Monday, 30 July 2012

Exploring Exploration

Whether its in high sec, low sec, null sec or a wormhole, exploration can be extremely profitable.  The problem is that it is also extremely fickle.  You are a slave to the randomness of the whole thing.  I've gone two weeks without a serious find and then had nearly a billion ISK drop in five hours high sec work.  Null sec can be billions from a single site if you are lucky and exploration is a way of life in a wormhole.  In this guide I'll concentrate on high sec exploration as most new explorers will start there.

You should have had an introduction to exploration during the tutorials. I still recommend that you have a look at YouTube for some of the latest scanning tutorials.  Much has changed since Odyssey was launched.  I haven't found a tutorial I liked but when I do I'll link it here.

Skills You Need
Fortunately for rookies, there are only a few skills you need to train for scanning.  However those skills make a world of difference.  Here is a list of useful skills;
  • Astrometrics - This skill reduces the time probes takes to scan, Increases the strength of probes and reduces the deviation of results.  It highly worth while training to 4 at least.  You also need it for the other skills.
  • Astrometric Acquisition - Reduces the time probes take to scan.  Not the most useful of skills.
  • Astrometric Pinpointing - Reduces the Deviation on scan results.  That means the indicated guess on the signal location will be closer to the real location.  Makes it harder to lose a signal.
  • Astrometric Rangefinding - Increases probe strength.  This is the most useful of the scanning skills but I get by in high sec with it trained to 4.
There are also a few skills needed for the complexes you will find.
  • Hacking - Needed to do Data Sites.  Level 4 is enough.  Lets you use a Data Analyser.
  • Archaeology - Needed to run an Relic Analyser unit.  Used in Relic Sites.

Navigating the Solar System Map
When you are scanning for exploration sites you will spend a lot of time in the Solar System Map.  Getting around can be tricky but there are some tricks that will help you speed up your scanning efforts;
  • Holding the primary mouse button (normally left) and moving the mouse will rotate the view around a central point.  This is usually a planet or something similar but you can select the pivot point by clicking on the item in the map.  I usually click on a probe or the signal I'm scanning so the view centres on that.
  • Holding the secondary mouse button (normally right) and moving the mouse will pan the view of the map.  
  • You can grab the edge of a probe bubble and drag it in or out to change the probe range of all probes.
  • If you hold the SHIFT key down you will get the option to move or change the range of a single probe at a time.
These Are the Signals You Were Looking For
Some pilots get a little confused about what you are looking for in exploration.  Your Scanning interface can find several things; Ships, Structures Cosmic Anomalies and Cosmic Signatures.  Anomalies are simple combat sites that can be found with the on-board scanner of any ship.  They will always show in your scan results at 100% if the tick box is selected next to the filter.  These aren't the real prizes in high sec but are a steady source of income in null sec. The do have a chance of spawning a faction enemy which may have some nice loot and there is a smaller chance of they will escalate into a private exploration site called an expedition.  More on those later.

Ships and structures are used for PvP operations mostly.  However some people do  scan out high sec mission sites to steal loot or gank mission runners.

The thing you are really after are the Cosmic Signatures.  These are more likely to have faction spawns and special loot in them.  They can also escalate into expeditions as well.  You should create a filter on your scanner interface that only shows Signatures.  This will save you hassle scrolling through a bunch of sites you don't want.

When scanning there are a set of different results you can get.  These tell you how close you are to finding a site.  Scan results can be;
  1. A red globe – means only one probe is in range of the site and the sites is somewhere in the globe.
  2. A red circle – means two probes are in range and the site is near the circle edge.
  3. Two red dots – means three probes are in range near one of the dots.
  4. a single red dot - means four or more probes are in range but the signal is not strong but is near the dot.
  5. A yellow inverted triangle – means 4+ probes are in range and the signal is strong. You should get a signal type about now.
  6. A green inverted triangle – means you have 100% fix on the location and can warp to it.

Exploration sites spawn randomly in systems during the game "day".  You can scan a system and then come back two hours later and find new signals.  I find that if you clear out sites in a system by making them despawn, there is a greater chance of there being new sites when you come back.  For this reason I occasionally do the less valuable sites just to clear them away so I can come back later

Working With Probes
There are two types of probes to work with in exploration.  Core Scanner Probes and Combat Scanner Probes.  They do the same thing with a few small differences.  Core scanner probes can only find Signatures.  The combat probes can also find ship, POS, and other structures.  However the difference you need to worry about is the scan ranges.  Combat probes can manage 64 AU - 0.5 AU but core probes can do 32 AU - 0.25 AU.  That means you need core probes to find the weakest signals.  The lack of upper range is rarely an issue.  At the time of writing, Sister's Core Scanner Probes are the absolute best you can get.

My usual procedure when scanning is to open the solar system map and flick through the filters to refresh the system pre-scan.  This should show all the Anomalies in system and any Cosmic Signatures in system.  When you go to the solar system map you should see a red globe for each Signature in system.  This is a rough approximation of where the signal is.  There is one more clue though.  Signatures are usually within 5 AU of a planet.  So look for where the red globes intersect with planets.  Those are your likely scan locations.   I then launch probes in the Pinpoint Formation (second last button on the scan panel).  This launches eight probes in a 4 AU pattern that is good for scanning.  The area in the middle where all the probes overlap is your scan area.  Move the probes so that scan area is centred on the planet you have chosen.  Don't forget to look at the scene from the side on view to get the z-axis right.

The new Interface for probes now automatically applies changes to all probes in the group.  When you move the probes, you move them all while still in their pattern.  You can also change the probe range and all of them will change.  Furthermore, when you change the probe range the probes will move in or out automatically to maintain the pattern.  This makes the whole thing much quicker to do.  If you need to move a single probe, hold shift and the individual probe Markers will come up.  At this stage I haven't found a good reason to do this.

When your probe cluster is centred on the location you want to scan, hit the scan button.  A little timer happens and then you get your results.  The probable results are as listed above.  If you have the single point markers then you can reduce the range on your probes and move the new scan area over the icon.  Scan again.  Keep going until you have the signal at 100% or you reach 0.25AU without getting it.  With low skills or poor equipment its quite possible to have signals you can't find.  However try moving probes closer or scanning again in case its just a unlucky scan.

If your signal disappears after a scan then you may have had a wild deviation in your last scan.  I typically leave the probes in place and bring the range out two ticks.  Then scan again.  I have found that if a signal is at the very edge of a scan area (that overlap in the middle) then you can get some wild deviations which will send you chasing shadows.  If you think this is happening then expand the probe range out so that it covers the whole area you have seen the signals in.  For me I normally go to 8 AU or sometimes 16AU to just get a confirmed signal to chase.  This is rare though.

Types of Exploration Site
There are five "groups" of Cosmic Signatures.  They are Combat, Wormhole, Relic Site, Data Site, and Gas Site.  Here is a brief description of each;

Wormholes can provide a great deal of ISK but they are extremely dangerous.  First off they are null sec so its anything goes in that space.  Second, local does not show anyone unless they talk.  That means you have no idea who else is in system with you.  Third, a lot of wormholes are owned by someone.  By this I mean that someone has set up a POS and is farming the system.  They get annoyed with people taking what they see as theirs.  There are no beacons to sites in wormhole space.  You will need to scan out all the sites you do with either probes or the on board scanner.  Lastly the rats are different.

Sleepers are the rats in wormholes and they have a different AI to normal rats.  They will choose the weakest target to attack, switch targets during a fight and attack drones and logistics ships.  They also do their damage to your weakest resistance value and they tank all damage types equally.  You can solo Class 1 and 2 sleepers but above that you need friends.  The most common approach is the spider tank.  Everyone in the fleet has the same tank, eg a buffer shield tank.  They also all fit a remote repairer.  When one person is attacked, all the others in the fleet put their remote repairer on the victim.  This means the victim gets the repair ability of 3+ repairers while not using cap.  This approach takes some teamwork so practice with friends in advance.

Next, there is no actual money in wormholes.  The cash doesn't magically appear in your wallet.  You will have to salvage every wreck and get the stuff to empire to get a payout.  That makes you vulnerable again.  The items dropped by sleepers have a set value in empire but certain salvage items are worth a lot of money and you are trying to get as many of them as possible.

Lastly, the wormhole you came in through is your lifeline.  Make sure you bookmark both sides before warping away.  Wormholes can disappear based on time or how many ships have been through them.  Wormhole corps often close wormholes deliberately.  You may find yourself in a wormhole with no way back to empire.  For this reason, you should always have a scanning ability in a wormhole whether its a probe launcher on your ship or and alt in a probe ship waiting under cloak.  There are only two ways to get out of a wormhole without a probe launcher; get someone to help you or self destruct your ship and pod.  Don't rely on the first one.

Its my opinion that wormholes are for small gangs of organised people not soloers.  Rookies should avoid them like the plague.  The risk is not worth the payout for a low skill character.  They are something for later in your career.

Gas Site
These are gas mining sites or sometimes sites relating to booster production.  To date I have never found one in high sec but the ones in wormholes can be worth a lot of money. Gas mining is a special skill and takes a bit of money to get into.

Relic Sites/Data Sites
Relic and Data sites never have rats.  They are usually some scenery and several objects you can access to get goods.  Relic sites provide tech 1 and tech 2 salvage and sometimes blueprints and skill books.  Data sites provide decryptors, datacores, parts for Interfaces as well as blueprints and skill books.  They also have a batch of basic loot which is NPC trade goods.  It is possible to scan these can with a cargo scanner.  The result will show you the unique items in the can.  The rest will be trade goods.  Decryptors and Datacores are good money.

To access a Relic node you need a Relic Analyser.  To access a Data node you need a data Analyser.  This takes you to a mini-game where you hack the can.  The interface is a collection of linked nodes.  You may reveal a node by clicking on it.  You can only click nodes adjacent to the ones you have revealed.  However there are obstacles.  These are Firewalls.  They have a Coherence and Strength score.  To defeat them you use a virus who's stats are dependant on your equipment and skills.  Your virus has a Coherence and Strength as well.  When you attack a firewall/virus you do your Strength in damage to the Firewall's Coherence.  If the Firewall is still there, it then does its Strength to your Coherence.  That ends the tick.  If you run out of Coherence you fail the hack attempt.  So far I've found you get two tried in high sec before the node self destructs (no area damage).  There are different kinds of Firewall so you need to read their details.  Also there are items which can help you.  Read the mouse over text when you see an icon.  be quick though, you have a time limit but I don't know how long it is.

The goal is to find the System Core and destroy it.  That will open the can.  The general strategy I've used is to go around the outside of the pattern revealing every node you can before attacking any firewalls.  You should find a few useful tools along the way.  Usually the core is on the outside but not always.  Once you reveal everything you can you can choose which firewalls to fight.

Once you open the can, things get frantic.  The Can sprays the loot out in all directions.  These show as little green/white/yellow circles with crosses on them.  Green means they are in range of your built in tractor beam and you can suck it aboard.  White means its out of range.  Yellow means you are busy.  Flashing ones are about to go pop.  A single ship cannot collect all the items by itself but fleet members can help.  The "spray cans" are named with a general type which gives you an idea of the contents.  You will need to learn these.  I only know that Parts cans hold the decryptors and datacores and Data cans have the blueprints.  When the mini tractor beam brings in an item it shows its icon for a minute above your cargo button on the HUD. 

Combat Sites
Combat sites are where the real money is for high sec explorers.  There are two kinds of combat sites;  DED deaspaces which have a difficulty rating out of 10 and ordinary combat sites.

DED ratings are 1/10 = frigates, 2/10 = destroyers, 3/10 = cruisers, 4/10 = battlecruisers and 5/10 and up are battleship zones.  The gates wont let bigger ships get into these complexes.  However, the gates work on hull size so a tech 2 frigate can get into a DED 1/10.  I use a HAC (Ishtar) to do exploration and that lets me into all but two sites I can find in high sec.  As a special rule, Strategic Cruisers cannot enter 3/10 or 4/10 sites.  You can find 4/10s in high sec but 5/10s are low sec only.  DED sites usually have bosses at each level or cans containing the loot.  Some require you to destroy a structure.  The loot is a overseer's effects and often some faction modules.  The bosses sometimes salvage into tech 2 loot too.  I've had one site drop over 300 MISK in loot in high sec so these can be rich finds.  The tougher sites need some serious tanks and DPS to complete.  They are probably out of reach for new pilots trying to solo them.  Call in your friends and work together on them.

The other combat sites usually have a faction spawn at the end.  That means one of the elite rats for the faction appears.  They have the chance of dropping faction modules or implants and they salvage into tech 2 salvage.  These sites also have the chance of "Escalating" into an "Expedition".  More on Expeditions below.  The faction rats can drop some serious money but the expeditions lead up to a faction loot drop.  Its hard to say which is more profitable.  These sites sometimes have ship size restrictions too so its worth using a cruiser size ship so you can get into most of them.  The Evelopedia has some great information on all these sites so look up the name of the site you found before doing it so you don't miss out on loot.

Combat sites have the potential for a lot of ISK worth of loot.  That means there are a lot of people looking for them.  I have found that at least half of the people I've bumped into doing a complex have competed with me for the site.  They race ahead trying to be the one to get the loot at the end.  I've even had people steal the loot out of my can at the end.  You need to decide how you will deal with these people.  Most will be set up in very powerful ships.  Often you wont have a warp disruptor to deal with thieves.  Personally I find people who contest a site that they didn't find first to be just short of pirates. Don't salvage these sites as you go.  Bookmark each room and race to the final loot drop.  Then when the site despawns you can warp to your bookmarks and salvage uninterrupted.

The combat sites you find in a region will be either against the local pirate faction or Rogue Drones.   While the rogue drone sites consistently drop overseer's effects they rarely drop faction loot.  The "boss" drone does salvage into tech 2 salvage but that's about it.  They aren't worth a great deal compared to the pirate sites.  However it is worth clearing them out so that new sites can spawn later.

An expedition is a set of linked complexes.  You will get a message pop up when you trigger an expedition giving you some story info.  The destination for the expedition will be in your Journal under Expeditions.   When you get to the system you must right click -> warp to the expedition site.  You can't warp a fleet there so you will need to tank the first bit yourself until your friends get there.

Each expedition site has a faction rat which can drop faction loot or implants or blueprints.  There is also a percentage chance that the next step in the expedition will be triggered.  The last step is often in low sec but has the chance of some good faction modules as loot.  Again these expeditions are detailed in the Evelopedia so research them in advance.  I have discovered that I can solo all high sec expeditions except the final step of one in my ishtar.

So far the final step of most Expeditions have been in low sec.  They don't always drop loot too so you must weigh the risks with the benefits.  Check the  Evelopedia to get an idea what you have to do. 

Cosmic Anomalies
I have recently gained an appreciation of Cosmic Anomalies.  For starters you don't have to scan them down.  I often put my ishtar in one and let the drones clear it while I scan the system.  However the main reasons for doing them is A) they can spawn a faction rat with nice loot and B) they sometimes escalate into a private DED zone.  The later one is rare so don't be too depressed if it doesn't happen to you.  However with exploration you want to maximise the number of faction rats you encounter and kill since each has the chance of good loot.  Thus I tend to clear Anomalies as I find them.  They can also be done in a good cruiser or assault frigate.  In null sec they are a major income source but high sec only gives you a small amount of bounty.  Its the loot you want.

So far all but one of the escalations I've got from Anomalies have been in low sec.

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