Technology Development

A place to ask and talk about Astrobase Command.
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Technology Development

Postby MaxShields » Fri Oct 04, 2013 8:35 pm

You've mentioned various forms of advanced technologies that can be used to build the astrobase, and presumably equip the crews. You have a nice Research cartridge for the datapad. How are you planning on handling research and development of new technologies?

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Re: Technology Development

Postby Dave » Fri Oct 04, 2013 9:44 pm

That's a really good question!

We haven't designed the mechanics of research other than a couple of high-level notes, which I'll list here:

Low-tech is useful

We don't want the player to be constantly obsoleting low-tech modules. We also don't want the "4x game" feel when it comes to research, where a mature tech level is completely overpowering and each tier of tech wipes out the previous tier. So low-tech modules and items should serve a purpose in the game. And this is authentic for two reasons:

  1. It mirrors real life. When you put a processor on a NASA space craft, you want something that's resistant to radiation, uses low power, and has minimal points of failure. So for example, the next generation of space craft will use a version of the MIPS R3000 architecture which debuted in 1988.
  2. It mirrors sci-fi. Klingons carry melee weapons, and they're very effective. Especially against say... the Borg who have personal shields.

So higher tech isn't always better. It's only better until it breaks down. Now maybe you've heavily invested in your maintenance and engineering crew and the module or equipment never malfunctions. But that just sets up another point of failure -- a smart attacker waging a long-term war could selectively go after these individuals.

So even if your Astrobase uses highly advanced technology, you might still want low-tech redundant systems. Like ladders next to your turbo-lifts.

This leads us to the second point:

Research is optional

Being a low-tech sword swinging species where "astrophysics" is a dirty word is just as valid a way of playing as a high tech pew-pew laser species with the fanciest equipment and duty stations.

It's just a matter of risk v reward. Lower tech = lower risk (easier to maintain, less that can go wrong, etc). For example, the power reactor with the lowest accidents is the Combustion Plant, and the operators don't have any skills checked in the science/applied or science/research skills. It burns organics (resource) as a fuel source. It also puts out the lowest power so you'll need a lot of them to support a large Astrobase, and it burns a somewhat-expensive resource, but hey that's why it's a trade-off.

People know things

This third point is kind of subtle. Imagine today if everyone who knew how to build and/or operate a nuclear reactor were killed. Even with all the blue-prints and manuals, it would still take smart people a while to figure it the details of atomic power.

This is true of the NASA space-race. We've actually lost the ability to go to the moon. If we wanted to go back to the moon tomorrow, we'd have to "rediscover" all the little things NASA figured out in the 1960s. What we'd probably do is bring a lot of former NASA employees out of retirement as consultants. So it's obviously not insurmountable (and we could figure things out without them), but the idea is that the technology of a civilization resides in its people.

How I see this translating into game terms, is that nodes in the tech-tree remain unlocked as long as at least one person on the Astrobase is alive who knows that tech. Tech is researched in Research Labs (and as a bonus, whoever is in the lab at discovery time personally learns that tech). This allows you to either invest all your eggs in one super-researcher basket (Wernher von Braun -- who was the V2 rocket program), or spread things out across a distributed team of researchers.

It also means if your Astrobase is completely dependent on specific tech (say, Antimatter Reactors 5 for sake of argument), you have a weakness. The reward is that the highest tech version of each reactor group is really good.

Also note that there is a racial trait called "scavenger." Races with this racial trait can use technology they don't have the tech for. Basically, this is picking up a bunch of plasma rifles off dead enemies and being able to use/maintain them without having the requisite tech.

Pacing mechanic

The final note is we want to use research as a pacing mechanic.. So basically when you invest time researching in a given area, you unlock options in that area which represents the fact your Astrobase was able to train and support a research staff (and you can keep them alive).

I expect the average case is a players have a mix of tech. The thing they want to do, they maintain high tech. Other things (where they don't want to invest in the support staff) they keep it simple. And I think this creates the most interesting gameplay.

Of course, there is nothing stopping you from seeking out and using the most advanced tech in every area. You just are playing super-risk vs super-reward (and that might really backfire). Because keeping a research staff means paying a cost in game-terms, so unless you really need that you lose efficiency. It's like having an amphibious stealth tank. It could be the best, most advanced tank in the world... but if you bring it into the desert during the day where you are not actually using the aquatic feature, and turn off the stealth mode, you're still paying the penalty of whatever design compromises were incorporated to have those features. This is why I'm a huge fan of the A10 Warthog -- it does one thing very, very well... and it's a simple aircraft by today's standards. Which is why it can also fly with a huge portion of its wings shot off. :)

Anyway, these are the high level notes. I expect to do a more detailed design in the coming weeks. So let me know how this sounds! :)

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Re: Technology Development

Postby MaxShields » Sat Oct 05, 2013 2:08 am

Ilaliya, that was a phenomenal post that makes me really want to see what you have up your sleeve. You've mentioned and offer solutions for so many of the issues that I find make very little sense in 4X games.

Reading between the lines, I am guessing this will mean that at the start of the game, the player will have access to a wider variety of technology than simply a single selection in each class of equipment? It never made much sense to me that a civilization, though it may be taking its fledgling steps towards the stars, has but a limited selection of kit to get its job done. I understand there are certainly game mechanics that benefit from keeping things simple. However, in the case of Astrobase Command, the civilizations will have had the time to be around for a while and are part of a faction that would already have had the time to develop some advanced systems, correct?

The factors constraining the employment of moderately advanced technology (or even very advanced?) would be more related to resource and knowledge scarcity than lack of discovery. This does not prevent the possibility to discover yet more advanced and lost technology, but for example, it would mean that a boarding party would not necessarily be limited to slug throwers until somebody invents a laser. Investing in laser weapons at the start of the game may represent an enormous opportunity cost for the player that would hamper his efforts to keep a new Astrobase up and running. I'm also assuming that there are some faction adjustment sliders during the game creation stage that will be available to determine how advanced the civilization supporting the player is at the start.

I like how you're keeping the focus on the character brain trust in order to keep technology functioning. If one of the experts is somehow lost, I imagine the technology will still be stored in the databases, but a new expert must be trained or somehow recruited to ensure that the technology can be made to work? The conditionally unlocked tech nodes are interesting. I could also see the potential that certain technologies could remain employable or can be manufactured without the scientific expertise for them, but could not be improved upon or could degenerate over time if there is nobody that understands their basic function. This could be particularly interesting if there will be automated foundries (as in WH40K) that can pump out great gear, but whose details have been lost to time. Characters can use them, but they can't improve on the concept or even keep them running once the parts inside start wearing out.

What you suggest also implies that research could be achieved by multidisciplinary teams. Rather than simply assigning scientists to research a technology as in other games, it could be a team of scientists, engineers, and even operators coming together to provide their specialist skill sets to deliver an improvement to an existing system or a novel capability.

This could also be a good opportunity to work in Technology Readiness Levels rather than a simple research progress bar.
Image source:
Technologies researched could progress up this rating, and give access to certain special opportunities that could make the science and engineering teams behind them shine. Teams could gain experience and develop fundamental technologies that can be useful elsewhere even though the effort yields no fielded product. Certain projects could also go nowhere as the teams discover that their theories were faulty or that no useful product can be derived from what appears to be a sound theory. This isn't bad in of itself, but represents the uncertain progress of science. The player would have to make a choice as to whether to continue funding a project that may or may not go anywhere based on the team's progress and outlook. Furthermore, the research teams could produce limited numbers of prototypes (which could cost additional funds to create some additional systems) as they reach TRL 5 or more that could be fielded in a pinch, with varying levels of capability and SWAP issues, in the hopes to gain a critical edge in missions. These carry many risks since the technology is unproven. Indeed, it may require that members of the science team accompany away teams to operate the equipment themselves, putting the project in jeopardy if a project team member lost and possibly delaying its full operational fielding because of the unexpected changes to the project's schedule.

I think there's a ton of potential to make research a deep and highly engaging aspect of the game, with far more nuances than simply selecting a technology, funding it, and waiting for the clock to count down to delivery time. You certainly are on the right track!

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Re: Technology Development

Postby beason4251 » Thu Nov 21, 2013 10:37 pm

I like that you're going with optional research. For games like Galactic Civilizations 2, I never get to "feel" each layer of the tech tree. I don't relish the transition Impulse Drive 1 -> Impulse Drive 2 -> Impulse Drive 3. Technology has to be acquired at such a fast rate that battles become a decision between numbers and technology rather than tactics. From what Ilaliya said, it seems I won't have this problem with Astrobase Command. In Astrobase Command (is there an abbreviation, AC?), I'd like to have the option to fully flesh out what I can do with a technology before progressing to the next tier. There's something pretty about a base that has been built iteratively, and has obvious signs of the way things used to be.

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Re: Technology Development

Postby pattenam » Thu Dec 12, 2013 6:34 pm

Keeping early tech useful for longer (than in 4X games) makes a lot of sense. The time scale of a character-centric game like Astrobase Command doesn't jive with frequent paradigm shifting technological advances.

It does raise the question of how much time in-game would pass for really long games. Some games keep this ambiguous--like Moo2. Although I'm always tempted to convert anyway. For Moo2 1 year per 10 turns seemed good based on some of the build times but not for tech progression (too short) or hero longevity (too long). While difficult to incorporate it would be really neat if long games could eventually have new generations of officers replace old generations.

It sounds like Astrobase Command will allow players to savour technology. Nice.

As mentioned earlier, an alternative to revolutionary tech upgrades (e.g. Mark I nuclear reactor vs. Mark I fusion reactor) is evolutionary tech upgrades (e.g. Mark I nuclear reactor vs. Mark II nuclear reactor). As a simple example assume reactors have three traits: reliability, efficiency and output.

A Mark I nuclear reactor has .95 for reliability, .95 for efficiency and a 1 for power. A Mark I fusion reactor might start with reliability = .9, efficiency = .97 and output = 1.14 (your idea to make advanced tech less reliable is great). The Mark II nuclear reactor might have reliability = .96, efficiency= .96 and output = 1.08.

The Mark II nuclear reactor might cost lest to research and give comparable returns. Also, anyone character who understands Nuclear reactors understands the Mark II. The traits might increase on an asymptotic function so that either the Mark Y+1 would be considerably more expensive than the Mark Y or the differences between them would begin to shrink for the same research cost.

The revolutionary technology might be initially more expensive and less reliable but would have a higher asymptote and would eventually be less expensive for comparable values.

As a final twist techs might be randomized so that the trait values on researched tech are random such that it will likely be better than the old tech in any given trait but has a chance to worse based on the random numbers rolled when the tech research is complete.


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Re: Technology Development

Postby MaxShields » Sat Dec 14, 2013 3:42 am

@Pattenham Very cool ideas!

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Re: Technology Development

Postby Rat Patrol » Wed Mar 12, 2014 10:45 pm

pattenam wrote:Keeping early tech useful for longer (than in 4X games) makes a lot of sense.

to over simplify the conversation ....
do you really need a Level IV CPU to operate a door ?

no a Level I works just fine for doors and lights
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Re: Technology Development

Postby Max Shields » Thu Mar 13, 2014 1:46 am

We have a very good discussion on the issue coming up in the first vlog entry we'll be putting out in the next couple of days. Stay tuned!

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Re: Technology Development

Postby Saosis » Fri Mar 14, 2014 12:57 am

Max Shields wrote:We have a very good discussion on the issue coming up in the first vlog entry we'll be putting out in the next couple of days. Stay tuned!

Ohh that sounds promising.

/me stays tuned

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