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.
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Thursday, October 6, 2011

I need a doctrine

And now, a long post that includes both World War II and Babylon 5 stories... but will take forever to get to an EVE-related point.  Don't say you weren't warned.

One of these days, I may write a full blog post about the Battle off Samar, part of the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf, one of the closing naval battles of World War II.  For today, though, I'll stick with one element from that battle that is historically interesting.  For reasons that I won't get into, an American task force, made up of six thin-skinned escort carriers and a handful of destroyers and destroyer-escorts, found themselves facing the full might of a Japanese task force made up of four battleships (including the super-battleship Yamato) and six heavy and two light cruisers.

On any other day, the Japanese task force would have absolutely eaten the thin-skinned "baby flattops" and their escort.  But 25 October 1944 went a bit differently, and the American group ended up driving off the much superior Japanese group.  One reason for this was that the enormous Japanese ships began the battle with armor-piercing shells in their guns.  These shells, when they struck the unarmored escort carriers and destroyers... simply passed through or bounced off.  There wasn't enough armor in the thin-skinned warships to set off the shell's fuses!  In general, the Japanese are a deeply spiritual people and I have no doubt whatsoever that the sight of their shells passing through the American warships without inflicting any apparent damage probably unnerved them quite a bit before they realized what was actually happening and changed to high-explosive shells.

For instance, USS Samuel B. Roberts -- a tiny destroyer-escort smaller than a modern frigate -- was struck by three 14" armor-piercing shells from the Japanese battleship Kongo.  The shells passed through the DE leaving a 40 foot hole (the ship itself was only 300 feet long) and certainly killed many people.  But the ship herself continued to fight.  The same three shells striking an American battle cruiser would have obliterated the vessel.  But there were no American battle cruisers off Samar that day.

In EVE context, it's not surprising that the Japanese cruisers ended up doing, and taking, most of the damage from the American ships.  Without screening destroyers of its own, though, the Japanese task force took many hits that they could not respond to.  At another point, Roberts moved so close to the Japanese ships that they could not lower their guns enough to hit the much smaller DE.  Roberts, meanwhile, raked the Japanese ships with gunfire from everything she had, including heavy machine-guns.  Sound familiar?

As for the Kongo's gun punching a hole in but not killing a destroyer-escort... yeah, that doesn't happen in EVE.  For at least the last year, one of the most frequent Titan DD targets has been Logistics ships (that are 1/225 the size of a Titan).

Now let's talk Babylon 5.  One of the things I absolutely love about this show is how well its space combat elements are presented.

Centauri battle cruisers, for instance, are depicted as numerous, heavily-armed monsters that are terrifying enough in a one-on-one engagement... but which are not particularly impressive defensively.  Minbari cruisers, on the other hand, are rare.  Few are ever seen.  But their defenses are formidable and their weapons even more so, with tracking sufficient to hit much smaller targets.  But they're shown as quite vulnerable to kamikaze attacks, if you can overwhelm them with enough of these smaller targets (usually, you can't).

Ironically enough, it is Earth and Narn -- the "youngest" races -- that are shown having the most balanced approach.  And it's not surprising that the two races are related, since it's said on-screen that Earth learned much of what it knows about space combat from the Narn.

Their combat doctrine comprises three classes of ships: destroyers, cruisers, and fighters.  Contrary to history, it's the destroyers that are the largest of the three types.  An Earth destroyer has three classes of weapons: their main batteries (fore and aft), "interceptors", and a "defense grid."  The main batteries are generally fired along the axis of the ship, with limited or no steering, and are useless against anything but a similar size warship.  The defense grid is entirely defensive, for picking off enemy fighters.  Interceptors are a sort of mix.  Generally, they're defensive: they're used to destroy or dissipate the energy from an enemy ship's main batteries.  But they can also be reset to be used offensively.

A Earth destroyer can also launch several squadrons of fighters.  The job of the fighters is to attack enemy fighters, and eventually to pick off enough of the interceptors on an enemy ship that their home ship's batteries can punch through and destroy the enemy ship.  The fighters can also attempt to destroy main batteries on an enemy ship, while avoiding or destroying its defense grid.  Or the fighters can willingly throw themselves in the path of the enemy ship's batteries to prevent fire from them from destroying their home ship.  In that way, an Earth destroyer whose interceptors are ineffective can still avoid fire from the enemy ship.

So, to summarize: an Earth or Narn ship attacking another Earth or Narn ship will use its fighters and batteries to try to overwhelm its opponent's interceptors, while using its own fighters, interceptors, and defense grid to keep its opponent from doing the same.  First ship to overwhelm the enemy's interceptors and fighters will probably win.

Not only are the various differences between the races well thought-out in and of themselves, but they make for some very interesting fights between the various races.  For instance, the first time a Shadow ship attacks a Narn battle-cruiser, the Narn ship's interceptors are enough to prevent the first attack from being instantly fatal, as it is to more offensively-minded races later in the series.(1)

As noted above, the Centauri rely heavily on batteries, but have few or no interceptors.  When a single Centauri battle-cruiser attacks Babylon 5 late in season two, it pours enough battery fire into the station that it overwhelms the station's fighters and interceptors on its own and does damage to the station itself.   The Centauri ship, however, lacking its own interceptors, is caught by Babylon 5's fighters, which quickly pick apart its batteries and defense grid and destroy it.  Its batteries are useless against the Earth fighters, and it lacks fighters of its own.

Two Earth destroyers and two Earth cruisers trying to attack Babylon 5 in the season three episode "Severed Dreams", however, don't have enough punch with the station's own interceptors, plus interceptors from two friendly destroyers nearby preventing damage.  But the Earth ships are much tougher to themselves destroy since their own interceptors and fighters initially prevent heavy damage, too.  Captain Sheridan responds to this by ordering his station's interceptors to be reset for offensive fire against enemy fighters.  This clears them away and gives his own fighters free reign to take out the interceptors on the enemy ships.  The cost is hull damage taken by the station from the batteries of the Earth ships (since his interceptors aren't being used defensively).

You'll gather from all of this that I'd drop EVE for a Babylon 5 space combat MMO in a second.  ;-)

What does all of this have to do with EVE?  Glad you asked.  It's now more or less confirmed that Titan Doomsday weapons will soon no longer be able to be used against sub-capital size targets.

This is what is known as "a good start."  It's the equivalent of Kongo's 14" gun no longer being able to instantly sink a destroyer escort.  But it doesn't do much yet to change the dynamics of EVE's large fleet doctrines.  Titan non-DD guns are easily knocking down battle-cruisers.(2)  Battleship tracking and damage is sufficient to instapop frigates.  It's common for a so-called EVE large fleet "doctrine" to include only three types of ships.

I think it would be entertaining to cut every tracking speed number in EVE by at least a third.  Maybe even by half.  It's fun to think about.  How would EVE combat be changed by this?  It wouldn't change 1v1s or small gang fights all that much, I don't think.  But imagine the impact on large fleet fights.

How much more interesting would EVE large fleet combat be if your fleet actually had to include ships of all sizes in order to be effective?

(1) We don't even have to be told this is what has happened.  By this point in the series, we've been shown enough B5 space combat that we're expected to be intelligent enough to realize it.  This is another thing that I love about B5.  ;-)

(2) There used to be so few Titans that they all fit officer-class Tracking Computers to increase tracking.  Now there's so many Titans in EVE that massive price inflation has struck the relatively crappy Shadow Serpentis Tracking Computer.  They're running to the hundreds of millions of ISK.


  1. Seems I might have to watch this Babylon 5 thing ;-)

  2. Unfortunately, the realistic combat from B5, with real space physics would be too slow and unexciting if translated into video game. Besides if I remember correctly, there was not that much strategy involved during fleet fights, because usually the ones with greater firepower and numbers, won anyway, ala EvE. The only reason why humans even had a chance was due to the cool story about how important they were to the galaxy or something like that.

    Loved B5 series, it was a quality show with awesome story and cool music. Too bad it ended with a wimper of a movie that was just not even interesting to watch. There was also a pilot for Ranger stories that was sad too.

  3. B5 is amazing stuff. Been re-watching the whole series again lately, and just as great now as it was then. When I first started playing EVE a couple years ago, I thought I kinda WAS getting into a sorta "B5" sim -- lots of different ship variety, "big battles" being the major selling point, etc...
    CCP prob should've hired JMS as a consultant when they were initially designing EVE, especially on subjects such as race variations and ship design/implementation. Would've saved them a lot of trouble and heartache.
    I don't fly Amarr or Caldari (though I have Amarr frig trained up, but that's it)... but it seems to me that Gallente and Minmatar are right on the money in terms of overall ship design and feel "complimenting" the race's described attributes and attitudes (lolRP, I know), especially the Gallente.
    Think about it: the Gallente are reknowned as the most "democratic" and "liberal" society. It makes perfect sense that their warships would suck for two main reasons: 1) as a society they place more emphasis on diplomacy and trade, butter rules their world, not guns, 2) everything would have to be debated in committee, and "compromised" upon, and we all know how terribly that works out in terms of warfare.
    I can just imagine a new ship design committee in Gal space arguing over how much CPU, PG, and drone space a ship should have, given finite resources to build it. The CreoDron rep screams for more drone space and bandwidth, while the Roden rep yells about lack of power grid and armor on the thing. Meanwhile the propulsion guy and the computer guy are arguing over whether it needs bigger engines or a smarter AI...
    I'm no RPer, and even I can see that argument in my mind's eye, clear as day.
    Real life parallel: H&K makes some of the finest firearms known to man. I own a couple (pistols), have shot several others. Their motto: "No Compromise" ... they don't, and their weapons are top-notch. Now just imagine a dealer whose motto is "ALL compromise, all the time", and meditate a second on how terribly shitty their wares will be.
    There's your "storyline" of why Gallente shit sucks, and, in keeping with the game's story canon, should probably continue to be so.

  4. That change would put a huge emphasis on large frigate fleet escorts.

    Regular BS and up fleet wouldn't be able to shoot them down as easily, so Smartbomb ships would be requires to remove them or a mix of frigate and cruiser sized ships. Although, to a certain point, drones count as interceptors. Could they introduce defensive drones that intercept damage?

  5. Forget tracking. Signature. Make the signature factor MUCH bigger in calculating damage. Square the difference? Would really make escorting wings of BCs and Dessies/Frigs critical to fleet success

  6. In addition to simple things like adjusting tracking/resolution and explosion radius/speed, I would like to see EWAR immunity removed, but all ships get adjusted sensor strength, warp core stability, targeting range, etc relative to their size.

    EWAR immunity makes no sense, when there are mechanisms in the game already to provide what is essentially "immunity" without having a special mechanic just for super caps.

  7. Just alter the turret damage formula to factor in sig-radius-vs-turret-resolution more prominently, like the missile formula was.

    Nobody complains about their frigate being popped by a Leviathan.

  8. Simply reducing tracking speed would be a rather awful change, since turrets do not exist in a vacuum, and tracking speed in and of itself is a rather meaningless statistic, since the practical application of damage via turrets in EVE depends on not just on your own tracking speed, but on the radial velocity of the target, the target's signature radius as opposed to the signature radius of your guns, the target's resistances, and the target's distance relative to your optimal and falloff. All of those factors are in turn dependent on the choices both pilots make.

    In practice titans cannot reliably track battleships orbiting somewhere within 35km or so without using tracking computers, and most titans in fleet will not fit multiple tracking computers just so they can shoot at battleships, since other modules are much more useful in fleet fights. Even with tracking computers, capital-sized long range guns tend to have awful tracking. So there's already a mechanic for "getting under the guns." It's been in the game for years, and works quite nicely in subcapital fleet fights, even if most FCs don't use it. The issue is that an unfortunately large number of FCs don't take advantage of that mechanic, and instead keep their fleets essentially stationary. Much as a Maelstrom can one-shot a stationary frigate, especially a frigate burning away at 0 transversal, a Titan can one-shot a battleship that does the same thing.

    That said, when the enemy titans turn their capital-sized guns (not the doomsday, mind) on your fleet's subcapitals, it usually means that your fleet has crap composition for the fight, for which "bad balance" is just an excuse, and you deserved to lose the fight. To be more specific, if enemy titans are starting to engage your subcapitals, it means you no longer have capitals on field which those titans can engage. And at that point you might as well complain that a fleet of cruisers cannot demolish a smaller fleet of battleships.

    I do agree that titan doomsdays should not be able to target subcapitals, but there's no real issue as far as capital gun tracking goes. If there is an issue, a better solution would be to increase capital gun signature radius so that they deal less damage to subcapital ships. Such a change would not, however, help against bad FCs.

  9. If there is anything EVE could use from the Leyte Gulf battle it's not weapons rebalancing but a meaningful fog of war instead of perfect intelligence so easily available. If Halsey had a Local channel he would have instantly known Ozawa's Carrier fleet was a decoy and would not have sent his entire Task Force north. Similarly if Kurita had probes out or just pushed the Scan button he would have seen he was facing Escort Carriers and not the main Fleet Carriers and he would have pushed on.

  10. Empire - full local, 0.0 just a head count, WH nothing.

    The headcount would indicate the blobs moving about, but you wouldn't instantly know who it was without comms/intel.

    Also B5 MMO yes please!!
    (but can i start in 3rd space please!)

  11. Why do so many FCs keep their fleets stationary? Even in Incursions it's standard practice to keep moving.

  12. In my opinion, if CCP wanted to diversify fleets compositions in larger warfare, it should be looking not at any module or ship stats but at the way fleets are commanded and operate. I believe fleets are so homogenized because of how efficiently one person can direct such a fleet. It has an advantage of having experience in tactics of a fleet commander be more or less applied to the whole fleet, even if a lot of individual players are not as good at it. In the Battle off Samar there was no primary or fleet warps. Every captain steered his ship and picked his targets at his own desire most of the time. It wasn’t probably the most effective way to sink any particular ship, but there were reasons to that.
    Real world naval warfare also saw its share of homogenized fleets earlier in the age of ships of the line, but even then there was no primary target.
    In EVE there were attempts to bring small numbers of specialized ships that do not always fire on primary (like dedicated anti-tacklers). But while there is no incentive for every damage dealer in a fleet to pick targets of opportunity and you need full attention of your fleet to overcome remote reps, fleets will be homogenized. It has also a lot to do with ‘bring more to win’ tactics since good commander can generally greatly mitigate lack of experience of an average Joe in the fleet.
    In other words, don’t expect this to change with some stats rebalance. BTW 3-4 roles in a fleet is already plenty (tacklers, logis, DPS, and probably some EWAR).
    Also there are a lot of doctrines for fleets in EVE. DD-tanked sniper battleships was a doctrine; shield BKs are a doctrine; hellcats are a doctrine so is PL tengu fleet and bomber squads. Pre-dominion there was one major doctrine, now there are half a dozen, and they are evolving.
    I can’t agree with you that halving tracking speed of large or medium guns will have little impact on soloers and small gang fights. Actually that would change it drastically. Have you seen those solo battleship videos? They’re fun but would be so completely dead if one web and a scramble won’t be enough to have a chance to drive a tackler off.

  13. I really like the idea of changing signature instead of tracking. That would correct a lot of other woes in the game (abuse of logi sig, for instance), too.

    Nobody seems to disagree with my main point, which is nice, which is large fleets should include every size of ship instead of just the all-BS Alpha fleet or all cruiser/BC Welpfleets/armor HACs and the like that we see today.

    The trick is mostly how to get there.

    @Mara: Ironically enough, FCs like to keep fleets stationary if they can because movement decreases tracking. In incursion fleets, when contesting, an amusing tactic is for your logis to bump enemy BSs, particularly Megathrons and their variants, whose tracking really suffers when they're moving.

    1. I disagree, not from a game design but from a plausibility viewpoint. History of warfare is one of uniform armies with very little variance. Ships of line. The musket square. The knight. The modern infantry squad that is replicated en mass to millions. Airforces operating a handful of aircraft types.....so and so on.

      Most of the variance in force structure comes from different operating environments (plains or mountains is not unlike sov null and wormholes) and available assets (skillpoints and isk in this case).

      Large mixed forces simply is a organizational nightmare in both command and control and logistics and there is nature pressure for homogeneous forces.

      The only reliable way to get mixed fleets is through sheer and raw scale, aka blob. Small organizations lacking in some ship types is crippled and destroyed if it meets their counter, which is made worst the more ship types needed.

      It is just so much easier if everyone trains a drake and any random combination of guys online can go out on a roam without automatically dying to a counter fleet. Simply running fleet concepts that needs logi, links, recons is really upping the difficulty in getting a group together already.

  14. Great writeup.
    There was a lot of suggestions on the "nullsec design goals" thread for large fleet fights. There were a lot of differing suggestions but yours is definitely the most well thought out.

    Here is the old thread which hasn't been migrated.

    All the nullsec design goal threads had a lot of great conversation on it around ideas for intel gathering, fleet composition, etc. The main index of them can be found here

  15. @Jester - Ah, I see. The doctrine of "bring as much firepower as possible, line up all orderly like and take turns shooting each other" really hasn't changed much since before the American Civil War?

    I'll admit to not "getting" the tracking impact of moving since I tend to fly missile boats, which do not suffer from moving, while the main defence against missile damage is to be moving.

    Even when using turret ships, I'll rely on web, painter & tracking enhancers, so I can keep moving and penalise the enemy who is relying on buffer and paper DPS.


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