Monday, May 9, 2016

Lessons: It's Not How You Win, But How You Lose

In Star Trek lore, there's a psychological test cadets go through at Starfleet Academy called the Kobayashi Maru scenario. The basic premise simple. You're a starship captain, and your ship happens upon a distress call by the freighter Kobayashi Maru, which is under attack by Klingon birds-of-prey. No matter what you do, no matter what decisions you make, the simulation escalates the situation by introducing new threats and variables in pursuit of a true "no-win" scenario. You can respond to the distress call, or leave them to their fate. If you search for additional back-up in the area, your search will turn up dry. You can pretend to want to join in on the attack and claim to be a rogue starship captain, and other Starfleet vessels will attack you. If you attack the first ships, you may find they have an experimental shield you can't break through. There's no way to win.

The purpose, of course, is to see how a cadet will react to defeat, to constantly having one's efforts thwarted, and to being responsible for having a ship full of lives lost around you. After all, Starfleet doesn't need weak-willed officers on the command track.

There's a power to a no-win situation that we as humans recognize. Whether it's the Alamo, the idea of a "forlorn hope" company, the Song of Roland, the Charge of the Light Brigade, or the countless times in Lord of the Rings that individuals step into harm when it seems they have no hope of victory, we're deeply moved by the way people react when they face no hope.

In Eve, we see it all the time. You find yourself in a wholly untenable situation in which your ship is at mortal risk. It becomes obvious that you will lose that ship, but the way you lose it is a great test of how far you've come as a pilot.

So, here's the scenario. You're out solo roaming, looking for targets. You've made your way quite a bit from your home without any activity, and you find yourself in unfamiliar territory. A new alliance has moved in. Do they form defense fleets? Do they use bait? How tanky are their ships? Are they comfortable with the rats in the area, and as a result focus tank their ships? You don't know any of this.

Then, as you're traveling, a lone Procurer lands on your gate with you. let's say you're flying a Stratios, and you were cloaked when you landed. He obviously had to have warped to the gate before he saw you or where you were. You take the gate, and after a short period of time, he follows.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, this Procurer is bait. But you don't know that at the time. Again, you don't know whether this is typical behavior for the alliance whose space you're in. It could very well be a pilot who couldn't stop his jump in time, and he's coming back from or heading to some mining.

So, you engage. You start applying your neuts and inflicting damage, but he starts burning straight at you from a close 10 km. Then he hits you with a point and scram. It just got real.

The way you react can tell a lot about you. This is why Fraps is such a good tool to use on a regular basis; the perfect recall of a recording program can point out flaws you didn't recognize in the heat of the moment. Do you turn to run, de-aggress, or double-down? A lot of folks unfamiliar with PvP will freeze up, focused on the fact that they've lost their ship. Some will fixate on the Procurer, and neglect to watch for the inevitable back-up that will arrive to save it. More than once, I've fallen into this trap, failing to recognize the Scimitar or Oneiros that lands on grid and wondering why my damage isn't having an effect.

But, let's say you keep your wits about you, and continue to dscan, monitor your capacitor, your drone health, and keep your overview fixed on the gate - and your eyes watching changes in local - to stay alert for reinforcements. Your Procurer's shield and armor are dropping pretty well, while your damage is minimal. He's clearly afterburner fit, while you're MWD fit, and under scram, you're at his mercy. You either have to kill him or neut him out enough so you can escape.

Then, the first additional ship lands on grid. For the sake of argument, let's say it's an Eris.

At this point, your Procurer is in mid-armor and steadily, if slowly, collapsing. You've already poured about a minute of effort into it, and it's pretty clear you'll need a good bit of time to take him down. That Eris can probably do around 200 dps, likely as much as your napkin math indicates you're facing with the Procurer. but, more importantly, that Eris can render the rest of your decisions meaningless with its bubbles; even if you neut out your Procurer, a bubble will prevent you from escaping.

This is where your OODA loop comes into play. You've observed a change, and have oriented yourself to the situation; two ships putting out likely equal damage. It'd be a shame to give up on the Procurer, but starting over on the Eris seems to make sense. But, only if you've kept your wits about you can you act on this choice.

In the end, destroying the Comet makes more sense, so you abandon your heavy drones and swap to light drones to apply the most dps possible to it. You briefly consider going with medium drones, but an Eris is armor-tanked, and likely to have a smaller sig radius than a shield-tanked dictor.

And then another ship, a Comet, lands on you, and he's burning straight for you. You can see the gate flash and local begin to fill up. As your dictor dies, you see a Rapier land, and a Tengu, and a Svipul and - for good measure - another Procurer.

The ability to sift through rapidly arriving information calmly is a difficult one to acquire, and you're going to make mistakes. But by keeping calm and reading the situation for what it is - not what it was a few seconds ago - you can make the most of the opportunity. Sometimes, you can even pull out an unlikely victory. After all, just as things can go wrong for you in a fight, they can also go wrong for your opponent.

Maybe the last person with a point on you wanders out of range, so the fact that you calmly maintained alignment and were watching the effects applied to you can save you. Maybe your target will accidentally fleet warp everyone off - hey, it's happened!

A lot of folks believe the goal of a fight is to win, and that if you don't, you've lost. But in reality, your objective is to put yourself in the best position possible. You can't control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it.

In my case, this scenario happened to me during my latest solo roam in my Stratios. Yes, in retrospect, the Procurer was clearly bait. My clue - which I overlooked in my eagerness to fight - was that he landed on the gate and held for a moment before jumping through. If he had truly been a miner, he would have warped off on the other side of the gate rather than following me through... unless the pilot was very foolish and had afk'd after hitting "Jump" as he warped to the gate. Unlikely.

But, once the fight went down, I was able to take down an Eris, Comet, and get the Procurer to 20% armor before I popped. Plus, I was able to burn far enough out of range that I didn't lose my pod until after I warped back. While it wasn't a win, it did signal improvement from when I started playing Eve, where I'd fixate on the original ship and lose all sense and reason. I've lost far too many ships that way.

I've got a long way to go, and likely you do too (unless you're freaking Stunt Flores, killing 50 ratters before he popped. I mean, what the heck, man? How does he even physically catch that many?). It's one thing to keep your calm when you're in control of the situation, but in the end, only when you have to cope with the unexpected do you really learn where you stand.


  1. Hi Tal, As I was reading your post it struck me that you may be able to help me with a query I have. I posted this on the eve forums under one of my alts and had some good replies but nothing definitive and often straying off topic.

    Ill point you to the post for ease (it would be a pretty big wall of text otherwise)

    The basics of what I am trying to get across is that there is a lot of talk about skills new people back, whereas I am thinking it is ISK that is holding people back, there are people that make billions, if not trillions maybe bringing real world knowledge into the game, or maybe simply just stealing the ISK in game.

    But most people will rat, or mine or do exploration for their ISK, I mentioned a figure of 100m income per hour which I think is generous, You mention your Stratios; according to your link your Stratios was worth 272m isk, now lets say you take your 272m Stratios out on a solo roam and it lasts an hour before you die, any loot you pick up that may pay for your PVP is gone, so you have to go spend another 272m on another ship.

    So in that example you would need to do around 3 hours non PVE money making activities in order to buy a new one, then rinse repeat. This all sounds very tedious.

    My forum post also mentioned self sufficiency in terms of when I see corps saying that people need to be self sufficient in ISK. I personally am lucky in that my corp have SRP, even on certain solo fits.

    So I suppose the tl:dr is how can you make good enough ISK to sustain that and do you have any opinions on it?

    1. In reality, the Stratios was worth closer to 300 mil; prices changed a bit, and I also had two sets of drones out in space when I died. But yes, your point is a good one.

      Finances are of keen concern to me right now, actually. I lost about 6 bil on PLEX speculation (I bought at 1.1, got out at 1 bil), plus 8 bil on a very ill-advised stint on Eve-bet (the Penguins let me down...), so I'm feeling the pain right now.

      I do very badly when I run two PvP accounts at the same time, though I do have PvP characters on each (I have it more for flexibility). However, I will regularly run combat signatures with my ratting alt as I roam/fleet wtih Talvorian. The isk from that varies, of course, but I tend to clear about 2 bil a month of profit after Plexing my accounts.

      The key advantage is being able to do both at the same time. Combat signatures are always gated, which means someone needs to scan me down, warp to the gate, take the gate, then burn to me. Compared to anom ratting, it's a lifetime. Most of the time is spent scanning, which I do in a cloaky ship and is incredibly safe.

      I've long been an advocate of players having at least two accounts; one to have fun and the other to pay for the first. PLEXing two is much easier than PLEXing one, ironically.

      But, yes, I tend to have the most success ratting combat signatures. Trading has just never seemed as worth it to me... I could clear a couple hundred mil, but that was way, way too low for my appetites.

    2. Ouch, that is a pretty big hit you have taken there. I too have two accounts, the 2nd one only a recent addition, and with me ripping some skills from my main, purchasing 3 plex to fubnd the second account and buying some skill injectors for the new characters I am down about 4.5b, which I can do but not sustain.

      Are you based in NUll sec so the sigs are worth more, how much would you say you are pulling per sig? I am in a WH and whilst yeah their is isk to be made it doesnt lend itself that well to solo with all the paranoia scanning it is quite tedious in fact.

    3. I run the sigs in null-sec. Recently, CCP changed the escalation and drop rates to be MUCH more stingy - to the order of 30-40% of what they used to be. (This was a silent change, a way to tune the economics).

      Side note: They're clearly trying to reduce the isk flow, between the increase in taxes, the sinks from citadels (ie. no more 100 mil tower options out there), the reduction in drop/escalation rates, and the addition of capital NPCs that will obliterate anom ratters.

    4. The issue with much higher numbers of nullsec escalations being farmed was that it was crushing DED loot prices all over the game.

      The implosion of DED prices (in some cases by 50-60%) was having, [as far as I could tell], a crushing impact on the activity in LS. The number of site runners in my little corner of LS was about 10% of what it used to be. There just wasn't any point running a DED plex that dropped an average loot of ~20 million ISK.

  2. Good article. You might want to make a quick edit pass - you say the Comet lands first and then refer to it as an Eris and then a Comet lands. I think it's makes sense overall but could throw people off.

    1. Definitely correct. That's a consequence of composing on a computer that can't access zkill or your fraps.

  3. Good article.
    Trying constructive criticism. You had a disruptor and a MWD... why you let the procurer get to you?

  4. "How does Stunt do it?"

    He's one of the best gate-camp evaders in the game, and he knows not to tackle a SLYCE Procurer :P. It's like tackling a PL Titan. You know it's a bad, nay terrible, idea.

    Anyway, I'm surprised to see you leaving Repercussus so quickly. I figured you'd be there for a while yet.

    1. I wanted at least one of my characters to be in the thick of it at all times. RP is building something new down in Fountain, but it's off the beaten path.

  5. Good read. FYI, SLYCE procurers are hull tanked so shield/armor didn't matter.