Archive for July, 2011

Signal to Noise

Posted in EVE Online on July 18, 2011 by cailais

“Arnar mentioned that local as we know it is going to change in a Winter expansion. The CSM was taken aback by this and let fly a torrent of questions about this new “no local”. Local, as it was explained, had to change because of changes to EVE’s infrastructure needed for future Incarna development. However, it would be replaced by a new, yet-to-be-designed intelligence gathering tool. Local would not simply just “turn off” and turn into delayed mode, such as in wormhole space. It is worth a repeat – local will NOT be simply turned off and/or turned into delayed mode. Arnar and Torfi both emphasized the importance of not feeling alone in space; they reasoned that the game has fifty thousand players and that it shouldn’t feel as though you’re alone. The CSM will be kept in the loop regarding this design when more is known”. CSM Meeting minutes 18-20 May.

This interesting tid bit from the last CSM meeting prior to Incarnas deployment I think is worth some consideration.  Not least because it may well have a fairly radical effect upon how we do almost anything ‘in space’.   Local, as it stands, is a blunt but effective tool in understanding and appreciating our environment.  In that respect its very important as it is one of the major contributing factors in our decision making process.

Many players maybe familiar with the OODA loop cycle (first developed by the USAF).  OODA stands for Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act.  A crude example from EVE would be that you jump into a system – you Observe that there are 100 blinky reds in system (from local); you Orientate yourself seeing that there are 100 ships on scan but none visible near you; you Decide that this system is not a good place to be and you need to get out; and finally you Act by burning back to the gate in all haste.

Now if we take that example above and remove local you’ll notice how it could effect the Decision element of our OODA cycle.  Perhaps those 100 ships on scan aren’t hostile? Maybe we plough on through that system?

Any intel system will paint a picture, even just a mental one, of our immediate environment.  Some of that information may be only partial, with key attributes missing whilst other information segments could be fully formed.  A good example of ‘picture’ building is that used by submarine commanders – passive listening sonar gives a good indication of ‘what’ is nearby,  and can provide a direction but its not great at providing a range: our on board scanner works in a similar manner.

Passive Sonar – the lines (or ‘tracks’) flow down the screen over time – each indicating a specific contact. Where the line curves either the contact (or sub) has changed course – notice the lack of a clear picture after a radical course change near the top.

Equally intel systems can suffer from interference, false images, or blind spots where the sensor coverage is in some way impaired – again producing only a partial picture in certain conditions. So how should CCP design this fundamental element of EVE?

Well initially we are working under some constraints:  First off EVE is a social game, just leaving a blank canvass in terms of intel would mean we would not know where our friend or enemies where, or for that matter our potential friends and enemies were.  Secondly we have the issue of Alts – which rather precludes a solution that provides (for example) just the location of fellow alliance members: this would be a trivial thing to abuse with spies and so forth.

In most cases our intel picture can be refined or developed in one of two ways:

The first is to be more aggressive (and in turn more obvious to others).  You could stand on a table in a crowded bar for example to get a better view – a more complete and accurate picture of who is around you and where: removing interference.  The sub commander could raise a periscope is another analogy.

The second is to build the picture over time – perhaps we stay still in the bar and watch as the crowd moves around us, or the sub commander could plot and record the reports from his sonar to determine the location of vessels and their headings.  In these cases the interference pattern remains but our picture is refined over time: becoming more focused as we add information.

Generally speaking the more passive and less obvious our intel gathering (or Observation) the more interference our picture suffers – you could hide in a box, unseen; but you’d have a hard time getting a really clear picture of what’s around you.

As it stands Local is pretty transparent and there’s no interference in terms of generating our picture other than the omission of ‘where’ a person is within the system. In this respect its quite aggressive but it does work both ways.  Its also immediate and thats another design hurdle CCP will have to overcome.  How much time and / or effort should go into developing a ‘picture’ of who is in a star system, where they are and what ship (or station) they’re in?  CCP have muted that WiS will provide an option to go ‘off grid’ which suggests to me at least that being docked will generate a level of interference in terms of picture development.  This will probably make most sense if applied from Space > Station – as being ‘invisible’ in the social environment of WiS sounds self defeating.

Notice also how the degree of passive (intel over time) vs aggressive (or active) intel gathering defines our OODA cycle.  Being aggressive means we can develop our picture fast, and therefore decide and act fast. A passive approach slows that cycle.  If we ‘decide’ and ‘act’ before our passive picture is complete the risk of those acts increases.

My hope is that CCP will provide an intel system that would cater to both approaches enabling players more tactical choice about how they want to gather intel.  There are of course inherent risks in such an approach: will the naturally cautious EVE player choose to be ultra passive, slowing EVEs pace to a crawl as players ‘creep’ about systems? Or will every player simply adopt the bull in the china shop approach (the equivalent of everyone standing on the bar table)?