Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
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Friday, September 21, 2012

Breaking stuff to look tough

The latest dev-blog is out, and it's one of those that's designed to hurt my brain.  Go give it a read.  I'll wait.

Short version: CCP is changing all non-wormhole, non-Incursion rats so that they will target-switch the same way wormhole and Incursion rats do.  As a side effect, the rats will "try" to target player ships of about the same signature radius as the rat ship.  So frigs will try to attack frigs, cruisers will try to attack cruisers, et cetera.  In addition, rats will now switch targets to drones if drone threat goes high enough.

First off, we're told by CCP FoxFour that this is -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- the first step of many.  The old AI code is going to be thrown out in favor of the "Level One" AI code.  Once in place, the devs will then be able to make modifications to the AI that they're not able to or uncomfortable doing to the old code.

All well and good, but I can't help thinking that breaking this without some initial positive steps is going to end up hurting more players than it helps.  In the section of the dev-blog titled "Why we are doing this", there are five reasons listed.  Three of them are for the benefit of CCP, not the players.  The other two aren't being implemented this winter.  That's worrisome.

Let's look at the positive first, though, because it's a big one.  This change will make it functionally impossible to AFK sites using drone boats.  Try it and eventually the AI is going to go after and kill all the drones leaving the AFK boat doing no DPS.  CCP lists this among the five reasons: "to try and close some exploits."  That is undeniably a big huge positive step, the mission equivalent of going after mining bots.  You'll get no argument from me that this is a good thing.

Still, there's some worrisome negatives and they come in a lot of flavors.

First, it's going to make it a lot more difficult to bring new players into high-level missions while more experienced players tank them.  Somewhere out there, Marlona Sky is saying "good!" and yeah, I understand where this perspective comes from.  But in a game where prices are increasing rapidly, new players are in danger of getting priced right out of the markets.  Effectively taking away a major income source for new players is not exactly a step in the right direction here.  CCP FoxFour's response to this is that newer players should bring frigates into the L4s instead of battleships, but this strikes me as no solution at all.  If the Level One AI is going to set its frigates attacking player frigs, isn't that going to mean the new player is going to find himself webbed, scrammed, and attacked by the mission's six or eight or ten rat frigates?

Second and related: it's pretty common these days for an initial tank ship to enter a site or mission and be followed by a lot of glass cannon DPS ships.  It's obviously CCP's intent for that to change so that any ship entering the mission or site can potentially tank it.  But that's also going to mean that the total DPS of a mission/site group will be reduced... maybe substantially reduced.  That's going to reduce mission/site income for everyone.  That effectively makes this change a PvE nerf for everyone.

Third worrisome factor: in mission groups today, it's also quite common for a tank ship to be followed by salvaging looting ships.  This change is going to delay Noctis pilots and other salvage ships, further slowing down their work.  Salvage prices are already a little bit nuts and making salvaging even MORE annoying isn't a good thing.  Still, initially this is probably going to be a somewhat more minor issue since salvage prices aren't anywhere near historic highs yet.

Fourth, this is going to require a lot of testing at the high-end.  The site that kinda sprang to mind for me is the Guristas 10/10, called "The Maze".  Despite living in the north for about a year, I've only done this site once.  But I still have vivid memories of that Citadel Torpedo firing station that ends that site.  When I would hear NC pilots talk about doing this site on comms, there was always a very specific custom-tanked ship that was brought in just to manage the enormous ship-breaking DPS coming off that torpedo.  There are a number of other null-sec sites and missions that fire similar weapons.  Something's going to have to be done about them because asking everyone in the site/mission to be able to tank that isn't practical.

Fifth: people who make a living out of ninja salvaging or can flipping in missions are going to have to be a lot more careful.  But who cares about them, right?  If they're put out of business, that's no big deal.

Finally, as I mentioned at the top of the piece, this change doesn't really do anything to make the missions more fun, interesting, or engaging.  For that FoxFour tells us we have to wait for the next iteration and of course we've seen how CCP can sometimes forget that part...

So overall, I'm cautiously optimistic about this one for putting AFK drone boats out of business.  But it's also going to hurt a lot of legitimate players who are just using PvE to make ISK for other needs.  And the newer you are at the game, the more this change is likely to hurt you.  So let's hope the second iteration of this change happens very soon after the first.  I'm all for making PvE more engaging, but this change alone doesn't do that.


  1. You're viewing from the wrong perspective. The correct perspective is "Wow, all these players have been making EasyISK forever by exploiting the stupidity of NPCs, and CCP is finally fixing that! Great improvement to the game!"

    Harder to run sites, you say? Maybe more people will team up now. Maybe you'll see more active interest in joining a corporation when you can't solo-run L4 sites for 50M ISK/hour.

    EVE should not cater at all to PvE players, despite any hand-wringing and claims of "well you'd lose X% of players without PvE".

    In my ideal universe, PvE rats are as smart as real players, as unlikely as that is now. This change improves the *game*. If it annoys some *players*, that's not the problem.

    1. You're looking at it from the wrong perspective. The standard L4 mission bear is running the mission solo and will likely NEVER ever notice that the rats aren't swapping to his non-existent buddy.

      Heck, if he grinds missions in a Tengu he'll never ever know CCP changed anything because he doesn't use drones.

      This change won't affect the amount of ISK anyone makes solo-running L4's... it'll just increase the frustration factor because CCP is simply emphasizing the broken Drone AI.

    2. Sure hope you enjoy playing alone then. :)

    3. "Sure hope you enjoy playing alone then. :)"

      Doesn't this change actively discourage playing with friends?

    4. uhm...wow...obvious troll is obvious.

      actually, without PvE content we'll lose the explorers who attract the achievers who attract the socializers who attract the killers.

      so "you'd" lose everything.

    5. You know, to be honest.... I actually didn't think the implications all the way through this. You're right that this will affect playing with other people more than solo.


  2. I like the idea of rats being smarter. I'm a new player myself and a more challenging NPC should be fun, maybe enough to get me to do more PVE. Wait, is that what they want? I thought CCP wanted MOAR WAR and less PVE?

    On the other hand, I think I'm already way behind the curve on ISK. To hear more experienced players talk, I wonder if I should have a bank of a billion ISK by the time I'm six months old, and definitely before I try to start flying a battlecruiser / assault frig / interceptor. Oh, and the way to get that billion is to run Level 4 missions, preferrably in a Drake, which isn't the race I joined up with so I guess I'll have to make do.

    Cause see they're making missions harder to coin ISK out of, so those of us who are trying to work our way up the chain will just have a steeper climb. And I hear you veterans talking about price inflation, so the cost of that battlecruiser and fittings will be higher when I get there, and harder to get ISK to pay for it.

    So, does that mean that real noobs (i.e. not just new alts for vets) should pile into the two FW sides that are set to be perpetually winning and use that semi-exploit to build ISK? Of course that incentive just guarantees that those sides will continue to win FW, which will be more fun for everyone, right?

    I guess it's the "big picture" problem that you've mentioned before.

  3. You forgot to add that with this nerf on pve incomes, there's also the heavy missile nerf, so two nerf at the same time :P
    But for new players, I think the reblancing of cruisers should mitigate a lot this, seems mostly a nerf to old players.

  4. Let's make the life of our players more difficult for some made up reason, promise them it will get better, then forget about it.

    Don't you ever hope that CCP will actually follow their promises of making PvE more interesting. It just never happens. Except when "more interesting" means "more likely for your ship to blow up because we hate your ability to earn isk in our game".

  5. "there was always a very specific custom-tanked ship that was brought in just to manage the enormous ship-breaking DPS coming off that torpedo"
    There is a simple way with level 1 AI to make sure the anchor ship is always targeted: fit a jammer or two on it & the AI goes crazy when ever you score a jam ( works in IncursionsI know from firsthandexperience & have been told italsowoks in WH's )

  6. I honetly think this AI will barely affect noobs except in making themissions more challenging then just reading the EVE survival guide & dothemissions by rote very quickly.

    Better to nerf missions' ISK with a smarter AI then to actually reduce the bounties by 10% like CCP Soundwave was suggesting earlier this year. Iapplaud thebettering ofthe PvE by taking this route.

    This will make itinteresting for AFK miners depending on drones additionally

  7. I only have experience with a C2 wormhole, but I did not use drones because why waste the money on something that the sleepers would almost instantly kill. Is the idea that we are only supposed to use sentries and then scoop them instantly? If drones become so beefy that they can tank PVE rats won't that cause major problems in PVP?

  8. Well, I think this is a good first step, and one which should have been done long, long ago.

    Belt rats should be more interesting. Rather than just plinking futilely against the mining barge, completely ignoring the drones, maybe they will actually kill the drones first, then kill the mining barge. That may put a dent in AFK and bot mining.

    But, I don't think it will affect the ability to solo L4 missions. Although you might not be able to run them quite as AFK as before, FoxFour says they aren't changing the DPS, the tanks, the EW, nor the spawns. Intelligently switching targets doesn't mean much when there is only one target for the NPCs, and, unless you are using a Domi to run missions, the ability to smartly target drones doesn't mean much either.

  9. One thing that makes PvE content fun is the possibility of character death.

    Playing another game going through a mission, my character was near death in several encounters, the prospect of either my character or the opponent getting in the next hit that would end the combat for either one of us educed pulse-pounding excitement.

    Compare that to EVE, where the emphasis, even in the tutorial missions, is that losing a ship is no big deal and that in most missions you don't even drop below 95% armor/shields. This is why EVE PvE is boring. Even your own mission reports tell this tale.

    Making EVE mission more difficult just might make them interesting. Rather than a job, maybe they will turn into a game.

    1. A job where you have to be perfect for at least a week or you'll be screwed. Not everyone is space rich enough to easily replace losses, regardless of what CCP seems to dream.

    2. Just because you want ISK doesn't mean that your chosen source of income needs to be 100% risk free.

  10. Something else you might want to consider is that there are economic effects as well. If people are taking longer to PVE, isk is coming into the game at a reduced rate, thus the isk sinks in place are better able to keep up with in inflow and that will slow inflation somewhat.

    That said, I don't think that this change is going to be that bad (excluding the high-end DED plexes, those will need to be fixed/rebalanced). For example, with noobs, it'll work better for the veteran to help out the new guy in their missions, rather than the new guy tagging along with the vet in a higher level mission. This gives the new guy more control, and to me would seem more rewarding.

    Another possibility is that the vet would ship down into whatever size will take the most agro for a particular mission and the new guy would fly the ship that'll take the least agro. At the very least, missions will require a little more planning than "wait outside until I get all the agro".

  11. I like this change. It makes no sense why NPC's wouldn't change targets to the ship that is the biggest threat, or to a ship(s) that they can actually have a decent chance of killing. Aggro mechanics in Eve were something that had me confused for about a year when I stated playing. They are completely different from almost every other MMO out there. And contrary to common sense.

    As someone who runs a lot of missions, I'm glad for this change. Now groups of players are going to have to think a bit more practically about how they approach doing content together. Tank ships are going to have to be able to actually be a threat to the NPC's if they are going to do their job.

    1. "Tank ships are going to have to be able to actually be a threat to the NPC's if they are going to do their job."

      I'm fairly certain that's not the case, at all. There are no MMO-type 'tanking' abilities. To run with that notion you will only ever have 'threat' on a single rat at a time.

      The rats will simply willy-nilly swap targets, so everyone will have to be suitably tanked, use E-War to gain aggression vs. the already silly AI, or everyone will need to use enough tank to survive a percentage of the rat aggro.

      More likely it'll simply be gamed, and the unintended consequences will be that everyone will simply all use less tank, because they can spread the DPS.

  12. Well, in my opinion it is only a matter of time, until players find ways to exploit this system.

    THere shouldn't be too much change overall (the usage of some ships will decline, the usage of others rise, but still), but some (Amarr) epic arc missions will become tough as hell with rats killing drones.

  13. "Finally, as I mentioned at the top of the piece, this change doesn't really do anything to make the missions more fun, interesting, or engaging."
    amen, bro, amen.

  14. This wont affect afk plexing with drone boats, they already deal with drone aggro using sentries and remote reppers. Huge nerf to dominixes running L4s, though. If anything it will force mission runners to adopt an afk plexing fitting to avoid losing sentries. Or just use a missile boat like everyone else.

    1. Confirming this is a hit to all drone boats, not just AFK mission runners. More time "managing" (i.e., recalling/launching) drones != more enjoyable.

  15. you gotta remember, all you people who're cheering ccp's actions, was this REALLY what you consider a good waste of a bunch of game developers' times? srsly

    I can see it now: n00bs being recruited as cannon fodder to soak up hits so the rich CEO can escape leaving them to die. "join a mission runner corp they said, it'll be fun they said"

    way to go, brainiacs! just killed off a few more avenues for n00bs! yay...unless of course, CCP is run by a bunch of sociopathic morons who think cannon fodder is a Good Idea to draw in new customers.

  16. Hopefully the new t1 logistics ships (frigates and cruisers) will be sufficient to manage level 4s with noobs.

  17. I will write a petition ans ask for reimbursement of all the skillpoints I wasted on Gallente ships and all the ISK I spent buying them.
    They always were mostly useless in PvP (subcap) and now are useless for PvE too.

  18. This will affect the beginners drone boats the most. Arby, Vexor flown by noobs who try their luck in low sec exploration get hit the hardest. Gila and Ishtar also usually have to move around for tanking, making difficult to scoop sentries in time.

    But my favourite thing in this was one dev post, basically saying: "I ran one mission and it was fine."

    That's your play-testing CCP? I was laughing out loud in RL.

    1. "But my favourite thing in this was one dev post, basically saying: I ran one mission and it was fine.'"

      This is actually one more than they usually test - so, believe it or not, this is a major improvement in dev play-testing (usually, they just toss it off, untested, to the overloaded QA team).

  19. alright, CCP isn't going to say "mea culpa" and make amends. So, is there any good to come out of this? will we be able to take n00bs along with us into lvl4 missions and have it MORE entertaining then than in the past?

    right now if i take a n00b into a level 4 so they can deal with frigates attacking the tank, using say Jester's lvl1 thrasher fit, it's kind of "fun" for them but noone's really challenging them and they get bored fast.

    With the new drone AI? that thrasher would go down in a minute tops...or would it? it's a great kiting boat, but kiting isn't easy for a n00b to be taught - n00bs have the brawler mentality.

    It would probably be more fun for a logistics pilot now that he doesn't just target one ship and might actually have to deal with fleetmates doing leeroy jenkins stuff in their crazy new tech1 frig setup from hell.

    So, i suppose facing a challenge would be fun for a n00b helping a lvl4 missioner and i'm all for increasing the 'fun' factor especially because i do NOT like risk averse players.

    except, i know CCP. i know they're clueless instead of fearless pioneers on the cutting edge of sci-fi goodness. We'll have n00bs going down like flies and having zero fun from dying as opposed to zero fun from just plinking away at targets hoping to kill something before that swarm of drones does it for them.

    *shrug* whatever. i just think everyone is going to scream the minute their small drone bay can't keep up with the losses as drones get hammered.

    I mean, does anyone use drones in sleeper sites or incursions??!?!!?!?

  20. This change is not going to affect L4 missioning, as this is done entirely alone, this change aims to afk plexing and null-bears making it harder, and after so much risk vs reward talking it's a bit ironic they are crying about this.

    And if this change make salvaging worth something then it's a very welcome change, AP value right now it's a joke

  21. I think u r wrong. U enter 10/10 u must know u risking ur ship. Same withl4 more risk= more reward. U wrote like all pve activities should all be predictable and all losses preventable.
    PPersonally I don'tknow how it's gonna change way people solo blitz l4. But u definitely looking on that from wrong perspective.

  22. MinorFreak, Drones are an integral part of Incursion running; without them killing scramming frigs would be much more difficult. Drones are asigned to a dedicated 'Drone Bunny' (usually a T3) whose only job is to take out scramming frigates with a drone ball.

  23. Just saying : there are prople who fly PvE content for their amusement. They do so in a group, they include new pilots, and PvE is their positive activity in the game.

    If you are worried about other people's income source, I would still argue that PvE needs to be fun for those who stop there; ...and t h e n see that PvPer still earn enough money. (And, yes, I understand that a design goal should be to give PvRers enough money withOUT tech alliance backing.)

  24. As usual the bigger picture and consequences elude CCP here. I doubt that any CCP employee working on this has the knowledge required to properly deploy this "thing" onto TQ. What i mean properly, is that they should look at each mission and tweak it for the new AI system. Wich means a proper overhaul of all the missions should be in effect before deployment of the new AI system. Sadly CCP hasn't got the manpower to do this...

    Btw. does anyone remember that statemant a few years back that a team in atlanta was wokring on a new mission system? What happened to that project?

  25. I have a feeling that this isn't going to change a damned thing for the AFK drone boat tactic. These folks probably aren't AFKing in sites with big teeth. The drone boat is just gonna fit 5 small to medium reps in the highs, a little more cap regen in the mids/lows, and will perma-run one rep per drone. I guess they won't be able to afk in guristas sites due to the jamming, but everywhere else will be completely unaffected.

  26. Something you might not have thought about is that carrier assisted ratting is gonna be a pain since those fighters draw a lot of fire. I honestly dont care about what happens in k-space but I do hope this change allows them to buff the sleeper AI as well.

  27. Here is how you salvage: you bookmark wrecks as you proceed through sites. Once the site is cleared (and mission handed in, or fleet has warped out and site despawned) the salvagers visit the bookmarks and just salvage. No need to run a Noctis through 30km of space between gates.

    This change will not impact how salvaging is done by most people.


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