirements. Species A might be able to cope with XYZ hazardous environments more than Species B. Species C might not even require food intake, just sunlight & water (plant-men). Species D might be telepathic-based and require good vibes/thoughts from crewmembers in order to be healthy. Species E might be able to go naked in space without any harm come to him. Species F might be robotic and only require batteries.

While on the topic of varied crew biology, unique Fighting styles might derive from this, in the form of Unique Skills. You might have a Vulcan deathgrip for one species. A telepathic blast for another. A chemical stink cloud for another. They don't all have to be attack-related, they might be supportive, like a Focus Skill so that species G might be better capable of handling a ship.

So to balance this, introduce a strength and weakness for each species.

Though you could vary their technologies, technology isn't something that stays unique for too long, as it can be inspired, bought, stolen, etc, but you could make affinities to certain technologies or knowledge bases which vary from species to species, giving them a working bonus to that field.

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Original post by Tangireon
You could vary each species' life support requirements. Species A might be able to cope with XYZ hazardous environments more than Species B. Species C might not even require food intake, just sunlight & water (plant-men). Species D might be telepathic-based and require good vibes/thoughts from crewmembers in order to be healthy. Species E might be able to go naked in space without any harm come to him. Species F might be robotic and only require batteries.

While on the topic of varied crew biology, unique Fighting styles might derive from this, in the form of Unique Skills. You might have a Vulcan deathgrip for one species. A telepathic blast for another. A chemical stink cloud for another. They don't all have to be attack-related, they might be supportive, like a Focus Skill so that species G might be better capable of handling a ship.

So to balance this, introduce a strength and weakness for each species.

Though you could vary their technologies, technology isn't something that stays unique for too long, as it can be inspired, bought, stolen, etc

There isn't really much of a difference. Crew can also be transferred or recruited between alliances of species. And in the most interesting situations (Teal'c - SG1, or Todd - SGA), even enemy characters can cross over.

As a participant in this galaxy, I would find myself wanting to recruit members of the G species for my pilots, and Vulcans as my science officers. I might be human, but my ships and crew would be from all over - we wouldn't be a human fleet. It would take extra effort to help the crew get along with each other, but we would have formidable advantages.

None of this really creates a barrier for game design though. One can seperate tech and species between game clans, and very few players will question it. My opinion is just that an 8X enriched single play-through is far better than 8 seperately unique play-throughs.

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I see it more as so that the player can define their starting identity, sort of like choosing an appearance, race, and class in Morrowind or Oblivion, or in some other open-ended RPG or even MMORPG. It's not really much of a game design factor as it is more of an aesthetic factor, as though your starting options would be limited to your race's culture, biology, military doctrines, etc, eventually your options would converge later in the game despite which template you start with, such as with the hiring of alien crew or the obtainment of alien ships or technology, but if there are more ways to enjoy the game, and you have the resources to implement them, why not offer them? It's a cool feature to have, one which players which prefer to play only just one playthrough can choose not to play around with (as they could just simply choose a starting template and be done with it), while those who care about these things could play around with them.

[Edited by - Tangireon on September 19, 2008 3:23:00 PM]

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Original post by Tangireon
I see it more as so that the player can define their starting identity, sort of like choosing a race and class in Morrowind or Oblivion, or in some other open-ended RPG or even MMORPG.

But unlike a player character race, you can allow choosing between ship technology and crew species inside the gameplay. Rather than a game start decision that diverges to several unique play throughs, it would be interwoven throughout the entire game, allowing an infinite span of unique play throughs.

Instead of choosing between species A through F at the start of the game, you could allow the player to make an alliance with A or B, then C or D, then E or F. The player may have access to some of A, D, and E's tech and crew one game, then have access to A, C, and F the next. Since C doesn't like the A species, and E admires the D species, different combinations could change the relationships with the player's species, changing his level of access to their tech and crew. Certain plots can also require the player to temporarily favor one species over another, creating bolder friendships and deeper rifts. Access to each species' tech and crew would be a huge reward and incentive to make the gameplay seem meaningful.

It seems like a waste to throw all of this diverging gameplay into a single game start decision.

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You, the ship's captain, begin as a certain species in a certain starting position in a certain civilization with certain allegiances anyways (usually Human, Earth), which already has certain implications as to which alien race/culture out there may already like or hate you based upon your culture's politics or simply just culture. You would have beginning access to your culture's ship designs, crew, and etc, while later in the game you may obtain alien ship designs & crew (where your options converge or overlap). Allowing the player to select his own starting templates/conditions won't limit any of the things that are available for him to do in the future when compared to what he can later do as a Human Earth-associated captain.

These later options still exist, including the formation of whatever alliances and enemies you wish, its just that by allowing players have the freedom to select their own starting identity, you would allow them to play around with creating a character that they associate with (or simply, a template to explore), and it's simply for fun.

If you look at a Dungeons & Dragons computer game, lets say Baldur's Gate, selecting a starting identity on your main character doesn't impact much how many of the things that are available for you to do later on in the game, as you may change your moral alignment anytime, hire any kind of party member (race or profession), and etc - with few exceptions sometimes. It's more of an aesthetic relational reason to keep it in there, with minor bonuses, hindrances, and sometimes a few exclusives to again keep up with a theme, as well as offer players an early start to exploring some of the universe's lore (exploring some of the templates).

However, if your game is purely about conveying the experience of discovering new alien cultures as it were in the Star Control series, then having the player only play as a human would convey that better, for one thing, we are all humans from Earth, and players would relate to in-game Humans better than they would trans-dimensional aliens or a mollusk-like species.

So it ultimately does depend on what you want your game to convey. If your game makes an emphasis on discovery, then stick with a single template so that they won't know what to expect, as they won't be seeing those templates on the character-selection startup. If you are doing more of an RPG/MMORPG or strategy type of thing, then you could offer many template choices (to take on a personality, either for role-playing or strategic doctrine purposes).

[Edited by - Tangireon on September 19, 2008 5:12:32 PM]

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Original post by Tangireon
..while later in the game you may obtain alien ship designs & crew (where your options converge or overlap). Allowing the player to select his own starting templates/conditions won't limit any of the things that are available for him to do in the future when compared to what he can later do as a Human Earth-associated captain.

If I understand Wavinator's points correctly, this is not the case. The ships and upgrade technology would be limited to the player's specific species.

Whatever the case, this is not a simple on or off decision. The more meaningful the game start decisions are, the less meaningful the related gameplay decisions will become, and vice versa.

Allowing the player to play 10 roles to interact with 1 scenario will require the same development effort as allowing the player to play 1 role to interact with 10 scenarios, or 1 role to interact with 5 doubly complex scenarios. The deciding factor (for me) is that the second choice doesn't require the player to quit and start over. In addition, the in-game scenarios can interact with each other, creating more interesting dynamics than the isolated choices that start the game.

I'm all for giving the player beginning game choices that will change the experience each time its played, but I think it should be limited to easy implementations. Things that don't require much development effort. In my opinion, that effort is better spent enhancing the dynamics of the game world instead of providing optional player characters.

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Original post by Kest
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Original post by Tangireon
..while later in the game you may obtain alien ship designs & crew (where your options converge or overlap). Allowing the player to select his own starting templates/conditions won't limit any of the things that are available for him to do in the future when compared to what he can later do as a Human Earth-associated captain.

If I understand Wavinator's points correctly, this is not the case.

I am suggesting that to him; you were asking about my suggestion and I was trying to explain it to you. I even said that there has to be some moderation to the exclusives in my first post that you responded to.

All I was trying to say was that you can have players select a starting template without limiting future decisions, just make their differences for mainly aesthetic relational reasons, like the biological and cultural differences that I said earlier (as they will have biological & cultural differences definitely):

Quote:
Original post by Kest
Quote:
Original post by Tangireon
You could vary each species' life support requirements. Species A might be able to cope with XYZ hazardous environments more than Species B. Species C might not even require food intake, just sunlight & water (plant-men). Species D might be telepathic-based and require good vibes/thoughts from crewmembers in order to be healthy. Species E might be able to go naked in space without any harm come to him. Species F might be robotic and only require batteries.

While on the topic of varied crew biology, unique Fighting styles might derive from this, in the form of Unique Skills. You might have a Vulcan deathgrip for one species. A telepathic blast for another. A chemical stink cloud for another. They don't all have to be attack-related, they might be supportive, like a Focus Skill so that species G might be better capable of handling a ship.

So to balance this, introduce a strength and weakness for each species.

Though you could vary their technologies, technology isn't something that stays unique for too long, as it can be inspired, bought, stolen, etc

There isn't really much of a difference. (snip)

You were asking about why these differences I proposed didn't matter very much in terms of gameplay, well that is why.

(I've re-quoted to clear up any of the possible confusion.)

-

Quote:
Original post by Kest
Whatever the case, this is not a simple on or off decision. The more meaningful the game start decisions are, the less meaningful the related gameplay decisions will become, and vice versa.

I definitely agree with that - If you have too many restrictions & exclusives between the templates, the replays would be mostly repetitive. But I believe this would only apply for certain kinds of games - if you have a particularly short game such as strategy games (usually campaign or multiplayer based), or one based upon role-playing (RPGs or MMORPGs), offering multiple templates with varied exclusives could extend the replay value of that game. But for this type of game I am definitely there with you.

[Edited by - Tangireon on September 19, 2008 6:35:08 PM]

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Original post by Tangireon
Though you could vary their technologies, technology isn't something that stays unique for too long, as it can be inspired, bought, stolen, etc

There isn't really much of a difference. (snip)

You were asking about why these differences I proposed didn't matter very much in terms of gameplay, well that is why.

(I've re-quoted to clear up any of the possible confusion.)

To be clear, I wasn't arguing against your point of allowing players to customize their identity. I meant that there wasn't much of a difference between technology and species traits, relative to your point. Both are unique, both can be selected at the start of the game, and both can be accumulated during the game. Just as technology isn't something that stays unique for too long, on a starship, species traits can have the same effect. If you want to be stronger, you can hire more klingons. If you want to be smarter, you can hire more vulcans.

Meeting and allying with new races would allow you to acquire more diversity and power with their people as well as their technology. Having the captain as human or otherwise would probably influence interactions with other species, but not much in terms of species traits.

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Timewarp (SC2-like clone) had some kind of single-player game where you start off with a Supox vessel, and the computer would randomly throw different AI ships at you.

Over time you could upgrade your ship, but it was limited to things like increased max HP, increased energy recharge, longer weapon range, faster engines. It didn't let you swap out the actual innate abilities of the ship, but you could buy totally different ships (even of other races) as an upgrade.


It seems like if you deviated from the SC2 formula, but still wanted to keep abilities unique to a race, you could have the ships come with various 'hardpoints' or whatever, but each hardpoint or module that you could put in the hardpoint might be race-specific, or it might be race-agnostic. I barely played Escape Velocity, but I think they had some kind of system where all of their hardpoints were race-agnostic.


Let's take an Utwig-like race for example. Their unique ability was the energy-absorbing shield. You could pick that, but if you really wanted to you could put in a race-agnostic point-defense-laser and give up your race's unique ability. No other race would be able to put the absorption shield in their ships.

Upgraded versions of the shield would let the shield stay on for a little bit longer per energy spent, giving you a better chance of absorbing a high-speed shot, or wasting less energy if the shot misses and you don't absorb it.


Perhaps if you spent enough in-game money or resources or whatever, you could retrofit your ship to use a different race's modules with some efficiency penalty (but have it be a one-way process that removes the old race's module compatibility and cannot be re-retrofitted)?

[Edited by - Nypyren on September 19, 2008 8:22:50 PM]

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Original post by Kest
To be clear, I wasn't arguing against your point of allowing players to customize their identity. I meant that there wasn't much of a difference between technology and species traits, relative to your point. Both are unique, both can be selected at the start of the game, and both can be accumulated during the game. Just as technology isn't something that stays unique for too long, on a starship, species traits can have the same effect. If you want to be stronger, you can hire more klingons. If you want to be smarter, you can hire more vulcans.

Okay I was talking about the captain/player (and apologies for my unspecific post, I didn't say what I was exactly talking about) - your captain stays the same species all throughout the game (unless you get a genejob from the Umgah in the Star Control games, which would be pretty cool, eh?). Yes you can get alien crew to augment with the captain's own attributes, yes you can form powerful alliances with alien powers, so then how does this then affect the game? Well, it changes where you begin, what ships you initially have, what allies you initially have (both native & foreign), due to your captain's starting culture & species, etc, like I've been saying. I was just throwing out a couple of random ways you can vary this, vary the captain's culture, the captain's species attributes, which would could also be applied to vary the rest of the crewmembers. In a spaceship game, your captain is more important than you think (though often in the background, behind your cockpit/bridge), for your crew may change, your ship may change, your tech and guns may change, but your captain and his homeworld, and his origin story, never change.

Unless of course you are also able to switch out the captain in the game too, but then what exactly do you control?

-

So I say yes, go for it, make the player be able to pick unique cultures which would come with its own set of implications (including his own initial set of culture-specific ship models to choose from), but my opinion is similar to Kest's which is to allow all (or near all) options be able to be opened up to you as you progress through the game. My suggestion was then just to allow the player select what starting circumstances (and ships) they want to begin with so that players could explore each of the alien's vessels relatively early (by starting a new game as XYZ species) without having to spend an ungodly amount of time working up to it each time you want to try them out by buying them.

Or, if you decide that having multiple races to choose from would detract from your game, you could just include a battle simulator like what the Ur-Quan Masters did (not sure if the other versions have it), which included all of the aliens' ships (even extinct ones) for you to test out in battle. That would solve your problem without having to go into the main gameplay to do it.

[Edited by - Tangireon on September 20, 2008 3:46:44 AM]

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There are too many great ideas flying around in this thread and I'm really having to review my thinking! Thanks guys!

I want to throw out what for me is still a point of confusion-- the locked classes of a game like Diablo 2. When I play the Necromancer versus the Rogue or Barbarian, I have the sense of really different gameplay should I restart. In Morrowind, I see the tank mage prevailing because it ends up being the most well rounded choice. Wouldn't you say that enforcing restrictions leads to different play styles and play strategies?

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Original post by Nypyren
It seems like if you deviated from the SC2 formula, but still wanted to keep abilities unique to a race, you could have the ships come with various 'hardpoints' or whatever, but each hardpoint or module that you could put in the hardpoint might be race-specific, or it might be race-agnostic. I barely played Escape Velocity, but I think they had some kind of system where all of their hardpoints were race-agnostic.


Yes, I was thinking of something more like this. Maybe the majority of game modules are agnostic, so you can be a Suppox with missiles or Umgah with missiles, etc. But the price for installing missiles varies based on technical affinity.

This is in addition to one or two lines of technology that you won't get without replaying or (as I alluded to earlier) capturing an enemy ship. So both Suppox and Umgah might have missiles, but the Suppox missiles are harder to shoot down and the Umgah missiles might have a short range-- but only the Umgah will have that backwards warp drive and antimatter cone.

Maybe it should be something like this: The agnostic (or universal) upgrades are secondary weapons, while the species specials are primary. You should still be able to win with secondary weapons and good tactics, but versus certain enemies you'll want to develop your race's unique abilities.

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@Kest and Tangireon:

You've made very strong arguments that are making me consider how to make the very first play through as rich as possible.

I really like the idea of mixing crew and modules, and the possibility of conflicts between species (both inside your ship and diplomatically when you go to some other place). As for stealing tech in order to relieve the player of the potential burden of restarting, I'm wondering:

If the basic template is "optional mission or non-linear activity then upgrade and repeat" do you think that being able to subdue, capture and transfer to an alien vessel would mitigate the problem of some people missing out by simply not being interested in restarting?

I don't want to force someone to replay if they don't want to. To my mind, the greatest barrier to doing so is either really enjoying the high level gameplay or no incentive to restart. But at the same time I would like to instill a bit of respect for the mystique and uniqueness of a given species. Even with an RPG like game, I think it's important to have unique vulnerabilities, and I'm not sure how you create that without hard limits.


Maybe it would help to reimagine SC with what I mean:
Take the Utwig, as mentioned above. I don't mind there being 8 different Utwig hulls, some heavier / lighter, some with more / less cargo or stealth capacity. I could see them being outfitted with any type of laser (Earthling point defense, Vux super-laser, whatever) or missile, as these would be universal upgrades.

But you'd never get the charging energy spears and energy absorbing shield, ever, without either replaying as them or disabling and capturing their ships. And it would either be a hard mounted, unchangeable upgrade, or as Nypyren suggested, you'd be giving up your racial ability for a generic ship that might be loaded with race-agnostic modules but no specials.

Maybe what's difficult wouldn't be balancing the races so much as balancing the usefulness of universal/race agnostic upgrades with species specific upgrades. They really have to be worth it without being overpowered.

Not sure, still thinking this one out. I really do like how you could get unique customization and social / political gameplay with alien crew, and how interesting it might be to acquire their modules. Even reengineering yourself is a very cool flourish. I wonder if, rather than hard limits, I should be thinking in terms of really high walls-- maybe damnably dangerous and difficult means of keeping all you have gained but being able to still change things around.

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The way I see it, beyound dialog interaction, there's not much difference between selecting Utwig at the title screen, and creating an alliance with Utwig near the beginning of the game. The biggest difference is that it doesn't cut off access to all other species. But in fact, it can, and it can do so however you want it to. If the other 6 species hate the evil Utwig, they may refuse to ally themselves with you. You may need to revoke that alliance in order to gain their trust.

And just because you're allied with a species doesn't mean they would be willing to give you all of their assets. Making friends with or helping one species could cause an existing ally species to favor you even more, granting you more access to their tech and crew. Quest-like missions that help a specific species could also work toward building better relationships, giving the player more tech and crew access. A lot could hinge on it.

As far as enemy tech or ships go, I would recommend X-Com: UFO Defense for study. This was the game's biggest appeal for me. Having the potential to capture (to later research) enemy tech made every generic randomized mission a blast. As you fought the enemy, you learned about them, and emulated their tech. As soon as you think you're on equal footing with the greys, they send in the snake men with bigger guns.

You don't need to link the understanding of a device directly to the capture of that device. Perhaps your base materials and wiring works differently, so you can't just rebuild their ships with an example model. Remember the android, Data from TNG? They had no idea how to replicate him.

Different types of ships may have different components. Studying specific components from several ships may lead your team toward an understanding of their basic technology, allowing replication of their most basic ship. From that, capturing more of their modules and devices will lead to replication of their upgrades, and so on.

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Even though this applies more to an RTS than anything, I suggest that you take the base design for a species (ie, the core of it's tech tree) and change it for every new species you add. Doing this prevents species from being too generic.

Ex: If one species relies on upgrading it's main ship (Zerg hatchery->hive from starcraft), make another that can't (Terran tech tree is building reliant). Taken further, a third race might use only research to advance (ie, it can never loose it's tech ladder due to harm. This is a late game monster, however, so balance issues arise... in an RTS anyway). A fourth species might rely purely on how much they've assimilated - losses to their hive reduce the tech level. A fifth race might have access to technology based purely on their morale level (a democracy in direct control of it's army may "veto" the use of more effective weaponry until they are appeased, effectively using the military to pursue their own political goals - you can get deep with this).

Once you have such a diverse system of tech ladders, diversifying the ships becomes easy. The "Hive focus" species might have a host of powerful escort ships to prevent the hatchery from going down. Upgrades to those ships would likely include ways to sacrifice their life/shields/energy to support the main ship. The "Building focus" species would probably rely on upgrades granting greater mobility, to keep their very diverse tech tree from harm. The "Upgrade focus" species could really do whatever it wanted, or rather, be set up however you want. The "Assimilation" species would probably have a sequence of upgrades that make it easier to capture and assimilate enemies, expand their maximum assimiliation, whatever. The "Democracy" species would probably have ships that please their people (Tour craft, Parade ships, whatever) and associated upgrades to make them more effective.

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