Trese Brothers Games (Star Traders: Frontiers and more)

But only if you’re playing on the Impossible difficulty level? I don’t think that was supposed to be the takeaway from your post, but that’s how it’s reading to me.


Yes, the data as presented does not match the conclusion. :-) To be clear: I think the mod works well across all difficulties.

Yes, the mod ship bonuses do not scale with difficulty level, and the mod author plays on a harder difficulty level than I do. However, the +12 dice from the mod ship bonus is a relatively small part of the 132 dice I have on offense (in the pic above).

Breaking down by percent chance on each die, (67 Strong dice * 40% chance per die) + (65 standard dice * 20% chance per die) = 39.8 average successes for Accuracy. Of that, the mod bonus of +12 strong dice contributed 4.8 avg successes or +12% of the overall Accuracy rating.

That +12% from the mod is not why ship combat felt easy to me. So therefor I conclude (based on my feelings plus a little data) that the mod is balanced.

There are three other big factors: my specific Officers contribute another +17 dice from their own personal bonuses (more than the +12 dice from the mod), my ship modules are also tuned for offense (and I am lacking a bit of defense), and in general everything below commander level 20 is easier (based on anecdotes from others).

By commander level 25 things are getting harder: I am taking damage, running scared from some fights mid-fight, and even lost an officer in crew combat. On my choice of Demanding difficulty.

The mod is great. It is good to understand what it does. Overall it really increases my enjoyment of the game.

Lets check in on the Officers of our corvette, the Harsh Mistress, at commander level 25.

They are:

Commander 18 / Navigator 8 / Diplomat 3
Crew Dog 16 / Navigator 8 / E-tech 1
Doctor 25
Engineer 7 / Gunner 12 / Pistoleer 4 (Combat Slot 3, Pistol)
Mechanic 11 / Crew Dog 10 / Pistoleer 4 (Combat Slot 1, Pistol)
Navigator 14 / E-Tech 8 / Diplomat 3
Pilot 17 / Gunner 6 / E-Tech 1
Quartermaster 12 / E-Tech 11 / Navigator 1
Soldier 18 / Pilot 7 (Combat Slot 2, Shotgun)
Soldier 9 (Combat Slot 4, Assault Rifle)

SGT Wolf Banecast is no longer on the ship. He was wounded in a crew battle, when the ship was boarded by an enemy craft. My crew won the fight, but he fell. Although his health recovered his morale did not, and he left the ship on the next planet. Tassana has been promoted to SGT, and our new CPL Calavarn was hired.

Most Officers have a third class now, based on what the ship needed at the time. For some reason I keep picking boring classes and not the exotic classes. Overall skill composition is solid, but there are some gaps which will be apparent in the ship summary.

And here is the ship:

Overall skill pools are good. Gunnery is a little low because the Soldier that we lost was also a Gunner. But everything is over 100%, which is “green”.

Some other skills are low such as Explore 12 and Stealth 0(!). Which means the crew has a hard time with some special spying missions and on planets. Luckily, the risk for failure on those is often an enemy ship, and in a small ship with fast engines the crew is often able to escape from a fight.

I started recently swapping modules to add extra armor and shields. After 20th level, opponents started hitting in ship combat and it is EXPENSIVE to fix that damage. So the near term goal is to be able to soak damage a little better.

Launched crafts from opponents scare me. They come in fast, my big weapons do not hit them, and they can land boarding parties. I added a Dual-Linked Autocannons to help fighting crafts. This is what the components look like:

Those 4 torpedoes are the main investment - I stay at max range and launch them continuously. If they hit, and the opponents misses, then we commit to the fight. (If not, we run!)

I got in trouble after the encounter where we lost SGT Banecast. The ship took a lot of damage, funds were low after some other upgrades, and I mistakenly spent too much on fuel (some planets have horrible prices). The result was $10k in the bank but $25k of repairs.

The crew of the Harsh Mistress fell back on a careful strategy: bought fuel on Industrial and sold it to Orbital, bought high tech goods on Orbital and sold it to Population, and bought biomass on Population and sold it to Industrial. Grinding that loop for 15 runs allowed me to repair the ship and have enough cash to make it to a safer system. Old school Star Traders style. :-)

This game is embarrassing. Its “gameplay,” consists of the following:

  1. Tediously cross-referencing back-and-fourth through three screens to determine profitable trades along stacks of missions across four galaxies (which is all available to the player [strikethrough] at a glance [/strikethrough] underneath a mausoleum of bespoke “atlases” and vestigial game screens. Prior to this, the player cross-referenced back-and-fourth to determine if the missions offered in a quadrant could be completed vis-à-vis the captain’s relation with some, or all, of the factions which are present on the systems in the quadrant, which is owned by one faction but not, like, completely. Can you remember if the warp gates are close to the planet in question? Do you have other contacts in that quadrant or a system in that quadrant? Can you land on that system?

  2. Unrewarding ship combat kludge, where you click buttons at the bottom of a screen filled with space and without animation. Don’t fail to click over to ship-view island to see which components are damaged. You’ll recall from your last alt-tab to the wiki what status effect could happen next, if you have been reading the combat log and know what weapons enemy is equipped with–at least at the previous range. Ah! you think, I got hit because my 14 strong dice and 8 not-as-strong dice were the lower of my Command value, because the enemy ship rolled 20 dice out of god-knows-how-many which damaged my Sensor Array 3 to 38%, lowering (this is on another screen) my crew total Electronics which contributes, as we intuitively know, to my evasion pool, which is unaffected by ship armor.

  3. Effective ship combat always (sometimes, [if you want, and when you don’t want] leads to crew combat where you wade through 16 or more enemy bots, in repetitive 4-player combats. It plays like Darkest Dungeon on a 2-day deadline, but the promise of leveling up offers sweet succor for the masochists who want their grinds to be flavorless. The player does this dozens of times to work up enough numbers in the lower right of one screen (elsewhere on other screens) called “credits.” These allow you to scroll through 50 or so components at the “shipyard.” Only 4 components are visible onscreen at any time. Every component has 4 versions with slightly bigger numbers (sometimes the numbers are less). It’s not a demonstration project to help students study how to do bad design. It’s a game and you are in hell.

  4. Read the embarrassing narrative of two sibling-designers who got attached to Dune as children and grew to be very dedicated illiterates as adults. The dissonance between the grandiosity of the pathetic prose, “Oh noes, got to spy on the station because the intrigue between the Princelings and the Mean Princelings Son’s Old Scientist,” and the reality for the player is, you guessed it, embarrassing. “Spying” means clicking the green “go” button at the bottom center of one screen and watching the slot machine roll. The slot machine is not animated. Still on the edge of your seat you study the result. Aww, damn, I lost and my 3-5 crew lost 10-40 HP. You might wonder who’s in danger, but you’re not going to look through the “crew manifest” which is a folder locked to “LARGE ICONS” view, so skip it and click “go” again. Aww, damn, I lost and my x is more y than before. “Go.” “Go.” “Go. Yay! Queue the dialogue, I’m learnding the story!”

I fucking hate this game and the people who described it to a more innocent version of me. I like Space Rangers. I forgive low-budget presentation. I enjoy understanding systems. But this game is hostile to the player.

I cannot forgive that the fucking planet systems didn’t have visible names floating above them on the quadrant view until update #220. I cannot forgive that the best way to sort crew by job, until update #276, was by dressing them in colored clothing and looking for patterns with your eyes. How did it take until update #311 to address cheap encounter text whose semantic meaning was the opposite of its gameplay meaning? I do not forgive that their “OMG frequent updates” (quoting a strawman, not any of you fine folks) is a transparent way to bump their game to the top of our Steam page once for every 10 minute chunk of work one brother did a month ago. I do not, and you should not, mistake that as support.

I find this more believable. The Wiseau brothers were inspired by fantasy and sci-fi. As kids they co-created an amalgamation of what they had seen. They played one game that used a strong dice / normal dice probability system, and vowed never to play another game again. They learned the minimum requisite skills in programming and art to design their first crap game, and ruthlessly reuse the assets and code in each subsequent game. Each new game can check off a few more things on the to-do list of inane notes like “crew spicing” “contacts” and “missions!”. A typical work day sounds like this: “Hey, I put a button on your landing screen that says spice, bro. I coded it so when someone clicks it subtracts 30 credits for each crew and randomly adds 15-30 to their morale.” “Cool, lets disregard whether that amount of credits is meaningful or whether the player has any worthwhile way to manage individual crew moral and bolt it on. Next!” “What do you think is the best way to realize our universe of feudal backstabbing and skullduggery in space?” “Lets start by programming a window. The window can display text. The text can say ‘So-and-so has 87 relationship points.’ Can you put a button on the landing screen that says ‘Contact’?” “You know it bro!” “Great, at the end of the day lets stop wherever we’re at.” “Sweet, we’ll start and finish Missions tomorrow morning, then thoroughly reply to forum questions for the rest of the day. Can you write an update post filled with flavor and atmosphere that the game itself doesn’t deliver?”

Every screen is a first attempt, every system a rough draft. They removed and refined nothing, and made their game a monument to publishing crap. But it’s a lot of crap, I will grant that. Frequent crap. “Now with 100% more bad art so you can LARP ur omega hat in the huger hull we promised.”

It offends me.

And so I feel very ashamed I have played this game for 600 hours. I cannot forgive myself for being so piqued by their shotgun approach to crew talents that I’ve made spreadsheets, trying to theorycraft my way through a game that never communicates threat to the player. I resent that these talentless fucks have gotten me to read the ship combat log, post-encounter log, and captains log. I mourn the several times I reinstalled this piece of shit just so I can research, as a paralegal would, a place to sell the artifacts, which are represented only by a trash icon and the word “Artifacts,” in my hold, which is a bin of trash icons and text. I regret every second I’ve spent trying to understand the kaleidoscope of rules for permits to, legally in, whilst affected by a rumor at, or around, a system where I can buy or sell goods. You can’t sell spice fucksticks at this Orbital because you don’t have permit level 3 with faction D but you can buy spice fuckstones, which, ya know, are “in demand” at Oasis Terrace in the Farva Quadrant because it’s a Factorytown. You can’t sell them there, but if the number on the other screen, where it tells you the Legality (a measure of market restrictiveness based on our wildest childhood dreams) is higher than 7, an event that minuses 2 will let you. Your mission, should you accept it, is to remember whether you’re dealing with fuckstones or fucksticks the next time you’re in Farva Quadrant, spacer.

I’m probably most angry that I don’t know why, after wading through that kind of shit, I’m willing to wade through the exposition between “characters.”

Captain: Ah, these things are quite dangerous in these times, aren’t they Arbiter?

Arbiter: Yes, as you know the Templar Memories go back for thousands of generations. I am an arbiter, but I am also a client.

Some officer?: The Memories of Templars are legendary, due to the Radiation Wars.

Is this my fucking guy or some other fucking guy?: If you think you can save the Technology of Ancients, Captain, meet me in my quarters. we will have much to talk about. Like this. This is how we, the Jayawarenapura Clan talk. It is our way.

Arbiter: Well I must be off Captain, I can see you have to attend to the accords. But when you are ready to talk in my quarters, visit me in the Teryn system. We arbiters also talk like this.

Captain: How have the Memory Templars survived this long?

Definitely someone I don’t expect to be in this scene: All of us sound like this, like a child would imagine people of importance talk. This is because the Cheddar attacked the Mos and destroyed their homeworld. Now, only people with spaceships can interrogate the minds of the Rimsky Coalition.

Captain: We have an important work to do and must be on our way.

–A mission has been added to your log–

So all I have is embarrassment. God forgive us all, I hope this rampage down memory lane doesn’t spark the urge to reinstall.

If you’re unpersuaded this game is a heinous turd of design, consider one last thing. This screed is a first draft, and there is a lot of it. If I’m wrong, so are the Trese Brothers.

Wait, you hate this game that much and you played 600 hours of it?

Was it the only game you had access to? Something does not compute.

Some people are filled with rage at Nickelback. Others at spreadsheet sandboxes.


Ah, true that as one hates Nickelback for their popularity, I hate that I can find fans of this game everywhere. And true that as a hater rarely has the vocabulary to articulate what Nickelback has done wrong, I can only fume.

It’s too reductive, though, to suggest my issues are with sandboxes, spreadsheets, or spreadsheet sandboxes. Patrician / Port Royale games are sandboxes whose gameplay ought to be reduced to spreadsheets, but their presentation or design just has flaws. Real time ship combat is so weak you probably ought to avoid it. The narrative provided is too thin to motivate the player. But these are rough edges on a well-built piece of furniture. The core game systems were designed to work together. Craftsmanship is evident.

This contrasts Space Traders: Frontiers which is not constructed in any sense of the term. It emerges from a primordial soup without intention, just thousands of hours of sheer will-to-survive.

Is it a sandbox? The stories are impossible to engage with except as an elementary read-along, so the player ought to generate their own goals. No literary themes or motifs. Or is it a sandbox because there are formulas and equations that underpin systems connected like a 1890s power lines?

I don’t think a designer’s prejudice against a smooth user experience makes their game a sandbox, even if it’s shitty. I can’t tell Exploration skill points apart from Intimidate skill points. Each wire looks the same as the one next to it. While every game can be reduced to buckets of numbers with different labels, this game seems to successfully obfuscate the fact not through engaging design that resonates with players, but by wiring the lines into a fucking birdsnest.

For what it’s worth, I don’t intend to persuade anyone here, and might not want to even if I could. I’m glad people enjoy it. I have. I just want other people to hate themselves for it so I’m not alone.

It’s a sandbox because the narrative is determined by the player’s manipulation of the systems. Having optional written stories doesn’t change that fact. You jump in and a story happens, usually because you made it, not because it was written by the Trese brothers. Hence, a sandbox.

Out of curiosity, what were the literary themes and motifs in Space Rangers that don’t also exist in this game? Or is your feeling that Space Rangers isn’t a sandbox either?


“Themes and motifs” was my first idea. Upon reflection what I mean is probably more like “competency with dialogue, art, gameplay to influence the player’s interpretation of its universe.” The theme of Crime and Punishment is the duality of man, and it conveys this through a motif like drinking tea vs. drinking alcohol. Space Rangers is similarly Russian, but less revealing of the human condition. Instead it is a nutty, bizarre romp. I know not to take it seriously from the opening cinematic to the text adventures where I, an interstellar hero, compete to make the best pizza.

Even through what I understand is a bad translation, the comic elements come through. The races are characterized effectively through their pizza topping preferences, their felons in planetary penitentiaries, and the motivations they express while offering you a contract mission. A team of humans clearly thought about ways to express their vision for how Maloq are stout warriors, Gaalians are detached transcendents, and Pelengs are anti-social cutthroats.

Now, I can summarize these racial characteristics with only 2-word descriptions, and in that way Space Rangers isn’t fundamentally different from Star Traders: Frontiers. Moklumnue are traders. Javat are diggers. Rychart are spies. It’s just better and more interesting how these interplay. Sometimes it’s surprising, cute, or leads to compelling gameplay. Pelengs are comfortable blowing up a Gaalian liner in a prank. Faeyan tech goes haywire and you have to clense a planet of autobots. Gaalians ranger hulls have 3/5 weapon slots. It is not compelling to get a bigger storage hull, bigger digger number, or more spy credits in Star Traders: Frontiers. It’s always rote. It’s always trite.

But then again, I stopped reading the dialogue early with Star Traders: Frontiers. I can’t say it’s clear a human even wrote it. It reads worse than a bad translation, both in the sense that characters have no authorial voice, and there are few variations in syntax. If you told me it was generated by a 2000’s era chatbot, I would believe you. Though it’s possible I’ve allowed my frustration with the game’s other deficits to bleed over into my experience of the writing. While other players were delighted the sandbox facilitated their head-canon Firefly roleplay, my scorn grew hotter. Which brings us to your next question, what is a sandbox anyway?

Reflecting on the question, I discovered inconsistencies on my sense of the word. Space Rangers is a sandbox because people say it is, and after Roburky manifests Author Stone and the Rusty Nail, why bother looking to disconfirm? It’s a really cool embellishment to events that occurred in the game and I’m happy for it.

People say the Elder Scrolls are “sandboxes,” and they’re wrong because the majority of their LARPing is in their heads. The games don’t support the LARPs with rules, even when dutiful fans imagine events in the game.

Situation: Peaceful Monk confronted by bullying bandits.

Choice: Let attacking bandits bully you.

Consequence: You are killed ignominiously on the roadside.

Choice: Run from attacking bandits.

Consequence: You are chased until you are either caught, outrun them, or some guards rescue you.

Choice: Fight the attacking bandits trying to bully you.

Consequence: Die fighting, OR defeat them, take their armour, sell it for money, give this money to the poor.

There’s one single situation in “Oblivion”. This alone proves that this is an RPG with choices and consequences.

The Nord With The Sword

Star Traders: Frontiers is only a sandbox because people keep repeating that it is. The game has events, and you can cherish a “faulty airlock” event. You can do the mental work to characterize a mission dispenser labeled “generous” “greedy” and “hates independents,” but these represent excuses to imagine. They are not fleshy experiences which multiple players share and could compare.

Star Traders: Frontiers has narrative. I think the designers want players curious about the narrative’s next turn and driven to see numbers go up. I haven’t seen evidence that the designers control, incentivize, or even encourage much of the head canon players that players do. They got lucky that their derivative scratches an itch that spread to fans of Firefly and Dune. To its credit, Star Traders: Frontiers does deliver challenges that can be overcome by making numbers go up, and I would like it more if I thought they designed an interesting puzzle to do so.

Like “open-world,” sandbox seems only to mean “not a JRPG or Super Mario.” Or more glowingly, “the game didn’t inhibit me satisfying exogenous urges!” Is Old World a sandbox because it gives me ingredients with which I can make a drama? Star Traders: Frontiers, Elder Scrolls, and Space Rangers are all “open-world,” because a player has no requirement to do something to advance a story, but I don’t know why we’d call them a sandbox except to suggest “you need to bring your own motivation.” That’s descriptive of Factorio, Dwarf Fortress, and Minecraft. Is that what sandbox means to you and others?

Update #300. Slackers.

So I’ve FINALLY gotten into this after having it for a few years, and I’m wondering, is the relatively early story mission in which you take the Arbiter to check out the evidence against Faen’s daughter Valencia a scripted one in the sense of having a predetermined outcome? Seems no matter what I do we can’t find evidence to clear her.

The mission is called Arbiter Neutrality. Is there a way to help the Arbiter find evidence that clears Valencia?

To resolution of that mission is fixed.

If I recall correctly there is now a choice of story missions to do depending on which Faen you agree to work for. I think (as you might expect) Valencia’s missions give the most insight into what happened. But it’s been a while.

That’s what I figured. I guess I’ll keep playing. Hope Valencia isn’t doomed.

BTW, can I say I love the game but hate the save system? It’s nonsense. It has four save slots, right? But instead of those save slots being inviolable, what happens is they seem to get auto-overwritten as you play, any time something as pedestrian as landing your ship happens, let alone something major. So to have a real, fixed save you have to “cheat” by backing up the stuff in the save game folders under $USER\AppData\Local\Star Traders Frontiers

BTW, I keep reading/hearing about difficulty settings, but I don’t see where they are. Is it an ini file outside the game that I have to tweak? Also resolution for that matter.


It seems there’s some signs of progress regarding the esteemed Trese Brother’s latest project, Cyber Knights: Flashpoint.

I had that one on my list for quite a while. Seems like a more sandboxy Shadowrun with procedural story generation, not unlike Star Trader’s narrative, but with less orcs, but more XCOM and cybered-up cats and dogs.

Anyways, new Trailer (see above) and presumably an early access release for Q3. This might end up being good. Really good.

Eagerly awaiting the Android release…in a couple years.

Ugh. As someone who assidously refrains from early access, I hate that entering early access is now known as “launching”.

But the Trese Brothers have announced that Cyber Knights is entering early access launching [sic] on October 17th. It won’t have any base-building yet since it’s not a finished game, but the announcement promises “15-20 hours worth of story content”, plus optional side missions. I look forward to Cyber Knights getting its own thread with comments from y’all that I can read and enjoy while I wait for the Actual Launch. So if you’re into early access, mark your calendars: October 17th is your chance to dive into an unfinished but “launched” Trese brothers game!

Will it be available on tablet like their other games?

Wow, that’s looking significantly more complex than their previous stuff.

I will have to buy it. When it actually releases (glares at Astrox imperium).