In Star Citizen, CIG has instituted “armistice zones” around important places where players spawn or otherwise visit for mission, trading, or mining purposes. These places include Port Olisar (the original spawn point for the game), stations in various orbits, several outposts on planets, and major cities. When a player enters an armistice zone, neither their ship nor their personal weapons will function so that players can get secure and go about their business without fear that their ships will get blown up on the spawn pads before they even get to take off or another player will hide in their ship and shoot them in the head when they aren’t looking.

In a post on Spectrum, the game’s forum and community communication platform, CIG Molly announced that a new task was going on the Roadmap for 3.11: removing the armistice zones, and replacing them with a more “realistic” system. In the upcoming patch, players will no longer have their ship weapons disabled around orbital stations. Instead, new defenses will be added to the few that stations already have (size 4), including size 6 and massive size 10 turrets that will be floating nearby. If a player initiates combat within range of the station defenses then the station’s defenses will activate. If a player with a crime stat (a known, reported crime appended to the player’s record) enters the defense zone, the station’s guns will open fire. Any player who initiates combat in a defense zone or who enters while flagged with a crimestat will also be available for other, non-crimestat-flagged players to attack without fear of getting their own crimestat. In addition, NPC ships will be spawned based on a calculation of the crimestat around the station, adding to the amount of firepower that criminals will have to deal with.

There’s a bit of salt on Spectrum from both PvP and PvE sides over this as you can imagine. Up until this announcement, Star Citizen has been a pretty decent PvE game. There are places where PvP can happen, if you find the right players at the right places (which is hard to do when each server is capped at 50 players and distances are quite large), but most folks have been happily running commodities, testing out missions, and engaging in PvE combat. The PvP that has been happening has been limited to consensual warfare, waiting for ships to clear the armistice zone, sneaking onto ships and killing the pilot, or catching traders and miners planetside where no armistice zone exists. Very few ad hoc engagements have been between willing parties as it seems most players are content to be left alone to make their way in the game.

Some/many/most PvPers are hailing this as a step in the right direction, although some are concerned that the turret and NPC defenses are going to be “too hard” and amount to armistice zones under a different name. It’s a bit unclear as to whether the “destructible” comment regarding the turrets applies to just the smaller turrets, or all of the turrets. There’s also concern that as a battle rages and more crimestats are generated (there are several levels) and more and more powerful NPC ships fly in to assist the police action, the difficulty in assaulting the area around the station is going to be impossible.

I am of two minds with this. I am well aware that Star Citizen has always been talked about in terms of PvP, similar to the way EVE Online handles it’s player interactions through zones of high security, zones of no security, and a whole grab-bag of statuses in between the two. As each server can only handle 50 players per at the current time, it’s been a chore for players to find other players to attack unless they hang out around stations and outposts. As I have traditionally been a PvE player, I’ve been enjoying my time in the game running commodities, mining, and occasionally blowing up NPC ships. I have relied on the armistice zones at times when griefers have been loitering around public spaces like Port Olisar. Removing armistice zones — which work, and work well — is going to be a sea-change for those of us who will want to get back to the station so we can sell our cargo, repair, and refuel.

On the other hand, switching from armistice to defensive perimeters is how the game should be deterring unprovoked player combat. Star Citizen is too much a simulation for it’s own good sometimes (like with all of the animations getting in and out of bed, ladders, and sitting down or standing up). Having an invisible bubble around a station disable a player’s weapons is not realistic as if that technology exists, why not fit every ship with it? Instead, having each station to police itself, with the option to call for reinforcements in the form of NPC police ships, seems way more realistic and fitting in the simulation mandate.

That some PvPers are concerned about this is a good thing, really, because I think too often PvPers who fall even slightly on the side of griefing will look for any way to gain a complete advantage, and if done right, this defense perimeter will see to it that there is absolutely zero advantage for attacking other players in or around the station. I’ve seen players complaining that having size 4, 6, and 10 turrets and NPC ships in quantities dictated by the sum of the local crimestat is going to make PvP “impossible”, and that getting sent to prison is too much of a hassle.

Boo hoo. Again, as a simulation, form follows function. A PvPer without a crimestat who wants to enter a defensive perimeter of a station in a high security system for the purpose of attacking another player (or the station) might be able to get off a few shots, maybe even kill a few other players. But considering the response team is right there in the form of defensive turrets, the attacker(s) should expect a swift and deadly response. If they manager to survive for a few minutes, then they’ll have to deal with NPC cops. This is the kind of thing we would rationally expect to happen, though some PvPers on Spectrum seem to believe that since Star Citizen is talked about as a PvP game that PvPers should only suffer retaliation at the hands of other players. Complaining that the level of response set down in the Spectrum post is makes PvP “too hard” is, quite frankly, laughable, as PvPers have always told PvEers that it’s all about “risk-versus-reward”, to “bring enough friends”, and of course “if they don’t like it, go play another game”.

Making griefing painful is not something that online games have been good at, or even tried with any force, which I think is why some people are upset. Most games throw the responsibility of police actions completely to the players who are offended, which is kind of dumb considering that those player archetypes are not the ones to engage in PvP gameplay at all. This effectively gives griefers carte blanche to ply their trade safe in the knowledge that they are attacking those who won’t fight back, or if they try, will be clumsily ineffective. In other games where NPCs are used as a deterrent, their effectiveness is questionable as players have often been able to kill NPC guards without too much trouble, and once the guards are gone there’s no other system in place to prevent a griefer rampage except other players.

Attacking a mining ship on Daymar might otherwise be someone’s idea of fun, but as players will soon be able to report a crime, gaining a crimestat is pretty much guaranteed, which will close off many avenues for players who initiate unprovoked attacks anywhere in the system. Should they find themselves dead or captured by bounty-hunters, they can expect to spend real time in prison — time that they won’t be spending in their ships, with their friends, making money, or attacking other players. This loop is supposed to hurt and hopefully deter the more casual griefing we see in online games.

I’m looking forward to see how this new system pans out. As the game is still in alpha, this is only a first pass. It might be that defensive systems are toned down, or even ramped up, in response to the inevitable larger pirate corporations massing to test the limits of the system. By switching the responsibility from a hand-waving technical aspect of the armistice zone to a more relevant in-game solution, I think this is going to be an interesting change for the Star Citizen community.

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