The patrol mode has been tested a couple of times by the crew of the TSN Raven now and is working as expected. There was a major issue with pirates just not attacking, which I've now managed to fix. It took some work, and required stripping back and rebuilding each pirate's AI commands, but now they will hunt a player down when you enter the sector.
I'm not sure that I have posted an update here about the patrol mode. I had tried something similar in a previous version of the Sandbox, but found it too cumbersome to build in. After letting the idea stew for a period, I finally thought up of a way to integrate it within the new Sandbox. Basically, the code for spawning and setting AI is all isolated from the rest of the sandbox code, and then triggers in a particular sector activate it. I used a couple of variables cycling to randomly pick numbers and drew on them to set up coordinates as well as spawn chance. I have tweaked the spawn chance to get a decent balance, and think I have managed to get something that is acceptable.
Within the Sandbox, there are the pirates, kraliens, mixed hegemony fleets, heavier carrier fleets and command fleets. Different enemies can be encountered in different systems and sectors, and where those enemies spawn can be tailored. For example, enemies might spawn nearer a particular sector edge, such a pirates raiding into Cerberus sector 1 & 5, or might spawn at any random location in the sector, such as enemies in their own system. The next phase will be adding in more badlands and then adding in the Unakalhai and N'Tani to roam through them. There was also a request to add in some allied ships too, so I will look into that. I'd like to create some that have small missions built in, for example some with distress calls similar to what would be found in a normal solo or coop game, or some transport missions, picking up supplies.
Now that it is part of the Sandbox, in testing the TSN Raven has been running patrol simulations (we are still testing so don't want to make them 'proper missions' in case the script breaks) and search and destroy simulations into the Cronus and Erebus systems. Last night in our shift, we entered Erebus to hunt down and destroy enemy command fleets in order to disrupt their operations. The command fleets are small fleets of 3 or 4 ships, one of which is a special command ship (3000+ shields front and back) guarded by two or three other heavy ships (e.g leviathans, goliaths or carriers). For a single ship, they are pretty tough nuts to crack, and usually by the end of the combat, a lot of ordnance has been expended.
With these kinds of missions though, there has been an issue with the amount of time it takes to get places. Travelling at warp 1 all the way to the Erebus system takes ages, and often a ship has to stop and refuel multiple times on the way, particularly if the engage any enemies along the way. As a result, I've started exploring options on how to address the problem. There were a few different ideas that I was looking in to. One very simple idea was to give ships an infinite amount of energy, but in testing it just didn't feel right. Another option was to increase the energy gained from the FCS to reduce the amount of time refueling, but I felt this wouldn't combat the problem of having to stop frequently or travelling at warp 1. I opened up the discussion on the TSN forums and got a couple of ideas - advanced refuel point to gather supplies, a supply ship, special short cuts to systems, increasing ship's energy reserves - all were ideas suggested. One though was changing the efficiency of systems, something I think someone had mentioned a few months ago. So, I've started experimenting.
In the first trial, we just changed all system's efficiency to 1. In that test, the ships could move around at war 3 & 4 with little issue. At warp 1, no power was used at all, at warp 2, it was used 1 unit over several seconds. Warp 3 & 4 used energy at a much slower rate, but one that was noticeable. The next change lowered warp, impulse and maneouvre, but increased sensors, primary beams and torpedo systems. Shield were kept the same. In the trails with the TSN Raven, we could use warp 3 to get to Erebus system, crossing 7 or 8 sectors and using about 1/2 our energy reserves, and then attack a couple of enemy fleets before needing to stop to collect more fuel. We found that rather than having to manage energy, we were having to manage ordnance, heat on systems, damage, much more. The engineer reported that without the "downtime" provided by the fuel collection mode, they had to work harder to actually cool and manage systems, and in one of the first simulations, we actually had to abandon ship as we had taken damage to maneouvre systems and lost all damcon teams.
That is all for now. It has been quite a while since I updated this blog. For the most up-to-date information about the Sandbox, I post regularly on the Artemis forums, so check out the thread. You can download it there too! Oh, and I almost forgot, check out the Stellar Cartography too. It is an interactive map for the sandbox which can be used on any device. It makes for a pretty cool map tool to help navigate around the systems and sectors.