Since then, we've all settled down a bit, but I keep seeing people jump into these arguments with little context and have to get out all the arguments all over again. So, I'm going to use this post to summarize my view.
Full disclosure, I own an Idris-P. I bought it to support a game that I'm already getting a lot of joy out of even before its release and because my game time per week is fairly limited (I work a lot and have 4 kids). Based on dev comments, it would likely take "me" years to get this ship the traditional way with my available game time.
My view is that this ship should be permitted to be flown and used by a single player with a certain level of NPCs. This includes the "2 wingmen rule" covering 2 of the fighters the ship can carry. I'll expand on the effectiveness of this ship in such a situation later. This is "not" because I'm some loner or anti-social. I have a numbers of friends in the community and I have 4 kids to man the thing with.
My reasons for wanting the ship to retain this ability is thus
- Scheduling a bunch of people to fly in a single ship is a major logistical challenge for all but the biggest guilds. Having the option if your friends happen to be on is great, but twiddling my thumbs sounds really boring. I'd rather my friends meet me somewhere or simply use the "hop-in" NPC mechanics (that have already been described by CIG) to help crewing the ship.
- I really don't want to get "stranded" in the ship. If the Idris requires 5 people to just get around or defend it, then a couple friends leaving the game could have disastrous results. This is a game where you can just recall / teleport / hearth home if the raid breaks up.
- Many of the crew positions are only exciting during combat. Who wants to sit in a turret for half an hour while I scan an asteroid field? Even the guy at engineering or a power-control station would be falling asleep. In my opinion, every position besides captain (helmsman) needs to be optional through automation or hirable NPCs.
[EDIT March 31, 2014] - I'm getting some confusion on the WoW reference here. The appropriate analogy to 'raid' in SC is not just flying around in a multi-crew ship like the Idris (making trade runs, exploring, light combat, etc.). 'Raid' in this context is high-end many-player combat, which is fleets of ships or multiple capital ships. I cover the ways to segregate these kinds of combat mechanics later in the article.
Also, despite my owning this ship, I really believe requiring multiple players for basic functionality breaks the ship for all involved (current or future owners). So, bare with me here and hear me out ...
Now, from what I've seen there are two big arguments / concerns over the Idris maintaining this ability.
- Some are concerned that if solo flight is allowed, then no one will have motivation to be a crew member. Thus, those looking forward to multiplayer crew ship functions won't be able to get their friends out of their ships.
- Some are concerned that this will upset the perceived "balance" in the game by putting "too much power" in one person's hands
Let's handle these separately.
On the first, multiplayer incentive concern, I think you need a reasonable balance and tradeoffs here just like any other ship and any other optional component. Speaking generally, any mechanic here should focus on the "carrot" rather than the "stick". You need a perceivable and reasonable bonus for using human crew members without overly punishing those who don't.
There are a lot of options here to have a proper tradeoff. CIG could use a lot of levers in the effectiveness vs cost vs player count "balance". For instance, advanced automation (computer controlled crew positions) may be the cheapest way to go, can be repaired, and it is covered under insurance. On the other side, NPCs (with varying skill ranks) 'usually' out perform automation (maybe some grey area for low-end NPCs / high end automation), are potentially (again with grey areas) more expensive, and 'die' in combat.
Players are the most 'expensive' (in terms that they are real man-power) and potentially out-perform NPCs in a variety of functions (on average). I would venture to say that certain functions just aren't possible by NPCs. For a specific example of this, CIG could allow NPCs to mitigate damage (some power reroute) and repair out-of-combat, but in-combat repairs, intelligent routing, and fire-control could be PC only. Meaning that an Idris with some PCs has a distinct survivability advantage over only an NPC / automated ship. This is just a proposal, but it makes the ship with the more humans have a distinct and desirable advantage in combat while allowing the ship to be useful when flown by one player.
[EDIT March 31, 2014] - Capital Damage Mitigation as a crew efficiency tradeoff mechanism: To clear up some confusion here, I'm saying that all positions could have effectiveness differences, but the ability to repair systems during combat is the best to segregate high-end combat from casual encounters. Making players much more effectiveness in this makes a ships with lots of players very durable and an NPC-only ship a bit of a "glass cannon". Fire teams, repair crews, engineers, etc. are the positions I'm talking about. If you have crew to support this, you could take multiple torpedo or capital STS hits and remain in the fight. The 'solo' ship would either be crippled or forced to flee (to try and repair out of combat) shortly after taking a serious hit.
So, just like all upgrades, these systems (or people) are loaded 'strategically' for the situations you expect. If you are making relatively safe trade runs, then you keep cost down by running full auto. If you expect some trouble with pirates: time to hire a handful of NPCs for that run. If you are making a run into Vanduul territory, then you may want to ping your friends.
Now on to the second concern: Game "balance". I use quotes here as I believe this game is fundamentally not balanced in the way that many people argue. There are lots of comments on the forums about how all players should be equal or that this is a "skill" game only. Well, that is patently incorrect. This game does not balance combat that way nor has it ever.
Let's take a look a basic set of ships, an Aurora and a Hornet. One of those is a starter ship with a basic weapons loadout and the other is super fast and agile turret meant for "space superiority". Yes, an Aurora could destroy a Hornet in dogfight, but the odds are very much against it.
Let's take another example: That same Hornet against a Starfarer. A ship that is meant to dominate dogfights against a ship that primarily hauls gas and liquids. Not exactly fair huh?
The ships all have logical tradeoffs that we commonly refer to "rock-paper-scissors" balance, but I don't think a lot of people stop and think about what this means. It doesn't mean all the ships are balanced in combat scenarios, nor does it mean all tradeoffs are equal. What it means is that all ships have a weakness that some other ship / weapon can exploit. Conversely, there is no one ship that can exploit all the weaknesses of all ships.
This does not mean that any player can expect to beat any other or that any fight is guaranteed to be "fair". It means that if you want to beat some specific ship, there is some way in-game that allows you to have an advantage over it. You may need to be flying a specific ship or have a specific loadout, but that is how it is done.
In practical terms, it means all "balance" in this game is strategic, not tactical. You have to pre-think what you'll take with you on a patrol / mission / cargo run, pick a variety of ships for your squadron, avoid combat with ships you are loaded out for, etc. It also means that it does not make a lot of difference to you how many players are on the ships you encounter as the "strategic" decision is this equation is already made.
The natural question here is: what is the "rock" to the Idris "scissors"? Well, bombers, of course. There are and entire class of ships (e.g. the Gladiator and Retaliator) whose primary purpose is fighting / destroying capital ships. These are ships which cost a fraction of the capital ship cost, but can destroy ships many times their size. The Idris is the smallest capital ship by far. How many torpedo hits do you think it will take?
So, if one person in a Retaliator (potentially with 2 NPC wingmen) can destroy an Idris, why is the "solo" Idris overpowered?
When this question is usually asked in threads, many get annoyed by the possibility that the Hornet (or any non-bomber) would have an issue with the Idris, citing that as the "balance" issue. All I can say is that is how "rock paper scissors" combat works. If every ship could destroy the "scissors", then there is no reason for the "rock". You have to have a bomber (or another, specially equipped capital ship) to defeat a capital ship.
If you're planning a group to go into combat in the persistent universe, then you may want to throw a bomber in the mox. Skill is not just knowing how to fly and shoot. It is also the ability to pick fights you can win and escape the fights you can't.
[EDIT March 31, 2014] - Another point on "balance" here: Death is very harsh in this game. An Idris could take days or weeks to replace via insurance. Captains will be incentivized to be VERY careful when choosing when, where, and how to take this ship out of dock. Crewing with NPCs is not a light decision and risk is heavy component.
The Role of the Idris
To expand on the tradeoffs here, I wanted to also clarify my view of the ship's role in the game. A lot of people seem to be confused and basically assume the Idris is some jack-of-all-trades supership that is literally good for everything.
There are a lot of use cases that I think it would be very poor for such a ship (especially solo):
- Exploration: Jump point have sizes, asteroid fields have navigation challenges, etc. An Idris could carry ships used for exploration (due to it's long range), but that's a bit tangential and gets to a pro below
- Piracy: Some piracy will will work and some won't, but being solo negates most of the advantage. The ship will likely be too slow, is not stealthy, and can't really board smaller ships. Most prey will just hit their afterburners and get gone. That said, it could be interesting in a large capital capture, but won't be the direct boarding craft
- Mining: I'm going to go out on a limb and say big military ships and asteroids don't mix. As with exploration, the Idris could potentially carry such ship
That said, the Idris will likely be good at
- Support: Refueling, repairing, point of operations, C&C, etc. As above, the Idris likely won't be exploring or mining itself much, but it could support operations of such. The support role could extend to piracy and the like, but it would need to rely on other fighters to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
- Trade: At the moment, it is biggest / best defended trade ship. We don't know the tradeoffs of fighters vs cargo, but either way the ship will be interesting in that role.
- Patrolling: The guns of the Idris is likely good for assaulting or protecting an open region of space. The ship will likely have an issue intercepting, but that what the fighters in the belly are for.
- Entry-level capital combat: Likely not a solo endeavor, but the rail gun, STS gun, and STS missile racks on the Idris-M basically makes the gun a big bomber. I expect the Idris to always hold this kind of role, but big orgs will likely favor bigger ships as they acquire them. The only advantages here is the Idris 'relative' speed and the fact we know it can land. We 'think' the Javelin can also land (from concept pics), but the rest are TBD and could be orbit-only or even persistent (always in space like the Bengal). The Idris will always need support though as they will be the easiest for bombers to pick off.
So, I think that covers it. The Idris is not a God ship. The ability to "solo" the ship doesn't really change the game for everyone. This is not EVE as small ships will always matter.
[EDIT March 31, 2014] - I've gotten some suggestions and thought up some new ways to solve other people's concerns. So, I've added a new section here:
From Leopard: You could add some balance in crew switching time. Meaning that if the captain wants to reroute power, then the time to switch NPCs or simply run over to the station is, in itself a balancing mechanism. I'm a bit mixed on this as it seems a bit immersion breaking (I'm not 'really' solo), but it is worth mention.
Hop-in Crew Finder:
Some people are very concerned with a perceived secondary market of people that really want to crew ships or people that are waiting on their insurance to payout and have some hours (or days) to kill.
My suggestion is this: Hiring large crews should be a 'mostly' hop-in / hop-out experience (with some exceptions) that can be somewhat equivalent to "Dungeon Finders" / Group Finders in other games. Hiring someone to help to you fight a battle is much more appealing than hiring them to sit in a chair for 30 minutes while you fly around scanning. They should be able to queue up as a telepresence operator and control an NPC just like the system already described as already in the game, but they would be given a role (just like other MMO "finders") and potentially even some role specific restrictions on where they can go and what they can access (no scruffy deckhands on my bridge!). Special consideration may need to be given to friendly fire, but that likely is a deeper debate.
So, I run under NPCs until I get somewhere closer to combat and I put in a request for a fire team or a turret team. People in the queue hop into my NPCs and get paid (out of my pocket) based on their performance. Fire teams are paid based on system repair time and turrets are paid based on kill / damage rate. "Pay" could be both money and potentially reputation (based on my alignment and the fight itself). You could also potentially request players to hop-in to help repel boarders when the fight turns south.
Lastly, when you request operators you could also add an option to specify a prefered organization to fill the roles. Pay could then be based on your relation to the org and some orgs that are known for certain roles could cost more (e.g. a elite merc guild could cost a lot more to repel boarders). You may even get guys operating for free (rep only) from your own org, which gives some fiscal advantage to big orgs that can fill these roles.