Combat is the only part of the game that was totally rewritten from scratch. The goal was to retain the overall grand vision of abstract, high level military management introduced in Stellar Monarch, but without the problems it brought with it. The total redesign of that part of the game for the sequel was to remove the unnecessary complexity and confusion and at the same time provide more depth and more decisions to make for the player.
Now there is no manual and autonomous fleet modes but there is a single mode which is like autonomous but with more options for the player.
Military is made in 4 layers: Ships, Squadrons, Fleets and Imperial High Command. With the player having decisions to make on each layer but never in a way that it would introduce micromanagement or late game slowdown.
There are 3 light hull classes (Corvette, Frigate, Destroyer) and 2 heavy hull classes (Cruiser, Battleship). Lighter ships provide recon and screening from fighters & missiles while heavier ships provide bulk of the firepower and command bonuses. Both light and heavy ships can provide various abilities.
Ship hulls are predefined but come with a decent customization. Also, there is a semi random system of unlocking those so you will end up with different ships each playthrough. The idea is you can’t control it 100% and that each game will feel unique, with different assets at your disposal, but you will still have a great influence over it. Maybe you will not end up with your dream ships setup but you will be able to come quite close to it, assuming you made the correct but hard choices along the way.
First, you need to unlock a ship hull blueprint. Which can be done via technologies. But you are not told which exact hull you will get, only how many hull blueprints and of what kind and size. For example, a typical technology looks like that “Gain 2 (Assault style design) blueprints (Corvette, Frigate, Destroyer)” which means you will get 2 blueprints of a light size hull (but you don’t know the exact hull size) and that those will be good for general purpose Assault (since those come from the Assault design pack). Now those two blueprints will pop up on your list of ship types.
Next, you need to make a prototype, you can do so by technologies. All hull technologies not only unlock hull blueprints but also increase prototypes cap, like this: “Promote 1 blueprint to a Prototype”. The tricky part is that, on average, you get 2 blueprints but only 1 prototype each time you research a new hull technology. Which means, that you won’t be able to use all your blueprints, but like half of them and you will need to choose. There are other ways to increase number of prototypes and events that outright grant you a specific blueprint but on average you will be forced to choose which ship hulls would enter the production.
Once you decided which ship hull blueprint is worthy of promoting to a prototype you will might be asked on a variant and you might want to make upgrades (install Data Link, better armor, etc), which again can be unlocked via technologies, but this time you have a full control which upgrade will be installed on each ship. One more thing, trivial technological upgrades (like better lasers, electronics or new armor) are auto applied without your intervention, you are making only important decisions that change the strong/weak points of the given hull and its purpose and specialization.
You probably noticed there was nothing about producing ships, that’s correct, you don’t build individual ships, you produce them in groups called squadrons.
The most basic unit of your space forces is a Squadron. It’s basically a group of ships. Depending on your technological level you get a certain squadron tonnage cap which you use to compose a squadron as you wish using ship hulls you unlocked. You would want to choose ships that work well together and provide the most optimal set of bonuses. You will also see how many manufacturing points are needed to produce the squadron and what’s the upkeep. So, the economy of the empire is weak you might be forced to choose suboptimal but cheaper squadron composition.
Next, a squadron is produced by imperial shipyards. The shipyards work always at the full capacity and produce only one, the latest squadron you designed. Which in practice mean you will have at your disposal some number of the newest squadrons and some older ones. But it does not mean those are active fighting squadrons, it merely means there is that many equipment ready for use.
Then there is the thing about active squadrons. You can have up to X active squadrons at any given moment, the rest of the built squadron sit in the reserve and are brought to service as needs arise (like due to combat casualties). Always the newest (the best) squadrons are put in active duty first, so it means that prolonged war could mean older and older squadrons being sent to the frontlines as casualties exceed production (up to a point where the oldest active squadrons being so outdated you might issue an imperial order to simply disband those to clean up reserves and fight with lower number of decent forces).
How many active squadrons are available at any given moment depends on Noble houses, their houses warfare skill, their authority, relations with the Emperor, etc. Basically, noble houses provide command for squadrons and if they are too weak or too hostile towards the emperor you might end up with squadrons commanded by your royal house only. You can mitigate it to an extend by reforms, laws, The Great Council acts which assure more active squadrons being available directly at the imperial level.
You probably noticed there way nothing about moving squadrons around, that’s right, that’s on higher levels.
There are 7 fleets, each sponsored by a certain noble house. Nominally those are operated and controlled by the house that sponsored it, but in practice fleets are under control of the imperial high command. Unless the house decided to go rogue and make the fleet ignore the imperial orders (which is done with a great care and under great consideration since it can be seen as a breach of the imperial contract and the emperor might seek legal means in The Great Council of Noble Houses to retaliate for this action) or outright assign the fleet to rebel armada.
Overall, fleet is more like an administrative unit which holds and manages a certain number of squadrons and has some political limits imposed. It has its own officer corps, can be assigned to a certain imperial border or send on special missions (like to bomb a capitial of an alien race whose ambassador offended you during an audience).
You probably noticed (again) you don’t really move fleets around. This is, again, on the higher level.
4. Imperial High Command
Finally, the Imperial High Command is the means to convey the emperor’s wishes regarding conquest and defence. The emperor tells what is desired (conquer a certain planet, annihilate race X, etc) and the Imperial high Command will send orders to all fleets and squadrons at their disposals. Then will send back reports in a bulk (like: “We lost X squadrons on the Antarian front and caused then Y casualties. We conquered planet A and planet B but lost planet C.”).
It’s is also the level where you build starbases, care about logistics, tactical bonuses, proper satellite recon for military intelligence, coverage of communication towers, etc. You can also forge deals with other civilized races to get the rights to build imperial starbases and infrastructure on their planets (so you are not forced to conquer other civilized races to extend the range of your military operations, just getting them to sign proper treaties is enough to treat their territory as imperial territory military wise).
Oh yes, it would be also prudent to reform the space forces, which can be done by the legislators, but that’s for another dev diary.
Progress report (2021 – Q2 & Q3 Alpha):
First the bad news. I have lost like almost one quarter of development time due to personal matters of various kinds, like my dad has died last month and that was not the only calamity the last quarter. I try to refrain from talking about personal matters but this year was so miserable that I wanted to tell you why there was lack of dev updated in the last months. The things are better now, much better, the small one started kindergarten, so, as you can imagine makes miracles for my productivity. I’m not sure if I can meet the 2021 E.A. release date but it’s not like the delay is imminent either. I would say the chances for this year release is like 50:50 (but my wife, who is with me since 2 game releases and 1 expansion pack release claims I will manage to do it 100% this year, as I always do in the last moment, so I would speculate her estimate is probably more accurate than mine). We will see.
The Q2 was about preparing for the Steam festival and instead on specific features focusing on overall playability and polish. Which was quite fun how it changes the perspective, to try to see the whole picture not separate elements. It made me rethink certain mechanics.
During Q3 it was mostly technical updates, but I also managed to make some very nice coding improvements which allows me to save time later (making content for Stellar Monarch 2 is so much easier than for Stellar Monarch than there is not even a comparison. Now I have content like empire wide modifiers, planetary markers (for organizations that are present on the planet), events as data, auto tooltips (so I don’t need to put new ones everywhere, it’s all auto done by the code), auto icons for audience buttons (like if the audience option requires to spend some money I don’t tell the audience button to draw the icon but it will intelligently iterate through all effects and render the proper icon with proper cost if it finds the effect that requires it).
Overall, I have many great tools in place, there is still some core mechanics missing (or more precisely not to my liking so those require replacement) but overall it starts to resemble a game. Not playable yet, but it starts to become fun. Now, if only I can restrain myself and avoid the usual feature creep, it should be fine.