Combat Explained (Part 2) — Items

This is a continuation from part 1.

In this post I talk about items. Several of you on the forums asked specifically about itemization, so here it is!

The goal of the Astrobase Command item system is to equally support procedural item generation and crafting (user item generation). And also in a broader sense to further refine the uniqueness of a player-created species, and the uniqueness of procedurally generated species a player might encounter.

Keep in mind Astrobase Command has no tech tree.

The technology “power” can conceptually be thought of as the items (and ships and modules) you know how to make, that you have the resources and production capability to make, and that your characters are skilled in making and using. There is no set path, no set technologies, just what you want to learn based on what you already know (or what alien device you’ve found)

So, let’s start from the basics:

What is an item?

From the perspective of Astrobase Command, an item is a collection of game stats.

The clearest example is weapons, which have stats that determine damage type, damage amount, AP cost, reload cost, etc. An item also governs the skill (or skills) when a character uses the item, and the resources and other costs it takes to make the item. There is also a game action (or actions) associated with its types — do you use this item in combat, to mine resources, to scan, etc.

Furthermore, game actions use formulas which take these parameters to create an output (you hit for 10 kinetic damage!), and balance items against other items. In the case of combat, it includes the target as well as the attacker. So an item is really the sum of all these things.

How items are made in Astrobase Command

In the game, the atomic unit of aggregate game stats is called a Part.

A part either adds or subtracts game stat values. When we procedurally generate a part, we follow the specific set of rules that govern its creation. Part X might add or subtract stat A, add or not have stat B, and only subtract stat C. Part Y might do something completely different to stats B, C and D. When we generate a part procedurally, we make some rolls and follow the rules.

Also rolled up into this is what resources the part takes.

Players need to discover a part type to be able to design a part of that type, and have access to the resources to be able to build it, and have characters with appropriate skills in order to manufacture it. It’s absolutely possible to design “theoretical” weapons your race can’t even can’t begin to build (yet), much less train marines to use. And humans do this all the time in the real world.

Items are made by combining parts, and in terms of game stats an item is exactly the sum of its parts.

Item and Part Types

Parts are typed. Some example of types are: Action, Barrel, Energy Device, Emitter, etc. And these have subtypes. To use projectile weapons as an example, a projectile weapon takes four parts — Action, Barrel, Chambering (Ammo Type) and Frame. Within these types there are subtypes: Simple Actions, Repeater Actions, Automatic Actions, etc. All of these have different rulesets, and some are more complex than others.

Where it gets interesting is that weapon parts also govern damage types. So an “Energy Sword” might be buildable combining the right parts from energy weapons and melee weapons. And this is up to the player to discover, and invent new ways of combining things.

When the player picks up an alien device on a distant planet, there is an implicit choice.

Give it to a Marine who figures out how to use it? Or take it apart and figure out how it’s built (with the chance of destroying some or all of it). If the player has never seen the Part Type before, it must be researched before new parts of that type are manufactured. Learning new types and new templates might be useful in creating the next generation of standard issue weapons.

And yes, you can name your weapons.

The player designs a weapon, calls it “Pewmaster 34” and sends it to production which builds and assembles the parts out of resources, using the skills of the characters in charge of manufacturing. And does a production run of 10, 20, however many units.

So it’s possible that as a player you prefer well-made low-tech items over shoddily-made high-tech ones. Note the M1911 has been in service over 100 years, and the USMC just ordered a pile of them in 2012. Meanwhile, we’re developing autonomous flying combat drones and robotic battle-suits. In Astrobase Command it should likewise be viable (and even realistic) to have a healthy mix of old-and-proven with new-and-shiny.

Note: In the first version of Early Access, we have procedurally generated parts (and therefore items). Next step is to have crafting/manufacturing, and finally procedurally generated / user-created Part Types. The latter is currently working in code, but it won’t be turned on for EA because we need play-testing data on everything else.

Generated / Crafted part types is essentially a procedural tech tree — you’ll start tweaking rule-sets and pushing stats higher (or lower) to optimize your items.

Big Picture

We have a “self-countering system” with respect to weapons vs armor, and in the general sense offense vs defense. This means something may be considered a “best weapon” only in the context of an opponent whose situation makes it weak against that weapon.

For example, projectile weapon parts have rules that often give it susceptibility to corrosive environmental damage. Energy weapon parts are susceptible to both corrosive and electrical. Melee parts never have stats that do this, which makes them functionally immune.

So while energy weapons can by nature be quite powerful based on the rules which govern their stat allocation, they might be weak on a planet with electrical storms and salt flats simply because their durability doesn’t last very long. Or, if the player is invading an alien space station and there are reactor fires and other environmental hazards. This is in addition to specific mitigation for energy damage (absorb shields). Absorb shields won’t work against an axe.

If the enemy knows you’re coming, he can prepare. And if you know that HE knows you’re coming, you can prepare. This is essentially what is meant by self-countering, there is no absolute best… simply a contextual best given the situation.

Also, training characters take time, so you will have to choose where you focus their combat expertise. And because the game is Ironman/Permadeath, there is another layer of decision making between highly trained elite squads where every death is a genuine loss, or poorly trained cannon-fodder (redshirts) that you feed into a meat-grinder. Or any mix along any conceivable sliding scale. And also how these choices affect morale, and other station activities.

All items fit into this system, which is used equally in procedurally generation and player crafting. And for players to pick up a procedurally generated item, break it down, and learn something that helps them craft in the future!. So it’s about real choices, with rewarding consequences.

Part 3

I’ll take a look at the associated forum thread for the topic next week! Or if there is anything else you guys want explained.

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Weekly Dev Update – October 9th, 2014
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