Star Citizen fans have enjoyed relatively threat-free transport around a massive virtual solar system at quantum speeds, but that's about to change with the reveal, and upcoming test launch, of the sleek, broad, single-seater RSI Mantis. Making its Evocati debut later this week alongside new features in Alpha 3.7, the Mantis is the first and only ship in the game to support a new feature set called Quantum Enforcement.
To reveal how it works, Newsweek spoke with Cloud Imperium Games Vehicle Pipeline Director John Crewe and Lead System Designer Kirk Tome. During our chat, the developers described the basics of Quantum Enforcement, how it's balanced and how it might change in the weeks, months and years ahead.
The Basics of Quantum Enforcement
At its core, Quantum Enforcement gameplay is about stalling quantum travel using a Quantum Enforcement Device. The device is comprised of three rings housed in the rear of the craft. As Tome suggests, there are two basic features of the Mantis that prevent players from safely zipping from one end of the persistent universe to the other: Quantum Snare and Quantum Dampening.
"Quantum Snare is going to be a large-radius event like fishing, where you pull people out of quantum travel and hold them there as long as you have the device on. Quantum Dampening is when you sidle up to ships and then prevent the quantum drive from activating in the first place," he described.
While previous versions of Star Citizen allowed AI to pull players out of quantum travel for the sake of missions, the Mantis offers the first chance for players to do it themselves. "From a gameplay design point of view that's not a great place to be in where you're weaker than the AI," Crewe admitted. "This was one area of the game where there was a gap in functionality."
New-found capability in mind, fans may be wondering precisely how to trigger Quantum Dampening and Quantum Snare in-game. On that subject, Tome went into great detail.
"Quantum Dampening will be a much smaller radius, maybe somewhere around 2,000 meters. It will be an instant-on function in which there is a sphere of influence around you that prevents any other ships from quantum traveling. So you're basically turning the ignition off on any quantum drives so they can't pull away. You'll need to be relatively close to the other ships to do that."
"The Quantum Snare event is a much more involved event in which you need to charge up the device first. There's a waiting period very similar to what we have game-mechanic-wise with the EMP.
"When you release the charge it will be anywhere between 10,000 to 20,000 meters to start. It generates a sphere that will pull anyone that happens to be quantum traveling through the sphere out. This includes AI and players. When you do pull them out you'll leave the device on. Anyone who happens to be traveling through it while you have that device on will also get pulled out. Anyone you do pull out while it's on will have their quantum drive tethered, so they can't fly away," Tome said.
Both processes generate a red hue to counteract the cool, blue stylings of quantum travel effects. To further signal the player, quantum markers allow Mantis owners to easily track their prey and confront it if they choose.
For Crewe and his team, Quantum Snare and Quantum Dampening aren't just new concepts. Both features also open up new gameplay opportunities across the board. With the launch of Alpha 3.7, players will enjoy the benefits of first-person mining and persistent player inventories. So, Citizens will be able to harvest and store more cargo than ever before. With a ship like the Mantis that can stall and attack others in transit, the community will need to adapt whether they are a casual quantum travel user or fresh-faced enforcer. Crewe suggested the Mantis' impact might inspire age-old behaviors.
"In days gone, the old highway bandits knew those common trade routes between places. You'd have a great bounty hunting time at the start, and then everyone becomes wise to that. So rather than just quantuming from Hurston to ArcCorp, you might make a pit stop at one of the moons first. That small offset, on a galactic scale, may be enough for you to no longer be caught in [the Mantis'] web.
"That also promotes the counterplay to that. So if you've got a group of people with their Mantises waiting to pounce, rather than just clustering all in one area, they start spreading themselves out to catch more things in their wider net. You have those two sides fighting against each other. This is a very illegal activity in terms of lore, so the more of these ships that are in one area doing their thing, the greater the chance of the security systems finding you," Crewe mused.
Balancing a Behemoth
The ability to stall others mid-flight is a massive strength on its own, but there are a few key downsides to Quantum Enforcement that ensure Mantis owners will almost always need support nearby. With a small assortment of missiles onboard, the craft might be unprepared for some of the vehicles it drags out from deep space.
"If you were to solo it you can do these things, but you're not prepared for all the eventualities," Crewe cautioned. "if you did pull a big ship out by yourself and you don't have people with you, you're probably going to be in a real bad situation at that point. Because it'll be an 890 versus you with two small guns. So yeah, sure you can stop them from leaving, but it's not going to end well for you."
This is especially true given that, as Tome described, using the Mantis' Quantum Enforcement Device is a huge drain on the vehicle's power to defend. "Because the activation and tethering of the Quantum Enforcement Device will require a lot of power and generate a lot of heat, you'll have to turn down other systems. That's the way we're going to balance it so that you won't have full shields, full thrusters and full weapons." If there's any solace in that at all, it's that others in your party will be informed of every ship you've captured.
Then there's the concept of Quantum Linking. "Quantum Linking is several ships doing the same quantum traveling," Tome explained. "Anyone that's within the sphere of influence of the Quantum Snare will also get pulled out. So your buddies that are with you in Quantum-Linked quantum travel should also get pulled out with you." This results in cases where Mantis pilots could be dealing with sudden encounters with large fleets. In those instances, you'll surely need an army to come to your aid.
The Future of Quantum Enforcement
With these strengths and weaknesses in tow, it's also worth remembering that, like everything else in Star Citizen, the Mantis is still very much in the thick of development. It launches in bleeding-edge Evocati testing later this week and is planned to be on live servers sometime around the game's anniversary on October 10. In the months ahead, then, CIG has many plans for the future of this ship and its hallmark feature.
One such goal is to make both Quantum Enforcement mechanics more nuanced. "I'm sure in the future we want to require you to have a bunch of Mantises or other ships with Quantum Enforcement Devices and pull them together to pull out a large Capital Ship," Tome suggested. "Maybe there will be a Capital Ship designed to pull out other Capital Ships. But for this first version we won't quite get to that balancing yet." Other discussed additions include UI elements that alert Mantis pilots to high-traffic areas.
As testing begins, those aspirations encapsulate two of the Mantis' most unfinished bits. Quantum Enforcement UI will be fully functional for the ship itself, but it might not be totally clear to prey when they're being yanked from quantum travel. As Crewe admitted, the sheer vastness of the Star Citizen universe also creates some curious snags. "One thing that people might see as a bug is the expectation that every time you fire this thing off you're going to get a hit," he said. "That's probably not going to be the case. We're going to try and limit those dead catches as best we can, but it is a very situational thing." After all, space is so large that targetable ships can't be available for the taking at all times.
Straight to Playable
But shortcomings like these are just momentary blips for the millions of backers used to playing alpha code for an early-access project like Star Citizen. With the Mantis there is no need for the sometimes slow drip-feed of pipeline updates and development diaries used to show off other ships. It's ready in days, and, for its makers at CIG, that prospect is exciting.
"In the past, once you secured cargo you were pretty much assured safe travel. Well we just put a monkey wrench into that," said Tome with a smile, and he can't wait to see what backers do with their new toy. To Crewe, the Mantis represents something bigger than a new virtual asset. "It's not just another ship. It's a ship and a feature coming together and being launched straight out there." So, when you're out there in the verse over the next few weeks, be sure to keep a close eye on your cargo.
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