Version 3.10 HF1 Release (394166) - 2020-04-16
OK, a lot of people have been asking & complaining about skill training for their employees, especially pilot training. This is my current understanding of how things work (I am not a DEV: all info here is gleaned from assorted forum posts plus gameplay experience!)
Experience gain can happen in 2 ways: the easy way & the hard way. The easy way is fairly simple: use seminars. These train 1/3 of a star of experience per seminar, & can be easily & cheaply bought from any station shop (shops restock fairly regularly after some time), so gaining a 2-star <whatever> employee is fairly quick with a little station-visiting & purchasing. For above 2 stars (ie to train to 3 stars) seminars, you’ll need to start looking for mission rewards or rely on random loot/lockbox drops (very rare); fortunately, the lower tier seminars are fairly common as basic faction/war mission rewards (eg for satellite repair work, etc), if not for unaffiliated missions. For higher-tier (level 3+) seminar rewards though, you may well have to perform some non-trivial task(s) for an affiliated faction
The other way for NPCs to gain experience is for you to use them to complete tasks assigned to them: with each successful task completed, the NPC gains some experience (XP). With this mechanic in mind, it’s easy to see why (eg) your station managers are gaining management skills like crazy (unless you’ve been a complete idiot WRT setting up their station & assigned orders ofc); likewise, any ship with a crew that’s assigned to engineering & often suffers damage (even minimal) will level that crew’s engineering skill very quickly (eg miners). Morale gives an incremental boost to all skills & increases passively over the time that employee is employed*; marines gain their experience from successful boarding ops* ofc. See https://forum.egosoft.com/viewtopic.php?p=4945274#p4945274 for a quick summary
* (See below for more accurate linked info; I'll summarise it here when I get a round tuit)
Increasing Pilot skill
So now we come to pilots: the bane & essential element of many an X4 player’s strategic as well as tactical plans! Piloting skill is crucial in many ways: it increases the combat capability of the NPC craft (eg main gun/turret accuracy & heat management), plus its maneuverability (crucial in a L/XL ship, but also important for an M frigate or even an S fighter/bomber), while decreasing time taken for the NPC pilot to make decisions (eg which direction to point when traveling, maneuvering in combat, or performing docking/gate maneuvers *).. the overall result for higher-skilled pilots is less travel time taken for that ship/fleet to traverse to where you want them, & better effectiveness once they get there
* Those gate lights aren't for show: they indicate 'safe passage' for the relevant ship traversing the gate. While it's unusual in X4 for gate transfers to be fatal if heading the 'wrong way' (look at which way the gate lights are 'flowing'), capital ship collisions can still happen if you force them to travel against the indicators. Fortunately, NPC pilots always obey those indicator lights: BE WARNED!
So, how to train them efficiently? Well, there have been a number of mods created to get around Egosoft’s curious blind spot WRT pilot experience gain (eg https://forum.egosoft.com/viewtopic.php?f=181&t=424312#p4929370 which looks v interesting & not particularly unbalancing or immersion-breaking IMO), but for a pure vanilla game there are some things you can try after leveling pilots to max with basic & 1-star seminars:
- Give trainee pilots ‘short’ jobs. They don’t gain experience while flying around in space but only when their task is completed, so exploration missions are no longer optimal (but see below). ‘(re)Visit discovered stations’ is probably the easiest option here, but short trade/transfer wares missions between nearby stations may also be helpful. This is why your personal 'taxi ship' gains piloting so quickly (if you allow the NPC to pilot ofc): they're completing their tasks more frequently than your other NPCs as you fly around!
- The pilot gains more experience for more ‘difficult’ tasks successfully completed, so (eg) trade missions making a lot of profit will gain XP faster (while a loss may even decrease their XP by a minor amount). This may work out to be a double-edged sword: if your pilots are spending more time flying to profitable destinations than completing their 'tasks' their accumulated XP will rise very slowly. Trade missions currently only gain XP upon emptying their cargo hold, so stuffing a ship with wares & sending it out to distribute or auto-trade won't usually be the best tactic for leveling their pilot .. & it's why you usually would prefer to keep that ship with an empty hold if XP maximization is your preference (hence the unintuitive effect of auto-traders running with minimal cargo utilization)
- NPC combat missions ofc! A pilot gains a lot of XP from enemy kills, & somewhat less (although non-negligible) XP from a ‘partial kill’ (ie hull damage to a hostile that’s subsequently destroyed). If you’re happy with the potential attrition rate, you could send out several clouds of cheap S-class fighters to attack enemy M or even L ships, then ‘farm’ the best pilots from the survivors (plus gaining a bunch of dropped loot, if you care)
- Pilots gain ‘passive’ XP from damaging/destroying random bandits or other hostiles, but this is pretty much RNG game mechanics. It does mean, however, that equipping your mining fleet(s) with aggressive weapons as well as mining lasers can gain tiny amounts of XP if they manage to do damage while running away; similarly, explorers may benefit from having a less ‘GTFO’ attitude if looking for pilot advancement there.
There’s a forum thread here: https://forum.egosoft.com/viewtopic.php?p=4934113#p4934113 explaining how to take advantage of this last method in more detail, but BE AWARE that it’s in the /Spoilers forum, & links in its following comments may take you to places you don’t wish to know..
Piloting skill talk thru vid
Morale skill talk thru vid
Management, Boarding & Engineering talk thru vid
Many thanks to Werit Gaming for providing those talk thrus!
DEV links with regard to training skills in v3.x (j.harshaw)
As always, this is WIP so don’t expect it to be entirely accurate, especially as & when new versions/fixes are released! However, please leave comments/observations below & I’ll try to incorporate them to make this guide more accurate for current or future game versions/fixes