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Mechanics of cargo transfer, trading, and scanning cargo

People write all these big ideas about trading and piracy - and skip a few steps so they're building on a vacuum.
Depending on how this is designed, the cargo handling all by itself can offer ways to interact with the game or in short... gameplay.

The important thing here is that there must be ways to visualise that something is happening.
As long as you can show that it is happening, you have no trouble convincing the player that something is happening - even if the mechanics behind it are automated and simplistic. Smoke and mirrors are an extremely important tool in games.

If you just instantly beam cargo from ship to ship, you're also missing out on all the interesting things that could happen to cargo in transfer between ships.
Someone might sell you an empty cargo pod and scoot while you are still retrieving it to check the contents. Or might quickly retrieve it again after your payment has been processed. Or... well, use your criminal creativity. =)

  1. Difference between ship supplies and cargo
    Internal cargo bay can be added in the ship designer but is more costly in terms of whatever points there are.
    It is the only way to store usable supplies like ammunition, fuel, or repair materials.
    If something is not in this cargo bay, it's not useful in a fight.

    The distinction of cargo mechanics would help in designing different ships for different purposes.
    A military ship would need it's ammo and supplies armoured but a merchant may opt for the far more efficient external cargo storage...
  2. Vulnerability of internal cargo
    Internal bays lie below the ship's hull / armour but it may be possible to target them specifically.
    Pirates would want to.
    You won't get a lot of useful cargo that way... but some.
  3. External cargo bays
    Think trailer truck.
    In the ship designer you define hardpoints for external cargo bays.
    A big merchant ship (like an ELITE Anaconda) could have 20 external hardpoints and be able to haul huge quantities of cargo... or be a base of operations for a nefarious band of pirates...

    Visualisation is important and you could see how many external bays a merchant is carrying, not to mention the gameplay implications.
  4. Vulnerability of external cargo
    If you are good with lasers, you might be able to destroy the hardpoint, leaving the cargo bay floating in space.
    Destroying the cargo bay will just get you a million parts of cargo items floating in space - usually turned into trash in the process.
  5. Actual cargo transfer
    • Smaller ships might not have the means to handle cargo at all.
      They would have to dock with a station or a similarly equipped ship to do so. (similar to a navy tender / oiler / tanker)
    • The next step would be the ability (built in with the ship designer) to exchange small cargo containers via cargo drones, little more than containers with engines.
      This would transfer cargo to and from an internal cargo hold.
      A standardised cargo container becomes a temporary ship and the only thing it can do is fly to it's destination.

      This - and docking at stations - would most likely be how free traders conduct business.
    • Going up in scale you have the huge cargo haulers / container ships of big shipping lines or governments.
      When an ore hauler is transporting a week's production of a mining station, transfer by small cargo containers would be inefficient.

      The biggest ships would have (big!) external cargo holds that they dock / detach outside on their hull.
      Like cargo containers for smaller ships, these cargo holds have a minimum propulsion system to fly them to their new owner / destination.

      Obviously the ship would have to stop for such a cargo bay to maneuver into position. That's not going to happen in a fight.

      Using tugs for that would greatly increase the complexity for no good reason.
  6. Towing cargo
    Also proposed in this thread but I'll briefly mention it because it could be part of the system.

    Ships (with the appropriate equipment) should be able to tow... things.
    Abandoned / derelict ships as well as cargo that won't fit.
    A small trader who "finds" a detached cargo bay could tow it to a station and sell it.
    The basic procedure is the same except that the bay is "detached" from the tractor beam instead of the hull.

    Towing should affect speed / acceleration.
    The ship designer obviously has some formula for mass/size versus engine power.
    If towing anything, you add the mass of both ships and compare it to the towing ship's engine power.
    There's your new speed / accel while towing this thing. Simple.

    This adds more opportunities for gameplay as well.
    A huge ore hauler has strong engines by necessity.
    If attacked by pirates, it could detach it's cargo bays and actually outrun the pirate's ships - especially if they are slowed down by picking up and towing their newfound riches.
  7. Piracy
    How could this be missing in a thread about "cargo transfer"? =)
    • Persuasion
      Drop your cargo if you want to live.
      Works with ships equipped for at least small-scale cargo transfer. Smaller ships aren't really worth the trouble in the first place. Pirates are businessmen, not psychotic murderers.

      This may need some... convincing... but that's just part of the job.
    • Blow up the target ship or damage the internal cargo bay.
      A lot of cargo is destroyed in the process, making this less than ideal, but some traders are unnecessarily stubborn.
    • If you come across a large, undefended cargo hauler, this is the jackpot.
      With a small and agile ship you destroy the hardpoints by which the external cargo bays are docked to the ship.
      That gets you a huge amount of fully intact cargo.

      It probably won't be easy to hit such a small system, especially with it being between cargo bay and ship, but that's your problem.
      If your aim is off and you destroy the cargo bay - lots of space junk.
  8. Scanning cargo
    There are pros and cons to allowing it.
    • Pro: you can have customs / police / military ship scanning traders for contraband.
      Smugglers would have to outrun / evade those pesky lawmen and not let them into scanning range.
      Or jam their communications and kill them - although you're probably poking the beehive by doing so.

      Without external scanning you would have to be boarded for customs inspections.
    • Con: piracy is easier because you don't bother with low value cargo.
      You gain more gameplay value by pirates having local informants and buying information about particular cargoes. Like today's pirates.
      The player pirate would have to deal with some shady port officials, always risking them blowing the whistle on this dastardly pirate. Like if he didn't pay what said honourable official was asking for the information.
    • Con: you can't cheat on a deal when the trade partner can immediately see what's in the floating cargo container / bay.
      Squandered opportunities for gameplay.
  9. Star Trek beaming cargo between ships
    Obviously the easiest to implement but basically no gameplay value.
    Not much to say about this. It's just there. *snap*
  10. Illegal goods
    Considerable overlap with "Scanning" but too big of an issue to just cram it in here.
    Use Illegal Goods instead.
There is no "I" in Tea. That would be gross.

Re: Mechanics of cargo transfer and trading

first of wonderful post I very much enjoyed reading it. I love your explanation on the cargo storage and the explanation of how cargo would work (being a miner ore freighter myself) and the pirate side of me loves the targeting hard-point and knocking loos entire cargo holds. also the way you describe transferring the large holds and picking up empty replacement holds (standardized hold sizes) would alow faster drop off rotations) ive always assumed sitting there for the full time but if i show up drop container en mass and then grab a few empty containers and im back out the door im back doing what i want that much faster. and i would be very much so in favor od scanner in the game mostly because they would already exist for scanning mineral deposits the cargo scanners would be refined versions of that. and would also make smuggling a possible career choice XD.(han shot only). as for the style of transport (physical or matter like the star trek transporters.) it should be a matter of preference Via in game Tech.
If I've rambled and gone off topic im sorry but i tend to be long winded as you might notice if you stumble across my other post XD. thanks for reading.

Re: Mechanics of cargo transfer and trading

Vague suggestions just mean you're expecting someone else to crawl into your head and do all the heavy lifting of considering the ramifications and how the player or AI actors would interact with such a feature.
Often the method of interaction is the valuable tidbit that ends up being used in some shape or form... for something completely different.

Lots of "piracy" suggestions are thrown around but what game mechanics could make them work? How does one "steal" cargo that's only a number in an array of cargo contents?
The answer is simple. You make it an ingame object that actors can interact with.
Unlike a number in an array, a discrete object opens up a lot more possibilities.

An object can have a legal owner. Cargo in your possession that you don't have the electronic paperwork for can be identified by AI ships as such.

An object can be mission cargo and can come with a cargo manifest detailing the recipient. The player could destroy a trader and complete it's delivery mission instead.

Selling stolen cargo in a law abiding star station would only get you arrested. You need a fence to sell it and he would not have an infinite capacity to get rid of such goods.
While a huge cargo pod may contain great riches, you only get a fraction of it when selling it through a fence. That allows you to let the player capture the huge cargo pods of bulk haulers without instantly eliminating the worth of cash.

Another consequence would be that the player can be the fence! How many games make that possible?
You buy up stolen goods at bargain prices, then use them as resources in your factory to produce completely legal trade goods.
Puts money laundering on the feature list! =)

Of course, there would be the risk of someone watching you fill stolen property into your factory's ore bunkers and having the entire installation marked as criminal.
More possibilities for interaction with AI ships / factions because you may have to enter a mutually beneficial business arrangement with the local police force...

You can spin that the other way, too. A more boring legal way. =P
The player could work for in insurance company, retrieving specific stolen cargo. Or in a more generic way - getting a finders fee for returning stolen property. And you better have a license for traveling with stolen goods! =)

The actual features I suggested are meaningless. What matters in a game are the possible means of interaction they create.

In X3, all "transported" cargo is just an ID and a number. Sure, it's easy to manage on the code end of things, but it allows only the most generic interaction.
For instance: An entire type of cargo can be illegal in the space of faction XY but if you pick up "legal" cargo from a destroyed ship, it's immediately yours. No strings attached.
This part of the game has never been designed for anything else and if you don't structure the game for something like that from the beginning, adding it as an afterthought becomes very very hard.
Last edited by Gazz on Sun Dec 09, 2012 6:07 am, edited 3 times in total.
There is no "I" in Tea. That would be gross.

Re: Mechanics of cargo transfer and trading

I have to say that I'd prefer not to have cargo scanning. for a couple of reasons including those you mentioned above.

this universe is about exploration, knowing too much makes both npcs and players feel all knowing. discovery adds to immersion, so if I'm a trader, or hauler, i don't want my enemy to see my cargo, sure, but what fun is it if your the pirate and you can see all the golden targets? there's no hit and miss.

also, adding in cargo scanning adds uneeded complexity. as a trader, i DONT want to have to worry about whether a given product is randomly illegal somewhere for some reason, remembering that all things are procedural. its just a mine field for a trader, they would be hard pressed to know what products they are carrying are legal in some places but not others.

a better solution for factions who don't like a given product that would consider it contraband or illegal, rather than giving them scanners, just simply make it so that their stations and planets don't buy it. the trader shrugs and moves on to someone who may want what they have.

however, i would like to see an exploration scanner and/or prospecting scanner (for ore and resources).

an exploration scanner can scan for unknown planets or large objects, can detect ships depending on size, but can also scan derelict ships floating in space, waiting to be salvaged.

in that same thought, it should also be possible to use a salvage scanner on floating cargo pods, in this way, players and npcs aren't completely in the dark, but they aren't all knowing either. a pirate can check cargo pods if loot has been dropped, and if there are a lot of pods, they could be forced to scan for a while, while the trader calls in help.

salvagers could scan cargo floating in space, and pirates could snoop in and see whats being transferred between ships, or just swoop in and tractor in a couple cargo drones!!

this would provide a good level of immersion without over complicating the game-play.

on the subject of scanning, i thought about exploration scanners, i was gonna post alot about it here, but I'll just go make a thread XD.

Re: Mechanics of cargo transfer and trading

an object can have a legal owner. Cargo in your possession that you don't have the electronic paperwork for can be identified by AI ships as such.
Ah, laws and legality/illegality.
Well, without a way to enforce laws, they're worth just about the paper they're written on. And here's where we need to look at the faction mechanics.

Without a central galaxy-spanning established authority, there is no one to enforce "laws" but the faction itself. Which means that if they intend to keep their transports safe, they need to escort them, or hire someone who can. If they want someone gone, they might hire out bounty hunters, send combat vessels and/or refuse to trade with the perpetrator, but in the greater shape of things, the extent of their rage is still rather limited. And I assume a faction neutral or hostile to them would gladly buy all the wares that happened to fall out of their transports after the pirates came knocking.

With a central galaxy-spanning established authority (aka "Space Police" or "da Empire") things get far worse for people with loose morals and itchy trigger fingers, as suddenly you're indeed reduced to finding fences and generally running like a dog, since the universe/game now suddenly throws nearly unlimited resources at the attempt to kill/fine your for things deemed "illegal". Which might include flying on the wrong side of the trading lane or painting your craft red on a Sunday.

EVE takes a mixed approach - if you misbehave in the core sectors, you get vaporized by the police near-instantly, while the outer sectors are more or less free-for-all carnage where the side with the bigger fleet wins.

With this being a single player game, and due to the fact that all those fancy guns need a purpose, I'm strictly AGAINST a central authority. You might encounter a large faction that acts as the de facto police/ruler of an area, but you're free to side with their enemies or simply move out of their sphere of influence. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Some other faction will appreciate your raiding efforts. Think of privateering and letters of marque.
And even if you don't fancy doing a bit of piracy every now and then, you'd surely appreciate the availability of clear and designated enemy targets, which can be engaged without fear of outside interference by some ominous central authority. We all like to shoot things on occasion, give us ample opportunity to do so.*

* = The X series was patently terribly at this - the "designated cannon fodder" was few and far in between, and never put up much of a fight outside of missions, making all those cap ships and carriers little more than scenery. And if you went the whole nine yards and started shooting at one of the major factions for fun and profit, you most likely deprived yourself of some useful and nearly-impossible-to-get-elsewhere item that made equipping your replacement ships a royal pain in the ass. But I digress...

I'm also strictly against screwing over players with arbitrary "laws", like globally flagging cargo as stolen. While of course selling stuff you just "liberated" from a faction transport straight back to them makes no sense, neither does when a newly discovered faction 12 parsecs away won't buy your ore cause, OMFG!, it's stolen!11!!

(Aka, the Skyrim syndrome. Obviously a stolen potato is clearly discernible from the other 49 in the bag, and as such will only be bought by specialized vegetable fences! At half price! We don't condone comestible theft in these lands, no Sir!)
Hardenberg was my name
And Terra was my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
The stars my destination

Re: Mechanics of cargo transfer and trading

Hardenberg wrote:I'm also strictly against screwing over players with arbitrary "laws", like globally flagging cargo as stolen.
Hardenberg wrote:While of course selling stuff you just "liberated" from a faction transport straight back to them makes no sense, neither does when a newly discovered faction 12 parsecs away won't buy your ore cause, OMFG!, it's stolen!11!!
That's why I limited this to cargo containers, which - just in real life - would be expected to have a registration, manifest, customs paperwork...

For generic items like your potato example it's just silly but for shipping containers it can definitely make sense.
You could leave the cargo to "cool" on some faraway moon and stroll past the cops looking for it or come across someone else's stash of illegal goods with an unknown degree of "legal heat".
Another possibility to make planets or moons useful...

There could be limits to the time or distance over with a particular cargo container remains illegal.
Crossing that time or distance without getting caught would be the tricky part.
There needs to be a middle ground between X3 (no tracking at all) and Skyrim (permanent, game-wide potato-tracking).

Hardenberg wrote:Well, without a way to enforce laws, they're worth just about the paper they're written on. And here's where we need to look at the faction mechanics.
Yah, but that's more of an AI / faction / roleplaying issue.
I was mostly looking at the mechanics or object structure that would make such a thing possible - in particular how an AI actor could discern between legal and illegal items.

Trying to discuss a wide range of ideas in a single thread hardly ever produces anything useful. It just drifts off in 10 different directions at once.
While I listed some possible consequences, I tried really hard to not flesh them out. (I'm just not very good at stopping, okay? =)
The ins and outs of a career as a fence / cop / repo man, for instance, warrant an entirely new thread or more... presupposing that there is a way for the game to track legality.

I mean, a game where you could have organised crime or insurance fraud simply as a consequence of how the system works. What's not awesome about that?
I wouldn't expect all of that to be "playable" in the release version but if the foundation for it is in the game... it's a possibility for years of expansions. Just like X3:AP still has code dating back a whole decade to X-BTF - only they didn't start with a good long term concept.
There is no "I" in Tea. That would be gross.

Re: Mechanics of cargo transfer and trading

I generally like this entire idea! good stuff!

However on the subject of scanners with all their pros and cons I believe that they should exist but they would have to be amazingly expensive. So you would still have the interaction between "the authorities" (belonging to powerful factions would be able to afford them) and the average pirate and trader would not be carrying them around (keeping the drop empty cargo crates mechanic). Also if you are of the pirating sort you still have your risk of getting nothing or hitting big until you become so wealthy that you can afford a scanner (at that point it would just be annoying to rob ships and get close to nothing) .

Re: Mechanics of cargo transfer and trading

Purchasing price has never balanced anything in a sandbox game.

It works in "crafted" RPG without constant "cash cow" random encounters. When the total amount of cash that the player can have in that act or level is limited, the price of an item is a real factor.

If some expensive item eliminates the challenge that made piracy enough fun to pursue the career, throwing away that challenge is not going to make the game more interesting.
It makes it easier to make money in a more boring way. What for?
I'm not against cargo scanners per se - they just have to be an addition to gameplay instead of taking something away from it.

I'm sure you could come up with more creative downsides than just a one time cost. =)
As long as it's not a quicktime event. These are the cancer of gaming.
There is no "I" in Tea. That would be gross.

Re: Mechanics of cargo transfer and trading

When it comes to scanning, you can modify it some in order to still get the thrill to try and evade the police.

For example, they can't scan, but police can request your manifest regarding your cargo. You can send them a doctored manifest, but maybe some stat that the police NPCs have would allow them to either succeed or fail at spotting a fake. A police NPC with a higher stat would take into account your faction standing, and past run-ins with the law to determine whether or not they suspect you of smuggling something, or if you're providing doctored documents.

Another possible solution is distance to the cargo vs. scan time. In freespace, you had to be pretty close to scan cargo, and larger ships took a LOT longer to scan. If these are pirates/police/3rd party hauling something that they feel is valueable, they may get suspicious of you before your scan can even complete and flee or fight. You may think the cargo is crap, but if the NPC doesn't, you may find yourself in a dogfight with some pirates over some bootleg DVDs.

You can also use the mouse-and-mousetrap idea as well. Different cargo containers take longer to scan or impervious to some scanners which require the player to buy better scanners, which in turn could be cause to buy even better container/shielding to prevent said scanners.

I agree with both the pros and cons of scanning though, but I don't want to diminish the thrill of sneaking banned materials into a sector.
Early Spring - 1055: Well, I made it to Boatmurdered, and my initial impressions can be set forth in three words: What. The. F*ck.

Re: Mechanics of cargo transfer and trading

Well then maybe instead of price...
(can be stand alone or combined)

1. limit the range of the scanners so you would need to be quite close (making people suspicious)

2. Have the scanner have to be attach to a point on the ship and can only scan in a limited range cone out from it ( the most logical thing then is to put it on the front but then it is more likely to be damaged in a fire fight you might also ask "What's the use of it being any where else?" but you could per say put it on the bottom of your ship and fly over what you want to scan then come back around to hit it if it looks worth while or attach multiple scanners to your AI scout ships instead of weapons to gather information in mist of battle reporting it back to your capital ship)

3. make it so you can turn the scanner on and off and while its on it drains fuel from your supplies

4. make the scanner system quite heavy so that it would slow down small ships considerable (lose maneuverability for knowledge about you enemy but not a problem for capital ships and cruisers)

5. make it so the scanner is more like a gun (shoots a magnetized device on to the object that scans the inside and sends the info back to the ship) so you would have to be stealthy while using it lest you provoke the person your trying to scan ( also makes it so it wouldn't work on smaller ships ) while still keeping the full sized scanners for the capital ships.

Also I believe that the scanners (not the gun though) should pop up a schematic of the ship scanned on the left side of the screen with additional info (like hard points weapons and (maybe) cargo). I sincerely love the idea of scanners because I believe it adds more of a strategic feel to the game, I would like the ability to scan a ship and cripple it by destroying weak spots (This however is extremely strong so you would have to have major negative effects for wielding a scanner so you are not forcing people to get a scanner on their ships at every point allowing play the entire game with out using a scanner and not feel cheated) or send multiple AI scouts to scan an enemy capital ship (suicide mission anyone?) to better direct me fleet to deal with it.

Re: Mechanics of cargo transfer and trading

Hm. Geez, I dunno...

If you make scanners too much of a pain in the butt to use and/or so large that they severely hamper a raiding craft's combat performance, then players will simply resort to ELITE-style piracy: Don't bother asking questions, shoot first, sift through what's left. Same thing will happen when NPCs are being dicks by ejecting empty containers and making a run for it. After the third time this happens, I wouldn't even bother asking them to drop their cargo anymore, but simply blow them to bits to make a statement on what I think about them trying to screw me over.

It's a single player game, I see little point in making such a fuss about seeing what the other ships lug around in their cargo holds. I'd rather see NPC selling/giving out tips on lucrative victims, not unlike the old game Pirates! did with the ships of the treasure fleet, instead of discouraging piracy by leaps and bounds.

Besides, a raider will always have the drawback of needing cargo space to carry the loot home, while a dedicated fighting craft can cram that space full of shields, guns, armor and thrusters. And using a second craft to haul the loot opens another can of worms, the dubious joy of escorting a hauler full of freshly stolen goods...
Hardenberg was my name
And Terra was my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
The stars my destination

Re: Mechanics of cargo transfer and trading

The realistic approach to the problem (as it is done nowadays by real pirates) is to bribe or blackmail someone and buy the information on where ships are and what cargo they carry.

That would allow for more NPC interaction which is a very weak point of many space games.
Why bother interacting with NPC when all they can tell you is stuff like where the north gate is? Lemme guess - it's kinda on the north end of the sector?

Any kind of gods eye view or too-good information is almost always the result of no design at all. Some coder implemented the RADAR somehow because one was required. Naturally accurate, as things are in code.
Game designers can't afford the luxury of thinking like coders because they have to create a believable world where things are far more fuzzy than binary.
So while scanner ranges can be quite long, they would be relative to the size of the target and the provided information (resolution) would also scale with range.
That's a lot more complex than simply showing everything but such is reality. =)
There is no "I" in Tea. That would be gross.

Re: Mechanics of cargo transfer and trading

I see it as 3 different approaches

not selective ( any thing and every thing can and will be raided ) ---- slightly selective ( scanned and deemed worthy / factions you dislike ) --- highly selective ( ships that you have bribed info: what faction, their schematics, what their carrying, and where they are going)

not selective seems best for fledgling pirates (attacking small transports willy nilly) while the other two seem to be for more established pirates and crime syndicates, I see no reason that all three can exist in the game with out destroying the other. I personally like the scanner idea because it would allow you to be a bit more "open world" instead of bribing some one ambushing the ship selling the goods then repeating (even though that does sounds like good fun for me). Also I think scanners would great in other aspects of the game, (an admiral/warlord would have great use for these in my mind) give logical explanation on how factions could figure out that you pirated their ships, ( you could also make a point to avoid ships that have scanner on them ) and maybe even add an extra level to the complexity of factions ( corrupt/criminal syndicate may scan very rarely while totalitarian/occupied systems may scan EVERYTHING constantly) but I digress.

Other opinions!
Only allow scanning equipment to work if the target vehicle is not moving.
Or if your ship is going in the same direction as it or else it might be hard to implement it at all if you are not a capital ship.

In final I just like scanners and I hope they are in the game :3

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