10ftC Spawns Idris Krewfuffle

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(Citizen Star News) - 2014-03-04 - Pardon the pun, but there was a bit of a kerfuffle over Idris crews following the 10th episode of Ten for the Chairman, in which Chris Roberts stated he really hadn't decided whether or not the Idris would be crew-able solo. Forums lit up with polls and threads with expressions of opinions one way or another. With the occasional heated exchange even.

Full disclosure: Author pledged Space Marshal (what is now called a "War Pack") so has an Idris-P.

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Clearly the Idris is a big ship. We are now being told that it has grown to 240 meters in the hands of the Foundry 42 team, who've expanded it for better story telling for Squadron 42. It's listed in the ship specs page as 140 meters, although Jump Point issue #15 "Corvette Winter" disclosed that it had grown to 180 meters quite some time ago. Initial reveal of the ship design here on June 29th 2013, had it at 140 meters.

The specs page show the max crew as 10, although this would appear to be attached to the long obsoleted 140 meter version. We don't have a rating for minimum crew, which would be quite relevant to this conversation. Many have speculated max crew may grow to 15-25. The Idris also carries 3 fighter craft (although designed to have two active and one spare).

There have been discussions before, independent of the Idris, about being able to hire 2-20 NPCs (Non Player Characters) to help man stations (and perhaps up to 2 wingmen to fly escort) as well as ship AI being able to assist at various functions that may require crew. The theme repeated is that NPC and AI should not be better than a competent player in that spot.

So the ability to fly the Idris solo and how effective that would be hinges on minimum crew and how that relates to these max hirable NPCs. If the max NPCs is at the higher end, and exceeds the minimum crew of the Idris. One might be able to field an a fully manned corvette and even have a pair of wingman as a fighter air wing. If it swings the other way, a low hirable NPC count and a higher minimum crew, you may not even be able to get the Idris off the ground, or pilot it back if your PC crewmate is suddenly disconnected in space.

The Issues

Balance - Power creep if the Idris becomes a must have ship and it's more effective for 5 people to bring 5 Idris than man a single Idris, that's a problem. There aren't supposed to be any "I win" buttons.

The disconnect problem - If a player that is part of the Idris crew disconnects what happens? If it drops beneath the minimum required crew does the autopilot kick as it would if a solo-crewed ship member disconnected?

Ship Role - Increases in minimum required PCs to run an Idris changes it's role and frequency of use. Larger orgs will have an easier time of keeping it staffed than smaller organizations or lone wolves. Initially the ship was billed as a good exploration ship. But the requirement to keep it crewed with multiple players for it to keep flying, makes that untenable. It would become a short duration ship used for "raid" style PVE or just pure combat.

"Take over an NPC" mechanic changes force projection - If solo pilots can drive the ship and then call for friends when the shooting is likely to start, that is reason for concern in balance. Actually this topic might end up being an article in and of itself. The issue being that if you commit yourself as a crew member on a ship, you are stuck until that ship docks (in a recent Wingman's Hangar, Rob mentioned you might be able to essentially respawn for a penalty). You are essentially hostage to the captain. With that mechanic I would expect most people would prefer to npc take over, rather than commit their characters. Although other factors like how that effects the risk/reward ratio would factor in to how often players end up doing what.

Cargo Hauling - If the Idris is the most efficient and effective hauler it potentially obsoletes the other ships. Cost of operation is a big factor here. Unlike in combat where it may not be. It would be unfortunate if the Idris ended up being a more efficient or more used hauler than the Starfarer or Freelancer.

Social, Encouraging cooperation - A stated design principle is that the Idris may be a place to encourage, perhaps even require, players to work together to accomplish a goal, like getting the damn thing off the ground.

Property rights - As of this moment an Idris is ownable by an individual only. And most if not all were purchased by individuals. (Although entirely possible that some folk pooled money to pledge for this expensive ship.) While I don't think it's constructive to discuss any potential lawsuits or any of the more extreme talk going around on the forums. If players can't use a ship they spent a lot for, without help from others, there will be some unhappy backers.

Realism - In the future we do expect automation and AI to help do much of the work on these ships. That's why the future Navy seems to have far less crew per ship tonnage than we have today. Which follows real life naval trends over centuries. Bigger ships with less people. But at some point a ship is probably so large that a single PC probably shouldn't have an expectation that they can run it themselves. But how artificial should that be? If a lone person is on a functioning Bengal, should they be able to grab the pilots seat and steer the ship, or should the system say no, you need more people before unlocking that feature? Another point - How realistic is it to be able to hire NPCs to do things, but have to wait around for someone with that special quality of being a PC before a ship will function?

Multi-boxing - Normally there isn't much of a concern about running more than one client at a time in Star Citizen. Flying two ships when you are dealing with a simulator control system is pretty near impossible. But with NPCs there is an added element. If you can run say 4 NPCs per logged in player, you can run a second off a gaming laptop and just park the char in the XO quarters or at a non critical station. If the minimum crew is 6 on an Idris, this goes from can't fly at all to no problem and probably can fly the two hornets. Have to admit if this is allowed, I would likely do this myself. This is compounded when it's time for a fight and you have more NPCs that can be taken over by friends to suddenly be a very effective fighting force. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in my mind, more people playing and cooperating, even if solo players are capable of flying about and creating the initial conditions, but should be considered in the design stages. It has been suggested perhaps that there should be a max of a few NPCs per ship instead of per player, which is an interesting proposal if you want to limit the impact of multi-boxing on the system.

A Consensus Emerging?

There are still extremes of opinions, some still resent any NPC crew, while others desire the ability to hire unlimited NPCs to drive their empires if they can afford it. But for what it's worth a consensus does seem to be emerging. (With the caveat that this may be wishful thinking on my part since this is the way I would like things to be.)

Lone PC may or may not be able to a rudimentary job of piloting the ship if all other NPCs are killed or PCs disconnected, but a single PC with max hirable NPCs should be able to take off and fly with little problem.

Being able to AI at least some of the turrets and/or launch the fighter "wing" is far more controversial. There is little question that a lone PC in a multicrewed ship should be inferior to fully PC crewed ship of even roughly the same class. There is little argument that an Idris should be optimally functional without at least several human players. Solo + NPC crewed Idris should probably not be completely helpless, but an open question is whether or not they should be superior to a single fighter craft. After all the main contributing factor in a dogfight is supposed to be the skill of the human player. No I win buttons, although load out and ship choice should be a factor. So a single player in a Mustang or Hornet should have a chance of defeating a single player in an Idris, yes? And vice versa? Or include the two possible NPC wingmen vs the Idris? Shouldn't something like that be the metric?

In the end it is a Chris Roberts decision

Whether or not a consensus emerges, is only part of the equation and ultimately Chris Roberts and his merry band at CIG will make the call. This is wrapped up in a number of other critical game mechanics which will be key to setting the tone and balance of the Persistent Universe and so we'll just have to wait and see how this works out.

Please, let us know if we've missed any of the issues or sides of the argument.