I think the main quality of the "easy start" is that it's done.
And that it's simple - simple is good. The ramblings above from myself were largely to suggest that it might not be quite the give-away that some might think.
This issue is part of the larger problem of the progression in Oolite. In my view, the actual "huge general structure mistake" is that we havea game in which the better equipment you have, the easier it is to make money, with which you buy better equipment... It's a game that becomes exponentially easier.
If we want to fix this upside-down progression (so I guess it's actually a regression) we can use the full power of OXPs and see if we can fix other problems in the process.
It is an issue to my mind but I have no objection to the player 'earning' a bit of comfort as long as the odd significant challenge remains. Frequent moderate challenges early game, fewer, serious challenges later game. A random mission generator (with varied mission types) might be nice but that's really in oxp territory...
- Torus drive that hurts your service level when used, in order to put the brakes on the money train.
I think that at the heart of the money-train issue is trading. Trading is extremely profitable. Early game, standard start the player simply doesn't have the capitol to fully exploit it but even with just 100 Cr it remains more profitable than mining (can't scoop and so piracy is a waste of time) and more realistic than bounty hunting.
This is fine until the player can start affording to fill the hold - then he or she really is on the fast track in a ship like the mk III. Even without the cargo bay extension they can be making, what? 400 Cr a jump? without precious metals/gem stones.
To reliably make anything like that from mining (about half that value from a full hold of minerals I think) or bounty hunting is difficult and likely more time consuming. Then there's the bonuses to be made as a contract hauler.
I'm not sure what the bonuses are like at the extreme end of the courier business but if I can ignore contracts for the moment (I simply don't know enough about them in this regard) then I'd be inclined to make higher cargo trading less profitable.
Bounty hunting will occasionally get you some free cargo, piracy should definitely do so and mining grants you safer but (on average) cheaper cargo. So priracy, bounty hunting and mining should be similar if viewed as a risk to reward ratio but it is trading that seems to be skewed towards reward given that with enough cash the mkIII trader can fill their hold every time for a reliable and predictable profit. True, the pirates are there for the traders but they seem rather fond of targeting the player in any case. The wealthy trader also has a good chance to run from trouble wheras the bounty hunter or pirate has a career that requires them (at least occasionally) not to... and good luck against those interceptors if you're a pirate!
A fix need not be complicated but it will likely be seen as heavy handed: cargo taxes and the like. Reducing the mk III cargo capacity would be way too controversial and (speaking personally) undesirable. Needs a better solution IMHO and better facts and figures to be sure. A smaller starting ship helps in the short term but the problem remains.
- Use galactic sectors as "levels". OXPs could use the sector number to spawn more pirates, or more skilled one. One can also make it so that some pieces of equipment or ships are only available in certain sectors. This would be a general policy to be accepted and followed by the various OXP maintainers, so it is probably difficult to achieve (and it's a lil'bit player-centric too).
I tried something similar years ago. I wasn't satisfied with it in the end. The galaxy/galaxies either seem smaller as you are left not going to certain areas any more or you are in a hurry to get back to the more challenging areas if you ever do leave them (that's with the standard circular trip through the galaxy maps).
I don't mind a bit of player-centricism(?), I think the idea has been demonised a little bit. After all a single player game should be player-centric on some level or else who is it for? The illusion of being non-player-centric can be nice however.
I did the oxp allocation myself of course but that kind of concensus strikes me as particularly elusive.
- Simulate a bunch of NPC commanders that would "grow" over time just like the player does, that would become worthy enemies. I think this one is difficult to do it right.
Agreed: difficult to do right. If I were to design it, even ignoring my programming limitations, I think it would take quite a lot of thought before it were any better than dull.
Maybe someone else can show the way but I think it would lead to either a reduced sense of scale if you keep bumping into the same ones or eventually to the idea that deadly/elite pilots are ten a penny.
TBH, we should start with actually listing the problems we want to fix though.
Nothing wrong with that as far as I can see but going anywhere with them other than oxp will be difficult I think.
Still, why should that stop anyone trying?