This past weekend, CIG released alpha patch 3.6 to the PU (public universe) which brought with it some significant, yet not all welcome, changes to Star Citizen.

Crime and Punishment

One of the biggies is that being a dick now has consequences-with-an-asterisk. In a sandbox game like Star Citizen, players are encouraged to make their own content through player interaction, and while that can result in a lot of cool scenarios that benefit those involved, a lot of people opt to take the opposite route and use this freedom to ruin other people’s fun.

Now, as a quick aside, the idea of “playing a pirate” in a game like SC is attractive; even I consider the possibility of doing so to be maybe kind of interesting. But it’s a fine line between “I’m RPing!” and “I’m hiding behind saying ‘I’m RPing!’ just so I can grief players”. In a game where everyone needs to be kept moderately happy so that the game operator can keep collecting fees and so that they don’t scare off potential players with bad word of mouth, balancing player freedom with operator self-interest is a nut that has yet to be successfully cracked…but more on that for another post.

There are two ways to “go rogue” in SC right now: initiate an attack against a friendly target, or take an illegal mission. It’s cool that there are illegal missions, like shooting down UEE relay beacons around Grim Hex or hacking comm satellites in order to “blind” the authorities in a certain region of space, but it’s less cool when players think it’s fun to ram other players or to bait them into shooting first, or when the damn system decides you’re a threat for just being there. This weekend I jumped in with Mindstrike and Enforzer and we took my Constellation Andromeda out for a spin. While we were headed to a nearby planet we were interdicted and pulled out of quantum transit by some NPC pirates who were also fighting an NPC security ship. In the ensuing melee, we must have hit the friendly NPC, because we were suddenly targeted by several more Hammerhead-class security ships, and although the trusty Connie was able to take out a single Hammerhead, there was no way in hell we had a chance against three. While we might have earned this crime status through carelessness, there have been stories of players who are interdicted and attacked by friendly security even when they stop and submit to a scan with absolutely nothing in their holds.

If general chat was to be believed, however, one can merely hide out in deep space or at a crime-friendly facility and wait for the crime stat to go away. In addition, we can still hack the system at SecPost Kareah, but can also find forged chips elsewhere in the universe that we can take to other systems and hack away our Most Wanted status. I always liked the hacking effort to cleanse our misdeeds, but the lying-low option, if true, makes crime stat kind of pointless. A griefer can just set down on some random planet or in deep space somewhere and go have dinner, then come back to cause more mischief.

Hover Mode

Continuing on with the push towards realism, CIG has implemented “hover mode” for ships when they are close to the ground on planets and moons with an atmosphere.

Generally, in sci-fi flight sims, a lot of normal physics can be ignored in the service of making the game fun. Previous to patch 3.6, ships could maneuver at ground level exactly the same way they did when in deep space. 3.5 brought in the “new flight model” which added some additional planetary movement caveats, but hover mode is exactly what you might expect.

When a ship is close to the ground, it stops behaving as a ship in a vacuum and starts behaving like a ship under the effects of gravity. In order to stay aloft, the ship uses its thrusters (the smaller engines or main engines using less power), pointed downward. With this, the ship becomes more like a helicopter. When level with the horizon indicator, the ship is stationary. When the nose is pointed down, the ship moves forward. When pointed up, it moves backward. This is actually pretty cool in theory, and for small ships where such tilting seems manageable. In practice, though, it’s kind of a headache, and for larger ships where nose-action-to-move seems kind of dumb. At planet level, a lot of the reason for being there is going to involve landing. Setting down in the middle of nowhere is mostly fine but in places like ArcCorp or Levski or Lorville, which involve settling into hangars that are embedded in the ground, landing becomes an exercise in frustration because it almost requires that the pilot now switch to the external, 3rd person view in order to ensure that he or she is over the hangar. Before, we’d just nose-down so we could see out the cockpit window and judge accordingly, but if we do that now, we rocket forward, into a building, rocks, or the deadly “no-fly zone” which results in instant death. Even minor features like light poles at outposts become deadly hazards that can trap a ship very much like a spider’s web traps a fly.

I tried out mining last night to see how that had changed with the new hover mode and was slightly unhappy about having to return to the keyboard in order to use motion controls that I hadn’t really had a use for, and consequently didn’t have a mapping for on the HOTAS. It took a long time to line up a rock to extract from, and then chasing the fragments around the landscape seemed a lot harder than it should have been.

Persistence and Price Increases

One of the benefits of 3.6 is supposedly the persistence of components. Previously when we swapped out the weapons or internal components of a ship and then lost that ship in combat or to a stupid bug, we had to re-buy those components with our own cash. Now, those components are covered in the cost of insurance so when we place a claim for a destroyed ship, we should get the ship back in the same configuration. I haven’t tried this as I don’t have enough money yet to upgrade anything, but I expect that there’ll be an increase in the price of a claim, and in expediting a claim as well.

Speaking of price, repair rearming, and refueling has increased with 3.6. Considering how often ships can take damage for stupid reasons — especially now that we have hover mode — this is a serious case of sticker shock. Everyone needs fuel as well, and with delivery trips from Crusader to ArcCorp being the most lucrative, stopping off at an R&R station for gas is part of doing business.

New R&R Station Configurations

And finally (not in a comprehensive sense), the R&R “truck stops” have had their outsides rebuilt. Previously they all shared the same outward appearance but using the modular procedural generation tools CIG has given each station a new configuration. While the idea of “every R&R looks the same” doesn’t seem like it should really register on the scale of importance, it’s a nice touch. At some point, I’m going to go sightseeing to catalog the different appearances, assuming I don’t get pulled out of QT and shot down by the security forces for no good reason.

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