Not so first impressions

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faijeya
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Not so first impressions

Postby faijeya » Wed May 20, 2015 12:30 pm

First of all I'm sorry for the delay, because suddenly I hadn't enough time to play the game properly.
Now I've played it quite thorough and I like what I see.

I like stockpiling, I like the art, I like the automatic development of colonies and the overall game pace is great.
I love the fluid tactical combat (with rewind built-in), and I love the backtracking to previous turns.
The builds are reasonably stable, the crashes are rare and I haven't been able to reproduce crashes so it's fine to me.

In fact, I really like what I see, because I'm not usually writing tl;dr posts about games that left me unimpressed.

However, there si a number of issues in the game, centered mainly in UI and combat.
I fully understand that it's all work in progress, and I'll be delighted to hear "Oh, that old thing? We know all about it, it's gonna be fixed this month."
Everything I state here is purely my personal opinion.


Colony growth
Population growth in SiS is crucial for a colony to be a useful asset.
However, the population growth model seems flawed to me.

Population growes in three stages:
1) Up to and including 1/2 of planet capacity - next turn gives you 1.01 (low growth rate), 1.018 (medium growth rate) or 1.025 (high growth rate) of your existing population
2) From 1/2 to 5/6 - population multiplier very sharply (seemingly according to some quadratic function) drops below 1.007 and steadily goes under 1.005 giving you diminished returns each turn
3) From 5/6 to full capacity - population multiplier continues to ecrease, but using some other function, far more slowly

What's all this math about?
- dropping an additional million to a new colony will save you ~40 turns of development, while an established colony will replenish that million in ~10 turns
- it'll be very hard to balance high-growth races with medium and low-growth races as high fertility is a gift that keeps on giving
- due to the very sharp multiplier drop on the second stage, small (<6 capacity) planets are essentially useless

Why am I so sure?
A similar model was used in Horizon (though it was four stages there, but it's irrelevant, as they used multipliers on all stages).
As they had billions on the planets, they used slightly bigger multipliers, 1.05 for high growth rate, 1.025 for medium and 1.0125 for low.

The result is that high growth races had immense advantage over everyone else, as a colony output similarly enough was mainly a function of population numbers:
Image

I didn't do such graphs for SiS because I still did not figure out how exactly the multiplier drops, but I'm sure that the same model will bring the same problems.

The root cause in Horizon lied in the initial build-up and making it fixed for everyone made for a nice and controllable picture:
Image

While I'm still unsure about the second stage, the same solution may be applied here if neccessary.

Regarding small planets, a buff of growth if the planet is small and (possibly) a debuff if the planet is huge may help.


UI
The tiles in the colony management are too big, requiring you to scroll them up and down.
It's a real problem as it discourages fine-tuning your colonies and even building new ships, as going scrolling down for a ship, then scrolling down for a stockpile next turn becomes old pretty fast.
Scaling the tiles down in half may help.
Organizing them in distinct groups will help.

After completing a task the colonies default to research, not the previously selected mode (stockpile or trade).

Editing ships and orbital constructions requires some hard work, not in the decision-making, but in finding where this functionality is.
It becomes even more interesting when editing planetary defences. You would think that design 1 refers to the first one you've built and design 2 to the second and they'll be in the battle simultaneously?
No, the second one superceeds the first completely.

Refitting fleets is a pain.
While the absence of building queue is may be a viable design choice, refitting fleets remains a pain.
The UI strikes back here too, you can order a refit of multiple ships in one turn, but only one ship will be actually refitted.
All other are stacked into their own tiles on the panel and a new player may or may not find them (as they're used to scroll down constantly).

Scrap the old fleets then?
Oh, there's no such option.

The production tab is very nice, but it lacks indication of terraforming options available and you can't rush-buy from there.

The absence of zoom-out (both on main map and in-battle) is daunting.
At the main map it deprives you of important information if you're playing in window, in a battle it multiplies the number of clicks by two which becomes a big number if you have a big fleet.

Panning the map through the WASD buttons is a must nowadays.

The absence of a "retreat" button at the main map (just like in StarDrive 2) is frustrating (just like in StarDrive 2).
In the early-game skirmishes the scout is always able to escape the enemy (just like in StarDrive 2), but to not to lose it you have to go into battle and spend half a minute on a completely unneded task (just like in StarDrive 2).

As I'm talking about StarDrive 2, ironically enough, having every module lumped into a single list is better than arbitrarily divide it them on three lists.
Still it's somewhat had to operate.

Choosing where to send your fleet is also not great as instead of showing a red line like in a plenty of games, the green line blinks for a second and you're not sure if you clicked or not.
Holding the right button shows "insufficient range" on fleets, of course, but you can discover it only accidentally.
I believe, a basic overlay like shown here - http://www.java-moo.com/wp-content/uplo ... Setup2.png - will do nicely.

All these issues lie in the core flows of the game and while they aren't that bad for a newcomer, they heavily impact replayability.


Moving population
It's very effective in the current growth mechanics, but there's a catch.
With a multi-race colony you don't know whom you've picked for transfer.
If you found a gaia planet in Tyi, chances are that you'll transfer useless driadas, for instance.
If the races will differ even more in the later stages of development, selecting whom you want on your new planet will be a problem not really solveable in the current UI (a small blurb depicting two or three races will be small and won't show what a race can do best).


Weapons and battles
AI is always a work in progress, so I won't talk about how having a designated sacrificial ship is good in offensive and will certainly win you a battle in planetary defense.

The whole weapons design is pretty strange.
Missiles own throughout all the game.
There's no way to save a ship of any size from a massive missile attack except from killing all the resistance in one turn.
You just can't fit enough point defense (even on a Fleet Base).

It's made odd further by limiting missiles to the venerable x2 design and with limiting the range of weapons.
There's no paradigm shift until the later game when it's better to use railguns.

The armor and shields are pretty useless.
Very rarely a ship is wounded, either it's all safe or it's dead.
The problem here is that better armor and better shields do not absorb damage.
Absorbing damage would render early missiles useless and will force the player to look for another strategy.

Ironically, a death star has great armor (the only ship in the game), but lacks reactor to power half of its weaponry.

Reactors, however, do not play a large part for all other ships as you can fit anything you like there.
So the differences between weapons in their performance-per-watt are not really noticeable and as their range is roughly the same, they are dull.

Planetary defenses are overpowered.
It's cheap to install even the best tech there and the immense number of point defenses (coupled with mostly x2 misisle design) makes them impervious against a mid-sized fleet.
If you're facing a large fleet, oh, no, nothing about sacrificial ships, nothing to see here.
If the AI will use a single slot for a PD, mid and late game invasions will become much harder though, and that will really impact the pace of the game.
There's no easy solution here.

Orbital bases on the other hand, are very fragile and non-usable in combat.
Also they are too big and too far from the planet to be covered by planetary defenses.
Probably they can be made smaller, but closer to the planet. A larger number of orbital slots will be welcome too.

It's very frustrating that the same fleet may be arranged differently between battles.
The hull types stay in place and the overall pattern is a nice crescent, but having to wonder wether your point-defense battleship is in the front or it's in the second line again is not the uncertainity I personally want.

AI autoresolve tends to lose ships even in minor skirmishes.
It's even more annoying if it manages to lose all dropships in a standard run-off-the-mill battle.
If the player's fleet vastly overpowers the enemy, it should destroy it automatically.
A cheat? Maybe. Improving the pace? Definitely.


Game pace
The pace is great.
However the late game is somewhat of a whack-a-mole style.
It's fun to put off fires, but only for a while.

Personally I'd like AI to be more attached to their core planets and to form a more coherent front.


Thank you for reading.

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sven
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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby sven » Wed May 20, 2015 4:12 pm

Epic post -- many thanks for this one faijeya.

A lot of the issues you point out are indeed on my TODO list -- in particular, today's TODOs are focused mostly on improving the AI's ship designs and offensive / defensive fleet routing. The goal with the offensive/defensive routing changes is not necessarily to make the AI better, but, to make it favor larger fleet engagements, rather than scattering it's ships all over your territory (which in some cases might actually be sound strategy, but, mostly, is just annoying). Also, as you say, I think the current AI is far too willing to sacrifice core worlds. It really shouldn't be sending swarms of little raiding fleets out to hassle your frontier worlds while you're plowing through its core systems.

There's still clearly a lot of work to do on weapons balance -- I think missiles should remain relatively strong, but, point defense, armor, and shields should all be doing more to stop them than they are now.

Putting a retreat button on the strategic map is one change that Arioch and I were actually talking about the other day -- it's scheduled to go in soon :)

Simplifying the refit rules (both the UIs, and the core mechanics) is another one that Arioch and I have been talking about, and which should be implemented in the not too distant future.

Population growth is a big topic. At a very high level, I think that shipping population from your core worlds out to the frontier ought to be a useful strategy. But, right now, the incentives encouraging you to send out those sorts of "pioneers" may be stronger than they ought to be. Planets with a low pop cap are also intended to be of limited value -- in most cases, we don't want frantically colonizing every available world to be the optimal strategy. That said, the whole population growth model is something that we'll be revisiting when we start playing around with the food and morale mechanics. And when that time comes, I'll be taking a much closer look at your graphs and balance arguments :)

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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby Arioch » Wed May 20, 2015 7:12 pm

Just a few notes:

Requiring manual movement of population to a new colony to speed its growth seems like a realistic and reasonable thing; I don't think one should expect a starter colony to explode into a full planet quickly on its own. But it's true that this system is due for change with food resources and population morale.

Regarding small planets, a buff of growth if the planet is small and (possibly) a debuff if the planet is huge may help

Why would population on a small planet grow faster than that on a large planet? Also, small marginal worlds will never be full production powerhouses (nor should they be), at least before the advent of terraforming, but they still make useful research bases and generate some income. So there's some benefit to be had from colonizing every available world, but it's not a decisive benefit.

We have UI changes in the works that will allow you to choose which colonist type you want to move from the standard UI. There is currently however a way to do it from the planet information screen; if you shift-click on the colonist type (at the upper right) you want to move, it puts you in the move population UI. Awkward, but functional.

There is a lot of tech and weapon balance still to do, and many late-game techs and weapons are still missing. This is one of the reasons that you can't properly outfit the Dead Star, because the required Antimatter reactor isn't in the game yet.

Scrap the old fleets then? Oh, there's no such option.

You can scrap individual ships from the ship information screen (reached by clicking on the "?" icon on each ship in the fleet pane).

The absence of zoom-out (both on main map and in-battle) is daunting.

You can zoom in and out (in tactical battles only) with the mouse scroll wheel. We do need to add visible UI elements that expose the same functionality.

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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby faijeya » Thu May 21, 2015 12:58 pm

Great to hear that!


Arioch wrote:Requiring manual movement of population to a new colony to speed its growth seems like a realistic and reasonable thing;

I'm pretty wary of discussing realism in space games.
Easy and seamless transfer of a million people from one gravity well to another indicates a civilization quite close to Type II, making all other technological developments antiquated.

But in game terms that seems an unneccessary micro to me.
Why not give the possibility to build double-wide colony ships (probably costing some population) or even design them at later stages to jump-start the colony with "portable" factories and planetary defenses?

Arioch wrote:Why would population on a small planet grow faster than that on a large planet?

To make a player choose between short-term and long-term gains.

In-game it can be explained by much larger costs of adjusting the larger planet ecosystem for settlers' needs.

Arioch wrote:We have UI changes in the works that will allow you to choose which colonist type you want to move from the standard UI. There is currently however a way to do it from the planet information screen; if you shift-click on the colonist type (at the upper right) you want to move, it puts you in the move population UI. Awkward, but functional.

Great to hear that the replacement is in the works.
Yes, I've read about this workaround, but I personally try to perceive the game from the end-product point of view.

Arioch wrote:There is a lot of tech and weapon balance still to do, and many late-game techs and weapons are still missing.

Yep, and I don't really expect the AI to produce coherent designs and employ in a meaningful fashion until it's all in place.
However this will require ship designer UI overhaul, as making that list even x1.5 longer will make it SD2-level hard to use.

Arioch wrote:You can scrap individual ships from the ship information screen (reached by clicking on the "?" icon on each ship in the fleet pane).

Yes, but it isn't that different at fleet scale from refitting each ship.
I hope that the need for this will be gone with production queue and refit mechanics changes.

Arioch wrote:You can zoom in and out (in tactical battles only) with the mouse scroll wheel. We do need to add visible UI elements that expose the same functionality.

No, I can't.
The default zoom level in-battle is max-out.
I can zoom in to try to find a ship to target underneath all these missiles and rockets flying, but not to zoom out.

It's not comfortable even in full-screen 1920x1080.
In a window mode (which is for some reason locked into weird 1200x768 resolution) you've got ~1 screen to the opposing fleet and ~1.5 screens to the planet:
Image

According to the Steam hardware survey barely over a third of players play on 1920x1080 or more, so that will be an issue.

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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby Gyrfalcon » Thu May 21, 2015 1:05 pm

faijeya wrote:In a window mode (which is for some reason locked into weird 1200x768 resolution) you've got ~1 screen to the
It's not actually locked, you can stretch the window by grabbing the edges like any other window, although the cursor doesn't change to a double-arrow like you would expect.
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faijeya
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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby faijeya » Thu May 21, 2015 1:36 pm

Ah, thank you!

Problem solved, for me:
Image

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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby Gyrfalcon » Thu May 21, 2015 2:02 pm

Hopefully, it will remember your window settings someday. Right now, it always starts in fullscreen and you have to adjust it.
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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby faijeya » Thu May 21, 2015 2:15 pm

It doesn't remember the settings, but a stretchable window is at least a workaround.

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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby faijeya » Wed Jun 03, 2015 5:29 pm

Zoom-out now works magnificiently.
I've finally understood that mixing races brings you great benefits, up to 42 pop per planet.
I've learned how to min-max my planets.

I still yearn for the "fast animations" checkbox, but overall I'm very satisfied.

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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby sven » Wed Jun 03, 2015 5:31 pm

faijeya wrote:I still yearn for the "fast animations" checkbox, but overall I'm very satisfied.


"fast animations" should be in the options screen (though i'll admit, that screen is a mess, and the options isn't that easy to find). Um, lower-left hand corner, next to "invert drag-panning".

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faijeya
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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby faijeya » Wed Jun 03, 2015 5:35 pm

No, on stable there isn't:

Image

Should I switch to dev?

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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby sven » Wed Jun 03, 2015 5:36 pm

faijeya wrote:No, on stable there isn't:

Should I switch to dev?


Oh... opps. Looks like I marked it as a "developer option". Which means, only Arioch and I are seeing it atm. Um, I'll fix that. But, the fix isn't yet on dev. :oops:

edit: should be visible as of r12689 (currently on dev). alternatively, you can get the option to show up on stable by creating a show_hidden_options.bool file, as described in your README.txt.

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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby faijeya » Wed Jun 03, 2015 6:18 pm

Verified on dev.

Well, that's much better!

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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby sven » Fri Jul 10, 2015 8:21 pm

faijeya wrote:Panning the map through the WASD buttons is a must nowadays.


Good suggestion. WASD panning should be working as of r13114.

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Re: Not so first impressions

Postby faijeya » Sat May 28, 2016 5:49 pm

Ok, so I'll necropost a bit.
The game pace and economics are disserved by the addition of mines and farms.

Mines and metals severely limit the ships and units production in the early game, does not count in the mid-game, go through the roof in the late game.
The only way I could make the metals go down in the late game was by building units on 30+ planets including two doom stars.
As a constraint on the early game it may work, but it has to be finely tuned.
I want these heavy cruiser fleets too, but alas, I'm bound by metals and AI seemingly isn't.

It could've worked well with techs giving worse weapons or designs, but with much less need of metal to build.
However, as the current ship design isn't finalized or well-calculated, it's unlikely that such a move would be beneficial.

Farms and food, however, are a relatively light nuisance in the early game, but tend to progress as a very annoying element of the game.
As a player has no control over the population increase speed (only to bump it up), but is limited by the improvement slots and farms levels, guess what happens?
Your population, nonplussed by your +0 food resources keeps on breeding, starving, dying, rinsing and repeating.
The specialized (most important) worlds suffer and slowly, but surely get depopulated.
A player gets desensitivised by constant notifications "Oh no, the population will starve, do something!" you can't turn off, because there isn't really something that a player can do.

Food is a ponzi scheme here as you've got to expand to get more food, that will feed population that will need more food, so you have to expand.
Levelling up farms staves the hunger of for a hundred turns or so, but there are only three farm upgrades.
I liked mixing races before, but now the increase of population beyond the 15 pop point (plus or minus, depending on farm tech) makes a planet unsustainable in the long run.

It's hard to make the food situation manageable without introducing a slew of controls that will bog down the management.
While making it an incentive for a player to expand may be working, it's not likely it can be fine-tuned enough, it's that unstable.
The game would be better off without food.


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