No Eve

•June 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Nope, just can’t cross the threshold. Though I finally figured out why I can’t push the go button.

Bottom line, I don’t have time. The problem with a pure sandbox is that it’s really a life of its own, and you only get out of it what you put into it. I’m just not going to get enough fun per hour from the limited number of hours I have to put in to justify the payment – low as it is.

Which come to think of it is a decent test for most MMOs. By their nature they should be encouraging at least some interaction, some sense of community. If I’m going to be irregular, often only managing an hour or two a couple of nights a week, they’re probably not my thing. (Except for the much-disparaged theme park style, and even then the grouping requirements may make them fail for my use. I no longer have the time I did when I played WoW.)

I want it

•May 31, 2014 • Leave a Comment

OK, I’ve been posting a lot of ‘response to Jester’ posts but one more anyway. Jester just listed some things he liked and didn’t like in the current not-a-release patch notes for Kronos not-an-expansion.

One thing he didn’t like was that micro jump drives (MJD) are no longer just for capital ships. Instead mediums are out. Well, sort of. They only work on a limited number of ‘medium’ ships: combat battlecruisers, command ships, and deep space transports.

What’s the MJD do (for the non-eve player)? If you trigger it your ship “jumps” a certain distance directly in line with your current movement.

Now despite my comment on his post, there’s no need for a special jammer. The warp scrambler interrupts the jump as well. Still, I’d rather see a special type of jammer. That’s because unlike him and as I stated in my comment, I’d like to eventually see the device available to just about every ship out there. Some would use it better than others, mind, but I’d like to see it.

See, I’ve read a lot of science fiction. And once you’ve got any ships jumping, the idea of jumping ships as part of tactics is just, well, full of fascinating opportunities and effects. Right now it’s ‘great’ for sniping ships because it lets them jump out of close range just at the last second. But picture, if you will, brawlers using them to suddenly be up close and personal. Likewise tacklers – who suddenly appear in front instead of behind. Picture cloaked bombers using them to get away on release. Defensively it’s warp to 100 km from the gate, directional scan for problems, then use this to either warp to zero or run away as the situation requires.

For what it’s worth, I think teleporting ships without external gates already put a massive monkey wrench in eve. In one jump a dozen or more chokepoints go away, if you’re big enough. Since choke points are how small groups can bottle and defeat large groups this gives the large group the big benefit. While giving everybody an in-system teleport doesn’t counter it, it does add a lot of confusion and potential to the mix.

So yes, I think I want to see it. I want to see something that mostly allows people to escape the big griefing opportunities. But which, with planning and care and practice, can make combat even more devastating.

Improving Eve?

•May 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Over on Jester’s Trek there’s a post getting a lot of comments. A few things that have come out inspire this post.

To quickly sum, Jester/Ripard Teg referenced and discussed a Steam review of Eve that says, in simple, the goal of a player in EO is making money and griefing other players. If that’s cool with you, great. If not, find another game.

I’m not completely sure I agree with the goals – there are other things to do, things to gain. However, I do think the ‘griefing others’ remark is dead on. And if you read the comments there’s that, too. The most interesting thing is not whether players agree or disagree that Eve Online encourages griefing. No, there’s pretty much universal agreement there. No, the big disagreement is whether that’s a good or bad thing.

I’m going to say that from the point of view of the owning company it’s a bad thing. What the game needs in increasing new subscriptions and sustained players. What appears to be happening, based on careful comments from presenters like CCP Rise, is the opposite. At best they’re flat. At worst they’re declining.

And ‘old’ players are not good for the bottom line due to an internal peculiarity. Eve Online has a means of being nominally F2P. You earn enough in-game coinage (ISK) and you can use that to purchase another month of play (PLEX). Yes, you can purchase a PLEX with real money and sell it ingame, too. It creates interesting economics and is a specific point of observation for the anti-bot teams. But I’ve digressed again. The point is that the longer you play the easier it is to earn a PLEX in game and so the more likely it happens. Senior players are harder on the CCP’s bottom line.

From the comments comes an idea, or perhaps it’s a concept, that I think needs emphasized. Notionally, when Eve was created it was expected that both good and bad guys would develop but that hasn’t happened. It seems Eve is designed to let the bad guys not only be bad guys but be rewarded for being bad guys, while the reverse is not so. Good guys can be good guys but there is no reward.

While I have – and have posted – what amount to theme park suggestions for solo players, I think this is really a much better thing. It reinforces the whole multiplayer interaction ideal. The thing is, I’m not certain how to do it. I just think it’s significant enough to note.

It might be enough, for CCP to admit they’ve a game full of player villains, and give incentive for ‘good guys’ to come and “clean up this town.” Actually, I think figuring out the incentive might be enough. If, that is, it’s possible.

Thing is, if it doesn’t happen then I agree with Jester that EVE continue shrinking its player base, eventually reaching the point of implosion (non-profitability).

Eve’s complex and developed enough I’d /like/ to be involved. It’s not particularly rewarding to the solitary player and does all right for the solo who interacts with others. But the overwhelming attitude of, well, griefing being what everyone does is just more than I care to continue with.

Is grouping necessary?

•May 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The weakness of picking on any problem in a game like Eve Online is the fact it’s large and complex. What’s good for one tis inevitably bad for another, and in the end either balance or an acceptance of losing the other is needed.

Let’s take as an example my previous post. It started with some assumptions based on things put out by Eve developers. Specifically, 50% of the people who try Eve leave within the first month. Of the ones who stay 20% (10% of the whole) participate in groups and 80% fly solo. When you get to mid-term retention (say, the six month or one year point) those same devs imply that almost all the group players stay but many if not most of the solo players leave.

I want to point out a number of the assumptions here that need a bit of buttressing. The very first is asking how CCP determined the players were group (instead of solo) players. My guess: membership in a corporation. The alternate method – looking at combat ‘killmail’ – fails to catch the station groups and the non-combat support (logistics/healing ships, for example).

There’s the question in my mind, which could actually increase the ‘need to group’ argument, of how many of the so-called solo players are alternate accounts of people in groups? Anecdotally the majority of players with more than a year of experience have at least one other account.

On the flip side of the issue is the question of what portion of the 50% who quit joined a corporation – a group? It is possible that the need to group is overstated.

One more thing to ask – how many of the solo players really leave after six months to a year? If 40% are solo players and half leave before a year is out, the solo players STILL outnumber the group players 2:1.

I’m not convinced forcing or even highly encouraging grouping is really the key to player retention for Eve Online. I suspect, just based on what’s known at this time, that it’s another case of people focusing on what they think is good without actually considering the whole, or at least the majority.

Eve’s Problem

•May 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’m almost done with the trial, and came within a hair’s breadth of quitting again. In fact with a couple days left it’s still a possibility. This time, however, a serendipitous occurrence brought light to what I think is Eve’s problem – the reason I keep quitting. And ironically, the reason I may finally scrounge up the coins to pay for membership.

Let me start with the problem. Eve is a good sandbox MMO. A really, really good sandbox MMO. The vast majority of ‘things that happen’ are player driven. The fights, the events, the economy, pretty much everything is the result of player actions.

The thing is, making these player actions happen require involvement. If you’re not involved everything just sort of passes you by.

If you’re going to play Eve you sort of have to immerse yourself. It’s necessary to spend hours moving and fighting, even if you do not follow the recommendation of joining a corporation (guild for the non-eve players. A group of other players who more-or-less help you and do things with you.)

You cannot be a casual EVE player – a player who just logs in a couple of hours a week. Or at least it’s very, very difficult. And that’s the problem, I think, that Eve has with retaining new players.

On the other hand it’s extremely immersive IF you give it the time and effort. Even if you’re the other type of casual player – the player who doesn’t really have major objectives, who just wants to play some shoot-em-up in space and maybe visit with a few friends, but who does this a couple of hours a night every couple of days, or spends most of one day out of the weekend, or some other version that winds up doing eight or more hours a week.

The reason I’m chasing this particular dog is not just my perennial addiction to the EVE trial. I’m also interested in what makes games work. And since CCP’s in another ‘how do we keep all these new players playing’ kick, it’s worth looking again.

I said I serendipitously found a reason to stay. And speaking as one of the casual-meaning-once in a while players, I thought I’d share. Knowing that the reasons are almost anathema to long-term players.

For me, it’s “let’s go see the sights.” I wandered to Eve Gate, and it was surprisingly moving.

Eve Gate is, in the context of the Eve Online universe, the starting point. It’s where mankind arrived from Earth, the route of constant traffic until /something/ happened and the gate closed. There’s still this massive, unstable, and unusable wormhole there, a god’s blind eye staring at this morass of humanity. And there are dozens of little monuments, anchored cargo boxes labeled to provide epitaphs inane and profound. At which point I went, “Hey, I wonder what else is there?” No, not really – I already know /of/ several things. I just never before had the itch to go looking.

And that gives me my suggestion for CCP of how to get people like me. Give us a hint of goals that do NOT require hours of investment. Something that lets us get something even with only a small handful of hours a week. I’m going to suggest that probably most of us will expand once we’re in. It’s the cliff of commitment that is daunting.

Does it need an ‘achievement’ – a label that says “I did this”? Me, I suggest yes. It can sit with all the other certificates and job histories. It doesn’t have to be public, though the option might be a hook for some.

But the majority of those EVE loses are, I suspect, the people who like the idea of flying through space but don’t want to invest themselves in a part-time second job to do so. So if CCP wants to keep them it’s going to have to think about those rewards, at least for the ‘young’ pilots of the game.

Tristan’s Drones in Eve, part one of many

•May 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

So as I mentioned, I’m trying Eve online again. Way back in the early days of this blog I did a little bit of theory crafting. I decided I’d do it again for this my current interest.

Now before I begin, some old caveats. First, I’m doing this for my learning. So if you’re reading and you see I made a mistake by all means tell me. On the other hand if it’s “you noob” or “drones suck” you’re welcome to go away. Second, again due to me starting on this I’m probably going to do an update later with new lessons learned. Finally, this is almost purely “nominal target”. The enemy, especially a human PVP enemy, will do things to pull out of optimal. But if I’ve got a baseline I can start guessing what I need to deal with the new surprises.

I’m playing with a Tristan. That’s a frigate (smallest player ship for you non-EVE players). Its designed primary weapon system is drones with two turrets for supplemental weapons. Drones are pets. They can be – and in Eve actually are – pretty decent. But because they’re autonomous and driven by the AI they’re dumb. And they’re easier to kill than your ship. And they’re rather restricted in the damage that they can do. But a pack of them can be very worrisome. My goal here is to see how worrisome they are at base, and how much more so I can make them be.

Before I get to that let me point out the benefits the Tristan has for drone combat. First, it’s got enough magazine space for 8 lights or 4 mediums, though the lights are restricted by my ability to control a maximum of 5 drones (after training). I can also squeeze in a heavy or a sentry drone at the cost of 8 lights or 2.5 (well, 3) mediums. Lights are fast, both in base speed and tracking speed, and have the tightest signature resolution. On the other hand they have the smallest damage. Sentries move zero, track like slugs, have large signature resolutions, but have lots and lots of range and damage.

At first pass, then, it’s time for a raw damage comparison. For simplicity I’m ignoring “damage modification” for now. So base damage for a light is 15, for a medium is 25, a heavy has 48, and a sentry has 50. 5 lights base is 75. 4 mediums base is 100. If I toss a heavy or a sentry I can add three lights but even so that’s less than the four heavies. For this (and some other reasons I’m not going into right now) I am dropping the heavies and lights. I think there are situations where they’ll come into play, but not as a relative beginner.

On first pass, then, it’s “obvious” I should use four mediums. But there’s a problem. It’s not just the damage I can do if I hit, it’s hitting to do the damage. That’s where that signature resolution comes into play. Actually, let me take a moment to discuss the whole to-hit formula.

First, it’s derived, not displayed from CCP. That means that so far empirical results match it but it might be slightly wrong, and it might get changed a little bit if CCP deems it necessary. There are also some ‘levelers’ in the program that prevent strings of good (or bad) luck. We’ll ignore those for now.

Base formula simplified is: 0.5 ^ (((signature equation)*(tracking equation))^2 + (range equation)^2).

Signature equation. In simple, smaller ‘bore’ weapons have better accuracy. It’s not right, really, but let’s rephrase that as smaller ‘bore’ weapons have tighter shot groups. The bigger the target the less this matters. And in fact (still keeping this analogy because it’s working) the whole ‘signature resolution’ and ‘signature radius’ discussion can be thought of as ‘shot group size’ and ‘target size.’ If Res is smaller than Rad then obviously it’s going to hit – if everything else cooperates. However we don’t cap this at 1 (100%) because it gets multiplied by the next element, the tracking equation. On the other hand it’s never going to be zero – every target has at least a little radius.

Tracking equation. This gets a little trickier though it’s conceptually simple – it’s ‘how well are you aiming at that moving target’. A target that’s standing still – or is approaching or moving away in a straight line – is essentially stationary. One that’s in a circular orbit is a lot harder. How much harder depends on how many degrees (well, radians really) it moves per second. This is a matter of its range and actual speed.

You can ‘get’ this by simple math without going into trigonometry. Remember that a circumference is pi*diameter, and diameter is 2*radius. Now let’s set a pair of orbits, one 5 units out and one 10 units out. The first orbit is 30.14… units in ‘length’ (circumference), the second is 60.28… units. A ship moving at the same speed takes twice as long to get around the ship when it’s further away.

Now not only does the target move around the ship but the turrets have a limit on how fast they can move. This is their tracking (aka tracking speed). Obviously if the turret can rotate faster than the effective transversal speed then it’s easy to hit, but if the transversal is faster it’s a lot harder.

That’s the tracking equation. Transversal velocity (how fast is it moving from left to right, ignoring speed in or out) divided by the range times the tracking speed. It’s possible for this to be zero, but that’s almost totally under the control of the target.

Finally there’s the range equation. Yes, I know we already used range once but this is something else. Analogy first. Up to a certain range everything flies straight. Once it’s past that range, however, it can start veering a little off target. Here’s the way it works.

All weapons have an optimal and a falloff range. Optimal range is the “up to this range”. Falloff is where things start missing, and the way the formula works the formula winds up with a 50% hit probability at optimal plus falloff. How?

(Actual range – optimal range)/falloff range, limit 0. Limit 0 so no negatives can sneak in. From point blank to optimal range the number is 0, and 0.5 (the base number) to the 0th power is 1 or 100%. At falloff range the number is 1, or 0.5^1 = 0.5 (50%).

The tracking and signature equations are multiplied together and squared, and this is added to the square of the range equation. The squaring among other things cuts out the corner cases that might give a negative number. And since we’re adding two things together, if both sets give us “1” then we’ve got a 50% chance to hit.

Remember why I went to the gunnery equation? To show why the mediums weren’t an easy preference over the lights. There are two Big Deals. First, there’s the respective signature resolutions. Lights are 25. Mediums are 125. In general, frigates (like the Tristan) have signature radiuses (radii?) of 30-50, with some of the specialized ducks running 60, 65, or even 90.

The signature equation for lights against frigates, then, is less than 1. For mediums it’s 3 or even 4. 0.5^(25/30) is still 56% chance of hitting. 0.5^3, however, is 12.5, or about four and a half times worse. And 25 base medium damage is not four and a half times greater than 15 from a light.

That’s a lot of words but it gives us the base information we need for theory crunching. I’ll stop here and run some more in a bit.

In the meantime, have fun.

Eve online, pondering painting

•May 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Over in Eve Online, they’re experimenting with alternate color patterns for ships.

Now I think this is a good idea. I’ve lamented how they have a LOT of character customization that nobody sees, but in the main play area everyone looks the same except for a profile next to the chat message.

But while it’s a good idea CCP is doing a couple of things wrong. Well, one isn’t necessarily wrong in principle, but…

They’re dipping their toe in the water – in principle a good thing – but because they’ve set the prices of the alternate patterns so high they can’t really tell if the water’s fine or not. I’m sorry, I can’t stretch that analogy any further (well i could but it’d get surreal).

So anyway, they’ve only got a handful of ships on which these changes can be made, they’re appearance only, and they cost a LOT.

Suggestions.
1) Make them cheap, but (as with all things EVE) make them per-ship. And make them available for all the ships.
2) Down the road, make a ‘tint your own’ that marks highlights. Combine this with more alternate base patterns for the ships. Still a fixed pallette, though, of not more than half a dozen bases and a dozen or so highlights.
3) Really down the road, go nuts.

3a) By go nuts I mean right back to character creation. At the same time you’re picking your race and colors and build and complexion and costume and profile background, add an ‘identifying icon’. Add a shield or rondel or even a small set of geometric shapes and let the players apply either a pre-designed pattern or paint one of their own. Paint with a large if not full spectrum of colors. And every ship they own gets this icon added to it for absolutely free. It sits in a common location – two to five of them, so regardless of angle you have a chance of seeing who’s ship it is.

3b) Oh, I’m not stopping there. See, I want to be able to change those icons down the road. Doing that would cost a chunk for the redesign because it’s going on every ship without extra effort or cost. But I want to be able to buy and sell the designs. There are artists among the players who could start getting good ISK for this.

3c) Not done yet. Corporations get their icons, too. Logos if you will, things that say “this is a Goon ship” or “Pandemic Legion member”.

3d) personal, corporate, or both – allow individual paint schemes. These, like the schemes of 1 and 2, are a per-ship cost. Because they’re effort intensive they should cost more than a standard or even common variation.

So what are the downside?
Biggest, bar none, is the programmer headache. Second biggest is probably the server load, though there are a few graphic sharing tricks that would help. Third is an adminnistrative headache watching for infringement of copyright/trademark and offensive/obscene artwork. That last is, well, “is it porn or art?”

On the other hand, it’s a massive draw. It’s a personal involvement in not only the character but the ships being flown. And it’s (probably) an ISK sink, a trade opportunity, and an alternate form of competition in a game filled with competitions – sorry, combats.

Just a thought.

Have fun.

 
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