Stellaris Dev Diary #197: Operations and Assets

Stellaris Dev Diary #197: Operations and Assets

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Stellaris Game Designer
Apr 4, 2019


Today we’re going deeper into some of the things you can do with the Spy Networks your envoys carefully built up last week.

As noted there, building up a Spy Network will passively provide Intel on the empire they are in as their Infiltration Level increases. (This was previously called “Spy Network Level” but has been renamed for clarity.) Once they've built up enough strength, you can choose to run Operations within the empire. A strong Spy Network can have sufficient bandwidth to run multiple Operations simultaneously.

Like First Contact, Operations use a variant of the Archaeology system first introduced in Ancient Relics. Unlike Archaeology and First Contact, however, when Operations complete objectives necessary to complete their mission, they usually do not require your intervention unless something important has come up.

When starting an Operation, you have the option of assigning a single Asset to the mission.

Operations have an energy credit cost to initiate as well as energy upkeep while ongoing. Most Operations pause for your final approval before they initiate their final step, but your operatives can be given permission to launch as soon as it is ready in the UI.

Covert missions are a little tricky, and sometimes things are a little unpredictable. If problems arise during the mission, your spymaster may contact you seeking guidance. Do you provide them with additional resources to bribe the problem away, have them dedicate a larger portion of the Spy Network to the mission (assuming they have any unallocated Infiltration available), or do you scrap the mission and leave the Asset assigned to the mission out to dry? Likewise, even when things go according to plan, sometimes your operatives have to take what they can get - while other times they may stumble upon far more than they expected.


Yes, you can run operations within a hive.

Completing Operations often has an impact on your Infiltration Level - some resources get compromised or otherwise unusable, and depending on the Operation you performed, a hornet’s nest of security may have been stirred. If you had an Asset assigned to the Operation, you will often be given a chance to use them as a scapegoat, burning them to protect the rest of the Network.

Operation Types

We’ve split Operations into four different categories, and here’s a more detailed summary of each type and a few of the Operations we’re planning. (As always with in-development sneak peeks, these are subject to change.)

Subterfuge Operations are common Operations that work to improve the state of the network or do good old fashioned spying on the target empire. Gather Information, Acquire Asset, and Steal Technology are examples of planned Subterfuge Operations.

Sabotage Operations are dedicated to destruction of tangible or intangible things. Sabotage Starbase and Diplomatic Incident are examples of planned Sabotage Operations.

Manipulation Operations twist the truth and replace it with better truths that serve your empire’s needs. Smear Campaign and Extort Favors are examples of planned Manipulation Operations.

Provocations are the most extreme Operations that are almost guaranteed to have blowback. These tend to be relatively difficult to pull off but have major results. Arm Privateers is an example of a Provocation.

Okay, enough of that.

Examples of Operations

Gather Information
(Subterfuge) is one of the simplest Operations, requiring an Infiltration of 20 or higher to initiate. Your spymaster will send their operatives out to, well, covertly gather information. After a relatively short period of time the spymaster will deliver a dossier containing the intelligence to you, which might grant a bonus to current Intel level or provide an Intel Report granting increased Intel on a category for a time period.

It’s not the most glamorous of missions, but should rarely backfire in a spectacular manner. Since Intel decays slowly (currently set to 1 point per year), the Gather Information Operation provides a fairly consistent way to learn more about the galaxy.

Assigning an Asset to the mission will skew the results towards the Asset’s interests, significantly increasing the chance of getting an Intel Report targeting the empire’s Government, Diplomacy, Military, Economy, or Technology.


Many Jeferians died to bring us this work-in-progress screenshot.


Operations do not always produce the same results.

Steal Technology (Subterfuge, Technology) is another one that has created a stir on the forums. Through a variety of means, your agents will attempt to gain access to the research databases of the target. Depending on how things go, several outcomes could occur - they might be able to get some hints as to how a technology works (granting it as a research option and providing some progress), they may be able to leave a backdoor (increasing your empire’s research speed for a time), or if things get messy, they could just destroy whatever research they can (inflicting penalties on the target). Your operatives can only take research that your empire has the hope of understanding, so you must meet all appropriate prerequisites.

This leads to an interesting situation where you ideally want to be spying on an empire of greater technological prowess than your own, but that in itself is riskier since they may have a better chance of catching your operatives.


These blueprints are like an Escher drawing.

The Enigmatic Engineering Ascension Perk will block these attempts, as it makes your technology impossible for other empires to reverse-engineer. The spying empire will not know this, however, until they try.


The Sensor Range effect has been replaced as well.

Smear Campaign (Manipulation, Diplomacy) is dedicated to working against the relationship two empires may have. After the first chapter completes, you'll have the choice of which relationship you wish your operatives to attempt to diminish. Later, your agents will inform you of the tactics they want to use, with different schemes proposed based on the nature of the selected empires.

In this example, I'm trying to create rifts within a nearby federation by running Smear Campaigns.


And finally my agents have informed me that they're ready to unleash misinformation upon an unsuspecting foe.



Meanwhile, over in the Ztrakpor Confederated Domains...

Since their Counter-Espionage measures did not detect our shenanigans, it seems that our agents chose to kick things up a notch and add sabotage of research facilities to the false charges. They've caught wind of our false-flag operation as if they had actually uncovered an operation being being performed by their so-called ally!

The galaxy shall hear of this!


Assets have been mentioned a few times now, and the Acquire Asset (Subterfuge, Government) is the most consistent way to gain them. It’s possible to gain Assets through random events during other Operations, but tempting them into your service is much more reliable.

Each Asset has two categories they excel at - one of each from Subterfuge, Sabotage, or Manipulation, and Government, Diplomacy, Military, Economy, or Technology. When an Operation is initiated, you can assign the Asset to be part of it, and for each category that matches, the Asset will make completing the mission easier.

Assets in regular empires are generally everyday people - a disgruntled bureaucrat, an ambitious criminal underling, or a sympathetic pop icon. In gestalt empires, they may be deviant drones that your operatives have found a way to utilize to their advantage, or they might be objects that they have taken control of - a damaged pheromone emitter, a deviant labor drone, a hacked coordination system, or a virus introduced into an engagement protocol.


Blorg. James Blorg.

Hask'Endek here specializes in Subterfuge and Government related activities, making them especially effective when assigned to the Acquire Asset mission. It turns out that having a bureaucrat able to sift through government records to find other potential marks is incredibly helpful!

If complications arise, having an expendable lackey around to take the fall for your operatives can also be attractive. While you may lure them into service with promises of support and glory, they’re really just pawns in your greater galactic schemes. Often, their true fate is to be "cleaned up" as a loose end to preserve the Spy Network's Infiltration Level after an Operation completes.

That's it for this week. Next week I plan on going over some of the other, nastier Operations.

See you then!
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Stellaris Game Designer
Apr 4, 2019
Is it possible to send multiple envoys to build parallel spy networks?
One spy network per empire. You can, of course, send envoys to different empires to build them over there.
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Stellaris Game Designer
Apr 4, 2019
Influencing relations between two countries is something I've always wanted. Can there also be the opposite of a smear campaign, like a promotion campaign per se?
We were considering it for the initial batch of Operations, but decided to go with a more hostile approach in general. Maybe in the future though.

I do like the little lore things like what assets are and the event-style operations could be fun to read over.
To be honest, one of the worries I had was that people would get too attached to their Assets and not want to burn them. You may be part of a Democratic Free Haven with an Idealistic Foundation, but your Spymaster... They're kind of mean. Comes with the job.
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Stellaris Game Designer
Apr 4, 2019
Is it possible to target specific technologys for tech steal and starbases of our choice for sabotage?
Yes to the starbase. When you start the operation, you pick which starbase you want to target. (Which works better if you have enough intel to see what's on it.)

With Steal Technology, they generally take what they can get.

Can we blame another empire for our own espionage actions?
There are a bunch of espionage events, but this is totally what happened in the Smear Campaign I posted.

How does it all work with Cryminal Syndicates?
Criminal Syndicates gain some espionage related benefits to partially compensate for some difficulties they have gained due to the intel changes. (You can't plop a branch office down on a planet if you don't see the planet, after all.)

We gave them a bonus to Spy Network Growth Speed, and the Disinformation Center has changed a bit.

Does the Critical Failure in Smear Campaign result in increasing the relations of target empires? I was thinking if this one could be used to make your two allies who hate each other, like one another...
I'd have to double check with the Content Designers for what happens when you totally botch that one. Usually failing operations causes your Network to get exposed to a degree.

Pirates spawning is one of my least favourite things in the game
They prefer to be called Privateers or Freedom Fighters.
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Stellaris Game Designer
Apr 4, 2019
Will the Enigmatic Engineering Ascension Perk still stop other Empires from reverse engineering your techs from fleet debris, as it did before ?
Since it isn't there on the image anymore I would like to be sure...
Yes, that's actually the "Our technology and engineering are too arcane for others to reverse-engineer." line. I panicked for a sec.

I hope there is an option to not get events about the going-ons. A notification would be enough.
Unlike Archaeology (or First Contact), Operations will automatically continue advancing if all the event has is an "OK" style option. It'll poke you for a response if it's something important though, like a "We think someone's onto us. Should we: a) Abort the operation b) Murder them c) Bribe them" style complication.
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Stellaris Game Designer
Apr 4, 2019
What aspects of this system can be modded? What are the limtitations?

Can we spy on fallen empires (and faill horribly?)

Can we send multiple envoys to empires, one as spymaster and one to improve relations?

Since envoys are now important, are they real leaders now?
Should be about as moddable as Archaeology.
Currently under internal debate.
They're still demi-leaders at this time.

Are we able to use the espionage system against genocidal empires like determined exterminators or devouring swarms?
Yes. There are still individuals in a Fanatic Purifier empire that can be swayed to your cause, or malfunctioning drones that might be able to be controlled somehow. Machine and Hive Authorities are gaining a couple of little bonuses to represent their strengths, and as you saw in the diary, sometimes your agents might get eaten.

Any plans to allow the Assets to influence your own factions?
No internal Operations at this time.

Does that bit of text after the last spoiler tag say crisis beacon uwu?

What will happen when you have an operation running/pending and the spy network drops below the required infiltration level?
All ongoing Operations will pause until you deal with it, and you'll get an alert. If you leave them blocked for too long they'll cancel.

It is safe to assume that this is also a normal message that the Ztrakpor would receive if the Free T'Jell State were actually trying to infiltrate them?
Yes. It wouldn't be a good false flag if you could immediately tell it was fake if you were familiar enough with the text.
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Content designer, "Stellaris"
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Since we can steal technology using spy networks now, will the already existing shroud event where you're able to steal technology from fallen empires by reading their minds be changed in some way? And can we use the shroud or the sentry array megastructure as tools to gather intel on other empires or otherwise help with espionage? Trying to hide information from an empire who can see the entire galaxy from their backyard sounds very hard.

So far, those events stand alone and won't change. Stealing technology through espionage is a much more hands-on kind of affair, compared to communing with the Shroud like that.

I'm really loving this new upcoming patch. It will be possible to break up enemy Federations using espionage then?

Well, distrust is a powerful weapon! Just why did your neighbours push so hard to join, especially since they cosied up enough to catch wind of your technology level? And why has there been more evidence of theft and sabotage than usual, lately? But then again, if you receive evidence that a particular ally is spying on you: who's to know if such an allegation is really true?
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Stellaris Game Designer
Apr 4, 2019
As a quick note, it's "Sabotage Starbase", not "Obliterate Starbase".
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Alfray Stryke

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Feb 21, 2014
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Ok, looks like my first post-DLC run is going to be a necrophage megacorp built on spreading lies and disinformation.

I would suggest being a Criminal Syndicate, as it would be thematically appropriate.
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