Concerns about core gameplay
Before I start I need to make it clear that I understand and accept two points commonly used to dismiss criticism of this game:
1. This game is currently labelled an alpha, so it is theoretically far from finished.
2. This is largely inspired by Dwarf Fortress and similar games.
These facts do not invalidate the points raised in this post as my concerns are not limited to alpha issues and I feel the game has the potential to satisfy both Dwarf Fortress players AND a wider audience. Okay, now that you know I’m not mindlessly ranting I can make my point.
What has compelled me to write this is my ongoing concerns with the core gameplay. I don’t just mean one or two mechanics, but the way all those elements come together to create the whole; the core experience of play.
Having experienced Alpha 4 for a while now, and having read the entire development plan (all the stuff they want to add to the game) I have to say that none of it has convinced me the game is headed in the right direction. While solutions to some of my points are hinted at in the dev plan, it doesn’t seem like the plans actually address the problems I perceive, they just kind of distract from them.
Aside from bugs and glitches and nitpicks, the problem is that there simply isn’t any real fun to be had. Sure some people do and will enjoy it, even I did for a time, and that’s great. But for the majority it is a vapid experience. The reasons for this are varied and difficult to explain with any brevity, so I will try to break it down simply.
1. The crew demands make base construction a very linear process. There are no choices to be made about which facility to build or how big the rooms should be because crew needs force your hand, and credit/time limits mean there’s no reason to be anything other than ruthlessly efficient in design.
How to fix it: Make construction faster and easier, and make crew generally more resilient. They know the importance of their mission and shouldn’t be so sad or incompetent. This fix obviously removes some challenge, but whether it was ever really compelling challenge or just unnecessary inconvenience is debatable.
2. The game becomes repetitive too soon. While the early game is too linear, it at least forces some action to be taken. By mid-game you’ve done everything worth doing with no reason to continue. There is no progress or difficulty curve, and no spikes along the way, only a straight line.
How to fix it: Allow greater interactivity and customisation. Examples could be missions to complete, be it XCOM style battles or Star Trek/Civilization style diplomacy. These can be short term challenges to overcome or long term goals to build towards. Customisation could be design of the room interiors; different colours and decorations. Maybe crew ranks and unique skills, like a Captain that gives efficiency bonuses, a counselor that gives happiness bonuses, a telepath that can mind-control invaders, or an alien race that can survive without oxygen.
3. The lore is extremely weak. There is no emotional connection to the game because there is no backstory to speak of, no characterisation of alien races, and superficial crew personalities.
How to fix it: Create a deep lore and use that to inform every element of the game. So far the only example of that thinking is the replicators which are an imperfect technology meaning that grown food is still needed. Maybe Blue alien doesn’t like Red alien because they recently had a war, or maybe Green alien gets sad faster if he doesn’t have good food because his planet is richer than most.
4. Without significant additions, the mechanics create unsolvable balance issues. For example, if the AI makes a lot of mistakes the game is too hard, but if it makes no mistakes the game is too easy. If it is usually competent and only sometimes makes mistakes then the game is unpredictable, confusing and frustrating. There is no solution if the mechanics continue the Dwarf Fortress design philosophy. This is sad because, as stated earlier, I believe the game can satisfy both people who like that unpredictable gameplay and those that don’t.
How to fix it: Look at other games with unpredictable mechanics and see how they keep the gameplay engaging. Personally I look to strategy games like XCOM, Civilization and FTL. In all three of these games, how you manage your resources and plot your development is crucial. Making a single poor choice can start a chain reaction that brings everything crashing down. This fight for your life can be fun because the context is heroic and there is a chance to learn and be better next time. In Spacebase, there is no context, and there is no way to get better because there are no choices, only random events. The game needs goals to build towards and choices to be made, and it needs context to inform those choices.
These are my core concerns with the game. I hope that I have made my points clearly and would love to know if others feel the same way.
Finally, as this has been very negative so far, I would like to congratulate the devs for what they have done so far. I do feel that despite my worries the game is fun for some people and will continue to satisfy them as development continues. I don’t feel lied to or ripped-off and I don’t think this is a bad game. What I do feel, is that it can be much more than what they’re heading towards.