Characterisation and a more personal connection to the game world has always been one of the goals for Elite: Dangerous. It’s such a massive play space that it’s easy to feel dwarfed by it and the contacts inside the game can feel quite impersonal and so only enhance that perception. In an interesting coincidence I saw some lovely concept that fans had created for personalities and as part of the mission flow. This is something that we’re working on as part of the 2.1 release (as with the 2.0x point releases some of the changes will be applicable to season one owners).
We’ll leverage the work we’ve done on that Commander Creator to provide head shots of specific contacts. The focus for this will be mission givers and engineers (these are loot characters) and the intention is that every mission giver in game (and something similar for the minor factions) will be a specific individual. This should be consistent for all players.
Minor factions are political entities with star systems that vie against each other to control assets within the star system. Assets of a system include starports, outposts, surface ports and surface installations. The strength of a faction’s presence in a system is displayed as their influence level. Influence levels are increased, or reduced by player activity such as completing missions, trading and bounty hunting. Whichever minor faction controls the primary starport for the system is considered the controlling faction for the system. The minor faction that owns a port will determine the laws for the jurisdiction for that port. This is commonly dictated by the superpower allegiance of the minor faction, and its government type.
Currently there is little direct linkage between minor factions and powers, although powers can influence certain aspects like laws and markets within their dominion and grant state and influence bonuses to allied minor factions. Conversely minor factions that are diametrically opposed to a power make that system more costly to control. This connection between powers and minor factions is something we’d like to strengthen during season 2 and beyond.
There is a cap on the amount a Faction can change in influence per day, which is determined by: the size of population (the bigger the harder), the faction state, the amount of player activity that day, and any Power influence on that system. Influence is calculated on an approximately daily tick.
Your relationship with the minor faction will determine who within that organisation you will deal with, so the better your relationship with them, the higher level character you will deal with. So maintaining a decent reputation with that minor faction is a wise policy!
As well as providing a face for your interactions with that minor faction they will offer more information about how the minor faction is doing and how you can help them. This will be accompanied by a number of changes to missions to facilitate this, there will be more details on this over the coming weeks.
Engineers are individuals with their own characteristics, history and specialisations who will facilitate crafting. They are spread throughout human space and they are the people to see about implementing changes to your weapons and modules. The release of season two saw the first steps in loot and crafting and this will developed to a much greater degree in 2.1 - we’ll delve into more details on this soon as well.
Engineers are individuals who provide the blueprints (which describe the materials and items needed for a specific modification) and can then apply them to the weapon or module. They are characters with their own back story, preferences and specialisations. Initially we’re looking at around 30 engineers dotted throughout human space and we will be able to add more in future updates.
One of the reasons that we chose mission givers and engineers first for the characterisation treatment is because in both cases you have an ongoing relationship which can change over time with the character. For the minor factions this is measured by your reputation with that minor faction (although factors like Pilots Federation rank will influence the deference with which they treat you), with the engineers the measure is taken from a variety of stats throughout the game and dependent on the nature of the individual.
For example we have an engineer who is closely aligned with the Federal Navy and so your rank with the navy is his key consideration, so the higher your naval rank the better blueprints he will be able to offer. As well as naval ranks, the Pilots Federation ranks (including combat, trade, exploration and CQC) will influence some engineers. Some engineers will be affiliated with minor factions, so you’ll need to manage your relationship with them as well. Some will use your stats for mining or trading in illegal goods as well as a host of other indicators.
As well as these initial governing factor there is a separate reputation with them, which must be cultivated along the lines of their governing factor to gain their trust and so more capable blueprints.
Not all engineers are immediately available to all players. The factor that governs their relationship with a commander has a minimum threshold that must be reached for them to deal with the player.
Each engineer has a specialisation, meaning that the deal with specific weapon types and modules. This is because they are experts in squeezing a bit more performance than the norm in their particular field. We are looking at having a secondary specialisation for engineers, just to help balancing the distribution of specialisations and of course we can add more engineers in the future. Or even remove ones if circumstances require it!
The engineers are spread geographically to add more geography to the map, but also to fit with the individual’s characteristics. They tend to be reclusive characters who are found at their own, isolated facilities on planet surfaces.
Progression within a game can mean many different things, but in this case those aspects combine into telling your narrative while playing the game. Situations change and the game reflects those changes to you. Now we do quite a lot of these already, but we can improve the way we communicate these. And as with personalisation there is quite a bit of overlap in the details of achieving our aims for the update.
Currently there are five levels of reputation with a minor faction (Hated, Disliked, Neutral, Liked, Allied) and we’re adding an extra level on the positive side for a smoother, but also longer transition from working up from neutral. This should be a journey and rewarded accordingly, not only with the various in-game rewards, but also within the narrative of the experience by highlighting events like increasing your reputation level.
The mission givers will provide a sense of progression so that as you improve (or damage) your relationship with the faction your worth to the organisation is reflected in who you deal with. The ranks and tone of these mission givers in turn is coloured by the type of organisation they represent and feeds into their character portraits as well.
The mission board in station services replaces the old bulletin board, while some of the information remains the same, we’re working to make things much clearer and to present them in a fashion which highlights their importance to the minor faction. There are a number of specifics here which will be covered in next week’s topic about variety, but some also apply to progression. One example is what missions are available. This is supported in-game already, but where possible we want to ensure that the reasons the mission isn’t accessible is communicated correctly so that players know what to do to gain access to the mission, or another of its type later on.
This aspect also matters for the other end of the mission flow, so when a mission is completed or failed. In particular the mission giver will communicate what effects the mission ending has on their organisation. At the moment this is more opaque than we’d like and so player’s aren’t necessarily aware of the results their actions have. This aspect features heavily within the consequences goal.
Traditional gameplay progression usually corresponds with the difficulty of available activity increasing in line with developing skill with the game. This allows for an escalating sense of challenge being available as you develop the relationship with the minor faction, but also with other entities in the game. So missions requiring higher Pilots Federation ratings should also require extra effort to complete, but also providing appropriate rewards.
The final key aspect for progression is the communication within the mission itself. We’re expanding the functionality of the inbox so that messages will persist, so important or interesting messages do not get lost. This allows us to highlight the different stages in the mission more effectively and so creating a richer experience with it.
Variety at its most simplistic is making sure that more missions (and variants) are available, but beyond that tweaking them to make them more accessible and having a better sense of predictability, so if you’re looking for a particular type of mission then you can determine the best places to find them.
We’re tackling variety with a host of changes – the first is ensuring that more missions are available at the neutral reputation stage. Developing your reputation will reveal more missions, but more importantly – more valuable missions. We’re also removing the rank requirement for missions. The rank will now be an indication of difficulty (and by association, rewards) and generally will generated around your relevant Pilots Federation rank. You can take on more difficult missions to try and grasp some big rewards, but there is a risk in doing so. Missions will be generated by stricter criteria so that the majority of missions offered will make sense in the location that are offered.
A three stage hierarchy will govern how the missions are created.
First by the state of the minor faction, so if they are in famine, or at war, or any other state missions to address that state are generated.
Secondly, the type of market for the port, so that they match the economic activity for that market. An obvious example is creating mining missions from extraction economies.
The third stage is determined by the government type and this reflects the character of the minor factions and the types of operation that they indulge in. For example dictatorships are more likely to indulge in overt assassinations and so send a visible message, while democracies will conduct their wet work through covert operations.
Within the offered mission there will be a description for why that mission has been generated and what effect it will have for the minor faction. This clearer communication of the interaction with the galactic simulation will make it easier for you to pick the relevant missions for your goals.
We’re also looking to reduce the barrier of inconvenience for some of the mission elements – my favourite here is not having to drop out of supercruise to listen to alternate offers. The time limits for missions as well as which elements make them easier, or more difficult are being reviewed and addressed.
Another exciting change is how missions and USSs interact with each other. USSs for missions will now generally be located at specific bodies within a system which have can be located using a discovery scanner, although the usual ranges apply. If the system has a nav beacon then these can now be scanned and the scan will reveal these mission locations as well as providing any exploration data for that system.
In conjunction with these changes the general distribution and generation of USSs is also being updated. There are now concepts of different parts of space within a system, like traffic lanes and hubs and different contents can be generated at each. They are also created spatially rather than by time range so you can no longer just sit and wait for one to appear, you will need to look for it.
One other significant change for USSs is that they can be scanned to reveal more information about them without having to drop out of supercruise.