Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Industry - Extraction and Logistics

So we've discovered a resource: asteroids, ice, planetary resources, moon goo, intelligent livestock, etc. What do you do now?


The PI extraction system is nicely done, nothing extra to do there for the moment. I'll just point out that livestock don't necessarily come from planets: but there's no reason they can't! Rather than placing an extractor down, the unconscionable capsuleer could install a homeless shelter to attract the intelligent livestock. I won't pursue that any further.

Loot and salvage are pretty well understood, this will include my previous suggestion about alterations to drone poo and NPC drops.

Moon goo is pretty simple: for extraction from moons, we have discovered a quantity of "stuff" on a planet, and we want to extract it. So set up a POS, get that moon harvesting array up and running, and if you want to go faster simply install more arrays. There's a limited quantity of goo, ranging from barely enough to keep a single harvester active for a week through to enough to keep a POS packed with harvesters busy for a month. Yes, that's right, just a month. There will be something else to harvest on that moon sometime, so the POS isn't wasted.

Asteroids and ice: So in the discovery phase we've determined that this asteroid actually exists. Now what does it contain? There are plenty of suggestions on the forums (mostly from non-miners) as to how to make mining interesting enough for non-miners to like it enough to get "into" mining. GTFO. You attention-deficit people already have all manner of ways to entertain yourselves, why do you want mining to be "interesting"? If it was "interesting" more people would do it, thus devaluing the activity. If that sentence doesn't make sense, I guess mining really isn't for you.

For the purpose of my meandering discussion on the subject, let's assume that extraction from asteroids works exactly like it does today. The only twist on the old mining system is that all asteroids are simply labelled "Asteroid" and you have to either recognise the rock by appearance, or use a survey scanner and start tagging which rock contains which ore. So you warp to the bookmark you bought from that explorer, survey the field and tag the Pyroxeres, load your Pyroxeres crystals, start your lasers up and sit back with a beer while trading tall tales with your corpmates.

I'll just say this in passing: mining is already a great way to pass time while chewing the fat with corpmates, mining does not need to attract you in order to be a useful part of the game.

[Cue: pitchfork and torch-wielding rabble enters, stage right, claiming I'm a bot apologist or herder]

Material Logistics

So you've extracted "stuff" from "source". You now have a cargo hold full of junk to process somehow. That ore has to go to a refinery. That load of coolant wants to be turned into fuel blocks, which needs an assembly plant of some kind.

Here's how you'd currently do it: warp to a stargate, jump through the gate, warp to the next gate, yadda yadda.

That's too easy. It's too easy to the point that null sec alliances find it easier to buy freighter loads of supplies from Jita and ship them out to null sec, even when their area of null sec is swimming in raw materials. Mining in null sec is too boring, it's frowned upon, it's too dangerous, blah blah blah. There's a long list of excuses for why people don't perform much in the way of industry in null sec: the main reason is why bother when hauling stuff from Jita is so damn quick and easy?

Before you jump up and tell the world that you manufacture stuff in null sec, let me just ask you to explain why 425mm Railguns are so popular. I'm guessing it's because they have a convenient compression ratio for a bunch of minerals that you like. You're manufacturing from imported materials.

So why is hauling stuff from Jita so much easier than mining it in null sec? On one hand you have the difficulty of mining (it's usually easier and safer than mining in hisec, but null sec residents find it boring and thus more difficult to do than flying combat ships into bubble clouds around enemy POSes to shoot lasers into the darkness for hours on end). On the other hand you have the ease of hauling stuff from Jita. There are three factors that make hauling from Jita so easy: first is the ease of moving anything long distances when you can autopilot in hisec and jump through null sec, avoiding star gates with ease. The second is the ability to compress vast quantities of minerals into a small space by manufacturing certain modules in hisec, shipping them in a freighter, then refining them at the other end. The third is emergent from the first two: that is the fact that Jita is the major market hub in the whole game.

Transit and Storage

Let's look at the ease of moving stuff first: you set your course for, say, a station in Torrinos. Once you undock you warp to your instant undock bookmark, then start the warp & jump to the Perimeter gate, enable the autopilot and walk away for an hour. By the time you come back your ship is safely docked up in Torrinos. You transfer your goods across to a jump freighter, undock, and immediately jump to the first of a series of cynosural beacons in your alliance's navigation network.

The main contrast between this way of life and, say, living in a wormhole is that star gates have infinite carrying capacity. Star gates (according to the lore) are basically artificial, stable, wormholes. Thus it seems to me that there should be some mass & transit limits based on the capability of the star gate machinery to open the wormhole for your ship to transit. Surely a smaller star gate will have lower carrying capacity than a larger one?

So step one in making logistics matter: make star gate transits a scarce resource. As an example, we might start with a first rebalancing attempt of making system star gates capable of transiting 20 ships per minute, for a mass limit of 1B kg (we'll use confusing units like Billion kg instead of Teragrams since you can look at the Show Info page of any spaceship and see 900,000,000kg). Perhaps a constellation star gate would be capable of transiting 200 ships per minute, with a mass limit of 10B kg. Then a region star gate would have a mass limit of 100B kg, or 2000 ships per minute. It might be possible to modify a gate by anchoring certain boosters nearby to adjust the throughput in a range ±99%, thus allowing a system star gate to be restricted to a maximum mass of 10,000,000kg (i.e.: destroyers and frigates only), with less than 1 ship per minute. This could be useful for smallholders in null sec, for example, or for one alliance attempting to siege another alliance's space.

Suddenly your autopilot trip takes a lot longer: you have to know ahead of time which gates have higher capacity, plan your trip through those gates, and hope you don't get stuck in a queue for a quarter of an hour. Traffic jams in space! How exciting is that?

And what if player corporations could install their own star gates?

Mineral Compression

The backbone of null sec industry at present (with the assumption of infinite carriage capacity) is mineral compression. You buy a bunch of 425mm Railguns (or similar), haul them out to null sec where you refine them. Why? Because 425mm Railguns take approximately 1500m3 of minerals and compress it into 50m3. The same magical feat is possible with other things such as ammo, warp scramblers, passive targeters, and a whole swathe of modules. Basically, they are broken because the finished product takes up a teensy tiny proportion of the materials required to make them (and, more to the point, the materials you get from smelting the item). Most ammo has a compression ratio in the order of 2:1: nerfing mineral compression will mean the necessity of expanding cargo holds in combat ships, or adding ammo bays to hold the volume of ammunition required to keep them running for any length of time.

So step two: nerf mineral compression. A 425mm Railgun should be closer to 1500m3 than 50m3 in volume. In fact, since the entropy of a 425mm Railgun is far lower than a puddle of molten metal, I'd suggest that it should take significantly more space than 1500m3: perhaps double.

This single step would help boost null sec industry simply from the fact that people in null sec would need to mine in null sec (and remember we've cut down the steady stream of minerals from NPC drops). The pain would be most felt in terms of tritanium, since it is the mineral required in the highest quantities. Since there is no mineral compression, the freighters running back and forth 30 times more frequently would need to dedicate most of their capacity to tritanium. A few mining operations in null sec to supply the high ends will reduce those 30 runs for minerals down to 20, just for tritanium.

This will also help address super capital proliferation: those beasts require immense quantities of tritanium. Choking off the logistics chain will mean that priority has to be given to materials for replacement frigates, cruisers and battleships.

So the folks in null sec trying to provide materials to keep 30 capital ship assembly arrays active will be whining a little. HTFU.

Phenomonal Cosmic Living Space

How big is Jita 4-4? How many freighters are regularly docked there? What is the volume of all the materials on the market at that station? How does all that stuff fit in that station?

'nuff sed.

Logistics is important, m'kay?

If you don't make logistics a complex portion of the game, it becomes meaningless. 30:1 mineral compression, limitless transit at star gates, gargantuan carrying capacity of space stations: these all make logistics meaningless.

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