Hydrogen changes in DARK NEBULA

Hades' Star foundation is the economy around its 3 main resources (Credits, Hydrogen, Crystals). The economic focus of the game gives it a very unique experience compared to all other similar games.

Despite the success Hades' Star has found thanks to its unique economy mechanics, there are also serious problems with these mechanics that threaten the long term viability of the game. The Dark Nebula update will focus on fixing the problems head on. Fixing the problems means that existing game mechanics can realize their true potential and become far more interesting than they currently are. It also means means that new exciting mechanics can be properly designed and built on top of the base economic features in the future.

All 3 resources will be heavily tweaked in Dark Nebula. Hydrogen however is a special case, because the way Hydrogen is earned and spent has complex and inter-related interactions with core game systems, such as Shipments, Red Stars, Yellow Star progression, and all mining related Modules. Because of these complex interactions, the Hydrogen redesign will feel far more radical than the other resources, and it will cause changes that may seem initially unrelated. Hydrogen will also take the most time to be properly tweaked and feel exactly right during the Early Access period, with a lot of things being broken in the meantime.

Soon after this post, we will be releasing the first batch of changes towards the new Hydrogen mechanics. As usual, your feedback and actual in game experience will help us find the right balance and make the game the best it can be. 

The rest of the post describes the problems that make a Hydrogen redesign necessary in Dark Nebula, and the partial solutions implemented in today's build. When giving feedback, keep in mind the following about problems and solutions:

The problems described here are set in stone. You may think that these are not problems worth fixing, or that they are not a problem at all. That's ok, but if you want to understand what changes are happening in the game, it's important to also understand what problems the changes are fixing, whether you agree with the problems or not. Being honest with what problems we are fixing up front allows the community to see where we are going and what we deem as valuable. It allows feedback to be focused, as feedback can now be framed towards whether a problem still exists or not, whether it became better than in live Hades' Star or worse. Having the problems we are fixing be non-negotiable also allows you to see early if the new game we are creating is for you, and save you frustration down the road.  

If you see a problem described in this or an upcoming blog post, it means we will be making an effort to fix it in Dark Nebula. That doesn't mean the problem list is complete. By identifying more problems via your feedback, you could allow us to expand the list of problems we are fixing. So if your feedback is "You said X is a problem, I don't think so", it will be ignored. If your feedback is "I also think Y is a big problem too", it will be considered.

The solutions described here are NOT set in stone. The solutions you see here (or the ones implemented so far in the Early Access build) are meant to address the identified problems. Most of them are not final, and will keep getting tweaked throughout Early Access. Your feedback here is extremely important: Are the changes addressing the problem effectively? If not, why not? What is the part of the problem that still remains, or what new problem has been created as a result of these changes? Your feedback will be far more useful if you focus on *problems* you see (ideally by playing the Early Access build), instead of proposing solutions. If you must propose a solution, please mention the exact problem it is fixing as well.

Problem 1. The limits Hydrogen imposes are wildly inconsistent

Providing meaningful activity limits is the only reason that Hydrogen exists and makes it an interesting resource. In theory, Hydrogen was meant to limit the amount of ship movement and Red Star activity so that players can make interesting decisions for getting the maximum daily rewards from Artifacts and Shipments. How should Transports optimize their movement in Yellow Stars in order to deliver all shipments without running out of Hydrogen? How many ships to send to a Red Star to secure the required Artifacts? These are the kinds of challenges Hydrogen *should be* enabling.

In practice, in the current version of Hades' Star, Hydrogen is a mess. Every single player finds themselves in a different, always broken, situation in respect to Hydrogen:

- Most players don't really care either way about it. They just send however many miners they have in their system in a mindless operation, collect enough Hydrogen overnight or during the day to play as much as they need without ever feeling a need to manage or conserve Hydrogen. When scanning a red star, they press "jump all" for over 10 ships, without even taking a moment to read the Hydrogen cost of all those ships, since that cost is nothing compared to Hydrogen income. The potential for meaningful choices flowing from limits simply doesn't exist for those players, making Hydrogen a pointless resource. 

- Some advanced players are stuck with specific module upgrades that greatly increase their Hydrogen consumption, especially in Battleships, to the point where they can not play one or two Red Stars every day, not without overwhelmingly painful micromanagement of Hydrogen. Their stories have propagated in the community, and many other players are weary of upgrading many modules, calling them "Hydrogen Traps". This is the core problem behind the very popular “allow us to downgrade modules” suggestion. Obviously this suggestion will never be implemented, but the problem that causes it to come up will be fixed. Putting limits to Module upgrades, or even ship upgrades, never was, and never will be, an intentional design choice for Hydrogen.

- Some other players take full advantage of the fact that Hydrogen is abundant. They use min/maxing techniques that involve poorly designed mining modules, unbalanced hydrogen costs for other modules, and other poorly thought out features like mining in Red Stars or taking other player's Hydrogen from their home star asteroids. They use their virtually unlimited Hydrogen (obtained by writing bots or worse, by playing the game themselves for unreasonably long hours) to flood the economy with Red Star Artifacts and create unintended and unfairly fast progress for themselves or their small circle. Being able to play Red Stars for 12 hours every day and keep collecting resources by micromanaging Hydrogen was never intended to be a feature of the game. It's a very serious problem that is directly threatening the long term viability of the game, and it is getting fixed.

So in short, Hydrogen is not doing a good job of limiting the things it should be limiting, and is also adding limits that should never have been there in the first place. 

Problem 2. The activity of collecting Hydrogen is extremely slow and boring, and existing modules don't really help that

Collecting Hydrogen in the live version of Hades' Star is about as interesting as watching paint dry. The system was only really tweaked for offline collection. Players naturally try to make online collection slightly more bearable by using the tools they have like Remote Mining, Time Warp, and allocating far more ships than the game was designed for, especially in Red Stars. The problem is that those modules don't come near offering the right speed needed to make online hydrogen collection feel proper, and in turn have negative side effects in other parts of the game, such as players not participating in White Stars because they don't feel they can spare the ships. The emotional response of the community to Modules like Time Warp and Remote Mining being removed or tweaked is because players cannot imagine how the game would function at all without those Modules, because the underlying systems (that the vast majority of players take for granted and never question or criticize) are so broken. The Dark Nebula update is all about fixing the root of the most serious problems, not their symptoms. Fixing the root problems will in turn free modules from having to serve as inefficient solutions to broken game systems, and allow them to gain their own unique and exciting functionality. Try to see module changes through this lens, and keep providing feedback both on the modules themselves, and the base systems they are interacting with. 

Creating Hydrogen farms by using the available Hydrogen generation modules is not really needed for daily play, making those modules pointless for most players. Many of the existing Mining modules have never been balanced together in the first place, and furthermore have evolved in strange directions over the years because they are trying to work well in 3 completely different star types. In the home star, they can generate far more Hydrogen than should be useable by any single player. Sharing Hydrogen between systems may have been a cool feature, but it was never planned or implemented properly so we'll be removing the illusion that it can be done. 

Upcoming Hydrogen changes in the Dark Nebula Early Access build

Below you can see some of the initial changes coming to the next Early Access build. They are not complete, and they are not final, but hopefully the above problems have given you an idea of what they are trying to fix. Your feedback can change the details of how exactly we address the problems identified above, and in the end it could look quite different than what will be on the initial build. 

Maximum Hydrogen Capacity rebalanced

In the old Hades' Star, the maximum Hydrogen capacity goes way too high, way too fast. Seeing numbers go up as you progress is exciting, but unlike Credits, Hydrogen is not the right place for this kind of scaling. The cost of doing Shipments doesn't increase 300 times from early game to end game, so the Hydrogen capacity shouldn't scale by that much either. 

Instead of just being a large number, Hydrogen capacity now aims to represent the amount of Hydrogen any Empire should be producing and consuming in a day (give or take).*UPDATE October 18, 2023: In the final build, Hydrogen capacity now represents about 1.5-2 days of income* Like many other systems in the game, Hydrogen income and expenses will be balanced on a daily cycle. The goal will be for players to generate and consume almost all of their Hydrogen cap every day, if they're looking to maximize rewards and progress. A lot of ill-conceived mechanisms that previously allowed players to hoard hydrogen for time frames much longer than a day will be  removed. 

Significantly reducing the Hydrogen capacity in the mid and end game allows us to offer a proper management challenge to players in these stages. 

Many old uses of Hydrogen are removed

The overall Hydrogen economy is reworked to support just two main activities that will consume all of the collected Hydrogen: Shipments in the home Yellow Star, and Red Stars.

Ships in White and Blue Stars will no longer consume any Hydrogen. Worrying about Hydrogen is simply not in any way related to what Blue or White Stars are about. For Blue stars specifically, this change will also allow players to enjoy the mode for longer each day (for no extra rewards), hopefully improving the matchmaking pool. The Hydrogen rewards from Blue Stars will be tweaked as a result of this change. White Stars will no longer offer any Hydrogen rewards - it makes no sense to have an irregular infusion of the resource for a minority of the player base, and with the new expected Hydrogen usage per day getting closer to the cap, such an infusion would be pointless.

Most Modules will no longer consume any Hydrogen, whether they are active or passive (modules directly related to Transport movement and carrying shipments are exceptions - some of these modules will be disabled in initial build as things are still getting balanced). Different Hydrogen costs for passive modules were a nightmare to track and optimize for, both for players and developers. Hydrogen costs for activated modules had only one real purpose, to limit spamming of modules across multiple ships. They were pretty bad for this purpose - they didn't discourage players from jumping in 15 transports with Rockets in a Red Star. This purpose is better served by paying the Hydrogen cost when the ship jumps in (see section below), regardless of the modules being brought in. Removing any association between Modules and Hydrogen use will allow players to upgrade anything they want, without Hydrogen entering the calculation in any way. 

In Red Stars, the Hydrogen costs will be paid for all types of ships jumping in (see next section), and for Transport movement.  Battleships will no longer consume Hydrogen in any star type. Transport movement is far easier to plan and optimize for than Battleships during hectic combat. Having the player worry about Hydrogen costs while maneuvering combat ships is just silly, as is keeping Battleships out of the Red Star to save Hydrogen while other players do all the clearing.

A new feature of the economy graphs in your home star will allow breaking down daily Hydrogen expenses by what activity they were used up in (Red Star or Shipments) to help track and optimize usage. 

Hydrogen and Shipments

In the current version of Hades' Star, shipments start out as a fun minigame that quickly becomes a very demanding (in terms of time) activity. Because it's also a very repetitive activity, most players naturally see it as boring. Over time, various techniques such as Shipment Drone and Shipment Relay were developed, each with the goal of making shipments faster/more convenient, while still allowing the older boring methods of hyper-optimization and high time usage for bigger bonuses. 

Dark Nebula will take a different approach to shipments. The primary goal will be to make daily Shipments completable in a reasonable time frame, regardless of what shipping method is used. We will aim for the primary constraint to be Hydrogen, not time. Comparing and optimizing Hydrogen between methods should become vital for people who want to get the maximum out of their daily shipment rewards. A shipping system that blindly and predictably gives a huge amount of Credits to all players is boring (especially if it also requires *a lot* of free time), and bad for the longevity of the game. A shipping system that gives a reasonable amount of Credits to most players, and more Credits to players who properly optimize Hydrogen usage is much better.

Transport movement costs and related module costs have been tweaked in this build, and will keep getting tweaked going forward. For each Transport, the Hydrogen use will be proportional to the total shipment capacity of the ship, with economies of scale kicking in to encourage upgrades. Warp Lanes will be much more expensive to activate but cheap to move. Warp Lane activation cost in the initial build will be fixed and not dependent on distance, to encourage more tactical placement and to help equalize the overall shipment costs between players who got very good planet placement and the ones who didn't. Warp Lanes is by far the most fun aspect of Shipments. Their proper management needs to become key to getting all the Credit rewards without going over Hydrogen limits.

This refocus of shipments towards managing Hydrogen will set the necessary foundation to make modules like Shipment Beam, Recall and Offload truly meaningful in future updates. In the live Hades' Star version, these modules have no clear purpose, and it's no wonder that the vast majority of players simply ignores them.

Shipment Relay will become much more expensive, so that it is closer to, or perhaps higher than the cost of running shipments manually. We will keep experimenting with the right balance here. We want to create an interesting system where multiple strategies such as partial use of the Relay and smart manual shipping can be used to conserve Hydrogen, while keeping bonuses high. 

Shipment credit payouts and modules that affect bonuses will be tweaked later in Early Access, as part of the Credits rebalancing. The goal will be for the daily base Credit payout to be similar to or smaller than existing base payout in the live version of Hades' Star, and optimal use of Hydrogen and shipping modules to allow significantly higher payouts. It's possible Hydrogen costs will be re-introduced for the Transport modules that give shipment bonuses. Proper progression over time through all Red Star levels will be the primary factor in the Credit refactoring, not keeping compatibility with the old payouts in base Hades' Star. Uneven Red Star progression (it takes too long for players to progress between certain Red Star levels, and not long enough for others) is another major problem that will be addressed by the Credit refactor.

Hydrogen and Red Stars

A major new use of Hydrogen will be to jump ships to Red Stars. Instead of the old insignificant costs to jump ships, we are introducing bigger jump costs that depend on ship type, Red Star level, and how many ships of the same type have previously jumped to the same Red Star. For example, the cost will increase sharply when trying to jump in a Battleship for the fourth time (after a Battleship was lost in the star), or a Miner for the second time (regardless if it's a new Miner, or the same Miner trying to go back in after being destroyed). This goes directly to the core reason Hydrogen exists: Putting a limit to the number of ships operating in the Red Star is all about enabling interesting tactical choices. It will appropriately reduce the effectiveness of a range of bland "strategies" like jumping in 10 support ships equipped with Rockets or Red Star extenders. Limiting total number of ships in Red Stars will also have positive effects in other parts of the game, such as removing a key reason players don't participate in White Stars, and freeing slots for supporting multiple Battleships with diverse loadouts ready to jump in quickly as needed in the upcoming more dynamic Dark Red Stars. 

Putting a soft cap via sharply rising Hydrogen costs seems at the moment a better way to manage Red Star ships counts than a hard limit. If a player loses all 3 Battleships in Combat, they will have an interesting (because it's expensive) choice to make about whether to jump them back in. The current theory is that having the expensive option is better than not having the option at all. 

Ships jumping back from Red Stars, or between any other systems, will no longer consume Hydrogen. 

We are fully aware that by putting a soft limit to the number of ships that can jump (or even re-jump) in a Red Star, we are changing the experience significantly. Red Stars are also being reworked later in Early Access to ensure they offer the best experience within the new limits. The Early Access build will become further imbalanced at first as a result of these changes. It's important to remember this is a normal and expected part of Early Access, and that work to balance the overall game continues. 

Besides jump costs, the other major use of Hydrogen in Red Stars will be Transport movement, putting a more direct and intentional correlation between Hydrogen spent and Artifacts retrieved. 

Mining tweaks in Yellow Stars

A player's own Yellow Star system will be their main source of Hydrogen. The activity of collecting the Hydrogen stored in asteroid fields in the home star is becoming a lot faster when the player is logged in. The goal is to also encourage the use of more types of mining modules in the home star, though we'll still be far from this goal in the initial build.

We are greatly increasing the movement speed for all ships in Yellow Stars, including Miners. All Mining modules in the home star are significantly reworked. The modules fall in 2 categories: 

- Generation modules (Genesis, Hydrogen Replicator) are to be used with daily collection, in order to generate more Hydrogen than the base asteroid fields provide and maximize the daily income. Enrich is disabled in the initial build, in the future it will either make a return offsetting some of Genesis' benefit, or be replaced by a new module not related to Hydrogen generation. Hydrogen Clone has been deleted as it was not working well with other existing modules, including in White Stars.

- Collection modules (Mining Boost, Remote Mining, Crunch) are to be used to quickly vacuum up Hydrogen stored in the system while the player is logged in. The goal is for a player who just ran out of Hydrogen to be able to comfortably jump to a new Red Star in under 5 minutes, assuming they have the required Hydrogen stored in asteroid fields and the right modules equipped on their miners.

In the initial build, a lot of the daily Hydrogen income comes via new Stations, instead of the base asteroids. The reason for this is that expansion in the Yellow Star happens at a much different rate compared to Red Star progress, and we want to maintain proper scaling of the resource as players advance in Red Stars. The Time Modulator station is deleted and replaced with a Hydrogen-specific station. Somewhat similar to Time Warp, Time Modulator was an inefficient solution to ships moving too slowly in the home star. Like Time Warp, Time Modulator had serious and unintended side effects to other game systems. Like with Time Warp, we are taking the time to properly remove it and bake all its intended functionality to base systems.

The goal is that as the game progresses, properly upgraded mining Modules and Stations become more important for generating the required daily amount of Hydrogen.

Hydrogen income from other player's Yellow Star systems will be completely removed as of the next build.  Creating secondary accounts for increasing Hydrogen income will no longer work. We will consider bringing back limited sharing via the Diplomacy feature as part of events after the Dark Nebula update is deployed.

No Hydrogen income from Red Stars

Artifacts will no longer award any Hydrogen, either by research or salvage. The initial build will remove mineable Hydrogen asteroids from Red Stars, making the Rich Asteroid field the only reason to jump in a Miner for now. In future builds we will investigate limited Hydrogen income for the purpose of supporting modules (i.e. Hydrogen Rocket) and Objectives. Another resource or game system may also make sense here, as Miners need to have more uses in Red Stars beyond collecting the Credit Asteroid. If we later add mineable Hydrogen asteroids or any other resource in Red Stars, they will be instanced per player.

The reason for this change is simple: Hydrogen cannot be awarded by the same activity it is supposed to be limiting. There will be no loophole, and no Red Star level that can be played continuously by awarding more Hydrogen than it consumes. 

Artifact yield from Red Stars is properly balanced

The initial build will be the first step towards properly balancing the total amount of Artifacts players get out of a Red Star. The goal is that it should still be possible to get *a lot* of Artifacts, but doing so should have an accordingly high Hydrogen cost. This fixes the pathological situation in base Hades' Star where pretty much unlimited Artifacts are available to people with unlimited free time.

It is obvious this change will affect Artifact trading, but try to resist the urge that you can predict what will happen without even understanding the parts are changing in the initial build. Even if you do understand them, a lot more will be changing in future Early Access updates. The long term goal for Artifact Trading (which may take longer to achieve than the Dark Nebula update) is to make it a proper feature of the game, so that it's equally accessible by all players, and a minority of players with unlimited free time are not allowed to massively hoard Artifacts and create exclusive monopoly over supply. 

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