The latest patch has dropped for Star Citizen, version 3.19, and this one should, theoretically, be dragging the project out of the pit that it had dug for itself with the release of persistent entity streaming (PES) in 3.18.

Lorville 2.0

Aside from the ongoing mission to repair all of the things that they themselves broke, 3.19 brought with it a new Lorville. This doesn’t affect gameplay in any way, but as I have always chosen Lorville as my “home”, I was excited for the place to get a facelift.

Lorville 2.0 upped the building density and added to the “urban sprawl” to make Lorville worthy of its mission to be the most disgusting Capitalist place in the ‘Verse. Part of the re-do was to bring building scale up to snuff so that when CIG releases urban missions, getting into buildings won’t be perceived as stepping into a TARDIS — tiny building on the outside, but somehow normally spaced on the inside. We can also fly closer to the buildings now, although I heard there’s still a 1400m cap on how low we can get. That kind of sucks, because it’s always cool to try and race through urban density in a very fast starship.

The New New Player Experience

Maybe of interest to other folks who haven’t yet deigned to dip their toes into Star Citizen is the new “new player tutorial”. It’s apparently rudimentary, but I saw a video on it, and it seems that it will guide new players through waking up in the HAB, eating and drinking, getting around, buying things, working with ships, and flying away. There’s really too damn much in Star Citizen already to cover in a single, comprehensive tutorial, but I’ve seen so many people asking basic questions in chat (not that I am blasting those folks; again, lots of systems to learn) that even having this most basic stab at an intro is a welcome feature.

That’s all the good I have to say about 3.19.

Ever More Tedious – Physicalized Everything

As I have said before, Star Citizen is more of a simulation than anything else anyone might want it to be. The game animates getting out of bed and into chairs, elevators and trams travel actual distances, and CIG wants to push this paradigm to the limit, continuing with physicalized ship parts in 3.19.

Previously we would use a UI to select a ship weapon, engine, shield generator, or mining head, select the ship we wanted to attach it to, and that would be it. Now, players can unlock the mount points on their ships and, with the aid of a hand-held tractor beam, drag it through the air to add to or remove it from their ship. CIG claims that this is at least a stop-gap measure, as using “beams for everything” has become a kind of joke in the community.

While the UI method was immersion breaking, the amount of time it should take to outfit a ship from bow to stern is going to be a massive time-sink for anything larger than a Hornet. Some ships have hardpoints which can’t even be reached on foot, so I’m not sure how players are expected to deal with those. Maybe throw components into the cargo and fit them via EVA? That’s a dumb idea. This is another “tier 0” implementation so I’m going to assume that it’ll get better. I could see large hoists or industrial sized tractor beams in hangars being used for larger ships or scaffolding for the medium ships.

Screw You, Soloists – Indirectly Nerfing the Prospector and Other Mining Changes

This is the section of the patch that really dusts my doilies. I have decided that I am an “industrial player” in part because mining is chill, and in part because mining is lucrative. The go-to mining vehicle has been the MISC Prospector, shown above. This is a one-person ship, the first mining vessel, and as it is rentable in the game once a player has enough aUEC, is one of the best ways to get a nice nest-egg started while also stepping into a more complicated bit of gameplay.

Back somewhere in time, we got the Argo Mole. This is a three-person mining ship, featuring three independent mining beams that can work on three different rocks at the same time. It has more capacity than the Prospector and leans more into CIG’s incessant march towards making everything multiplayer-required*. The problem with the Mole, though, is that there’s nothing that requires a Mole. There were no benefits to training all three lasers on a single rock, and there weren’t that many rock formations that accommodated three independent miners.

3.19 rekajiggered mining again, even though CIG claimed they were laying off it for a while. This time, pretty much every aspect of mining has been touched and I can’t cover everything as it won’t make a lot of sense to folks who don’t know a damn thing about mining in Star Citizen (and those who do probably already know anyway). The back-of-the-box take-home message is this: CIG have shuffled mineable rocks into specific pockets around the universe, have made life difficult for Prospector pilots who used to be able to solo many of these rocks, and have instead handed the keys to the mining kingdom over to Mole pilots, making multiplayer now the “preferred” (and almost only) way to go mining.

A lot is lost in translation there, so let me elaborate a bit. Mineable rocks used to be pretty much anywhere you wanted them to be. The asteroid cloud of Yela is a popular spot to mine, and planets and moons were also great locations. Personally, I went into the Aaron Halo, an unlabeled belt near the outskirts of the Stanton system, simply because it’s easier to fly through and is “secure through obfuscation”, meaning the belt is so massive and radar so broken that it would be difficult for griefers to find me. Anywhere we went we could find a range of minerals, so whether it’s Yela, a moon, or the Halo, we could find Titanium, Agricium, Borase, Gold, and other minerals. I never paid attention to the composition of rocks in a given area, but for me, it was always about “where do I want to mine” and not “where do I have to go”.

Now, if we want a specific mineral, we have to go to specific locations.

Here’s a graph I pulled from my org’s Discord, which was taken from reddit and compiled from data in the public test universe. The more profitable minerals are on the left, and the less profitable on the right.

While the percentages of lower-value ores increase from left to right, it’s the yellow highlights that show us where we should be looking if we want a specific ore. The “good news” is that Quantanium is now going to be rare; it was the cash cow that could pull in over 200,000 aUEC per run and the obvious meta. Other ore values have been adjusted to compensate and to push players in the direction of mining a wider array of rocks. For example, Gold has become the third-most profitable ore, whereas before it was somewhere closer to the middle of the scale.

“So what?” you may ask. Whereas before we could mine anywhere and take our chances with finding something valuable, now miners are being herded into known locations in order to find the ores that make mining worthwhile. When the opportunity shrinks, it’s easier for griefers and air-quote pirates air-quote to know exactly where to look for targets. This is, of course, completely on-message for CIG, so it’s not really unexpected, just very, very disappointing.

The second issue is that apparently the Prospector has been nerfed hard such that the sizes of rocks it can successfully mine has been greatly reduced. An org-mate who went out to the Halo last night reported that he could only find large rocks, none of which he could crack with the Prospector and the new meta in mining heads and consumables. Theoretically this makes a recent addition, “mining gadgets”, more useful. These items are designed to be placed on a rock to be mined — by hand — and increase the odds of cracking more difficult rocks. However, as the Prospy is a single-seater, this would mean the pilot would have to get up for every single rock, EVA out and place the device (which is non-recoverable), and hope it works. Or a friend could come along and sit in the bathroom until a gadget needs to be placed. Why not have multiple Prospectors lay into a single rock, then? Apparently, that got purposefully de-buffed, so that — and I quote from the patch notes — “…the Prospector will get a punishment for multiple prospectors firing at the same rock on instability”. Meanwhile, the Mole get a buff if multiple lasers from the same ship fire on the same rock, which is as it should be, but never was. The gist is that this will force players to take up the Mole over the Prospy whereas the Mole was nice, but kind of pointless in part because it was large and expensive, didn’t have any benefit to use multiple lasers, and required more than one player to operate*.

Scraping On-Demand – Salvage Missions

Alongside PES, 3.18 brought us the tier-0 implementation of salvaging. Due to the expected high number of wrecked ships in the game* the idea of collecting scrap for profit and crafting makes a hell of a lot of sense. Prior to 3.18, mining was really the only “mini-game” system we had, so the arrival of the Drake Vulture and the Aegis Reclaimer brought in some new blood for industrial-minded players.

Prior to 3.19, salvaging was a hunt-and-peck kind of profession. Like mining, it required that pilots ping an area, find signatures, and then decipher the “RS” values returned. Anything divisible by 2000 was known to be a wreck that could be salvaged, and the larger the RS value the larger the wreck.

While this “worked”, it ended up being a comedy of errors as people swore there were no wrecks to be found, while CIG claimed the spawns were happening, but were just not as prevalent as people wanted them to be. This probably hampered a flow of actionable data to CIG’s testing teams, so 3.19 has given us salvaging missions.

There are three types according to the patch notes: lawful, lawless, and unlawful. Lawful missions are theoretically intended for folks who want to take a mission but also chill out. Unlawful missions are for those players who are OK going where they shouldn’t be. Lawless missions fall in the middle, and support CIG’s ongoing “bring friends” mantra as anyone can show up, jack your ship, or destroy you and take your salvage (and salvage your ship to add insult to injury).

The thing is, even the lawful missions can involve combat, either because the NPC support is too weak to matter, or because CIG has declared it To Be So. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, there’s no way a solo Vulture can have a morning tea while trying to make a few aUEC without it turning into a fucking entourage disaster.

Eh…We’ll Get Estimates – Waiting for 3.20

I have decided that I’m going to sit this patch out.

Money in Star Citizen is a means to an end, and for me that end was really just to watch the numbers go up. I rarely upgraded ships except for the Prospector (mining heads, consumables, etc.) but since the entire mining experience has shifted to make Prospy pilots persona non grata so as to favor multi-crew mining with the Mole, I won’t bother spending money to buy gear for a ship that I can only use in designated areas that will no doubt be loaded with air-quote pirates air-quote who are there waiting for me.

Even though I know this situation is probably temporary so that CIG can balance the Mole in a universe full of Prospectors (and ROCs, I haven’t forgotten the wee ones), there is that looming shadow of the Game Yet-To-Come, where no player will be able to do anything alone other than silently sit in a chair. Just saying that throws open the doors to the bad-faith gamers who always ask, “why play a multiplayer game if you’re going to play alone?” and I get that to some extent; grouping in Star Citizen is more than any other game I have personally played and is more valuable when played in a group than it is when played solo. It’s fun to be part of a crew; my org has a term for players who deal with the salvage output in the cargo hold: “trunk monkey”, because it’s funny.

But when we’re talking about things like needing players just for basic activities like equipping a ship in a timely manner, or skewing every single opportunity in a way that exponentially increases the risk of just trying to make a decent wage, then I feel that CIG is headed down a dark and ultimately hazardous road where they actively work to alienate the overwhelming bulk of potential players out there who might be interested in the systems Star Citizen offers, but don’t want to sacrifice their enjoyment to become the enjoyment of other players. I don’t say that just in terms of PvE’rs and PvP’rs, but also for those times when I just want to jump in for a bit. I don’t want to have to spin up a whole platoon of other people just because I want to go mining. Some people might be happy to get on board, spending their own game time doing something that other people want them to do, and some people would rather not, as it tends to encompass a whole lot of social contract-level stuff like determining how to split profits and reciprocal calls-to-action later on, none of which I am against, but all of which turns the situation into a stressful job of managing meta-interactions that I have generally tried hard to avoid throughout my years of MMO gaming.

I know that the changes to mining are probably temporary, and that eventually all mining activities will have their niches that make them fun and profitable on a scale commiserate with their involvement. I do hope that CIG steps back, though, and takes a look at the “time and effort” involved in something like physically outfitting ships; I’ve been around MMOs long enough to know that the longest part of any group activity isn’t the activity itself, but the ready-up phase as members have to wait on those who waited to get their shit in order at the top of the hour. Plus, no one can be prepared always for those times when someone is looking for help because they can’t deal with a task by design, so there’s another chunk of change that causes downtime as interests align, gearing up happens, and travel occurs just so folks can get on-board. I worry that all of these “reality” QoL systems is just going to make ad-hoc play sessions untenable in the long run, and will push away people who just want to play the damn game.

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