Thursday, May 13, 2010

Revitalizing Low Sec - Pirate Software Edition

So last Saturday I participated in a round table organized by Mynxee regarding Low-sec and throwing around ideas on how to revitalize it and make it more distinct from Hi-Sec and 0.0. Generally the main thrust is that it needs new and unique resources and rewards and the ability to harvest those without putting players at so much risk that the risk/reward gets devalued below that of empire. People were very fond of cops & robbers themed concepts such as 'Corruption' which build an underground economy in low-sec around criminal products.

Boosters are a great example because they have a direct correspondence with the real world drug trade, and because boosters have an actual in game use in 'enhancing' your abilities to fly internet spaceships. For this reason boosters got a lot of attention with suggestions for changes that encouraged pilots to keep taking more and more to keep themselves under the influence and stay ahead of the crash. Other 'questionable products' like prostitutes, banned holoreels and plain old non-booster drugs can certainly be produced in low-sec and moved around to planets that need them, indeed if PI ever gets some decent population management features these might be great additions. Beyond these we kinda stalled in looking for 'stuff' that would be unique to low-sec, but useful to players everywhere, something that would pull people into lowsec to produce and fight over.

After the discussion a further idea occured to me - Pirate Software, Black Codes that let you break into other systems and do things you're not supposed to. Things like...
  • Temporarily disabling sentry guns at gates and stations, so you fleet can operate unmolested, at least until the other side notice the glitch in the network and send a squad to investigate.
  • Messing around with local intel, not appearing in local is one thing, but if you combine this with some of the intel redesign suggestions it could also be used to read local intel when you'd otherwise be blocked out.
  • When you're tackling a pilot in a belt, use our 'leet hacking skills to make it hard to call for help, CCP can't stop pilots calling for help over third party teamspeak, but they can make the 'warp to member' fail, or perhaps drop the cavalry 200km off target.
  • See all those offline towers? Instead of shooting them for hours just roll up and inject a software virus into it's now vulnerable processor, over the next 24 hours it'll slowly subvert the locking systems unless the owners can get on the scene and load fresh firmware (and fuel).
  • How about sneaking a look at things that would normally be off limit to you - wallets and hangars, some in game sactioned espionage?
Ok you get the idea, there are a whole bunch of things that people have asked for with hacking and I don't need to rewrite those proposals here, or spend weeks balancing them all. e.g. Being able to hack into an opponents ship and make shut off their enignes, disable weapons, make them jettison cargo or self destruct might sound 'interesting' but it could mean a pretty radical change to PVP. One person suggested a hacking mini game where attackers and defenders move firewalls, IPS, ICE and other widgets around a data core, but it ended up sounding like something out of Puzzle Pirates. So, full on infowar PVP isn't going to happen and really isn't necessary to get this kind of content into the game.

In the PVE context Pirate Software might be used to disable defences, open back doors, or simply give pilots credentials to allow them past something that would otherwise shoot them. Now I want to dwell on this for a moment, mission runners in low-sec fear getting scanned down and ganked, one of the big problems with NPC AI is that if you're running a mission and a pirate warps in with the intention of ganking you you've now got to deal with DPS from both the rats and the players which hardly seems fair. Now, if you're running a mission for your local shady underworld type he might give you special codes to make you invisible to the defenses, but people not in your fleet will have no such protection and will find themselves under attack. If you listen to the Low-Sec round table some people are suggesting limiting uninvited incursions through the use of gate keys, so this is a variant on this, where hostiles are used to interfere with an attack rather than simply deny it. Although, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that gates might also be hackable with the right pirate software to bypass need for a key.

As an aside - on the subject of missioning in lowsec...
I alluded to the fact that running level 4 missions in battleships makes it really easy to scan you down, and it makes travel in low-sec a matter of time before you get caught at a gate, so level 4's in lowsec can never be as profitable as those in hi-sec. If I were designing an expansion built around low-sec I'd take cues from the pirate speedboat missions and design around small mobile ships as being the intended vessels of choice. Missions might even be designed with some of the specialist ship classes - the covert ops, the stealth bomber, the assault frigate in mind.

Furthermore, pirates tend to operate in gangs, and mission runners tend to be solo - low-sec mission content might be an appropriate place to introduce multiplayer missions with goals that require multiple pilots (e.g. a gate needs a lock 'disabled', but the lock is far from the gate and respawns before a single ship could fly the distance). There was a lot of people angry at the Gallente storyline missions, they were not happy with the prospect of taking a battleship several jumps into lowsec where they'd be easy meat. However, I flew these missions, and instead of the large slow ship I took a couple of rifters along instead, 2 pilots working as a team, the first created a diversion and drew aggro on the combat ships, pulling them away from the transports they were protecting. While the second swooped in and took out the now undefended haulers, I don't believe the original mission design was built around this tactic, but you could see how a PVE encounter could be designed with this in mind. The most painful part of the whole process was travelling 25 jumps to the site and the same distance back, for a crappy reward, all the time grumbling that none of the other factions are forcing their pilots to run these 'special' missions.

All this is of course designed to provide content which isn't simply cookie cutter repeats of experiences you'll get in the safety of hi-sec, and to provide it in a manner where the risk-reward equation favours the bold both by increasing the reward and reducing the risk. Plenty of wormhole dwellers were empire only mission grinders until they were tempted by the rewards of t3 and the promise of better PVE, the same equation applied to low-sec has a successful precedent. Plenty of people want to play as 'the bad guys' without necessarily PVP'ing as pirates, but with 'Corruption' suggestion an integrated avenue for PVP leading to rewards it's not too much of a stretch to see pilots participation naturally progressing in that direction.

Anyway, all of this is a significant amount of work, CCP would have to dedicate a release to low-sec, and while I'm one of those shouting 'slow down and fix the bugs' I'm also saying that low-sec represents a significant part of New Eden that's being squandered, so it is indeed worthy of a dedicated expansion.

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