June 29, 2015

BB64 - Torpedoes Away!

With the Blog Banter kicking back into gear, let's look at the latest: missile changes ahoy, torpedoes in the void, so let's steer straight towards the tracks.

BB64: Torpedo! Torpedo! Torpedo!
With the Aegis release we will see missile boats get their own version of the tracking enhancer and the tracking computer. On the forums there have been calls for new 'missile defence eWar' to counter these new modules. Is this needed? Are smartbomb 'firewalls' enough? Do defender missiles need an overhaul to make them actually worth using? Do we need the missile version of the remote tracking disruptor? Or do we go all Star Trek and have Point-Defence Phaser Banks? Banter on!

Firewalls and Missiles

Let's start with the one I find most intriguing.  I'll admit I hadn't heard of firewalling before the recent discussions, but I love it.  I'm a pilot with very limited missile-skills, operating in a space where our numbers are generally small enough that peeling someone off to smart-bomb missiles would be an unacceptable reducing in fleet firepower.  We don't tend to move closely anchored to an FC, nor do our opponents, so the missiles wouldn't be consistently coming from one direction from far enough for this tactic to even work.  But I love it.  Anytime that a smaller group, better organized, with better tactics, can defeat a larger group by their own cleverness - that's the kind of thing that I like about Eve.

Now if the larger-fleet kind of world where T3s and faction battleships and such move on anchors and fire missiles in a narrow band - I get that it could nullify a whole branch of fleet possibilities if firewalling was too effective.  That's exactly the kind of thing that I'm glad balance-minded designers like Rise and Fozzie would have an eye (and an ear) out for.  The idea of tuning missiles and their resistances seems to make sense.  Even if now that just means you park a Nestor in the middle of your firewall to refit off of.  So go for it out there, it doesn't really impact my game play but I'm glad they're keeping the meta moving.

Small Gangs and Missiles

Now I've heard complaints about the balance of missiles out there, but I've died to enough Hookbills and Caracals that I'm not terribly convinced that missiles are in a bad place.  Yes, the missiles are different from turrets in their delayed but guaranteed application, if reduced by combinations of speed and sig radius.  Great, carry on, I'd rather have a different weapon type than just a new combination of optimal, falloff, rate of fire, and damage type.

I'm pretty convinced by the argument that giving up a valuable slot (particularly low-slots which are typically rare on missile ships) to tweak the values of application should be a nice tradeoff.  I don't think we're suddenly going to see the meta dominated by the few Amarr missile ships that have those low slots to spare, either.

However, I do understand the frustration that tracking disruption only matters for turrets, leaving people with reason to turn away from fights with missile ships if their fit includes a TD.  All of the other ewar could plausibly be used on a missile-using target (yes, even cap warfare) but the TD is just useless.  I've mentioned in my last blog about the bad design that leads to there not being a reasonably counter to ECM, and I'd say this falls in a similar place.

Defender Missiles and Point-Defense

Drackarn mentions defender missiles (and point-defense).  This seems like a real missed opportunity.  There's a firewalling system built into the game - it just doesn't work.  Any time there is a module already in the game that isn't working, and a need that isn't being met - well, that's just peanut butter meets chocolate, right?  Overhauling Defender Missiles (and Friend or Foe missiles) seems like a natural thing to include in this rebalancing pass.

This could be very interesting as a fitting and ammo choice.  Consider if Defender missiles would attack any incoming hostile missiles, not just ones at you.  Should your fleet load up your utility slots with unbonused missile launchers, ready to switch to Defender missiles if under long-range missile attack, or to FoF if being jammed at range?

As for Point Defense, I wouldn't like it offhand for the same reason I don't like ECCM as it stands - it would have no value unless it's specific circumstances were triggered.  Now the idea reminds me of WWII battleships with banks of guns ranging from the massive 18" guns to the secondary batteries to the anti-aircraft batteries.  That invokes a potential for a new view of capital ships which might have two bands of high slots: one band of XL weapons plus perhaps one band of M weapons.  That would make the capitals/super-capitals useful for a broader range of fighting - but that's also another topic for another blog or blog banter.

June 23, 2015

Nerf-Proofing Yourself

Changes to the Eve meta via the nerf bat used to come in big roundhouse swings.  The more recent approach is more incremental but also more constant.  It used to be that newer players were constantly chasing the meta - sometimes by what they saw flying through the void, sometimes directed by their alliances to train the next big thing.  Ever since the beginning of ship tiericide it feels like this has been less of a thing.  But what does the recent wave of changes indicate for characters who aren't already nerf-proof?


The granddaddy of Eve blogs, Jester's Trek by Ripard Teg, coined the term "nerf-proof" (AFAIK) in a December 2013 article.  In that article he mentioned moving towards a point where he had level 5 skills in all subcap ships, up to level 4 specialization in all subcap weapon systems, level 5 skill in every "significant support skill", and all rigging skills to 4.

The idea there is that if a swing of the nerf-bat devastated a faction's weapon system, or raised a new hull to prominence, then Ripard Teg could switch ships appropriately without having to wait for training.  Characters who just now chased their way up to perfect Ishtar and Sentry Drone skills know that pain.

This is understandably a critical characteristic for those playing at a high level of performance.  In Longinus Spear's recent article "Some Tips and best practices to get your Wspace group up to snuff" he fairly casually mentions that your Wspace group should have a number of fits ready to go including an armor, a shield doctrine, oh and make sure you can fly a Blackbird.  This is needed to be able to handle the different kinds of wormhole ops, but you'll see similar things in other areas of space when group want to quickly jump in a particular doctrine to counter what the enemy is seen (or expected) to have.  Spear's is just one application of that.

Now Spear is not the kind of WH guy who is "T3 or go home" and has often spoken of having fun in T1 ships in wormholes.  His move over to Nova Haven recently certainly will also build up his credentials with low-skill-point players.  But as someone who talks with newer players regularly, just getting multiple racial cruisers (and their attendant tank and weapon systems) up to reasonable levels can be intimidating.

Corporation Focus

By contrast, Aideron focuses its new pilots with a drone-centric Gallente-doctrine approach.  Pilots can much more quickly get to a good level of capability by focusing on what's needed to fly our Rogue Squadron doctrine that focuses on armor-tanking, primary dps from drones, and secondary dps primarily from blasters. In the graphic linked for Rogue Squadron you see that getting into the Vexor doctrine is still 100+ days out for the new pilot (depending on implants).  That's a long time for a newbro - so the pattern gets them into a series of useful ships along the way with the T2 Tristan inside a month.

Another positive side here is that day-for-day this focused approach leads to a coherent fleet of pilots who can all contribute.  The alternative I see around is either the elite player approach: "today we're going to do Zealots and Guardians and if you can't fly that I guess you can fly tackle" or the kitchen-sink approach such as described in Kirith's recent blog on our fights with Operation Meatshield.

The negative side is that nerfs can smack your entire corp/alliance around.  I remember reading TMDC and CZ posts from a year ago (maybe more) where entire null alliances suddenly told their people to start training towards a Megathron - no wait, scratch that, switch to training towards Malestrom and from their to Naglfar.  Ouch.  Brave probably felt this earlier this year after training their folks into the Moa / Eagle path, just to have medium rails get a whack from the nerf bat.

But these are more love-taps from the nerf bat compared to the nerfs of history that raised up and then destroyed hulls like the Hurricane and the Drake.

Return to the nerf-proofing

I think most pilots are better off picking a goal range and focusing on it rather than chasing a meta.  Something like Aideron's Rogue Squadron keeps everyone engaged and valuable.  In my opinion once you hit cruisers you should start looking at branching out.  I started the game at the right time to train Battlecruisers right before they were split into racial groups, and I got a bit into the Battleship range from my HS missioning days but haven't flown one since.  The only use I get out of that is for large hybrids for a Talos - and that's not something we pull out often either.  Until Battlecruisers get a serious rebalance there's not that much reason to stretch up to them, though at least there isn't a new weapon system level to learn there.

Instead, start working on nerf-proofing yourself.  If you already have the core skills down then stretching into neighboring factors will go pretty quick.  If you've trained Gallente then move to Amarr to keep with the armor tank of your corp and all you need to pick up is the lasers.  If you've trained Minmatar then stretch over to Caldari, round out any missile skills and start on hybrids.  As you move into other factions you'll gain access to pirate faction ships that may be the meta of the day (or the day to come), as well as insulation against weapon systems rising and falling.

For myself, I've been focusing on things in the sub-Battleship range, though Gallente Battleship 5 is a backdrop in my skill queue.  I'm think now that I should round out my missile skills as the missiles get buffed and the drones I run with now get a bit of the nerf-bat.  This will make the Worm/Gila pattern a good middle step while opening up missile-focused ships as a possibility for what little PVE I do.

Of course, all that will pause once the Hecate lands, but that's a different story...

June 15, 2015

o7 Fleet Warp, 7o Nerf/Buff cycle

The o7 show has become a must-watch stream for me.  It's late enough in my work day that I can usually justify watching it.  If I don't then I get to watch the meta explode in conversations for a day or two until they get around to posting the video to YouTube.  Guys in corp talk about it on slack live and for a while afterwards.  The rapid-fitting battles are generally amusing, as is the brief CCP-celebrity roam afterwards which pretty much always ends with the Devs getting chased down, scrammed, and jammed into that hands-in-the-air useless feeling.  Favorite quote: "Everytime I do this I keep wanting to nerf ECM".  Hold onto that feeling, Fozzie, I'll come back to that.

Fleet Warp

The real bombshell from this o7 show was the announcement of a coming nerf to fleet warp.  As more and more people thought about this, the more holes started to appear in the CCP logic.  Wormholes, primarily.  It really feels like it wasn't thought through - perhaps a slip of the tongue in a live show that they then felt compelled to make official?

I'll admit I did't think too much of it at first.  Sure, an attempt to keep people active - fine.  Out here in FW we rarely fleet-warp anyway.  Our opponents are in plexes and on gates, so we don't have probers in our fleets.  Maybe we could gank a lonely ship that thinks it's in a safe, but that's not really the kind of fight we're looking for.

The more I've heard from the other parts of the Eve universe, the more I see why it's a bad idea.  The WH part is pretty obvious: no fleet warping to wormhole chains, you'll have to put them in corp bookmarks and wait for them to propagate to everyone in your fleet.  And that's only the start of it.  For more on the WH/null I'll refer folks to other blogs though.

Nerfs and Buffs

More nerfs to Ishtars via sentry drones (no details though), more buffs to heavy missiles (no details), new modules to buff the application of missile damage (here's some knowledgeable speculation).  Be ready to download the newest version of your fitting tool, though at least unlike the plate/extenders change you probably won't have to redo your fits immediately.  I see why people tire of the shifting sands of the Eve capabilities, though in the same breath people will shout for their favorite nerf or buff.  I'm generally willing to give CCP the benefit of the doubt on tweaks like these and the "many small steps" that Fozzie and Rise have mentioned before.

Bigger things like nuking of off-grid boosters have wide support but seem tied to deeper code issues.  I say that as someone who is training up a booster alt right now, with the expectation that the nerfs will begin as soon as that booster can sit in his T3.

But I'll come back to ECM.  There's a simple argument here that isn't original to me: all of the electronic warfare (and cap warfare) modules that can make you useless in a fight have a counter-modules that has some benefit even if you don't run into the ewar itself.  Sensor Damps are opposed by Sensor Boosters that increase your lock range, lock speed, or both.  Tracking disruption is opposed by Tracking Computers/Enhancers that will improve your tracking and/or range.  Neuts and Vamps are opposed by cap boosters and cap batteries (though I hope cap batteries will get a look in tiericide).  But ECM - well you have ECCM that will benefit you by... umm... making you harder to probe down?  Thanks.

There's also the tactics people use to counter these ewar styles.  We've probably all seen videos of someone pulling away to lower transversal to overcome tracking disruption, or rushing in to try to get back under sensor damps max range, or timing their module activation and boosters to sneak in between neut cycles.  For ECM you can hope that you can get drones on the Griffin before it jams you, or in a fleet you can spin off a fast ship to leave the fight to try to chase off the ECM boat, but nothing for the solo pilot once you're jammed other than hope that the ECM misses a cycle.  Like Fozzie and Larakin did on the o7 show - just put your hands up in the air and wait for it to be over.

One thing I'll give ECM is that it is a decent way to break logi.  I hate fights where one side doesn't even have a chance to get a kill, and while ECM and Logi both can cause that to happen it happens more with Logi.  I say that as a pilot with a corp with a pretty good set of logi pilots too.

Think about it this way - what makes your roaming fleet decide not to engage another roaming fleet?  If they have a wall of logi you can't break, or (particularly in micro-gang) you see ECM that's going to make the fight no fun.  Those should be the warning signs for the game designers that something should be looked at.

Time for the next nerf/buff cycle?

June 8, 2015

How active is the Gal/Cal Faction War, compared to the rest of Eve?

Innocent question on Reddit (if there is such a thing): "Is the Cal/Gal war zone any fun right now?" So I made a quick reply tied to a corpies post, but let's try to back that up a bit first with a bit of narrative and then with a bit of hard data.  Let's compare the Gallente faction to an infamous and large nullsec alliance.

I could talk about a RL coworker of mine who played Eve in that he was subscribed.  But his main was in a WH corp and that wasn't really matching a real-life that had gotten very busy.  He described how logging in at night only to spend the majority of his limited playtime trying to probe out a chain that might maybe find a fight was frustrating.  So I tried to convince him to put an alt in Aideron Robotics, and after a while he spun up an alt and flew him on out.

We got him into a cheap Atron with meta guns while his skill queue started up and undocked.  In the course of the next hour we got three fights: the first that I yolo'd us into and got spanked, then I realized he needed to know more about accel gates and complexes so I took him to a nice quiet little Novice in Fliet and ended up killing an enemy Kestrel, then we flew off and tangled with some local pirates but managed to escape.  I can't say that every night is that packed with fights, but it certainly was a great way to start things off.

So what about the bigger picture, if all nights aren't like that.  Let's take a look at the killboards.  If we look at the Gallente Federation faction we see that zkillboard considers it to have 1398 active PVPers.  Who else in Eve has about that many active PVPers?  Well, Goonswarm Federation actually at 1379.  Yes - the 13000+ null alliance has approximately 1 active PVPer for every 10 members, using zkillboard's definition.  (I bet some of you aren't surprised really).

What do each of those organizations do with effectively the same number of active PVPers?  We see that the Gallente FW have destroyed 955,952 enemy ships while losing 786,103.  By comparison Goonswarm have destroyed 701,783 and lost 517,402.  So Gallente FW is really roughly a quarter more active than Goonswarm.  The Goons have destroyed more by ISK value (90T to 50T).

Now if you look at the zkillboard Alliance list you'll see that Goonswarm is exceptional - PL is roughly half the number of kills and then Brave and BL are half of that.  On the other side you'll see that the Caldari State is pretty close behind the Gallente Federation.

Over the past 90 days Gal + Cal FW has more kills than Goonswarm, Pandemic Legion, Brave Collective, and Black Legion combined.

So yeah, I'd say the Gal/Cal Faction Warfare zone is active - and that it's a lot of fun.