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...

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The ten and the one

Yesterday, riverini from EVE News 24 contacted me and asked my opinion of who I felt EVE Online's most influential player was.  And that was the easiest question I've been asked all year.  I replied:
Teg: Mittens.  No question about it.  Love him or hate him, he's had the biggest impact on EVE as a game this year.
Teg: Hell, he's had major influences on two aspects of the game: positive in the first half of the year, pushing CCP as the Chair of the CSM.
Teg: And then negative in the back half of the year through the ice interdiction, hurting not only cap-using vets, but newbies that just want to mine ice.
riverini has said that EN24 will be announcing the selection of the "EVE Online 2011 Most Influential Player" on January 1 sometime, and explicitly compares the selection to TIME magazine's annual Person of the Year.

TIME has already chosen their POTY for 2011, and they chose "The Protester", pointing primarily at the multitudes that drove the Arab Spring in the Middle East and the Occupy and Tea Party movements in the U.S.  But of course, we had a bit of an Occupy moment in New Eden as well this year, didn't we?  ;-)  It'll be interesting to see if EN24 picks an individual player, or goes the same route.

The same EN24 piece asks what players felt were the ten defining moments for EVE Online in 2011.  The top five things on my list are not only important moments in EVE history in 2011, they will also drive the future of the game.  The remaining five are important but not so influential.

1. The Jita riots and mass player unsubscriptions
Easy selection, and far and away the most important moment in EVE's history this year.  It's already had a profound impact on how CCP views their customers, and put an important new weapon in the EVE player's arsenal.  'nuff said.
2. The creation of the BTL and Ditanian Fleet incursion-running channels
This is probably a surprise pick, but the more I think about it, the more I think putting this choice as number two is the right way to go.  While I certainly don't support the position that incursions are ruining the EVE economy the way some people do (I feel the opposite, in fact), there's no question that the creation of a structured support system for running incursions had a profound impact on New Eden's economy this year, and the PvE options for both newer and more experienced players.
3. CCP's public apology and declaration of change in development direction
This one was driven by number one, of course, but it deserves to be mentioned as a separate item in and of itself for one reason: Crucible.  It was clear that once the impact of the Jita riots was felt within CCP, it fundamentally altered how CCP approaches its development process.  It's already had a major impact on the development teams, and the change of direction affected everyone up to Hilmar himself.
4. Destruction of the Northern Coalition by DRF forces
This was far and away the most important event in null-sec sovereignty this year.  Though the NC collapsed primarily from internal rot and burn-out, the implications of the super-cap in null-sec warfare were made plain through their use in this fight.  Though it was initially shaping up to be an epic clash of the titans, the NC's effective surrender left the bulk of their super-cap arm intact... and unless I miss my guess, the bulk of it is still intact, though now distributed to a large number of alliances.
5. The consolidation of the null-sec bloc to take control of CSM6
CCP Greyscale and CSM5 coming together last December to say that they didn't see any reason why jump bridges couldn't be removed from the game had a profound influence on the CSM6 election come the beginning of the year.  Even more than that, though, it showed CCP that their customer service and support mechanisms could be gamed by the very same players that had become so good at gaming EVE's internal mechanisms.
6. Interdictions
Some of this was right out front -- the GSF Oxytope interdiction and the Pandemic Legion Technetium interdiction, for instance.  But I'm becoming increasingly convinced that control and denial of resources is happening under the covers as well (and I'll have more to say about that in 2012).  What comes out of this, though, is the veteran player's increasingly strong desire to hurt and control the ability of the newer player to succeed in EVE... driving resentment on both sides of the line.
7. The fall of IT Alliance
IT certainly wasn't the first alliance in EVE to fail due to internal rot and back-biting.  But unless there's another I'm aware of (TCF, perhaps?), they were the first alliance in EVE to say "You know what?  Fuck this game and the un-fun things that it makes us do."... and actually mean it and follow up on it.
8. The sanctum/haven nerf
I don't have too much to add to this one that I haven't said already, but the end result is clear: thousands of EVE players were driven out of null-sec and into the waiting arms of the public incursion channels.  The small sov-holding alliance may never recover.
9. The rise of the machines
2011 was the year that botting went from being a cancer that was destroying EVE to a practice that's accepted in this game with a wink and a shrug by a solid minority of EVE players.  "If you can't beat them, join them" has become the order of the day.  Anything CCP Sreegs has in mind to attack the bots is probably going to be too little, too late at this point.
10. The flavor of the month
Finally, this was the year that -- for many ships -- the number of acceptable fittings dwindled from the infinite to the few.  From the Hellcat to the Thundercat to the Alpha Maelstrom and beyond, this year EVE players made it clear to each other that there was a right way and a wrong way to fit and fly a ship.  How far this will spread remains to be seen.

That's my one and my ten.  What are yours?  Discuss.

Happy new year, everyone.  :-)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Silence is olden

A couple of people have asked me if I have any comments or insights into the replacement of CCP Zulu as Senior Producer with CCP Unifex.  The answer is "maybe".  I've had something swimming around in my head for the last week or so on this and while I keep dipping tempting lures in the hopes of catching it, the "something" is proving quite wily and -- to date -- uncatchable.

However, I have two immediate thoughts that are worth putting out there.  First, from time to time in the past, CCP Zulu has proven himself rather tone-deaf in his communications to players.  His few paragraphs in this devblog continue (and hopefully, end) this glorious trend.  Put yourself in the head of someone who has un-subbed from EVE (if you haven't, or didn't), then read his part of the devblog from that perspective.  When in that mindset, it's a hoot.  If you have a hard time getting into this mind-set, here's a hint: take a drink every time Zulu uses an adverb.(1)

Second, I am going to throw the gauntlet down in the direction of the nearest CSM6 member.  People are asking my opinion of CCP Zulu stepping down when I've never spoken to the man.  ;-)  CSM6 had direct contact with Zulu and I have not.  The fact that none of them have weighed in on this is rather interesting, to say the least, particularly after all those private meetings they had with him this fall.  Seleene was good enough to say:
Zulu is still going to be Doing important stuff, he just doesn't have the management background needed to steer CCP through the current reorganization. They were very specific that this wasn't a 'demotion' just a needed change.
...but that's been it.  No other CSM member has weighed in that I've seen.  No opinion pieces, and no statements of whether they feel this is a good thing or a bad thing.  It's not quite a disgrace, but it takes this CSM's lack of a communications strategy to an interesting new low.  I'm having a hard time believing it to be coincidence.(2)

About CCP Unifex, the CSM has been a bit more open.  Here's Seleene's take:
Jon Lander (CCP Unifex) is the fucking MAN. He's non-Icelandic (British) and is exactly what is needed right now. This is one of the things that I wanted to talk about in the blog I did about the CSM December Summit but couldn't until they announced it. Oh well, I'll just do a short blog about this tomorrow to clarify why this is a good thing. Actually, it probably won't be a short blog because there are some funny stories to tell about this man.
No follow-up to this that I've seen yet.  I'd be particularly interested in Seleene's opinion why a non-Icelandic member of CCP is what is needed now.

Here's the full thread on FHC about this devblog, where you'll find both Seleene quotes, plus much shorter ones about Unifex from Trebor and CSM6 alts Two step and Prom (Trebor: Unifex is "a professional", "a player", and "seems to know how to manage and delegate").  The thread rates a whole three pages, which surprised the hell out of me.  You'd think the community there would take this more seriously.

That's all for now, but if I catch the thing swimming in my head about this, you guys will be the first to know.

(1) Those would be words ending in -ly, as well as emphasizing words like "well", "new", and "very", or other words that emphasize verbs.
(2) Please remember that overall, I have a very positive opinion of CSM6's overall work this year.  But their lack of communications to the player base has been both bad for the community and could arguably be taken as a cynical political move, which stinks.

Junk drawer (Dec 2011)

Just some quickies.

If you haven't noticed already, I'm taking a week off from doing my regular "of the week" postings.  Those features will pick up again next week.  It's been pretty quiet in New Eden this past week, so there's not much to talk about on the QOTW or KOTW scores.  I'll be hard-pressed to come up with a QOTW for next week as it is.  ;-)  For the FOTW, as one person was sharp enough to notice and comment on, I'm going to be changing my approach a bit to how I post those fits, and wanted an additional week to think about it.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a thing in which I asked for suggestions for lesser-known EVE blogs to add links to.  I made it clear that I was looking for bloggers who would be able to post more than once a week, said I'd be watching, and I have been.  I'm happy to report that Corelin at Mad Haberdashers has picked up the challenge, and as a result, I'll be linking to his blog.  If you enjoy my snarkier posts, then Corelin will make you very happy indeed.  ;-)  I don't always agree with what he posts, but he always has an interesting take on the things he does post about.  So go out and give him a read.

I'm also keeping an eye on shaleelianne's sovereigntywars blog.  Despite the name, this one's about Faction Warfare.  I predict FW's going to be a big topic in 2012, so I'll be looking for people to read who have interesting takes on it.  shaleelianne's uniqueness in the EVE blogging community is a heavy reliance on interviews, which is another interesting approach.  If this one has a weakness for me, it's that the blog is mostly a mix of these interviews, polls, and the occasional guest post.  What's missing?  shaleelianne's own opinion, of course...  Still, gonna keep an eye on this one.  I found the interview with Norrin Ellis quite interesting, for instance.  I was only very vaguely aware of the EVE racing circuit while it was going on, so the insight into it was fascinating.

I'm also linking The Ancient Gaming Noob.  This is one that I'm finding increasingly interesting for his take on the MMO industry at large.  He did a really terrific year-end wrap-up post today that's really, really worth your time.  Seriously, go read it.  It's filled with a great overview of a lot of different aspects of the industry.  Wish I had the visibility into the industry to write a post like that one.

I'm still looking for one or two more blogs to add, so if you think you're doing good work, link it up in the comments.

Finally, I'm having an interesting convo with RockCalledSteve on Twitter today, for those not following me there.
RCS: #tweetfleet Look up Wyvern on public contracts, make sure nulsec is ticked.
RCS: #tweetfleet The simple existence of this contract is the result of the same reason we can't sell highsec caps anymore.
Teg: @RockCalledSteve Huh, interesting! Grandfathered from when you could ask a GM to dock a super-carrier to insure it, I assume? #tweetfleet
RCS: @RipardTeg Actually for one to be in station at this point, it would have had to have been reimbursed into it. #tweetfleet
RCS: @RipardTeg The GMs simply reimburse into the station your clone is in, which is why they banned highsec cap sales. #tweetfleet
RCS: @RipardTeg In a nutshell, people were selling reimbursed caps that happened to be in highsec for ludicrous isk. #tweetfleet
RCS: @RipardTeg Does unfortunately mean that people who have legit gained Grandfathered caps are also banned from selling them =( #tweetfleet
Teg: @RockCalledSteve Interesting stuff! They were accepting requests to dock moms to insure them, back when they were called moms, though
RCS: @RipardTeg I remember. Never cashed in on it, always felt it was a cheat.
Doesn't rate a full blog post, but interesting nonetheless.

And that empties the junk drawer for this month.  I think I'm gonna make this a regular feature for 2012: stuff that piles up that's worth mentioning, but not worthy of its own post.  ;-)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Objective(?) review of EVE Online

Periodically, Seismic Stan over at Freebooted does what he calls a "blog banter", which is a single topic which he encourages all of the EVE bloggers to weigh in on.  It's something that I've only participated in a couple of times.  That isn't because I'm uninterested in the topics or the concept.  It's actually mostly because I have so many topics that I want to blog about that adding to my writing load by responding to banters in addition would be unacceptable.  ;-)

Still, in his most recent blog banter, he challenged the EVE bloggers out there to "review EVE".

And that struck me as an interesting challenge.  You see, before I started this blog, you might be surprised to learn that I wrote other things.  And a lot of the "other things" that I used to write were video game reviews.  I wrote and submitted a ton of them on gamefaqs.com, for instance, as well as game guides for both major video game releases and for the occasional Flash game I liked.(1)

As a writer, I was rather amused at the attempt to review EVE that Dualshockers published a few months ago.  Looked at objectively, after all, that article wasn't a formal "review" so much as it was an overview of EVE's good and bad points.  The article made little or no attempt to quantify particular aspects of the game, for instance.  Much of the review focused on explaining in-game elements.  As a result, it was a bit like reading a review of a car that made few comparative assessments of the car's acceleration, braking, or handling, but instead talked about the road feel of the car and then went into great detail on how to drive.  ;-)

So... review EVE?   It would be interesting.  Could I remain unbiased enough about the game to review it objectively?  Would the years I've spent in it cause me to be overly generous?  Would my occasional bitter-vet syndrome cause me to be overly negative?

Let's find out.  When I would review games on GameFAQs, I'd review six aspects of them: interface, game-play, graphics, sound, story, and multi-player.  And just for fun, I'll write this review assuming the reader has no familiarity at all with EVE Online... just as I would have done on GameFAQs.  Fair warning: the results are horrifically long.  ;-)


Who hasn't dreamed of flying in space?  Who hasn't dreamed of commanding their own starship?

This is the focus of EVE Online, an MMORPG set in a truly massive universe of thousands of solar systems, and tens of thousands of planets, moons, space stations, and anomalies.  Launched in 2003, CCP -- EVE's developer -- has deftly managed to avoid irrelevance despite the game now being older than the cars that most of its players drive, and certainly far older than their computers!  CCP has managed this through continuous updating of the game's client software and back-end databases and servers.  EVE also requires that all players use the most-updated client software, which is available for Windows and Macintosh computers.  As a result of these frequent updates, unlike virtually every other MMO of a similar age (WoW comes to mind), EVE manages to look surprisingly fresh and modern, though the game's interface suffers from its age.

Players take command of an entire fleet of star ships, though only one ship may be flown at a time.  And virtually all of the action takes place on a single server... all of the approximately 400,000 EVE subscribers eventually log into this single server.  Though EVE has many single-player "theme park" elements -- a result mostly of the game's age -- the focus of the game is strongly multi-player and those that attempt to play EVE as a theme park MMO will be severely disappointed.  However, the game's multi-player elements stretch into every aspect of the game.  Buy a ship, and you can be assured that you're buying it from another player, who built it with materials he or she either mined themselves, or bought from yet another player, who mined those materials from one of the game's hundreds of thousands of asteroid belts.  Very few items in the game are bought or sold by NPCs, most are created by players, and the vast majority of the items have an in-game use that can confer advantage to the player using it.

Still, one essentially plays EVE in one of three ways: as a combatant, as a trader, or as an "industrialist".  Combatants use their fleet of ships to engage in combat, either with other players or against the environment.  Traders concentrate on buying and selling goods and services on EVE's vast marketplace.  "Industrialists" are concerned with both the crafting of items, and the gathering of raw materials needed to do so.  And in all three cases, the player is in competition with other players on the same career path.

EVE is updated approximately every six months, with major updates (something like 20 of them now) being free to all players.  A subscription-based revenue system is CCP's main source of income, with a much more minor micro-transaction market providing additional revenue through the sale of both vanity items for the player's little-seen avatars and game time certificates that can be bought and sold within the game for ISK, the major in-game currency.

Players advance in level not through using skills, but by training those skills, which happens over time, both while the player is active and while the player is logged out.  There are an outrageous number of skills, each of which can be trained to five levels.  Each confers the ability to either use the game's ships, devices that can be fixed to those ships, or support skills used within the game's trading, corporation (guild), or planetary management interfaces.  Low levels of skills take only minutes to train, with each level taking progressively longer.  Lower-level skills then unlock higher level skills.  For instance, one must be at least competent with a frigate to unlock the ability to fly a cruiser, then one trains that for a while to unlock battleships, and then capital ships, and then "super-capital" ships.  An in-game "certificate" system guides newer players through the early stages of this progression.

Interface: 4/10

Starcraft was released in early 1998.  While it was and remains a fantastic game, Starcraft had several weaknesses that are influencing game designers to this day, almost 15 years later.  Two of those are the game's isometric projection display and its treatment of all models in the game as spherical and existing on what is essentially a two-dimensional plane.  However, many of Starcraft's strengths have been copied by game designers over the years as well, and one of those are the large friendly push-buttons to get those models to perform actions, each of those actions also associated with a hot-key.  Certainly, other games prior to Starcraft had some of these elements as well, but Starcraft combined them all into a single game.

And that game has been influencing interface designers across virtually every genre since that time.

Starcraft wasn't entirely two-dimensional, of course: there were ramps and stairways and cliffs that could be used to advantage.  But it was often difficult to determine ranges or angles thanks to its isometric display.  Only with experience did you develop a feel for the firing range of a Marine or a Hydralisk.  And no matter what angle your Marine or Hydralisk was fired at from, they always took the same amount of damage.  Homeworld, released late the same year, improved the Starcraft model with true 3D combat and models that took varying amounts of damage depending on what angle they took that damage from.  But it retained Starcraft's essential isometric projection and click-to-go-here movement model.

Both Starcraft and Homeworld had other similarities as well: both were played from a somewhat distant perspective with a minimal focus on actual game-play graphics and sound and a stronger focus on "big picture" elements of what was occurring in-game.  It gave the player a more distant, displaced -- almost dispassionate -- feel for what was going on.

Though EVE Online was released almost five years after Starcraft and Homeworld, it retains most of the strengths and weaknesses of the interfaces of those two games.  The only added element is a spreadsheet-like display of ranges to all available targets to make it easier to determine if the player's actions will have an impact on their target.  While there is a much more intuitive and useful spherical display available showing the ranges of the player's possible actions, this display is only rarely used.

This combination of isometric zoomed-out play-style, spreadsheet-like range display, and hotkey-or-buttons controls gives EVE's interface an extremely dated feel.  Even Homeworld's relatively simplistic way-point movement system is unavailable to the EVE player, whose movement choices are limited to manual flight, flying toward an object, maintaining range from an object, or orbiting an object.  Specialized combat options are handled either through clicking the tiniest possible buttons or right-clicking boosters kept in the ship's cargo hold, then selecting the option on a menu to consume them, potion-like.

Once one leaves space and docks, the spreadsheet and right-click-menu elements dominate.  Everything in this part of the game is handled with eye-strainingly small text (only recently improved with the ability to enlarge it) and right-click context menus to perform virtually any action.  Only a few elements of the game are truly drag-and-drop.  Items that the player wishes to sell in market, for instance, can (must) be dragged from the cargo hold of the player's ship into the "hangar" of that station.  Once there, the player right clicks those items and selects "Sell" rather than what would be a more simple expedient of dragging them directly into a market window.  Items are purchased from the market in the same way.  The ability to multitask is also not provided, so if the player wishes to sell 30 items, each of those 30 items must be sold individually, one by one.

More complicated actions quickly become a click-fest, an insane mix of left- and right-clicking.  Take, for example, the case of a player that has ten items for sale on the market, and wishes to confirm that they are offering the lowest price for each item.  In this case, the player is provided a list of those ten items.  For each one, they must first view the market for that item and check to see if they have the lowest price, by right-clicking and selecting "View Market Details".  If they do not, they must then return to the list (left click), then right click the same item again, select another option to adjust the price (right click), and then manually change the price with their keyboard to the desired new price.  Even with as few as ten items for sale, this is a recipe for frustration.  If the player has 60 or 70 items for sale, it can escalate into a case of repetitive strain injury.

CCP has been quite resistant to player attempts to improve the interface, providing few or no APIs to make the game's deficiencies in this area easier to manage.  As it stands, the interface is one of EVE's major weaknesses: a dated, eye-straining, spreadsheet-dominated, inconsistent mess.

Game-play: 7/10

This is far and away the hardest element of EVE Online to score objectively.

It's easy to judge EVE based on its game-play content.  And in that, EVE shines.  The game has been around since 2003, after all, and in all of that time there's been a huge amount of content added.  From missions to mining to trading to spying to exploration and diplomacy to contract scams and crafting, there are a hundred ways to lose yourself in EVE's content.  Without intending to be a theme park MMO, EVE is a theme park MMO.  And large swaths of this content can be played solo.  There are quite literally websites devoted to nothing else but showing off everything that one can do with a few spare hours to play EVE Online.  And one doesn't even need a spaceship to do a lot of it.  One can have a very complex, challenging, engaging EVE Online career while almost never un-docking, as long as the station is the right one.

Once you add the multi-player content, the diversity jumps even more.  In the last two years, CCP has almost completely revamped its multi-player PvE content, adding 2500 new "wormhole" solar systems to explore beyond its standard stargate system and adding RIFT-like "incursions" that spew baddies that must be destroyed into otherwise relatively safe space.  Both of these options are -- for the most part -- multi-player PvE options only where being sociable will be rewarding.  Similarly, CCP has also been revamping its PvP content, attempting to streamline the often esoteric and overly-difficult mechanics for how PvP takes place in-game.

The net result is that there is quite literally years and years of game-play available for both the solo and social EVE player.

EVE Online has been famous for years because of its murderously difficult learning curve.  Little or no documentation exists for the game, resulting in virtually everything known about the game's mechanics being developed and written by the players themselves.  CCP delights in throwing new features into the mix with virtually no warning to players about what they can expect those new features to involve.  And since there are so many of them, you end up with highly specialized websites explaining what you're likely to encounter in an incursion or an "epic arc" mission or "pirate arc" missions.

That learning curve extends to the construction and "fitting" of the ships themselves.  There are quite literally hundreds of potential spaceships to fly, and an almost infinite number of ways to prepare those ships for space.  Each ship has a varying number of weapon, defensive, and utility slots available that can be filled with the modules built by players.  This results in widely varying ideas of what the "best" way to fit this or that type of ship might be and more websites whose only purpose is to help with this part of the game.  Since ship fitting is critically important to success in any EVE endeavor, often the work done before the ship even enters space is just as important or more important than the in-space game-play itself.

That alone would be bad enough.  But when a player's ship is killed -- something that can happen quite frequently -- the death of that ship is permanent, and that ship and everything associated with it is lost.  While a limited insurance mechanic can help defray a few of the costs of such a loss, there's no question that losing a ship is an expensive proposition that can set the player back days, weeks, or even months of play time, depending on the investment made in that ship.  The penalty for dying is high... and so is the likelihood.  PvP in EVE is non-consensual, and though there are limited "high security" areas where newer players are supposedly "protected", the "protection" is mostly in the form of in-game NPCs destroying potential suicide bombers... maybe before they can kill you... but maybe not.

Overall, this results in a game that is almost ridiculously, laughably hard to learn and to play, which can be off-putting -- to say the least -- to the new player.

Still, if one persists, the player will find a tremendously deep play experience.  The wide range of options, both in PvE and in PvP, means that no matter how you enjoy playing a game, the option to play EVE in just that way probably exists.  Even better, a community of EVE players that is already playing the game in that way and can guide newer players through their early growing pains also exists.  EVE players are rewarded for being sociable.

Story: 8/10

EVE Online's back-story, and written history of the galaxy wherein the game takes place -- New Eden -- are impressively rich.  Literally hundreds of pages of such back-story exists, all of it well-detailed and nearly all of it internally consistent despite a large number of writers tasked to its production over the course of several years.

New Eden contains five major off-shoots of the human race in varying degrees of competition and cooperation with each other.  Linked to the five major races are several sub-races of pirates, terrorists, exiles, and gypsies.  The game apparently lacks any non-human alien race, but one portion of the galaxy is supposedly infested by "rogue drones", a non-sentient form of artificial life.  Many of these rogue drones were, in turn, created by two additional off-shots of humanity -- now extinct -- that have left archaeological relics behind that can be salvaged and put to use.  The in-game story differences between the various off-shoots of humanity are distinct, and it is easy to recognize and understand the motivations of each.

EVE contains a small but extremely loyal role-playing community devoted to exploring some of these differences.  CCP encourages this by staging occasional "live events" aimed at the role-playing community, and sponsoring the authorship of books, short stories, and player-produced fan fiction.  Two elements of major game-play content are aimed firmly at enhancing EVE's in-game story and many others are peripherally involved.  Occasional CCP-produced trailers also emphasize in-game story elements, including one that was used for external television advertising.

The net result is a gaming atmosphere where even the most anti-role-playing EVE player cannot help but be affected by the story elements.  Even these players take a certain fierce pride in their "rusting", "broken down" Minmatar ships "held together by duct tape", for instance.  The ships in question are of course no more fragile or problem-prone than any other ship in the game...  These anti-role-playing players are simply reflecting the common knowledge among EVE players of the Minmatar race's back story.

That the game's story elements permeate the player base to this extreme reflects the strength of those elements.  Occasional inconsistencies or missteps only mar this mix very slightly and are made mandatory by the game's structure as an MMO.(2)

Graphics: 9/10

This is where the money goes.

EVE's frequent updates means that in-game graphics are being almost continuously upgraded.  As I write this, a major upgrade is currently happening to the look of the ships belonging to two of the game's four major races.  Upgrades to the other two are planned for later in 2012.  Late in 2011, the feel of space itself was given a major upgrade through the redesign of the game's strongly-prevalent nebulae.  Prior graphical upgrades updated the look of planets, moons, star fields, and asteroid belts.  When weapons are fired, they are shown to be fired from moving turrets, attached to the ships in logical places, which swivel to face their targets and fire in the color and style of the ammunition selected by the player.  A moving ship leaves an engine trail behind it, engines which flare when the pilot activates in-game propulsion-enhancing afterburner or "micro warp drive" modules.  Badly-damaged ships trail smoke and fire.

This gives EVE's spaceships a surprisingly dynamic feel when they are examined closely, and the space they fly in is breath-taking to behold... almost too colorful for those that will be expecting the deep black of open space.  Still, the visuals are gorgeous, far ahead of almost all competing products.  They certainly belie the game's 2003 origins; logging in, you would think the game was only recently developed.

A grand sense of scale is provided by the varying sizes of ships.  The smallest ships are frigates; the largest are "super capital" ships.  Fly a frigate-class Interceptor alongside a "super capital" class Titan and this scale is conveyed quite well.  It will take the Interceptor a few minutes to fly along the Titan's hull, and not only do the Titan's guns dwarf the tiny frigate, you get the impression that the mere ammunition those guns fire does too.  In a large, mixed fleet, the varying sizes of ships provides a sense of wonder... and when that fleet enters warp together, that sense of wonder is multiplied manifold.  It's hard not to feel like you're a member of the Rebel fleet jumping to light-speed in Return of the Jedi.

Other graphical effects are similarly impressive.  Planets, asteroid fields, and moons are surprisingly life-like, and the aforementioned nebulae are Hubble Telescope quality.  In-game effects are displayed quite well, with missiles generating explosions, most forms of electronic warfare or support shown as on-screen effects and turret-based weapon fire hitting or missing their targets rather spectacularly, and being shown doing so.  Each race's ships, both player and NPC, are logically and consistently designed, and it's quick and easy to determine just from looking at a ship what race it belongs to and from there what its probable strengths and weaknesses will be.

In 2011, CCP delved into much more detailed in-game avatars.  Though at this writing, this dalliance appears to have been a failed experiment, the resulting character models are some of the best in gaming, with a fantastic, intuitive character creator and lots of interesting options for shaping multiple facial and body styles to suit the player's interest.  Clothing, hair, and other decorative options are somewhat limited, but it was clearly the intention to expand these within the game, both with free items and more stylish items sold via the micro-transaction model.  However, as of this time, the avatars are shown in single-player "Captain's Quarters" that are of extremely limited use or utility.  Time will tell if CCP chooses to expand the game further in this direction.  Players that choose to eschew the Captain's Quarters are instead presented with either a static or dynamic hangar view displaying the player's current active ship.

The graphics have one major weakness, and that is EVE's isometric interface.  You'll spend much of your time playing EVE Online zoomed quite far out, which will render virtually all of the game's graphics invisible to you.  While zooming in closer is indeed possible, few EVE players play the game in this way since doing so is not advantageous.  As noted above, the game definitely rewards maintaining a "big picture" view of the proceedings with the result that you'll spend much of your time looking at a small box surrounded by other small boxes... how the game chooses to depict the ships in this zoomed-out state.  In addition, the graphics surrounding the rest of the user interface are simply adequate.  Once you learn what all the push-buttons do and mean, you won't have any problems with them.  Still, the game quickly comes off looking graphically cluttered thanks to the interface, though thankfully not to the extent that Perpetuum Online does, for instance.

Sound: 6/10

EVE's sounds are for the most part merely adequate.

The game's music is probably its strongest audio point.  Musical pieces available are diverse and atmospheric, though suffering from the occasional lapse into European-style electronica.  Still, if you choose to listen to them, you'll find them an excellent match for the game's in-game mix of high-tech and low-tech elements.  Unfortunately, a lot of EVE players choose to turn off the game's music, considering it a distraction, which is a shame.

Other in-game sound effects are suitable to their uses, with sounds for warp drive, weapons, electronic warfare, and the like.  In each case, the sound is acceptable, but not particularly spectacular.  Projectile guns rattle, lasers make appropriate sounds, and if you pay attention, it isn't difficult to determine what is happening around your ship from the sounds that the game provides you.  Overall, the game's sound effects are probably too subtle and since they usually convey little to no in-game advantage, again many EVE players choose to turn them off.

The combination of these two factors causes many EVE players to joke that "EVE has sound?" but this is a little bit unfair.

Still, the subtlety of the game's sounds is a drawback.  The game's internal mechanic for sound causes the game to emphasize sounds from effects that are happening closer to your ship and de-emphasize ones that are farther away.  While this makes logical sense, how the game handles this is quirky at best, badly buggy at worst.  Often, you cannot hear your own ship's modules at all, or they will be downplayed by the sounds of modules of nearby ships.  Sound effects that should be loud, enveloping, and immersive, such as getting into warp drive or using a long-range "cynosural field" to jump across many light-years, are instead de-emphasized and overly damped down.

Voice acting is nearly non-existent within game, with only one in-game voice being heard, that of "Aura", the AI that provides help and guidance to every player.  Still, Aura's voice is only rarely heard, and then mostly during the tutorial phase of the game.  Far and away, the most frequent phrase you will hear from Aura is "warp drive active" as you get your ship propelled into long-range space flight.

Multi-player: 10/10

The multi-player aspects of EVE Online are -- far and away -- the game's strongest element.

Though literally years of game-play content exists within the game's structure thanks to its long life and diversity of choices, CCP has shown true genius in the openness of its game world to player-generated content.  It is this player-generated content that is the true strength of the game.  It's likely no exaggeration to believe that a solid majority of EVE players were originally drawn into the game thanks to some story of woe inflicted on one EVE player by another.  And EVE's structure makes inflicting such woe, in a variety of ways, quite easy.

In this way, EVE Online reflects a true Fibonacci sequence.  The death penalty inflicted by the loss of a single ship is mirrored in larger and larger context as one moves up the ladder of experience and responsibility within the game's structure.  At one level up, bad decisions made by an in-game player fleet commander can result in the loss of entire fleets: hundreds of dollars in equivalent real-life assets can be lost in only a few minutes time if dozens of players lose their ships in quick succession.  Taken another step up, poor decision-making by player corporation CEOs (guild leaders) can result in hundreds or thousands of ships being either lost on the battlefield, or trapped behind enemy lines in stations to which those players lose access.  Taken a step still farther, alliance scammers or thieves can cause the loss of literally tens of thousands of dollars in equivalent real-life assets through theft or financial malfeasance.

Each of these stories is then reflected both in EVE Online's vibrant blogging and forum community, and many of these stories then leak out to the gaming press at large.  Each such story results in a wave of new players, eager to inflict such losses on other people themselves.

Needless to say, EVE Online attracts a certain type of player.

Whether competing for mineral resources, planetary resources, wormhole sites, incursions, the best markets, or on the direct pilot against pilot battlefield of PvP, nearly every single EVE player ultimately finds themselves playing a true multi-player MMO.

Nowhere does this multi-player content become more prevalent then the "null-sec" space which comprises about one-third of the solar systems in the game.  In much of this space, the solar systems and structures within those systems themselves can be captured, profited from, and fought over.  "Claiming sovereignty", as it is known, is often regarded by EVE players to be the "end-game" of EVE Online, the province of those most skilled and most experienced in the game.  Still, even at this level, new players can be welcomed and can excel in lesser roles as they learn the ropes.

EVE Online is therefore a true sandbox: a game that can be played in any way in which the player desires.  However, since the game takes place on a single, massive server, all players and all of their actions in some way influence that sandbox.  Every play-style in EVE ultimately reflects that, with even the most risk averse "carebear" knowing that his wares, at some time and some point, will ultimately be used in the "global war" that makes up New Eden.  No other major MMO today can match that level of multi-player integration.

Overall: 8/10

Overall, EVE Online is a high-quality entry in the MMO marketplace.  Its sandbox, multi-player aspects are its strongest points.  As a "theme park", content-focused MMO, it is both much weaker and somewhat repetitive.  At its heart, most of its theme park gameplay ultimately boils down to slowly wearing down the shields, armor, and eventually structure of enemy ships.  The permanent loss of ships in combat means that the player cannot become too emotionally invested in any of his creations.  EVE therefore rewards a more RTS-focused player able to look at and appreciate the bigger picture and accept tactical losses.  It is also quite similar to RTSs in its relatively weak interface and the requirement of patience to build up the skills and bankroll needed to use the more advanced in-game options.

As a result, it is not a game that will appeal to everyone, and it is a game that is likely to remain a niche player in the MMO market.

Still, those that can accept EVE's limitations will find one of the best, if not the best, true multi-player MMOs out there, and its deep gameplay and rich environment will keep them immersed for months or years at a time.

(1) I was quite active on Kongregate for a while.
(2) One wonders how many hundreds of thousands of times the "Damsel in Distress" has been rescued, for instance.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

EVE is too hard, part 2

And that brings me to a surprise move that CCP made on the forums yesterday.

Each year around the holidays, CCP gives EVE players that have active accounts at that time a holiday gift or two.  Most are fluff throw-aways that aren't particularly useful.  I've never flown a Primae or an Echelon, even though I own several of both, and I've only flown a Zephyr once, to get a look at it when it was undocked.  Still, the one thing about gift-giving season that's been pretty consistent is that once gift season is over, it's over.  If you miss out on your gifts, well, sucks to be you.

Except for this year.

This year, stating that gifts "are supposed to be something nice and fun and not a tool of discord" and noting that "a large number of players" that should have redeemed their gifts didn't, CCP is stating that they will honor petitions from anyone who "missed out" on the holiday gifts "for any reason."

Interesting, don't you think?

EVE is too hard

I've mentioned Scott Manley and his daughter Skye once before on the blog, but their latest video is too cute not to share.

Guys, don't AFK ice mine.  You might get yourself killed by a 7-year-old girl.  ;-)

POTW: Incursion logi

I am occasionally asked to provide what my screen layout looks like for running logistics for incursions, and always forget to provide it.  Here it is:

I can't think of anything I do particularly special for incursion logi versus any other type of logi in terms of screen layout.  Only the fit of the ship changes, and who's on the watch list.  ;-)  This particular screen shot is of an NCO a couple of months ago.  I've obscured the names of the pilots to protect them from gankers.  This was a 10-man Vanguard fleet, down one DPS at the time I took the screen shot.

The particularly sharp-eyed will notice that I'm using shield bots in what is clearly an armor fleet.  That's a quirk that I and other adept armor logis share.  The purpose to using shield bots in a VG fleet is to give the logis a visual indicator of who is under attack and who isn't.  Note the Abaddon on the far right.  That was our anchor for this particular fleet.  I used the shield bots to rep up his shields after he anchored.  Once you see a sliver of shields build up, you know you can pull the armor reps off him and move them on to someone else.  The red flash on the watch list provides a backup indicator.

I watch the fleet comms on the lower left, and even in VGs, I keep the broadcast history front and center.  Part of that is probably habit from flying PvP logi, a habit that is far more important to me than my incursion logi habit.  ;-)  I keep the rats visible on the Overview because I use that to determine if I'm the primary.  My high slots are sorted with energy transfers in between armor transfers, but once I undock, I always set the energy transfers to F5 and F6. You'll also notice that my reps are counter-cycled.  I'm a little anal about that.

When I fly armor logi, I generally prefer to fly the Onieros for VGs in "Abso Legion fleets": fleets made up entirely or almost entirely of Absolutions and Legions.  This particular fleet was running late in the USTZ night, where you don't always get the option of picking your exact desired fleet composition...

Anyway, for those that are interested, there you go.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Didn't want that space anyway

I'll make this quick.

Now that my vacation is over (very restful, thank you), I've been spending the last couple of days becoming familiar with what was going on in EVE while I was away.  Not much, it turns out.  Looks like most of you were on the same vacation I was.  Even the fight up in Branch seems to have moved the lines on the map only a few inches, if at all.

One of the items that I've read today was this piece focused on IRC's problems going into the new year.  The piece is labeled as "analysis", but honestly, comes off as being written by a bitter ex-IRC member.  Still, speaking as someone who's been a frequent opponent of IRC over the years -- I don't think I've ever been in an EVE alliance that was friendly to them -- I have to say the piece is truthful in a lot of respects.  If the fleet I'm in is disciplined at all, I feel very comfortable taking on an IRC fleet that is three times larger than my own (if not larger) because I know that once an IRC fleet starts taking losses, their fleet members and their FC will start to panic.

And panic is contagious.  Once it spreads, it'll turn a defeat into a rout.

Still, it's not my intent today to beat up on IRC.  Even the piece itself grudgingly admits that the IRC command recognizes the issues within their own alliance and are looking to fix them, and I wish them luck there.  Still, it speaks to a larger issue.

CCP is no doubt making their plans for 2012, both large and small.  But winter is here, and the biggest problem facing EVE in 2012 is the same as the biggest problem that was facing EVE in 2011.  And while it's tempting to call that problem "stagnation" (and I've done so in the past), I'm becoming increasingly convinced that it's incorrect to refer to the problem that way.

After all, if you look at the map as it existed at the beginning of the year, you'd have a tough time finding parts of it that didn't change hands.  The Goons started the year in Deklein, of course, and that's where they end the year.  Red Alliance, Solar Fleet, and Legion of xXDeathXx are also pretty much where they started the year (though of course their influence has greatly expanded).  And IRC is where they started the year; they've held Cobalt Edge for almost exactly two years now.

But every other part of the map changed hands this year, from locations as diverse as Tenal in the far, far north, to Period Basis and Feythabolis in the far south.  So, in that way, you can hardly call EVE "stagnant".  Stagnant isn't the right word when that much change happened in a single year.  So I won't be using that word to describe the EVE political scene any more... except in a very limited context.

I say the piece about IRC comes off sounding like it was written by a bitter ex-IRC member because parts of it seem to invite attack on IRC!  It really reads in part like the author wishes someone would come along and kick IRC out of their long-held region.  Maybe the author hopes they get kicked out of their space.  But maybe... just maybe, he hopes that they'll get kicked out of their complacency.

Because that's how every single part of New Eden that was lost in 2011 was lost... and it was lost to alliances who had already held space.  NCdot, White NoiseDOT, and RaidenDOT went from holding regions in the south to holding regions in the north.  Morsus Mihi went from holding space in the north to holding space in the south to holding no space, losing it to GSF, who went from holding space in the north to holding space both north and south.

All of it was due to internal rot.  Loss turned into panic.  Panic turned into a rout.

But there haven't been a lot of new faces in 2011. Unless I've missed them, there hasn't been a hungry new alliance taking space and spoiling for a fight. The same faces that held space when the year began pretty much hold space with the year ending, though they've changed names here and there.

As many people have pointed out over the last few years, sovereignty in EVE is never won by the victor.  It is lost by the loser.  Whether through complacency and rot, mismanagement, oversight, or flat-out idiocy, it is never grand strategy that wins campaigns.  Even well-loved truths of war such as striking for the center of gravity are of absolutely no use in EVE.  To take space in EVE, you strike for the edges, not for the center.

If CCP is looking for a big picture item to fix in EVE in the coming year, that'd be a good one to look at.  I know that sovereignty is again on their minds.  It'd be nice to be able to read about an alliance that lost their space only after a grand campaign filled with glorious battles, wouldn't it?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Where's Jester?

Note from the management: I'll be away on my Christmas holidays for a few days, with normal blogging expected to resume on Tuesday or so.

So if you're stuck working, I'm sorry, but there's not going to be much respite to be found here.  I might post a few times in between family events, but don't count on me.  You'll actually have to get some work done.  :-(

I do want to get a few last late thank yous from the pledge drive out of the way.  So thank you to Dorrian Anders, Martha Garronte, Chanina, and Edward Teague, who were all very generous in donating ISK to support my blogging efforts.  Alkerris and Hong WeiLoh were also generous, but instead donated toys which I could use to blow people up.  I already have 20-odd kills in one of Alkerris's donations...  ;-)  Thanks, everyone.  As I've already said, I was blown away by your support, good will, and generousity.

For those that go in for it, Merry Christmas.  To the rest of you, enjoy your own Winter Solstice-related holidays of choice, and I'll see you back here in four or five days.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

FOTW: Kiting Arena Incursus

I wrap up the more newbie-friendly FOTWs this month with a T1 frigate that will get you called all sorts of names.  It's fun, though.

Arena fights are quite common in corps and between interested parties.  Usually, the terms of such a duel are set to "no podding", "T1 frigates only", "no warping off", and usually, "no ECM".  On those occasions when I'm challenged to such a duel, I nearly always bring a kiting ship, and my favorite sort of kiting ship to bring is an Incursus:

[Incursus, Arena]
Overdrive Injector System II
Pseudoelectron Containment Field I

1MN Afterburner II
DDO Photometry Tracking Disruptor I, Optimal Range Disruption
Stasis Webifier II

125mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
125mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
125mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S

Small Hybrid Collision Accelerator I
Small Hybrid Locus Coordinator I
Small Hybrid Locus Coordinator I

Hobgoblin II x1

Since the terms of such a duel will usually include the requirement that the aggressors not warp off or they forfeit the duel, a scram or point are superfluous.  This allows you to concentrate all of your non-prop mids on e-war.

Ships with a lot of mid slots are ideal for kiting tactics and fit this way, simply don't need any tank worth mentioning.  Invariably, the other guy will bring a Small Armor Repair Rifter or something similar.  The web will keep him from closing range on you.  The Tracking Disruptor will cut his fall-off to about 4km and at that point, all you need to do is stay about 13km away from him, overheating and spamming the web as needed to keep him either just inside or just outside web range (preferably the latter).  If he gets closer than 11km or so, overheat your AB for a cycle or two to open range.  He'll have to overheat his AB more than you'll have to overheat yours, and before too long, you'll notice that he stops trying to approach you.  That means his AB is close to being burned out and he's trying to lure you close.

At that point, just approach him, again keeping range at about 13km.  Don't give him a close target.

Your guns will pretty much take care of themselves, so once you've started firing them, you can ignore them.  Your main job during the duel will be range management.  The other guy will certainly also have a web, and that web will also be overheated.  That means if you're within 13km of each other, you're both webbed.  An overheated SAR Rifter typically goes 1400m/s or so.  Overheated arena shield Rifters go 1500m/s.  Overheated, you go 1600m/s or so.  So unless he's got a lot of speed implants on him, he's not going to catch you.  But keep in mind, you should have a speed implant or two fitted yourself, just in case.  ;-)  If the other guy has chosen some close range ship other than a Rifter, then the fight isn't even going to be close: the quick little Incursus will easily keep range.

Spend some time keeping an eye on your drone, too.  The other guy will probably get frustrated and try to kill it.  If he does, pull it in, wait a few seconds, then put it back out again.  Rinse and repeat, as needed.

Your major worry is going to be facing another kiting ship.  Among T1 frigs, though, there are few kiting ships better than an Incursus, so you'll probably still have the advantage.  The other worry will be semi-goofy MWD fits that will have an easy time catching you.

But that's how Arena combats are.  You pays your money and you takes your chances.  ;-)

All Fits of the Week are intended as general guidelines only.  You may not have the skills needed for this exact fit.  If you do not, feel free to adjust the fit to suit to meet your skills, including using meta 3 guns and "best named" defenses and e-war.  Ships can also be adjusted to use faction or dead-space modules depending on the budget of the pilot flying it.  Each FOTW is intended as a general guide to introduce you to concepts that will help you fit and to fly that particular type of ship more aggressively and well.

He's aggressed!

Here's a pro-tip: if you declare the blogger to be your fleet's primary target, make sure he's aggressed first.  The FC on the other side of this battle didn't follow that rule:

I don't often publish battle reports on this blog, but this one is extremely instructive, so I will describe how this fight went down and how I survived it despite being called primary three times.

Anyone who knows Rote knows that we're most active in the USTZ, specifically from about 0130 EVE time onward.  Sure, there are excellent EUTZ fleets available as well, but these are more lightly-attended, and are often heavy on pilots from our companion alliance Veto.  Even at 0130, Rote's presence is pretty light.  The mass Rote log in usually happens around 0230 or later... just like me.  It's one of the many reasons this alliance is turning out to be a perfect fit for me.

On this particular night, we were forming up for our roam that night ("everyone get into a gank BC; no logi") when we got fragmentary intel about a "frigate fleet" moving into our area.  Not yet formed up or optimized, we were ordered to un-dock and head for the 5-FGQI gate in TXW-EI.  There, sure enough, we encountered a gang primarily made up of T2 frigs and we murdered them thanks to their already being aggressed on (attacking) one of our BCs and some smart tackling and bubble placement.

Having your ship aggressed on a gate -- actively attacking an adversary -- means that you cannot use that gate.  Once you take an aggressive action, star gates will reject your attempt to go through them for 60 seconds.  Keep this in mind.  It will become important later.  ;-)

No doubt, the FC on the other side of that engagement wondered to himself how the hell we formed up so fast.  The answer: we didn't.  We were already in the middle of forming up for our own activities and this fleet just happened to walk into that.  We scooped loot and returned to station to store it, then continued forming up for our own roam, which departed a few minutes later, headed through the north Syndicate loop.

Not long after our departure, still en-route through northern Syndicate, our scout again reported frigates.  At first, we wondered if what we had encountered were the remnants of the previous gang.  But no, these turned out to be Agony Unleashed frigs.  Our scout then reported, with some surprise in his voice, that the Agony frigs appeared to either be escorting or themselves attacking a small to mid-sized cruiser and battle-cruiser gang.  The total enemy gang size ended up being about 24, half-again larger than what we were fielding.

We encountered them on the X-M2LR gate in K5-JRD system and our FC, undaunted by the odds, ordered us to work, calling our first primary.

Now, from time to time, I notice that people who recognize me either for my blog or my CSM run last year like to call me as their primary target.  ;-)  For the record, I never take offense at this.  It's just part of the game.(1)  The entire enemy fleet was surrounded by yellow boxes, then red boxes.  Then I noticed drones start to surround me.

There was only one problem: I was in a slow-locking Hurricane, still locking our fleet's primary target.  I hadn't started shooting yet.  I was therefore not yet aggressed, and sitting at close range to a star gate.

It's critical in this situation not to panic.  And it's savvy in this situation to do exactly what I did now: I didn't shoot back, and I didn't jump.  I sat there, hardeners overheated, orbiting the gate at my Hurricane's nominal speed, letting them shoot at me.  They lost a Thorax, then a Vexor, then a Hurricane as our FC calmly called targets.  In a break in the action, I said, "Break, Ripard's their target, not aggressed, will be getting out."  The FC replied, "Roger" and called the next primary.  At about 7% shields, I jumped out.

Since I never aggressed, the enemy gang never had a chance of killing me.  They spent almost a minute shooting at a non-aggressed target, wasting their time and the lives of three of their ships on an enemy ship that they had no hope of killing.

I expected there to be more ships in X-M, and sure enough, there were: the Agony frigates, killing one of our tacklers as I gained visibility to the grid.  I expected to be primaried again when I decloaked, and sure enough, I was.  I waited about 25 seconds, then burned on overheated MWD between the gate and a celestial roughly in line with the gate.  My plan: if they aggressed me, I'd jump back into the K5 fight.  If they didn't, I'd warp to the celestial.  They aggressed me.  In that time, my shields had recharged to about 15%, and the Agony frigs were good enough to reduce it back below 5%.  I jumped back into K5.  In that time, our fleet killed two Brutixes, a Thrasher, and a Myrmidon, this time with the loss of one of our Canes.

I again waited for a bit of shield recharge while looking over the fight and planning my next move.  Shields were at 10%.  This time, the celestial in line with the gate was the K5 station.  I decided this time that I'd again burn between the gate and the station celestial.  Only this time, if I were aggressed but not pointed, I'd warp to the station to get my shields back to 100%, then warp back to the fight fully repaired.(2)  If I weren't aggressed, I'd burn out and start getting in on some kills.  I decloaked and burned (again on overheated MWD), and sure enough, parts of the enemy fleet started to aggress me, probably correctly guessing that I was operating with only 10% shields.  Only, critically, nobody pointed me.  Sticking to my plan, I warped off.  Again, the enemy fleet wasted time and resources on a non-aggressed ship.

I docked, then immediately un-docked (now with 100% shields), warped back to the fight and was happily able to get in on the last several kills.

Now granted, I missed out on a ton of kills in this fight.  Should I have aggressed immediately in K5, despite being the enemy fleet's primary?  Should I have aggressed immediately when I came back into K5?  Scholars will no doubt argue the points.  Looking over my own performance in retrospect, I believe I made the correct moves at every step, and placed in the same situation, I'd make those same moves again.  Though my DPS was not available to the FC for most of the fight, I operated as a meat shield, tanking damage that would have otherwise got someone else killed and ensuring that our efficiency in that fight was not reduced by the loss of my ship.  Sure, it would have been extremely satisfying to get on those first three kills, but ensuring that my side won the ISK war was -- to me -- equally satisfying.

Anyway, just something for you newer PvP pilots to think about.  Sometimes, you have to leave your own ego at the door.

(1) Of course, if you want to call someone else primary, I won't mind that, either.  ;-)
(2) Is this a good time to mention that I love the new 20 second session change timer?  The ability to repair mid-fight is also something I'm having to relearn after more than a year in sovereignty battles where this option is usually not available.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We grief PvPers. Love, incursion bears.

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

I'm noticing a category of whiny fucking babies out there that need to be slapped back to their senses. I like to think of them as the "Incursions made me a Ph.D. in Economics" whiny babies.

Sure, any time you get a new source of income in EVE Online, it's tempting to blame it for everything from not enough cheese on your pizza to global warming. We saw it with wormhole income. We saw it with the Dominion expansion and buffed Sanctums and Havens. And now we're seeing it with incursions. Incursions are causing... wait for it... "inflation." The same way Sanctums caused "inflation." The same way wormholes caused "inflation."

Now, I wouldn't give a shit if the people using this word actually knew what this word fucking means. But they don't. What they mean is "This one specific faction, pirate, or dead-space mod or ship I want to buy is more expensive than I want it to be.  Waaa." And so are PLEXes. Just ask Evan Drakes, who blames incursion-runners every time PLEX prices jump 10 million ISK.

Want some cheese to go with your whine? No? How about a nice punch in the mouth, then?

These kinds of whiny babies make me laugh for two reasons.

First, they're usually wrong. And not just a little wrong. They're usually a lot wrong. There's two types of wrong that are common here. The first type of wrong is when they say "mod X or ship Y is more expensive than it was before incursions started." Granted, supply and demand pushed up the prices for a few of these items over the summer, but the prices on the common faction and pirate items used by incursioners has been going down since late summer or so, not up. And those prices are now, for the most part, lower than they were at the start of the year.

The second type of wrong is when they say "mod X or ship Y is more expensive, and incursions are to blame." Two examples of this are mind-links and dead-space mods. Why are dead-space mods more expensive?  Might it have something to do with the fact that half of EVE's null-sec bears either unsubbed from EVE or got kicked out of their space this year?  I'm sure that had absolutely nothing to do with it.

And let's look at mind-links. "Siege warfare mindlinks now cost 100 million ISK when they used to cost ten. That is obviously the fault of incursions," the whiners are quick to intone. Then I explain that, no, CCP added a ton of new story-line missions a year ago, and none of the new ones drop warfare implants. Look at prices for the Skirmish Warfare Mindlinks (which pretty much nobody uses for incursions) and you'll find the exact same price increase as for the Armor and Shield varieties. Therefore, the cost of mind-links is going up because fewer are being dropped.

To which, when I say this, I am told, "Ah, but if there were no incursions, there would be more mission-runners producing the mind-links."

At which point, I get a strong desire to create an invention that would allow me to stab someone in the fucking face through the Internet.

This brings me to the second reason these whiny babies make me laugh.  IF what they're saying about "inflation" being caused by incursions is true, fine: that means they're effectively being griefed by high-sec bears! Why aren't incursion bears running missions and making your PvP mind-links cheaper: because they're griefing you. Why are incursion bears "driving up the prices" of all the mods and ships you want to buy: because they're griefing you. Why are PLEX prices through the roof: because incursion-runners are griefing you.

And the more you whine, the more they succeed. And the more I laugh at you.

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. He really should have been strangled in his crib.

Monday, December 19, 2011

QOTW: Dude, your face

OK, I've got to pick this one.  I just have to:
An Official Response From CCP

Dude... your face?

(If this answer is not satisfactory you probably need to file a petition)
Why?  OK, that's kind of a long story...  ;-)

On the 15th, a player named Xenuria posted a relatively bland question in EVE General Discussion asking about using a post-processor to "enhance the graphical appeal of EVE".  There was only one problem.  The picture at right is what Xenuria looks like.

The first response?  "Dude, your face..."  And of course, EVE players being what they are, the "discussion" immediately devolved into a storm of degrading comments about this player's character avatar rather than the question being asked ("no amount of FXAA will improve that...").  The player plaintively asked "Can somebody answer my question?"

And that's when CCP Nullarbor jumped in with the "Official Response from CCP" above.  ;-)

This poor guy.  He asks a technical question, actually gets a response from a CCP dev (NOT the normal state of affairs on the EVE-O forums, I assure you)... and the response is a troll.  Hee!

This prompted Seleia O'Sinnor to correctly state:
Welcome to the Eve Community, where even the devs play in the major league of niveau limbo. Always expect reds, it's like PVP, they do it for the tears and mainly 'cause they can.
Ayup.  :-)

Still, this thread doesn't really take a turn for the surreal until page three.  At which point, the character to the left responds "Dude, your face...."  Yeah.  That one.  The one to the left.

Gotta love EVE players...

Strength and weakness

I was asked by an anonymous commenter what my source was for an off-hand comment I put into my "Meta on meta" blog post.  The off-hand comment was this:
Each meta module represents an improvement made to the module by one of the major four races for their own use.  Example: I'm pretty sure the "Regard" Energy Transfers are Amarr, and the "Partial E95" ones are Caldari.
The answer to this question is that I've read this a couple of times over the years, but went looking for a reference when I wrote the "Meta on meta" blog entry and couldn't find one.  I'm still pretty sure of my facts here, though.  I'd appreciate it if someone has the source at their fingertips, though!

In the meantime, I'm sure that all the "model number" type names are Caldari ones and reflect their "not poetic, just practical" nature.  So the J5 and J5b point/scram are theirs.  All of the blue ECM mods are also theirs.  This would make missile launchers like the TE-2100 theirs also, as well as the N-Type armor hardeners and C5-L shield boosters.

Amarr names, by contrast, are the most flighty and poetic.  Look at Amarr ECM mods and you'll see they go from 'Penumbra' to 'Gloom' to 'Umbra', reflecting increasing levels of darkness.  The "Fleeting" warp disruptors and scrams are theirs, and all of the Warp Core Stabs are theirs.  The "Solace" armor reppers are also theirs.

Minmatar names are just descriptive of what the module does, like they're trying to include a manual right in the name.  ;-)  The "Faint" scrams and points are theirs, as are the "Supplemental Barrier" shield extenders and the "Inefficient" armor and hull reppers.  All of the meta ABs and MWDs are of Minmatar origin, as are all of the meta Target Painters (check the acronyms of their names, if you haven't already).

The Gallente names are just goofy. If you can't figure out what the name of something is trying to say, that's the Gallente one.  I like to imagine the mod names were all mistranslated from the original French and make total sense in that language.  In English, not so much.  These are things like "Compulsive" jammers and "Azeotropic Ward Salubrity" shield extenders and "Carapace Restoration" armor reppers (OK, that one makes a small amount of sense).  I'm pretty sure all of the Projected ECCM mods are Gallente.

Finally, which race gets the meta 4 mod for each type of mod usually makes pretty good sense, too.  The meta 4 (Solace) armor reppers are Amarr.  The meta 1 (I-a) armor reppers are Caldari.  The meta 4 hull reppers are Minmatar, of course.  The best shield extenders, shield boosters, and shield transporters are Caldari.  Sometimes, as I've already noted, a given race makes all the meta gear for a particular type of mod.

But no, I don't have a written, canon source for any of this.  I just remember reading it a couple of times.  Can anyone point to a source?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday definition: CSPA charge

And now, an EVE term definition for the newer EVE players.  You vets can move on to the next post.

Click the mail icon in your EVE client and let the mail dialogue window come up.  Now click the square in the upper left hand corner of that dialogue.  You'll get an option: "Settings".  Click that.

It's funny how many people don't know that dialogue is there.  Sooner or later, you're going to want to join a fleet in EVE.  Sooner or later, when that happens, the FC is going to bitch because you have a "CSPA charge".  What's that?  It's the very first option in your EVE Mail Settings dialogue.  The problem with the CSPA charge is that it doesn't just affect EVE Mail: it affects every attempt by another player to interact with you socially: EVE Mail, live conversations, and joining fleets.  Every time someone attempts to involve you in that activity, you'll cause them to be charged whatever your CSPA charge is.  By default, that's 2950 ISK.  That is simultaneously three things:
  • a trivial amount of ISK,
  • an amount of ISK guaranteed to be ignored by people you don't want to hear from; and,
  • an amount of ISK guaranteed to annoy the hell out of people you do want to hear from.

The CSPA charge is an in-game mechanic intended to reduce in-game spam EVE mails, particularly those from market bots.  You can simply click the "Block unknown characters" from sending you EVE mails, and many players do just that.  Still, it's often useful to be able to interact socially with other players of an MMO.  ;-)  For this reason, unless you have a compelling reason not to, I'd go with the "Require CSPA charge from unknown characters" option.  After that, though, as far as I'm concerned, there's only two valid options to set for CSPA charge.  The default of 2950 ISK is not one of them.

Here's option one.  Any market alts, cyno alts, or any other character you play only occasionally or for some specific well-defined reason should have their CSPA charge set to the maximum: one million ISK, and it's a pity you can't set it higher.  This will ensure that you get a minimum of communication on those characters, without blocking you off entirely.

Here's option two.  For any character you actually play as one of your mains, the CSPA charge should be set to 0 ISK.  This will allow you to join fleets with a minimum of hassle to your FC.  Sure, you'll occasionally get a little bit of EVE Mail spam or morons that try to recruit you by inviting you straight into their corp channels.  Still, sometimes that sort of thing is entertaining.

If you haven't set your CSPA charge manually yet, guess what: it's set to 2950.  Please go out and change it.

By the way, don't want to get lagged by your EVE Mail icon flashing? Uncheck those six boxes at the bottom. You'll have to manually watch your character portrait when you log into the game to see if you have mail, but the lack of lag when you do get mail will be worth it, particularly if you're a PvPer.

Occasionally on Sundays, I will be defining a common EVE term for those who might not have heard it.  If you have a suggestion for such a term, please drop it into the comments.

Which way would they jump?

From one of my all-time favorite bad movies, Judge Dredd:
ABC warrior: Status?
Rico: Bodyguard.
ABC warrior: Commander?
Rico: Rico.
ABC warrior: Mission?
Rico: Mission?
Rico: We're going to war.
ABC warrior: Warrr...

Which direction would they strike?  That question has been on the minds of every Goon-watcher for months.  We all knew they were going to strike in some direction, and soon, and we had a pretty good idea that direction would be roughly eastward.  As I've said on this blog a few times, the Goons have attempting to clear Delve, but their hearts really haven't been in it.  The mission down there, after all, is essentially constructive and Goons historically aren't all that good at essentially constructive things.  Even Mittens himself has now said Delve was a "twiddling", "half-assed" campaign.

So, we knew the Goons were eventually going to strike, and this time with a serious effort.  They seemed to be waiting for TiDi to do it.  But TiDi was coming soon.  When the Goons gave in to their normal impulses, which direction would those impulses take them?  That question is now answered.

Taking advantage of internal divisions in White Noise. and that alliance's (rather silly) decision to reset their USTZ allies, Mittens has announced that GSF is going to be invading Branch and burning down the alliance to their northeast.  The Delve campaign is over, and Mittens flatly says as much in the SOTG.

The invasion of Branch is now in full swing:

The Goons seem to have achieved total strategic surprise... even the towers in WN. seem to be stronted for USTZs, stupidly.  Even more stupidly, there are almost 20 systems in Branch that WN has never bothered to establish sov in to prevent invaders from doing the same.  The Goons decided not to wait for TiDi because of the serious internal divisions in White Noise.  Those internal divisions almost certainly left them distracted and vulnerable.  If you're interested in those details, listen to the whole SOTG.

In short, the Goons are going to try to burn everything down, and seem to be off to a good start.  Expect this to be a short, ugly, brutal campaign... unless WN's former allies -- particularly RaidenDOT -- start intervening.  Will they?  Lovely question.  Stay tuned.

Even better question... what impact is this going to have on Goonswarm Shrugged?  Mittens also flat-out says that the Blue Ice interdiction is over.  He indicates that Goons involved were instructed to go ahead and dump their remaining Oxytope stocks a few days ago.  But will the Goons that are so enjoying griefing ice bears get that message?  There haven't been large volumes of Oxytopes sold on the market yet and the price still seems pretty stable...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Best of 2011: 1

As I stated in my earlier post, I'm combining a "Best of 2011" retrospective with a good old-fashioned pledge drive.

I wrap it up here by saying thank you: thank you to everyone who's read my stuff this year, commented on it, and argued about it, both from the people who think I'm way smarter than I actually am to the people that made me realize that I'm sometimes a moron about this game.  ;-)

As to the pledge drive itself, I want to say again how overwhelmed I've been by the show of support.  There's been virtually no trolling, virtually no "GTFO, noob", virtually no dickish behavior of any kind.  So for that, thank you!  Thank you even more to those of you who chose to contribute.  More public thank yous, this time to Jarth Skyrunner and Karbox Delacroix, both of whom were very generous, so: thank you very much.

Thank you also again to those who sent very kind comments and encouraging wishes, and all of the contributors both public and private.  Anyone who doesn't think EVE players aren't generous when they want to be is wrong.  Your support means a lot.

There will almost certainly be one more "thank you" post before the end of the year.  I sent out some EVE mails to contributors asking if they wanted their contributions to be public or not, and some of those EVE mails haven't yet been replied to.

This is the last post of the pledge drive, so there will be no further shaking of the tin cup after this.  Of course, any time you want to send contributions my way, I won't say no.  ;-)  Again, thanks very much to those of you that have contributed.  To those and the rest, thanks for reading, and I hope you'll continue to do so!

Here's what I thought was my best post in 2011... and it wasn't hard at all to choose.

#1:  Some curves aren't
As I've said already, I'm a metrics guy.  So when I chose to turn my experience with metrics to the topic of how many people actually play EVE, the net result was a post that struck through the EVE blogosphere and the forums like a lightning bolt.  I got dozens and dozens of messages thanking me for writing this post and asking me questions about it.  Everybody seemed to be talking about it.  The Mittani took this post and the graphs provided in it and did nothing less than publicly rub CCP's face in them like a dog that has soiled the carpet.

And surprisingly... it worked.  ;-)

The flat-line player curve after the release of Incarna had everyone talking, everyone commenting, everyone arguing about what it all meant for EVE's future.  And once CCP sat down and really looked at the hard numbers, they had little choice but to come to realize that Incarna was an overly ambitious failure that was providing no benefit to their business.  It's certainly not what they could have wished for.  It's not even what I could have wished for; I still want EVE to break out of the niche that it's in and I thought Incarna could help.  But you can't argue with the facts.  And these facts changed the course of CCP in 2011.

This is a post that I fully intend to follow up on, but getting hard PCU data out of CCP has become harder and harder as the year has gone on.  CCP really is trying to shut off the flow of data about their game.  Still, I'm not going to give up and if I can get the data to continue my analysis of CCP's 2011, you will be the first to know.  ;-)

Hopefully, you've enjoyed this little retrospective.  It was kind of amusing going through my output in 2011 and choosing what should be on this list.  Did I miss any particularly memorable posts?

Pic of the Week: Adironic

I hit refresh on this eve-kill.net link at least one hundred times on my PC's web browser and couldn't get this ad to come up even once:

Using EVE Online's in-game browser, though?  This ad comes up constantly.  Oh, the irony.

Yes, I'm quite aware that eve-kill.net advertises other MMOs.  However, someone check me on this: aren't all the other MMOs they advertise F2P?  Has anyone ever seen eve-kill advertise a paid subscription MMO?

The land and the people are one

Despite being an occasional and closet role-player (I was raised on old-school D&D, like I suspect many of you were), I've never really been able to get into EVE's setting.  Sure, I know the basic histories of all the races, and I know most of the recent political "history" and even some of the more distant history.  I know the difference between a Guristas pirate and a Sanshas pirate, I know why the Genesis region is called that, and I know why drones sometimes go rogue.  I have a copy of, and have read most of "The Book" that turnschuh produced.

But I've still never really cared much about EVE's setting, and I've never once been tempted to role-play as one of my characters.  I think I can safely guarantee right now that you'll never read a IC story here written from Ripard Teg's perspective.  ;-)

Building a historical under-carriage of a created world has always been a weakness in sci-fi and fantasy settings.  J.R.R. Tolkien is credited with supposedly doing a lot of background work for The Lord of the Rings, but if you dig more than two inches beneath the top-soil, you'll find there isn't much there for a budding archaeologist, much less a paleontologist.  Compare and contrast created sci-fi and fantasy with even the most basic historical novel such as Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth or Edward Rutherfurd's Sarum and you'll quickly discover how pale and shallow the historical under-carriage of all of our much-loved classics are.

And The Lord of the Rings is a master-work of historical pre-work compared to most modern sci-fi and fantasy.  I laugh and laugh every time I think about all the pre-work David and Leigh Eddings supposedly put into The Belgariad series of books.  Don't get me wrong: these are lovely books, and a terrific way to introduce your kids to the broader works of fantasy after they outgrow Harry Potter.  But to imply that they are somehow connected to thousands of years of recorded history is laughable, and this is drawn in sharp relief when you try to slog through the painful, wretched experiences of the two "prequel" novels that take place fully within the pre-work history.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the maps included with the original books, a tiny continent bordered on one side by The Great Western Sea and on the other by The Sea of the East (natch).  In what was supposedly the southwestern corner of this continent lay the nation of Nyissa, a place of jungles, drug addicts, and snake worshipers.  Why were they drug-addicted snake worshipers?  Because they lived in a jungle filled with snakes and narcotic plants, of course.  Circular logic much?  The border of this jungle was a river set on the north border of the Wood of the Dryads (guess why it's called that), and this forest was bordered by the river.

Because trees only like the south sides of rivers, not the north side, that's why.

Needless to say, this map was the subject of much retro-continuity both while the book series and the ones that followed it was being written, and in the years since.  Later maps made it clear that the actual world was much bigger than the one originally shown (and that trees usually like both sides of rivers, too).  But that didn't stop the people of Nyissa from being drug-addicted snake worshipers for thousands of years, from the first pages of the first prequel novel to the last pages of the 12th novel in the eventual series.

Some properties are better at building and developing their back-stories over time.  The Belgariad?  Not so much.  Compare and contrast here with The Elder Scrolls series of video games.  I might not agree with all of the cultural changes the ES games throw into the mix, but you can't deny that they've done a pretty good job of building and then developing their back-story and culture over the hundreds of years the games span.  The first time I heard an NPC in Skyrim swear "By the Eight", I literally stopped, turned around to look at him, and said at the screen "What did you just say?"  (The ES games have had nine major gods since the beginning.)  I then stopped what I was doing and went out of my way to find out why, exactly, that NPC had said that.  ;-)  And yes, there was an answer to that question, and yes, that answer turned out to be a good one, and satisfying.

But even the ES games still trip over this problem, in the way that all Nords come from Skyrim and all Dark Elves come from Morrowind and all Bretons come from High Rock, yadda yadda yadda.  The ES games at least attempt to justify this by isolating the homelands of the races by way of broad oceans and high mountains, but it doesn't help you escape the conclusion that all Nyissans are drug-addicted snake worshipers, and have been so for thousands of years.  The land and the people are one.

Which brings us back to EVE Online.

Not long after the new nebulae became public on SiSi, The Interstellar Privateer blog did an absolutely marvelous piece showing off the new nebulae, with screen shots of virtually every region.  He even managed to snap a picture of a Jove region nebula.  And just the fact that there were "Jove region" nebulae got me thinking about this topic.  I'm a Falcon and Rook pilot from way back, and it's always been a point of order that you use red jammers against Minmatar ships with their red backgrounds, and yellow jammers against Amarr ships with their yellow backgrounds.

Still, space has never matched up with these ship image backgrounds until these new nebulae.  The Minmatar now live in space with red background nebulae, and the Amarr now live in space with yellow background nebulae, et cetera.  The in-game graphics have caught up with the UI depictions of the ships.

And isn't it great that the galaxy knew that, and made allowances for it when the galaxy was created?  ;-)

After all, when all of these nebulae were presumably created millions of years ago, there were no humans living in these regions yet.  The New Eden Gate had not yet been opened.  So isn't it convenient that Minmatar space had red nebulae, as if the galaxy knew that there would be a people living there someday that would be oppressed, and then would eventually as a race escape their captivity and develop their own culture, and would all end up living under these red nebulae.  And isn't it equally nice that the galaxy knew that one day, the Caldari people would break away from the Gallente Federation, taking for themselves only those systems that had friendly-looking blue-grey nebulae and leaving behind all those systems where the nebulae were green?

Quite convenient, don't you think?  ;-)  The land and the people are one.

Of course if there's something else going on, for instance that New Eden is somehow alive and the nebula change based on the actions of the people, I withdraw my objection.  Maybe.