Archive for April, 2011

Diluting Time Dilation

Posted in EVE Online on April 29, 2011 by cailais

CCP Veritas has provided an illuminating blog on Team Gridlocks battle against lag.  Some have described Time Dilation as ‘bullet time for EVE’ which I don’t think is particularly accurate.  Is Time Dilation needed? Is it the solution to EVEs lag woes?

I would think that most players will recognise that it is not, it is really only a sticking plaster of a treatment but a welcome one for many.  Whilst the specifics of exactly how Time Dilation will work have yet to be defined I am a little concerned by those who want special visual effects (nebula colour, red shifting light etc).  To my mind this type of approach seems to embrace TD as a ‘feature’ and integral to the game.  When you consider that TD is, essentially, artificial lag, I would think that as little fuss as possible should be made about it.

Strip away the fact that TD will mitigate against lag would you really want to advertise that EVE slows down when it gets a bit busy?

Granted, TD will help to create – or at least enable – fairer battles.  This is in my view its outstanding characteristic.  There is a considerable sense of injustice and unfairness when a battle is lost not because your fleet was out fought but because the game seized up and you didn’t get so much as a chance to fire back.  This TD does come with a price however and we should be cautious before we hail its approach to loudly.  Through TD we can expect bigger fleets, essentially more blobs to form because they will be effective.  For the large Alliances of course this is ideal.  Their success is predicated upon the use of numbers, swarm tactics over all else.  The effects of lag and over loaded servers to an extent acted as a buffer to the extremes of what an Alliance could do with sheer numbers alone.

The use of massed force is a sensible tactic in many respects – overwhelming a foe by numbers, as opposed to tactical skill or shrewd manoeuvring is a blunt and somewhat unimaginative approach but it can work.  My concern is those championing TD through the CSM6 and elsewhere stand the most to gain from TD: their strategy is bolstered by it.

I can recall, some years ago now, a player demanding that CCP provide an option whereby all graphics could be turned off, with ships being shown at best as wire diagrams or just provide an ‘overview’ display.  This view sounds dramatic but the player was deadly serious in his request: the beauty of EVE was an inconvenience to him and EVE really was just a spreadsheet in space.  Is this where we are headed? Should CCP gradually degrade the functionality of EVE to appease those whose answer to tactics is to bring more and more to the fight?

I hope this won’t be the case.  Time Dilation buys time for what must be a game design solution that allows for large fleet engagements but does not demand them to achieve success in a given conflict.  I realise that many believe this is an impossible dream, and an impractical one.  Their argument is that numbers are always better regardless of the environment or situation.  I don’t however believe that this is the case and that with appropriate game mechanics alternatives to ‘just  more numbers’ can be found.

C.

The Ages of the Pod Pilot

Posted in EVE Online on April 10, 2011 by cailais

The Ages of Eve.

Every pod pilot grows through time, maturing like a mighty oak tree or fine vintage of wine.  But what are the ages of a New Eden Capsuleer…?

The hapless noob (age < month):

The hapless noob is fresh in his pod, and largely clueless about the world of EVE.  This young specimen will spend the majority of their time not doing the tutorial and trying to work out what the thousands of modules they can’t fit to their frigate actually do – oblivious to the truth that a phased muon sensor dampner is in fact just another type of sensor dampner.  The hapless noob can be seen careening through low and null sec again quite oblivious to the hazards around him or alternatively trying to mine enough veldspar (in an imprairor) to buy a dreadnought.

Ship: T1 Frigate

Forums: lurking only, wondering what GB2W stands for.

The Enthused Acolyte (age 3 to 6 months):

Having grasped the rudimentary basics of EVE the enthused acoylte is now armed and ready in their (probably badly fitted) ship of choice.  They may well have mastered something tech 2’ish, or skilled up so they can get into a Battleship or BC.  They are now ready to ‘take on all comers’.  Fanatical and fearless the enthused acolyte will think nothing of rushing the nearest target for a kill, guns blazing whilst being bemused that he can’t hit his foe.  A short while (and several ship down later) the enthused acolyte can be found in their corp channels bemoaning the unfairness of (pick one) cloaks, ECM, drones, that a BS can’t hit a frigate, scrams.

Ship: BC with insanely expensive named modules

Forums: Features and Ideas > with ideas on how to nerf/solve; cloaks, ECM, drones, that a BS can’t hit a frigate, scrams.

The PK’er aspirant (age 6 months to 18 months):

The PK’er aspirant can be found either hoovering up level 4 missions in Motsu with the dream of owning a golem, or hurtling through low sec with his gang of pirate buddies ganking anything and everything that moves. If there aren’t any targets said gang will start shooting itself to bits.  The PK’er aspirant rather fancies being in null sec (when he’s ready) or in high sec dominating the T2 modules market.  Cooler than cool the PK’er is dismissive of anyone not in the ship of the moment and spends any and all down time trolling the forums and telling folks to GB2W!  Now in his prime the PK’er aspirant doesn’t suffer fools gladly, fly’s drunk, stoned and with zero tank. Easily excitable can be found on Team Speak screaming obscenities and posting pron in corp chat.

Ship: Vagabond

Forums: GD trolling. Crime and Punishment (also trolling).

The Veteran (age 2 year to 3 years):

Experienced and wise to the scams and brigands of EVE the Veteran is the man of wisdom, able to trip ship fittings and market data of his or her tongue with consummate ease.  Willing but slightly tired of helping the hapless noob, the Veteran is plotting his or her next big project.  Most Veterans will be CEO’ing or FC’ing, their calm approach and measured ideas instilling confidence to all around them.  The Vets also started their own blog and is saving cash to hit fanfest next time around so he can instill is wisdom to CCP.  Sadly such pre-eminence is to be short lived as at any moment the Veteran will be stricken by that most virulent of diseases – Bitter Vet Syndrome.

Ships – T2 sniper HAC or RR BS. Runs 12 accounts on 4 PCs  consuming as much electricity as Luxembourg.

Forums – Test Server, Market discussions, character trade bazaar.

The Bitter Vet (age 3 years+):

This terrible affliction strikes nearly all of EVEs capsuleers.  Despite intensive studies no one is entirely sure of its cause, or cure.  The Bitter Vet Syndrome is most likely to manifest itself when the Veterans master plan goes awry.  Alternatively extended periods plugged in, crippling lag or the dawning realisation that that ‘busy system’ is just full of macroing bots leaves the Vet well…bitter. For the Bitter Vet the a terrible truth dawns that EVE’s lustre is but an illusion, the market ‘broken’, null sec a yawn fest and CCP a bunch of incompetents who want nothing more than their next pay check and to be left in peace.  Some Bitter Vets succumb almost entirely to this devastating disease, logging in only to spin their faction fitted Bhaalgorn whilst spouting vitriol with their other Bitter Vet chums on scrap heap challenge (or fail heap seeing as scrap heap…failed).  Some of course will run for CSM, hoping that they can indeed change EVEs course whilst others look sadly on knowing in their hearts of hearts that blasters aint gonna be fixed any time soon…

Ship: Faction fitted pimpmobile (perma docked). T2 fitted Cane (“its cheap and disposable but I mean wtf its gonna get blown in a laggy fleet fight anyway.  meh im going to bed”).  Alt with a Carrier.

Forums: Occasional bitter rants on EVE-O, general lack lustre trolling on failheap.

The Methuselah (age 5+ years):

Old beyond time the Methuselah has been in EVE ‘from the beginning’.   He’s seen it all and done it all.  No more sub fees for the Meth as she’s long ago worked out how to game the system and rakes in ker’billions from the markets or just by running plexes in a quiet spot in null.  The meths character history is a tally of ‘who’s who’ in EVE corporation terms.  The Meth doesn’t play EVE, he is EVE.  Drinking buddies with Chribba, owner of a handful of mothership’s and mates with at least 6 Devs (from fanfests past) the Meth no longer deigns to visit the EVE O forums, not least because he’s too busy guest appearing on some Veterans podcast or saying hi to EVE TV’s cameras.  He’s now gone beyond bitter vet stage his rant exhausted the Meth has resigned himself that nothing much is going to change any time soon whilst still harbouring that feint glow of hope deep in his heart that the next patch really will be ‘awesome’.

Ships: Too numerous to count the Meth now flies a T1 cruiser hoping to relive that moment when he was a hapless noob.

Forums: No longer posts as it’s all been said before anyway.  Appears on EVE TV at fanfest or on podcasts where she’s excitedly introduced by an enthusiastic presenter, probably with the words “well you’re never going to guess who we have on the show today listeners!”

Evolution

What comes next for the capsuleers of New Eden can only be guessed at.  Perhaps some will be immortalised as great statues in the vastness of space or, as many fear, they will simply wither and die only to re-suface years later with an EVE O thread asking what’s changed…..

C.

In perspective.

Posted in EVE Online on April 10, 2011 by cailais

Mandrill of “i am keith neilson” has recently posted on his blog an open letter if you like, entitle ‘Loss of Faith‘.  First off I’m a great fan of Mandrill and his blog.  He puts in a great deal of effort into supporting other bloggers, or by running google docs updates through fanfest or by de constructing the latest dev blogs in a erudite and illuminating fashion.

Unfortunately in this case I just can’t agree.  Whilst the latest forum debacle is hardly to be admired or applauded ‘stuff happens’.  In fact, in terms of EVE’s development ‘stuff’ is always happening.  Sometimes that stuffs great other times not so much but to suggest to a triple A developer how to run their business or how to manage their staff is simply put – absurd.  It’s all to easy, after the come down from Fan Fest, to find that the glossy sheen of the slick marketing just wears to tarnished reality.  EVE is by no means the finished article and frankly I don’t think it ever will be.

We, the players, can jump up and down and rant and wail all we like about bugs, unfinished features, poor communication and the like but unless we are razor sharp in terms of precisely identifying what’s wrong we cannot expect much of a result.  Do we really want CCP Games to fall into the corporate mould, a soulless corporate body run by men in suits with an eye to the bottom line? Or do we want a developer who tries to hang on to their near indy routes, prepared to fly by the seats of their pants creating rather than imitating?

EVE has its faults.  There are aspects of the game that have gone untouched for years (yes Bounty Hunting I’m looking at you).  It’s also a game written years ago atop a shaky pile of code that quite probably nobody entirely understands.  But it still remains the best science fiction MMO, quite probably the best MMO, ever produced.  It’s entire premise is an experiment – a singular universe of open possibilities.  Some elements of that premise have natural flaws built in.  When everything is possible, anything is possible – and that includes stuff that doesn’t work well.

Is the forum fubar the last straw for me? Certainly not.  In the same fashion that the T20 incident wasn’t the last straw, or the boot ini patch, or the PI reproc problems, or the host of other minor dramas that lie in the wake of EVE’s passing.

Ultimately EVE’s in good shape and has a bright future ahead of it.  Trust me, I’m a capsuleer 😉

C.

 

N+1 = win?

Posted in EVE Online on April 6, 2011 by cailais

“One cannot break the “N+1 = better than” equation, because large scale warfare is part of a social evolution in the player societies of nullsec, rather than the output of some rationalistic math equation”. – The Mitanni

Is warfare in EVE exclusively about numbers? In its current state the answer is almost certainly ‘yes’.  When we look to the future of warfare in EVE though the assumption is that this will always be the case and that game mechanics cannot break the irrefutable logic that N+1 is better than N.

In purely mathematical terms of course it is hard to deny such hard logic.  It makes sense that the force able to deploy the largest numbers we emerge victorious.  Social dynamics almost demand that large organisations will defeat smaller organisations and because EVE is a social MMO the presumption is that big is better.  There are some difficulties with this premise however…

THIS IS SPARTA!

Numerically superior forces, when massed at the same point in time and space certainly have significant advantages, but history abounds of examples where numerically superior force, even that with a significant technological advantage did not bring about victory.  The defence at Thermopylae by the Greeks against the Persians is a example of smaller numbers defeating a numerically superior foe.  The actual numbers of Greek Hoplites on the field was likely to be quite a lot larger than the mythical 300 but there is little doubt that the Greeks were outnumbered but where able to utilise both the natural terrain and their military skill to bring about an eventual defeat of the Persian forces.  In Vietnam the US had significant technological advantages over the Vietcong and, theoretically at least, were the bigger nation and yet were essentially defeated by insurgent guerilla warfare.

So what’s going on here? How is that small forces can win at least localised victories that result in the defeat of larger opponents? And, perhaps more importantly, why is this not as prevalent in EVE?

Large military forces when concentrated are ponderous beasts.  They tend to move more slowly (at least as a whole) and their reaction times to events are often reduced as messages are passed up the chain of command to a decision maker and then down again.  Large forces also require considerable resources – food, water, fuel and so forth, in order to function.  Their ability to conceal themselves is drastically reduced by the sheer mass of manpower and equipment which in turn restricts their ability to surprise an enemy – you literally can see it coming.

In contrast a small force is faster to react, better able to conceal itself and more agile in terms of it ability to manoeuvre.  These tenants do not translate well into EVE.  In EVE the small gang isn’t able to out manoeuvre the larger force nor can it make any meaningful strike ‘behind enemy lines’ faster than the larger opponent can redeploy.

Let us though consider an extreme ‘alternate EVE’.  In this ‘alternate EVE’ jump clones, capital cynos and jump bridges don’t exist.  Small ships (such as frigates) can create limited mass worm holes and jump across systems but are at least partially constrained by fuel requirements to do so – fuel that can only be realistically moved by their larger cousins the capital ships that move traditionally from gate to gate. Equally larger fleets are much more visible than smaller fleets – to represent this we’ll say that ‘local’ only switches on when the number of players reaches a given amount (we’ll say 30 for arguments sake). If we finally added limited objectives that could be struck (if not destroyed) by smaller gangs we can see that the argument N+1 = win is not entirely true.

In this case N+1 is only true locally.  The larger force for example could sit in a system with 500 ships.  It rightfully dominates that system.  It’s influence however diminishes outside of that system because if it splits its fleet we change the equation.  N+1 becomes N+1 / 2 for example.  Do this often enough and the larger force is powerful in theory over a wide area.  In specific locations however it is no more powerful (perhaps even less so) than our smaller force.

Such radical changes will almost certainly never occur in EVE.  They would place the current powers of Null Sec at a disadvantage not least because their success is predicated on the N+1 theory holding true.   Loose affiliations or small independent forces are an anathema to the hierarchical hive mind which functions brilliantly as one singular organism but is threatened by discreet attacks upon its periphery or against individual units.  This should come as little surprise as unique military forces such as light irregular infantry, special forces or submarines were often rejected or spurned by the traditional organisations from which they came.

C.

Is Mittens Real?

Posted in EVE Online on April 5, 2011 by cailais

Alexander Gianturco, better known in EVE parlance as The Mitanni, and columnist on Ten Ton Hammer has become the subject of not inconsiderable discussion in the wider blog’o’sphere.  I’m not so interested in what The Mitanni says, but in how he says is. He has, in general terms, been dismissive of that community commenting for example on The EVE report

“…the ‘community’ in the context of sites like Eve Report means ‘the eve blog community and #tweetfleet’, which is a niche of the game’s population with an unfortunate tendency to assume that their echo chamber actually represents /everyone/, rather than people who blog about a space game – and eve bloggers don’t seem to have much to do with nullsec”.

The Mitanni, as an EVE “celebrity” is a interesting character.  He is a proficient communicator and propagandist as one might expect.  For example note how his comments on The EVE Report and later on the Lost in EVE pod cast align very closely.  He has carefully considered and prepared his message.  Notice also how he makes specific reference to his previous experience…

“….when I spoke at the Game Developer’s Conference on the topic of the EVE metagame, my identity as ‘The Mittani’ was a secret. I was a practicing attorney and didn’t want my in-game enemies attempting to interfere with my career since some of my friends, including Darius Johnson, were harassed at their workplace after running for CSM ”

I’ve bolded the key elements here by way of illustration.  The mention of GDC and his career as a practising attorney add credibility.  He also reinforces his ‘secret’ identity, the spy master of GoonSwarm.  It’s all very cloak and dagger stuff in a John Grisham thriller style.  He implies, that his enemies could have ‘interfered’ with his career exemplifying the wider ‘meta-game’ of EVE suggesting a much wider conspiracy out of EVE.

A self styled spy master of course is a perfect fit with the back story and flavour of EVE Online – a game that is set in the shadowy world of deep space filled with intrigue and nefarious characters.  The Mitanni’s column at Ten Ton Hammer is also cleverly titled ‘the sins of a solar spy master’ – not only is his persona a spy but one who is prepared to ‘sin’ – presumably by revealing the dastardly machinations he has wrought upon his enemies to us through his writing.

The generation of this alter-ego is fascinating in so much as how it illuminates EVE Online as a game.  Message and the ability to communicate that message are fundamental in terms of player ‘status’ within a single sharded MMO.  We need not be surprised to see that the Mitanni is less than enamoured with the blogging community or tweetfleet – theses are players who after all are likely to be ‘off message’ so it makes considerable sense to dismiss them as irrelevant.

Alexander Gianturco you will recall was invited to GDC, ostensibly to talk about his role in the usurpation of Band of Brothers through the defection of a key BOB director and ‘meta gaming’ as a whole.  As far as I was able to judge this actually had rather less to do with the Machiavellian plots of The Mitanni and rather more to do with a disillusioned BOB player landing in GS lap.  Let us not allow however the mundane to get in the way of a good story.  Whilst this interaction between players in a game would have been interesting on the surface I would suggest that a good many of the audience were less interested in what Alexander Gianturo had to say than in what he represented.

To this audience I would think the fact that a player, of a game, had become so absorbed within its nature that he had almost assumed the role in reality would be fascinating to any designer.  Quite whether “The Mitanni” realised he was a performing monkey in this respect is an entirely subjective appraisal of course.

In game design terms the point where the player and the avatar begin to blur into a quasi singular entity is something of an ascension.  If you could bottle that you’re onto a winner.  For CCP The Mitanni / Alexander Gianturco’s election to the chair of the CSM is a considerable achievement.  Formerly the infamous ‘spy’ in game, is now working out of the game in a “political” role.  CCP’s marketing team are probably biting their knuckles to stop themselves from crying with joy.

This very much goes back to Seismic Stan’s excellent blog post with respect to “is EVE real?”.  Alexander Gianturco’s success in terms of his self portrayal is to blur those lines between himself and his alter-ego character The Mitanni.  To what extent he is doing this deliberately is hard to say.  Is he firmly on Seismic Stan’s ‘fanatical’ scale? Is any player so heavily involved able to differentiate the difference?

To exemplify this intriguing relationship between “the player” and “the game” allow me to provide a final example of The Mitanni’s earlier comment, re worked with subtly different language and let you draw your own conclusions;

“….before I spoke at the conference on the topic of the EVE metagame, it was not widely known that my character was ‘The Mittani’. I had a professional job and didn’t want in-game players attempting to interfere with my career since some of my friends, including Sean Conover, were harassed at their workplace after running for CSM ”

C.