March 26, 2013

Roaming, second-guessing Blues

I had a frustrating night roaming with a friend, and I blame myself for it.  Perhaps I wasn't in an aggressive enough mood or something.  We were walking through lowsec in the area around Dantumi, since I had bookmarks, clone, and ship there from the Deathrace aftermath.  He got into a Hawk while I was flying my Thorax.  Warning: These are random thoughts more disconnected than my usual posts.

What are the keys to roaming and finding fights?  Should we bother trying to scan belts and such or just recognize that anyone our size will bug out when they see us hit local.  If so, should we be trying to spent the minimum amount of time possible in each system?  We were leading with his Hawk (with me staying one gate back) for a while but once we spotted heavier opposition I moved into his system out of fear that he could be tackled and burned down before I could arrive.

Or is a cloaky tackler what we need?  It won't solve the local problem, but maybe...

Chased a Cormorant out of a FW Medium, but then didn't try to engage when it looked like he had pulled three other FW buddies into the mix (judging from D-scan).  I think it was Cormorant, Comet, Merlin, some interceptor I can't remember and a Hookbill.  The Merlin was named "Jakob's Merlin" when we d-scanned it - was that coincidence, an attempt to mislead a third party, or an attempt to goad me into action?

Spent some time bumming around a system figuring out D-scan while we noticed capsuleers belonging to Pandemic Legion and some (local) corp slowly increase in numbers.  I haven't been hot-dropped roaming before - maybe we should have found some way to engage PL instead of running off just to see if I could check that off my list. :)

Got too rattled when a -10 capsuleer came into system, shortly followed by another -10 from the same corp.  Sure they could choose the fight and would be more experienced, but at least it would be a fight.  I wonder if the Cynabal in the POS we noticed was theirs...

I never saw a combat probe on d-scan the entire night.  Perhaps in this area of lowsec pirates are more used to engaging on celestials?  Or did no one really have any interest in jumping us?  Or did I screw up my overview somewhere?

I've been reading too many wormhole blogs.  A guy jumped through the gate I was perching above, right into my buddy on the other side, and then turned around and crashed back through the gate to avoid him.  My brain said "quick he's polarized".  Doh, no.  Wrong system.  Anyway he was able to warp off faster than I could scram him.  Should I have had a Sebo to do roaming?  Can I afford to lose that slot when there are only two of us?

Is roaming as a duo feasible at our level of PVP experience (i.e. not much)?

I suppose the bottom line is I need to get out of our little RL-friends corp and into a bigger one where I can learn more.  Now that I've gotten some decent cross-race ship and shield skills I feel like I'm more able to contribute.

March 25, 2013

Deathrace and lowsec pewpew

I got in on Deathrace 2013 and some PVP in this past week and a bit, at the low low price of a Navy Comet + pod for Deathrace and two thrashers for the lowsec PVP.  And I had my first kill rights assigned on me.  Otherwise things slowed down due to lots of RL stuff - all good stuff, but particularly that my son has become drawn into all things Tolkien so we spent six nights watching the extended edition LOTR DVDs.  Lots of fun but of course that meant no Eve those nights.

Deathrace 2013

I hadn't joined Eve yet the last time there was a Deathrace, so I definitely wanted to give this a try.  Consider it a checklist item I suppose.  I fit out a Federation Navy Comet for the race trying to balance align time, warp speed, light tank, and some weapons. I won't replay it jump by jump but instead try to summarize my impressions overall.

So the race started out with a bang.  My little comet was knocked into half armor going through a smartbomb camp on the second gate or thereabouts, so I decided to take a very brief stop at a station to repair then was right back in the race.  After that I didn't take any other damage except when I chose to engage.  The thrill of the beginning wore down as we just repeatedly issued "Warp and Jump" commands.  It was more about remembering to turn on the DCU that provided most of my tank after each jump.

I ended up uncloaking in New Eden, half out of desire to do something other than jump gate to gate, half out of confusion on whether we were required to at least some fighting amongst each other to start qualified for the race.  I messed up a high-speed attack pass and getting blown up.  I did end up making it to the finish line in my pod, though far enough behind that the final system was getting quiet.  A buddy of mine made it ahead of me in his Venture, so congrats there to Billius Zabub.

There was a fair amount of confusion of what the racers were supposed to do in order to be not be disqualified.  Did we have to engage the pirate BS and get on the killmail, or just wait until someone else did it?  Did we have to have a copy of Pax Amarrica or not?  Did we need tokill one of our fellow racers in New Eden to stay "qualified"?  Did we have to go to the deadend string of New Eden at all?  Rixx would like to pass this ambiguity off as being a reflection of the "unfair" nature of Eve, but I think a lot of people just felt it meant it all wasn't that well thought out.  A lot of racers were also disappointed that the race was entirely in lowsec (save the final system) when they expected a fair portion in null (and thus bubbles).  Rixx had said that the race would favor those with patience - I'm not sure what he was thinking unless he meant the patience to ignore the sideshows of the pirate BS, New Eden, and getting the Pax and just keep moving at top speed with no guns as soon as the next destination was announced.

Perhaps what this really demonstrates is the difficulty in putting together such an event.  Not only are there a lot of possible expectations to try to balance (racing versus fighting) but also the possibility of having people show up to try to spoil your event.  Maybe that's why they ended up avoiding spending time in Null, only ending in one system where they could bring Rote Kapelle in to be the final obstacle.  Is it a matter of size of corp?  What if a larger bloc (such as a nullsec alliance) ran an event like this?  Maybe it would distract them from their allergy to sov-taking and waging new wars. :)

Lowsec Pew Pew - Thrasher #1

I had expected Deathrace to be more deadly, so I had planned that if I was killed on the first couple systems I'd switch to ships that could either hunt racers or hunt the campers.  To that end I had homed my clone to a system on the known portion of the race route and Frogged out two Thrashers and two Thoraxes.  I figured at worst I'd do PVP after the race, making use of all of the bookmarks I'd made through that area of lowsec.  I didn't think of it at the time, but once the final system was declared it would have been better to get podded in New Eden, hop in one of those ships, and then head to Syndicate for the finish line.  In any case, these ships were then available for some lowsec fun.

I just recently got my small projectile skills to T2 weapons, plus enough shield skills to put up T2 tanking modules.  I figured the Thrasher was a good shot since it would take advantage of my Destroyer 5 skill, and of course it was originally meant for killing frigate-class racers.

Rattatat was a thrasher with an artillery / disruptor / MWD fit.  I bounced around the area trying to look for anyone for a while.  I also was trying to learn to use a narrow-angle d-scan to check out moons and belts for targets.  I learned a quick lesson there that POS medium artillery batteries can cause a lot of damage if you warp to a moon at 100km out, but fortunately I was able to warp away fast enough.  I warped to a planet to d-scan its moons when suddenly a Rapier dropped out of warp about 25km off my position.  Finally, I thought, here we go.

My thought process was that a Rapier was a fleet support ship with webber bonuses (IIRC), so I should expect another ship to drop in soon.  I expected to die if I engaged but hoped a bank of artillery could kill that Rapier when perhaps she'd be expecting me to have autocannons.  When the flight of drones sprung up I just crossed my fingers that they wouldn't be ECM drones.  I fumbled getting a lock as I did a quick set to orbit at 20km first.  I put a little dent in her shields but the lightly tanked thrasher went down fast.  I got my pod out and ended up chatting with the pilot who got me, a local pirate.  She was very amiable and even invited me to come out with her corp for some action the next night - if it was a trap to get another kill out of me I really wouldn't have cared, but unfortunately I couldn't make it due to RL commitments.

Lessons Learned:

Choosing range: I should have internalized better that distance and speed is my tank.  This is the opposite of my Gallente PVP experience where close hugging brawling with an active tank is the plan.  I knew I wanted to engage at the edge of warp disruptor range and I had EMP loaded which I would think would be good for a Minmatar target.  If I had set my ship to "keep at distance" while I fumbled with the guns she would have had to overtake me while I hit her with artillery as she chased me (and thus hopefully low transversal).  This would have better fit my original expectation that the Rapier was there to hold me down for someone on the way.  Her drones puzzled me - I didn't expect to see a full flight of drones - because I thought the Rapier was a frigate-class interceptor...

Know your ships: Ooops, it is a cruiser-class Force Recon.  Could you tell I made that mistake from the way I wrote up my thought process?  If I had known that I probably would have got for full-speed MWD to get away, though as I learned later chatting with Irunami Rei her ship could outpace me even before those webs hit.  She was hitting me with 650mm artillery, so keeping distance wasn't an option.  Perhaps this also speaks to the disadvantage of trying to roam solo - given that pirates are likely to show up in cruiser to battlecruiser hulls, what am I hoping to do in a destroyer?

Thrasher #2

This was a loss with less to learn.  I listen in on the -THC2- channel thanks to Sugar Kyle's excellent blog and I heard that some action was going down.  Maybe my arty thrasher could be of some use in a fleet.  Since she's mentioned Bosena as a hub I thought to myself - why not try to get to Molden Heath and get myself blown up there? Maybe I can even get in on something.  So I set my shortest-path map and got going.  Looking a few systems ahead I see that it's going to take me through the infamous Rancer.  What the heck - it's getting late anyway and as long as I can survive the gates I'll go through.  I didn't survive the gates and was immediately locked and podded.  Ah well.  No real lesson there other than to put Rancer and such places on the "avoid" list on the autopilot.

Lots of things in the Meta for a future blog: Caldari Prime Eve+DUST event, announcements at PAX East, CSM election stuff.

March 14, 2013

Deathrace 2013

I'm planning on doing Deathrace 2013.  Either that indicates that I'll do any event the Tuskers run (see FrigFest2012) or that I just need to pay more attention for live events run by other organizations that don't have prolific blogs.

At the risk of giving help to my competition... aw, who am I kidding.. let's just put this out there.

The Location

The race is set to start at Dantumi.  Rixx has also noted that it will not cross into highsec.  It doesn't take took much effort to know then that the race will take a particular path for the first 7 jumps or so.  While Rixx has alluded to having some tricks up his sleeve, I somehow doubt that a Titan will be hanging out just to jump bridge off of that path.  It's also possible that the Tuskers will scan down a WH along those 8 systems and decide on the fly to make that part of the race path, but that also seems rather unlikely.  That means that those first 7 jumps are the prime spots for those planning to play the hunters to the racing prey.  So what's a racer to do in facing the blazing love that is likely awaiting them?

The Fit

First off, let’s get the ship class out of the way.  I understand the winner of the last Deathrace was in an Interceptor.  Given the advantage in warp speed I expect the winner this year will be in an Interceptor too.  I don’t have the Inty skill and I wasn’t willing to drop everything in my skill plan to get it so I won’t even be worrying about that.  The downside for Interceptors will probably be having their fragile hulls survive the smartbombs (and perhaps launched bombs) that we’ll see on the gates.  So those of us that can’t fly Intys can take solace in that.  Another advantage the Interceptor has is align time.  The shorter your align the less time the hunters (and your fellow racers) will have to get a lock and keep you from moving on to the next gate.

Secondly, there’s the matter of whether your ship should even bother having guns.  Taking aggression and not being able to jump a gate seems like a pretty big penalty for a race.  Plus there’s the little fact that any delay means a longer time for someone else to test your tank against substantial alpha.  However, Rixx seems to be implying in his latest post that there will be required “tasks” to be done.  This being the Tuskers, it seems reasonable that task could involve blowing something up.  Killing one of your fellow racers seems like an obvious one.  However, the gate on the task is to provide the next destination to the fleet, so as long as you can free-ride on someone else doing the task and then get ahead of them that may be fine.

Lastly there is speed.  If you're in a ship with a reduction to MWD bloom then maybe just MWD is fine.  If you're light on tank and don't have that bonus, you may want dual prop.  Once we hit bubbles you'll want to get through them fast, but making yourself a huge target for locking (and bombs) may not be so hot.  I'm discounting the sig bonus against normal weapons as I expect anyone camping the race will tend to be using weapons that apply well against frigate-sized signatures.  Of course, this is why cruisers and battlecruisers may also have fun hunting the campers.

The Meta

Which brings up all of the fun around the race itself.  I'm not sure how much the news of the race is carrying, but Rixx is a big enough eve celebrity that it probably pushes it pretty well.  We'll see.  The scale of visibility of the Deathrace doesn't just mean more racers - it also means more campers and more people hunting the campers.  As a racer first I'm hoping there are lots of camper-hunters.  If you were not looking to race who would you want to hunt: racers or campers?

Racers won't be fighting back (for the most part) since they'll be built for speed and avoidance.  So the risk level of taking shots at them is pretty low.  The payoff in terms of your killboard probably isn't so great - interceptors and T1 frigates aren't that expensive, though I'm sure we'll see plenty of navy and pirate frigates out there too.  And if someone is going to fit a Dramiel for racing there will probably be at least deadspace modules on it.

Campers will be at least normal PVP fits in the sense of being able to point and fight back.  They will probably be dedicating slots to catching fast-aligning ships (double and triple sensor boosters I'd guess, though I have only theoretical knowledge of such things) and they may have weapons that are meant for frigate-sized targets.  I'm sure we'll see smartbombing battleships on gates.  I don't actually know if lowsec campers tend to fit blingy stuff, but I expect we'll find out soon enough.


Then there are the clueless.  Last night I was bringing my racing ship into the area and making safes.  In the middle of putting down perches on a gate I saw what looked like an Iteron III autopiloting through.  Sadly my racer was ill-equipped to take down an Iteron and getting the ship in position was higher priority than a random freighter.  But it was a reminder to me that some people are just going to be plowing through the racecourse with no clue what is happening.  I don't know if the race will cause TiDi, but if you cross a racing gate at the wrong time there might be a rather spectacular distraction.

So sounds like it could be good fun all 'round.  Am I overthinking things?  Probably, it's kinda what I do, and for me it's part of the fun.

See you at the races!

March 3, 2013

Eve needs more sandbox, via more RP

After Eve, my entertainment hours tend towards playing RPGs.  I'm currently running a game set in Charlie Stross's Laundry Files universe.  So my mind wanders pretty easily towards the concept of a Eve or Eve-like science fiction RPG, most recently reawakened by Sugar Kyle's "Origin of a Spaceship" flash fiction.  You might logically ask then whether I RP as Jakob Anedalle.  The answer is a pretty decisive "No."  Why?  Because Eve fails at being a MMORPG in my opinion.  It's a shame, because I think it holds Eve back from its goal of being a sandbox.

Yes, there are RP corps out there, and RP forums, and even sporadic CCP run Live Events that make attempts to hold up the RP side of the game.  And if those RPers are enjoying Eve through roleplay then more power to 'em.  But it doesn't work for me, and I'll try to put down why. I'll note that this is why I chose not to roleplay with Jakob as a new player.

The strong anti-RP player culture dominates from Day 0

This is the biggest one.  There is a reason that many MMOs have separate RP and non-RP servers, but of course part of the appeal of Eve is the "single shard."  If you're like me you create that first character with a couple hours of website-reading on the game already behind you, trying to make sure you don't do something that will deadend yourself right off the bat.  I made my character with a real name, in a Gallente style, rather than as "xxCoolDudeKillerxx" like some self-obsessed teenager.  That initial web research will quickly show you that RPers are not respected in the game.  Yes there are some good fiction blogs out there, but I didn't see any of them when I was starting the game.

As soon as you're through character creation (more on that in a moment) you'll see local.  It is immediately obvious to anyone that writing in character in local is going to be counter productive.  It's not so much immersion breaking as that immersion never has a chance to get started.  Local is not billed as an "OOC channel", though the newbie help channel could be, and if anything Local's premise as a system-wide broadcast communication could be a nice IC immersion creator.  You mix in the rampant homophobia, racism, and other dregs of human behavior and its no wonder that I think most people only use Local for the count of how many capsuleers are in system.

Broken Promises

Compare all that to what you did right before.  The character creation itself sets you up for incredible promise.  Good, concise levels of detail about each faction and the three bloodlines of each (I blanked on what they're called and had to look it up, probably because they are irrelevant to the game.)  The promise is there.  Even with the reading I had done on Eve by the time I made Jakob I couldn't help but get my brain going about what it would mean to be a Gallente Activist.  The Amarr/Minmatar possibilities are even stronger. Surely there is going to be some compelling social complexity out there that is going to tie into this promise, right? No.

You make a very detailed physical representation of your character, as good as in any MMO I've seen.  That won't matter either.  You'll only ever see the face, unless for some reason you actually use the Captain's Quarters.  I don't think players would have taken to calling them "space barbies" if you actually did anything, but I suppose the tragedy of Walking In Stations is a broken promise beaten to death by many people before me.

But back to the promise of the factions and bloodlines.  Your chosen faction has theoretically just spent some huge sum of ISK to make you a capsuleer.  They have tied your brain into into a immense, galaxy spanning information network that makes you practically immortal.  In exchange you can expect to be tied to that faction, working hard to prove that you were worth that investment, that your loyalty is assured.  Or you can find a away to break free of these factions and become an independent capsuleer, forever on the run from the faction whose gift (and indenture) you have rejected.  Right?  No.

The Sandbox is not an excuse, it is a victim

I read many posts arguing that this is because Eve is a sandbox.  This completely misses the point.  The fundamental design decision to make Eve a sandbox could be so much stronger if the factions and their attachment to each new character actually mattered.  As an example I'll point to Achaea, a Fantasy PVP MUD that I played for quite a while.

When I played Achaea had three cities and eight or so guilds (classes).  Each city and guild was patronized by a God played by a NPC GM, but the actual government of each was done all by players.  A substantially smaller player base than Eve base, I might add.  The players drove the politics as each city and guild strove to build itself up and drive the others down.  There were NPC city guards (think Concord) but they were possible to sneak past or forcibly beat down.  If someone invaded a city to attack newbie players or assassinate a leader (yes, death mattered, more than in Eve) then the loyal city dwellers would have to be the ones to drive them back.  It was possible for a lowlevel player to influence such battling either in direct combat or in the various ways of gathering power (essentially mission running, though in an area more analogous to lowsec and nullsec).  The game was built around a complex PVP system (sound familiar?) and someone small throwing in a spell/poison/dps could make a real difference.  I see looking at the Achaea website now that one of the cities from I played has fallen and been rebuilt under a new banner.  Change is possible, though tearing down a major force became more difficult as you pushed them closer to the edge, keeping it from one force to rapidly become ascendant.  Of course, with so many cities and guilds kicking about (plus player-run organization) there was always a good chance that the many would turn on the one.  In short, it was more of a sandbox than Eve.

Would an alternate Eve be even better with more RP Sandbox action?

I think Eve could get to an even more sandbox-y place and it is an amazing opportunity.  I've spoken before on the idea of letting players control the factions.  If the pirate factions come into play that would make it even better.  Give players the reins to run the four major factions and the pirates.  Make Concord beatable and give players the responsibility to keep the hearts of faction space safe for their industrial brethren (who, let's face it, are largely their alts anyway).  You can keep Concord and the Faction Navies around to make low-level lawbreaking in line, but have them shout on a faction-specific channel once they spot (and point) those miscreants and provide a warp-in for sworn players.

Have new players start in the debt of these faction powers (heavy negative standing towards their enemies).  Their immortality is not an irrationally-granted gift, but a pledge to loyalty.  In the case of Amarr, perhaps the term is a nuanced slavery.  Set up L4/L5 missions that allow someone to reach out to illicit elements that could free you of your faction's control of your brainscanning equipment.  Or perhaps this is forbidden technology that the folks in nullsec could be glad to grant you.  Of course if the factions know that you have slipped their control they aren't likely to trust you anymore.

With players in charge of these factions the range of intrigue widens up towards what we see elsewhere in Eve.  Empire space remains more stable than null, with the GMs able to influence things through the NPCs and the general populace.  If your space becomes overrun with raiders then the people may rise up in anger, pushing more ISK into faction navies and less into the general coffers that the player-driven government use to reward themselves and their allies. Security status would swing as players make choices on what systems need extra defense and firewalling from their enemies.

Perhaps we'd see Caldari and Gallente band together and declare war on the Amarr.  Imagine a bounty on all Amarr-flagged player ships, paid out of those tax coffers.  Or perhaps the Minmatar leadership would decide that a neighboring nullsec corporation had become too bold and declare war on them.  The distinction with nullsec would be that the NPC population is smaller but also less demanding in terms of policy (more control, less reward).