Wednesday, 22 December 2010

For Those of You About to Die... Oh Never Mind

I had a plan and it was going to be glorious.

It was an ambitious concept that would have inspired a community and brought something new to EVE. It was also naive, foolhardy and doomed to failure. Here's what happened.

Recently, during a chat between regulars in the Old Pond Pub, one pilot, Wamphyrri, mentioned that he was flying around in a solo PvP Rifter that he wanted to test out. The problem with experimental solo PvP fits is that a proper field test can be difficult to find. Hunting for a genuine solo opponent that you can trust not to have friends lurking nearby can be time-consuming and fruitless pursuit. However, one of the benefits of our loose community in the Old Pond Pub is that such an opponent can be found there. Take note of that last sentence as it would later come back to haunt me.

After a brief chat about location, we arranged to meet in Amarr. Vsmit, another Old Pond Pub regular, also wanted in on some combat practice and headed over too. We chose Amarr as it was a trade hub with a plentiful supply of affordable ships and equipment to sacrifice in the name of combat practice. A good time was had by all and I lost a lot of Kestrels to the boringly superior Rifter which the other two pilots favoured.

It was a fun evening and one that gave inspiration to a grander idea: a travelling high-sec Gladiator Circus. It would be fantastic, we could move from mission-hub to mission-hub with an Orca packed with cheaply fitted frigates and invite local missioners and new players to try their hand at some risk-free PvP. We could keep some kind of leaderboard for regulars, run competitions, invite guest stars to fight all-comers. Imagine a one-night-only opportunity to have a shot at your (least?) favourite EVE celebrity.

The idea could evolve from there in a number of directions which I was excited to explore and with the (then) impending learning skill point reimbursement, I could insta-train for Orca piloting and start looking onto getting the scheme going straight alway. I fielded the idea to the good folk in the Old Pond Pub and the feedback was positive. Several pilots seemed quite attracted to the idea of being a celebrity combatant, others saw an opportunity to sell goods alongside the local spike that it would cause. I began to dream of a carnival atmosphere with friendly combat at it's centre. It would be a festival of combat, commerce, recruitment and comedy.

Come Incursion patch day part two, I began my search for the Orca that would be the pivotal centrepiece to the whole enterprise. To my dismay I found that overnight the Orca price in Jita had spiked from around 330million isk to nearly 500m isk. Perhaps the crafty marketeers had predicted increased interest due to the skill point reimbursement.

Unperturbed, I spread my net wider and began scouring nearby regions for a better deal. The best available was for 380m over in CONCORD-controlled high-security space. Oh well, it'd have to do, so I rushed over there, bought it and threw 1.5m of my unassigned skillpoints into being able to jump straight in.

On the journey over, I suddenly realised there was a problem. My route included a single system that was of Gallente sovereignty and they don't like me very much. This wasn't a problem in my Hawk assault frigate as I could breeze straight through before the Faction Navy appeared to give me a hard time, but something as big and slow as an Orca could be in trouble. Any other route would take me through low-sec, which was out of the question in an unescorted Orca.

Gallente space it was then - I needed to find out more about the sort of response I could expect from the Faction Navy forces that would appear. Would they scramble me? How much damage would the responding forces inflict? My enquiries remained unanswered in the Old Pond Pub and I didn't really want to advertise what I was about to attempt in too many other places.

I popped onto Singularity, experimented with a Drake in Gallente high-sec and soon determined that the response would be in the form of four faction vessels who would webify and inflict quite impressive damage but would not scramble. I felt that the Orca could easily withstand the damage in the time it would take to align and warp and the webifying would even help. But just to be on the safe side I would fit an Inertia Stabilizers to assist with the aligning and a Damage Control to boost the effective hitpoints.

Back in New Eden proper and I was prepared to run the gauntlet. I had decided to name the Orca 'The Free Boot', but would rename it on gladiatorial occasions as 'Big Top' to add to that circus feel. I stored my Hawk in the Orca's ship maintenance hangar and proudly headed out on the maiden voyage of the Orca that would bring consensual PvP to the masses.

As I slowly made my way through the six systems leading to the troublesome Gallente system of Synchelle I was feeling quite confident and pleased that I had been so thorough in my planning. I intended to dock in the system preceding the hostile one in order to scout ahead with my Hawk, ensuring there were no other surprises lurking in system.

However, as I came out of warp at the gate into Tar, I noticed a Jaguar assault frigate in my overview marked as a factional warfare target. How could he be here without being attacked by the faction police? Oh hang on, I'm not in Amarr space any more am I. In the space of one stomach lurch, my excitment and confidence was instantly replaced with a sinking realisation peppered with fear and frustration. I jumped and prayed.

My prayers went unanswered as the Jaguar followed me through, locked me and started chipping away at my shields. I attempted to gain some clarity of thought through the cloud of adrenaline that was now making my heart thunder in my chest. I engaged my Damage Control which would effectively double my hull hitpoints and attempted to drift back toward the gate. An Enyo assault frigate appeared and began to assist the Jaguar, which then warped off, presumably to get something capable of more damage.

I sent out a cry for help in the Old Pond Pub channel. There were only two others in there, neither of whom responded. It was then that I noticed that one of the pilots was a factional warfare enemy. How could I have been so stupid? I'd been chatting to all who would listen about my grand plan and my acquisition of an Orca, including a pilot who was undoubtedly feeding information about a juicy target to his FW colleagues. As the old war-time poster said, loose lips sink ships.

To compound my stupidity, it was at this point that I decided that the best survival tactic would be a 'logoffski'. I vainly hoped the enemy wouldn't be able to muster enough firepower to chew through early 180,000 hull hitpoints in fifteen minutes. I walked away from my desk fuming, but after thinking it through for a minute or two, came up with a possible solution. If I could make it to the gate and jump back through, I could then log-off whilst gate-cloaked and would not incur the 15 minute log-off penalty.

Alas, a return to the character selection screen five minutes later showed me to already be in my pod. By not being logged on, I'd negated the use of my Damage Control and halved my EHP. Annoyed with myself, I logged back in to take a look at the lossmail. As I was doing so, I realised too late that the Enyo was still there. I attempted to warp away in my pod but was destroyed, losing my +4 and missioning implants. I felt like facepalming myself until I bled. Instead I pretended to not be too bothered whilst explaining events to the now responsive Greenbeard, then politely logged and inwardly vowed never to play that stupid game again.

It's now five days later, I've had a lot of time to reflect and have had some inspiration for a number of future blogposts. Sadly, as a result of my sulk I missed a Blog Banter, which was a shame as I was looking forward to participating in that. But I reckon that only now can I just about get back in the pod without being too bitter. In fact, if my suspicions about how my Orca was entrapped are true, then all credit to those who had the patience and cunning to pull it off.

On this occasion I was the victim, and although it is only a game, it is this wicked web and the resultant extreme emotional responses that sets EVE apart from other online experiences. However, having had the wind thoroughly knocked out of my sails, I'm not sure if continuing to pursue to the 'Big Top' concept is a worthwhile cause. Any thoughts?

Whatever happens, I'll have to work on speeding up my HTFU cycle. Is there an implant for that?

Monday, 13 December 2010

Extreme(ly Stupid) Missioning: The Kestrel

Following on from my Caracal experiment and in the spirit of finding new and interesting ways to enjoy EVE Online's PvE content, my continued pursuit of foolhardy ship fittings to use in level 4 missions inevitably led me to the Tech 1 frigate.

If I'd had any sense, I'd probably have gone for one of the popular 'high-end' T1 frigates; the Caldari Merlin, the Amarr Punisher, the Gallente Tristan, or the PvP favourite - the ubiquitous Minmatar Rifter. But common sense is outlawed in the bars and clone vats of the Freebooted fraternity, so I used a Kestrel.

My skills favour Caldari in general and missiles specifically, so although the Merlin is more versatile and infinitely more capable at tanking than the Kestrel, using the Merlin wouldn't really be playing to my strengths. Also, this was an opportunity to test the new rocket tweaks and despite not being the top-of-the-line T1 Caldari combat frigate, the Kestrel is actually quite a good little ship. At least that's what I kept telling myself.

So I rolled the dice and asked my local agent for a mission. I got 'Massive Attack', which is no pushover as far as L4 missions go with it's multiple deadspace zones (I dislike the term 'rooms' as much as I avoid the term 'rats' - ironic or not, I play EVE because it's not a fantasy MMO, why make it sound like one?). The biggest issue was going to be my inability to dictate my position relative to enemy ships from the outset. Because of this, my loadout pretty much built itself: maximum speed, maximum damage and to hell with shield tanking. The Kestrel doesn't have the resources for all three anyway.

So off to the mission I warped, with my Tech-II launchers loaded with Thorn Rage rockets to take full advantage of the Kestrel's 10% kinetic damage bonus per level. I'd also brought along some EM missiles in case the Sansha's Nation ship resistances cancelled out the kinetic bonus advantage. The only protection I had was the speed of my microwarp drive making me an impossible target to hit and yes, I had checked to see if MWDs would work in this particular mission.

At least Kuvekei's boys had the good grace to break me in gently with a few frigates and destroyers waiting at the initial acceleration gate. I fired up the MWD with my default orbit set to 'in the face' and I was on them straight away with the Kestrel spitting rockets as fast as it's little launchers could go. The Succubus hulls began to explode in quick succession and I was pleased with the Kestrel's initial performance. However, my jubilance was a little premature as the enemy vessels achieved lock and began to evaporate my shield frighteningly quickly. I had to make a snap decision and broke orbit to put some distance between myself and the remaining enemy ships to allow the shields to recharge.

Arse! This Kestrel fit was aptly named; The Glass Shotgun was indeed made of glass. Despite being able to hit hard, it's fragile shield and armour was going to make surviving this mission a tall order.

The problem laid with my attempts at speed-tanking. Orbiting a target at speeds in excess of 2000m/s was a fairly effective way of preventing the target from hitting me, however my speed relative to the positions of other enemy ships wasn't so consistent. Conducting combat in a cloud of enemies meant that it was inevitable that at some points I would be heading straight toward or directly away from a hostile that was firing on me. This would result in my transversal velocity relative to that hostile being essentially zero for a brief moment. If that was the moment that the hostile fired, I was basically a high-speed sitting duck with a huge signature radius thanks to the MWD.

With my shields recharged, I burned back at the enemy, taking care to pick on the outliers first, pulling out to a safe distance if incoming fire became overwhelming. In that way I successfully whittled them down and cleared the area of hostiles.

I say successful, but I was under no illusions as to what lay on the other side of the acceleration gate that sat ominously before me. I knew that landing in the midst of a sizeable enemy force would result in a fly-versus-windscreen moment for the Kestrel if I attempted to stand and fight.

I recalled how I dealt with the same problem with the Caracal - Sansha's Nation tactics tend toward close range. If I could put some distance between myself and the hostiles, I could pick them off one by one. I needed to be using standard missiles.

I returned to station to refit for the new tactic wherein I intended to pick off the smaller ships at range with missile launchers (Custard Artillery EFT DPS: 137), then dock, refit and return with the higher DPS rocket loadout (Glass Shotgun EFT DPS: 204) to take out the battleships. Simple.

And it almost worked.

It all went to plan in the first deadspace pocket, with successful kiting of the smaller ships clearing the way for the Glass Shotgun configuration to survive the high-speed engagement of battlecruisers. I even tried destroying all of the larger ships with the Custard Artillery, but it was painfully slow.

The tactic worked in the second zone too, but the Centus Overlord battleship nearly caused me to give up as it's armour repair rate all but equalled my DPS. But eventually even he succumbed to the plucky Kestrel's relentless rocket barrage.

Bear in mind that by this time I had been working on this single mission for well over two hours and I still had one final deadspace pocket to go. I was getting tired and just wanted it to be over. In order to speed things up, I decided to forgo returning to station to adopt the Custard Artillery configuration and rashly charged on through the last acceleration gate in the Glass Shotgun.

Here I quickly learned that it was difficult to remain orientated when assorted sized vessels were bearing down on my position from three different directions whilst I endeavoured to spin around in high-speed circles. Kiting was a lot trickier when my effective range was now less than ten kilometres rather than forty.

I eventually managed to lure out and destroy the frigates, but the remaining cruisers huddled together forcing me to take dive-bombing strafing runs then pulling out under fire. A battleship loitered around by an asteroid station and I tried circumnavigating the cruiser pack to kill it, but every time I was forced away by the encroaching cruiser pack.

Suffice to say eventually I paid the price for my haste and a couple of lucky hits were all it took to strip me of my shields and put me well into armour. I attempted to burn away from the incoming fire but another couple of salvoes and the Glass Shotgun was shattered.

So in conclusion, although technically I didn't complete the mission in it's entirety (at least not in a Kestrel) I think I proved that it is possible to complete a level 4 combat mission in a T1 frigate. As long as you are very, very patient.

In the next installment, I'll tell you about the legend of the SSS Stupid: the Combat Mammoth.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Incursion Sweepstake

In the Old Pond Pub in-game channel, we're running a sweepstake on the January release date of the Incursion expansion. It's just a bit of fun and you are invited to join in. The pot is currently up to 72 million isk but there's room for plenty more bets.

The basic rules are as follows:
  • One bet per character.
  • 1m isk increments per bet.
  • Bets may be placed on a single date by multiple characters, but every subsequent bet costs 1m more than the last. For example if Bill has 1m on 15th, it will cost you 2m to bet on the same date.
  • The up-to-date bets will be displayed in the OLD POND PUB channel and at the bottom of this post. Please check there before submitting a bet, as your desired date may require a higher stake than the initial 1m.
  • Bets should be sent to Seismic Stan with date choice in wallet 'reason' or in a mail.
  • CCP's official announcement of a January release date will close betting.
  • The prize pot will be divided equally amongst the winners.
We ran similar competitions for the previous two dates, but both times the prize-pot ended up unclaimed, so we've rolled the prize-pot over again to the January segment and are looking to fill more dates to prevent the same thing from happening.

Come and have a punt. There's plenty of unclaimed dates left and I don't really want to have to organise another competition to get rid of the cash.

January Incursion Release Predictions
(Winning date announced on the Official Incursion website)

Sat 1st - 343guilty1 (1m)
Tue 4th - Indiego Montoya (1m)
Fri 7th - korleena muran (1m)
Sat 8th - haav0c (1m)
Sun 9th - feilx10 (1m)
Mon 10th - Vsmit (1m)
Tue 11th - BobTheExcavator (1m), Adrielle Firewalker (2m)
Wed 12th - Merinne (1m)
Thu 13th - Herschel Yamamoto (1m), Istari Silver (2m)
Fri 14th - Nashh Kadavr (1m)
Sat 15th - Inara Baggins (1m), Aneesa (2m), Agent Smitty (3m)
Sun 16th - Commander Phoenix (1m)
Mon 17th - Mike Azariah (1m), Cyberin (2m)

Tue 18th - DoraTheExploder (1m), wamphyrri (2m), Cossity (3m) <-- WINNERS PAID 24m EACH

Wed 19th - Seismic Stan (1m), Flumer (2m)
Thu 20th - Kasmira Dufay (1m)
Sat 22nd - Teh Bear (1m)
Mon 24th - paritybit (1m)
Tue 25th - Breal D'nie (1m), Shinseki (2m)
Wed 26th - Greenbeard (1m)

CURRENT PRIZE POT: 72,000,000 isk

If this style of competition proves popular, we'll make it a regular feature of Freebooted and the Old Pond Pub channel.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

My Name is Stan and I am an Addict

On Monday in the UK, the BBC's flagship investigative TV show, Panorama, covered video game addiction. I watched it with interest, expecting yet another media-mauling of the digital satan that is online gaming, but I was surprised and pleased that it was a relatively balanced and reasoned piece of journalism.

The show was only thirty minutes long and as such only really skimmed the surface of the issue. Although it's primary focus was on the impact of video gaming amongst young Europeans, there was some coverage of the more sensationalist occurrences in South Korea that have resulted in death which should serve to elicit some knee-jerk reactions from the Daily Mail reading parents. I feel sorry for their kids, who were probably dragged off to the child psychiatrist as the result of asking for an X-Box Kinect for Christmas.

However, the message that I think Panorama was aiming for was one of concern at the hidden and misunderstood nature of addiction to online games. I believe the cause is just and I should know; when I'm not being Seismic Stan, Freebooter, Capsuleer and proud member of the EVE-Online blogging community, I am a thirty-five year-old husband and Healthcare Professional whose primary hobby is playing computer games.

I would freely admit that there are times when I do not get the balance between those two existences right. In fact, this blog came about as a result of me needing to justify, to myself and others, the time I spent playing online and the lack of anything tangible to show for it. The hours spent playing internet spaceships does raise questions, but does all time need to be productive? And who is to say that time spent playing video games is not of some value.

As Panorama mentioned, there are benefits to video-gaming over "passive media", like television. Video games offer forms of mental stimulation, education and hand-to-eye co-ordination that television cannot compete with. So for all those ageing gamers, if a crossword-a-day keeps dementia away, you should be fairly safe from synaptic degradation. Additionally, video games are a valid form of relaxation and stress management and they are also far more sociable now, allowing people to communicate across the globe.

However, anything done to excess is unhealthy; repetitive or excessive exercise can damage joints and tear ligaments, over-eating leads to obesity, too much alcohol leads to alcoholism, too much telly-watching makes you admire Jeremy Kyle/Doctor Phil, etcetera, etcetera.

The point which Panorama flirted with but ultimately side-stepped was that the excessive playing of video games is the symptom rather than the root cause of the problem. There are many factors that contribute to an individual's behaviour and for those seeking the ultimate form of escapism, people have to consider what it is they are trying to escape. Granted, in most cases it's chores/homework/responsibility/inlaws, but behavioural disorders are not created by video games, they are simply magnified by them.

In my case I have to admit I'm a bit of a lazy responsibility-dodger and EVE Online is just the most attractive chore-avoidance tool, but generally I manage my time effectively enough to juggle more than one ball. I have a happy marriage and a rewarding career, so I must be doing something right. Although I am rubbish at EVE Online.

The Panorama programme did seem to focus more on World of Warcraft players (there are more of them after all) and I suspect that the EVE Online demographic is slightly different, however the demands of our chosen digital world are similar and perhaps even a little more insidious.

I'd be interested to hear from you on this subject. How do you feel about your video gaming time? Do you feel you are disciplined with your playing hours or do you let external forces govern you? Or is real-life just getting in the way of your next planned fleet op?

Are you an addict?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

If Only

When I saw the first of these screenshots on the EVE-O forums, I got very excited by the possibility of customisable ships. It seemed like a logical progression from character customisation given the advanced nature of the new technology. A comment in the latest Devblog seemed to support this;

"Then I needed a picking mechanism, something to allow me to click the face, and have it react. It turns out that Eve ships can tell me where they've been clicked, with UV coordinates. That's very handy, since they're in the same rendering framework and the method could easily be "borrowed"." - CCP Ph00ze

The forum scuttlebutt seemed to suggest that this would be part of the promised 'surprise' that would be included in the Incursion expansion. There were cries of controversy when 'Plex Credit' was spotted in the lower left of the following image, but this seemed to add to the credibility of the images being leaked from an official source.

However an official response from a CCP representative was soon forthcoming as CCP Atropos broke ranks to point out apparent technical errors in the first image;

"I'll give it a 4/10. Things that jump out at me are: font, bevelling, fourth image weirdness, engine trail (it would be a point light not a 128x128 texture). Also, because I know what the surprise is!" - CCP Atropos

Alas, if there was any doubt that this was anything more than a hoax by a very talented artist, it was put to bed in hilarious fashion by this last image.

Now that would definitely have attracted a new demographic to EVE.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Extreme(ly Stupid) Missioning: The Caracal

As you may or may not have figured out from the subtext of my previous post, I recently lost my missioning Raven to a random act of stupidity. Rather than replace it or upgrade to a better ship, I thought I would compound my stupidity by attempting to complete level four combat missions in increasingly inappropriate vessels.

This was largely inspired by the recent rocket improvements and the modified Hawk Assault Frigate. I had previously tried to kill NPC battleships in a Hawk but found the damage output to be inadequate to the task. I'm pleased to report that the Hawk is now quite capable of taking down battleships whilst tanking it's way through level four combat missions, although it's quite a slow process. One Centus Overlord in an Amarrian battleship hull was armour-repairing almost as quickly as I was damaging him with salvoes of Gremlin Rage rockets. Whether I was carrying enough ammo fast became the concern.

The eventual success of my Assault Frigate experiment made me wonder what other ships could make level four missions more challenging. I decided I needed to go balls-out and use a tech 1 ship so I opted for a Caracal cruiser. This came with interesting challenges as the Caracal is not exactly renowned for it's tanking ability, something which is pretty key for missioning survival. I realised the key to the Caracal's missioning was range, a bit of a problem when many missions dump you right in the middle of the action.

Sure enough, the first mission I accepted ('Cargo Delivery' I believe) did exactly that and worse still 'natural phenomena' prevented the use of a microwarp drive. With shields instantly stripped and armour evaporating, I had to bail pretty quickly for a rethink. The rate at which I was locked and fired upon by the enemy fleet led me to suspect that cruiser afterburner speeds weren't going to be enough to get me beyond their kill-zone.

Time for some crazy.

So I strapped a battleship afterburner to the Caracal and hoped for the best. A quick speed test outside the station showed it to be just as effective as a cruiser-sized MWD, but with the added benefit of no signature bloom. The major disadvantage was the fact that the monstrous CPU and powergrid demands meant that I couldn't run any weapons systems.

This did not deter me. I plunged back into the mission and screamed away from the beacon under a sky filled with laser fire and missiles. Initial shield impacts failed to be followed up as I sped beyond their optimal ranges and to the safety of a 100km+ orbit. Haha, now I could... well, make rude gestures at them as that was about the limit of my offensive capabilities.

In hindsight, the process of powering down the battleship afterburner and onlining the cruiser equivalent, five missile launchers and a sensor booster would have been much quicker with the installation of a capacitor booster. Oh well. After ten minutes or so I started raining hot missile destruction down on the helplessly distant fleet and the mission, and my experiment, was soon a success.

In the next installment, I'll tell you how my attempts to use a lowly Kestrel frigate to complete a multi-roomed level four combat mission went.