In a bid to simulate a universe, CIG is designing a rather interesting system to support the maintenance of ships, vehicles, and buildings. The stated goal is to allow players the opportunity to customize the performance of their ships, to repair damage in the field, and to increase their odds of survival during combat. Whether the reality will cleave closely to these goals or penalize players who can’t field a team to properly utilize this system is yet another unknown in the bundle of unknowns that we like to call Star Citizen.
This segment was presented by the tag-team of Thorsten Leimann, Lead Systems Designer, and Guillermo Bilbao, Gameplay Programmer III.
Space ships are complex machines. In 98% of other ship-focused video games, the act of tuning and repairing a ship is abstracted, usually presented as a series of boxes we can drag icons to or as a button press that allows us to “repair all”. In truth, ship-based games like EVE Online, the X series, or Elite Dangerous aren’t about playing space ship mechanic, so game play that would simulate those kinds of player-ship interactions has rarely been modeled to the extent that CIG wants to do it.
Engineering focuses on the resource network design and the choices made to “tune” that network. CIG is attempting to take the abstraction of how a ship runs and bring it to the fore so that players can interact with it in ways that allow for game play to affect aspects of the ship in terms of performance or basic operational functionality.
Ships in Star Citizen have always had components which represent the most important parts of the vehicle. These are things like shield generators, coolers, power plants, weapons, and thrusters. Right now, we can’t do much with the physical representations of these devices (except weapons). They are sold in the in-game markets, and we can swap them out on the ships using the MOBIGlass UI, but the truth is that some components don’t actually do anything when swapped.
In the future, players will be able to buy components at shops or salvage them from wrecks, transfer them to their own ships, and replace their current components with newer and better examples. When this is done prior to leaving a station or planet, CIG calls it “tuning”, and alluded to the fact that tuning can be beneficial to mission success. Do you expect to need to outrun pirates? Favor your engines. Running a blockade? Amp up the shields. Want to get your cargo to the market quicker? Invest in a better Q-drive. It was mentioned that no ship will ever have the ability to provide 100% power to all systems at the same time, so players will need to make decisions on how to route their power to suit the situation at hand.
Once on the way, the resource network will allow players to see the status of components through a central UI and to trace the connections between components and routing junctions. Green lines indicate that the flow is optimal; red lines indicate that something is broken and needs attention. Each icon represents a component type, allowing the engineer to instantly understand what they are looking at. Hovering over an icon can provide context-specific info such as the health of a component, charge of a battery, or how much oxygen is in a room.
It’s important to note that this system, this discussion, and the relevance of this feature pertains mainly to large, multi-crew ships. A single-seater Gladius won’t have the opportunity to deal with components and nodes while in flight, so smaller ships will be limited to a “stock” resource network which can only be tuned by swapping the components.
After identifying a problem, the engineer (or someone designated by the engineer) needs to fix it. There is already engineer panels in several ships which do nothing, but when this system comes on-line, these panels will be able to give an overview of the resource network on the ship, and also to see the status of each room on the ship (temperature, whether there’s a fire or not, and even when the doors open or close). There are a few ways to handle this.
The first is through basic repair. Any component which is not at 0% health can be repaired by using a standard multi-tool.
The incentive to ensure that damaged components never get to 0% health becomes an imperative, because once a component or node reaches 0%, it’s considered destroyed and needs to be replaced.
Nodes are represented by “fuses” (in the screenshot above, you can see the “fuse box” for the Q-drive on the wall to the right…I didn’t get an actual screenshot during the video). While components themselves are large and require a tractor beam to remove and replace, fuses are hand-held items. Remove a fuse and an entire section of the ship’s network goes offline. This will make fuses a prime target for boarding parties, as removing or destroying them can shut down connected components. Engineers will need to carry a few fuses with them as they patrol the ship, in case they are called on to replace a missing or destroyed item.
The last way to handle issues is (I assume) to re-route the network. This wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the video, but I am fairly certain that it was mentioned in an ISC or SCL that the resource network could be customized. If we assume that CIG likes to make complex things even more complex, I would not be surprised if they bake in a “distance cost” to the connections between components and nodes, meaning that the shorter the connection or the fewer nodes a connection routes through, the more efficient it will be. This would allow players to take the “it works OK” stock network and re-wire it in ways that not only make use of a better configuration, but which can also serve to confuse boarding parties who believe that they have memorized the network of any given ship (they disconnect the toilet instead of the Q-drive).
When things go wrong, they can go very wrong. Blowing a fuse or having one removed will power down sections of the ship and left unchecked, could spread defects to other parts of the network. Fire can also take out parts of the network. Making matters worse, in some conditions, failing networks can spike a ship’s emission signatures, making the ship more visible at greater distances to other nearby ships.
Engineering isn’t just about fixing combat damage to the network. As a ship takes damage, it can spread. We have already seen the presentation on fire, and thanks to previous presentations by Dan “Kill Em All” Trufin, we know exactly how to deal with onboard fire events. While we could tackle small fires with extinguishers, the surefire way to put out the flames is to starve them of oxygen. Engineers can do this by controlling doors from their remote panels and opening those which lead to the vacuum of space. This is why, in the Expanse TV series, the crew ALWAYS put on their suits when entering into combat situations: you never know when the ship will start venting, on purpose or by accident.
Finally, resource networks and engineering aren’t just for ships or vehicles. It’s been stated that these systems will be present in pretty much every aspect of Star Citizen involving anything larger than a mid-sized sedan that requires energy. That includes player-created settlements and the still-currently-vague notion of crafting pipelines.
I like management sims, so the resource network and engineering systems speak kindly to me. My problem, though, was perfectly illustrated by Thorsten who was narrating a pre-recorded video of himself and a few other CIG employees trying to save a Hercules under fire from a lone Gladius. In this segment, the Q-drive was taking damage and the crew raced to repair it. However, Thorsten seemed to have gotten confused or turned around, because he didn’t realize one of the ship’s power plants was reaching a critically damaged state. By the time he realized this, it was too late. One of the relay fuses blew as well, taking out one whole side of the ship. The crew attempted repairs, and even activated a backup battery to try and get things back on line, but all efforts were ultimately unsuccessful and the ship exploded.
I appreciate tense, impending-doom scenes like the one in The Abyss when the crew of the underwater mining rig raced through narrow halls trying to prevent the rig from imploding, but Thorsten’s video was just a complete shit-show. On one hand, the ship required crew to be able to try and repair these damaged systems. On the other hand, they could have just left the situation to fate since the results would have been the same anyway.
Since the game is not called “Star Nihilist”, it stands to reason that if you have a ship large enough to benefit from the resource network, and you attempt to fly anywhere solo, you’re an absolute idiot. Many of the hardcore players will agree with this as a rule, regardless, but if almost 30 years of online gaming have taught me anything it’s that not everyone — possibly most everyone — has a pocket crew of friends they can summon at a moment’s notice. Personally, I don’t like asking people to support my goals, although I’m willing to dedicate my play time to someone else’s so long as I get something out of it. Plus, some people might not even be doing anything except traveling from point A to point B. It was also said in SCl or ISC that use of the resource network and engineering game play will be optional, but there’s obviously a massive boost if you use them — almost to the point where “optional” is not optional at all if you want to avoid having to re-spawn light years back with a hefty insurance fee to reclaim your ship.
While resource networks and engineering are cool systems, and I really do love the way they’ve been implemented, I do not see them as optional, and I fear that the inclusion of these systems is going to seriously harm anyone who is flying even the smallest ship that could take advantage (not sure what ship that would be; a Cutlass, maybe? Anything you can walk around in, like the Titan?). I feel that this is another system which looks great on a paper, expands “the simulation” aspect of Star Citizen, and no doubt appeals to many players, myself included, but I also feel that it’s going to be a system that is going hamstring some players while grossly extending the success of those who do have friends or org-mates they can call on to crew their ships, further widening the “have and have-not” divide that Star Citizen appears to be fostering.