Gameplay prototype: Planet exploration & resource discovery

This week I’ve been working on a prototype of the planetary exploration feature discussed on the Colonisation page. The plan was to split each planet up into a grid, and then have the player survey squares to find out what’s there. Exploration only needs to be done once for every planet, and it’s the only way to find resources or increase a planet’s maximum population. The idea is that every time you colonise a new world you’ll explore it and decide how to capitalise on what you’ve found. You might find the planet has a lot of ore deposits, for example, and build extra factories to take advantage of it. Or you might find ancient ruins to build research outposts on, or a uranium deposit that would let you put up a nuclear power plant.

As you progress in the game, you’ll get technologies that make scanning a planet faster and easier, like scanning tech that can spend reserve energy to scan a square, several squares, or a full screen instantly. Ultimately, you’d get the tech to automatically scan all planets from orbit so that when you’re in the late game war stages you don’t have to deal with the micromanagement of exploring new planets. Below is a video of the current gameplay prototype of this exploration system (using massive placeholder models for ore deposits etc). Watch in 1080p fullscreen if possible:

Things you can discover:

  • Ore deposit — One required per factory.
  • Ancient Ruins / Scientific curiosity — Build research outpost on this. Not sure if it’ll increase research output of colony by a percentage or if you’ll need 1 per lab like ore deposits for factories.
  • Food — Particularly good food source that you can build a farm on. Not sure how I’m going to implement this bonus.
  • Settlement location — Start settlement here to increase planet population. Cost of gathering resources is based on distance to nearest settlement.
  • Coal/Oil — Required for fossil fuel power plants, which output more energy than solar/geothermal.
  • Uranium deposit — Required for nuclear power plants, highest energy output.
  • Random discovery — Find new technology, stuff you can salvage for money, or something else.

What I’d really like feedback on is the exploration/scouting system itself. You currently send scouts out from the nearest colony/settlement, and they travel to the location, survey it, and return home. This doesn’t feel very fun as the scouts all come home at different times and you have to send them out individually again. If you go for a few turns without sending one out again, it’s a waste of a limited resource. Being forced to send them out constantly isn’t really fun, and I don’t want the player spending a lot of time in this screen.

So I’ve been thinking of removing the limit on the number of scouts and just charging the player a fee to send a scout mission. That way it becomes a financial consideration, and you don’t feel obligated to send a new scout mission out every few turns. You could wait a few turns, build up some money, and then send 10-15 scouts at once. It also means that when you colonise a new planet you can spend a large amount of cash to rapidly survey the surrounding area. and start building factories etc quickly.

Anyone have any ideas or suggestions on making this exploration process more fun?

About Brendan Drain

Director @ Brain and Nerd

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6 comments
Whisper
Whisper

Another option that would make the process quicker would be for the player to highlight the area via a click and drag movement, spotting it for scouting. The scouts are then automatically sent out to begin surveying the area. The number of scouts built/purchased makes it a financial factor that speeds up the process. This removes the constant "scout this block" command that the player would have to give to each of the 10-15 scouts every time the player wanted to check a new area. And as you mentioned, you could also introduce a fee for each area scouted based on the number of blocks being scanned.

Whisper
Whisper

Because the player would most likely be handling multiple worlds, even early in the game, this level of "hands-off" may be more of a necessity than anything else. The player probably, (however I should really say, "I probably") wouldn't enjoy micromanaging scouting missions over 12+ worlds while managing the rest of the empire over several systems. Including research, fleet movement, fleet construction, colony construction, and so on. While it is obvious that scouting is important and should give the player a level of enjoyment and anticipation for what they might find, it shouldn't be something that is constantly detracting or distracting the player from all the other empire management elements. Either of our methods would work and in reality, they are both pretty much the same. I actually do like the idea that the survey data isn't revealed until the scouts return, even though from a realistic perspective, the data would probably be transmitted immediately to the command center. The "scouting mission report" at the end of a survey mission would certainly reduce the spamming of messages the Player would experience when scanning multiple worlds at once. The real question is, how often do you want the player to have to zoom onto a planet to perform scanning missions over a certain period of time? On my end, I need to reread all the articles so I better understand where the player's focus is supposed to belong most of the time; on the macro level or the micro.

Nyphur
Nyphur

Interesting idea! So you could queue up an area to be scouted, and your scouts would automatically head out to the next one in the list. That feels a bit hands-off though, like the planet is exploring itself and then lets you know what it's found. What if I mix your idea with the current system by just making scout missions cover large areas? For example, the player might pick between different sizes of scout missions, 3x3, 4x4, 5x5 etc. The scout would go out to the location and survey all the squares in that area before returning to base and revealing all the surveyed squares. That way the player still selects exactly where to look, manually sends out every mission, and gets a single response from each mission. It also makes each survey report more awesome because it'll have multiple items on it, and it makes sure you don't get constantly interrupted by scouts finding things every few turns.

Whisper
Whisper

I went over previous articles and saw that you are already preparing for what in early game is interesting and later is tedious. I'll comment on that in its proper commenting area. I also came upon that funding article which I had missed. Yes, Kickstarter can only use US accounts, however I actually know a legal solution to that as well since another developer I follow just experienced the same thing, I will comment in that article as well. It does look like the real focus is on the macro level. And since you can't blueprint a scanning chart that applies to each world, it has to be done manually. So the best course of action is to make it take as little micromanaging. Being able to click a 5x5 scan button a few times (queue perhaps?) or simply highlighting a few areas for scanning, both will work since they likely won't take up more than a few seconds to perform. Scanning definitely shouldn't require an entire minute to perform, even with 30+ scouts. Restricting a survey mission to only one at a time will bring the player back though if that is what you are aiming for with "hands-on". However, you did mention research that would later scan wide areas quickly, or entire planets all together, which solves the primary problem. 3x3, 4x4, 5x5, or click and drag will work perfectly for early and mid games. Getting back to the buttons vs highlight. If you do go ahead with the survey data not being available until the scanning mission is complete, then in my opinion the click and drag would do the job well for both early and mid games since the player would have to balance the pro of a single round flight with a large area scanned with the con that it would take precious turns what you wouldn't want to waste in the early game. This works vice versa with highlighting a small area a bunch of times. Lots of trips need to be taken to cover the same time, in the end the player spends more time surveying, but they do get incremental data quicker which works great for early gameplay. And this incremental approach will give the player the "hands-on" feeling early in the game and when it becomes tedious, they can just select a larger area to scan and shift their focus elsewhere.

Nyphur
Nyphur

That sounds like a good idea, I especially like the idea of queueing scout jobs to be run consecutively. Larger jobs would take longer to return results, but there would only be one roundtrip to base so in the long run it would take less time. In the very early game when you need resources to start building factories etc, you might start off able to scan only one square at a time. Some of the first technologies you'll research could be better scanners to enable larger missions, be they click-and-drag or 3x3, 5x5 etc. You should be able to queue up as many scanning missions as you can afford and your scouts would do them automatically. That means if you want to queue up lots of scanning jobs you'll need to invest the money up front. In the mid game when you are managing 4-5 colonies you could get technologies that would instantly scan areas. Then in the late game you'd get the technology to scan a planet from orbit and eliminate that problem.

Whisper
Whisper

Exactly. The click-and-drag could be the most basic and slow(since a scout has to go to each block) method. As you mentioned with the mid game having the technology to scan an area. The 3x3(and all over variants) could be that area scanning technology. Just a suggestion, in the end it looks like you've got a great plan going.