Jarenth Plays Starships — Episode 2: Lay Of The Land

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Starships, I took my first careful steps on the road to social galactic domination. I upgraded my ships, used my Science to advance some technologies, and took on a hit contract to take our some thugs. Sorry, sorry: I mean I ‘defended the helpless planet Normae 28 from an encroaching Marauder fleet lead by a fearsome advanced dreadnought’. Whatever makes you sleep at night, Normae 28 government. The resulting improved relations between Normae 28 and my United Federation mean that the people from that planet now give me half of all resources they produce, so I certainly won’t be confronting any moral dilemmas.

Oh, and I also ran into a purple border on the stellar map. And I’m pretty sure this means ‘enemy territory’. The game just got more interesting, and we’re only one episode in.

Cyber-Élodie’s Log. Galactic Date: 2045.5.

Hell, we’re only one *mission* in.

I stare at the star map. “Are you absolutely sure?” I’m still a little baffled. How is it we’re running into other major civilizations after one space trip?

“Positive”, ADVISR chimes in. “Radio chatter confirms Planet Scorpii 70 is the designated homeworld of the Supreme Galactic Empire. Distance from planet Normae 28: approximately three months of sustained warp travel. Small interstellar ship fleet detected in orbit: hydrocarbon signatures appear consistent with Harmony bio-metallic engineering style.”

“Christ”, I mutter. “How is that even possible? I thought space was, like, big. And here these guys are right on our doorstep.”

“Actually…” ADVISR again. “Records from the Seeding indicate that groups of Seeding colony ships were often clustered, and sent on relatively similar flight paths. It was considered that having multiple human colonies in ‘close’ proximity would aid the development of a significant, lasting human civilization. It is likely that we will encounter more of these empires in a relatively short perio-”

“Okay, okay,” I cut the computer voice off, “so what you’re saying is, all of my former planet-mates might’ve found new homes in nearby systems?”

“Affirmative. Other options seem unviable: from the data we recovered from the Carinea 51 spaceflight project, I calculate the odds of a warp-speed ship of our specifications reaching any other known Seeding system cluster to be zero point zero zero zero zero one four nine-”

Great. “And they had access to that same data. So none of them probably even considered that option. Which means… I don’t even get a grace period, do I? I’m gonna have to deal immediately with a bunch of people who probably hate my guts.”

“Affirmative.” I really ought to get ADVISR a sense of humor sometime.

“Okay, so who are we dealing with here? Suzanne? Hutama? Vadim? Please, let it not be Vadim, I really don’t want to have to deal with that guy right now.”

“Unclear.” Drat. “Most Supreme Empire communications are transmitted in entirely unknown transmission modalities. Estimated time of developing a working communications protocol: twenty-one standard months.”

Crikey. Talk about your communications breakdown. “Alright. No sense in crying over milk we can’t even talk to. I guess. We’ll refocus our attention to the present. You get started on building me a better phone. Keep me updated.”

“Affirmative.”


Alright. So we’ve got neighbours and/or enemies on our doorstep. But we can’t talk to them yet, and so far, they haven’t taken any action. I’m going to choose to deal with this problem some other time. What else can I do right now?

Something else I can do right now is start putting my remaining two resource piles to good use. I’ve already used my Energy stockpiles to upgrade the Dauntless and the Formidable, and I used my Science for Torpedo upgrades. That leaves us with 1000 Metal and 1300 Food. And no Credits.

It turns out that Metal is used to build planetary Improvements. Like so:

I like how self-explanatory this button is.

Yeah, that’s Normae 28 I’m building on. Even though the planet hasn’t joined my United Federation — yet — one of the clauses of our current 50/50 trading agreement stipulates that I’m ‘allowed’ to use my own resources to construct certain facilities on their planet. Which doesn’t sound like a great deal, but remember: I’m already getting half of everything they produce right now. And possibly more later. And while I could also build facilities on my homeworld, Carinea 51, that planet already has a lot of construction going on. And facility construction in Starships works on a simple escalating-cost system: every facility of the same type you build costs more than the previous one. Like, a lot more.

So, this is the price sheet for an ’empty’ planet…

…and this is what the Aquifer price does after I build one of them.

Yeah, you’re seeing this right. Five facilities. What a bounty of choice, am I right? And as luck would have it, there are five main resources types. Again, I ask: can you see the overlap?

Because if you do, you’re only 80% right this time. The first four buildings are straight resource producers: the Biofuel Plant, Autoplant, Cryptolab, and Aquifer produce Energy, Metal, Science, and Food, respectively. But the fifth building, the Warp Nexus, doesn’t produce Credits: rather, it does… something. Something related to the Fatigue system I don’t understand yet. I’ll probably figure this out at some point.

I build one Food-boosting Aquifer on Normae 28. The reason I opt for that building instead of any of the other ones is that Normae 28 is really good at producing food. For two reasons. One, Normae 28 is an ‘Earth-like’ planet. Each (non-Homeworld) planet has a particular biome type, and each biome type boosts production of one particular resource by 50%. The Earth-like biome boosts Food, as I’m sure you already guessed. And two, each (again, non-Homeworld) planet has one special ‘qualifier’ that affects it in certain ways. We’ll be seeing more of these qualifies later in my travels: for now, all that’s important is that four of these planetary traits improve resource production. Normae 28 is home to ‘hardy farmers’. Guess what resource those guys are better at getting?

This lucky combination of world and trait means that Normae 28’s citizens are three times as efficient at producing Food as they are at producing anything else. And, consequently, that any Food-producing building I place there is three times as effective. It looks like the other three resource buildings add +50 to their respective resource; the Aquifer, on the other hand, raises Normae 28’s Food production to 450. Meaning this planet officially produces more Food than it produces all other things put together.

And when I say Normae 28 produces 450 Food, what I really mean is that they produce 900 Food. They just only give me 50% of it.

So, yeah. From where I’m standing, it makes sense to turn Normae 28 into my own personal grocery store. It’s just the most efficient thing to do! And I can use all the Food I’m about to gain from this planet to…

…do… stuff?

I’m pretty sure this all means *something*.

Quick poking around teaches me that Food is used to build Cities on planets. Quick poking around does not do much to teach me what Cities actually do. I think they’re involved in resource production, somehow? And given how meaningfully important each individual city was in Beyond Earth, I’m a little hesitant to dive into this system without understanding what it means. I currently have 1300 Food, which would pay for one 1000-Food City on Normae 28 — yeah, they really gave me a lot of freedoms in this trade agreement — but which does not afford me one 2500-Food City on Carinea 51. And… I don’t know if I should? Do I want to build new cities on this planet?

You know what? Let’s save that journey of discovery for later.

I turn my attention to the space lanes once more. Where to go… I could push past the purple borders on my map to Librae 65, a frozen planet of driven scientists. Interesting, sure, but that planet is also six months of hard travel away. And I’d be behind purple-y lines. Scorpii 70 is obviously right out, given that we can’t even communicate… so unless I want to take a detour back home, my only path forward involves an empty asteroid field.

When life gives you space rocks, fly through a bunch of space rocks.

This is not without its effects.

I got a thing! I… I guess.

Of all Starships’ systems, I understand Battle Cards the least. As far as I understand it, they represent a variety of combat boosts you can activate during missions. The Help screen has a whole list of them, in order of ‘rarity’: common, uncommon, rare, super rare… you get the idea. I don’t quite understand how to get them, how to use them, or just how they factor into overall combat difficulty, however.

Apparently, one way of obtaining Battle Cards is by taking detours through asteroid fields. The asteroids in this particular field were rich in a rare hard-to-reproduce uranium isotope. Using this rare uranium in our nuclear impulse engines should temporarily improve their output. If all goes well.

Beyond that, this asteroid field holds very little interest to me. Onward to the next planet!

Both of them!

From this current location, I can reach two new planets: Doradus 24, a sparse arid world with significant shipyard facilities, and Columbae 43, a volcanic world of merchants. Both are sending out general distress calls: Doradus 24 needs help with safeguarding scientific outposts, and Columbae 43 is under attack by…

…Wait, Marauders again? And they brought another Gamma Dreadnought? Crikey. Can’t fault these Marauders for consistency, that’s for sure. If you’re gonna extort the citizens of the galaxy with your giant death ball ships, you might as well go whole hog.

At ADVISR’s behest, I use the last of my Energy reserves to repair the damage Formidable had sustained during the last battle. Then, I plot a course towards Columbae 43. Let’s go help some people in exactly the same way I helped them before!

“Fear not, people of Columbae 43! Our fleet has dealt with these marauders before. Just sit back, and let the United Federation handle it.”

No, but like, *exactly* the same way.

Up to and including the inevitable conclusion.

The citizens of Columbae 43 are even more grateful for my assistance than the citizens of Normae 28 were. Mechanically, this is related to the ‘difficulty’ of the mission: Normae’s mission was rated green, while Columbae’s mission is rated orange. Narratively, I just like to think they appreciate me helping them over Doradus. Whatever the cause, the rewards are commensurate: 75% of Columbae 43 now supports my United Federation. And for my efforts, I’m gifted… a new technology of my choice. Any technology, regardless of cost. I think I like the people of this planet.

What to choose, what to choose…

I opt for the Artificial Intelligence technology, which improves my fighters. Because of course my disposable, turbo-speed fighters aren’t controlled by actual human beings anymore. More specifically, the Artificial Intelligence technology upgrades the processing capacity and tactical acumen of the linked fighter bay – fighter control system. The relatively simple AI running the fighters right can handle a basic fighter well enough, because a ‘basic fighter’ is really nothing more than a plasma cannon strapped to an engine. But more advanced AI protocols will actually be able to handle more advanced fighters: for every level of Artificial Intelligence, fighter wings will be launched with one additional module (level) installed. The exact module chosen is ‘random’, which means that the fighter bay construction algorithm analyzes the situation to the best of its ability and fills the needs it perceives are there. We’ll see if it’s actually any good at that later, I suppose.

Satisfied with a successful intervention battle and three-quarters conversion of a high-yield planet to my empire, I sit back, look at the star chart, and curse. God damnit. Another major player?

Right on my soon-to-be doorstep!

“ADVISR!” *bing* “Talk to me, pal. I’m looking at another galactic empire candidate here, aren’t I?

“Affirmative. Radio chatter confirms Planet Bootis 64 is the designated homeworld of the Second Galactic Alliance. Distance from planet Columbae 43: approximately one month of sustained warp travel. Small interstellar ship fleet detected in orbit: Firaxite signatures appear almost identical to our own.”

Huh. Another Supremacy empire, then? That’s interesting. “Don’t suppose we can talk to these guys already?”

“Negative. Communications protocol used by Second Galactic Alliance appears identical to that used by Supreme Galactic Empire. ETA on protocol decryption project: seventeen standard months.”

Drat. And here I was hoping our shared Supreme heritage would make for some easier talking. Ah well. Another element for the to-do list. “Thanks, buddy. As you were. Anything else I need to know before I order the fleet out again?”

“Yes. Warning: crew and operating system fatigue levels are rising. Operating efficiency is currently at: 50%. Operating efficiency is currently within acceptable limits for one more combat mission. After that, risk parameters exceed safety threshold. Recommendation: engage extended rest period soon.”

Ah, I see. Not even a fleet run by AI protocols and cyborg helmsmen can fly forever, I guess. “Thanks, ADVISR. Recommendation accepted. We’ll do one more mission, and then it’s time for some shore leave.” *bing*

Where to go, where to go… From Columbae 43, I have access to four unvisited planet, the Second Galactic Alliance homeworld, the Supreme Galactic Empire homeworld, and two asteroid fields. Quite the hotspot, this little planet. But honestly, I think I’d already made my choice before even coming here: planet Doradus 24 is one of my own homeworld’s two neighbouring inhabited planets, so I think it’s probably smartest to get them on our good side as soon as possible.

Away!

“Ah, United Federation! We’re so glad you’ve chosen to respond to our distress call. Word of your exploits on Normae and Columbae has given us hope. Can you help us? A fleet of renegade mercenaries has taken up positions in our star system. And we’ve lost contact with our three scientific space stations! Can you chase off the pirates and see if our outposts are alright?”

I don’t know, *can* I? 40% chance is not *great* odds.

The mission I’m given this time is slightly different from my previous two ‘kill a Marauder dreadnought’ adventures. The Doradus system hex map is populated by three Science Outposts. I can claim these outposts by flying a ship into the hex… but so can the Renegade Fleet currently in the system. Whoever first controls all three outposts at the same time ‘wins’: if the Renegades get to the outposts before I do, they’ll sack and trash them beyond repair, but if I get to them first, it’s likely they’ll give up on their attack.

This more expansive map actually gives me a chance to play with the combat system parameters a little more. I already explained the basics in the last episode: combat is taken in faction turns, and during each turn, each ship can take one move action and one ‘other’ action. Attacking counts as an action, releasing fighters counts as an action, and it’s even possible to convert the ‘other’ action into one more hex of movement. That level of operation was enough to get me through the previous two missions, in no small part because of my over-powered fighter units. But on closer inspection, there’s actually more tactical elements to the system than I first gave it credit for.

For example: all of *these* things.

Space is vast and open, but it’s not as empty as you might figure at first glance. The space surrounding Doradus 24 and its moon is filled with asteroid belts. Asteroids block direct movement: starships can’t fly through these hexes, as the risk of catastrophic impact is too great. Asteroids also hinder firing lines and combat effectiveness. Too many asteroids between two ships stops them from firing lasers and plasma cannons altogether, but a smaller group of asteroids only reduces weapon fire effectiveness.

Not all asteroid fields are equally impassable. Like everything in space, asteroids are in constant motion, orbiting around the planet and the sun and generally jostling every which way but up. Certain patches of asteroid field occasionally thin out enough to be safe for passage. On the hex map, these patches are indicated with green circles… or red circles, when they become restless and dangerous again.

The result is an ever-shifting tactical movement landscape.

And see these orange vortices? These are micro-wormholes: fascinating breaches in space-time caused by poorly-understood gravitational anomalies. Clusters of these vortices pop up in star systems all over the galaxy, and they’re always linked: any ship that flies into one of them ’emerges’ from a random other vortex in the same system. Seriously, it’s random every time. Kinda limits their effectiveness as travel shortcuts, but they’re very interesting nonetheless.

It is in this stellar landscape of asteroid paths and space-time shortcuts that both my fleet and the Renegade Fleet make our play for the outposts.

“Incoming fire!”

You’d think that, again, my Hyperlaunch Deus fighters give me a significant advantage in this fight. And you’d be right! Fighters can claim outposts just as easily as other ships can. But the three outposts are quite a significant distance away from each other. And because the Renegade Fleet is quite a bit bigger than mine, purely in number, it’s fairly easy for them to break it up into three groups and make a play for all three prizes at once. For me, on the other hand…

I mean I can still *do* it. Their fighters are essentially interstellar speed bumps.

I send the SS Formidable to the outpost closest to Doradus 24. Once there, I decide to activate its Stealth module. Just to see what it does, really.

It does this.

As far as I understand, that purple ring denotes my Stealth system’s minimum range. Any enemy that gets closer to the Formidable than that will be able to spot it anyway. But for any ship outside that range, the Formidable just dropped off the map as if by magic. Unless they use a Sensor module to find it, I guess. I still don’t know how Stealth works very well.

I then send my Fighter squadrons to the other two outposts, looking for that sizeable enemy fleet I was promised. I can see a few ships, but… that’s just, like, a handful? Where are the rest of them? Are the rest of them?

What little resistance I encounter is swiftly annihilated. My Fighters’ artificial intelligence has decided to outfit both Fighter squadrons I launch on the first turn with level-2 Plasma Cannons, which turns their attacks from ‘painful bee stings’ into ‘actually a threat to mid-tier capital ships’.

As demonstrated by this enemy mid-tier capital ship, exploding after a single Fighter shot.

It’s only near the end of the mission that I find the rest of the enemy fleet. Son of a bitch, were they using Stealth modules on me?

“No enemies around here!”

“I was wrong about everything!”

No, they actually weren’t: these doofuses didn’t even have Stealth modules. What is happening instead is that some parts of their fleet were still ‘underway’ when the battle started. And then appearing out of the blue right now is really just that, them appearing out of the blue. You can actually see a projected turn list on the enemy fleet overview screenshot earlier, the one with the 40% odds. Apparently, the Renegade Fleet’s clever plan was to slowly have their forces trickle in, one at a time, into the waiting jaws of a fully organized enemy force.

Of course *that* didn’t really work out as they were hoping.

For my victory at Doradus 24, I receive… wait, hold on, what’s this?

Come again?

Delivery mission complete? Dampening mesh? Did I… did I miss something? I actually remember reading that some planets will give you general-type FedEx missions sometimes, but… I don’t remember getting one? Must’ve clicked that away when I wasn’t paying too much attention. Regardless, this turns my Doradus 24 visit into a double jackpot: not only do I receive 200 Energy and 50% influence with the planet for helping them, but the Stealth modules of both my capital ships are freely upgraded by one level each as well!

And with that… I really ought to be done for the time being. ADVISR is right: low fatigue after several months of hard travel and combat — holy shit, has it actually been a full year since we took off? — is taking its toll on the fleet. Only 20% of the crew is still operating at peak efficiency. And while my guys are good, real good, I don’t know if I want to send them into another life-or-death situation on a 1-in-5 power level. Crew fatigue influences every system.

“Alright, people and artificial entities”, I announce over the fleet intercom. “I am parking this fleet in orbit around Doradus 24. For the next twelve months, mission focus will shift from acquisition to consolidation. We’ve made some good first contacts the past year. Let’s rest up and start looking to the future. There’s a lot more planets out there, and don’t forget that we have no less than two major players very close by.”

“ADVISR?” *bing* “How much longer until the communication protocol decryption?”

“Estimated completion time: twelve standard months.”

“Alright, thank you. Then I’m calling shore leave for the next year. Let’s not continue traveling until we’re sure we can talk to whoever we meet.”

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to write down my *score*.”

Next episode: I make contact with some old familiar faces. Not everything is as it once was, however.

8 comments

  1. So, here’s what Warp Nexus do: every system you travel costs 10% fatigue, just for travelling – unless there are Warp Nexus in the systems you are travelling between. Travel between Nexus systems is free.

    You can’t use enemy Nexus, though. (You can use aligned, unaffiliated Nexus.)

        1. However, stating this for those of us who haven’t yet played is good! I like learning these things.

          Even if I may or may not ever get this game. It’s still a nice ‘ah so that’s what it is.’

          1. As a rule, I only trot out Future Jarenth if I figure out some important game element or aspect way after playing. I flat-out forgot or misinterpreted a lot of things in both X-COM and Beyond Earth, and I understand it makes for annoying reading to see me make these mistakes over and over again without acknowledging them. Future Jarenth is just that: acknowledging that I made mistakes, and showing you that I understand that now, but also making clear that Past Jarenth — who does not yet have the benefit of Future Jarenth’s advanced learning — is just gonna keep on messing up.

            In this particular example, that’s not necessary: I don’t understand the Warp Nexus in this episode yet, but I will figure it out pretty soon. So there’s no need for Future Jarenth to intervene.

  2. At the moment I’m liking this game even more than Beyond Earth. It’s nice to see new systems and find out how they all fit together and you’re narrative is possibly making the thematic fit of the systems sound cooler than it really is =D

    1. A lot of the ‘thematic fit of the systems’ on display here may be stuff I made up, yes. :)

      But thanks for the compliment! It’s been an interesting exercise for me as well, flexing my fiction-writing muscles in conjunction with the more Let’s Play-driven parts of this.

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