Trading! Ever since Elite first created a vast galaxy and set players loose in it, buying low and selling high has been a staple of the space exploration genre. Voyageur has its own spin on this mechanic. Most space exploration games have you carrying bulk goods across the galaxy; in Voyageur, every piece of cargo you carry is unique, procedurally-generated like the planets themselves.
In a traditional space-exploration game, the trading subgame is all about finding profitable trade routes; finding a planet that produces one good in quantity and cheaply, and then a good path towards another world where that good is very valuable. In Voyageur, this isn’t an option: once you’ve left a world, you can never go back again. So I had to design a trading system that was more based around serendipity and learning the particulars of the game. In conventional space trading games – like Freelancer, one of my favorites in the genre – I always liked to buy things wherever they were cheap, wander along the galaxy, and sell them off whenever I found a good price. That “serendipitous” approach is very suboptimal, and not really encouraged by the systems in these games. In Voyageur however, it’s the default.
Cargo has a type (currently in the game, those are food, liquor, minerals, tech, art, and alien artifacts) and a rarity. Rarer cargo isn’t necessarily more valuable, but it can have more and better modifiers that improve its price. That price is determined by the planet you’re on – food is cheaper on habitable worlds where it can be grown in conventional farms, for example. Every good is also subject to distance factor; as you get further away from its place of origin, its price will increase. Strange or exotic cargo will multiply this factor. So while it’s hard to not turn a profit, savvy decisions can allow players to make a lot more money on trading. Whenever you leave a planet, you are given a choice of several possible destinations, and limited information about each one. Learning to read those “rumors” to find the best planets to sell your cargo is a big part of the trading game.
Of course, the storylines you will encounter will also incentivize you to seek out specific kinds of worlds – and the tension between managing different priorities is part of the design here.
Crew members will also tie into trading – having a trader on board will give you better information about planets you can visit, helping you find the best possible deals. An engineer and a navigator will also give you more options of planets you can travel to.
What’s all this money for, though? Jumping to a new planet costs supplies, which usually have to be bought with money; so making a profit allows you to keep going down into the galaxy. Enough money will also open up new stories and even endgame content… but that’s another dev diary.