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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Comment of the Week: Uphill through the snow

From an anonymous commenter, a comment that could have been attached to any of my last four or five major posts, really:
Experience in the game is all well and good but many of the oldest players in the game are particularly dismissive of changes that newer players suggest simply because they have reached bitter vet status and are at the point that - "I had to walk uphill through the snow so you have to too"- becomes their answer to problems that should have been fixed long ago.
Ain't that the truth?  It'll also work particularly well as a comment for tomorrow's tent-pole post.

January junk drawer

Welcome to the junk drawer, part of a series of monthly posts in which I dump all the stuff that I couldn't develop into full blog posts this month...

The EVE-fail blog has documented a couple of ways for you to determine how many minutes you've been logged into EVE per account, if you're interested in that sort of thing.  Change the appropriate settings in this website link:


For keyid, replace with your new post-Incarna userID key.  Your vcode is the API passcode.  Then look for the "logonMinutes" field.  That will tell you how many minutes that particular account has been logged into EVE.

It's not particularly useful for Ripard, because I used to log him in cloaked in this or that enemy system to hunt ratters.  Then, when I had to go to work, I'd leave him logged in all day to make them paranoid.  But if you're interested, for Ripard: 314,857 minutes total as of 2012 January 1.


Red Frog Freight is awesome.  I've been saying this for almost a year now, and it's time to say it again.  If you live primarily in null-sec and you do not use them for your Empire logistics, you are a bad person and should feel bad.

The service they provide is freighter logistics in Empire.  You courier contract your stuff to them, with a delivery fee calculated by their automated jump planner and a one billion ISK collateral.  It costs me five million ISK to have a freighter load of whatever I need moved from Jita to my high-sec staging system, where I pick it up for transport to null.  The last time I contracted them such a load, I did it right before I went to bed.  When I woke up, it had been delivered and was waiting for me.

They also offer "Blue Frog" for loads worth more than one billion ISK, and "Black Frog" for null-sec logistics using jump freighters.  They really have this stuff down to a science.  Seriously, is your time really worth only a few million ISK to move freighters full of stuff around Empire?  You can contract a load to them, then run a L4 mission instead.  You'll come out ahead both in ISK and in enjoyment of EVE.  Use this service!  Or if you have a freighter that's sitting idle on an alt, seriously consider applying to join them.


Lord Maldoror (with a lot of help from the actual residents) has written a fantastic overview of who lives in the Syndicate region lately.  Syndicate, for those of you not keeping up, was recently announced as the most active PvP region in EVE, with more ships destroyed than any other single region in the game.  I am a resident of this fine neighborhood myself, and I encourage all of you to come visit.  ;-)  The post does a fantastic job of laying out the neighbors and explaining when and how they do their PvP.


The Overheating Guide that I published in December has been updated with the information I presented in the errata a few days later.  I've also updated it to reflect the UI improvements introduced to overheating in Crucible 1.1.  Lunkwill spotted a problem with my four-month-old Utility Highs Guide that the rest of you missed: I forgot to include smart bombs!  This has been corrected.  Good catch, Lunkwill!


There's one CSM-related thing in the junk drawer.  It almost rates a full post, but I've done enough CSM-related posts in the last week.

Prometheus Exenthal has announced that he's running for reelection to CSM7, on Failheap Challenge.  This one is interesting to me because for CSM6, he ran as a champion of small-gang PvP alliances.  Then, on 13 December, Two Step tweeted this:
Wow, @themittani's mind control lasers are turned up to max today. Check out what corp Prometheus Exenthal is in now... #TweetFleet #csm6
What corp was Prom in?  Goonswarm, of course.  Trebor and I responded, with no response from Mittens that I saw.  My question: "Goon's second CSM7 candidate.  c/d?"  For a while, it looked like you could file that one under "c" and I was waiting to see if Prom campaigned again under a small-gang banner with the Goon corp ticker.  Ironic, if so!

Instead, as of about a week ago, he's out of Goons and back in Hydra Reloaded.  So now, it'll be interesting to see if he gets any kind of official or unofficial endorsement from Mittens for Goon votes.  If there's one area of null-sec experience that CSM6 publicly lacked, it was small-gang experience.  Prom was apparently a non-starter early in CSM6's term and pretty inactive for most it.  CSM6 can hardly point to Seleene or Elise Randolph as their small-gang champions, since PL's idea of a "small gang" these days appears to be 27 Titans.  ;-)


And finally, Siesmic Stan over at Freebooted, a very long-time EVE blogger, awarded me the "Free Boot for Blogger of the Year" for 2011.  Thanks!  I shall display the boot on my space mantlepiece with pride, as Yahtzee put it.  ;-)

Herd the ducks

EDIT (31/Jan/2012): The trick to writing is rewriting and editing.  Under normal circumstances, the pieces I write here are written a day or two before all of you read them (if not longer) so I can perform these steps.  This post, however, came together in much more of a hurry due to circumstances.  As a result, there's a rather major mistake in it: a paragraph below in which I assume there is a good relationship between EVE University CEO Kelduum Revaan and EVE blogger Poetic Stanziel.  No such good relationship exists.  As a heroically bad movie with good dialogue put it: "Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups!"

Had the blog post gone through a more normal editing process, I would have taken the time to fact-check this little detail, discovered the relationship, and deleted that entire paragraph.  However, the piece seemed timely so I proceeded without that step.  I apologize for this mistake.  As newspapers put it when this sort of thing happens to them, I regret the error.

When I woke up this morning, Mittens was gloating.

Now, you might accurately say that this is nothing unusual.  It's a bit like saying "When I woke up this morning, water was wet", in fact.  Still, he has pretty good reason to gloat.  When Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the recall race to become California's governor in 2003, that was pretty much it: he had the race sewn up.  Despite the fact that there were literally hundreds of other candidates -- or, just as likely, because of this fact(1), his name recognition alone ensured that he'd be elected.  When he ran for reelection in 2007, that was also it.

Similarly, I'm going to go ahead and call it now: The Mittani will be the CSM7 Chair.

I've decided I'm going to do pieces on some of the major candidates for CSM7, and one of the people that will receive such a profile is someone who said in public that he'd be going for the Chairmanship, Kelduum Revaan, the CEO of EVE University.

This is not that piece, though.  This is just an intro.

When I decided to run for CSM6 last year, I was one of the first candidates to make that fact public.  This year, Kelduum has that honor, I think.  I'm not sure the exact date he popped up on my radar, but it was very early January and perhaps a bit before.  The unusual thing about Kelduum running wasn't that he was running; hell, I'd practically expect someone high up in E-UNI to run every year.  The unusual thing about Kelduum running is that word quickly went out that Kelduum thought he had a good chance of taking the Chair and believed he had something like 3500 votes sewn up from the get-go.

Rallying high-sec players to vote in the CSM elections has been a bit of a dream the last few CSM elections, and if you think anybody could do it, the CEO of EVE University could.  And indeed, should Kelduum win a seat, he won't be the first E-UNI CEO to do so, and to do so based on the successful rallying of high-sec votes.  But Chair?  Really?  EVE University only represents about 1500 pilots right now.  Even if all of them could be rallied, that's substantially less than 3500 votes.  When this was brought to my attention, I replied that it sounded to me like Kelduum was counting on the votes of not only every EVE University member, but pretty much every EVE player who had once been in EVE University.  I added that this struck me as naive to say the least.

Back in August when Trebor ran his crowd-sourcing initiative, E-UNI made a concerted attempt to skew those votes.  At the time, I was rather amused: this looked a lot like a test run for the next CSM election.  How many accounts could E-UNI rally to vote a slate, following a complex procedure, on demand?  I checked with Trebor, and it turns out the answer was "587 accounts".  That's the number of accounts that voted the exact slate that E-UNI asked them to vote in the crowd-sourcing.

So, as far as I'm concerned, that's the size of Kelduum's base: not 3500.  587.

Still, it's respectable!  I started my CSM6 run with less, and campaigned up from there.  Apparently though, the word that Kelduum would not automatically have 3500 votes at his beck and call got back to him and he decided to actually ask his base: would they vote for him?  And while a few hundred said "yes", a solid minority said: "I don't know.  What do you stand for?"

And Kelduum doesn't seem to have much of an answer yet.  Ooops.

When I saw this, I made the decision to contact Poetic Stanziel, a well-known E-UNI graduate and blogger.  Would Poetic support Kelduum?  Turns out I didn't have to ask.  The topic is well-covered on the Poetic Discourse blog this morning, and Poetic seems to fall pretty firmly in the "I don't know" camp.  Pro-tip: if you're running for CSM as an E-UNI candidate, perhaps it's a good idea to get the backing of E-UNI's most well-known blogger first.  What do you think?

Now, it's not my intention here to make fun of Kelduum.  If he gets his act together, there's plenty of time for him to be a solid CSM candidate and as I said, I'll be writing about him again when I do my profile pieces.  But anyone who thinks they're going to make a run at the Chairmanship and take away Mittens's #chairmanforlife hash-tag needs to be a bit more organized than this.

One of the things that's going to be amusing about the CSM7 election cycle is the brain-damaged "petition" methodology that CCP came up with for vetting candidate popularity, most likely while in a drunken stupor.(2)  Ironically, it is in Mittens's best interests to have as broad a slate of CSM7 candidates as possible.  Not only does this dilute the non-0.0-bloc vote and reduce the threat to his control over the CSM, it has the best chance of producing a broad slate of less well-known CSM7 alternates that:
  • Mittens can point to later as highlighting the "diversity" of CSM7; and,
  • gives him a pool of people who are "just happy to be here" that can help with the actual work.

As a result, it is also in Mittens's best interests to have as many candidates as possible successfully pass through the petition process.  The thing that's amusing is that he doesn't have to lift a finger for this to happen.  When a well-intentioned but naive EVE player posted a thread on Jita Park advocating the creation of a block of CSM7 candidates focused on carebear issues, Goons came out of the woodwork in droves to "support" this idea.

Consider that a test run for the petition process for every carebear candidate.  They're not going to have any trouble hitting the 100 "likes" needed to get on the ballot.  They'll get dozens of likes from "helpful" Goons who will then -- once the actual voting begins -- vote their ordered slate of candidates.  Meanwhile, more serious candidates like Kelduum who actually have a chance at getting the votes they need are going to struggle mightily with this process.  If Kelduum can't get a few hundred people on E-UNI's own forums to say they'll vote for him, what prayer does he have of getting them to follow a petition process?

If you're running for CSM7 as a non-0.0-bloc candidate, I hope you're getting your ducks in a row.  Right now.

(1) More on this in a minute.
(2) Be warned: I am going to making more and more harsh fun of this idea as the cycle goes on.  And since I'm starting from it being a "brain-damaged idea most likely come up with while in a drunken stupor", you can imagine where I'm going to be by March.

Monday, January 30, 2012

QOTW: Never thought of it that way

Just a quickie.

Shin_getter over at Failheap puts an interesting spin on a problem that we all see:
Modifying the game is tricky when most of the complains involves OTHER PEOPLE's experiences. Non-incursion runners whine about incursion income. Subcap pilots whine about supercapital pilots. NPC null/WH/small gang folks whine about the lack of small gang in sov blob space. Non-NC whine about NC bridge network. Non-drake pilots whine about drake fleets. Pirates whine about easy logistics done by a completely different type of players. Blob fleets whine about how they can't get into a wormhole (lol CSM). Careless highsec guys complain about suicide gankers. Miners complain about dronelanders. Carebears complain about AFK cloakers.....

Fixing the game is infinitely easier if players are trying to fix their own experiences as opposed to "zomg those "insert group" is so terribad and exploiting the shitz out of everything and should die/nerf/ban/nuke/dd/etc."
It's an interesting perspective, and one that I for one hadn't thought about before!  That said, it's not exactly a silver bullet.  Botters certainly aren't going to fix the issues with botting, after all...

Don't have much more to say about this one, other than I thought the perspective was interesting.  The question is, do I believe it enough to stop talking about those few things in EVE that I haven't done, such as volleying a dictor in a Titan, for instance?  That, I'm not so sure about.  ;-)  After all, I've been on the receiving end of such things, so that doesn't make me an entirely disinterested party.

Does it?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The decision

Lloyd Dobler: Am I going?  Am I going to England?  I've thought about this quite a bit...
Let's start with the conclusion this time.  Am I running for CSM7?  I've decided: No, I'm not.

On Friday, I wrote a long post essentially listing the reasons for me not to run for CSM7.  Not only are they excellent reasons in their own right, there are other good reasons for me not to run that I'll get into in a moment.  What I didn't list in that post were very many reasons for me to run.  Don't get me wrong!  I have a lot of reasons to run!  But right now, for me, the reasons not to run outweighed the reasons to run.

I was honestly curious, though: would someone come up with a good reason for me to run that I couldn't think of myself?  The simple fact is that -- overall -- I feel like CSM6 is doing a decent job.  There are definitely members of it that have been all but useless to the membership, but there are a lot of good people there, too.

And of all the people on CSM6 that I believe are doing a good job, all of them are running for reelection.  I would have loved to have been one of them, and had I won a CSM6 alt seat, running for reelection would have been a no-brainer.  But that didn't happen, of course.  Or, if the people I feel are doing a good job weren't running for reelection, again, running for CSM7 would be a no-brainer.

So, to convince myself to run, I needed a reason why I'm a better choice to be on CSM7 than one of these people... and I couldn't come up with one.  The purpose to the "Influence" post, therefore, was to see if one of you could come up with one.  And everyone who tried essentially said, "You should run for CSM7 because you have a good chance of winning a seat on CSM7."

That's a little bit circular, don't you think?  ;-)

So, no, I'm not running.  Not only are the reasons in the Influence post good ones, but there are other good reasons besides.

First, I have to say that I'm having a great deal of fun playing EVE again.  I spend the bulk of my time in EVE chatting on Rote Kapelle TeamSpeak, and a high percentage of that time in fun activities like making other people wish they didn't play EVE.  ;-)  In the process, I'm learning an absolute ton, and it's making me a much better pilot.  Do I want to give that up to spend a ton of time reading CSM forums and connected to the CSM Skype?  Nope, not really.  In addition, to really feel like I was doing the job of a CSM member properly, I feel like I'd have to spend a lot more time than I do today talking to EVE players.  That would take even more time.

Second, as I said in the Influence post, if I were to run, there's no question in my mind that I would take votes away from worthy non-bloc candidates, particularly the CSM6 members I favor that are running for reelection.  I have no desire to do that.  Even more so, though, I have no desire whatsoever to fragment and dilute the non-bloc vote more than it's already going to be diluted.  The simple fact is that the methodology for the CSM7 election so favors the large 0.0 blocs that there's virtually zero chance of anyone not in one of those blocs winning one of those critical top seven seats if they're not already on CSM6.  Cut down the number of voting seats and cut down the number of non-bloc candidates through the petition methodology?  Excellent ideas, CCP.  Not!

It is no coincidence that the bulk of CSM6 -- who represent these blocs -- thought these were good ideas.  They are good ideas.  For them!  That the CCP representatives in the room didn't see this really makes me doubt their critical thinking abilities.

In fact, the only reason I could think of to actually run was rather selfish and political.  If I were Mittens, my thought process goes like this: run and take so many votes away from non-bloc candidates that the entire CSM7 is made up of bloc candidates, thereby reducing its usefulness to CCP while in Iceland as a player sounding board.  That way, perhaps they'll go with a voting methodology for CSM8 that actually... you know... makes sense.

Third, if I were on CSM7, who in the EVE blogging community is going to keep an eye on CSM7?  I'm pretty sure I was the only one really keeping an eye on CSM6.  ;-)

The reasons I listed in my Influence post are still the best ones for me not to run right now, though.  This blog was created to publicize my CSM6 run.  But -- ironically -- in the year since, the blog, my independence, and what I do here with them has become more important to me than being on the CSM.(1)

Good luck to those of you that decide to run!  I'll be watching you.  And who knows, maybe next year.

(1) Finally, I take a great deal of pleasure in the fact that I completely destroy the premise, logic, and conclusions of this.  Next time, Yuki, perhaps you will talk to me before writing an article about what I'm thinking.  ;-)

Pic of the Week: Ganknight

Highly deserving of POTW honors:

You can read all about how this managed to happen over at the Through Newb Eyes blog.  Go read.  It's worth your time.

My favorite part of this screenshot is the spectacle of a scout without a point, though.  If you remember nothing else about scouting, remember this: guns optional, MWD and point not.  It's a miracle (and stupidity on the Rorq's part) that this Rorqual didn't escape by just jumping away.

All in all, though, sounds like it was a lot of fun!

Clear shot

Well, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.

The post yesterday about tracking has racked up comments faster than any post I've ever done with the possible exception of me ripping on Clarion Call 3 a couple of months back.  That's fine.  Guess that means you guys have a strong opinion on this issue.  ;-)

Still, don't get lost in the minutiae.  My post isn't about whether battleship guns should hit frigates, or dread/Titan guns should hit dictors, when the pilots of those ships are flying badly.  That's proven: they can, and they should.  If a ship is being flown badly, it will die.  I have no problem with that.  It's working as intended.  But that's not not not what I was looking at in my post.  The key question you need to take out of my post is this:

Should a small ship still die to much larger guns if the pilot of the small ship is doing everything right to avoid damage?

Make no mistake: this question takes the skill of piloting a small ship out of the equation if you answer "yes".  If you answer "yes" to that question, you're saying that an inty pilot should die to battleship guns regardless of the inty pilot's skill if those battleship guns are buffed enough.  Dreads and titans and super-carriers lost their drones because they were supposed to no longer be able to affect sub-caps if they're flown intelligently.  If dreads and titans can still kill much smaller sub-caps anyway, then what was the point of removing their drones?  May as well give them back for all the good it did.

Those of you who are saying that I landed a glancing blow on that Ares, even if that's true, are similarly missing the point.  The point is that if eight or nine other Tornados had buffed their ships the way I did, then the group of us would have been nailing frigates right and left with our large guns, regardless of the skill of the pilots of those frigates and how they were flying.  Is that how this game should be?  Is that how you want it to be?

So, look at that bolded question and decide what your answer is.  Mine's "no".

Proven in the field

So, a week or so back, I argued that Titan tracking against much smaller targets is broken.  This is one of those things that I say that -- despite being controversial -- I really believe.  It's not a troll.  It's my opinion, which I believe we've seen proven in the field.

Oh man, was I called all sorts of names.  People came out of the woodwork to tell me I was full of shit on that one.  Some of them were Titan pilots today.  Others no doubt hope to be Titan pilots soon themselves, and get some of these impossible kills.  And most of all, I was told that the people these kills were against were just flying stupidly.  I was told this repeatedly.  Titan tracking is fine.  People just drove right up into those Titan guns to die.  Of course that's what happened.

One of the chief dissenters was LtCol Laurentius (formerly from Agony Unleashed).  This is a guy that I have a ton of respect for, for a lot of reasons.  Laurentius's argument was the same, but for a bit different reason from everyone else's:
@RipardTeg Btw Jester, your math on the tracking of Titans is way off. You forgot to factor in the guns signature resolution. #tweetfleet
I replied:
@LtColLaurentius Large guns against small targets do much better in the field than your calcs say they should. #tweetfleet
and his response, reasonably enough, was:
@RipardTeg I'd be glad to see a shred of evidence supporting that claim tbh. Because all you have got right now are killmails.
Fine.  Challenge accepted.

One of the fleets that Rote Kapelle likes a lot are arty Tornado fleets.  These are Tornados fit with 1400mm guns, plus a bit of tracking: a single Tracking Enhancer II and a single Tracking Computer II.  Under normal circumstances, Rote uses twelve or so of these ships at between 35 and 40km to alpha our targets to scrap.  There's not a lot of finesse involved and our ability to kill frigate-size targets with these ships is minimal or non-existent.  Standard tracking is 0.012 rads/second.  So, frigate-hunting is part of the support for this fleet, not the main body.

But I decided to do a Kirk and change the conditions of the test.  Laurentius and the other critics of my Titan post say that if a pilot is flying smartly, then all the tracking in the world shouldn't matter.  I shouldn't be able to hit, say, a fast-moving inty in this Tornado no matter what I do.  And even if I hit him, I shouldn't be able to hurt him.  Well, let's find out.  Thanks to some adjustments to the standard Tornado fit, a supply of faction Depleted Uranium ammo, and a highly illegal-in-Empire Drop booster, I increased the tracking of my Tornado by about three-fold, to 0.036.

Now all I needed was a suitable target during our next Tornado roam.  But even if one appeared, a lot of my critics say that I shouldn't be able to hit him unless he flies dumb.  Laurentius says that even the target flies smart and I somehow hit him, I won't do significant damage because my gun's signature is 400m.

Hey, Laurentius and everyone else?  Here's your shredded evidence:

For the record, Billy Colorado is one of Agony's finest nano pilots.  The irony here is bigger than a Titan.  I didn't expect to have the chance to prove my theory against an experienced Agony pilot, but sure.  I loaded up my tracking ammo, injected the Drop, and took aim.  This guy knows more about using speed and transversal to avoid damage than I will ever learn.  He was moving against our fleet exactly as he should have.  Anyone want to claim he was flying dumb?  Check out every other ship in our fleet using large guns missing him by a mile.

Check me out, hitting him not once, but with all three of my gun groups, including the shot for the kill mail.

Laurentius's response, when I showed him this kill mail?
@RipardTeg Aww this is just wrong man. There is NO way you should be able to hit a ceptor with BS guns :) The game is broken i tell you.
The game is broken in this regard?  Really?  Seems to me, I remember saying that.  Thank you for agreeing.  ;-)

Friday, January 27, 2012


One of the thing my blog does that a lot of EVE blogs don't is that I look under the covers.  I pride myself on being a bit of a CCP watcher.  I keep an eye on how the company that makes EVE influences EVE.  I've written more than 150 posts that I've tagged "CCP".  I've spent a lot of time looking at them and rereading them over the last couple of weeks.

The one thing that I've never had is inside access to the company.  Nobody from inside CCP has ever sent me proprietary information from within the company.  Nobody from inside CCP has ever sent me so much as an EVE mail.  I've gotten a few e-mails from CCP employees over the last 18 months or so, but all of them were prompted by things that I did or said.  Every blog post I've written -- yes, even "Curves" -- was written with the help of publicly available data.  The things I added were intuition and analysis, and sometimes flat-out guesses.  Hell, from time to time, I've said provocative things about CCP with the hope that someone would come along and say "Jester, you idiot.  That's obviously not right.  What's REALLY happening is..."

I love technical people.  They're completely unable to keep stuff that should be secret to themselves.

Dumb things people in CCP say have been a favorite topic of mine, almost from the beginning.  But I'm also highly complimentary of CCP when they deserve it.  Covering CCP-related news and what I think about it has also been big.  And of course, I'm not afraid to delve right into CCP's business methodology, or even right into their business.  Besides "Curves", two of my most-read posts last year were one I called "Pebble", which put Fearless into business perspective, and another I wrote about metrics and metrics-based development.  And an absolute ton of my CCP-tagged are me trying to influence CCP from the outside.

Still, I can count on one hand the number of CCP employees I've had direct interaction with in the last year.

Am I going to run for CSM7?  Here's the honest answer: I haven't decided.  Probably.  Maybe.  I don't know.

There's still lots and lots of good reasons for me to run, all of those reasons that prompted me to run last year, plus some all-new ones.  At the top of the latter list is the compression of CSM7's "voting members" down to seven, with the simultaneous requirement that everyone who runs has to have a petition signed by 100 people saying they're deserving of running first.

Trebor throws out a statistic that not nearly enough people are thinking about in his latest blog post: 70% of the votes that were cast for CSM6 were cast for winning candidates.  Really stop and think about that for a second.  I sure have.  I was the top vote-getter among the remaining 30%, after all.  Trebor flat-out calls them wasted votes, and says that the vast majority of them went to independent, non-bloc candidates, and yeah, that was (and is) me all over.  Between the petition and the reduced size of the group getting face time in Iceland, that promises to be doubly so next year.  Who outside of a massive 0.0 bloc is going to be able to get that petition requirement and then get the "2900 or even 3000" votes needed to get into the top seven?

Maybe it's a failure of imagination on my part, but I can only think of four possibilities: members of past CSMs (including CSM6 members seeking reelection), people with tons of in-game e-fame, EVE bloggers, and EVE website moderators.  That's a good reason for me to run: I'm one of the few people not in a blob that might have a good chance of winning.

But there's also damn good reasons for me not to run.  Right at the top of that list?  The old "wasted votes".  I have no doubts at all that some of my votes last year came from people who would have otherwise voted for Trebor, or Seleene, or perhaps even Two Step.  I equally have no doubts at all that if I run, I will take votes away from them again.

Maybe even enough votes to ensure that none of us make the top seven.

But there's a better reason than that.  Outside the CSM, I have the freedom to write what I want, when I want, how I want.  I'm not beholden to an NDA, and I'm not beholden to a relationship with the people that I'm talking about.  I'm an outside observer, usually fairly neutral, but certainly not lacking an opinion.  ;-)  And I've been free to share that opinion without running it by someone first.  Seleene posted a remarkable statistic on his blog that received almost no attention:
On Thursday night I was having a talk with someone that will remain nameless and was told he had run a report internally that showed PVP activity for CCP employees in July 2011. The number of devs that were involved on another player's kill mail was exactly eight.  Eight out of over six hundred. Granted, July was a pretty shit month for anyone playing EVE, but that's still a staggeringly low number.
I had a chance to grab Seleene and I nearly immediately asked where that statistic had come from.  Was it public knowledge?  Did he have permission to release it?  If so, how did he get permission to release it?  That was the kind of stat I could have built up a good mad around and built a blog post out of, after all.

But the conversation soon turned to how much or how little Seleene's blog is influenced by the fact that he has to watch where he steps... because there could be an NDA under his foot waiting to go off.  What I heard on this topic wasn't overly worrisome...

...but I also post a bit more often than Seleene does.  ;-)  CCP might need a "Jester Blog Post Review" department if I were elected.

And of course, not everything I post is tagged "CCP", and not every CCP-tagged post even brushes by proprietary topics.  Even if I count every single CCP-tagged post, they only represent about 25% of my output, and the real number of posts that anyone in CCP could possibly object to is much less.  And hell, direct access to CCP plus permission to share some of what they told me might mean that for every post that was lost, a different sort of post would be gained.

My ability to influence CCP from outside probably shouldn't be underestimated, though.  I know for a fact that there are quite a number of CCP employees reading this right now, and I equally know for a fact that some of what gets written on this blog goes straight into CCP discussions.  Would I have that same influence pigeon-holed as a CSM member?

Finally, if I won a CSM7 seat, my ability to be neutral about CSM7's performance would naturally be completely compromised.  In addition to the 150 or so CCP-tagged posts on this blog, there have been 60 or so tagged "CSM6".

So, that's what's at risk if I run.  Thoughts?

Strangled in the crib

A couple of days ago, I talked about one of EVE Online's mid-game problems and said that I'd be bringing up a second.

That problem, in a single word, is money.

Let's suppose you're a brand new EVE player.  Let's further suppose that you're smart enough off the bat to get yourself a full set of +3 implants and broadly set up your attributes so that you can train both offensive and support skills equally during your first year without worrying about remaps too much.  You find a blog from some dude named Jester who says that a good PvE target for a new to mid-level player is a Drake, and you train yourself into this ship.  At the end of 100 days, you can fly it.

At this point in the game, you've spent about 25 million ISK on skillbooks, about 25 million on a Drake hull, another 25 million fitting it, and a final 25 million ISK buying the various ships and mods that were needed to get you this far.  That's 100 million ISK total in your first hundred days playing EVE.  You have just short of five million SP.  Still, you're at the point where you can run L3 missions successfully and you can pull down between five and ten million ISK per hour doing so.  You plop down 3.6 million ISK for a Caldari Battleship skill book and set your eyes on a Raven, then decide you want to join a PvP corp.

You chat with the recruiters of various PvP corps and find out to your dismay that while they occasionally fly Drakes in combat, you're going to need a variety of other ships.  Over time, you decide that you're going to train Minmatar ships; that's what seems to be mentioned a lot.  One 0.0 corp you have your eye on says you'll need an Interceptor, a shield HAC, shield BCs, an alpha battleship, and it will be handy to have a Tengu for ratting.  After the corp learns you're nowhere near close to any of this, they suggest getting into L4 missions and someone points you at a Raven Navy Issue as a good ship to do these in.  It's then mentioned that sooner or later, you're going to need a carrier.

You do some reading, and decide you want to fly Stilettos, Vagabonds, Hurricanes, and Maelstroms.  Medium term, you'd like to get a Tengu, and initially not knowing their bad reputation, you set a longer term goal of getting into a Nidhoggur.  You bring up EVEMon and start adding skills to the queue.  You do a lot of research and load all the skills you're going to need to properly fly Interceptors, Heavy Assault Ships, and Minmatar Battlecruisers and Battleships, plus all of the relevant gunnery and support skills.

EVEMon lets you know that over the next 200 days, your SP total will rise from five million to 13 million.  But it also helpfully lets you know that you're going to have to raise another 75 million ISK for skill books.  One skill book, Heavy Assault Ships, is going to cost you almost 30 million ISK alone!  And you haven't even bought any of these ships yet...  A single fit Vagabond is going to cost you almost 200 million.  A single Maelstrom is going to cost you at least 250.  Fitted Hurricanes cost about 65 each and you're told you should have two or three of them.  Then it's explained to you that none of these ships count unless they're carrying expensive faction ammo.

In short, the PvP corp you want to join is letting you know that to join them, you're going to have to come up with nearly a billion ISK.  That's ten times the amount of money you've raised in your EVE career to date!  In your first hundred days, you needed to raise 100 million ISK.  But if you want to join a PvP corp on the modern EVE battlefield, in your second and third hundred days, you need to raise ten times as much.

Those instructions to look into L4 are seeming suddenly very relevant, but Ravens aren't exactly cheap: fitted, one of those will cost you 175 million ISK or so.  You hope the guy that told you that you should be a Raven Navy Issue was joking, because fitting one of those would cost you another half a billion...

God help you if you take the suggestions to get a Tengu or a carrier seriously at this stage in your career (hint: the skill-books alone to get into a carrier cost one billion ISK).  And all of this is for a single race.  Sooner or later, it's going to be explained to you that you should probably train for and buy some Amarr ships as well...  That's another whole set of skill books, because those Amarr ships use different guns, different mods, and different support skills.

This isn't a problem that EVE used to have.  A couple of years back, PvP corps would have been happy to accept a five or ten million SP pilot with a small stack of cruisers, a few BCs, and maybe a single expensive ship.  But over the last few years, there is one area that inflation has struck: the expectations of corps of their members, particularly their new members.  Where it used to be common to see corps recruiting for five or ten million SP pilots, these days the expectation is double or triple that.  And the new member had better have a good hangar full of ships right from day one.  The "single expensive ship" expectation these days in most PvP corps is a capital ship or a faction-fit strat cruiser.

Is it any surprise that so many EVE players are space-poor?  Is it any surprise that the most-asked question about EVE is "how do I make ISK?"  Is it any surprise that virtually every serious EVE player starts a second account?  Given the amounts of ISK that have to be raised so early in an EVE player's career, a second account is nearly a necessity.  All PvE in EVE happens more than twice as fast with two accounts working on it.  Ratting and missions go faster because two ships breaks the repairs of rats much more efficiently than one.  Mining goes faster when you have a hauler along.  But the second account needs skill books and ships, too, which means that while -- overall -- you come out ahead, you don't come out twice as far ahead.

And none of this takes into account a thousand incidental expenses that newer EVE players face: buying ammunition for missioning and implants and corp taxes and replacements for ships destroyed by early mistakes and ships purchased because they seemed cool but really weren't.  It goes on and on.  But at the center of it all are those skill books.  Skill books are the monkey on the back of the early EVE player.  The first few are cheap, costing only a few thousand ISK.  But the later ones cost more and more and more.  Two years down the line, you'll be spending hundreds of millions for a single book.  And while you can put off the purchase of a new ship for a while to grind up ISK, those skill books won't wait.  If you want to keep training, you have to come up with the ISK, and you have to come up with it on schedule.

And all of this assumes that you're paying for your one or two accounts with cash.  If you want to try paying for your accounts with PLEXes early in your career, the amount of ISK you'll need will feel overwhelming.

This would be bad enough if EVE PvE was fun.  But it's not.  Put into this context, it's not surprising that so many brand new EVE players try to get into incursion fleets right off.

Veteran EVE players forget this -- after all, when was the last time they had to buy a skill book?  Those most able to afford all those skill books don't need them.  Those most able to afford expensive ships rarely lose them.  Early EVE play does its level best to strangle new players in their crib.

Kill of the week: Alpha

A couple of weeks ago talking about the casual use of super-caps in New Eden lately, I mentioned that it felt like a new page had been turned in EVE's history.

Welcome to the first page of the new chapter:

First, let's talk about the setup on how this Titan died.  When your alliance gets used to flying smaller ships -- Scorpions and Maelstroms, say, or Rifters -- it takes a while to get used to the fact that some ships are bigger.  The hard-learned rule in a lot of alliances is that you never warp to a Titan at zero.  You warp to a Titan at 10km because if you warp to zero, you're going to land inside the Titan and you're going to bump it.  Another hard-learned rule in a lot of alliances is that if a POS is designated as a super-cap staging POS, non-super-caps aren't allowed inside at all.  Ever.

Goons apparently don't have these rules yet.  This Titan died because a pair of dreadnoughts warped to a POS with the Titan inside, landed on it, and thanks to some help from Newton's Second Law, bumped it outside the shields.  Both offending dreads were also bumped outside the shields by Newton's Third Law.  One managed to jump away.  A minute later, the other paid for his offense with his ship.

Before that even happened, though, the Titan was dead.  Here's the video:

At 20 seconds into the video, the Titan is at 90% shields.  At 29 seconds, 80% shields.  At 34 seconds, the Titan is gone.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I really like alpha ships.  I've spent a good deal of time in a variety of them.  There's something extremely satisfying about watching an enemy ship simply vanish in a few seconds despite being surrounded by Logistics ships.  It takes a good FC to pull it off well, and a lot of discipline and timing on the part of the pilots in the fleet.  But when it's working well, it's a lot of fun.

Still, being on the receiving end of alpha kinda sucks.  ;-)

In this case, a 65 billion ISK ship with an extremely solid tank (for a shield super) was alphaed to death in five seconds by Titan Doomsdays.  There were so many DDs aimed at this Titan that at least four of them didn't hit.  The ship died so fast that there were almost certainly a large number of pilots in the fleet that didn't realize the fleet had just gotten a Titan kill.

Losing a Logi or a battleship or a AHAC to alpha is one thing.  This... this is quite another.

EDIT (28/Jan/2012): And tonight, a PL fleet alphed an Aeon.  That'll do, PL.  That'll do.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


On Friday, I covered a bit of the incursion "interdiction" happening right now, and ended the piece by saying that "I think it's just possible that someone might do something rash."

Yup.  As covered by EN24 last night, yesterday in Lisudeh, a major effort was launched by incursion bears to disrupt the interdiction fleet's (ultimately successful) effort to "prematurely" close the incursion in the Kisana constellation.  Visit Lisudeh on dotlan today, and you'll find that about 75 ships were lost.  The bulk of them were cheap Blackbirds and Celestises (Celestii?) in suicide e-war attacks on the interdiction fleet's logis and frigate-hunters, respectively.

Problem is, a couple of those attacks succeeded, resulting in the destruction of the ships.

There's an amusing scene in Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl that, as a negotiator, always tickles me.  After Elizabeth Swann's rather disastrously bad negotiating earlier in the film only manages to get her captured by Captain Barbossa's gang of pirates, Will Turner goes aboard the Black Pearl intending to negotiate her release.  "Don't do anything stupid," Jack Sparrow warns him as the negotiating begins.  The trouble is that Will doesn't have anything to negotiate with except his own life, which for reasons of the movie's plot, is valuable to the pirates.

So Will points his gun at himself and threatens to shoot himself if his demands aren't met.  "Like that," Sparrow moans at the stupidity of this action, and there's a lot of humor value to be had in Sparrow bitching about Will's decision for the rest of the movie.

Yeah, as I said, a couple of those suicidal attacks succeeded, this one and this one.  There may be others.

Now, it's just possible that there was a valid declaration of war or aggression on that first one.  After all, look closely at the second one and you'll see that the aggressors ended up in pods.  In the first case, we don't know if CONCORD showed up to pop that Griffin or not so that might be a perfectly legal kill.  That second one, though?  Yeah.  That looks a lot like an illegal kill to me.

There's a little-known mechanic in EVE Online that states that if you participate in an illegal kill on a ship in high- or low-sec, the pilot destroyed is granted "kill rights" on you for 30 days.  Kill rights means that if the aggrieved party comes upon you in a ship, they have the right to destroy that ship, wherever they find it, whatever it is.

Even if it's, say, a two billion ISK shiny high-sec incursion ship.  Currently being aggressed by incursion rats.

By successfully getting an interdiction logi ganked, False Cape and Sortido might have done nothing but ban themselves from incursions for that 30 days, unless they care to put their shiny incursion ships at risk from aggrieved party Shamblingform.  And as I said, there might be others with the same kill rights.  No doubt, all those incursion pilots that lost ships last night are looking very closely at their kill rights and paying a fair bit of ISK to locator agents this morning.

Guys, there's a reason that a lot of people use alts for this sort of thing...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mid-game problem

Some games -- particularly RPGs -- have a mid-game problem.  Our example game for this exercise will be Skyrim.  Skyrim has a terrible mid-game problem.  Don't worry, EVE players.  I'm going to be relating this to EVE, so stay with me.

Skyrim is a skills-based RPG where level progression is determined based on advancement of those skills.  The game does not care which skills you advance.  Advancing a certain number of skills allows you to level up.  Leveling up grants increased stats and perks, but not increased skills.  But leveling up also increases game difficulty since the game levels your adversaries partially based on your own level.  Skyrim's mid-game problem comes about for two reasons:
  • it has both combat and non-combat skills, and treats them equally with respect to leveling; and,
  • several of its skills are highly dependent on luck or large amounts of in-game money in order to use adequately.
Let's talk about both in turn.

Many of Skyrim's skills, notably the use of one- and two-handed weapons, using bows, blocking with shields, and Destruction magic, are 100% combat-oriented.  Advancement of these skills requires an opponent on which to use them and raising these skills increases their effectiveness.  However, many others, notably Smithing, Alchemy, Enchanting, and Illusion, Conjuration, and Alteration magic, are partially or wholly non-combat-related.  It is quite possible to greatly advance all of these skills, rapidly raising the character's level, without ever leaving the game's protected strong-holds.  At the point where such a character finally does leave one of these strong-holds, they can find themselves at level 5 or 6... but with combat skills of a level 1 character facing multiple level 5 and 6 adversaries.  Swift, frequent, and frustrating death is the result.

Almost as bad is the problem of enchantments and magic within the game.  Unlike Skyrim's predecessors, learning enchantments to use on magic items happens through the destruction of existing magic items either found or purchased by the player.  A similar mechanic exists for the purchase of magic spells for use in combat.  They must be either found as loot or purchased from vendors.  As a result, a great deal of luck enters early Skyrim play.  If you intend to frequently battle dragons, you will need magic items conferring fire or frost resistance.  Therefore, you must hope to either luck into receiving appropriate items as loot, or you must hope that the (randomly-generated) items up for sale by merchants will have these enchantments.  You then have to hope that if you end up purchasing items to destroy to learn their enchantments, that those items won't break your wallet.

This nearly immediately becomes difficult because magic items for purchase are rare until you reach the mid-game.  By the time you start to see them, the items you're forced into destroying to learn needed enchantments can be expensive.

This introduces several competing mid-game problems: do you spend your money on the spells and enchantments you need, or do you go off on many side-quests to try to luck into them, or perform those side-quests to gain the money you need to buy the items when they do become available?  And while you're doing so, how do you balance skills as you level?  If you forget and create a pile of potions or armor to sell and inadvertently level yourself with your non-combat skills faster than your combat skills in the process, you can find yourself facing a different sort of mid-game problem: the side-quests will become too difficult for you.

So, there's a very tricky balance involved in early Skyrim play to try to avoid these two mid-game problems.  You have to balance the advancement of combat and non-combat skills as you level.  If you're smart, you'll hoard much of your early gold, recognizing that it will be needed when you reach the mid-game, to fill in the inevitable holes in your enchanting ability or spell books left by unlucky loot drops.  This problem is not unique to Skyrim, of course.  As I said, many RPGs have this mid-game problem to one extent or another.  Most people who play RPGs for any length of time recognize the balance that has to be struck to be successful.

EVE Online also has a matched pair of mid-game problems.

A little over a year ago, strictly for my own amusement, I produced the following "chart":

I posted it on FHC, and it got some laughs.  Some people wanted to nit-pick about where I had put this or that item, but I was mostly trying to convey the overall experience of EVE Online as a long-term player.  Whether you start PvPing in Drakes at five million SP or 12 million, whether you start solo PvPing at one million SP or 40 million, almost nobody can deny that one's enjoyment of EVE waxes and wanes with one's skill point totals...

...with what is possible to fly and what is not possible to fly.

Once you can fly Drakes, the fact that you can't fly Zealots becomes paramount.  Once you can fly Zealots, the fact that you can't fit T2 guns on your Tornado becomes paramount.  Once you can do that, you start mournfully looking at the cap-ship fleet you're supporting.

EVE is so often about what you can't fly, and not what you can.

And that causes frustration, impatience, and the strong desire to start playing a game where it doesn't take three years to get to the end-game goals.

That's one of EVE's mid-game problems.  We're told in the CSM December Summit minutes CCP has determined that "if a user has been subscribed to EVE for three years or more, that user is very unlikely to leave EVE."  Figuring one million SP every 21 days, that's about 50 million skill-points.  I have three characters past that point now, and for all three of them within their specialties, there's very few things they cannot do or fly were I to put my mind to it.

But damn, did it take a while to get there.  And damn, did it take a lot of patience.

The quote came from a session with CCP regarding customer loyalty, and it's great that they recognize this problem.  And part of the problem is solved: at least we don't have to spend months training Learning skills any more.  But on today's modern EVE PvP battlefield, where pilots are expected to be able to field a wide variety of ships -- most of them T2 -- encouraging a new player to start that three-year climb is going to become increasingly difficult.  Goons -- Goons, mind -- in addition to fielding sizable battleship fleets are now fielding sizable super-capital fleets!  The days of the Goon Rifter fleet are long gone, except as a way to get a few laughs.  Lots of people will get to that dip in their fun at the seven or eight million SP mark ("no, can't fit that; no, can't fit that, either; no, can't fly that") and quit out of frustration right there.  Once you've trained all those fitting skills, you quickly forget how long they all took, but when you're doing it... oi.

How to fix it?  I haven't a clue.  Current players will be loath to change anything.  As I've said a lot, they'll say "I had to fight my way up the learning cliff, and it was hard.  You have to, too, newbie.  No short-cuts."  Maybe whatever loyalty program that eventually emerges from CCP will help.

I sure wish I had that updated PCU data.  It feels like EVE is out of immediate danger of crashing, but the niche that Incarna was supposed to break EVE out of still remains, and I don't think Crucible helped much.  Loyal EVE players might hustle over to mmorpg.com to vote it Player's Choice Game of the Year and that's terrific, but with both RIFT and TOR rocketing past EVE here, there's still some work to be done.  Remember, when mmorpg.com's editors chose, they didn't choose EVE.

What's EVE's other mid-game problem?  It's related, but I'll get to that in a day or two.

Fit of the Week: Throwback Armageddon

This week's Fit of the Week is one of my favorite PvP ships to fly:

[Armageddon, Throwback]
Damage Control II
Heat Sink II
Heat Sink II
Heat Sink II
Coreli C-Type Adaptive Nano Plating
Coreli C-Type Adaptive Nano Plating
1600mm Reinforced Rolled Tungsten Plates I
1600mm Reinforced Rolled Tungsten Plates I

Quad LiF Fueled I Booster Rockets
Conjunctive Radar ECCM Scanning Array I
Medium Electrochemical Capacitor Booster I, Navy Cap Booster 400

Mega Pulse Laser II, Imperial Navy Multifrequency L
Mega Pulse Laser II, Imperial Navy Multifrequency L
Mega Pulse Laser II, Imperial Navy Multifrequency L
Mega Pulse Laser II, Imperial Navy Multifrequency L
Mega Pulse Laser II, Imperial Navy Multifrequency L
Mega Pulse Laser II, Imperial Navy Multifrequency L
Mega Pulse Laser II, Imperial Navy Multifrequency L
Large 'Arup' I Remote Bulwark Reconstruction

Large Trimark Armor Pump I
Large Trimark Armor Pump I
Large Trimark Armor Pump I

Berserker II x5

Ripard is my combat main, of course, but I have couple of combat alts as well.  While Ripard focuses on "battleships and below", one of my alts focuses on "battleships and above" (though there's a small bit of overlap).  I got this alt into big yellow ships early, and he's never looked back.  And while this alt isn't good for much else, when I'm flying him in an Amarr battleship, there are few better in the role.  As an example, in an attack on a POS last year, this alt out-damaged every other member of the fleet not in a capital ship... and out-damaged most of the other battleship pilots by a factor of two or more.  It really speaks to the abilities of an ultra-specialized character compared to a more generalized one when what you're doing favors the specialized pilot.

When I'm not flying a fast-and-furious Minmatar ship, my second-favorite is a nearly-as-furious Armageddon.  Subtle, this ship is not.

Let's get the bad out of the way first: as written, this is a high SP ship.  You will need perfect fitting skills to make this fit work.  As I've started saying in the FOTW epilogue, feel free to down-shift this ship based on your individual skills.

Still, if you can sit in and fly this ship as written, you will find an absolute PvP monster.  A triple Heat Sink Geddon with a good pilot aboard can produce 850 DPS with the guns on this ship alone.  The drones add nearly another 300 DPS, allowing this boat to easily pump around 1100 DPS out to the edge of point range, or 900+ to the edge of drone control range.  A Geddon with a good pilot aboard is arguably the cheapest, most effective DPS platform in New Eden.  If you're not scared of this boat, you should be.

The downside is the tank.  It's not bad, as such, but it's not that great in terms of resists, with only 60% resistance to explosive damage and not much better to other types of damage.  It does have a really nice buffer, with nearly 30,000 armor HP.  So you won't go down fast... but you'll be hard to rep without increased resists.  If you want to emphasize buffer, you can drop the remote rep and trade a Heat Sink for a third plate.  I find this version is too slow.  If you want to increase resists instead, another option is to trade a Heat Sink for an EANM, which you can make work in a variety of ways.  The most common is to downshift the Damage Control to a meta unit or sacrifice the ECCM for a Sensor Booster.

Still, by taking either of these options, you sacrifice more than 100 DPS and will probably fall below that magical "1000 DPS" mark.  ;-)  As I often say, you pays your money and you take your chances.  Most FCs are going to assume that the Geddons in the fleet are fit to murder things with fire, with personal survival as a secondary characteristic, and highly dependent on how fast the Geddons can perform the aforementioned murder.  That's the reason for the heavy drones instead of something more subtle, by the way.  Again, most FCs are going to assume that if you bring a Geddon, you intend to bring the pain.

If you do die, the really nice thing about the Geddon is how relatively cheap it is.  The hull will only run you about 50 million and insurance is very inexpensive since the Geddon is a tier 1 battleship.  The guns are probably the most expensive part of the fit, with the dual C-Type ANPs running a close second.(1)  Don't skimp with tech 2 ANPs... your resists are already bad enough.

Why do I call this ship a throwback?  Well, first, there's the lack of subtlety.  Fleets these days tend to do a lot of razzle-dazzle with utility e-war in either ship or drone form.  This Geddon doesn't even have a point.  If you're hoping for this ship to point something, you're doing it wrong.  ;-)  It resists enemy e-war with ECCM, pumps cap into its system with a booster, and converts that cap into fire.  It's a primitive.  The second reason is the remote repper.  "Remote rep BS" fleets used to be a hallmark of New Eden combat, with two adversaries coming together to slug it out, subtlety be damned.  This fitting harkens back to that prior era.

In the modern EVE battlefield, this isn't a ship that you'll pull out very often.  It's too specialized, and vulnerable to half a dozen counters, from AHACs to nano to hot-drops.  But damn if this ship isn't fun when you can pull it out.

Fly brutal.  :-)

(1) As I write this, Mega Pulse Lasers are 3.65 million each, and C-Type ANPs can be had for 13 million ISK if you're patient.

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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


So, now that I've introduced the concept behind Kingdoms of Amalur, let's talk about the demo for Reckoning, the single-player game set in this franchise.

I've said a lot that I'm a big fan of fantasy RPGs.  This is understating the case a bit.  I've been a fan of them going all the way back to the "Gold Box" series of SSI D&D games on the Commodore 64 and third generation IBM PC.  Yeah.  I've been gaming a long time.  ;-)  Still, my favorites in this genre have been first person perspective games, starting with the old Might and Magic series and then with Daggerfall, which started my long love affair with The Elder Scrolls.  Coincidentally, these games tend to be open world.

Still, this type of game hasn't been as popular in the marketplace as third-person isometric perspective RPGs.  The champions of this type of RPG have been Diablo, Baldur's Gate, and Neverwinter Nights.  With Skyrim released late last year (and no doubt soon to have a number of expansions) and Diablo III to get a release date any moment now, we're going to have the latest contest to see which one does better in the market.  Hint: Diablo III is almost certainly going to win, thanks in large part to its multi-player component.  Coincidentally, though, these games tend to be linear world, though some -- like Neverwinter Nights -- throw a certain amount of open-world content in.

So, the first question to be answered is where does Reckoning fall in this contest?  The answer is it's a third-person isometric perspective game... sort of.

But let's take a step back.  My favorite types of games are open world RPGs, RTS, 4X strategic combat games like Sins of a Solar Empire, and tactical games like the Silent Hunter series of submarine simulations.  Based on this, it's no surprise I got into EVE Online.  In the middle for me are FPS and vehicle games.  My least favorite types of games are fighting games, tunnel shooters, and platformers (though I thought Braid was brilliant).  I feel these last three types of games lack depth.  So again based on this, it's no surprise I got into EVE Online.  ;-)

The typical mechanic of RPGs is that you choose your character's race (and associated advantages).  Then you choose and start to level a class.  And then you purchase items, spells, or advantages that this race and class can use to advantage.  They tend to be tactical games in that a fight is won or lost at the preparation phase, and depends on how well you prepared the right weapons, spells, potions, or whatever to win a particular engagement.  There's also a certain amount of trial and error involved as you determine what that correct strategy is.  Still, once you start applying the correct strategy, you find that it quickly overwhelms your opponent.

The typical mechanic of a fighting game or platformer is that you learn combinations of key-presses (combos), moves and counter-moves, and potentially apply quick-time events to win a fight.  Preparation needed by the player is minimal or non-existent.  The key component of victory is learning the tells that announce that your opponent is going to use a particular offense or defense.  Once you learn these tells, you apply timing and quick reflexes to apply your attacks at the right time to inflict damage.

Granted, a certain amount of this creeps into the most tactical RPG.  For instance, in Skyrim, nearly all flying dragons will hover for a bit before launching their characteristic breath attack.  This gives the player sufficient time to raise their shield, find cover, or prepare some other defense.  But a fighting game or bosses in platformers will revolve around this mechanic.  Your opponent doesn't much care if you're using a close-up or ranged attack, or if you've consumed a potion of fire resistance or whatever.

With all this in mind, if you haven't tried the Reckoning demo yourself, here's a game-play video that you can check out.

You'll notice the third-person isometric perspective right away.  But then you'll start to notice other things as well.  Like combos.  Like quick-time events.  Like the very fast and fluid combat.  Play a typical RPG of either standard type and the combatants tend to be fairly static.  There's a bit of tactical movement here and there, but that's it.  Playing the demo of Reckoning, I was constantly surprised at how much and how fast I was moving around.  It was completely different from any other RPG I'd ever played.  I still chose race, class, and items, but Reckoning is a bit more coy with these as well.  These concepts are de-emphasized.

Get into a boss fight and the elements of a fighting game come to the forefront.  The bosses have tells and platformer-style area attacks to avoid or counter, and your reflexes become much more important.  Granted, there's a certain amount of pre-fight strategy that you can employ.  There are a few potions and the like in the game.  But these elements are likewise de-emphasized.

Then you start to move around Reckoning's landscape, and you realize that there are 3D platformer elements as well!  Granted, there are only a few elements of this in the demo, but you can almost feel a lot more of this going on in the background.  I suspect that in the full game, they'll make many more appearances.

Realizing this, I asked my friend who is working on the Amalur MMO... "This is a kitbash, isn't it?  A kitbash of a RPG, fighting game, and a platformer!"  He replied, "Sure is."

The demo itself includes about 45 minutes out of the main storyline mission, followed by 45 minutes in the open world environment.  The controls are a bit wonky on the PC platform... all of those combos and defenses require an almost dizzying myriad of keyboard combinations.  This is one of those games that will greatly benefit from playing it on a console or with a console controller, I think.  I found the controls much more manageable with this interface.  I was quite impressed by the graphics, too!  They're a bit more cartoony than I'm used to in an RPG, but once you get into the setting, they fit quite well.  The combat animations are a real pleasure to behold.

So, color me intrigued.  It will be damned interesting to see how many of these elements make their way into the eventual Kingdoms of Amalur MMO.  I tried to get my friend to answer that question, but he stayed true to his NDA.  ;-)  The idea of a open-world fantasy MMO employing these concepts is sure interesting!  If the fighting-game twitch aesthetic is used for the game's PvP, I might end up being at quite a disadvantage.

But now I have this picture in my head of 30 or 40 of these characters fighting a pitched battle for control of a village in the game's world that's kind of hard to shake...


I'm just going to spit-ball here for a little bit.  It'll probably result in me being called all sorts of names, but I'm used to that.

When I first started playing EVE, I did a fair bit of mining.  In a game where trit sold for 4+ ISK per unit, it was an easy, low-effort way to make what to me seemed a decent income at the time.  It required only a tiny bit of my attention, and most of the time I'd do it, it'd run in the background while I was doing something else.  Watching a movie?  Fine, I'll have the laptop on the table next to me and shift ore around every few minutes.  Working on writing something?  Same deal: the Hulk can do its thing on one of the side monitors.  I anchored a lot of cans in a 0.7 system and filled them, then came back later and emptied them.  Repeat repeat repeat.  It was boring but steady ISK.

But this period of my EVE career only lasted about six months or so before I moved on to other things.  I did a little more mining after I moved into a wormhole, to take advantage of the higher-value ores available there.  But as I've covered before, even the draw of this faded fast.  Mining itself is relaxing and low-effort, but the logistics support involved is painful.  Two of my characters are able to pilot Hulks, and I still own two of them.  But it's now coming up on two years since I've undocked in either of them.(1)

I occasionally think about selling them, but then part of me thinks "well, it was relaxing, and maybe someday I'll do it again."  Another part of my brain thinks "Are you high?  Even belt-ratting is better than mining."  The two parts get into an argument, nothing is resolved, and the Hulks gather dust in the hangars.  Why yes, that is how my mind works sometimes.

I don't read the EVE-O forums all that often -- the signal-to-noise ratio is usually unacceptably low for me.  Still, a thread out there started by Mors Sanctitatis caught my eye with some suggestions on how to improve mining:

You can read the whole post if you like, but the bulk of it is stuff that's been covered lots of times in other fora: get rid of drone alloys, shut down T1 loot drops, change the asteroids in belts to visually show which ones are valuable and which ones are junk to make bot-mining harder.  They're not necessarily bad ideas... they're just not all that original.  Still, there's one suggestion in his post that strikes me as being very interesting.

A lot of people never mine in Skyrim, regarding it as a waste of time.  And indeed, most of the time it is.  But one of the interesting things about Skyrim mining is that every once in a while as you're doing it, the game will tell you you've mined a gemstone and you'll have a sapphire or a garnet or a flawless diamond added to your inventory.  It's a nice touch!  Sure, the ore itself is nearly worthless except as a means of raising your Smithing skill later, but Skyrim gemstones are a nice source of supplemental gold.

Mors suggests a very similar mechanic for EVE Online mining.  Every once in a while as you mined, you'd come upon a super-compressed fragment of the asteroid that -- when uncompressed -- would be worth a lot of ISK: hundreds of thousands or millions of units of ore in that one small bit.  The fragment would be dropped into your ship's cargo hold along with the rest of the ore mined during that cycle.  He further suggests that there would be some kind of visual clue that would let you know which asteroids had a chance of producing this higher-quality drop, and that such fragments would be much more common in lower security space.  And that one idea, I find quite intriguing!  People who belt-rat do it for the ISK, of course, but the process is livened up by the occasional faction spawn... and the far-off dream of an officer spawn.  And it's those faction and officer spawns that belt ratters often remember, not the drudge of the grind.

Why should mining be different?

It'd also be quite interesting from both ganking and logistics perspectives.  Mors suggests that this super-compressed ore fragment would be quite small, and I agree with this approach.  Say this suggestion were implemented.  The Hulk you're watching suddenly turns and prepares to warp off despite having lots of rocks in front of him.  Think it's time to break out the cargo scanner?  ;-)  In addition, I could see these super-compressed fragments gaining a value out of proportion to their actual mineral value since they could be transported into or out of null-sec in blockade runners instead of jump freighters.  That might even serve to lessen a bit of the mineral compression problem.

It's certainly not the whole Bible on how to make mining in EVE less shit, but it sure strikes me as an interesting chapter!  Thoughts?  Is this the oldest idea in the universe, and I'm just so far behind today's EVE mining discussions that I wasn't aware of it?

(1) Well, scratch that.  I undocked in one for about three minutes a couple of days after the new turret models were released to see what they and the new mining laser effects looked like.  ;-)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Misses the target

There's been a lot of chit-chat about four changes to the Drake that CCP proposed to CSM6 during the December summit:
  • it would lose the shield resistance bonus and the 5% Kinetic damage bonus; and instead,
  • gain a rate of fire bonus and a missile velocity bonus.
We're told that such a change would re-balance the Drake which currently "does everything too well".  We're also told it would potentially add more uniqueness to the Nighthawk, which is presently overshadowed entirely by the Drake.

Let's get that last point out of the way first: there's currently not really any good reason to fly a Nighthawk, other than how cool it looks.  A Drake can do the same job nearly as well, for one fifth the cost.  In PvE, a well-fit end-game Drake does about 370 DPS without drones; the Nighthawk does 435.  The 65 DPS is not really worth the extra ISK put at risk for ratting; get a Tengu instead; just as much DPS at far lower risk.  For missioning, while you might start L4 missions with a Drake, you'll soon be drawn to other platforms than the Nighthawk.  All in all, these proposed changes to the Drake aren't going to change that.  You can't buff the Nighthawk by re-balancing the Drake.  The Nighthawk needs someone to look at it, please.  Onward.

So... is this a nerf?  Kirith Kodachi thinks soSo does Seleene.

I'm not so sure.

First, let's make things really clear: this change is intentionally aimed at PvP Drakes.  We'll get to why in a second.  Drakes are hugely common in PvP because they do consistent, reliable DPS, their fitting is really hard to get too terribly wrong, and they're easy ships to put newbies into with little effort.  Enemy FCs ignore them until last because the Drake is the very epitome of a defensive ship.  Almost no other ship in EVE can match it on defense.

However, that defensive nature means that Drakes have long been regarded as well-balanced PvE platforms.  CCP now proposes to strip that defensive nature away.

What's that resistance nerf going to do to the Drake?  Well, EHP for a max skilled pilot of a Drake with no fittings is going to drop from 24.6k EHP to just over 21k EHP if my math is accurate.  A fairly typical heavy tank PvP Drake (double-Invul, double-LSE, double-CDFE, single anti-EM rig) will drop from 81k EHP to about 76k.  More significantly, the PvE triple-Purger Drake will go from being able to omni-tank about 300 DPS with passive recharge to about 175 DPS.

Yeah.  This is a pretty big change, and -- ironically -- it'll hit PvE Drakes a lot harder than their PvP brethren.

Why is the change so significant?  The Drake is all about the resists.  Today, a double-Invul PvE Drake with no Damage Control has an average resist of 72%.  The resist-nerfed Drake's average will be 62%.  I wrote about how important even a few percentage points of resistance are a couple of months ago.  Those percentage points are even more important when the ship in question isn't active tanking.  To quickly summarize the point I made in that post, 62% resists means that 100 points of shield recharge becomes 263 effective shield hit points.  72% resists means that same 100 points of shield recharge becomes 357.

On a Drake, depending on your fit, that 100 shield points recharges every six or seven seconds.  Let's say it's 6.5 seconds.  That means the higher resist Drake picks up almost a thousand more EHP per minute, meaning it can passively tank some combination of two or three more rat battleships, six more rat cruisers, or 12 more rat frigates.  The difference adds up fast!  We wouldn't see a lot of Drakes in L4 missions after this change; they wouldn't be able to survive them.  Their ability to tank L3s will have to be adjusted with a lot more mission-specific tanking and careful flying.

The PvP Drakes are not going to be impacted as much.  PvP Drakes close the EM hole and fit Damage Controls by and large, so the resist nerf won't hit them as hard: their resists, on average, will drop from 73 to 65.  It's a 7-point change instead of a 10-point one, still big but not disastrous.

The big impact on the PvP Drakes is going to be on the flip-side... all those offensive changes.  The kinetic damage change looks like a nerf, but it really isn't.  Today, you can look at a Drake and think "kinetic damage".  A lot of PvP ship classes out there right now that often fight Drakes -- AHACs, for instance -- go out of their way to close their kinetic resistance hole.  With Drakes able to vary their damage to whatever type of damage is required, their effective DPS is going to go up a fair bit.  And the missile speed and rate of fire buffs are going to make brawling HAM Drakes -- currently relatively uncommon -- absolute close-range monsters.

But let's be clear, here: CCP isn't looking at these change for the good of the ship.  They're looking these changes for the good of their servers.  They've had a strong desire to punch the Drake in the mouth for about a year now and are just looking for the right time to deliver that punch.  CCP claims that Drake missile volleys -- particularly in large numbers -- are a big cause of server lag.  These changes really effectively do two things to the Drake:
  • make them easier to kill and more likely to be killed, so they'll die faster and fire fewer missiles; and,
  • make those missiles that they do fire hit their targets faster, lessening server load from calculating missile tracks.
It's clever.  But will it back-fire?

After all, there's another way to use that range bonus.  Right now, FCs across New Eden know that HML Drakes -- the most common type -- can engage defensively at about 70-75km, and offensively (while chasing a target) at 55-60km.  The missile speed boost is going to increase those ranges by 25%.  Energy Locus Hellcats will no longer be able to hit Drakes for good damage at 70km the way they can today because the Drakes aren't going to be there any more... the Drakes will be at 80 or 85km, outside of Locus Hellcat range.  AHACs, meanwhile, can no longer count on their 80 or 85% kinetic resist to save them; those Drakes are going to be firing EM missiles at them instead.(1)

Lots and lots of people are looking at these potential Drake changes... and getting excited about them.  As a result, we might see more Drakes on the PvP battlefield out of this kind of change, not fewer.  And we might see them just emphasizing the skirmishing role they were never intended to take in the first place.  Do these changes constitute a Drake nerf?  Do they really?

Well, yes: they sure are for the PvE Drakes!  But that wasn't the intent.  While this proposed change to the Drake is sure interesting, I think it misses the target.

(1) I almost typed "Thunderbolts", but they're not gonna be Thunderbolts after tomorrow; they're gonna be Mjolnirs.

Open world MMO

I play games other than EVE.  Shocking, but true, I know.  ;-)  For example, blogging was a bit lighter than usual in early January because I was pumping a ton of time into Skyrim.(1)  I also toy with other MMOs occasionally; the little text block at the right detailing which ones isn't updated very often, but it's still reality.

Matter of fact, I think I'll sum up my thoughts on Wurm Online right now.  First, my concerns: the graphics and interface are terribly dated.  It might also be unique in the MMO universe in that it has a steeper curve than EVE Online, partially because of the interface, partially because of the lack of newbie-friendly areas.  The instant you jump into the game, you're assumed to be an expert at it, and if you're not... well... sucks to be you.

That said, it also has some positives.  The idea of strongly encouraging people to come together, cooperate, and build strongholds and towns to protect themselves from the harsh world outside is a really good one.  In the same way that EVE could be the subject of many economic research papers, Wurm Online could be the subject of many anthropological ones.  When you watch a community form and build up to defend itself, you really feel like you're watching a bit of early Earth history... people putting up wooden palisades to keep out the wolves... then converting them to stone when their wood-walled village becomes prosperous enough to be worth invading.

So, sum up Wurm Online as: concept good, implementation bad.  And I think I'll go ahead and move it to the "departed" list.  ;-)

One thing Wurm definitely has on its side is the sandbox element: it lays out the background and the story, then gets out of the way and lets the players provide much of the content.  In this way, Wurm has a problem because it steps too far out of the way.  But it was the sandbox element that definitely drew me in.

I'm still looking for a sandbox fantasy MMO.

For that reason, another franchise that I'm keeping a very close eye on is the Kingdoms of Amalur brand.  In the interests of full disclosure, I'll say that the franchise came to my attention because a friend of mine works for the company producing part of it.  However, this one would have popped up on my radar pretty quickly in any case because of its pedigree.  The executive designer of the brand is Ken Rolston, who was the lead designer of the Morrowind and Oblivion installments of The Elder Scrolls series.  When he left Bethesda not long after Oblivion's release, I was not happy.  ;-)  The party line was that he retired... but rumors swirled that he'd been pushed due to burn-out.

The first game in the Kingdoms of Amalur brand will be a single-player RPG called Reckoning, set to be released in a couple of weeks.  But the second game in the brand will be an MMO... release date unknown.  They're not going to run out of money, though.  The company producing both products is 38 Studios, owned by former Major League Baseball player (and MMO fanatic) Curt Schilling.  He makes it quite candidly clear that he's spending $100 million on the Amalur MMO, he expects it to have millions of subscribers, and he rejects free-to-play as making no business sense.

In that context, anyone interested in MMOs who doesn't have their eye on this property probably isn't thinking straight.  ;-)

So those two elements would have caught my attention already, but it's the third element that has me truly intrigued: it's been made repeatedly clear that the Amalur games will be strongly open world, mated to a dense storyline and back-story (written by R.A. Salvatore).  You take an open world and plop it down into an MMO, and boys and girls, what you have... is a sandbox.  So... yeah.  I'm keeping an eye on this one.  Expect this to be the first in a series of Kingdoms of Amalur posts around here.

On the 17th, the first playable demo for Reckoning was released, and I spent some time over the weekend playing it.  It's available on XBox Live, Steam, and for direct download among other places.  Go check it out if you're interested.  I'll have more to say about the demo in a day or two, but felt like I should introduce the new tag first...

(1) And I'll be comparing Skyrim to EVE in an important respect in a blog post before too long.

Quote of the Week: Trivia

I'm torn.  The quote of the week should definitely be one of the many tweets sent out this past week by CCP Diagoras.  But which one?

This one is tempting:
43.74% of Tornadoes destroyed this year so far were destroyed by CONCORD or sentry guns. 1,219 of 2,787 total. Criminal. #tweetfleet
But so is this one:
54,991 capitals built in 2011 in total; Carriers being the single largest group with 24,028. #tweetfleet
But I think I'll actually go with this one, which is the answer to "what percentage of active characters with more than 5 million skill points are in high-sec?":
And the answer to the % of >5m SP chars in high sec is... 67%! Lower than any of the guesses. See the pic! #tweetfleet

CCP Diagoras has been an absolute fountain of information this past week.  Go check out his tweets this week, as reported by EN24.  In fact, there's only one common thread linking all the information that Diagoras has shared with us in the last week: all of it is trivial and useless.  It's completely pointless!  It's roughly as useful to the average EVE player as knowing exactly what percentage of Americans put honey in their oatmeal.  Actually, no.  It's less useful than that because at least a honey manufacturer might find that last fact useful to his business.

Transparency in business is defined as openness, communication, and accountability in the business information being communicated.  When you are being transparent, you are removing all barriers to the free public access of information.  Put simply, a clerk at a check-out counter ringing up the purchase of your groceries is being transparent: you know exactly how much each item costs and can make business decisions based on those costs whether you really want to buy those bananas or not.  An appliance repairman presenting a non-itemized bill for $300 to fix your dishwasher is not being transparent: you don't know how much the parts are costing compared to the labor or how that amount was arrived at.  True data is information produced that you can make business decisions based on.

As someone who closely followed and reported on the data produced by CCP's Quarterly Economic Newsletters and could make economic decisions about my EVE play based on the data contained in them, I find this "data" from Diagoras not only useless but actively insulting.  It presents the illusion of transparency when really, it's anything but.  Over the last six months or so, there's been a clear and conscious direction on CCP's part to limit the EVE player's access to useful in-game data.

And this stuff from Diagoras is a lovely example: it's trivia.

This came to a head for me when in the past six weeks, Diagoras has had time to produce not one, not two, but three devblogs full of this crap.  There's time to produce this trivial garbage, but not a true QEN or even an annual economic newsletter?  Really?

I've chatted with Diagoras a few times in e-mail and he strikes me as a really smart guy who has his act together.  He's clearly organized, professional, and thinks things through.  His actions and statements during the Fearless debacle last summer were similarly above reproach.  But this stuff is not only wasting my time, it's wasting his.

How about dumping the trivia and giving us some real data, Diagoras?  How would that be?