Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fleet Commanders

They'll either make you or break you, all other things being equal.

Combat in Eve is about intel first, everything else second. But intel isn't worth much unless you can use it effectively to paint a detailed tactical picture with which to defeat your opponent.

Today was the first real day of actually trying to play Eve and PVP in over two months for me and the first thing I did was jump in blind into a fight with my Navy Mega and promptly lost it. I can count on one hand the number of Navy Megas I've lost in my entire Eve career and the number of BS kills I have using a Navy Mega are in the mid triple digits. The point being is that no matter how good you are, if you're not prepared with the proper intel, you're going to lose and lose big. I was lucky to get out with my pod.

When fighting from a static position (you're in your home system, targets are coming to you to attack you) success in battle is largely a game of chess. You know the enemy is out there, you know he's coming. The real question is where are his forces, what are they and how will they be applied? If you can understand these factors and have a firm handle on each of them then the outcome of the combat should already be predetermined- you're going to win, or you're not going to engage at all.

There are only two ways you can lose. The first is to be stupid and do what I did today and just jump into the middle of a fight with no intel. The second is where your attacker has done a skillful job of hiding his forces in such a way that you don't know one or more of the three aforementioned factors- size, composition or application, and you get pasted because of it.

It's *always* a trap. Always. Even when some annoying noob in a Scythe is mining in the bottom belt, it's a trap. What better cover for a scout than some idiot noob mining in a belt? Noob ships sitting on a gate doing nothing are obvious scouts. Some guy in a crap ship doing stupid things that noobs often do aren't so obvious, and just as useful as a scout. Word to the wise: kill *everything*. If it's not yours, blow it the hell up. The one time you don't is the one time it will cost you.

The FC's job is to stay calm and focused, even if the rest of the team isn't. Lose your cool and you've lost the fight. Losing isn't worthless unless you don't learn from it. If you keep repeating the same mistakes, then that's your fault, not someone else's. I know all of this sounds pretty obvious, but you'd be surprised at how often I see basic lack of application of these simple principles getting people killed (online, in internet spaceships). Then again, it gets people killed in real life as well, so it still applies.

When fighting from a dynamic position- you're the aggressor, the entry team, the guys jumping in with guns blazing- you can *never* afford to give the targets any time to acquire the size and composition of your force. Once you've decided to engage a target then commit 100%. Every second counts as it will give the defender more time to prepare. The defender isn't hiding. He's not scared of you. He's waiting, preparing, seeing if you'll make a mistake. As soon as the defender is alerted to your presence they're going to be optimising their forces and the battleground to engage you under the best possible circumstances- for them. You can't afford to be timid when on the offensive.

Don't engage when only half prepared. Everyone isn't in the gang yet? Everyone isn't fully informed of the plan of attack, target order etc? If not then you're not ready to fight. Trying to manage organizational issues while prosecuting a fight is a surefire way to lose. If you can't get organized in time, delay the fight until you can or withdraw to a more serviceable position. Consistently winning means being consistently prepared.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Risk vs. Reward

Yeah, I went there. Probably one of the most controversial topics in all of Eve: risk vs. reward.

Right now the greatest risk to a player and his/her assets is another player. That being said, the risk of another player having the opportunity to kill you with respect to the environment you're in (0.0, low sec, high sec) is mostly binary: you can be easily attacked and killed in low sec and 0.0, much less so in high sec.

This equates to an exponential increase in safety in high sec systems over low sec and 0.0 without a corresponding decrease in profit and functionality/ease of use in high sec. Amusingly, one of the game design features in World of Warcraft (WoW for short) that it has over Eve is that in order to engage in higher tier PVE and gain higher level items, you have to leave the complete safety of it's cities and venture out into its version of low sec or 0.0. Not so with Eve.

Now, I'm not just advocating something as simple as moving L4 Agents to low sec and 0.0 space. I'm proposing a total re-think of how Eve is constructed from a risk/reward standpoint. What if high value items were only allowed to be put on the market in high risk space? No T2 items allowed to be sold in high sec for example. All faction ammo and items restricted to low sec system markets. Stuff like that.

I can already hear the carebears screaming in horror. The above suggestions couldn't be implemented without a few other changes in Eve's core design. Most notably Eve's jumpgates and how their connections force traffic patterns and form choke points.

I'm proposing that there be multiple parallel paths through low sec areas between high sec 'islands' of systems to allow players to have a wide variety of paths to take when travelling between systems so that they're not forced into a narrow choke point that is camped 24/7.

There should always be the capability of a completely high sec chain of systems to travel from one high sec island to the others, but these routes should be exponentially longer than taking a route through low sec or 0.0 space. If there are multiple 6-7 jump routes from Rens to Jita for example, then there should be 2-3 routes that will allow you to make the same trip, but the number of jumps should be increased to 50-60 jumps. Anything that increases the value of time in the game increases the relative value of risk as well, and that is always good game design.

How many stories on the Eve forums do you read about cargo pilots making great escapes with valuable cargo past multiple hostiles over multiple systems? Not many. I think that the Eve profession of smuggler/cargo transport pilot is under valued and under utilized in todays Eve simply because there isn't enough value placed on time and the lack of time cost to move between high sec markets. A large part of that particular problem is due to the introduction of Warp To Zero (or "WTZ), but that's another post all together...

So, given the above very limited illustrations of Risk vs. Reward, what other systems in Eve, large or small, do you think could be changed to radically improve game play and further promote player interdependancy and interactivity?

Every item needs a job...

One of the worst parts about Eve's design is it's item and ship design systems. Let me switch gears for a second to illustrate my point-

Halflife 1. One of the most incredible gaming experiences of all time (in my book). While it's single player game play and game design was outstanding, what is even more sublime and subtle is it's multiplayer game design. Everything can be summed up with one item: the Glock.

With most other games (Quake being a good example) each item that the player acquires is progressively more powerful and renders all other weapons obsolete. Good game design? Not really. With Quake, once you have the rocket launcher, that's it. You run around clobbering everyone else and if you can control the use of the rocket launcher, you can usually win that map.

Halflife has the Glock. It's the lowliest weapon on the roster. It's weak, it's anemic and everyone has one, but it's special. It's the only weapon that can fire under water. It has a purpose! So yes, that's the point of all of my above rambling. Halflife has excellent game design because there is little to no overlap for any of it's weapons with respect to what roles they need to fill and how they go about doing it. Even the rocket launcher isn't the instant 'I win' button that it usually is in other games. Purity of purpose, purity of design. Its destructive power was limited by its reload time and its slow flight time.

So, like the Halflife Glock, every weapon and item and every variation thereof needs to have a specific reason for existing in Eve. Currently each variation (with very few exceptions) is just 'better' than the lower meta level items. More damage, more range, more tracking, better fittings. Instead of 'more and better' why not 'different? More tracking at the expense of range. More damage at the expense of cap/ammo use? Give each variant a unique reason for being. Make each ship more tightly focused. Make each races theme more pronounced. Make each area of Eve (high sec, low sec and 0.0) valuable in its own right.

Purity of Design

In some respects this is the most important facet of game design. I'll give you a simple example of what I'm talking about that relates to Eve-

Because players can kill NPCs and refine items dropped by said NPCs, and even worse yet, be allowed to kill drone NPCs in the drone regions that drop nothing but ore to be refined into raw materials (minerals) used to produce items in Eve, this marginalizes the importance of mining and the mining profession in Eve.

I doubt that any of you reading this would have ever thought I'd be making a post about the importance of mining eh? The many parallel material streams in Eve harm mining and it's central importance to the Eve economy and overall gameplay. If a player can simply 'mine with guns' and produce material more efficiently than using traditional mining skills and ships, then what is the point of mining at all?

Most players want the game to be easier. Not easier for everyone, just easier for them. "I want more officer NPC spawns" one might say. Ok, now what? Everyone has more officer spawns and now the items dropped by officers are devalued to the point that they're worthless. Not a good idea.

Players are highly risk-averse. They'll go to great lengths to avoid being killed, even if it means increasing the effort and time required by a factor of a thousand to reduce their risk from 5% to 0%. This group of playes is collectively known in Eve circles as "Carebears".

These types of players are the worst, most harmful type of player for the game. They create a static market environment and generate large influxes of currency without the reqired consumption to maintain a balanced economy. This is why we see PLEXs at their current prices, and rare faction mods selling in the billions (the ones that are most important to running missions in Navy Ravens that is). But I digress, I'm getting off the main point here.

Every ship, every item, every system in the game needs to have purity of purpose. The more refined and specific each item or system is the happier the player base will be because they won't be frustrated by having to use a tool that isn't up to the task at hand and they somehow have to make do with something second rate. The less overlap we have in design will allow players to make better choices with their gameplay and will provide greater player satisfaction when they accomplish their task because they won't be fighting poor design in order to accomplish their end goal.

Evidence of poor design can be seen quite easily in usage statistics. If an item or system is even a few percentage points less effective than the most effective item in it's class, the usage statistics will be drastically reduced when compared to the number one best performing item.

However, most of the time poorly designed systems aren't so obvious with respect to being easily defined by skewed statistical data. POS warfare is an easy target. Cumbersome, poorly implemented, frustrating, most players that I talk to on a regular basis despise having to manage POSes and their built in requirements for 0.0 warfare.

I know that CCP recognises that POS warfare needs to be addressed, and indeed, I'm sure it's a priority for them and knowing CCP they won't take half measures and change a few things when they can take the time and effort to do it right and completely revist the design and build it up from scratch instead. But again- purity of design. Let's rethink what is the best system for controlling space, and what is the best system for providing players with individually owned and operated remote outposts. One systems requirements are wildly different from the others. This is key- in all games, but most particularly with MMOs, systems need to be able to scale effectively from the individual to tens of thousands of players, and when a system breaks at one end or the other then it's time to build seperate systems to accomplish both envelopes so that you don't end up with something that is ungainly and unoptimised.

Purity of design- when (as an example) all the weapon options for short range turrets have been 'balanced' so much that they all do nearly the same amount of damage, have nearly the same range and other performance characteristics then all you end up with in the end is what I like to call "oatmeal": a big pile of mush that all looks the same, tastes the same and basically is the same. Conservative design and redesigning the game to average out performance issues between items and game systems is the quickest way to kill a game in my opinion. Right now CCP is enjoying continued success with it's business but I believe that is due in large part to the fact that they have no real competitor in the marketplace. There is no other product on the MMO landscape that even comes close to providing the unique combination of factors that Eve has. As soon as someone delivers an MMO that has the open ended player driven environment of Eve with a similar setting (scifi, space based etc.) and a PVP centric core gameplay CCP will have to really improve it's product or it'll be left sitting on the sidelines.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sweet Jesus, my first blog post...

Let's here it for the generic black color scheme!


Anyway, continuing on- there will be no role playing here, no boring stories about how I scanned out some LADAR site and escaped a horrible and gruesome death at the hands of a roaming gang of pirates. And sadly, no porn. You'll have to find my other blog to read about the porn (just kidding, it doesn't exist. No, really, it doesn't exist!)

Back to the point at hand- I've been playing Eve Online (a.k.a. Eve) for a while now and I thought I'd share some observations of mine about it's game design, the changes that have occured over the past few years and where I think it's headed, and how upcoming changes will be affecting gameplay and it's player base in general.

One interesting note is that I've been away from the game for a few months- the longest break I've had from playing the game since I started playing it, and it's given me some perspective with respect to its overall game design and the larger picture when it comes to balancing the various factors that make it so successful.

I've been reading a few of the Eve blogs that currently exist and I haven't really read any that coincide with what I'm wanting to attempt here with this blog. Most are RP or just general ramblings or a personal diary of sorts. I'm sure I'll be sharing my personal playing experiences with everyone at some point, but that isn't the focus of this blog. I think this will end up being a collection of technical observations flavored with my pirate rantings.

To all of you 'bloggers' out there who think that there are too many blogs of dubious quality and content distracting the readers from your glorious anecdotes and brilliant wit- you're all a bunch of assclowns and no better than the people you're talking smack about. The real talent has just arrived. Put *that* in your pipe and smoke it.


It's 10:46 PM local time on a Sunday and I'm drunk. Go figure.