Monday, December 23, 2013

Lessons: At Least My Ship Was the Most Expensive?

“I was bored, and wanted to roam.”

It’s a compound sentence, with a very simple meaning, and when noteworthy it either leads to tremendous success or dismal failure.

This is a lesson about failure.

I took out a small fleet from our staging system in Doril on Friday night.  Having checked dotlan and seen some action in Immensea, we headed up there.  My prior experiences with the constellations in the northwest of the map were not very positive.  In each case, I was met with a massive blob that killed me, albeit after I was able to get some kills.

Now, that usually doesn’t bother me; if I’m traveling into their space, it’s only fair they muster everything they have to repel me.  Killing someone with 14 people on the killmail is hardly a demonstration of skill, but it does clear your space of the threat, and sometimes that’s the only objective.

On this occasion, I happened to be flying a Vagabond, with a Sabre, two interceptors, a Moa, and a Rapier in my fleet.  As we were entering GXK-7F, our interceptor scout reported two Taloses and a Stabber Fleet Issue on the GXK-7F gate.  After debating for a moment, I put the decision on whether we engaged to the rest of the fleet.  Everyone was up for it, so we warped.  The scout had to jump back through, so we didn’t have eyes on them for a few seconds.

I told the Rapier to put a web on each Talos, and put everyone on alert to watch broadcasts for which one we would primary.  The SFI, I figured, was likely to do minimal damage at first, but those Taloses would have to be taken out quickly.

When we landed, they had already warped off, despite our Rapier warping cloaked.  Suffice to say, I was very disappointed.  Two Taloses and a SFI versus two Intys, a Sabre, Moa, Rapier, and Vaga would have been an interesting fight.  We’d be light on DPS, they’d have been light on tackle and ewar.

We moved further into the constellation, expecting a fleet to form up to fight us as we did.  Our intys tried to find some ratters to catch, but the residents were on the ball and immediately safed up when we entered local.

Part way through, our Rapier had to go.  My first mistake was in not turning back once we lost those webs.

As we were heading back, we saw a fairly large interceptor gang in GXK-7F on the GXK-7F gate – our exit of that constellation.  Included within them was a Sabre, a Tengu, and a Vagabond.  I realized we would struggle to take down even those three ships with our combined DPS, so I warped us to a safe and decided to wait it out, but told everyone to align.  My hope was that part of the fleet would warp off, giving us a chance at a more balanced fight.  After all, a ship in system but not on grid does no DPS.

Seeing that their numbers were only increasing, I decided to take the first chance we had, before even a split fleet would be far too much for us.  When their interceptors warped off, I seized the opportunity and fleet warped us to the gate for an immediate jump.  Unsurprisingly, the Sabre and Vagabond followed us, but the Tengu held off at first.

We MWD-aligned for the out-gate, and I called the Sabre primary, but he quickly burned out of range.  The Vagabond maintained the initial point on me until the interceptors warped back to the gate, jumped, closed range, and gained tackle.

Let’s take a moment.  The Rubicon mechanics, of course, changed interceptor warp speeds.  I don’t think anyone can blame me up to this point; a fleet that was slowly growing split, and I took advantage of the opportunity to try to escape.  But with the new warp changes, those interceptors were able to get back into the fight within less than a minute after warping off.  Our fleet warped as slow as the Moa, so by the time we were aligning out of the Sabre’s bubble on the other side, the interceptors were already landing on gate.

My big mistake – and the lesson for this fight – rested in my target calling (irony of ironies).  Sure, going after the Sabre was a smart move, and switching to the Vagabond after that made sense, but as soon as those interceptors hit the field, I should have switched to them immediately.  After my jump, I spawned favorably, in line with my warp out, so they were between 0 and 26 km away.  I had my own energy neutralizer, a Sabre, and two interceptors on my side, so we could have bitten into the interceptors more than we did.  Sure, we probably couldn’t clear them all, but surely killing 3-4 was a possibility.  As it turned out, we only managed to take one out because of my ham-fisted target calling.  If I’d switched us earlier, we might have even cleared tackle on one or more of us.

But the real story about this fight was one of expectation.  I expected us to have the time to clear the Sabre off the field and burn away before that interceptor contingent returned.  Without the Sabre, we could have chased off the Vagabond with our combined DPS.  Quite simply, I had hope that we could fight our way to freedom.

Perhaps it would have been better to have no hope at all.  Had I warped into the entire fleet, I wouldn’t have wasted precious time shooting the Sabre or Vaga, instead going immediately after the interceptors to help balance the isk scale and enjoy the fight. 

If warping the interceptors off was a deliberate tactic, it was a brilliant one on the part of the enemy fleet.  It dangled a chance in front of me, only to snatch it away.  Perhaps I’m giving them too much credit, but if it was deliberate, it was a brilliant understanding of psychology in Eve, which I’ve discussed before.

Worth noting, though, we were able to escape with our Sabre and nearly all our pods, despite the fleet camping us in long after our aggression timers ended (the only pod we lost was from one pilot who spawns on the other side of the gate and couldn’t break free of the bubble before his ship popped).  Even after the welp, we extracted what we could by chasing off the enemy Sabre and keeping our poise when it came time to warp off.  We kept the “moment after welp” in mind by clearing the bubbles, not as much to free our ship as to free our pods.

So, to sum up, positives and negatives throughout.  Short of logging off in system (which I see as a cowardly way to do it), we were always going to die.  Had I shifted my expectation more quickly, though, we might have been able to take more with us.

If you were with the enemy fleet, please post below whether warping off your interceptors was a deliberate tactic to bait us into making a run for it, or if you were simply splitting those intys up to try to find us.  I really want to know!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Lessons: My Little Pony Fleet

I give Eve players a lot of credit when it comes to being willing to fight.  Now, I’ve mentioned before how faction warfare seems to be populated primarily with risk-adverse button-orbiters, and we certainly come across our fair share during our Friday night roams through FW low-sec.  But we do find the occasional FW gang ready to defend their space, and we also come across plenty of other pilots willing to fight us, both on gates and in FW plexes.  Sufficient numbers, as it turns out, to make a routine thing of our Friday night roams.

Our Friday night roam was delayed until Saturday because of some ::serious business:: of a non-logistic nature, but on Saturday, my wife decided that she wanted to play, so she controlled the keyboard and I instructed her, answered her questions, etc.  So, Talvorian didn’t actually fly.

Things went very well.  A couple times, I actually had to run up to take care of one of our daughters, or go to the bathroom, or get another drink, and she only managed to get lost once.  All in all, not bad.  She even got to choose the ship-naming convention of the night.

I’ve Created a Monster

I’ve mentioned before how I taught my wife to play Eve, and I pointed out all the virtues of doing so.  I’m happy to be able to give an example in real-time.

My wife and I have an arrangement.  I get to stay up late and play Eve, but I need to take care of them if they wake up in the middle of the night.  In return, she’ll wake up with them whenever they finally wake up in the morning, which is usually around 6:30, allowing me to sleep in.

Yesterday morning, I awoke to find one daughter screaming because my wife wouldn’t let her take all the ornaments off the Christmas tree, and my wife getting ready to put the baby down for her nap.  The first thing she said was to invoke that Eve knowledge:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lessons: Roaming With Your Wife

I’ve FC’d a bit before, but the birth of my children made it impossible for me to commit wholly to a fight.  More frequently than not, I have to dock up while roaming because one child or the other is up far later than she should be.  Having no convenient gypsies to sell them to, I have no choice but to be a good dad and sooth them.

But, I am experienced enough with FCing to know that it takes an incredible amount of attention and focus to keep everything running smoothly.  Understanding what the hostiles are doing, what your scouts are telling you, and how soon your fleet is going to land, mixed with trying to remember exactly what bonuses a Celestis gets so you can primary your targets in the right order… it’s a lot of work. 

And, of course, you want to get on the kills yourself.  Typically, the FC flies an easy-to-fly ship (F1 only, please) that can endure for a while, but it’s still another set of procedures to keep in mind.  You need to lock and broadcast every target, while also stating the target aloud on comms.  Then you need to choose the secondary, then promote as the primary goes down, while still locking and broadcasting.  There are a lot of steps to forget, particularly as the circumstances of the battle evolve.

Apparently, roaming with your wife when she’s still learning Eve is identical in its complexity.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lessons: Deception and ASBs

After you’ve been playing Eve for a while, you start to understand the fits pilots tend to use for each ship type.  If you do exactly what everyone else is doing, chances are the ships you can kill won’t engage you, while the ships that can kill you will engage.  The trick to defeating a skilled pilot is to surprise him by deceptive fitting.

Generally, pilots tend to judge the success of their fight against you by how quickly your shields or armor start to go down.  Even if they know intellectually that they aren’t doing much damage to you, they will get excited and commit to the fight more if they see your hp bar drop quickly.

If you can convince them they’re doing better than they really are, you’ll be able to lure them into a compromising situation.  Bait ships do this by appearing to be all on their own, and very often try to burn back to a gate in a feigned panic.  The ancillary shield booster does a similar thing in a different way.

When you fit your ship to accommodate an ASB, you tend to ignore the amount of shield hit points in favor of the strength of your resistances.  If done correctly, you can absorb the same amount of damage, but do so in a way that active shield repairers give you more bang for their buck.  On a Rapier or Vagabond, for instance, an x-large ASB can repair fully 50% of your shields with each cycle.

The psychological effect of this boost is devastating.  Let me give you an example from our Friday night low-sec roam.

Our fleet had warped to and entered a FW plex to fight some frigates.  I ended up on the outside by myself with a hostile Wolf and Vexor.  I was flying an ASB-fit Rapier fit exactly as I mentioned above.  Now, I only had one web on this fitting, as well as two guns (one of my high slots had a probe launcher) and five Warrior IIs.  I had lost my typical 3/2 Hammerhead/Hobgoblin setup on another fight where we had to warp off, and found the drones on the field of another battle.

As I locked them, I noticed that the Wolf had some shield damage already, so I started with the assault frigate while I called for back-up on comms.  With a single web and no scram, I could really only apply drone damage to the Wolf.  If I had been in my usual Rapier fit (dual-web, 3 guns, 3/2 drones), I could have taken out the Wolf quickly, then gotten away from the Vexor.  But as it was, I was not fit for DPS, and quickly realized that I’d be in danger in a minute or two down the road.

Now, I knew reinforcements would arrive eventually, but I had to keep them both interested until it did.  That’s where the ASB served me well.  When the Wolf and Vexor got the first damage on me, my shield started to go down faster than they expected – I had very little shield hp, but my resists were all about 75%.  At this point, the Wolf committed fully to the engagement, moving in closer to slip under my guns.

He and the Vexor made the decision – after those first couple shots – to commit fully to the engagement based on how quickly my shield started to go down.  Imagine their surprise and sinking spirit when my ASB restored 50% of my shields with a single stroke.

Had I simply been buffer-fit, I doubt the Wolf would have engaged fully, and my fleet would have lost a kill.  The Wolf had to quickly make a judgment based on the visual cue of how my shields were dropping.  In a split second, he didn’t have time to think about potential dps for his ship, check the damage ticker coming in, or ask his fleet mate how had he was hitting me.  He simply saw that my shield was dropping, and concluded that they must be winning.

And it ended up being the wrong decision.  A deceptive fit resulted in a kill.  Granted, the Vexor escaped, but that sometimes happens when you only have one point fitted.

Always consider not only how your opponent is likely to be fit, but also how your opponent expects you to be fit.  Try to fit the same ship in different ways so a quick check of your losses on eve-kill doesn’t reveal your one-and-only fit.  Few players will play the “I know that he knows that I know that he knows” game very far, and you can gain a significant advantage by luring people into fights they think they can win easily.

We all head into fights with certain preconceptions.  If you can understand your opponent’s, you can turn them into weaknesses ripe for exploit.

And that’s how you win at Eve.  Not necessarily by out-skilling your opponent, but by out-thinking him.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

All This Has Happened Before

If you haven’t had the chance yet, read The Mittani’s Goonswarm update.  He spends a lot of time building narrative and discussing Omegafleet, which you can honestly skip if you’re not actively involved in the RUS war.

But in the middle, he touches on much of the history behind why he and the leaders of the CFC are so eager to smash the faces of N3.  Essentially, Goonswarm has been fighting the same enemies time and again.  The corp tickers change, but the characters themselves remain the same.

This gets me thinking about the nature of null-sec iterative cycle.  Goonswarm and allies fight BOB, Goonswarm wins.  BOB turns into someone else who’s still butt-hurt about Goonswarm fighting them, and the cycle repeats.  Roughly the same enemies, roughly the same sides, just different regions.  The only reason the fleet doctrines change is because of mechanics. 

Blogging and Propaganda

Having read a number of blogs and news sites, you’ve probably noticed that there are clear differences among the tones and writing styles of various bloggers, and they run the gamut on a number of spectrums: witty-dry, serious-funny, sophisticated-juvenile, realistic-biased.

When I started writing this blog, I honestly didn’t expect to cultivate a particular style.  The way I write here is the way I write all my fiction.  Granted, each genre and type of writing has its own conventions, and I tend to stick to those when appropriate, but tone, voice, and pace are pretty consistent.

But there are a few intentional choices I made.  One of those was my desire to include within each of my posts something that a reader could take away to make his or her Eve experience richer.  That might mean a lesson that they could emulate, a mistake I made that they can avoid, or a way of thinking about the game contrary to the way they normally do.

But the most important intentional decision is about propaganda.

Real Life is Tricky

Just a quick note; I apologize for not posting recently, but real life has taken over quite a bit this week.  It’s looking like it’s letting up a little, and I’m working on four posts I’ll be posting in rapid succession, so stay tuned for the next day or so and set aside some reading time (bathroom, fleet, or otherwise).  I’ll have two theory posts, one Lesson, and one insight on a good method of deception.

So, stay tuned, starting in about 4 hours or so.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Should You Teach Your Wife to Play Eve?

Eve is a game we all spend large amounts of time playing.  Quite often, our significant others (henceforth shortened to “wives” for ease) simply don’t understand how important internet pixels really are.  We strive, often in vain, to help explain that yes, we really did need to stay up until 3 a.m. to participate in that fleet fight, and that no, we aren’t wearing the headset just to ignore them.

At some point, we all ask ourselves, “What if I taught my wife to play Eve?”  Visions of our lives becoming easier through domestic simpatico pass through our minds.  This was exactly the question I asked myself about a year ago.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Lessons: “Missed It By That Much”

For those of you who read my “Lessons” posts to learn something new (and all of you really should), this post will be a little more esoteric, but I’ll still cover both a general axiom and some specific examples from last night’s fleet.

When fighting small gangs or solo pilots, being able to predict your opponent’s decisions is very important.  But another way psychology comes into play in Eve is in having the resolution of spirit to stick with a stratagems so long as it’s appropriate to do so, even if it doesn’t seem to bear fruit. That’s called patience.  You want to have better resolve than the other guy, and force him to become impatient first.

In Razor, we have an FC named Qicia who routinely gets us high-value kills.  He’ll wait until the optimal moment to call in the fleet.  He’s very patient, and he knows intuitively when the perfect time to act is.  He may see dreads land and enter siege.  He may be running a bait character and choose the right moment to light that cyno.  Some people complain that his fleets can be long, but he’s very good at what he does.  He demonstrates an essential, yet rare, characteristic.

And that trait is patience, which leads to good timing.  Yes, I’ll connect the two of them.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mobile Depots, Carriers, and You

Just a quick one.  Check this out.  Just read the first paragraph.  An impressive bit of strategy is imbedded in a throw-away line near the end.

“Entertainingly, the Thanny dropped a mobile depot, refit warp core stabs, and warped away from the Nyx's tackle!”

That's brilliant.
It’s official.  If you’re not carrying a mobile depot around in your carrier to serve as your own refitting service, independent of a buddy carrier, you’re officially doing it wrong.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Lessons: The Road Not Taken

A few months ago, I purchased a new character with the intention of placing her in a corp that specialized in small gang roaming.  I was targeting small US TZ corporations who roamed through PvP-rich environments.  I wasn’t ready to go full pirate (read: -10.0 sec status, ever to set foot in high-sec again) and didn’t quite have the skills trained up to go wormhole (scanning and T3s), so I was looking closely at the corporations that fought in Curse and Syndicate.

As an added treat, they would have to be fine with two of my characters still remaining in Razor.  And because of that affiliation, I didn’t want to join another CFC alliance, and our enemies were pretty much out, too.  While some might unknowingly accept an alt of a CFC player, if they did, they wouldn’t be as sharp and on-the-ball as I wanted.

Believe it or not, it’s an incredibly tough task.  The US time zone is smaller than EU, but there are still a lot of opportunities out there.  I was impressed with Rote Kapelle, but having characters in other alliances was a deal-breaker.

Monday, December 2, 2013

This Is Why I'm Training JDC V

Just a quick one for now...

In Razor, JDC V is a required skill for flying a dreadnaught.  A week ago, I started the long slog to finish it… on January 2nd.  A 36-day train.  Why am I spending so much time to train it?

Trading a suicide dread (which would be reimbursed to kill a PL titan and a couple supercarriers?  Yeah, I’d be fine with that.

Case closed.  Sign me up.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

What I’m Thankful For

Between botched CCP events and mechanics changes (and everyone can find something to complain about with every change), discussion about Eve in recent months has been filled with cries of “the end is nigh!”  With the American holiday of Thanksgiving happening today, it seems only fair I use this post to talk about the things in Eve that make it an experience to remember.

So here is a list of things I’m thankful for.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This Is No Time For a Nerf Bat!

I’ve been away for a while, probably a combination both of RL and the psychological effect of training a 36-day skill (JDC V, one of the nastiest practical skills).

During that time, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Rubicon changes in general, as well as the paradigm-shifting interceptor changes in particular.  In general, I still hold to my opinion that Rubicon’s changes are not that impressive, though they are significant.  I have yet to see a ghost site, and while I appreciate attempts to make PvE more interesting, I really feel like they phoned this patch in.

Yes, mobile siphons are going to be annoying for all the major blocs and may result in significant null sec changes in a “death by a thousand cuts” way, but the change itself seems a relatively simple one.  And mobile depots are an interesting addition, too.  Once they add in the T3 refitting in space,

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Observations on Rubicon Interceptors

Well, as anyone who has been playing the game since Tuesday is aware, interceptors are all the rage now.  Early adopters like Black Legion have begun experimenting with Crow fleets with Sabre support.

Incidentally, I was flat-out wrong when I suggested CCP would purge all charges with the Rubicon expansion.  I saw at least one Sabre launch a whole series of bubbles, a fun trick each pre-Rubicon fitted Sabre can do once before having to reload.  They were having a little fun with it, making what appeared to be skid marks in space.  My 10-bubble Sabre is sitting in my hangar until I really need it.

On Tuesday afternoon, I watched them practice with the new mechanics in Doril.  In particular, I noticed that they spend some time setting up bookmarks and practicing warping to various locations.  No longer can an Interceptor simply warp to a station, be caught by his gang’s bubble, and tackle a

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tidi is Why I’m Not an Environmentalist

With the Rubicon patch, the Internet is ablaze with chatter about benefits, consequences, raging, and trolling about the various features.  This post is not about Rubicon.  Briefly, I’ll say I’m not really impressed with Rubicon as an “expansion”, since expansions, in my mind, are supposed to shift paradigms regarding the experience.  Rubicon would make a great patch, though, as it makes tweaks here and there, changes some things, etc.  But an expansion?  I don’t feel very expanded.

That said, I do want to talk about something I read on Eve News 24 about the mobile siphon units.  Not them themselves… they’re the most interesting thing in Rubicon (but, again, not “expansion”-worthy).  Look down in the comments, and you find a discussion about why Tidi is so terrible, which is silly.

The argument they use is something like this, “Tidi sucks.  It strengthened nodes so fleet fights of 1000 pilots could happen without causing crashes, but it did it so well that now we have fleet fights of 3000 pilots.  And now the nodes are still crashing, so tidi didn’t work.  Now the blocs are bigger, and that sucks!  Screw tidi!”

Monday, November 18, 2013

What Are You Trying to Do?

It’s the most basic question in Eve, but for some reason, folks tend to forget about it when they head out to PvP.  Too often, I see people trying to chase a Cynabal out of their space in an armor cruiser (it’s not fast enough).  Or an assault frigate hunting ratting Tengus solo (can’t do enough damage).  Or a gate camp that contains only one tackler, with the rest DPS ships (if your tackler gets popped…).

Or even a Sabre or bomber in low-sec.

The list of stupid things is endless.  While sole of them are obvious, some of them are less so.  A lot of times, people take excellent ships to do wholly inappropriate things with them.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Lessons: Know When to Fold ‘Em

We’ve all been there.  After a few hours of roaming without seeing so much as the ionized vapor of an engine trail, you finally catch what appears to be a perfectly innocent little target on grid with you.  Maybe it’s a Loki on a gate that aggresses you, or an Ibis sitting innocently in space, just doing nothing.  All of a sudden, you find that your victim isn’t quite as alone as you thought, and you’re neck-deep in trouble.  So, you try to de-aggress.

I’ve said before that what defines a winning poker player is not how big they win, but how small they lose, and that the same is true in Eve.  After all, you can’t get kills #2, 3, and 4 of the night if you die killing your first ship.

This is where situational awareness comes in, particularly when you’re in a situation where you can successfully escape, such as on a gate or station.  Let me give you three instances in which an aggressed ship successfully de-aggressed in time to survive to fight another day.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What’s In My Hangar – Pre-Rubicon Edition

Over at Jester’s Trek, Ripard Teg posts every year listing the ships sitting in his hangar.  He uses it to track changes in fleet doctrines, fittings, and functions over time, particularly as a result of expansions and rebalances.  I thought it was such a good idea, I’ve decided to steal it.

But instead of annually, I’m going to look at my hangar just before every expansion.  Immediately after an expansion, my hangar tends to change rapidly and chaotically, but after a few months, it’s usually pretty settled.  With Rubicon about three weeks away, I figure now’s as good a time as any to commemorate my ships for Odyssey.

So, without further ado…

Monday, November 11, 2013

What is Elite PvP?

“Oh, God, is this sov bloc scrub really gonna talk about elite PvP?”

Yes, yes he is.  Sharpen your spears, boys.

Elite PvP… you always think you’re elite, but everyone else can think of several reasons why you aren’t.  Ever since the tragedy in Doril during the live event, people have re-opened the discussion about elite PvP.  I’ve seen a couple reddit posts about this, too.  Is it possible to come to a consensus about what elite PvP is?  Probably not.  But I play Eve, so I’ve already shown a willingness for self-abuse.

First, realize this: I’m not talking about FCing.  I’m talking about individual tactical piloting skills of the average player, not the meta strategies of fleet commanders.  You can have an elite fleet commander leading a bunch of scrubs, and you can have a fleet of wonderful elite PvPers without any FC at all.  The two are not casually related.

I’m not an elite PvPer, but I strive to be.  I need to improve a whole lot and gain more experience in a wider variety of situations.  But what exactly am I striving for?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Razor Alliance Welcomes You to Null-sec!

Step 1: Announce a battle.

Step 2: Have a battle on the way to the battle.  (all of those losses were suffered against PL when we warped to attack their navy apoc fleet).

To set the record straight, I know of no devs who are in Razor, and we didn’t receive advance notice.  Razor has been deployed in Doril for about two months now, and it was pure coincidence that CCP’s event ran right through our warzone.

But, Razor was the first null-sec alliance on the field, camping the Sendaya gate in Zealots to take out anything that jumped through.  Goons came in with a sentry doctrine, probably to prove yet again that drone assist needs a nerf.  In fact, the only frustrating thing for us about the whole day was when the Goons were stealing our kills by assigning drones to a fast-locking target caller!

At first, it was a trickle.  Then the whole fleet came out.  By that point, PL, NC., Darkness, and many, many more null-sec alliances were on the field, and we were all popping anything shiney that came through the gate.  T3s, navy and pirate ships, T2 battlecruisers… it was an orgy of destruction.  And

KW-I6T Disappointments and CCP Marketing

First off, yes, I was involved in the KW-I6T battle, coming in for the last four hours (covered at and EveNews24).  I’m not going to talk about the reasons behind it or the way the battle developed, but I do want to talk about experience-related issues.

Basically, the node appeared not to be reinforced, even though the battle was planned and major battles occurred at the same time of day for the past few days.  Lag was reminiscent of the pre-tidi times – and tidi itself was maxed the entire time.  At one point, I had a 5 minute delay between entering a command and it being accepted by the server. 

Let me give you one example of the experience.  Razor heard EMP was suffering problems with cash flow, so we figured that for every EMP carrier we destroyed, there was a chance we wouldn’t see that pilot in a carrier again for a long while.  We primaried one of their Archons and watched it drop to 73% armor… then stay there for 10 minutes.  None of us saw any changes in the Archon, and the reason ended up being because we were all desynched – our commands hitting the server.  I watched my guns keep 11 charges for ten cycles.  Only by unlocking and relocking the Archon – a process that took 10 minutes – did we see he had dipped to 11% structure, but during the 10 minutes when our turret fire commands weren’t being accepted, he caught reps.  He would have died if not for the horrible lag. 

Then CCP started punting clusters and trying to work their magic to speed up the node.  Myself and nearly every other player was kicked at least once – including the Titan pilot who was at the center of the whole fight, but he remained in space since he was bubbled.  Once I logged back in, the server seemed more responsive… for about ten minutes.  My command-delay was up to 26 minutes when the node finally crashed, disconnecting everyone in system.

After that, PL actively pinged its membership NOT to log back in.  Given how long the fight took and the lack of reinforcements, it’s safe to say PL saved their capital fleet – and several supercaps, including the Titan – because CCP is incapable of keeping its game running.  And it’s not the first time, either.

I have to credit CCP with trying to fix the node on the fly.  I really do appreciate that effort.  But they can’t rely on their on-call staff to fix problems that poor planning caused.  It’s unfair to those employees.  I have no doubt that those employees did everything they could.

But CCP needs to understand the frustration this causes.  As it stands, flying a Titan is perfectly safe… just crash the game by range-pinging for as many pilots as possible to enter system.  Hell, you can even invite them to shoot you.  It’d make no difference.

CSM member Ripard Teg posted his opinions about this whole situation, but I have to wholeheartedly disagree.  CCP promotes the game through player-run events like Asakai and KW-I6T.  They get press for these events, and that press generates buzz that has no doubt resulted in new subscriptions.  They use these events – which are entirely player-generated – to profit.  They build an expectation that Eve Online can deliver these sorts of events.

Which it can’t.  CCP proved that again in KW-I6T.  It’s false advertising as the game currently stands

Terrorizing Lowsec

I’ve stated before that there’s nothing quite as enjoyable as small gang PvP.  It combines the coordination of fleet combat with the emphasis on player skill that solo PvP requires.  Those kinds of fleets tend to be looser and more social.  They offer the best chance to get kills, too.  Gangs of 10-15 don’t scare potential targets as much as fleets of 50 do.

Quite simply, if you want a fight, go in a small gang.

One of the corporations in my alliance, Repercussus, runs a weekly small gang roam every Friday night.  The composition usually changes, but this week they ran assault frigs, and I joined them.  Being in assault frigs, the objective was to catch folks in FW sites and running missions – anything away from gate guns.  I brought a Dramiel for some speed (I’ll probably write a quick guide on how to fly – and survive in – a dual-prop Dramiel in the near future).

Did I mention it was a drunk roam?  As with many things in this world, sometimes, a little alcohol can sooth the nerves.  Our minds are cluttered places, and a little buzz can actually help your flying by clearing all the extra junk out of them.  It forces you to live in the moment, and that can be a very good thing for Eve.

Our roam began much as assault frigate roams do… moving quickly while searching for targets.  Individual members would go off and check various FW plexes for targets, using dscan to pinpoint possible locations.  It’s very much a “swarm of bees” situation.

I joined late, so the fleet had already taken down a Deimos earlier in the night.  My first engagement was when one of our pilots caught a Tempest Fleet Issue on the gate of a medium FW site and called in the cavalry.  We were all orbiting at around 7 km in case of smart bombs.  As we got it down to about half shields, a Cyclone arrived to “save” it.  We switched to killing all the drones, then took the Cyclone and TFI out. 

It was a long fight – about five minutes – and at one point my close orbit against the Cyclone took me to about 30 km out from the TFI.  He saw my distance and began to lock me, but I was able to recover transversal as I closed range again.  It was a close call made because I was focusing too much on a ship that I didn’t need to worry about. Orbiting the Cyclone was irrelevant with his missiles.  Lesson #1: keep transversal against the more deadly target.

About an hour later, we entered our second engagement, which consisted of a fight in a small FW site against a Kitsune, Incursus, and Hawk.  I pulled the duty of engaging the Kitsune, and managed to get my drones on him before he perma-jammed me.  Ultimately, those drones forced him from the field, but we had enough dps to kill the Hawk and Incursus easily.  I feel like it was a missed opportunity… a couple more points and we could have taken that all of them down.  I honestly don’t understand why the Incursus and Hawk remained for the fight… they were vastly outnumbered, but they flew well enough to last longer than they had a right to expect, perhaps 3 minutes or so against our entire fleet.  Well done!

But, I made up for the Kitsune getting away by catching a Brutix at the sun a few jumps away.  He was about 40-50 away from me, so I had to burn towards him quickly before he could escape – in a Dramiel, that’s about 5 km/s.  Naturally, this brought me into web range.  But – since I was dual-prop fit, even webbed and scrammed, I was still going 600 m/s until I escaped web range.  I was never below 90% shields.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Lessons: Low-Sec Tengus and Suspect Timers

In the Reddit comments to my recent suggestion to add pockets to null-sec within which pilots don’t show up in local, a few players scoffed at the idea that roamers hunting miners either a) never generate defense fleets to chase them off, or b) run away from the slightest resistance.

I can personally attest that every roamer in Razor space generates at least a few people willing to hunt them down, simply for the affront of believing they could travel or – gasp! – plex in our space.  Generally, these infiltrators are killed if they’re not flying cloaky ships, and about half the time if they are.  We take defending our space very seriously.

And we’re obviously not the only ones.  Already, I’ve written about one situation in which I both a) hunted ratters to generate response fleets, and b) fought them when they arrived.  In that case, I expected to face smaller gangs and was surprised by the number, but I could have even survived after getting a couple kills (assuming I had the chance to warp out, which I believe I did).  For this post, the point is that the defenders did respond to my incursion exactly as I hoped, and it generated content for both of us (ie. I didn’t run).

I think it’s safe to say that in the regard of “defending your space” and chasing outsiders away, if people do it, they’ll do it anywhere: WH, null-sec, or low-sec space.  After all, it touches on the same sentiment in players, the desire to defend what you believe to be yours.  Having sov is irrelevant to “ownership”.  Just ask low-sec corps or NPC null corps in Syndicate.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Post Patch: Check Your Charges

This is a quick one.  But did you notice that after the last patch, when you logged in, all of the charges were removed from modules on your ships?  It was a minor annoyance any time I reshipped, particularly when I quickly tried to jump into my Tornado, with three tracking computers and eight guns.  Having to do it again and again as the FC changed doctrines on the fly was a headache.

At first, I didn’t think much about it.  Sure it was annoying, but there had to be a reason, right?

Under the old ASB mechanics, you could fit 13 Navy cap charges into your ASB.  When CCP changed the modules to fit only 9 charges, anyone who already had 13 charges loaded pre-patch was allowed to keep the ships as-was.  And, CCP allowed those ships to be flown in tournaments, so you’d occassionally see a ship holding an ASB tank for about half again as long as it should.  Alas, this quirk of mechanic tweaking is no more.

Why didn’t they do this before?  I suspect finding time for one of their programmmers to enact a mass unload just wasn’t important enough to them, given the few numbers of ships that still had “over-filled” ASBs.  The major sov blocs, who I’d wager go through the most ships, didn’t have a workhorse ASB-fit doctrine at the time, and those who did fly ASBs would tend to burn through those cap charges quickly.

But now, CCP has a pretty clear reason for making this “clean-up” script a priority, and testing it well in advance of the need.

The mechanics are already in place to prevent pilots from undocking with two interdiction probe launchers fit, but I imagine there were more than a few Sabre pilots who planned to keep at least one Sabre on hand until the need arose to drop ten bubbles in rapid succession.

Alas, the good folks at CCP seem to caught wind of that one.

Anyone want to buy an extra Sabre?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lessons: On the Importance of Fraps

Fraps is a program that allows you to record video game footage in real time, and is responsible for much of the Eve game play footage you see on YouTube.  It’s also an invaluable tool for replaying battles to see what you did write and, more importantly, what you did wrong.

That is, of course, provided you turn it on.

Last night, I had Fraps up and ready to record when myself and a couple corp mates headed to Immensea to find some targets.  I was in an ASB Vagabond, and we had a Talwar, Moa, and Sabre with us.  A true kitchen sink fleet.

We dodged two fleets sparing over a POS in Catch, then found relatively little activity – but several neutrals – on the way.  When we arrived in the upper left constellation in Immensea owned by Nulli Secunda, and saw a couple Tengus on dscan in 94FR-S, but they were safed up.  Based on activity, we knew the staging system for the region was next door in R-ZUOL, so I jumped in to take a look around.  I figured I had the best chance of surviving if something was on the other side.

Which, of course, there was.  Quite a large gang, relatively speaking.  I immediately called on comms for everyone to get off that gate and stay away as I burned back to the gate.  Much to my disappointment, only a few of the ships aggressed me.

Jumping through again, I started to pull range, aligning towards the sun as a Raptor and Flycatcher decloaked and began to burn back to the gate.  I was able to neut out the Raptor and take him down (though, disappointingly, even my 220 guns couldn’t track when he was neuted) with my drones.  He went down just as the Flycatcher got his scram on me.

I started into the Flycatcher down as the rest of the gang jumped through – minus those who still had aggro on the other side.  Closest was an ASB-fit Vagabond that scrammed me a split-second after the Flycatcher popped.  Or so I believed.  I’d have to check Fraps afterwards to see if I had been free or not. 

As I had already burned a couple of my ASB charges, I was out of luck.  The rest of the gang descended.  I took the Vagabond down to half shield, only to watch his ASB rep him up – exactly as mine had done.  Once I saw that, I tried to switch to a Rupture – whatever you can kill, right? – but only had time to get him to about ¼ shields before I popped.  Here's the battle summary (the Moa went down a few minutes later when it tried to get out; he had the Rupture into deep structure when he popped).  I’d have a long trip home in a pod.

While I made that trip, though, I checked Fraps.  Only, I didn’t.  I had forgotten to turn it on for the battle.

Did I really see the scram icon disappear when I killed the Flycatcher, or was it a trick of the eye?  I’ll never know now, but at the time, it didn’t occur to me to warp out.  Was that because I was fixated on the battle, or was it because my mind registered that it wouldn’t work?

Because I hadn’t recorded the fight, I’ll never know which error I made, or if I’d even made one during the fight.  I’d had a lot of fun and scored two kills against a gatecamp gang, but the nagging thought still tugs at my mind.  “Could I have gotten out after the second tackler went down?”

If so, it means I mentally committed to the fight and refused to adapt as the situation developed.  That meant my laspe turned a coup into an isk-negative fight.

But if that Vaga had me scrammed before the Flycatcher popped or I wasn’t free long enough to realistically move my fingers from my F-keys to the Alt+W to warp, then I did the best I could.  That’s a much more soothing thought.

But the uncertainty irritates me more than knowing I made a mistake ever could.  We, as humans, tend to fixate on the more positive of two possibilities, even when our brains tell us not to.  It’s impossible to resist.  The experience won’t code in my brain as, “This is what you did, this is what happened”, but rather “This is what you did, this may have been what happened,” which isn’t nearly as strong of a memory.

But I did learn a lesson I’ll remember vividly: hit the damn Fraps key before a fight!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Lessons: “This is Probably Bait”

One of our newer FCs took out about a half dozen assault frigates last night.  We considered going into Catch and Providence, but opted for the shorter route of simply hanging around Doril and catch whoever we happened to find.  We made a quick pass towards VOL-MI, but in CL-85V, our forward scout reported a small Art of War gang manning a bubble on the other side of the gate.

After a quick debate, we decided to engage, but as our scout jumped back in and acted like he wanted to fight (ie. not running away), the gang warped off.

Quite disappointing after we were geared up for a fight.

But just as we warped off, a Fraternity. Drake landed in the bubble on-grid.  He was of an entirely different alliance, so we felt the chances of a trap were minimal.  We quickly made our way back to the gate, only to see him warp off to the sun as we landed.

With only one of his alliance in system and no prior experience with his group, we thought it was fairly likely that he had simply panic-warped.  So again, into warp we went, heading to the sun at 0.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Two Month Anniversary – What I’ve Learned

Target Caller is about two months old.  I started it to share some of my experiences with PvP, some ideas I had, and to generally discuss the state of PvP in Eve.  I hoped that, through my posts, I’d receive some comments that helped me improve my own flying and how I think about the game.

And that’s exactly what I got.  I haven’t gotten everything right, and some of my suggestions had unintended consequences I hadn’t considered.  Through your comments, I’ve already learned more about mechanics.  Case in point: the discussion in the comments of this post regarding turret tracking.  Keep it up, guys.

There’s nothing quite like throwing your ideas out for public consideration to improve how you play this game.  It’s easy to think you’re great at this game until you show your ideas to someone else.  Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong, but learn something new every time.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lessons: Know Your Engagement Range

Yesterday, one of our FCs took out a fleet of 27 in early USTZ, consisting mainly of Muninns with some tacklers, bubblers, and 2 Scimitars as support.  With so many sov alliances deployed to Curse, we figured we’d be able to find a fight of a similar-sized fleet.

Once we were out, intel reported a Cynabal/Vagabond gang of about 30 a couple jumps away.  We were torn between keeping our distance of it and surging on in.  We knew we’d be in trouble if they stayed mobile on us, but we’d tear them up if we could surprise them or catch them in a stop bubble.  It’d be a good test of our skills at roughly equal numbers (and a little outnumbered), so we decided to chase after them.

And this situation was the perfect example of the importance of aggression.

Our +1 scout jumped through the target gate and reported the enemy gang sitting at decloak range (about 10-15 km from the gate, spread out).  We fleet-warped to the out-gate and held until our scout – who had to burn back through and jump to survive after his gate cloak ended – could enter system again and re-confirm the fleet’s location.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Elo Knight and Class

So, as has been covered elsewhere, BL lost more than 500billion isk worth of supercarriers yesterday evening.

I’m not going to cover what happened, as I wasn’t there.  But we were monitoring it on Razor comms as we made our way over to sneak onto whatever killmails we could.  In the end, we ended up trading five dreads for two and a carrier.  If we hadn’t committed dreads, we would have had to suffice with getting only one dread.  But, hey, what’s the point of having them if we don’t use them?  We make plenty of isk to replace them, but one never likes losing ships.

But, at the bottom of the link above, go ahead and listen to some of the attached soundcloud.  The person speaking is Elo Knight, the chief FC of BL.

Now listen to the tracks on the soundboard here.  That’s Makalu Zayra (former -A-, now PL).  Makalu is the guy who used his titan as bait to take out that BL fleet.  Let the comparisons marinate.

In Razor, we have a pilot named Xenermorph who sounds the same way as Elo Knight.  Flying for an FC like him, who keeps his cool, is what I imagine fighting for a Scipio Africanus or a Julius Caesar was like.  A cool, calm FC can extract the maximum value from a fleet by keeping his members calm and following orders.  Focus on the task, not the situation.

Consider me impressed by Elo Knight.  He acted with class and poise.

BL was beaten, but so long as he continues to FC like this, they’ll never be defeated.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lessons: Decloak Before You Approach

I was looking at a long day of very small play sessions, so I decided to wander through Cobalt Edge to look for miners in my Rapier.  I brought along two bubbles just in case, but beyond that, it was just little old me.  My plan was to hang around for a few hours in the afternoon, until the fish started to get used to my presence, then hit them in the evening.

I didn’t see much between Tenal and deep Cobalt Edge, though I did try to catch a couple miners and ratters on the way to 5HN-D6.  I have to give kudos to the residents for safing up quickly.  The one exception is a five-man mining gang that all warped as a unit, had sequential ship names, and remained absolutely silent for about ten minutes without reacting.  Likely a bot.

As I made my way though Cobalt Edge, one helpful neutral insulted my ship choice in local.  Pro tip guys…don’t ever talk in local.  If he remained silent, I’d have never known he was in space, or have confirmation that my presence and ship type had been reported in intel.  As it was, I knew to expect reinforcements to come streaming in any time I engaged a target, so bait ships wouldn’t work against me now.  If he’d have kept his mouth shut, I might have been looser with my target selection.

But eventually, I made my way to P-H5IY, where I found about a dozen mining barges and a few ratting ships – a Tengu, a Dominix, and an Abaddon.  I warped to the largest asteroid anom as two retrievers warped off, leaving one Mackinaw behind.  Thinking perhaps he was afk, I slow-boated into point range before decloaking.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Null-Sec 101: Finding and Catching Targets (Solo-PvP Edition)

Null-sec 101 is a series of articles meant to teach new players about null-sec, with a focus on PvP and daily life.

In low-sec, it’s not uncommon to enter a system and see fifteen or twenty people in local, usually from a mix of corporations and alliances.  If you’re in a faction warfare system, you have the advantage of seeing FW sites in your overview, which you can use to narrow down your list of potential targets and their likely locations.  Once you have that info, you can decide whether you want to engage.  Most likely, FW pilots will see you hit the acceleration gate and warp off before you can reach them.  Sometimes, you get lucky.

In a non-FW system, you’ll likely need to probe down your targets, warp to them, and hope they aren’t checking their dscan for probes.  If you land on them, you can proceed to engage.

But finding targets in sov null-sec is less forgiving.  Most systems are empty, and when you do find targets, you stick out like a sore thumb in local: you are likely the only one who doesn’t have positive standing towards them.  In most alliances, your presence and ship type will be reported in their intel channels, too, and pilots in neighboring systems will be looking for you to appear.  They’ll dock up or POS up when you enter, and only return to their ratting or mining after you leave.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fixing Null-Sec: Summation

My series on suggestions to fix null-sec is complete.  I want to give a big thank-you to everyone who posted constructive criticism both here and on reddit.  The suggestions were criticized for not being sufficient/appropriate taken as a whole (which is fair), but individual ones here and there gained some traction and – most importantly – they spurred some debate and discussion.  Each suggestion is merely a starting point.

However, one thing is clear; the public definitely recognizes the urgency of the problems with null-sec.  An increase in smaller alliances is a good thing, as is the variety of content that null-sec can provide.

While the player base and CCP seem keen on waiting for the sandbox to take care of itself, the simple fact is that mechanics changes resulted in the situation becoming what it is, and mechanics changes are needed to help incentivize this differentiated experience once again.  Is it possible to roll back the negative consequences of mechanics changes over the past five years?  I don’t know, but it’s worth a try.

Why?  For CCP, null-sec is their marketing story.  Asakai wouldn’t have happened without null-sec, and the fall of Fountain and other massive battles draw players to the game.  However, though large fleet fights draw people to try the game, solo and small fleet PvP will keep that demographic of player in the game for the long term.  Large fleet fights don’t happen every day, and Eve needs a vibrant form of PvP to keep those action junkies logging in every day.  For only when players log in daily do they become addicted… or burn out, if the content isn’t there.

I want more addicted players.  PvE isn’t going to do it, since there are dozens of games that do it better (how may players have complained about how boring PvE is?) and players will flock to it after a few months.

I want a balanced game in which every current Eve player can find a compelling reason to log in, but I’m biased in favor of the play style that lets players log in and find a fight within five or ten minutes, not the kind that involves an hour of preparation.  Many players can’t afford to spend an hour of their two-hour play time sitting around waiting.  We already have to spend too much time fitting ships, traveling, gathering components, etc.  Players like me want action, and we want it now.

So, once again, thank you for tolerating my novice theory-crafting.  Back to normal posts from now on in!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fixing Null-Sec Pt. 3: Countering the Blob

In addition to problems of population (drawing people to null, part 1) and sov mechanics (allowing small alliances to thrive, part 2), null-sec also faces the perennial problem of the blob.  Solo roamers are swarmed by a whole home defense fleet.  Small gangs are swarmed by large fleets.  Large fleets are dropped by capitals.  Capitals are dropped on by fleets of PL or BL supercaps.

Blobbing is blamed for many of null-sec’s ills.  For the purposes of this article, I’m going to incorporate some existing ideas to counter the blob, since the reason for blobbing lies not in mechanics, but human nature, which nothing will change.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Two co-conspirators are captured and held in separate rooms.  The authorities go into the first man’s cell and explain that they already have enough evidence to convict.  Both he and his friend will receive 3 years in prison.  Each is being given the chance to give up his friend.  If the first man betrays his friend and the friend remains silent, he will receive 1 year in prison and the friend will receive 10 years.  If both betray each other, they’ll each receive 10 years in prison.  The first man is told that his friend is being given the same choice.  If you were the first man, what would you do?

Given that you can only control your decision, the intelligent move is to betray your friend.  If he is dishonorable, he will betray you regardless of what you do.  If he is honorable, he will keep silent, and you’ll receive only 1 year in prison.  But, he’s making the same decision, and is just as likely to come to the same conclusion, so chances are you both will be getting 10 years in prison.

The prisoner’s dilemma is a classic example of a situation in which pursuit of personal gain can backfire on you.  It reveals the selfishness of human nature.  In Eve, this means the desire to win, above all things.  Bringing a comparable fleet to fight an enemy means you face more risk, but will learn more from the fight and have a reason to be proud should you win. But if you can blob them – even at the expense of pride, achievement, and education – and eliminate the risk of losing a ship… that’s a compelling argument for many people.

Of course, doing so regularly means your pilots won’t learn anything, have no reason to believe themselves competent PvPers (or worse yet, think they are when, in reality, they aren’t) and accomplish nothing but the inevitable conclusion of a gank.  Add to that the contempt of your enemies (no longer just opponents).

Yet while the desire to keep a green killboard is paramount for a lot of people, some alliances choose to fight their enemies on equal terms?  Why do they do this?  Because they recognize the importance of the Eve-equivalent of the prisoner’s loyalty: self-improvement.  When you form up a similarly sized gang and avoid bringing jammers, you aren’t looking for an easy victory, you’re looking to fly effectively and overcome a worthy opponent.

But that’s the harder route.  And humans rarely take the hard route.

So, are there any mechanics we can tweak to incentivize players to meet gangs with equal numbers instead of blobbing?


Bombing already afford the opportunity for small groups of pilots to obliterate large numbers of enemy ships.  If you search YouTube for Rooks and Kings bombing entire battleship fleets, you can see how the top tier of bombers can wreak havoc.

Since the mechanic already exists and bombs are meant to offer overwhelming force, I propose a simple change: increase the overall damage potential, but also increase the effect to which signature radius affects that damage.  By this pair of changes, a flight of bombs (7) could effectively destroy battleships, without overpowering the effect of a single bomb on a frigate.

Having your fleet of structure-grinding battleships decimated by a single squad of bombs is quite the deterrent to underestimating your smaller enemy.

Deployable Defenses

The Rubicon expansion will include deployable depots, which are essentially ship maintenance arrays that can be placed anywhere in space.  Extending this option, I propose deployable defenses.

Imagine that you’re in a 30-man home defense fleet when your forward scout reports 70 in local.  You align out to pull range as they jump into your system.  You take a few pot shots, but can’t really dent their fleet, so you warp out to a deep safe.  The enemy drops probes and scans you down.

But you prepared that safe before the fight.  When they arrive, they’re greeted by a dozen mobile smartbombs and an anchored bubble, which decimates their fleet as they frantically try to escape.  Your fleet swoops in to mop up the survivors.

Not only would these “surprises” add a new dimension to game play and make probers check twice before warping a fleet, but with certain limitations (perhaps a limit of 12 such objects on grid at once), could add a new dimension to help close the numbers gap between alliances.

Yes, I’m violating my “no new development” rule… or am I?  Until we see the specifics of the Rubicon depots, I’m going to put this suggestion in the “grey area” category.  It’s possible a fusion between POS mechanics (shoot-on-site) and the depots can easily accommodate such anchorable objects.

Imagine a cloak dissipator, which nullifies cloaks within 100 km.  Stealth bomber structure-grinding fleets would suddenly be exposed.

Imagine a distortion field, which would nullify any off-grid boosters for ships within the field.  I can just imagine the shock on the face of a boosted pilot who lands on a target, only to discover his off-grid boosters no longer work.

There are lots of options that would give an advantage to the alliances that prepared the battlefield ahead of time, regardless of size.  And rewarding intelligence over brute numbers is always a wise move.

Extra Credit: Hard Counters

Yes, this is a cheat, since I’m not talking about mechanic changes.  When all else fails, there’s always the hard counter to an enemy fleet, the fleet composition built specifically to destroy the enemy’s fleet.  Using this strategy typically – unless you’re very lucky – requires your pilots to have many pre-fit ships in their hangars, ready to address any situation.

It’s a very skill-intensive strategy to employ, since pilots typically need to have all four races, all four weapon systems, and a range of ship sizes available.   But it also requires pilots to understand how to fly a variety of roles.  Usually, this strategy is viable only for smaller groups of pilots, like tournament teams, mercenary corps/alliances, and NPC null alliances.

Ironically, as pilots gain the ability to fly any ship that may be called for, they have also likely gained the aptitude to fly each individual ship in a wider variety of situations, eliminating the need to fly hard counter fleets.

But, when flown correctly, a hard counter can crush an enemy fleet of a much larger size.  This option tends to work better for defensive efforts – when an enemy fleet has to travel significant distance to reship once they discover you’re flying a hard counter – than for offensive ones (excepting situations when you’re bridging to your target system.


Ultimately, blobbing is a natural result of the human desire to avoid pain.  Nothing is going to change this, but mechanics changes can affect the degree to which smaller groups can defend against larger blobs.  The way to accomplish this is to turn the safety and overconfidence that a blob provides on its head, making that very overconfidence a weakness to exploit.

Increasing bomb damage on larger ships and introducing deployable defenses allows the smaller fleet to spring traps against larger fleets, giving the “little guy” more of a chance to survive.  And when smaller groups are capable of holding off larger groups, we move closer to the “space fiefdoms” that will allow a wider variety of players to participate in null.

And that, my friends, is the single, necessary element to revitalize null-sec.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fixing Null-Sec Pt. 2: Sovereignty and Force Projection

As expected, I drew a lot of angry visitors with part 1 of this guide.  Whether I propose nerfs to high-sec or buffs to null-sec, the result was the same: making high-sec relatively less valuable, and that’s a big no-no suggestion in Eve.  But if you want to draw players into null, it has to be done (and yes, I recognize that some players simply won’t lave high-sec).

But getting the players to null is worthless without having a compelling environment for them.  The suggestions in Part 1 won’t work unless you address the problems with sovereignty and stagnation currently infesting null-sec.

Yes, this is the “we’ve got to fix the big blue doughnut” portion of this topic’s festivities.

And keep in mind the proviso in the intro to this guide, that the suggestions I’m proposing must involve little to no CCP development work on new features, but rather tweak existing calculations, modifiers, and equations.

The goal?  To see a null-sec filled with small gangs, lots of small alliances holding space, and an environment in which any null entity need only travel a dozen jumps to fight fights.

Right now, null-sec has two significant problems related to sovereignty, sov mechanics that result in power concentrations and the ease of force projection.  By power concentrations, I mean both the inexorable trend of coalition-izing and the mechanics themselves that require large, well-organized fleets to seize and hold territory.  Changing both will in turn limit force projection.

The CFC is the current hegemon in null-sec.  With its organization, willingness to drop dead weight and add new blood, and policy shift to convert much of its space to rental space, I see nothing to suggest it can be stopped, or even slowed down.  In Fountain, the CFC fought against nearly every null entity of note.  It was victorious because of coordination – a collection of coalitions cannot fight as well as a single large coalition can.  If the CFC falls, it’ll be because of an internal rot that isn’t presently in evidence.

This is very bad for Eve.  Null-sec thrives on conflict.  Regardless of whether the CFC conquers all of null or not, the other null entities have already begun concentrating into coalitions of their own.  Eve is becoming a game of space empires, and within the borders of those empires, no fighting occurs.  I’d much rather have a game of space fiefdoms with hundreds of alliances fighting on all of their borders.  Such a universe would offer more opportunities for conflict than a couple coalitions do.  And make no mistake – Eve is a game of conflict.

But how can we create space fiefdoms again?

Escalating Sovereignty Costs

As much as people condemn it, CCP needs to implement some sort of escalating sov cost algorithm.  The sov cost value can be replaced by an algorithm based on the number of systems owned.  Anyone with children can tell you managing two children is three times as difficult as managing one.  The same can be said for nearly any object in the real world; its this tendency that leads to every large empire in history crumbling from its own weight.  Right now, costs and effort are infinitely scalable, and this unending scalability breaks the normal pattern.  There is no “weight” to cause the crumbling.

The costs of managing six systems shouldn’t be as high, on average, as the costs of managing a hundred.  Now, I propose a noticeable, but not ruinous, increase in costs, with a net decrease when alliances own only a couple systems.  An escalating sov cost system fits in with insurance costs, clone costs, and faction warfare costs, so it has clear precedents within Eve.

This sort of system won’t force a hard cap, but – as will all things in Eve – alliances will need to make decisions about how they spend their income… additional systems, or discounted ship contracts, or ship replacement, but not all of them.  Eve is a game of choices, after all.

But an increase in sov costs means the larger alliances, those more likely to deploy to distant regions, will have less isk available to fund these deployments, forcing them to be choosy about where and why they deploy.  It might make more sense to observe a possible enemy for longer to determine if he will actually post a threat, rather than squash him when he’s still small.  This would generate larger wars, and allow more entities to develop to a point when they could competently defend themselves.

The trick is to make it difficult to travel across the galaxy, but keep local cap use affordable.  Increases in jump fuel costs would harm everyone, distant and local cap use alike.  And escalating fuel costs by light-years jumped won’t work since large null alliances have access to dozens of cyno alts to let them make many small jumps, rather than a few large jumps.  It’s also this prevalence of cyno alts in large alliances that makes a reduction in jump range simply annoying, not effective, and more harmful to smaller alliances.

Now it’s very likely that larger alliances may divide into two or more allied alliances to keep sov costs down.  This is certainly a possibility, but doing so requires a level of logistical deftness that few entities possess.

Let’s say Alliance A breaks into A and B.  If their neighbor failcascades, they would need to set up Alliance C to own that new space.  When previously managing one alliance, are they going to be eager to manage three now?  And when the next neighbor attacks Alliance C, are they going to conquer them as well, and set up Alliance D?  Very quickly, the logistics of running multiple alliances will crumble.  And with reputation being what it is, the collapse of even one of those alliances will suggest weakness to its neighbors.  Initially, this splitting solution may be popular, but I doubt we’d see more than three or four instances of it a few months down the road.

Adjustments to Sov Mechanics

Right now, sov is taken by destroying one large, high-hp objection at a time.  The optimal way of doing this is to bring a fleet of supercarriers or dreads and blapping it quickly.  But how many alliances can field a fleet of supercarriers?  Current sov mechanics favor blobbing by wealthy alliances, and effectively crowd out smaller alliances.

This makes no sense, to be quite frank.  Warfare in the modern world involves multiple strategic objections that need to be struck to control an area.  Why not implement a system similar to faction warfare, but without the annoying PvE component?  Instead of SBUs and TCUs, doesn’t it make sense for an alliance to need to establish control at multiple areas within a solar system?

I propose replacing TCUs with much less-expensive and lower-hp anchorable structures that must be placed at every planet.  For simplicity, let’s call them planetary control units.  These units would have much less hp, so a fleet of 10 battleships could chew through one in about ten minutes.  Each would afford a reinforce cycle: this mechanic is essential for any international game so the defenders could muster.  And attackers would only need to take out half the planetary PCUs to make a system vulnerable.

However, with six to twelve PCUs in reinforce, system owners would face more complicated tasks to defend a system than “form up on TCU, blap anything nearby”.  If a fleet of 10 battleships could take one out in 10 minutes, attackers could take on larger alliances more easily.  With a fleet of 50 battleships, they could destroy a PCU in two minutes, with 100, in one minute.  Defenders would need to split their forces among several PCUs to engage attackers before they succeeded in destroying the PCU.

Ah, but what about when small alliances are attacked by larger alliances?  They have two options.  If the enemy divides to hit multiple PCUs, a smaller alliance – using bubbles to delay reinforcements) could maintain local superiority at a single planet, drive off or destroy the enemy, and move to the next (this is Napoleon’s famous “central position”).  If the enemy attacks each in sequence, there’s always bombing, the grand equalizer.  Owning the systems, defenders can easily set up bombing bookmarks perfectly in line with celestials (to eliminate the possibility of being caught).  Fourteen pilots can eliminate an entire attacking fleet (more on this in part III) easily.  And to sweeten the deal, let’s make PCUs immune to bomb damage.

The “half must be covered” mechanic already exists for TCUs, and can be easily mapped to planets instead of gates.  Changes to ehp can be done easily; not much programming required.  Admittedly, making PCUs immune to bomb damage requires some coding.  But the advantages – smaller fleets can put sov structures into reinforce much quicker and more points must be attacked at once, making agility more important than numbers – give smaller alliances a better chance.

We can also eliminate iHubs and make each upgrade a separate, attackable object that has to be placed around a planet, to provide more items to attack.  These upgrades wouldn’t include a reinforce timer, but nor would they be destroyed, only incapacitated.  In this way, alliances wouldn’t have to pay for replacement upgrades, but they would have to repair them before being able to use those upgrades in a system again.  Again, these objects would be smaller and have lower amounts of HP – less than a small tower, more than a POS module.  If you want to use your space, you would have to be present to defend your space.  As an added benefit, no longer would alliances need freighters to bring an iHub into a system.  That’s just annoying, and favors larger alliances.

An important element would be cost… sov components should not be very expensive; the costs should come from upkeep and maintenance costs, not initial outlay.  Small alliances don’t have the funds up front to pay the exorbitant costs associated with taking sov.  Large alliances that get in over their heads would choke on the spoils of war.

By decentralizing the attack points, we give smaller alliances the opportunity to concentrate their forces to attack larger alliances that spread themselves out to quickly burn a system.  This sort of mechanic would also help curb force projection; if systems can easily be put in danger, alliances would be encouraged to stay closer to home.  Taking systems would be messier and increase overall sov costs, meaning that it would be done by large entities only for good reasons with clear benefits.


To bring us back to a universe of may smaller alliances – and the many more alliance borders that see the majority of fights, we need to keep alliances close to home.  If we can accomplish this, we give alliances less of an incentive to remain snugly next to friendly neighbors; a big blue doughnut looks a lot less appealing if your PvP alliance is forbidden from shooting at all your neighbors and you can’t regularly deploy to a distant region for PvP content.

Creating a sov system that allows much smaller entities to successfully take a system would further encourage alliances to live in their space if for no reason other than to remain on hand to defend it.  Right now, there are only a handful of entities that can seriously threaten a regional invasion, and only a couple that can hope to hold it once taken.  That needs to change to ensure a vibrant null-sec.

Every sov-holding alliance should see real benefits to holding sov, real threats to losing it, and face decision-making in how they spend their income.

And for every alliance we can bring into null-sec, that’s another source both of roaming gangs and targets.  It’s another group of people who can now play in the null sandbox.  And it’s entertaining in a way that the past several wars haven’t been: anything can happen.

One thing is certain.  Current sov mechanics don’t allow smaller alliances to gain a foothold, let alone survive, unless they’re allied with the larger blocs.  Creating a system in which alliances can only handle so many systems and must defend their systems from guerilla raids would help keep alliances preoccupied with their own space, which would create the breathing room for smaller alliances to grow and prosper.  And this benefits anyone who is truly interested in a PvP-filled null-sec.