Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Commendation for original thinking

I have about four days left on my Perpetuum Online subscription, but it seems unlikely to me that I'll log in again.  I've already decided not to subscribe, and I've hit the wall on what I can accomplish in game.  My character can pilot assault bots, but I'm not allowed to buy one.  The PO market is set up such that trial accounts can only buy NPC-seeded items... and the only items that are seeded are light bots, a few basic types of non-weapon mods, one basic type of weapon for each light bot, and one type of ammo for that weapon.  So even though my character can also use missile launchers, and I picked up a missile launcher as rat loot... I can't fit it because I can't buy ammo for it.

Kind of a goofy way to let me try the game, but whatever.  I saw enough of the game to help me make a subscribe/not-subscribe decision, and that's what's important, not nit-picking.

There were eleven things that really jumped out at me as things that Perpetuum really does well, though, particularly when compared to its close sibling EVE.  I want to talk briefly about ten of them.  The last deserves its own post in the next day or so.

#11: GM/dev involvement in the Perpetuum community is really good.  This is an area that EVE really struggles with.  EVE GMs are over-burdened, and rarely get directly involved in playing the game.  You only speak to a GM in EVE if something has gone wrong for you.  Perpetuum does things somewhat differently (as does Global Agenda, incidentally).  I wasn't logged into the game 30 minutes before I had a GM open a private convo with me asking if I needed assistance.  And he checked in a couple of days later to see if I had questions.  Other players report the same: a GM community that's proactive, reasonable, and responsive.  That's how you run a GM community.  Well done!

#10: Error messages are clear, and messaging in general is good.  So many games skimp on error messages, which could have been a critical flaw in PO and is a critical flaw in EVE.  I've had a couple of really fun EVE error message experiences.  My favorite: very early in my EVE career, I took critical hull damage to one of my ships.  I didn't have the ISK to fix it, but I did have the ISK to buy and fit a hull repper, so that's what I did.  I tried to undock... and couldn't.  The game wouldn't let me undock without meeting some arbitrary threshold of hull HP versus armor HP, but wouldn't tell me what that threshold was.  I spent an hour learning about and fiddling with various means of raising my armor HP before EVE would let me undock.  By contrast, PO's error messages are clear, concise, and precise, telling you what's wrong and how to fix it.

#9: Perpetuum shows you, very clearly, if your weapon hit the target or not.  Nuff said.

#8: Similarly, you can also see if your weapon shot hits a building or other hard terrain structure rather than the intended target.  That's two pieces of good news in a row: PO weapon fire can be blocked by hard structures, and you can see it if that happens to you.  Now, if only weapon fire was also blocked by other robots, PO would be perfect in this regard...

#7: Perpetuum terrain is both interesting and useful!  There are lots of ridges to hide behind, hills to fire from the top of, valleys to duck into, and ways for smaller bots to use the terrain to their advantage when fighting bigger bots.  Sometimes, this is frustrating: some areas of the game can only be reached after traversing circuitous courses through the terrain.  However, most of the time it adds greatly to the richness of the experience.  Oddly, though, it's bots on the low ground that often have the advantage over bots on the high ground.  These three pluses combine into the Voltron of...

#6: PO is more driven by player skill than toon skill than EVE is.  There's a fair bit of player skill involved in EVE, particularly when flying frigates and interceptors.  By the time you get into battleships or capital ships, though, it's pretty much all about toon skill, and player skill becomes much less important.  However, since you can use PO buildings and terrain as cover, can see if your shots are hitting, and can vary between stationary tactics and mobile tactics, I suspect player skill is still quite relevant at even very high levels of PO play.(1)

#5: Missions in Perpetuum are naturally co-operative, and missions and ratting are tightly integrated.  There are very few random "rats" in Perpetuum.  Instead, they are procedurally generated from their own bases, the same way players are.  As a result, at any given rat spawn point, you'll find two other types of players besides yourself: those who are ratting in that space, and those that are in that location because they are on the same mission you are on.  This is sometimes frustrating if there are three or four players competing for the same six rats (and even more so if you're facing those six rats alone!).  But that frustration is compensated for by the fact that the social aspect of PO is never far away, and rats being generated from their own stations makes good, logical sense in terms of the game's story.

#4: Perpetuum doesn't love complexity for its own sake.  This is a big big flaw in EVE.  What does the "Tactical Shield Manipulation" skill do?  What is the difference between "Signature Focusing" and "Signature Analysis"?  What is the difference between a "Projectile Ambit Extension" and a "Projectile Metastasis Adjuster"?  Why would you want a "Signal Amplifier" on your ship, and what is the difference between a "F-89 Synchronized" one versus a "F-90 Positional" one?  Perpetuum just skips all that BS.  Skill names and item names make sense, and are easy to understand.  PO only stumbles in this regard trying to differentiate short- and long-range weapons (they should have just called them "Long Range Medium EM Gun" and "Short Range Medium EM Gun").

#3: Mining is extremely resistant to botting.  To even find something to mine in PO, you have to use the rough equivalent of an EVE Survey Scanner (which makes total sense), and is a two step process.  At the end of that process, you are presented with a display, right on the terrain, of bars of various sizes and colors, representing the density of harvestable minerals in that area.  You then mine by directly targeting the surface under those bars.  A PO mining bot would have a tough or impossible time interpreting this interface, and would probably end up just mining squares randomly, sometimes hitting the good patches, more often missing them.  Bravo to the developers on that!

#2: The skill point system in PO is very, very good.  Instead of skill queues, every player in PO picks up one "extension point" per minute, or about 10000 EP per week.  Those EP accumulate until you spend them.  That means that you can bank your EP until you decide what to do with them, and get instant gratification once you decide to spend those EP.  In addition, if you want a new skill, you can buy it right from the interface instead of having to find a school, then buy and inject a skill book.  This takes a lot (though not all) of the insanities of the EVE SP system out of the equation.

And the #1 thing Perpetuum does really, really well?  That deserves its own post, in the next day or two.

(1) In the Napoleonic Wars, English frigates could engage French two-decker ships of the line in heavy weather because the French ships couldn't open their lower gun deck doors or risk being swamped.  I suspect that at the highest level of PO play, similar mechanics may one day be possible.  Weapons on PO bots are festooned around the hulls of the bots, both low and high.  That means that you might one day be able to use terrain (or even super-close-range tactics) to use a small bot to hide from the lower guns on a much bigger bot while still being able to fire at the upper portion of that bot.  It's an intriguing prospect.  Though not enough by itself to get me to subscribe to the game.  ;-)

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