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CitizenCon 2948 Panel Deep-Dive: By Design with Tony Zurovec Written Friday 19th of October 2018 at 07:25am by CommanderLlama

Disclaimer: This is my own summary and interpretation of the ‘By Design’ panel talk given by Tony Zurovec, but I can’t mind-read any better than the rest of you. Comment here or contact Relay if you notice errors or important alternatives to my own. Edited by Erris, Shiver, and Nehkara.

Firstly, thank you Tony Zurovec, all of the vital background employees, and everyone else at CIG for this talk and for all of the panels at CitizenCon 2948. They were a joy to sit in on (and I presume, to watch from afar).

Secondly, this article ended up a lot longer than I planned. Big surprise. It all started as a "Cole's Notes" of the information-rich panel, but 3 hours later, at page 6, and only 14 minutes into the video, everything was on fire. I hope you enjoy!

Now that you’ve watched it, you can see how my interpretation stacks up to your own.

Listening to the game design panel talk entitled ‘By Design’ by Tony Zurovec at CitizenCon 2948 in Austin, Texas reminded me a lot of listening to talks about high-energy physics, general relativity, and quantum mechanics. There’s not much similarity in the topics themselves, but rather from my own reaction to the content. Zurovec is verbose, his words information dense. Sitting in the Hall B crowd when he gave the talk, I had to drop the extraneous multitasking of the modern human (check crowd reaction, check phone, think about what to have for lunch, look at photographers, etc) and switch to a single-threaded, high-bandwidth listening mode.

For the record, it was my favourite panel at CitizenCon 2948. What it lacked in flashy graphics demos it made up for in intellectual satisfaction. Although, some in-game mockups of the systems Tony talked about would have been cool, too.

High-level design talk sits right next to the Dream that is Star Citizen. It is the next logical step after the long elevator pitch of the game, where the game designers crack their knuckles and start drawing up the blueprints for their virtual world: The Verse. Designers do have to dance with Reality too, the unfortunate fact that all of this has to run consistently and enjoyably on server and client hardware, and it follows that the resulting blueprints form the starting point for breaking things up into systems/code design tasks.

Part I: Universe/Economy Simulation

Player Freedom, Designer Headache

Complete Player Freedom is a central tenet of the Star Citizen experience. Players log on, get out of their beds, and…

They can go do whatever they want, or at least whatever their ships and assets allow. They were mercenaries yesterday, but today they want to go full-pirate outlaw. Tomorrow, they can haul cargo. The day after, go searching deep space for lucrative intra-system wormholes that can save on quantum fuel or provide strategic opportunity. Later, they can try redeeming themselves in the eyes of the United Earth Empire and start hunting down pirate scum.

The problem for designers with such a system is that they can’t really predict what the players are going to do. Game designers for Mario Kart don’t really have this problem. Players will, with an extremely high degree of certainty, head down the race track towards the finish line. Grandparents getting stuck in reverse up against a wall fifty meters behind the starting line are the outlier.

A Logical, Dynamic Verse & Its Denizens

Another central tenet of the Star Citizen experience is The Verse. Going all the way back to the Kickstarter, “[CIG are] committed to making Star Citizen a living, breathing universe that is its own entity.”

Creating the Verse as a backdrop for the player experience means creating a big simulation. It’ll look much different, but in principle it’s like building all the data behind a big 4X space or city simulation game, minus the gameplay. Lorville isn’t just a pretty mockup of a 3D future city, there are thousands of simulated NPCs that “live” in Lorville. Thousands of simulated NPCs also work in factories and businesses, travel from place to place, deliver cargo, attack trading convoys, or hunt their bountied marks.

CIG want to create a highly detailed Verse simulation that is realistic to implement. The simulation is also the proposed key to some design problems introduced with “Complete Player Freedom.” By creating a logical data simulation of the Verse, filled with locations inhabited by NPCs far more numerous than the players, the Verse as a dynamic system will be able to rebalance itself (a few balance patches notwithstanding!) from player influences.

Adding simulated NPCs by the millions creates a gigantic buffer, ideally allowing players total freedom, with the ability to bend the simulation, but not break it. It also provides an opening for the economy and richer gameplay experiences.

The Supply-Demand, Boom-Bust Economy of the Verse

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This is a screengrab from the video “The Star Citizen Economy” all the way back in 2013. The designs are more fleshed out now, but in principle the same. Click the image to view video.

One hundred thousand simulated NPCs work at platinum ore processing refineries across the Verse. Miners, both NPC and player, deliver platinum ore. Refinery worker NPCs do their jobs, refining the ore into alloys for shipment to component manufacturers. Cargo haulers, both NPC and player, deliver the alloys.

Whether by world event, random chance, or even concerted player organization effort, piracy against platinum ore deliveries goes up ten fold. Less platinum ore is getting to the refineries. Security costs skyrocket. Many lives and ships are lost, causing a flood of insurance claims. After the ore stockpiled at the refineries run dry, suddenly those simulated NPC factory workers are sitting around idle. There may be layoffs, strikes, or even riots, sending those NPCs elsewhere and dropping platinum alloy production. The refinery company spends more on security, but this increases the base cost of platinum. As the price of the ore goes up, that eventually ripples into the price of the alloy going up. That, later, means the price of the ship hull components at advanced manufacturers going up. That, at last, means XxJimmySpaceGuy1337xX walks into the Ship Dealer on Lorville and exclaims in General Chat: “WTF. FREELANCER WAS ONLY 2 MILLION UEC YESTERDAY AND NOW IT 2.2 MILLION! BS GAME!”

Meanwhile, the pirates scooping up all that easily-gotten platinum ore and ship salvage are making a killing. The quantity of ore and scrap running through their illicit channels is also going up. This new supply may be much higher than the demand, causing the profit margins to drop over time. It may also alert law enforcement in other spin-off effects. There will be more bounty hunting, patrol, and escort missions created.

Eventually, the increased security should provide a counterweight to the spike in piracy. Security forces, whether NPC or player, will take their toll on pirates and their ships. Snapping up platinum haulers will go from easy pickings to extremely dangerous. The UEE might even deploy a battle group in the troubled area, turning it into a suicide mission for pirates. This means less pirates participating, and over time, less attacks on platinum miners, more and cheaper platinum ore, and price drop ripples throughout the entire chain of the economy.

It’s important to point out that these ripples in the economy aren’t instantaneous. They could happen over the course of hours, days, or even weeks. This type of logical economic simulation opens up increased reward opportunities for enterprising players. Well-researched players and organizations can read the goings on of the Verse and act accordingly. For instance, they might decide to stockpile platinum alloy, at their own risk and some cost, and bide their time waiting for the price, and thus their profits, to jump up.

The example using platinum I gave above was written by interpreting Zurovec’s talk, but it’s also coarse grain compared to the Verse simulation CIG is capable of building. I was just using the example of one commodity in a non-localized fashion. In the more dynamic Verse, my platinum example may only occur in one System, or one part of one System. Platinum prices might only go up locally, which provides profit opportunities for long-range cargo haulers who can read the system-wide or Verse-wide market. Next, expand my platinum commodity to all of the commodities in the Verse. The simulation is now too complex to hold completely in my head, and those are characteristics we want out of a living, breathing game world.

Risk vs. Reward

My above example points out a lot of risk vs. reward decision-making gameplay for the players. Being a pirate and attacking platinum convoys was initially low risk high reward, but over time it transitions into high risk high reward. Players can pick their risk level, and be rewarded accordingly. Players will generally try to optimize their play time and hunt those low risk high reward opportunities, and where the players push, the Verse will push back.

To my ears, Tony’s examples also set the stage for one of the best things gameplay experience curves can offer: easy to learn, hard to master. Players are free to do what they want, and the inexperienced or casual player may hop online, grab a mission that looks easy or safe, and go. They might not care much about the context, they just knew the mission archetype and the UEC reward. The more experienced player could profit off knowing the context, the system, the factions, and the markets involved. They may not need to accept generic missions at all, they’ll be able to create their own missions.

Handcrafted Content Icing on Top

Zurovec is quick to point out, paraphrased by me, that completely procedural game content is boring. Those gigantic procedural moons with mostly nothing to do on them? CIG knows they are boring right now, but the long term plan is to spice them up.

The dynamic, simulated Verse provides a layer of procedural and player-driven content on top of Star Citizen’s technological base. After that, custom content such as special mission givers provide more unique experiences. NPCs such as Miles Eckhart, Recco Battaglia, and Clovus Darneely (featured in the CitizenCon Keynote) will hand out more complex missions to players that feel a little more like a proper RPG quest or multiple-objective singleplayer content.

What’s My Shield Generator Go For?

The UEC value of ships and items in the Verse is arbitrary (and, probably, mission and loot rewards too), but that must change for the longer term Verse simulation. Every item from the lowliest piece of granite ore to the Aegis Dynamics Javelin capital ship has a UEC value, and those values will be calculated in a rules-based, component-based process.

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A pie chart shown during the panel of a component-based Freelancer UEC breakdown. Game events that increase the cost of shield generator components would increase the proportion of its slice in the chart, and increase the total cost of the Freelancer overall.

Simulated NPCs and Probability Vol-whatnows?

Tony Zurovec outlines four types of NPCs that will exist in the Verse. Up until this point in the article, I’ve only referred to Simulated NPCs, the first type. The table below summarizes the key characteristics of each of the four types of NPC Zurovec listed.

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To greatly ease the resource cost of running a complex Verse simulation, most of the game world is running in a big, constantly-updating database of Simulated NPCs and Probabilistic NPCs waiting-to-exist in Probability Volumes. From the player perspective, this incredible level of detail leads to simpler experiences that we would expect out of any spacesim.

You’ve been playing Freelancer for a while, biding your time until Hurston gets added in Alpha 3.3.5, and you’ve been running lots of cargo between two planets. For eight trips, nothing out of the ordinary happens and the trips go smoothly. On one trip, pirates have sabotaged one of the warp gates, and you need to fend for your life before continuing on. On the tenth trip, you get a distress call mid-way through the warp about some merchant ships under attack by pirates. You can choose to stop, or not. This is a very simple example of a Probability Volume in action from the player perspective.

Imagine the whole warp gate lane between two planets encompassed by a big 3D sphere (or ellipsoid). In a simple implementation, the sphere’s logic might go something like this: whenever a player enters, exits, or spends X amount of time in me, roll a ten-sided die. The die result is mapped to my Probability Volume results table. On results 1 to 8, don’t spawn an event, nothing happens. On result 9, spawn a pirate ambush event. The Probabilistic NPCs are made Real, as actual rendered pirate ships eager to intercept the player. On result 10, the merchant convoy under attack event is made real. At least conceptually, Freelancer and many other games use Probability Volumes or similar logic.

The dynamic events of the Verse can take my simple example up quite a few notches of complexity. Underlying Simulated NPC output will modify Probability Volumes across both space and time, which can add a lot more unpredictability… Or even some measure of predictability for the clever player.

All of this is the illusion of the living game world, since rendering the whole reality of tens of millions of Real NPCs would probably require supercomputers, and only the clients running liquid-helium cooled Threadrippers with quad-SLI GTX2080Ti’s could manage 2 frames per second gameplay (everyone else just crashes). It’s just not worth simulating all of reality when delivering a specific game experience. If a Tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to see it, update the data variable “IS_FALLEN” of the Simulated Tree to “True”, but don’t actually spawn a half million polygon Real Tree in the middle of nowhere and have the server spend all those CPU cycles and memory on the task.

Zurovec mentions one little wrinkle: what if the player needs to interact with NPCs that are really far away? What if NPCs need to interact with the game server in real ways, but they still aren’t anywhere worth rendering? Enter the Virtual (Spoofed) NPCs, the last type of NPC. These are NPCs that need to interact with players as service providers or as bounty hunters (or, from the other end of the rep ladder, assassins!). They are essentially lightweight Real NPCs, in that they need to make tangible decisions on the game server, so they are more complicated than the backend economy simulants, but they don’t need to be fully realized or rendered until players act on them.

I hope bounty hunter and assassin NPCs get some additional complexity down the road. They sound like simple, procedural versions of the Shadow of Mordor Nemesis system or the Assassin’s Creed Mercenary system, and hopefully Star Citizen can borrow from those engaging systems and bring them into the space sim.

Dynamic Missions from the Dynamic World

For the moment, every mission in the Verse is placed in a static fashion by designers and developers. This is due to change as the Verse simulation comes online. Objective item UEC values and Simulated NPCs will form the backbone of the economy and Verse simulation. The events of this Simulated layer inform the Probabilistic layer, and both layers can inform the creation of dynamic missions with the Dynamic Mission Service:

  1. There’s a big glut of platinum ore found in an asteroid field.

  2. Simulated NPCs move to get that platinum by mining ships, cargo ships, or more factory hires at platinum refineries. Simulated NPC pirates also react, by moving to get those new juicy targets.

  3. Probability Volumes update, there’s now more Probabilistic NPCs of mining and cargo ships in the system area near the asteroid field and refinery.

  4. Players flying around that area stand a higher chance of triggering Real NPC mining and cargo ships in the area. And a higher chance of running into Real NPC pirates, or combination events.

  5. New dynamic missions are created by the needs and wants of the Simulated NPCs:

    1. Escort security missions for the mining and cargo ships

    2. Mining missions to get in on that platinum

    3. Outlaw missions to descend on some lightly defended miners

    4. Patrol missions to ensure the asteroid field is clear

Again, this is a very simple example with one commodity, and assuming a homogeneous player. The data within Simulated NPCs, Probability Volumes, the environment, and the status of the economy can all provide output to mission parameters. Coming from the other direction, data about the player(s) can inform missions too: player number, reputation, ship, damage state, cargo, and so on.

The Verse in Conclusion

CIG plans for a lot of complexity under the hood, but it’s important after absorbing so much Tony Zurovec to remember that from the player perspective, a lot of this translates to pretty straightforward spacesim gameplay. The important point is that they want to create a game universe that makes sense, but also carries with it enough complexity that it feels more alive than my simple Freelancer examples.

This concludes my analysis of the first 24 or so minutes of the ‘By Design’ talk. I’m already looking at my word count and mommy I’m scared.

Part II: Law, Order, and Bounty Hunting

The Federal/State/City Law Model

The current implementation of criminality in Star Citizen is simple. You have a Crimestat rating, which is your global criminal reputation. Since the whole Verse is currently a fraction of the Stanton System, it contributes to a Verse-wide wanted level. Commarrays sustain gigantic, volumetric zones of nearly omniscient crime monitoring. Security station terminals can be hacked to reduce your Crimestat. Bounty hunting is in its simplest possible state: take contract, eliminate target, get immediate payment. Crimestat is also reduced if you’re killed by a bounty hunter, security forces, etc.

The future implementation of Law & Order, at least some of which is already on the roadmap under “Reputation/Law System v1” in Alpha 3.5.0, models concepts of reputation, jurisdiction, and laws in a hierarchical fashion much like the real world: there are federal, state, and municipal laws. Each law hierarchy has its own law enforcement and set jurisdiction, and they will have access to a criminal database for their jurisdiction. The traffic and safety cops on Port Olisar will handle cases of law-breaking at the “municipal” level, but they won’t chase you all the way to the Terra System.

The layers of law translate to important gameplay consequences. The current, global implementation creates a binary situation. You are a wanted criminal or you are not. Hierarchical, locational law will create literally hundreds of possible wanted states: You are wanted in Port Olisar on smuggling charges, but nobody outside of Port Olisar cares. ArcCorp security doesn’t care. The UEE doesn’t care. Outlaw security might even like you a little more! Your criminal charge exists in the Port Olisar criminal database, and NPCs or players in those jurisdictions might even get dynamic missions to bring you in if you’re idling near the spaceport.

As opposed to having one bridge to burn as a criminal, you’ve got hundreds.

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Slide from the presentation showing categories of different crimes and different types of consequences.

Zurovec explains that the law hierarchy operates in a top-down “extends” relationship. The largest federal bodies (The UEE, perhaps also Aliens, Outlaws, Megacorps, multi-system power groups, etc) have a core set of laws and their consequences. Murder and piracy are likely to be federal crimes, for example, but exactly what constitutes illegal mining or illicit cargo are more likely to be state or municipal-level laws.

I didn’t get the chance to ask the question during the later Q&A, but it sounded to me like Commarrays and their kin will remain omniscient monitoring zones for all of this criminality. If you steal some cargo off a merchant ship you just shot up within a monitored zone, the crime of Theft is added to your file at whatever legal hierarchy level Theft sits at. Security forces and bounty hunters will see that crime data appear assuming they have the same jurisdiction. If there’s nothing like a Commarray around, though, it sounds as though these areas will be lawless space. Fly far enough out, and the crimes don’t count.

Crime and Punishment

Four types of consequences for criminality are mentioned: fines, bounties, banishment, and prison. The listed crimes that lean more toward the misdemeanour type of immorality will just result in a UEC fine. Eventually your ship won’t despawn at Port Olisar after idling above the landing pads for too long, you’ll just EVA back and see a cockpit viewscreen plastered in traffic tickets. Just as in the real world, you can pay up immediately and no harm no foul. Or, you could fly off laughing at all the free parking time you got. Skipping out on fines will eventually transition them into bounties.

Bounties can be simple dead-or-alive or capture style. Considering how lethal space combat is currently in Star Citizen, I’m imagining capturing an NPC or player alive as an incredibly difficult feat. To the possible chagrin of the hardcore multiplayer survival players who are used to handcuffing their captors and trapping them in walled-off cabins for hours and days, it will probably work some illusory magic in Star Citizen. If you capture or kill a wanted player, that player will get to respawn somewhere else and keep playing, while the “player” you caught will become an NPC.

Tony mentioned banishment from both areas and guilds as possible punishments for crimes. Careless bounty hunters that rack up too much collateral damage may get the boot from their guild, thus losing access to their bounty hunting mobiGlas app. Too much naked, drunken, FOIP-enhanced dancing on Port Olisar could get you banned from the spaceport (let’s all pretend Tony said this and it’ll become real).

Prison… Seriously?

I saved the prison consequence for last because it was possibly the biggest “mind blow” design suggestion in the entire panel. Tony was clear on the disclaimer that prison gameplay design itself is still in the early days, and that it’s likely this type of gameplay won’t exist at all for some time, then it will exist in a minimalist fashion, and pending more design, resources, and time, it might grow into a mature game loop of its own.

Prison and prison duration might end up optional (pay-to-release) as far as the player experience is concerned. In more minimalist versions, perhaps it’s something like America’s Army, where you get booted into a jail cell for way too much teamkill, and the duration you’ll be stuck in jail is based on the number and severity of your crimes. Prison sentencing will likely occur in constant game time, so you can just log off that character while they’re in the can.

Tony also made it explicit that their focus is on delivering prison gameplay that would be fun, which is a bit antithetical to the real world counterpart. Two important conclusions: Don’t let your mind run too wild on the prison talk because it might get cut/minimized/changed, but it’s also possible we could live out our own little version Escape from Butcher Bay from within the greater Star Citizen Verse, but instead of rolling end game credits, we’ll be back in the Verse.

Scanning for Security, Bounty Hunting, and the Jolly Roger

Ship-to-Ship Scanning was a secondary topic in the Law and Order section, since both NPCs and players will have to scan ships to ascertain vital information. Zurovec outlined three types of ship scanning gameplay:

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From an implementation standpoint, it seemed like all of the scanning could exist as a single minigame, perhaps on the order of the mining minigame, although ID Scanning could also be something automatic, single keypress, and nearly instantaneous. The minigame would just have to track player success, and the player “scores” in depth of scan and detectability. Ships being scanned will know it, unless the ship doing the scanning is very good at it. Thinking about this in qualitative categories: “Any” scan will produce an ID (but it could be faked), a “Bad” scan will show normal cargo and probably get detected, a “Good” scan will show all cargo and have just a percentage chance of detection, and a “Great” scan will show all cargo, a high chance to see through fake credentials, and have a very low percentage chance of detection.

That was just my example, and not how the implementation will necessarily play out. But even on that one-dimensional axis, a scanning mini-game can be further bolstered by ship or handheld component quality levels of both the scanner and the scanned.

Security Forces

From the Verse simulation earlier in the article (and panel), we learned that Probability Volumes will also contain Probabilistic NPCs of police, military, and perhaps even generic bounty hunters. Depending on the “security level” of an area, the probability of running into The Fuzz will go up. Yet, even if you’re a mass murderer wanted by the UEE (and you probably are, aren’t you?), Zurovec notes that running into these Probabilistic NPCs made Real will be no different than spotting a police patrol car doing the rounds in your town. Those police won’t even know who you are, unless they elect to perform a ship scan.

This kind of gameplay existed on some level in Freelancer with illicit cargo. You could fly right up beside a squadron of Liberty Police with a cargo hold full of illegal drugs, and they would be none the wiser. Yet, if you received that all-too-common comms call along the lines of: “We’re performing a scan of your hold, citizen. No sudden moves!” it was time to floor the afterburners and start spooling the quantum drive.

It’s not at all unrealistic to expect the same gameplay out of Star Citizen, with a little bit more depth.

The other type of security forces listed were “Pursuit” forces. This system is more like the Wanted Level system from the Grand Theft Auto series. Once you, mass murderer, have been identified by law enforcement, the chase begins. The Dynamic Mission Service from Part I of the article (and panel) talks over, spawning Virtual and then Real NPC police and bounty hunters to chase you specifically. Missions are created that other players can accept to hunt you down as well.

From there, evading security should play out something like the way it does in GTA. Run away well enough, get out of the security jurisdiction, or blow up the first wave of security before reinforcements and then high tail it, and the AI will disperse. It does sound like with a big or wide enough federal bounty, though, you will never be completely safe.

Black Markets and Lawless Zones

The game will feature a few types of anti-theft devices for your ships, such as system security that needs to be bypassed, or physical keys necessary to become flight ready. Stealing a ship is currently very easy in Star Citizen, but the designers want it to be a little harder.

Once you’ve stolen a ship in the later implementations of Law and Order, it won’t be an easy going life. Every high security zone that players can rely on for repairs or refuels become as useful as a minefield. Lawless areas will exist, but it’s expected that these zones will be more expensive owing to the upkeep of their illicit nature, and thus a constant gnawing against your stolen product.

CIG seem to be designing a system where it will pay much better to know other player criminals who can help you get your sneaky, evil jobs done more efficiently, and that sounds like tons of fun to me.

Bounty Hunting Guild

Becoming a bounty hunter in Star Citizen will take the same thing it requires in a variety of other spacesims before it: spacebucks and reputation. The Guilds are proposed to exist within the hierarchical law framework, so each Guild will have a certain jurisdiction.

To coordinate all of this complicated information, players who join one of the Guilds will get access to a bounty hunting app on their mobiGlas. This gives the player access to the Guilds jurisdictional crime database, with listings of criminals, bounties, and locational info updated in real-time as the game progresses. Keeping the lid pressed down on piracy and griefing will be very important in a game like Star Citizen (with Death of a Spaceman mechanics, no less). So long as the rewards for successful bounty hunting reflect the horrific dangers, this will provide an organic mechanism to balance the game.

Zurovec mentioned that there will be some kind of quantum “breadcrumbs” tracking mechanism, where bounty hunters will be able to somehow detect recent quantum travel trails of their marks. The trails would degrade very rapidly, but it may form an occasional part of hunting gameplay, and an exciting measure of just how close you are to reaching your target.

While bounty rewards are currently instantaneous, in time these will transition to bounties that require proof of completion or prisoner delivery to security offices or prisons. This is much like the miner or salvager who have just filled their holds, now too the bounty hunter must successfully return someplace and offload their goods.

Part III: Salvage, Data, and Discovery

The Three Pillars of Salvage

Zurovec outlines three categories of salvage gameplay in the panel: component, data, and hull.

Component salvage means extracting salvage value out of a wreck in manageable chunks. Your character can actually pick up some of these components, or they can be easily loaded into a cargo hold. It’s a very traditional type of loot from many other games.

Data extraction turns information stored on the electronics of some salvage into loot. These could be the Information Packets of a Data Runner ship and may be far more lucrative than the components, or it could just be an extra type of loot. Data can be encrypted or tamper-protected, which will require specialized tools or skill to circumvent.

Hull scraping is the third and final pillar of salvage, and based on Tony’s description and visual aids, it will be a resource management minigame rather like mining, where the salvage operator slowly erases the salvage hull from existence, converting hull into materials ready to sell.

Information Discovery

Scanning gameplay will, in time, start to reward the player with actual loot called Information Packets. Whether found methodically with high-skill, long-range scans or accidentally while bumming around the Verse without purpose, these Packets will have actual UEC value that is proportional to their usefulness.

Randomly spawning and despawning system objects will occur in the Verse: intra-system wormholes (!), resource nodes on planets, asteroid fields in space, and the mere knowledge of these transient entities will have a value worthy of profession.

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Discovery players, Zurovec describes, will provide “the grease that allows other occupations to function and/or focus.” Miners can go out to asteroid fields at random and they will get suitably random cargo holds full of ore, sometimes poor, sometimes rich, usually average. Assuming a good balance of value, the experienced miners will know to buy Information Packets off discovery players or NPC information brokers for the hot scoops on rare resource nodes. They may also afford the heavily armed escorts to ensure they get the rare node, and no one else does.

This was another question I didn’t get the chance to ask at the panel, but I wondered: How does their discovery system calculate initial UEC value, and how does degradation over time work?

Since the economy has underlying UEC values for just about everything, CIG knows the UEC value of every asteroid in an asteroid field, and so they know the UEC value of the whole field. My assumption is that Information Packets have a value that is some fraction of the UEC value of the objects they’ve successfully scanned. Pure location information? Meh, low value, dime a dozen. Scans of a bunch of average value asteroids? Better, but still contributing small percentage values of average commodity. But a field of a hundred Gold resource nodes in close proximity? Well, that’s grabbing fractional value off very high value future ore, and it could be well worth the search.

All that sounds awesome, but what about degradation? Is it purely time-based, or will Information Packets exist in some kind of quantum entanglement with the objects that gave the Packets their value? If I have my very high value Packet regarding the location of a dense pocket of Diamond Ore, but twenty seconds after I quantum towards the nearest information broker to sell, some miners show up and start mining away, what happens? Will the value of the Information Packet drop purely with time, or will it also drop in real-time as its linked objects drop in value as well? There’s an important concluding question here: Can I sell people lemons?

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I snapped a photo of a Super Mutant in the audience jotting down some notes for future game strategy.

The best part of discovery gameplay? You don’t have to do the dirty work of actually mining or salvaging and the multiple trips and security risks that could entail. Scan it, sell it, and move on.

Zurovec shows slides and lists off a bunch of interesting discovery items beyond my asteroid example. Shipwrecks, comets, ecological data, intra-system wormholes (!!), pirate bases, geysers, nebulae, and probably more. These items will have different interest levels from different groups. Security would like to know about pirate bases, ecological and astronomical data is of interest to scientists, and absolutely everyone and their uncle would like to know about intra-system wormholes (!!!).

Part IV: Panel Q&A

There was a short Q&A session after the panel. Tony answered a few questions among dozens of raised hands, thus proving to CIG that a full-hour Q&A with Tony is a viable panel in the future. Much of the Q&A Informational Packets were just clarifications, but a few questions stood out, and I’ve transcribed them for commentary:

Q: Tony, Chris mentioned it a little bit in the opening statement about Survival Play. I know we’ve talked about this a lot over the years, but what’s the current state of thought in that? Say you get shot down, no comm equipment, on a moon/planet?

Tony: That actually plays right into the Dynamic Mission System and the Probability Volumes I was mentioning before to where… In essence, you get shot down over a moon. What you do right now is… you fire up your Service Beacon, set it to 100 credits, and basically you ask someone for help. The problem is that if you’re off in some distant moon or whatever the case may be, there may not be a player around you, or maybe the players that are on the same server with you are too far away or engaged in their own missions. What we basically want to do is allow NPCs to start to participate.

And so, if you’re on that moon and you need transport, you throw that request for assistance out there and no players assist... What the Dynamic Mission System would do is query the nearby Probability Volumes and see if any NPCs would actually be interested in helping you. And that would depend on what they’re doing. Maybe your price is too low, so you’re not interesting to them. But if you get the price to the right point, you’ll eventually pull one of those guys in there.

This is a capability we don’t have right now, because there’s no easy or effective way for the designers to tap into it. That’s why we have a lot riding on this thing, and we’re so anxious to basically get it in as quickly as possible.

Q: Is the survival mechanic any deeper? Have we thought about that? Going into the fact that you don’t have any water, food, such and such?

Tony: We’ve got Thirst and Hunger, one of the things on the list to deal with next year. This would be the same thing for all the NPCs, where you’ll need to basically… You’ll need to drink, you’ll need to eat, or else you’ll very gradually - because we don’t want to make it too annoying - start to suffer various deleterious effects.

Backers, including myself, have been quite interested in the depth of the personal survival mechanics we can expect out of Star Citizen. Will this be Minecraft Survival Mode? Will it go as far as SCUM? Ship repair and fuel mechanics already represent a sort of survival mechanic at the ship level.

Tony’s answer is fairly straightforward, and sounds like Star Citizen will be no SCUM. His answer sounds something more along the lines of the Fallout series at Survival difficulties, where your character can have a number of Thirst/Hunger states: Satiated, Thirsty/Hungry, Very Thirsty/Hungry, Dying of Thirst/Hunger. Each negative state comes with some debuffs, but it sounds like there will be plenty of opportunity to refresh your character and to get rescued out of wilderness survival situations. Extreme survivalists may need to impose roleplaying restrictions on themselves, because Star Citizen sounds like it’s going for an immersive, Survival-Lite design.

CommanderLlama

Contributor

Writer, Gamer, Science, Computer Science, and Space Nerd. Suspected genetic predisposition towards favourable relationships with Camelids. Hibernating Kickstarter Backer.

Twitter: @CommanderLlama1