Red Star changes in DARK NEBULA
Red Stars are the foundation of Hades' Star. As the first activity star type to be implemented in the game, they entire game revolves around them. They are crucial for establishing a daily routine, providing daily gameplay challenges, for progressing technology that can help in any star type, and for meeting and interacting with other players.
The current Hades' Star game has found success because it showed how Red Stars can be a fun, cooperative, cooperative social, consistent daily activity. It has found success despite some fundamental problems with Red Stars, as described below. A big part of the development effort in Dark Nebula is going towards fixing these problems so Red Stars can fulfil their true potential and open up to more diverse types of strategy players.
Problem 1. The Red Star scaling experience is terrible
Starting at Red Star 8, the current way Red Star levels scale can be summarized as: "Make the play area bigger and mindlessly populate the map with more and more Cerberus ships on each level". This naïve scaling method completely breaks down at higher levels. What players see in those high level stars is a giant clump of Cerberus ships. There's so many of them that they can't be distinguished from each other. There can be no meaningful analysis or strategy against the Clump, other than "equip the 2 modules in the game that neutralize the Clump for enough time until we've hopefully destroyed most of it". The entire combat against the Clump lasts for a couple of minutes, after which the Red Star is mostly over and a boring long process begins for collecting the Artifacts.
This situation is one of many great examples for why Hades' Star can no longer get meaningful updates, not without a more radical re-design. We cannot have Red Star level 15 down the road just by exponentially increasing the size and number of enemy ships each time. It simply doesn't work.
Hades' Star can also never be a long term sustainable game if there's only 3-4 Modules that really mean anything in Red Stars. The game was badly hurt by the coincidental fact that Barrier is a godly module that just by accident happens to be the only reason Red Star level 9+ is playable at all . If the module didn't exist, then obviously higher Red Stars, their layout and the enemy composition would need to be rethought. In the current Hades' Star game, Barrier isn't even a module, it's a game system that allows players to pause the action in a beneficial to them way, so they can try to understand what's happening. Without this pausing, regular players cannot follow the chaotic action that comes after the first minute of entering a planet sector.
The end result of the above problem is most of the players who reach a higher level Red Star can't make any sense of how to proceed unless they're lucky enough to have the right module at the right level, and know that's the one module that is needed for success in that red star level. Naturally, most players in this situation quit playing Red Stars, declaring "red stars are not for them". Players who quit red stars are very unlikely to continue playing the game at all.
The ones who don't quit quickly find there's only one way to have successful runs: Pause the game (via a series of Barriers) and hope to clear with the other few modules that are relevant in Red Stars. Combined with the static Red Star layouts, this makes for an extremely boring game. The only fun players consistently see in Red Stars is taking loot and working with their friends.
The Dark Nebula update addresses this issue head on, by redesigning Red Star layouts from scratch, bringing Cerberus ships in gradually in waves, and with other rebalancing so that all modules can be useful. Red Stars have the potential to become a fun playground for all the modules players unlock in their journey. We can do much, much better than the current Red Stars in Hades' Star, without affecting the things that already work about them.
Problem 2: Poorly designed Cerberus ships
What should be an exciting time of discovering the Interceptor (the first new Cerberus in the early game), players are greeted with a problematic ship that does not offer any intelligently designed challenge but is instead there to punish tiny mistakes in the worst way possible. On top of that, it also makes it possible for players to indirectly attack other player's ships.
Instead of the half measures Hades' Star previously took in order to make the Interceptor less threatening to other players and even more boring, Dark Nebula redesigns the ship so it offers a proper, predictable challenge and removes its potential to be abused.
There are more examples of bad behavior, boring design or missed opportunities in other Cerberus ships in higher levels. Both Red Stars and the new Dark Red Stars will fix problems and explore new opportunities in Red Star Cerberus behavior.
Problem 3. Red Stars can bring out the worst types of online interactions
Social gameplay is the undisputed high point of Red Stars, with most players enjoying cooperation and even helping others for no benefit to them. However, there are exceptions with malicious players finding fun in destroying other player's ships and progress. Bad design such as the already mentioned Interceptor ships and the Bond module support this behavior.
There is nothing that makes a player quit faster than a living, breathing psychopath laughing at them after having intentionally destroyed their ship. Dark Nebula cannot fix psychopaths, but it can fix the broken systems they abuse. This problem is very high priority for Dark Nebula to fix.
Problem 4. Red Stars fail to appeal to people who like a challenge
Clearing a Red Star at your current level was supposed to be a skill based accomplishment. Instead, thanks mostly to the Salvage module, clearing a Red Star is instead a walk in the park. Because of Salvage, players see most Cerberus filled sectors in a Red Star as free healing, instead of the challenge they were originally meant to be.
The current Influence leaderboard is another example of the failure of Red Stars to offer a challenge, or recognize any kind of skill. A bunch of players are always tied for the first spot with the exact same score. Skill has absolutely nothing to do with how they got there.
Adding some challenge to Red Stars does not necessarily mean making them any more difficult than they are. But the current situation where many players don't even feel they need to activate any of their modules is a huge problem. The design intention is that regular (non-Dark) Red Stars should stay as easy or even a little easier compared to the live Hades' Star game, but with players now needing to semi-intelligently activate all the modules they bring in to the star.
Red Star changes coming to Early Access build
The following solutions for the above problems will be deployed and evaluated in the Early Access build, and further refined in the months ahead. Feel free to suggest additional potential solutions for the above problems, or to let us know how these solutions are working so far:
Starting at a mid Red Star level (around RS6), players will start seeing Cerberus ships spawning later throughout the map. How specifically that will happen, where they will spawn, what ship types they will be, etc, will be tweaked heavily in the months ahead during Early Access, depending on playtesting needs and results. The design goals for this system are:
- To properly pace the entire 10+ minute duration of the match. While Red Stars are reducing in length, players will now be expected to pay attention for most of that duration. Mining and Transport operations will have a much larger combat component in Dark Nebula.
- To allow players to quickly evaluate the threat they are facing at each stage of the match, without having to decipher overwhelming Clumps of enemy ships.
- To give meaning to all activated modules, which now will be useable multiple times during the Red Star match. Module cooldowns will also be tweaked, to properly match the pacing the Cerberus waves will bring.
- Players will be expected to do proper HP management during the entire duration of the star, using all modules in their Battleships and Transports, including the new healing modules. HP management will be critical in the hard Dark Red Star mode.
Introducing Dark Red Stars
The new Dark Red Stars (DRS) provide an alternate choice in place of regular Red Stars, for a minority of skilled players who want to risk Credits for faster Module progress.
Dark Red Stars will be intentionally hard, and they will put all ships sent in at risk of permanent loss. The design intent is that over 80% of players should ignore DRS at their current level (this does not include players who choose to do DRS at lower levels than their scanner allows). There should also not be any reason to play both RS and DRS for most players. Dark Red Stars will be available for players who have been playing for at least one or two months, likely unlocking at Red Star Scanner level 7.
Dark Red Stars will be playable solo or with 1 or 2 people joining. Regardless of how many are participating, the upper limit of 3 Battleships will always be enforced. We expect the most skilled players who want to have success in Dark Red Stars will team together, with each player controlling a single Battleship.
Why would we intentionally design for most players to avoid Dark Red Stars? Because a lot of work is going into both regular Red Stars and Dark Red Stars, and they should both become very good at addressing different kinds of players:
- Casual players who want to progress predictably, do not care about variety, and want to reduce risk (especially if they play multiplayer) should pick regular Red Stars. This is the vast majority of current Hades' Star players.
- Skilled players who think the risk is part of the fun, want to push modules and strategy to their limits, have other skilled friends they want play a challenging match with, and want increased module progression rate as a reward, should pick Dark Red Stars.
Of course it's not all binary, many players will try a mix of both modes at different stages of the game. But if most people think they need to play both daily to progress, that's a design fail.
If Dark Nebula released and 100% of people started playing DRS at their unlocked level every day, that would be a disaster. It means the design has completely failed and it would have to go through painful adjustment of making DRS much harder. This would lead to 100% of players having a really strong reason to quit, after the game tricked them into thinking they could get very high module progression rate for zero risk.
If Dark Nebula released and 0% of people played DRS every day, that's a far better situation to be in. It would still be possible through careful, incremental updates to slowly bring that percent up to the goal of 10-15%, by tweaking difficulty and rewards.
Wherever between these two extreme cases we fall on release, Dark Red Star difficulty will keep getting tweaked from playtesting and from live data, so that they are always positioned as the premium, risky, hard mode that most of the players know to stay clear from.
Any feedback on Dark Red Star difficulty in Early Access won't be relevant unless it's fully aware of these goals. If you are like most current players in Hades' Star, there's a very high chance Dark Red Stars are not for you. Your DRS feedback would only be useful if you see yourself becoming a risky player who would not mind gambling some credits and daily progress in exchange for faster module progress and/or leaderboard placement. If you think the Red Stars in the current Hades' Star game are fine/interesting as they are, please direct your feedback to the regular Early Access Red Stars instead.
Additional design goals for Dark Red Stars (consistent with only a small minority of players using them regularly):
- To break the monotony for very high level players who no longer have a good use for Credits. It's possible someone could be playing for years ignoring DRS, then find fresh meaning very late in the game.
- To make the Empire Power (previously Influence) leaderboard involve some form of excitement and skill, instead of the ridiculous activity it currently is.
- To give value to niche modules that should otherwise be deleted (i.e. Red Star Extender and many other combat modules that cannot become desirable in Red Stars, unless regular red star layouts become far more dynamic and challenging, something we don't want to do as it would be too disruptive to existing players).
Design goals related to difficulty in RS and DRS
- In Regular Red Stars, a player who has the right tech level for the Red Star level should have little trouble clearing a single high level planet. This assumes the player will use all the modules equipped on their Battleships. Easily clearing a planet without using modules is not desirable. However, it doesn't matter *what* the module equipped is. All modules that are available for Red Stars should have value, and unless players are coming in with very poorly thought out module combinations, they should be able to clear the first planet on their own. Obviously this varies according to Red Star level. Clearing an RS3 planet on your own will be much easier compared to RS10.
- Regular Red Stars should become very easy when there are more than 1 players entering the same planet sector together. This is an intentional design goal - the slight challenge should only be there for solo players, and only for mid to high Red Star levels.
- Dark Red Stars should always be difficult, whether it's 1 or 3 players participating.
- In Dark Red Stars, using game mechanics and modules in a 100% predictable, repetitive, risk-free and "boring" way to clear a planet sector should not be possible. Some of this repetition, within reason, is acceptable in regular Red Stars and is also found in the existing Hades' Star game. But in Dark Red Stars, any such 100% consistent strategy that results in getting artifacts with minimal effort and strategy should be reported as a bug. Such examples from previous Early Access builds include:
- Completely destroying or significantly weakening hard Cerberus with a very large number of Rockets equipped on Transports and Miners
- Manipulating combat when overwhelmed by Dark Interceptors by jumping ships out of the system and then back in after their Shields have recharged, repeating as many times as needed
- Pinning the Colossus down in a corner while Transports are loading Artifacts from the planet.
- Loading Artifacts from a planet while the Dark Destroyer is destroying the planet.