Time Accelerator as Ship Equipment

Design docs discussion of the implementation of certain features
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kennworl
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Time Accelerator as Ship Equipment

Post by kennworl » Thu May 21, 2020 1:20 pm

Hi all.

I was thinking about trying to do up some of the equipment descriptions in the Wiki, and I thought about we are supposed to explain away the time acceleration, so that it becomes part of the ship and the game immersion, instead of a glaring game control that is not part of the universe.

X has their version as a piece of ship equipment that is very cheap to buy, but can be destroyed and is replaceable. Has any thought been given to explaining the ability to control time like this? The downside is that the ability to effectively create a time bubble around the cockpit speaks to a level of physics far beyond that needed to control gravity or do FTL or any number of startrek technomagic things. It is not consistent with the universe. I get that you need it, but it needs to have an explanation to not break immersion.

There was a complaint that the time acceleration changes state by itself when near large bodies and is jarring. This behaviour, and the fact that it has an override, would be a lot less jarring, and indeed expected, if we could treat it as a piece of computer controlled ship equipment. Maybe based on the same principles as the hyperdrive, but just stressing the spacetime continuum instead of ripping a hole in it.

Anyway, would just like to see if people share the same opinion before I write up a description and backstory, and start making code changes to actually create this as equipment. There may be other options.

Opinions?

Cheers,
Ken.

nozmajner
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Re: Time Accelerator as Ship Equipment

Post by nozmajner » Thu May 21, 2020 3:56 pm

Hi,
I don't think it needs to be an equipment. For a game that is grounded in reality about it's physics, having a tool that can manipulate time is way more immersion breaking than having it as UI for the convenience of the player. Especially if you even explain it away woth some made up description.
Too many unforeseen consequences. Especially if it is a cheap and easily replacable equipment. Time decelerating fridges anyone? (since for the outside observer, you are running waaay slower). Or if it malfunctions and you pull a Rip van Winkle? Although the later could be a good starting point of a story, but I don't think Pioneer is aiming for that kind of stories.
Or how would you explain that you can only up the time acceleration to that level? Why not even faster? Can you reverse it? Can you slow time instead? If not, then why? How much energy it eats?
If it is a simple equipment, then can you tamper with it? If no, then how come it is cheap and easily replacable? If yes, then the player would rightfully expect ways to tinker with it. Why it is not weaponized? Or if it is, how it would work? One could shoot a time-accel rocket on you, ruining your reaction time. (The podcast Ars Paradoxica explores quite a few of these things actually, but it isn't a space story at all).
And in some regards this is all quite similar to FTL travel. Sure, you need one, if you want to go to any other star, but the less in-depth the explanation is, the less worms are in the proverbial can. Less explanation is usually better anyway.

I think it is better to just keep it in the UI, without any explanation. And UI happens, and people are accostumed to UI that is not part of the game per say. A lot of times putting the UI screen in the world is the worse choice. Like an inventory menu hovering about in most games for example. Very few games provide a full-on backpack for you to riffle trough for example, and it would sure be handy that I could have a pocket dimension to store and summon up any of my belongings, but thankfully not many games are taking the time to explain it away.
I think immersion isn't the question of explaining away all UI elements, but about having logically working and interacconnected game systems that work as expected. Where the player can formulate plans with these parts in mind and execute it. And then fail or succeed, depending on skill and execution.

I think development effort would be spent better elsewhere, working on stuff that is actually relates to space travel. And since time is a big factor in space travel, maybe things that are underlining that, and taking advantage of it would be better things to work on, than an in-universe explanation of a UI element.
The ship stats for examle could back up the time spent in space instead. Small ship would have less room for consumables, so less endurance, but larger ships could pack up for months. Would made exporation more interesting as well, if long distace trips aren't only the question of can you scoop fuel. That would add more gameplay, more decisions for the player.

And to approach the question the other way: what gameplay having an in-universe time accelerator would give? How it would make the game more fun and interesting to play? Could it break down mid-flight due to bad luck? Would it be fun to fly back to civilization in real time if you don't have a spare?
Would there be different tiers with different max settings? That kinda sounds like you have to spend in-game money to make the game less boring. Which isn't a good design in my opinion.
And if it is jaring, when it switches levels near bodies, then maybe the better solution is to make it transition smoothly from one setting to the other, so it doesn't feel like a brick wall. (That limiting is in there because physics and collision detection can go way off on higher settings.)

kennworl
Posts: 40
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Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Time Accelerator as Ship Equipment

Post by kennworl » Fri May 22, 2020 2:13 am

Thanks for the in-depth answer, Nozmajner.

I am an architect by trade, and for me at least, the gameplay is as much about the story as the mechanics. It all forms part of the experience. This will be different for others, so not a criticism, but I do like to have everything interconnected in a world system as this sits better with me.

Agree with the argument about unforeseen consequences if the Time Manipulator is put out there with very little restriction. You would have to have a backstory that spoke to having it limited to exactly the way it is implemented now. For instance, we can say that it is an integral part of a spaceship, and not a separate piece of equipment, so that (a) it can't be weaponized on a missile (b) it is part of the cockpit systems so it can't be damaged short of total destruction of the ship. The principle is based on a quirk of physics that is poorly understood (possibly related to the way the Hyperdrive works - something that I haven't seen explained) and has been developed to it's fullest extent so no further tinkering is possible. In short it is what it is currently, but there is an in-universe explanation for it to enhance the story part of the experience. We don't need to change the code or any part of the game mechanics to achieve this result. "Less explanation is usually better" is something I would happily debate where there is essentially a magic time button mechanic in a purposeful reality grounded game. I understand your backpack analogy, but people understand that this is a convenience and it is common enough for people to weave into the narrative themselves.

Also, given your arguments about why the Time Accelerator should not be part of the universe, I wonder why the Hyperdrive (which is another piece of magic) could not be weaponized or tinkered with. It is ship equipment that already has a degradation and repair mechanic. Surely a hyperdrive warhead could be used to throw a ship into random interstellar space or worse. This needs the same treatment, but that is a topic for another day.

I agree we don't need to spend development effort on game mechanics for the TA, but if you are not going to explain the UI elements and weave into a story experience, it is less game and more simulation, which has put people off before. Your idea about ship stats is good. As I said before, I am big into interconnected mechanics for emergent experiences, but there needs to be a story woven through it. I assume that is part of the purpose of the Wiki. You say that people will get used to game systems that work as expected. I would counter that in some instances, you need an explanation in order to set that expectation, just enough for it to make sense and let the player's imagination take over. To assume the player's imagination will do everything is unreasonable, hence the call for Wiki content.

As for your last point about if an in-universe TA would add to the gameplay, for me, absolutely. Not so much for you it would seem, but that is perfectly ok. If I were to concoct an in-universe explanation for the TA's existence, would that ruin anything for you? If the TA were to break down (which we could rule out for anything less than the ship itself going bang), is that any different from running out of fuel and drifting through space forever? Not much fun there. So you build in a plan b, like an alternative course of action such as a distress beacon coupled with a cryopod to await eventual rescue. This is only limited by imagination and allows more options, more player decisions. If you want more content in this game, that is how you start.

PS: I understand the practical reasons for why the TA has limits. The gradual transition idea is interesting but probably will create more issues than it solves. Better to write that behavior into the narrative rather than try and change the mechanic. As you say, development resources could be better spent elsewhere.

So I don't want to turn this into a long debate. I asked for opinions and I got a valid one from you. Thanks for that. I won't bother with trying to look at changing the in-game TA mechanic but concentrate on a potential storyline for it. I think people would appreciate that, and it won't hurt those that don't want it.

Cheers,
Ken.

nozmajner
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Location: Budapest HU

Re: Time Accelerator as Ship Equipment

Post by nozmajner » Fri May 22, 2020 7:16 am

You have some fair points, but I still think having TA explained in-universe would detract more from the game than having it as UI.
Players are used to having UI elements that aren't tied to any in-universe phenomenon, and if a game is otherwise good, then it won't break immersion. Even films can have on-screen text about places and such, and if the film is otherwise good and engaging, nobody would be bothered about them.

I think the unforeseen consequences are the key here. Either we ignore it, and most of the players won't think much about it. So we can relegate it to headcacnon for people who want explanation for it. (And for headcanon, explaining less is better, because more room for player imagination, and it is up to the player to explain away their unforeseen consequences, we are washing our hands).
Or we have an in-universe explanation for it, and now we need lengthy paragraphs explaining away why it can only do that one thing. And only that, even though it is a simple and cheap equipment, which is the first stretch. A bigger stretch is that there's no way to weaponize it. A thing like this is a rather charming thing for that, and no military would give up on experimenting with ways of doing that. Same goes for "how we can make money with it?"
Now ou have to explain away those. And likely the explanation will either provide loopholes, and likely will need other explanation for other possible effects that would come from that explanation, or you introduced rather big loopholes. Possibly world-breaking ones.
Or by not explaining, you introduce ramifications that should rightfully be expected to be in the game, and all entities would know about it and use them if beneficial.
In my opinion having unnecessary in-universe explanations take away from the game more that they add. And it still does not add interesting gameplay in exchange.
Sure, it could be rather interesting to explore the ramifications of such equipment, but then the question is is Pioneer a time traveling related game? Because it comes down to that in the end. And I think it is not.

On the other hand, it is true, that the hyperdrive, FTL travel brings up more questions. The main difference is that it is a rather important mechanism for the player to cover the wast distances between systems, to build a universe where humanity went interstellar.
And FTL is a household thing among space games for a very long time, and players usually expect that there is some kind of it in the game.
True, it can introduce its own host of ramifications, loopholes and unforeseen consequences. But at the same time, it is directly tied into the gameplay, even adds to it. And exploring these effects and limitations could actually provide interesting scenarios and gameplay that is more directly relevant to a space traveling game.
Right now the only rule and effect of the hyperdrive is to get you from A to B with this and this limitation. But contrary to TA, it would benefit the game a lot more to put more thought into its workings, effects and such. And could introduce interesting gameplay. On the other hand though, I'd be wary to put too much gamey control of it into the hands of the player, because it can degrade it quite fast. (See FTL between systems in Star Citizen. It's a joke if you ask me).

And a point that is more important to me: Since Pioneer is a game about space travel, and travel time is a rather important topic of that, it is much more interesting in my opinion to have long travel times (Even if it is weeks at tops given how fast our ships are), and explore the ramification of that in the fiction. Like how long generations of space travelers adapted to long trips, how it even distanced them from stay-put types? What different coping methods emerged during the times, especiall when you take not FTL interstellar travel of the first eras into consideration?
These questions are muh more interesting for a space game in my opinion, than questiions concerning direct manipulation of time.

Also, actually we have some other quite glaring things that are ought to be explained, but maybe we are better of ust ignoring them.
Like how can we store 1t of H2 in a 1m^3 tank? How can we store it so easily anyway? Or how much heat stress our engines, and ships would need to withstand, given how high their power output is (even if they are almost perfectly efficient, the heat output would be quite stellar). How do they even work, especially how small some of them are? How there's no radioactivity coming from them whatsoever. Especially given how casually you fly around spaceports and cities, and without any flight regulation apart from asink landing clearance? How come these ships, with nuclear weapons levels of power output can even fly close to things that casually? How come they aren't burning up all the facilities during landing?
How can occupants withstand up to 4-7gs of acceleration for extended travel times?
How shields work? Can they be used for other things? Are they used in some industries for example?

And it is true, that a cryobod/beacon combo would add to the game. But that's true without a TA device. And I think adding things to the game by exploring ramifications more directly tied to actual space travel would be better than adding things that come from contorted explanations of things that most people won't even ask. See the transfer aids on the reticule. They come from the need of being able to do brachistocronne travels, and avtually solve it rather nicely, and no other space game has anything even similar, and enables you to fly by hand, so it adds gameplay and distances us from the purely autoplilot reliant gameplay loop.

Giving more thought to some of these could even introduce interesting gameplay ramifications. But others might detract from the game. And since most people don't even have the knowledge of most of these problems existing, growing up on Star Wars and Trek among other things, we have some leeway ignoring them, but as soon as we started explaining them away, they'd either introduce unwanted effects, or would break immersion more.
So in the end, my opinion is still that we should only explain what is absolutely necesseraly, to avoind having to deal with ramifications we don't want to with more and more explanations heaped on each other. That mound would soon stink from miles away, so we are better of not even heaping it in the first place.
As you said: usually les explanation is better.

kennworl
Posts: 40
Joined: Thu Jul 13, 2017 9:54 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Time Accelerator as Ship Equipment

Post by kennworl » Fri May 22, 2020 10:40 am

Yeah, well, we're just going to disagree about this. A bunch of game mechanics thrown together to simulate an activity without any backstory or lore is just that....a simulator, lacking that hook, that emotive buy-in which keeps people interested. So if that is what Pioneer is supposed to be, despite it being described as a game, then so be it. Personally, I would like it to be more than a niche simulator that works perfectly (aside from the requisite bugs for something this complex) but doesn't give much in the way of emotional payoff after a few tries. This is why I wanted to start adding to the Wiki...to give players something to think about past the mechanics so pilots are more than human calculators, and have some emotional drivers to gameplay.

Anyway, now I don't know what I can contribute to Pioneer that would be accepted, so I guess I'll just continue to create my own flavour of it. I'll wait and see what the master version eventually becomes. I wish you all the best with it.

Cheers,
Ken.

nozmajner
Posts: 993
Joined: Mon Jul 01, 2013 3:25 pm
Location: Budapest HU

Re: Time Accelerator as Ship Equipment

Post by nozmajner » Fri May 22, 2020 11:09 am

Sorry, I don't want ot discourage you, on the contrary.
It's only that my philosphy is that the less handwavy, technomagic stuff we have, the better off we are. And we already have plenty.

Pioneer aims to be a game for sure, I'm just not convinced at all that in-universe TA would be a good thing to have at all for that. It trivializes an important aspect of space travel. Sci-fi isn't good because it tries to explain everything, but because it explores the ramifiactions of the things it does explain in my opinion.

We are thinking about the UI a lot in that regard right now for example.
And good writing is sure welcome, both in-game, and on the wiki. We want some kind of in-game encyclopedia thing for example.
Mission flavors, system descriptions, news items, there are a lot of places that needs a good writer.

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