It was probably easy to assume that the marquee feature of Star Citizen’s alpha 3.8 was going to be blowing wind. That’s not all, however: There’s also the unveiling of the Argo MOLE, a three-person mining ship that will be arriving with the update, along with a variety of new features to make mining in-game more engaging for the rock nibblers of the ‘Verse. You’ll recall the MOLE is the brightly colored vessel featured in last night’s Inside Star Citizen.
We recently got to speak with lead systems designer Jon Dadley and vehicle pipeline director John Crewe about the all-new Argo MOLE. Read on to hear about the process of designing the new miner and what it heralds for economic gameplay and ship creation in Star Citizen, both in terms of alpha 3.8 and into the future.
What made the team want to make a multi-crew mining ship?
Jon Dadley: We’re keen to develop and encourage more multi-crew gameplay across the whole of Star Citizen. With mining being one of the primary routes to earning UEC, we felt a multi-crew mining ship would be a strong path to promoting multi-crew gameplay.
John Crewe: The MOLE fills one of our gaps in our ship line up that we’ve had for a long time, we have the Prospector which is your solo operated mining ship and the Orion, which is a capital sized vessel, so it made perfect sense to have this ship in the middle to even out the progression. We’d planned this ship’s purpose for a very long time due to the Mining career gameplay loop and now was the right time to bring the team together to fulfill it.
What makes the MOLE a better option then, say, three Prospectors?
JD: The MOLE will be much more cost effective as wear and repair become increasingly important features of Star Citizen. Operating 3 separate ships will incur 3x the amount of item wear and repair costs and running a single ship side-steps those additional overheads. Additionally, the MOLE can equip Size 2 laser heads vs the Prospectors Size 1 laser heads. Finally, the MOLE comes with laser heads that have 2x the mining range of a Prospector.
JC: As Jon said, on paper it may seem like 3 ships is better than one, but once all the other features start factoring in such as wear, repair and fuel costs that margin disappears very quickly. The MOLE’s mining pods also hold more material per pod so whilst both ships have the same ejecting pod system, on per pod basis, the MOLE wins out. Outside of those features it’s also a significantly easier enterprise to have yourself and 3 buddies in a single ship cruising through the ‘Verse rather than 3-4 separate ships. If that’s not enough reason, then with the larger mining heads, with greater range, you can tackle much harder rocks immediately rather than trying to organize for your party to all converge on a single rock.
The MOLE has, frankly, an almost racer-like design to it instead of something really industrious like a Prospector or Caterpillar. Was that intentional, or did that just evolve over the course of concepting?
JC: I’m not sure I’d call it racer like! It seems very industrial design to me and was something the concept art team really hammered on early in the process (as you can see in the concept versions.) We also looked at the two other ARGO ships we have, the MPUV and the SRV, and took quite a few styling cues from them to ensure the companies ships retain a consistent look and style.
Obviously three mining lasers are an important feature, but what other features does the MOLE have? Can it prospect or find ore easier than other ships?
JC: The MOLE can find valuable goods just as well as any other dedicated mining ship, the real benefit is being able to tackle a much larger range of deposits than smaller ships due to the larger mining heads and the simple fact there are three of them. In a Prospector you may find a really good mining rock, but it might be just too hard to crack, so you’d need to call for backup. Whereas with the MOLE you’re good to go straight away.
We seem to be a long way from Quantum’s arrival and its economic effects. What sort of role do you think the MOLE will play in Star Citizen in the meantime, especially without dedicated refineries or industry?
JC: Mining is going to remain one of the most lucrative ways to earn money in the ‘Verse for a time. The MOLE, with its increased efficiency, will no doubt be a favorite for those who are saving up for in-game purchases.
We plan to have refinery stations implemented in-game in future patches so the mining/refining loop will be naturally extended once those come online even without Quantum. In the interim as the MOLE can carry a lot more than a Prospector it naturally allows you to make more buck per trip than a Prospector, although you should be splitting this with your crew…perhaps not everyone will.
Will the MOLE represent the best in small mining ops or will there be other mining ships or more efficient mining lasers coming soon?
JD: The MOLE already packs improved mining lasers over the Prospector. As stock it comes with Size 2 mining laser heads with 2x mining range. These Size 2 hardpoints will also allow it to fit a range of different Size 2 mining heads in future with different feature sets.
JC: The MOLE is very much the middle man in the Mining career and will benefit from the same setup the Prospector has received in 3.8 with additional mining heads to tailor the gameplay as you want, the benefit naturally being you could have 3 different mining heads on a single ship.
There appears to be a lot of focus on establishing an economy in Star Citizen, with the MOLE, the Quantum system, and the Kraken Privateer reveal, nevermind FPS mining’s recent arrival. Is this the plan for Star Citizen’s development going forward?
JC: Absolutely. The economy is the backbone of Star Citizen – it’s how we dangle “carrots” in front of players, encourage actions and unleash the potential of a sandbox universe.
Do you think the MOLE will bring together players not just to fill the seats but to provide other services like logistics and protection, or is it still too early in alpha for that to matter?
JC: Definitely, but this is less about the MOLE itself and more about big changes coming to Star Citizen as a whole. Platform persistence will truly be a game changer here. As soon as aUEC is no longer being wiped between patches, players can start to accumulate enough wealth to truly make their mark on the ‘Verse. We anticipate that in adding platform persistence, we’ll see a large spike in emergent gameplay, due to players becoming a little less cavalier with their ships, cargo and property in Star Citizen. In fact, even without Platform Persistence and due to features like in-game Ship Purchasing and Renting, we’re already seeing players help each other out more and more with every patch.
Can we expect to see other ship types like freighters get multi-crew features like the MOLE (above and beyond just manning defense turrets)?
JD: Eventually, the process of running any large ship will be an inherently multi-crew process, even beyond manning turrets. For career-oriented ships, yes, we will be looking to maximize the multi-crew nature of them to promote players working together.
Can we look forward to fewer concept sales and more direct-to-flyable ships in the near future?
JC: Yes – we’re moving towards a more “direct-to-fight-ready” production pipeline. We know the community prefer to be able to fly ships straight away and we prefer it as developers. It also allows us to keep momentum on a ship from inception to release. There will likely still be some concept only reveals in the future as well as tackling our existing promised set of ships.
The MOLE, as mentioned in the interview, fields a new type of mining laser, which is part of what alpha 3.8 is adding as detailed in the latest Inside Star Citizen video. Players can soon look forward to a variety of different mining lasers as well as various asteroids with different resistances. In short, according to the video, if you run into a rock with a 15-20% resistance, you’re going to need a new mining laser.
The video gets a closer look at the Argo MOLE as well as the updates to mining gameplay, along with a look at the past year’s development. You can get the complete video in the embed below, and we want to thank Jon Dadley and John Crewe for taking the time to field our questions.