Opting into complexity and the new user experience

  • I have a fairly bold proposal that I think will optimize the first time user experience (though I can only speak to my own, see below), leading to more players for this game, more paying subscribers, and, as a result, better/faster dev for this very interesting game.

    Proposal: The world should be split asunder

    Instead of a single game universe, there should be 3 or 4 universes. Each would be nested inside each other like a Matryoshka doll, in order of increasing complexity.

    The creators of C++ were not game designers (that I am aware of), but they had a very good design principle: developers should opt into complexity (and you don't pay for what you don't use). Don't make new users write an AI that has to tackle every single possible power creep power out of the gate. Also don't make them think about boosting. Really, really smooth out the complexity curve and make it opt-in.

    Universe 1: Noobland

    Every new GCL 1 player starts here. There are no minerals and no labs. You will not get beat on by a much elder player who has boosted creeps that you can't stop. There are no power creeps. It is a simple universe. You can develop here for as long as you want. Eventually you can coordinate the resources of 5-6 rooms and build an extremely expensive gateway building that lets you teleport some workers and some energy to...

    Universe 2: Chemland

    This universe adds labs and boosts. GCL accumulation is 2x faster here than in Noobland.

    Universe 3: Power Creep Land

    This universe adds power creeps. GCL accumulation is 2x faster here than in Chemland.

    Universe 4: Speedland aka The Core

    This universe runs at a tick rate that is *very fast*. Any AI that is not 100% automated will get murdered here. There are no players here manually controlling their units in combat.


    Potentially each universe has an effective GCL cap. You might be GCL 15 in Noobland, but maybe Noobland caps out at 10 GCL, so you only get the benefit of being GCL 10 until you transcend to universe 2.


    Shedletsky, why you so crazy, that idea is stupid

    I understand the appeal of having a single universe. However, the new user experience of this game is, quite frankly, awful. Adding additional complexity and win-more mechanics that favor established players like boosting and power creeps will only make it worse.

    I think Screeps is a fascinating game and I got addicted to it for a month or two last summer while I was unemployeed/consulting at tech companies. I would say that I spent more time than the average player developing scripts etc and was at least checking in on a daily basis.

    I got my empire up to 5-6 rooms, with remote mining etc. I wiped out some other adjacent noobs. Atavus attacked me and I was able to fend him off long enough that he decided that I would be an ok ally. Things we looking great. I also got a job.

    Then a portal opened up in my territory. From across the map, Bovius sent one boosted dismantler and one boosted healer into my territory and destroyed everything I had built in two months. So I come home from work and find that some random player who has been playing Screeps long enough to have fully boosted guys came from halfway across the map and wrecked everything I had built in 2 months with literally 2 creeps that I couldn't stop because boosts are way too powerful for new players to deal with.

    Faced with waiting a stupid amount of time to rebuild my RCL 8 rooms (and having no realistic way to defend them if Bovius decided to return), I canceled my subscription and stopped playing.

    So my perspective is one of a fairly sophisticated player/dev who was fairly serious about this game (more than probably 90% of new players) who still got stomped on by more established players, basically for their amusement.

    I think the devs should delete their accounts, start over, and see how fun this game is when you are starting out at GCL 1 before they get too excited about giving established players *even more* of an edge against noobs. How long should a person have to play this game to be able to compete against the top guys? Right now I think it is impossible. No one wants to play that game.

    My 2c


  • Dear John,

    Glad to see you around. Hit me up sometimes, I'll give you an update on how the world has evolved.

    A very interesting proposal you bring forward. I follow your core reasoning that the devs should focus a lot more of their energy on new user acquisition and their ascension. I wouldn't go so far as to say new user experience is bad. I think it's fairly ok and that people shouldn't be too attached to their position/holdings. However, it certainly could be improved a lot and a stronger separation between players would be welcome.

    For simplicity sake, I would suggest that there should just be 2 worlds for now. The simple noob world and the core world with all mechanics. The noob world should also suffer from a strong GCL restriction like the current novice areas.

    To make things more interesting, I would hope that there is a way for players to also take their "territory" with them when they move further down into worlds. Perhaps any sector where you have full control when you press the button to move on will go with you to the new world. This would give a nice target to players before ascension.

    Kind regards,

  • Culture

    I brought up this idea in chat a couple weeks ago. I think simplified from your proposal a bit makes a lot of sense.


    There is already some level of partitioning due to noob zones, with timed walls. 3-4 universes is a bit much but 2 or _maybe_ 3 would make a huge difference.

    1) No chemicals/power. Though maybe you can process power into your account. No GCL cap/modifications, but similar to noob zones you get a room cap (of say 10). The room cap limits your upgrade rate. Also possibly no SK mining. Market probably also doesn't work (energy-only trade might be a good intro to that code though?)

    2) Chemicals/power/etc. Maybe allow power accrual in noob zone but you can't use it unless you respawn in here. Can still work with green zones for people spawning in.

    PTR mirrors 2).

    The _maybe_ for 3 could be that the existing world is left as "legacy" and 1/2 are brand new worlds that slowly expand. Other options would be that the existing world becomes 2) (though it would be hugely oversized for a while), and a new one spawns for 1).

    Being in 2) gives you GCL boosts since the room cap would be gone, and upgrade boosts are available. "Speed" realm is probably unnecessary, because if world 2 could get a separate database and by nature of how few players get past that hurdle it could potentially run at a much higher tick rate.

    Not perfect

    As with any game this small, any sort of world partitioning can have a hugely negative effect on community. world 2 might have only a handful of players in it, or the noobs would miss their neighbors. On the other hand, every time someone new spawns near me I tend to get a tepid message asking about when I'm going to destroy them, and I've noticed at least half of the (established!) players I've killed never respawn.

    If existing world becomes world 2, it could be an easy enough experiment to create world 1 and offer it to people on respawns. If it doesn't work out, stop offering respawns there and declare it deprecated and shut off after N months.

    One more thing!

    Some slight boosting for respawning based on GCL level would also be super nice for this same problem. I personally don't think I would mind much, since my code and GCL are retained the next respawn goes a lot faster. For people with less patience (probably most), giving an upgrade boost for N * GCL level ticks on respawn (or similar) would go a long way.

  • Culture

    Re your complaint that two creeps could wipe out your entire two months:

    - you didn't have any walls to speak of, try building some defenses
    - there's no DELETE_CODE or REMOVE_GCL part, so no, you didn't lose everything - that's one of the basic tenets of this game

    That said, I like your general premise, and I really like the idea of a world that you can't manually control your AI in being the "real" world. One could make the argument that Chemland doesn't need to exist now that the market does - the amount of code needed to simply mine minerals and sell them (to acquire credits) and boost creeps with boosts you bought from the market is far lower than the amount of code needed for labs. The same argument somewhat applies to power creeps - it's dead simple to build a power spawn and process power you got from the market (with credits from mineral mining, again), then set up some basic power creeps and learn to use them.

    But an early zone which didn't have any of these features would be a nice place to learn. Then you can take the big jump to adult land where you don't get to do anything manually. 🙂

  • Culture

    I love the idea of a world that is completely automated. 

  • Culture

    It might be a good idea to add some of the precursor features to the lower level worlds. In noobland you should be able to extract minerals and run labs, but either not use boosts or have their effectiveness greatly diminished. That way when people jump to chemland they will already have boost code working. For the same reason power mining and processing should be available in chemland even if power creeps aren't.

    Fitting with atavus' idea of two words, noobland can have power mining and mineral extraction but no power creeps and minimal boost effectiveness, and the second world can be our current world. I would also love a fully automated world (to the point where I'd be willing to pay a separate subscription if the devs or someone else set up a server), but that's outside of the main issue of fixing the new player problem.

  • - you didn't have any walls to speak of, try building some defenses
    - there's no DELETE_CODE or REMOVE_GCL part, so no, you didn't lose everything - that's one of the basic tenets of this game

    I don't know how long it takes to build a wall that can withstand a fully boosted dismantler over its entire TTL, or if I had such a wall, maybe I would have been attacked with 2 dismantlers instead of 1. I did have multiroom active defense code (build and route armies in case of attack) which probably would have been sufficient if the playing field were even.

    In any case, the perception of unfairness is actually what matters, not whether a game is actually fair. The TF2 devs have a great story about how they added the killcam to their game because before they did that, people thought it was bullshit that snipers would randomly kill them from across the map. Cause and effect were unlinked and so the result (getting sniped from across the map) seemed random. Once they added the killcam, which shows the sniper's position after you get gibbed, players no longer saw getting killed as being random, but rather something they should have noticed/been in control of. 

    My gut feeling is that most people don't want to play permadeath PvP games where existing players have a large intrinsic advantage. I think probably Screeps has high player churn at the point when someone gets wiped out and that half the time they quit instead of respawning. This is because it is fun to build up to RCL 8 once, but it is tedious to do it the second time. If there were a universe with 100x the tick rate, then I would agree with you in general that getting wiped out wouldn't mean anything.

    GCL seems like a clumsy mechanic in general to me; another case of favoring pre-existing players over noobs. The game needs a room control limit to keep their from being one ultimate winner (maybe), but everyone should get the same amount of CPU and the same room limit out of the gate. Right now starting new players at GCL 1 is gimping them for 6-7 months before they can build the massive empires that some of the more established players have. The ability to run such an empire should be entirely dependent on being able to write the code to create one.

    In the purest design of this game, how long someone has played for would be irrelevant. Only code quality would matter.


    My 2c

  • Dev Team

    Dear John, thank you for your well-formulated feedback, much appreciated. 

    If I remember your case correctly, you didn't use safe mode feature (had it been introduced already?). This might be the reason of your quick defeat. Consequently activated multiple safe modes allow you to save several rooms for a period long enough (several days) to figure out how to manage the attack.

    While your ideas seem interesting, they at the same time bring a lot of added complexity to the game themselves, both in technical and gameplay terms.

    Actually, we do have such a safe world feature available right now. If you don't want to engage in any PvP activity and want to just play with your AI in absolutely safe environment, then you should run your local private server (with some bots optionally). Any multiplayer activity in Screeps will incur PvP at some point, and there is no reason to deny, twist or postpone this fact.

    everyone should get the same amount of CPU and the same room limit out of the gate

    I strongly disagree. It would not be a MMO game with levelling mechanics then, a lot less fun. Additionaly, we would have to raise the subscription price multiple times in this case, due to absence of server resources cost distribution between new and veteran players.

  • Culture


    You've described why the game isn't true permadeath; GCL (rooms, CPU), code, and credits come with you during respawn.

    If I respawn it takes much less time to get back to RCL8 because I can aggressively grab rooms and remote mine. Once hitting RCL6 I can start buying/using boosts with banked credits, etc. I use (as Artem says) private server to test early game code.

    However, Artem/etc; I still want to push that the more active of a player I am, the more people unsubscribe. Private servers are a fundamental tool for this game, but having my foot in the game world as "production" to push to was most of why I stuck with it early on (when "PS" was just "the room sim").

    The best thing for me to do on respawn is to find a green zone and own it, which sucks for everyone else spawning in there. They might give up.

    Most of my neighbors expect me to kill them (which is true).

    If you're not copying code (OCS/tooangel/etc) it can take months of casual play to implement enough features to compete, even with the private server.

    Given GCL and credits surviving death Artem has clearly had ease of respawn in mind, and it is _really_ close to being good enough. Just want to push the point that it's not quite there yet, and that having safer places for simpler codebases while still getting the social aspect is a good thing.

  • Culture

    Unfortunately, safe mode wasn't a feature in August 2016. I must admit this would have been a good use case for it; I didn't have the code to do a sustained patrol to keep him from rebuilding his other rooms at the time, and it would have given him time to launch a counterattack. Either of those situations would have made the fight Too Expensive To Continue for me.

    It seems like one of the problems is that newer players don't get a feel for how dangerous things like boosts are until they get wiped by someone using them. I don't think power creeps will be quite that drastic, but I can see similar situations arising once they are released into the wild. So: what if the feature that lets players spawn NPC invaders in their claimed rooms was extended to include a "T3 boosted" tier, that had creeps with 10 tough, 30 of ranged attack / attack / work / heal, and 10 move, all tier 3 boosted? It gives players who are interested in testing their defenses a taste of fully boosted creeps, but they can be banished at any time, and it still leaves room to be surprised by how real players choose to use those creeps as opposed to the NPC invader AI's smash and grab.

  • I like the above, but agree that sharding the already small userbase might initially have some problems.  Honestly we could get the 2 ish worlds mentioned above with one (small?) tweak, which is that all players in a noob zone have to elect to leave the end the newbie zone protection(e.g, no timer), if one player is rushing to get out of the noob zone, they can just spawn somewhere else,  I also think that having over a certain amount of GCL should restrict either your respawn into noob zones or your actions while in a newbie zone (willing to discuss this) mainly because as dormando suggested, higher codebase/GCL players that are themselves wiped and spawn in a newbie zone are incentivized to wipe their newbie zone.

    As far as power and boosts being a problem, I don't necessarily disagree, I feel the threat of bigger codebase players, but honestly that is part of the draw for me.  It is much like EVE mentally in that there is the threat of death and the paranoia associated with that, except i'm telling the spreadsheets what to do, rather than just staring at them.  I do think it would be (easy? possible?) for someone to build out a private server that has different stats around combat  and no power, no boosts etc.  Some community effort on this part would be great, I do wonder if the default phrase spoken to newbie players would at that point be "hey this is too hard to start, go to this server instead (insert simplified community server)", and that this would greatly lower player counts in the main game world.

  • I propose a single flat universe, partitioned in concentric zones centered around the core.

    Z0 zone (core): anything goes

    Z1 zone: anything goes, except any power creep is temporarily "downgraded" into it's Level 1 equivalent (until it returns to the core zone, where it's reinstated)

    Z2 zone: powercreeps have no abilities at all.

    Z3 zone: T3 boosts have the effect of a T2 + the restrictions of Z0 to Z2 apply.

    Z4 zone: boosts have no effect.

    etcetera. essentially, like the "zones of thought" from Vernor Vinge series.

    Every now and then the zones expand.



    - new players on the outer rims don't need to deal with the full complexity. However if they survive in one place long enough, they'll be forced to.

    - experienced players can't project their full power to any point on the map though portals or jump rooms, it's restricted (based on the skill level of the neighbourhood)

    - there suddenly is real estate worth fighting for. Being in the center has economic advantages (as well as risks)

    - outer players can fight the center on equal footing and gradually test new things (even if boosts have no effect, they can still be applied outside, and become active inside. same for power creeps)

    - easy to explain, easy to reason about, increases game depth, and (I think) reasonably easy to implement.


    This mechanic offers lots of room for further tweaks to balance gameplay.

    For example, it would be fun if zones can change shape unpredictably or due to in-game events (lots of creeps lost in a block -> downgrade the zone. lots of GCL praising -> increase it. etc)

    Zones could have different levels of minerals and power, etc.

  • That's a brilliant idea vrs.

    I love it!

  • vrs: that idea is actually way better. I like it aesthetically as well.