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"Capping" By Apricotslice.

In case you haven't worked it out, 'capping' means capturing a ship by forcing the pilot to bail out.

The capped ship is then yours to do with as you wish, including selling it at the nearest shipyard, and repairing its damage and refitting it for use in your own fleet.

AI pilots bailing out, is completely random. There are many debates about capping strategy in the forums, but its still a random event. It is most likely to occur when the hull drops below 85%, and very unlikely to occur before then, but anything is possible. The only thing not possible is the pilot bailing out before you fire a shot.

You only get a hull afterwards, regardless of how much damage you did, and anything left inside it is a bonus and also quite random.

In X2, once the pilot bailed out, the ship was automatically yours. X3 handles this far differently as the ship becomes abandoned and must be claimed.

There are 3 ways of claiming a ship.

The first is to eject from your ship, target the abandoned ship, press the 'i' key for its command interface, fly to within about 30 meters of it, and when the 'claim' command becomes visible, click on the claim button. The ship will turn green on your nav map and hud and is now yours. You then need to turn around and return to your ship.

The second method is to buy the Systems Override Software from a Pirate Base. This has the same distance restrictions but you do not need to leave your ship to complete the claim. Warning though, this software is considered illegal by most races and you will be forced to eject it or fight, if you are scanned with it aboard. If you are scanned, you will lose your Police License, if you have one.

The third method is Systems Override Software Mk.2. This is a 3rd party script that can be installed and run with a modified game. Also bought from a Pirate Base, it is substantially more expensive but for the extra money you get a 5km claim range, an auto-move function if you are outside the 5km range and the fact that the software is not detectable by scans.

Claims software is illegal to have on your ship if detected, but capping and claiming is not. Go figure. Also a constant debate in the forums.

The rules to be able to claim a ship are that it must be stationary, and it must not have a Pilot.There are reports of apparently abandoned ships that refuse to be claimed. These usually turn out to have a Pilot aboard.

As much as capping strategies are endlessly debated, the last word on capping goes like this :

Target and Shoot. It will bail or go boom !

What ship you use is largely irrelevant. What matters is skill and determination, or a sheer don't care attitude.

Lets look at races.

Argon, Boron, Split, Paranid, Teladi. Pirates or race sectors, all can be capped. Yaki too if you have them in your game.
Xenon. Cappable but less likely. Mainly because they give no warning and you tend to kill before noticing they turned blue on the hud. Also, the Xenon travel in big packs, so its often difficult to claim safely, or keep a claim  in one piece afterwards. Caps in Xenon territories are your biggest challenge to get out safely.
Khaak. Can be done, but is the least frequent. Getting guns for them can only be done by collecting them if dropped in combat or capping one with guns left on it.

Lets look at Ships.

M1 Fleet Carrier.      You cannot cap one. Its theoretically possible, but hardcoded so you cannot.
M2 Battleship.           Its called a "Destroyer", but in naval comparison this is a Battleship. You cannot cap one either.
M6 Cruiser.               Its called a "Corvette", but its really a Light Cruiser. No can do either.
M3 Heavy Fighter.     This you can cap. These are the prize. A Nova with little hull damage sells for big money. The others for slightly less.
M4 Medium Fighter.  This you can also cap. These are the easiest. And they fetch big money. Not as much as an M3, but its not peanuts either.
M5 Scout.                 This you can cap, if you can catch it. Its a fast light fighter, but only a skilled pilot is going to make good in it in combat.

Lets look at Guns.

IRE        Ok range, light hitting, very fast firing.                 

PAC      Ok range, not so light hitting, not so fast firing.
HEPT    Good range, strong hitting, slow firing.
PSG       Short range, broad area, ok hitting. Fires in a big cone shape.
MD        Old style projectile thower. Ignores sheilds, and nibbles away at hull through very rapid fire. Requires ammunition packs
ION       Nullifies Sheilds, looks like a lightning bolt, and is not targettable. Does no hull damage.
PBE        Short range, immediate hit, but low hull damage and higher sheild damage.
PPC        Capital ship Main Guns. Long range, slow fire, big damage.
FAA        Short range Flak, high firing rate with good hit.
Missiles    Long range, variable hitting from "ouch" to "wtf" to "what happened ?".

So, capping is about what gun goes on what ship and what you do with it.

What works ?

Almost anything will trigger a pilot to bail. Even capital ships get bail outs if your flying it.

Some do it better than others, and some make it very difficult. Others make it more a case of why bother, since before you know you have capped a ship, its already destroyed.

So what do we do ?

You take down the target's shields, then you remove enough hull to make him think about living. Fast or slow, its random. Whatever you feel comfortable doing. Surgical precision to a plan, or just blast away, its still random chance.

You choose a ship and gun loadout that you find works for you. The loadout is defined by the choice of ship (unless you mod). But each ship has options.

You first need to find a ship that suits your style of fighting.

M5 are fast, and lightly gunned. An orange peel would protect it better than its shields, but at least they recharge fast. Its better if you dont get hit at all, so you need to be a master of avoiding fire. IRE's will cap one of these nicely, but you have to plug away at them, because the shields recharge faster than you think. PAC's will take it out faster, and often too fast. One HEPT salvo will destroy it. Dont go anywhere else.

M4 are faster, and carry more grunt, as well as more shields. The shielding is still light, so HEPTS will kill in very few salvos. IRE's fire fast enough that holding on to the M4 like a dog on your trouser leg will rapidly kill or cap. PAC's somewhere in between. The shields may be stronger, but they recharge slower, so once they are down, its damage time in fast order. 

M3 is a different kettle of fish altogether. Slow as a wet week, armed for bear and shielded to take it. Forget the IRE's, they will take ages to dent it. PAC's if you have to but this will be work.You need apha HEPTS, but not too many. 8 hepts will kill any fighter in minimum time, and then leave you with no gun energy to fire again at the next target. And we are going for caps, so some finesse now needs to be applied. Group up your guns. 4 ahepts on 2, 3 or 4 pacs or ires on 3. First pass you press 2 and use the hepts going for removing shields. When the shields are down, press 3 and use the lighter guns to nibble off the hull, keeping the shields down. Finesse only works so far though. When you run out of patience, put the hepts back in and blast the sod ! He may bail anyway, but if he doesnt, your not wasting time on a ship that wont cap. The line between finesse and time wasting is a fine one and you have to walk that alone.

M6 is a wallowing whale with some solid grunt and the ability to take a pounding. The problem is, most people allow it to, and then wonder why its game over. I prefer to convert it into a super fighter (which it was in X2) with a scripted speed upgrade and better rudder, to the point where it handles like an M3, with the speed of an M5. Then the same approach as in an M3 works and works well, with the advantage of better shields so you can  take a bit more time lining up your shots.  Without any upgrade, you lose speed to gain shielding and turrents. DONT put hepts in your turrents. All they will do is destroy your caps before the pilot can even get out of the cockpit. And they are lousy for missile defense because they fire too slow. For capping, alpha IRE's all round the turrents, rear one on missile defense and the other 2 on protect ship. Often, the turrents will finish a cap for you as soon as the target passes out of your gun angle of fire, because the turrents keep firing and the pilot gives up through ongoing hitting. If you cannot hit anything with the default rudder control, put PAC's in the turrents and set the rear to missile defense and the others to attack my target. Then the turrents become your main firepower and you fly to keep them firing. If this is you, then get the M6 Upgrade mod, as this will give you 3 guns in each turrent instead of 1.

Capital ships. If you are going for caps still, then make sure your gun loadout reflects this. Flaks will kill. HEPTS will kill. PAC's will cap. IRE's will cap. PPC's will miss or ocasionally kill. PBE's are half and half depending on the skill of the target. If they stay out of range, they are useless, if they hit and run they are really good cap starters, by knocking down shields rapidly which the longer range guns can take advantage of. If the target comes in for the close kill, the PBE's will kill it in a heartbeat. You have to think Fighter. Think Cap. You need some Hepts to take out the shields of M3's, but not too many to kill them outright before the pilot can think "time to hit the old silk". Hepts or PBE's start the process, lesser guns to finish it.

I have not mentioned Freighter craft. Think M3 for TP or TS ships, only with less guns. For TL's, as all other capital ships, forget capping and just kill.

I have not mentioned ION's and PSG's. Both do collateral damage. They will hit any ship in range, friend or foe. Only use them when there is nothing friendly in range. Or when you really dont care about race rank.

I have not mentioned Mass Drivers. The key word here is "shields". When the shields are down, the cap becomes possible. Mass drivers on their own are useless for capping. However, grouped with another gun thats good at stripping shields, they can be very effective as long as carefully used.

As keeps getting said, capping is random.

The average is 1 in 50 kills or thereabouts. And this average changes every time a patch is released, and has been steadily getting worse since the first patch of X2. Although some report it being better in the latest 1.4 patch.

It is possible to do a lot better than 1 in 50, with claims of as small as 1 in 10, and even 1 in 5 when only capping freighters, but with just as many claiming a lot worse. Some of this variation depends on who you are shooting at and your style of game. A big bad pirate gets more opportunities to cap traders than an upright police officer does. Thats not to say that this is a prime factor in the ratio, but it is one of them.

Capping can happen the first time you shoot at someone, or it may take 200 kills and several days hard fighting before the first one surprises you. You can cap 3 out of 6 in a single engagement one day, follow it up with more, and then not cap another for days of play. Its completely random.

My approach to it these days is not to care. I shoot to kill. If they bail, then its a bonus. If I kill the cap with one too many salvos, too bad. You decide how you approach the whole exercise.

Ok, so we have capped and we have it claimed. What now ?

The immediate priority is to get it somewhere safe.

But first, SAVE the game. Carry salvage insurance specifically for this purpose. You can land and autosave asap.
Save the moment you have claimed, its insurance against anything going wrong.

What can go wrong ?
For a start, you can. If you claim while enemy are still around, the claim can be destroyed immediately. And if you are destroyed yourself, you lose the claim because where you go back to reload, will not play out the same way twice. You never know when an asteroid is going to leap in front of you and splat. You never know when docking will not quite go to plan and splat. You never know when the claim's buddies will ambush you and splat. Splat = reload = lost claim. Dont go there. Save.

What now, depends on when in the game you are at.

Early game, its where is the nearest shipyard. Tell the claim to dock there. If its a safe route, let it go on its own. If its a more dangerous route, then you either escort it yourself, or tell it to dock at a station or park itself somewhere out of the way, while you keep capping. Then when you have a small convoy of caps, you escort the money to the bank. The forum has some good stories of people's attempts to do this through really hostile sectors. Select the slowest ship as convoy leader and tell the others to follow it. If you are having crash into gate problems, tell them to standby at the gate and jump them one by one, once you have checked the other side of the gate is secure. Then convoy them up again. Dont be afraid to route the convoy the long way to avoid anything hostile.

Later in the game when you have your own TL, or long time in game when you have an M1, you will get one of these to jump in, and tell the claim to dock with the bigger ship. When you have a whole group, your TL is full, or the sector stops yielding targets, then you jump your carrier to the shipyard of your choice.

Shipyard ahoy, what now ?

Decision time. Sell or keep.

Selling brings credits. In the early part of the game, you need it and want more of it than you can get, so selling caps is pay day !

Later in the game, you start getting more objective about it. Nova's make better capping ships than most. So if you cap one, consider keeping it, fixing it, fitting it out and making it your personal ship. (Even if you have to store it for a while to afford the cost.) But other M3's may suit you better. Try before you sell. You may decide to stick to an M5 or M4, so one of your caps may be a better ship. Dont discount it.

Pirate Falcons make good freighters. They can carry a lot of small sized items, and mount enough shields and guns to protect themselves to a degree and being faster than freighters, they have speed on their side as well. Both for delivery and protection. Nova's will too. M4's are good for safer routes carrying small high priced items. M5's will also do for freight duties, especially hauler versions. And of course, another freighter is always useful for supplying e-cells to factories, or selling high volume, low cost goods.

And any fighter will join your fleet, when you decide its time for sector patrols and freighter escorts.

The decision often comes down to the state of the hull. Once it gets too low (subjective decision for you), you will sell rather than fix. Fixing costs big money. 99% hull repair costs about the same as a new ship hull, so its really not worth it, unless the ship is a variation you really want to keep.

Which is another reason for not selling. The pirates do have some variations of ships that you cannot buy, and capping is the only way to get them.

Are there any limits to how many ships you can cap ? No. The game is designed for long term play, and capping is random the whole time, so there is no limit to how many you can do. Some people have whole fleets of capped Xenon L's for example. They may buy their capital ships, but for many, every fighter on them is capped.

Its up to you if you even bother claiming or not, or what you do with what you claim.

There are no right and wrong ways about any of it, there is just your way.

Go to it, good luck.

News Flash : Xenon K Capped ! The Xenon Taxi mission apparently makes this possible during the mission at very high combat rank.