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Temperamental, Highly Individual Gear (non-MMO)

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Blood drinking intelligent weapons... motors that run on tar or sand... repairs that can only be made with gold or silver dust... I've been working for awhile now on how to fulfill the promise my space game seems to make by offering a huge amount of procedurally generated territory. At the moment I'm again looking at making the systems and planet surfaces worth exploring. I've been thinking about gear that has highly individual characteristics. With the (somewhat flimsy) backstory excuse that it's based on living alien technology, I've been trying to weigh the value of giving it not just varying effects and side effects but different usage, repair and in some cases even maintenance needs. An example would be finding 3 damaged alien shield generators: One might be repaired with gold, another might need silver and gold and still another might need something more exotic like magnetic monopoles. To function the first might need "refined zircon" (sand, basically), the next "complex hydrocarbons" (tar sludge) while the third might be powered by plasma and human sacrifice ("soul energy"). Traits and characteristics would be as individual as hand crafted items, ignoring all sense of mass manufacture in favor of a rogue-like dynamic. One of the major reasons for doing this is to fill up the game's immense physical space and (in theory at the moment) numerous trading nodes with a wide variety of collectibles and resources. I know that I can do this and make the findable stuff just something to sell, but it makes more sense to me to give it multiple uses (uranium say for crafting, bartering, as a talisman or for bribes in some cultures) One final thought: I don't want to force on the player aimless, continuous searching. This is meant to bolster exploration. Toward that end I'd want two mitigating mechanics: Man-made gear that would sometimes (rarely?) be superior to the alien stuff and ways of asking the NPCs for trade or location information on SPECIFIC resources. Thoughts?

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I really like the idea of man-made gear being readily available with a predictable economic value, and then these artifacts being considerably more rare, so you're never stuck hunting and hunting and hunting for a jetpack powered by happy thoughts or a power plant that runs on garbage.

The ideal situation, I'd say, would be a largely conventional "stock" ship that has one or two "special powers" that need an exotic component. Something like the smart bombs in Defender, where you can get along just fine without it, using skill and managing risk, but it can really make a difference in a pinch, and you have to be conservative about using it.

It brings up so many questions and variables, though.

Balance will become an issue. Will these things be weighted by possible value? It's easy enough to discard a can opener that needs a gallon of human blood to spin, but an alien super-weapon that can be recharged by exposure to the exhaust from a man-made ship might be game-breakingly awesome. How can your procedural world be smart enough to avoid filling itself with such things?

Trading with NPCs or getting intel on resources is a great dynamic, but again it's tricky. If it's too easy, it would almost be part of the standard trading system, just buying up potato peels or asking people where the nearest methane cloud is.

I'd say have your world generation algorithm cheat a little bit and mate the random artifacts and their requirements, and then use that data to inform itself. If there's a device that runs on helium, then apply an algorithm to the device to get a numerical value for its awesomeness, and then make helium more or less common in the world based on that. If it's a Death Star doom cannon, helium's rare and occurs primarily in dangerous or hard-to-reach places. If it's a sniper rifle that does 5% less damage than a human rifle, but can fire 500 rounds without reloading, then there might be a helium refinery in every spaceport, to ensure you can always have the thing running at full power, such that it is.

That way, you can go on emergent "quests" to gather the stuff that really makes you special, or you can hoard novelties for trading to the discerning collectors that are likely to have what you need, and what might have been a boring, useless comet or debris field suddenly becomes an object of desire and a source of adventures.

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How about making areas in space where the special tech works exceptionally well.
Your blood-powered laser trumps most weapons in a "bio field space (say a few galaxies)" where most things are organically powered and there are a lot of little critters which you can harvest for blood. going out of the area into a "metallic field space" will make your blood laser less effective and also harder to power. The player can outfit his ship with the current area's tech to have a powerful ship but he has to leave/refit his ship if he wants to go visit other areas. Hopefully the player can make choices like - Do I want to remove my blood laser to pass through the metallic space or just stick with it if I know there is another bio space beyond that patch? Make it so human tech is generally based on physics so its mostly effective everywhere. NPCs and maps would provide roughly where the next patch of weird space is located and possible artifacts are located. maybe even make the weird space area move such that you might be looking for a metallic field artifact in a bio field or encounter hybrid artifacts/enemies.

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Have you ever read the Yuuzhan Vong Star Wars saga? If you haven't, it might give you some interesting ideas.

Also, I really think you should consider that jetpack powered by happy thoughts. That might make the game really interesting.

Are you going to sell your game, or make it free? If it turns out half as cool as I hope it does, I just might buy it.

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I like your concept. Personally I'm a fan of the idea that absolutely everything should undergo degradation, require maintenance, and consume fuel.

If you assume typical degradation to be (let's say) 10,000 shots of a weapon, then an unusual weapon might have been designed to use a different kind of propellant than you use with it (because humans have no way of producing that propellant, and/or the method has been lost), but if you find a particular artifact that produces the right propellant, then you may reduce its rate of degradation. Clearly, once degradation is complete (ie you run out of shots) maintenance is required, otherwise, there may be permanent degradation, misfirings, explosive misfirings etc.

If typical maintenance of a device costs the equivalent of 1 minute of player effort acquiring resources (unless you buy the resources with money from a higher yield activity), and occurs every 10 hours of play, let's suppose maintenance of an unusual device might require, first of all, a resource that cannot be bought anywhere easy to get to, and secondly, a resource that is either punishingly rare (requiring lots of exploration to find), or requires a very complicated series of steps to produce. It may also require special tools (or access to a particular space station, of an independent faction which must be befriended).

The fuel idea roughly parallels the maintenance idea.

Obviously it's up to you what level of quality equipment begins to suffer from these limitations. Personally I would do it from the bottom up so the player is used to thinking in these terms.

Another thought that comes to mind is that the player may not know that something is valuable when he comes across it, and it isn't until later when he finds out about an unusual resource that his scan logs reveal that it was found on a planet visited long ago.

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Neat idea.

Yes, I think balance would be a huge issue. With so many possibilities for the unique characteristics of the gears, one or two of the gears might appear as unfairly stronger than the others, and this would not be so easy to detect.

The NPCs can be given the ability to know when the player has super gears in his possession. Then they (possibly some factions of them, like evil goverments or such) would search for the player and force him to hand it to them. This will make owning super gears a kind of double-edged sword for the player.

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Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
I really like the idea of man-made gear being readily available with a predictable economic value, and then these artifacts being considerably more rare, so you're never stuck hunting and hunting and hunting for a jetpack powered by happy thoughts or a power plant that runs on garbage.


Hah, happy thoughts! I should put that in under "morale powered psionic devices." :P

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The ideal situation, I'd say, would be a largely conventional "stock" ship that has one or two "special powers" that need an exotic component.


Glad you raise this. I've long thought (and probably mentioned here) that I want to do space as a mix of civilized and outback/frontier territory, sort of crossing the old games Starflight and Escape Velocity. Wormholes or jumpgates or whatever to link civilized space and bypass deep space. Open star map travel for the outback. And maybe if the player wanted to go "off roading" they'd need one of these quirky jump drives.

My basic assumption here is that the player who doesn't want to deal with the alien equipment probably won't get too much out of exploring randomly generated solar systems and planet surfaces-- or at least won't need what they find to be more than just stuff to sell. These folks will likely want to focus on trade or combat, and the FTL device that also happens to be "psionically vampiric" or "repairable only in crushing atmospheres" would let them get their feet wet without having a wild array of gear to tend to.

As an alternative, though, what do you think about this line of reasoning: What if ALL equipment, manmade or alien, required a certain level of resources micromanagement BUT civilized space ALWAYS could take care of it as a matter of cost? That is, you pull into Earth Station and along with your auto-refueling the station mechanic (or your engineer or whatever) says, "Oh, looks like your shields will need 3 mag monopoles and about 30 kilos of silver in about 3 months. Want to repair that now?"

What it would basically mean is that the complexity would still be there regardless of the gear, but that human gear would be far less exotic and automatically maintained if you stick within the bounds of civilization. Alien gear could work similar if I can do alien empires (ala "we don't service Toyotas in this sector") Get the ancient alien gear or venture into the wilds and you'll have to be more of a frontiersman, living off the land.


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Balance will become an issue.


Oy, yes. Big time. Random generation's always going to regress toward some mean. I didn't realize it but you're right, the same curve for resource generation is going to have to map to (or better yet as you said generate) the effectiveness of the exotic gear.


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Trading with NPCs or getting intel on resources is a great dynamic, but again it's tricky. If it's too easy, it would almost be part of the standard trading system, just buying up potato peels or asking people where the nearest methane cloud is.


In a sufficiently large galaxy (with thousands of planets) I wonder how valuable information really is compared to the player's time. Info might be the most precious thing in the game if it can be detailed enough to encompass not only what the player wants to find, but the local dangers and even uses for resources.

I could do several things with this. It could be a "build good will" game mechanic. Aliens don't tell you where stuff is unless they really like you, and what you have to do to curry favor could range from running missions to selling them cat food to giving them their enemy's children.

Alternately, it could be based around artifacts themselves, leveraging player exploration. Maybe classes of artifacts buy you information about other classes of artifacts and where they might be?

Anyway, very good points as usual. THanks!

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Original post by yapposai
How about making areas in space where the special tech works exceptionally well.


This could really work well. I've already been thinking about these kind of "buff and debuff" zones you fly into which do constant status effects. Mapping the status effects to families of gear would be an extension of this. It'd also be a relatively cheap way of extending gear, as you could now both duplicate gear across zones and provide for the coveted "multi-zone" gear which is effective in many places (probably available at higher levels).

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Make it so human tech is generally based on physics so its mostly effective everywhere.


I've got no idea at the moment how I'm going to manage AI movement but if I did this you'd probably get gameplay where the player tries to lure NPCs into zones where the player has an advantage. This could be good or bad (I'd prefer a faction not be stupid enough to send their entire fleet into a kill zone, but it would be nice for a few ships-- that could lead to a family of devices for teleporting ships against their will to where you want them, and maybe vice versa)

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NPCs and maps would provide roughly where the next patch of weird space is located and possible artifacts are located. maybe even make the weird space area move such that you might be looking for a metallic field artifact in a bio field or encounter hybrid artifacts/enemies.


I've long liked the idea of periodic zones acting sort of like storms. So you've got a time pressure to get in and out of a sector before it becomes, say, a constant EMP zone or reduces the functionality of weapons based on psionic energy or whatever.

Thanks for the ideas!

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Original post by Symphonic
I like your concept. Personally I'm a fan of the idea that absolutely everything should undergo degradation, require maintenance, and consume fuel.


I really like this idea myself although I've been trying to figure out how to make it more gentle to the folks who want more action and less simulation. The idea I proposed in reply to ICC's thread might work-- namely that the simulation stuff is handled automatically in certain areas, or maybe even with certain brands of gear / ships.

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Clearly, once degradation is complete (ie you run out of shots) maintenance is required, otherwise, there may be permanent degradation, misfirings, explosive misfirings etc.


With weapons especially I never want to leave the player helpless, so status effects or reduced functionality probably work best. Although in an open world it may be acceptable to tell the player with a degraded weapon, "run!"

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If typical maintenance of a device costs the equivalent of 1 minute of player effort acquiring resources (unless you buy the resources with money from a higher yield activity), and occurs every 10 hours of play, let's suppose maintenance of an unusual device might require, first of all, a resource that cannot be bought anywhere easy to get to, and secondly, a resource that is either punishingly rare (requiring lots of exploration to find), or requires a very complicated series of steps to produce. It may also require special tools (or access to a particular space station, of an independent faction which must be befriended).


Maintenance has always been controversial but I think I can get away with it provided that the degradation curve is very slow and there's some way for the action / adventure (or read task/mission minded) gamer to easily deal with it. (I always remember this in examples even AAA games had to deal with, such as when Looking Glass had to release a patch for System Shock 2 because guns broke too easily for many people's tastes).

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Another thought that comes to mind is that the player may not know that something is valuable when he comes across it, and it isn't until later when he finds out about an unusual resource that his scan logs reveal that it was found on a planet visited long ago.


I've been thinking about this. Though it's much more abstract than I've thought of it before I'm trying to do crew, and the concept of specialists and lore could really work to my advantage here. Scientists, for example, might be considered dead weight on a ship that doesn't do a lot of exploring, but they may be worth dragging around and feeding simply because, like a lawyer on retainer, having them available in a pinch can mean the difference between recognizing valuable resources or useless trash.

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Original post by wirya
Neat idea.


Thanks!

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With so many possibilities for the unique characteristics of the gears, one or two of the gears might appear as unfairly stronger than the others, and this would not be so easy to detect.


I've been thinking of this in view of a game like Borderlands or Phantasy Star Online. In those games you've got loads of weapon combos, yet there are constraints that clamp them to a relatively tame mean. In Borderlands (or so I've heard 2nd hand from a friend) you've may get a gun with an awesome, super accurate scope but which only has 2 shots. Or in Phantasy Star you may get a gun which you can improve to insane levels but which only works on 1 class of enemy.

This has got me thinking that if the majority of gear clumps toward some mean (and it HAS to because all random systems do) then provided that mean produces relatively average or above average gear you don't have a problem. (To clarify that is to say the gear is special in some ways and mediocre in others).

It seems to me that if you have this sort of situation and enough gear the need for balance becomes limited to making dominant weapons rare and limited in use. You don't have to make each (or even the majority) of the weapons themselves balanced because in an open world game the player can flee from one challenge and scavenge for gear elsewhere.

The only real downside I can see is having to be a packrat, but I really hope players can get into the "playing with the cards you're dealt" mentality.


Quote:

The NPCs can be given the ability to know when the player has super gears in his possession. Then they (possibly some factions of them, like evil goverments or such) would search for the player and force him to hand it to them. This will make owning super gears a kind of double-edged sword for the player.


Haha, that's actually cool. Maybe all governments demand that superweapons be turned over to them-- for a reward. If you don't and they know of it then they start making life tough.

That would be funny because then a player holding onto their nova cannon would be forced to be a frontiersman. I wonder if that actually is a bad idea?

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