designed nature of exploration

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Geoff the Medio
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designed nature of exploration

#1 Post by Geoff the Medio »

A discussion that touched on automating exploration,

viewtopic.php?p=11706#11706

got me thinking about exploration itself.

To me, this can be one of the funnest parts of the early game in a strategy game. It also provides something interesting to do at the start of the game, when you don't have many planets/systems to manage or other decisions to make.

I can see two basic paradigms for exploration:

1) Exploration is an annoyance or not much fun and that's arguably not even necessary. Let's automate scouts or go the whole way and just make the entire universe known to all players at the start.

Assuming exploration isn't completely sacked, in this case, it makes perfect sense that a scout just has to pass through a system and immediately knows everything relevant about the system that might be worth knowing when making decisions about whether or not to colonize any planets. The scouting player would know all the details about the size and environment of all planets, and probably even details like mineral richness, any native presence, ancient ruins or other specials. The scout just has to pass through the system or end its turn in the system.

the other possibility:

2) Exploration is fun, and should be made to represent an involving activity and as interesting as possible, at least at the start of the game.

In this case, it seems reasonble to delay the availability of information about a system. When a scout arrives in the system, it would likely immediately know the number, size and perhaps environment of the planets. It would not, however necessarily know all the more interesting details, such as mineral richness and natives, and especially not ruins or specials.

In order to learn more about the planets in the system, it would be necessary to have the scout stay in the system for several turns. Thus a decision is created for the scouting player between getting to the next system to check for habitable planets, and thoroughly searching the current system for any extra information.

I imagine it would be necessary to have a few extra perks to spending a couple turns scanning a system... I would imagine that you'd be able to locate any hiding / sleeping space monsters in the system, without waking them. Thus you would know whether you need to send a good combat ship to clear out the monster before sending a colony ship that it would otherwise eat.

Whether or not this could be fleshed out enough to be really worth making the distinction, I'm not sure... I suppose whether or not this gets looked at depends on whether people really like exploration or not.

Personally, I like the human-vs-nature aspect at the start of the game. Does everyone else just want to get to fighting the other empires, or is anyone else want to flesh out the other aspect?

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#2 Post by Impaler »

I lean more towards the second option, Exploration is FUN! I love getting that message about a new system being explored and when the whole map is revealed its rather sad :cry:

Having some kind of special Scanner that is nessary for a proper exploration of a system might be a nice idea. More advanced scanners could gather more information. Including the detection of cloacked or hiding enemy ships and colonies. And lets not forget about Space Pirates hiding in Asteroid Belts. An extensive search should be required to find their nests.

The "Man vs Nature" our in our case Aliens vs Nature is a good theam for the early game. SMAC uses it to great effect with its Mind Worms. I had a similar idea conserning Space Barnicles. They would be a self replicating inter planetary crystalin organism that eats away at your Hull. This is also the source of the mysterious Tiberium in Comand and Concour. Whole systems can be infested with stellar Barnicles which can damage and slow your ships down.
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#3 Post by vishnou00 »

I would LOVE to have interesting exploration, with more decision making. But what kind of decision would be non trivial?

If it breaks down to check number of planet and then
-go to another system
-stay to check habitable planets for mineral and/or ruins and/or space monsters
-stay to check every planets for mineral and/or ruins and/or space monsters

Well, it's just evaluating how much risk I'm willing to take (losing time vs passing interesting discovery). The hard thing about having good decision with exporation is that it's pretty much gambling: you don't know what you will find.

But even if exploration should be automated because it's not fun, having the whole galaxy revealed is not the way to go (ennemy ships should check their frontiers). Preventing an enemy to explore your territory is fun (in a "you want it but you won't have it" sort of way).

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#4 Post by Geoff the Medio »

Well, that's the thing... can we think of any good ways to make exploration interesting that doesn't essential devolve into a risk vs. safety tradeoff? (and that isn't just a bunch of SMAC pod popping, Civ goody huts or GalCiv spacejunk/anomalies to race to collect before other empires scoop them up)

I suppose a big issue is what proportion of stars have habitable planets. "realistically", many star systems are double or triples that probably don't have any chance of having earth-sized stable orbit planets, if my understanding is correct... This is somewhat of a departure from the MoO model, I gather, which only "shows" mostly useful stars, to simplify gameplay.

In FO exploration-heavy gameplay terms, having useful systems / planets being rare could mean just finding a system with habitable planets is a big accomplishment. If most stars are devoid of planets (or at least useful planets), then you might be able to find or detect signals / hints which point you in the direction of a habitable system nearby. If making a scout ship a the start of the game is sufficiently costly, there could still be a high enough planets / scouts ratio to make things interesting.

This sort of thing could be a galaxy generation option as well...

(Mostly empty systems would also provide a Star-Wars-esque ability to hide later in the game, should that be necessary... for espionage and the like)

Are there other ways to make exploration meaningful / choice filled?

Impaler: special scanner equipment for ships would be interesting... it could be treated like a supply module or terraforming unit from SMAC: it replaces weaponry if included (except with mutiple slots per ship, so you can still have some defence). If you want a good scout, you need to put on a bunch of scanning equipment.

(I'd also imagine having a few C&C ships in a battle fleet would be a good idea... these would be heavily armoured ships which also have scanners... and issues like shielding or big weaponry interfering with scanners in battle if on the same ship could necessitate the specialization)

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#5 Post by vishnou00 »

A mini-gamey approache to hinting if there is anything important could be an option, but as the 4x genre isn't too "time limit" friendly, it's not much of an option.

I would like empty/unhabitable systems, with the possibility to remote mine or establish space station. But still, I don't have any idea of hinting things short of mini-game (observation game, such as looking hard at system scans picture, maybe through a "spotlight" that reveal only a small quantity of the system per turn). I don't think mini-games have their place, for combat or exploration or others, but it could be an option (some people wanted interactive space combat/ground combat).

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#6 Post by Geoff the Medio »

How about this?

Many planets are marginally hospitable, or almost completely inhospitable (for everyone, or for a particular race... either way). Normally, it's completely pointless, or prohibitively expensive to colonize these worlds. You *could* colonize, but the planet is bad enough that you'd never get enough benefit from doing so to make it worthwhile.

But to make it interesting, uninhabitable worlds might have specials on them that would make them definitely worth colonizing and supporting with empire resources so you can access the special. These specials are not, however, immediately apparent, or detectable just by surveying from orbit. It's actually necessary to have colonists on the planet for a long time (during which you lose more keeping the colony running than you gain back) before you start to see the benefits of, or perhaps even "discover" the special. (Maybe in some cases, a starbase could perhaps be built in the system... though this would need to be something you wouldn't normally do at a ho-hum boring empty or uninhabitable system due to cost / benefit).

The exploration aspect comes into play in that there are often indications that a particular world might have a special on it that makes it worth colonizing. This might take several forms... the one that immediately comes to mind is ancient ruins on one or more other planets that your survey ships can investigate.

The presence or absence of ruins in a system wouldn't necessarily correspond with anything in the system worth colonizing to access. If you investigate ruins, however, you might be informed (sitrep) that a particular other system that otherwise didn't seem worth colonizing is worth looking into. This might tell you exactly what the benefit is, or just that something important is clearly in that system based on starmaps found in the ruins.

Another altnernative is that a particular ruin does nothing on its own, but if you colonize four worlds, each of which have a similar looking ruin, then you get a big benefit from their combined effect. The sitrep could tell you that the survey ships have found identical ruins on these worlds, and that the reserachers think there's some linkage between them worth colonizing to harness.

Does this sort of thing seem interesting enough to make exploration worth fleshing out? It's not as simple as find ruin -> investigate more -> immediate benefit / obviously should colonize here. Ruins that you're bound to stumble across individually are obviously worth exploring for a few turns, but just finding ruins on a planet wouldn't immediately indicate that an otherwise worthless world is definitely worth settling. Most ruins are useless, or useless alone, and some of the benefits hinted at would popping up on worlds without ruins at all (or hidden ruins).

There's no requirement that the player recognize two symbols of alien cultures in a list, or play a minigame to get this information... the researchers / survey / scout ships do the grunt work and just give you, in sitrep form, the useful result.

Optional complication: Reseraching ruins for their secrets requires research just like technology... it appears as a project you can put into the research queue. How to make this interesting and not a random choice amongst 40 otherwise identical scout ship "maybe something" reports is hard to say...

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#7 Post by vishnou00 »

It's all well and good, but how does it make the exploration process more interesting?

The way I see it, you just have the opportunity to have a colony striving for a special. It add non scout related options to colonization, but scouting is trivially boring (hence automatable) as before.

Having a sitrep giving you the results strips away the hinting process.

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#8 Post by Geoff the Medio »

touché...

The only things I can think of that would make player intervention in exploration necessary is "big picture" issues... like the decision that a certain cluster of stars might be good to head towards, so a particular scout ship should generally try to take starlanes that go in that direction, rather than simply doing a depth / breadth first search.

This is a bit weak though...

I made a thread about galactic weather and stationary map features that nobody seemed interested in, but which might provide some 'quirks' in the exploration department...

viewtopic.php?t=739

Decisions about ploughing through a storm vs waiting it out or avoiding it, or whether or not to go into the high radiation galactic core due to some (hopefully nonrandom) cost / benefit tradeof might be interesting... or they might be silly and pointless...

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#9 Post by sharrukin »

with regards to the scout exploration discussion. If the basic scout work in not done what about an increased % chance of a colony failure as well as an increased chance of a plague at the colony site an the possible spread to one your homeworlds. You would also double or triple the cost of establishing the colony due to an inability to utilize local resources. I am new at this so I hope that I am not making to many mistakes.

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Idea

#10 Post by guiguibaah »

Here's an idea for exploration....

Each system has a 'discovery' total point amount.

Scouts Generate +6 points to discovery per turn
Colonies generate +1 points to discovery per turn
Science Vessels (enhanced scouts) generate +10 points to discovery per turn

Bonus is not cumulative if you have more than one scout (to prevent people from mass-building them and discovering everything in the system in 1 turn).


In that vien, elements garner a total.

1 point - Enemy fleet positions are revealed in the system
1 point - A planet is discovered in the system
4 points - Planetary jump nodes (starlane) is discovered
6 points - Enemy / neutral defence positions are discovered
8 points - Random planetary specials are discovered
10 points - Special (hidden) starlanes are discovered
20 points - Chance at discovering a hero / derelict ship.
30 points - Tactical advantage
40 points - Rare planetary anomalies are discovered (such as cloaked or hidden planets, fading starlanes, odd technologies, monster realms, etc)
100 points - Space time rifts are discovered.


For example, a newly discovered system could have...

3 planets (x1 = 3 pts)
3 regular starlanes (x4 = 12 pts)

2 planetary specials (x8 = 16 pts)

1 hidden starlane (x10 = 10 pts)
1 hidden planetoid (x40 = 40 pts)
1 Derelict ship (x20 = 20 pts)

Total of 101 points.

Then, each turn your scout discovers things and randomly puts the exploration points in the selected fields...

So for 6 points, 2 could go into planets, 2 into starlane, 1 into hidden starlane and 1 into planetary special.


This way, as time goes on (and your scouts are off exploring other sectors) your colonies take over the role of some exploration, and slowly begin to discover new things within the system long after the colony is settled.

What could really be interesting is the discovery of intransient starlanes (they blink in and out every few turns) or even hidden planets (yes, I know the realism argument behind this doesn't hold water, but anyhow) so that even though you;d THINK you knew all there was in a system, lo and behold something new pops up after 50 turns of "same ole, same ole".

Then you could trade this discovery data information on a system with other races.
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#11 Post by drek »

Interesting.

It could be that *all* starlanes and wormholes start the game as hidden, save for the lanes connected the homeworld's system. The map would only show the stars that the player has access to. As exploration progresses, you'd see more and more of the map--kind of like exploration in Civ.

Certain specials could be "hidden" until discovered as well. Ancient ruins on a planet, precious metals deposit, etc. etc.

Certain high end specials (and wormholes) would have insanely high discovery costs, so that discovery remains important through out the game. On that note:
Bonus is not cumulative if you have more than one scout (to prevent people from mass-building them and discovering everything in the system in 1 turn).
It *should* be cumulative, so that empires that focus on exploration are rewarded. We'd just have stuff that costs a heaping drekload of discovery points to find, as a bonus to exploration type empires.

I imagine that the "discovery" a ship produces would be determined by certain ship parts. The amount of "discovery" a planet produces should be based on it's research meter (perhaps divided by 10). There could be buildings that increase "discovery" for all ships (some like a "Starfleet Headquarters) and Leaders that increase "discovery" for ships in the local system.

It would certainly add a new wrinkle to the game. Imagine you have a colony humming along, then suddenly discover the planet has a strange special on it (like In the Path of a Rogue Comet, or Addictive Spice, or Ancient Orion Ruins). Or ships pour out of an enemy empire into a system, almost like they are teleporting in. You send in the scouts and after a few turns discover a wormhole leading the heart of a hostile empire. Sounds fun.

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#12 Post by Geoff the Medio »

Rather than have stars be invisible if you haven't explored near them yet, I'd like to see the map filled with tons and tons of "filler" stars that don't actually get connected to by starlanes, and don't have anything in them... they're just there to "fill out" space. and make the galaxy look more ... well... full.

You would be shown the entire map from the start, but you wouldn't be able to tell which stars are real ones, and which are filler. This has the advantage of making the galaxy much more interesting to look at without the rather odd, and badly (imho) implimented background layers of stars that are there now.

And really, saying you can't see stars not connected to starlanes a little bit hard to swallow, even given the "realism doesn't matter" spiel... (I mean... we can see them now... often without a telescope).

The idea of starlanes not always being visible / accessible is also nice. It could even be tied to the lots of stars you can't access idea by saying that all stars actually are connected by starlanes to all other stars, but at the start of the game, most of the starlanes aren't visible, no matter how much you look at them. Perhaps the "obvious" starlanes are the highways between stars of some acient race, and your technology isn't good enough to notice the smaller side streets and alleyways.

Later in the game your tech would improve, and you'd start to be able to access these lesser starlanes.

Alternatively, you could set up special "starlane scanner" ships to search specifically for starlanes that are hard to see. This might get you a tactical advantage in being able to take a route through some of the harder to see starlanes around a blockade... like tunnelling under the fortress walls or somesuch.

An issue is whether you discovering a starlane necessarily makes it visible to someone else. presumably you could only see the starlane if you were in a system where it had been discovered... or one from which a ship had left on the hard-to see starlane... though perhaps there should be ways to keep hidden form other players any hard to see starlanes you've uncovered in a system.

Another thought: Starlanes could require specialized build projects to be accessed from a system... like jumpgates, but only to a specific destination. The access could also only work out of a system. Your homeworld would start with however many pre-deployed starlane access points it could hold, but you'd need to send constructor ships through these starlanes to wherever they lead, and build a jumpgate there in order to come back.

There would need to be some loophole in this... perhaps very very small ships can access starlanes without enhancements, allowing scouting.

We could say the starlane is like a wormhole, but has a very limited opening size, so ships larger than a scout can't get in until you build an opening widener (aka jumpgate). The "hidden" starlanes could be ones with really small openings, so you didn't notice them, and can't access them until you have better enhanser tech to widen them.

Perhaps the widening happens at a specific rate, so you start with mostly fairly wide starlanes, but with rather bad widening tech, so you can only use starlanes that start out as fairly large, and the really tiny ones, if you find them, require many turns to enlarge enough to be useful... (except later you get better tech and can widen any starlane in a reasonable amount of time).

Thus we could have different types of starlanes, but the types wouldn't depend on speed (so things would be simple in that sense) but would rather depend on the size of the ship they would admit... and would be "upgradable" as people ahve wanted.


Also, the hidden "goodies" in a system... like previously hidden starlanes, wrecked ships, spatial anomalies, cloaked planets etc. should all be pre-determined. I don't want having a lot of scouts in one place to give you the ability to "spawn" more stuff than was already there.... the bonus should be to find stuff that you previously didn't KNOW was there... but which someone else could come in with extra good scout/sensor tech and find before you do.

(sorry, that was kinda wordy...)

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#13 Post by drek »

And really, saying you can't see stars not connected to starlanes a little bit hard to swallow, even given the "realism doesn't matter" spiel... (I mean... we can see them now... often without a telescope).
It's not that you can't see them, it's that they don't matter. From the perspective of some guy on a FreeOrion planet, there are billions and billions of stars in the sky: but only stars with lanes can be reached in a reasonable amount of time.
Later in the game your tech would improve, and you'd start to be able to access these lesser starlanes
I'd make it based 100% on discovery (though some techs would certainly improve the number of discovery points earned per turn.) The "lesser" starlanes would just have an insane discovery requirement.
don't want having a lot of scouts in one place to give you the ability to "spawn" more stuff than was already there.... the bonus should be to find stuff that you previously didn't KNOW was there...
Yes. And that stuff *might* have an effect on other stuff even if you can't see it.

For example, a planet might have hostile virus that reduces health. It'll reduce health on the planet, but you won't know it until a certain number discovery points are reached. Once it's discovered, a special build project is unlock: "Eradicate Virus."

Personally, I think this discovery stuff deserves a design thread and place on the roadmap.

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#14 Post by drek »

And really, saying you can't see stars not connected to starlanes a little bit hard to swallow, even given the "realism doesn't matter" spiel... (I mean... we can see them now... often without a telescope).
It's not that you can't see them, it's that they don't matter. From the perspective of some guy on a FreeOrion planet, there are billions and billions of stars in the sky: but only stars with lanes can be reached in a reasonable amount of time.
Later in the game your tech would improve, and you'd start to be able to access these lesser starlanes
I'd make it based 100% on discovery (though some techs would certainly improve the number of discovery points earned per turn.) The "lesser" starlanes would just have an insane discovery requirement.
don't want having a lot of scouts in one place to give you the ability to "spawn" more stuff than was already there.... the bonus should be to find stuff that you previously didn't KNOW was there...
Yes. And that stuff *might* have an effect on other stuff even if you can't see it.

For example, a planet might have hostile virus that reduces health. It'll reduce health on the planet, but you won't know it until a certain number discovery points are reached. Once it's discovered, a special build project is unlock: "Eradicate Virus."

from the orginal post:
Then, each turn your scout discovers things and randomly puts the exploration points in the selected fields...

So for 6 points, 2 could go into planets, 2 into starlane, 1 into hidden starlane and 1 into planetary special.
I'd give each System (and perhaps Region) in the game a Familiarity meter for each empire. If Familiarity>Object Hide Score then the empire can see it. Discovery points are dumped directly into Familiartiy, but the upper levels of Familairy would require much more DP to advance.

We'd be able to give the player a general rating for each system, so he'd know which systems need more exploration, and which are totally, utterly explored.

I imagine "stealing" another empire's Familairity maps would be a huge boon--through spy actions, salvage, or diplomacy. With the Familiarity scores, it would be easy codewise to exchange maps, since we wouldn't need to keep track of which objects each empire has discovered.

Starlanes might require 10-30 Familiarity (rolled randomly for each lane). Wormholes 70-100. A lane to a black hole system would add +20 to it's Hide score. Specials would range from 0 to 100. Each planet/system/region special would have an "average Hide score" of which a random bell curved roll would modify.

The homeworld system would start with (let's say) 50 Familiarity, meaning that all starlanes are known, but leaving room for further exploration (to discover wormholes and rare specials in the hw system.)

Personally, I think this discovery stuff deserves a design thread and place on the roadmap.

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#15 Post by Geoff the Medio »

drek wrote:
And really, saying you can't see stars not connected to starlanes a little bit hard to swallow ...
It's not that you can't see them, it's that they don't matter. From the perspective of some guy on a FreeOrion planet, there are billions and billions of stars in the sky: but only stars with lanes can be reached in a reasonable amount of time.
That sounds a bit more reasonable, though I'd still like there to be a whole slew of stars visible that you can't reach... yet. With time / effect, access would open up, and the places where you chose to expend more effort searching would be those where you think there might be a reason to do so, due to the proximity of lots of currently inaccessible stars.
I'd make it based 100% on discovery (though some techs would certainly improve the number of discovery points earned per turn.) The "lesser" starlanes would just have an insane discovery requirement.

stuff *might* have an effect on other stuff even if you can't see it.
I'm rather keen on technology having some effect on what you can see. Think of radio waves in human history... or the discovery of bacteria and viruses. It wouldn't have mattered how long someone looked around for either, without the appropriate technology to see them. (I refer to these in a fun-interesting gameplay mechanic sense, not a realism sense)

Various specials and starlanes could require a certain tech and a certain familiarity level to be seen or explained or used. (and maybe different levels for each of those)

I'd also really like to have the ability (and necessity) of "widening" lesser starlane openings. All hard-to-see starlanes don't need to be small when found, but the ability to invest an effort to forge a path around the enemy's fortifications and surprise them on their back door is quite appealing to me.
For example, a planet might have hostile virus that reduces health. It'll reduce health on the planet, but you won't know it until a certain number discovery points are reached. Once it's discovered, a special build project is unlock: "Eradicate Virus."
Ah, but we'd probably need to have some notification that there is an effect happening, but just not tell the player what it is, or how to fix it. Ex: on the mouseover explanation for the bonuses/penalties to your health meter, you'd have +40 adequate world, +7 excess food supply, and -15 unkown... until you figure out what unknown is. Otherwise, the player would have to scan all his/her planets to look for irregularities and do mental math and such to figure out where there are negative effects happening without explanation.
We'd be able to give the player a general rating for each system, so he'd know which systems need more exploration, and which are totally, utterly explored.
I'm not sure a system should ever be known by the player to be "totally, utterly explored" ... there's could always be new interesting stuff that you couldn't detect previously... due to tech advances and such, and just more time looking.
I imagine "stealing" another empire's Familairity maps would be a huge boon--through spy actions, salvage, or diplomacy. With the Familiarity scores, it would be easy codewise to exchange maps, since we wouldn't need to keep track of which objects each empire has discovered.
What if you're in a system, and observe someone going into a starlane you don't have enough familiarity to know about... do you detect it then? can you use it then? i assume you don't get familiarity enough to detect everything else in the system just from seeing the starlane in action.
Starlanes might require 10-30 Familiarity (rolled randomly for each lane). Wormholes 70-100. A lane to a black hole system would add +20 to it's Hide score. Specials would range from 0 to 100. Each planet/system/region special would have an "average Hide score" of which a random bell curved roll would modify.
I'd have a wider range of minimum familiarities for all things. Wormholes should pop up occasionally over the course of the game... not be only visible at the end when everything is explored.

For starlanes, after generating them, I'd have every system impose a the minimum familiarity on all the starlanes connected to it. Thus some systems would remain inaccessible until late in the game, whereas others would be fairly easily accessible. This would need to be done smartly, so that all homeworlds are interconnected with easy-to see starlanes at the start, but there are lots of hidden paths to other systems and ways around apparent bottlenecks that become more visible later.

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