Here’s a quick summary of the progress I’ve made since the last news update:
- Work on content for a new storyline. I won’t go into detail here to avoid spoilers.
- Started work on an updated version of the trailer.
- Various fixes based on additional tester feedback.
- Crew portraits.
Speaking of crew, I thought this would be a good time to talk about the new crew system.
If you played Starcom: Nexus, you may remember that your ship’s crew were a nameless, faceless resource that helped with repairs and could be killed in combat, but that was about the extent of their gameplay impact.
For Starcom: Unknown Space I wanted to give crew more depth, at least in providing a command crew with names and some contribution to gameplay besides ship repair.
Here is how crew currently works. Bear in mind that this is a new feature and will likely undergo additional changes before and during Early Access:
Shortly after the game begins, the player acquires a command crew of six cadets. Over time as they gain experience and rank, you can increase their skills in different areas: Tactics, Engineering, Diplomacy, Xenoculture, Biomed, Observation, and Astrosciences.
Skills offer several different benefits:
- Skill checks: Some anomalies and alien encounters require skill checks which can have a variety of outcomes. For example trying to repair an alien artifact might require a successful engineering check.
- Insights: Similar to skill checks, during anomalies and encounters a crew member may pass a hidden skill check that reveals some insight. These might help provide hints for some puzzles, additional lore, or extra discovery.
- Performance boosts: Each skill offers some gameplay benefit outside of anomalies and conversations. Engineering speeds up repairs, observation extends scan range, diplomacy improves trade prices, etc.
- Tech discoveries: A new aspect I’m experimenting with is some tech tree nodes can be unlocked after a minimum skill is reached and the probability of unlocking a tech per minute will rise depending on the skill level.
This new system adds some new design challenges and there’s definitely still some work in figuring out the best solutions:
Don’t Lock Content
I don’t think it will be fun for players to be locked out of a fun side-quest because they rolled poorly in a skill check. At most, a skill check might allow a player to change the result of a previous decision. This places a limit on what kind of skill checks can be incorporated into anomalies and quest lines.
Anomaly text can refer to crew– for example noting that “Lt. Rouge-Chemise has been wounded in a rock slide.” However, I want to maintain the flexibility that crew members may change: maybe a story event swaps out a crew member, or I give the player the ability to rename their crew. So in the current system crew aren’t hard-written into the content, instead identified in text by their role, e.g., [CREW_ENGINEERING]. The text parsing system can then replace the symbol with the appropriate name. This works pretty well, but there are some challenges. One playtester already noted that the current system chooses crew by highest skill, but a crew member can fill more than one role, leading to an awkward situation where [CREW_BIOMED] helps [CREW_XENOCULTURE] but they’re the same person.
Also, it’s not practical to use pronouns: English has three forms for each (he/him/his vs. she/her/hers) and writing anomalies littered with [CREW_BIOMED_SUBJECT_PRONOUN] would be way more trouble than its worth, not to mention making localization a nightmare.
Getting Some Respec(?)
An open question is if/how skill respec-ing should work. Since players will learn the importance of each skill during the game, it makes sense to give them some possibility of backing out of a focus. At the same time, I’m not a fan of unlimited respec. There are a number of possible solutions: maybe there’s a rare anomaly that allows for respec, a one-off technology that when researched allows it, or crew can respec at certain ranks.
Specialization vs. Diversification
Right now, most skill effects are determined by the command crew’s combined skill against some difficulty. The only exception is insights, which is based off the skill of the most skilled team member. There’s not a huge incentive to have any well-rounded crew: you’ll get the same check benefits from having all specialists, plus better insights. Ideally, I’d like there to be some interesting trade-off between specialist and generalist.
Meaningful vs. Balanced
Giving players the ability to assign skills should have some noticeable game play impact. At the same time, no major game mechanic should move from “over powered” to “tedious” based on skill choices.
No Depletable Resource
One side effect of removing the old “crew as disposable resource” mechanic is there’s now no critical depletable resource the player needs.
The crew/skill system is the most significant new feature that didn’t exist at all in Starcom: Nexus, so it may take some iterations to get right. If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them in the discussion forum.