Friday, February 19, 2016

Eve is hard

Earlier today, a link to a list of 10 obnoxiously hard games popped up in my twitter feed. Now, I've been a gamer my whole life, ever since little five year old me got a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. Fun fact: I played Duck Hunt first because the gun looked cooler than a game about a guy in overalls. Ever since then I've feasted on games as the industry grew, and I developed a great enjoyment of finding games that other people would insist were too hard. This probably started with Battletoads, and grew from there (side note: fuck the Turbo Tunnel).

Anywho, so given my enjoyment of finding impossible games, I of course hit the link to see which ones I hadn't tried and which ones I had. I was happy to see roughly half of them were games I had played. Happier still because that meant I had some new games to look into. Because the list doesn't actually link any of the mentioned games, I'll do so here.

10. Kerbal Space Program - Not played
9. Discworld - Played
8. The Talos Principle - Played
7. Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes - Not played
6. Digital Combat Simulator - Not Played
5. Hacknet - Played
4. Spacechem - Not played
3. Victoria II - Not played
2. EvE Online - Ofc
1. Dwarf Fortress - Played

It definitely warmed my heart to see Eve close to the top of that list. I've mentioned before that the main reason I play is because I was told that a new player couldn't come into the game and survive at this point. And I'll agree that the writer has a point that the "spreadsheets in space" moniker and the extrodinarily complex user interface can seem insanely overwhelming at first. But, considering the amount of information and access that UI needs to offer to players, its little wonder that it seems complicated to fresh eyes. At least, until you figure out that you don't need to know every single detail of it immediately. You learn it over time as needed. Likewise, the idea of maintaining out of game spreadsheets in order to keep track of in game information seems like an impossible mountain to climb until you again realize that its something done over time, not immediately. The famously steep learning curve for Eve, in hindsight, is more of a slow walk uphill. Incidentally, I feel like an explanation of this is still missing from the "new player experience" and starting the game still seems too "learn everything NOW!" for my liking.

While the author of the list misses what makes Eve a difficult game, he's not wrong in labeling it a difficult game. As Dirk pointed out on Twitter, the reason Eve is hard is because of the players and their decisions. While other games have their forms of PvP and sense of competition, no other game can present itself as the sum total of the actions of its player base. From the politics of null sec to the movement of the markets in Jita, from the warzones of lowsec to the terrifying unknowns of wormhole space, from the wardecers, gankers, and PvE'ers in high sec to a simple little group of explorers living by the mantra of "we won't shoot first", its all meaningful because its all the result of player actions. And the consequences of those actions. Sure, the sci fi fan in me loves that it all comes packaged as a spaceship game, but the actual game consists of what everyone else is doing and how it affects you (and vice versa). Its not a scripted mechanic that can simply be learned. It is a persistent, evolving existence that requires constant learning, attention, re-evaluation, and adaptation. Its why those who play the game joke about being "bad at Eve". What made you good today is what someone else is going to figure out how to beat tomorrow.

Is that a perfect representation of the "challenge" of Eve? No. But its the philosophy I see in the game and its how I judge the actions of the developers.  Its why I will continuously say that CCP needs to embrace the idea of Eve being "the hard game" because what makes it hard isn't something written in the lines of code and ideally something they'll never have control over. And its a central reason why I remain optimistic that Eve can survive the decline of MMO's overall (a subject that probably deserves its own post altogether). Unlike the feeling of "a bunch of people playing a similar game simultaneously", the feel of Eve is genuinely "a bunch of people playing each other", and therein lies the difficulty inherent to the game. You can learn game mechanics and you can learn to optimize the ways you deal with those mechanics.

People, on the other hand, are hard to learn.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Did 1ronBank win Eve?

1ronBank, he of the fame/noteriety, ran a live stream on Twitch where he injected enough skill points to raise the level of every skill in the game to five, making him Eve's first ever maximum skilled character. Predictably this lead to much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the large crowd of players who insist that this whole skill trading thing is just giving people the ability to pay to win the game. There's also a significant portion of people lamenting that what once had to be achieved over the course of years could now be done in a single evening. Excuse me while I don't freak the fuck out with them, because I don't see how 1ron has won anything and I don't see a big deal over a max skill player existing. Here's a few reasons why.

1. No matter how many skills a player has, they generally can only focus on doing one thing at a time when they undock. This is why the game has its reputation of being a "game of alts". People use multiple characters to do different tasks so that they can train those characters simultaneously, thus reducing the overall amount of time it takes to have a serviceable character skilled to do whatever it is you want them to be skilled to do. Your freighter alts, logi alts, link alts, falcon alts, incursion alts, market alts, gank alts, pvp alts, titan alts, and so on and so forth. Those toons are going to be trained to be as perfect as possible in their assigned roles. 1ron is now, basically, all those alts rolled into one. Yeah, he has perfect skills for whatever he wants to do, but he's still just 1 toon, and has to decide exactly what it is he'll be doing when he undocks. You know...same as that specialized alt you've got lying around.

2. There were always going to be max skilled players. Well, ideally there would be anyway. Regardless of how much time it took to get there, as long as Tranquility is running then every single one of us is slowly marching along to the hallowed grounds of being "All V". The only thing that would have ever prevented that would be the game actually shutting down, and nobody wants that. So the existence of character with maximum skills isn't sacrilegious, it just happened a bit quicker than we were expecting.

3. Player skill always has been and always will be more important than a character's skill point total. Let's say, as an example, that our friend with maximum skills decides to take up a jaunt through wormhole space looking to hack up a few relic and data sites, which just so happens to be one of my preferred ways of playing. Is it instantly assumed that he will be more successful than me simply because he has perfect link and market skills? No. In fact, in the skills relevant to scanning and hacking he will have a very marginal advantage because I've trained those things up on my own and have a pretty respectable skill set in that regard. What sets us apart is personal situational awareness, knowledge of how probing and hacking mechanics work, and amount of actual experience in hunting down and clearing those sites. I'll stack my player skills in those regards up against anyone, mainly because I've already been competing against players who are supposed to be better than me for almost two years and have still managed to carve out my own niche there. The same applies in other scenarios as well. Maximizing DPS skills doesn't mean that a player knows the ins and outs of PvP, maximum market skills doesn't mean a player knows how to read and predict market trends, and maximum mining skills don't matter because they're mining skills (*pats my Prospect and Procurer* shh, shh, I was just making a point).

4. The learning curve of Eve has never been tied to skill points, or at least it shouldn't be. Someone who purchases a highly skilled character off of the character bazaar and then drops billions worth of plex to fit out a blinged up battleship forever will be an expensive killmail waiting to happen if they don't know what they're doing. This will be enhanced ever further if that person first spends money to gain the skills to fly said blinged out battleship rather than just buying a character. A person buying a character at least kind of knows what they're looking for, after all. I'd liken this to owning a powerful piece of software versus using a powerful piece of software. For instance, I have access to Adobe Photoshop. I could open it up right now and poke around and maybe draw a line or something. Meanwhile, my wife, who has spent most of her life learning and re-learning Photoshop and photography in general can pop it open and whip up something remarkably gorgeous in a matter of minutes. Skill points are like owning the software, they're the same regardless of who owns them. The thing that takes time and investment is learning, and that's still true.

For these reasons and others, I don't see a problem with the idea of someone paying their way up to having maximum skills. I don't view it as game breaking, and I don't consider it to be "Easy" mode for Eve. It's just another option in the sandbox.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Carriers have arrived

CCP have been planning a reworking of capital ships ever since the unveiling of the new Aegis Sov system, and have gone to decent lengths to make sure that players who actually use cap ships are heavily involved in crafting these changes. One of the planned changes that really piqued my interest was the splitting of the Carrier group into two different ships: Carriers, focused on fighter DPS, and Force Auxilary, focused on capital logistics. This only interested me because I had planned to train up to a Carrier at some point in the future specifically because of their logistical role. Plus I like drones, so it stands to reason that I'd like fighters too.

With the most recent Patch That Shall Be Nameless, new skills for the Force Auxiliary ships were introduced along with new skills for Light Fighters, Support Fighters, and Heavy Fighters (renamed fighter-bombers). CCP's initially announced plan was that anyone who could fly a triage carrier currently who also started training any of the four racial Force Auxiliary skills would have all of their carrier and triage related skill points refunded when the Citadel expansion hits. It seemed that the idea was to force people who could currently fly a ship that could do both remote reps and DPS into choosing whether they would rather fly a ship that could do remote reps or a ship that could do DPS. As a non-cap player looking in, I could see the reasoning for forcing such a decision, but it certainly flew in the face of CCP's philosophy of "if you could do it before, you'll be able to do it after". Adding to the problem was the fact that CCP announced this forced choice before unveiling exactly what the stats for the new ships were going to be, forcing those interested in them to basically train blind and I can understand the frustration with that. Thankfully, CCP Larrikin calmed everyone down by announcing that CCP was rethinking it's plan for the introduction of the Force Auxilary (FAX) ships.

The change came in the form of a new dev blog which not only introduced the four new ships, but also a collection of new capital focused modules and a healthy explanation of the planned nerfing of combat refitting. Rather than forcing players to choose what to train, the whole focus seems to now be that players will have to choose what to undock, which makes much more sense in the grand scheme of things. Curent Carrier pilots will still be able to fly logistics and dps roles, just not at the same time, and fitting these ships will now be a hard choice before undocking, not something that continuously changes over the course of a fight. I'm very agreeable to both of these decisions because I think they fit in well with the way other ships operate but still retain the unique qualities of Carriers. About the only thing I don't really understand is why the FAX ships have a bonus to Warfare links. It seems like this could have been another place to differentiate Carriers and FAX with Carriers retaining the ability to fit links and FAX maybe giving a bonus to support fighters. Otherwise, I think CCP have done well here.

In any event, I'll definitely still be training to fly these ships some day and I look forward to how CCP tackles the rest of the Capital group.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Glitter Bombed

For about 6 months now, whenever Friday morning rolls around I'm generally pretty punchy. Lately there's been a major up tick in my daily workload and my weekly hours have been 6am-6pm or later Monday through Thursday, 6am-4pm on Friday, and 6am-12pm Saturdays Each day with it's own hour long round trip commute. Total amount of time is 70 hours (or more) a week involving my lovely little factory. So by Friday, I'm usually pretty wiped, with yesterday being no exception.

So when Edohatrem Inur made an offhanded comment about Mighty Mouse dying in a lot of fire, it legitimately made me break down into a fit of live, actual laughter, which I then told him that it probably made me laugh too much. I'm not really sure how, but apparently Edo took this as some kind of challenge and decided that the only way to respond was to reply to every single tweet that I have sent out that he could find. As it turns out, the last publicly available tweets that I had made were done on Halloween last year.

For the uninitiated, Edo is Signal Cartel's resident bittervet, affectionately dubbed "The Glittervet" by the rest of us. He passes his time by telling the rest of us how terrible we are, making remarkably random comments everywhere he can, getting into arguments with Mynxee, declaring that every Corp project or philosophy is too nice and will fail, and generally seeing just what he can get away with saying in Alliance chat. I hope he never realizes how absolutely adorable he is at all this, because I'd be worried he'd stop.

Anyway, back to the twitterverse. At first, I wasn't exactly sure why Edo was commenting on a picture of my Halloween decorations, but I took it in stride and replied back. And then another reply to another tweet in October. And then another. And more. And then into November. Everything I had thrown out on Twitter since October 31, 2015. I ran a quick bit of math to figure up that I average about 14.5 tweets per day (thought it'd be higher) which worked up to roughly 1400 potential comments for Edo to sift through.

At that point, I needed to make a decision. Muting him would do no good because I'd still have to continuously clear out the notifications. Unfollowing would be equally useless as he already had my account in his sights. I could have outright blocked, but he seemed fairly determined and I was worried it might spill out into other venues. So I just had to sit back and be in it for however long he wanted to do it.

At one point, I realized the 70 or so people who follow both of us were going to be equally spammed, and sure enough my tweets from 4 months ago started getting a fresh round of likes and retweets. And then the confusion started setting in over what the hell was going on. And Edo just kept plugging away. Every now and then I replied to him, but I did try to restrain myself there. Somewhere around hour eight I stopped altogether, mainly because others were getting mad at me (don't blame em).

I got several messages from folks asking why he was doing it. A few suggested I report him for harrassment, but truth is I thought a lot of it was funny. Besides, if I can survive an avalanche of death threats for my political leanings, a guy continuously berating me on Twitter is comparatively cute.

15 hours after the first strike of Glitterggeddon 2016, he finally made it to the end of the line. After I pointed out that somehow I had inspired him to use Twitter (a sight he has constantly said he hates) for 15 solid hours, he stopped. Somewhere along the way,he had admitted that the whole reason he had done it was because he had misread one of my comments and thought it was a challenge. So not only did I inspire him, I somehow managed to do so in a way where he tricked himself into spending 15 straight hours on a website he doesn't like.

I don't know how I did it, but I'll take it. It may have irritated a lot of folks, but it made my Friday fly by.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Redoing ECM

So Fozzie unveiled a wide range of module tiericide today, from damage controls to cap batteries to a host of ewar types. For the most part, I'm very happy with the proposed changes and will be penning a full article with my opinions on them tomorrow. But the ewar changes were what really sparked my imagination as I started to think of new types of ewar that could be added to the game.

My philosophy on ewar is that if a player can enhance an attribute of their ship then another player should be able to actively disrupt it, and vice versa. Such a relationship leads to variety in combat situations and helps keep Eve PvP from being simply a boring case of "dps vs tank". And for the most part, this relationship holds true. Propmods are countered by webs and scrams. Points are countered by stabs. Tracking disruptors live in harmony with tracking enhancements. And the proposed changes to cap batteries should bring this element to cap warfare. There are some things left to work out in this regard (i.e. a natural dynamic against target painters or a way to mitigate an opponent's defensive resists) but on the whole I think ewar is in a good place. Which brings us to ECM.

Jams are essentially a coin flip. Either your target loses their lock, giving you a free 20 seconds of killing, or the jam fails and your opponent gets those 20 free seconds. Furthermore, not using the right type of ECM on an opponent generally means the jams are useless. These two factors can usually determine the outcome of a fight involving jams, regardless of fit and player skill, and that is far from ideal.

CCP's answer at the moment is to combine the conter for jams, ECCM, into the sensor booster module tree with an ECCM script. This makes sense as it will increase the importance of pilot awareness in a fight. I'd like to see a similar approach applied to the jams themselves, and instead of having a different module for each sensor type, have the Omni jammer module be a baseline with scripts for each flavor of sensor (folding the new missile disruptors into this wouldn't hurt either). And as a final pass, the cycle durration should be reduced to 10 seconds and if a successful jam fails on the next cycle then the player loses their lock. Meaning both sides of the fight need to relock at the same time. The idea needs some further fleshing out, but I think this method would make fights with jams less dependent on RNG and more a tool for skilled players to change up a fight. Multiple players on either side of this will affect the outcome, of course, and that's as it should be.

Being a member of Signal Cartel, I've learned my way around the ECM tree (cornerstone of any Hug Fleet doctrine), but the current version of jams leads to bland gameplay. That either needs to be fixed, or removed (I'd make a similar argument on the war of attrition that is warp core stabs).

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why I play

Yesterday and today on Twitter, the hashtag #MyEveOnline became a bit of a thing after Proto shared his main reason for playing Eve. The reasons people have for playing this game always fascinate me, mainly because in the world of MMO's Eve is comparatively small in terms of player base. Which makes it stand to reason that the people who play it very likely have some passionate reasonings for continuing to log into New Eden.

Fun fact: I used to be strictly against the idea of massive multiplayer games. Way back when, I used to stubbornly insist on games as a story telling medium and felt that having huge numbers of people playing the same instance of the game as you cheapened that aspect. Eve always stood out to me though. The first vivid memory I have of reading about the game was the antics of The Guiding Hand Social Club. I followed news of the game avidly ever since then, though my prejudice against the MMO genre hadn't broken yet. I watched from afar as B.O.B. was destroyed, wormholes were opened, the monument was shot, and B-R destroyed the GDP of several third world countries worth of internet space pixels. And I slowly got more and more into the idea of playing online multiplayer games, specifically Starcraft. As the online realm took over console gaming as well, my prejudice broke and I embraced the world of massive multiplayer games with open arms. But I still stuck to my single player games for a while.

Then, I made a friend in real life who played Eve, and I mentioned to them that I had always been intrigued by the game and was thinking of starting up an account. They told me, in no uncertain terms, that new players couldn't handle the game at this point and that I should just save my money. Everyone who had been playing for 10 years was too good, they all had too much money, the place is full of sociopaths, and I'd never be able to figure out half the game mechanics that they had all already memorized. I was doomed from the start.

I started my trial account that night.

2 years later, and I've fallen in love with the game. I've found a group of folks to play with that not only fit me both in terms of personality and play style, but also in general attitude and outlook. I've discovered the magic of the Eve community. And I've learned that every time I log off having accomplished the goals I set for myself (namely, sightseeing, hacking sites, and not dying), I legitimately feel better about myself. I set those goals, and I accomplished them, and I'll get to try it again next time. And as I look back over my 2 years, I realize that there really wasn't a reason to believe that anyone can start this game and succeed. The vets are more powerful than you, both in terms of skill points and game skill. Making isk is hard and prices only go up as more isk is made. And more game mechanics to learn pop up all the time to add to the ones that need learning in the first place (i.e. entosis, hyperdunking, skill trading). But that makes the 2 year mark seem even better, because I got past all that, and am still finding ways to play MY game today. I've set my own long term goals and I've achieved them, both SP wise and just knowledge wise.

I play Eve because someone told me I couldn't and because the people I play with are amazing. And I plan on playing until the day I naturally biomass or the day CCP closes up shop.