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Gratuitous Space Prattles

Jim and Kieron got to talking about the beta of Gratuitous Space Battles. Their ruminations follow.

Jim: I totally dig the idea: set up battle and let it run. I can totally see where Cliffski is coming from with making a strategy game operate like that.

Kieron: BUT!

Jim: Yeah, BUT, it’s kind of baffling at the moment. It took me a long time to figure out how to create a fleet to get past the first mission. The worst part, I think, was that it wasn’t clear where I was failing. I was trying to analyse visual cues from the battle itself. And I think there’s some mileage in that – oh those missiles are getting wiped, etc – but it’s not enough

Kieron: I think clarity is what’s one of its current biggest problems in the Beta. The thing is, to get past the first mission, I’m pretty sure you can’t actually just use the ships its provided. You need to build some. But there’s not much actual structure to build stuff. It’s a question of stopping and actually reading all the pop-up text on the equipment you get to slot it. Because the weapons aren’t arranged in categories or similar at the moment – even just having a subsection called “BEAM LASERS” or something, with a brief bit of text explaining what beam lasers as a group do would be a major help for that?

Jim: Yeah, you have to do quite a lot of work on the ships to get past the first battle and i think it was beam lasers that got me through, actually.

Kieron: Did you actually grok the rules at all?

Jim: Not grok, I had to go back and decipher what was happening after a couple of attempts.. I think I needed either more visual cues from the battle stage, or more LOOK AT THESE STATS in the set up stage.

Kieron: Yeah. That’s the thing – you really don’t know what the enemy are firing at you, except in loose “that was a missile” ways. That’s clearly a design choice, but you kinda question it. That said, I actually think the problem is the other way round to you – I found it too easy to make progress. When I grasped even a couple of the rules. As in, an Anti-ECM, millions of fast missiles, low shield, acceptable armour on a cruiser. Oh – and an anti-missile gun. And a tractor beam. The latter took out missiles and fighters. The former stopped that horrible stun thing. And the stuff in the middle pummeled every fucking thing.

Jim: Yeah. I mean I think each fleet you face is tuned to be badass against some particular setup.

Kieron: I walked though something like the first six missions with just plonking down as many of that build of cruiser as I could.

Jim: But then the possibility space for min-maxing on your own account wasn’t quite clear. It took a while in the ship builder to work out how to be a beam-laser death boat, which then didn’t work on a later battle.

Kieron: Yeah – but as a teaching device, having the enemy fleets being built to be so touch against one sort just means an average one pile-drivers them… and it teaches you nothing. I had a plan of making a heavy defender ship to suck in all the shots and unarmoured heavy-defence ships to do all the firing.

Jim: I found the pilot limit a little odd too, as in – do i really need fighters? If so, why?

Kieron: But I didn’t do that in the end, because just the gunboats by themselves worked fine. Yeah – the fighters, at least in what I’ve played, don’t actually reward picking. I bought them only when I spent all my money on cruisers and could only afford them. I think that’s the problem with the game at the moment – it’s too easy to win with fleets which don’t resemble fleets. You do best by seemingly lumping them all in a blob to maximise their firepower. And just take the biggest guys you can.In other words, it’s got what I always think is the trickiest issue in postech’s game – a balancing problem. Their traditional SP games haven’t mattered that much – as in, finding the way thruogh was the solution. But in a multiplayer game… well, I’m glad they’ve taken it to a proper beta like this, as I think it’ll really help improve the game. There’s no reason why it can’t be good just by tweaking the rules in the system that’s already existent. Hell, I find it fun now. But it could be much *more* fun.

Jim: Of course, all this being said, Cliffski has said he’s in this for a long, long test beta. He was talking Mount & Blade / Dwarf Fortress sort of longness

Kieron: I missed that. And that’s the way to go with this. It’s the thing – this feels like the game which could cross over more for him. It’s still very him – but it’s also something which hits a button. I mean, remember MyBrute? That webgame I was obsessed with a while back? It’s basically that, but with gameplay.

Jim: Yes, precisely. This does have that kind of potential. It’s that sort of play-by-mail format. But re the beta idea, it’s only ever going to work by being played heavily.

Kieron: Yeah.

Jim: Balancing the builds as a single dev is impossible unless you’re some kind of super-AI from the future, which I don’t think Cliffski is.

Kieron: I dunno I agree. Balance is one thing. But making the structure to encourage even mixed fleets is within a dev’s ability. and it’s not something that’s right there in the game. I mean, we don’t need a rock/paper/scissors sort of formation between cruisers/frigates/fighters, but there’s not enough between them. Especially when stuff like fighters have the hard limit of a maximum number of pilots.

Jim: I think it’s a hard design problem for space games of any kind. Eve took years to balance out frigates-cruisers-battleships

Kieron: I think Eve has the problem that people can bring along what they want. As a wargame, you can make hard rules. Even shit like outflanking bonuses to encourage people to attack from both flanks rather than mobbing.

Jim: well it’s not an rps structure, really, more of a tiered structure, as in, fighters shouldn’t necessarily be a counter to a cruiser, but you could fit one to take on the other – hence the attack balance sliders. You could, from what I understand of the commands, set up fighters to specifically go after a ship type, and have their loadout for that.

Kieron: Yeah, but there’s a question of efficiency and all that. When I’ve done best dropping down 10 cruisers and not caring, what tactics am I learning? I can’t see *why* I should experiment. Heh. This is an odd conversation – I think I actually like the game more than you, but I’m being far more negative.

Jim: Yes, but then I found it hard, and you seem to have found it easy.

Kieron: We should challenge each other and see who wins! And lo: the game is born.

Jim: Aye, bring it.

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