What Works: What Doesn’t - Beta 3

Discussion about PULSAR: Lost Colony including talking about factions, classes, ship systems, playstyles, etc.
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maplealmond
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What Works: What Doesn’t - Beta 3

Post by maplealmond » Mon Oct 19, 2015 3:31 am

So I finally had a chance to sit down and play all 5 roles. Some of this is a bit outdated as it refers to Beta 3.0.

For background, I was playing on Teamspeak with a random assortment of crew members. Some of them were great with lots of experience, some were new but earnest, and some were easily bored troublemakers who added nothing of value. I rotated across all the positions a number of times.

I’m trying to break each section down into both an objective what works/doesn’t and then suggestions for each station.


Engineer
As a position, Engineering basically works. Managing ship energy levels is fun, but I do wish the controls worked all the time, even when the ship is at warp. Managing the ship energy levels and resources is generally fun. Being the repair guy is also fun.

The major problem with being the ship engineer is how insanely simple the role can be. Once the ship has a good enough reactor, Engineering turns into a part time job. As the engineer I could sit back and basically do nothing at points except charge and activate the jump drive. Managing heat just isn’t engaging enough.

I would regularly see Engineers hop onto the turrets just to have something to do. (Very often they would make the fights go worse as they were significantly worse shots than the turrets on automatic.) Even worse would be an engineer who, as a result of being bored, would fuck around with distress calls for no reason.

I encourage the devs to join an experienced full crew with an endgame ship as an Engineer and see how it plays out. This role needs so much more to make it interesting.

Possible suggestions: A more sophisticated damage model would make running repairs more important. Every aux system and the aux reactor itself could be a repair point. Having shots knock out random components that require recharging would make the job significantly more interesting, rather than just having “weapons” go out specific subsystems like missile targeting could go offline.

Outside of combat, the Engineer might be better suited to handle the component installation over the Captain, especially if he is fully aware of what ship components drain how much power. This might make take away from the Captain, but it could be worth it.


Scientist
The Scientist wins the award for “most improved” since I last played. The handheld scanner is a good idea, though there’s nothing which makes the Scientist particularly good at being the one to carry it. The scanner is also not functional inside buildings and lacks an elevation mechanic.

In ship to ship combat, however, the role of the scientist is deadly dull. Almost every decision can be flowcharted out. If they have lasers, use this type of shield. If they have railguns, use that kind of shield. If there are no enemies, do a brief scan to confirm. If shields go low, run SH. If there are lots of enemies, use Sitting Duck, etc.

In general UI is also clunky. While it’s very “cool” to be able to interact with the screens in game, this can get old when playing for hours. Scanning in particular is very tedious. Given the amount of repetition that this role has, it should at least feel streamlined.

Possible suggestions: Give the scientist a trait tree for the handheld scanner that makes the information he acquires more useful and valuable. Replace the boring passive healer option with a healing gun and associated trait tree that can be actively used in combat and feels interesting.

Make programs and scanning more involved. Rather than have programs operate as one-shot powers, have them items which are turned on and turned off again, but which consume a CPU meter int he same way that ship components consume energy. This would make getting more CPU power feel like a real treat — “I can run Phalanx AND Sitting Duck at the same time!” It would also mean the scientist can attack enemy ships in every fight instead of “saving” programs for something actually hard. Enemy viruses would suck up CPU space, forcing the scientist to run his own viruses in defense. Cyberdefense should be moved from the engineering role to a scientist program.

Merge programs and scanning. With programs not being one shot, you could make the “detect ships” and “detect lifeforms” program a thing science activates and deactivates, a form of passive digital signal processing. Active sensors, meanwhile, would be a toggle which consumes power and radiates energy, making the ship visible but enhancing the programs.

The one role that science can get rid of, though, is shield modulation. Changing shield frequencies should go to the engineer. A good scientist role should be calling out information “their weapons are X” and “their shields are Y” — information which the engineer and weapons officer can act on. Having the ability to modulate weapon frequencies and shield frequencies would also enhance communication between roles.

Finally, giving the scientist a proper console, like what the pilot or weapons officer has, might be sensible. Give them a 360 degree sensor turret from which they can fire active pings and give the weapons officer lock-on boosts. Give them a UI where holding down spacebar constantly isn’t essential and they can use some real hotkeys. This station needs love.


Weapons
The weapons officer was the most engaged in combat. The weapons officer always has something they should be doing. Blowing up mines is fun (though mines which arm once they start getting shot at and then start moving towards the ship would be more fun.) The burst turret feels great to use. Running into combat with a pistol is a good experience too. In concept, weapons is closest to being fully figured out.

In reality, weapons has a few major pain points. The main gun starts to feel tedious after a while. Recoil seems to trigger before the gun actually fires, which caused a lot of “Why am I missing?” experiences that I do not remember from before. The entire “click, then wait, then fire” experience feels obnoxious as hell after having done it for 100+ yours of play. I want a different main gun. I am not the only person who expressed this feeling.

Switching missile load out requires leaving the turret. This feels like the type of thing that should be accessible from inside the turret with a hotkey.

Secondary weapons also feel like it fits in this sort of indecisive place. Should other crew members be on a secondary turret? If so, doesn’t that mean their main station will be boring enough that it can be ignored? If not, then why not give the weapons operator a single console which lets him control all the guns? Why do unmanned turrets fire so much more accurately than manned ones? Should I, as a weapons officer, feel *annoyed* when my fellow crew members get on the guns? That seems like a huge design problem.

Weapons and pilots were constantly stepping on one another’s toes. Target selection was done by the captain, who often had the least strategic information available unless he hopped on a turret.

Suggestions: Give the weapons officers hotkeys. Make different main turrets, at least some of which do not have a delay between clicking and firing. Turn off the recoil, it’s a gimmicky mechanic that gets old after a while, and doesn’t add much. Figure out what secondary turrets are supposed to be and either make them not useful without additional crew members, or make them auto turrets all the time under the control of the weapons officer. Make targeting enemies the job of the weapons officer (the Captain can shout orders and call red alert, but tactical decisions are better made by the person with a tactical view.) Make the missile lock and fire work by tapping the right mouse key instead of holding it constantly, or better yet, make the lock-on come from the science station, with the weapons officer seeing the lock build to 100% and choosing when to fire once they get a lock.


Pilot
I’ve already mentioned how much I love the HOTAS setup. I've already complained that it needs more buttons. For the most part, Piloting is a damn fine experience. Cutting throttle to turn feels perfect in the Intrepid. Well done.

That said, the bigger ships handle like a cow. Very, very slow, and not very fun. All the ships could stand to be somewhat faster turning. They could also stand to be a bit more "drifty" in space. Right now they feel a bit more space trucks.

Finding the navbox where the captain wants me to go can be tedious. Switching views can be annoying to have to cycle through them to get to the one that I want. Dealing with the weapons officer recoil no longer feels fun. It’s just annoying.

Suggestions: Add the ability to bind view modes to buttons instead of cycling. Make looking in specific directions a thing. My ideal view mode would be close to hybrid, something which sits behind the ship but lets me look up, down, right, left, etc.

The off-screen arrows for enemies are nice, off-screen arrows for the navbox around the next jump point is a critical feature that needs to be added in.

Tone down the weapon recoil. Balance the ships with faster turning overall.

When cutting throttle, it would be nice if the ship took longer to lose speed, so that throttle down + turning maneuvers would be more interesting. Drift away! Give the pilot a brake button if he really needs a way to bring relative speed to zero for docking. In space we have reverse throttle if we really need to stop on a dime. And it's space.


Captain
The role of captain is fairly loosely defined. Part-quartermaster, part HR. Leads the charge. It’s a fun job. On Teamspeak it can be a great job. However it has its issues.

The UI for buying and selling is still clunky. Buying and selling is by far my least favorite part of being a captain.

Programming bots is irritating. The bot AI thresholds make it tricky to guess what I want. It can be very annoying when a scientist bot doesn’t run a program when you want him to, or when he does run a program for no good reason. The weapons bot is pretty great though, often better than a human operator, which is also a problem.

The orders mechanic feels underused. So many captains leave orders on Relax for ages, and with a human crew, why wouldn’t they?

Suggestions: Generally the UI needs improvement. Try to minimize the number of clicks it takes to get something done.

The orders system could use an overhaul. Rather than having orders be a thing which stays on, have the general state to be “General Quarters” and then have specific orders last until a specific condition ends. “Destroy enemy ships” could be an order which stands until no more enemy ships are detected. “Jump to next system” would be an order which lasts until the ship goes to warp. “Board enemy ship” lasts until the enemy ship is taken over, etc. This would make controlling bots a little bit easier, and, possibly, the captain could also provide a morale bonus to a specific task when issuing the right order. (This has been argued about a lot, and maybe isn't the way to go.)

“Standing orders” such as “Attack on sight” or “Avoid detection” could also exist. Multiple orders could be active at once, as long as they weren’t conflicting. If nothing else this would make communicating with a crew without teamspeak rather useful. In fact, playing the game without voice comms could use a lot of work. A hotkey that let an engineer read out the reactor temp (as a way of alerting the crew to overheating) or for a scientist to read out the program he was activating would help the captain coordinate.


Overall
The game is good. It’s fun. It needs polish but the core concepts are sound and have kept me engaged with many, many, many hours of play.

It needs to feel fun even when doing the same thing for the hundredth time. It needs to be engaging for all roles, all the time, at all points in the game, beginner and expert. Right now it’s not quite there. But it’s close.
Last edited by maplealmond on Mon Oct 19, 2015 6:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.

GeneralChaos81
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Re: What Works: What Doesn’t - Beta 3

Post by GeneralChaos81 » Mon Oct 19, 2015 6:21 am

This is all sounds really well thought out. +1

(Signed up just to agree!)

Merglasch
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Re: What Works: What Doesn’t - Beta 3

Post by Merglasch » Mon Oct 19, 2015 8:05 am

Engineer I agree that the engineers role of managing power and heat dies the second you have a good reactor. This either should not happen or the engineer needs more additional things to do to keep him occupied. Maybe both.
=>Agreed

Scientist Pretty much agreed on all points about the scientist. Really like the approach for programs and also the ability to deliver a missile lock for weapons.

Weapons&Pilot Don't know if I agree on the recoil. Having to keep track of recoil and weapon arcs as a pilot as well as the weapons officer having to clearly communicate when he wants to fire really isn't a bad thing in my opinion. Agreed though on the role of the minor turrets, they feel a bit like a safety net for when other players become bored with their roles.

Captain I think the captain could actually use some work since the lack of macro decisions to make and his lack of knowledge about the situation leaves him in a weird place. He mostly doesn't know enough specifics to make decisions on a micro level, so those can be mostly be made quicker by the appropriate crew member. This leaves him to be the repair guy/invader repellant/secondary turret guy/quartermaster which are all tasks that don't feel especially captain-like (with the exception of the quartermaster maybe).

Playing without voice I have to admit I rarely play without skype/ts etc. but I agree this part of the game could need work, would like to add something though. The ability to post things you do or look at on your screen to the chat or maybe even to a captains screen or a main screen could benefit not only the people without voice communications but all the crews playing this game I believe.

maplealmond
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Re: What Works: What Doesn’t - Beta 3

Post by maplealmond » Mon Oct 19, 2015 5:23 pm

Merglasch wrote: Weapons&Pilot Don't know if I agree on the recoil. Having to keep track of recoil and weapon arcs as a pilot as well as the weapons officer having to clearly communicate when he wants to fire really isn't a bad thing in my opinion. Agreed though on the role of the minor turrets, they feel a bit like a safety net for when other players become bored with their roles.
I think the pilot and weapons do need something to keep them talking to one another. I'd find it interesting if, say, weapons had more guns they could command -- missiles which only fired forward, port and starboard guns, etc, and they could hop between them from a single station. (This would also work out interestingly with shield arcs, so weapons says "bring port guns to bear" as engineering says "port shields are down!" and the pilot has to make interesting decisions.

The problem with recoil is that while, yes, it does create communication, it creates tedious communication. "Firing..." and the Pilot goes to a full stop. Then the shot goes off and the pilot drops the nose 10 degrees and continues. It doesn't feel interesting. I didn't feel this way at first, but after about hour 50-60 it got very old.

Being the pilot, evading incoming shots is like, the best thing. When you accelerate and decelerate and dodge incoming fire, it feels great. Having to stop doing that for 3 seconds out of every 15 seconds makes weapons feel like a drag instead of a real comrade. The dynamic needs something more.

At the very least the issue with it feeling like the recoil kicks in before the shot goes off needs to be fixed.

It's a tough problem, trying to balance out what "feels right" and I totally respect that people might disagree. I'm just saying that as a mechanic I have long stopped finding it enjoyable.

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Re: What Works: What Doesn’t - Beta 3

Post by datsdana » Mon Oct 19, 2015 6:26 pm

Excellent analysis!

+1

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Re: What Works: What Doesn’t - Beta 3

Post by Nekron » Mon Oct 19, 2015 8:09 pm

Outside of combat, the Engineer might be better suited to handle the component installation over the Captain, especially if he is fully aware of what ship components drain how much power. This might make take away from the Captain, but it could be worth it.
Why? How does that fit to concept of the Captain's ship, were everything on his savefile belongs to him. The only thing I would be happy is, that he should able to give somebody permission to shift components around.

I might add somthing, because as soon as I reach the shop with my crew, I tell them:
(Somtimes I put the components into the cargo, so they just need to press on "selling" parts, to compare them easier.)

Engineer look for:
- Hullarmor
- Reactor
- Processor

Scientist look for:

- Programms
- Shieldgenerator

Weapon Specialist look for:
- Weapons / Auto Turrets
- Rockets / nukes

Pilot look for:

- all cinde of Thrusters

While that, I sell all the other stuff we don't need + refill fuel etc.
So, thats not much faster, it also real teamwork and fun for all others.

I wish there would be a suggestion button or something, when you browse the shop as a Crew member.
You can add me on Steam, but keep in mind that I might delet you if there is no answer coming from you.
To much hackers are around who add randomly people. Send me a message with reason why you added me ;)
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Re: What Works: What Doesn’t - Beta 3

Post by Merglasch » Tue Oct 20, 2015 2:33 pm

maplealmond wrote:
Merglasch wrote: Weapons&Pilot Don't know if I agree on the recoil. Having to keep track of recoil and weapon arcs as a pilot as well as the weapons officer having to clearly communicate when he wants to fire really isn't a bad thing in my opinion. Agreed though on the role of the minor turrets, they feel a bit like a safety net for when other players become bored with their roles.
I think the pilot and weapons do need something to keep them talking to one another. I'd find it interesting if, say, weapons had more guns they could command -- missiles which only fired forward, port and starboard guns, etc, and they could hop between them from a single station. (This would also work out interestingly with shield arcs, so weapons says "bring port guns to bear" as engineering says "port shields are down!" and the pilot has to make interesting decisions.

...
Having more diversified weapon arcs (port side guns etc.) and seperate shields for every side actually sounds like an interesting idea. Given enough alternative reasons for communication would be introduced, I might be alright with scaling down the communication effort for recoil and such. Although as a pilot you will most likely always have to be considerate of your weapons officer to allow him some kind of accurate aim at all. Adding some additional elements like you pointed out might make this more interesting for the pilot and less of a drag. I also think this is one though cookie and balancing out the communication and teamwork effort between the different classes as well as making it interesting will be one of the bigger tasks before release.

maplealmond
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Re: What Works: What Doesn’t - Beta 3

Post by maplealmond » Tue Oct 20, 2015 5:07 pm

Nekron wrote:Why? How does that fit to concept of the Captain's ship, were everything on his savefile belongs to him. The only thing I would be happy is, that he should able to give somebody permission to shift components around.
That's a reasonable objection, I think. Of course just because the safefile belongs to the captain doesn't really prevent the crew from doing a lot of other things. They can eat food / spend fuel capsules / spend coolant / etc.

That said, really love your idea of a wishlist and and approval. If the various crew put together a "wanted" list and the captain could pick from the list of crew suggestions (while still having final say) that would make shopping more of a group experience, which it desperately needs to be, while reducing the skipper's decision fatigue.

The engineer being able to install ship components from cargo (instead of having to rely on a repair bay) doesn't seem an unreasonable thing for an engineer to do, with or without the captain.

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Re: What Works: What Doesn’t - Beta 3

Post by maplealmond » Tue Oct 20, 2015 5:26 pm

Merglasch wrote:Having more diversified weapon arcs (port side guns etc.) and seperate shields for every side actually sounds like an interesting idea. Given enough alternative reasons for communication would be introduced, I might be alright with scaling down the communication effort for recoil and such. Although as a pilot you will most likely always have to be considerate of your weapons officer to allow him some kind of accurate aim at all. Adding some additional elements like you pointed out might make this more interesting for the pilot and less of a drag. I also think this is one though cookie and balancing out the communication and teamwork effort between the different classes as well as making it interesting will be one of the bigger tasks before release.
You're quite right. The balancing flow of information is tricky, especially since some teams will be playing with voice comms and other teams will not.

Usually the pilot wants to "be piloting" and any type of gameplay which causes the pilot to hold the ship still or otherwise not input pilot commands can be a little dull. This was a huge problem in the early betas where enemy ships could be fired upon without detection, and the pilot literally had to park themselves 10 km away and drop the nose now and again. Dull.

Having the pilot hear "Keep them on our port side" means that the pilot will be constantly trying to reach an objective. Hearing "please don't do anything for a moment" is a lot less fun. Now obviously violent rolls and sweeping the enemy out-of-arc are bad, and the pilot should be aware of weapons, but "stop playing the game so I can take a shot" just isn't fun. And if you listen to the communication is does create, it sounds like this.

"Firing....." *bam*

"Firing....." *bam*

Which isn't really all that entertaining. Weapons calls for a second of non-maneuvering, and then the pilot stops playing for a while, and then the pilot can play the game again. Fun!

This is why I'd love to see the ships designed with weapons in different arcs, with the single weapons officer able to switch between guns, and with a real incentive to rotate out which side the enemy is on. Right now we sort of have that (armor is stronger on the bottom of the ship) but this could be expanded a lot. Hearing "Get him on the bow so I can get a missile lock" followed by "port shields down keep him on the starboard" followed by "starboard guns are down get the ventral guns in arc" would mean the pilot was winning by DOING, not winning by NOT doing. More importantly they would win by doing something different each time, instead of always doing the same thing (keeping the enemy in the top half of the gun arc.)

That might require a lot of rethinking of the ships. I think it's worth it, but I suspect it might look like a daunting amount of work to the developers.

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