Archive for June, 2010

Milestones

Posted in EVE Online on June 27, 2010 by cailais

“On May 6th 2010, EVE Online celebrated its 7th Anniversary. Quite a milestone in MMO history, especially considering that it is one of the few virtual worlds out there to see its population continually grow year after year. For some of you who’ve been here since the very beginning, EVE has evolved quite a lot since its creation. With the expansion rolling out roughly twice a year, New Eden gets renewed and improved regularly. But, how about you the player? How has your gaming style evolved through the years or months since you’ve started playing? Have you always been a carebear, or roleplayer? Have you only focused on PvP or have you given other aspects of the game a chance – say manufacturing. Let’s hear your story!”

My story is of course your story.  From its earliest moments EVE, unique amongst MMOs, has been a continuously evolving persistent universe and, as that river of time has run we, as its players, have bobbed along with it – sometimes buffeted by raging torrents at other times becalmed and drifting.

What has changed of course is how we all interact and inter relate with each other.  When I first sailed out into the stars and asteroids of New Eden Battleships were kings and salvaging and worm holes just dreams in our collective imagination.  Now the wreckage of my ship, left twisted in space could become the source of the rig installed in your ship.  With worm holes even the deepest High Sec system is conceivably only a tenuous membrane and a single jump from the cold of Null Sec.  Once the battles between the racial empires of Amarr, Gallente, Minmater or Caldari could be played out only by those dedicated enough to role play through it – now even the least experienced capsuleer can sign on to factional warfare.

A great deal has changed.

Have I changed? I cant really answer that question.  I know I have learnt a lot more about New Eden – a point which struck me as I tried (probably unsuccessfully) to explain the various merits of ECM and ECCM modules to a new player.  Certainly the advances made by CCP have enabled me to play EVE in a fashion that appeals to me more – exploration being a stand out example, but I’m not sure if that means I have changed my play style – or that simply put it was something I would have done but couldn’t.

Planetary Interaction is another good example.  Whilst away for work gpu intense activities like PVP arent a great option for me – but dabbling in PI is and its ready accessibility means its a perfect distraction at the end of the day. From my perspective the future of EVE is all about enabling new and additional styles of play.  That might be chilling on the sofa with your xbox and DUST514, or immersing your character in the station environments of Incarna.

Whilst watching the Alliance Tourney coverage this weekend I was struck by something Verone (of VETO Corp) said as the commentators discussed a future ‘pick up group’ feature for PVE.  Verone pointed out that many EVE players had aged with EVE, and those who’d started their capsuleer careers whilst foot loose and fancy free at Uni now how serious jobs, kids etc etc.

Verone put that out there almost as a throw away comment but I think it demonstrates that our playing styles are not only dictated by what EVE Online offers, but by our personal circumstances as well. Those 3am fleet ops soon become a major struggle when you have young kids (who have this innate ability to wake up just as you decided to log off for some much needed sleep).

I think CCP (who have after all also aged along with the current player base) recognise this.  Little features such as the in game calendar and EVE Gate don’t so much change what we do – but they do allow us to better plan out our activity in game and when we do it.  EVE Gate, and API applications like Capsuleer can only add to that.  Am I more likely to act as a trader using my phone, or through EVE Gate: of course! And that allows me to focus on “ze pew pew” when I do get half an hour of uninterrupted play.

Has my style of play changed? – well no, not so much but my comments in corp chat used to be:

“Hostiles now jumping to outbound!”

and now theyre more likely;

“arfghg GTG! AFK 10, gotta chnge a nappy!”

Followed by a good hours absence as I struggle to tackle as fast moving nano-toddler.

Dear CCP – WTB Pause Button.

Finally, and I’m well behind the curve on this one due to numerous RL interruptions (see above), CK has published the winners of the last Blog Banter contest and here they are!

  1. The Ghost Report: Eve Blog Banter: The Girls Who Fly Spaceships
  2. “Prove It”: Women In EvE
  3. Blog Banter #17 – Women in Eve
  4. The Ladies of New Eden (An Analysis on How Men are not from Mars, & Women are not from Venus)
  5. Cloaked and Watching You: The Ladies of New Eden
  6. Space Broker: Gal-Ristas!
  7. Tech 2 stilettos (yay! that’s me!)
  8. It’s a woman’s world (they just don’t know it yet!)
  9. Ladies of New Eden
  10. Lady Vengeance, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pew-Pew
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The future of skirmish PVP.

Posted in EVE Online on June 9, 2010 by cailais

To my mind, the core of PVP in EVE Online – where its heart is – is in small gang PVP.  Almost without exception when you ask players who participate in PVP combat they’ll say its at the small gang level where they enjoy it the most.  The reasons why this might be the case are pretty obvious when you consider them:

We are, as social creatures, drawn to participate in small team activities.  Look at the world of team sports and you’ll find few cases where a “team” exceeds more than 20 people.  More often than not you’re looking at about a dozen or so active players; Soccer, American Football, Cricket, Basketball, Ice Hockey, Rugby – theyre all ‘small gang’ PVP. Within the work place you will also find teams will form at an optimum number, and the same is true for military units and formations – EVE is no different.

Go beyond that magic zone and problems of command, control, communication and leadership all arise.  In game terms the more you increase the numbers participating the less the individual feels valued or even relevant to the task at hand.  After a small gang operation banter will abound in corp chat as tales of victory, loss, close calls and near run things are batted back and forth.  Even within large fleets you’ll tend to find only a small vocal minority ‘leading’ the activity or commentating on it.  Our friendship groups are typically around the 8 – 12 mark, at least those we know well.   How often do you go out down the pub with 350 of you mates? How about 5?

Good small gang ‘skirmish’ PVP is therefore fundamental in making EVE a success.  Without it those social bonds and cohesion start to fray, players feeling increasingly irrelevant start to drift away (often ironically in small, albeit dissatisfied, groups).  In my view ensuring that small gang PVP has a renaissance is without question one of the great challenges that face the developers today.  In many respects CCP have placed hurdles of their own making in their paths – vast capital and super capital ships, Player Owned Stations, Outposts, TCUs et al all require – demand – larger fleets to over come them.

So how do we encourage small gang PVP once more? In broad terms we can approach the problem with a variety of solutions:

Nerf Fleets – stacking penalties, limited target locks, dead spaces that can only admit a given number of ships are all potential solutions. But these are ‘nerfs’ – forcing players down a particular route. Alternatively I’ve suggested before increasing the ‘visibility’ of very large fleets as a tool to dissuade their use in favour of more “covert” smaller fleets.

But that’s only half the story.  Tonight my corp went on a typical ‘roam’ – half a dozen of us searching through Low Sec space for a potential battle.  None was found and we returned about an hour later all slightly bored and discouraged.  What really struck me though was what we were doing: i.e roaming.  Roaming being the act of wandering, with no clear purpose or even direction in mind.  Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with roaming the problem is more that there was no genuine alternative.  There was nothing ‘out there’ to draw us (or others) into a potential battle. No target to strike or advantage to fight over.

Now I’m sure you’re already thinking of Factional Warfare here.  However in many respect FW failed to achieve what I believe is so badly needed in the form of ‘limited objectives’.  Instead of providing short sharp conquest of limited objectives the FW dead spaces were filled with NPCs immediately putting the attacker at a disadvantage.  Equally they didn’t scale well – these objectives could be best conquered using the almighty blob and FW quickly came to resemble Null Sec war fare and a battle between large fleets.  Critically these objectives are static – and like and static position encourage a fort and siege mentality.

So what is the solution? What constitutes a ‘limited objective’?

Firstly a limited objective (LO) needs to be transient and short lived – a fleeting opportunity.  Leave any objective in place permanently or for any extended period of time and you allow the possibility of a larger force being assembled to capture or defend it.

Secondly it needs to provide a small and scalable reward.  For example a gang reaches an LO, captures it and is rewarded quickly.  The bigger the team the less the ‘payout’ for individual members.  This has two important effects; it means the team members feel rewarded and a sense of achievement.  The fewer who succeed in this task the greater the reward for them, and the greater the satisfaction.  Players soloing level IV and V missions bears testament to this. Or to put it another way: how many 300 man fleets do you see running Level IV missions?

Thirdly (and finally) it needs to be an objective that has potential value to more than one group.  Missions for example provide a % of their reward only to the player who initiates them through accepting the mission. Exploration sites often hold sufficient value only to a very small number of players, or those who are especially equipped to mine, hack or dig their way to the riches within them. Crucially PVP players want to compete in Player Vs Player (sounds rather obvious doesn’t it?) – they don’t want to drive off a Player only to then take part in a PVE activity.  Value in this sense means more than just ‘ISK’  – but value in terms of time spent and enjoyment from it.

I will attempt to give a fairly crude example of how such content might be introduced –

“Gurista Ammo Convoy” – this is an ‘event’ that spawns randomly in a system.  Its existence is posted in local channel, or perhaps as an objective marker on the universe map (regardless of method its existence is widely known). The convoy can be warped to directly and engaged (a simple matter of blowing up some NPC transports) however it is only available for say 15 minutes then departs back into the depths of space.  Destroying the convoy results in a nice stash of loot – lets say pure ISK to keep things simple). Alternatively a gang can accept its distress call, in which case they only need to ensure its survival for those 15 minutes and are then similarly rewarded.

So far pretty basic – but you can quickly see how assembling a major fleet to achieve such a simple task will likely take too long and as the reward is divided amongst a fleets members of limited value to a major fleet.  Our target is transient, but rewarding to 2 (or more) potentially competing groups. Such a simple object might be expanded upon – perhaps saving / destroying such targets has an incremental effect on the Sov of a system? In this fashion smaller gangs can make small but nevertheless valued contributions to a wider goal.

Such limited objectives could also be applied in Null Sec environments.  Once an Alliances reaches a given level of Sov, ‘NPC Trade Convoys’ might appear. Provided theyre not destroyed their survival would increase further the sov of a system or provide other like reward.  Opposing small gangs could now strike these opportunity targets across a wide region weakening (though not out right destroying) an Alliance influence.

Enough examples.  Until EVE begins to incorporate and apply the concept of a Limited Objective the allure of Small Gang operations will remain a tarnished one and the predominance of large fleet warfare will remain the norm.

C.

QOTD #Tweetfleet

Posted in EVE Online on June 7, 2010 by cailais

Thoughts on #incarna: necessity for #eveonline? Fun toy? Waste of time? Why? #tweetfleet #qotd

Heh. Try answering that in 140 characters or less! With Tyrannis deployed players thoughts are inevitably going to turn to the “what next?” question.  Some players have been vocal in their demands for a feature freeze – or at the very least a mop up by CCP to “fix” all the “broken stuff” in EVE today.

I’m wary of such a agenda, as what’s “broken” to you may not be “broken” to me. One man’s nectar and all that. With that in mind I still feel that CCP can, and should, forge a path that expands upon EVE.  As soon as we turn inwards we will find ourselves in an never ending spiral of balance and counter balancing.

Incarna is however a controversial topic not least because (from what we have seen to date) it sits very firmly on the side of fluff, and very obviously not on the side of function.  Do we really, and I mean really need to be able to walk around a station? For now let’s assume that Incarna will just deliver a slightly more polished version of what we have seen so far, no more and no less.  On that basis you’ll be able to walk around a station environment, change your avatars looks, run a bar and move some furniture around.

Purists will say that on this basis Incarna is not needed, and most definitely not a necessity. They will point out (perhaps rightfully) that EVE has done very well thank you for years without ambulation and therefore CCP should focus on what matters: spaceships, in space.  To an extent I can sympathise with that, although I cant shake the feeling that these purists might be at the extreme end of social ineptitude living in their Moms basement and are therefore terrified of being exposed as such through the medium of Incarna.

I can certainly see how many feel that (again from what we know) Incarna is a waste of time – after all if you work down a logical path it rather seems that way: undock, leave pod, walk about, enter bar, play chess….ummm….and that’s it? Shouldn’t we be following a rather more exciting route of: undock, warp to gate, unleash totalhelldeathpewpewlazors on some unfortunate victim?

It could be a ‘fun toy’ of course, and I can equally picture many players actively enjoying owning their own station bar, buying pot plants and moving the furniture around: it’s not ‘my thing’ but then neither is The Sims and that’s one of the highest grossing games in history.  Equally many MMOs do have quite detailed, and popular, avatar creators with players spending significant effort in getting their avatar to look just ‘so’. Character ‘realisation’ is not purely the domain of the role player and its not something all that easy to do with  a starship that looks, well identical, to the same ship of another players.

But is that a necessity? Taken only from a MMO competition perspective we could argue that yes it is – the competition out there all have avatars that can be customised and who exist in their own environs.  CCP is missing a % of the MMO market place to whom such things are important. Now I dont have CCPs marketing data, but if I did I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if it said that EVE had reached a plateau in terms of subscriptions and that market research was suggesting that ‘Incarna’ would result in an increased subscriber base.

So from CCPs point of view it quite possibly is a necessity – even if the current player base isn’t too fond of the idea of sharing their internets spaceships game with a bunch of Sci Fi Sims fans.

What about though from the current player base? Well we could continue to add a few ships here and there, tweak a few FW mechanics and moan and whine from here until eternity that blasters are unbalanced but to my mind that route leads to stagnation.  Enabling Incarna opens up a range of possibilities that turns EVE Online from a game of internet spaceships into a fully fledged Science Fiction Universe. Now to be clear I’m not just talking about immersion (although that is important) but also whole aspects of potential emergent game play.  Let me try and provide just a small example:

Within Incarna a character is banned from a bar for running up a huge tab, cheating at poker and being abusive (or whatever).  He leaves and retaliates by hitting the bar owners POS a few systems out.  The bar owner calls in some DUST514 Mercs who in turn hit the planetary infrastructure of our miscreant….and so forth.

Now that example only includes what we know is planned.  The point being that the more opportunities for social interaction and co-operation that exist so, in turn, do the opportunities for conflict and totalhelldeathpewpewlazors. Not there’s anything wrong with flaming each other of COAD and fighting over Querious it’s just that we’ve been doing that for a rather long time and maybe it would be good to have a bit of a change?

With those points in mind I think Incarna tips over the balancing point of ‘useless fluff’ to ‘needed’ – but only just.  What worries me is that any feature you have had in development for the past 2 years (yes, it really has been that long since our first glimpse at FF08!) really needs to do a bit more than “only just” tip the scales. Incarna needs to be, and deserves to be, a really radical addition to EVE – a pillar alongside that of DUST514, planetary interaction, EVE Gate and the EVE Online as we know it now.  There needs to be game play involved, a reason to interact with EVE’s complex and engrossing universe that’s more, much more than ‘running a bar’.

If CCP can realise a truly cyberpunk styled Incarna, replete with almost Deus Ex style game play then not only will we look on it as a necessity but we’ll wonder how we ever managed to live with out it.  Its a big challenge, and we must now wait a long time to see if CCP grasps it or retreats to a comfortable world of fixing things that someone thinks is “broken”.

C.

Will edit in some suitable piccys later 😉

Which Planet?

Posted in EVE Online on June 4, 2010 by cailais

With the ‘Great Land Grab’ now firmly on the horizon for the 8th of June many players will be wondering how to best take advantage of EVEs latest resource.  The question is though which planets are right for you? With a choice of 65,000 planets across New Eden the selection is certainly a daunting one but with a few simple questions you can narrow the field swiftly and effectively.

How embroiled in PI do you want to get? This is a pretty elementary question but a necessary one as within just a few minutes of training Command Center Upgrades & Interplanetary Consolidation skills up you can be dropping Planetary Command Centers with wild abandon.  Clearly if you’re just looking to dabble a bit in PI then you’re best looking to set up base on a Planet close to where you’re currently based from – rather than face potentially long trips to manage your planet ‘at range’.

What are the ‘no go areas’ for me? If you’re inclined to hug Empire space like your clone depends upon it (which to an extent it does) then Low / Null Sec planets are quickly off limits.  This of course means that you will be forced to share your planets of choice with like minded players (of whom there are many) and thus suffer poorer returns as a result as a planets resources themselves are directly effected by the number of players attempting to extract them.

In Null Sec you are of course restricted to Alliance Sovereignty – that juicy looking Plasma planet in a system owned by another Alliance? Then its of limits.  I’m not wholly convinced that PI will start wars – yet – as Planets, even the rarer ones, are reasonably well distributed and common enough but they could be influencing factors.

Willingness to travel further out into Low or Null Sec Space will improve your lot to a degree.  Its worth noting that you can manage you Planetary Infrastructure from anywhere – there’s no requirement to be in the same system, or region – or even in space.  Provided you can fly out your PCC and drop it on your selected world you’re good to go.  Of course at some stage you will need to collect the output from your planet, and therein lies the problem of Empire > Low/Null Sec transport. Setting up longer extraction rates (resources are sucked up slowly over a longer period) means provided you have sufficient storage in place you can adopt a ‘hands off approach’ to a good degree and only visit your worlds when absolutely necessary.

What do I want to produce? This will define most players choices – with each planet type offering different resources at varying levels of quantity.  I recently read a twitter post where a player had discounted Oceanic and Barren worlds as their resources could be found on other worlds – true but quite probably not at the same level. Extracting just raw materials is certainly an option and you can potentially be more economic than the next guy by focusing on one specific product.  For example if you set up PCCs on 3 Oceanic worlds in the same system you can be confident of churning out vast quantities of Water with very limited set up costs and ease of management. In terms of your time invested you’re actually more efficient than the player who is trying to make Broadcast  Nodes from up to 6 different planets spread over a wide area.

What’s the ‘good stuff’? Some planets clearly have more value in the process than others. All of the POS/Sov Structure BPOs use some quantity of each of the ‘Advanced Commodities’ – for example Broadcast Nodes.  A Broadcast Node, ultimately requires Felsic Magma to manufacture and this is only found on Lava Planets which are reasonably uncommon. Felsic Magma is also used in the production of Integrity Response Drones, Self Harmonizing Power Core, Sterile Conduits and Nanite Repair Paste.  Nanite Repair paste of course is a consumed product which might indicate a good demand for Felsic Magma.

So should you plump straight for these types of planets? Well not necessarily. Competition for these planets will be fiercest and could cost you ultimately (in lost ships and wasted time) more ISK than if you had gone for a more commonly available resource.

A great deal depends of course how high up the PI Tree you intend to climb.  To make the aforementioned Broadcast Node requires the resources from at least 5 different planet types, where as Nano-Factories can be made from just Temperate and Storm worlds (at least in theory – again the abundance of a particular resource needs to be taken into account). The other thing to consider is that the higher up the PI Tree you climb, the bigger your end product becomes.  Smuggling 0.01m3 Felsic Magma out of Low Sec is a trivial task and you could move significant quantities using just a covert ops frigate.  Moving 100m3 Broadcast Nodes is another story and will require specialist ships if you hope to minimise the risk to your operation.

Who are my neighbours? Even if you’re thinking of just running a limited operation (say manufacturing Silicon on a Lava world from Felsic Magma) it’s worth seeing what else might be being produced locally and if there is likely to be any immediate demand for your product.  Presence of a Gas planet might indicate someone manufacturing Reactive Gas, in which case they could be interested in purchasing your Silicon to create the Refined Commodity (P2) Silicate Glass.  Even at the highest skill level players can only set up on a maximum of 6 planets and some players may well prefer to purchase intermediate goods rather than try and run the entire production tree themselves.

Of course your neighbours might have very little interest in PI, and far more in what’s inside your squishy ship.  There’s an opportunity there of course as known pirate havens will drive away competition but its a risky venture.  On the flip side to this choosing a Low Sec system multiple jumps from any industrial / trade hub will increase the time it takes to transport your goods to market.  That’s time you could have spent doing something else to make ISK and needs to be taken into account.

Are Barren Planets worthless? Judging the value of any given planet is more difficult than at first sight.  For example all of the resource found on a Barren Planet can be found on a combination of Plasma, Temperate and Gas worlds and typically in greater abundance.  But for your area a Barren Planet may be simple more convenient. Because there are typically a lot of Barren planets the ratio of players per planet is, on average, likely to be lower for these planets.  Some players may askew a Barren planet for better gains on say a Gas planet – leaving you free to exploit it.

In summary then we can see that ‘which planet’ is very much focused upon you, as an individual rather than a pure ‘Planet X is better than Planet Y’.   Personally I’m torn between setting up a large scale production chain of just a simple low tier product (like Water) and creating a more involved and time consuming venture to manufacture higher tier goods, but that’s because I like to do a range of activities rather than just PI.  The great thing about PI is that if it’ not working out I can always strip down any infrastructure and rebuild to a new model – and that’s where the interest in PI really lies.

Of course no such blog should be finished without a quiet word of warning.

PI in Tyrannis is just the start of the process  – so be mindful of where ever you set up your colonies  “as men busied themselves about their various concerns, *they* observed and studied, the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency, men went to and fro about the globe, confident of our empire over this world. Yet across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us”.

C.

At my signal….

Posted in Uncategorized on June 2, 2010 by cailais

Cassius: On this day, we reach back to hallowed antiquity, to bring you a recreation of the second fall of the mighty Carthage!… On the barren plain of Zama, there stood the invincible armies of the barbarian Hannibal. Ferocious mercenaires and warriors from all brute nations, bent on merciless destruction, conquest. Your emperor is pleased to give you the barbarian horde!
[Crowd cheers] – Gladiator

CCPs latest dev blog announces the spectacle that is the next Alliance Tournament and I for one am looking forward to it.  The Alliance Tournament is a remarkable event in the EVE Online Calender,  and I cant help shake the impression of the gladiatorial arena of ancient Rome.  Then, as now, the drama of the event is as much about the personalities, the scandals and the ‘savagery’ as it is about the ultimate winner.

Many of us will be salivating over watching multi billion ISK ships go ‘boom’ in an environment where there’s no Hot Drop coming in to help you out, no running to a POS shield or docking in a station: in many ways the Alliance Tournament harks back to an older, more basic but more brutal EVE.

There will be the inevitable posts with the “new idea” of adding arenas to TQ, and for a brief moment CCP had actually gone partially down that path – but these will be drowned out because whilst the Tournament is an ‘Event’ it would be so much diminished if it was copied across TQ just as TQ would become little more than a glorified waiting room for “PVP Zones” .

Not all the matches will be great, or even mildly watch able. Some of the commentators will likely drive many of us to distraction and there will be the usual, slightly uncomfortable sensation  of watching a handful of players desperately trying to be “punters on TV” whilst at the same time trying not to appear total muppets.

For me, well the great thing is a chance to catch the matches during breaks at work or to  just sit down with  a coffee (or beer) in the evening and watch a few laser beams burn up the night sky.

Are you not entertained? 😉

C.

3.14159265….

Posted in EVE Online on June 1, 2010 by cailais

This past week has seen some interesting, if not entirely welcome events for PI.  Post patch sharp eyed industrial and marketeers spotted that with POS / Sov structures still seeded it was possible to purchase the NPC sell orders of these items, reprocess them down to P4 items (the items at the top of the PI production chain) and then manufacture other, more desirable and expensive POS / Sov structures.

Needless to say in the process these players were able to make a bucket load of ISK as they were able to sell off  ‘bargain price’ structures, including outposts, whilst still making a tidy profit.

Shortly the forums provided the inevitable ‘threadnaught‘.  Currently the situation is in limbo as:

During downtime on Saturday, May 29, all NPC sell orders for starbase structures, sovereignty structures and station components were temporarily disabled. These orders will be restored temporarily on Wednesday, June 2 until Planetary Interaction is fully operational“. – CCP Navigator

There is a second albeit short opportunity now for those holding structures to sell them (providing demand exists) during the vacuum between NPC sell orders becoming available again.  In the longer term there remains a question of how much p4 material now exists in the hangars of players across New Eden.  If this quantity is quite large then its likely that some, if not all, P4 production will be an almost complete waste of time – at least until the market is de saturated of the existing product.

There may be some up take of the intermediate P1 – P3 products by players looking to manufacture P4, if only because the lead time from P1 to P3 is relatively long.

The huge irony of this debacle of course is that Planetary Command Centers weren’t seeded to stop those with prior experience of PI on the test server getting an unfair advantage and making kerbillions before the less experienced could react.  As it is this plan failed and those with their eye on the ball have profited nicely and those waiting patiently in the sidelines are now essentially irrelevant – at least for now.

Rumour abounds as to what subsequent action CCP might take prior to PCC’s hitting the market on 8 June, with some suggesting items produced prior to then will be vaporized, or PI P4 quantities increased to mute the current market glut.  Either way CCP have a task in front of them to make PI relevant to all but the most determined.

C.