Recently, a group of us over at TGwS have been exploring and experimenting with the tactics we’ll use to succeed in Star Citizen in 3.0 and beyond. To simulate some of the challenges, we’ll face on a multi-crew ship we’re leveraging other games -most recently including a lot of Pulsar: Lost Colony and Worlds Adrift to good effect. Today, I’d like to talk about what we’ve learned about planetfall strategy playing the latter, a new open world survival game by Bossa Studios.
In Worlds Adrift (presently in closed beta) your goal is to build an airship used to explore a planet filled with floating ‘islands.’ In the process, you will gather knowledge and resources allowing you to build progressively more sophisticated ships, making it possible to travel to other parts of the world for exploration. Because of this core shipbuilding mechanic, a lot of time is invested in ships, making them prized possessions. Crews become very attached, and many salty tears are shed over their loss.
But beyond any emotional attachment the team may have to the home they worked so hard to build (or otherwise procure), these vessels serve as floating repositories for everything found along the way. Items gathered over hours, days, or even weeks including clothing, weapons, ammunition, and the raw materials necessary to trade and progress can all be lost in the blink of an eye, leaving you and your crew stranded and penniless.
During our time in Worlds Adrift, we’ve come across more than one raider, whose only objective was to destroy our ship and materials without warning or negotiation. Individuals who showed great skill and joy in how they executed their chaotic plan. This alongside the rest of the pirates and thieves is a very real risk, making the game all the more enjoyable to play. But it also suggests a higher level of organization and strategy are required, to avoid potentially devastating setbacks.
Planetfall Security is a Team Effort
In Star Citizen, the crew I roll with is looking forward to exploration and discovery, but we know space is a dangerous place. To balance the overriding goals of our team with emergent security needs (while ensuring we’re all still having fun) a high-level strategy for planetfall is suggested. Referred to by its acronym the RADER-Plan, the five, key elements of our strategy are:
- Reconnoiter the zone
- Assess the situation
- Define and communicate
By the way, acronyms are a useful way to make a process more memorable. Just look at how many are used by the United States Military!
Communicate and Collaborate
Before we explore each element of our strategy in greater detail, a word on leadership, communication, and roles on an exploration vessel. When it comes to security and navigation, someone on the crew should be designated the Officer in Command (OIC) at all times. On smaller ships, it might make sense that the OIC is also the pilot, but this isn’t necessarily the case. On larger ships, the pilot and the OIC may need to work together to maneuver the ship, particularly when close to land masses.
On a side note, you may wonder why it might be necessary for two (or more) crew members to drive the ship. An often overlooked yet vital aspect of security is the projection of strength and confidence. When a ship enters a new area and gracefully slides to its mooring with professionalism and pride, this display of competence says to observers: We know what we’re doing. Perhaps you should prey on the herp derps over there, crash landing on the beach.
You may also wonder: Is the OIC the Captain? In my opinion, I don’t think it should be on an exploration vessel, but results may vary. In general, I think an exploration ship should be a collective endeavor, choosing long term goals and style of operation collaboratively. It should strike a healthy balance between civilian and military style operation in order to keep things enjoyable while maintaining a reasonable degree of security. After all, exploration vessels will often be outside of lawfully protected space.
While an exploration crew may decide to have a formal, full-time Captain, this role is different from the OIC. Ideally, the Captain will work with the entire team to set and plan an overarching, long-term strategy for the ship. This role may include setting goals and objectives, communicating ideas, and supporting the other officers.
The OIC is accountable for the security of the ship and the health and safety of the crew at all times. Ideally, on an exploration ship, this would be a job, rather than a career, and everyone on board should take turns with the responsibility. On to the RADER-Plan.
Reconnoiter the Area
In Worlds Adrift we’re approaching new islands or regions of islands for exploration. However, this is not altogether unlike approaching a new planet, asteroid, or space station in the Star Citizen universe, for any other reason. The bottom line is, when you make planetfall, your crew and assets are entering an area which holds unknown risks. Therefore, it makes sense to proceed carefully
After identifying the theater for your next mission, the OIC should assign scouts, and dispatch them ahead of the principal assets. This individual or team’s goal is to reconnoiter the area in search of a safe landing zone and determine the presence of potential threats. On contact, the scout’s job is to interview other ship crews or locals in the area to assess their risk profile. We’ve met many friendlies in Worlds Adrift who were interested in trading knowledge and materials, and this is likely to occur in Star Citizen as well.
Once an LZ is selected, the Scout should radio back to the mother ship with instructions with a standardized 8-line message:
- Landing type (Main ship, landing vessel, scout vessels, HALO)
- Location of the landing zone
- Description of the landing zone
- Regional contact count (Friendlies/Neutrals/Enemies)
- Landing marker
- Landing start and window
- Local weather conditions with wind speed, wind direction, air pressure, and temperature
- Atmosphere condition.
For example, on a ship named Pantera, the Landing 8-line may sound something like this:
Scout: Pantera, Pantera, Pantera: Stand by for a landing 8-line.
Pantera OIC: Go ahead, Scout.
- Skipper, we are clear for a Pantera Alpha landing. (Main ship)
- LZ Bravo is on the south side of the island, approximately 50 meters southwest of the ruddy red/orange colored butte and 2000 meters altitude. You should be able to see that structure now, on your 12 o’clock.
- LZ Bravo is a 15 meter, roughly square grassy plain bordered on the north by two trees with red colored leaves. There is an iron mooring on the southwest corner of the area and a small, derelict ship nearby to the west.
- Two friendlies occupy the derelict ship, interested in trading. Zero neutrals, zero enemies.
- I will mark the LZ with purple smoke.
- Time to initiate landing: Now. Landing window: 30 minutes.
- The current weather conditions are clear. Winds are light westerlies at approximately 5 knots steady. Air pressure is unknown; air temperature is nominal.
- Local atmosphere is roughly Earth-like, specific chemistry is unknown, but no protective gear is required.
At this point, it would be wise for the OIC to repeat back the information to confirm receipt. At the very least it should be acknowledged.
Assess the Situation
While it’s the scout’s job to communicate intelligence about the landing zone, it is ultimately the OIC who is accountable for the security of the ship and crew. Therefore, the OIC has final say over whether they accept, reject, or would like to modify the Scout’s plan. This further assessment includes the new information provided by the scout, combined with other known intelligence regarding the identity of the local contacts and region. The OIC should also consult with the remainder of the crew before making a final determination.
Define and Communicate
Upon making a final decision regarding the landing plan, the OIC should layer in additional considerations to complete the total plan and communicate it out to the team. This final planning should also be worked out collaboratively with the mission crew.
A good planetfall plan should include, at least, the following six data points:
- Purpose of the landing
- Duration of the landing
- Landing assignments
- Planetside assignments
Simply put, this phase is to carry out the plan. It’s not uncommon for plans to get off track, and it’s important to be flexible and adapt to changing conditions.
Upon completion of the mission, it’s always a good idea to ask everyone who had a role to participate in an official debrief. The purpose of this meeting is for every single member of the team to have uninterrupted time to share their perception of the mission with complete openness and honesty.
High performing teams see this as an opportunity to evaluate the plan and get feedback on their performance at every step in the process. It’s important for everyone involved to feel comfortable sharing their perception and receiving criticism from their crewmates.
So what are your thoughts on planetfall strategy, and success with multicrew operations in general? Hit us up with comments or check us out in real time over at TGwS! We’re always looking for fun people to play with.