On Stress, Fatigue and Crew Rotations

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On Stress, Fatigue and Crew Rotations

Postby aunshi » Sat Feb 20, 2016 10:28 am

Having been playing a bit of Darkest Dungeon lately (I know, another game reference), and reading/watching a few sci-Fi series where lack of rest tends to build up on characters, I was pondering if Astrobase may benefit from a stress/fatigue system of sorts. (i'll just refer to it here on as fatigue)

My basic idea is; As a crew member goes about the daily work schedule he steadily accumulates fatigue, if the job he is doing is of a higher "level" than what his experience has qualified him for this fatigue increases faster. If he encounters an event such as a fire or serious malfunctions etc., fatigue increases by a certain amount. A more experienced crew who has encounters these events before would be less fatigued by them as stress is a natural reaction to new experiences.

Fatigue is also gained through away missions, and this is where crew are expected to accumulate the most fatigue. Being away from the base is itself stressful to those unaccustomed (so rookies) but also the number of stressful events on away missions, the decisions being made etc. all accumulate and leave those on mission fatigued by the end of it. While there may be opportunities for the away party to rest, there will be no chance of relaxation other than to socialize with other members of the away team. Therefore sending crew members who are friends, or at least get along with each other, would be useful for long missions. The aim here isn't to give crew members a heart attack just from a single away mission. Instead the aim is for crew to slowly accumulate fatigue over the course of a number of away missions, therefore encouraging the player to rotate new crew members into the away mission roster and move away from simply sending the same A-list team over and over again (General Hammond I'm looking at you!). This encourages the training up of rookies into experienced members of the crew.

The effects of fatigue would be an increased chance of a critical failure occurring during an action (such as maintenance causing an explosion), bad decision making, or somebody running away from a stressful situation instead of helping (maybe good for the runner, but not good for anyone else in trouble). This is a gradual increase in failure chance, as opposed to someone reaching a set limit and refusing to work anymore.

Fatigue reduces slowly over time while off duty. This process can be accelerated with specific actions such as going to a bar, or walking through an arboretum, going to the gym, or socializing. Spending time with spousal partners would also accelerate the loss of fatigue, although the loss of a spouse will greatly increase fatigue. To encourage variety, crew will get bored of repeatedly doing an actively and will lose less fatigue while performing that activity for a while.

Like I mentioned, this is largely to encourage players to rotate crew members round. Instead of sending the same 4 crew members on away missions, maybe take one out and replace with somebody fresh for the next mission. More crew members have the chance to grow as characters and there is also more of an incentive to have 'beta' and 'gamma' teams instead of just the primary alpha team. This way we avoid the situations seen in the likes of X-COM or xenonaunts where the most elite squad takes casualties and all there is to replace the ultra elite warriors of legend are the green rookies who never held a rifle before.

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Re: On Stress, Fatigue and Crew Rotations

Postby Saosis » Sun Feb 21, 2016 12:28 pm

This sounds like a good way to avoid the A-Team problem. And the best of it: It's an immersive way to do it. Additionally it gives hooks for story events. Like this idea a lot. :)

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Re: On Stress, Fatigue and Crew Rotations

Postby aunshi » Sun Feb 21, 2016 1:41 pm

Thanks, thats what I was thinking.

Also, for story arcs kinda opens up possible shore leave related issues.... Theres been a few Star Trek episodes where shore leave has led to.... situations.

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Re: On Stress, Fatigue and Crew Rotations

Postby Adam » Sun Feb 21, 2016 8:27 pm

Definitely some nice ideas there!

We're currently representing the concepts you're talking about through fatigue and morale. Fatigue is an ongoing need that accumulates through being awake, working and the like. Eventually, they need to rest in their quarters to recuperate.

However, I think the more relevant thing to what you're talking about is morale. Harrowing events affect morale which will reduce overall effectiveness and how crewmembers prioritize their needs. So, if a crewmember dies, everyone in the crew will take a morale hit which will scale with how good their relationship was.

I do like the idea of making the stresses of away missions give a morale hit too. That would force the player to choose between cycling who they send on away missions (thus putting crew with critical on-station jobs at risk) and sending out the same people over and over at reduced effectiveness.

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Re: On Stress, Fatigue and Crew Rotations

Postby aunshi » Mon Feb 22, 2016 12:11 pm

Thanks Adam.

To be honest I wasn't sure about posting this as I didn't know how far along in development you were and if you wanted something like this in the game.
A lot of this i've taken from Darkest Dungeon, except in DD stress doesn't decrease naturally over time and you HAVE to spend gold to make it go away. Theres also some similar stuff in the works for Clockwork Empires, but thats still in implementation stage and will need a lot of balancing, with tiredness, happiness and insanity levels.

I think the primary idea behind this, for me, is to try to move us away from the A-Team problem players get into with away missions, something any x-com player would be familiar with. Why replace a veteran with a rookie when the rookie potentially puts the entire team at risk (missing a key shot which results in the target surviving a turn to make a kill shot etc.).... Other than injury recovery times there isn't enough incentive to cycle through the crew.

Also, it does encourage station crew to get off station, exposing them to character building situations, giving experience bonuses or whatever and makes them more than just background characters. Out of interest, could you give me an idea of the number of peopel one can send on an away mission?

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Re: On Stress, Fatigue and Crew Rotations

Postby MilitantLobster » Sat Mar 05, 2016 11:16 pm

aunshi wrote:Out of interest, could you give me an idea of the number of peopel one can send on an away mission?


I'll piggyback on that and ask how big/small an astrobase has the potential to be. What constitutes a skeleton crew? Two crewmen? Five? Will there be any upper limit to base size or crew size?

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Re: On Stress, Fatigue and Crew Rotations

Postby Dave » Tue Mar 08, 2016 3:19 am

aunshi wrote:I was pondering if Astrobase may benefit from a stress/fatigue system of sorts. (i'll just refer to it here on as fatigue)


Here are my thoughts.

First, thank you for the post. :) It is great to learn I am not the only one annoyed by the "A-Team problem!" I consider A-team-itis to be a (bad) design pattern, and define it like this: The A-Team problem occurs when the game encourages the player to build up a large stable of characters, but due to other design choices in the game (linear horizontal character progression, etc) a specific group of those characters ends up in pratice being the best team for every situation.

Many games that exhibit this pattern at least make some attempt to mitigate it. For example, in the Xcom (reboot) franchise, the wounded game mechanic removes characters out of the rotation. Unfortunately this only results in the player expanding the conceptual A-team's size from "maximum team size" to "maximum team size plus alternates with nearly identical skills." Three of my snipers are Colonels, with identical ability choices. Unless I misunderstand the suggestion (and tell me if I have!) my instinct is that a fatigue system might cause a similar gameplay result -- players would simply invest in enough alternates to set up a rotation so there is always enough A-level members not experiencing fatigue. Increasing any of the fatigue variables only means increasing the number of alternates until a full rotation can be covered. Obviously wounded and fatigue systems each have vastly different gameplay feel even if they achieve the same mechanical effect, since all being wounded does is force a character off the roster for a set time. The difference is when and how that forced "time off" is set, and I greatly prefer an honest fatigue system to knowing the designers are sneakily making me eat damage to give my best guys time-off! So I agree with you there. :D Worth noting that Darkest Dungeon used affliction/stress as their downtime mechanic.

But let's get to the source of things. The real problem here from a design standpoint is that a single team configuration is optimal for all hypothetical scenarios presented in the game! Or at least, from a specific player's standpoint. In Xcom (reboot) 2 I always run with 1 sniper, 1 medic, 1 hacker, 1 assault, 1 heavy, 1 psy. You might have your different preferred configuration but like me you always run the same class distribution. What this means is that group composition largely doesn't matter to beating a mission. If it did I'd be forced to vary my roster based on predicting mission needs from the description, but I presume this is "too hardcore" for the intended audience. (Not to go too deep here but actually what they do is make some options more-or-less necessary so the player feels smart about picking the obviously "correct" one, and then have other choices completely not matter so the player feels like he's making an important decision but he's not so he can never be wrong. In design terms these are known as a "false choice.") Anyway, this is the actual reason the A-team problem exists for Xcom. At least in Darkest Dungeons the hand-made boss fights lend themselves to different optimal group setups. However, once again the player solution is simply quantitative -- having an "A-team" character of every class

In ABC, we attack the A-team pattern from multiple directions. The first is that in ABC the characters you send to missions are the same ones doing actual work in the context of the station simulation. The A-team solution here would be to have two separate rosters: your station A-team, and your mission A-team. However due to upkeep mechanics the station is balanced against "dead weight" scenarios, as characters who don't work or provide some function still consume food and resources. This fights the natural tendency towards a quantitative solution. So rather than A-teams being optimal, a player has a legitimate choice on a spectrum from A-team (but resource intensive to have dedicated mission guys!) to sending characters on missions based on their disposability to station operations at any given time, which I would call the Redshirt Solution. Unlike the A-team strategy, the Redshirt strategy is resource cheap but mission success rates drastically go down (otherwise they wouldn't be redshirts). Also note that in Xcom, the player literally never fails a mission, rather he reloads until he does not fail. In ABC failure from time-to-time is a thing players will simply have to accept and the game is balanced for this. So sending your A-team is a calculated risk, because if they die you can't reload. And keep in mind this is a spectrum, maybe you want to send one A-team guy leading 4 redshirts (because the A-team guy has a personality trait that sends out minions rather than risking himself), or send the B-team (blue shirts and green shirts?) as a calculated risk, etc. And again keeping in mind that if they die, you also lose their performance at whatever job they were doing on the station. And then, because we can be hardcore, challenging the player to configure group composition based on what he wants to achieve rather than what strategy/configuration he prefers.

The point isn't to accidentally (or even deliberately) make any one choice or playstyle optimal (such as A-team-ism vs Redshirt-ism) or present a false choice, but rather to balance the game so each strategy has its own unique risks, rewards, and inherent challenges that naturally stem from the design rather than being imposed in some inelegant way. And do this across a continuous spectrum rather than notched options which can be mapped out. Whereas in both Xcom and Darkest Dungeons as you pointed out, the optimal solution to beating missions is simply having an A-team. And again, the game systems added to fight this pattern by forcing downtime merely increase the A-team's size requirement. That is it!

Other vectors of attack to the A-team problem in ABC:

  • We don't have vertical progression, rather we have horizontal progression which means it's about bringing the right tools for the job rather than bringing the max level guy.
  • There are no classes which means there is no optimal class configuration (bring 1 healer, 1 tank, etc). This gives us a spectrum rather than a finite number of combinations.
  • The personality traits of the characters you send are as important as their skills and stats. How the gears of the trait system mesh with the missions drives character AI decision-making. So a big theme of ABC is treating characters like people, and we mean this deep down in the core of the design. The gameplay aesthetical target of ABC is the player saying "I want to send Gary because I think he will do a good job." Compare to Xcom where the player says "I want to send my Captain Sniper because he's my highest level unwounded sniper and I need my squadsight." The very heart of the ABC design vision is this difference!

Furthermore, consider that in Xcom (reboot) 1 only snipers had squadsight, so then in Xcom (reboot) 2 the designers added the random ability chance as another anti-pattern to fight A-team-ism. If one makes a comparison with building or constructing anything in the real world which has a foundation and then added structures which sit atop the foundation, AAA games start off shaky and then add a bunch of struts and unstable supports to prop up increasingly flawed core game systems with each new installment or sequel or iteration. And finally when the systems eventually collapse into a bloated and incomprehensible mess after the Xth version, the entire franchise is rebooted with dumbed-down mechanics (because MVP meaning "Minimum Viable Product" is the new buzz word) and the process starts anew. If this is akin to evolution, one wonders what are these games evolving into. A stripped down casual experience that feeds players into a skinner box?

As a professional game systems designer, I have a bit of bias on the matter. ;)

Finally, it's worth pointing out that we do have wounds, and we do have a morale system, and those will encourage players to give characters time off to relax and recuperate (which, correct me if I'm wrong, I think is the core of fatigue). However we're simply not using this to solve the A-team problem, but it will give us the other benefits you mention of allowing characters to socialize without penalizing the player with a false choice.

Thank you for the post! I am glad we have discerning friends that dislike the same things in games that we also dislike, and in fact started a company to make games (such as ABC) which don't do them!

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Re: On Stress, Fatigue and Crew Rotations

Postby aunshi » Sun Mar 13, 2016 7:56 pm

I keep meaning to write a response to this.... but i feel as though i need to take notes first.

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Re: On Stress, Fatigue and Crew Rotations

Postby Dave » Sat Mar 19, 2016 7:46 am

aunshi wrote:I keep meaning to write a response to this.... but i feel as though i need to take notes first.


Look forward to your response!

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Re: On Stress, Fatigue and Crew Rotations

Postby aunshi » Thu Jan 26, 2017 2:59 pm

Hey guys, realise I never really responded to this and its probably a little late now. Just wanted to give a shout out to what the Long War 2 Mod did for XCOM 2 and get your take on how they seem to have dealt with the issue (that is to say the infiltration mechanic. Seems to be encouraging people to use a lot more soldiers in multiple squads but to seriously consider the sizes of those squads.

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