Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Terrain of Space

Sugar Kyle is admit the winter CSM summit and raised a very interesting question about choke points in New Eden.

Some regions of Eve are defined by their lack of watering holes. Venal has only six systems with stations in them, and all of those are centrally located within the region. Whole wings of systems are without a market, forcing players back into the center to dock, repair, and re-provision. Great Wildlands and Outer Ring are the same.

Other regions, like Stain and Syndicate, are absolutely lousy with stations. They can support larger populations and tend to host turf wars as the different groups fight it out. Both sheep and wolves tend to congregate there. To use a military equivalent, these are the hills and plateaus upon which armies can build their camps and fortifications.

Your major trade hubs are in the north-east of Empire space, with huge swaths of territory between them and the southern null-sec regions. You’ve got a lack of symmetry in where the best regions are located in terms of rats and moons. New Eden is not uniform.

Then you have the chokepoint systems Sugar discussed. Most relevant to me right now is J5A and B-DB, separating Fountain from Cloud Ring. Unless you want to add an extra six jumps to your route or wait for a direct wormhole to your destination, you need to run that gauntlet, often with catastrophic results. There’s the Tenal-Cobalt Edge stargate that spans a distance of about 14 LY. And plenty others.

These kinds of features really are a unique element of Eve. They’ve been modified significantly by the reduction of jump ranges to 5 LY and the release of Thera and the good work of Signal Cartel to map the wormhole exits for that system.

Building outposts may not dramatically affect choke points, but it will heavily influence the density of watering holes throughout Eve. No longer will Venal, for instance, be limited to only six station systems. It’s very possible someone might decide to open a freeport somewhere in the north of the region, and that could have ramifications to the character of the region.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I do worry we’ll see the normalization of space with Citadels. While I do enjoy the idea of various groups being able to stake a claim in someone else’s - be it player or NPC – region, the difficulty of being able to base out of Venal, for instance, is part of the allure, the charm, and the element of surprise. Could you strike so freely at CFC ratters from Venal if the region had more bases conveniently located to ratting systems? I suspect ratters would be a bit more wary… more like SMA in Fade in February than SMA in Fade in December.

I’ve been watching Black Sails recently (highly recommended, from the opening credits to the season 2 finale, which was awesome), and have always had an interest in the movement of pirates.  Why did they choose one location instead of another to base out of? Why was it so hard to eradicate them?

A lot of that had to do with the location of New Providence Island and the positioning of Nassau on it. It was conveniently located along major trade routes, yet it had nearby coves for concealment when a navy vessel came knocking. And it had a fort already existing from the time when the empires claimed it, albeit a run-down one.

Would it have been what it was if someone could plop down a mobile settlement on an island nearer to the Spanish treasure caches? Something special about that place in the history of the world would be different, and you could argue that having too many pirate bases would have either a) split crews too much so you didn’t get the critical mass, or b) represented a larger problem that the European empires couldn’t afford to ignore for as long as they did. Ultimately, after all, it was the pirates drawing too much attention to themselves that brought down the wrath of England.

Part of what makes some of those NPC regions so special is that they can’t be governed or controlled by residents of neighboring sov null regions. Venal will never be tamed by the CFC because the CFC can’t lock anyone out of the region. It serves as a base for anyone operating a fifth column behind CFC lines. That makes it something special. But if CFC alliances can cache ships on the periphery of the region to serve as a firewall against incursions, doesn’t that change the game in their favor?  And what does that do to the balance of power?

Likewise, CCP tidbits are coming out about CCP’s plans for stargate construction. If you can set up connections between any two regions – even if they are a bit imprecise – wouldn’t that bypass the important mechanics of choke points? Why does it matter if you choose to live Cache instead of Tribute now?

The “terrain” of space is a unique factor of certain regions that adds to the importance of choice. I love that element of the game; it layers on an additional consideration affecting alliance, corporation, and individual decisions. It’s a case of complexity and inequality offering unique gameplay. I’d argue we need more of it – perhaps even a spacing out of regions and constellations within regions to create more of those choke points.

With large wars giving way to many smaller conflagrations, I love the idea of being part of an effort to “hold the line” at a gateway system so the enemy can’t break through and establish a beachhead citadel in that system. There’s something magical about those kinds of battles that – though they may not involved thousands of pilots on each side any more – can hold equal allure to those who participate in them.

I don’t want us to lose that; in fact, I want to see more of it where possible. Capital movement be damned…

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