With me working on the next big update, it’s a good time to go into more details about the planned expedition overhaul. Of course, as with all my “design” articles, everything I’m going to write is subject to change depending on how things go during the implementation and testing phases.
Identifying the problems
Before replacing a perfectly functional feature, it’s a good idea to know why. It’s especially important when it’s the second time you’re doing it, as there definitely won’t be a third full rewrite. So let’s look at the different problems with our current system. Of course, your mileage may vary. Not all points will have the same weight to everyone.
1) Only one expedition at a time
This is probably the most obvious problem. No matter how large is your base, no matter your tech level, only one expedition can run at the same time. This is especially annoying when you have to clear a location before looting/claiming it. In the current system, it means that you need to run at least 2 expeditions in a row. Also, due to this limitation, there’s only so many things I can do on the world map before things become too cumbersome.
2) The world map is too static
In other words, the city is a pretty boring place to look at. This is, at least partially, a result of the first problem. The places you can go to are set in stones. Outside of one late game special event, there’s no destinations being added, removed, changed or moved over the duration of the game. For instance, someone mentioned to me recently that “rare traders” (trading artifacts and such) were too rare. With a different system, such traders could instead spawn in the city for a specific duration, and one of your expeditions could try to reach them. In the same spirit, herds of creatures could move around the map for hunting purpose. Bandit lairs could periodically spawn and make some areas more dangerous until they are dealt with.
3) The current system feels disconnected from the main game
This is of course a matter of opinion. Still, expeditions are entirely menu driven and visible on the city map only. Outside of production centers, expeditions are pretty much a separate minigame running within the main game. The removal of the “expedition planning table” from the very first version, while necessary at the time, was probably a step in the wrong direction in that regard.
4) Very limited “exploration”
For something called “expedition” in a survival post-apocalypse game, there’s very little exploration going on here. Of course, with the current system, it’s literally impossible to “explore” the city map. I don’t think that having to launch an expedition just to “uncover” terrain would be well received. I don’t think that adding a complete fog of war over the city would make much sense either. It’s safe to assume that people would have a map or some mental image of the city they live in. On the other hand, it feels weird to have perfect knowledge of the city from the get go (every location you can repair, every faction and their HQ..).
5) Hands-off battles
Last but not least, off map battles, to clear a location or wipe out bandits, are done through dice rolls. While it’s a perfectly okay choice for most encounters, it’s a bit of a missed opportunity. Especially in specific situations like attacking a faction HQ, getting rid of the late game Abominations, etc. having the option to go through a real combat would be a lot more impactful.
Assuming everything goes according to plan, the way expeditions are handled will be scrapped pretty much entirely and replaced by a system closer to what can be seen in games like Frostpunk or Surviving the Aftermath. In short, expeditions will become tangible agents you can move around the city map pretty much freely.
Setup and Settings
The general idea is to add a “garage” building to the game. One garage equals one expedition/group. Said building will be where you assign people to your group. But more interestingly, it’s also where you’ll be able to customize it. I’ll add a new item category dedicated to improving the efficiency of your expeditions. As an example, a car would improve movement speed and cargo space but would make the group more likely to be ambushed. A metal detector would improve loot chances. You get the idea. Once the group is setup correctly, press the launch button on the menu associated with the building. Selected survivors will exit the base and appear on the map as a new group for you to command.
The newly created group will appear on the city map screen. From there, you’ll be able to move it around like you would with a combat unit. Moving around the city will, obviously take time, which is when the “random” events can appear (one chance per tile, with a long per tile cooldown). Assuming you move one of your group to a point of interest, a context menu would appear. Basically the same as the current “Attack”, “Loot” and “Takeover” options. The main difference being that when the action is over, your group will stay in place ready for more orders. If your cargo is full of loot, you might want to bring them back home, otherwise, you’ll be able to move on to a another location.
The “Attack” option, available when a point of interest is occupied by hostiles (or when dealing with other factions) will get, on top of the usual “auto-resolve”, the option to generate a small combat oriented map. If a player is willing to fight off a bunch of soldiers, abomination or mercenaries by themselves, more power to them. Such encounters will be self-contained “time bubbles”. For simplicity sake (and my own sanity), the rest of the world will be paused until the situation is dealt with and ammo consumption will be ignored.
Don’t expect good combat maps in the first few releases, though. There’s a lot of things to do already, mapping will come, just not until all of this is working properly.
There are a lot of benefits to this system. Obviously, multiple expeditions to be managed at once. You can chain multiple “missions” without having to go back and forth. With the dedicated equipment / items, you can customize each group for a particular task. More to the point, with this system, there’s a lot more things that can be added in the future. For instance, groups could have a limited field of vision, so you can uncover special locations by exploring the map. Biomes can have an impact now as well. Places like the scorched biome could need a specific car type or special suits for your group to explore.
Later on, I could add rivers to the city which you can only pass-through via one of the few remaining bridges. AI factions would start to use this system as well: instead of “teleporting” assault teams to your base (or one of your production centers), they’d send groups you could potentially intercept with one of yours. Same could go for bandits, or even the larger animal migrations.
To keep things smooth, survivors you find during exploration will likely travel to your base on their own. I’m not entirely sure how to fill production centers with workers yet, probably similarly to what I do now: once the location is clear, your group will be able to call home and ask you who to send. It’ll just “teleport” your workers there (well, timed teleport to simulate travel time for immersion purpose).
I’ll have to modify the “Exploration” branch. I’ll remove radio, range and movement related techs, as they will be obsolete in that context. New ones will be added to control the max number of groups you can run simultaneously. Same goes for the equipment, which will likely be a mix of tech and loot you can find.
And, of course, I will need to edit the UI to take all that into account. Outside of the obvious new menu for the garage building, we’ll need to keep track of our expeditions from the main UI. It would be too bothersome to switch between the game and the map just to keep track of each group. This is what the vertical space under the mini-map will be for. Each group will be represented by its own icon and subtext. Subtext will be something like “awaiting order”, “resting”, “looting”… Clicking on the icon will of course switch to the world map and center the screen on the associated group.
So, that’s the general plan. Not gonna lie, it’s going to take me a few weeks (at least) to get close to all that. I’ll probably need a few more weeks for bug fixing and polishing. Depending how long it takes in total, I might divide the overhaul into 2 releases. The surface (groups, garage, items) stuff first. Details (combat, biome impact, FoV, etc.) second. I’d rather not, but Valve’s metrics tend to go down the shitter when you don’t release anything for too long.
Once this feature is completed, it’ll be time to schedule the next price increase for the game. It’ll be moved from $11.99 to $12.99. For reference, the 1.0 (first version out of EA) should be released at 14.99. This is half of Rimworld’s price, which sounds more than fair to me.
After we’re done, it’ll be time to work on a building and map editor, so players (and me) can make and exchange hand-crafted content via the workshop. Not entirely on how things will go, but the idea is to offer more varied spawn locations, and make it synergize with the combat stuff mentioned above, again, to offer more interesting maps that what the generator can make on its own.
This should conclude the 0.8x branch feature set. We’ll talk about 0.9x later 🙂