Welcome to 2023, everyone! It’s going to be a busy year in Starmourn. Keep reading for a sneak peek at what’s in store! Argus and Marra are collaborating on a separate post about the Storyteller side of things this year, so the focus of this devblog is going to be on efforts around the Conflict Rework, as well as a little section at the end about what’s coming after the rework. As always, we love hearing your feedback, and now is a great time to get it in on the high-level changes, so do let us know what you think!
The State of the Conflict Rework
It’s time to spill some details. We won’t be sharing every last bit, but you’ll finally get a full outline of the main changes coming to Starmourn’s conflict systems. Over the coming months you’ll see more and more additions to the game intended as a lead-up to the final product, which we’re hoping will land in April or sometime Q2 2023. We do want to clarify, however, that developing a game as large as Starmourn can be unpredictable, with priorities often shifting in the day-to-day. As a result, the release date for the final product may be later.
Our main design goals for the Conflict Rework are to:
- Craft an immersive, in-lore rationale for conflict which is optimistic, not adversarial;
- Allow all faction members, no matter their playstyle, to contribute in a meaningful, mechanical way;
- Create a ramping set of content which can help factions introduce new players gradually to different aspects of factional conflict;
- Create impactful moments that steer PvP players towards real fights at reliable times; no more empty caches or cosmpiercers;
- Add a cyclical, “seasonal” aspect to faction conflict, punctuated with big events.
What does that all mean? Let’s break each point down.
For the Greater Good
Creating an immersive, in-lore raison d’etre for conflict is something the other IRE games do quite well, and something we wanted to create here. Currently, it’s not entirely clear why factions should care about conflict, other than the cool Cosmpiercer abilities they get. Starmourn handles factions differently from other IREs, however, and it is one of Starmourn’s greatest strengths. We don’t have good or evil, life or undeath, etc. Each faction allows for a great diversity of possible moralities and motives among its individuals.
As you’ve seen with Vihana Facilities, the Ishvana threat is on the rise. And the Ishvana threat will continue to rise as it takes its rightful place as the Big Bad. In the conflict rework, factions fight each other to stay sharp and organized, they culturally compete with one another to invigorate the Sector with beauty and insight, all for the greater good: the defense of the Starmourn Sector against a soulless, driven assimilator. Whether you play a hero or a villain, your character will probably agree that the entire Sector getting assimilated is undesirable (well, unless you happen to be a certain player character who thinks that’s a good thing).
Orchestrating the whole process will be a new NPC coalition organization affiliated in part with the DDC. But that’s enough spoilers on that subject.
Conflict for all
A major pain point of the current conflict system is that it leaves a large portion of the playerbase in the dust. Frequently, players who aren’t interested in PvP feel mechanically compelled to put themselves in harm’s way, creating negative play experiences.
In the Conflict Rework, factions will have a Cultural Score. This score has 3 main categories, each contributing to the overall score: Commerce (for designers and shopkeepers), Museums (for archaeologists, curators, and researchers), and Influence (a catch-all category which will include performance and questing).
Of these three categories, updates to shops and designs required for Commerce Score are coming soonest, likely in January or February. Museums and Archaeology, on the other hand, will be the largest expansion to Starmourn’s lore since release and includes a system for performing free-form RP research sessions on fossils and specimens from across the Starmourn Sector. Coding work on this has been completed for some months, and building work continues at a steady pace. The estimated arrival date for this system is in March, and we’re incredibly excited to share more details about it closer to then. Just do note that these timelines are subject to change, especially with Archaeology, a system which requires a ton of writing and attention to detail as we expand out the game’s lore via prehistoric material cultures and ecologies.
Another thing to note is that vouchers and the powers they facilitate will no longer be tied to Ta-deth crystal deposits. Faction leaders will instead be able to define voucher allowances to faction positions, ranks, or individuals, with vouchers withdrawing energy from the faction’s built-up energy reserves. This will allow players, not mechanics, to decide how to compensate faction members for their contributions.
A big shout out to the Starmourn Cultural Conversation for batting things back and forth on the subject of Cultural Score!
… Oh and we have something especially for hackers, but we can’t talk about it yet.
We wanted to make it smoother for factions to introduce newer, interested players to conflict systems gradually by creating more PvE content designed for groups. This is where the idea for Vihana Facilities began, and since their release we’ve been seeing players band together to enjoy this fresh content, and we’ve even seen a ton of players landing their class instakills for their very first time. While we do have our share of lone wolves and that is a valid playstyle, MUDs as a game medium excel in particular at creating a highly social gaming experience, so we’re big supporters of facilitating group content such as factional conflict.
To go with this, and to go with the lore of it all (the first point), we will be reintroducing mobs to Ishvana Cosmpiercers, and we will be making the Ishvana’s “blitz invasions” defensible. Factions will receive a notification that their Cosmpiercer will be assaulted by the Ishvana, and they have one RL day to get their troops together, with a command to trigger the assault. If, after 24 hours, factions have not manually triggered the assault, the assault will begin automatically. The timing of assaults will also be predictable: it will be on the day exactly 2 weeks ahead of when it was captured.
Factions will thus set out to claim and defend their Cosmpiercers, battling Vihana and Overseers, but now without the help of Surges, without Affixes on the mobs, with a space combat phase against Ishvana ships, and with those scary red Ishvana hacking terminals.
We imagine Ishvana Cosmpiercers to be a PvE-only experience which would allow factions to train up their troops, familiarizing them with what it means to work as a group. This would mean that Cosmpiercer PvP would be restricted to invading the Cosmpiercers of other factions. We feel that the changes in the point below should facilitate plenty of PvP, and feel that this would not claim space away from PvP content. And if someone decides somewhere along this journey that they’re more interested in the PvE aspects, they can stop wherever they’d like along the content ramp and still contribute meaningfully to their faction.
Funneling PvP flashpoints
We have a huge laundry list of changes coming to Caches, Cosmpiercers, Crystals, and Energy, and we can’t talk about them all yet. One of the major design challenges we face in Starmourn is making systems that will scale up and down based on variable game population counts and remain fun regardless.
Cosmpiercers were originally designed with Achaea-levels of population in mind, and the resulting experience for a lower population creates a negative feedback loop. Caches and the crystals they contain, too, are extremely diluted for our current population, leading to the case where factions are able to maintain their crystal stores by casually harvesting crystals alone in otherwise empty caches. Thus, the mission was to devise a system that would work to funnel PvP players into conflict with one another at low or high population counts.
We are attempting to achieve this through a large variety of means, but a short list of main points includes: A reduction in the total number of Cosmpiercers; adjustments to the Energy Generation formula; fewer Caches at discoverable, scheduled times; reworking Cosmpiercer vulnerabilities and cache times to dynamically schedule based on measured population peaks and offpeaks, with some built-in assurances that we’re hitting all the main timezone peaks in the weekly aggregate; Rich Caches containing an abundance of crystals every 6 days for bigger, reliable group PvP moments; and tighter controls on the number of crystals seeded into the game compared to the number of crystals removed.
A big shout out to the Starmourn Combat Council for all their help on these subjects over the last year!
The Big Wheel Keeps on Turning
We want to introduce “Seasons” (temporary name) to conflict, which will last 4 RL months. Most modern games with a competitive aspect have gone this route, and for good reason. It’s just a great way to get people who may have dropped off in previous months to return for a clean slate, and for developers they’re a great way to keep organized on delivering fresh content regularly.
Seasons will be punctuated by two big events:
Event #1: Invasion Day takes place on Day 1 of a new season, where the Ishvana launches indefensible invasions which reclaim all the Cosmpiercers, energy and crystal reserves deplete, scores are wiped, and maybe some other scary things down the line depending on how all the factions cumulatively performed in the previous season.
Event #2: An “Olympics” style event, in-lore explanation to follow, would occur approximately half-way into a season. This is a chance for us to run all sorts of contests of wits, brawn, luck, and skill, something we can improve on every iteration, and something that we hope will bring players back for a truly momentous week-long event. Credit where credit’s due: the idea for this was originally inspired by a forum post of Lilias’. We do want to get a larger-scope contest into these games, such as the one described in the post, but for now the focus is on delivering a larger number of smaller contests covering a diversity of playstyles.
The winner of a season is determined by an equal weight of A) Cultural Score, B) Cosmpiercer Score (a measure of how long factions have held Cosmpiercers, with more points for higher ranked ones), and C) their performance in the “Olympics” style event. Rewards for winning a season will most likely be cosmetic/bragging rights only. We certainly do not want any mechanical rewards which might, even in a very slight way, allow one season’s victory to snowball into a victory for the next season. But we do have some ideas for unrelated mechanical rewards as time goes on and we iterate through the seasons.
After the Conflict Rework is at last delivered, we want to spend the rest of 2023 in a more open development phase where we have time and flexibility to accomplish a large laundry list of changes to existing systems, and make a dedicated push towards closing out as many bugs and quality of life ideas as possible. If something is a roadblock to us leaving Beta, or if a quality of life improvement would go a long way to making systems more accessible or polished, we want to deal with it during this phase. This also entails fixing and completing the Main Quest and giving our Newbie Experience a much-needed facelift.
That’s it for now! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading. Keep your eyes peeled for another post which will cover the Storyteller Focus for the year ahead! See you in the Starmourn Sector!