Archive for September, 2010

Oodalooping the Trinity

Posted in EVE Online on September 8, 2010 by cailais

I’m going of on a bit of a curve ball with today’s post – I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to work out but you know, bear with me.

Two (seemingly) separate posts caught my eye recently, the first is from the eve-online forums and a thread started by Charras Washington asking if the EVE Universe was going to get any bigger.  CCP Greyscale offers some interesting observations on this topic and the wider topic of ‘local chat’:

“Ok, the problem with local as it stands is that it’s a completely effort-free intel tool, which gives away too much information too freely, makes it harder to do some things that should be easier (like ambushes) and easier to do some things that should be harder (like finding targets or running away), and short-circuits a lot of opportunities for really good gameplay. Or, tl;dr, it’s just a bit lame.

The problem with just sticking it into delayed mode is that 1) it’s going to make it less likely that you just start chatting with people in space (this is kinda a fringe case, I know, but it pushes the universe a lot further into Greg Bear’s Anvil of Stars territory), and 2) (in my opinion) it will make roaming gangs suck completely. Everyone’s excited about the idea of ganking ratters, but if you tell them someone’s jumped in but not who they’re going to safe up in most cases anyway, and if you don’t show a local count, how exactly are you going to find targets? I can’t think of anything more tedious than going for a roam with a few friends and having to directional-scan around every single system to check for targets, particularly given how much crud is left hanging around at starbases.” – CCP Greyscale

The second comes from the KillTenRats blog which quotes a recent comment by Richard Bartle regarding the ‘Holy Trinity’ of gank, tank and “healer” (or logistics in EVE).  Here’s that quote in full:

” Now if, back in 1978, you’d told me that there were going to be three main character classes in future MMOs, I would probably have assumed some kind of rock/paper/scissors relationship among them for reasons of balance. Archers beat infantry, cavalry beat archers, infantry beat cavalry — that sort of thing. I don’t believe for a moment I’d have gone with what we have, which is the “trinity” of tank, heals and dps. The tank takes all the damage issued by the opponent, the healer reduces this damage, and the dps gives damage (dps is “damage per second”, non-players) to the opponent. This doesn’t make a great deal of sense in gameplay terms: the healer is redundant (they’re basically just armour for the tank), the premiss is unrealistic (“I’ll hit the guy in the metal suit who isn’t hurting me, rather than the ones in the cloth robes who are burning my skin off”), it doesn’t work for player versus player combat (because players don’t go for the guy in the metal suit) and it doesn’t scale (a battle with 1,000 fighters on either side — how many tanks do you need?). Don’t get me wrong, it can be a lot of fun, but it’s a dead end in design terms.” – Richard Bartle

Richard’s comments are interesting in that the MUD1 combat process was not unlike that of EVEs – there are no ‘body block’ or line of sight considerations which means that the tactic of concentrated fire (multiple ships firing upon a single target) is the norm.  Switching fire, or spreading fire across multiple targets sometimes occurs in order to over stress the availability of logistics ships (the ‘heal’ element) to repair or support a fleet but the ‘holy trinity’ is still predominantly in play.

So what have these two apparently disconnected themes have in common that’s worthy of comment? On the face of it, not much – one is looking at the ‘big picture’ of the intel a player has – his “situational awareness”.  The other is down at the nitty gritty of the fight itself – up close pew pew.  However Id argue that both of these are directly related.

During fleet fights we typically run through an OODAloop cycle which (if youve not heard of the term) runs as follows:

OBSERVE: We look around us, what’s there? “Ooh look blinky 4 Battleships”

ORIENTATE: We place ourselves in context.  “Eeek theyre 10km from me!”

DECIDE: We consider a range of options. “Can I beat them? Run Awaaaaay?! Fire all lazors!!!?”

ACT: We select a course of action. “PEWPEWPEWPEW!!!”

And then back to the top again.  Military strategists will tell you that in order to improve your odds of victory / success in any engagement they thing to do is beat / break your opponents OODAloop cycle, ideally to the point where they never get to the ACT part as their OBSERVATION tells them that something has changed requiring a new set of decisions (e.g in the example above another 70 Battleships jump in).

The key bit here is the OBSERVATION bit because that’s where the ‘local as an intel tool’ comes in.  To demonstrate where Im wandering with this let me pose a scenario to you, paint your situational awareness if you will:

“You jump your small gang of 5 crusiers into a system. Your scout was correct and there is 1 Battleship 20 clicks of the gate”.

Now in an ‘open local’ scenario (as EVE runs today) the presence of 5 other hostile corpies in local would effect your decision: engage, or not engage.  Now lets pose the same scenario only this time local is in delayed mode. Are there in fact 3 logistics cruisers and 2 falcons cloaked 30km from the battleship??

In my view here in lies an opportunity for EVEs developers – what if within a given frame of reference/range you had a 4th member of the ‘holy trinity’ which would contest the state of that ‘local intel’?

I would suggest that rather than go for a rather boring ‘local is on or local is off’ choice a more interesting option would be to have that state defined by the players themselves.  How would this be achieved??  I think there are two broad approaches which could work very well in tandem with each other:

First off is the ‘anchored structure’ – an Intel Beacon / Suppressor Beacon of some kind; fairly small and HP weak making it a nice ‘small gang objective’.

Secondly is the EWAR ‘Platform’ (possibly a new set of modules, or adaptation of the existing Ewar modules)  that contests the state of a small area of space and the ‘local channel’ attributes: possibly even the overview and targetable objects themselves.

I use the word ‘contest’ quite deliberately because what I envision is something of an E Warfare battle ongoing in, and around, the use of conventional ‘kinetic’ weapons like blasters or pulse lasers. A suitable UI layout (perhaps utilising the Solar System Map) would demonstrate to the player which areas had suppressant / boosted Local coverage.  The use of active ‘e warfare’ (like dropping Intel Beacons, advanced probes etc etc) would all combine to produce a secondary fight – over the electromagnetic spectrum.

Of course these wild ideas are unlikely to ever come to pass but Id hope that CCP looks beyond the argument of switching local ‘on’ or ‘off’ and considers there is at least some game design room there to manoeuvre in.

C.

A tale in the telling

Posted in EVE Online on September 3, 2010 by cailais

During my last blog post I made reference to the comparison between the ‘grief’ spectrum and the ‘freedom’ spectrum in EVE Online and MMOs in general.  If you’ve not had the chance to read that the tl;dr version is quite straight forward.

I argue that essentially the more freedom you give to players (e.g to blow each other up, scam each other etc etc) so you increase the ‘grief’ present in a game.  The more protection you give to players (no death penalty, concord etc etc) so the greater the constraints you place them under in the game universe as a whole. A basic diagram of the spectrum is like this:

Care/Constraints<————————————–>Grief/Freedom

So far so, well obvious really.  The question you’re probably asking is why would any MMO not opt for as much freedom as possible? Sure some players might cry a bit on dying but they’d soon get over it right? I mean it is just a game – right?

Well the answer as to why we see more ‘care/constraints’ in MMORPGs can be found in their geneology and nomenclature – these are, by their very nature mmoRPGs.  Now I’m not going to get bogged down into when someone’s “role playing” and when they’re not but the MMORPG has its history (its Grandparents if you will) waaaaay back in those early dice rolling games like D&D.  And those RPGs are born of something even older still: stories.

The RPG was essentially born out of a form of ‘story telling’.  The games master scripted, designed and ad libbed a story based upon a rough plan and the subsequent actions of the players.  Rules using various combinations of pen, pencil, dice and a large quantity of graph paper created consistency and framed what was, and what was not possible for the players and their opponents to achieve.

Of course, the digital MMORPG carries across a mass of similar concepts, your ship in EVE does X amount of damage, flies at Y speed and so on and so forth.  The interactions of ship vs ship, trader vs trader within those rules are the “game” – much like chess or backgammon.

But what the MMORPG also dragged with it is the idea of a ‘story’ and most importantly your story.  Admittedly most MMOs have been rather restrictive in this interpretation – your story will be much the same as anyone elses as it runs along on the rails of “Complete Quest A, then B, then C etc etc”.  And their in lies the nub of the issue.  If you want players to experience a tale in the telling, with a beginning, middle and end, you need to keep them (roughly) on those rails.  Its no good building a players expectation that they will personally save the Damsel in Distress if, when they arrive, she’s already been saved but  “y’know thanks for coming”.

Hence why we have constraints hard wired into MMOs.  They enable a degree of control by the designer as to what content (another term for ‘story’) the player gets to experience.  It’s also why “carebears” enjoying said story can get so upset when those elements are broken.  Its the equivalent of finding someone’s ripped the last pages from the great book you were reading.

MMOs are popular not least because they are “games” – but because they have a deep rooted link into the players personal storyline. If you strip out the story, the tale, you’re left with the equivalent (in RPG terms) of:

“There are 3 creatures in front of you, with swords and an armour rating of 7”

What are they? Why are they in front of me? Where am I? WHO am I?”

We don’t ask these questions when we play say chess, or counter strike because they’re not relevant or even necessary. Our personal experience of the “game” doesn’t need a storyline to provide a context, mainly because the game will be too short (relatively speaking) to need one.

During extended ‘games’ like a football league, or chess championship you may well notice how commentators fashion a narrative around the individual game;

“Of course Jeff, Stevens here recently moved from his last club under a cloud but for a big fee…”

In some cases the surrounding narrative becomes even more captivating, and important than the actual game itself.  If you’re not convinced of that take a look at the last 3 or 4 pages of any newspaper.

Within EVE a similar picture emerges, drawn from the eddies and currents that swirl through Null Sec.  The great fleet battles become important paragraphs and chapters in their own right, personalities significant, tales of great victories and devastating defeats.

But these all need a framework in which to exist and to play out.  If EVE was utterly freeform you would be safe no where, and ‘death’ would be final.  You’d dock up for the night, only to log on the next day to find your character erased forever and the station you were in nothing but smoldering pixels.  That might be fun for the first few days but as every time your ‘story’ started it got its pages ripped up before you really got anywhere – well it would get old, really really fast.