Eve trial yet again

•May 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

So I’ve started another trial. I decided this time I’d do it looking for why, exactly, I keep deciding not to stay.

Interestingly it appears CCP is looking at that question as well in more general terms. So here are my first comments, and I figure I’ll have more later.

First big disappointment deals with character creation. CCP has had one of the better character appearance generators around for a long time. You can spend a LOT of time getting the position of everything just right, setting up for your profile picture, choosing from several pieces of clothing – it’s great.

And it means nothing. It means that you see your character in the base bays, and if they go into captain’s quarters and do nothing but putter around you can see a bit more. But they just walk, and never interact or change clothes or, bleah. The more invested you get the more let down you get to be.

But you get over that, sorta. Because the game is space and spaceships and supporting space ships. So you log on to a tutorial which leads you to more tutorials. And you get lots of gear and lots of money and lots of ships.

But you wind up spending 40 hours or so of play between the career tutorials and the first mission (Sisters of Eve) and you’re just… bored. Because they have massive overlap. They have to because while there are five career tutorials many people will only do a couple – and there are some critical elements that should be passed along regardless.

40 hours of play of which 20 or so is repetitive. And it’s an MMO but with one exception it’s almost all ‘barrens chat’. A designated channel called Rookie Chat filled almost entirely with people asking how to do something – over and over and over. Pop to another channel and see insults and boasts and such.

it’s a problem in all MMOs – you want the players to have the basics but the real pleasure is interacting with others. At the same time EVE prides itself on letting people be almost as bad as they want to be – and many are.

I’m going to try some different things this trial, see if I can see a break point. But the design for the typical newbie is, well, allegedly half the players leave in the first month, and of the half that stays most just follow the PVE pipe that doesn’t really do much – and leave a few months down the road after the same old same old.

More later.

A reference sheet

•May 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

We’re going to start the pathfinder game pretty soon. One of the players is very new and so can get confused without simple guides to keep things straight. So I made this combat reference chart. Version 1.
Pathfinder Combat chart

Pondering a fix in Eve

•April 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment

About a week ago, Ripard Teg (aka Jester) of Jester’s Trek wrote a post about an EVE Online maybe-problem that I’ve been thinking about for a while. My recommended solution also impacts another EVE Online problem. I recommend bumping be changed to ramming.

So non-EVE players reading understand, bumping is ramming, but Eve Online currently makes it a zero-damage action. It imparts changes to momentum but causes no damage.

The problem is ‘how do you stop bumpers?’

To sum the post, he went through the general recommendations for ‘how do you stop’ an annoyance group. What the group does is use a system technicality to attack other players in high-sec without invoking a PVP flag. (high security, the place where if you start non-consensual PVP the game’s police force assists the victim by attacking you). Some of these folk are botters or AFK players (in other words, not so much playing as setting the computer to a task and doing something else while it works) while others are people who just refuse to pay for ‘protection’ permit. (Yes, the classic scam. ‘Be a shame if something were to interfere with your ability to mine here, wouldn’t it? If you’ll pay this small fee for protection I’ll make certain you’re left alone.’)

To be fair it’s within the concept of EVE online’s whole PVP driven gameview, and the ranking Ripard gives all the suggestions reflect this. That’s why everything’s just ‘leave me alone’. That said I have a recommended solution.

As I said up top, the technicality is that ramming causes no damage, so they ‘bump’ the ship. While ramming causes no damage, it changes each ships’ momentum. Stationary ships get moved, moving ships get a slight change to vector. Speed and mass still matter a bit but it’s not physics ‘right’ even with the damage removed.

Generally the ships being bumped are mining. Mining is a long-duration activity that consists of ‘sit here and run the mining sequence.’ For best efficiency the miner sits in range of several asteroids and as he empties one he shifts the tools to the next that’s in range. As I said it’s conducive to botters and AFK play. But when the ship gets bumped out of range of the asteroid the player’s mining systems stop. The controller (player or bot) has to get back in range of the asteroids and start the miners again. A bumper can keep nudging the miner to delay this – and gets no aggravation penalty at all, because if the miner shoots at the bumper it’s the miner who gets to deal with Concord. And concord ships are not quite God Ships – but they’ll destroy player ships quickly enough.

My suggestion, which I’ve not seen, is to change bumping to ramming. See, the bumpers are being care-bear players too and taking advantage of the fact they’re (mostly) safe from damage. My suggestion is that ramming should be changed to cause damage, which since it causes damage invokes a PVP situation which in turn could trigger a CONCORD response.

There are two large issues to consider. The easiest to describe is dealing with bumping that happens where no frustration is intended. When you start cramming a bunch of ships into local space of a station as they are coming in and going out – say at one of the big market sites – then error and stupidity and greed make collisions inevitable. The other – which frankly makes the former so significant – is ensuring CONCORD response goes only against the aggressor.

And after some thought I’ve got a fairly simple test for aggression flagging. General case: the faster vessel is the one that gets flagged. Not potentially faster, actual speed. If the speed demon is standing still and the freighter runs into him it’s the freighter that gets flagged. To reduce abusing the mechanism in reverse (parking directly in front of the target and letting him ram you), if both vessels are under 41 m/s then neither is flagged. (This should be low enough that cruisers can’t easily bump miners out of range. It may need tweaked downward a bit.) To reduce problems in congested bases undock immunity should apply to impact. (If a launching freighter runs into a loitering frigate the freighter shouldn’t get flagged.)

The other issue is the damage calculation. In the “real world” if I run a small frigate at really high speeds into a capital ship it could potentially be mutually destructive. Personally I like this as it cuts into the tendency toward giantism currently infesting Eve Online. I figure CCP would reduce the game damage from ‘real’ levels, but I’d still like to see it have an effect. This means that X small ships moving fast enough can destroy a Titan. It forces a significant change in fleet tactics and compositions. It’s not just frigates, the cost/effect balance may make it worthwhile to use cruisers or even larger ships in some cases. As I said at first walk I like it, but it may cause enough player screaming that CCP can’t use it.

And yet it’s a move that has an impact on two perceived problems. So I put it out for consideration.

If’n I had a space game

•April 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

For a while I thought Eve Online was going to be my space game of choice. And it may still turn out to be so. But not right now. And no, it’s not due to the ‘sociopath generator’ structure.

See, Eve Online is a great space game. And they’ve made a decent first-person shooter that’s nominally integrated. (Dust 514). And they tried, separately, to make it possible to ‘walk in stations’. To walk through the corridors and interact with bars and control rooms.

So your capsuleer (I’ll get to that) could fly into station with a troop carrier, then lead an assault to capture the station, after which he could drop by the bar… you get the idea.

Now there’s a conceit in Eve Online that works really well. See, your player is a “capsuleer”. He (or she, using old-style generic here) is one of the tiny number of individuals who can accept being augmented. In EO itself this allows you to fly the ship. Notionally it’s full of crew obeying your commands and doing maintenance and, well, all of that. Functionally it allows you to ‘fly the ship’ by yourself. There are a couple of bonuses to this ability of yours that the unseen NPCs do not have. You have access to clones. If you die in combat or other stupidity, your clone awakens. You lost any hardware you had with the original ‘you’, but ‘you’ are active. And yes, the game lets you set up distant clones so you can ‘switch’ from body to body. Yes, somehow you can do this even faster than the universe allows FTL to travel. “Because magic” and “because fun” and let it go at that.

Dust 514 follows the same conceit except you can also insert into battlesuits. Well, infantry and vehicle ‘suits’. Same principle as the ships whether frigate or titan, once you have all the basic skills you can run it, but there’s basic and then there’s raising the skills to higher levels.

Now the reason this came up in my mind again is that I was reading Sugar Kyle’s blog and caught her article of dealing with abandoned player owned stations. See, long-term structures like stations stay in game even if you log off. And as long as you’re fueling them every few days (30 days for these in particular) they’re pretty tough and keep running your mining or processing or whatever you set them up to do so you didn’t have to stay logged on 24/7. But players get bored or whatever and these stations get abandoned.

Right now the only way to get rid of them is to shoot them. I said tough. It takes a small group of ships a couple of days of constant shooting. It takes a small fleet a bit less time. In the meantime they’re nuisances and potential threats – with the exact details depending on where its located.

Now what some players want is the ability to capture the ship. See, if you abandon a ship somewhere (not by logging out, but there are ways and necessities) and I fly up to it, I can jump out of my ship and into yours and now it’s mine. (And my previous is an abandoned ship just sitting there for someone to capture. Or for me to put in my hold if the sizes are right.) They don’t really want it to be as easy as jumping in, but they want to be able to capture it. The suggestions are using various existing tools.

And I flashed on my “I want”. Jump in with my assault team, clear the automated defenses on the way to the control station, possibly hack my way through self-destruct timers, and capture the base – or die trying (and end up in my clone a few star systems away).

Not going to happen, but it was a bit of a dream.

A little Eve

•April 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

There was a small furor over in Eve Online. Now that it’s (mostly) settled I will put in my two cents.

Good for CCP.

Here’s the deal. Eve Online’s got a somewhat deserved reputation for being a sociopath generator. Scams by players are (for the most part) legitimate. If I con you out of giving me access to your corporation bank account, you have no recourse if I then empty it. Needless to say there are a lot of scams, many targeting ignorance and greed. And when someone is targeted they get a mix of ridicule and commiseration – how much of each depending on who is on and who did it and a host of secondary issues.

But.

This fellow, goes by the game name of “Erotic 1″, used a fairly classic scam. The worm is to offer to double (or more) a chunk of money (ISK in Eve Online).

The scam works this way. That first offer is legit. When that worm is taken he offers to do it again, only this time to even more of the player’s wealth. Eventually the con’s offering to double the sucker’s entire account holdings, and that’s where the hook plays. Con gets the player’s stuff, and then keeps it. Or (and this is where things turn ugly, or uglier) plays mind games.

Now the scam pushes the limits of what CCP (Eve Online’s parent corporation) allows. And going to mind games, which is basically some sort of humiliation and/or harassment, crosses those limits. So to avoid the Terms of Service, Erotic 1 and his cohorts took the scam out of the game and into online talk (Teamspeak).

And there he and his cohorts proceeded to utterly humiliate the con. Among other things they had him singing songs that emphasized his speech impediment. All the while dangling the hook of returning his property. After about two hours of increasing humiliation and harassment the player snapped, swearing at and threatening Erotic 1 and his team. Yeah, ‘I’ll hunt you down and kill you’ types of threats.

And then as the cherry on top, Erotic 1 posted the whole session on soundcloud for public embarrassment. (Trigger and size warnings. Two and a quarter hours of bullies at play.)

A furor was raised, asking if this was ‘too far’. After some noise (some SERIOUS noise, with huge forum threads), CCP decided to permanently ban Erotic 1.

What saddens me is that roughly 20% of the posts in the thread were defending him. Defending on technicalities and slippery slope defenses and nature of the game defenses and, well, various defenses. What gladdens me is knowing that these people now know that those positions aren’t acceptable.

If you harass and bully someone by way of your Eve Online connection you are violating CCP’s terms of service. Take their in-game money and property, fine. Taunt, maybe. Trash talk, you’re skirting the edge depending on what you say. Act like you’re back in the schoolyard playing ‘keep the ball from Joey’ and ‘Dance monkey Dance’? Even if you took it to the curb outside the schoolyard, say bye-bye. CCP doesn’t want you trolling the yard for more victims.

Once more: Good for CCP.

World-building, cities and necessities

•March 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

One of the things that frequently causes me to stumble in fantasy worlds is too much reliance on “because magic”.

I can hand wave difficult to access locations, set aside a city that’s disproportionately full of magic weapon makers. But water and sewage cause me to wince and shudder.

Let’s start at the end. If you’re not fastidious and just let the waste run off down-hill, your city smells like a sewer. You have to deal with a bit less than 3/4 pound of solids per person (yes, really) and a bit less than half a gallon of urine per day. I promise that the urine is not enough to carry the solid, so you need some sort of movement system (whether flowing water in sewers, flowing water in canals, people who come and sweep it up – something).

Look, we all “know” that medieval Europe was filthy. People tossed the chamberpot into the open dirt street. ‘Better’ cities built platforms – sidewalks or boardwalks – in the better parts of town to keep feet out of the muck. Because these weren’t everywhere, women walked next to the building (pots were tossed, not dumped, so the effluvia didn’t hit the wall) and most men wore hats with brims. Lots of cultures developed the habit of ‘street shoes’ and slippers.

That’s really easy to do, actually. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Minoans had flush toilets in the 1500s BC. Yes, really. The Greeks had ewer and basin systems – the basin drains into the trough that runs under the toilet seat, and “who forgot to fill the ewer” wasn’t quite as plaintive as “who forgot to change the toilet paper”. The Roman sewer system, with public toilets and indoor plumbing, was something to envy hundreds of years later. Jerusalem in the time of Jesus had a sewage system, and all you have to do is read the Bible to know how important cleanliness was. And so on and so forth.

So that’s the end, what of the beginning?

You have to have water – a minimum of 3-5 gallons per person per day (average) for not just drinking but cooking and washing (plus a little for the animals). If you’ve got it the amount goes up to 30-50 gallons per day; it gets used for waste disposal and washing the house and a lot of other things. By the way, Rome at its height was doing this with water provided by aqueducts.

Well and streams and aqueducts are all possibilities to solve this beginning.

So I mention all this because far too many fantasy cities don’t have them. Oh, those on rivers are no problem. But dreamers have a habit of putting cities on mountainsides and in deserts, in far-away and exotic locales. If the story’s carrying me well enough I don’t care, but every so often I’ll get slapped out of the dream, and then that sort of thing makes it harder to get back in.

Weirdly enough, thinking about this sort of thing will help your city come alive even if nobody mentions going to the bathroom or washing their clothes. Because it’ll make it real in your mind, and you will carry that to your players.

Or such has been my experience.

Have fun.

World building

•February 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

(crossposted to my general discussion blog)

One of the peeves I keep as a pet is the frustration of world building. Over and over I see capitals and cities and such placed in locations that make no sense beyond “Isn’t this a neat spot.” Or worse, because it’s in the center. So I’m going to scratch the surface of world-building. Today: population centers.

Population centers developed because there was a reason to be there. The most common reason for this is trade. This is why just about every major city in the world in the 19th century or earlier was a port – either river or ocean.

I cannot tell you how often I see, and get annoyed by, rivers without cities and cities in the middle of nowhere with a river a couple days travel away.

Now there’s an interesting case on rivers that’s worth also noting, and that’s the ‘portage’ cities. Rivers have hazard zones – rapids and falls. If the water both above and below that hazard is navigable for any length by what’s considered ‘typical’ river transport then a village or perhaps a city will develop there. Provided, that is, the break is only a mile or two in length. Because distance matters.

We’re back to trade. Let’s go back to our ports. Now you’re going to draw a path from one to another that are not on the same coast or river. There are two rules.

1) The course is the easiest path.
2) Each segment should be one day’s travel. At that segment end make an evaluation as to what’s there.

One of the really annoying traits I see in fantasy maps (and to be honest think it’s a flaw in science fiction as well) is that roads are straight. They shouldn’t be, not between villages and towns and cities. They follow the easiest path – the one with the fewest and gentlest climbs, the one that has the best landmarks to avoid getting lost.

Will other, faster paths develop? Yes, but later. They’ll be put in for both trade and war, often because getting from point A to point E can be done in 3 days instead of 5 if a straight line is followed (and yes it means some of the older points whither). But as a rule they’re not going to get used by traders. Because traders don’t want to be caught outside.

So unless we’re on flat plains the road wiggles and curves such that the distance traveled is anywhere from half to 3/4 the straight-line crow’s-flight distance. And distance…

Distance is how far the traders can get in one day. Somewhere near that point an enterprising person will put a station – an inn, a feed store, a place for last minute “crap I forgot” items. Food suppliers will gradually gather round because there’s a market. Likewise suppliers of goods for those food suppliers.

Usually.

Sometimes the land just won’t support all those people. Or they can’t be protected from the dangers – both natural and man-made. Sometimes it’s just too far from the major city.

But we’ve got enough now to start drawing our maps. So let’s play a little.

Draw a wobbly line down one side of a sheet of paper. I’m going to recommend using hex or graph paper unless you just like calipers or a ruler but for our first run any paper will do. This wobbly line is the coast.

Pick eight spots on the wobbly line and mark them. These are harbors – natural places for boats to come to shore and be a bit protected from the full force of the ocean.

Draw two ‘rivers’ from somewhere on the non-coast side of the paper to a harbor – each to a different non-adjacent. On one river put a mark about 1/3 of the way up. On another make one about 2/3 of the way up. These are riverports, and we’re going to give each a reason to exist.

At the city closest to the coast we’re going to give one river a second tributary. Run it to just short of the non-coast side, and for this exercise make sure it’s toward one of the other rivers but doesn’t close more than 2/3 the distance.

A second river is going to be a ‘portage’ port. To reflect this, make a mark about an inch long that is roughly perpendicular to the river and which runs through the city mark. This is an escarpment mark so make it plainly different (shading, color, pattern, whatever works for you.

If you later do other cities on rivers there are other reasons to exist did other cities give them a reason as well. In addition to escarpment and crossroad there’s crossing point. If you do this make a mark upriver (and down if you want) that’s at least an inch long that reminds you it is /hard/ to cross the river there. Why is it hard? You can play with it later, but it might be speed or width or rough terrain or a bit of a canyon or, well, that’s for you and your story later. But we’re not doing that for now.

Now we can build several roads here. There’s the coastal road, the one that’s a bit inland of the coast but roughly parallels it. There is a road that parallels each river from seaport to riverport. This exists because while barging downriver is easy, sailing upriver is difficult and often either skipped or uses a tow. And there’s a road that will connect riverports.

Let’s make that last. We’re going to assume for giggles that it takes a day for a trade train to move an inch overland – in a perfect world. We’re going to make that world imperfect.

Let’s start with the port that’s at a river junction. Estimate the point upstream that is closest to the other riverport and make a mark. This is the ideal stopping point, whether wide spot or village to be determined later. There might be terrain reasons not to use it, however.

Now here’s where we enter a little randomness. Take two dice, each different colors. One is ‘distance’ and the other is ‘accuracy’. You’re going to build your road alternating from each end.

For distance it’s high-low. One inch or 3/4 inch. This applies whether following the tributory or cutting across the land.

For accuracy it depends on whether we’re following the tributory or not. If following the river, you will stop once your segment crosses the ‘closest approach’ point (don’t turn there, go through it) OR if you roll doubles with the distance/accuracy dice. For cross country you go straight unless you roll a 1 or a 6. If you do that move your end-point for that segment 1/4 inch toward the coast or inland respectively.

If you’re using graph or hex paper add one more wiggle – your line must go from center to center. 45 degree diagonals are acceptable, ‘jumping’ from center here to center that’s one over and two up is not. Of course if you’re doing this you can ‘explain’ the short by wiggling the line a bit more so it’s always a full inch.

Now as I said you’re going to alternate from each side of this route. And as a result unless you’re terribly lucky you’re going to find the ends don’t meet. No problem, keep going. You’re going to end up with a ‘split’ route as the two routes join twice.

The merge points WILL develop small communities. There will be a reason for two routes – lake, dense forest, rougher hills, etc. And since they grew organically they’ll make sense.

Congratulations, you have a road. You have places for inns and communities. And most important it is NOT a straight line.

Now, there are a lot more roads and reasons and I’ll be covering those in a bit. I’m also going to help ‘organically’ grow nations – though they’re going to tend to be more fantasy than sf. But we’ve got a first road technique for world building and the primary reason cities and villages exist, and I’m getting tired of hearing the sound of my own typing.

So for now, have fun.

 
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