Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Null-Sec: There and Back Again

May 2011: Split Infinity is the tiny blue blob above the 'r' in Authorities. Note the vast swathes of green and the lack of red.

Six months ago I resolved to lead my corporation into null-sec for the experience, as described in the earlier post Null-Sec: The Final Frontier. That experience, for some at least, is now over.

After years of playing EVE it was one of the few gameplay aspects I had yet to truly take part in. It is the portion of EVE's social and design dynamic that sets it apart from all other MMOs, with organisations of thousands of players working with shared purpose, the opportunity to participate in organised fleet combat comprising hundreds of players and the chance to be part of New Eden's player-made history.

Casual Players LFG

Our odyssey was to be a grand experiment, with our merry band of six or so casual players naively heading into the lawless void. The first barrier for entry was our small size. Due to the need for organisational efficiency, most null-sec alliances demand all pilots be part of a large corporations with membership in the hundreds. Fortunately, I had met some great folk at FanFest who had recently started a null-sec alliance based on much more casual ideals and Split Infinity accepted Greenbeard's Freebooters into their ranks.

So our adventure began with the daunting task of trying to get ourselves and our useful assets down into deep null-sec whilst trying to understand the mechanics, the politics and the language of null-sec. For example, in null-sec “blue” does not mean “sad” or “filthy”. Except when it does. I'll try to relate some of those lessons here, hopefully avoiding confusing any not versed with null-sec jargon. Anyway, with the help of our new alliance compatriots we managed to get everything moved, but not without some hiccups, as detailed in Null-Sec: Getting There, a Cautionary Tale.

Understanding the Environment

Split Infinity [SI.] had been formed by Quivering Palm and Luminous Aardokay of The Planet Risk Show fame and, with the sponsorship of Alexseyev Kardde's infamous Noir Mercenary Group, were sovereignty holders of a single station system deep in Against All Authorities [-A-] territory. The null-sec environment that Split Infinity enjoyed was relatively peaceful, with hostile fleets rarely roaming that deep into -A- territory. The nearest hostile neighbours were apparently some Russian alliance called White Noise, but they'd popped up north to get some milk or something and were rarely home.

I'd managed to organise our corporation enough to establish a base of operations in the form of a moon-orbiting Starbase [POS] with storage and manufacturing facilities to make us relatively self-sufficient. There was no office space available at the station and our landlords, Noir, wanted 60million ISK per month which, at the time seemed extortionate. Most of our active members had each managed to get a clone set up in the local station and we soon began to participate in alliance activities. There were regular roams, constant anomaly PvE gangs and assorted other organised events to participate in.

Excuse Me Boris, Is Anyone Sitting Here?

Just as soon as we'd settled in, we discovered our protective mother alliance, Against All Authorities, had decided that as White Noise and friends had been so long getting the milk maybe they'd moved out and no longer wanted their systems. Suddenly we were on a war footing and our alliance was being called upon to provide numbers for various offensive operations as we assisted -A- in an opportunistic land-grab. Exciting stuff, now we would finally get to see some of those legendary huge fleet clashes. If only I could fight off the threat of burn-out from my immigration efforts. More detail on this period can be found in Null-Sec: Chasing Goalposts and Dodging Burnout.

I was disappointed to discover that these much-vaunted fleet fights mostly involved fleets of hundreds of battleships hammering stationary structures whilst waiting for the owners to turn up to defend, which they never did. If enemy scouts reported our fleet had numbers greater than they could handle, nothing happened. This was invariably the case as White Noise's military might, along with all the other Russian alliances, were busy invading more valuable territory on the far side of the cluster.

On one occasion, I received an email detailing a very secretive Call to Arms [CTA] at 2am promised to deliver exactly the kind of legendary battle that I had been hoping for. Knowing that a 2am muster meant that nothing was likely to happen for at least an hour and then would go on for several hours after, I decided against my better judgement to sacrifice a night's sleep just this once. After much 'mustering' we eagerly obeyed instructions that led us to the system where... we proceeded to shoot at iHubs and other sovereignty structures. The whole operation had been pimped up to ensure high attendance! I was not pleased.

The Pot of Gold at the End of the Jump-Bridge

However, aside from ridiculous demands from distant organisations, null-sec life was good, both socially and in terms of gameplay. Logging onto the alliance Teamspeak server would always result in finding some interesting characters to chat with and it was as comfortable as popping into your local pub for a pint. The PvE gameplay content in null-sec was challenging, with tough-as-nails exploration sites, sanctum anomalies and 'escalations' (expeditions in your journal). There was a sense of total freedom and a much truer sandbox feel. Every time I logged in I could spend my time any way I chose, I had access to it all (except agent missions, but even they were only a clone jump away).

It was just as rewarding to see some of the Freebooters becoming increasingly involved in alliance activities, particularly my own sister Lozyjoe and her husband Caveat. Both being relatively new to EVE, they had initially been very reluctant to take the plunge into null-sec as they were still getting to grips with the gameplay basics. However, as time went on, they became more and more comfortable and it wasn't long before I was asking them for hints and tips on null-sec survival. As EVE players they truly came of age.

Our antics even managed to attract a few new recruits, although most of them soon realised that we didn't really know what we were doing and cleared off to more organised outfits. It was unfortunate then, what those who stayed had to endure next.

The Bitter End

In truth, I missed most of the collapse of Split Infinity due to being variously attending EVE Vegas, chilling out on the banks of the Dordogne or finding other domestic pursuits (read: playing World of Tanks). But on reflection, the signs had been there for a while.

Prior to my departure for my summer holidays, I was privy to some awkward and distasteful alliance leadership meetings that resulted in one of Split Infinity's cornerstone corporations being asked to leave. Let's say it was due to creative differences, because I never really did understand what it was all about. I should probably have read the alliance forums more thoroughly. This left the remaining members to take over the significant contributions that the departing corporation used to make, which put increasing demands on fewer individuals who nonetheless stoically toiled on.

It was whilst I was in France I had a brief Jabber conversation with one of the other alliance CEOs who warned me of the possible need to evacuate null-sec. White Noise and co. had returned, found -A- and friends sleeping in their beds and they weren't taking it well. As a result, -A- were making increasing demands of their vassal alliances in order to mount a defence. Split Infinity was already weakened by the loss of it's industrial spine and on top of that, our alliance top-man had taken his leave for a month and left subordinates in charge.

It soon became very apparent to our hosts, Noir, that all was not well at Chez Split Infinity. There was a brief period where Alexseyev Kardde and co. moved into our home system and attempted to rally the despondent SI denizens with some rousing/demanding emails and operations. But presumably the response was not enough and it was not long before Split Infinity was invited to leave, allowing more capable defenders to man what was fast becoming the front line as the Russian steamroller trundled ever closer.

I was still largely absent during the evacuation and I owe a great deal of thanks to members of the BSC Legion who ensured that all of the Freebooters assets found their way back to high-sec. They, more than any, carry the spirit of all that was good about Split Infinity with them. I say this not just because they are a good bunch, but also because they managed to absorb many of the active pilots from other SI corporations into their ranks, including the Freebooters. For their information, I'm considering their recruitment of the two most active Freebooters as payment and thanks in full. ;) In truth, I'm glad that Lozyjoe and Caveat have found a home with BSCL, they are an organised and active outfit who are a fine example of what EVE is really about. I'm hoping to acquire an alt character myself so I can participate in their ongoing activities.

What remains of the Freebooters is now scattered across high-sec and the Old Pond Pub has become the last refuge of the unwanted few. Whilst I contemplate my next move in New Eden, I will reflect on my null-sec experience.

Reflections

Null-sec can be rewarding, but it makes you work for it. For me, the most frustrating aspect of EVE's gameplay is the amount of preparation and work required to experience anything fun. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in null-sec. This is not a problem for those that enjoy the “reward over fun” gameplay elements (ie. elements that involve lots of repetition and waiting), but for the casual player looking for a quick bit a space action, null-sec is a headache. That is unless you're prepared to be a total freeloader, which won't ingratiate you with your new alliance-mates.

I admire the dedication of those players prepared to make null-sec work, but for me the cost is too high. I don't want to dance to the tune of some faceless power-player who expects 3am CTAs to be taken seriously and I don't want to feel guilty that I'm letting my alliance down by not pulling my weight.

I like that null-sec Sov wars take place, but I'm happier reading about them than I am taking part in them. It's not what the best of EVE is to me.

So why do I miss it?

September 2011: Oh dear. Split Infinity is over-extended and -A-'s green belt is looking awfully red.

4 comments:

  1. Sounds like you were in a horrible alliance. Find a nullsec alliance that doesn't have CTAs, doesn't charge rent, and doesn't treat their members like vassals. Nullsec is amazingly fun but not the way you experienced it.

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  2. I wouldn't describe Split Infinity as horrible, they were a good bunch with good intentions. It was the circumstances that left something to be desired.

    The problem, I think, lays with the lack of opportunity for new null-sec alliances. Noir gave SI a rare opportunity to hold Sov, but sadly it didn't work out. As I understand it, CTAs are a fact of life if you wish to keep hold of your space and vassal protectorates (pets) are the norm.

    In this instance, the established alliances proved that null-sec is no place for rookie alliances with a casual mind-set. Only full-time professionals need apply.

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  3. In my opinion 0.0 is much overhyped as THE endgame in EVE. But there are so many other interesting niches, where you can live and prosper as a small corporation of casual players and have lots of fun. Wormhole space is one example of this. It combines the dangers and opportunities of 0.0 space and (depending on the class of the WH), is not far away from highsec. Wormhole space is also ideal as a training ground for newbies and offers great opportunities for small gang pvp. And you don't have to deal with alliance bullshit, CTAs and stuff like that.

    I live in a C2 wormhole with my corporation and it's really very much fun - lots of PvP, great income from anomalies, reaction POSses, mining ABC-ore - it's all there. If there happen to be quite times, we just hop into highsec and do some missions or other stuff.

    Let's hope that CCP won't nerve W-space along with the much anticipated 0.0 revamp.

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  4. I guess now we know what happened to Planet Risk podcasters, they got crushed in nullsec. That is unfortunate, I really enjoyed that show.

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Lay it on me.