Thursday, May 22, 2014

Gravity Grain: Mining is Hell

Mining is the most boring game mechanic that was ever thought up. You trade time for a dribble of resources. In the most boring exchange known.

It's boring in Eve. It's boring in Space Engineers. It's boring in FarSky. It's just boring.

Gravity Grain features mining!

HA HA HA HA... ha...

No, it's not nearly as bad in Gravity Grain.

My philosophy is that player time should only be spent on personalization, and then only as much as the player wants. So you can spend any amount of time designing a ship. Then you can put it together largely automatically while you do other things... or you can participate in putting it together in order to customize some of the details. While putting the ship together does take time, Gravity Grain has a time-acceleration system so you don't have to actually wait through it if you don't want to.

Similarly, a player goes on expeditions and missions with the ships they designed. I want them to have to spend time with the things they personalized, and only on those things. So they spend time managing the crew and the crew's resources. They spend time trying to repair damage from a meteorite hit, or running from a pirate. These things reflect on their ship design, their crew choices, the cargo they carry...

But the actual act of mining does not reflect their choices much.

So I don't want them to spend time on it.

I want them to spend time on the mining expedition, the mission, but not the actual act of mining.

Fortunately, there's an easy way out: time acceleration!

When the player goes to mine an asteroid, she has to park her ship on the asteroid using landing clamps. This is done in real time, because it reflects upon the ship design. It's affected by her customization. Then she starts up the gravity auger. This, too, is done manually. But once the gravity auger has punctured the asteroid, there's nothing more for her to do and she is encouraged to accelerate time and get it over with nice and quick.

There isn't any need to choose exactly which square foot to mine: the asteroid is considered a unit. And when you've sucked it dry, it breaks into much smaller pieces that float away. In theory you could mine them, too, but unless your first asteroid was quite huge, they'll probably be too small to deal with.

But, as you can see, it's an automated process. You just let it run until it's obviously finished. Then you can make the choice and customize your mission: do you pursue some of the fragments, too, or just head back with your current haul?

In this way, mining is made painless.


Now, unlike something like Space Engineers, FarSky, Terraria, etc, valid mining spots aren't something you just stumble across. Asteroids are scattered tens of thousands of kilometers apart, or further. You'll need some kind of survey ship in the region to scan the area with a telescope to identify likely good mining targets. Then you can either take a scout ship out to sample them for actual good targets, or just cross your fingers and head out with a mining ship without the local survey. Scanning takes time... but is it something that takes the player's time?

Well, it runs automatically in the background, continually scanning. If you want to focus it on specific regions, you can. That doesn't take much time, though. So it doesn't really take the player's time. The player can time-accelerate, or build a ship, or customize the crew, or whatever.

Anyway, all this talk about a game that's still just a voxel tech demo is obviously just hot air. But I wanted to make it clear that wasting a player's time is pretty high on my shit list.

A player's time should be spent on the parts of the game that let them express themselves, rather than bled away on some arbitrary treadmill desperately forcing them to slow down. That's just a sign that your game can't keep players without resorting to cheap tricks.


Isaac said...

Side note: EVE actually deliberately makes mining boring and automated, to encourage players to socialize while they're mining. (MMOs in general use enforced downtime to further socialization among players.) Single player games, of course, have no need for this.

Craig Perko said...

Eve does a lot of things deliberately that I really disagree with, but the point is good.