Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Epic Fleet Battles? I Think Yulai

Sunday night was to be an epic event to usher in the Incursion era; the complex strands of intricate planning leading up to a theatrical set piece involving hundreds of players taking place on the doorstep of CONCORD headquarters in high security space.

Clues as to the time and date had apparently been gleaned from previous live events and a forum thread on the official EVE site started by the chief antagonist, Master Kuvakei himself, suggested that the apolitical policing hand of CONCORD was the King to the four Empires' princes, and one that Sansha's Nation intended to behead.

There was a surprisingly palpable sense of mounting anticipation in the hours preceding the event given that it was conveyed through the medium of the text channel. I was monitoring a number of channels, each filled with players who were busily organising fleets and muster points. It was exciting in the way that the minutes before the Rebel Alliance's assault on the Death Star was in A New Hope. I'm sure there was equally feverish voice-comms chatter going on too, but as I was at my sister's house and they'd just managed to cobble together the means for both of us to log on, we had no voice-comms facility.

Our very own ad-hoc squad got thrown together in the Old Pond Pub, with several waifs and strays who could find/didn't want to be in a 'proper fleet' stumbling over to the alleged target system, Yulai. Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mister Sansha indeed. Long Jack was already in position, reporting on the rising local numbers. I was heading in the SSS Stupid combat mammoth filled with modules and Kestrels to give me some cheap frigate options. Lozyjoe followed and Teh Smit and Craftsman 074 were meeting us there. We didn't have a plan. Most of us had not yet managed to attend a live event and were just curious to see what happened.

I arrived in system with at least a thousand others in local. I'd had the foresight to take necessary client lag reducing measures (turning off HUD brackets and effects, reducing graphics quality) and the node seemed to be coping. Having never been involved in EVE's legendary 1000+ player fleet fights, I was interested to see what the experience would be like. Clearly CCP must be confident about the technology and hardware to stage this event in an area where newer, less fanatical (and therefore less forgiving) players may get involved.
 
I docked up and threw together a disposa-frigate, managing to rendezvous with the squad members outside the CONCORD Bureau station at Yulai IX. I warped in just in time to see some purple text appear in local chat. But then it was gone before I could read it as many of the one-and-a-half-thousand players in system attempted a witty retort/banal comment/childish ascii art. I scrolled up to see it was from Kuvakei himself:

Master Kuvakei > Greetings.
...then 45 seconds and a hundred idiots later...

Master Kuvakei > Do not think I do this without respect for capsuleers and their achievements.
It would've been a fantastically immersive piece of showmanship if only there was a way to prevent the text from disappearing in the deluge of replies. Between attempting to co-ordinate the squad, update other Old Pond Pub regulars and investigate a hoax Titan sighting in-system, I was struggling to keep up with the Kuvakei narrative. Credit to Calathea Sata for gathering them up and republishing them in this forum post.

Master Kuvakei > Today, I will show you the light, all of you.
Master Kuvakei > Tell me now, how numerous is my Nation among you? FOR NATION!
There was probably some roleplaying going on in local in reply to this, but I'd stopped trying to read it at this point and was trying to make sense of the wider game experience whilst coaching my sister. 

Master Kuvakei > You see, capsuleers, you are in the presence of true greatness.
Master Kuvakei > I will give you all a moment to reflect upon the weakness of your separate minds.
Master Kuvakei > Do you see how confused you are? How you squabble and bicker. How there is no unity to your voice?
Master Kuvakei > All shouting, none listening.
See? Even he was getting pissed off with the idiots in local.

Master Kuvakei > I must admit, I am enjoying this.
Yeah, right, you're not kidding anyone baldy.

Master Kuvakei > For your sake, I hope your fleet is better prepared than your voices.
Master Kuvakei > You'll need it...
Then a wormhole was reported at the sun so I warped the squad there. The first thing I spotted was a huge player fleet of assorted vessels and sitting beyond them, some 200km away was the wormhole and what I at first took to be an environmental effect surrounding the wormhole. But that was no moon... er, I mean cloud but an armada of Nightmare battleships and support craft. Suddenly, I was impressed. Right up until I tried to do anything, then the lag monster started to drag us down.

The giant space-turd that is the Sansha Revenant supercarrier appeared through the wormhole and we engaged. Well, by engaged I mean that I told my Kestrel to orbit a target and fire all missiles, whereupon the green module cycle appeared to happen but my ammuntion didn't deplete. Lozyjoe, sitting right next to me flying her Punisher via her laptop, soon discovered mashing the F1 key seemed to make damage notifications appear, but there was no way of knowing if the target was receiving the damage as the target damage indicator didn't seem to be being updated. I had no idea how the other squad members where getting on at this point, but the disconnection of two of them didn't bode well.

Other supercarriers were reported at different planets and we tried warping to those, but the situation was the same or worse; friendly ships crowded around the Sansha supercarriers, like us presumably wondering if they were firing and/or doing any damage. More purple text had appeared in local, but was drowned out by the endless complaints about lag that was crippling everyone's game experience.

Eventually the supercarriers were destroyed and it seemed to be all over, but even this was unclear as it's disappearance could have just as easily been a further symptom of lag. Long Jack had managed to reconnect and take part toward the end as the lag eased slightly, but I think we were unanimous in declaring our first large fleet experience one we would not wish to repeat. That the node 'held out' may be considered a success by some, but it certainly was not entertaining. I don't doubt that it is a technological achievement, but to a consumer that means nothing.

In conclusion,  I was left feeling bitterly disappointed. It is fortunate for me that I enjoy EVE for many reasons other than large-scale combat, but I cannot understand why CCP have persistently marketed EVE as offering huge sci-fi fleet battles in so many of their promotional videos, if those battles are as underwhelming and poor a gaming experience as this was.

Up until recently these over-capacity fleet fights generally only ever took place deep in null-sec, where few newer players were likely to suffer the early crushing of their expectations. I had read about such lag-fests, and despite the poor experience, null-sec alliance members seemed to accept it as a means to an end, but now it seems they will be regularly available for all players to experience. Is this really a good marketing move?

I just hope that the regularly generated incursions will be a better experience, because any new players that had been attracted by the new PvE content may be sorely disappointed when they get their first 'soul crushing lag' pop-up.

It's a bit like finding a fingernail in a pork pie. Would you take another bite?

3 comments:

  1. I had the wonderful experience of my first bluescreen. Once I logged back in, I got to spend 20mins trying to make my ship do... well, anything at all actually. The highlight for me? The awesome chat on voice which, ironically had no lag whatsoever.

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  2. As a null sec denizen, I'm happy that CCP have done this.... as oddly enough they have made the rod for their own back, even bigger than it was.

    No longer is it just us in the big null sec coalitions screaming foul, but all of eve.

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  3. I doubt there will be any more big battles like that in highsec. CCP can't afford to show the average pilot how laggy the game gets.

    However, I'm pleased that you dirty highsec carebares lived a day in my nullsec lives. Muahahah.

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Lay it on me.