White Star changes in DARK NEBULA
From all the game modes in Hades’ Star, White Stars have the most potential to be a truly unique, truly tactical, truly social game - all important goals for Hades’ Star in general. But the overall complexity in other parts of the game has done White Stars a disservice so far. Modules like Time Warp (which should never have been allowed in White Stars in the first place) and unintended features like bonding Cerberus ships as Leap targets, have taken over gameplay completely, eliminated vast categories of interesting tactical choices, and made the overall experience swift towards random directions over the years. With Dark Nebula, we are taking a step back and dedicating a lot of time and effort required to bring White Stars back to their original vision.
The problems described here are set in stone. You may not think these are problems worth fixing, and 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 are addressing 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. They 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.
These are the problems we'll be fixing with the White Star re-design:
Problem 1. White Stars are too synchronous
One of the worst problems in the live version of Hades’ Star is that White Stars are extremely fast in all competitive matches, forcing players to check in far more frequently than originally intended. With the right leveled up modules, reaching the center planet from the gate can happen in under 4 hours. It's obvious that in this state, there's nothing asynchronous about the mode. A serious player feels pressured to check during the night because by the time they wake up it's possible for the enemy to have brought multiple ships to the planet they were aiming for and detonated explosives instantly in just a few hours, with no prior warning whatsoever. This fact by itself shows that White Stars are completely broken. Major change is needed to bring them back to a playable, enjoyable, asynchronous mode.
To fix this issue, the Time Warp module is being removed from the game. Time Warp was broken in all game modes, not just in White Stars (future blog posts will describe the other reasons Time Warp was removed, and how it will be replaced). Other modules that speed up ships will be re-evaluated as well, either toning down the speed up where warranted (i.e. Impulse, which adds extra value with Area Damage during its activation), or by providing a downside to the speedup that the enemy can take advantage of (i.e. Delta Shield, which will still be fast but at the cost of potentially staying without a shield for a while after reaching the destination).
Problem 2. White Star matchmaking leads to poor experience
The most commonly reported problem in White Stars is mismatches among Corporations. There is no technical reason for this - it is simply a result of the amount of Corporations searching for a White Star at any given moment. The game can't create Corporations out of thin air - when Corporation X is searching for a match, it has to be matched with another Corporation Y that's also searching at the same time frame. The matchmaking algorithm prefers giving a mismatch instead of giving no match at all and have a Corporation search forever, but really, both of these choices are very bad and should be avoided.
To reduce the number of mismatches, Dark Nebula will be reducing the number of available team sizes to choose from when looking for a match. The current Early Access build offers 6vs6 and 12vs12, but a further reduction to just one 10vs10 bracket is also possible. Having less brackets will be painful for some teams that are used to running with certain teammates, but it’s necessary to help the longevity of the game.
As an additional benefit, the reduced bracket numbers will allow us to properly redesign the White Star maps so they are 100% suited for the number of players in them.
Problem 3. Economic Modules are not interesting and varied enough
Both the Mining and Transport operations in White Stars never reached their full tactical potential, and in fact have deteriorated over the years (i.e. the unbalanced state of Relic Drone makes Transports completely irrelevant in high level matches). An important manifestation of this is that Transport and Miner loadouts in White Stars are pretty fixed. There is no real thought process required when picking what Modules to equip to your ships when sending them in, no serious alternatives. For higher level Transports, there are not even enough White Star relevant Modules available to fill all the slots.
Modules for Miners and Transports are being specifically rebalanced, re-designed or replaced for White Stars. The goal is to make all Modules that are useable in White Stars provide value and be considered for every loadout. To achieve that, a more interesting map layout is also necessary - changes just to the Modules themselves without changes to the map would not work. We are changing the Asteroid layout, with more dynamic spawns during the match. Planet layouts will also be tweaked for each map.
An important economy change that will make maps more dynamic is that White Star planets no longer create Relics passively. Relics are only created by Hydrogen, and the more Relics a planet has created, the more Hydrogen it takes to generate the next Relic. This, along with more planets in all layouts, means that the overall layout will be more dynamic. Corporations that want to maximize their Relics and increase their chance of winning can no longer focus on a single planet for the entire duration of the match.
Problem 4. Combat Modules are not interesting and varied enough
Combat in White Stars is not as varied as it should be, given the number of Weapon, Shield and Support modules available. We will be doing a number of module tweaks and substitutions towards the goal of making all Modules that work in White Stars be a viable alternative when choosing a loadout. All modules will get tweaked separately for White Stars. The numbers many modules were using were based on Red Star gameplay, which has almost nothing in common with White Stars.
Dark Nebula's goals for PvP combat (these goals will also apply to Blue stars) will be to eventually create an environment where all modules are powerful on their own, and/or serve as powerful counters to Modules other players will use against you. In the long run, we want to have the right number of powerful attack modules and the right number of counters that make the task of choosing modules for White Stars interesting in itself. Achieving this goal fully means that emerging metas will not last forever (i.e. if too many people start equipping module X, smart players will start equipping module Y that completely counters X). Implementing this goal will take years, and the Dark Nebula update will only be the first step towards getting there. Future updates after Dark Nebula will further refine existing Modules and introduce new Modules toward that goal.
Many of the initial changes introduced in Dark Nebula will be towards addressing dominating strategies that have turned White Stars away from the intended experience. For example, the Leap module will no longer consider combat against Cerberus ships, eliminating this boring (because of its predictable use and disproportionate value) strategy.
Shields deserve a special mention as their redesign in all game modes (including White Stars) is a good example of the ideas and driving forces behind many redesigns. In current Hades' Star, there's a huge missed tactical opportunity for choosing WHEN to activate your shield. The cooldowns for most shields line up exactly with their activation time, so when the shield runs out, it can be re-activated immediately. By addressing this issue across all available shields, Dark Nebula adds another interesting tactical dimension to combat - both for the player activating the shield, and the enemy player looking to take advantage of the shield's cooldown time.
Problem 5. Corporation progression is erratic
Having Corporation progression depend on the actual amount of Relics collected in a White Star is a serious problem. It causes unsurpassable problems for new Corporations, which can't progress at a reasonable rate. It causes unsportsmanlike behavior in many matches, by forcing Corporations to obsessively collect Relics long after the winner has been decided. It's simply bad for players who just want a fun match instead of min/maxing everything.
Instead of counting Relics directly towards the Corporation's level, Dark Nebula introduces the concept of Corporation XP. This kind of XP is gathered in White Stars, and is not proportional to the number of Relics collected. XP will be tweaked throughout Early Access, but the biggest contributor will be whether the match was won or not, and actual effort spent (to reduce no shows). There will be a maximum and minimum amount of XP awarded per White Star match, which will allow us to balance progression properly for all Corporations. Relics will still be the factor that determines who won the game, but a 100-0 win will no longer give you 100 times the progress that a 1-0 win would. We will also look for ways to make the whole reward system more fair for Corporations that were matched with a much stronger opponent.
Problem 6. White Star Leaderboards are not in any form an indication of skill
The current White Star leaderboard mechanism is terrible. So terrible that it would have been better if the Leaderboard just picked a player at random to become #1 from all players who participated in White Stars during the season. It would have been better because *that* system wouldn't encourage a big chunk of the player base focus on trivially doing damage, often during staged situations.
Dark Nebula will address this problem, either by providing a more reliable and fun metric, or by removing the White Star leaderboard completely.