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Escorting Ships

#1
This topic holds the discussion of escorting missions, the common problems in other games, and the best way/s to implement these missions.

Also see:
viewtopic.php?f=6&t=303
Mechanics of formations / following / escorting

Problems outlined include:
-Convoy speed faster than own speed (can't keep up)
-poor path finding skills
-Scaleable enemy NPC to character strength, while escorted ship is still very weak

Possible fixes:
-limited control over escorted ship


What would the Perfect escort system comprise of?
“The impact of space activities is nothing less than the galvanizing of hope and imagination for human life continuum into a future of infinite possibility.”
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Re: Escorting Ships

#2
I don't think the pathfinding will be a huge issue, given that it's all in wide-open space.

A simple fix would be to scale the convoy's strength and speed to that of the player like the enemies' would be, but in order to make it a challenge, drop a few extra ships on the enemy side.

While we're discussing escort missions, perhaps there could be a blockade-running variant where you have to slip a convoy past a few capital ships in order to reach a wormhole, station, or planet?

You know, as opposed to the typical "fight off a couple waves of fighters."

And maybe also rewards relative to your prowess as a defender? If the escorted ship takes very little damage, you get paid really well, but if it's nearly broken when you reach your destination, you get paid less.
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Re: Escorting Ships

#3
Excellent, would really love some discussion surrounding this type of mission, as it's certainly one of the bread-and-butter for this type of game. Love the discussion that's already been going on on the previous thread.

As you discuss possibilities, try to keep in mind that LT missions are not "spawn-based." This is an important detail and strongly influences how these missions will play out. When you take an escort mission, it will genuinely be because the AI feels that it needs protection for flying through a particular sector of space. Furthermore, if you encounter enemies, it will be because they were already in the region, saw/scanned the convoy, and decided to strike. I will not resort to spawning them just because you took a convoy mission.

Making these missions interesting in this type of setting is both more challenging and less challenging than usual. It's more challenging because you won't necessarily always see action, because pirates may or may not choose to strike during the convoy, so you may find yourself being of literally no use for the entire duration. On the other hand, when things do happen, you have the satisfaction of knowing that they happened organically, and that you've actually had an impact on the universe.

So, try to keep your discussions framed in these terms, and let's try to make it as interesting as we can make it :)
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.” ~ Henry Ford
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Re: Escorting Ships

#4
JoshParnell wrote:... try to keep in mind that LT missions are not "spawn-based." This is an important detail and strongly influences how these missions will play out. When you take an escort mission, it will genuinely be because the AI feels that it needs protection for flying through a particular sector of space. Furthermore, if you encounter enemies, it will be because they were already in the region, saw/scanned the convoy, and decided to strike. I will not resort to spawning them just because you took a convoy mission.
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Re: Escorting Ships

#6
With a smart AI, would they be willing to hire an escort ship that can't keep up? I doubt it, unless there are other factors like you have a large amount of firepower and expected trouble!

Which raises another question, if NPC's post missions, can they then deny them to unsuitable candidates?
“The impact of space activities is nothing less than the galvanizing of hope and imagination for human life continuum into a future of infinite possibility.”
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Re: Escorting Ships

#8
Grumblesaur wrote:Would they even be posting missions, or would they be buzzing you over the radio while in space?
Presumably both, depending on the situation, but generally the former.
jawdan wrote:With a smart AI, would they be willing to hire an escort ship that can't keep up? I doubt it, unless there are other factors like you have a large amount of firepower and expected trouble!

Which raises another question, if NPC's post missions, can they then deny them to unsuitable candidates?
This is a very good question. Surely there will be some kind of "criteria," just as in real life, so that only skilled pilots with a good "resume" will be considered for high-value jobs. I think we can build a reputation system that is even more in-depth than usual for this kind of game. I would actually very much like to see something like a "resume" system in-game, where NPCs carefully consider your track record with various types of missions before giving you the job.

So when you start out, you really will need to work smaller/less-well-paying missions to make a name for yourself before you can start getting big deals.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.” ~ Henry Ford
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Re: Escorting Ships

#9
Taking that into account, are there any other issues? Seems rather straight forward to me, now.
“The impact of space activities is nothing less than the galvanizing of hope and imagination for human life continuum into a future of infinite possibility.”
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Re: Escorting Ships

#10
im quite sure some will love this system especially if your able to forge your 'resume' and have a lovable pirate (Hardenberg) appear to be a reputable guardianship with a decidedly nice success rate. XD
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.
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Re: Escorting Ships

#11
If there is going to be a in-depth reputation system would it be possible to fake the reputation? Like if you wish to escort a convoy carrying very valuable materials you could use a fake reputation and get yourself a job to escort the convoy. And when you are out in the middle of space you suddenly turn on the convoy.

EDIT: Realised that you could just attack the convoy, or that you could work for a real reputation to escort it. But you get the idea of what I mean.
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Re: Escorting Ships

#12
.
Criteria for getting the mission in the first place
jawdan wrote:With a smart AI, would they be willing to hire an escort ship that can't keep up? I doubt it, unless there are other factors like you have a large amount of firepower and expected trouble!
Which raises another question, if NPC's post missions, can they then deny them to unsuitable candidates?
Grumblesaur wrote:Would they even be posting missions, or would they be buzzing you over the radio while in space?
I would expect that if you don't match their criteria or if they thought you were a pirate, they would never tell you about their plans of flying with an expensive cargo.

The speed of the convoy should be clearly listed in the job offer so you know what you're getting into.

The criteria should be few and simple so the system stays manageable. I'm thinking...
  • Reputation (obvious)
    This could include the percentage of escort missions that you did complete successfully. I'd consider that an important factor.
  • Expected amount of trouble. No idea how your universe is organised and what parameters would apply.
  • Present protection. That you are the player does not mean you're #1 on everyone's list.
Picking up a mission in deep space might be possible if a convoy in transit feels like it doesn't have the desired level of protection.
Could be because some escorts were actually destroyed by pirates.



Hard cap time limits

Not just no but hell no. Escort missions are always the most demanding mission type in any game and adding artificial pressure doesn't make them any more interesting, only aggravating.



Payment

Unlike in X3, the payment for the protection of a convoy should not be higher than the cost of all ships in the convoy plus the cargo they are carrying. =P
The only way that makes sense is that you can get a share of the profit these merchants are making.
Escort missions - due to their complexity - should mean a sizable relation boost, though. Much more than a simple "go kill this" mission.

In rare cases it can be "unique" cargo like prototypes, VIPs, or something like that where the worth can greatly exceed the "machine parts" or "passengers" they are transporting.
In these cases you could also have other interested parties looking for specifically that cargo.
While the mission wouldn't display something lame as "Difficulty: Hard", the unusually high payment for a simple escort should tip you off...

Payment is a place where time can be a factor.
If the convoy arrives within x km of the destination within the intended time, you get the full payment. After this time, the payment starts ticking down. Nothing personal but time is money.
The longer you delay the convoy with your stupid fighting stuff, the lower your payment.

Damage to convoy ships should also be a factor. If you can prevent potential pirates from even getting close to the convoy, this should be rewarded.
When you lose an entire ship in the convoy, you shouldn't get any payment at all. You screwed up by the numbers, after all. You can still get the "mission completed" if any ships reach their destinations so you don't automatically reload. You keep the bounties on killed pirates...



Mechanics and AI

This is the tricky part and the true reason why "escorts suck" in so many games.

The player should get limited control over the convoy ships.

1. An order to WAIT.
Sometimes stragglers need to catch up, restoring the proper formation.
Sometimes you need to catch up because you intercepted a pirate formation far out and now you're way out of position to cover the convoy.
This would also cover the issue of you flying a "too slow" ship. If you're slower than even the freighters, naturally you won't get the full payment for the job.

2. The ability to give the leading ship one waypoint order.
Once the waypoint is reached, the leading ship gets back to flying towards the port of call.
This waypoint will not be accepted if it leads the ship further away from it's destination than it currently is.
This way you can lead your convoy around obstacles like an asteroid field or a pirate base that you know about. The player's planning or his knowledge about the lay of the land could be a major factor in the success of the mission.

You could even fly a fast, stealthed scout and find pirates and such before they find your convoy, then weave your ships around those... obstacles.
If you have pirates on your scanner (if such a thing can be told from a scan) and those pirates never attack the convoy, the merchants are perfectly happy about that and extend your "mission time" when they arrive.
This works for both avoiding the attackers as well as spending time to intercept and kill them while telling the convoy to wait. You are not punished for doing a good job.
With this system you could do a "perfect" escort mission without even firing a shot! Be the Sun Tzu of escort missions. =)



AI escorts

You may not be the only escort this convoy has hired.
These AI escorts do their own thing and won't listen to you.
Whether they get destroyed or not is not part of the success conditions. It would be a good idea to try and keep them alive, though, because they might just increase the chances of getting the full payment for the real mission. =)



Not sorry for the Wall Of Text. This is not a simple issue that can be explored in 3 lines.
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Re: Escorting Ships

#14
Payment is a place where time can be a factor.
If the convoy arrives within x km of the destination within the intended time, you get the full payment. After this time, the payment starts ticking down. Nothing personal but time is money.
The longer you delay the convoy with your stupid fighting stuff, the lower your payment.
Errr...just effing NO.
My "stupid fighting" is most likely what ensures that the bloody convoy arrives in one piece. If I get punished for actually protecting the convoy, that'll be about the first and the last time I'm taking on such a mission type. Also, this DIRECTLY contradicts your preference for no time limits. If I get no money despite the convoy arriving, then it doesn't matter to me whether the mission is tagged as failed or not - It failed to generate revenue for the trouble I had, and I will avoid such mission types in the future, especially since the expected opposition is extremely hard to predict.
This would also cover the issue of you flying a "too slow" ship. If you're slower than even the freighters, naturally you won't get the full payment for the job.
This is to be avoided at any cost - if you're the slowest ship in the group, then the convoy follows YOU, since they can easily keep up, and if you're faster, then you will simply follow the convoy's slowest ship. I agree with the necessity to restore formation, but one of the basic concepts behind driving/flying/whatevering in a convoy is that the slowest craft sets the speed for the whole convoy.

Actual integration into the group would solve a lot of problems - maybe simply make the escort group a temporary part of the fleet, and then simply give a destination, instead of sending the convoy off on it's own and have the player tag along riding shotgun. I have no qualms about letting the player do the actual course plotting for the group in general.
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Re: Escorting Ships

#15
Hardenberg wrote: Actual integration into the group would solve a lot of problems - maybe simply make the escort group a temporary part of the fleet, and then simply give a destination, instead of sending the convoy off on it's own and have the player tag along riding shotgun. I have no qualms about letting the player do the actual course plotting for the group in general.
Yeah trust the guy with the jolly roger with navigating your convoy transporting prototypes and VIPs... joking aside I agree with at least some control over the convoy like ordering them to follow, wait, flee and the like.

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