Saturday, 21 April 2012

Mining is Boring

Imagine you're a developer for EVE Online. You're going to move asteroids to gravimetric exploration sites (“grav sites”) for various reasons. Here's my take on what issues you should be considering when moving to grav sites, and how I'd address them. For the executive crowd, the TL;DR section is right at the end.

Some Background

Before we head into “I think it would be really cool if …” territory, allow me to provide you some background to the motivations behind my “we need to fix mining” rant.

Progressive Enhancement

In the web publishing industry there is the concept of “Progressive Enhancement” — the basic concept is that you start with plain HTML providing the content with no formatting, then add style sheets and JavaScript to enhance the content for the web browsers that are configured to allow style sheets and JavaScript.

The precursor to Progressive Enhancement was Graceful Degradation. Basically the idea back then was that you produce a bells-and-whistles web site, then actively turn off the bells and whistles for the browsers that can't handle the bells and whistles. Suffice to say, most sites that attempted Graceful Degradation were steaming piles of horse manure.

The ideas I am about to present to you are intended to provide a progressive enhancement of mining as a profession and an activity in EVE online, mixed in with a little graceful degradation. I would like to reward the players who mine smarter, and I want “mine smarter” to mean more than “fit your Hulk for max yield, fly with an Orca and Tengu booster.”

Different Strokes

How do people actually mine these days? This varies substantially, depending on security rating of the system in which you're mining, availability of ores, and whether you're mining for supply, profit or entertainment.

If you are mining for supply, the implication is that your time mining the stuff you need is costing you less than your time travelling to a market hub and the ISK to buy supplies of the stuff you need. So for example if your non-mining income is in the order of 60M ISK/hr (null sec belt ratting in a T1 drake, for example), you would make a market run if you were not able to mine ore worth 60M ISK/hr taking logistics into consideration. The essential concept to understand here is that some people do not have easy access to markets. Which people? Those living far away from market hubs who cannot simply lug a jump freighter full of 425mm Railguns across the galaxy to support their ship building activities. One example could be a w-space community trying to build dreadnoughts and carriers to express their claim over a particular J system. Another example might be an alliance holding a few systems in far distant nullsec that noone else cares about: travelling to market is nigh impossible because their neighbours aren't friendly.

If you are mining for profit, you will simply be hunting down the most valuable ore. People mining for profit typically measure value of an ore as “ISK per cubic metre”, since any mining ship will generally mine the same volume of ore per unit time regardless of the ore being mined. T2 mining lasers with crystals will still excavate a set volume of ore per unit time, so the for-profit miner will simply pick the ore that is worth most per unit volume and pick crystals for that ore. Having decided on which ore to hunt, the miner will then locate a supply: typically, heading to Amarr space for Pyroxeres, Minmatar space for Plagioclase, etc. Having determined a suitable site, the miner will then bring in the mining fleet, mine out just that ore, then move on to the next site.

At Fanfest 2011, at least one person in the audience stated they mine for fun. For some people, mining is a low-attention activity which leads to some in game value. People mining for entertainment will typically head out to the asteroid belts with their mining fleet and mine whatever is there. Different people find different aspects of mining more entertaining: some people just like watching the lasers being active, and a number of these complained when the soft “whooshing” noises of ice harvesters were replaced with the harsher, more mechanical noises of mining lasers. Some people just like to be doing something that doesn't require constant spamming of the D-scan and being alert for threats. Let's refer to these folks as “zen miners”.
So basically you have two variants of miners: the picky miner who is mining for greatest profit or most urgent supply, and the “zen miner” who is mining for entertainment value.

The Issues

The main issue I wish to address in mining are the relative ease with which gankers can harm mining operations. In what must be the most asymmetric warfare available in EVE Online, a 2M ISK ship can destroy a 150M ISK ship before CONCORD can arrive to dispatch the offender. Even freighter ganks require a higher investment of capital in order to reap some reward. My opinion is viewing the ganking of mining ships in terms of “tank and spank” is shortsighted and unnecessarily constraining oneself to “thinking inside the box”.

Then there is the new hobby of “miner bumping” where someone in a fast ship such as a MWD Stabber can bump mining ships away from the belts they're trying to mine. There are no consequences for this activity, and very little effort involved (only slightly more effort than ice harvesting).

Another issue I wish to address is the relative lack of variety in the mining activity. At present we simply rock up to an asteroid belt in space, target the rocks we're interested in mining (that one over there labelled in the overview as “Asteroid (Solid Pyroxeres)”), and activate the lasers. Even mission-running has more variety than this: every mission has different NPCs (Blockade versus Worlds Collide), and some missions even have a variety of what NPCs will appear.

The third issue is the relative danger of mining in nullsec, mostly due to the pestilence of AFK cloakers. In my opinion, addressing AFK cloakers by adjusting cloaking or providing “cloak detection” is another serious case of “thinking inside the box”. You don't address the problem of scissors being present in your game by adjusting how sharp or blunt those scissors are: you introduce rock to beat scissors, and then balance rock by introducing paper.

A minor followup issue is what some perceive as the ongoing degradation of mining as entertainment. In the good old days, ice harvesters looked and sounded different to mining lasers, which looked and sounded different to strip miners.

The Phantom Menace

Just like Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, EVE is unfortunately infected with the taint of that element which some people find amusing but most people find plain annoying. That taint in EVE Online is bots: they provide cheap entertainment, but they really ruin the artistic whole that is EVE Online. It would be really nice if adjustments to mining could make life that little bit harder for bots.

Moving The World

Some time ago, there was talk about moving all mining to “dungeon” sites (see CCP Chronotis' devblog “a rift in spacetime opens – a glimpse into one possible future for asteroid belts”). The idea back then was to remove belts from the sol simulation and move them to “dungeon” sites that spawn only when someone warps to the belt. This would mean that asteroid belts stay where they are, but the servers have the opportunity to move the processing for that grid to a different processor or server. I like this idea, but I think it doesn't go far enough: I would move all or most mining to grav sites which must be discovered through exploration. Here are the basic advantages of moving mining to grav sites:
  • Reduce the static objects in a sol simulator (currently each sol simulator must keep track of every single asteroid in every belt)
  • Reduce the requirement to respawn asteroids during downtime
  • Reduce the capacity to warp to a miner to usable asteroids within 30 seconds of entering a system
  • Increase the ability for miners to detect unwanted visitors before those visitors arrive
  • Increase the ability for CCP to invisibly alter the balance of minerals available in the game
  • Allow for greater variation in belt size and structure
  • Allow for greater variety of environmental decoration
  • Allow for more varied “triggers” such as special NPC spawns
But how does moving mining to grav sites address the four issues I raised? First, it raises the bar for ganking miners a little. Rather than knowing where you'll find lots of paper-thin mining ships (hello, Brapelille, yes, I'm talking about you), you as a ganker will have to wander around looking for the targets. That means using directional scan, deep space probes, or other mechanisms to discover where these resources (miner tears) are that you are attempting to harvest. So right off the bat, the mouth breather is fenced out of the ganking miners game: having to work for a reward is just too much for them to bear.

So with the mouth breathing gankers out of the way, we're left with the people who are actually determined to score a kill. These people will probe down the ships mining at the grav sites. It's much easier to probe down a Hulk than it is to probe down the Small Hedbergite and Hemorphite Deposit that the Hulk is mining, so the gankers won't necessarily have to work too hard. The Hulk pilot will have some warning (hey look! 4 probes within 2 AU of my location!), and has the option to take some action such as fleeing, or refitting for tank. The clever ganker will be able to get to the site without providing any warning to the miner. So the ganks that do happen will be well earned.
What about variety? At present each asteroid belt is more or less the same from day to day. You can even bookmark the “best” rocks in a belt and keep coming back to them day after day, week after week. Where's the fun in that? The “zen miners” might find that static bookmarks help them, but for everyone else it would be nice to mix things up a little. I'll return to the “zen miner” crowd in a moment. As a reward for hunting down the grav sites, I would love to see randomly generated sites. For example the EVE server might know that the “Small Hedbergite and Hemorphite Deposit” site is supposed to contain an approximate balance of Hedbergite, Hemorphite, Jaspet and Pyroxeres. The simulator then checks the economic weightings for these various ores (more about this later) and generates a small number of asteroids containing these ores (and perhaps their higher yield variants). Along with those asteroids being generated based on rules about maximum diameter, minimum separation distance and maximum site spread etc, there would be scenery added such as dust clouds, serpentine rock formations, stalactite formations and so forth.

For the “zen miner” crowd and the rookie miner crowd — people who don't want to or aren't able to probe down more valuable sites — I'd move some belts to anomalies. These anomalies would show up as, for example, “Large Veldspar Deposit”. These sites would contain large numbers of asteroids of various sizes, mostly Veldspar. The purpose of these sites is specifically to provide easy access resources. The sites will respawn in the system continually though there might be a delay in order to restrict the flow of these resources into the economy. Each respawn will be impacted by the CCP-defined economic weightings as hinted earlier. Thus one spawn might contain a large number of Veldspar asteroids and nothing else, the next spawn might react to a change in Dr E's weightings, and introduce some Scordite in order to redress the Pyerite shortage.

Out there in nullsec, the main risk of “AFK cloakers” is the sudden and unexpected presence of a black ops raiding party in your belt. The AFK cloaker might easily warp from belt to belt while cloaked, then light a cyno at the appropriate moment to deal the most damage to your mining operation. By moving all the mining to grav sites, the “AFK cloaker” will have to probe down at least the mining fleet if not the grav site. Thus the residents would have some warning about the presence of an active cloaker. A smart “AFK cloaker” could work around this by probing down a grav site far away from where the residents are currently active and waiting there for the prey to stumble into the trap. Balance is restored, but the brain dead mouth breathing activity of warping to a belt and summoning a Black Ops party with no advance warning will effectively be shut down.

The disadvantage of moving all mining to grav sites is that it will no longer be possible to mine from the same bookmarks day after day, week after week. People used to mining from bookmarks will have to change their play style, or be content with whatever low grade ores are available in the remaining static belts.

Procedural Generation of Belts

A short detour, if you will allow me. At present, there are three types of space in which you can find commercially viable asteroids. The first consists of the obvious asteroid belts sitting out there in space, tagged very neatly by the local authorities. The second are the gravimetric sites specially created for the purpose of hosting asteroid belts. The third, often overlooked type, are missions.
Have a look at the EVE-Survivial page on Mining in Missions. You'll see many missions that have belts. I expect that these belts were placed here for scenic purposes, though the number of new missions with decent quantities of ore might indicate a deliberate effort by CCP to provide “mining in grav sites” without the grav sites. Different rocks will likely have been chosen for appearance, or perhaps some idea of the level of demand for certain ores at the time the mission was written. Many of these missions contain quantities of ore sufficient to keep a mining fleet active for an evening (many Orca loads of juicy juicy asteroids).

An option that will work for all belts is to generate them “procedurally”. Basically the designer might specify a particular size and formation for a belt (e.g.: crescent, 100km diameter, hisec ore distribution D5) and leave the actual generation of the belt to the simulator at the time the mission space, asteroid belt or grav site is spawned. The generation would take into account the game designers' recommendations on ore supply, the current consumption of certain ores, and spawn the belt in response to these parameters.

Thus rather than always being able to find 1.7M units of Pyroxeres in “The Score (Sanhas Nation)”, that belt might vary to contain more Veldspar when Tritanium is deemed to be in short supply, or lots of Pyroxeres when Mexallon (or heck, you might be a Machiavellian developer and make mission ores spawn the other way around: so all missions would end up spawning Scordite).
This procedural generation of belts would add variety to mining: mission runners could see a lot of valuable ore in their mission space, and take the time to mine it out rather than simply racing on to complete the mission. Mining in mission space also changes the game a little for gankers. The miner can see the enemy coming due to the necessity to stop and activate the previous acceleration gate, so this means the miners have time to react. In nullsec, the attractiveness of mining in mission space is doubled: you cannot cyno into deadspaces.

I'll also suggest that a mixed diet of missioning and mining would be good to relieve the boredom experienced by serial mission-runners. But that's an argument for another time.

Mixed Up Asteroids

One complaint I have about mining as it currently stands is that survey scanners are pointless. Try this: head out to an asteroid belt, and mine the most valuable ore without surveying the field. It's pretty easy, isn't it? Now what would happen if you removed the labels that clearly denote what each asteroid is made of? Rather than “Asteroid (Viscous Pyroxeres)” you'd see “Asteroid”. How do you know what it's made of? If you are familiar with asteroids you might be able to identify them by sight. So try this: warp to an asteroid belt and only mine the rocks you can visually identify as Scordite or Kernite. Hrm … it's suddenly a lot harder to efficiently mine out the belt, isn't it? Now what if you couldn't identify the asteroids visually?

So here's my first idea for spicing up mining a little: remove the asteroid type from the overview. This is easily achievable in game right now without changing any other aspect of mining.
My second idea is a little more extreme: rather than an asteroid containing just one type of ore, each asteroid contains a mixture. Rather than an asteroid belt containing a 60/40 mix of two asteroid types each containing one type of ore, the average mixture of those ores would be 60/40 in each asteroid. So over there is a huge mountain in space which is 80% veldspar, 20% Pyroxeres. Over there is a molehill which is 70% Pyroxeres, 30% Veldspar. Over the entire belt, the mixtures would vary.
So with these mixed asteroids, how do you mine the stuff you're after? Well, if you're using normal mining lasers (Miner I, Miner II or Strip Miner I), you extract a certain volume of ore each cycle, containing the component ores in the same proportion as the entire asteroid. So for the mountain of Veldspar in the previous paragraph, your 1200m3 cycle of Strip Miner I would produce 80% Veldspar, 20% Pyroxeres, or approximately 960m3 of Veldspar (9600 units) and 240m3 of Pyroxeres (800 units). If you are using Deep Core lasers with crystals (there's a Deep Core variant of standard mining lasers, the T2 Strip Miner is a Deep Core variant), you can focus on a particular ore. The T1 crystals will mine twice the proportion of the focussed ore as anything else (so in the previous example, about 10560 Veldspar and 444 Pyroxeres), while the T2 crystals will only mine the focussed ore.

This spread of selectivity will allow mining fleets to vary their tactics as they face specific asteroids. The “zen miners” can just keep mining whatever is in front of them with their T1 strips, and they will get an average haul. Of course, we could get truly Machiavellian and introduce the “fake” ores (Flawed Gneiss, etc) into the mix. But this might be a little cruel to “zen miners”, even if I'd like to seed belts with fake ores just to give bot miners the finger.

So essentially: we need to make mining more rewarding to people who invest some extra effort and fit a survey scanner. These harder workers get to pick the rocks that are most valuable. No more warping to a belt and having perfect knowledge about what rocks are there. Here's where a little “graceful degradation” is applied. I don't want to actively harm “zen miners”, but I do want to make their game less rewarding because they're not as actively engaged: they get their main reward from what they're doing, not from the outcome of their actions.

Oh, and as an extra benefit this system of mixed ore that is generated at spawn time would make it trivial to add different ore types into the mix. Mixed rocky/icy asteroids? Moon goo? Done!

Altering Your Environment

One of the defining elements of mining as an activity is that the ships involved tend to stay still. A ship in motion, aligned to a bookmark or celestial, is going to get out of harm's way faster but that same ship is going to glide past larger asteroids before they can be mined. Here are some ideas for altering the environment around mining, following the principle of bringing the mountain to Mohammed.

One option could be to allow tractoring of asteroids. This would provide a means to keep the mining fleet moving without getting out of range of the interesting asteroids. Tractoring could even be used as a form of denial of resources: you go in with your fast tractor ship and move all the interesting rocks off-grid.

For fleets that must stay still, it would be interesting to have dust clouds that form as the asteroids are being pulverized. Perhaps dust clouds could have different effects based on the ore being mined: Veldspar dust interferes with directed weapon damage, Hedbergite interferes with gravimetric sensors (making ships inside the cloud invisible to Caldari vessels), Pyroxeres is volatile and causes periodic environmental damage (just like Recon 3 of 3), and so forth.

A new module loosely based on existing mechanics would be a deadspace projector. The idea with this module is that a capital ship such as an Orca or Rorqual could project a deadspace field around the mining group. This field would drop ships out of warp at about 200-300km from the centre of the projected field. Unlike warp disruptor bubbles, the deadspace field would not prevent people warping or jumping out. It will have the same impact on people jumping in though: incoming jumps are redirected to the surface of the bubble. There would be no other impact from this field, just the existing deadspace mechanics that are already in place for certain mission spaces.

Cherries on Top

In addition to the grav sites and world shaping that can be done it would be nice to complement the modification of mining to become an exploration based activity, by introducing a new ORE frigate. The T1 version would be an astrometrics frigate while the T2 version would effectively be an ORE covert ops ship. This T2 ORE frigate could have a bonus to survey scanner range at the expense of weapon slots: its only purpose is to probe down sites and determine which sites are suitable for the current fleet.

It might also be nice to have an alternative command ship which is focussed on logistics, eschewing the ship maintenance array and ore hold of the Orca for a fleet hangar and bonuses to remote hull repairers.

Executive Summary

All of these changes together would make for an awesome mining revamp.


Here are the points I've raised in this rant:
  • Keep mining interesting for the supply & profit miners
  • Keep mining stable for the “zen miners”
  • Move most mining to grav sites or similar exploration dungeons
  • Mix ore types within each asteroid
  • T2 mining gear allows individual ore type to be targeted
  • Generate all belts procedurally, so layout and composition vary
  • Reward active, thinking miners more than passive, vegetative miners
  • Add scenery to mining environments
  • Allow tractoring of asteroids as a resource denial technique
  • Add dust clouds during mining to alter the combat environment
  • Add a deadspace projector to alter the combat environment
Some of these items will be achievable using the existing mechanics in game (moving most mining to grav sites, for example), others will require a significant rewrite (e.g.: mixed ore types). I hope to see something happen in the mining end of the industry profession Soon™.


New thread on EVE forums: why can't we have mining moved to grav sites?
Iagus Damaclese has a F&I post about “precision mining” over on the EVE Online forums. His idea is roughly parallel to my mixed asteroids + selective mining concept.
Kongking Wang has an F&I post about hazardous mining environments which is roughly analogous to my dust clouds idea. Wang's idea is more in line with that tessellation demo from Fanfest: have rocks actually moving around, with mining ships being able to fit an asteroid deflector of some kind.
Kalach'Cha has an F&I post about scripts for mining lasers to improve cycle times.
I'll post a follow-up soon to itemise the various that would be required, with an indication of what order I would do them in if it was up to me to implement this collection of ideas. After all, if I can get a project plan together, that makes it so much easier for CCP Soundwave to write a post it note up on his monitor, doesn't it?


  1. Nice.
    I'd probably move everything but Veld and Scordite into sites, while leaving those two in anomalies.

    And have them all being deadspaces. Warpable only to the beacon point. You might have to travel a distance to get at the far away ore, but it'd make a warp in by a gank fit destroyer something survivable (by running), if you're paying attention. Gank fit tornado would still be instakill on most ;) But they pay for that.

  2. I really like the unidentified asteroid idea but it might be tricky to code.

    The biggest problem with mining is mining bots and any tweak should keep that foremost in mind imo. My concern with disrupting the status quo to add safety is that bots will benefit from that added safety too (and many of the hulks blown up are bots.)

    Anyway, I don't often mine but I think miners deserve some love. Good luck.

    1. Unidentified asteroids is the simplest of all the changes CCP would have to make here. They already renamed all the star gates in the game by taking the item type out of the name!

      The only item here that might provide more safety to bots is the deadspace projector. Everything else raises the bar for players and bots alike: you have to probe down the site, you have to survey the rocks in order to avoid the fake ore, and you have to choose whether to use T1 or T2 mining technology for each asteroid.

      Most of the hulks blown up are flown by players. The reports from the Ice Interdiction should be taken as what they are: the players would have avoided the belts from the time the interdiction was announced, only the bots who were being left to mine for a week will still be returning to the belts once the danger was known.

  3. what if there was a spider rep fit for mining barges? the more barges you have the stronger the shield...soo 2 hulks might be able to activate the mod and survive an initial gank while 10 hulk would be able to survive long enough for help to arrive or get away