Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Canned Heroes (part 4)

[Continued from part 3]

Cloning on ships.

Today's installment covers the issue that originally prompted my thinking about the whole Canned Heroes thing, namely the fact Clone Vat Bays in their current implementation are of very limited usefulness, due to the fact their cloning goodness is a one-shot feature.

The capacity of Clone Vat Bays on supercapitals as they are now is plenty (35 to 60 clones on a Mothership, 75 to 130 on a Titan, depending on Cloning Facility Operation skill), and doesn't need tweaking. The problem comes from the fact they are limited to jump cloning.

I don't know about you, but when I think Mothership plus Clone Vat Bay, I see this:

Mothership, served with prawns.

…and this:

 Ass-kicking to the plural form.

…but certainly not this.

Underwhelming, to put it mildly.

The last one is unfortunately how "supercapital with clone vat bay" plays out in the present in-game reality: a cumbersome one-way transport of cannon fodder to the battlefield, that supports neither reinforcements nor the option of a return trip for the potential survivors. We sure stand a far cry from a Cylon basestar, here.

Upgrading the Mothership and Titans personnel carrier capacity from that of a landing barge to an actual respawn point, more like a Home Station, would dramatically affect the dynamics of nullsec warfare, and allow supercaps to live up to their hype without unbalancing the game.

Obviously, this could be done without departing from the already-present medical and jump clones system: just adding the ability to flag a jump clone (pre-installed on a supercapital) as default rebirth point, and allowing pilots to manage their medical clone while sitting in range of a Clone Vat Bay-equipped capital would to the trick nicely.

What with the Cloning 2.0 thing, then ?

Glad you asked: because Canned Heroes make for better gameplay.

The way medical and jump clones work atm is ludicrous: one can create those almost anywhere by gaming the ability to remotely insta-spawn a medical clone in any random station their corp has offices in, or wherever they left stuff laying about in a personal hangar.
Add the ability to leave behind a functional jump-clone in any station (even without a medical service available) by jump-cloning out, yet not being able to jump to a different clone while in space (although medical clones rely on exactly that) and you get a seriously abuse-friendly pile of nonsense.

Under the Apocrypha/Dominion ruleset, granting supercapitals the power to behave as Home Stations for medical clones would also hold a serious potential for imbalances, by enabling unlimited on-field respawns at no additional risk.

With Cloning 2.0 and CryoCanning, this new power bestowed upon supercapitals comes  with strings attached: greater responsibility and risk, and built-in limitations.

Calling port on a Mothership or Titan entails keeping enough CryoCanned clones in the 'Home ship' so that replacements can be installed by the supercap pilot as you die and respawn.

CryoCanned clones are reasonably priced (about 10% of the base price of a medical clone grade matching your current SP count per spare 'blank' clone to go), easy to transport and store (only 3 cubic meters volume, and cargo bay — but not container — compatible), yet they still have to be brought to the supercapital to be installed, and can therefore be stolen en route, or looted from the wreck of  your 'Home ship' if it goes down.
Additionally, you must entrust the supercapital pilot to not pull dirty tricks on your frozen selves while  in her care, and yes, there are ways for somebody holding CryoCanned yous hostage to make your life interesting… [See "Fun with clones" section below.]

Clone-friendly ships, an overview.

Rorquals and Supercapitals both can equip Clone Vat Bays.
Although Rorquals medical bays can only support 'generic' clones, Supercapitals can manage both 'generic' and 'backup' types, due to their much greater onboard "tech".

Installing a clone on a capital ship can be done in a few different ways:
  • Haul in a CryoCan (with your frozen 'blank' clone in it), and drop it in the Corporate Hangar bay of the capital vessel, or eject it for the capital vessel to scoop, then:

    • ask the capital pilot to install the CryoCanned clone in her vessel's medical bay,
    • or dock into the capital in your pod, unpod (by Walking in Stations) and cart the CryoCan to the medical bay yourself.

  • Alternatively, if you don't have any canned clone handy, you can turn your  current  body and capsule into a canned jump clone. Close in on the capital ship while flying your pod, select either the "Dock" or "Dock & Freeze" option by right-clicking on the supercap, and your pod will be transferred to the capital's Ship Maintenance bay and secured there.

    • If you select "Dock", you'll end up inside the capital SMB, in your capsule.
      You can then debark for a stroll around the ship (once WIS is implemented), or you can  stay in there, right-click your pod to select "Freeze me !" and your body will go into cryo-stasis while you're presented with a selection of your remote clones to jump to. After that, the capital ship captain can move your capsule to the ship's medical bay and hook it up like a regular CryoCanned clone.

    • The "Dock & Freeze" option (also available while flying in your pod in docking range of a CVB-equipped capital) is a shortcut to the above procedure. When selected, it will dock your pod, prompt you to select a jump clone for your exit, freeze your body, and hook your capsule  and frozen self to the ship's medical bay, all in one go.

    After it's hooked to the medical bay, your capsule will no longer show in the SMB (although it will still eat 1k cubic space from the ship maintenance bay), and will be accessible only to you and the ship pilot, from the Cloning Service interface on the ship.

As when using station-based cloning facilities, the bring-your-CryoCan method is intended as the 'regular' way to store and install clones on a capital ship: individual pilots can install their clones themselves, or leave for the supercapital pilot to install canned clones as needed from the stock brought  aboard by corporate or alliance personnel managers, allowing for efficient use of the limited cloning slots on the vessel.

The alternative method of using one's current body and pod as a CryoCanned clone — while functional — is of limited use, as it entails your clone-jumping 'out' as you to install your body-as-clone in the ship's medical bay.  That means potentially a lot of travel, plus a 24h jump timer for each jump clone created that way.
[Note: A capsule can only be transferred to a medical bay from within a SMB, not a cargo bay. If someone clone-jumped 'out' from their capsule while inside a ship cargo bay, the capsule will have to be moved to the SMB before it can be installed in the medical-bay.]

Scooping Eggs.

To the difference of regular ships, capsules can be scooped into the cargo/ship maintenance bay of any ship with sufficient spare room (1000 cubics) while floating in space. This is justified by the newfound ability of players to dock into a capital ship while in a capsule, and effectively get aboard the ship (looks better with Ambulation, obviously).
This means you can effectively be 'kidnapped' if you fly around in a capsule like a dickhead.
  • If scooped into a ship's cargo bay, your view will switch to display the very dull insides of the cargo bay, you can't leave your pod (under penalty of death without SP insurance), and you can't see outside anymore as long as you're held in.
  • If scooped into a ship's maintenance bay, your view will switch to display the slightly-less dull insides of the maintenance bay, you can leave your pod and go for a stroll (with walking in stations), and you can even launch at will (or board another ship if you have enough privileges).
Note that although you can't properly launch in that case, you can always escape a cargo bay by clone-jumping out from your pod, or even activate self-destruct while held in the brig… comedy ensues if the capturing boat can't take the direct-to-structure 800 HP damage (modified by your Energy Pulse Weapons skill at 50% per level).   

Cylon Basestars, or close enough.

The biggest change from Apocrypha/Dominion comes from the ability to bind backup/medical clones to supercapitals, not just jump clones.

As a result, a Mothership or Titan can become your acting Home station for the duration of an operation or campaign, enabling you to get right back into action after losing a ship, even if you got podded‚ as long as you have spare clones on the 'Home Ship' and remember to reset your backup clone contract there after each respawn, that is.

Since each CryoCan is only 3 cubics in volume, a Mothership or Titan can afford to carry ample stocks of clones ready to install, and possibly more than one per pilot.

Selecting a supercapital-based clone as your 'Home Ship' doesn't entail a transfer fee payment to DED, as it is basically an illegal redirection of your ultimate mind-scan while on its way to your legitimate contracted backup clone medical facility. You therefore can not have a supercapital-based clone as your only and 'real' designated backup clone, since DED doesn't even register its existence as such.

Installing, binding or unplugging clones on a supercapital vessel requires a Clone Vat Bay fitted and online, but doesn't call for the Clone Vat Bay to be active at the time. Keeping the clone vat bay activated is however a requirement for pilots to clone jump or respawn at the ship's medical bay.

While a Clone Vat Bay is active, the supercapital vessel remains mostly functional except it can't warp or jump out for the 300s cycle duration — a supercap pilot can thus trade mobility for the perk of acting as a respawn point for his wing or squad — not too bad a deal, especially considering it can be done under the cover of a POS or Titan forcefield.

In practical terms, a noticeable gameplay change when you clone jump to a supercapital medical bay,  or respawn in one is you'll actually end up aboard the supercapital/rorqual in your freshly-thawed clone,  just as if you'd docked with your capsule and disembarked inside the (super)capital ship (this could lend itself to a stop by the captain's quarters for a drink, once Walking in Stations is implemented).

There will be no fucking macarena dancing aboard my ship, goddammit !

In practical terms, you'll soon find yourself in the Ship Maintenance Bay, where you can pick a ship to board and refit (from the contents of the active ship cargo bay) before you launch, almost as if you were in a station.
While aboard (or outside in close range), you'll also be able to access the ship's Cloning Services to install one of your CryoCanned clones as a replacement for the one you just  transferred to, update your mind-backup insurance, and bind your backup contract (in the case of a supercapital) to the ship's medical facility if you so choose. [Have a looksee at the "Backup Clone fail-safe" section, in part 3 of this series, for an in-depth view of the applicable procedures in case your Home Ship fails you.]

Fun with clones.

CryoCanned clones, in addition to balancing the power of ship-bound medical cloning, offer a wealth of possibilities for creative abuse, compared to the discarnate and instant-on cloning system currently in game.
Below are a couple examples of weird stuff one can do with CryoCanned clones:

• Forced relocation:

It is technically possible to deprive somebody of their clone-jumping freedom, although only under extreme circumstances and for a limited duration.

Taking advantage of the possibility to install somebody else's CryoCanned clones on their behalf (without a need to ask for consent) you can max out a third-party character's active clones count (against their Informorph Psychology skill), and prevent them from installing clones at their locations of choice, unless they first unplug or use up those you've set for them.

From a strategic standpoint, the main benefit is to bench some enemy pilots out of action for up to a day or two, by forcing them to clone jump a few times under penalty of XP loss, and possibly sending them on the other side of the map.

One can somewhat work around the requirement to clone-jump or travel to already-installed clones to unplug them from the local medical facilities: provided you have access to backup cloning services in the distant station where your 'generic' clone is set, you could remotely upgrade it to become your 'backup' clone, then fail to pay the weekly bill, which could get the contract cancelled and automatically transfered to another of your remaining installed clones, as the previous backup clone is unplugged from the medical facility, thus freeing up an active clone slot.
Although workable, this takes a week of delay per clone (to reach a maintenance payday each time), and works only under the provision the unwanted clone's medical facility owners like you well enough to let you upgrade the clone to a backup one in first place.
It can also get expensive, considering the potentially high transfer fees to pay for each successive clone unplugged in that way.

• Amusing tricks
 …can also be played on the enemy, especially invaders in your own space:

By installing a good supply of enemy clones into one of your Outposts, set to allow the use of backup clones (and nothing else) to negative standings pilots, then hitting one of their 'Home Stations' medical services, you can ensure any of them podded in your space without a readily available backup clone will see their backup clone contract transfer instantly and automatically to the nearest available station medical service where one of their jump clones is already installed… Hint: it doesn't have to be in a friendly (to them) station.

Although not fatal, this can be crippling while it lasts, and/or rather expensive for the victims to fix, especially if you managed to get your hands on a large stack of enemy CryoCanned clones, (say by looting the wreck of a fully-loaded 'Home Ship' supercapital), and did set your 'hospitable' outpost transfer fees to stupid-high levels for negative standings pilots.

A good preventive defense against that kind of trick is to keep your active clone count under control: as long as you keep your jump clones maxxed out and make sure to select a safe backup 'Home Station' when you travel away from your home (especially when invading) it shouldn't be too easy to force you to respawn at infortunate locales.

Cloning woes.

As hinted above, getting podded or kicked out of medical facilities too frequently can potentially dry your wallet out. Whenever your backup clone contract is forcibly transferred to a new clone-facility pair (as a result of eviction), it will attempt to re-bind your backup contract to another locale and clone, with matching transfer fee (and possibly the bill for a new clone growth). If your wallet can't take it, the DED portion will still be syphoned out, dragging your balance in the red in the process.

Warning: The station owners part of the bill for a transfer/clone growth will be debited only within the limits of funds available on a positive wallet to prevent ISK-creation exploits. DED, on the other hand, will take its share even if it brings the user's wallet down to a negative balance — as it is a 'real' ISK sink and can't abused by players to gain magic monies.
Increasing the transfer fee on your outpost medical services as a griefing method still works, insofar as depleting wallets, and beyond as higher fees will increase at least the forcibly-payable DED fraction of the bill in proportion.

Design notes(applicable to all four parts of this series).

• Because of the new fail-safe on backup clones, it is no longer possible to permanently lock someone's respawn point into an hostile station, and force them to risk XP loss by having to flee the place with an undersized backup clone. People allowed to respawn in a station now have access to backup cloning services and therefore backup clone contract management as a matter of course.
It is still possible however, to grief them financially (over transfer fees and clone growth bills) and wasted time imposed by clone-jumping or clone growth delay.

• The serious-yet-not-so-commonly-applicable potential for griefing over CryoCanned clones is meant to act as a balancing device against their proliferation: canned clones are reasonably cheap to procure and store, but can be dangerous if they fall in the wrong hands, turning into Damocles' swords — powerful tools in the psychological warfare arsenal more than anything else.

• Manually switching your designated backup clone to a new station requires you already have a generic clone hooked up to the target medical facility: you can no longer remotely install a Medical Clone in some random station across the galaxy, sorry.

• Yes, 'blank' clones are more expensive the more skillpoints you have at the time you order them, this is intended, live with it if — like me — you've broken the 92M SP line: you should be prepared to pay for it, or to use a less 00ber toon for your pew-pew.

• The kidnapping option enabled by capsules being scoop-able in space is there for 3 reasons:
  • fun and giggles ;
  • 'roleplay' support (as a mean to bring someone 'blindfolded' to your ebil overlord HQ for 'negotiations') ;
  • as a way to get rid of pesky alts scouting POSes in capsules, especially in empire (scooping is not an aggression, detonating a pod inside a ship is). 
…it also saves coding an exception case for capsules being scoop-able only when the pilot mind has left the building.

• Station-owners control over unwanted clones is generally in line with Apocrypha/Dominion rulesets, where a station owner can selectively revoke Medical Clones contracts but not Jump Clones, short of disabling the service entirely. The main change here is that 'illegitimate' Medical/backup Clones can now be automatically purged after a week, as a result of not meeting the contract conditions, come rent time.

Famous last words.

This has been a very long series of posts, and while I won't apologize for the rambling, this being a blog an all, I'll turn it into a feature, as I realize it's probably easier to start with this last episode and work one's way through the rest with a good perspective on what it builds up to.

I may also have overlooked some stuff, this is a fresher idea to me than most design features proposed elsewhere on EVE is broken, so it probably can use some maturing. Poke me if you have ideas about that.

Also, if someone could find me a good pic of the guys pushing cryo-stasis coffins through the medical lab starbase in Aliens 4: Resurrection… I couldn't find one to illustrate cryocans goodness, and I don't have the DVDs handy here.


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