Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Discovery Scanner, Probing and K162s

This is the first post on The Excession that is going to cover current news; some potential changes to wormhole that are currently being discussed by CCP Fozzie here. Firstly, however, a brief history of recent probing changes is probably in order.

In The Beginning - The Past

Prior to Odyssey expansion, all ships were equipped with a system scanner. This displayed all cosmic anomalies in a system to all ships that entered it - within wormholes this meant that only combat sites were immediately visible when a ship entered a new system. In order to determine if any cosmic signatures were present, probes needed to be launched and a scan started. At this point all ore, gas, relic, data sites and wormholes were all cosmic signatures and needed to be scanned before their presence was known and pin pointed before they could be warped to.

Because signatures weren't known about without probes out, if groups were running any non-combat operations in their system, such as running sleeper sites or mining ore or gas, they would often station a scout with probes out. The scout's job was to scan, repeatedly, looking for a new signature that indicated a hostile force rolling their static wormhole and opening a connection into the system. It was a dull job, and took a pilot and attention away from shooting sleepers, or harvesting ore. So a significant percentage of people decided to be a little riskier and forgo a scout, trying to maximize their profits or avoid the menial task.

Although playing as a scout providing overwatch for your teammates was not the most thrilling gameplay, it was a choice that you could make. You could avoid doing it at all, or you could put a probe launcher on a site-running ship and scan occasionally, or you could have a pilot dedicated to it.

Even if you didn't have someone providing overwatch, if you were mining or gas harvesting you could use your directional scanner to keep tabs on the system; if you suddenly saw probes launched, you had some idea that people could be looking for you. Catching a miner in an ore site meant they had to miss your probes being launched and zeroing in on their position, but the relative safety of being in a site that needed to scan down meant that miners were relatively plentiful.

The Discovery Scanner - The Current

The system scanner was replaced with the discovery scanner in the Odyssey expansion and with it a significant change to probing. All anomalies and signatures now appear on the system scanner, although probes are required to lock down the precise position of cosmic signatures. Ore sites have become cosmic anomalies, so they are immediately visible on the discovery scanner and can be warped to with no further interaction.

The key effect for PvP in wormhole space was that new wormhole links opening into a wormhole system appeared immediately on the discovery scanner panel, with no probes needed. Once the signatures in a system have been scanned down, probes are no longer required to monitor for inbound connections spawning. Any PvP groups "rolling" their static link and having it open into a wormhole system with active players now has its presence instantly broadcast to everyone.

From my personal experience this has had a significant impact on how hunting in wormhole chains happens; it is now much more focused on exploring already-available links, even if the chain of wormhole systems gets very long. The days of repeatedly rolling your static wormhole link looking for a group that is running sites are over - the appearance of the new signature in a system causes anyone running sites or otherwise out and about in the system to scarper and cloak up.

The number of pilots mining in ore sites in wormhole systems has plummeted, however; although it's easier to see a new inbound, anyone already in the system or anyone entering via an existing link no longer needs to launch probes in order to scan down ore sites. Mining barges with their relatively high align time and low tank are easy prey - a great deal of mining now occurs in Ventures.

The Proposal - The Future?

CCP Fozzie's proposal that he is sourcing comment on is to change inbound wormholes so that they do not appear on the discovery scanner or scan probe results for some amount of time after spawning. And I think this is a Bad Idea™.
  • Site running in wormholes will become massively unsafe, and with no reliable way to mitigate that lack of safety. The only way to identify a new signature appearing would be when ships transit through it, and hoping that you manage to catch them on a combat probe or directional scan when they not cloaked and in range. In large systems this would make it virtually impossible to run any sites without hostiles being able to enter the system entirely unknown to you. While this might be viable for larger wormhole groups occupying class 5-6 wormhole systems and making a huge amount of money from escalations, smaller groups occupying lower tiers of wormhole systems would struggle to break even, let alone make enough ISK to justify the massive risk they would be putting themselves into. This will result in a lot of the more casual groups leaving wormhole space and a lot of newer groups being knocked out with horrible losses within a short time of moving in.
  • Although I cannot take credit for realizing this (that goes to Sith1s Spectre of Sky Fighters in his post here) putting capital ships into another corporations wormhole in class 5-6 wormhole space will become significantly easier. Three capital ships will crash a wormhole immediately due to mass limitations, and so there is a good chance that the inhabitants of a wormhole system won't know a link into their system ever spawned - it will simply vanish before it ever showed up on scan results, but they will now have hostile capital ships within their system.
  • Groups cycling a wormhole link by putting mass through it (rolling the hole) can carry it out in almost complete safety. I have had significant success in disrupting groups that are trying to roll wormholes that have linked into our home system, and some good fights have come of it.
The key concern is that removing inbound links from the discovery scanner or probe results means there is no defensive mechanism that can be employed against hole rolling or links randomly opening into a system. And that simply isn't good gameplay.

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