^ Screenshot of The Ur-Quan Master v0.6.2, with scanlines. It doesn't seem to need much CPU compared to e.g. emulation or a modern webpage, which often brings my old ASUS eeePC to its knees. It's running under Ubuntu MATE (linux) and not Windows 98 as the windows theme might imply. I don't think linux has managed to produce a single tolerable window&icon theme since its inception. And the W98 one is just that, barely. Oh, System 7.5, how I yearn for thee.
Here appears another Sta- ... Ur-Quan Masters page. It eventually escalated into another project with grand delusions of emergence, but started out as...
Yehat from UQM. I was looking at the long torso in their portrait and came to think of flying snakes, probably because I had just finished (re)reading Spacehounds of the IPC. A Naga body makes them a bit more alien than just pterodactyls. Most portraits don't show the lower body. I'm trying to suggest some kind of sleek & darting movement on a misty/dense but somehow low-G world... like a Garfish eel thingy. Gamma Serpentis I is listed as 1.50atm & 0.86g so I guess that works. It's a waterworld... maybe the Yehat can swim well or just live on the islands. The head knob is blue in some portraits.
Fan-game idea: The player is a captain of a top-secret contingency expedition fleet ("Corridor 14"?) that left to another sector (towards the safer periphery, opposite coreward). This happened some time early-mid UQM timeline, so not all tech is available and the fleet is limited to a few of the aliens, namely the ZFP, Spathi, Yehat, Syreen, and Supox. A melting pot, like the Starflight Arthlings. Perhaps the humans bite the dust on the way (making a noble sacrifice, eaten by space amoebas?). The ZFP creatures breathes a different atmosphere (methane/ammonia, 0.20atm, 0.87g), but could either be tolerant or has life support in their assistive platforms.
I think... somewhere at the core of UQM is an idea that I like in sci-fi, namely: straight-faced silly premises, i.e. strange and absurd ideas which are taken seriously in writing without judgment or awareness. In UQM, the starbase commander Hayes' portrait is fairly realistic and he seems to take everything seriously. He's not a cartoon character goofing off and breaking fourth wall. He's living in this universe and it's rather dreadful for him, so he provides a foundation for the player's impressions.
Then there are some new aliens to discover. These new aliens, starbases and ships are based on sketches seen in the TfB dev sketchbooks, as well as unused early sprites. So not really new I guess. The Earthling Cruiser had little notches in the nacelles and a more rhomboid saucer. Finding abandoned or in-use weird starbases might be cool.
To echo UQM, I was thinking the expedition fleet & captain (player) first runs into a station guarded by a lone hostile ship, except this time it's an abandoned Mmrnmhrm facility guarded by a Druuge. The Druuge is trying to scam resources off the captain, but all conversation options eventually reveal that the Druuge is actually alone, lost and desperate, so it's really just a way to brief the player and initiate some easy combat.
The Mmrnmhrm station is analogous to the starbase and acts as a manufacturing center/hub and home base. The Mmrnmhrm there have no memory of what they are or offer no information (creepy like the the Mass Effect Citadel Station bots). Of course, back home the Chenjesu and Mmrnmhrm are still slave-shielded together.
There could be humans in the new sector still, some kind of offshoots, perhaps long abandoned experiments by aliens. There are the orange skinned predators, initially hidden under beetle armour. Then there's the prey - populations of more normal but primitive (medieval) humans (viewing the predators as gods). Once/if these humans are freed they can be recruited. Presumably the expedition fleet brought Cruiser schematics.
There are some friendly black Ilwrath near the home base, isolated from the red ones near Sol. The Ilwrath portraits mismatch, but I like the radial 5-legged version. A lot of the aliens in the sector are suppressed by a large scale space war between mighty space monsters (rather then the Ur-Quan / Kzer-Za). This was foreshadowed by an amoeba encounter in the intro. Initially this warzone limits everyone's movements, but the situation changes when something drives off the monsters... something hellish from *below* that must be shut off/out (the long term goal of the game). Perhaps one of the aliens/humans started *smelling*.
The bottom of the map quite sparsely populated suggesting that this is out towards the periphery. Also, the worlds here have been ravaged by something unexplained. I think the region should have less life than the original UQM/Sol sector in order to not compete or seem special. Whether the big worms were ever here is unknown but perhaps they didn't want to engage the space monsters, explaining why there are few/no slave-shielded worlds. Just as there are primitive humans, there could be cave-dwelling big brown worms that regressed, but likely not as it's too big of s reveal (as is having the Orz spit out the Androsynth). A Mycon variant could appear though. The Yehat likes uplifting aliens so maybe that could be a thing in the sector, explaining why there are a few new aliens. One alien faction could be based on UQM's wildlife (like the hopping blobby or blood monkey). I'd like to bring back the Zebranky somehow (another Umgah prank... maybe as big villain "UQM:Return of the Zebranky").
Omnipresent aliens could be the Melnorme, Arilou, Orz, as well as some of the (presumably invasive) wildlife. The Utwig, Umgah, Pkunk, VUX, Thraddash, Slylandro, Shofixti and Chenjesu remain back home. Towards the end of the game, reinforcements and aliens from the end of the UQM arrive (having been contacted) bringing useful tech.
Anyways, this type of story doesn't really interfere with the UQM universe much as it's parallel with no major reveals or developments, and tech leveling could be more subtle too. There are other ways to progress and build might (like alliances). The most important thing to keep the player engaged is probably the dialogue and setting up exciting situations and tasks.
Also based on the sketchbook material. Might possibly be proto- umgah, mycon, syreen, chenjesu, so a bit redundant. The Syreen design was adapted above though.
Thraddash pilots (mini portraits) are some kind of purple crustacean, but maybe that's an exo-armour. The green tentacles could be hair-tentacles, used to manipulate panel interfaces in the armour. I'm thinking the Syreen has blue/black combat suits when out on adventures.
The Cruiser assets vary quite a bit in appearance... I've been sketching on a few different models but not really getting anywhere conclusive. Fighter is a mix of F4U Corsair and TTA Shark. Precursor-tech Mk10 Cruiser. The Ur-Quan Dreadnought borrows some Precursor tech too. I kept the silhouette close to the sprite but added new panels. It actually has Enterprise nacelles in the big profile art. Not sure about scale for any of this. In supermelee the presentation & proportions are more cartoony.
There are not a lot of ship variants and sizes in this universe for gameplay reasons, but perhaps it's a feature of the universe. I had some thought years ago that ships are somewhat size constrained (by a "hyperspace window" perhaps) so that's why they're about the same size, which would also go for these freighters. The older races can build slightly larger.Different markings and colour bands could give the transport fleet a more rag-tag appearance.
Suit plus helmet with light filter... should help when getting spaced or visiting alien ships. Planetary Lander/Scout, with a dome similar to the Starflight ATV's. The Vindicator window is also green, though the Cruiser's dome is blue.
Planetary landings is probably the most difficult part to get right. In UQM and Starflight it was done with a lowrez map and flying around with the lander, but nowadays people have HD expectations for planetary surface features.
Alternatively, mining could be skipped, with the game focusing more on relationships rather than ships... and exploration, artefact retrieval, research, information gathering and such. Resources like minerals would then only be used in an abstract way, for say boosting a military fleet/resistance value.
Visited planets and scanned data should be kept in a database that can be browsed and used in quests.
Spathi, Thraddash and... Normandy- huuh? Well, as I might've mentioned elsewhere, Mass Effect worked pretty well when it came to delivering universe descriptions, though dating wouldn't work well in the UQM universe and the FPS element feels like a mismatch. But, ME's talky-talky was impressive. A Cruiser (maybe with some precursor tech) would make a pretty good Normandy (the Vindicator might be a bit too big, with too much crew to feel personal).
As for how to nerf/reset the Earthlings for an UQM2... perhaps it can assumed that the official timeline was one where the captain didn't do too well due to some disaster, which leaves some old stuff to be discovered. Also, the Vindicator was destroyed in along with Sa-Matra so it might take some research effort to adapt precursor technology for new Cruisers and other upgraded alien ships. Perhaps the resources are so limited that you have to pick your investments... going for an overpowered ZFP Stinger or Supox Blade? I don't remember what precisely happened to the Precursor factory, but the planet was strip-mined and slave-shielded I think.
Uprooted Supox with different legs. I forgot that maybe these should have some sort of bladders, like I drew on another older concept (and on top of page). But maybe it's the neck that's inflatable, used to squirt water on prey. The Bladderwort floats on water, though the Supox mentions a fondness of dirt.
UQM crewpod and cabin layout. The intersection view suggests elevator & ladder shafts. I wanted the cabins to be quite comfortable and self-sufficient, as opposed to arrays of bunks seen on subs and military vessels.
Pods need to host 50 crew somewhat comfortable (long trips). Most are likely human but there could be some Spathi and later Shofixti, Supox and Syreen too, but likely Shofixti as their event lowers crew cost. Perhaps the guest quarters with special life support are only on the top deck. Hosting Ilwrath, Ur-Quan or Mycon beings is probably not a consideration.
I reserved the top deck for misc functions. There's a relax eco-dome, maybe work cubicles, support systems and such. The short sides point out to space so I added a double hull there (water tanks?)... which kinda blocks the window slits, but since crew is health it could make sense to add some armour as it's a related concept. The way the modules stack against each other, armour there could be a bit thinner. The Ballast section could contain gravity plating, filters.
The spine goes through the modules and is likely a transport shaft to workplaces around the ship.
I don't know why there are windows on top. I suppose if there's no gravity orientation, windows on top could make sense, but I'll assume that the precursor treasure trove included AG. So, the top windows are perhaps roof windows for the top leisure/work deck. I guess each room has very moody coloured lightning.
Given this scale, the ship is very roughly 170m long. Size constrains force some degree of realism because it gives a sense that someone in-universe had to struggle think about how to utilise the space, and it evokes ideas of characters coping with that space. Very spacious quarters will begin to seem vaguely unnatural and raises questions about waste. Are they even on a spaceship?
I implemented some of this in code but it might not be much fun.
Establishing mining outposts which trickle in resources is an idea oft mentioned as a realistic replacement for the lander mini-game. One would spam down automatic prospecting scouts/landers at various locations, each with a operational radius (limited by fuel & speed... they probably zip around and need to make a lot of stops - it's not just a matter of flying around). Scouting uses up a day or so, so sending many in parallel is a good idea (and also speeds up play). There's a map fog system for this. The scout tech vs environment determines scout survivability.
Orbital scan tech and alien intel (coordinates) could help with prospecting. Each planet is quite massive compared to a little ship and the universe is a big place. In these days of walkthroughs, I'd be tempted to use a random seed system. Some of the resources and ruins are deeply buried (maybe some undersea). Later when this mechanic feels tedious, improved scanners will negate most exploration, save for hidden stuff.
Orbital scans use up time but are less accurate. Accuracy could work by generating a "sensed" locational resource number that's randomly offset from the hidden real number. New sense data that's closer to the real data takes priority so incremental attempts could be worthwhile. Accuracy depends on sensor quality and resource & geological obscurity. It's possible to miss obscure resources entirely if the accuracy is too far from the real number.
Once you've found a good spot with e.g. exotic life, ancient ruins, primitives to trade with, or a mine, you send down an appropriate module to establish an outpost, then reap continuous benefits. If the player has Slylandro/Precursor tech, perhaps the bases could be self-assembling using natural resources.
Deathworlds and such (flora/fauna/atmos/geology/radiation) might lower outpost efficiency or destroy them outright, depending on tech upgrades. Not sure if raids and piracy should be an issue (within certain spheres of influence). Also are there alien outposts? Maybe a few within their spheres of influence.
Then the stuff has to make it back to starbase somehow, along some route with a capable ship. I suppose you could have a setting for each outpost:
But if you mess up and waste your modules on barren worlds (because early on you don't know what's good), you might get stuck with low/no income, so that's a problem. I suppose Earth would give a basic income.
I kind of enjoy writing starmap generators, though it's a long way from making a game. You save a lot of work using a generator though, compared to hand editing (and writing said editor, and load/save serialization). I had some ideas for how I wanted this star sector to look.
First I generate the key locations. The starbase is always somewhere top right, with Ilwrath and Ghulbet near. Factions can't end up too close though, except for The Space Mice and The Lur which do so for plot reasons. The (temporary) space Monster War is always around the center. The Hiberknights are sleeping in the less populated map bottom. Some of the other factions can end up anywhere.
I'm wrote an xorshift RNG function for this, because I wanted to make sure it was deterministic and the built in function could conceivably vary between platforms. There'll be an official seed... I don't like the idea of it being too easy to change, but more of a hidden feature.
Getting busy with debug output. I've implemented subsectors, each with a random name (by e.g. an expedition crew member) used for naming stars within. It'll help with navigation. IIRC, in UQM there were clusters/constellations of stars sharing name but with alpha, beta etc on the end. I went for alien suffixes instead. I suppose it might be possible to build polygonal networks and call them constellations, but sectors are simpler. A purple cluster of stars appeared and could be referenced in a quest. Since the factions and features are added first they are not distorted by changes to the many (200+) "filler" stars.
The solar systems are generated from a coordinate-based seed for now, except for the important systems which might have overriding hand-picked seeds. There's no need for the program to save or load either sector data or solar system data. Solar systems only exist in memory when visited and planetary (Kepler) orbits are updated based on the global game timer. The planet temperatures are based on distance, atmosphere and maybe other factors later. The sun somewhat dictates planetary traits, vaguely informing the player. I'm cheating a bit with AU distances, sun sizes and types, etc such for gameplay & presentation reasons. UQM also has fantasy type categories of planets, like Magnetic, Redux, which is a good idea.
Crossing or navigating the asteroid belt (orbit) could result in a random encounter, consisting of fast moving asteroid hazards, and a static valuable asteroid that can be mined for resources. Fun variation from planet surface mining, perhaps. Also, since my asteroid belts have a hidden "planet" position, finding that could result in an encounter with a derelict station, ship, corpse or artefact.
Remembering and saving planetary pickups (resources, life, artefacts) can be achieved by use of separate 16-bitfields (pickup flags). I have 256 systems, each with max 10 planets as it is now (I didn't want to overload the player), so that's just a few KB total.
Star clustering is a bit more interesting than noise distribution.
As I understand it, SC1 was based on Archon (Ur-Quan sounds like Archon?), with certain ships being counters to each other. Perhaps this mechanic was less relevant in UQM, with the story being the star of the show. In UQM the player grows more powerful by making friends and finding artefacts or buying tech. The basic ships can't be changed though.
Since I'm thinking of not having a precursor ship or big-ship there should be a way to enhance the basic ships (i.e. they wouldn't have a constant strategical value/use). In SC1 I believe the precursor tablets were used to enhance Fuel (energy capacity I think), Crew pods, Dynamo (energy regen), Thrusters and Jets (speed and turn?). Nothing to enhance damage afaik.
The upgrades were more or less instant, triggered by specific items. A softer approach might be interesting, where the player spends time and resources on upgrades, and artefacts/info speeds up this process. This way the player isn't necessarily hard-locked by not finding a thing. Exploring becomes less rigid this way, with bits and pieces available here and there. I think there should only be a few "key" artefacts which progress the story, like needing the Triforces to enter spectacle rock. Dialogue could also be used as keys. Other artefacts are more for side-quests, which change the story or unlock treasure troves. Keys are needed to lock up the big baddie, and to diffuse some situations. In other cases, the key is just a difficult battle which requires skill and a powerful fleet.
Some artefacts are mysterious until researched. Once understood, they can be used to speed up research within some specific field. For example, the "Glowing Glass Orb" could turn out to be useful for improving Point Defence systems (Range, Damage, En use separately?), or help with developing energy weapons in general. The "Onyx Tablet" contains info on improving drive systems. The "Silver Cylinder" is a capacitor, improving max energy. Each ship then needs a specific implementation of these, as ships are widely different. This mechanic would encourage to the player to invest in certain ships, making each play-through different depending on what resources are available (i.e. improvise). If all ships were simply upgraded across the board, then the player makes no choice and perhaps ends up using the same ideal fleet each time.
I like the idea of Crew, but I think I'll replace crew pods with some kind of armour which reduces losses.
I think I'll make a list of 256 artefacts, one for every system, then the solar system generation has a chance of plopping it down on a planet, which is likely not happening, especially not in red dwarf systems which have less planets. Since the first two dozen systems are special, these all get special key artefacts. Artefacts have two states and images, unvisited and visited (stored in the system's resource pickup bitfield). Ruins are different from artefacts and more decorative, though some artefacts are disguised as ruin pieces, fresh or overgrown/eroded. Orbital derelict ships and stations can occur in duplicates (using a shared visited flag).
I wonder if terrain could be done by stamping down various brushes. Planets would need seeds for this.
The game starts like UQM with the player (fleet) entering what will be the home system. Actually, before that a space amoeba eats all humans. There's a bit of a predator-prey theme to many of the factions.
For reference, SC1 factions were. Hierarchy: Ur-Quan (Kzer-Za), Mycon, Spathi, Androsynth, Vux, Ilwrath, Umgah. Alliance: Chenjesu, Yehat, Mmrnmhrm, Arilou, Syreen, Earthling, Shofixti. Introduced in UQM: Kohr-Ah, Supox, Utwig, Thraddash, Zoq-Fot-Pik, Orz, Pkunk, Slylandro, Melnorme. ... and various extinct/missing aliens.
Various scenes from around the Mmrnmhrm base helping to make it feel like a living community. There should also be a BBS like in Starflight. The Ilwrath ships in this sector should be different.
Got important knobs and consoles to attend to, but maybe we can spare you a moment.
Each time I think about UQM I get back to checking out Starflight 1. It's perhaps a bit more dry than the accessible UQM, but I think I prefer it overall. In Starflight 1 you feel like you're just an explorer, carefully mounting an expedition into the unknown, with many places to go as clues surface. It's a lot more personal, picking out a crew, reading the logs on the BBS that flesh out the universe. Using the Starflight 1 design and UQM aliens could be a kind of neat thing. You'd be assigned a single ship (like a Supox Blade), pick a mixed crew/officers, go out and just chill explore. I guess there could even be a fail state where you continue with a new ship and crew after death... well, maybe. In Staflight, the player faction having a sphere of influence would make sense as you're one of many captains, though perhaps one tasked with long range exploration.
I'm not a fan of time limits, but perhaps there's a way to have the player set the pace, triggering certain events "inadvertently" (oops, I started an interstellar war). The reason I wanted seeds was that I don't like being pressured to perform rigid solutions, whether they're enforced by the story or a walkthru.
Starflight 2 was a bit more whimsical... to much so I think. I didn't like the plot twist of SF1 as it poisoned replays a bit whereas SF2 had time travel which I think has too big implications. UQM's story is easier to expand upon.
A Minstrel encounter and Nathracch fungoid trio (both from Starflight), and various ideas for the space amoeba / macro organism which was what I was supposed to be exploring here. The Nathracch were the basis for the ZFP so I have a soft spot for them. I kept them pretty close to the original design but added a shared element, a festive mouth.
Lymag worm... with more of a gleefully assertive mouth. It's eyes are blocked by the veil of Druuge. Possibly they change appearance later. The Zonok are some sort of sea cucumber. They feed off sentient crab creatures. Well, it's more of a recreational drug really. Nil robot.
Misc wildlife and maybe a Vorth.
Then some wildlife based on SF1 Amiga graphics. But the main errand here was the ships. I had some idea that since one can't have tons of NPCs out exploring and grabbing resources, those should be limited to the sphere of influence, being limited to patrol ships. The sphere could expand over time as resources grow (mechanically its size could buy time if under siege). The player commissions a special ship to be built (Yehat, Supox, Syreen, ZFP or Spathi) and picks a mixed crew which like in SF1 can be leveled up (they get along fairly well, unlike in SF1).
I'm thinking that explorer class ship hulls offer bonuses to certain systems but could be outfitted with anything. This means putting a ZFP lick weapon ("energy lance" or whatever) on a Syreen Explorer will incur a small penalty (or lack of bonus). The Yehat ships are better adapted to work with shields. All ships can be upgraded with better armour, engines, compact reactors and special devices like scanners or psychic negators with no special penalty as those technologies are not faction specific but just general improvements.
If the Explorer is the lone main ship (just like in SF1) then it should be able to field multiple weapons and abilities to compensate for the lack of fleet support variation in play. One might be able to put a point defence, shield and Syreen call on a Spathi Explorer late in the game once the tech has been miniaturised though research (helped by precursor tech finds). It's rear missiles and pew pew could be upgraded or replaced as well. The rear weapons port might be somewhat exclusive to the Spathi ship, or at least cheaper as it was considered in the design from the start. Likely such designs are more compact too, due to their fundamental integration.
Kabu Kabu, Roop, Banana heads, and collateral sketches.
GUI sketch, borrowing heavily from Amiga Starflight, and older airplane cockpits. In Starflight most actions are done via your officers, which is more immersive than "god" type controls. "Take us out, Mr Sulu" and all that. I'm not sure if cockpit styling is appropriate, but I like that sort of thing (some knobs might be linked to a real joypad though). For some reason perhaps they don't use touch screens in this universe, but prefer those fighter jet screen contextual side buttons (like on old flip phones).
Like mentioned earlier, I think the way Starbase Commander Hayes took the world seriously was an effective way to anchor everything. If I were to use a super-sexy Syreen, or an exotic or silly alien... it might be fun but it could easily get saturated with weirdness and drift off randomly, like a TTRPG session turning into nonsense. However, since I got rid of the Humans I might have to settle for a grizzled Syreen veteran guy. The Syreen (post-Mycon) don't have a lot of men left (if our guy is also gay, that would be a fate). I don't quite know yet whether the expedition fleet should be from the late SC1 era or early UQM (they overlap?).
So anyways, it looks like I'm borrowing the the more personal crew approach from Starflight and Mass Effect because it's fun an immersive to manage (and form attachments to) a group of aliens. In Starflight... perhaps the options were too limited with Thrynn and Elowan being exclusive, and the Androids being unable to learn (still somehow got equal rights before women). I think one way to shake things up a bit would be random stats, so it varies by individuals who is the best choice for a position, but there there still certain probabilities and a limited pool of applicants. Also, I'd add a learning in the field (probably just time based), with different values from training at base. The limited pool of applicants and their random jiggle values are based on the sector seed.
For my Starflight project I've already implemented something similar, and maybe I can borrow some code. The ship has a full crew roster with people working under the officers ready to fill sudden vacancies (permanent or temporary), so no need to return to base. They're all randomly generated with names, but can be given a nick/displayname. It's possible to set up the crew with a click, or micromanage the positions, shuffling around positions. I did a lot of unique portraits but they won't be useful here as they're of the SF aliens. Likely the Syreen will need the most as human faces are a lot easier to tell apart than Supox, Spathi, ZFP, Yehat. Maybe 48,16,16,16,16. They're pretty small. I don't know how to deal with the Syreen picking up exotic alien crew. They might get junk stats and less portraits, if not just turning into prisoners. Since I plan to use armour as HP with crew dying collaterally, it's perhaps less of an issue. Taking prisoners could offer some sort of intel bonus to offset the replaced HP-pickup mechanic. Send them back as spies?
Maybe the Spathi ship can flip forward direction. Handy for retreating by "backing" out.
Lone and abandoned Umgah, sour and hissing from behind cover feeling betrayed. Probably no Sphere of Influence. Possibly some flesh drone ships? If alone, why didn't it clone itself some friends? Might not be a thing Umgahs do, but it could also be missing some critical tool that the player could bring. Like... a little gene vault and/or apparatus that went missing.
Sector map generator moving forward, though it's hard to show programming progress in screenshots. I've added some key worlds (i.e. worlds with key items) and new factions. I don't want to overcrowd the map with aliens, because it's a bit masturbatory, so I'm killing some based on seed. Likely victims of recent events such as space monsters. It's more coherent than having them just appear/disappear, or having died in the distant past. Also, less aliens around here in the periphery makes the UQM sector feel less important. The aliens from the UQM sector don't really count as natives here of course. A lot of the ruin worlds are either colonies, or precursor tablet worlds (and not each of discrete alien cultures). Same for derelict ships and stations. They're there to reinforce the exiting stuff, not to dilute and weaken.
The space monsters could also pursue (randomly) either the Banana Heads and/or Kabu Kabu, showing the player "live" that they're responsible (other factions would mention it too). It's the last act of the space monsters before they leave in a hurry though (sphere contracts and moves towards periphery). Since the player won't see the name tags or spheres, it might go unnoticed but I think the space monster sphere should be visible early so when it moves the player knows something is up (especially when they leave which is pivotal). On this map, there are maybe 6-7 new active aliens:
The Star/Mmrnmhrm base aliens we already know, then there's the Ilwrath, Mycon variant, and the sour Umgah. The Ghulbet are sort of human. The space monsters are more like a space hazards and disappear. Then there's the ending baddies vs Zebranky (with the Zebranky being some sort of Chmmr analog).
The map and quests should be designed for incremental success along parallel lines/activities. With the random sector generation it might be necessary. The player can start to tug on whichever thread is found first. Not having to remember thing-to-do-next encourages pick-up-and-play. I like when there isn't a strict ran-on-the-rope sequence, though threads might eventually intertwine, or just cross on the map, encouraging multiple activities.
In UQM I think Hayes will offer some vague ideas early on so new players can get started, but he never becomes a consultant, and you can only talk to him at Starbase anyways, which is less intrusive. Aliens also offer information in parallel with each knowing bits and pieces.
There shouldn't be a tracking system for quests which automatically makes notes/lists (i.e. no god entity which points out what is important). I just don't like looming to-do lists, and they also make me over-reliant and lazy. If a minor thing isn't registered by the system it'll also become easy to miss, because the player won't bother paying attention. Perhaps an old conversation replay/log system might work, though it's probably best if the player their own makes notes. Text notes could possibly be made on the map I guess. A little info sign, hover over reveals text. I suppose visited systems should be automatically marked, as exploration % is an incremental success thing and could be satisfying to see. Plotting movement dots is another idea.
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