Endorphin flow mechanics as an example of three space games

    The player loves to gain more than lose.

    With GameDev, you need to take into account this wonderful feature of the psyche. I will illustrate with three games: the wonderful Faster than Light (born on a PC), the initially popular Out There tablet and come from the desktop world of Galaxy Trucker.

    None of these games have the ability to survive.

    Faster than light

    In FTL, you run away from the evil fleet with important information. The goal is to get to your imperial base in order to take the last battle. The whole game process is subordinated to this: you travel across sectors, manage the team on the ship and the ship itself, visit different systems and wait for adventures in each (often ending in a battle between two ships).

    The red border moves every move

    At the beginning of the game, your ship resembles a holey unfinished trough: as a rule, one layer of a shield, a minimum of necessary systems, and weak weapons. As you travel, you will buy new guns, after each battle - collect debris and make from them upgrades of everything on the ship. Most likely, you will get a team of bars, salvaged capsules and just as a result of random encounters. In addition to the main quest, you usually have three or four auxiliary quests - for example, finding an imperial stealth starship or making an important achievement for this ship.

    The whole gameplay you see is constant progress and movement. A continuous flow of endorphins is ensured: first you learn to fly, then unlock ship after ship, then you understand the essence of different strategies - and finally, having completed all achievements, getting even the most exotic ships and defeating the boss on the highest difficulty without upgrading the shield, you decide that everything enough.

    You can come back and play like a sandbox - the content will be repeated, but still, thanks to randomization, it’s quite interesting to play hardcore. At least on the road - that’s it.

    The game part itself resembles an experiment with a rat and a lever that launches electrodes in the center of pleasure in efficiency. Actually, as we know, scientists in this experiment did not find the rat in the center of pleasure directly, but in the center of expectation of this pleasure. So, with every jump into the new FTL system, you expect something good: it can be a cool gun, a good reward or just a pile of useful scrap metal. You know that every new leap is progress, and you are looking forward to it with joy. It is clear that the game has evolved far more than one year, and there everything is already simply licked almost to the ideal.

    Out there

    The plot is this: you find yourself in an unknown sector of space on an earth ship (trough by the standards of local), and try to get to a certain point on the other end of the sector. The mechanics are similar to the previous one: you have a ship for upgrades, jumps between systems, random events in them and the final test.

    And here begins the global difference in the sensations from the gameplay. If, even after a difficult battle, in FTL, you go around the ship, plug holes in it, re-pump oxygen into the compartments, put out the fires and treat the team, and then upgrade and move on, in There There begin real cognitive problems with resource management.

    In FTL, all resources are stored literally in the interface; they are not visible on the ship. Air does not have to be taken into account, rockets and fuel are just the number in the status bar at the top, you can fit as many modules on the ship as the structure allows. And here is the OT ship:

    Here, each slot is either a place for a module, or a place for resources. This is the first mistake that goes beyond the “players like to receive” principle. The fact is that OT simply does not physically allow you to save resources. No matter how much you get them (which is also quite difficult), putting everything on board a ship for the future will not work: you need to extract important resources immediately before building the key modules. Moreover, look at the diagram above: 17 tons of iron take up as much space as 17 tons of helium or oxygen, but just one miserable ton of thorium takes up a whole slot. And you can’t put another ton of copper or a ton of anything else there: one element - one cell from 1 to 20 tons.

    Further, with every movement in the gameplay, we lose. Jump between planets or into a new system - minus fuel and oxygen. Landing or entering the atmosphere of the gas giant is minus the strength of the hull. Takeoff - minus fuel and oxygen. Unsuccessful drilling - minus the drill or components for repairing it. That is, the gameplay, of course, is more realistic than in FTL, but instead of endorphin flow it makes you grit your teeth and endure.

    The situation is aggravated by the fact that almost all random events are different cosmic failures in the spirit: “I dropped the included soldering iron inside the hyperdrive”. It turns out such a very detailed simulator of a space loser.

    Let's do it again. At a conscious level, the game is good, but in terms of rewards - we wait for every new jump with pain (albeit not very noticeable). It is unlikely that there will be something sweet ahead, rather, losses and, once again, losses.

    The process brightens up two facts: in the new system, you can stumble upon a large, completely repaired and refueled abandoned ship. This is perhaps the greatest happiness in the game - and for the sake of it at first it is worth “pulling the lever” in the search for endorphins. The second beautiful thing is conversations with aliens.

    A very cool system of communication with aliens and learning new words: you need to decipher their speech again in each party.

    Total - with all its beauty, the game is unlikely to become widespread. Hardcore should be supported by visible progress, and here from the progress only a new ship and victory. Plus completely childish problems with the fact that you can forget the module circuits - and all that you tried the last five systems for will go away.

    Both games are hardcore, in both games failure means starting anew (even if you almost finished the game) - but the feelings are completely different. In FTL failure, you have a new achievement and, often, a new ship. In failure, OT is just the same for repetition.

    Galaxy trucker

    This game was a huge pleasant surprise for me, because you need to be able to transfer the board so organically. The general principle of a board game is this: you assemble a ship from poorly matching sewer parts, then fly along a fig-proven route and meet different adventures. Here is my review of the desktop in the same GameDev hub.

    As is clear from the gameplay, it all ends on one flight. That is, they threw their ship between the systems - and that's it, you can count points. I literally imagine how the developers of the plot of the tablet version came to what happened as a result:
    1. They added a galaxy map. Each flight is a separate mission with its own characteristics. For example, the first route is the choice between a passage through an asteroid field or a boring journey to a space bar. This variety, but it can be obtained in the table.
    2. Flights provided additional conditions: somewhere bet on who will come first, somewhere - escorting a truck, transporting heavy goods, radioactive isotopes on board and so on. Also not the most powerful step, but necessary for the plot.
    3. Added a global plot. This is the most important thing: the plot has become one of the two most important measures of progress. You gradually open the galaxy map, gradually get new ship designs, new licenses for classes II and III, unlock brown and purple aliens, plus just study the world around you. Each successful flight moves you in the plot or gives you something for the ship (and this despite the fact that the ships are assembled every time from scratch, even for a small trip)!
    4. Added money. This is also very important: despite the fact that the ship is new every time, you need something that shows overall success. Money after the flight does not disappear, but accumulate with you. At first, higher-class licenses are bought on them, later they can be used for fast travels. Plus they are sometimes needed in the plot. But the most important thing is that after finishing any flight, you know that its result is at least a couple of coins in your account. And that means you flew not in vain, and it is very warm.

    And they poured all this from above with carbon monoxide. If in FTL the dialogue characters were more focused on the situation in the spirit of the classical NF, in OT the dialogue system was aimed at decoding (nobody could say anything new), then in GT dialogs are classic RPG dialogs. True, with features.


    One of the most difficult problems of transferring the desktop to the application is getting rid of game conventions. For example, in FTL you can’t fight at once with two ships, in the new XCOM - a maximum of two items per soldier and so on. GT developers made a beautiful feint with their ears and sophisticated all these conventions.

    This is the usual level of dialogue for such games.

    This is a researcher of the Corporation Corporation - he is going to go back in time to do the décor based on the main race of truckers. In his hands is exactly our box. The same guy tells why asteroids are heard and who the main character of the game should look like. He also figured out how to avoid a temporary paradox - a butterfly goes with you to the past.

    And this is an example of lawlessness - an alien apologizes for not being in the basic version, so you won’t be able to take him to the ship.

    Plus, there is a sea of ​​banter about "Where is my reward, Johnny?" - “Well then, keep the achivka” and other jokes in the spirit: “You will never defeat me!” - "And in the game you can’t fight one on one!" “Ehhh ... then I give up.” The Corporation’s mission to confirm membership in the truckers club deserves special mention - it brutally quenches the typical gameplay, putting the game into a kind of meta-game (everything, not a spoiler).

    All this together covers all the necessary types of players: someone will drag on the plot, someone will aim to go through the campaign, someone will be happy with earnings, someone will just play, because he knows the game. The result is a wide variety of events in each system from dialogs and achievements to special flights. Again, each step gives visible progress.

    The practice of the “receive” approach

    So, try to find in your game those places where players lose something, and see if you can turn them into something more positive as a result of superposition.

    An example . In the economic game that they somehow brought to us, it was like this: you have 100 coins at the beginning, every turn you lose 10 while the factory starts. After 5 moves, you begin to receive 15 coins per turn. It is logical to simply take and throw out this initializing sequence: you have a factory and 50 coins, and you begin to receive 5 per turn.

    Next, find all the places where the gameplay resembles farming - and make the result a little unpredictable in anticipation of something pleasant. If this is pulling out cards - diversify their composition so that “breaks” appear - powerful events that change the course of the game for one of the players. Or random events and meetings with strange results. Or sharp plot twists (as in Bioshock, for example). Or the opportunity to unexpectedly find something new in the game world and play enough with it (for example, the constant progress of technology). Again, returning to the new XCOM, look at the bonded chain of missions: each one will have a new weapon or a new ability, and every second one will have a new type of plate or enemy.

    In general, only two things kill a game - negative reinforcement, when the correct game action does not cause expectations of something good, and boring farming. Both of them, as shown above, can manage to generate positive expectations. Ultimately all this leads you to the concept of "point of high" (that is about it, I wrote in detail).

    Well, look at your favorite games and think about what makes you play them further - why does your brain give the command to the body: “We did it right and well”?

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