Crew System, Revisited

I just posted the Europa build as a beta opt-in. While players check it out and give feedback, I’ve been thinking about some changes to the crew/skill system. There’s an on-going discussion in the Steam Forums specifically about the skill system. My current understanding of players’ feelings is that players like having a command crew beyond the faceless crew units of Starcom: Nexus, but the current system is not ideal, particularly in the anomaly skill check system.

This is not surprising as the crew/skill system is the one of the few major systems that didn’t exist in any form in Starcom: Nexus, so there wasn’t a foundation to build on. My first design (which was prototyped but never given to players) had a large procedural crew that players could assign to different roles and would progress over time. There were several immediately obvious problems, like a positive feedback loop where the most used crew would progress the most, and become more and more indispensable. Also, if changing the crew could lead to better results in anomaly surveys, if an anomaly gave the option of returning to the ship, they’d have a high incentive to always do so and returning to the ship for every anomaly would be tedious.

Instead, we have the current system, described previously here.

Based on feedback from F8 and the discussion forums, players like having a command crew. They like having them progress and feeling that they are characters with names and faces instead of a resource. But they have mixed feelings about the skill check system in anomalies. After a quick review of F8 feedback I found around 45 instances of people expressing some issue with the skill system. That represents about 3% of people who submitted feedback, which is small, but still is one of the larger single areas of complaint excluding requests for more content and typos.

Of these issues, the most common was confusion about the interface/probability, roughly tied with some feeling of frustration with being cheated by RNG.

Potential changes

  • Refactor skill checks to constrain the outcomes in a few ways: skill checks will either be minor or major. Minor skill checks will have some variation in quality of outcome, like 10 Al vs 10 Ag. Major can have significant outcome changes, but could be repeated if failed under some condition (e.g., crew level up). There would probably need to be some way of indicating major/minor so players could learn that they aren’t permanently missing a critical resource.
  • Alternatively, some players have advocated removing (major) checks entirely and replacing them with minimum skill(s) to progress.
  • Simplify the roll system’s formula. The existing formula is fairly complicated to satisfy two design goals: ability to handle multiple outcomes (more than half of skill checks have 3 or more outcomes) and provide a smooth gradient from best to worst outcomes as the skill increases (e.g., if skill goes up the probability of any outcome rises relative to less desirable outcomes). Given players’ feedback these goals are probably less important than I originally thought relative to players understanding why they failed the check.

Other Changes

Besides the skill check system, I’m planning on making some changes to other areas of the crew system.

First, I’m considering locking down the current command crew. In the underlying content logic, the crew is theoretically variable (e.g., an anomaly references “CREW_BIOMED”, not Cdt. Rhea), although in practice the only current visible impact is that the named crew for a particular skill can change depending on skill assignment. The original reason stems from the original design where the player was expected to swap crew. I kept it with the idea that it still might be interesting to have some game events that could potentially change the crew, e.g., officer exchange with another faction.

But players have responded very positively to the incidental interactions I’ve added to crew members. There’s a limit to the kind of character interaction/development I can do if I don’t know who will be speaking twenty minutes from now. I added a “tags” feature to address this, but there would still be problems with inconsistent personality. For example, I’ve already formed some opinions on what Pirx’s personality is like from her interactions so far. I think it would be worth sacficing the currently unrealized flexibility in crew line-up for having more developed and consistent command crew.

Having decided to lock down the command crew, it might make sense to have their primary role fixed as well. E.g., Rhea is always Biomed expert, Cygnus-Lee is always tactical, etc. Which raises the question, what decisions should players make regarding their advancement?

Some ideas:

  • On level up, crew gain 1 point in their expertise, plus one assignable point
  • On level up, crew gain 1 point in their expertise, plus the player gets 6 points to divide among all crew

Finally, I’m also considering re-adding the original Starcom: Nexus feature of a more “resource-like” support crew that improve ship repair rate (and possibly other operations). This would be in addition to the command crew.

If you have thoughts, please share them in the discussion forum.