Star Dynasties is launching into Steam Early Access on Tuesday March 16th!
Early Access will be relatively short, with the full release also planned for 2021. The game is stable and nearly complete. I’m going to use Early Access to iron out any last kinks, balance different mechanics, and improve the game based on player feedback.
The game will have three major updates, each bringing a new feature to Star Dynasties that is based on the feedback from the alpha and beta tests carried out last year. I will share our roadmap soon – the first major update will be a Story Events Editor that will allow you to mod your own story events into the game.
Progress this month has been about incremental changes to make the game more fun to play.
Changes to Security
You can now assign security team members to investigate a character, house, star system, faction, or league. During an investigation, you will gradually find out information about that object. For example, you may discover family members for characters, claimants to rule for star systems, the member systems for factions, etc… If the investigation is on a character, there is a chance that you will discover some of their secrets.
Investigations can give you more political options. For example, by finding a character with a legitimate claim to rule a star system, you get a more acceptable way to challenge its current ruler. Its also a way to discover more of the map, as investigating a star system or faction will reveal neighbouring star systems.
You can now use your security team to cover up secrets. Secrets have a base discovery difficulty (Easy, Medium, Hard, Very Hard, and Never… the latter meaning that the secret cannot be discovered, only revealed by characters that already know it). When you cover up a secret, you spend money to make it one step harder to discover, and you can repeat the action until the secret cannot be discovered at all. This makes secret actions much more useful. In the current alpha build, secrets are rarely worth the risk. By being able to cover them up, you can now use tools such as murder or seduction where appropriate. Of course, since your Head of Security is covering up your secrets, you will want to make sure to stay on their good side (or dispose of them permanently).
Changes to Diplomacy
In the current alpha build you assign house members to diplomacy, giving you a universal bonus to opinion. This is too simplistic. To make diplomacy more about managing who to send your ambassadors to;
– I’ve reduced the size of this universal bonus (except for vassals)
– I’ve increased the bonus generated by having an ambassador in a foreign house
– Ambassadors sent to leading houses now have a small effect on your approval from the rulers within that faction as well
Lastly, it is now possible to swap an ambassador with another at a foreign court, without having to recall them and cause offence.
Update Refactoring and Visibility
I finished the work I talked about last month, and I’m comfortable that the solution is as good as I can achieve. One more interesting change that’s come out of that is a tweak to the History panel. It now opens up filtered to the handful of most important updates about an object. This is much more digestible, and the History panel is now a great way to recap a character and remind you of who they are and why they’re important to the story.
I’ve invested a lot of time this month to just playing the game. That seems like a funny thing to say, but finding enough time to play the game is tough. It’s hard to get a real sense of the mechanics of any game without several playthroughs. Because a game of Star Dynasties is meant to last multiple evenings, “several playthroughs” is a lot of time. Given that I’m constantly tweaking and changing the game (and frequently breaking my own saves), its a real challenge to have a comprehensive understanding of what the game is like to play at any one time. Every now and then I come across something that’s the consequence of a change I implemented months back.
One thing I am working towards is establishing the journey that the player goes through in a game. A big part of it is the way your empire’s stability decays as it grows;
– When you conquer new territory and install your cronies to rule it, you build up enemies that can come back to try to recover their birthright
– Bringing new vassals under your wings makes you responsible for helping them with their grievances
– More vassals means more opportunities for internal squabbling
– An expanding and successful bloodline creates competitors to your throne
– The administration demands outstrip your house’s capabilities, forcing you to carve up your empire
– A larger empire can be harder to defend military (not yet reflected in the game mechanics)
– Succession is a difficult time that tends to reverse some of the gains you’ve made. This is because allies of the old leader can be very cool to the new leader, and he or she is usually much less capable
– Etc, etc…
The player’s challenge is to maintain political stability as they grow their empire, and to weather life’s misfortunes.
One thing that’s good to see is how the new Story Events play out in practice. Even the very small pool that I’ve implemented so far have started to flesh out the world and bring characters to life.
My focus over the next few weeks is adding more story events into the game, and starting to work on a major system – Negotiation. This will emulate the way diplomacy worked in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. You make a request of another character, and they can refuse, accept, or counter with a request of their own. I will map all the current requests / offers to the new system. It should allow for some interesting trades, e.g. “give me Sirius in return for my son’s hand in marriage”. Also I’m trying to work out whether blackmail or threats could be a part of the system.
I’m building up to either Early Access or a Kickstarter (with beta access as a reward) in June, so I’m also working to polish some of the rougher edges of the current build.
The big news this month is that I’ve made good progress on an editor for adding story events to the game. I will be making this editor available to everyone eventually as a modding tool, and I can’t wait to see what people will come back with.
Let’s quickly put together a story event so you can see how it works.
I’ve also been putting together a test pack of story events to thoroughly test the editor and add more content to the game. So far I’ve reproduced all the 18 story events that I prototyped in v0.4 via the editor, and added another 23. Some of those are multi-part stories that can span multiple turns. For example, if you have a hot-headed character as your head of military, you might get the following.
If you let him run the training as he wants, he’ll occasionally get you into further trouble…
Another benefit of the story event editor is that the game can show the player what the effect of a choice will be. E.g., the following is the tooltip you will see for a choice in a story about experimenting with a new medical treatment.
Not all the stories I’ve added have fleshed out descriptions, I’ve been focused more on the functionality at this point. The rate at which I’m adding these story events is quite slow while I’m still working on the editor. But in future, putting together a story event should take me a lot less time than it would by coding it directly into the base game (like the core actions and events).
Early Access or Kickstarter?
I’m wondering whether to run a Kickstarter. I feel the game needs more work, and I need some help to get it past the finishing line. I would love to add some more art to the game. It would be nice to get some assistance on writing story events. And I could use some help with making the UI more digestible. I had been planning to open up the game to Early Access on itch.io, but another option would be to run a Kickstarter with beta access for backers. I’m still mulling over my options, so any thoughts or suggestions are most welcome.
I’m going to be working on revamping the way updates work internally. That may not be exciting from a player’s perspective, but updates are one of the oldest piece of scaffolding in the game, with many pieces that have been duct taped on over time. It needs to be given some tender love and care before I stack a bunch of story events on top of it. There are two impacts of that which will be visible.
1) I would like updates to automatically tell you what has explicitly changed in the world as part of that event, rather than just contain a freeform description.
2) I would like the game to be smarter in figuring out which updates to show you and which to hide.
Showing the Right Amount of Updates
This is a difficult problem. First off, the importance of an update depends on its context. It might not be important to the player to know that a neighbouring leader has promoted somebody to their council. However, if the neighbouring leader fired the player’s daughter to promote someone else, the player might be interested.
Secondly, its difficult for the game to know what the player is interested in. Different players have different interests. Its also difficult to work out how the “interestingness” of an update changes when it happens to someone you know or care about. And how does the game even know who the player cares about?
If the game shows you too many updates you don’t care about, it becomes difficult to pay attention. If the game misses some updates that are necessary to understand the context you’ve ended up with (“wait… since when were those guys at war?”), it becomes confusing. So there’s a narrow sweet spot where the game shows you just the right amount of updates. I’ve already experimented with various approaches in this area over the development of the game, and I think there is one last set of refinements I can put in to put this one to rest for now.
Lastly, I’m going to try to be a little more active on social media and this blog. This is a struggle for me – I’m not an extrovert, and my natural inclination is to hide in my developer cave. However when people discuss the game and come back with comments I find it very helpful and rewarding, so I will do my best to do more of that.