Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

I Came Here to be Podkilled - Overkill Edition

I was jumped, popped and podkilled the night before last. I've been letting it simmer before writing. I always figured I'd write about it because, let's face it, it's entertaining to read about someone getting blown up, isn't it? Far more than hearing about me killing rats.

But before I do that, I'm going to say a few words about the recent terrorist attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. And I'm going to draw an analogy to me getting podkilled. I don't normally write about political stuff on this blog, for good reason. I expect that some of my readers have differing political views than I do, and which touch this event. Please bear with me.

It starts with Spencer Ackerman's post on Abdulmutallab. Spencer outlines what we knew about him beforehand:

  • His father went to the US embassy in Abuja, Nigeria and told them that his son was missing and could be in Yemen.
  • He's Nigerian
  • Al-Qaeda in Yemen may be looking to use a Nigerian in an upcoming attack.
Spencer asks the question:

Is that really enough?

The answer to that question most certainly requires a policy decision, not an intelligence decision. The intelligence community is drinking from a fire hose of data, a lot of it much more specific than what was acquired on Abdulmutallab. If policymakers decide that these thin reeds will be the standard for stopping someone from entering the United States, then they need to change the process to enshrine that in the no-fly system. But it will make it much harder for people who aren’t threatening to enter, a move that will ripple out to effect diplomacy, security relationships (good luck entering the U.S. for a military-to-military contact program if, say, you’re a member of the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, since you had contacts with known extremists), international business and trade, and so on. Are we prepared for that?

Ok, the issue is one really of policy. A tighter policy like this has a cost, a very real cost.

Which brings me to my podkill. I was ratting in a system when I noticed that a red had entered the system. So I recalled my drones, and prepared to jump to a safe spot while the drones were returning. When they were in the bay, I hit warp immediately. Nothing happened. Tried it again, still nothing. That's when the interceptor flew across my screen, and the thought "Oh, shit, I'm screwed!" went through my brain.

Then I noticed that my tank wasn't breaking very fast at all. He only had popguns. So I launched drones again, determined to do some damage at least. That's when the sky filled up with reds. I think there were 15 of them. All on me.

I tried one last thing to salvage something. I ejected early, to try to warp away before they could lock me. It didn't work, there was a warp disruption field on me. I think someone dropped a bubble on me. Ok, that is serious overkill. Except maybe it was needed to get my pod.

The red forces are in competition with us for space. It's their job to slow me down as much as possible. Podkilling at the very least will force me to upgrade my clone again, and may get some expensive implants. I had one pretty nice one in, but I still follow the rule of not using anything I can't afford to lose. In any case, no resentment there.

This fleet had come deep into our system with absolutely no warning on our security channels. At first I thought I had been hotdropped on, but now I think the most likely thing is that they used a wormhole.

How does this relate to Abdulmutallab? My policy, at the moment is to recall drones and jump to a safe spot when reds enter the system I'm ratting/plexing in. Is this a bad policy? Should I abandon my drones when a red enters the system? This time it would have saved me. However, it would certainly mean the loss of my drones, the rats will kill them once I leave. Still, better to lose them than get popped.

I'm not changing the policy. I think that the reds got really lucky to find me so fast, the system I was in has tons of belts. I did find one mistake that was costly, which I will correct.

The overview settings that I used showed asteroids. Which means that I did not notice when the interceptor warped in on me, he was scrolled off. This is a big problem. I don't gain anything from having those roids on my overview, they are going off. Or at the very least, I'm making another tab for ratting with them off.

That way, I can warp out immediately if I see someone coming in on me, abandoning the drones only when necessary.

Checking Battleclinic I find that while I'm woefully behind in the kills/death game, I'm actually ahead in terms of ISK killed/lost, in spite of my recent loss. Quel suprise!

I definitely need to get a new ship fitted and get back in the game.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Looking For Gender

From Raph, I just read (skimmed really) "Looking for Gender (LFG): Gender roles and behaviors among online gamers" which is summarized here.

This research was carried out on EQ2 players, over one weekend. It included a survey, and other data, such as play time and kills. Anything identifying was removed, so don't worry.

They found that, in general, males are more motivated by achievement, and females are more motivated to socialize. This is typical for such studies. However, the difference was smaller than was expected.

Your mileage may vary, of course. Mine does. These days, I only play to catch up with my friends. I'm completely burned out when it comes to crashing more void shard zones for more shards for better armor for the next toon, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.

So that makes me a social player. At the moment. I've been very achievement oriented at times. How many hours did I spend in Lavastorm crunching through writs so that I could gain faction with The Concordium? Too many. Mostly solo, too.

They also found that there was a smaller group of women who were very hard core. The top 10% of women players played more hours than the top 10% men, and made more kills per hour. They were highly achievement oriented. Fascinating, Captain.

I find myself wishing that they would look at play experience, and cross-correlate with gender. I've seen many women who started playing because their husband/boyfriend/whatever did, as a way to socialize. But as they continued playing, and gained experience, they seem to become more engaged in the play of the game itself. Which is not to say they all became grinders, but they do tend to become more confident and assertive. Of a brief list of women I know who play, only a small minority played a class other than a healer first.

But after they play a while, things seem to change. They will log on even when their partner hasn't/can't. They will play dps classes. Some even try out tanking classes, which I posit are the most "masculine", at least in EQ2.

One other finding that intrigued me was this: Bisexual females are highly overrepresented in EQ2, though not so bisexual males. I don't know what that means, and skimming the paper didn't help.

They don't report for transgendered males/females. I would think that MMO's are a godsend to such individuals, actually, and would expect them to be strongly overrepresented in MMO populations. Has anybody studied this?


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wish Fulfillment

Last night I got my wish. I was part of a fleet action, and notched some kills.

Earlier, I had gone to a largely deserted system with my ratting-fitted Brutix. I found a belt with two Gurista battleships and three ships called "Gurista Hauler". I start firing. The first battleship is nearly down, when my family comes into the room with plans to go out to dinner. Right now.

I tell them I'm going to be a little bit, so they start playing Rock Band, but I have 5 songs. I finish the battleships. It takes extra long, because my gank is still pretty poor, even though my tank is good, and one battleship, with half its hull gone, engages a microwarp drive or something and speeds back to the belt that I've chased it away from. I have to slowboat back and finish killing him. I have one song left.

So I target one of the Gurista Haulers and work him over. When he pops, I go over to take a look at the loot. There is over 8000 zydrine in the wreck, making it worth perhaps as much as 12 million ISK. OMG, I've hit the mother-lode!

However it's time to go. I go to a nearby moon and log off, hoping that the haulers will be there when I get back. Maybe even respawn.


However, that was not to be. When I come back, there is nothing in that belt, and not much in the other belts in system. I can't manage most anomalies out here yet, so now I need a plan.

I check the intel channels and alliance chat. Too Ducky has posted a fleet invitation with an inscrutable, to me, title. Something about Logistics. Too Ducky had recently bought a lot of the ammo I had put up for sale (I sell for more than you can get in Empire, but a lot less than anybody else out here), so I'm feeling quite positive about him. I had nothing better to do, so I joined. I was thinking the "Logistics" in the fleet posting meant this was some sort of escort fleet or something.

I was wrong.

It meant that we had an organized fleet with Logistics ships included. These ships are the "healers" of Eve, and they have other capabilities as well. We also have some very serious EW (Electronic Warfare) ships. I go to the meeting point, stopping to drop off the zydrine, which will mostly pay for the Brutix should I lose it.

Unfortunately, I'm not on the correct Teamspeak channel, and the fleet jumps through a jump bridge without me. I follow, but I'm too late to warp to the next bridge under the fleet's command. I have a map however, provided by my alliance, so I know where to find it.

Unfortunately, the location on the map is rough. I jump there and find I'm 100km away from the jump bridge. I slowly waddle over there, listening to my fleetmates kill a ship. I managed to get the the jump bridge about the time the Fleet Commander (FC), Too Ducky, calls a return. Sigh. I start heading back to our own territory. This was all in the Deklein region.

Compounding matters, the jump bridges that the rest of the fleet is trying to use have run out of fuel. Eventually we all gather back at a jump bridge and a new direction is decide upon. We will take on the campers in EC-P8R.

I've marked EC and Jita on the above map which shows part of the Lonetrek region. (Click the image for a better look). Any route from Jita, a major, perhaps the major trade hub in EVE, to the Pure Blind region (and hence to Deklein, where Skyforger and our allies reside must go through the systems circled. There are two routes, one through a long series of lowsec systems, including Aunenen, a notorious pirate camp. Or you can fly through Torrinos and then EC-P8R.

The system is constantly contested and camped. Last night, there were a total of perhaps 18-20 red flags (enemies of our alliance) and war targets (basically a mercenary corp that has been hired to help try to squeeze our alliance.)

We hold just outside EWOK. There is an enemy gate camp at the gate between EC-P8R and EWOK. We have some scouts in the system, but it looks tough. We could have a very hard time if we have to take them all on at once. Too Ducky switches to a covops so he can have a look for himself.

He looks things over and comes up with a plan. The enemy is somewhat spread out. There are some at each other gate in EWOK. There is a sling bubble off of the EC gate.

Eve has a rich and colorful set of jargon. In two months plus, I still haven't learned it all. A sling bubble is a bubble, a warp interdiction sphere. If you pass through it while you are warping, you will drop out of warp, and be unable to warp until you move out of it, using normal propulsion. Perfect for trapping and killing. If one of these bubbles is placed a ways off of a gate, along the line from another gate, it is known as a sling bubble. A classic gate camping technique.

However, the bubble means that Red's forces are further split. There are some at each gate, some at the bubble, and some in EC. FC tells our scouts EC to jump to the EWOK gate and sit there at zero (distance from gate) until they are aggressed upon.

This is similar to what happened in an earlier, small-gang lowsec action I was involved in. At zero to the gate, you can jump through the gate at any time. There is no technology in the game that can stop you from doing so. To get kill the ship sitting at zero you must either pop them before they can click the button, or try to catch them at the far side.

It's a tense moment. The scouts are locked, but not fired upon. A few more ships appear to jump through from EWOK to EC, they are going to try the one-volley technique.

This is what FC (Too Ducky) was waiting for. He calls that we are to jump into EWOK and warp immediately to the EC gate. We will hit a bubble. We will engage the bubble campers. He calls as first targets some of the tech 2 ships.

At this moment, I can imagine what's going on in the heads of the red fleet. Suddenly their system local is showing a massive influx of enemies, and they realize they've been baited. The enemy fleet scatters. We only manage to catch two ships at the bubble, another was nearly dead when it got away. I manage to target and fire on one enemy, adding my pathetic dps to my allies. We've split them, they have no way to form up and hit us with a concerted counter attack. Some poor slob in a drake warps to the gate in a Drake (Caldari battleship) and is popped by us. I get some shots off at it, too.

After catching our breath, we call it a day and leave the system. I have a fleet engagement under my belt and two "kills" to my name. My dps contribution is about one-sixth of the top dpsers on the two kills, so I have a lot of work to do.

In about 4 days, I'll be done with my armor tanking training, at which point it will be quite solid. I can already fit all T2 armor-tanking modules, I'm training Repair Systems V for that last extra kick to reppers. Not terribly useful in pvp, but handy for ratting.

Then I'll be turning to training up my gank. Getting to T2 guns on cruisers/battlecruisers is a tall order, it will take me perhaps 90 days. Battleships will take more, including the time to be able to actually fly a battleship. But in EVE, as with all MMORPG's, more DPS is always useful.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

View from the Sewer

Catchy title, isn't it? Wilhelm, of The Ancient Gaming Noob has a post up pondering the social aspects of MMO's. He quotes a commenter (quoting Tom Lehrer):

Life is like a sewer, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

Wilhelm then asks, "How about you? How significant do you see the social aspects of MMOs in your view?"

I'm like Wilhelm. I don't seek out new friend constantly. I don't do PUGs a lot. I've documented some of my worst PUG experiences. And yet...

I have many friends online, particularly in EQ2, who I only know through online gaming. They are as solid friends of mine as my RL friends, maybe moreso. And I know people I would not have the opportunity to know if it were not for MMO's. For example, the couples I know who are in the military and who have served in Iraq recently. My circle would not intersect with theirs in any way other than via MMO's. But I am enriched by them, and thrilled to be a part of their life, no matter how small.

And there are others. Mostly they are younger than me, which is inevitable, since how many folks are 3000 years old, after all? But it's also good. Again, I wouldn't be around them if not for MMO's.

And my newest passion EVE Online, also follows this pattern. There are a few old friends and more new ones. It's hard to say which friendships will really last, but that's how it works face-to-face, too, isn't it? I certainly have an opportunity to meet new folks, I bet some of them will stick.

I can be amicable and cordial with nearly everyone. But I can't be long-time friends with nearly everyone, the numbers just don't work. I think there was a time in my life when that disappointed me, or made me feel guilty. (I'm aces at that whole guilt game). Not so much now.

Here's the thing. This touches an aspect of MMO gaming that confounds me. In what other entertainment business do you routinely allow or perpetrate unpleasantness on your paying customers? I think there's a few cases, but it's striking, and a fundamental aspect of gaming as entertainment.

Games need to be a challenge or they are boring. But if there's too much frustration and unpleasantness, people also leave. We've seen lots of accomodations for this kind of thing in game designs, with death penalties getting smaller and quests easier to manage, and dungeons becoming exclusive, and camps being eliminated. But the core issue remains. The game needs to be a challenge at some level, or lots of gamers will lose interest.

So it is with the social aspect of the game. There are large numbers of people playing the game, and interacting with each other fairly freely. Not all of those interactions are going to be positive. In many other businesses, the public isn't encouraged to interact all that much with each other, because it's bad for Starbuck's business if someone has a loud argument in front of the counter. But MMO's do it anyway.

I don't find it surprising that the most popular MMO by a huge stretch, WOW, also has some of the worst social behavior, because it's a numbers game. Truly unpleasant people tend to move around a lot, because they aren't able to stay in one place, or one guild, or even in one toon. Which means that far more people get to experience the joy of their behavior. And with more people playing WOW than any other game, there are consequently more truly unpleasant people playing WOW than any other game. And still they make piles of cash.

Meanwhile, the people worth knowing, the ones that make your day, or lighten your life, aren't usually as visible. They do their business and move on. They don't make a big fuss or draw a lot of attention to themselves. They can and do lead, but the best leaders do it almost invisibly.

These kind of people, the friends-for-life that you find once in a while, are worth it. They are worth the petty aggravations of the PUG you got into which turned out to be full of drunken, infighting, slumming power-raiders. They are worth the irritation of having to cope with that guildie who has a talent for irritating everyone else in the guild.

All MMO's have this issue. Last night on Teamspeak, some members of my alliance were discussing a problem child that had been in the alliance recently. This was the sort of person who wants someone else to take their carrier somewhere to get his stuff because they hate him so much there that he can't go there. He was described as controlling, overbearing and demeaning, too. He was given the boot.

And still people play. Playing MMO's has a certain pleasure to it that I also get from reading comment threads on very popular blogs. I feel less insulated somehow, when I read the junk people will post. All the emotion is something like a primal scream that has been turned into music, the music of, say, Nirvana or Pearl Jam, or The Sex Pistols, to be sure, but music nonetheless.

I play MMO's to be engaged with other people. We often dream of having only the good parts of life and editing out the bad parts. And games are meant to be fantasy worlds, right? I can see the equation, and sometimes when I play I just want to be by myself and putter around. But that's a mood, not a choice. The best times are when I get a group, sometimes friends, sometimes new friends, and climb some mountain together. We have done things that were pretty darn cool.

The games we play are social. "Social" does not mean "filled with fairies and unicorns that do my bidding and always tell me how fantastic my fabulous red hair looks." It means "filled with people". And that's a good thing.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

In Deklein

(Because I'll always go for the cheap pun.) Deklein is a region in the EVE universe, a nullsec region. It's now my new stomping ground.

I was invited to join Skyforger corp by Scipia Mortalis (we call him Skippy). So I bid farewell to my friends in Otakudyne, and set out to join my new corpmates in 0.0.

Deklein does not border any highsec regions. The main way in from empire space is from a highsec system known as Torrinos in Caldari space through a bottleneck system known as EC-P8R. One system further on is EWOK-K, by the way. I don't know how they name some of these systems and don't get sued...

EC-P8R is pretty much always camped. It's a big bottleneck. It goes from highsec to lowsec, allowing for an easy retreat. Sometimes it's camped by blues (those are my allies and friends). Sometimes it's camped by reds (our known enemies). And sometimes it's camped by neutrals. We call them neutrals, because there is no history, and we haven't marked status on them. However, if they are in EC, it's because they want to kill me. Trust me on this.

My first attempt to get to our nullsec territory ended this way. I was just getting my feet wet, and a senior corp member, Ginta, kindly offered to help scout for me with his stealth bomber. He led me to his first "safe" spot, a spot about 2-300 kilometers off the EC/Torrinos gate, while he went to scout ahead of me. I made the fatal mistake of going into what I would call "obedience" mode. Like a good doggie, I sat when told to sit, and stopped thinking or looking around me.

You know what happened, don't you? A command ship (a big, nasty tech 2 bully) scanned me down, jumped on me, and killed me and podded me in about 15 seconds, the speed with which he locked onto and shot my pod was amazing. By the way, it wasn't a red, it was a "neutral". My corp has a NBSI (Not Blue Shoot It) policy, pretty much for this reason. CVA and the Providence region is perhaps the only nullsec alliance/area of the game that doesn't have this policy, as it's a much harder job. Personally, I think the new rules mean there's something to be gained from neutral traffic, but the security issues have to be handled first, and doing it well may seem too much like a real job for most people to want to do.

In any case, I woke up 30 jumps away in Sinq Laison where my clone was, bought and outfitted a new Brutix and got back in the game. I came here to be podkilled, after all. But I would really like to get some of my own licks in.


Last night we were invaded by a couple of different gangs. The security reports were sloshing in the sightings. One was a gang of about 12 ships, hailing from a traditional enemy of my alliance based in a nearby system. Earlier that day two of their people had managed to catch and pop Skippy's Raven, but lost both of their ships, one of which was a much more expensive T2 ship. But one of them declared that the real attack was going to be that night. Why you would say that is beyond me. But it was correct. Their gang caused quite a lot of trouble, catching Skippy's Raven (another one!) and several more alliance ships.

Along with that was another gang of about 6 ships from a different alliance. A defense force managed to catch them and pop them, but then the 12 ships from Tri hotdropped on them, and managed to bust them. The threat was finally met and dealt with by a Tau Ceti Alliance (our executor corp/alliance) force. I don't know what it's composition was, but I'm expecting it had a capital ship or two.


All this took place over the space of a couple of hours. EVE in this manner is tension and drama, stalking and hiding. I don't have a ship that really very well suited to PVP out there yet, so I was staying clear and giving what intel I could. I had started out the evening ratting, but all the activity was making me nervous and I was checking for reds in the local system frequently.

A red entered the system. From intel, I could tell which side he had to have come from, so I headed for a gate on the opposite side, meaning to leave. After all, I haven't trained in Cloaking yet. (I fixed that today, by the way.) In retrospect, I think I had better options, he quite possibly could have beat me to that gate and put up a bubble, but it would have had to be a guess, as there were two other exits.

Anyway, I jumped to the next system and headed for a far gate. I sat there watching local chat, which shows everyone in system. Soon, his name and icon popped in. Time to jump to next system, and repeat. Wait. There he is. Definitely following me.

Jump, warp to gate, sit. Frantically look at the region map I have on my other computer to examine options. Above all else, avoid a cul-de-sac. I find a route that will make him guess between three different exits that I might have taken. I go there, and choose one, still being followed. I go through and jump to a far gate and sit there and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

He's a no-show. He may have broken off to go help his buddies in some other fight, or he may be sitting waiting for me at a choke point. He has a map that looks pretty much like mine after all, and he knows where that choke point is.

After setting up gate watch points for all the gates in the system I'm hiding in, I decide that's enough wait time, and try to head back toward our appointed ratting systems. In one system there is a pos with guns and a shield, it would make a nice refuge. Besides, now there is a defense force organized and popping ships. As I head back, I am horrified to find that I have jumped into a system with six reds. But sitting still is certain death, the most important thing is to do something. So I keep moving and somehow jump through the system without contact.

I make it to a relatively safe system and sit (at a safe spot) and watch local and the intel channels. There are a bunch of blue ships in here, non-combatants of an allied corp, I guess. A red comes in and leaves quickly. And once more. Meanwhile the big fleet battles are going and I'm wishing I could be there. My desire to participate in fleet battles are one of the reasons for coming here. As the worm turns against the blue fleet, I'm a bit less sad I can't be there, but still...

It looks like things are over, so I move to another less crowded system and start to rat. I find one bunch of battleships with a 1.8m bounty each. My DPS skills are pretty poor still, so I can barely break their shield tank. I finally pop one and I'm starting on the second when I notice a neutral in the system. So I break off, and start jumping around, to avoid being scanned down. The neutral leaves. I come back and start the battle again. The neutral comes back, and this time I'm not so alert, because he jumps to my belt, locks me and takes a shot before I warp away. I still don't know why I didn't get scrambled.

He follows me to my first warp point, since I stupidly jumped to a landmark. (Is it called a landmark in space? "spacemark" just doesn't seem right.) But warping gives me enough time to think, and I'm headed for a bookmarked spot that he has no way of getting to other than scanning me down. Which takes time. I keep moving between these spots until he goes away. That was pretty much the end of the excitement for the evening.

I jumped back to the same belt and started in on the 1.8m bounty rats again. This time a blue jumped into the belt and I jumped away. Mostly because I was so jumpy from the evening's activity. But I had noticed that the first BS that I popped had respawned. Oh but for some better DPS skills.

So, I didn't die, I made probably 5m ISK for the evening. I call that a win.


Friday, December 18, 2009

MMO's With No Class?

Psychochild has an article up at Gamasutra called Rethinking the Trinity of MMO Design.

Brian wants to look at alternatives to the "holy trinity" of Tank, Healer and DPS. Now hold it right there. Back when I was playing EQ, the "holy trinity" was Tank, Healer, and Enchanter (me!). (People also looked for a slower/debuffer, and maybe a monk or a shadowknight as a puller.) But the statement certainly works today. In a sense, we've all got a lot better at understanding how the game works and what to do.

As a control class, I've done a lot of thinking about how my contribution fits into the game overall. In the beginning, EQ2 basically squashed the controller role almost completely. Sure, we had the ability to mez, but it was nearly superfluous. If you were grouped with any AE centric, class, they would break your mezzes with great regularity. And we soon found that in fact, I didn't need to mez in order to beat any particular encounter. And the chances of pulling multiples were pretty low, if you had a tank that knew what he was doing.

Anyway, here's the way I finally ended up thinking about it. Abilities (and hence classes, to some extent) can be divided up into offensive and defensive. Anything that puts more damage or enables more damage on the mob is offensive. Anything that decreases, mitigates or heals damage done to our side is defensive. And here's the thing: More offense is always useful, but more defense than needed is useless and wasted.

Killing is what brings rewards, not surviving. With lowered death penalties, the concern for survival is much reduced. So people want to kill as fast as they can, for good reason. Which means mezzing is something I do in a PUG only when specifically asked to do so. At some point SOE figured this out, and made a few dungeons where mezzing is a must.

Psychochild looks at the origins of the FRP MMO, Dungeons and Dragons:

Each class was based on a fantasy archetype, but without explicit roles; there was no rule that a Fighter could only absorb damage (be a Tank) and not be an awesome machine of death (be DPS). Each class had signature abilities, but statistics and options allowed characters to fill a variety of roles despite their class.

I don't quite think this is accurate. I think that the roles were pretty clearly understood. Very early on, the mages wanted the fighters to stand in front of them. Clerics would start out as melee classes but fade back as they increased in level and fell behind the fighters in melee damage output and hitpoints, though not necessarily.

Yes, the game was more sandboxy. But I think the key to understanding the difference between tabletop and online roleplaying comes to one word: repetition.

In the tabletop game I ran last weekend, we had 4 encounters in 10 hours. There was some role play, some puzzle solving and administrivia too. In 10 hours of online play you might have 400 encounters. Or maybe 800 or 1000. There's another aspect of repetition, namely, almost anywhere you go, thousands of other players have done it before you, and will do it after you, too. They've posted about it on the internet, and refined strategies to it, too. Individual players and groups will run the same instances dozens of times, if not hundreds. This never, ever happens in tabletop, where story is king. Why would we go beat the same bad guy again? Didn't he stay dead? Well, sometimes not, but that's part of the story.

So the game becomes not like solving a unique puzzle, but optimizing throughput. And roles get pretty stereotyped.

I've got EVE on my mind a lot lately, so let's look at EVE's approach to character classes: There aren't any. There are different focuses for skills, there are different ships, there are different activities. Just as an example, I've been killed in game by a very wide variety of ships. Some are more popular (*cough* Raven *cough*), but there's lots of other things that will work, depending on what you plan to do, where you are, and who you are with.

The point is role flexibility. Brian thinks this, or the version of this that is skill-based, has problems:

Unfortunately, skill-based systems also have some well-known problems. The first is that they can be hard to balance, especially for inexperienced designers. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that players will take the most powerful set of skills available, leading to a lot of "flavor of the month" setups.

Part of the flexibility in EVE isn't skills, it's equipment. You can literally change your role by changing equipment. You might not be all that good at the role, but it might be good enough.

Imagine an MMO where Toldain says, "We don't have a tank? Ok, let me get my armor..." That kind of seems weird, I grant, but we already have the ability to switch AA specs on a whim, and people with different specs for raids versus groups versus soloing. Likewise gear.

All of this flexibility has been sort of grafted on to the basic class structure of the game, and it is still pretty class centric. But what if you designed that stuff in to start with?

In fact, tabletop is headed that way, too. In 4th Edition D&D, which as PC mentions, is strongly influenced by MMO's, the ability to use armor can be learned by everyone, by the expenditure of customization points known as feats, which you get ever couple of levels. You can get more hit points, and the ability to use a giant sword, too, via feats. But that doesn't really turn a mage into a tank, though. But it allows characters to have a backup role.

Ok, Brian is on the same page as me:

Party composition was also not as strict. For example, being without a Fighter class in heavy plate armor (a Tank in the trinity design) wasn't always a disadvantage; in fact, the party could use stealth easier without members stomping around in a loud metal suit of armor. Magic items such healing potions, magic wands, spells scrolls, protective items, and so forth could also partially replace a missing role.

I would call this strategic flexibility. EQ2 now has quite a lot of it built in, in fact. The way it works is that one class is the best at some aspect of the game, but there are other ways to get that ability, if not at as good a quality. I've been through pretty tough dungeons with a scout tanking. There are tinkered items that can duplicate most of the utilities in the game, including rez, FD, Call of the Hero, and of course, repair. And any character can learn it.

The racial abilities also allow for opening of boxes. I know it's a sore point with the scouts, but it fits with the trend. Nobody is indispensable in a group setting.

It's a good trend, but I'd like to see it built into a MMOFRPG from the beginning. Honestly, something more futuristic might lend itself better, so you can have cyber implants that teach you to do stuff that can be swapped out. But since "sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", there must be some way to shoehorn that idea into fantasy, no?

But it isn't a fantasy trope, is it? However the fighter-magic user combo is a fantasy trope.

Ok, one more point, more or less unrelated:

Unfortunately, the biggest drawback of allowing tactical options in combat is that it will run into technical limitations given internet latency and cheaters. The phrase "using terrain" in MMOs usually refers to the exploit of harming NPC opponents while putting them in a position to be unable to harm the character.

I do not understand why this is considered "cheating". I'm aware that it is, and that gamedevs have done all kinds of things to get rid of path kiting. Why is path kiting bad, but quad kiting by druids in EQ1 good? In order to do path kiting well, I must have found a good spot, and have a good ranged dps. Melee means nothing.

I think I understand why. It's because pathing wasn't very good in those days, and I think gamedevs felt we were picking at a sore spot, rather than winning as intended.

Use of terrain is in fact one of the big missing elements in MMO's, as far as I can see. At this point in EQ2, terrain affects "sight lines" and hence aggro range and spell/ranged targeting issues. This gives a good range of pulling situations, and positioning issues. Which to my mind keeps the game interesting. What about movement rate issues? We see the need to position mobs in spots for better DPS in raids, has this happened much in group content?

I don't understand Brian's reference to internet latency in this context. Tactics are limited by the speed of combats, not by internet latency. Faster combats than in EQ1 are probably good, but I think we've gone a bit too far. There's little time to think on the fly.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

We Aim to Trust

I've just deleted several comments from blog posts that were advertising an offshore financial trust institution, soliciting investments.

I ask, would you invest in a financial scheme that advertised by spamming comments on a blog about a videogame?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Raven Incoming, Red Tag

You might think that the photo above is of a very unusual atmospheric phenomenon that occured over Norway yesterday, and is thought to be due to the malfunction of a Russian ICBM during a test firing, but no....

Really, it's what my (brand new) Brutix looked like when it exploded last night.

We were gate camping in lowsec. I was hoping to get a few more licks in some sort of metaphorical revenge for last nights ignominy. The area, I was assured was thick with pirates and ne'er do-wells.

Every pilot in EVE has a security rating which is increased by doing "socially beneficial" things like killing NPC pirates, or player pirates who are known villains. Security rating is decreased by attacking people with no provocation, and decreased a lot if you podkill them. All of this is boiled down to a color coding on your HUD. Ships piloted by someone with a low enough security rating are color coded red. Those with a questionable rating are colored yellow. There's more tied to this, but that's enough for now.

We are sitting at a gate and suddenly a red tag appears. Dutifully, I control clicked the tag in my over view to lock the target and commence firing. Then three other red tags showed up almost immediately. The order was given to bug out, we'd been baited.

I had already aligned, or so I thought, and gave the command, but I was caught already in a warp scrambler, and was quickly torn to pieces (creating the photo above, really, I mean it!). At the time I thought I was just unlucky to be singled out. Perhaps I had started locking first, which meant that the automatic counterlocking sequence of the enemy ship had targeted me.

Whenever you go through a jump gate (which is where we were), you are automatically cloaked for a bit after the jump. I think the origin of this is to smooth out any difficulties due to server handoff during the session change, but it is now part of the EVE cat and mouse game.

So, I think they were sitting there cloaked and picked me as the first target. I was the newest player in the group, for instance. I didn't have the weakest ship in the group, but they might have thought that Tipa's Vexor was no threat.

I flew back to Teonosude in my pod, figuring that my night was over. At Teonosude I docked and got my rookie ship. I asked if there was anything I could do to help the fleet. "Well, you could spot for us on the far side of the gate." I can do that, I thought. "Like I care about losing a ship that is free."

So I went back, we set up, and I went to the far side of the gate, and sat there within the gate, watching for incoming ships.

I can't say that I really know why, but my heart was pounding away. I'm in a ship that is free, and I'm told that most pirates in this area usually don't podkill. So very little more is at stake for me. Except my pride, that is.

All was quiet for several minutes, but there was tension on the other side of the gate. It seems someone in a Vexor (a generic Gallente cruiser) was sitting in the gate on the far side, and baiting our camp group. Locking them, saying things in local chat, offering challenges. Here's the thing. If the Vexor is attacked, since he is yellow tagged, the gate guns will join the battle on his side, as will all NPC station and gate guns for the next 15 minutes. This is known as Global Criminal Countdown. The Vexor was trying to ensnare us in it.

Hearing about this over voice chat did not exactly soothe my nerves. Steady on, focus, breathe...

Then my overview lit up. A Raven, a popular Caldari battleship, bearing a red tag! I called it out and jumped through the gate. Once through, I warped away, not being combat capable. Then something very curious happened. Nothing at all.

The Vexor continues baiting and taunting. Nothing comes through the gate. After a couple of minutes, I go back through the gate. I can see that the Raven is sitting there at about 1000m off the gate, and a yellow tagged destroyer is there, too. As it turns out, when you jump through a gate, you come out cloaked, about 10km from the gate. Which is well out of range to use it to jump back. So there's no groundhogging possible. But you do come out cloaked, so if you can align and warp out quickly, they won't have a chance to lock and scramble you. In theory.

That's what I do. It works. I check local chat and see two names in system. One is Raven RedTag, the other I can't positively ID as the yellow-tag destroyer I saw at the gate. Still nothing has come through the gate. After a few minutes I warp back and jump through the gate. The pair is still there. They don't have the same corp tag, and the vexor on the other side is from a third corp. But it seems clear that the two are together, and maybe the vexor too.

The die is cast. I warp out and dock at a station to listen to the rest of the combat. We decide to take out the Vexor. Once we start firing the Raven jumps through. Game on. The Vexor is popped, but it's done its job and engaged the gate guns on the enemies side. The Raven has a powerful shield tank, which we aren't really able to break, and all our ships are exploded. Final tally: We killed one cruiser, they got two battlecruisers, a cruiser and a heavy interdictor.

On the plus side, nobody is podded, and we go home with some valuable pvp experience under our belts.

We lost the combat because we blinked first. It was a mexican standoff, the Raven can't beat us without the help of the gate guns, we can't beat it when it has them on it's side. I could have sat on their side of the gate, and taunted them exactly as the Vexor taunted us. And known what they were doing.

Also, we need more gank. DPS was poor, and could be a lot better. Sigh. I can't train everything.

This is a completely different kind of contest than the pvp arena battles I'm used to. Far more strategic, with rich tactics and baiting.

Update: One other thing. I really, really need to get myself into a covert-ops cloak-capable ship. But the training for the required Gallente Frigate V is two weeks!

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Another Lesson Learned

"I'm going to have to stop giving you these lessons for free."
-Crash Davis, Bull Durham

Did you want to hear the story of how I lost my first Brutix? You do? We could call it a lesson in lowsec security procedures, provided free of charge by your local lowsec ganker.

Well, I was killing Blood Raiders at an ungated site in Alai, a lowsec system in Genesis. I'll talk more later about why I was doing that. In any case, local had shown only me in system.

Somewhere during the second wave I noticed that there was now another person in the system. Uhoh, I thought, and aligned to an object for a fast getaway. It wasn't enough, though it might have saved a podkill.

My first hint that someone was there with me was a red flag flying across my view. There was no lock alarm. I presume he used a passive targeting system, but probably I just mistook it for one of the Blood Raiders. I was scrambled, and there were drones all about me. (I had a moment of thinking, "what are those funny X's?"). For some reason I thought that the drones were scrambling me, but I'm not sure why. One of my drones (Warrior I) was already dead by the time I locked him and sent them at him.

Once he was locked and weapons pointed at him, I checked his info. An Ishkur, an assault ship. I had no idea at the time what that was, but it's a souped-up frigate, which can carry lots of drones. I knew I was probably overmatched, on the theory of "If I don't know what that ship is, it must be badder than me", but maybe I can hurt him.

I shot at him, but it was ineffectual since I had railguns equipped, and he was orbiting me at very close range. My brand new Tech 2 armor repairer was not going to keep up, and my brand new afterburner wasn't going to get me away.

As soon as he got into hull, I self-destructed and warped away in my pod immediately. There was no saving it.

The key to escaping this encounter was ECM. I didn't have any. It's hard to fit one with my current skills. I have 3 Capacitor Recharger II's fitted to those slots, and I am not quite capacitor stable with everything going. I have decided that I'm going to train up to ECM drones immediately, and start carrying a few whenever I might see combat. If I'd thrown ECM jammer drones at him, I think the lock would probably break pretty fast, and I'd be gone. That's the first lesson.

The second lesson is that I should have left the site when I first noticed him in system. Don't just align, warp out. Maybe leave the system, see what develops. Running a site, you will have tunnel vision on.

The guy who blew up my ship is Sethony, member of a corp named Assault Armaments. In his player info, he describes himself as a professional scientist and inventor. The random ganking part isn't mentioned.

Actually, I find this odd. Players who are random gankers generally brag about it. They like to impress you with how badass they are, but not so Sethony. So what's up with him? I have a sort of guess, but I'm going to first tell you why I was in Alai last night after midnight.

If you look at the dotlan stats for Alai, you will notice that there was pretty much nothing going on in Alai, and hadn't been for several hours.

I want to be an explorer. I've trained up my scanning skills, and I got the ability to use Codebreakers and Analyzers just last Thursday or so. So I want to make use of them. However, everything that was working for me in my three months of play so far pretty much stopped working, roughly last Thursday.

My sales have fallen off the table. Hordes of sellers have come out of the woodwork and are dumping large volumes. It took them a while to catch up with my scanner probe business, but it's now flooded, too.

Since the time I scanned the wormhole that Tipa described mining in, I've found basically no useful signatures whatsoever. Perhaps the introduction of tutorials on scanning has had an influence. It's certainly killed my core scanner probe business, since players get one for free, and usually send it down the buy hole afterwards.

Last week, I was beaten to the punch twice at these sites. At one, I found a salvaging site, salvaged the first can when a frigate came in and grabbed all the rest right from under my nose. At another, I warped in to a radar site to find someone was already there and had killed most of the rats. I was too far away to try to steal the cans, and that's not really my style anyway. That may be changing, though.

Anyway, I can find anomalies, but in highsec, these are (ahem, were) a pitiful undermatch for Sundiver, my Brutix. Seriously, I scanned probably two dozen systems with very little to show for it. The best wormhole I found was a class 2 with a carrier inside. Not actually suitable for me to see if I can tank sleepers yet.

So, it's now late at night on the West Coast on a weeknight. And I'm feeling pretty frustrated with my career choice. I figure I will slip into a lowsec system with low traffic and look for something a bit more interesting. I'd really like to find a hacking or analyzing site, but I settle for a Blood Raider site that has lots of cruisers, and maybe a battlecruiser to finish.

This of course, is where Sethony enters the picture.

So what was he doing there? Here's my guess. He and his buddies have "claimed" that lowsec constellation (it's called Mih, and includes the system Assez) as their harvesting grounds and kill anyone they find lingering there with scanning equipment. I am told that respawn of sites stays within a constellation. There are four lowsec systems and four highsec in Mih. It's next door to the notorious Vecamia, but that system is in a different constellation.

Or maybe he just likes killing people, I don't know.

Every time I get exploded lately, it's been by someone who is grossly overmatched. Kind of like having sand kicked in your face by the proverbial bully. And there's no Charles Atlas available to turn me into Mr. Universe overnight with dynamic tension.

I could learn to fly an Ishkur relatively easily. Mostly, I'd have to train Gallente Frigates V, which I also need to fly covert ops. I'd also need Engineering V and Mechanic V, but I want those for invention anyway. But would it be useful for anything other than as a hunter? Could I handle sites with it? I don't really know.

Time to look at battleclinic, I guess. Because there's no more sleep for me tonight.


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Wormhole Chronicles

In addition to being hunted while helping Tipa with her mission in Evaulon, I've been doing a lot of wormhole diving.

In one hole, I found not only a pos and some ships, but a capital construction array and a carrier. In a class 2 wormhole. Clearly it was built there. Also there was some sort of cyno equipment as well. Seems to me that I found secret carrier construction base. And no, I didn't fly over there to eyeball it. I left in a very big hurry, there were ships, too. I was flying my "ghetto cloaked" Imicus. That's "ghetto cloaked" meaning "Don't make eye contact and you'll be fine."

In another, I went in one that corpmate Kzaara had found. On my way over, a Covert Ops cruiser entered the hole, and Kza bounced out in a hurry. We went back in, and saw nobody scanning, so proceeded to scan and clear some sites, including my first Analyzing site! Then a covops entered and began scanning. Kind of heart pounding to think you are being hunted. Like that time in Evaulon...

Currently, I'm logged off in another hole. I found this one and guided corpmate Vahz to some mining after popping the rats at the belt. However the hole got smaller when we came through, starting to destabilize, but not critical. He filled his hold Arkonor and Bistot. His miner and his hauler made it back out but then the hole closed, leaving me there. This was as planned, since I had scanning equipment. This has happened before, so I just scanned for the new hole I knew would open.

The new hole is in nullsec. Deep in nullsec. In territory claimed by sovereign powers. I've scanned several systems for a new wormhole, but so far no dice. I'm camping inside the wh hoping that the exit will change while I'm offline.

These are genuine adventures. Unknown territories, unknown opponents.

Fun times.

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