Wednesday, August 25, 2004

SWG: Jump to Lightspeed: Asteroid Mining

Here are some ideas I've come up with for asteroid mining that I'd like to see included in Jump to Lightspeed at some (relatively soon) point.

I know there are a number of objections to allowing asteroid mining in JtL (including that the developers have said it won't be in the original release), so I've tried to address most of these issues in the list below.

1. Ten big space sectors should offer plenty of room for mining. If there's at least one asteroid field per sector, that's good; if there are multiple fields in some sectors, that's better. If asteroid fields are also large enough to have thousands of different-sized rocks, that's perfect.

2. It might be desirable to limit the use of space resources to schematics for ships and ship components. This would prevent people who buy the JtL expansion from having an advantage over those who don't and who are thus restricted to the ground game. Alternately, allow space resources to be used in all crafting -- what's the point of an expansion if not to get people to buy it because it gives them valuable new abilities?

3. Limit the impact of asteroid mining on the overall economy by requiring the use of ships with specialized cargo holds (inventory containers) whose sole use is carrying resources mined from asteroids. (If your ship is destroyed, you lose some or all of whatever is in your cargo hold.) Two other ways to minimize the economic impact of asteroid mining would be to make asteroid mining dangerous (see item 4), and to cap the total number of resource units that can be harvested (see item 12).

4. Space should generally be somewhat dangerous, what with natural hazards, NPC pirates, and factional NPCs (and possibly Space Monsters). The two "badlands" sectors should be even more dangerous. Resource quality should tend to improve with proximity to danger -- not 1:1, but often enough so that the risk vs. reward relationship is reasonably strong. Note that this also helps limit the impact of asteroid mining on the overall game economy by keeping the number of miners low.

5. Require a "mining rig" to mine resources from asteroids. This is a device that attaches to a ship in place of a weapon, modifying the appearance of that ship appropriately. This will distinguish mining ships from non-combatant ships (although pirates might look for ships with mining rigs!), and would improve the game experience by requiring players to make interesting choices between firepower and commercial abilities.

6. An even simpler approach might be to dispense with the mining rig concept altogether and just let the player sample from the nearest asteroid. The player would simply have to imagine that some kind of drilling rig is in use, but as this is pretty much how the ground game works now (other than the surveying/sampling animations), players are already used to it. The advantage of this approach is that it eliminates the need for new art resources (the mining rig image) to be created and programmed.

7. It would be nice if asteroid mining generated a unique animation similar to ground-based sampling/surveying.

8. Ships have to attach themselves to an asteroid to be able to mine it. (I'd say let ships land on asteroids, but that functionality is probably not in the initial combat-specific edition of JtL. OTOH I see no reason why we can't expect to be able to bump up against objects in space even in the initial release of JtL, so a very primitive form of "docking" to asteroids for the purpose of mining should be simple enough to implement. Naturally, there might be a bit of math involved in making sure the player's ship remains tangential to the asteroid's surface while taking on the 3-D motion elements of that asteroid and its rotational motion. But of course programmers live for solving that kind of challenge. )

9. Requiring players to be present to mine resources from asteroids allows reuse of the existing "sampling" UI, minimizing the new UI code that would otherwise have to be written.

10. Minimize crowding by restricting individual asteroids to one miner at a time. Alternately, base the number of active miners per asteroid on the size of that asteroid (assuming the sizes of asteroids vary appropriately).

11. To keep things simple, give each asteroid its own random percentage for all current space resources. Or if more "realism" is desired, calculate resource percentages just like on the ground (except in 3-D) so that the asteroids nearest the highest percentage location have the best percentages, but others farther away have decreasing percentages.

12. As yet another alternative, consider setting a total number of resource units for each asteroid when new resources are spawned. Furthermore, let mining operations on a particular asteroid actually "use up" all the resources on that asteroid as they're mined. Rather than players sitting in the same spot for days, you'd have miners constantly moving through asteroid fields, which would be a lot more interesting. Running out of asteroids with "good" resources shouldn't be a problem as long as space is full of asteroids (compared to the number of miners) and resources shift often enough. It would however still help limit the number of space-mined resources, thus minimizing the impact of these resources on the overall game economy.

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