They’re coming outta the goddamn walls!
“Hudson: [reading a motion detector] I got signals. I got readings, in front and behind.
Frost: Where, man? I don’t see shit.
Hicks: He’s right. There’s nothin’ back here.
Hudson: Look, I’m telling ya, there’s somethin’ movin’ and it ain’t us! Tracker’s off scale, man. They’re all around us, man. Jesus!”
Most people will tell you that warfare in EVE is a numbers game. With a large enough fleet you can be reasonably certain that you can melt to slag any ships that happen to fall into your path. Well apart from a bigger fleet of course. And therein lies a problem, because what we eventually end up with is an ‘arms race’ whereby the biggest fleet probably ‘wins’.
I say probably because there are some skilled small gang and even solo pilots out there who are able to operate reasonably effectively even under the shadow of large fleet warfare, but I think its safe to say these are in the minority. Ultimately the experience of warfare in EVE becomes something of a 2 dimensional one; with sufficient allies online you can fleet up and go and play the game, if not (and we have surely all experienced this) we end up sitting in a station spinning our ships.
Now I know you’re probably already mouthing ‘use a scout Cail!’ and you’d be right there, scouting is and should be, a key aspect of EVE Online. Even if you personally aren’t scouting forward with a alt EVE is an MMO and the more successful corporations and alliances will have a network of scouts, spies and lookouts reporting back through a coordinated intel channel.
However when we look at large fleets we still have to ask what’s the disadvantage is of using one? Or rather what is the advantage of using a 5 man gang over say a 500 man gang? I’d like to say that a 5 man gang is less likely to be noticed, that – by using a small team you could sneak in and get that guerilla war under way. That’s true at least to an extent, and certainly more so by using Black Ops ships, but it isn’t the whole solution and with the threat of the ever present ‘hot drop’ you’re just as likely to get reported in an intel channel as you are if there where 500 of you.
Each time I see a large 100+ fleet enter the local channel, or appear looming in front of me as I emerge from a gate I’m always left with a slight disconnect. Here I am, apparently flying the most sophisticated starship ISK can buy, able to communicate across countless light years or trade throughout an entire region without so much as lighting an afterburner – and yet I didn’t, couldn’t, see that fleet of 100+ Battleships thunder towards me?
In terms of the history of warfare small specialist teams have always had a role to play because, unlike massed armies, they didn’t give the game away by the inescapable noise of their approach. In pretty much every other respect they’re a poor choice to a commander but they have always been deemed a critical element of any force structure because they were mobile – and mobile in terms of not being easily noticed.
One of the “Principles of Warfare” is the element of surprise. Now, if I amassed 200 heavy battle tanks 5 miles from your trench the chances of me surprising you are pretty limited. You’d hear the engine noise, you’d see the plumes of smoke and dust even if you couldn’t see the tanks themselves. Not so in EVE.
Of course real life analogies with EVE rarely work well on all levels but lets allow our imaginations to drift a little hear and hypothesise how ‘noisy fleets’ might alter the tactical choices made by today’s fleet commander:
In this example our players UI has a ‘Long Range Radar’ which displays out to a range of 1 light year a players immediate surroundings (replete with system and system links). Whenever a gate of a given system starts firing over a certain frequency (gate used per minute) it flares up on the long range radar. Let’s set the frequency fairly high – say 20 jumps per minute. Double and triple that value and the ‘intensity’ of that flare goes up.
Now it should be fairly easy to watch a large fleet pass through various systems as each star system on our long range radar ‘flares up’ in turn. Notice that by moving slowly or in small packets a large fleet could still conceivably move without triggering our Long Range Radar. Smaller fleets and gangs of course would not be so similarly effected although they could potentially mimic a large fleet by warping through the same gate multiple times – a deception if you will. In theory smaller fleets could evade large fleets, manoeuvring around them or just going to ground whilst large fleets would continue to be able to slug it out with each other.