March Progress Update

Story Events Editor

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.

Defining a story event's "cast" in the editor
Defining a story event’s “cast” in the editor
Fleshing out a story event's details in the editor
Fleshing out a story event’s details in the editor
Adding decision choices to a story event in the editor
Adding decision choices to a story event in the editor
And now we can try it out in the game

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.

You can see in detail what may happen

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.

Revamping Updates

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.

Social Media

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.

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General Update

Back from the Christmas break feeling refreshed, and with a new perspective on some old challenges. I’m really excited with how Star Dynasties will progress (and launch!) this year.

I’ve been silent on the game for the last couple of months because I’ve been struggling with designing and implementing a model for Social Status. As I said in the previous post, I think it’s important to capture this part of human social behaviour. The game needs some way to reward characters (and the player) for performing deeds that are neither good nor bad (which would use the morality system), but still earn respect or ridicule (such as surviving a dangerous expedition, losing a favourable skirmish, negotiating a truce between two feuding rulers, getting snubbed by another leader, etc.). I went down the rabbit hole trying to get a particular design to work, and ultimately came up empty-handed. Unfortunately that’s just the nature of trying to implement new features sometimes. I’ve since figured out a design that works, and am in the process of finishing its implementation.

Following that, I will be working on adding a set of narrative events to the game, to continue bringing the world and your character’s story to life, and am aiming to release a new build to the alpha group by the end of January. At that point I will decide when to start an Early Access on itch.io.

In other news, I’ll be joining Space Game Junkie‘s podcast later today at 5PM PST / 1AM GMT to talk about the game (Discord / Youtube / Twitch). In preparation, Space Game Junkie also posted a preview of the current alpha build. Check it out!

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Next Content Areas

Star Dynasties has been in the hands of early alpha testers for two weeks.  I’m pleased that there have been only a few bugs reported, and no serious issues.  Most of the feedback has been about how to improve the UI and how the game’s systems could be made richer, which is exactly what I was hoping for.  

I will be providing regular updates about what I’m working on next and what my plans are.  That means that sometimes I will make mistakes, or brainstorm something that then proves to be unrealistic, hard to implement, or simply not fun.  Please be patient with me when that happens.

The main focus of my next few months is going to be content.  Specifically I will be working on the following eight areas, in rough order of priority.  

Social Status

This will rename and extend “General Public Opinion”.  More of what you do will raise or lower social status; performance in combat and wars, engaging in diplomacy, marrying into other high/low status houses, gaining or losing systems, etc.  Having high social status will be a key component of getting what you want; stability of rule, marriageability of yourself and your kin, general helpfulness of other characters, etc. This will make non-moral actions and events more significant than they are at the moment, opening up to a lot of smaller scale content that provides interesting decisions.

Story Events

Most of the content right now is the core of the game; the political system, the marriage system, administering your house and family, a legal system, economy, etc.  These are fundamental to the way this feudal world works, must be present in at least a basic way, and are deeply and tightly interlinked with each other. Now that the skeleton is solidifying, I would like to put some flesh on the bones, in the form of smaller snippets of narrative to bring the world and your character’s story to life.  Examples; you receive an SOS call from a broken down ship in space, a rogue AI has survived from the Collapse, your son brings back some valuable resources from an exploratory mission to another system, etc.

Deeper House Areas

Members of your house are assigned to one of five roles (Administration, Military, Security, Diplomacy, Medical).  Each of these areas govern various bonuses that your house gets. Diplomacy-assigned characters can also be sent as ambassadors to other houses (and can be then sneakily used to sabotage other systems).  My intention is to add more decisions and events that are related to the activities within these house areas. My current ideas are to add a high level decision that sets the focus of each area (e.g. military focus on defence, attack, or rearmament), and an activity to which you can assign members in an area (e.g. security team members can be assigned to investigate specific characters).

Negotiation

Right now, when you make a request or offer to another character, it is accepted or rejected based primarily on whether that character likes you, to what extent it is to their personal advantage, and whether you will subsequently owe them a favour.  Your main lever is to have improved relations with them prior to the request. This system aims to extend that by allowing characters to make a counter-proposal, accepting the request on the basis that you do some other action (something like diplomacy works in SMAC).  This is the biggest challenge, and most tentative item, on this list.

Basic Character Customisation

When you start a game of Star Dynasties you are currently given a random leader and faction to play.  I will add the ability to change the full appearance of the initial character, and to change a subset (hair, clothes) for any character you play during the game.  You will also be able to name children that are born in your house. In future I would like the player to have more customisation options at the start of the game (sex, traits, house composition), but those will came in a later iteration.

Gatherings

This will be a story event that triggers when a major political or social event happens such as your marriage or that of your heir, the victorious conclusion of a war, or the signing of a major treaty.  A celebration is hosted by your house, to which other rulers and leaders can attend. The celebration can have various consequences as the powerful mix; alliances can be born, or a personal faux pas can create rifts between characters.  A villain may find the opportunity to take advantage of being close to a rival.

Deeper combat

My priority for making combat more engaging is to add opportunities for character narratives e.g. getting hurt / dying in combat, having the opportunity to save a rival’s life, choosing a lieutenant to lead a particular engagement, a character distinguishing themselves in a skirmish, etc.  I would also like to add some high-level strategic decisions such as building listening satellites in a system that you want to fortify, or use as a launch pad for a military adventure.

Character Movement

Characters are currently locked into their house, except when they move through marriage.  I would like to add the possibility of characters being traded between houses outside of marriage, even being tempted to run away perhaps.  Another concept I want to address is the rigidity of house membership. Take, for example, the following scenario. Your heir marries into another house.  Their wife then dies shortly after. Is it realistic that your son remains a member of that house, given your stake in finding them a new marriage partner?

 

There are obviously many other areas that can be extended or added (feedback on the reddit has already touched on trade, hostages, fleshing out colonies more deeply, aliens, etc..).  The above are the areas that I feel are the most important to work on at this stage. I welcome feedback on these choices, and how they could be implemented in interesting ways.

In the short term, I am planning a small release for the end of October, which will contain some odds and ends that I am taking the opportunity to work on while looking at the feedback that comes in from the alpha group.  After that I will be working on the Social Status changes, and hopefully will have something playable for mid/late November.

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