Sunday, June 30, 2013

Odyssey Exploration for Newbies

Jester has a post up ruminating upon the idea that maybe exploration is a feature that breaks "Malcanis' Law", which states that "Whenever a mechanics change is proposed on behalf of 'new players', that change is always to the overwhelming advantage of richer, older players."  I think exploration is great for newbies to make money with.  So, let's discuss it.

"Exploration" is what I am calling the profession of moving around in a light ship, scanning for data and relic sites to hack.  

Note that before Odyssey, exploration used to be a somewhat different mini profession, where you moved around looking for (mainly) combat sites, with (maybe) radar (data) or mag (relic) sites as modest add-ons.  True newbs might concentrate only on the radar and mag sites, but these did not pay very well, at least in highsec, and outside of highsec, there were rat guards that made running such sites impossible without substantial DPS -- and if you had guns, the combat sites paid better.  (These days, there must be players out looking for combat sites and their rewards, but I am not sure what to call them.)

So: exploration.

Where Should I Explore?


You don't want to explore in highsec because there is too much competition and the treasure sucks.  It is safe, though, due to Concord.  It's a good place to try exploring for a few days so as to find a few sites and do a few minigames, so you know generally how they work.  

You don't want to explore in faction warfare lowsec because there are a lot of people there looking for PVP, or just spinning buttons, but you cannot tell.  Other parts of lowsec may or may not be good.  If they are occupied, not good.  The treasure in lowsec is worse than null but not that much; on the other hand the minigames are easier.  

You don't want to explore in wspace because of the rats.  You can't explore there, really, at least not without combat ships capable of taking on sleepers.  And also, the treasure sucks royally in data sites.  Mag sites are so-so.

What Ship?


What ship should you explore with?  This is easy: you must have a ship that gets a bonus to your "virus strength" in the minigame.  (For a good intro to how the minigame works, read this article by Ali Aras at TheMittani.)  There are only three ship types that get this bonus: one frigate per race (Magnate/Heron/Imicus/Probe), the covert ops frigate, and the T3 with the proper electronics subsystem.  T3s are expensive and require too much training for a newb, so I am not considering them.  A covert ops cloak is necessary for survival in nullsec.  So: covert ops frigate it is.  There is one covert ops frig per race: which should you train into?  All of them are acceptable for the task, but I would say that the best of the lot is the Helios (Gallente).  Here's your target fit:
[Helios, Explorer]
Type-D Attenuation Signal Augmentation
Local Hull Conversion Nanofiber Structure I
Beta Reactor Control: Capacitor Power Relay I
Limited 1MN Microwarpdrive I
PL-0 Shipment Probe
Data Analyzer I
Relic Analyzer I
Scan Pinpointing Array I
Covert Ops Cloaking Device II
Expanded Probe Launcher I, Core Scanner Probe I
Small Memetic Algorithm Bank I
Small Memetic Algorithm Bank I
Skillwise, starting with no skills, training up for this takes a month and a half.  Here's a suggested skill plan to follow.  [link needed]

While skilling for the Helios, you can start exploring using a Imicus.  The Imicus fit works about the same as the Helios, except for lacking the ability to fit a covert ops cloak.  You can fit a normal cloak, but you can't warp cloaked.  So, it's harder to get past gate camps (you'll want to learn the microwarp/cloak trick).  You'll probably get ganked on occasion in lowsec, and in nullsec there are bubble-based camps that it will be hard to escape.  On the other hand, the fit is very cheap, so you can afford to lose a lot of them to get out with the loot from one site.

How to Explore


Exploring is basically pretty simple.  Your goal is to find data or relic sites in a system empty of all other players.  (For how to find such systems, see the next section.)  Then you can go and do the minigame, and scoop loot, with the assurance of safety.  Then you need to get all that precious loot back to highsec, to sell.

The exploring itself is pretty straightforward.  First, using dotlan maps and the in-game map, find a long chain of systems to explore.  You want to use dotlan with the "show jumps in last hour" option (here's an example).  This shows systems where nobody is likely to be.  The "NPC Kills" setting can also be informative.  Also you can look at the "pilots in space" on the star map in-game, although it is harder to understand the display of systems there than using a map.  

Now that you've got a route planned, go there and start jumping systems.  With Odyssey, as soon as you enter a system your scanner window will show you if a system has signatures or not.  If not, warp to the next system.  If so, then check if there are people in the system (leave your Local chat window up to see this).  It is easiest to just move on if there are any.  Keep searching for that complete abandoned system with signatures.  You can also risk exploring when people are present; you'll probably get ganked eventually but especially if your ship is empty it may be worth the risk.

Once you have a system you've decided to look for sites in, scan down those sigs.  Once you get them to 25%, you can ignore them if they are not a relic or data site (or wormhole, if you are looking to leave).  Don't get discouraged.  I have jumped 10 systems in a row and never gotten a site.  There's a lot of chance here.

Once you have a relic or data site, warp to it.  Pick a nearby spew container and fly to it.  Lock as many as you can that are in range, and cargo scan each one of them.  If the stuff in the container is not valuable, then you can skip that one, or at least leave it to last.  Conversely, if you see a juicy BPC or other special loot in one, you can do it first.  In any case, leave up the cargo scan to refer to later.

Once you have picked a can, get close to it.  You want to be close for when the spew happens.  I like 500m.  You can have your ship do this automatically with "Keep at 500m".  Start the data or relic analyzer.  Play the minigame.  (Again: read that Ali Aras piece linked above.)  [UPDATE: I have some newer tips on how to play the minigame.]

Hopefully you find and can kill the system core.  Before doing the last click on the core, refer to the cargo scan you have of the current spew container.  Got it?  Now check out the listing of minicontainer loot distribution found at neural-boost.com.  Before you initiate the spew, you want to have firmly in mind which kind(s) of loot containers you want.  Finally, kill the core (triggering the spew), and gather loot.

Keep an eye out on local every so often; if someone enters the system then complete the minigame quickly and back off from the loot container, and cloak.  Usually the person is just a transient, and will cross the system and leave.  But he may be hunting you.  So stay alert.  If he does not leave after a while, you can.  (You might try coming back in 5 minutes after leaving.)

How to Get to Null (and Back)


Lacking a base in null, how do you get there?  The most obvious way is to base in highsec somewhere, then fly out to null.  This has the disadvantage of sometimes being long, and often the obvious ways out to null are camped.  If you can find a way to get into null that isn't camped, great.

Another way is to explore in highsec, keeping an eye out for wormholes.  Any wormhole direct to nullsec you can use.  (These are quite rare, though.)  You can sometimes also use a wormhole to lowsec; there may be a nearby entry to nullsec that is not on a main pipe and so not camped.  Finally, if you find a wormhole from highsec up to wspace (that is, not a K162), often you can enter that wspace system and search down its static wormhole, and that static wormhole will go to nullsec or lowsec.  The wormhole tags of most interest here are Z971, R943, and X702.  Wormholes to wspace are quite common.  And you will find them in any case as a side effect of exploring in highsec.

Getting back from null is pretty much like getting to null.  Either you fly out to highsec via known space, or you look for wormholes from null up to wspace, then hope to get a wspace wormhole down.  The best wormholes are those from null to the "lower" wspace levels (C1, C2, and C3) which have the potential to have highsec static wormholes.  On the known space side, these have the tags Z971, R943, and X702. 

One big advantage to going with wormholes (especially to get out of wspace) is that you don't have to backtrack.  You just go in, ever deeper, until you are ready to leave.  Then you keep going, except you scan down wormholes fully and warp to them when you find them, to see what kind they are.  If you get a Z971, R943, or X702, then you enter it.  Use static mapper (http://www.staticmapper.com/) to see what sort of static exit the system has.  If you got a wspace system with a highsec or lowsec static.  If so, great, you can down the static and get out.  Otherwise you leave wspace and keep looking in null.  

Once you get to highsec, do not use autopilot if you've gotten any more than a tiny amount of treasure on board.  A single Catalyst costing ~3m ISK can easily gank your exploration ship.  You'll have to pilot those 40 jumps to Jita.  Boring.  Maybe head for a nearer hub instead.

Red Frog may be handy here.  I have used them before; they are extremely reliable and very cheap considering what you get.  (Their rate is roughly 500000 ISK per jump, and they will haul up to a billion ISK in a load.)  Get to any highsec station, put your loot in the hangar, then do a courier contract with Red Frog to take it to Jita (or whereever you want it to go).  Then you can turn around and go right back out to nullsec and keep exploring.

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