One thing I realize about Foxfire is that not everybody sitting down to play a roguelike wants to be bait-and-switched into playing Factorio.

But, I do really think there’s space for resource management somewhere between Qud’s weight and water management, and building whole factories to mass produce things. So this blog post will be my musings about micro-scale and macro-scale resource management, and how I intend to steer the player towards having fun with those two things in mind.

The gist is, I want to reward both styles of play and let players choose whether to focus on micro or macro resource management, while still requiring a little of both in any playthrough.

The Progression of the Game#

The goal of Foxfire is to restore the superstructure Foxfire to working order, and the plan is to do that through a list of quests.

I haven’t decided on the exact numbers, but let’s say there’s 50 quests total, and you have to do 40 of them to win. A few of the quests will be tutorial-y quests to teach new players the ropes and to help experienced players feel like they’re doing something worthwhile while gearing up a little bit. The remainder, I aim to split roughly 50/50 between dungeon delving and resource production.

Dungeon delving quests are for players who like micro-level resource management. They’ll be things like “This part, which we can’t easily manufacture anymore, was stolen by these people who now worship it. Go get it back from the bottom of their lair.”

Resource production quests are for players who like macro-level resource management. They’ll be things like “Get me 20,000kg of steel."1

And I’m planning to have a few story-driven quests here and there, too, helping the player get to know the world they’ve found themself in.

A cool thing about this framework is that I can have quests that are both micro level and macro level, and are different difficulties in each. Imagine a quest to fetch Foxfire some kind of Nanoquantum Widget. Now, the player has a choice to go through the 8-stage processing chain to produce a nanoquantum widget themself, or they can go fight their way down a dungeon to find one that already exists.

And, I can have quests that are different difficulties if you’re focusing on micro or macro. One thing I want in this game is a section of the map that’s just ocean, which of course is deadly to SP-1R17. If you’re specing into micro-level resource management, it’ll be a real challenge to make sure you ration your electricity as you sail to an island, do some task there, and sail back. But if you’re specing into macro, it’ll be pretty easy to just bring tanks of gasoline with you, or whatever.

Aside: I ADORE Ursula K. Le Guin’s descriptions of bleak wilderness. My favorite part of Earthsea is when Ged is sailing across the oceans, and my favorite part of The Left Hand of Darkness is when Genly and Estraven are trekking across the blasted wintry plain. She makes you remember that Nature is not designed for anyone or anything, and in fact is not even capable of caring for us. If I can, I want to evoke that feeling in the player, holding their meager resources tight to themself as they walk or sail across dead, dead earth.

The Micro#

Roguelikes have a long tradition of having micro-level resource management. By this I mean any resource that you have the ability to replenish or re-spec about every ten minutes to hour of play.

  • Caves of Qud has you manage your water.
  • Nethack has you manage food and carrying capacity.
  • Noita has you manage health. (I’m not counting health in the other roguelikes because you can reasonably regenerate health in those by just resting after a fight with an enemy. In Noita the only really reliable source of healing is the holy mountains between zones.)
  • I’d like to say something about Spelunky here but to be honest I’m so bad at it I’m not really sure what you’re supposed to manage. Probably bombs or something. (Health isn’t a micro resource in Spelunky for the opposite reason; you get more hearts very rarely.)

And I’m sure you can think of analogues in your favorite roguelike.2

I see the point of these systems as a sort of soft timer on the player. How long can you go without finding more water, or making hard decisions about what to drop, or quitting exploring the level and going to the next safe zone? The depletion of micro-level resources are that timer, and the better you are at managing them, the longer that timer runs.

One thing I find disappointing in roguelikes is when these resources get too easy over time. For example, Caves of Qud lauds its water/fluid dynamics system, but I don’t think I’ve ever once thought “oh, I’m running low on water, better get out of here quick.”

Aside: I wish Qud didn’t have recoilers. It kills the feeling of there being a giant world to explore all too quickly, and makes resource management too easy. I would be OK with a gradual opening-up of the world, but it really seems like it just flips to “too easy” the moment you can identify and afford a Joppa recoiler.

I would make them have a limited number of uses, or cut them entirely in favor of an item that teleports you to the surface of whatever zone you’re in…

That’s one thing I really like about Noita; even though you get more health over time, the “obvious” path deeper into the earth requires you to keep vigilant about your HP, and any “shortcuts” or alternate progression just make it even harder.3

In Foxfire, this will be developing your chassis with better mechanisms, software, etc. You’ll be managing mostly your electricity, and although you might have some ability to create it yourself on the go in the mid-late game, your timer will be on how long you can spend away from Foxfire or other safe zones where you can recharge.

The Macro#

By macro-level, I mean anything you have to think long-term about the consequences of.

Macro-level resource management isn’t as much a focus of most roguelikes, except during character creation. I find this peculiar, really; your decisions are split between immediate-term and game-spanning ones, without much middle ground. But I digress.

A genre of game that is all about macro-level resource management is the factory builder. I really love the feeling of starting from scraps and developing a factory that processes millions of items per minute all around me.

I suppose I don’t have as much to talk about on this front as I did with micro-level resource management because this is not really something I’ve seen in a roguelike before. I want it to be expensive to have a powerful build and expensive to repair Foxfire, with a volume of resources that isn’t really feasible in other roguelikes.

One thing I haven’t figured out is how the player’s going to get the resources places. I don’t think I have the wherewithall to code up a whole logistics system like Factorio or Satisfactory … I might take some notes from modded Minecraft here, where they just give you a bunch of pipes and machines and tell you to figure it out yourself. That, or magic production of raw materials … or take a page out of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, and have the raw resources be commonplace, in the air and soil, and just require lots and lots of processing.

Aside: On the topic of books about space, I also really love The Martian, by Andy Weir. Specifically, I love the concept of living with and harnessing technology you can’t make more of, like the oxygen reprocessor and the hab. I want the early game of Foxfire to feel like that, clinging to artifice you will never be able to recreate in a thousand thousand years, praying it doesn’t die on you.

Hell, maybe even a better example of this is Lost in Space (the Netflix reboot), my favorite TV show. Season 1 and 3 do the best job of capturing that feeling for me, of being surrounded by a universe that really wants you dead in a little tiny echelon of safety you can’t ever make more of. And there’s cool robots!

Aside: There’s a lot of asides in this article.

And, I think that the micro-level play and macro-level play can wind together really well. Imagine synthesizing high explosives, crafting them into rockets, and absolutely destroying a dangerous area with atomic fire. Or, pulling off a tricky stint of dungeoneering and rescuing a chemical reactor capable of crafting faster than you’ll be able to for hours of playtime.

I guess I’m out of things to say for this blog post, then. It was ramblier than I’d like, but I do have to write two this week…

So, I’ll report back with whatever I’ve coded up in the interim next week.

  1. Does anyone reading this blog know of Agrarian Skies? It was one of the first good Minecraft hardcore questing packs. The lategame quests were all in that vein, producing a quarter million burgers and a million wheat and stuff like that. Modern pack devs are cowards for making you craft a bunch of things into one item and turn that in. Make me pipe a million redstone into a block, dammit. ↩︎

  2. I should play more roguelikes. ↩︎

  3. Hmmm, today I will go get the orb on the other side of the volcano (clueless) ↩︎