Monday, September 12, 2016

Make Stellaris Great Again, Part 1

If you’ve never heard of Stellaris, it’s Civilization meets Spaceward Ho!, which I will assume is a comprehensive description suitable for everyone. It’s everything me and the guys ever dreamed of in a space game. You get to colonize planets, do some diplomacy, and build big fleets that have beautiful battles in space. You even get to make some moral decisions and do some research...y’know, Star Trek stuff. It’s great and we loved it.

But the luster has worn off quickly. The lifetime of a video game is pretty short and despite being excellent, Stellaris only had an average run with us. This isn’t an open letter to the devs or anything because I don’t know anything about game development. It’s not a list of bitches about the game because nothing is less productive than that. It’s nothing more than a vague plan offered for free with an offer for a red hat as a $25.00 upsell that simply reads “Make Stellaris Great Again.”

Quit animating every ship. It’s beautiful when I’ve got a fleet of 15 guys who shoot lasers and missiles in an asynchronous display of attempted murder by hard vacuum. I see the shots glance off of shields. But eventually I’ll have to destroy every other civilization in the galaxy and I’re going to need a pretty big fleet for that. Probably bigger than everyone else’s.

There’s a fleet cap of 1000 points worth of ships, but it’s only a guideline. After 1k points, I simply pay higher upkeep on ships above that limit. That means even more massive massive fleets, which I’ll get to later. The system can’t handle those numbers and significant fleet actions begin causing the game to slow down, space out, or just plain freeze up.

Similar to the way that sectors allow me to efficiently manage planets in groups, there should be an armada option. A player can group fleets into armadas for greater efficiency and armadas don’t manage or track individual ships. Standard animations for armadas of a particular size could take over and the firing rates and movement of ships within it could be abstracted for performance reasons.

Literally Create Armadas. Taking that a step further, it literally takes years of dedicated, tedious building of individual ships to rebuild a big fleet if--gods forbid--my gets wiped out (which happens a lot). Being able to queue up multiple ships at a time in the form of an armada would save a lot of that tedious time.

Armadas could be constructed the same way ships are. Players could choose an armada type, then socket in the elements that fit. Create an all-corvette armada and split it half-and-half between corvettes carrying space torpedoes and corvettes with high shields and anti-missile systems. Or maybe go for a capital armada, which features a two of my best battleships ringed with a few escorting corvettes, destroyers, and cruisers.

Players could queue armadas with a click. Or even better, order an armada to repair like a fleet or “rebuild armada,” to pull into a spacedock and have the dock queue ships to bring it back up to full strength. Ready to make those random ships from the early game into a proper armada? Pull them into spacedock and choose “Make Armada,” which will allow players to choose an appropriate preconstructed armada type, then automatically queue ships to fill out the ranks. Alternatively, players can make an ad-hoc armada on the fly based on fleet size and composition.

Massive Fleets. War between peers inevitably ends up with a battle between two massive fleets. Sure, it starts tactically. I divide up my forces, keep reserves back, and assign fleets to guard my transport ships. It always starts tactically.

Then a second enemy fleet comes in. I commit your reserves and notice they’ve got their own reserves incoming. So I take another front-line fleet in to intercept, but it’s moving too slow so I send a few others in as safeties. Battles take longer than jumps so inevitably one battle will snowball as reinforcements all collect there.

In the end, what started as a management game has become a test of simply pushing a big pile of minerals towards the middle of an unfortunate system until one side breaks. The loss of a big fleet does hasten the end of a war, but it feels artless and the strategy isn’t appealing. I might as well just pile up a bunch of minerals on either side of my border and see whose pile burns more slowly. I mean, that’s what warfare is, but c’mon, this is a wargame.

More Diplomacy Options. That thing about pushing piles of minerals at each other wouldn’t matter so much if there were other victory conditions aside from colonizing most of the galaxy or conquering everyone else. I don’t want a diplomatic victory condition because diplomacy is impossible.

I’m a xenophilic materialist who is willing to give you 100 energy per month and you hate me for some stupid reason and I can’t do anything about it. I’m too powerful. I’m not powerful enough. I invaded some guy an aeon ago. I have a colony too close to your borders. My goal is to win this game by claiming territory and killing motherfuckers and everyone starts looking like a motherfucker when they hate me for the most petty reasons and there’s so little I can do about it.

Give players a tech that lets them appeal to folks with an ethos that’s different from their. Give them an event path that will net them a big diplomatic swing by helping someone. Let players make a special diplomatic offer that will net them X amount of goodwill. Not the bullshit, lopsided deals we have now which will net one or two influence, a real deal. Hell, give us an endgame for protectorates.

I've talked too much today, but I've got more to gripe about and I'll get it all out next week.

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