The Oolite NPC ecosystem (and other questions)

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The Oolite NPC ecosystem (and other questions)

Post by cim » Fri Jul 26, 2013 12:50 pm

EDIT: the original question in this post - "Where do pirates come from?" - got an answer fairly quickly, which in the nature of things raised more questions on NPC roles and AI, the game economy, and other issues. Comments on any of the questions raised (even the ones which look like they were answered several pages back) are all still welcome.

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One of the things I'm looking at for 1.79 is system repopulation. The system populator adds a number of pirate, hunter, trader and other ships to the spacelanes - but currently the only ones that get replaced in 1.77 are the traders (theoretically other types can be: in practice they generally aren't). So the spacelanes tend over time to be populated solely by traders.

What I'd like to do is make it so that if you enter the system, wait half an hour, and then head in, you have an experience fairly similar to the one you'd have had if you set off immediately. For this to work, the system repopulator therefore needs to add sufficient new ships to the system to maintain a state similar to the initial one (excluding temporary disruptions such as the player actively getting involved in fights, of course). And this brings up the problem "where do pirates come from?". Every other ship type has a fairly obvious source.

The current hack I've got is that the system repopulator just picks a point on the spacelanes which is outside of easy visual range of the player, and magically adds some pirates to it. This "works", sort of, but feels very unsatisfactory for a game which isn't player-centred.

If the pirates come from the main station, they'll just get picked off by the aegis patrols (or worse, take out the aegis patrols). If the pirates come from witchspace, then there's a similar risk of the pirates getting clumped around the witchpoint in fights with incoming traders and patrols sent from the planet (and it doesn't answer where they came from before they entered witchspace). I'd rather not turn every rock hermit into something which also launches pirates - that would be quite a change to their current role.

So the obvious solution - and I'm having trouble thinking of ones which aren't variants on it - seems to be to add a new "pirate base" station, positioned away from the spacelanes (a long way away in the safe systems, if there are any at all, but much closer in dangerous systems). This gives pirates somewhere to launch from and indeed return to once they're full.

The problem with that solution is that it'll be about five minutes before the player injects up to it, drops a Q-mine, and injects away again - or stands off just outside the docking bay with a military laser or two, blowing up pirates as they launch for easy credits and Elite rating. And if it's that easy, it raises the question of why no-one else has already done it.

So ... any ideas? Is there a better way to get pirates into the system which I'm missing? Alternatively, is there a way to protect the station against casual destruction or "bounty farmers"?
Last edited by cim on Sat Aug 03, 2013 10:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by Cody » Fri Jul 26, 2013 1:11 pm

cim wrote:... seems to be to add a new "pirate base" station, positioned away from the spacelanes...
Make the 'pirate base' virtually impossible to find (no compass beacon), except by following a fully-laden pirate (or by immensely patient searching, perhaps).
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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by another_commander » Fri Jul 26, 2013 1:25 pm

Some possibilities could be:
- Make more than one pirate bases in each system. It seems to me more probable anyway that not all pirates launch from a single base in a system. Give no indications to the player of where they are located.
- Have some pirates coming in at the witchpoint anyway.
- You could pick a few traders from the ones already in the system (preferably the lone ones) at random intervals and switch their AI to pirate, simulating rare cases where a clean pilot has a "change of mind" and goes rogue.

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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by Disembodied » Fri Jul 26, 2013 1:26 pm

Whilst I am keen on the idea of pirate bases, for all sorts of reasons, pirates could drop into the system from bases sited elsewhere (especially if it's a more organised system: I'd expect the bulk of pirate bases to be situated in Anarchy systems, with a few scattered in other unstable systems ... and maybe one or two in e.g. Dictatorships, where they've struck a protection deal with the planetary government, but that's a more complex issue).

So what this would need would be a non-standard "pirate witchpoint" (or witchpoints), where pirates can enter off the main lane, and then move into position to intercept incoming traffic. What these points would look like is an open question: I don't think they should have obvious buoys, but maybe there could be a hidden buoy in an asteroid or somesuch. For handwavium, the the signal produced by this buoy would be encrypted and only available to members of the local pirate clan, so it wouldn't appear on the player's ASC (unless they performed some mission or other and joined/infiltrated the clan, etc. - and even so it would only work for the local volume: other pirate gangs in other areas would have different beacons).

This still brings up the problem of bounty farmers, to an extent. Perhaps a way around this is to have some sort of Q-bomb suppression around some (most?) pirate bases and pirate buoys: the player wouldn't know in advance which ones had it and which did not, and so would run the risk of more trouble than they could handle.

Another method would be to discourage casual bounty-farming by giving the pirates a touch of organisation: if the player does cause them serious grief (by attacking their bases and witchpoints), they take out a contract on the player: the player finds themselves meeting - more and more frequently - seriously nasty opposition, with vicious ships and lethal accuracy levels. A few hints and rumours around the station might help give the player a clue that they've made some serious enemies and should hightail it to pastures new, sharpish.

A third option - more controversial, possibly - is to restrict player access to Q-bombs. Seriously, would the Co-operative be happy with civilians flying around with easy access to terrifying weapons of mass destruction? Ones which can spill over and obliterate dozens of innocent ships, across huge areas? Maybe Q-bombs should cost a lot more, at least; and have only a few very high-tech (TL13+) sources, rather than TL7+. Maybe too they should only be available to players with Clean reputations who have at least done the Constrictor mission, if not the Thargoid Plans mission too.

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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by Cody » Fri Jul 26, 2013 1:51 pm

Disembodied wrote:... is to restrict player access to Q-bombs.
<nods> QCMs should be horrendously expensive - and very difficult to source.
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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by Diziet Sma » Fri Jul 26, 2013 2:33 pm

A combination of what another_commander and Disembodied said works for me..
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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by spara » Fri Jul 26, 2013 2:45 pm

cim wrote:...stands off just outside the docking bay with a military laser or two, blowing up pirates as they launch for easy credits and Elite rating.
Putting multiple docking bays to pirate bases might help with this problem.

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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by Cody » Fri Jul 26, 2013 2:53 pm

I presume a 'pirate base' station would be dockable, yes? I'd think only fugitives would be allowed to dock, though.
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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by Fatleaf » Fri Jul 26, 2013 3:02 pm

Cody wrote:I presume a 'pirate base' station would be dockable, yes? I'd think only fugitives would be allowed to dock, though.
Have a look at McLane's Anarchies He has whole stations that have been overrun by pirates and woe be tide anyone docking there with a clean rating!
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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by ZygoUgo » Fri Jul 26, 2013 3:24 pm

I would ask who are these pirates and how would they survive if the situation was real?
A single base would be too easy to destroy unless it was somehow near immpossible to find or attack by local GalCop forces, or anyone else.
A deep-space lodging that was ignored by truce because it has its own defences and patrols would be believable if it was only spawned occasionally, as run by local crimelords, more likely in an Anarchy.
It would be more sense if the Witch-In point was set in your navigation software, a deterrent solution to piracy by making the entry point easily guarded or patrolled, and therefore a setting that could be switched off. This would allow those with piratical intent (who don't have the protection of a mafia style organised gang) to avoid the space lanes (and patrols) until they are ready to go to work somewhere along the witch-planet lane. After surviving the robbery it would make sense to witch-out immediately [fuel allowing] or run to the system star, re-fuel and scarper to the next system, the journey to the star being off the lanes and therefore avoiding traps.
This is how I see this behaviour..

They would witch-in with a greatly increased area of randomness
Head parallel along the lane for a randomly determined distance
Turn into the lane to join its traffic
Attempt piracy/scavenging until damaged or hold is full
[Witch-out immediately
OR
{Select point in space in the general direction of the system-star and run to it
THEN Choose random point around star and head there to refuel and witch-out}]

It would then be only fair to give the player a button to switch off the Witch-In enhancement too

Bases would have to be too well hidden for GalCop, the Navy, or the Military to find, and too well guarded for an organised attack by bounty hunters.
A crime-lords mansion/castle type of thing.
Numerous hollowed out asteroids could exist as part of their network of hidey holes, easy to replace if destroyed, but even then as a pirate you would have to be trusted by the crime-lord to reveal any of these smuggling points. A ship being followed wouldn't head to one anyway, so unless you stumbled across one by accident, you would never see them.

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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by Cody » Fri Jul 26, 2013 3:33 pm

ZygoUgo wrote:Bases would have to be too well hidden for GalCop, the Navy, or the Military to find...
Only the hard-pressed GalCop - no navy or military.
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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by ZygoUgo » Fri Jul 26, 2013 3:39 pm

True, but a strong scenario should remain beleivable with OXPs too. I guess by some way pirate bases could be out of their normal jurisdiction

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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by Disembodied » Fri Jul 26, 2013 3:42 pm

ZygoUgo wrote:I would ask who are these pirates and how would they survive if the situation was real?
A single base would be too easy to destroy unless it was somehow near immpossible to find or attack by local GalCop forces, or anyone else.
A deep-space lodging that was ignored by truce because it has its own defences and patrols would be believable if it was only spawned occasionally, as run by local crimelords, more likely in an Anarchy.
Personally I think this is the sort of thing that would be set up in collusion with a relatively effective, but morally flexible, planetary government, like a dictatorship, or a corporate state. There are more effective ways of protecting a pirate base from local GalCop forces than hiding it, or surrounding it with defenders: you can just give the local GalCop bosses a cut of the proceeds, instead. Fighting is difficult, and expensive, not to say risky: who needs all that hassle, when you can have a nice thick wedge of tax-free credits, instead?

How this gets translated into the game is a trickier point. Even though systems are very big, if locations such as pirate WPs and bases are placed too far away from the main lane, then it'll take too long for replacement pirates to get from them to their lurking stations. But Cim's original time-frame called for "half an hour": that should be enough time at least for the first few replacements to travel (without torus) from quite far away to the edge of the lane.

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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by Wyvern Mommy » Fri Jul 26, 2013 4:29 pm

i would expect the pirates to come from similar places real world pirates come from. they either operate from systems where the government is unable to prosecute them, or turns a blind eye. that doesn't mean they only operate in poor and anarchistic systems, merely that they stage their raids from there. after all, the next rich system is only a jump or two away.
so i would expect most pirates to jump in and out of a system, rather than come and go from a super secret pirate base. though there might be some of the latter around and maybe the odd base in interstellar space as well.

but those bases would be easy prey for the navy. if anything else fails, drop a few tagged cargo containers and watch where they're going.
secrecy never works long anyways.

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Re: Where do pirates come from?

Post by Commander McLane » Fri Jul 26, 2013 4:40 pm

cim wrote:If the pirates come from the main station, they'll just get picked off by the aegis patrols (or worse, take out the aegis patrols). If the pirates come from witchspace, then there's a similar risk of the pirates getting clumped around the witchpoint in fights with incoming traders and patrols sent from the planet (and it doesn't answer where they came from before they entered witchspace). I'd rather not turn every rock hermit into something which also launches pirates - that would be quite a change to their current role.

So the obvious solution - and I'm having trouble thinking of ones which aren't variants on it - seems to be to add a new "pirate base" station, positioned away from the spacelanes (a long way away in the safe systems, if there are any at all, but much closer in dangerous systems). This gives pirates somewhere to launch from and indeed return to once they're full.

The problem with that solution is that it'll be about five minutes before the player injects up to it, drops a Q-mine, and injects away again - or stands off just outside the docking bay with a military laser or two, blowing up pirates as they launch for easy credits and Elite rating. And if it's that easy, it raises the question of why no-one else has already done it.

So ... any ideas? Is there a better way to get pirates into the system which I'm missing? Alternatively, is there a way to protect the station against casual destruction or "bounty farmers"?
The impression that Oolite (and indeed Elite) is giving to the player beginning with their very first trip from Lave to one of the adjacent systems is that piracy and pirates in the Ooniverse are ubiquitous. You run into them in every system, and you run into them all along the space lane. The ubiquitousness of pirates is practically one of the defining characteristics of the Ooniverse. They are such a common sight that in-between fighting off one after the other you don't even pose the question where they come from. They're just there, and you just have to deal with it. Only when the question actually gets asked, you begin to notice how odd that really is.

I believe that the only logical answer to the question—and therefore also to the problem of pirate replenishment—lies already within the diagnosis of the phenomenon of ubiquitous piracy. The answer is: pirates don't come from anywhere (outside), they're already there.

Pirates don't usually jump in. No "motherlode out there" would be capable of providing an endless stream of pirates for every single system in the Ooniverse. Thus having them jump in at the witchpoint is not the solution (a few exceptions notwithstanding).

But the bulk of pirates must come from within the system. Spawning them at random locations is one possible solution, but perhaps not fully satisfactory.

You already mentioned the fatal flaw with the next solution: some sort of pirate station: if it's there, it's detectable; and if it's detectable, it's doomed. Period. You can't protect a station against destruction or bounty farmers. Even putting it way out of the space lanes and not giving it a beacon—as suggested by some above—is not a solution. I guarantee that not ten minutes after releasing 1.79 an OXP will exist that gives beacons to all of the new pirate stations. Scripting-wise that's a piece of cake. And the inherent illogicality of an OXP has never prevented it from being made and being used.

The good thing is, however, that no special station is needed. There is already a place in every system that is big, has plenty of resources, and is capable of holding and launching a practically unlimited amount of pirates. It's the only place where all the pirates you meet when jumping in could have come from in the first place.

It's the planet.

It's the only logical solution, because it's the only logical answer to the original question "where do pirates come from?". If they are ubiquitous, they must be local, and local everywhere.

So, here's my proposal: let pirates be launched from the main planet in regular intervals (just like shuttles already are). Do it outside the aegis, in order to prevent them from running into the planetary patrols.

And an additional proposal: let them sneak from the planet. Pirates would not make a big fuzz about being pirates under the eyes of their planetary authorities. They wouldn't want to alert the local police—or the local tax office, for that matter. Thus it would be inconspicuous ships starting from the planet, not involving themselves in anything illegal or dangerous until they've reached their lurking position somewhere out on the lane. In other words: they would not have pirateAI, and wouldn't be identifiable as pirates while in the planetary vicinity. They should head for a certain (random?) point along the space lane, and only switch to pirateAI when they've reached this point. This would be consistent with the current behaviour, where pirates can be found at any point along the line, lurking but not patroling.

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