Wednesday, September 7, 2022

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. 



30 comments:

  1. Eagleguy101:
    For White star matchmaking, why not give the scanning teams the choice between "quick match" and accurate match "

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    1. Continuing:
      Hit return on accident 😅
      Also when/if team sizes are shrunk, I strongly urge that the ability to scan more teams per Corp gets added as well. Instead of limiting teams, it could be a limit on the total numbers of people that can particularly in WS at one time.

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    2. That's an easy answer, it's because that would split the matchmaking pool even more and make matchmaking worse.

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  2. It is completely true that White Stars became too fast with all the speed modules at high levels. However, the beta testing of new white stars showed that the game got stupid boring where practically nothing is happening at all. You'll put a ship to move a short distance and next time you can check tomorrow. This just isn't enough to keep people interested in what's happening.

    Remove Time Warp and adjust Impulse. That's well enough to slow the game down to a reasonable level. If you make it like it is now in beta testing I seriously doubt there will be enough players remaining.

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  3. I like these big brain analyzations

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  4. I appreciate the work being done and the candid admission of gameplay issues. Im suprised that matching/balance isnt listed as an issue, as our corp usually gets matched with WAY better corps. Maybe these changes will help with that, maybe not

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    1. Problem #2, Matchmaking?

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    2. Yep. I'm dumb. I didnt spot that.

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  5. Can you please explain your thoughts on compensation for players when these changes come in to place? For someone who has spent 22M on Tw12 it will be a kicker if it is simply removed. Thanks.

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    1. Deleted modules will be replaced with new modules at around the same blueprint and upgrade price requirements, and all upgrades to the deleted module will carry over to the new module. Where possible, we'll try to have the new module be in the same area of functionality that the deleted module was in. More details in future posts.

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  6. All 5 are valid issues. #4 for WS especially, as I'd estimate laser is 80% of weapon use. Delta shield having a down time will seriously hurt its use case in non-WS modes. It already sees little use in RS and BLS, would this be balanced by changing other shields?

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  7. And not a word about the Blue Star matchmaking. In Dark Nebula, it got even worse for now actually.

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  8. RE: White Stars are too synchronous

    I think the time machine is a key part of WS and a unique feature of Hades, so I propose the following:

    Allowing a player, while in TM, to input movement and module commands for friendly and enemy ships. This will allow players to run scenarios and make appropriate decisions, eliminating the need for players to wait for things to happen "live" when things are too close to call in TM.

    Thank you for an awesome game :)

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    1. That would be very useful but it would have to be a different interface from the current time machine. Maybe separate “sandbox” or”tactical projection” interfaces for an individual (for testing) and the Corp (for coordinating)

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  9. I agree that these are all problems - I think that part of the cause of problem 4 (and perhaps 2 and 3) is the research framework - players see one strategy that works and decide to max the required modules to the exclusion of others, and therefore don't experiment with the others.
    The fact that the same mods are used in all star types plays into the decision of which ones to level too. Is it feasible that all mods can have value in all star types or is it more realistic to have some mods aimed at just one star or another?
    In HS white stars another example of mod level dictating strategy is the barrier-bond arms race where bond(n+1)>barrier(n+1)>bond(n) for example.
    Lots more questions than answers here but one suggestion would be not to scale the _range_ of mods with level (in white stars at least)

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  10. One additional problem arising in the White Stars are the drones. Because ships lack the speed to cover the map it quickly becomes a lot more worth it to just move ships out of gate sector, send drones and return. Rinse and repeat. Unless the vision is to make the game mostly drone wars there should be mechanics making it worth to keep ships on the map rather than just refreshing the modules.

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  11. I have to comment on Leap module. What is said in the article is that Leap module has a boring use because it can be used against Cerberus ships. Actually the Leap module is boring because it is used to leap backwards (so towards your own gate) making ships almost invulnerable. On the other hand, leaping forward creates very interesting situations and those should be promoted. Maybe allowing ships to leap reliably if your ship is firing an enemy drone? This would require removing the option to disband drones so mindless drone spamming could have also drawbacks.

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  12. Hello. I agree more or less with all the problems you say and I want to contribute a bit.
    I loved WS when we was low levels. It was about tactical and strategists decisions, you have to be in the best place and think where you have to be in the next hours. Now, with the high levels modules like bond, barrier, leap, etc, the WS is about to rush and to bond/tp miners or transports, to turtle in a planet with lots of lv12 barriers or something like that.
    I haven't seen good BS fights conquering the field, it is just tp, impulse, destiny leap, etc. I think the power of the modules in high levels is a big problem, the fight has to have a balance between movement, combat and modules, not only be about modules.
    Another problem I see, related with the first, is the lack of asteroids in the late game on WS. When corporations mine the map, ships has no place to go other than planets or the few asteroids that spawns. I think asteroids doesn't have to dissappear when 0 hydrogen (as in BLS) to let ships move in them.
    Cheers.

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  13. Papa, I believe you nailed in all problems and offered a good solution.

    Barrier is a game killer, you can't allow a 24/7 barrier in a planet. the lack of asteroids also kills paths and strategy. i agree with the other anon that asked for 0 H roids don't disappear.

    barrier fix could be: prevents incoming tp but allow enemy players movement. a good combo would be a new suspend: decreases enemy players movement speed only. that would be a good barrier+suspend combo with lots of counters and good plays

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  14. Well white star was very boring like a turtle. BORING

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  15. RadarAUs, Aussie Fringe
    I see this as two problems - the casual gamers and the dedicated 'play everyday' gamers, plus you also want varied strategy with no 'one' build to rule them all play.
    Casual gamers play maybe 1-3 times a week, participate and get on with life. Dedicated ones are in every day.

    My thoughts - Allow unlimited module changes on all ships up to RS4 - no cost
    At RS4, allow a pool of changes for each ship type (BS, Trans, Miner) that are 'free' and reset every day or week - whether used for one ship or several of the same class. Could have a counter at the top of the layout screen showing remaining free mod changes for that class. Free charges would go up per level of the ship. So you might have say 6 changes for BS, 2 each for trans/miner at their level 2 versions. After the 'free' changes - cost kicks in - whether credits, or, building on the DRS or Quantum idea - Quantum crystals.
    This allows players to experiment, does not hurt lower players or the casual ones. Dedicated players have the Quantum or Credit cost, but are earning more due to extended play anyways, so that eats some of that.

    My other thought would be changing the cost of using something per star (RS. WS, etc) so that it increases in cost every time it is activated on that class of ship - whether a percentage or a flat increase. So use #1 - 100 hydro, use #2 - 300 hydro, use #3 - 1,000 hydro, use #4 - 5,000 hydro, etc. on that clsdd of ship. Note that there would still be timers and cool-downs - but you would see the new hydro cost on that button to activate it. Now - the cost only resets the next day for that mod on that class of ship for that star type.
    Example - in 1st RS, player uses Repair 2 times. They go into the 2nd RS and use it 2 more times - the 5th activation would cost say 10,000 hydro...
    This allows casuals that have full hydro due to no play to particapte (they can splurge on their game days), dedicated players learn to conserve and use sparingly as they use it, but are also likely to switch to mods that have a lower 'cost' for that day, so balancing use.
    There will always be the favourites or the meta builds, what this does is make it very expensive/impossible to keep playing the same thing for the heavy gamers.
    So you can make Repair very good, but it gets too expensive to use and player then swaps to Salvage vs Repair - Repair is too expensive to use after the 4th time, but might have it on one ship for an emergancy - their choice. Also do not allow certain mods on certain classes - so no repair on miners or trans, only BS.That removes the cheap repair army for the BS. By having the cost increase on the same class of ship that would probably negate the army option anyways - if you have 4 miners with repair, the 4th activation would cost you 5,000 hydro no matter which miner does it.
    You could then have mods that extend or improve mods in the fleet - these could potentially use Quantum crystals, so make Salvage 'better', but charge it up with Quantum crystals - but after a certain number of 'activations', the charge is used up for the day.

    Apologies I am not addressing actual gameplay, but as DN is in such a state of flux it is difficult to assess what is working vs what does not. We really need more direction eg - everyone, please test these features - this week/month it is x, x, and x
    At the very least introducing free mod changes will encourage this.

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    1. Note that for the duration of a WS even though it is across several 'days', it is 1 game day total, so the cost goes up the entirety of the WS, even if they swap mods by jumping in and out different ships of same class - no rocket popping!
      But still allows the use of rockets in a tactical fashion.

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  16. Another mechanism that may also work is that each time certain modules are activated like delta or mirror shield, they have slightly lower shield value than an equivalent Omega. But if you travel (delta), you lose or 'burn' your shield. Tactic - stay and have shield, or move (faster) and have much less shield. For Mirror, have it decrease the amount of reflected dmg so by the time the shield is used up it is reflecting no dmg. Tactic - trigger early to wipe out small Cerb swarm or later to protect against larger Cerb for longer

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  17. Andreas, how do you see the impulse-bond-tp "kidnap" meta being resolved? It's the ws killer at high levels, first thing I looked for on the oppo team was bond 12, whilst I was still playing ws. Do you think removing tw and slowing impulse will sort it sufficiently?

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  18. My two cents concering WS: some modules guarantee the victory. Unless the matchmaking is really awful the module levels make the decision. If cooldown ruins it for you then leave and come back. This is boring, senseless and nobody wants to spend any effort into this. So how about different approach:
    Each WS has a fixed pool of modules for both companies and each of their players. Module level is fixed. Ship levels are fixed. As a company everybody has to work according to a strategy that fits the presets. This way a WS becomes more challenging and low-level players can participate alongside the pros.
    And now as I am writing this: you could also experiment with a "hard core" mode like dark RS. When the search for a WS begins every player has to have the ships ready for departure at the scanner - no further exchange, no cooldown. Every ship departs once a WS is found and you cannot come back. Once a ship leaves or gets destroyed it's gone for good.

    Those ideas combined and you'll fix problem #2 instantly and part of #1. But maybe it's just a stupid idea, I don't make the decisions here.

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  19. I think the brilliant strategies and mechanisms that work around natural flaws in gameplay are fun and not boring. It's true that some modules have not found use but it's also likely whatever "perfect" fix is found human ingenuity will find the counters,flaws and strategies to excel. It seems your original idea was to create a game with a large variety of successful strategies at a relaxed pace. I'd argue you already succeeded. My corp regularly defeats the existing WS metas using the responsiveness strategy you describe as undesirable. But how can you ever really have competitive game play without some measure of competitive pacing? They are inapposite goals and I hope in your solution you merely seek to establish balance between two conflicting but desirable ends. I don't relish checking the game at 3 a.m. but because I chose to commit as officer in a corp that enjoys to win some level of sacrifice. But that adds to the fun! And makes victory sweeter. Please don't disincentive competitive play in a fun competitive strategy game. If anyone can win even using less commitment, effort and ingenuity, that's Ms. Pac Man, not intergalactic chess. Thanks for creating in my view a brilliant game.

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  20. Problem 6 could also be rewritten as "Blue star Leaderboards..."
    Seriously, there's no skill in downscaling your level 6 bs with dart 12 or vengeance 12 and leave almost every other mod out in order to match up against bs 2, 3 and 4.

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  21. Hopefully you (DEV) fixes the shield jump to WS technique! We’re the shield time is cut in half when BS enters with active shield based on when BS jumps to WS. It’s fun but a clear disadvantage if your CORP knows this technique over the other CORP.

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