Second iteration on planet exploration system

There are lots of software development strategies, but the one that comes naturally to me is rough iterative development. The process starts with an idea for a feature, which is then used to produce a gameplay prototype. I try the prototype out to see how it feels, and show it to people to collect feedback. That feedback is used to refine the prototype into a second iteration, which is then tested and shown to people again to collect feedback. This cycle continues until eventually I’m happy with the feature. Usually I do all the testing myself and only show the prototypes to a few real life friends, but over the past few weeks I’ve been showing the prototypes to people via the blog. Even with just a few people commenting, it’s been really useful.

Last week I showed a gameplay prototype of the planet exploration system and got some great feedback. This week I’m back with the second iteration on that system:

The new system works as follows:

  • There are now a lot more squares to scan on a planet, meaning a lot more exploration is required.
  • There are now buttons for sending out missions of different sizes: 1×1, 3×3, 5×5 etc.
  • The scout travels to the center square of the mission, spends 1 turn per square surveying, and then heads back to base.
  • On arrival at base, the area is revealed and a survey report pops up listing what has been found.
  • You can queue up as many missions as you want and they’ll be tackled in order.
  • Missions have a cost based on the distance and number of squares surveyed, which must be paid up front when you schedule the mission. This makes it really expensive to scout far away places.

I feel like the basic scouting mechanics are now very solid, but I need to add a few more things to the next iteration of this system:

  • Option to cancel any scheduled scout mission before it begins to get a refund.
  • Some way to have multiple scouts? Maybe they’d just speed up the surveying process itself, and reduce its cost.
  • Scanners that can instantly scan squares in exchange for energy reserves.
  • Colonising settlements, and scout missions being sent from the nearest settlement.
  • Try out different “fog of war” effects for the squares. It might be better if unexplored squares were dark and opaque, and it’d work better on ice worlds than the current pale white.

Once those features are in, I’ll begin work on a system for placing extractors on resources. I should be able to get that done within just a few days if nothing comes up that stops me from working. I’ll post a video of it when it’s done. If you have any feedback on the planet exploration system described above, please leave it in the comments as it’ll be very useful as I do the third iteration on the feature this week. For example, should scout missions cost money at all or should the balancing factor in scouting far away places be just time?

About Brendan Drain

Director @ Brain and Nerd
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On the question of costing money to send scouting missions. It comes down to just how much of an investment the cost of the mission is. For example, the 45 BC cost (I'm making the assumption that BC is the money). Say the cost of a scouting mission for a large area far away averages up to 100, or 500, or even a 1000, which of those would have an impact on the over all budget of the empire? I don't know how much things cost to base my perspective on so I'm going by blind logic here. However for instance, if each turn the empire gets 3000 BC a turn, then anything below 1000 isn't going to really make the player consider if they want to wait a turn or choose a different location. What I'm really trying to point out is, if the cost of the mission is an insignificant or arbitrary amount when compared to how much a mid-game empire makes, then there isn't much of a point in having a cost since there isn't any financial risk to make it relevant. In which case turns are the true deciding factor when considering what kind of mission (area and location) to perform. I have not problem with having a variable cost to perform survey missions and in a real sense there would be a cost to maintain scouts. Just be certain that if there is a cost, it has to be something the player really has to consider besides the number of turns it will take before they get a result. In regards to the picture, that looks spot on! I can live without a click-and-drag command for scouting knowing that in mid to late games there will be large area scans and planetary scans. On the topic of multiple scouts, I'd suggest they speed up the surveying portion of the operation, however if there is a cost for the mission, it should increase based on the number of scouts being sent on the mission. Perhaps have to decide how many of the available scouts the player wants to send. This also opens up the option for the player to send out multiple scouting missions. To make it so this doesn't become complicated with the queue, each time a mission is queued, the player decides ahead of time how many scouts they want to send. Then when a team returns, if they have enough scouts desired for the mission, they will leave. If they don't have enough, they will wait for the next team to return and then try again. Maybe have a checkbox for if the player wants them to just go without the desired number of scouts. If you wanted it to be a little more complex or dynamic, you could have the option for when a mission is automatically sent based on a queue that has not meet the desired number of scouts on the mission, then when more scouts become available, they will leave for the survey site that is short on desired scouts.


I think this boils down to two questions: 1 - Do I want to have multiple scout missions going simultaneously? This is complicated to do due to the way the system is currently implemented, and would mean mission would return at irregularly spaced intervals. But I do want the player to be able to build extra scouts or a building to let him scout faster. For now, I'm going to go with a system where only one mission will be active at a time but having more scouts decreases the survey time. If in testing later this proves to not be fun, I can always iterate on it again and perhaps incorporate multiple missions. 2 - How do I want someone to explore the world? I want them to explore nearby areas first and settle every settlement area they find. That can be achieved a few different ways: - Setting a hard limit on scout range with technology to increase it. - Making it so you can only explore squares adjacent to already scouted squares. - Giving scout missions a cost that scales more than linearly with with distance. - Making scout mission travel times scale up non-linearly with distance. I'm thinking the cost scaling one would be good. I want people to be able to say "There's a land mass over here, so I'll send an expensive mission to it on the chance I'll find a settlement." But I don't want them sending missions all the way across the world until later in the game. An exponentially increasing cost achieves this. Buildings/technology might decrease the cost of scout missions, the survey time, or the travel speed. EDIT: What if the cost wasn't in money, but stored energy? And then if you didn't have enough energy for the next mission in the list it would wait for you to get enough.


The stored energy might work. That way, the technology for storing energy becomes the limiting factor in the distance a scout can travel. Making it so they can't send missions far away from a settlement in the beginning. Having a bunch of different technologies like increased speed, energy storage, maybe even more areas scanned per turn, could make scouting a lot more dynamically based on the player's technological limitations instead of the financial ones. I'm not so in favor with making it so scouts can only explore adjacent squares to already explored ones. That makes the focal point for the 3x3 area scans inefficiently placed, lest you make it so the focal point can only go as far away from scanned squares as the edge of the scanning area would allow (edge of area to scan must be adjacent to a scanned square). And what about a world that starts the player off on a small island. The player would have to make a scanned line, wasting lots of turns, just to reach the main land. Over all however, I'm in favor of using energy that builds up (faster if you have the technology) for the scouting missions.