Meta-Game balancing: Honour, Missions and Unlockables

At the moment it’s too easy to gain honour, and thus everything gets unlocked too quickly - this means that by the first half dozen battles there’s nothing to look forward to any more. This is partly due to exploits (e.g. stacking on the same spot) which are being fixed (though there will probably be new ones), but is also due to the insane levels of honour its possible to gain from one mission.

This is fine for the beta, because we need to get to play with all of the weapons to find out what’s working and what’s not. But IMO for a full release you need a bit more longevity in the game. So i’ve got some suggestions for achieving that.

(1) Tutorial missions: Currently the game has a learning curve like a brick wall. This is fine for the people who have actively sought this game out, but for people who stumble across the game on steam you’re going to need a selection of fairly easy (but getting harder), probably fairly small (but getting larger) missions to allow the player to learn the game. Combine this with a smaller initial module/hull selection and a more gradual unlocking system (see below) and a new player can gradually learn about new features over a number of missions.

(2) Lock some of the weapons which are currently unlocked at the start of the game. In fact, just give us a small selection of basic weapons and equipment, one or two of each weapon type, max. One power module. One armour module etc. Obviously early missions will need to be easier in order that a player be able to complete them with much more limited ship designs, but this lets the player learn the game bit by bit and gives them an incentive to unlock the next cool thing.

(3) Lock most of the ship hulls. Probably give us only one or two of each class. Possibly just give us a couple of frigates, and force us to unlock fighters and cruisers. More cool stuff to unlock.

(4) Limit the amount of honour that can be gained from a single mission. At the moment its possible to get tens of thousands of honour points once you figure out the right fleet composition, unlocking half a dozen modules with every battle. There should be a fixed upper limit for any mission, probably in the 3000 to 5000 range. Scale it so that an average player will get half that, and an exceptional victory with a fleet, say, half the max size gets the maximum. Dont let even an exception player with an armload of exploits get any more than that. The point is that the average player should still be unlocking stuff by the time he has played through most of the scenarios with most of the races - a really good player should only be unlocking their last item by the time theyre (say) halfway through the 3rd race.

(5) Only let honour gained from the official missions count towards unlocking. Keep track of the honour gained for each mission out of the maximum, players can go back and retry a mission to get more honour out of it (but only gain the extra honour above what they got last time).

(6) At the moment the progression through the game to unlock the different races is a bit linear. By the time you’ve beaten all of the federation’s missions you’ve already unlocked all of the modules and there’s no real incentive to go back to that race later. Instead, unlock the next race at halfway through the missions for the current race. This allows you to have some really hard missions at the end, but still allows the player to try all of the races. It also allows you to have some really expensive stuff which doesnt get unlocked until youve gone through most of the maps for 2 or 3 of the races, which would allow you to go back and beat the really hard missions with the federation.

(7) Obviously, add more cool weapons and stuff. Here’s a thought: unlockable bonuses for certain ship hulls. Cruiser hull X gets a 10% armour bonus for 5,000 honour, then a 20% armour bonus for 10,000, and so on. Cruiser hull Y gets speed increases. Maybe even a couple of unlockable extra weapon/module slots. This might make balancing the online challenges a bit of an issue though.

Thoughts, flames, additions?

Personally, I would lose the unlockables entirely. I already earned the $20 I paid for the game, I don’t need to spend hours and hours of my free time “earning” my way to a fully functional game. The only reason I can see for so many developers making games that are functionally crippled until the player spends 10 hours power-grinding is to encourage people playing console rentals to shell out for their own copy. On the PC unlockables just strike me as worthless.

Worse, once the player has FINALLY finished unlocking all the content and has a fully functional game, the game has long since stopped being fun and turned into a chore. See also: Burnout Revenge, Devil May Cry 4, etc.

I’m all for reforming the scoring system to better showoff player skill (My suggestion again is honor multiplied by percent remaining player fleet strength) but making it even HARDER to access the complete game is just obnoxious.

I agree with this.I’m all for having some way to reduce confusion among new players, but having to comlete the campaign after the first few missions was a chore, especially as I was just using the same ships and tactics over and over. I would suggest that the tutorial be optional, but that during it the number of modules be drastically reduced to avoid confusion.

I’m all for meta-game development. Currently there’s not much in there and once you’ve beat the AI there’s only the challenges.
The AI can be beaten fairly quickly with unimaginative fleets so I like the idea of themed battles with different AI favouring totally different fleets and orders.
Also, nothing wrong with unlocks and achievements though I’d leave out the make-ships-stronger bonus and just leave the unlocks to added optional tools for extra strategy.

I think the best way to make sure this game stays interesting is have a good challenge system. Playing against others in a decent sized community provides infinity more replay power than any single play can.

That said, single player is still important for new plays. It should teach them the game, while being interesting. I think having some type of campaign for each race with a mini story would be much more interesting that just having lots of unlockables to “grind” through. You can impose restrictions on single player missions like you must defend a specific ship, or you have to beat multiple fighter squads only using 3 cruisers, or other things like that. Now you are creating puzzles that must be solved instead of just telling the player it needs to beat a bunch of missions to get all the items.

One thing here I will support is working on a tutorial that lets the user into the game with positive feedback. The first mission should be an automatic win for the user, to show off the graphics. The second should be marginally tougher, and by the third, the basic ships provided should no longer cut the mustard, leading to ship design. But the difficulty should ramp up slowly, I really think that’s crucial.

I also agree that honor needs to be rethought, but there’s time for that once the game is more shipshape.

What about unlocking the items for each individual race? If you earn honor as the Empire, it goes towards unlocking items for the ships for the Empire. Likewise, winning honor as rebles will unlock new stuff for Rebel ships only. Heck, maybe even throw in a couple of new ship designs with enough honor. (You have proven your worth, so you can bring the experimental ship into battle…)

Just a thought.


For (1) I agree, the initial mission is too difficult for anyone just picking up the game, even if you are interested. I play a wide selection of SF 4x and combat games and I found it fustrating at first. I would propose an initial setup which was only just weaker that the opposition and that even a half decent addition of stock ships gets you through then a couple more of increasing difficulty. These tutorial missions should gain NO honour as they would be easy to abuse later.

(2+3) Locking more items would make it more intersting and give a little more progression. I would add some new high cost items for the later stages of the single player experience.

(4) I would scale the honour so that you get some diminishing returns - but that you can still strive to beat your last score (Its an important part)

(5) Only gaining from above your best is how it works now. Honour gain from missions needs to be measured and scaled better.

(6) I disagree, progression through the races gives important milestones. I would however leave several locks linked to race and thereby have locks which cannot be unlocked without access to the race. With the above enhancements are made to honour there should still be some challenge in unlocking the new race items.

(7) Oh Yes!

I agree with the few posters here who’ve said there should be no unlockables.

I myself did about 1/4 of the missions (difficulty counting as different ones), and then just used the same/similar fleets (mostly just one ship type or fighter spam), to completely own every remaining mission, on every difficulty. I didn’t even watch the battles or think about my ship config.

You know, every time we play a challenge it tells us we earn no honor, it would kinda be cool if we could spend some of our honor on challenges where you “bet” honor and the opponent matches it. If they win the first time they get the honor you wagered, if they get it the second time then you get like 1/10th the armor wager for the battle and the amount you get goes up pretty fast with how many tries they takes all the way up to you getting the full amount at like the 5th or 6th try. But if you don’t complete all 5 or 6 tries in 24 hours then the you’re assumed to have conceded the challenge so there’s motivation to finish the challenge even if you can’t win any honor. At that point honor becomes kinda like a Look How Good I Am At Challenges! The initial one or two hundred thousand honor you can get the missions is so that if you post an unwise challenge then you won’t go into massive negatives immediately. The idea can prolly use some balancing, but I think the main problem is that I don’t think it would be possible to implement it.

Regardless I like the unlocks as long as it doesn’t get too out of hand. Sure, you paid $20 for a game but unlockables make them feel special and if you didn’t get so much honor that by halfway through the first campaign you couldn’t unlock them all then it gives you something to strive for. I kinda like the current unlocks but just wish there were more of them with some high price tags. Or even cosmetic unlocks based on honor where you can unlock different hull colors of something via spending honor.

I have mixed feelings about unlocks in games. I appreciate them adding a little longevity to the game by giving you something to look forward to, but I think they have to be done very carefully. Unlockables should constitute a small proportion of the total content of the game, and they should come at a reasonable pace. If I start to feel like I’m working for them (working in the sense of “laboring,” as opposed to getting them as rewards for playing), that’s not good.

Hmmmm… obviously the whole unlockables thing is quite unpopular round these parts.

For what it’s worth, i dont see any benefit in including unlockables in the online portion of the game either - i’m just trying to give the single player missions a bit of variety and progression - make them more like a sort of campaign. In the single player game i dont see unlockables as some sort of ‘reward’ for hard work - more as a substitute for a research system such as you would have in, say, Civ or Total War. Nobody complains about having to ‘unlock’ new units every time they start a game of civ. In total war games, you have to tech up to access higher level units every time you start a new campaign, but if you fight a battle online you always have access to all units.

Keep 'em separate. Either get rid of honour w.r.t. online challenges, or find some other use for it - e.g. somebody mentioned betting.

Sounds good to me. Hmm… here’s a thought… maybe allow players to design and upload their own campaigns? People would have to design a series of missions - some of which have to be beatable with minimum tech. Instead of y’know, every mission that gets posted having the same few variants of uber weapons?

Well this is exactly why i think the meta-game needs some work. You dont want unlocks, yet youre complaining about every mission being the same?

All the missions are currently the ‘flavor’. Perhaps what we need is some sort of over-arcing storyline to tie the current missions together in some way.

I don’t think the current unlockables really add all that much to the game, to an extent that I finished the current default missions with only about 5 in total unlocked.

The tutorial mission is, so far, a nice touch, but I really do believe the meta game would be much better if it was expanded.

Yes, lock hulls and weapons in the beginning…that way I can “grow” with each race as I unlock more ships. Right now it’s just “make 5-8 ships, and deploy for all missions”. I like having to work to unlock things that are valuable.

The metagame, unlockables, honor and the variety of missions is all on the list of stuff to be addressed next.

Then let me harp on two points in reference to that:

  1. Honor is a lousy score system. The whole point of the game is being “Gratuitous” and making a tiny fleet that can just barely make it counts for more than a well-rounded fleet that finishes a challenge with 100% remaining. Right now there is no way for people to brag about beating a certain challenge than them mentioning it here on the forums and the rest of us taking them at their word. A score system tied to remaining forces at the end of the mission would be a great way to show off that you were the one to crush a certain challenge in the most decisive way. My suggestion is honor times percentage remaining fleet.

  2. Unlockables ruin what you’re aiming for in this game. As you said in the videos, spam is overpowered at present, and people aren’t just “having fun” and playing around with ship combinations. The reason is we’re spamming instead of dorking around and having fun with ship combinations is we don’t have access to 3/4ths of the game from the get go. We must defeat each and every mission and sit through them all at all 3 difficulties before we have a fully functional game that we can “have fun” with. The fastest way to reach that point is by spamming formations for a guaranteed victory instead of experimenting and goofing around. Worse, the time we spend spamming our way to a fully functional game is time when our enthusiasm fades and the game starts turning into work.

And unlockables are NOT the same thing as researching tech in a strategy game. It is not a part of the gameplay, there is no advantage or disadvantage of buying the cheap techs first or hoarding your honor for later, nothing that will affect your victory in the challenges, it’s just annoying.

Don’t sell your game short. Unlockables are a cheap trick to increase the playtime of a shallow popcap game. What you’ve got here is good enough to stand on its own and you don’t need to draw the experience out by making the full game as crippled as a demo.

That’s all.

That is great to hear! You sure are a busy developer…

unlockables: i think both arguments have merit…

so do both!

… seriously. single-player campaign - works much like the current set of scenarios, except you don’t chose your race… you’re first feds, then rebels etc (like starcraft™). as you finish a spread of fights for that race, the next race is unlocked - and you play as them for the next lot (this is important i think).
this means to finish the single-player, you’ve gone through all the races and been forced to use their ships/tech/loadouts.

and personally, i rather enjoyed finishing all the scenarios on all difficulty levels. though i must admit to cheesing most of the mediums with plasma-spam™ [nerf it already! ;]

and then - multiplayer. all races/weapons are unlocked. period. and yes - i think there should be online ranking tables where wiping out a scenario/challenge with a 5000 fleet, and scraping through at 20%/11% is ranked lower than using 15000 and winning 100%/5%

these are two almost entirely seperate games. there’s no reason the unlock mechanic can’t just apply to one. for some people, the unlocks give a well defined goal - that’s not something to just throw away.

I find the locking of races in this game the antithesis of fun. The fun in this game comes from experimenting with various ship and part combinations. The selection for only a single race seems small. My first reaction to building ships was “wow, that’s not a very good selection of ship hulls.” without realizing I could unlock more later. There is no major storyline, so why not just have all 3 races unlocked to start and let players go nuts. The weapon locks and honor points don’t feel as bad I’m not a fan of unlocks, but they don’t really feel like they are in the way of the fun.

Why not allow the player to select their campaign (and thus play all races at the start) and redirect the unlocking at something else? A decal system, where you unlock decals could be a great way to give players a goal, but not impede the fun right away.

I feel locked races are significantly impeding the fun. Plus if they have different play styles, you could be keeping a player away from a play style they are better at and enjoy more, which I don’t think would be good.

I might as well pitch in my $0.02 then.

Unlockables serve one critical purpose: preventing a new player from being overwhelmed by options. When I first fired up GSB and looked at the ship design screen, I was at a bit of a loss - and I know many gamers who would give up when rocked by such confusion. IMO, a great many modules should be unlockable - but easily unlockable. For example, if new player is presented with one beam laser, one burst laser, one plasma launcher, and one missile type, then they can learn how the different weapon types interact without being bogged down in the 3-4 different variations on each weapon. Unlocking should then occur at a pace with the player’s mastery of those basic interactions - so very rapidly within the offline campaign, with each level’s fleet designed to be countered by a newly unlocked module combination. Then, with the offline missions beaten, a player will have basic understanding of all the modules before venturing into the online challenges.