On improving immersion

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On improving immersion

Hi there,
If you aren't tired of praise for the game heres some more: The concept and how its executed so far have been really impressive I think that as this game gets more fleshed out it could rival something like star citizen or other "pilot" games through pure story telling and world building. You guys are obviously fans of hard scifi and I love all the text and art the game already has. The interfaces you guys use for ship parts adds so much to the experience for me and I think that is what this post boils down to: adding new systems that improve that immersive effect while also improving player usability and by extension player retention.

Currently there is a lot of downtime between actions: even with the time dilation function the player will still sit and watch the character perform the same animation for 2-3 min or more. The wear and tear update only exacerbates this problem. This, in my opinion, takes away from what you guys are trying to do gameplay wise; you are a scrapyard mechanic this requires creativity, some cut corners and a lot of duct tape.
Now I don't have a perfect solution for this but here's a couple ideas I came up with:

1. The use of a dialogue tree type option when repairing/uninstalling. For example: You are trying to uninstall a battery on a derelict - you interact with it and it opens up a similar menu to the character career kiosk, perhaps a work clipboard/notebook/pda function (this would also allow for some more world building in the form of schematics - I work in a boatyard and every job we do requires plenty of reading of owners manuals/parts manuals/ etc). Back to the battery - to uninstall something like that it probably requires the disconnecting of a wiring harness, disassembly of a protective shell bolted to the hull, perhaps some futzing with a charge controller on the battery(I'm not sure what decisions if any you have made of your battery composition - the regular lead acid might have issues with the electrolyte moving in zero-g and definitely when doing maneuvers - perhaps some sort of solid state graphine plated battery would be more in line with the world but I leave that up to you/or some antique agm batteries on old derelicts). Anyway given these tasks you can make decisions on which tasks to complete first via a dialogue tree listing the time required to complete each job (this will allow you to better cut in and out as you lose air/your pda sounds proximity alerts/authority scans). Breaking these tasks down still further and keeping with the scrapyard mechanic aesthetic these uninstalls will not be perfect let alone pretty: you could have to deal with anything from a stripped machine screw to shorting power couplings that could potentially kill if not handled right(or your own random event mistakes discoveries - (Working with boats I think there are a lot of similarities between these two professions: a lot of technicians will leave notes behind on jobs they complete adding in a discovered note on say a power conduit, nothing special just "superconductor bus installed 4/14/54 - Verse R.)). With this idea you can go more of the story/world building route as well with more information given on say manufacterers/inventors(think epstein from the expanse)/ and perhaps some of the past of the ship in question -fleshing out your world and keeping the player engaged through a normally boring uninteresting task.

2. Another idea is go more into depth on a mechanic you already have - the screws on air pump control panels. Have your players manually uninstall and repair these items by doing the "work" themselves - removing screws, welding patches, removing damaged components - and then reinstalling the same way. Again the player is put in the drivers seat - they have to know what they are doing: cut the wrong wire and you short out the battery and fry the charge controller. This would require a bit more work too as well as some good art but I think it would be equally as interesting given the need for the player to diagnose issues in the item by sight and then replace them manually. It does however have the risk of falling into repetitive mini game territory.

I hope these ideas can be helpful if only for a jumping off point for you guys(or not, all good :) ) - for repairing/salvaging using crew, the improvement of the task system would be helpful - having a priority system and a dedicated task list - rather than something that looks like the trading interface - would improve immersion again and also allow you to better manage the jobs you need to get done on your ship.

Finally I had some wish list items:

1. Scopes - I WANT SCOPES DAMNIT - A way you could visually inspect ships on approach, scan drive signatures(once implemented), or just look out at the cold expanse of space. Just having a 360 degree view around your ship would be so cool - Up to you how to do it if you want installable cameras or just a swivelable camera and zoom feature. I want to watch ships dock, see exterior lights, watch the sun and planets and see asteroid surfaces on approach to K-LEG/on orbit etc. (Side note are you guys planning on implementing orbital mechanics?) And with your 2-d artstyle it might not actually be too hard to do - just pretty much same thing as the ship background already just with a few pasted objects moving with your position increasing or decreasing in size.

2. Improved livability; Having built in water tanks is essential on boats - it should be the same on a spaceship - having a waterpump hooked up to a tank is all you need - doesnt need to be huge - definitely smaller than an N2 regulator but just a system that your ship can have. I could take or leave the toilet/blackwater stuff - again good for immersion but definitely not vital to it(Also is it just me or do toilets take up way too much space? Having a combination sink toilet would be useful - Look at shows like firefly; the whole bathroom folded out of a single wall panel why cant we have that? it certainly fits the aesthetic). It feels to me that its a bit of an oversight that water pouches(empty and full) cant be stacked and food barely stacks - isnt the point of dehydrated food the form factor? Shouldn't you be able to store pretty much all the food youll need for several weeks in a few crates and a fridge at the very minimum if not just a single fridge?

FInally just some thoughts on where I would love to see the game going: I think it was a good idea to not immediately add drives when there was nowhere to go. I think you said pretty much the same thing in a stream: its all about how you expand - if you add a system you need to add the content to support that system. I have said what I think of your repair/"work" mechanics and how they could be improved. The flight mechanic is awesome I love it would love a little more depth with scopes but that is probably something you are already thinking of. The social mechanic is still buggy for me but thats to be expected, seems like a really tough thing to put together.

That leads me to my final thought - I know you guys are looking to try to put this together as a sort of passive story generator like rimworld, dwarf fortress, etc. I think the way to do this and expand the game in a way that keeps players interested is adding random events/storylines along the way. Random events like shipboard malfunctions, distress calls from stranded ostranauts, or just "you go by a massive hulk the twinkle of cutting torches ignite sections of the hull in magnesium bright flashes" (Having a simple animation to go along with this 'chefs kiss'). The otherside is more structured plots - getting involved in smuggling rings/underworld activities through interactions with other characters. This would bookend nicely with a combat system for an eventual deal gone wrong or police involvement. (I'm not sure what type of combat system you are planning but my vote is for a sort of turn based frozen synapse type approach with simultaneous actions/ or a more x com style approach with chance to hit and all that - This would also allow for you to make decisions in the moment like to surrender or perhaps yell something intimidating which could give enemies negative accuracy buff or something like that).

To end I think this game is a 'if you build it they will come' type of situation. The depth is what I want, something that brings you into its world, I think this game has the potential to be something really special. I have been trying to figure out how to describe this game to friends - more ftl or star traders or starcitizen what? - but I think thats what makes this special its already really unique. So keep going PLEASE! Prove you don't need a multimillion dollar budget, decades of time, and state of the art graphics to create a compelling space sim. I can't wait to see what you do from here, hopefully some of this feedback will be helpful to you.
Have a great day.

Hi Flyingcloud,

Thanks for the encouragement, and detailed suggestions! You cover a lot of ground here, so I'll do my best to address your points.

I think your point about downtime while waiting for progress bars is a good one. Ideally, we'd have very little downtime in the game, so the player always has something meaningful to do.

Before I get to your suggestions, do you recall if this downtime was better or worse in some cases, or if it was a universal problem? I ask because there are a few factors controlling the duration of those tasks, and part of the solution might mean tweaking those existing systems to be better.

For example, the skills your character has, the tools they use, the action they are performing, and the item they are working on, all vary the time it takes. Complex items like reactors and nav stations require more time to work on, while simpler items like canisters can be done quickly. Similarly, using a screwdriver and friction stir welder will be significantly slower than a drill and laser torch on the same job. And having ship engineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering all make a big difference, especially on relevant tasks.

If you are a skilled character, with the best tools, and everything still feels too slow, then we may need to look at the overall system. But if there are some that feel okay, while others don't, the system might be fine, and we should focus on solutions for the specific problem areas.

One area where this is already planned is with the reactors. They are very complex, large systems, and currently only represented by a single red box with a really long progress bar. But our 0.14 Milestone includes plans to split that reactor into more modular parts, like field coil emitters, cryogenic pumps and reservoirs, MFD generators, etc. (Many of the buttons on the reactor UI are meant to be subsystem items.) If this were the case, each component could have a more reasonable progress time, and the total collection would have a comparable to the current red box item.

Plus, the modular components can each fail or be missing, leading to some interesting outcomes!

Roadmap, for reference:
https://store.steampowered.com/news/app/1022980/view/3120428406777089414

I think this is fairly close to what you're suggesting via the dialog tree, and might even allow for cutting corners or jury rigging in the overall reactor design.

That said, we expect it'll be a lot of work, which is why it's singularly called-out in that milestone. We suspect we already may have to cut things from the roadmap at our current rate of progress, so we want to be really frugal about what we add to project scope.

As for the custom control panels where you take the screws out manually, disconnect things, etc., there might be a few things like this in the game. Like above, I'd be surprised if we could add more than is already on the roadmap. But I do have at least one backlog task in our "maybe someday" pile like this. Even if it was just replacing busted components to restore control panel functions.

I do think it's worth pointing out that we are already riding a pretty fine line between ultra-detail and impossible to teach new users. What you and I consider to be fun messing around with the guts of a machine can end up alienating a large number of players who just want to role play someone with engineering skills they don't have. We already sort of fell into this trap with the real-time nav station controls, which unfortunately violate our rule of "no twitch dexterity required to play." But I felt that hands-on spaceflight was an important enough moment in the gameplay to warrant breaking that rule. (And is left in 2D to at least be a little less daunting.)

Re: scopes, I think Milestone 0.15 is where some of this might come in. Maybe a bit of 0.13, too. Basically, once you're out there piloting more often than scrapping ships, dealing with pings on the radar will become more important. Is it friend or foe? What class of ship is it? Do we run active sensors, or stay passive?

In the end, I expect ship-to-ship combat (and targeting) to feel a bit more like submarine warfare. Lots of looking at energy signatures, headings, ranges, to acquire and identify a target.

Being able to *see* outside the ship, however, might not happen. I'd love for it to be possible, too. But I suspect we just won't have the time to do it justice after all the other stuff on our list. Maybe someday post-release!

The increased livability you mention may be spread over a few of the upcoming milestones, as we will eventually require more and more shipboard systems and equipment. Some of the items in the game are like the reactor mentioned above: good enough for now, but intended to be replaced later with something more well-thought-through. I think the toilet may be a case like this, as it should ideally interface with a blackwater reservoir for easy disposal or even a separate water recycling system.

And could the toilet be smaller? Sure! But the Firefly one is a gravity-assisted toilet, which is a little simpler than a micrograv one. Given cross-System ships are likely to be under constant acceleration for days, we might be able to offer such a thing for long-haulers. But out in the boneyard's microgravity, you do not want to pee into one of those :)

For your final point, I think we're thinking similar things for Ostranauts. Probably a fair amount of this comes with Milestone 0.13, where we give the procedural plot generator a bit more development time.

But that said, we're also just a few people working on something whole teams have attempted and failed before. So I'm trying not to promise too much. The roadmap is a list of things we are going to try and add, and in the order we plan to tackle them. But as you can probably already see from past Milestones, there's a limit to how fully-featured we can make each. (Unless we never make another game!)

Anyway, thanks again for the feedback and kind words. Hopefully, the game continues to provide enjoyment to you, and evolves in rewarding ways!

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games