Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Possible unlock changes

I’ve been considering a few changes to the way stuff is unlocked in GSB. Currently, winning a game with a small fleet earns you honor (based on the margin between your fleet cost and the budget) and you can spend that honor unlocking new ship modules.
In addition to that, you start the game with just one unlocked race (The federation), and you unlock an extra race when you beat every mission on normal, then another at hard, and another at expert.

There are many problems and potential solutions

Firstly, you have to play every single mission before you get to choose a new race, and I suspect people may be sick of the federation as a playable race by then.

Secondly, the survival missions don’t count towards this, which is hard to explain.

Thirdly, some really l33t players earn tons of honor easily, and have nothing to spend it on.

So I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and reading peoples views on it, and I’m still slightly on the fence about how to improve it. My gut instinct is that I should roll a whole bunch of other stuff into the current honor-unlock system. Right now, missions get unlocked by beating the previous mission, and when you unlock a race, you get all it’s ship hulls at once. I could easily make all this unlockable too, and could scale the current unlock prices to compensate for it.

That still gives me the eternal problem that some real hardcore players can unlock it easily, and there is a danger that casual players are stuck unable to unlock parts of the game that they have, after all, paid for.

Ideally, the game would find some cunning way to scale honor so that this doesn’t happen, effectively giving away some bonus honor to any players that get really stuck. OR, I could add some totally superflous crap that can be unlocked with excess honor by the hardcore (maybe slightly different ship hulls, with no gameplay implications, or something else visual, maybe an icon for their profile name on submitted challenges?)

Anyway, it’s not an easy decision.

18 thoughts on Possible unlock changes

  1. 50k honour -> unlocks 1 extra cool looking cruiser hull with normal stats; 4 races = 200k honour :D

    Or unlockable weapon/shield effects in options! Something like words “Boom!” instead of explosions. Im crazy

  2. How about specialist weapons? Make some weapons that are insanely off-the-wall. A flamethrower with short range but constant fire and high hull damage. A Middleman laser with about 500 range and equal shield and armor pierce. A type of armor that also adds shield strength.
    All sorts of things that players can do without, but make very strange types of ships possible.

  3. A way of doing it could be by going down the achievement route. When you get an achievement you gain honour. This could be winning your first battle, winning five in a row, etc. But you could also have ones for the not-so-good players like losing five in a row or something.
    I like the idea of unlocking hulls because at the moment I only use one hull per ship type because I’ve found the one that is comparatively the “best”.

    I’ve had another idea. What about having user profiles like on a forum, but in-game that show various stats about the player, their favourite race, hull, etc. You could even expand the achievement idea into that by displaying all their achievements on the profile.

  4. I only recently bought this game and am very satisfied with it, but this issue did become apparent to me, and I have been pondering it the last couple of days. I enjoy really pushing the limits and after replaying just a couple of missions on expert a dozen times, I had way more honor than I ever could use.

    One thing to consider from the perspective of a hardcore player, is that having so many hulls and modules available from the start compelled me to spend hours designing ships before I could really enjoy some gratuitous battles. Therefore, I would certainly encourage more hulls and modules to be locked at the start.

    You are right that for some players it is too easy to get honor, but we don’t want to honor starve the casual player. The answer might be to reformulate how one earns honor so that there is diminishing returns for how much under-budget you can get. I also think that the percent of fleet surviving should enter the calculation so that winning with few casualties is more honor than winning with one ship standing. To achieve these goals mathematically, I recommend using a logarithmic function on the budget difference and just multipling the result by the percent surviving.

    As for the race issue, I think all the races should be unlocked from the start, but lock the missions, hulls, and modules for each race independently. All honor gained playing under one race would be usable only for that race. Basically, its having four independent game progressions to work on so noone will get bored playing one race continously.

    Adding superflous things to spend honor on wouldn’t hurt any, but the suggested mathematical function would be a clever way to normalize honor gains among players of all skill levels.

  5. I don’t think the unlock system works for modules at all, and I don’t think it ever will. Individual modules are not exciting, particularly in the beginning when you already have too much choice and don’t know what most of the stuff you’ve already got does.
    Putting all of the repair modules in with the unlockables also makes things harder for a new player, and delays their understanding of the common strategies that those modules enable.
    The other modules that aren’t the best at their role are just unappealing – it’s not clear why I would want to bother unlocking them.

    I’m not convinced the game wants the unlock system at all. I would be interested to hear what your aims for the feature are.

  6. You could make it like Battlefield where you earn ranks, each rank taking exponentially more effort to reach. Each rank could give out # nr of unlock points, or it could have separate unlocks from the points system? Even rank titles themselves + cool little icons to symbolize them could be enough.

  7. Indeed, ranks would be a great idea, because you could then see the rank of a challenge issuer, that could be awesome. I wish I was skilled enough to also tie that into the forum ranks :D

  8. I think Hulls should be the primary unlocks. You should start with just one fighter, one frigate and one cruiser hull. Better hulls should cost exponentially more honour. Additionally, races should unlock, and hulls for better races cost more than hulls for earlier.

    For example, you could choose to spend 4000 honour unlocking a better frigate hull for the Federation. Or, you could spend 4000 honour to unlock the Rebel race, but to unlock the Tier II frigate hull for Rebels would cost 8000.

    Of course, for this to work, you’d need an accurate idea of relative desirability of all the hulls!

  9. I bought the game last week, played literally all weekend, great fun. Thanks, Cliffski!

    Two points on topic:

    Firstly, I wouldn’t worry overly much about there being parts of the game that casual players cannot get to despite having paid for. It’s accepted convention that in any game with shiny stuff, you should not expect to start with it available. In fact, having everything available at the start with minor variations actually detracts from the feeling of earning your rewards. I agree that balancing around really hardcore players would lead to problems, but I think there’s a middle ground where unlocks are rewarding but don’t exclude people.

    Secondly, I believe that the unlock system could be used to ease the difficulty curve somewhat. If less items/weapons/ships were available to begin with, but the basic items were not the “bad” ones, just the “general” ones, then players can experiment with simple ships and strategies then move to more complex play as they unlock items. That’s kind of how it works now, but for example having a ton of very similar cruiser beam weapons available when you’re designing your first cruiser is kinda intimidating.

    I think there’s a way to do unlock pricing that helps with this: have the price of each unlock be dependent on many modules/items/ships of that type you’ve already unlocked. So say you’ve won a few battles with your basic Federation cruiser. You unlock one of the others, say a tanky one, for 1,000. You could have picked the ganky one or the fast one for the same price, but the big lumbering space hulk fits your emerging play style. Later on you can unlock one of the other specialist cruiser hulls, but now it’s 2,000. So it becomes easy to have the best stuff for any one type, but branching out is expensive.

    Anyway, just my two cents.

  10. I think it’s a good general piece of advice for developers to try to avoid falling into the trap of balancing your game for the super-hardcore minority. Your players will have an ability range spead across the normal distribution, you should be aiming to keep that chunk in the middle happy.

  11. Frankly there is not enough content (ship hulls and weapons) to implemen locking.

    already i feel that the options available to the players is saprse as it is .

    unfortuneatly i do not have a easy answer … as my solutions would require more work . such as implemeting weapon manufactures and hull manufactures giving the player the option to spend those points on gaining access to the manufactures to obtain more hulls and weapons.

    as it stands now though locking out more content means less choices in what already seems like a limited amount of options in ship design.

  12. I think there’s definitely something to be said for cosmetic rewards. I remember reading an interesting (and now unfindable) article on the collectable miniature game (Heroclix/Mage Knight/etc) tournament scene. It basically boiled down to – standard miniatures redone as a unique sculpt for the top players are a good thing, unique miniatures with powerful stats aren’t.

  13. Hulls paintable with colors!!
    Can also be saved so you will be able to make a ‘black fleet of terror’ and one ‘white plasma fleet’.

    Also some “elite” – weapons.
    They are exactly like the normal ones but can fire a little, tiny bit faster and have like some more hitpoints.
    Laser and Laser Elite…

    How about some kind of Upgrade Possibility?
    Spend some thousands Honor Points for Laser Elite 3 and you get a little advantage. (Only usable once and not online?)

  14. Ever played Project Gotham Racing?

    Project Gotham (the original – I’ve never played any of the later ones) has an incredibly elegant unlocking system. First off, each level can give you points. The actual number of points you get is based on how well you do. The important part here is that you cannot farm a level – a level “gives you” a number of points equal to the best you’ve ever done, and if you manage to beat your previous score by 10 points, well, you get another 10 points.

    You can use points to buy cars. The cars, naturally, get increasingly expensive. However, you can then take these cars and bring them back to previous levels to do better. It’s nearly impossible to get gold medals on most levels on your first attempt at them, you end having to come back much, much later with a better car.

    The key to all of this is that it’s balanced easily enough that pretty much anyone can get through it. The only thing that changes is how often you’ll be going back to redo old levels for incremental gains. Someone totally awesome will blaze through the game on their first try, picking up copper medals by the skin of their teeth, buy the best car, and restart at the beginning with gold medals. Someone much less awesome will make six or seven “passes” through the game in order to finish it off.

    So here’s my suggestion. First, start with far fewer modules – one ship hull, one gun, one armor, one engine, one crew. “Here is how you design your ship! Boom, you blew stuff up, congrats.”

    Second, give out *crucial* modules, gradually, for free. Make a level where shields are pretty much mandatory, and give the player shields in that level. If they beat the level, they can use shields in all levels.

    Third, either clean up the enormous spam of items, or make the “non-crucial” ones buyable with honor. I strongly suspect that you could strip out half of the items in the game without making the game significantly less interesting – they’re just visual clutter and they make the game really hard to start out with, when you open the ship designer for the first time and are confronted by a dozen near-identical gizmos, some of which are a little lighter, some of which take a little more energy, etc etc etc.

    Fourth, provide strict or near-strict upgrades buyable with large amounts of honor. Do missions, get honor, buy upgrades, do missions again, get more honor. Rig it so that the upgrades only “unlock” after certain missions – you can’t buy Reactor III until you’re halfway through the game, even if you have a huge pile of honor stored up.

    And fifth, provide cosmetic upgrades and tweaks as an honor sink for the players who are really, really good, just so they feel like their honor is worthwhile.

    This might present some issues with the multiplayer challenge aspect of the game, but I feel like it would make your singleplayer game far less intimidating and far more interesting.

    Of course it would also be a significant amount of work, and I don’t know if you want that level of redesign at this point in the game’s evolution :D

  15. Full disclosure: I am not in the beta (yet).

    My idea: Maybe you should give out a race for completing the tutorial missions. This way the player would have at least two races to choose from during the real campaign. I would also try to make it clear to the player that there is unlockable content not yet unlocked from each potential source.

  16. One way to add unlockable ship modules could be to have the same modules as you would start with but with different twists that make them better in some way but worse in another. Sort of like in EVE online with the higher tech modules, they are slightly better, but also take more powergrid/CPU and so on.

    The idea is to not waste art resources on stuff some players might not see, you’d reuse the same stuff just change it a little bit. Hardcore players would’nt care about art anyway, they appreciate to carefully min/max different options, while casual players are the opposite.

  17. I’m in the beta. I felt the unlocking was pretty good, though I did run out of stuff pretty quickly and never needed to really push hard to earn money. My biggest complaint was simply that a lot of the upgrades felt like the were sidegrades at best — I could probably have never unlocked 25% of the content and still be able to build everything I want.

    Locking away ship models would be excellent — maybe 1 model per class per race. You would never NEED them, so you aren’t shackling the early game or punishing novices. They’re just a nice bonus.

    The other thing I might suggest as a novice-friendly idea is the ability to sell back some of your upgrades, in case they find themselves out of points without the ability to buy something they really need. (I recognize that this may add extra complexity to validate the legality of ship designs.)

  18. I’m not in the beta yet, but I *am* a game designer, and after reading through the comments here, I think Ben Wilhelms suggestions are bang on target as far as the best route for you to follow with your upgrade strategy, given that you’re using a limited number of missions and would likely want more replayability.

    A refinement you could use to solve the multiplayer issues that crop up from this is to either have tiered multiplayer, or have people ‘enter’ a multiplayer battle with a score calculated by the honor any extra modules they have on their GSB fleet. Players can then gate what battle they want to play by that scoring or tiering. Winning with a lower ‘score’ can be a self-determined handicap modifier. Of course, someone who doesn’t understand this scoring will be at a disadvantage, so you’ll have to make how it works clear as you build a multiplayer GSB fleet.

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