The Emergent Emergency

Sometimes you design a game mechanics, and sometimes, when you are lucky enough, it emerges out of nowhere and surprises you.

ΔV had a power balance mechanics in place for a while now. All systems draw power to function, and your nuclear turbine supplies it to the system. It was working pretty good, but was really simple. The only variable was the turbine generating power proportionally to reactor temperature, and reactor itself just tried to asymptotically reach 3500K. It was good and simple – yet you still could deplete your power or reactor heat and cause your ship to reboot.

As I was designing the damage model a thought crossed my mind – why not make it work like an actual reactor? They don’t just heat up to a temperature – they have fuel rods that can be engaged and disengaged, active cooling systems, radiators – that’s not really hard to model in a computer and would add few things that could break, so why not add it? So I did.

And something emerged from it.

Fuel rods now engage and disengage. On new ship this happens over a second or so, so it’s not really noticeable – your reactor temperature reaches 3500K and oscillates around it, as rods  slide in and out of the reactor. But what if your ship is old and your rods are bit jammed? First you will notice that if you suddenly fire multiple thrusters, your reactor temperature will fall rapidly. It takes few seconds for fuel rods to fully engage and you can rapidly shut down your ship. But there is a way around it – if you just fire your thrusters for a bit, just to make temperature fall down to 3000K and let the rods fully engage – you can safely run on full power. That is a kind of unexpected quirk, but real fun in gameplay.

But there is more!

After such maneuver you shut down your thrusters. Reactor builds up temperature to 3500K and rods start disengaging – but this takes few seconds, so suddenly you are flying at 4500K. While this is dangerously close to critical temperature, suddenly your turbine outputs way more power – enough to operate mining laser continuously! That was even less expected, but it makes sense – your turbine and reactor is pushed to the limits.

So… why not allow the player to tune operating temperature? It makes sense that starship mechanic could adjust this easily, and it gives a player choice to either fly safe and low-powered, or to push his ship to the limits.

This emergent mechanics definitely stays in.

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