'Get me some ice, would you Penny?', asks my Core Complexion, Inc. agent. Uh, will do, guvnor. I'm not sure why his secretary can't handle such a request until I find out he wants more than a couple of cubes for his daiquiri, ten thousand cubic metres of ice in fact. 'And be quick about it.' Maybe he's throwing a party. Either way, he tells me that there is some floating about the system so I hop in to my trusty Osprey and warp to the deadspace pocket. It is at this point where I jointly remember and learn that ice mining is a different breed to rock mining.
It should be obvious, really, that shooting a laser at ice is not an effective way to collect it, but I honestly didn't expect to get a mission from my agent that held no additional instructions or warnings for someone who had not mined ice before. After all, I continue to get reminder warnings when accepting courier missions if my current ship's cargo hold is not big enough for the package, which I dismiss prior to switching to a bigger ship, so it is interesting that I can accept a mission without any warning dialogue where I don't even have the requisite skills to achieve the primary objective.
I understand that it may not always be feasible to determine whether a capsuleer can achieve a mission or not based on skills. Even with the certificate system in place it could be tortuous to recommend a certain skill-set for encounter missions beyond suggesting core competencies and, even then, there are active and passive defence competencies, as well as missile, energy and projectile weapon systems to take in to account. Never the less, when a mission is presented to mine ice and the capsuleer doesn't have the ice harvesting skill trained it might be prudent to mention that. Either way, it would certainly be better to be consistent. I would rather the capsuleer need to check the details of each mission carefully than get a warning about a lack of cargo space but nothing about lacking necessary skills.
Getting back to the station I check to see what I need to do before I can harvest ice. First, I need an ice harvester module, which will let me mine the ice. Of course, it is rarely that simple and the massive CPU drain of the module makes it unsuitable for any ship other than a mining barge, and only then because of the CPU-need reduction bonus that mining barges get. This means I also need a mining barge to attach to my ice harvester, which is somewhat putting the cart before the horse. A quick look on the market shows that both module and ship are relatively inexpensive, and so feasible purchases for the sake of the mission even if not exactly cost-effective.
Both ice harvesting modules and mining barges need specific skill training, with the good news being that I at least have the prerequisites for each skill already learnt, saving time and frustration. A quick trip to the nearest academy equips me with both skill books and I inject them to begin training immediately, temporarily interrupting working on increasing my production output. With the prerequisite skills trained, ice harvesting being a level one skill, and only needing one level of mining barges to pilot the basic model my training queue shows that I can be mining ice within thirty minutes or so.
However, that thirty minutes of training will only get me in to a Procurer, the simplest of mining barges manufactured by ORE. With one high slot, one thousand cubic metres of cargo space and a puny drone bay only able to hold a single light drone the Procurer sounds like it will be puffing black smoke out of its engines as the steam generators struggle to keep up with energy demands of keeping the map-reading light on. In comparison, another half-day's training in mining barges will get me in to a Retriever with its two high slots, doubled cargo hold, and more generous twenty five cubic metre drone bay, making it a much more attractive option over the disposable Procurer. Whilst the extra training means I will miss out on the mission bonus reward for early completion, if I am going to mine ice I will do it properly.
But it's never that simple. I may have the prequisite skills already trained to learn ice harvesting and how to pilot mining barges, but the Retriever also requires competency in astrogeology IV. Astrogeology may be a skill I trained only to make the occasional mining mission less tedious but at least I have it trained, and to astrogeology III as well. Even so, training the skill to IV will add another couple of days to my plan. So be it! I won't subject myself to piloting sub-standard ships when there is a superior option readily available and within my capabilities, even if it is dedicated to mining. My agent is just going to have to wait for his ice.