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...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Kill of the Week: Strategic awareness

This was a pretty tough decision this week, but I think I'm going to go with this Machariel:

This Machariel died thanks to the Screaming Meercats war-dec that happened this week.  For an incursion Machariel, there's nothing particularly special about this fit.  Other than relying far too heavily on buffer mods and that ridiculous Tech1 EM hardener, it's not all that different from a hundred other incursion Machs.

But this Mach didn't die in an incursion.  It was ganked minutes after the first war-dec went live against Screaming Meercats.

I've talked about situational awareness in the context of a single PvP engagement.  Know what you're fighting, and how, and if possible, why.  Maintain awareness of the obstacles you might fly into that will hurt your speed or your transversal, or limit your ability to warp out of the engagement.  Keep an eye on what your enemy is doing and try to counter his or her moves.  All of these are basics for awareness of the tactical situation.

But you have to maintain awareness of the strategic situation, too.  I don't know the full facts of this case.  But I'll bet anything not maintaining strategic awareness was what happened here.  This Mach pilot probably didn't bother to check whether his alliance was at war before he undocked.  As a result of that, he was an easy, predictable target.  I've said again and again that 100% of the fault for ship losses can be traced back to a mistake made by the pilot of the ship.  In this case, the mistake this pilot made was undocking.

In null-sec, you learn to use your intel in a hurry.  Before you undock, you check Local for neuts or war targets.  You check your Corp or Alliance channel MOTD in-game.  You probably check your corp or alliance forums, or ask on TS3 or Vent if anything is going on.  Because if you don't do some or all of these things in null, you're going to lose a ship.  High-sec pilots don't have these habits ingrained into them yet.

And this pilot just learned those lessons at the cost of about a billion ISK.  That's an expensive lesson.

Runner-up for KOTW is this Basilisk, also from the Screaming Meercats war-dec. 

Note to all incursion care-bears: just because incursion fits are kinda like PvP fits doesn't mean they are PvP fits.  PvP fits have propulsion mods, for instance.  ;-)

Incompatible beliefs: CQs

It's time for me -- once again -- to support two incompatible positions simultaneously.

And just to show that I'm really pro at this skill, I'm going to do it twice in less than 24 hours.  ;-)  Watch for the other instance of this later today or tomorrow.

In a day seemingly full of EVE devblogs, Torfi put out one of them showing off the three new racial CQs.  This isn't new work: the CSM was shown the designs all the way back in late June, and based on their descriptions (Trebor said he liked the Gallente one, Mittens expressed a preference for the Caldari one), we can surmise that the designs haven't changed all that much since then.

First and before I say anything else, all four CQs are overly dark.  The current Minmatar one is barely lit at all (apparently this is going to be improved somewhat when the others are released), but even the Gallente one would have Captain Picard saying "Computer, increase light levels by 50%."  Torfi jokes that repeated viewings of Blade Runner are required for a job in the CCP art department... except that that doesn't appear to be a joke from where I'm sitting.  ;-)  In the pictures for the Caldari and Amarr CQs, unfocus your eyes and you can't make out where the pilot is standing in those rooms.  Dark clothes in dark CQs in a dark universe, blah blah blah.

Yeah, got the message, CCP, thanks.

So, the new CQs are very pretty, but dark.  I like all three of the new ones in their own ways.  I'm not sure which is my favorite, but I already know which one is my least favorite: the Minmatar one.  Moving on...

Remember, the CQs (and Incarna in general) are about two things: immersion, and increased identification with your character.

Here comes the part where I believe two incompatible things simultaneously.  ;-)

I immediately asked CCP Fallout the question: "Will we be able to select one of the CQs as our home CQ, or will we be forced into a CQ based on the race of the station?"  I was told that the latter is going to be the case: if you only ever dock in Minmatar stations, the Minmatar CQ will be the only one you ever see.  You'll only see the Gallente CQ if you dock in a Gallente-owned or -produced station.

I could argue that either option would increase, or decrease immersion and character identification.

The "the CQ matches the station" argument goes like this: as a capsuleer, you're not living in this room.  You're only renting it from the station owner.  The station has sixteen hundred CQs, and all of them look like this one.  You can't bring your own CQ along wherever you go because that breaks immersion.  Besides (LtColLaurentius provided this argument), it makes no sense for the Amarr to have Minmatar CQs or the Caldari to allow Gallente CQs within their stations.

I simultaneously believe this argument and reject it.  I believe it because it makes logical sense.

I reject it because the argument is silly.  If the Gallente aren't going to allow Caldari CQs, then why will they allow me to dock my Caldari Navy Scorpion with all Caldari Navy fittings, piloted by a Caldari?  Hell, not letting me feel like I'm at home is bad business, and the Gallente don't believe in bad business.  ;-)  When I travel to India, I assure you that I don't stay in an Indian-style hotel.  I seek out and stay in a westernized one.  To those that say that this is immersion-breaking, I would argue that the vast individual dock where your frigate slowly spins where you can watch it from the balcony already does that, as does the Obelisk that can pop out of the tiny, tiny, tiny Minmatar station undock.  Or is every station a Planck generator that's the size of a Titan on the outside, but the size of a Dyson sphere inside?  And if it is, why can't it have a few hundred of each CQ type?

On the point of character identification, I can also support both positions.  If you can carry around your own CQ model from station to station, that creates the distinct possibility that a future development of EVE might include character-created CQs, NeX-purchased "premium" CQs, or even sub-modules that can be used to decorate your CQ.  Which are you going to identify with more: the blank slate CQ that looks no different from those of the other thousand people docked in the station?  Or the one where you've graffiti-painted the walls and replaced the couch with bean-bags?  Put another way, when you unlocked your house in Fallout 3, did you leave it undecorated for the rest of the game?  I'll bet you didn't.  But that's what CCP is asking you to do.

On the other hand, it's also easier to identify with your character if the environment he or she lands in changes as you fly around the galaxy.  Back in the old ship-spinning days, it was very easy to identify with your character's location when you docked in an Amarr station, or a Minmatar station.  The environmental sounds of those stations made it clear where you were, and lent a real weight to the fact that your character had flown half-way across the galaxy to end up in a new place.  And enforced racial CQs bring that back now that the ship-spinning environment and its associated sounds have been expunged.

So yeah, I can believe two simultaneous incompatible things here with no trouble.  ;-)  Still, I favor the incompatible position to the left on this one.  CCP, let me choose where I live.

Week in the Life: Screaming Meercats

Well, it's been a week since I first covered the incursion drama starring HTIDRaver and his alliance, Screaming Meercats.  As you might recall, Raver had vowed that he and members of his alliance would make it their sworn duty to prematurely close high-sec incursions to grief BTL/TDF members.  Then, when war-decs started rolling in on his alliance, he was even more defiant, saying he'd fight off the invaders.  Let's see how the last week has been treating them, shall we?

Computer, show me relevant information on alliance Screaming Meercats.

Oh dear.

Whoops, looks like they lost 50% of their members before the alliance failed entirely.  Who knew that high-sec care-bears wouldn't like being war-dec'ed?  It was so unpredictable that they'd abandon their alliance in droves, isn't it?

Well, Raver got on the EVE Online forums and asked for people -- Goons, specifically -- to help him in his cause, right?  How did that go?  Hm, here's an interesting response:
I'm sure Goons will be falling over themselves to help HTIDRaver with his undeniably smart public call for "whelp i've wardec'd and people are leaving my alliance".

Goons have obviously been lying in wait for this perfect opportunity to be seen as some random highsec carebear's willing lapdog and will jump at the chance to abandon their current operations in Delve and come to his rescue.

The only tears left are HTIDRaver's. Begging Goons to help get you out of the hole you've been digging yourself for the last few days only comes across as pathetic.
Well.  That's kind of rude!  I'm sure that the 35% PvP efficiency that the alliance suffered after the war-decs hit was just a coincidence.

OK, fine, Screaming Meercats has had a bad week.  But surely Raver is such a charismatic leader that his own corp, Incursion Runners, isn't suffering too badly, right?

Well, that's not ideal, I'll grant you.  Fortunately though, incursion runners are forgiving sorts of people.  Raver's alliance is dead, he's essentially surrendered to the war-decs, his credibility it shot, and even his own corp members are abandoning him.  I'm sure they'll leave well enough alone and not war-dec Raver's corp now that it's out of the alliance he created--

Oh, that's right.  I forgot.  It turns out incursion runners still play EVE Online.  ;-)

Bonus Comment of the Week: Two-sided

In the comments after my post about measuring results, not effort, Lee does a great job of covering both sides of the issue of using or not using a licensed technology such as Unreal for Incarna:
Personally I think some (or a lot) of the problem is that its easy to say "lets buy a package that does the job" but its quite rare these days to find something that will do the job that doesn't have too many strings attached.

Something like the unreal or hero MMO engine are quite likely to have some sort of royalty cost associated with them that will eat away at whatever profit they get and since CCP intends to use this technology in WoD as well your doubling the money that your essentially giving away to another company.

While to us (the customer) we want good results in a short time frame the long term objective of any company is to make money and its a gamble that CCP is willing to make that a short term loss (in terms of time and development cost) will turn into a long term gain (in terms of saved revenue from not having to pay out royalties) - especially if this engine will be deployed in multiple games.

Now would we be complaining if they'd been working on this behind the scenes for years and got it all polished, working and efficient? Personally I can see its potential but its far from ready and its CCPs fault for taking the roast out of the oven while its still cooking; but even then most players would agree that they are wasting time building content that people just aren't interested in to try and gain new players while losing the ones they've already got.

Sounds like the inmates are running the asylum at the moment; its take a while but I think CCP are beginning to see the errors of their ways.
Yes.  This.

As I said last week, the really remarkable thing CCP did here was to announce their intent to build what was essentially a second MMO inside their already-working first MMO.  A lot of people have dismissively termed this as using EVE players as Alpha testers for World of Darkness, and that opinion is valid.

But it all comes back to that "total sci-fi simulator" that CCP wants.  I'm still convinced that CCP hasn't given up that dream.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I want a quarter...

...for every time Mittens points some game journalist at the graphs I built for EVE player rolling averages.  This week, he pointed someone at Gamespy at them.

I can't decide if I should be annoyed by this or not, but I definitely want all those quarters...  ;-)

EDIT (30/Sep/2011): I asked Gamespy to remove their watermarks from my graphs and attribute them to the proper source.  Instead, Gamespy's editor-in-chief sent me a very nice apology, but pulled the graphs entirely.  He tells me this story was submitted by a Gamespy free-lancer, not a regular writer.

Measure results, not effort

Warning: geek philosophy ahead.

If you are a responsible person at all, sooner or later in your career, you'll be asked to take a leadership position.  In this role, you may find yourself evaluating the work of others.  When that happens, I hope that you will remember the first rule of evaluating their work: measure results, not effort.

This goes for any manager or supervisor or project manager: results first.  Then ask if the work was delivered on time and under budget.  But at the end of the day, you should care about the work produced, not the effort that it took to get there.

Of course, if the project is at the mid-point of its development when it comes time to evaluate the staff, you might not have easy access to results to measure.  Even without this factor, it will be tempting to measure effort.  Effort is very easy to see.  If someone is working 60 hour weeks, week after week, that's easy to measure.  If they explain to you what they're doing is really hard, that's also easy to understand.  If the entire team working on a project is stressed trying to meet a deadline, their hard work and effort will be obvious.

It will even be easy and tempting to value the work based on the effort that went into it.  I can't tell you the number of poor managers, supervisors, and project leaders that I've seen that reward long hours of overtime put into a project instead of the results that were delivered with that overtime.

This is flawed thinking.  As a supervisor or project manager, you need to be thinking exactly the opposite of this.

If I show you a completed house, and tell you that it was completed on time and within its budget with the requisite materials and following all applicable laws, as a supervisor, you should not care how it was done.  It's the results that matter, not the effort that went into the building of the house.  You shouldn't care if it was done with pre-fabricated sections or raw lumber hauled to the site.  All you should care about is that the house is done.  You should congratulate the team that did it and the foreman that led the team on a job well done.

Now suppose I show you a second house being built right next door.  It had the same budget and schedule, the same materials provided, the same laws expected to be observed.  Only, this house is half-complete.  It's obviously well behind schedule.  You, as the manager, ask the construction foreman what went wrong, and he says "Nothing went wrong!  This is going to be a type of house that has never seen before!  A huge amount of work is going into producing it.  My team is working very long hours, and we're using innovative house-building methods.  It's really, really cool!"

As a manager, you should rightly be extremely skeptical of such "results."  The supervisor may even ask you to reward a team in this situation for all of the hard work and extra effort they're putting into a project, even though it's incomplete.  But put into the terms of two houses under construction, even a layman can see that this is a ridiculous expectation.  It's even sillier to value the second house over the first house just because more work is going into it.

Which brings us to software development in general, and CCP's software development in particular.

As I said above, as a supervisor or project manager, you can't and you shouldn't reward effort, if that effort does not produce results.  Extra effort, in fact, is counter-productive to your aims as a manager.  You want the work that you set your teams to do to be completed with as little effort as possible.  A team that has exhausted itself producing the first work task is going to be of very little use to you when it's time to assign them another.  A team that easily accomplishes work with less effort, on the other hand, is the team that should be rewarded.

It's counter-intuitive, I'll grant you.  But reward results, not the effort that it took to get them.

Too often in CCP, we see effort being valued and rewarded, not results.  CCP will congratulate themselves on doing things that have never been done before.  That's exciting, sure.  But -- and let's be honest here -- if that innovation doesn't also produce results, the effort that goes into the work doesn't matter.  You and I as players don't much care how the work is done as long as it is done.

I covered some of this back in April when Incarna first appeared on Singularity and I had a weekend to play around with it.  As I put it then...
The CQ comes off as a fourth-year CompSci student's attempt to recreate the Unreal engine.  It works.  It would even get a good grade on the final.  But it would leave a true pro tsk'ing at the student's many mistakes and foibles.

And it would leave the other CompSci students grinning and wondering why the nerdy kid spent 650 hours on his project to get an "A" when they spent 120 hours on theirs to get the same "A".
Too often, CCP falls into this trap.  They get very excited about working on "cool stuff", and then spend a tremendous amount of effort to produce that cool stuff, even when it's unnecessary.  This was driven home particularly with the new font that's going to appear in-game.  CCP's UI team worked on this for months.  I was reminded in the comments of my recent font post that the new font was announced at Fanfest in March, and we've seen occasional glimpses into this new font in the intervening months since then.  Everyone, right up to CCP's uppermost management, gets very excited about the huge amount of effort that goes into these tasks.

And then they become upset when we don't share their enthusiasm for their effort.

But the funniest thing about measuring results, not effort, is that gamers do it instinctively.

Take game reviews.  Let's look at Duke Nukem Forever, for instance.  This is a game that went through an enormous development cycle, taking years.  The developers switched engines at least three times during its development.  But the reviews -- and rightly so! -- gave them no credit for all of the effort that went into producing this game.  Only the results -- how good was the game? -- counted, and they weren't that great.

I've mentioned CCP's NIH disease before, several times, and this is part of the problem, of course.  But the main problem is that CCP management needs to retrain themselves to value results over effort.  If the results aren't there, the amount of effort that went into producing them shouldn't matter.

Remember it if you're ever put into a similar position.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fit of the Week: Gate Camp Huginn

[Huginn, Gate Camper]
Damage Control II
Overdrive Injector System II
Signal Amplifier II

10MN Afterburner II
Invulnerability Field II
Invulnerability Field II
Dread Guristas Stasis Webifier
Dread Guristas Stasis Webifier
Large Shield Extender II

Heavy Missile Launcher II, Caldari Navy Widowmaker Heavy Missile
Heavy Missile Launcher II, Caldari Navy Widowmaker Heavy Missile
Heavy Missile Launcher II, Caldari Navy Widowmaker Heavy Missile
650mm Artillery Cannon II, Republic Fleet EMP M
650mm Artillery Cannon II, Republic Fleet EMP M
Salvager I

Medium Anti-Kinetic Screen Reinforcer I
Medium Core Defence Field Extender I

Hornet EC-300 x5
Warrior II x3

I'm finding that for gate-camps, there's an increasing reliance on luck, catch bubbles, and raw DPS to catch prey.  This is even becoming prevalent among null-sec pilots that really should know better.  A lot of the more subtle skills and experience that used to be requisite for a solid null-sec pilot seem to be falling by the boards, except in the truly exceptional PvP alliances.  Part of this is risk adversity: other than Drams, use of interceptors is becoming a lost art, for instance, as pilots bemoan their fragility.  As the average DPS of null-sec ships increases and T3 cruisers become more prevalent, this phenomenon is also affecting Recon ships.

As a result, flying Recons is also becoming a lost art.

But Recons of all forms are ideal for gate-camping!  Any gate-camp that doesn't include at least a couple of Recons of various types is -- to my mind -- automatically a failed gate camp.  Gate camps are all about scoring quick, easy kills with minimal risk, and if there is a ship class that's better at assisting with this than the Recon, I'd like to know about it.  ;-)

The special attacks and defenses that a Recon gives you -- virtually no matter the Recon -- are particularly useful for gate-camps, which usually involve pick-up fleets with little or no doctrine being used.  And Combat Recons are particularly suffering due to their lack of cloaks.  It's rare any more to see Combat Recons being used by PvP alliance outside of Alliance Tournament matches.  Yet the Lach is still great for preventing warp-offs by targets outside of your catch bubbles.  Rooks and Curses are ideal for shutting down enemy offense and letting your gate-camp escape fleets that are too much for you.

And then there's my particular favorite Combat Recon, the Huginn.  Huginns were born to gate-camp.

In today's world of highly tanky combat ships, the biggest worry about a gate-camp is often not finding prey, it's keeping the prey on your own side of the gate so that you can kill it.  Interceptor pilots are becoming more and more rare, and interceptor pilots willing to skip whoring on a mail to ensure the fleet gets a kill are becoming vanishingly so.  As a result, it's often a safe move when you jump into a gate-camp to simply burn back to the gate.  Unless the gate-camping fleet is enormous or your ship is fragile, they may not have the DPS to prevent you from leaving the battle.  And since they often won't have an interceptor willing to forgo shooting at you to jump through to the other side of the gate to catch you there, you'll often find the entire gate-camp aggressing on you in the hopes of killing you before you reach the gate.

And even if by some miracle an interceptor pilot resists the urge to KM whore and jumps through with you when you escape, given how bad a lot of interceptor pilots are becoming in EVE, that's no guarantee that he's actually gonna catch you on the other side.  These days, you have even money chances of warping off before the inty pilot figures out which one is his ass and which one is a hole in the ground.  ;-)

So, if you'd like to ensure some kills out of your gate-camp, please... please... invite a Huginn along.

The DPS that the Huginn provides is no great shakes: 200 or less.  Its awful mix of guns and missiles is really no better than KM whoring weapons themselves.  You invite a Huginn for its strong resist tank and at least dual webs.  And if those webs are faction of some kind, so much the better.  I like relatively cheap Dread Guristas on mine: they push an unbonused Huginn to a 52km web range.

That and some long-range guns will allow this Huginn to sit pretty much anywhere outside of a potential target's range, and yet add a little bit of DPS and ensure that target will not be making it back to the gate.  35 to 40km off the gate is best.

An overheated afterburner on this fit is good for close to 1000m/s, which is plenty for a ship with two long-range webs.  The Huginn is not going to have any trouble out-running anything trying to catch it except the most determined frigate.  That frig can be chased off with the ship's limited DPS and a flight of Hornet ECM drones.  And that assumes they get anywhere near you.  Frigates are why you're using faction webs to stand off 40km or so from the gate you're camping in the first place.  If you encounter more frigates than you can handle, just warp off.

The Signal Amplifier is mostly there to act as a poor man's Sensor Booster.  But this Huginn operates best with a Remote Sensor Booster or two provided by a friendly (which any competent gate-camp fleet will be able to provide).  The Salvager gives you something to do between targets.  And the tank is strong enough that it should be able to stand up to low-sec gate guns long enough for someone stronger in the fleet to take over the tackle.  Just align while you wait for this to happen, then warp off if you don't have logi support.

Let no-one escape you.  :-)

Comment of the Week: One-sided

Comment of the week comes from carmelos53, a well-known member of the TDF leadership, who writes:
Hi I'm a tdf fc. Jester you have all of the facts wrong in post bud. You completely took away all of the truth of the drama and inserted your opinion instead of stickin to the facts. Next time - please feel free to contact tdf or btl.

1) btl does pvp roams for fun
2) no the fcs in btl and tdf have NOT received bans bcause they want the community to go to low sec. They did it to grief.
3) Raver made a public statement in btl on audio to tell everyone how happy he is to make people mad

This has nothing to due with "fcs" wanting to go to low sec. There is 0 division right now in tdf/btl leadership on starfire angel or raver. They broke the agreement, they acknowledged what they had done, they laughed. As such they are banned from both channels.
He was commenting on my most recent post regarding the BTL/TDF incursion drama.  Normally I don't get into point-by-point rebuttals, and I'm not going to this time, either.  Still, this comment deserves a bit of a response.

First off, and most simply: it is not my job to take BTL/TDF's side on every issue.  Nor do I have to stick strictly with facts and keep my opinion to myself.  That's not what my blog is about.  My first post regarding the drama stuck to a factual accounting of what happened with Raver, and was accurate enough to be posted as the MOTD in both the BTL and TDF channels, and was frequently linked to by BTL/TDF leadership as the post for people unfamiliar with Raver's actions to read about what he had done.

That, in itself, should be proof enough that if I want to stick to the facts, those facts will be accurate.

But "Practical applications" was opinion, not fact, and I clearly stated it as such.  Even then, though, I made it very clear in the post that I was not condoning Raver's actions.  I also stated flat out in the post that his intent was almost certainly to grief people.  And I never said in Practical applications that I thought Raver and starfire were banned for wanting to lead low-sec incursions.  I said the opposite, in fact, that they had been banned for completing mom sites prematurely.

So, your accusation that my second post wasn't factual is rather open to question.

As to the larger issue, as I said above, though, it's not my job to take the BTL/TDF position in every post I make.  I'm allowed to take contrary positions from time to time if I like.  I frequently explore both sides of an issue, and sometimes do it in the very same post.  As I've said before, if that makes me inconsistent, very well, I'm inconsistent.  ;-)

But, since you're questioning my opinion of the facts in the case and inviting me to ask you questions about these issues directly, I'd be happy to ask you the questions directly:
  1. Are the BTL/TDF leadership frustrated about channel member unwillingness to enter low-sec?
  2. Are BTL/TDF leaders considering occasionally prematurely closing mom sites to encourage more channel members to join low-sec incursion fleets?
  3. Were Raver and starfire two of the FCs that had expressed frustration about this issue before they were black-listed?
  4. If they continue to prematurely complete mom sites in high-sec, will the BTL/TDF leadership black-list additional members of their fleets that help them?

I look forward to your responses to these questions.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pure genius

Incarna has been modified to run on low-end machines.  Scratch the back of your head, then visit

Incarna: The Text Adventure

It's pure genius.  And the best thing about it is that it has exactly as much content as does Incarna itself.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Practical applications

There's some interesting growing pains happening in the BTL/TDF public incursion channels relating to the drama I posted about last week.  You could call it soul-searching.  You could even call it a borderline civil war.  Either way, it's an interesting situation and deserves to be covered.  However, to cover it adequately, I'm going to have to explore it from a lot of different angles, so hopefully, that won't be too confusing.

I think the easiest place to start will be from a piece I wrote about a month ago detailing my first experience with a low-sec mom.  One of the challenges I mentioned in getting a fleet together to fight a low-sec mom is the fact that only a small percentage of the people that participate in BTL/TDF will go into low-sec.  As I put it in that piece:
But despite bringing in hundreds of millions of ISK per month -- if not billions -- almost none of these high-sec bears want to go into low-sec, even if they have a fleet of 65 or 70 people around them.
Given that the people in this group won't go into low-sec with 65 or 70 people around them, you can just imagine how they feel about going into low-sec with a 10-person Vanguard fleet.  ;-)

That, in itself, makes the low-sec mom more difficult.  Since very few fleets will go into low-sec to do the lower-end incursion sites there, by the time the mom is confronted, the resistance nerf that is part of the incursion experience is still very much in effect.

Hold that thought for a second.

In my incursion guides, particularly in part 2, I go to great lengths to describe the fact that many incursion FCs will shun less-expensive, less "shiny" ships in favor of T3s, pirate faction battleships, and like ships.  The idea here is to maximize the income of an incursion fleet given the amount of time that incursion fleet has to spend.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but elitism has definitely set in.  There are a lot of mid-range incursion FCs would literally rather have two or three missing ships in their fleet than invite a T1 battleship.  They'll actively continue shunning less "shiny" ships, saving those open slots for the first more expensive ship to come along, and only then issue an invitation.

In my guides, I recognize and accept this elitism from a purely practical stand-point.  My purpose in the guide was to tell you how to make your own ship more appealing and useful to incursion fleets.  That usually means a little bling.  In short, I accept this elitist behavior as a given and just skip to helping explain how you -- as a player -- can benefit.  I'm not trying to explore the underlying implications.  No doubt Ian Malcolm would remind me that just because I could do that didn't necessarily mean that I should.  ;-)

But again, hold that thought for a second, too.

Among the most "senior" BTL/TDF incursion FCs, there's a growing frustration with the high-sec ISK-grubbing monster they've created.  Remember, many of them are null-sec ex-pats or alts just trying to make some ISK.  They didn't have any interest in creating a new wave of high-sec bears.  They just wanted to introduce a little bit of organization and process into the previously somewhat chaotic incursion fleets.  To this, they've attempted to add the occasional low-sec PvP roam and related forays into low-sec incursions.  But the wheel is turning in the other direction.

I've personally observed the high-sec incursions become so over-crowded that it's literally impossible to get into a Vanguard fleet without a very expensive T3, command ship, or pirate faction battleship.  While this happens, you've got literally dozens of people forlornly posting fits for T1 battle-cruisers, battleships, and the like.  But when an FC -- even a very senior BTL FC -- offers to take a bunch of these pilots into low-sec and do incursions there, suddenly, all of them go quiet.  ;-)  They would literally rather do nothing than risk even an inexpensive ship in low-sec.

Now granted, a lot of these pilots are relatively new players trying to make the hundreds of millions of ISK they need for early EVE career skill-books and the like.  But a lot more of them are long-time players with very expensive ships in their hangars and hundreds of millions, if not billions of ISK, in their wallets.

So high-sec bears is what the senior BTL/TDF FCs are getting.

As a result, a lot of the most senior members of this crew have been grumbling about what to do next.  A few of them have gotten frustrated and dropped out of FCing.  A few more are looking for ways to redirect some of the energy they've created into other pursuits (like the low-sec roams that I mentioned).  And a couple are getting frustated enough that they've started openly talking about prematurely closing down some of the high-sec incursions to force some of these bears into low-sec incursions if they want to make ISK.

Into this murky amino acid soup, Raver fell like a lightning bolt.

Now, I'm not saying I condone what he did.  I'm not saying that I disapprove of it, either.  I'm also not saying that his motivations were anything like this somewhat-more-noble aspiration to encourage high-sec bears to at least try low-sec.  Chances are, in the end, he was just in it to grief some people.  But I do find it ironic that the senior BTL/TDF people are being forced by the rules that they created to punish someone that at least a few of them have sympathies toward.  Talk about being hoist on your own petard!

The irony hit a new level a couple of days ago when it was discovered that another long-time incursion FC, starfire angel, took part in Raver's two mom kills.  Again, by a strict interpretation of their own rules, the BTL/TDF leadership were forced to add him to the black-list.  I don't think they wanted to.  And apparently, they resisted it for several days.  But they've since given in and starfire is now black-listed.  starfire is, if anything, more respected by large blocks of the incursion-running community than Raver is, and I include myself among that number.  I believe he's every bit as methodical and aggressive as the best null-sec PvP FCs I've flown with, though I recognize that FCing style isn't for everyone.

It's going to be interesting to track this one going forward.  There's already a certain sense of "ownership" about the high-sec incursions among the BTL/TDF leadership... as if anything happening in "their" incursions has to have their sanction.  It's not quite that bad, but it's close.  But with the BTL/TDF leadership being forced to exile respected incursion FCs... it'll be worth watching to see if those exiled FCs have any luck stirring up some competition... and if they do, how many will follow them.

And if some of the normal BTL/TDF crowd start following these competing FCs, it'll be even more interesting to see how the BTL/TDF leadership reacts to it.  Will they start black-listing people who join the fleets of black-listed FCs?  What if those black-listed FCs start completing mom sites  and "prematurely" ending high-sec incursions?  Will the BTL/TDF leadership start black-listing whole fleets?

Even if, by doing so, those exiled FCs are taking the actions that they themselves sympathize with, but can't bring themselves to take?

And what happens if these exiled FCs start accepting less-valuable ships into their fleets en masse, or are successful in leading fleets into low-sec?  Wouldn't that pull a lot of people who aren't having any luck in the current system into the arms of the exiles?

All in all, interesting times are ahead, if you're an incursion-runner.

GM assistance for the quote of the week

I love this:

[ 2011.09.22 14:59:03 ] GM Tegrino > Greetings! I am GM Tegrino here to assist you and ask you how you are enjoying the game. Do you have any questions about EVE Online I might answer?
[ 2011.09.22 14:59:16 ] HT Kills U > how can i open this door?
[ 2011.09.22 14:59:33 ] HT Kills U > i clicked on it like 50 times and hit the spacebar
[ 2011.09.22 15:06:33 ] HT Kills U > whats the nicest trousers for under $5 in your opinion?
[ 2011.09.22 15:06:49 ] GM Tegrino > i haven't really checked them out yet, to be [honest]

The full piece, titled "EVE Online Fashion - Trolling a GM" is definitely worth your time and good for a few laughs.  Go give it a read.

The piece also links to a video that features a "catwalk and a skull tat" as the piece puts it.  That video caused a bit of misplaced player rage when it came out a couple of weeks ago, but it's a piece of nothing-fluff associated with New York Fashion Week, an annual event in NYC.  In short, it's just a bit of marketing, and not an effort to bring catwalks to EVE Online, heh.

The good news here is that the GM team apparently wasn't given any explicit direction about the NeX.  Not only does the GM not try to make a sale, he subtly discourages the troller from the store by pointing out that the NeX is "for veteran players with lots of money to spend" and "not really intended for new players".  That's definitely the right message to be sending.  The GM also tries as best he can to help the troller with his actual questions, dropping into his new player script only twice (when asking the troller if he's looked at the new player Career Agents, and asking the troller if he's familiar with space security status).  That's also good news.  So bravo to the GM involved, and to the GM training in general.

It would be interesting to see if this sort of dialogue changes in a year or so.

Quote of the Week: Full bitter

This week's quote is full bitter.  But it comes from a really surprising source!  Here's the quote:
Considering all that's happened over the last couple of years, it's amazing CCP doesn't seem to see the shit-storms coming from a mile away nor understand why they even occur.
Before I reveal the source of the quote, see if you can guess who said it.  While you think about that one, I'll also say that the same source linked to a site called despair.com, which (among other things) sells posters which are satires of the motivational posters that you see in a lot of offices.  Called "Demotivators", the posters often feature the same inspiring pictures as the real thing, but the phrases beneath the pictures aren't quite so positive.  ;-)

The same source said it was sad how many demotivators seemed apropos of CCP.  With that in mind, here's my favorite that could have had CCP in mind:

Ready for the source of the quote?  It was Mynxee, CSM5 Chair, writing on FHC.  Caught me by surprise, anyway.  Cheer up, Mynxee!  ;-)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Agile development

Let's just get this out of the way right now: even though I've never met him, I despise Tim Buckley in absentia.  His "comic" is one of the most unoriginal, unfunny, derivative pieces of crap out there right now.  I realize he has his fans, but I am decidedly not one of them.

OK, that's done.

That said, what Buckley did in cooperation with the developers of Heroes of Newerth should make CCP embarrassed for themselves.

For those that weren't keeping track, Buckley drew eight pieces of concept art for a new Hero for that game.  The HON developers then sponsored a vote on these eight potential new Heroes for their game, with the promise that they would work with Buckley to develop the voted-upon concept art into a full-on brand new in-game Hero that could be used and played.  Pretty cool idea, right?  Sound vaguely familiar?  We'll get to that in a second.

The concept art for the eight heroes to be voted on appeared around 5 August 2011.

The completed, voted-upon, chosen Hero, the Cthuluphant, became available in-game today.

That's a development time from concept art to finished product in about six weeks.  That's agile development.  S2Games, the developers of Heroes of Newerth, should be proud of their achievement, however the Cthuluphant is received.

You might recall that CCP also had a contest to choose a piece of fan concept art that would become part of their game, the EVE Create A Starship Contest, which opened about a year ago, 7 September 2010, and ended last October.  The winner was a beautiful Minmatar ship called the Tornado, developed by a past CSM member known as Pattern.

Yeah, that was a year ago.  And at the soonest, it'll be sometime next year before we see this beautiful ship in-game.  That's a development time from concept art to finished product in something between 18 and 24 months.

Not quite so agile.  CCP, while you're navel-gazing into your development practices looking for areas to focus on?  Yeah.  Think about this.

Kill of the Week: PvP... sorta

In a week that's been marked by a bit of Incursion drama, I think I'll go with something a little unusual for my KOTW this week:

Just glance at this kill and you'll see nothing particularly remarkable about it, except for the fact that it's unusual to see a Hel at all, and doubly unusual to see a T2 fitted super-carrier.  Then you might notice where the kill took place: Pator, a starting school system only a couple of jumps from Rens, which is a major market hub.  What's a super-carrier doing in high-sec?

The answer is partially filled in by this ISD story listed on the main EVE website earlier this week.  But the ISD story does not fill in all of the pieces of the picture... not even close.

Look up Drake Arson on EVE-Kill and you'll find a decent but unremarkable PvP pilot who almost entirely sticks to the low-sec Teshkat system and the surrounding area.  I would dearly love to know the background that caused CCP to pluck this pilot out of the ranks of the "Sansha sympathizer" role-players and give him a super-carrier with which to attack other EVE players in high-sec!

A close look at the fit will show that he was prevented from doing too much damage.  There were no drones on board, and as far as I've been able to tell, there were no fighters or fighter-bombers allowed, either.  Arson's only direct attack capability was via the three neuts he had fitted, a long-range point... and the Sansha rats that were included as part of this Live Event.  Close observation of the APIs over the course of the event confirmed there were very few PvP kills in Pator while it was happening, so apparently, the database was fooled into thinking that Arson was just "a big rat" for the purposes of the event.

Almost certainly, there was a GM monitoring the event, and almost certainly, Arson had major restrictions given him by the GM regarding what he could and could not do.  Still, the net result was clear enough: an EVE player was given CCP sanction and reason to attack other EVE players in high-sec with no personal consequences to himself...

...outside of the role-playing arena.

This is "beautiful", another Sansha sympathizer role-player said, and I agree: it is a tremendous bone thrown from CCP to EVE's role-playing community.  I believe it's the first time anything even approaching this has happened.  Usually, CCP is content to sit back and let players create much of EVE's content.  But this time, CCP directly injected themselves into the process.

And getting normally skittish high-sec bears into the habit of shooting other EVE players can only be a good thing for the long-term health of the game.  ;-)

We've had GM-run Live Events from time to time.  But getting EVE players involved in the process might go a long way toward increasing the frequency of these events.  I love the out-of-the-box thinking on this and I hope it continues!

The optimist's view

If we pull way back on this phrase from the most recent CCP devblog...
CCP has been doing extensive and intense introspection and revitalization. The result of this is a refocusing and reprioritization on a scale unheard of within our company.
then there are two ways to look at that statement: from the point of view of the optimist, or the point of view of the alarmist.  This is the optimist's view.

The optimist view states that having seen the mess they've gotten themselves into with the overly-ambitious plan they laid down for Incarna, CCP has learned from their past mistakes.  They are ready to embrace a new vision of much more frequent, less massive expansions focusing on improvement of EVE's core game-play.

Let's start with the good news: EVE has no competition in the space they've created, at all.  The Star Trek MMO is a flop and will soon be going F2P.  I can't see this doing anything except greatly, greatly slowing down that game's development.  TOR will not be entering this space, and every other attempt to create a solid EVE competitor has died or is dying on the launch pad.  Perpetuum Online seems to be doing fine, but it's robots, not spaceships and at the end of the day, the audiences for the two games are different.

So that's the good news: CCP can take their time and now that they've decided to focus on flying-in-space, they have every reason to polish it to a high mirror shine. 

I chatted with two friends of mine about EVE this morning.  Both are lapsed EVE players.

I'm paraphrasing a bit, but one of them said "I'm in love with the idea of EVE, but not the implementation."  As I've said a couple of times, CCP's own studies should show them the same thing: that lots of people have tried EVE but very few of those who try it actually stick with it.  EVE's existing game-play is not that good and its NPE is worse, to the point where both of them are memes.  CCP has hard data in front of them telling them this.  All they need to do is look at the data and believe it... and that leads them naturally to the conclusion that it's the implementation of EVE's features that are the problem, not the features themselves.

So, a logical, rational approach to their own data should lead CCP's management by the hand to the conclusion that iteration of EVE's existing features will take them in the direction they need to go.

What about the curse of ambition?  Trebor's blog post mentions that a feature war might well be underway in Reykjavik, but the optimist can disagree.  Remember, the devblog directly states that CCP recognizes that its reach exceeded its grasp with Incarna.  This is a very positive step in CCP's development, and growth as a company.  They recognize that their plans tend to be overly-ambitious.  Granted, they might again make the mistake of over-reaching in a year or two, but in the immediate future?  No.  I don't see it.

The feature whores will immediately start to yell that "polishing the sneaker" isn't going to bring in new players, but I completely disagree.  EVE has always been at its most successful when they focus their marketing on two things:
  • what the players are doing; and,
  • boasting about what's already there.
As far as I'm aware (and the PCU data backs me up on this), the two most successful marketing efforts CCP's launched to date centered on in-game events.  In one hand, massive in-game theft and fraud, particularly in 2009 when the Great War was at its height, brought in thousands and thousands of new players.  I can't tell you the number of players I've talked to that were brought into the game after reading about some massive corp theft or reading about the ability to grief hundreds of Band of Brothers members by disbanding their alliance.

On the other hand, direct advertising of in-game events -- including an actual TV commercial built by CCP's video team in 2008 was also hugely successful in bringing in new players.  Whodathunkit?  When you advertise your game in front of gamers, people might actually show up and play?  CCP has dozens and dozens of hours of video footage that could easily be repurposed into TV or Internet advertising.

And in both cases, this would make the EVE game the news in the gaming journalism websites, instead of EVE's troubles.  Good EVE press has always done a great job of bringing in new players.  Starting a feature war will just piss us off again and cause us to create yet more bad press for EVE... the last thing CCP needs.  I'm sure many in CCP are saying this flat-out right now to those that want to start a new wave of :awesome:.  And I'm confident that view is being heard.

So, to summarize, CCP recognizes their collective faults and has vowed to change.  The players have given them the first part of a road-map to guide this change, and the CSM will be fully supportive of efforts in this direction.  So overall, the optimist has very good reason to remain optimistic.

The alarmist's view is down there somewhere.  ::points down::

The alarmist's view

If we pull way back on this phrase from the most recent CCP devblog...
CCP has been doing extensive and intense introspection and revitalization. The result of this is a refocusing and reprioritization on a scale unheard of within our company.
then there are two ways to look at that statement: from the point of view of the optimist, or the point of view of the alarmist. This is the alarmist's view.

The alarmist view states that now that CCP is free of the shackles of Incarna, they are going to immediately throw themselves into some new version of :awesome:, learn nothing from their history, and repeat the same mistakes they made with Incarna, only this time with an overly-ambitious flying in space feature.

Let's start with the most obvious point first. On this very blog, a couple of weeks back, I said:
CCP seems to think that the issues that caused the Jita riots, un-subscriptions, and threadnaughts have been addressed.
and then I followed it up by saying that the pain and the fear caused by the Jita riots weekend seemed to have been forgotten in Reykjavik. Mittens will tell us that the typical Icelander is insular, with a high opinion of himself. CCP has never taken criticism well; their tendency when a policy is under attack is to double down on that policy, not review the policy. Anyone who's been playing EVE for any length of time can see that.

Seriously, if you have any doubt about this, I recommend recalling the CCP response to the Open Letter to CCP from CSM5 About Incarna.

So that alone is a reason to be worried. What if CCP looks at the corner they've been forced into, becomes sulky, and effectively says, "fine, you want spaceships? We'll give you spaceships, you terrorists!" It's not the most positive viewpoint to come at future development of EVE Online from. ;-)

Even worse, it's entirely possible that this whole Incarna mess might have started a flying-in-space brain-storming session in Reykjavik. Anyone who's met a software developer will tell you this: software developer want to work on cool stuff... where "cool stuff" is usually defined as "stuff that looks good on a resume". This does not necessarily translate to good software, and it certainly doesn't translate to good game-play. Wanting to work on cool stuff is what brought us the overly-ambitious plans for Incarna in the first place. The last thing we need is CCP going nuts to start on overly-ambitious flying-in-space features.

But this view may very well carry a lot of weight. After all, EVE's PCU numbers have been stagnant for a long time. Team :Awesome: will argue that EVE the game itself is stale and dated, and CCP's own research will back this up. Lots and lots of people right up to Trebor have bemoaned EVE's dated UI and lack of player-friendly expansion features. They'll argue that thousands of people have tried EVE and didn't like it, so only a major top-down shake-up of the underlying game-play mechanics will do.

"This is no time for half-measures!" they'll cry.

And marketing, having no use at all for trying to sell "blaster damage has been increased by 8%" to the larger gaming audience, will back this view up 100%. "If you only do iteration, what are we supposed to sell?" they'll ask. They'll point, with some justification, to the fact that the single most-successful recent expansion to EVE Online was Apocyrpha. Apocrypha included a massive new feature-set. It was overly-ambitious, but it was successfully overly-ambitious, they'll argue. Mittens himself stumbled into advocating this view when he also listed Apocrypha as EVE's most successful recent expansion, so it's entirely possible that marketing will be able to rope some of the CSM into this view.

Hell, it's arguable that the no-content devblog was only thrown out there to give Team :Awesome: more time to solidify their own position within the company without having to worry about community feedback.

But most worrisome of all, Seleene and others have confirmed that CCP has cut CSM6 "out of the loop." They're not sharing the contents of any of the recent devblogs and even more important, CCP hasn't approached the CSM for advice or counsel about the decisions being made. There's another meeting with CCP Zulu happening today, apparently -- perhaps even as I type this. But who knows what -- if anything -- CCP Zulu will be willing or able to tell the CSM. The fact that the CSM isn't being pulled directly into the brain-storming session to share the view of the players is the most worrisome aspect of this whole mess. Has CCP learned nothing?

So, to summarize, there's every reason to think that the fox has been put in charge of the hen-house. Freed from the shackles of Incarna and driven by stagnant PCU numbers, EVE's developers are going to push a "swing for the fences" view that only an awesome new expansion can solve EVE's problems. Overall, the alarmist has good reason to be worried.

The optimists's view is up there somewhere. ::points up::

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Seen on Twitter: Late night trolling

This morning, I awoke to see this from CCP Zulu on Twitter:
I find the new forums perfect for some late night trolling
Seleene joked back to him that it's hard to resist.  I responded with this:
To start, try: "Really funny watching the CSM / bloggers wait for devblog that isn't coming. Hee!" ;-)

I forgot all about this Tweet and went on about my day.  It was still on my home computer screen when I got home, and I was reminded of it.  But never did I think that would actually turn out to be true.  ;-)

Conspiracy of silence

Man.  Busy day today.  Let's talk about that devblog.

There's an old proverb that I'm reminded of:
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.
Or alternately, let's just go with this scene from Star Wars.

That isn't the devblog you're looking for.  Move along.  *waves fingers*

No?  OK.  ;-)

What's going on?  It's honestly not that hard to figure out.  There's three key phrases in this devblog.  Let's look at them one by one, but we're going to read the devblog backward, end to beginning, because I'd bet money that's the order that it was written in.  The phrases at the end of the devblog were "locked in" first, then the introductory phrases were written after that was done.  It's a pretty common speech-writing technique.

So let's start with the last phrase I want to focus on:
You've often told us that we promise too much and deliver too little, and this time we want to be certain that doesn't happen.

I'm not going to say Incarna was doomed from the start.  But I am going to say that what CCP wanted to do with Incarna was incredibly aggressive.  Think about it: for all intents and purposes, they announced their intention to build a second MMO on top of an already-existing first MMO!  That was a pretty remarkable announcement, and it's not at all surprising that it's fallen far short of where they wanted to be by this time.  Even more than this, CCP committed themselves to several expansions worth of content for this second MMO, and said flat-out that their first MMO wouldn't be receiving much attention during the process (:18months:).

Given CCP's NIH disease and the extra work that causes (watch for a post specifically about this in a day or two), it's not at all surprising that the delivery of Incarna has been... less than ideal.

The fact that they don't want to promise too much for their next few expansions is not at all surprising in this context.  Trebor wrote a short post, also referencing Star Wars, titled with the clever pun "Begun, the Feature War Has", but that's probably -- hopefully -- an overly alarmist view.  I don't think CCP is thinking too aggressively about massive new flying in space features because they've already been burned once by dreaming too big.

The simple fact is that if I were CCP Zulu, I'd hesitate to promise anything right now, because...
We have decided, to focus our collective efforts on the areas you have asked us to focus on.

OK... but what does that even mean?  Bet you even more money that even CCP doesn't know.  A couple of the other CSM6 members have said that they were given outlines about the sorts of things that would actually be included in CCP Zulu's devblog and that they were happy with some and concerned with others.  But of course, CCP has done studies of their player base, and characterized CSM members as "mavens".  Mittens might have very firm ideas about what he thinks the best direction for the game is, and the rest of CSM6 might back those ideas 100%.

But 100% of the U.S. South's leaders in 1861 thought slavery was a good idea.  Just because a group of people believe in something doesn't make it the right course.  And it doesn't mean that the people following those leaders believe it, either.

Some in CCP will argue that while the CSM is very smart, they're not particularly representative of EVE players just now.  And that opinion will be listened to, because it's reinforced by CCP's own view of the CSM as mavens.  No, CCP is going to proceed very cautiously, probably asking for (and listening to!) a lot of feedback from a really broad base of players, before they decide exactly what they're going to "focus" on.  So I'd back up Trebor's advice: get on that devblog comments thread and give them some feedback!

Which brings us to:
CCP has been doing extensive and intense introspection and revitalization. The result of this is a refocusing and reprioritization on a scale unheard of within our company.

It's easy (and wrong) to translate this to "Incarna has failed us", but that's part of what's going on.  CCP, as I say over and over again, is a business.  And the business results here are not good.

But let us be very frank: the business results before Incarna came along weren't much better!

CCP's average players logged in has been stagnant for 30 months, and the last time I checked, 30 months > 18 months.  I've asked people on several occasions what CCP could have been doing to improve the game during that time instead of Incarna that would deliver an order of magnitude increase in the player base, and what I generally get are iterative changes, not evolutionary ones.  Iterative changes are nice for the current player base.  They'll probably even bring back some lapsed EVE players.

But iterative changes aren't going to break the game out of the niche it's in.

So it shouldn't surprise us at all that the whole EVE development team is probably turning themselves upside down and inside out now trying to figure out what to do next.  "If not Incarna, what?!" is the question here.

EVE's current player base will scream "Flying in space, you morons!"  But even if CCP reached some consensus about what that means (they haven't) and even if they got focused on that... well, I wrote my little cautionary tale about happens then the other day.  I don't think CCP wants that.  I think they want to keep EVE as their most important product, but they desperately need their most important product to be bringing in millions of subscribers, not hundreds of thousands.

And with their previous plan upended, I don't think they know themselves how to get there.

Perpetual war

Welcome to the Dark Side.  Let's start this blog entry with three apparently completely unrelated paragraphs.

First: in the sci-fi TV series Babylon 5(1), a plot element of the first season revolves around the "Earth-Minbari war", which had concluded ten years before the television series begins.  In that war, the Minbari had the combined forces of Earth on the run, driven back from Earth's colonies right to the home planet itself... and then -- with victory practically in hand -- the Minbari surrendered.  The reasons for the surrender were a major mystery around which several episodes of the first season revolved.

Second: a few weeks ago on this blog, I mentioned the book 1984.  One of the main themes of that book was the notion of "perpetual war".  The main character lives in one of three totalitarian super-powers, which is perpetually at war with one or both of the two other super-powers.  In the book, we are told that perpetual war provided four benefits for the masters of these super-powers:
  • it formed a bedrock of the economy, as war materiel was always necessary; and,
  • the production of these goods prevented the production of goods that would actually better the standard of living of the population; which,
  • kept the expectations of the inhabitants of these super-states low; and,
  • provided external targets for the hate and fear of the populations of the super-states (rather than their own governments).
Third: when the (original) Northern Coalition started to fall early this summer, there was much gnashing of teeth about the lack of an NC super-cap fleet to combat the combined DRF/NC Reloaded super-cap fleet.  The NC had been living off the fat of Technetium moons for years, went this argument.  Where had these trillions of ISK gone, if not into the building of a massive defensive NC super-cap fleet?  Proponents of this argument went to great lengths to say that the lack of this super-cap fleet proved that Vuk Lau and the other leaders of the NC had "obviously" been RMTing this ISK instead of using it to fund a defensive fleet.

What do these three paragraphs have to do with each other?  Well, let's explore them a little.

Off in the east, DRF forces are slowly grinding their way south.  Currently, the major fights are happening in Catch (V-3YG7 fell just a few hours ago as I'm writing this).  I say "slowly" not because Catch-Provi isn't a swamp -- it surely is -- but because the tempo of Red Alliance and other DRF operations has slowed way down.  A few weeks ago, it looked like the remaining AAA territory would be falling in a matter of days and AAA itself seemed on the brink of failure cascade.  Don't get me wrong: AAA is still losing the war, and badly.  But the headlong rush that seemed inevitable a few weeks ago has turned into a leisurely stroll.

Some would call that rather surprising, given that "Winter is coming".  Aren't the DRF forces worried that their super-caps will be nerfed before they can use them to finish the job?

In the west, Goonswarm and its allies are pushing hard on the northern borders of Delve.  Coincidentally, S-6HHN -- a station system on the Delve border with Fountain -- fell the same moment that V-3 in Catch did.  The Goons have stated an intent to push through all of Delve to create a "Thunderdome" there: a region of space that anyone who is not a -10 enemy of Goonswarm can freely dock in, with the idea that hopefully a lot of non-sov-holding alliances will move there and it will become a paradise of worry-free PvP, similar to Catch-Provi in its pre-Dominion hey-day.

What the difference is between a Delve Thunderdome that is difficult and annoying to reach and a Syndicate Thunderdome that is easy to reach isn't made completely clear, but whatever.

Goonswarm had the opportunity to take Delve before, you'll recall, months ago when they drove IT out of Fountain.  IT abandoned Delve, and invited GSF to grind through it.  The Goons declined the invitation and headed back to Deklein.  A motley collection of players from around EVE then moved in and that's who holds it now.  But even assuming the Goons are successful in conquering Delve in its entirety this time, they're not going to move this time, either.

Why should they?  Between the vast numbers of Tech moons and its true-sec, they already own the single richest region in EVE.

And I can't see the DRF having any interest in living in Catch, either.  Why should they?  They already own several of the second richest regions in EVE.

But both groups are motivated to create buffer zones away from their home systems, because both groups are highly motivated to keep null-sec exactly as it is.  The cute furry troll graphic is true enough: both groups between them control a vast swaths of null's economic capabilities, both in terms of pure ISK value and in terms of the raw materials that can be pulled out of those regions.  Why should they want to give that up?  Would you give that up if you had it?

But neither group wants null-sec to become completely stagnant, either.  Were that to happen, CCP might be willing to take more direct, less cautious steps in rebalancing null.  Whatever you believe that the Goons and DRF are doing with their vast null-sec riches, whether building super-caps or paying their RL rents, the fact remains that both groups want to keep doing those things for as long as possible with as little interference as possible, both from other EVE Online players and from CCP.

As a result, don't look for the DRF to completely crush their enemies on their southern border.  I'm not saying we're going to see a Minbari-style surrender out there, but the DRF aren't going to put their best effort into the conquest if they don't have to.  (P.S. This is why Pandemic Legion are bored out of their collective skulls right now.)  The DRF has what they want for now, and pushing any harder on their southern border risks complete collapse, something I don't think the DRF leadership particularly wants.

The Goons meanwhile should have no problem creating their Delve Thunderdome if that's what they want to do, and that will help create just enough sound and fury signifying nothing that their true holdings up north won't be bothered either.

Meanwhile, until CCP decides to wake up and do something drastic with null, perpetual war will roll on and on in the southern reaches of New Eden.  And while it does, the flood of ISK will flow into the coffers of "the DCF" for months to come, and I think that suits the leadership of both groups juuuuuust fine.

(1) And if you haven't seen B5, then stop reading this blog, go rent it, and watch Seasons 1 through 4, at least.  It is, IMO, the finest sci-fi television series that has been made to date.

Drama mobilizing

So, Dark Side post a little bit later today, but there's a bit of a drama going on in the two public Incursion channels this morning.  Since it's an easier post, I want to get it out first.  Check back later for the follow up to yesterday's cute furry troll.

The funny thing about the Incursion drama is that I think it's really the long-time incursion-runner's first introduction to real null-sec style drama.  To understand it, though, I'm going to have to explain the mechanics of the agreements in place between the two public Incursion channels.  If you're familiar with how the mechanics work, you can skip the next three paragraphs.  For the rest of you, I apologize: this is a little bit complex (yay CCP), but you have to understand it to understand the drama.

As I've mentioned on this blog before, there are two public Incursion channels, BTL PUB (for shield tankers) and THE DITANIAN FLEET (for armor).  As I've also mentioned, these two channels are generally cooperative, and they have an interesting agreement in place.  When a new incursion spawns, one third of the time, the new spawn will be designated as a "shield" incursion, one-third of the time as an "armor" incursion, and the remaining third are "contested" incursions: an incursion where either armor or shield fleets can operate.(1)  Each incursion goes through a life cycle, indicated in the Incursion Journal entry.  Incursions that have been running for a while are "Established".  Then, over time, the incursion shifts to a "Mobilizing" state.  Finally, the incursion goes into a "Withdrawing" state before disappearing entirely.

When an incursion first appears, a red bar indicates that the Sansha have a large degree of control over the constellation in which the incursion appears.  As incursion fleets operate, that bar is slowly changed from red to blue.  Eventually, in the HQ system that is part of the incursion, a new site will appear representing the leader of that particular incursion.  This is referred to as a "mom site", and I've talked about running mom sites on this blog before (here and here).  The mom site will usually appear while the incursion is in an "Established" or "Mobilizing" state, depending on how many of the lower-end sites in the constellation have been run.  Once the mom site appears, that site can be run and if it is run successfully, the incursion will immediately de-spawn no matter what state it is in, taking all of the lower incursion sites with it.

As part of BTL and TDF's agreement, the mom site will only be run when the incursion reaches a "Withdrawing" state.  This allows incursion-running fleets to continue farming the incursion until the last possible moment.  When a particular incursion is "contested", both an armor and shield fleet will gather as quickly as possible.  If it's a contested incursion, often, fleets will begin forming a bit in advance in anticipation of that moment when the incursion goes into "Withdrawing".  The anticipatory fleet will usually run HQ sites in the same system (requiring 40 pilots) while they wait, gathering additional people into the fleet to wait until that moment, when the HQ fleet becomes a mom fleet (requiring 65-75 pilots).

OK, understand all that?  If so, you're ready to understand the drama.

This morning, there were three high-sec incursions: one in Amarr space, one in the Sanctum constellation owned by CONCORD near the Gallente-Amarr border, and a third in Minmatar space.  The Amarr incursion was expected to be contested, and as such, a shield fleet under the command of a pilot named HTIDRaver was gathering in anticipation.  From what I understand, it was a good long wait.  The agreement between BTL and TDF says that you don't "punch the gate" on the mom site until the incursion goes into "Withdrawing".  This incursion had been in "Mobilizing" for several days (unusual in itself).  Raver (as he's known in BTL) is a very experienced incursion-running FC.  In fact, he'd run one of the first, if not the first, mom fleet to go into low-sec.  As such, he was a well-respected member of the BTL/TDF community.

Except that Raver decided to have himself a little blow-up this morning.

What caused him to blow up, I'm not sure yet (maybe someone will fill this detail in in the Comments), but Raver finally decided not to wait for the incursion to go into a "Withdrawing" state.  My understanding is that he went off about "BTL/TDF bullshit", but that might just be exaggeration.  What's known for sure is that he ordered his fleet to punch the gate with the Amarr incursion still in a Mobilizing state.  Maybe if it had been a shield-owned mom, this wouldn't have been a problem.  But it was a contested mom and the TDF fleet wasn't ready yet.  And they objected.  Loudly.

As I understand it, that caused a conversation throughout the midst of the Amarr mom fleet, distracting Raver from the job at hand.  While the BTL fleet was working the mom, the Amarr incursion went into a Withdrawing state, but it wasn't there long.  The BTL fleet finished the job and killed the mom.  From what I understand, Raver was completely unrepentant.

The BTL/TDF leadership responded by black-listing him from the BTL/TDF public channels.

Being black-listed means that you're barred from entering the two public incursion channels, which greatly diminishes your ability to recruit for incursion fleets.  You're left with your own channels or the public channel created by the incursion itself.  In addition, there are a large number of incursion-running pilots that keep track of those that are black-listed and refuse to fly in Incursion fleets with them at all.  Being black-listed is a very big deal.

And the BTL/TDF leadership had just done it to an experienced Incursion FC.

HTIDRaver responded to this... badly.  He ordered his fleet to the Sanctum constellation to kill that mom.  A lot of pilots abandoned his fleet, knowing the rules and not wanting to get caught up in Raver's actions.  Raver filled his fleet back in with members of his own alliance, which is made up primarily of Incursion-running corps.  That fleet successfully destroyed the Sanctum mom, ending the Sanctum incursion prematurely.

The BTL/TDF leadership responded quickly: the TDF armor FC was given permission to finish filling in his fleet and take out the Minmatar incursion mom before Raver's fleet could get there.  The BTL/TDF leadership then not only black-listed Raver, they black-listed his second-in-command, then proceeded to black-list Raver's entire alliance!

Several of Raver's alliance-members reacted to this... badly.  They shipped into suicide battleships, followed the TDF fleet into the Minmatar mom site, and proceeded to attempt to grief the TDF logistics pilots by ECM Bursting and smart-bombing them.  It wasn't particularly successful.

But it was enough to get all of those pilots black-listed, too.

Yeah, I know: there are a lot of you giggling like fiends right now.  Is it bad to laugh at the troubles of some high-sec bears?  Probably karmically so.  That's OK, though.  I'll give you a special dispensation: go ahead and laugh.  Get it out of your system.  ;-)

So, that's where we sit this morning.  Get into game and look, and you'll find that there are no high-sec Incursions at all this morning.  The drama is still roiling around BTL and TDF.  This morning, one of the TDF leadership sent out an EVE mail to the public mailing list for Incursions filling in some of this story.  The mail ended, somewhat ominously, that some people had "asked permission" to war-dec HTIDRaver's alliance (Screaming Meercats), and that people so inclined "didn't need permission."

"Do what you will," the EVE mail ended, even more ominously.

Raver is still unrepentant.  He has promised to close all future high-sec incursions with members of his own alliance the minute the mom sites appear.

There are a lot of bored high-sec incursion-runners, many of them ex-pat null-sec PvPers, with nothing to do this morning.  All of them are talking about this little drama.

One corp has already dropped Screaming Meercats.  It'll be fun to do a WITL post about them in 6.5 days or so, I think.  ;-)

(1) And yes, incursion-runners, I know that there's more to it.  In particular, I know that it's the order that sites go into Withdrawing that's important for determining what order things happen in and whether an incursion is contested or not.  I also know that incursions aren't necessarily "owned" by shield or armor fleets.  But non-incursion-runners don't need that level of detail to understand what happened this morning.  :-P

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cute furry troll

You know all those Star Wars and Star Wars-esque games that have "Light Side" and "Dark Side" meters for your character?  Let's play a speculative little game for the next two days looking at the Light Side and Dark Side of the relationship between the Drone Russian Federation and the Goonswarm Federation.  Today, we'll look at the Light Side.

Over the past couple of days, there's been a cute little pair of graphics making the rounds.  They refer to an imaginary entity called the "DCF", the Drone Clusterfuck Federation.  The joke started on September 16 when Mittens Tweeted the following:
TheMittani i.imgur.com/WCkzW.jpg - I'm strangely comfortable with it. #tweetfleet #eveonline
In case the graphic gets pulled down at some future point, I've saved a copy of it that you can look at.

The graphic depicts the Drone Russian bloc and the Goonswarm/Test Alliance bloc as a combined super-power controlling something like 70% of null-sec space.  The rest of null-sec space was designated as either "future territory" to be conquered or "farming areas" for the obvious remaining null-sec carebears.  In short, it seemed to depict an imminent to-be-announced alliance that would be used to crush the few remaining parts of null not already under the control of the bloc.  This was an obvious troll, but Mittens and others had fun with it.  There was such a hysterical whining response about it on Twitter and various other EVE fora from people that have trouble distinguishing trolls from reality, that Mittens tweeted two days later:
TheMittani This DCF troll has already caused such a monsoon of tears that we may have to do it ~for realz~. #tweetfleet #eveonline

A day or two later, the graphic reproduced at left appeared, in both English and Russian versions.

Guess what?  It's still a troll.  In fact, on Twitter myself yesterday, I characterized it as not any ordinary troll, but "a cute, furry troll: you know, the pencil-top ones with the big purple hair."  (Mittens's response: "heh".)  But it's again causing a hysterical response from a whole host of people either freaking out about it, or flat-out stating that this is the real deal.  The real Oliver Stones looking at this graphic are even spending time trying to convince me that this is some sort of CSM-sponsored plot to roll all of null-sec under one banner so that they can use it to prove to CCP that null-sec is broken, or somesuch nonsense.

And you think I wear a tin-foil hat sometimes.  ;-)

Now, granted, Goonswarm and the DRF have a long-standing friendly relationship going all the way back to the Redswarm Federation and the early fights against Band of Brothers.  They're natural friends both by personality (to this day, both groups somewhat consider themselves as down-trodden under-dogs, and let that spin around your brain for a minute) and inclination: both alliances are conquerors using similar "death or glory" tactics, though of course in different ship classes these days.  But this friendship has only advanced to actual military alliance in times of threat or need.  The rest of the time, DRF and GSF are inclined to ignore each other due to their average time zone differences.

Still, though, the best lies have a core of truth.

And the truth here is that the vast bulk of what's in the cute furry troll graphic is true:
  • Goonswarm's allies and the DRF's allies do control 70% or so of conquerable space in EVE Online.
  • There are tens of thousands of pilot characters in the combined alliances.
  • They do have a thousand or more super-caps between them.
  • They do control hundreds and hundreds of high-value moons.
  • Most of the other direct facts in the graphic are probably true, too.

They're just not starting a military alliance over it.  ;-)  The only part of the graphic that's an obvious lie is the reference to a "phase one" to take over another 15% or so of null-sec.  Goonswarm and the DRF aren't going to ally with the express purpose of taking over every part of null-sec.

But for all practical purposes, I'll be damned if I can see the difference between that and what they are doing.  Null-sec is as stagnant as it's ever been in the four years or so that I've been playing EVE Online.  Unless I'm completely wrong, they're not going to attack each other.  Nobody in their right mind is going to attack them.  Yeah, yeah, "Winter is coming" but other than maybe GS harassing NC Reloaded a bit more, what's going to change in the current status quo when it does?

So yeah, the graphic is a cute, furry troll.  But the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man was cute too, and it stepped on a church without really meaning to do so.

Tomorrow, something a little more Dark Side.

Fit of the Week: Omen Navy Issue Missioner

[Omen Navy Issue, Speedy L3 Missioner]
Damage Control II
Medium Armor Repairer II
Energized Adaptive Nano Membrane II
Energized Adaptive Nano Membrane II
Energized Adaptive Nano Membrane II
Heat Sink II
800mm Reinforced Rolled Tungsten Plates I

10MN Afterburner II
Cap Recharger II
Cap Recharger II

Focused Medium Beam Laser II, Imperial Navy Multifrequency M
Focused Medium Beam Laser II, Imperial Navy Multifrequency M
Focused Medium Beam Laser II, Imperial Navy Multifrequency M
Focused Medium Beam Laser II, Imperial Navy Multifrequency M
Focused Medium Beam Laser II, Imperial Navy Multifrequency M
Small 'Solace' I Remote Bulwark Reconstruction

Medium Capacitor Control Circuit I
Medium Trimark Armor Pump I
Medium Trimark Armor Pump I

Hobgoblin II x5

Other than the Incursion logi posts last week, I haven't done a PvE FOTW in quite a while, and I don't think I've done an Amarr PvE FOTW at all.  So, here's one.  Let's say I've caught you pretty early.  You started out as Caldari and were working from a Drake to Raven.  But you decide mid-way there that focusing on missiles is bad and you want to develop turret skills first.  If you still want to stick with missions for a while, where do you go from there?

Start moving in the direction of Amarr cruisers and battle-cruisers, which are almost all awesome ships.  And one of the most awesome is the Omen Navy Issue.  This is your go-to ship for L2 and L3 missioning in an Amarr ship, particularly at the mid-point of your career if you want to convert good Caldari faction standing into good Amarr standing.  The Omen Navy Issue is a pure missioner boat.  It's not much good for anything else, but for missions, it's fantastic.

EDIT (21/Sep/2011): Gotta hand it to EVE players.  Apparently, there are some viable Omen Navy Issue PvP fits, despite what I think.  See the comments.  Good show to those that are finding more uses for this boat!

Normally, you'd rely on a battle-cruiser for L3 missions, but the Omen Navy Issue is remarkably tough for a non-T2 cruiser and does excellent DPS: almost 400 up close.  Use meta4 beam lasers until you can fit the Tech2 versions shown.  The afterburner combines the ability to get in close with the ability to speed tank tougher L3 targets while you laser them into the ground.  The 25m3 drone bay will ensure that L3 mission frigates give you no trouble at all.

The other mods on the ship are your tank and your utilities.  This fit features a broad-based tank that will be just fine no matter what types of rats you're facing.  Alternately, if you want to buff DPS a little, take off one EANM, use energized hardeners to tank for the rats you're going to be facing in each mission, and fit a second Heat Sink II.  Run under the afterburner, pulsing the MAR as needed to keep your armor repaired.  You'll be doing enough damage that you won't have any trouble.

What's listed is a fairly tight end-game fit.  Feel free to downshift some of the mods to match your skills.  You may need to replace the Tech2 MAR with a meta version, for instance.  You might also have to keep the small remote armor repper off-lined until you need it (it's there to keep your drones repaired).  If you are starting as a Caldari, your cap skills also might not be up to par to start, meaning that you'll have to pulse the afterburner rather than leaving it running.  Once your cap skills are good, you'll be cap stable with all guns and the AB fire, pulsing the MAR as you need it.

The nice thing about this ship and this fitting is that it's one that you can grow into, upgrading mods as you go.  The downside, of course, is that Omen Navy Issues aren't cheap.  You'll probably have to save up for one.  But it's a great ship, and it will serve missioners well their entire EVE career.  If your plans in New Eden call for eventually building up standing with all four (or six!) Empire factions, this ship will easily cover the lower level missions until you can start pulling L4s.  And if you decide to mission in low- or null-sec, the cruiser hull and small sig radius will make you tough to scan down while you're running missions and quick to escape if you are found.

As I said above, the Omen Navy Issue is not a particularly good PvP ship, but for Amarr PvE, there are few better mid-range options.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Font of wisdom

And now an important message from Jester's evil twin, Garth.  The opinions of Garth are not the opinions of Jester (unless they are).

It's been tempting today to write a book about this, but I'm just going to cover it briefly, then move on.  I'll just go with the opinion of Aypse, who writes:
Jesus...all the problems with Eve and this is what they spend their time on. Why use the wheel when you can just reinvent it in the shape of an octagon? I facepalmed so hard I broke by nose. 
For Heaven's sake, CCP, will you please... please... please... get over your case of Not Invented Here disease?  Please?  For me?  Pretty please?  With sugar on top?

Computer font design and presentation has literally been around since the days of the Xerox PARC.  We know how to do this.  I'm not an expert on it, to be sure, but this most recent devblog is about a change that most of us are used to doing with two mouse clicks in Microsoft Word.  Most sane game developers just license a good-looking font, then get on with their core business of game design.

Yes, the font is very nice looking.  But it doesn't require the spasms of religious ecstasy that CCP seems to be looking for from us.

I'll spasm later, OK CCP?  How would that be?

Garth out!

The preceding has been an important message from Jester's evil twin, Garth.  The management apologizes to any and all whom Garth may have offended.  Jester really thinks the last two CCP devblogs have been very positive changes in the development of EVE Online.  He really does.