Post 2.4 Core Gameplay Improvements : Exploration

As we are all discussing what might happen post 2.4, in what we might call for now "Season 3", though I understand the season model may be replaced with another. But still, it will be a tranche of work that will probably last for say a year. And so within that period, lets discuss a single topic within this thread.

Just some points
  • Please keep your comments here on topic, so no drifting off onto Exploration, or Quality of Life enhancements.
  • Please be as verbose as you can, fully explain what you would like to see Added, Remove or Tweaked,and WHY, benefits?
  • Please be civil and positive, you may not agree with ideas, but lets discuss it, not devolve into an A vs B slanging match...
EXPLORATION
 
See my suggestion thread here:

https://forums.frontier.co.uk/showthread.php/353354-Suggestion-Exploration-Development-a-Galaxy-of-Possibilitie

I'll just repost it here for ease of reading:


Pretty much every commander agrees that exploration in Elite could use some development, this appears to be an almost universal opinion among the players. Lot's of commanders currently ignore exploration due to it's lack of development, they find it boring and not very engaging. I’ve done my fair share of exploring since 1.0, spending 90% of my time (maybe more) out in deep space. Hundreds of hours utilizing the game’s existing mechanics for exploration. That’s afforded me a lot of time to ponder how I wish exploration was better in the game.

So, as a veteran of exploration in Elite, how would I like to see it improved in the future?

Exploration needs two areas of improvement: mechanics, and content. Frontier has added some content since 1.0 in the form of geysers, fumeroles, and fungal life, but explorers have no tools at all to find them, so they need to search entire planets by eye, which is not very feasible nor interactive in any way at all. They added content potential with landable worlds but as of yet haven't utilized this potential for explorers in any engaging ways. This is why improved exploration mechanics are so sorely needed. First Discovery Tags and Neutron Jumps are the only meaningful mechanics to be added to exploration since 1.0 that directly improved the game play of exploration, but one is a passive improvement and the other is a specialized mode of travel. Exploration desperately needs more interactive and engaging mechanics to add diversity and player initiated actions to the role, it also needs more risk and some aspect of survival, the fact that so many explorers currently watch Netflix while they explore says it all!!!

So here are some ideas on how exploration could be improved using the 2.3 version as a starting point, and I’ll do mechanics first followed by content which then uses those mechanics. With most of these ideas I've attempted to not suggest anything incredibly outlandish, but rather use Elite's current mechanics as a basis to build upon. In fact a lot of my ideas just modify existing current mechanics and applies them as new exploration improvements. Afterwards I'll go into the far future of Elite exploration with ideas for new planet types and such.


NEW & IMPROVED EXPLORATION MECHANICS: There are three goals to these new and improved mechanics: to give explorers more information to prompt decision making, to give explorers more to do, and to make exploring more risky.


  • Planet Surface Heat Maps – A new feature of DSS scans, surface maps now highlight areas of interest, or search zones which can identify large areas to find things like man made unidentified objects (unregistered bases or outposts), alien unidentified objects (alien ruins, alien ship crash sites), geysers and fumeroles, fungal life, basically any unidentified procedurally or hand placed fixed POI on the surface.

    Upon flying down into a heatmap zone and entering glide, a bouncing search designator routine begins just like what is currently used for surface salvage missions, only requiring many more “iterations” to narrow down. Once the commander finalizes the search routine they then must land and use the SRV scanners to exactly locate where the POI is. Once these POI’s are found by the commander they then become “known” to them and from then on are no longer marked with heatmaps but instead with the normal surface designator icon, like bubble surface content currently is.

    The idea is not to make things super easy nor fast for explorers to find, but to add some layers of interactivity into the process via several mechanics working together. Finding things should require a hunting process and not be magically "detected" by a passive radar function.
  • Solar Flares – Fuel scooping is now more dangerous! Occasionally there can be solar flares and star corona ejections while fuel scooping, which have to be avoided or the ship could experience sudden drastic heat increases, and even take shield damage, and if the shields drop then hull and module damage. Adds some interactivity and danger to a common but mundane task of exploring.
  • Natural Signal Sources – New version of a procedurally placed fixed USS but all naturally occurring stuff, like comets, very large landable asteroids, wandering asteroid fields, and even rogue planets (more below). Some NSS’s contain things which can be scanned for data (gets more valuable with distance from SOL), others can be mined for materials. NSS can spawn anywhere, even in the bubble too, but they get much more valuable with distance from the bubble.
  • Module Wear & Tear - Modules would very gradually degrade over time with use. For bubble players this would be a non issue, simply hit the repair button every dozen docks or so and it's cheaply fixed, but for deep space explorers this would make the AFMU necessary equipment, adding some survival management to exploration. During long trips explorers would have to restock the AFMU, which would eventually force them down to planet surfaces to hunt for materials in order to keep flying. The idea here is to break up the rythym of exploring with other tasks, and to prevent ships from flying forever without some effort required towards maintaining the ship in working order.
  • Exploration Missions - Add a new section to the Cartography page at bases where explorers can browse for exploration missions. This would require the mission generator to work in tandem with the Stellar Forge in order to create mission targets that actually exist but are undiscovered yet. These could entail tasks like:
    • Fly to a specific system and perform a full scan of all stellar bodies.
    • Search a specified sector for a specific star or planet type, matching certain criteria. Scan it and return.
    • Search a specified sector for a certain type of volcanism, scan it and return.
    • Full scan some random amount of planet types.

NEW EXPLORATION CONTENT: These suggestions are intended to give explorers more things to search for in tandem with the above mechanics, plus additional tools using existing mechanics.


  • Rework Geysers / Fumeroles / Fungal Life – Simply update these to work with the new DSS heatmaps, and add scan points to the sites which marks their location as "known" and makes it sellable data. Once a pilot finds one of these sites they will forever be marked in their nav panel and easily navigated to again if desired.
  • New Natural Surface POI’s – These are not fixed POI’s like geysers, but a new category of randomly generated instanced POI’s (like cargo dumps and mat nodes) which are located via the SRV scanners. Gives explorers things to find while driving around on planet surfaces in deep space which can be scanned for valuable data. Things like geologic formations, meteor impact sites, more kinds of fungal life, and surface core samples (more on this below), all in varying degrees of value and quality. These data scans become more valuable with distance from SOL, this encourages explorers to get out into deep space while rewarding the time and effort to get there.
  • SRV MkII (The Rhino) – This is a new, slower but slightly larger version of the Scarab, with a weaker main turret but much more cargo space. The MkII also carries a surface drill rig which can be used for various things, like surface ore mining, and collecting surface core samples!
  • Surface Core Samples – These are rare random locations found with in conjunction with the SRV scanner and heatmaps which allow the commander to use the drill rig on the SRV MkII to drill through the surface and collect a planet core sample, which takes 1T of cargo rack space and can be flown back to civilization and sold for large credit values. Again the cores increase in value with distance from SOL. The new DSS heatmaps can be used to locate areas on planets with the best chances of finding surface core spots, but much SRV searching will still be required to find them. In general though they will procedurally spawn around areas of increased surface terrain geometry, like large canyon or mountain networks or inside craters.
  • Caves - Implement caves as random procedurally fixed terrain features. Accessible by both sinkholes (surface holes like on Earth's Moon) or by sloped entrances in craters/mountainsides/canyon walls. Large enough to drive the SRV in, some might even be large enough to fly the ship into, and with a high probability of finding materials, fungal life, surface ores, scannable geologic formations, etc within. Also prime locations for surface core collection points!
  • Rogue Planets - Fully landable but very rare planets found in the new Natural Signal Sources, with potentially everything that can be found on normal planets, but with much more robust terrain geometry. These planets have gone through hell, so they can potentially have very extreme terrain features and crazy POI clusters. Extremely valuable surface core samples, as long as you can locate them!
  • Exploration Internal Slots – Certain ships get additional internals that can be used for exploration related modules; like both scanners, fuel scoops, and the AFMU.
  • Neutron Battery – New utility slot module, can store one charge of a neutron jump for the FSD. This could allow explorers to potentially use neutron stars to jump into very remote systems which would normally strand the ship with no way to return. Filling the battery takes longer than normal FSD charging though, thus more time spent fighting the jets and much greater damage done to the ship. Plus activating a neutron battery can potentially overload systems and cause additional random module damage.

All of the above is meant to add some interactivity to exploration making it more engaging while also giving explorers more to do, more options of what to explore for, and also adding more risk to exploration too. It's a foundation of interactive mechanics enabling additional future content to be utilized for gameplay purposes, not just eye candy.

Here are a few more additional ideas for exploration to improve it even further:


EXPLORATION ODDS & ENDS: Quality of life improvements, just nice to have stuff that really effects everyone, but more so explorers.


  • Greater Diversity in Planet Coloring - Get rid of the galactic beige plague that has infected 97% of landable high metal content and metal rich worlds! It's fine to have some monotone planets, but there needs to be interesting looking planets with color diversity too. Exploring planets with interesting and varied terrain is much more fun than monochrome worlds. You only need look to our own solar system to see plenty of real life examples. (Frontier has already stated they want to improve this eventually, as of March 2017)
  • Black Hole Accretion Discs - Make large black holes look more scenic, more like the physicist Kip Thorne predicts they do. Like the movie Interstellar's black hole!
  • Planetary Ring Shadows - Yeah it's probably not an easy one to implement into the Cobra Engine, but it would be so much more scenic and immersive if planet rings cast shadows on the planets, especially down at the surface level.

ADDITIONAL PLANET TYPES: As more planet types are enabled for landings even more content can be added to exploration, bringing greater depth to the role while also bringing much greater dangers too.


  • Volcanic Worlds - Explore planets with magma flows, lava oceans, superheated geysers, and volcanos of many sizes. Magma and lava can inflict great damage to SRV's but surface core samples from these worlds can be incredibly lucrative, so pilots must take care when driving around searching for them. Also flying the ship through superheated geysers or volcanic eruptions can ruin a day real quick, but the interiors of volcanos can be exceptional locations for scans or core samples. It's wiser to find caves and enter volcanos in the SRV that way, but great care must be taken when doing so.
  • Gas Giants - Flying down inside beautiful gas giant atmospheres can be dangerous, but profitable. Fuel scoops can be used to collect valuable atmospheric samples which take up 1T of cargo space by locating "pockets" on the radar and flying into them, this is time consuming though. Terribly strong winds can buffet the ship making controlling flight difficult, and huge storms with lightning strikes can cause great damage quickly, even causing module malfunctions. Some worlds also have very acidic atmospheres as well which can damage the ship over time. However, some rare gas giants also have life forms flying inside of them, and these can be scanned for incredibly valuable data.
  • Atmospheric Worlds - These planets are rich in resources and very scenic to explore, some even have life, but atmospheres can cause problems too. Some worlds are plagued with very strong storms of various types: electrical, gale force winds, acidic, and particulate. Lightning can cause terrible ship damage, winds can throw ships around like paper planes making landing or flying low dangerous, acid rains can eat hull away. Heatmaps from the DSS can show weather systems on the planet, so the pilot can fly to elude them and be safe, but weather is often unpredictable, so diligence while exploring is necessary, and a hasty retreat back into "safe" outer space may sometimes be prudent. Despite the dangers though, everything on these worlds are valuable: materials, data scans, surface core samples, ores to mine, etc.
  • Dark Systems - These are planets or planetary systems out in space that do not have main stars, thus no light in them at all nor any huge mass sources other than planets. They would not show in the galaxy map due to not being indexed, Stellar Cartography doesn't know they exist due to no light sources so they aren't in the computer nav banks. The only way to find them would be to search the nav panel on the ship's left console while traveling through space and look for any systems labeled as "UNKNOWN", as the ship's sensors would detect a mass jump point but wouldn't recognize it. (Possibly have a message pop up on the HUD when the ship detects an unknown mass source out in deep space?)

IN-GAME STELLAR CARTOGRAPHY GALACTIC RECORDS LEADERBOARD:: This would be a new competitive (non-combat) multiplayer feature for explorers where the game keeps track of discovery records for things like "oldest M type star", "youngest black hole", "largest ammonia world", and so on for dozens of categories. Each record would list the system and object name, the CMDR who discovered it and the date. The current record holder list could be accessed from anywhere via a Stellar Cartography button on the ship's GalNet menu under the cockpit's left UI panel. Whenever a CMDR scans a planet or star which broke a record they would be notified via a pop up after scanning, but in order to actually log the record and get credit for it the pilot would need to hand in the exploration data and sell it.




There, those are just some ideas I've thought about for improving exploration over the past two and a half years. In summary, I'd just like to see exploration made more engaging and interactive overall, and less passive and "instant scan" like. More gameplay in the role, less tedium.
 
Wormholes!

And not fast travel wormholes. But rare, scannable and jumpable wormholes, with varying degrees of random exit points, from as close as somewhere else in the same system, to as far 10,000s light-years away. Exit points are random within a system, not tied to any star or large body.

The further they go, the more money you get for scanning them, and the rarer they become, you also get an additional bonus for scanning the exit point too. But they are one way only.

They would only last until the instance is empty, like a USS, then it's gone forever!
 
I would like to see all types of scanners and computers merged into one.

And this "main ship computer" could be upgraded, as all things, along the way.
 
*Option to have personal bookmark names used in the galaxy map view.
*Shareable bookmarks.
*Open-end exploration missions types.
*In-game bulletin board for sharing information. With categories like exploration. (Not limited to exploration, of course)
*A real, super-lightweight civilian exploration ship selection.
*Planetary mining with the ability to set up temporary camps for storage, repairs and even refitting with crafted modules.
*Circumstellar clouds and discs. Make them dangerous to jump into with a route plotter able to determine risk levels with a scan, to make route plotting safe with the option for you to manually jump to dangerous systems.
*Dangerous black holes.
*Dangerous AeBe stars.
*Dangerous other things in deep space.
*Make nebulae problematic to navigate through.
*An annual, announced supernova event of some sort.
*Extended range jump drive. Very slow charging for extreme jumps. Maybe limited number of jumps between docks/refills.
*Greater detail/depth in rendering of star surfaces, gas giant surfaces, nebulae and such.
*Surface collision detection for cameras, to cure us from the jarring views under ground.
*UAV's for exploration and other things.
 
ships that are 'explorers' such as the asp explorer or the diamond back explorer should have an extra size 1 slot for the additional class 1 scanner that you need to function well. Alternatively they could have dedicated exploration slots (like military slots) that can only take exploration related equipment.
 
Hopefully this will be a busy thread. Some great suggestions already here. Exploration is massively under developed in ED and it's a shame because there is a whole galaxy out there to explore. Speaking for myself a big increase in findable objects (that have uses/gameplay opportunity) and a deep dive into the mechanics of exploration are well over due.
 
[*]Exploration Missions - Add a new section to the Cartography page at bases where explorers can browse for exploration missions. This would require the mission generator to work in tandem with the Stellar Forge in order to create mission targets that actually exist but are undiscovered yet. These could entail tasks like:
  • Fly to a specific system and perform a full scan of all stellar bodies.
  • Search a specified sector for a specific star or planet type, matching certain criteria. Scan it and return.
  • Search a specified sector for a certain type of volcanism, scan it and return.
  • Full scan some random amount of planet types.
Love all of it, but especially this
 
There are many many great posts like Mengys from over the years since release. I hope those people come here to post again.
 
When I decide to land on a planet, I'd like to make a judgement where to land depending on what I'm there for. If it's materials I need to be able to make an educated guess where I have the most chance of finding the material I am after. If it's geysers or alien brocolli, I'd like to narrow down the search from covering the entire bleeding planet to areas.

Unfortunately, that's about all the reasons for landing on planets. Give me more reasons to land on planets!!

I don't care how this will be realized, that's up to FD.
 
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"Alright, 12,000ly from home, and finally reached my target system. Not scanned anything on the way, want to make sure I got out a good distance.. make sure I get that glorious discovery bonus!

...tap tap..click...

Scanning system..... there are 17 planetary bodies in this system. 8 Class 1 Gas Giants. 4 Class III Gas Giants. 1 Water Giant. 2 High Metal Content. 1 Ammonia content. 1 Earth Like.

Earth like mmm? Let's see....tap...tap.. 940Ls from the star... ok, let's go take a look."

3 minutes later...

"Ok.. let's get into orbit and see what's down there...tap...click...

Now in Standard Orbit. Commencing surface scan...............The planet is composed of 78% water, with a Nitrogen/Oxygen rich atmosphere. There are signs of intelligent civilisation. No fusion power signatures detected. No fission power signatures detected. No atmospheric pollutants detected. This civilisation is classed as primitive, and should not be disturbed as per the Pilot's Federation Guidelines. Planetary position and details entered into ships log.

Ok.. let's have a look at the rest of the system....tappity tap..."

Etc Etc.

Please?
 
1. Some level of Super Cruise autopilot.
- Select a body from your scanner and select from the following options: Target destination, High Orbit(For general scanning), Low Orbit(For detailed surface scanning or higher resolution scans).
* Would replace current scanning mechanic where you simply approach and target. Instead you would need to select an orbit type and maintain that for several moment while your ship scans the object.
- Super Cruise would make vector adjustments as well as throttle adjustments for you with the orbit options so you would not need to manually pilot yourself to the system.

2. Interstellar scanning
- Unexplored systems have less accurate data about the stars present in the system. Depending on the rarity of the start type, the chances that existing data is incorrect goes up.
- Using an interstellar scanner, a pilot can scan adjacent systems to their present location and retrieve basic data such as exact start type, number of objects, but nothing granular.
- Certain dim star types do not appear at all unless scanned from an adjacent system.
- Scanner is not directional, and Ly from source distance varies with level of scanner. Class e = 8Ly, Class A = 50 Ly

3. Different types of scanners which can detect some objects that do not reflect visible light spectrum, or that can uncover hard to find locations in a system.
- Radio
- X-Ray
- Gamma Ray
- Ect.

4. Low possibility of random encounters when X * 1000 Lys from inhabited space.
- Some could be a dangerous stellar body, like a pulsar with ejected matter spewing directly at the pilot who drops into the system. A type of interdiction system plays out to determine if the pilot sustains damage.
- Some could be helpful. Providing fuel additives or additional data. We've seen the data containers floating around near signal sources, instead of taking them, just use the data scanner and add the previous owners data to your own. This could incorporate actual player deaths/destruction. (IE. I've scanned 8000 Ly worth of systems when I smack into a planet attempting to land. Another player comes by later and discovers near that location a data container they may scan. By doing so, my lost data now becomes theirs.)
 
"Alright, 12,000ly from home, and finally reached my target system. Not scanned anything on the way, want to make sure I got out a good distance.. make sure I get that glorious discovery bonus!

...tap tap..click...

Scanning system..... there are 17 planetary bodies in this system. 8 Class 1 Gas Giants. 4 Class III Gas Giants. 1 Water Giant. 2 High Metal Content. 1 Ammonia content. 1 Earth Like.

Earth like mmm? Let's see....tap...tap.. 940Ls from the star... ok, let's go take a look."

3 minutes later...

"Ok.. let's get into orbit and see what's down there...tap...click...

Now in Standard Orbit. Commencing surface scan...............The planet is composed of 78% water, with a Nitrogen/Oxygen rich atmosphere. There are signs of intelligent civilisation. No fusion power signatures detected. No fission power signatures detected. No atmospheric pollutants detected. This civilisation is classed as primitive, and should not be disturbed as per the Pilot's Federation Guidelines. Planetary position and details entered into ships log.

Ok.. let's have a look at the rest of the system....tappity tap..."

Etc Etc.

Please?
Um... you missed "Powering up Large Plasma Acelerator for Orbital bombardment"
 
Discovery limpets. Drop one of in a given system, jump out to your next target and sit back whilst it bookmarks the system and adds a detailed surface scan of every single body in the system to your discovery data before its power cell dies.

Have it so that limpets can be made from materials so that explorers can replenish them when away from the bubble.
 
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