Proper progression - i.e. time for hard decisions, Keen
The current survival overhaul arguably doesn't touch the core gameplay experience, and the currently implemented progression system (having to build certain blocks to unlock certain other blocks) is arguably unimaginative, arbitrary and ultimately simply tedious without providing any adventure, challenge, or sense of accomplishment.
Just like before, the game still starts with having to select a "scenario", and then having to select a "spawn point", which can be basically any planet or moon. This doesn't align well with the goal of shaping Space Engineers into an actual, complete game experience, since such experiences are built upon deliberate decisions made and constraints introduced by the game designers.
I suggest the following implementation of progression into the survival overhaul:
- Select a single default world, and designate default settings that are considered to provide the "normal" gameplay experience. Hide all "scenarios" and world options under some other menu point, e.g. "Custom game", which players can find if they explicitly intend to have a non-vanilla experience.
- Select a singular spawn point in the world. For example, make all players spawn around or on Earth. Having a default spawn point saves players from thinking and second thoughts, and helps providing a stable foundation for a progression system built around actual physical locations in the world.
- Tie the technology/block unlocks to physical locations, where players will optionally have to face various challenges. The goal is to give meaningful, real challenges to players, with tangible goals they can actually achieve through building grids and working with evolving constraints.
A broad example of such a location-based, arguably meaningful progression system that should be relatively easy to implement:
– Tier 1: Game start, tutorial contents...
– Tier 2 unlock: The player has to collect an item at a location on the moon, which means being challenged to build a viable space ship with the limited selection of available blocks. The location on the moon can be a ship wreck, an abandoned base, a hostile alien base, a drop pod, etc. The collectible item can be any sort of classical "data cube" that simply unlocks Tier 2 blocks after being touched, or it can be even a physical item that players need to place on/in their assembler/suit.
– Tier 3 unlock: The player has to collect the next item on Mars. This item can be located at the heart of a modestly sized alien base that the player will need to defeat before being able to access the technology unlock.
– Tier 4 unlock: The player has to collect the next item on the alien planet. This item can be guarded in a large sized alien base with more advanced weaponry, requiring the player to utilize the previously unlocked technologies, build efficiently, and execute an operation in a skilled manner.
– Final challenge(s): With all technologies unlocked, the player could be challenged to build a large ship that is capable of traveling to a far-away location (i.e. jump drive) and defeating a formidable NPC ship or base. This location could be made to lack natural resources, introducing the risk of being stranded if the player loses their jump drive. Completing this challenge could simply give a Steam achievement to the player, a skin, a trophy block they can place on their ships/bases, or even a unique functional block which cannot be manufactured.
– General considerations: The unlocks should be designed to challenge the player into building something that is non-trivial with the limited available blocks. This increases the feeling of reward once the player finally unlocks the next tier. And collecting the next tier unlock should try to force the player to utilize the previously unlocked blocks in some way. Finally, a few unique, non-manufacturable blocks/components could be a great way to introduce scarcity and risk into the game: the player would feel more involved emotionally due to the mix of feeling more empowered but also fearing to lose their unique blocks.
– Alternative block unlocking mechanism: Instead of item-based "tier unlocks", the player could simply gain the ability to build "advanced" blocks after first finding and deconstructing them. For example at Tier 2 the player could be directed to find a crashed probe or ship, containing some blocks they can't build yet. But after deconstructing these blocks on the wreck, the player gains the ability to build them himself/herself.