Research will be easy, approachable, and deep...all at the same time. It will encourage - no, force - exploration, reward specialization, but won't require liters of brain juice to understand or use Researching is as simple as selecting a node in your tech tree. That's literally all there is to it
"Summary" (...if you can call it that...)
Alright, brace yourself. I'm going to describe the new concept for LT's research, and if you're not interested in "technical gameplay" details (aka Gazzisms), you might want to just read the TL;DR. You've been warned
Ready? Ok! Here we go!
The act of researching is incredibly simple. At first glance, it looks too simple. But bear with me as we explore the full consequences of this "simple" idea. Here's what you do: select a research node. That's all. Ever.
The core idea underlying my whole research system is: research is discovery.
When you select a research node, you're not "leveling" that technology. Levels are both boring and problematic due to scaling. What you're doing is saying, "let's focus on creating new technology based around this idea." Translation: search for nodes in the tech tree that are connected to the selected one.
After some amount of time, you will make a discovery which will add a new node to your tech tree. The discovery is always connected to the node that you were researching. Depending on where you are in the tech tree, the discovery may be a fixed node or it may be a procedural node. A fixed node is built into the game, and will usually encode the notion of a broad field of research (such as weapons, propulsion, etc). A procedural node is generated randomly, and applies a modifier on top of another node. Most of your research will consist of exploring procedural nodes to find the perfect modifiers for your tastes.
When you unlock a new node in the tree that looks promising (i.e., a procedural node that has a modifier you like), you will select this new node. Now, keeping in mind that the next node you unlock will be a modifier on top of your current node, the natural result is that you continue to develop more and more sophisticated / specialized technologies, by stacking.
But what about overpowering? Doesn't the continued stacking of modifiers allow us to keep piling more "bonuses" on top of a tech and arrive at an ubertechnology? No, because a modifier by itself is neutral in the value it produces for you. A modifier is a trade-off, not a boost. You will see things like a "heavy" modifier which will grant +20% integrity, but comes at a price of +20% mass. One of those effects is helpful, the other detrimental. By itself, the heavy modifier is neither good nor bad, simply a matter of taste. Similarly, you might have an "advanced" modifier for ships which adds +2 hardpoints, but cuts cargo capacity in half. Again, not clearly good or bad, simply a trade-off.
Ok, so we just get to keep making trade-offs but never actually get any better? Luckily no, that's not the case. When you research a procedural node, there are a few options for how the tech tree can unfold from that node. The first is, obviously, by adding another new modifier - you can think of this as lateral progression. The second is amplification of a positive modifier, and the third is suppression of a negative modifier. The latter two are where vertical progression happens, where you actually "get better". For example, if I've already researched my "heavy fighter" with +20% integrity and +20% mass, continued research in the heavy fighter node might yield a "modified heavy fighter," which will have +30% integrity and +20% mass (amplification of positive). Or, it could yield a heavy fighter with +20% integrity and +10% mass (suppression of negative). Now I've actually achieved an objectively "better" tech.
The beautiful simplicity behind this scheme is that you customize and specialize your technology simply by accepting or rejecting to further explore the procedural nodes that open up. If the node looks like it's taking your technology in a direction that you like, you follow it and continue branching from it. Otherwise, you leave it be (perhaps even delete it so that it doesn't clutter the tree). I love how simple this is. But more than anything, I love how this strikes a beautiful balance between control and unpredictability. Yes, you can guide your fate and, ultimately, you can become a master of whatever you want. But, your path to that mastery will be lined with unpredictable, alternate paths, making each game vastly different. You are guiding your research, but it is also guiding you at the same time. That simple yet profound idea is a reflection of how research really works.
There's a final bit to the system that I want to quickly go over, and it's the bit that rewards specialization and prevents jacks-of-all-trades. It's also quite cool Over time, the procedural unfolding of your tech tree becomes more and more biased towards your previous choices. In other words, if I have historically only spent time researching technologies that are modified with the "heavy" modifier, then future exploration is biased towards unfolding this same modifier. I.e., if I've explored heavy thrusters, heavy weapons, etc. then it's more likely that pressing into the ship fabrication side of the tree will reveal "heavy fighter," "heavy corvette," etc. So this means that your choices not only influence your view of the tree, but also how the tree will unfold in the future. This is basically a super-cool, implicit way of encoding the idea of researching a specific bonus, except that it's so much more intuitive Instead of spending time researching the "heavy fabrication" technology, you simply spend time researching techs that have that property, and the implication is that you get better at it automatically. Elegant. Also, again, a reflection of how things really work!!
To close, just so you can get a better sense of how this works in practice, let's look at a hypothetical research scenario.
- Begin game. I have only one node available - Engineering - the root of the tech tree. I select Engineering.
Engineering -> Propulsion unlocks. I ignore the discovery and carry on researching engineering, since I'm not interested in propulsion tech at the moment.
Engineering -> Ship Fabrication unlocks. Now we're cooking. I want to build some ships! I switch my research to this node.
Ship Fabrication -> Fighter Fabrication unlocks. I switch my research to fighter fab. At this point, I can design a blueprint based on the "Fighter Fabrication" tech. It will be a vanilla, no-frills fighter. We'll talk about blueprint design later
Fighter Fabrication -> Light Fighter unlocks. -25% mass, -25% integrity. Might be good for a scout ship but I'm not interested in that right now. Keep researching fighter fab.
Fighter Fabrication -> Bomber Fabrication unlocks. Nice! I've figured out how to scale my ships up and, at this point, can design a blueprint for a basic bomber. Still not interested though...what I really want is a powerful fighter. Keep researching fighter fab.
Fighter Fabrication -> Specialized Fighter unlocks. +50% power generation, -1 hardpoint. Yes! Here's what I want. I'm gonna rig this puppy with high-powered energy weapons.
Specialized Fighter -> Heavy Specialized Fighter unlocks. +50% power generation, -1 hardpoint, +25% mass, +25% integrity. Wow, that could really be a tank, but I don't think it's where I want to go for now.
Specialized Fighter -> Specialized Fighter Mk. II unlocks. +60% power generation, -1 hardpoint. Yes! They'll never know what hit them when I rain down the pulse lasers. Heck, a bit more and I might even be able to load a small beam cannon onto that
Now then. That was far too much text. And I probably have only scratched the surface of this system...but I'm super excited. It's so simple and clean, but it's going to yield so many interesting possibilities
And...as always...the debate floor is open
[ You can visit devtime.ltheory.com for more detailed information on today's work. ]