Flagships are my solution to the problem of blending an RTS game with a tactical rogue-lite campaign. During the campaign, the player commands a fleet of ships and fights battles against enemy fleets or bases. The problem I’ve realized with the old version of the game is that it was difficult to mix the tactical fleet battles with RTS style base building in a satisfying way; either the player could just ignore base building, or full base building would allow the player to build up a massive army in each node, making the starting fleet insignificant. My solution to this balance problem is the Flagship, a modified version of the Interstellar Union’s Command Ship that can be upgraded with specific modules between battles.
Flagships can be upgraded with their own weapons, but also with refineries for gathering resources and shipyards for producing units, however they are much more limited than the traditional base building methods. For one, flagships can only be upgraded between battles with modules that the player finds or buys during the campaign. This makes them play more of a supporting role in battles and adds an extra dimension of progression to the campaign. For a rogue-lite campaign, this progression is especially important, as the player needs to be offered new and exciting upgrades for their fleet throughout the campaign. Additionally, the fact that flagships have limited room for modules means both that the player will have to make strategic decisions on which modules to equip, and that we can add some exceptionally powerful and interesting modules without completely imbalancing the game.
One of the main roles of flagships going forward, is to support the player’s fleet rather than fighting directly. Empyrean Frontier is an RTS game, so the primary focus is on commanding an army of units rather than a single powerful flagship. To this end, the flagship will have a variety of “Ability Modules” that each enable a specific targetable ability that will buff friendly units or provide some other kind of support ability (debuffing enemy units, calling in reinforcements, creating environmental effects, etc.) These abilities should be a good way to give the player a satisfying felling of progression during the campaign, unlocking powerful and fun abilities. The limited availability of these abilities (each ability has an associated energy cost for the flagship) is also intended to make their use more of a strategic decision.
The first of these abilities is the relatively simple Speed Boost, pictured above. To use this ability, the player chooses a target area and all friendly units within the effect radius gain a temporary speed buff, which is illustrated with a new icon that appears around all affected units.
Right now, I’m working on Steam integration for the coming Early Access launch, but I can also talk a bit about the next big planned feature: Bosses.
In addition to adding many new modules for the player to use, one of the interesting possibilities that the flagship system allows for is the idea of enemy bosses. These would be extremely powerful enemy flagships with their own unique modules and abilities, using scripted attack behavior. Players will have to use their entire fleet to defeat one of these bosses, and you can expect bosses to have telegraphed attacks which the player can avoid, similar to an RPG boss. The current plan is for each of the game’s factions (there will be a variety of new pirate and corporate factions) to have their own unique flagship, which fits that faction’s combat style. At the end of a campaign zone, the player will be pitted against whichever faction they have the most negative relationship with. If the player successfully defeats the enemy boss, they will gain access to a new flagship type for future campaigns.