Restoring millitary and lab spawns to the game?

Hi everybody, returning player here who came back to the game about a month ago after a circa year long hiatus. After my return i quickly noticed that end game dungeons type special spawns (i.e lab and military installations) are far, far rarer these days (presumably as a result of Map special rebalance by Venera3 · Pull Request #46701 · CleverRaven/Cataclysm-DDA · GitHub ?). Not wanting to be a knee-jerk “change is bad” type of player i have spent the last few weeks playing with the new balance to see how it works… during witch i have found a grand total of one proper non-micro lab and not a single military base/bunker. This de-facto complete removal of these places from the game has in my my opinion made it significantly less fun and i wonder if there is a mod or something to restore these spawns to the game in sufficient numbers that you actually have a chance to find some without spending several real life days looking? is this even moddable for that matter?

I considered creating an issue regarding the topic but considering that this change was done half a year ago and has not been changed yet gives me little hope that this will be fixed in vanilla.

There are some good ways to find (Science) Labs:

  • some are actually hidden underground (Levels 2 and 4 in underground railways);
  • the “House” labs are back (you can access old style labs from houses again);
  • Central Labs are still Old Style (albeit with huge, huge performance issues e.e);
  • Research Facilities too.

Using Subway Maps is a good idea for this. There is also a nice way to find where exactly the Central Lab Manhole Cover is too [Shift+A on the Map Screen, the “F” tile will change to an Asterisk provided your sight radius caught the cover at least once).

From what I’ve managed to get so far (some testing, some map revealing, some underground exploring), it’s not too uncommon for a city to have at least 1 lab underneath it. It’s you can get up to 2 Labs in one “Map Section” (you can also get 0), not including Research Facilities.

I’m very much okay with the nerfing of military equipment, I just think it was too soon, seeing the alternatives (bows) are still very much unusable by Archery Based Characters, unless they’re former Arnold Strongman Contestants. (ie low Str Characters will never crit). (There’s a new set of proficiencies by AccountAlias but I haven’t tried it yet, the game’s performance has tanked way, way too much for me to commit to a new playthrough.)

I have done the subway thing but from what i have seen only fake (ie finisherless micro-) labs connect to the subway? even the one time i found a micro lab connected to the sub-subway it only connected to other micro labs…

Figured something like this would pop up after stable.

To return labs to their former frequency, edit \data\json\overmap\overmap_special\specials.json - it’s a doozy, but search for "id": "Lab" and change the occurrences": [ 30, 100 ] line to [ 100, 100 ]. If you really want to make up for the lost time, you can remove the "UNIQUE" flag instead, that will lead to at least 30 labs per overmap spawning.

Now, question for a question: why are you missing old-style labs? That’s a question I got to ask a lot back when that PR got merged and people were getting used to the changes, and I certainly got a lot of answers. The first half of the honest answer was “They have the best loot”, the part (most) players didn’t say was “, for no danger whatsoever.”. There was also a surprisingly large faction who never knew subway labs existed at all, and the vast majority of players didn’t know they can find artefacts/mutagen/autodocs down there.

I can go on a pretty long-winded rant on why old-style labs are bad design, but I’ll spare you unless you’re explicitly interested in the thought process behind the changes.


:thinking: Interesting. I haven’t explored much on level -4 (even though often a lot of labs show up there too). I am quote curious about one in specific that is some sort of hidden lab I’ve found in S4 that has a Pinkish L (Science Lab Reactor). They are marked as Science Labs and in this case it has 5 “Light Blue Ls” on -4 which is quite interesting. I haven’t been there yet, but judging by that particular tile, I assume it’s a rather difficult lab with environmental hazards.

Although I do think the short/mini-Labs need to be toned down a bit, to give “Old Style” a bit more of a chance to spawn.

I don’t think the “old Style” is bad design, at least from a player’s perspective, but I am actually curious as to why they’re being trashed and thrown aside for the New-Style ones.

Like you said the complete lack of good loot (which is a perfectly valid answer, maybe I’m misreading your post but that part came across as rather dismissive. Why would you do labs if not for loot?), once you have cleared one you have all the chemicals you could ever need so that’s useless after that. I have found a mutagen/cloning module in a subway micro-lab but even then it just contained whopping 2 doses of mutagen (and a bunch of fetuses)… As far as i have found only one type of lab journal spawns in micro labs not counting random dropps from scientists and the most interesting/unique things like laser weapons, nano fabricators and all the cool high tech stuff you find in the finishers don’t seems to spawn at all?

I don’t mind the danger, they don’t really strike me as more dangerous than normal labs? They just have a lot more trash mobs to wade through but that’s not really difficult if you are careful just slow, if anything i’d say the lack of robots and turrets (outside the mutagen module) make them easier. Combine that with the lack of traps and environmental hazards and they also have a tendency to feel samey and boring.

So yea, TLDR they are not harder it’s just that with with literally no good loot most of the time and even if you are lucky and a non guaranteed lot module does spawn it’s just ~2 doses of mutagen or CBMs (assuming the cbm module is as stingy as the mutagen one, haven’t found one yet) and the more unique stuff not spawning at all(?) it just feels like the rewards aren’t fun or worth the effort.

Old-style labs have (barring rare hand-placed spawns) a flat 20-40% chance to spawn any enemies, in sets of 0-5 drawn from a monster group weighted heavily towards single scientists > 1-3 labsecs > single manhacks = 1-5 scientists, with a way too broad smorgasbord of enemies sprinkled in with single-digit to sub-percent chance. Combined with the unbreakable metal doors separating every room and the generally completely open floor plan of most rooms that adds up to a game of peek-a-boo where you open a door, check if any enemies spawned, close the door if anything scary is inside and go on your merry way, choosing each engagement freely. Compare that to the less rigid floorplan of the microlabs, where most groups will have a member that can smash laminated glass and you’re suddenly on the back foot having to weigh up if shooting a gun brings more trouble than it solves and occasionally being cut off from your egress point by a wandering monster. That might sound familiar, being the rules of engagement above ground in the rest of the game, so you’re using skills you could learn from the game up to that point instead of teaching you bad habits.

“But the finales”, you say? Well, the only thing standing between you and the potentially best loot the game has to offer are a handful of robots, and peek-throwing explosives is a thing.

Stepping back from the challenge aspect, their biggest failing in my eyes is what they do to the gameplay loop: you can loot everything from them (as in books, chems, drugs, cbms, mutagen, guns, melee weapons, armor, car parts, food) often much safer and more consistently than from other sources. That means from the moment you can loot a lab (and it ain’t hard) there is nothing else you should do but stare at the same garbled rooms for the rest of the game, hoping to round out your apocalypse bingo.

On the under-the-hood side, they use a way of procedural generation that pretty much can’t be anything other than completely (pseudo)random, so there is no way to build any narrative or interesting game mechanics into the layout since rooms are generated on the fly. They also hook into the subway system in a way that’s a bit too complicated and gets in the way of expansion of that part of the game in a huge way.

So, visually aged, too easy location masquerading as a late-game challenge teaching newer players lessons that are completely wrong for the larger game and dazzling with enough loot to make engaging with any other place pointless. That’s enough to count as bad design in my book.

Looking forward, there’s work being done to revamp them, but it’s a pretty big project so we’ll see how fast it becomes reality. I wouldn’t expect the monster density or the slightly too random rewards of microlabs, but I would expect having to work for it a good bit more than peeking doors and mining a few walls (not to mention throwing pipes at a turret until it explodes).


My issue like i said was never the difficulty if you want the labs to be more difficult go ahead, difficult is fun. My issue was…

The issue is not that the rewards are “slightly too random” but that they practically non-existant in every new lab i have explored yet, ranging in my experience from literally nothing (again i don’t count chemicals as meaningful reward past the first lab) in most to 2 doses of mutagen on the highest side, which frankly feels more like a taunt than a reward.

Make them hard, make them far harder than they already are if you want but the fact remains that if they are not WORTH doing they are not FUN doing. Every lab should on average should have “something” of value (clearing an entire lab and finding literally nothing of value completely saps ones desire to try again, at least for me.) and the jackpot labs should actually feel like a jackpot, not a taunt. A few doses of mutagen like i found in my “good lab” feels like a decent minimum reward for a dud lab not one with an actual “treasure room”, so to say.

Also while i have nowhere near perfect memory of rare item spawn locations old lab are as i mentioned as far as i know the only source of hightech loot/devices like energy weapons, CVD Machines, nano forges and possibly other things that are slipping my mind at the moment, none of which as far as i know spawn in the new labs or anywhere else?

My experience is basically 0.E2 stable, but I don’t think labs have changed much since.

  • I agree the old labs are basically jackpots, and certainly wouldn’t mind them basically being split into different lab types that specialized (and means to reasonably quickly determine what kind of lab you’ve found). Each of the lab types should spawn appropriate loot, with the jackpot loot possibly being optional (i.e. a percentage).
  • I definitely don’t like the micro labs, as they’re silly full of enemies and contain little of value beyond chemicals. Sure, you can get lucky and find a book or a small amount of serum, but that’s generally a function of there being scientists and their loot tables, rather than the location itself, so my current take is that they’re pointless exercises, except very possibly one to get all the chemicals you ever need (which also means those volumes could be toned down). If there was something of value in these places, I’d rather have one or a few special tough monsters in them rather than a dozen kevlar hulks, skeleton juggernauts, and brutes among a sea of lesser zombies (I assume the actual composition depends on zombie evolution).
  • As far as I can tell, the quests directing you to science labs still do (the 0.F stable one I’ve got looks like it’s located in one, although I’m far from being equipped for entering it).

For the record bionic microlab vaults spawn an autodoc and 15-20 CBMs with a very generous loot list. Both the mutagen vaults (around 3-6 alpha serum or a handful of random ones) and the artifact effects could use a buff to make them less discrepant, but they ain’t nothing. As I said, not ideal, but very far from the duds people try(tried, these days) to sell them as.

ah, i got the Alpha one so i guess it was 3 not 2 then. The cbm one sounds nice and worth it at least, though considering that Erk said CBMs are going to get removed from labs…

Any plan to add tech vaults with any of the above mentioned tech stuff to subway labs?

Hm. Okay. I apologise in advance for a ridiculously long post.

Honestly I think the Old Style Labs were hard and punishing when the Turrets were a thing and had a light radius to them. I am fairly sure that anyone here who remembers them will be like “oh, yeah, I died a lot to those!” after reading this line.

(Remember Zombie Grenadiers? Yeah, those were fun too, and nothing would say “yeah I am not even going to try!” better than 2 Elite Zombie Grenadiers cuddling up in the 2-Tile Bathroom spot in the Barracks, before one of them lets out a C-4 Hack that prevents you from closing the door!)

Adding swarms of Tazer Hacks which always hit your torso and Zombies that have no place in the lab (like seriously, where did those people live? Where do they sleep? Why aren’t all of them Scientists or Zombie Secretaries instead?) isn’t a good way to balance / add “challenge” to them. (still beats the random wandering SecuBots though!). Personally I think that “Hacks” should not be randomly wandering about unless they were deployed by either a Scientist of sorts (like the old days, maybe a Feral Scientist could do this?). I also believe “Hacks” could all be renamed to “Drones” to better reflect “Today’s Earth” technology.

As for Microlabs on the other hand, they feel like a slap in the face: if you go down the elevator, 2 things happen: you’re either immediately swarmed by zombies that picked up your scent and broke through the elevator (then they break the elevator controls and you’re stuck), or you open the door and immediately see 1 monster per Floor Tile and wonder if Bob’s Farewell party was being held at the lobby.)

MiniLab needs serious rework in terms of Population Density, variety and access (needs stairs / backup exit in case the poorly chosen method of entrance breaks). But I’ll touch on this in a bit.

From a player perspective (and I know that the dev side is a different “world” due to several things), this is what I think about “Old” vs “New”, things I believe could change to make them balanced instead of just getting rid of one and force the other onto players.

Old Labs: They’re the “mid-game” Supermarket, they have literally everything - quite literally, yesterday while doing some “research” I saw that it also has the Fractional Distillation Apparatus, which makes me wonder how “rare” it is, while it also makes me go “Good, I don’t have to kill my CPU in order to look at a Research Facility now!” . What if they didn’t? As in, would it be possible that, the same way we can make a distinction between “ice”, “regular” and “deep freeze” labs, couldn’t we make:

  • “Mutation Stations” - the one type of “Old Style” Lab that has mutagenic stuff in its loot table and a guaranteed mutagenic finale of sorts? No CBMs, no Barracks, books in loot table are limited to mutagenic stuff and applied science. Lots of chemicals in it too. As for monsters: scientist variants, technician variants, mutants and the usual prisoner containments, maybe a new variant of the prisoner containment).

  • “Dimensions Study Lab”: does not have mutagen nor mutagen related chemicals, low chance of barracks. Finales would be either the 2x Tear in Reality Finale w/Phase Immersion Suit, the “Hound of Tindalos” Finale, or the (rare/obsolete?) Finale where usually Flaming Eyes, Yuugs and Shoggoths are locked in a display cage. Higher chance of finding Phase Immersion stuff or at least several backup 5-Point-Anchors.

  • “Military Study” Lab: a Lab where it’s prevalent to see military themed things, Experimental Mutants, etc. Higher chance of Barracks, with a few new “end-points” based on Barracks, but swapping out the Armoury for other things like a Meeting Room or an Extended Resting Quarters (with kitchen, water source, etc) and a guaranteed Martial Arts + Random Rare Gun Related Book. (some food, some clothes too). Population would be Military related enemies, some scientists, some Techs, tons of Androids. Finales would be all weapons related: Laser Gun, Rail Gun, MiniNuke, Random Mech Finale, The CVD Machine Finale, The Nanomaterial Finale (and please, up the spawn rates for Nanomaterial Canisters, because they’re pretty much non-existent for so long), and one finale with some Prototype Cyborgs, Broken Cyborgs, Prototype Robots (similar to “that one” in the Hub01 quest) which protect something like Earth-Made “Bionics” of sorts, like Prosthetics, stuff that we could safely say “yeah they researched this!”.)

  • Reduce the number of 3x3 format rooms (or remove them completely, merging a few of those small rooms into other bigger rooms that have poorly used room);

  • get rid of the rooms with goo pits and fridges (or make them some sort of special trap room that doesn’t occur as often as it does);

  • have “Exposed Energy Conduit” Rooms integrated with “other” rooms, so that if a player wants to make use of them they still can but they have to plan a better route instead of just luring an enemy to a 3x3 section and dancing or a couple seconds.

  • Make it so that the “First Stairs Down” (from 0 to -1) is always a center room with the 4 stairs-up thing in the center, and metal doors to all directions.

  • All metal doors could be replaced by a variant that is smashable by a particular set of zombies (say Tough Zombies and upwards?) or by 2 or more zombies bashing at them (except Brainless, Child, Decayed and Crawling Zombies). This would make it so it adds to the “danger” of the lab itself, making it pretty much pointless to try and lock monsters in a room to “deal with them later”. Exceptions would be the “starting room” metal doors (which perhaps could be smashed by Tag-Teaming Brutes, Wrestlers, Hulks and Skeletal Juggernauts if a player tries to hide away from them.)

  • Fix Old Labs stairs (monsters for some reason refuse to “go up” from -1 to 0? Not sure if it’s on purpose or not but I’ve noticed it’s been a thing for a long time now).

  • Make “Stairs down” less common (maybe limit them to 3 or so max per Z-Level?)

  • Make Turrets immune to thrown items (or make it so it “throws them off balance” or something), which solves the “it’s too easy to exit from a locked lab” situation.

  • The Labs related to Prisons could always be a “Experimentations” Lab (where Zombies are not as prevalent other than Scientists, but there would be a various amount of different types of mutants (maybe Neutral ones, who knows!)

  • Research Facilities could very well be heavily infested by Nether Creatures vs High-End Zombies, with its finale always being the same: 2 Tear in Reality Finale.

"New Style Labs:

  • Add alternative entrance (Stairs down from the lobby or air vents from the side of the building perhaps?);

  • make the elevator controls unbreakable tiles;

  • balance the population (prevent “big boys” from being on the player’s face the moment they enter the lab), make it less cramped/populated. I don’t think 30-50 creatures per “map square” is realistic (we’re talking about a potential 480-800 monsters in a 4x4 lab? Seems a bit excessive, maybe the numbers are a bit exaggerated, but you get the idea: it’s overcrowded).

  • apply themes to them as well: some can be mutagen related, or just weapon research related. Give them something to stand out.

  • tone down the “OTHER” items rates a bit (stuff that have no use like Beakers, ladles, spoons, etc, they clutter so much. I get that they’re there for immersion purposes, but they often end up just adding to the visual and performance clutter when you see dozens of them.)

  • fix “glass shards”: every time I visit one of those labs, performance takes a hit because of the thousands of glass shards the game produces. Make them ammo instead. (this applies to a lot of other stuff too). Alternatively, make those doors drop 1 “Tempered Glass Sheet” instead.

All of this said, despite the issues I have with the MiniLabs (performance and density, the lack of anything meaningful to gun for, which makes them pretty much a “I can go elsewhere and get the same stuff easily” kind of thing), I still think they have a ton of potential and could be lots of fun - especially with the new secret variants that keep popping up (new - for me, I never saw the Secret Reactor Variant up until a few days ago, it looks a lot like the Hub underground).

And please don’t take this as me saying “how it should be” or “how it has to be” - these are merely suggestions/ideas from someone that’s played a fair few hours of the game. I fully understand this topic is a permanent work-in-progress thing in a quest for balance and fun.


There is no distinction between the different types of lab beyond setting the ambient temperature and scattering ants for the anthill variant, both of which is done by hardcoded functions, but they still l use the same underlying procedural generation - which is impossible to build anything other than “blobs of 24x24 rooms, interconnected by sets of two metal doors on certain walls” with. The only distinction the code makes when choosing which room to place is if it’s on the edge or in the middle of a lab, and the relative rarity of each variant, but a realistic-looking research facility that does not make. That’s the main reason they can’t just be gradually adjusted in small steps, because they are actively hostile to the advances in mapgen and the newer ways of JSON procedural generation.

In the not-too-distant future I’d expect…cool shit. I’d expect layouts that make sense, I’d expect actual alternative routes, I’d expect automated defenses and keycards and custom mobs and a good bit more thought put into lab-diving. In the slightly-more-distant future, variants based around distinct fields are where we want to get. If all this sound like a lot of work, it is - and not a lot of people doing it so we’ll get there when we get there.


Here to bump the hype train, I’ve seen some of the work going into new lab design and it is gorgeous. It’s like a master dungeonmaster decided to make dungeons for cataclysm. I’d love to publicly give props to the two people really driving this project forward but I don’t want to steal the thunder of when they are ready to show the world.

Yeah new labs are really awesome.

With regards to the CBM question, part of my goal with that project is to change the “feel” of looting and obtaining the different transhuman paths. In other words, mutagens will be more and more the thing you go to a lab for.

There are other loot types we could see in labs. Artifacts, dimensional gear, occasionally some experimental equipment (which isn’t usually all it’s cracked up to be). Lore wise labs should have a lot of rare radioactive isotopes and the fun RTGs and power supplies made from them. At some point I would love to see a way to add procgenned “super soldier” serums to the game through labs, but that’s a story for another implementation.

However I don’t think there’s any strong argument for the chaotic loot havens labs used to be. I am not heavily involved in their rewrite, but this is a thing I’ve been asking for since before I was even a contributor… The old labs were good when they were added, but compared to things now they’re simple, random, easy, and ruin the progression of the mid game.

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I hope the question was a broad-scope one because I miss them too and just plain avoid the new type ones. Primarily because the original labs are a) perfect challenge run starts (or at least they were before the numerous changes to the crafting trees) and b) they provide a pretty good “vertical slice” of what the game has to offer. I might not see giant alien-ish mosquitoes or whatnot, but I will encounter a lot of what whichever the current version is has to offer in a proper lab.
Not sure where you are getting the “no danger whatsoever” part in a place with 700 kg spiders that can move two tiles away completely undetected by a character with 10 perception and Good Hearing, molerats, hulks, skeletal juggernauts, tank bots and so on.

I find calling them a challenge severely overstated to be honest - the only enemies down there you can’t outrun are manhacks who have hit-and-run, which means you only need to tank a single hit at the right tile before disappearing behind the nearest door (giggling and calling them names optional). Tank bots are restricted to some barracks and finales, skeletal juggernauts and hulks start consistently appearing about two months in - way after a lab start, or even the first time a sawy player looted their first lab. Spiders only appear in one room and are pretty easy to get away from. Molerats have a 0.2 % chance to appear in each given room, so you’ll clear a lot of lab by the time you run into one.

Them being a Reader’s Digest version of the game is…I can’t imagine the perspective. I guess if the only two things you like about the CDDA are not-too-dangerous fights and looting shiny shit then labs have everything you want, but that’s selling the game very short in my eyes.

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