The Case for Limiting Ship Designs

I’m going to go a little off-script tonight and talk about a particular space 4X Game mechanic rather than working on Remnants. As the title suggests, I am going to talk about the game limiting the number of ship designs allowed at any given time. The impetus for this is some criticism by followers of the new “Project: Space Sector” game, whose developers are implementing it in that game.

This feature seems to be a poorly understood (or perhaps appreciated) mechanic, but what is it, really? In MOO1 (=Remnants), it means that neither the player or AI races can have more than six active ship designs at any time. If you are at the limit, you have to scrap and existing design before creating a new one. And when you scrap a design, you lose ALL of the ships in your fleet with that design (although you are compensated for 25% of those ship’s value).

And therein lies the interesting decision. There’s a give and take that you don’t always see in this part of space 4x’s. Want to create a new, shiny ship with all of your best technological toys? Well, the cost is that you might impair the effectiveness of your existing fleet while you retool. Or you can wait. And wait.

This creates a tension that forces the interesting decision: when is a good time to upgrade my fleet. Consider the following, fairly common, scenario:

My scientists just researched ‘Super Lasers IV’ which is a clear improvement over the ‘Pretty Decent Lasers II’ that my fighters currently have. So scrap and upgrade, right? Well, maybe not.

After all, each of my existing 6 designs is playing a crucial role in my expansion plans (3 colony ships in transit to new worlds) and my war plans (a various array of fighter, bombers and gunships are keeping the hostile Mrrshan Empire at bay).

So… maybe I wait until those colony ships land, scrap the design, and THEN build the new fighter design. Then I can build up a fleet of those BEFORE scrapping my existing fighters. Yeah, that’s a good idea.

A few turns later, I’m ready to build the new fighters.. but wait! My scientists tell me that I am just a few turns away from getting faster ship engines. Ooooh! I should wait for those, right? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Onward!

Finally, about 12 turns later, I am ready to build my new fighters with ‘Super Lasers IV’, the faster engines, the better armor (woot!) and stronger deflector shields. Now,thanks to my amazing patience, my new fighters will be better than anything else in the galaxy!

Then suddenly the Mrrshan, who had upgraded to new fighter designs about 10 turns ago, crash through my outdated fleet and conquer two of my planets before I can get my new fighters assembled. ARRRGHH! The Ship Design limit is stupid!

This scenario has happened to me.  Only the technologies have been changed to protect the innocent. As with all things in life, I eventually had to learn when to fish or cut bait instead of sitting on my hands doing nothing. Sometimes you make the right decision and strike while the iron is hot. But sometimes a keen review of your enemy’s fleet or some tactful diplomatic maneuvering can allow you to successfully wait and build the high-tech ship of your dreams.

If you wait too long to upgrade, keeping an aging fleet around becomes risky. And if you constantly upgrade at every opportunity, you never give yourself time to assemble a formidable fleet and remain a pushover empire.

Let’s replay that same scenario in a game that allows you to instead upgrade your existing fleet with new technologies as soon as they are learned.

My scientists just researched ‘Super Lasers IV’ which is a clear improvement over the ‘Pretty Decent Lasers II’ that my fighters currently have. How much does it cost to upgrade? Oh, I can afford that. Click.

In order words, there is no tension and no strategic decision to be made. You always have the best weapons, armor and engines on your ships at all times. The entire simulated pipeline of ‘going from researching new weapon technology to deployment of those weapons across my fleet’ is obliterated completely from the game. It’s not just a dumbing down of a strategic element, but a complete removal of it. The cost of upgrading ships becomes a simple extension of the cost of researching the technology that initiated the upgrade.

There are other options, like increasing the ship design limit to some higher number, but they generally miss the point — that the primary value in the design limit is to create that tension about when to upgrade your ships. Raising the limit just waters down the impact of the upgrade, which can just as easily render the decision moot.

Now, with all of that said, I totally understand that some people simply do not like this particular game mechanic and so would rather not have a limit at all. That’s cool. There are lots of space 4X games that don’t have a limit and allow you to upgrade your ships whenever you want. But you should at least recognize that this is a valid mechanic, if underappreciated, and deserves a spot in line at the cafeteria of space 4X game mechanics.

That’s all I have to say. More props to Project: Space Sector deciding to retain this mechanic in their MOO2-inspired game.


Dev changes – 12/6

Had to do some Christmas shopping tonight, but was able to get in about an hour and a half of work. The 12/6 dev version is uploading as I type this.

  • Fixed crash when selecting weapons for a ship design near the end of a long list when you have more than 32 weapons to choose from.
  • Revamped the existing Espionage prompt to look like the newer version previewed in yesterday’s blog post. That was most of the effort tonight.

You can always find the latest development version available from here:

I do appreciate the efforts of everyone who is trying out the game and giving feedback. The game is especially rough looking since I’m in the middle of the UI rework, which is planned to be completed as part of the Alpha next April/May.

Dev changes – 12/5

For those interested in what’s going in each iteration of the development build

In the 2016.12.05 build:

  • disable Rally Point & Send Transports buttons if you have only one colony
  • in the Ship Construction area on the colony panel, you can now click the ship name to advance to the next design or mousewheel through it
  • the Begin button on the Introduction screen has been restyled
  • The Allocate Spending prompt that shows up when you need to reallocate spending after completing factories (or whatever) will now also show up for colonies that have had missile bases or factories destroyed by enemy saboteurs. Good to know!

That’s at my limit of 2 hours of work tonight!

Remember, you can download the developer build from here:

Mockup: Espionage Prompt

Here’s an example of a mockup that I received from our graphic designer as part of the UI revamp. It’s much cleaner than what is in the current iteration of the game. Unselectable sections are grayed out, and the buttons will turn green when you hover over them.


Just to remind everyone that there are currently 6 people actively working on this game, and probably a 7th soon as we start making individualized music themes for each race.

Allocate Colonies Prompt

One of the neat things about the original MOO is that it would prompt you to reallocate spending for colonies when they completed spending in  one of their categories (Ships, Industry, Defense, or Ecology). I’ve revamped this prompt to match the new UI look, and it is now available on the latest developer build (see the previous blog post for a download link).


Note that if you have multiple colonies to reallocate in a single  turn, there are “Previous” and “Next” buttons to allow you to easily cycle through all of the systems.

In addition, almost all of the Darlok artwork is now integrated into the game — everything except the combat troop animations during ground combat.

And we’ve had an offer to do a translation into Spanish! That means the next alpha will be available in English, Polish & Spanish.

It’s ‘Development Build December’

The next Alpha is still 4-5 months away, which feels like an eternity, so I thought some of you might like access to my running development build just so you can see where the game is currently at. Also remember that the “State of the Game” link on the top left will be continually updated with changes. This build will work through the end of the year.

Here is the current link of the development build:



Also remember that this is an executable Java JAR file. If you have the Java 8 runtime engine installed, you can just double-click the file to run. You can run this game on any Windows, Mac or Linux PC with at least 1 GB of RAM. No special video cards are required.

BIG DISCLAIMER: this is not an Alpha, but a development version in between two Alphas. For example:

  • There may be bugs lurking in there that make it unplayable. I haven’t tested it thoroughly.
  • Some of the UIs are visually “broken” while I continue to work through the extensive UI revamp
  • Not all of the Darlok  images are integrated yet
  • The “hooks” to switch between English and Polish are in place, but translation work has not begun yet (except the game title).
  • Other stuff