Starbase's Top Issues #4: Ship Ownership, Stealing and Salvage

Vexus

Master endo
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
266
#1
Hello,

One of the beautiful, easily overlooked and not-so-promoted aspects of Starbase is the persistence. Ships remain in the game world almost indefinitely; initially it was indefinite and now there is some time frame 7-30 days where a derelict ship remains in game. For an MMO, this is rare and wonderful; most developers opt for easy systems of UI and automated cleanup where Frozenbyte has taken the hard route of delivering a physical, persistent single universe for all Starbase players. This allows for extremely fun emergent gameplay as players encounter other ships - working or wrecks - in nearly any part of the game world. One of the most successful emergent gameplay behaviors stemmed from players encountering gravity at the first moon players are easily able to travel to - Elysium. As pilots either ignored the presence of gravity on the moon, or otherwise crashed into the surface while underestimating the pull of gravity on the moon, their ships fell to their demise under the fast travel warp gate, falling apart due to the impact against the surface, creating a "ship graveyard" for players to scrap and fight over. Large haulers, small fighters and everything in-between were dashed upon the moon's surface, just below the warp gate and a short distance from Moon City.

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Note: I found a derelict ship near Ghost Station Relicta; it is possible to salvage - the progress bar for the tool begins, and the part highlights in green.

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Note: This owned ship cannot be salvaged; the part turns red if I attempt to salvage it. Outside the safe zone, I could however un-bolt this part and then salvage it.

Fighting over those wrecks is genuinely fun emergent gameplay that no one expected. It spawned new ship designs as players tried to figure out better ways to haul materials back to station or otherwise defend their ground operations. Players got to experience first-person-shooter combat along with the dynamics of Starbase - a destructible game environment, including the ability to dig foxholes into the dirt of the moon surface to avoid patrolling fighter ships above. Soon, the devs introduced the Recycler Tool, which, with a little power from a Power Pack, can convert any object in the game into 75% of its base resources. This was a massive change to the game, allowing wrecks to be valued not just by rare parts, but the resources making up each ship could be targeted for the most lucrative ores.

Although ship ownership was an issue before the Recycler Tool, the presence of the tool made the problem of ship ownership much more visible.

Ship ownership prevents enemy players from salvaging your ship, even outside the safe zone. Although players can unbolt the parts first, and then salvage those parts, the ability to directly salvage off a part is not possible. This behavior of being denied the ability to salvage parts off a ship is not seen on "derelict" ships which are unowned - the owning player has at some point selected "Decommission" from the Ship menu's right-click menu on that ship. This removes the ship from their list of ships, and the ship becomes unowned, where any other player can now operate the ship as they wish.

The current way Ship Ownership is handled prevents players from truly capitalizing on a found, stolen or wrecked ship in a few ways.

First, it prevents players from salvaging a ship easily - since ownership prevents the Recycler Tool from functioning on an owned ship, even if it is a wrecked ship out in the middle of nowhere, players must first un-bolt or un-weld parts off a ship to then be able to recycle them. A large owned ship wreck loses a lot of value as players cannot easily recover the resources from the ship without spending a vast amount of time un-bolting all the parts off the ship.

Second, there is no way to "steal" an owned ship in Starbase or otherwise make an abandoned ship "your own." The inability to take ownership of an abandoned or stolen "owned" ship severely reduces gameplay. In the normal gameplay environment, as players cannot properly steal a ship and operate it for themselves, there's little else to do but to destroy another player's ship with no regard to any other option. If ships were able to be "stolen" then pirating would be a more valid option, such as utilizing the ship yourself, ransoming the ship back to the player, or dealing with the ship in any other way except destroying it, as it is too much of a bother to recycle the ship into usable materials. In the salvage/wreck gameplay environment, players are disincentivized to recover a ship, either through repair or recycling, because there's no way to put that to ship to proper use due to it being "owned." You could come across an abandoned ship which you determine has run out of propellant or fuel, and looks like a viable ship you may want to use, but after finding out it is an "owned" ship, taking the ship yields little to no value as you have no expectation of being able to use that ship properly, as it is still "owned." Additional work-around behaviors must be used to utilize a stolen or recovered "owned" ship if you want to continue to use the ship, such as ensuring that you don't fly that ship into any safe zone. If you do fly an "owned" ship into any safe zone, including a safe zone of your own around your own station, you are ejected from the "owned" ship and can not modify, damage, recycle or otherwise interact with that "owned" ship; again, even if it is within your own safe zone.

Third, Material Crates which have resources within them cannot be recycled with the Recycler Tool. It seems valid to be able to retrieve 75% of the stored material through the Recycler Tool, but instead players are simply denied that ability. Recovering resources from crates requires hooking up a Resource Bridge and wiring/piping to then be able to extract the materials from the crate - as pointed out in another issue, players cannot build a Resource Bridge from their own inventory, this makes the issue difficult to tackle and disincentivizes actually salvaging the material.

Fourth, which deserves its own issue, is the economy. As it does deserve its own issue, I won't go into detail here, however the main point is that recovering resources from a ship - owned or not - is generally not profitable as the game's economy is flooded with credits and relatively cheap resources. Stealing, recovering, pirating, salvaging; all are diminished in viability when blowing up the other ship/wreck and moving on yields more value to the player.

starbasehottub.jpg

Hot tub or Furnace: you decide.

Fifth, there is no large-scale way to recycle a ship. During the tutorial, the ship disassembly task shows ship parts being sucked in somewhere and "removed" - the intention is that the parts are recycled. Players have no such option in-game, and it is tedious to take a ship, even one you own, and recycle it back into the base resources to then use elsewhere. If players had this option, they would recycle old ships they don't use, or ships that are outdated or broken* beyond reasonable repair. It would be better in many situations to recycle a ship, however without an easy option to do so, players leave their ship list cluttered with unused ships because there's really nothing else to do with them. Players should have an option for an object such as a furnace to recycle large chunks of ships at a time. Recycling a ship completely should also remove the ship from the game world completely, including on player ship menus and authorized user lists to ensure it's fully removed from the game world.

Problem: Ship Ownership presents many edge case situations which are frustrating for players to navigate as they interact with other ships in the game world. With little to no workaround, players are disincentivized from interacting with other ships as it is inefficient and unprofitable to recycle another ship, especially if the ship is "owned." Salvage and recycling operations are also hindered by their own hurdles surrounding ship ownership which disincentivizes interaction.

Solution: Implement a tool, method, or process by which "owned" ships can be claimed by another player that does not require input from the initial "owner." The operation should be possible out in the live game world. Examples would be a "hacking tool" which removes ownership after a duration of activating the tool upon a ship, binding ownership to a ship device like the Transponder, or a special YOLOL-style chip that when inserted into a ship's network causes the ship ownership to be nullified while the chip is inserted. The later option would greatly enhance gameplay, for example allowing ships to be reported to original owning players as "Stolen" on their ship menu where they can hope to recover it one day by finding and removing the chip or otherwise Decommissioning the ship and forgetting about it.
 
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XenoCow

Master endo
Joined
Dec 10, 2019
Messages
545
#2
Third, Material Crates which have resources within them cannot be recycled with the Recycler Tool.
This could be solved by salvaging the crate, but then leaving the ore block (which does fit the space of an ore crate) in its stead. It can make a mess, but that would be the player's choice when violently destroying crates. Personally, I think ore crates should lose their contents when destroyed instead of them disappearing. This could also help pirating gameplay by allowing pirates to target ore crates and then leaving the rest of the ship when they are satisfied with the haul.

Players should have an option for an object such as a furnace to recycle large chunks of ships at a time.
There was already some mention of this kind of thing in this video:
I think that there could be some kind of output that is like a scrap block and then a separation process to get the valuable materials would enhance that gameplay loop. Maybe scrap material could also be used as is but has irregular properties.

Implement a tool, method, or process by which "owned" ships can be claimed by another player that does not require input from the initial "owner."
I was sitting and thinking about some solutions to this. I considered keys with physical slots that you need to plug into. But it would just slow down players and not really make pirating interesting if the keyslot could be replaced. I considered some kind of "hacking thing" with a timer, that seems like it would be too arbitrary and may allow players to steal ships while not actually in control of them. So, the question arises: Why do ships have ownership in the first place?

I can understand for safe zones where you want there to be no possibility of theft, and for the towing system and spawning. However, what if ships had no set owners? What if whoever spawns one, or places the last piece that makes a bunch of items into a ship, or enters a safezone with that ship, takes ownership? In this way, ownership would only exist where it matters: inside of safezones. Towing doesn't work outside of the safezone anyways, so outside, to take ownership of a ship, one would just have to take control of the ship. This would be more intuitive and not require any new assets to be made, just some coding.
 

Vexus

Master endo
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
266
#3
This could also help pirating gameplay by allowing pirates to target ore crates and then leaving the rest of the ship when they are satisfied with the haul.
One of my transport ships has a breakaway crate area like this :) The cockpit can fly, I think at max speed, even if the entire cargo gets broken off. Making a breakaway system would be pretty cool for this kind of situation, and lead to more modular designs of ships instead of big crate blocks.

There was already some mention of this kind of thing in this video:
Yes, there was mention of it... however the issue isn't that they were going to add a feature, the issue is that they added a meaningless convenience UI selection which had terrible consequences for gameplay. I want to combat the mindset that thought that was a good idea more than worry about solutions. When the Starbase devs create a solution, it's awesome! So no worry there. But whatever caused the break away from the original design, be it players "whining" or whatever, it needs to stop.

This is dangerous, and it seems there was too much attention given to a non-problem. As players complained about having to deal with ore, the answer should have been "get a friend to help you, then" or "deal with it" or "we're designing a furnace system that will make you have to completely redesign your ship and have all these extra weight and power and add extra management and reveal your ship like a glow stick at midnight with heat mechanics so players can come kill you" instead of "right-click, select delete."

When something is hard, players will complain. The response should be MAKE IT HARDER. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it's not. Every game with set rules that are hard is enjoyable. Dark and Darker, Dark Souls, WoW Raids, WoW Classic, Rust where people are killing you constantly, and so much more. Challenge builds an engaged playerbase. I'm not saying ignore the tedium of getting rid of ores you don't want from ore crates, but rather the approach/solution was uninspired in contrast to everything else that was delivered. It's not like this issue was a bottleneck for playing. If anything it added player interaction, as it was reasonable to tell your buddy to start dropping junk materials off the ship moving asteroid to asteroid. And since he was sitting there for 5 minutes doing nothing anyway, he feels useful, and you're glad to have your friend around mining with you. As it is now, there's zero reason why you wouldn't run 2 mining ships with 2 players - in effect, playing separately - where before, 2 players operating 1 ship was potentially more time efficient as dealing with the junk materials was a task that the second player could help with.

Why do ships have ownership in the first place?
The underlying structure of the game probably requires some form of ownership at this point, for safe-zone identification and so on. I would prefer these things to be moved to devices, though, such as being able to set a code or password that then matches your safe-zone to enable that behavior. But some ownership is currently kind of baked in. Lifeline (which is its own issue but, not big enough to worry about right now) would suck if everyone "attached" to your ship, for example. It's a code problem along with a database issue. They would have had to tackle the issue from the beginning with the mindset of no ownership... maybe they did at first... who knows...

However, what if ships had no set owners?
I think it is possible to a degree; there should still be some final action which tells the servers which track ships "this is now an official ship" such as using the Deed tool on it. I remember making a ship from absolute scratch on the moon using scrap, and finding that it deleted the moment I left its range - it wasn't an actual "ship" according to the game. You wouldn't want every thrown-together set of parts to be a "ship" automatically, for server load and data issues, so some action which confirms something as a ship like the use of a Deed tool (which does work on a in-game crafted ship last I remember) would be viable.

Taking away ownership would require rethinking Lifeline and how ships are tracked in the Company and Access lists and so on. Actually, all of this is just a product of the initial problem, the SSC. Because without free storage and all these other things, players would be recycling old ships into new ones, and cleaning up their environment, and settling on specific designs they like, and playing the game... But anyway. As for the current state of things, removing set owners would be nice if it could be pulled off in some way, or made part of a ship device where the name on the device relates to who is the "owner" for purposes of serving the ship.
 

XenoCow

Master endo
Joined
Dec 10, 2019
Messages
545
#4
I would prefer these things to be moved to devices
If ownership is to remain in all contexts, I would like it to have some physical element too. but I don't think that a device built into the ship would work. If it is a device that does not need interaction after building the ship, players will bury it so deep that it cannot be found by a would-be thief, making stealing tedious since you would have to tear the whole ship apart to find where they hid the device. If it was a device that did need frequent interaction, then it would be placed somewhere too easy for a thief to find and replace. Also, then there comes the problem of what happens if it is destroyed in combat. Does that ship stop being a ship?

Lifeline (which is its own issue but, not big enough to worry about right now)
I don't know if you know the history of the lifeline, but it was added as a band-aid solution to buggy seats sometimes ejecting players from their ships. If the code to keep players in their seats and on moving ships is made to work as intended, then lifelines should not be needed.

You wouldn't want every thrown-together set of parts to be a "ship" automatically, for server load and data issues, so some action which confirms something as a ship like the use of a Deed tool (which does work on a in-game crafted ship last I remember) would be viable.
Currently isn't there a check for a hardpoint attached to a thruster and beam what makes a ship a ship?


Maybe a solution to the ownership could be done with locking docks. As in, if you don't have access to the dock, than you can't access the ship. This way, companies could have docks on their stations and capitol ships that are only accessible to some of their members and on the origin stations players would be incentivized to properly park their ships lest they get stolen, just like locking your car in a parking lot. This would also promote player interaction by forcing players to walk from their parking spot to where they want to go and meet players along the way, allow for the public transportation to work again, and give reason to fill the vastness of the stations with interesting little places to discover.
 

Vexus

Master endo
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
266
#5
If it is a device that does not need interaction after building the ship, players will bury it so deep that it cannot be found by a would-be thief, making stealing tedious since you would have to tear the whole ship apart to find where they hid the device.
Unless there were a hacking tool that worked when connected to the network of a ship, which is connected to that device. Then it can be buried like an FCU, but also accessed by this hacking device/tool combination. Heck some YOLOL solution could be applied, the "tool" being a specialized YOLOL chip that is slotted into the network through current devices like the YOLOL Chip Socket, wired into the network, and then either wait some time or have to do a little something to make it work. Ripping the ship apart would also be an option, allowing for someone to make the ship completely neutral/derelict, which means anyone can take/own it, unless an ownership device was added back on and registered to the player. I see lots of gameplay here regardless; devices are very cool.

I don't know if you know the history of the lifeline, but it was added as a band-aid solution to buggy seats sometimes ejecting players from their ships. If the code to keep players in their seats and on moving ships is made to work as intended, then lifelines should not be needed.
Yeah, players can launch away from ships for different reasons. It's an ok solution, but has lots of edge cases right now. It's actually well done where it even lands you back on a crazy rotating ship. It's also "useful" for a run-away ship; hovering 5km to your ship which only stopped after it went out of render is not enjoyable. I'll just point out that a Lifeline Device could be the solution, where your player can be teleported to this device, where it charges up similar to the reconstruction chamber, so it has weight, size, needs to be placed on ships, needs to have room for a player to stand, and so on. Worlds Adrift did things right with their spawner, honestly. It's a good solution and Lifeline can even act as a short-range "reconstruction chamber" for players already bound to the ship to teleport to, at the cost of electricity and a short recharge, of course.

Currently isn't there a check for a hardpoint attached to a thruster and beam what makes a ship a ship?
Yes, and I'm not sure the technical limitations of why, but they did decide "that" was what made a ship. So it could be "any loop of frames with a 'ship registration device' attached to it" too, and scrap the thruster/hardpoint requirement. I don't know, I'm not thinking too hard on this one right now.

This way, companies could have docks on their stations and capitol ships that are only accessible to some of their members and on the origin stations players would be incentivized to properly park their ships lest they get stolen, just like locking your car in a parking lot.
I think many of us imagined this when it comes to that:

Some frequency/code that enables a ship and passengers to pass into a safe-zone. No idea, but that concept is definitely cool for infiltration and other potential gameplay options. ex. Station safe-zone has a frequency code (any string) and ships matching it can pass inside along with players. Companies would rotate codes every now and then, and if someone found your ship and it had the code on it, it would be a way to get in "undetected" as it were. Implementation doesn't seem too difficult, but many edge cases arise with the current way the safe-zones work right now, so eh... a dream.
 
Joined
Dec 10, 2019
Messages
545
#6
devices are very cool.
Oh, I totally agree, but having a device just to have a device can just be an unnecessary barrier to building/piracy. And again, what happens if your ownership device is destroyed? Do you lose access to your ship the moment you enter a safe-zone? I think your thoughts about a safe-zone entry device are interesting. In the end, ownership only really matters inside safezones anyways.... and in the case of insurance maybe.
Some frequency/code that enables a ship and passengers to pass into a safe-zone.

It's also "useful" for a run-away ship; hovering 5km to your ship which only stopped after it went out of render is not enjoyable.
I was just thinking about this and remembered some of the player's solutions to the problem initially, they would put a range finder pointed at their seat so that if the player left the seat, then the ship would stop. A replacement for lifeline could just be a device field on pilot chairs that says if a player is there or not. Then, a YOLOL script could check if the seat was empty, and then shut the thrusters off, maybe after a delay if the player wanted.
 

Vexus

Master endo
Joined
Aug 9, 2019
Messages
266
#7
And again, what happens if your ownership device is destroyed? Do you lose access to your ship the moment you enter a safe-zone?
Not lose access, but a ship that does not have an ownership device becomes free for anyone to use at-will. That would lead to some interesting situations, where you steal someone's ship, take it to a safe-zone, and end up having the ship stolen from you because you forgot to register an ownership device on it yourself.

Default: anyone can operate any ship anywhere (use buttons, levers, chairs, unbolt, etc).
Ownership Device: Only registered device owner and his group members have access to the ship's devices (as it currently is).

they would put a range finder pointed at their seat so that if the player left the seat, then the ship would stop.
Exactly. A pilot chair could have a field value for "IsOccupied" or not for players to then code ships stopping and so on. Players would make timers or configure it however they want. I don't know, lifeline is kind of ok when playing with friends and they fall off. I'd prefer to see it as a device, or tied into a chair where a player has to register to it, or something else more than what it currently is, but eh... it's a minor thing. One kind of annoying thing is how lifeline grabs you sometimes when you don't want it to, where turning it on and off becomes an annoying task.

Edit: Perhaps a keybind for "Use Lifeline" or a pop-up option would fix all the issues, allowing it to work at whatever range and give players control.
 
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