First: Yay, dstahl answered my question! :)
Second: I'm happy, others are interested in the exploration revamp topic. (I've seen a few replies regarding my question and the answer we've got.)
Third: I'm happy with the direction dstahl is steering the ship of STO so to speak. I don't want to complain or criticise anything they're doing. This post is just a collection of the ideas I came up with since february.
I created this post to elaborate my idea. I had to draw quickly when asking the question, but now that I see that people (incl. dstahl :) ) are interested, I hope I might generate some discussion, and perhaps this might influence the final outcome of the revamping of Exploration sectors.
Just to be clear: "endlessness" I asked about isn't the whole idea. I was thinking about a serious exploration system where you have two options.
A. You want to participate in the ongoing war(s), and do some exploration.
B. You dedicate yourself for exploration for more than just a few missions on the edge of known space.
Just think about what exploration is in the real world. (And by real world I mean the ST universe of course. :p)
1. You get an assignment from SFC to seek out new life in deep, unknown space, beyond the Federation. Or you get a mission to find new resources that miners could exploit. Or an array picks up some interesting transmission that originates from a distant system, and SF wants you to investigate.
2. You got the assignment. Then you go to the farthest point of the Federation in the direction of your mission objective. At this point (let it be a planet or a starbase) you pack up a lot of food, spare parts, anything you might need, and when your ship leaves the station, you enter an exploration sector.
3. The exploration sector is seemingly endless in 3 directions. If you want to go back, "exit", you can turn your ship around. If you've got a mission, that has a specific location, you get some arrow on the UI, or a distant buoy signal, pointing in the right direction, but you have the freedom to go wherever you want. (If the engine requires sectors to have a limited size, then this is still doable with randomly generated sectors and automatic transitions between them.)
4. You start the engines, and enter the unknown. :) In Exploration sectors, you can see complete star systems (like in normal sectors), and you can enter them to find anomalies, new resources (dilithium moons etc), enemy squadrons or inhabited planets (good way to discover new civs, hence first contact missions), or a mix of these things. Also, in the sectors, there could be nebulae, or other stellar bodies that can hinder your movement, turn off your sensors, and so on.
5a. If you have a specific destination, you can reach it in 5-10 minutes of flight. If you want to do the job, and get back to your dailies, you can just point your ship in the right direction, and do some other stuff. :) Actually, this is when nebulae come in handy. If you enter some nebula, and your sensors go out, random enemies can attack you. Like entering a DSE. If you don't want to get involved in a fight, you have to steer your ship around the nebula. All in all, you can finish an exploration mission with a specific destination in less than an hour. But when you've finished the mission, you can stay, and do some exploration on your own, if you want to. Or even on your way to the destination.
5b. If you don't have a mission with specific destination, you get to do things the way you want. Let's say SF wants you to discover new dilithium deposits. You start exploring. Scans of a nearby system indicate a possibility of dilithium resources in one of the planets (actually, dstahl mentioned in some screencast that he wants to see such tech composed into the game [UPDATE: Some of this is available in the Season3 build currently on Tribble.]), so you enter the system. You find there whatever the new Random().NextBytes(b) gives you. :) Maybe anomalies, maybe enemy ships. If you are high enough in diplo, you have a slight chance to talk yourself out of the situation, and make them leave without blowing them up. If not (or you feel vexed by their looks), you can kill them. When the system is secure, you scan the moons, and determine whether the dilithium deposit is rich enough for the fed miners or not. Then you leave, and scan/enter other systems, getting farther and farther from the Federation.
6. When you are in an exploration sector, the game engine counts your discoveries. Number of new resources discovered, number of successful first contacts, number of possible enemy incursions prohibited... When you exit the exploration sector, the engine turns these stats into XP, Emblem, EC, Accolade or some shiny new gear. In other words, you got to choose how much exploration you want to do. Now it's very strict: you have to do exactly 3 explo mishes to get the reward. This way you could do 3 a day, 2 the other day (with lesser rewards), and 26 in the next day. It's up to you, but the game system encourages you to do more. (Like if you discover 15 new dilithium moons, you get a purple excavator. :))
So this is the basic workflow of doing exploration. But this wouldn't be as new and as realistic as it can be. Here are my ideas on how to make the exploration system better. (IMHO, of course.)
- There's no Starfleet out here: If you travelled into the wilderness, passed a hundred systems, and you're in trouble, you're on your own. You can ask a friend to come to help you, but it will take him minutes to do so.
- Asking for help: If you're in trouble, you can activate an emergency beacon. Given that you're not that far from the outpost where you entered the explo sector, you might be not completely alone, because others do exploration as well. If someone picks up your transmission, he or she can enter the map/instance you're in, and, well, help you. If you're lucky. :)
(I must point out that this isn't my idea, and I don't want to steal credit for it! I can't recall where I read it, but it was related to normal sector space revamp.)
- Restricted resources: You can't fly into the unknown for an unlimited time. Food will be consumed, replicators will eventually deplete their raw resources, the ship gets damaged from time to time, and you don't have unlimited dilithium/antimatter to power the warp drives. More importantly, the crew gets tired of being "out there" for a long time. In exploration mode the game engine could watch these stats, or just some of them. Let's say it watches dilithium and crew morale. If you travel 10lightyears in an exploration sector, you lose 1 unit of dilithium, and 10% of crew morale. (Hey, don't think about speeds in STO... At warp 7 this takes approx 5.5 days in ST reality! :) ) If you enter a system, or beam to a planet, that counts as one day in crew morale.
Summing this up: you have the ability to do your mission, but if you want to go deeper into unknown space, you can't just point your ship to the galactic core, and wait until you reach it. Your engines will stop, and you get stranded, or your crew will get so tired that you have no option but to turn your ship around to get back to Fed space. This - I think - gives a feeling of realism to the exploration. You're alone, you don't know what is waiting behind the next star, and you must choose wisely whether you enter a system or turn your ship around and run. :) But... If resources are restricted, what's the use of explo sectors being "endless".
First: When you buy the resources on the station before entering the exploration, you decide how many dilithium etc you want to buy. It's expensive, and it consumes storage space, so you can't just fill your whole ship with it. OK, you can, but then you can't pick up any loot. :) (Morale is set to 100% when you leave the station.)
Second: in the exploration sector not all the systems are lifeless, potential mining locations. If you find an unknown race that has dilithium, you can buy some. (And possibly other goods as well.) On the other hand, in a lifeless, potential mining location you can extract and refine dilithium. This might require some special hardware, so you must be prepared, but it's possible. Also, this could give the devs the opportunity to bake some new mining and refining minigame into STO, maybe involving ship interiors, consoles. (I can see the smiles on their faces and the axes in their hands. :))) )
Crew fatigue/morale is another kind of problem. The crew sometimes has to leave the ship, and freshen on a planet, so sometimes the captain must find a suitable, non-hostile planet, and spend some time there with the crew. This can be a great time to pick up some food (another minigame), so players don't have to just sit for 10 minutes to raise the morale. :)
- Other empires: Why does someone want to go deeper into unknown space if nothing changes in the environment? I don't really see a reason. But if there is some progression, it may worth it.
Consider this: you enter the exploration sector. The planets in the first 80-90 lightyears are mainly populated by little colonies of fed/klg races. They have some missions to solve, etc...
After 90lys, things change. Colonies with known races are getting rarer, and there are more uninhabited planets. Dilithium moons, anomalies, enemy exploration forces...
After 200 lys, things change again. New, previously unseen races pop up. Inhabited systems might become more usual.
Let's say, you're in need of dilithium, and enter a system that has a high percentage of housing an abundant deposit. Upon arrival, three ships are waiting for you in the system. The species is called alma, and they tell you that the system is theirs and they won't let you take their dilithium. You can kill them, and take the precious d., or you can bargain with them. (Or you can leave, if they're too strong, and you don't want to talk. :) ) Either way, you take the dilithium, and continue exploring.
In the next system, you meet the same species. They react on your arrival based on your reputation with the Alma Empire. If you destroyed the ships in the prev. system, they open fire on you, and you can get some spare parts destroying them. :p Otherwise, you can bargain again, and they ask your help to kill some pirates around the second moon. If you accept, you become a closer friend of the Alma Empire. (Better prices, perhaps some fleet support on higher levels.)
If you screwed up the first contact by creating a bloodbath, you have to work hard to make them forget this by doing some missions for them, helping distressed ships, like now the daily in the defera sector. Or when you enter an alma system, they might not have defenses, but may have pirates to eradicate.
The missions could be autogenerated, and the engine just have to check on one value from the database: your reputation with that empire.
Also, I'd like to point out that these empires can be one planet empires too. :) So the current "every system has a new race"-pattern might work as well. Even side by side with the greater empire pattern I roughed out here.
Travelling further. After 300lys the scene changes again. You left the Alma Empire, empty planets are more common again.
After 400lys you find another empire, same thing again.
After 600lys you find the Borg and die. :D
(Consider the distances a rough draft. And note that this is the end of the exploration sector, so it doesn't have to be literally endless. Just biiiiig.)
This is "the end". You're in hostile space. You can go further, but you probably won't find enough dilithium or safe place to live long. :) You can return to the Fed space, or you can pick another direction to explore strange new worlds.
But if a fleetmate asks you about your last week, you can say, that you travelled 600lys into unknown space, visited dozens of systems to get dilithium, beamed down to dozens of planets to do some mission or get your crew in shape, unraveled two empires that noone had heard of, and finally saw borg fleets that noone else did before you. You were off the grid, but you have returned with tons of accolades, Emblems, XP, very rare gears, and a big smile on your face, because you know you've seen things that only a few others did. :)
I know that there are some people who may not consider this as much fun as I do, but hey, they have pvp. :)
- Random events: A last thing I want to emphasize. I already mentioned that in nebulae ships can attack you, and in the territory of some empire, you could have the chance of helping a distressed ship. But as you pass the no mans land between empires, you might see ships fighting each other. In these missions you have the chance to negotiate with the enemies (after disabling both of them :p). If you can make them stop fighting over the system they're in, your reputation rises in their empires.
Also, when not in a no mans land, patrols can show up on the radar. Just like now in all the sectors. If you don't like them, you can enter a DSE with them.
Whew, lot of stuff here. I hope someone still reading this. :p
Some other things:
- Transwarp: there is no reason to fear space, if you can click one, and hide in SB1 from the enemy. I think, in Exploration, Tw should be disabled. You're too far to just transwarp back. As soon as you exit the explo sector, you can use it again. And another reason: if you've spent the last 4 days in explo, travelled 4-500lyrs, and you accidentally click on tw back to sb1, you might want to hang yourself, and more importantly, cancel your sub. :D
- PvP: yes or no. What the people thinks fits the best.
- Social: it might seem at first that this system would lead people to be lone wolves, and run around solo for days, but that's not true. I do the daily episodes with fleetmates every time. Not because they require teaming. Because if someone likes company, he or she will find a team. And I think this can be true for explo as well. If you plan on spending days (IRL) outside Federation territory, you will look for someone to do this with you.
- Autogenerated content vs predesigned content: Well, this is hard... If you've read all my thoughts above, you can see, that the empire system may require the devs to design those parts of the sector. Because if you enter the explo sector for the second time, you count on the Alma Empire still being there, where you left it. :)
But I think (and I'd really like to hear your thoughts on this), this is doable with a mixture of predesigned content and the genesis system. The devs/designers would place the starsystems on the map, saying that system x is uninhabited, but has a dilithium moon, system y is habited by the alma race, system z is a nebula where pirates dwell, and so on. But the systems themselves are generated when the player enters them. Random enemies, random missions, random anomalies.
This is it, I'm finished. (And also quite sure, that I've left out a few things. :) )
Oh, one just popped up. Klingons. :D I play klingon alts too, so I think I'm not biased. :) This system could work for klingons too. Just replace all the "diplomacy" and "negotiate" words with "disruptors" and "kill". :D
Thx for reading this. If you have some comments (hope so), please be constructive.
I especially like the expendables/crew fatigue system. As well as the distress beacon feature (although it sounds oddly familiar).
Yeah, I as I said, I've picked it up somewhere else, and I think it could do well in exploration, where you're outside of Fed territory.
Btw, I've been thinking about the half predesigned/half autogenerated feature and the different parts of the exploration sector I sketched here. The different regions could be different maps at all - this would make the sector maps smaller, so the engine wouldn't have to deal with one big-ass map that contains a thousand systems. One not-that-big map for the random exploration/mission region of the first let's say 100 light years, one for the no-mans land after that, etc.
But that would be awesome if on the border of these maps there were a lot of nebulae or some dangerous anomalies, or random fleets hunting prey. So crossing between the different regions would be a bit harder than just flying into a wall, and popping up in the next region. You'd have to deal with the local pirates or find a safe passage between the nebulae.
Well done--for what it's worth (from a first-time poster), these ideas have my full and hearty support! Your concepts, if adopted, would add tremendous flavor to the game and make one feel much more immersed in Star Trek...that's what I think this game should be all about.
Thank you for taking the time to develop your ideas and post them for fans and developers alike!
But feel free to add your own ideas, parts to the whole picture. I'm quite sure that the system I "invented" isn't perfect for everyone, so complete it with your own features.
Or, if you think that somewhere my system is seriously flawed, tell me so we can revise and fix it.
Took me some time to get through all that, but I like what I read there.
I can even see a subset of this, A special Exploration zone shared by Fed and Klinks where PvP is enabled and Territory is gained/lost (for those PvP'ers that keep asking for such a setup) based on battles won, resources claimed, and Empires Befriended/Conquered (obviously requiring some kind of a reputation system).
Great ideas here.
Before the game started, the exploration was the most attractive feature for me. To see what no one else saw before me. Or in this case, do missions in an order, that no one else did.
The fatigue systems sounds good, but i dont think it could work as it is now. The ships fly too freely in the space now for this (like missing a planet and turning back could take one more day in crew morale). This could be better if i can choose from more, fixed destinations while i know, how much it takes to get there. And it would be great if the BOs have an additional trait, that show, how much they tolerate the long missions. This way really dedicated explorers can get a crew that supports long explorations.
For the PVP, there should be competitive exploration areas, where every faction can enter. On the starmap you may see the other faction ships and if you enter a system, there could be fights with the enemies. In this areas you can choose to fight the enemies, leave the system or even work together if you want. These areas may offer better prizes for a higher risk. Like you cant finish your quest if the system is full with an enemy team. But if you fight them off, you get more.