Starbase's Top Issues #5: Little Early Game Direction; Dev Factions

Vexus

Master endo
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
276
#1
Hello,

Starbase is an amazing game with endless possibilities. The endless possibilities, however, can be daunting for a player to wrap their head around in addition to the vast number of keyboard controls and other gameplay aspects like "any direction can be up" that are uncommon for most games. Players really need some way to launch the game and jump into relatively "standard" gaming options, like first-person-shooter and ship fighting. Many games implement "arena" or other instance based, map-based arenas for players to fight in with zero meaning behind the gameplay outside of the thrill of playing with or against other players. Starbase can do this better, as the live universe can support a large number of players in a vast amount of area - but only if there are easy objectives and direction given to players.

Players were teased with a grand competition between the dev-factions Empire and Kingdom. These two factions were poised to be in eternal war, with both sides utilizing all their resources to battle one another. When the game was launched, there was nothing at all involving these two factions, no framework for engaging against these factions was given, and the player was simply thrown into a sandbox with no guidance on what to do or what was possible.

whattodo.jpg


For the game to hook players, it is important to deliver to them something they are likely to be familiar with. First-person-shooter games are widely known where players can understand what is going on easily. They move in 4 directions, left-click to fire a weapon, die and respawn and repeat. With Starbase's promise of this physical, destructible universe, it is important to give players a taste of that right away. The "Demolition" tutorial is somewhat a step in this direction, showing players what it's like to cut up a ship, however it does not allow players to match the experience promised to them by the feature videos which showcase ships fighting one another, players shooting at ships and exploding them, and all manner of interaction with other players in a contested scenario. People who enjoy building are niche players who will seek out those experiences regardless, but the vast majority of gamers can get behind a good point-and-click FPS shooter.

Starbase should flesh out the Empire and Kingdom faction idea, allowing players the ability to join into those factions and engage in all-out war. Positioning these factions in close proximity to one another would spur a lot of conflict as pre-made fighter ships, weapons, and other tools can be given to players to simply attack one another with. New players should have to decide which faction they start with, and from there, be sent to the front lines to attack. I imagine the front lines to be a "no man's land" of many stations where the goal is to take out the other faction's stations. Before I turn this into a suggestion-style post, though, I'll fall back on the point.

Players have to spend hours, days, maybe weeks playing the game before they figure out how to simply cause the damage and effects they saw in feature videos or trailers. The cumbersome research tree which was sprung on players out of nowhere from Alpha compounds the issue, as access to interesting weapons is either impossible or cost-prohibitive, requiring millions of credits to be poured into crafting just to unlock certain weapons, yet alone the crafting of them. This leads to players being unable to experiment and test the different weapons that should otherwise be available to them. Even the testing-ground that once was in the Marketplace is not accessible anymore, so it's not easy for a player to figure out what kind of weapon they'd like to grow towards without grinding lots of blue tokens for the crafting system.

All of the above combines to limit the experience of players who may otherwise just want to log on for an hour and engage in some ship fighting or station-control first-person-shooting. The two factions should be fleshed out as working, joinable teams that have access to weapons and ships which players can use to get into a fight against the enemy faction very quickly. From there, players will become engaged with the game and branch out to other aspects of gameplay, wanting to create their own ships and to explore into the universe more - but those who want to keep pushing for their side to win can continue to log in and simply push their front line forward station by station.

Another aspect in how the lack of early direction impacts players is that since players risk their own credits and resources any time they leave the safe zone, they are disincentivized from doing so until they are extremely confident in their own abilities. With an early system which allows for players to fly ships they don't care individually about, they are able to gain confidence in their abilities so when they do venture out into the harsh civilian world, they are not afraid of exiting a safe zone.

The tutorial is a nice attempt to give some exposure to the game's systems, but it is not enough in terms of giving players the true experience of what Starbase has to offer. It is a reasonable approach, but doesn't give players any exposure to player and ship weapons, or causing damage to other ships or station parts, and gives no fighter-pilot training or other experience which would let a player get comfortable with all the controls and handling before entering into the universe at large. A sandbox playground pitting two factions against one another would lead players to devise new ways to attack their opponent, and eventually want to branch out in designing better ships or implementing better ways to assault a station. This doesn't have to be gamified, it just has to be possible.

Although Easy Build Mode and the crafting system deserve their own breakdown of their own issues, it's worth pointing out here that in an early game experience with new players, building and crafting are not gameplay mechanics that hook a new player. The focus should be on delivering to players what they expected from the feature videos and trailers, and to give a familiar first-person-shooter experience and/or ship fighting experience as soon as possible. From there, players will happily branch out to other tasks if they wish, especially knowing that at any time they can get back into the combat if they so wish. War has a weird way of driving an economy. Use it.

Problem: The early game experience leaves players wondering what to do in a vast universe with little direction given, which limits explorative behavior in favor of safe credit/ore farming.

Solution: Provide an Empire and Kingdom faction system which allows easy access to the most basic ships as well as different weapons to allow players to get a taste of the non-safezone gameplay as quick as possible without having to risk their own credits or materials.
 
Last edited:

XenoCow

Master endo
Joined
Dec 10, 2019
Messages
566
#2
It will be tricky to balance dev factions with the inflation they may cause if their ships come out of nowhere. Maybe they can just start with a "stimulus" of ships and credits until they become self-sufficient. I just worry that a constant battle with many new players flying free ships might turn into huge player companies farming new players for their resources instead of the intended constant and mostly fair battleground. Maybe if most players join the dev factions then it won't be a problem since companies big enough to take on swarms of players will have better opportunities outside of the big faction battles.
 

Vexus

Master endo
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
276
#3
It will be tricky to balance dev factions with the inflation they may cause if their ships come out of nowhere.
My initially pitched plan to the devs was to have Empire and Kingdom be fairly close to one another (maybe 200km in between the capitals, with dozens of stations filling the void between them inside or around the Eos belt) but far away from the Neutral or starter area (other side of the belt, basically, with no warp gate). Players could sign up to be Empire or Kingdom members, and transport to the other side of the belt from Neutral to fight one another as the primary behavior. The distance would be one of the balancing mechanics; being far away from the auction houses of Neutral areas. It would require putting some restrictions on members of these dev factions where their main purpose is assaulting the enemy team. Eventually players would want to do more than just be a soldier, and withdraw from the dev faction to go home and maybe join a player company. But in the meantime, there is always that vast PvP area with destructible stuff everywhere should someone want to commit to a cause. This of course is a small excerpt of what the idea was or could have been, so even what I've said here isn't worth debating, but the balance shouldn't be worried about too much. One option could be zeroing out the materials from these dev spawned ships so although they matter for war, the do not matter for economy. Being physically far away from Neutral means they won't be used in any practical way outside the dev war area.

I simply imagine the "what if" where instead of 30 origin stations, we had 2 dev capital cities with like 5 satellite starter stations each to learn how to play, where players eventually funnel to the dev capital cities and from there go off to fight one another - this being the initial experience of gameplay, much like WoW has "Horde" and "Alliance" starter areas per race, then leading to the capital cities. From there, players could engage in faction war, or renounce their membership and go off to be Neutral to build, explore, make their own stations and warfare and so on.

The presence of the dev factions would be to ensure a starting player can, within a very short time frame, be grabbing a gun and jumping on a fighter ship to go attack the enemy. Then the player is hooked with the great combat gameplay, testing piloting and shooting with zero real risk to themselves, before splitting off "on their own" in the Neutral areas to do more mundane tasks like mining and building stations and so on. Eventually Neutral will rise as player companies begin recruiting more and getting into more conflict, and they'll be recruiting from a playerbase that is familiar and comfortable with flying, fighting and combat, as all that was done as the dev factions took over one another's stations in all out war.
 

XenoCow

Master endo
Joined
Dec 10, 2019
Messages
566
#4
Oh, I'm not at all against the idea of the factions being at the front and center of the game, at least at the start. Even in the video showcasing the "companies" the factions were described as the primary forces in the universe and that only over time could companies become big enough to rival them.

I'd love to see a recruitment hall at the end of the tutorial with two big booths for Empire and Kingdom where you can then get flown off to one of their bases to begin learning how to help that particular faction, even if not fighting. Maybe you work in a fighter factory there or go mine valuable ore in the contested region while escorted by other players in fighters.

There could then be other, smaller booths for large companies and a kiosk for the tiny companies to encourage that no matter what the player chooses to do, the first thing shown should be to meet other players.

That all said, I do still think that the resources if given out freely need to be managed well. I could imagine some players having a second account to go and fetch free fighters for their personal use. It might be interesting to have a black market of official ships, but without nuance and consideration, I still think it could turn into a free ship dispenser.
 

Vexus

Master endo
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
276
#5
That all said, I do still think that the resources if given out freely need to be managed well. I could imagine some players having a second account to go and fetch free fighters for their personal use.
Yes, I think if the distance between the factions and "neutral" was literally the other side of the Eos belt from Neutral "origin" stations, that would mostly solve the issue of people taking "free ships" since time is the ultimate cost, and travel time with an inferior ship one at a time wouldn't be worth just working over on the neutral areas and making your own.

And for companies which try to operate near the faction war, they're then inserting themselves into an arena where they are attackable by "free" ships.

If the faction "free" spawned ships a) resulted in zero resources when recycled (i.e. have no inherent value outside of war) and b) their parts could not be used freely elsewhere (no stockpiling ammo from these ships for example) and c) have timers or other controls for how many can spawn...

Basically there are ways to balance the issue; distance being the easiest one.

One thing I found interesting is taking the 2nd Elysium warp gate to the other side of the Eos belt - the whole "game world" looks so much different from the outer edge of the belt vs. the inner edge of the belt. It would be an appropriate change of view for a faction war.
 

XenoCow

Master endo
Joined
Dec 10, 2019
Messages
566
#6
And for companies which try to operate near the faction war, they're then inserting themselves into an arena where they are attackable by "free" ships.
Fair enough. Hunting down thieves and fighting off pirates could be part of the duties of faction players and would keep the companies that aim to take advantage of the situation at bay.
 

XenoCow

Master endo
Joined
Dec 10, 2019
Messages
566
#7
I just walked a friend through the tutorial... man is it way rougher than I thought. It was one thing when I did it myself since I had my CA experience... but the work halls as an intro to this game are no fun at all. Even with the extra resources I could provide, it took almost an hour and resulted in him not liking the game even more than before (I just bought him a copy so he can help with my videos in the future).

Had I not been there to provide some kind of social interaction during the tutorial, it would have been more of a slog than it already was. I think the developers should also try and walk new players through the tutorial themselves to see how un-fun it is as a way to start the game. They'd be on team faction war as a starter in no-time.
 

Vexus

Master endo
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
276
#8
A tutorial can be good but it has to be done by your best designer/dev team to make it flawless, or else it becomes a negative. It IS very ok to just give the game to players without any tutorial - gamers watch videos and streams before buying products, now. Leverage all the content from video/YouTube creators and save your company time, money and headache while also ensuring no one can rip your game apart due to the bad tutorial.

Console games are a bit different because you're catering to an audience which may not have an internet connection and could use at least some basic instruction, and does help sell the game when that kind of gamer has assurance due to other games that they will be given some how-to on how to play any console game.

But PC gamers can be treated differently seeing as they are a niche demographic and have access to all sorts of resources immediately at their fingertips to find out how to do something.
 

Lingontuva

StarCat | Novus Aurora Council
Moderator
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
53
#9
I really feel like the dev factions need to be added in again, mostly because they were showcased back in the dev videos but also for more reasons than that. Handing out ships would be cool, but it would require some sort of "area lock" so that you can't really use the ships for more than faction business. Would not like to see a fleet of free sparthas flying towards my station.
Could be solved with the use of some sort of device that only permits you to operate inside a specific area, maybe based on 8 waypoints as a cube whenever we get navigation systems?
 

Lingontuva

StarCat | Novus Aurora Council
Moderator
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
53
#10
To be honest, would love to see something akin to what Arrowhead is doing with Helldivers 2 by having a "game master"
 

LauriFB

Administrator
Moderator
Frozenbyte
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
212
#11
We've been discussing this a lot, and here's some of the challenges/thoughts we have encountered so far:
  • Having permanent, fixed factions would be overkill, counter-intuitive for end-game purposes (player companies as factions), and includes a lot of work
  • Using "just" dev companies or light-weight dev companies doesn't entice players to pick a side nor result to us vs them rivalry
  • Creating two starting stations is possible, but would split the playerbase
  • Having just one starting area with both sides flying out seems pretty weird considering they are at war
  • War itself is "easiest" part, dev companies could fly out caps to ever-lasting war every now and then. Whatever resources flown there could be tied inside a safe zone the war is happening, ie. it would not be possible to steal stuff from there
  • Fights need to start only when there's enough signups. This is pretty doable, but may result to wait times which are harder to predict. Waiting time could be spent doing other stuff at the Origin, and once the cap is leaving there could be just option to warp inside the cap.
Being recruited to a war and to fly out in a massive capital ship, arriving to a massive fight would definitely be a great first experience.
 

Vexus

Master endo
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
276
#12
Having permanent, fixed factions would be overkill, counter-intuitive for end-game purposes (player companies as factions), and includes a lot of work
I was thinking two dev factions alongside all the player companies. But, players could join these dev factions to gain immediate access to weaponry and fighter ships to try out the game and fight other faction members. Keeping this far away from "neutral" areas would avoid there being any crossover.

Using "just" dev companies or light-weight dev companies doesn't entice players to pick a side nor result to us vs them rivalry
Not "just" dev companies, but in tandem with regular companies. Regular companies of tens to hundreds of people won't likely want to be confined to the fighter ships and limited gameplay available in dev-vs-dev faction warfare.

Creating two starting stations is possible, but would split the playerbase
Having rivalry helps enhance the playerbase, such as in World of Warcraft. Alliance vs. Horde is ingrained into who players are. Empire vs. Kingdom could be the same thing, especially if the player-record can show who you "signed up with" when someone inspects you. Then role play emerges from there as well.

Having just one starting area with both sides flying out seems pretty weird considering they are at war
Competing powers often if not exclusively fight over the neutral population. Having recruitment for dev factions in neutral zones seems reasonable; keeping dev factions far away helps avoid issues. I may misunderstand your point, though.

Fights need to start only when there's enough signups. This is pretty doable, but may result to wait times which are harder to predict. Waiting time could be spent doing other stuff at the Origin, and once the cap is leaving there could be just option to warp inside the cap.
This defines the gameplay into strange areas which are not successful in the modern gaming community. Having sign-ups and other defined processes by which to engage with the enemy restructures the entire game. It could be Starbase-Royale then. Which may not be terrible considering the presence of other decisions. Then Starbase becomes "Robocraft" where you design your ships and then hop on board the next battle. Win/lose means nothing and would need some arbitrary system and then the game is no longer Starbase.

Ark is Rust-with-Dinosaurs, there's no shame in being Space-Rust and that approach is a valid path to success, so I'm not sure why it is not the top issue during internal discussions. It should be the hardest thing to chop, if you're deciding what to do, because it's a proven model.

Being recruited to a war and to fly out in a massive capital ship, arriving to a massive fight would definitely be a great first experience.
The Planetside 2 approach would be extremely difficult to manage and as I pointed out in other posts, without incentive, no one is going to fight it out - it is perhaps easier to move resources and liquidate stuff (or delete it) than to suffer a war. Economy is a major force here; win/loss is not based on anything else except resources/credits won/lost for the most part. Anyway... all these arbitrary rules and structures impose more and more arbitrary rules and structures that need to be made. The opposite - give players tools to interact and go hands off - is a successful model otherwise. <SIGH>
 

Lingontuva

StarCat | Novus Aurora Council
Moderator
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
53
#13
I was thinking two dev factions alongside all the player companies. But, players could join these dev factions to gain immediate access to weaponry and fighter ships to try out the game and fight other faction members. Keeping this far away from "neutral" areas would avoid there being any crossover.
I think this would work quite great as long as ships from the empire/kingdom are restrained to a certain area, so that the dev ships can't leave the area designated for this faction warfare.
 

Ruin

Endokid
Joined
May 18, 2020
Messages
2
#14
Having looked through this post, I'm on-board with the ideas presented to use the dev factions as a matter of introducing players to the world & basics of Starbase... However, I feel the some of these ideas presented tunnel-vision too much on to the 'picture perfect moment' of having this massive fight during a war nevermind how war itself will work to which I will posit what Cain said here in the discord. Concurring with what Cain said, as well as to input my own response here; Wars don't happen on a whim nor as Cain said is constant battle. War in Starbase is not going to have the spontaneity nor the convenience that other PvP games have.

War is a biosphere of many compounding & inciting factors that perpetuate & end it. Only selling the PvP side of the game especially the war effort as just simply giving players access to weaponry, fighter ships and pointing them at an enemy would undersell not only the war effort, but also the game's potential as a whole. Mining, hauling, building, escorting, espionage, transporting, scouting, infantry combat and more are the playstyles and structures that are going to enable the biosphere that is war and to restate Cain's statement; war is not constant battle. By selling the players the many playstyles of the game and not just the result of those playstyles intersecting and colliding, this would better sell not only the reality of war in Starbase but also some of the game's strongest points; Freedom, agency, physicality, and scale.
 
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