Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Free-to-Play Mode: Not the End of the World... Maybe

CCP dropped a bombshell today with the announcement that they were introducing a free-to-play mode operating within the same universe as the rest of us play Eve. Before we all start biomassing or grabbing our pitchforks, let's dive into some of the consequences (including very good ones) and some essential modifications that will be needed.

First, let's dig into the details:

  • Subscribed accounts (ie. all of us playing today), will be considered "omega clones" and have the same full functionality.
  • Free-to-play accounts will be designated "alpha clones" and have severe limitations on sp use and training, capping out at around 5 million sp (an eligible skill list is included in the devblog).
  • Skill extraction will not be allowed for alpha clones.
  • Alpha clones will only be able to train the skills for their particular race (ie. Amarr characters can only train Amarr skills).
  • There is no current plan to limit concurrent logins between alpha and omega accounts, but CCP is going to look at this.
  • A subscribed account that lapses and becomes an alpha account will only be able to use skills on the alpha list; effectively, that other training is put in limbo and will not confer any bonuses until it's subscribed again.
  • Alpha clones will earn sp at a reduced rate compared to omega clones.

Suffice it to say, this is huge. But not, I suspect, as huge as people believe. In general, I think this change will be a net positive to the gameworld, if CCP makes some small adjustments.

Burying the Lead or Capitalizing on Fervor?

While I'm going to need some time to write my thoughts of Eve's new free-to-play mode, which was just announced today, I do want to take a moment to comment about the timing.

Suffice it to say, the timing is not coincidental, with the announcement of "alpha states", an in-game description for a method of accessing Eve on a limited, free-to-play basis, occurring mere days after a particularly controversial and long-desired change to command links. With the community worked up about one topic, CCP released info about a second, more controversial one.

This was a deliberate tactic, but its meaning depends on whether CCP feels the conversation about command links is a healthy, excited one or not. My guess is that they expected the change to command links to be well-received by the community, so they timed this F2P announcement to capitalize on it. As it turned out, I don't think the response was as favorable as they hoped. Time will tell whether this tactic supports or sabotages their efforts.

Nonetheless, the timing is interesting, and gives some insight into CCP's thinking.

More in a little while, after I've had a chance to collect my thoughts and write them down. Looks like my regularly scheduled posts are going to be bumped once again...

Monday, August 29, 2016

Boost Me Up, Bro!

Fleet boosts (links) are a challenging topic. As they stand right now, they're heavily broken because there's virtually no way a pilot can know if another ship is being linked before deciding to take a fight, nor is there any record of that fleet booster's participation in the fight. It's a largely silent mechanic.

Instead, a single ship sits alone in the depths of space, completely isolated from its fleet, providing a system-wide boost to all ships beneath it in the fleet structure. That fleet booster will never see either its fleet members or the enemy ships. Pretty much the only meaningful gameplay that ship needs to do is watch short scan for probes and incoming ships, and remaining aligned to quickly warp out to escape anyone trying to take it out. Its function is very similar to sitting at a safe and hoping you don't get probed down. For all intents and purposes, it's not playing the same game as anyone else in system. When attacking, by default you'll need a probing character with Virtue implants to be able to get a 100% lock on a halfway decent boosting fit.

And yet, links are viewed as absolutely essential to any well-run fleet. Even some individual and small-gang pilots (I use individual to refer to multiboxing individual pilots running multiple ships; they are not solo) will absolutely require links before undocking.

The demands of large fleets and small gangs are very different, and whether fleet boosts are present or absent affects each differently. In most large fleets, links help increase survivability, but not necessarily viability; they keep ships alive, but the fleet would operate similarly with or without links. In other cases - such as doctrines that rely on additional webbing range or glass cannon sniper fleets (Tornadoes, slippery pete Tengus) that need additional lock range - links are absolutely vital to effectively fly the doctrine. A slippery pete doctrine that operates within a Maelstrom fleet's lock range stands no chance, for instance.

For small gang work, links can often mean the difference between using and not using a given ship. many kiting ships, for instance, rely on a speed advantage - often coupled with implants - to maintain range, and without it, they simply wouldn't have a role. Links also provide a meaningful advantage when facing the blob; without links, the solo pilot doesn't stand a chance, so no fight happens.

It's a thorny problem. And CCP has decided to tackle it. Finally.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Colonizing the 30-Minute Session

I’ve been playing a lot of Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO as the kids call it) in the last month or so. Trading really has freed up the time I used to spend ratting in Eve. Really, you can’t ask for two games that are more different than CS and Eve.

Where Eve is all about making your own path and creating opportunities and goals, CS spoon-feeds you one of four or five possible routes on every map and clear objectives. Save the hostages, or plant the bomb. That’s it. There isn’t anything more complicated than that.

Counter Strike is all about a single skill, twitch reflexes. You need to be able to line up a shot and fire as fast as possible. It’s based on physical reaction time, so it’s a much more difficult skill to acquire. Eve, on the other hand, requires many skills that are much easier to perfect. The challenge comes from applying them when you see that yellow box appear around your target. Success in Eve requires a much more difficult skill to acquire: contextual decision-making. It’s borne from situational awareness, something that most games don’t need.

As a result, it takes a lot longer to become proficient. You’re not teaching your hands to do things, you’re teaching your brain to work a different way. It requires commitment over months or years. And each play session of Eve requires significant time. It can often take half an hour or more just to get to your destination. Form-ups may take half an hour again. And then you need to make your way home. It’s unlikely that an op will go faster than two hours from start to finish. It consumes an evening entirely.

And that’s Eve’s main problem.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Lessons: It's Not About Whether You Lose…

Recently, I’ve been trying out a new roaming system that involves Valeria in a fast-warping interceptor with Talvorian in a wicked neuting Vexor Navy Issue. It requires me to multibox, something that’s definitely outside my wheelhouse. But, that’s kind of the point, to get out of my comfort zone and stretch myself.

Originally, my goal with the setup was to use it to catch ratters more efficiently. I’ve often entered system and managed to pinpoint my targets in my Stratios, only to miss them by a few seconds. I wash hoping a fast-warping interceptor might be fast enough to pin them down and survive long enough for my back-up to kill them. I really haven’t gotten that chance; though I’ve flown the setup three times, I haven’t managed to find any ratters to test it against.

That’s not to say I’ve come up empty, though. While the planned engagements haven’t done well, it has performed admirably in surprised PvP situations, particularly against blobs.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Remembrance and Idealism

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about Dominion sov and Aegis sov. Caprisunkraftfoods, a former alliance-mate and veteran of Black Legion and TISHU, shared some concerns about where Eve is headed. His concerns are incredibly valid, and demonstrate an awareness about the fundamental nature of conflict within the game. I share his concerns, for instance, about industrial citadels, and agree that I don't want POSes to be completely overridden by citadels.

Another former alliance-mate and fellow writer, Seraph Basarab (leaving out the Roman numerals) countered with his own perspective. In his write-up, he widens the focus conveyed within Capri's write-up to show that the story isn't as narrowly focused as one might think. His arguments are all incredibly reasonable.

Though both of them are in TISHU, they have some different interpretations about gameplay, the trajectory of Eve, and the general quality of recent changes. Both of them are right, and that fact alone reveals the complexity of what CCP is trying to accomplish. The simple fact is that yes, CCP has blindly followed their roadmap while completely ignoring player warnings about the inevitable results. This can have terrible consequences if they do everything they intend to do. Yet, the changes they have made to date have a lot of positive results to the game, as Seraph points out. I don't blame Capri for his lack of faith; that position is well-supported by recent rebalances. But nor is Seraph wrong in seeing the positives.

This discussion, though, has spawned a lot of conversation, though, and through that conversation, I've seen a lot of poorly constructed arguments, filled with fallacies that need to be addressed. This piece isn't an attempt to refute either Capri or Seraph, but rather to unpack and deflate some misconceptions and deliberate tricks being used by those supporting the both of them.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Nothing Whatsoever Happened in SH1-6P Yesterday...

...well, unless you count the destruction of 1.4 trillion isk worth of ships, including a handful of titans. Take a look at that battle report. Then scroll down. And down, and down. Then, you might hit the end of the list of titans who participated.

And who said Eve was bereft of reasons to fight?

The interesting thing was that this fight emerged over a CSAA that had been reinforced a couple days before. In a remarkably brilliant example of "I knew there was a reason CO2 wasn't annihilated", CO2 sounded the alarm and mustered their new allies against NC. and PL. Escalation followed escalation until we had a knock-down brawl that lasted several hours and wiped out a bunch of isk. It was the very best kind of battle... an impromptu one. I doubt many expected it to escalate as far as it did. A good time was had by all.

Well, almost everyone. Within the first minute of the fight, I found myself being yellow-boxed by the entire Snuff Box Nightmare fleet. I immediately broadcasted for armor reps, but I was dead before my logi even locked me. MintyRoadkill helped escort me to staging a couple minutes later. I only managed to get on the first two kills before I went down. Sad panda. So, I can't give much more on what happened since I was out so quickly, but a good summary can be found here.

But regardless of my own kill count, it was a good night for the good guys, and NC. lost only 71 bil. A good trade any day!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hangar Clean-out

I've moved around quite a bit over the past year, going from the north to Vestouve to 6VDT in Fountain to a couple locations in Pure Blind. My secondary staging moved too, out of and back to Tamo. Each time, I've loaded up my carriers or (more recently) dreads, sold off my excess ships, and moved on.

Suffice it to say, my 2016 hangar snapshot at the end of December is likely to look quite different from my 2015 version. Chiefly, it's going to have many fewer ships, as I found myself diversifying for diversity's sake. Never a good idea on the wallet. But, at a more basic level, I need to limit myself to two dreads' worth of ships now.

I tend to be very slow in giving up on a ship, a class, or a type of flying. I'll fit out a ship, and even if I don't fly it often, I'll keep it in my Tamo hangar for years. But now, I'm finally getting around to cutting the cord and removing some of these ships. Some of them are "old girlfriends" that I absolutely love. But, the meta moves on, and it doesn't do to keep the dead weight of ships eclipsed in every way by other options. There are times to fly with your heart (Friday night sink roams), but most of the time, if you want kills solo or in a small gang, you need to be smart about what you fly.

A few recently haven't made the cut, and were carted off to Jita to be sold.

Monday, August 15, 2016

There Is a Reason After All

My corp owns a C6 wormhole, though we’re part of a null-sec alliance. We do that sort of thing; while we all PvP, we each dabble in other areas of the game. Some of us like to do industry, some rat, some do PI, some market trade, and some of us run wormhole sites to earn isk. It makes for a well-balanced group.

We recently dropped an astrahus in our wormhole, so I was eager to get some ships in there. I occasionally scan down WH chains to find targets to kill, and I figured that basing that clone out of the wormhole with my hunting ships made more sense than waiting for a good connection in our null system. Go where the fish are, right?

I had my first ship – a Proteus that could scan down future connections to k-space for stocking a few more vessels – and three separate times, I headed to our connection only to find that the static hole had closed before I could arrive. Finally, on the fourth day, I managed to each the hole. I was ready to clone jump back to known space, happy to have successfully inserted a clone in my destination.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Knowledge Gaps

Eve is a game of horizons. You can play for years, skilling towards becoming the perfect pilot for a specific ship. Just when you reach that goal, you find yourself keenly aware of your limitations. So, you need to train for the next one, and the next.

For my part, I wanted to learn to be a good solo and small gang PvPer, so my first priority was to play “catch up” by topping off all the basic fitting and competency skills (shield, armor, etc.), then top off my cruiser/medium-and-below spaceship command and weapon skills. Only after that did I start working on capital skills.

Now, Talvorian is sitting pretty well, able to fly all carriers and dreads, as well as T2 siege. In fact, that’s been the case for about a year now, though I rarely fly capitals.

You see, capital warfare has always been beyond the next horizon for me. I can sit in them, I can follow commands, but I really just don’t “get” them yet. With my schedule of availability, I’m hit or miss for large capital fleets, and there were always other kinds of gameplay I needed to practice more.

Yesterday, I went on a fleet that had several of my corpmates multiboxing capitals, and it made me jealous. I wanted to do that. But, I have enough awareness to know I don’t have the “soft skills” to fly them. I completely missed the boat on the carrier changes; I read the patch notes of course, but I never previously flew carriers in combat situations, so I didn’t really take the time to understand what those changes meant.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Citadel Traps

I’m a big fan of gameplay that requires plays to do work to catch targets. Generally speaking, if Eve is about improving your skill and defeating a human opponent, using a cheap trick completely defeats the purpose.

That tends to be why I don’t really respect pilots who fly with boosting alts, particularly as they’re still of the off-grid variety. To me, that smacks of throwing money at a problem and pretending it’s skill. It’s certainly a viable, effective, and permitted tactic, but it’s not a very skillful one.

One of the tactics that fit into that category from the moment citadels deployed was dropping a citadel and drag bubbles in line with a gate to pop anyone who warped directly from gate to gate. From the safety of your citadel, you could kill everything with ease. It was a cheap tactic.

And, with the August patch, it’s no longer possible. Drag bubbles will now only catch ships if placed within 500 km of your warpto location (a gate, a planet, etc.)

What surprises me isn’t that Eve players chose to take advantage of this, or that CCP didn’t anticipate this application of the mechanic. It’s that it took this many months for the change to come. I mean, I can understand that it might require some development, and that citadel mechanics are new and prone to surprising effects when you change.

But in null-sec, a citadel-bubble combination is just ridiculous, and systems were lousy with them.

Regardless, it’s another one of those problems we can relegate to history and the “wow, that was really a thing?” category.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Restocking the Pond

For the past couple years, CCP has done a great job of providing overhauls to pretty much every key PvP mechanic in the game. Stations and POSes are being converted to Citadels, new ships were launched, and null sovereignty was completely redefined. It took a lot of work, and it changed a lot about one of the key selling points of the game: sovereignty by large player groups.

At the same time, we saw a group of bankers take down a coalition of alliances that many considered to be unstoppable. Many people, including myself, argued that the CFC would only fall as a result of internal rot. While that’s certainly true – key corps and players defected as a result of a delayed boredom – the catalyst was one banker stealing from another.

That’s right, a complaint between bankers led to the complete obliteration of an empire that had stood for over five years. What a time to be alive! Granted, the CFC didn’t really fight, as much as it sought to preserve as many of its supercap assets as possible for a future rebuild. There were some good fights, but not nearly as many as you’d expect.

And yet, what was the effect? PvPers absolutely loved it, and a lot of players joined groups like Spectre Fleet to participate in such a historical event, even if they had no reason to particularly hate the CFC. Alliances that had grown fat from years of ratting were ejected, replaced by many more smaller alliances. And, as a result, the CFC – what remains of it – decided to move to Delve, hopefully creating a new PvP hotspot in the process.

That’s all wonderful as far as results go. Yet, the average logged-in users declined yet again. More people are “winning” Eve by quitting. And Citadel clearly hasn’t generated the mass influx of new blood it intended.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

FC Lessons: Room for Improvement

Over the weekend, I ran my first small gang roam as FC with some corpmates. I've taken a few days to think it over before drawing some conclusions about how I did. While the tl;dr is that we lost two scouts, none of the main fleet (except one who did a silly thing - not taking responsibility for that one!) and killed a blue Worm who didn't stop shooting us. Not that great. But, it could have been much worse. The story behind it, though, is where the lessons lie.

NC. moved this past weekend, so there weren't many planned ops for the days immediately preceding it as folks gathered up their ships, divested what they didn't need, and prepared capitals and jump clone timing to convoy to our next home. With some help from corpmates (I heart you, Basta...) I was done a little early and wanted to have a little fun. So, I clonejumped to Tamo and started up a fleet.

After all, if the content isn't around, create the content, right?

Sparta was planning on solo roaming in the same general direction anyways, so he and four others came along. It was a good size gang, with everyone armor-tanked, an additional armor link ship, and a Cruor as a scout. I brought Talvorian in a Confessor as a second scout and Valeria in an Auguror Navy Issue to manage fleet warps and have on-field eyes for fights. With that, we headed out towards Tamo.