One of the more requested features for Stellaris right now is biological/living ships (and stations); being able to grow our ships and stations, rather than build them. However, there are multiple design and balance issues in creating this; I'm hoping this post will maybe provide somewhere where we can discuss these in depth, in case Paradox or a modder takes inspiration. Feel free to either read through, or too skim to the more interesting parts.
There a couple of options for how to construct/grow living ships:
- Built only using food
- Built using food/alloy hybrid
- Built using a new 2nd tier resource (e.g. Biomass)
Personally, I think the third option would work the best. That way, you still need to actually refine the resource from raw resources, like alloys. I personally believe this choice would both fit the current design (and balance) of the game better. I feel as if would slow snowballing down at least a little bit. Of course, upkeep is a whole different nightmare, so I'm not going to touch that.
Of course, who/what would this option be available too? My gut instinct is too restrict it too Hive Minds; they can always utilize something that makes them more unique compared to just normal, but with mechanics removed. I would probably make it available as a Origin Civic (a la Devouring Swarm), or a an Ascension perk to pick. In that way, it would function like Barbaric Despoilers. Of course, if you have other ideas, I'd be happy to hear them.
How to Make Functionally Unique
Now, that we have the framework for how to get them, how would living ships differ from regular ships? After all, I don't think too many people would be happy with just a reskin and resource change. With this, I have some more trouble coming up with ideas, but here are a couple:
- Increased armor hitpoints, but less shield hitpoints.
- Armor regenerates in combat, but shields do not
- Less power, in exchange for more hull.
I don't necessarily believe any of these are great options; out of these three, I feel like 2 would be the best, but I don't know if it feels unique enough. Of course, it would also bring certain components/technologies into balance issues (i.e. Living Tissue), which obviously isn't ideal. Like I mentioned above, I don't know how to make this unique without overpowered; please, let me know if you have any ideas.
With technologies, there are a couple of glaring issues; how do you rearrange the tech tree without it being unbalance, and how do you deal with salvage. Here is the Tech-Tree for 2.2; how do we rearrange this mess without dumping too much or too little into each branch? The easiest way would probably be too just dump all of the Technology for the classes themselves into Society, while leaving the Shields/Armor/Weapons were they are. It's easily the laziest solution, but there aren't too many options for shuffling Society technology into other branches.
Of course, then we then come up to what (in my opinion) are one of the biggest issues with living ships; dealing with unique technologies and salvage. It would seem very odd for living ships to share the same weapons and armor components as normal empires; after all, you probably just can't stick railguns on a space amoeba. Of course, if one did this, it would have the equivalent of having Enigmatic Engineering for free. The solution would probably be just to have all components to be reskinned versions of each other, with salvage of one simply being interchangeable with any equivalent technology; while not very unique, it would be the easiest. Of course, the Leviathans and Spaceborne Alien rewards would have to be reworked, but this would probably just be minor numbers/flavor changes.
While certainly possible, creating living ships in Stellaris would be a healthy exercise in game design and balance. Let me know what you think of any of these ideas, or if you have any of your own in the comments. Thanks for reading
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