Starbase's Top Issues #6: "Free" Gameplay Mechanics

Vexus

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

Starbase has an amazing universe to play in, and this issue is to highlight the importance of ensuring that "free" mechanics do not interfere with the intended gameplay. This idea pulls direction from simulation and, well, real life, where each action has a reaction. What this translates is best shown by presenting gameplay examples: for example, a vehicle that moves faster should consume more fuel. There is a trade off for going faster; a cost involved. Another related example is mass; the more mass, the slower the object should move - or require more fuel to move faster due to that mass. A great thing that Starbase does is incorporate time into the trade-off of a ship loss, where it is much more cost effective to pre-make parts for your ship build, where losing a ship may be easy to re-print but you are incentivized to spend the time making the parts and so on. If you forego pre-crafting the parts, your cost - which is time based - to print the ship goes up quite a lot. The time cost of losing a ship is then quite significant.

Starbase has many of the physics systems already in place, where thrusters use more fuel at full power, heavy ships move slower and slow down slower, as well as other interesting dynamics. This post is to highlight the mechanics in game which are given to the player for "free" which should either not exist, or which should be modified into something else.

Starbase has taken great steps to limit "free" stuff. For example, respawns out in the game world are not free. They require large respawn chambers with costly replacement endo units installed. A maximum of 30 can be stored at any given time, and each one costs around 50k credits in materials. This ensures rapid re-spawning and swarming is not an endlessly viable tactic. This leads to more interesting gameplay, even if some of its mechanics are a bit flawed, where each player respawn out in the game universe matters and has a cost to it.

Here are the issues regarding "free" gameplay mechanics that need to be addressed.

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1. Free station inventory storage. If I recall correctly, each player has 10,000 inventory slots available to them per-station, per account. There is no cost involved, and players have come up with interesting ways to utilize this free storage that move gameplay in a poor direction. For example, on a moon a player can place a moon base foundation, load it up with resources, and then deactivate the station. Placing another station nearby, the player bypasses an inventory limit in a strange way by leaving a chain of stations which can be reactivated on demand to obtain the resources within.

This is a complex situation, because part of the "free" here ties into many other game mechanics. For example, this free inventory is completely without risk of losing the resources. Although it is possible for someone to stumble upon a derelict station and claim it, the resources do not transfer to the new owner. Instead those resources remain as a personal inventory to the original player.

Another problem is having multiple accounts. A large group can collectively hold more materials in a station than a small group with no additional downside or cost outside of managing those resources, which is a minor task. Those individual players may also have second accounts of their own - I have a second account for related reasons, for example. Although this may seem somewhat good in a financial way for the game, it diminishes the game when players are incentivized to switch accounts as part of gameplay. There's no downside to switching accounts outside of the hassle of doing so, and the benefit of doing so is so large where players are very likely to do so. The free station inventory is extremely broad and has no cost.

A good example of why this is a problem is a solo player who wants to have two full inventory stations worth of material would have to create and operate two stations, two capital ships, or two moon stations, to accomplish what someone else is doing with a second account. It's obviously much more costly to create and operate two capital ships, for example, than to swap accounts.

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2. Related to the above, free ship storage at stations is another issue. Players can store unlimited ships for zero cost or downside, both in any Origin/Dev-made station, as well as their own stations or capital ships. Compounding the above issue, players can spawn in "storage" ships which are crate-boxes which they load with resources, to then store their ship inside their station for free with zero risk. Any time they need more of that resource, they can spawn their storage ship, get the materials they want, and despawn their ship, with again, no cost to doing so. There is also no risk to creating these storage ships and keeping them in your station. You never run the risk of losing them in the current gameplay. No cost, no risk, and no gameplay - eventually it becomes a matter of time, but that is far outweighed by the value of storing materials for free. Essentially if this free station inventory behavior is allowed to persist, it may simply be appropriate to give players unlimited station storage slots with no cost or downside, as that is effectively what is being done in an indirect way.

3. This system I'll cover in another post, but free safe zone operation is another issue. This issue is part of the solution to the above two issues, but I plan on covering that elsewhere. The ability for players to put up free safe zones through their stations cuts off and secures a part of the game world where there's no downside to doing so except for hitting your personal limit to the number of stations you can have. Initially, the station limit was 3, increased to 4 when capital ships were released. This is not an elegant way to solve the problem, as again it incentivizes second accounts, giving players who are willing and able to buy more than one account and switch to them a large advantage over other players. Once a station is placed and the safe zone is operational, there is nothing else to be done. It is a permanent, zero-cost part of the game universe that requires no maintenance or other action to ensure the location persists.

Games such as Rust, Ark, Atlas and other base-building games have implemented a "decay" system of sorts to deal with this problem. This was mainly due to the server model of the game, where having a large amount of objects that were unused was unnecessary. Outside of technical limitations, it also ensured players had to actually play the game to maintain their structures - in turn, this ensured any other player coming across a well maintained base was then certain there were other players nearby. Rarely would a player come across another structure and not be able to tell if it is active or not. In Starbase, every station, big or small, is at the same level of potential activity with no way for another player to tell if there's any use trying to make contact with the owner. The point of bringing these other games up is that there is a cost to maintaining the bases in those games. Players are incentivized to continue playing and to maintain their bases and territory. Again, although this begs the question in Starbase of being able to damage a safe-zone, as bases in Rust can be assaulted, that's not the point of this post. This is simply to point out that the free, zero-cost safe zone given to a station destroys gameplay by not requiring the player to do anything else after that point.

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4. Player inventory is completely safe and free, with no downsides to holding a full inventory of items outside of the hassle of inventory management. There is a minor downside to what you hold in your inventory - your character does weigh more, and that weight is added to a ship's weight when determining the speed of the ship. Outside of that, a player has no reason not to carry their most expensive weapons, and all the ammo they can fit. Many players end up carrying around a rocket launcher, as there's no downside to doing so. They will always have the ability to damage a ship in this way, and will never lose that ability, even if they die to another player. Players are able to also "Insurance Transfer" without cost and without regard to their inventory. This means there is no choice when it comes to certain travel considerations; you just perform the instant teleport for free. Sometimes, like when combined with the respawn chambers mentioned earlier, there is a valid cost - the cost of the endo kit itself. However most of the time, death or insurance transfer has no cost to it outside of the time involved in respawning.

This is complicated to solve, because some of it requires other systems as well - for example, it doesn't seem like Starbase is going to be "full loot" nor should it be. Perhaps a middle ground, like Escape From Tarkov or other games which give you a "safe" inventory is appropriate, where anything else outside of that inventory is lost. Adding in a durability system may be valid, ensuring there's a demand for new weapons in the long term and putting a definitive "win" condition when you defeat an enemy who is using a rail rifle. Some of these solutions require "lootable" dead endos, where others don't. Whatever the solution, it should tie into the rest of the gameplay and give players a sense that their weapon of choice matters, that their inventory matters towards gameplay, and that there is some consideration to be had when deciding to load up completely with ammo, versus having zero downsides to doing so.

5. "Delete all items" usage seems like it is beneficial, where instead it is counter to gameplay. I have fond memories of my friends throwing blocks of valkite off the back of our mining ship. I know many today have become so accustomed to deleting all the material they do not wish to keep from their ship inventory where the idea of removing such a free behavior is shocking to them. However, the point of why I bring it up is that by giving players this free behavior with no downside to doing so has directly contributed to massive box hauler/miner ships that can be operated by one person with ease. Without the ability to mindlessly delete all stacks of an ore from your ship, gameplay would be slowed down and limited naturally by what is possible from player behavior. It would incentivize a team of miners working on one ship, instead of players using multiple of the most effective ships for the task at hand. This free behavior of being able to delete "junk ore" with no downside or cost means there is no consideration to size or other practical uses of making a ship. The best ship for mining becomes the one with the most ore inventory slots; a single player can manage the number of crates regardless of ship size due to the ability to delete large amounts of anything the player does not want.

Again, there is no limiting mechanic to this behavior. Where before, it was useful to have a friend go with you mining, so they could help you quickly dump materials - or, you might design your ship so you can have an easier time to deal with throwing junk out into the game world - now anyone can sit idly in their pilot chair and do everything from the user interface, with no cost, no risk of being outside of their pilot chair, no reason to play with another player.

Starbase for the longest time showed promise of solving these kinds of issues with physical systems instead of UI tricks. The solution to "Delete all items" could be a device on a ship which destroys unwanted material at the cost of fuel and/or propellant - a kind of furnace for destroying unwanted materials where the process is slow over time, where ships would have to find a balance between fuel resources, unwanted material destruction speed, the size of their ship, and time between mining locations. The presence of two UI clicks should not be the way the issue of handling junk material should be solved. There should be a cost to the behavior which adds to gameplay and incentivizes teamwork, instead of pushing players towards solitude.

When the devs saw players packing generators into the smallest possible configurations, they implemented a heat mechanics system to incentivize larger ships, more complicated systems, and a need to balance ship design, ship weight, and all manner of other functions, which in turn has opened up further gameplay possibilities such as radiation/detection mechanics. "Delete all items" should be another system, not something given to the player for free with no cost.

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6. "Free" propellant. This one is short. When stations like Arma or the other deep-belt station was released, I expected there to be a real cost with going there, and a real economy based upon hard-to-find resources. One "free" function that was unfortunate to see was that players could re-stock propellant from the stations without having it affect the economy or anything else. The propellant refueling stations allow the player to connect their ship to a station resource bridge and refuel like a gas station for a paltry amount of credits. It's basically free, and requires very little effort to do. What this ended up doing is killing off lots of player gameplay, as no one cared if you brought extra fuel - you could always top-off at the fuel pump with no player interaction required. This kind of free system heavily disincentivizes many things, such as good ship design with access to fuel containers for manual refueling, as well gameplay from anyone who had hopes to offer refueling services - the station would always be less expensive.

I think this is fine in the Origin safe zone, but outside of that, the game should heavily lean upon player interaction for these mechanics to ensure all different kinds of players can find their niche in the game world without pricing them out of ever giving it a shot. It would be so much more interesting if player stations popped up that were always reliably stocked with propellant where you could make good relationships and have quick stops when you need to refuel instead of completely not interacting with any player (or your own ship) for the mechanic.

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7. Zero-effort "repair" option. Adding more problems to the above propellant issue, the decision to introduce a "repair" option from the ship terminal again destroyed all manner of gameplay which contrasts from the direction the game was heading in originally. Refueling aside, players can now (this was not an original mechanic) bring their ship into the Ship Design Workshop and click a button to accomplish all the meaningful gameplay that was promised to players through all the feature videos. There's little reason to build a repairable ship, because the game does it for you. There's no reason to have a friend know the ins-and-outs of your ship, because repairing is not a part of gameplay. Just click button!

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Not only did this repair button remove vast amounts of gameplay, but it almost completely invalidates any need for the Building tool. It also diminishes player combat, where people are now harking on each other about them "running off to repair" - literally the conversation is "you ran to repair!" with the reply being "nuh uh you ran to repair too!" like bickering children. The "better ship" ends up being the person who is able to retreat to click the repair button - not necessarily how good the ship actually is. Just who can escape to safe-zone and press repair better.

In addition, the presence of effortless repair exacerbates ship design, allowing for "meta" ships that don't have to care one bit about actually repairing their ship. They can click a button no matter how bad the damage, and instantly they get a fresh copy of their ship. This also leads to strange ship "armor" to reduce the effect of certain weapon types, and causes all sorts of issues like enhancers enhancing more than one generator, because it's never a hassle to click the button and have the game do all the work for you to bring your ship back to the exact state it was when you made it.

This eliminates ship scrapping, designing good ships, designing for maintenance, designing for access to fuel, propellant, or even ammo! Everything can be restocked upon the click of a button. This also makes it much less fun for a lesser-skilled player attacking a skilled player with a tanky ship. The moment the lesser-skilled player starts making the more-skilled player turn and run, the fun is over, because you didn't do anything to set the other player back. The bullet holes you put into their armor is erased with the click of a button. You didn't cause the other guy to spend more time fixing his ship. He just presses a button. All the work you did to damage his ship is countered by the click of a button.

There may be more for me to add, but I'll end it here for now. This is a big issue, and I don't need to reiterate the problems. I'll post some potential solutions below, but the main point is that every game system should be looked at critically to see how players might take advantage of any "free" system, and then to implement some system, device or behavior that naturally balances the system. Avoiding giving players free stuff will help tremendously in making the game feel like the time investment playing it matters. Then, even someone who is poor at combat but enjoys running logistics is necessary. The person who cannot be bothered to pilot a ship might take up shop at home station performing repairs. And many other gameplay elements and styles can arise when these gameplay styles aren't completely gutted from the game through free systems.
 

Vexus

Master endo
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
276
#2
POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS:

1. Free station inventory storage:
- Add a credit cost for keeping items in Origin storage. Running out of credits will cause items to be liquidated. Running out of items will cause ships to become liquidated.

2. Free station ship storage:
- Same as above; add a cost to Origin storage.

3. Free safe-zone operation:
- Along with solving 1 and 2 above, something that would help towards a complete solution is a system or device where players must provide electricity cost to maintain a safe-zone, which scales on the desired safe-zone radius and the amount of mass of ore/items/ships/etc stored at the station, and which will destroy your station inventory/ship items if not maintained.
- Some need for "raiding" should exist here; I'd honestly prefer player stations to not include a station inventory at all. It would allow the focus to be on building out stations, storing resources in material crates, and making stations ripe for raiding when such a mechanic comes into play.
- This would limit storage based on how much someone wants to maintain their infrastructure where more "stuff" stored across any and all accounts at your station means more maintenance. This also allows the removal of station limits, as players would need to maintain a station, and would only have stations they can maintain.
- The more materials stored, the greater increase in cost to maintain; a balance that coincides with some kind of gameplay.
- This would be tricky for servers to manage.

4. Free inventory/never lose inventory:
- This one is complicated, but something should be done to make killing another player in combat worthwhile for the attacker. Perhaps the loser drops all their ammo, for example, and that would be enough, making it a process upon respawn to grab new ammo at the very least to then re-enter into combat. Currently there is no cost to death, and there should be something. Some way to interact with the defeated endo would be good, and some cost to dying should occur as well - this is almost reasonable, considering the travel time and time cost of death, but doesn't have enough impact on the winning player. In Counter Strike, for example, when you kill an enemy you can get their weapon (and ammo). It's a small thing, but adds a lot to making things count.

5. "Delete all items" UI mechanic. This one I covered a bit. Some device like a high-electric-cost ship mounted furnace that slowly destroys stacks of ore placed into it (even if from the UI!) where there is some cost, including a time cost, to the whole process instead of the click of a button. This could play nicely into heat/radiation detection mechanics later on.

6. "Free" propellant refueling at dev stations outside of Origin. A solution would be to remove that "feature" from the remote stations outside Origin to allow players to set up shop and offer services.

7. Zero-effort "repair" option. At one point this feature did not exist, and repairing a ship was sometimes not worth it where you'd scrap the ship and make a new one. With the repair option, much gameplay is lost, and so I'd recommend simply removing it and allowing players to truly feel the effects of combat, ship maintenance, and repairing their ship back to full, as was promoted through all the feature videos.
 
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XenoCow

Master endo
Joined
Dec 10, 2019
Messages
566
#3
1. Free station inventory storage:
- Add a credit cost for keeping items in Origin storage. Running out of credits will cause items to be liquidated. Running out of items will cause ships to become liquidated.

2. Free station ship storage:
- Same as above; add a cost to Origin storage.
For both of these, I'd like to see storage be physical. In the closed alpha days, you could rent lots at stations. This could be a mechanic whereby players who can only afford a little could just pay for a small lot to park their ships and build out a storage crate and maybe some light manufacture. Other players could build out a larger area to hold many ships. If you fail to pay your rent then your lot contents could go up for auction.

Similarly, player stations and capital ships would need to have room for their contents and could even use the old storage crate power mechanics as originally described in this video:

5. "Delete all items" UI mechanic. This one I covered a bit. Some device like a high-electric-cost ship mounted furnace that slowly destroys stacks of ore placed into it (even if from the UI!) where there is some cost, including a time cost, to the whole process instead of the click of a button. This could play nicely into heat/radiation detection mechanics later on.
I talk a little about this problem in this suggestion post where I outline a filter and dispenser device. It wouldn't really solve the player interaction problem, but it would at least bring back the need for some physicality.
 

Vexus

Master endo
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
276
#4
It wouldn't really solve the player interaction problem, but it would at least bring back the need for some physicality.
Yeah I like it. Some system which adds "dead weight" to a ship to perform these tasks, which alters ship design and function and so on - a meaningful cost for the convenience (it comes to mind now; thrusters are a cost to the convenience of faster movement as an example of why systems are a thing). It's good, whatever physical option they come up with. Right now part of the "problem" is how specialized ships can get, as all they need are crates, mining lasers, and ore collectors. Maybe refineries would be a thing, the ore filter/dispenser you mentioned, or furnaces which completely destroy junk ores. I am confident that whatever physical solution the devs implement, it will be good.
 

XenoCow

Master endo
Joined
Dec 10, 2019
Messages
566
#5
Right now part of the "problem" is how specialized ships can get, as all they need are crates, mining lasers, and ore collectors. Maybe refineries would be a thing, the ore filter/dispenser you mentioned, or furnaces which completely destroy junk ores. I am confident that whatever physical solution the devs implement, it will be good.
I'm all for adding complexity (not complication) to increase the trade-off space to allow for more freedom of creativity.
 

LauriFB

Administrator
Moderator
Frozenbyte
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
212
#6
This is a mixed bag for us, but at least some form of station upkeep and limiting station/cap inventories is something we're committed to.

The repairing and such, while I agree the idea behind it, is very HC approach, and I think we need to find some other angle to tackle the problem. I understand I'm wanting to have the cake and eat it too when I say I'd love SB to be complex and approachable, and meaningful and forgiving at the same time.

One approach for upcoming insurance and existing repair is that the costs increase from use, but over time decreases back to default/1x. This would be the most simple way of having additional cost on using either one, and heavy use would not be viable. Player-offered services could work right away, as even the first use would mean increased costs at the second use, until it slowly resets back.
 

Askannon

Veteran endo
Joined
Feb 13, 2020
Messages
119
#7
I just hope that any upkeep is not a running cost (passive cost, independent of use)/subscription. Those kind of systems don't feel good, as they trick you into investing more and more time, because otherwise you would "lose value".

Also, if repair hall is too simple, just increase the time cost of it. That way, complex ships can still be made and used without worry, but simple ships that can be repaired manually can be done so much more quickly (if the values line up).
 

Erador

Well-known endo
Joined
Sep 2, 2021
Messages
61
#8
Are you following the discussions on Discord? It looks like you are missing a lot of information.

> "Free station inventory storage ", "Another problem is having multiple accounts", "free inventory is completely without risk of losing the resources", "free ship storage at stations is another issue"
- Should be fixed with the invention of Inventory 2.0, already planned/ in development.

> "free safe zone is another issue"
- Yes, there is discussions regarding this

> "Player inventory is completely safe and free"
- The solution is already testing on PTU

> "Delete all items"
- It's just a workaround to solve the problem right here and right now. In the future, they are planning to work on this kind of things.

> "I have fond memories of my friends throwing blocks of valkite off the back of our mining ship"
- I have a lot of good memories with the guys while having some fun bugs. It was fun only because there were a group. Although, I can't say it's good a good gameplay. Returning to your point, the more things are automated with the char'acter's progression - the better.

> "Free" propellant"
- It's not free, you need to pay for that. It's only available on the NPC stations. Treat it as a drink cap policy at McDonald. Once you bought it, you are unlimited to refill it until you exit the restaurant.

> "Zero-effort "repair" option"
- I think it's just a workaround. Although, your ser1k's post have nothing to do with a real fight. The Hangars will be not that accessible during a real battle, and if it will be a problem, it can be balanced.
 
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La_fleur_

Well-known endo
Joined
Aug 19, 2021
Messages
87
#9
I agree with the author of the topic by 90%. The physical volume of the station must contain an equal value of another physical volume. If this is difficult to implement for gaming technical reasons, then it is worth buying slots at the docks. The more ships there are on the station, the higher the price of a new slot. The number of available slots for storing ships should be set by the station class. The station can expand indefinitely, arranging expansion in the form of territorial seizures. It will also become the center of the gaming faction. Each new sector has to claim for money and some resources. The more sectors there are, the higher the purchase price. In the end, the prices can be very high. This will stop the expansion of the station and force the faction to seek income from the neighbors. And then we moved on to PVP. The stations must be understood. Nothing should be in them for free. The shields of the Station must be powered by generators. We need resources and production. The station is a base! This Is THE Starbase!
 

La_fleur_

Well-known endo
Joined
Aug 19, 2021
Messages
87
#10
Only quick repairs can be made at the Docks, and as Lauri wrote earlier, the more often repairs are carried out, the higher the price. Refueling ships as on Origin should be a separate object. Perhaps even the repair shop is also a separate facility. So is the ship storage dock. Everything should be refueled and produced from production facilities, not from nowhere
 
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