December 6, 2015

Player Destructible Stargates

One of the grand yet concise goals from CCP Seagull’s vision is that everything is player buildable and player destructible.  We’re seeing that shaping up now with the introductions of Citadels.  Surely the most ambitious of the structures to be built and destroyed are stargates.  We’ve seen this teased in (link video) from CCP, suggesting the huge scale of a stargate that would lead to whole new areas of space.  I’ve seen discussions over the past few years about the concepts of gates to whole new systems.  I’ve written a blog on that and a paired fiction piece myself.  But what about low sec and highsec?

I’m all for players being able to mold empire space.  It fits the theme of the empires losing their power which CCP has been advertising pretty much since I started playing the game, but which we haven’t actually seen CCP make into the game world.  I’ve written before about the idea of letting players slowly change the sec status of systems.  This is unabashedly more in this line of thought.

Let’s consider our design cases up front:
1) Any destruction and reconfiguration of the stargate system should require a substantial commitment of resources.  This covers several additional points:
* That a small group cannot casually grief areas by changing their stargate system easily or frequently.
* That action with stargates will have the potential to be content generators by drawing a response from other groups.
2) In the past have had “space super highways” that were perhaps too efficient, so we might want to consider if we would really want players to be able to travel from one hub to another in a mere gate or two.
3) We also have some existing topological features in Eve to work with: space is divided into regions and constellations, even in w-space.  If we want to go a step deeper, the three dimensional locations of systems in the grander scope of New Eden are known via the Static Data Dump.
4) The system should be understandable to players.  Complexity is fine and good, but not so much that it causes people to turn off and become disengaged.
5) The existing lore of Eve should be respected, though by necessity any change of this level is going to stretch that lore.

As an example consider the Urpiken constellation in Black Rise, which is interesting for having gates to a neighboring constellation in Black Rise (Inolari), a neighboring lowsec region (Lonetrek), and a nullsec region (Cloud Ring).  And of course it happens to be where there might be an example of a nullsec bloc coming to exercise its might over lowsec, just as we would want to consider in the design case.

We know from the lore that stargates are built around artificial wormholes, causing them to stabilize and thus permit regular traffic without collapsing.  We also know that we have at least one rather epic example of this failing in the original New Eden gate. As a base model, let’s work from the idea that there is a relationship between the stargates in a system and wormholes in the system.  Lore wise this could be either because the artificial wormholes in the stargates have held so long that there is now a “soft spot” in the fabric of space, or because the “gravitational resonance” mentioned in the lore as a precondition for a stargate is one and the same as the tendency for a wormhole to form.  The later would also explain why wormhole signatures appear near large celestial bodies.

Returning to the Urpiken constellation, which has 12 links between its systems and its neighbors.  two of these are regional (ignoring the “border” distinction for a moment), one is a constellation gate, and the remaining nine are standard (intra-constellation) gates.  If in a bold move every gate in this constellation was destroyed, consider that perhaps we would now have twelve constellation static wormholes free to roam around, maintaining that same balance of types.  If one is to be locked down by a new stargate, then it is removed from the pool of available statics, meaning that we can not have four regional gates in the constellation for instance.  Furthermore, we constrain the system such that every system will have at least one static so that no systems can be fully isolated.  This means that the overall topology of New Eden remains the same, but it could be shaped by players to their own ends.  This might include making a more express path through a constellation where one system has gates to two different regions.  Or it might make the constellation more defensible by creating chokepoints.  Or if you truly want to be left alone, destroy enough stargates that your home area is separated from the rest of New Eden by wormholes, but you have gates between two or three systems that you claim as your own.

Destroying these gates is simplest in nullsec, and most complicated as we move towards highsec.  I do not propose any specific mechanisms (hp, Entosis hacking, or both) here but only some general ideas.  In null-sov powerful forces can be brought to bear on any structure, and gates have no guns to defend themselves.  The defender should be the sov-holder so it’s up to them to either defend the gates or be the ones tearing down the gates for their own purposes.  As we move into empire lowsec we get into more interesting design decisions.

In empire space there are guns on the gates which in current design are part of the crimewatch system. The gate guns could be treated as one with the gate (simpler, but more boring) or similar to POS guns in terms of having separate targeting and incapacitation.  As we move from in-game logic to game design we quickly know that the gate guns are insufficient to deter even a small capsuleer threat.  If our goal is to make sure that players have a significant commitment then we can do that by making them ideally bring both dps and logi to the action (as well as scouting to be aware of player counter-drops).  The clear starting point is that the gate could have quite high repair rates for their shield and armor, coordinated with the maximum damage threshold concept now being prepared for citadels.  The other side is the damage brought to the attacking fleet, such as the idea from a couple years ago that gate guns be able to increase their damage over time, to the point that they’d be able to alpha capitals.  Such an idea could be brought back with the concept that gate guns are overheated when the gate itself is under attack.  If we stopped there then it would still be straightforward to figure out what dps and logi you need to bring to take down a gate and it could still be pretty much a standard structure grind.  Within the game world each of these gates is the property of a faction, and so it makes sense that they would want to defend it.  NPC faction ships arriving to defend a gate, particularly if done in a way that wasn’t as predictable as old-school missions, could make the event much more engaging.  Consider if taking down a Minmatar gate meant that a fleet full of Minmatar battleships and down using burner-mission type AI and stats.  The response level of the faction could be scaled to the security status of the two systems that the gate connects, with smaller and infrequent fleets between two 0.1 systems and massive battleships waves if you are trying to take down a gate that leads from 0.4 into highsec.

Yes, that’s right, players destroying gates into high sec.  This does mean that it would be possible for a truly cataclysmic and concentrated plan to succeed in turning high sec into a sprawling many-armed island reachable only by wormhole.  In the same view of a more active and intelligent NPC world we would expect to see attempts for these gates to be re-established by the faction powers, meaning that anyone wanting to keep highsec so cut off would have to dedicate themselves to continuous effort.  As with my earlier article about transforming the security level of space, in a game so grandly a sandbox why limit the players so.

What could the players do with a system like this?  Recreate the patterns of trade through an entire region, attempt to seal off a “safe” zone, make a chokepoint to defend, or literally burn the bridges before an invading enemy could use them.  As PL has shown with their Fury Road tactics, none of these things will stop a determined enemy or make your ratters safe, but it does give players tools.  Yes, it could make the walls of Fortress Deklein even higher, but that’s the kind of player-shaped world that I think we should welcome in Eve.  As long as there is Concord the intra-highsec gates will be safe from destruction, allowing the current highsec centered gameplay to continue as it is.  A scorched-earth strategy could leave FW warzones segmented, leading to a WH-travel driven playstyle in some areas that would certainly feel different than today.  Indeed many areas of the game could be transformed leading to different strategies, tactics, and playstyles…. and that would be the point.

December 2, 2015

Operation Northern Troll and other wintry fare

Brief post here, kind of a mix of fragments:  Operation Northern Troll.  Nerfs to Gilas and Worms lead me to try to lose mine.  Hey, what's this Vindicator doing here?  Operation Frostline.  Eve and Think Geek.

Firstly in support of Operation Northern Troll, here is my card awaiting a visit to the post office to figure out what I need to get it to Iceland.  I doubt anyone reading this blog hasn't already seen bits about Operation Northern Troll via podcasts or the blogosphere, but let me just throw in that I'm doing this and I hope lots of other Eve players do too.  Mike said he wanted to cover a desk at CCP.  I think we can cover a wall.

I'm thinking that I've seen enough funny return addresses that the USPS won't care about that, particularly around Christmas time.

The next release is coming up in less than a week, and with that a nerf to both Worms and Gilas that will remove a low slot.  I set forth to put my two Worm hulls into action and managed to lose them both, one to a Daredevil, and one to a Jackdaw and supporting gang.  The Daredevil I'm particularly frustrated about because I didn't start up my MASB until too late, so he got through it right as I was pushing his SAAR tank into hull.  I don't think he was expecting a brawl-worm.  This has happened to me before; I'm such an armor-tanker by experience that I don't hit the repper until I'm in armor, which is rather too late for a ASB shield tanker.  The Jackdaw was more of a "what the hell" moment, wondering if I could take down the Jackdaw that was outside of a novice gate before his friends could clear from the inside.  I thought I could out-run him if he turned out to be brick-tanked, but the bounce folks scrammed me down before I could clear out when I found I was making no progress at all on the Jackdaw.  Now I have a Gila that I had used for PVE, but now have swapped around the rigs for more general PVP use and am just looking for the right shot to use it.

I was looking through my assets for Jakob and realized I had a lot of stuff in highsec from my pre-Rifterlings days.  Apparently including a Vindicator, Fed magstabs, Imperial EANM, and Fed webifier.  At least those could go together, but I can't imagine what possessed me to want to fly that since at the time I didn't have Gallente BS 5 and at best had Minmatar BS 3.  So on the market they went, another step towards building up enough ISK for a capital once I finish that training.

I enjoyed the Crimson Harvest, even though I only had a couple days to actually try out the content, so I'm looking forward to Operation Frostline even more.  As Ashterothi has pointed out, CCP has surprisingly not named the release next week but implied that perhaps it and Operation Frostline are the same thing thematically.

Christmas is coming up and I have family asking what I want for Christmas.  Part of me wants to hold out; I hear CCP is setting something up with ThinkGeek for Eve goodies and if so I expect that's going to jump to the top of the list.  But not... quite ... ready... yet...  I was really hoping the last o7 show would have that announcement.