Thursday, 31 March 2011

Fanfest Flashback: The Cult of EVE


“Is EVE real?”

It was the question posed to me by CCP StevieSG during my interview for EVE TV. Like most men being questioned by an attractive woman, I attempted a response that was intended to be both funny and clever, and failed to achieve either. The truth was, I didn't really understand the question. It was after all a mind-expandingly broad concept. So I'll attempt to address it properly here.

On opening the Fanfest brochure, the words 'Eve is real' are the first to be found, it is the title of CCP CEO Hilmar Petursson's introduction. Clearly, this is a concept that CCP have given some thought to and are pushing on many levels. I realise that the shallowest interpretation is as a clear reference to the introduction of human player avatars in the forthcoming Incarna expansion, but the rabbit hole goes much, much deeper.

Celtic Tribes

My experience at this year's Fanfest left me quite taken aback at the absolute passion and dedication that many players have. Inadvertently straying into the Goon-filled Celtic Cross bar on my first night in Rekyjavik allowed me to witness the tribal unity of an alliance first-hand. Striking up conversations with them always solicited a question along the lines of “who do you fly with?”. This seemed very important to them. I enjoyed a number of chats with both Goons and other null-sec alliance members that night and one thing became clear – EVE was a huge presence in their lives. Their existence as EVE players and, almost more importantly, as members of their alliance validated them in the real world. It certainly gave them worth at Fanfest.

For these folks, EVE was very real. It was something they ate, slept and breathed. For many, they thought nothing of setting their alarms in the middle of the night to join a military operation with their alliance-mates from the other side of the world. When I talk EVE to my friends or work colleagues who might occasionally enjoy a game on the Wii, they clearly consider me a hardcore gamer. Yet in the eyes of these professional EVE players, I may as well have told them that I play MarioKart for a living, I was that far from their definition of hardcore.

How Do You Eve Yours?

If nothing else, the experience made me realise how subjective the concept of being a hardcore gamer is. Take a look at the following scale, what kind of EVE player would you describe yourself as?

Casual → Professional → Hardcore → Fanatical

Now what if we were to ask your partner, your family or your work colleagues? Would they agree with your assessment?

As for how 'real' EVE is for you, how much does it feature in your real life? Does your EVE experience simply stop when you log off from the Tranquility server? Or do you browse the forums and read blogs from work? Do you monitor your character and skills from your smartphone? Do you think about ship fittings/tactics/roams whilst travelling to work? Do you wonder whether that passing SUV has a shield or an armour tank or speculate about which passing haulage vehicles are carrying high value cargo?

The reality of EVE is a matter of perspective. For Hilmar, it represents his life's work, it's something that he started with a few friends over a decade ago and has since become a huge success. For him, EVE is the building blocks of his reality. For a CCP employee it is their source of income and their day job, so EVE unavoidably occupies a portion of their reality.

For the player, it's not so clearly defined. EVE is (just) a game. Purely a form of digital entertainment with no end purpose or real-world impact. So how could it possibly be real for the player? Because, although it doesn't pay the bills, EVE does have a real-world impact for players. Whether that is a positive or a negative impact is the real question. Are you prepared to sacrifice your game achievements for the real world? or does it work the other way around? How grounded is your sense of perspective?

Market Community

EVE, probably more than any other game, relies on community. It is a very human trait to unite for mutual benefit and EVE's game design is fundamentally built around that concept. Players join together to increase their chances of success in virtual profit and war. The more proficient and active the members, the greater the benefit for the community. Some community members rise to elevated positions due to their contributions and become increasingly respected and valued. Leaders and celebrities are made.

CCP has gone to great lengths to nurture and encourage these communities and has been rewarded with EVE's continued growth and success as a result. With yearly Fanfests, we see these virtual communities invited to take a pilgrimage to Iceland to unite in reality, further cementing their bonds. Indeed, by this point, the communities seeded within EVE Online will have grown far beyond a shared fondness of digital spaceships.

What unites these people and keeps them together is little short of religion.

I'm sure this will bring cries of 'tinfoil-hattery', but it is not intended as an accusation nor a judgement. In the development of any culture, shared rituals, behaviours and beliefs are inevitable. Various dictionary definitions of the word “religion” exist, but look it up and see for yourself how applicable it is to many of the more dedicated EVE player communities.

Hilmar Petursson even describes the attendees of this year's Fanfest as “the evangelists of EVE”, upon whom he is relying “to spread the word to newcomers, and to those who have since left us.”  During his 'CCP Presents' sermon, he incited the congregation into a fervour and had them chanting in unison. In a previous post, I wrote;

The real pay-off came at the end with a blisteringly, awe-inspiringly epic teaser trailer for the EVE/Incarna/Dust514 link-up. It was so good that when it had finished, a sole heckler who demanded that we see it again was instantly backed up by an agreeable rumble from the entire audience. CCP CEO Hilmar Petursson questioned whether there was time, but said that we'd have to stand up and give him three "fuck yeahs" for him to consider it. This was an odd juncture for me; up until that moment, I had been attempting to maintain a degree of dignified distance from the fanaticism surrounding EVE, but right then I would have stood up alone and bellowed his expletives at him. However I stood and bellowed, not alone, but in unison with everyone around me, every voice filled with the same joyous determination. So the mob got it's wish and high-priest Hilmar looked genuinely moved (or possibly terrified, I can't be sure).

The Answer

Ultimately, a religion is a belief system which shapes behaviour, guides morality and unites individuals into communities. It is also a powerful sales tool. Given what I have witnessed at Fanfest, there are many for whom EVE has become an almost dogmatic way of life. If that is their choice, more power to them and those who control them. Personally, I hope to perfect the art of the long-term casual EVE player, even if that is frowned upon.

So to answer StevieSG's question, "Is EVE real?" 

EVE is as real as you want it to be, but that is a double-edged sword. However if you are in the market for a new religion, the Way of the Exploding Ship is certainly worth consideration.


Monday, 28 March 2011

Fanfest Journal: Day Three Overview

Due to the excesses of the previous night, I was a little worse for wear and failed to mobilise in time for the first few roundtables. This was a shame as I was looking forward to meeting Zapatero at the EON Magazine roundtable. Before launching EON, he used to be Richie Shoemaker of PCZone, a cancelled magazine that I have only just come out of mourning for. Only now could I consider committing to another magazine subscription.

PVP Finals
When I finally shambled into the conference centre in the early afternoon, I headed for the darkest corner where I nursed my sore head whilst watching the PvP finals. I watched with a vague interest as some coloured squares moved around on a giant screen whilst tiny 'x's whizzed about. Occasionally there were some flashing lights, then somebody won. I just don't think EVE works as a spectator sport with the current camera tools and, unless the commentators actually commentate about events as they happen to make up for the visual shortfall, it's a fairly confusing and meaningless viewing experience. Congratulations to the winners though, especially on winning those spoofy Alienware notebooks.

CCP Presents
Whilst waiting for the doors to open, an ad-hoc fansite fleet gathered at the entrance to the main hall and a plan was formed to obtain some good seats for the most anticipated presentation of the Fanfest. Song Li and Marcel Devereux were the lightfooted interceptors who would block either end of one row and light the cyno, allowing the bigger, slower ship classes to jump in. Apparently I was bait and had to hold off the baying hordes at the gate to buy everyone else time, thanks for that fellas. It was an effective tactic and we got the fourth row, right behind VETO corp. We were starting to feel like real paparazzi with Crazy Kinux, Quivering Palm and Luminus Aardokay, Manasi, Keith Neilson, Boris Hotch, and Alexseyev Kardde all joining us. We'll be forming a union soon.

The presentation itself went on for two hours but was very entertaining with a number of comedy video skits. The NVIDIA vice president made reference to a joke made yesterday about there being knives under the chairs. Now apparently there were under a few and whoever found them would win a high end graphics card. Congratulations to Luminus Aardokay who was sitting two seats away (I'm not bitter). We say some very sexy looking technology allowing the EVE-client fitting window to run on tablets and mobile phones, all thanks to NVIDIAs new Tegra Two technology apparently.

The real pay-off came at the end with a blisteringly, awe-inspiringly epic teaser trailer for the EVE/Incarna/Dust514 link-up. It was so good that when it had finished, a sole heckler who demanded that we see it again was instantly backed up by an agreeable rumble from the entire audience. CCP CEO Hilmar Petursson questioned whether there was time, but said that we'd have to stand up and give him three "fuck yeahs" for him to consider it. This was an odd juncture for me; up until that moment, I had been attempting to maintain a degree of dignified distance from the fanaticism surrounding EVE, but right then I would have stood up alone and bellowed his expletives at him. However I stood and bellowed, not alone, but in unison with everyone around me, every voice filled with the same joyous determination. So the mob got it's wish and high-priest Hilmar looked genuinely moved (or possibly terrified, I can't be sure). The comparison of the EVE community to organised religion is one that fascinates and worries me, but I'll discuss this another time.

Dinner at Hressos/Impromptu Podcast
The Fansite Fleet headed into town to cogitate and masticate. Alexseyev gave us a preview of a some parody songs produced by his colleagues from Noir. Mercenary Group for his Declarations of War podcast. It was difficult to hear in a noisy restaurant, but it sounded promising, kind of a Weird Noir Yankovich. Alex promised that they were being made available to the EVE community soon, so keep a look out.

Given that our dinner party comprised a high concentration of podcasting talent, we decided to something needed to be recorded. Song Li had a high-gain mic attachment for his iPhone so we headed back to the Freebooted hotel room, broke out the rum and recorded some thoughts. Watch out on Song Li's Missions Collide page for news on this.

Party on Top of the World



Due to hosting the podcast, it was nearly 9 o'clock by the time everyone else left, at which point I needed to shower and change. I eventually got to the gig at gone 10pm, by which time I had missed RoXoR and Permaband. However the atmosphere was electric and the party was on a much larger scale than I expected. There must've been thousands there, including the local public. And I finally got to meet Zapatero.

Podded by Fanfest
It was the last night and some of us weren't prepared to let it end. CK, QP, (a slightly unwell) Lumi, Alex, Manasi and I headed back to Olivers. It was a great way to finish a great night. Just a shame I lost my wallet and passport. I still can't quite figure out how.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Fanfest Journal: Day Two Overview

Long Jack and I had got into the Fanfest frame of mind by day two and felt like we were part of the experience, unlike the previous day where we felt a little like imposters. With contacts made there were always familiar and friendly faces among the crowd. There were a few roundtable sessions that interested me which we headed for.

Unconventional Gameplay
I felt this was a must as the Freebooted ethos is "do it wrong, do it with style, die laughing", so this topic seemed to suit us down to the ground. However, on arrival we found that it was clearly a popular subject and it was standing room only. On reflection, given the open-ended nature of EVE, the concept of conventional gameplay is a bit nebulous, so it made sense that many folk would consider themselves unconventional. I was happy to take a back seat as my head was still a bit fuzzy anyway. The session largely consisted of ninjas trying to out-brag each other. Whilst amusing, it didn't feel very productive and I'd heard most of it before so I ducked out to try to catch the end of Dr Eyjo's Economy presentation, but the tail end of it made little sense to me.

New Player Experience
Hosted by CCP Chiliad and CCP Flying Scotsman who have been working on the character creator and the Captain's Quarters feature, this promised to be an interesting roundtable. Also present was Dierdra Vaal of CSM and EVE-University fame. Having regularly blogged about the progress of a new player in the My Sister The Rookie series, I have strong opinions on this subject and will cover this in more detail at a later time. The session was lively with many colourful characters offering thoughts. The devs stayed fairly quiet and just took notes.

Captain's Quarters
This presentation had a huge crowd waiting by the door some time prior to the start time.  The journalists we'd been drinking with the previous day had stated they intended to get there early in order to ensure they got in. I'd been sitting nearby chatting with Crazy Kinux when we decided to give this a look. When I got to the door, a couple of Devs apologetically stated that it was full and even they weren't allowed in. I wandered away disappointed. However, looking back I saw Crazy Kinux exchange a few words and the Devs did an almost comical shifty glance around before smuggling him through the door. CK's tech two Press Pass scores a wrecking blow to my rookie Fansite Pass.

Keynote Presentation
This was an amusing and informative presentation in the vast main hall, covering everything from Team BFF's iterations to the Art Team's future plans for the character creator and much more besides. The meat of the earlier Captain's Quarters presentation was also included, which I was grateful for. If you read devblogs regularly, much of what was covered was old news, but some key highlights were the upcoming inclusion of custom ship paint-jobs, corp/alliance logos on ships, re-modelled weapon turrets and new nebula skybox art. I sat next to Keith Neilson who live-blogged and photographed the whole thing like some kind of many-armed spider-ninja. If you look at nothing else, I highly recommend you find the video of this presentation.

CK's Blogpack Interview
With Crazy Kinux freelancing for PCGamer, he mustered a group of colourful characters together for a photo opportunity and an informal group interview. It was good to show a bit of solidarity and, although we kept straying off topic, it was nice to get the gang together. I'm sure he'll be covering this in more detail at some point and I look forward to reading the article. Here's a link to CK's photos.

Chessboxing
This was superb high-quality production. I was quite surprised at how professional the whole setup was. The event was ridiculous, hilarious and visceral all at the same time, with two CCP developers competing in alternating rounds of boxing and chess with the winner being decided by checkmate or knockout. They weren't faking either - there was blood. The commentary was excellent and this truly was a spectacle.

Two Greeks, Two Brits and a Yank do Iceland by Night
With the herd all disappearing off on Dev Pub Crawls, Long jack and I hooked up with Quivering Palm, Luminous Ardokay and Manasi for our own exclusive pub crawl. I would say more, but what goes on tour stays on tour. It was a great night out. One thing I will say is; I think I now understand where the inspiration for the character creator models come from. If you think all the characters in EVE are impossibly beautiful, you need to go to Iceland. Especially Oliver's Bar. 'Nuff said.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Fanfest Journal: Day One Overview


The first two days of Fanfest have left me with so much material and so many thoughts that it's difficult to know what to focus on first. There are certainly some topics that deserve a post entirely to themselves and I will revisit them later. However, for this post I intend to just rattle through a few highlights.

When we first arrived, we spoke briefly with Misty Martonis (a.k.a. CCP Fallout) at the Reception desk. She was clearly rushing around organising but was very welcoming and gave us a great gift pack before disappearing off to her next task.


Long Jack and I wandered around, attempting to explore every nook and cranny of the two-floored building. It was busy, but prior to any of the events and roundtables starting, the largest queue seemed to be for the canteen. I suspect this was as much to do with the stunningly attractive catering staff as the need for sustenance.

Fansite Roundtable
This was hosted by CCP Fallout and CCP Adida and allowed us to put faces to names of many of the EVE community's contributors. Present were Wollari of Evemaps.dotlan, Manasi of A Mule in EVE, Rocwieler, Song Li, the Planet Risk show lads, Mandrill, DavidKMagnus and I'm sure others, I still haven't quite figured out who else is who. Crazy Kinux made a late appearance. We discussed ways to improve Fansite visibility and much of that involved a new fansite webpage. We all agreed the old one is a dog.

EVE TV Interview
I checked in with CCP StevieSG to find out if and when I was being interviewed and ended up getting thrown straight into the interview pretty much on the spot. I haven't seen the footage yet, but Stevie had "lost her questions" for me and I wasn't actually on her list, so it was a bit of an ad-hoc interview. I'll link it when I can if it's not too embarrassing.

CSM Panel
This was quite a heavyweight subject, held in the main 'Tranquility' hall. I wanted to go to show support if nothing else. Not all of the members were present; Mynxee and Teadaze were absent "for personal reasons" and Vuk Lau "ragequit" immediately prior to Fanfest. I was impressed with how they bore themselves and I thank them for all their efforts in the last year.

Drunk with Hacks
In the evening, Veto Corp had arranged a gathering at a nearby pool hall which we completely failed to find, instead ending up in an empty Sports bar nearby. We intended to stay for only one drink before heading back out to find the real venue, but were soon joined by three journalists we'd spoken to earlier outside our hotel. They'd also failed to find the pool hall. Instead, we settled in and ended up having a great night and with the absence of any real hardcore EVE fanatics, the conversation was pleasant and varied. And, by the end, quite slurred.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Fanfest Journal: The First Day In Pictures


The outside of the hall was impressively decorated as Dodoxie IX - Moon 20 - Federation navy Assembly Plant. I wonder what the locals make of it all.


The interior was even more impressive, with banners and giant screens to give it that sci-fi feel.


Scattered around were several montages of EVE ships flying over Rekyjavik. This was my favourite.


This was a kind of genius - the 'EVE Mining Simulator' was in fact the original eighties arcade game 'Asteroids'. The graphics aren't as good, but the gameplay is more fun.


Darth Vader considers rebuilding The Empire with Caldari technology (my iPhone case is Star Wars-themed).


The outgoing CSM (well, six of them) held a panel. It was one of the drier presentations, but I felt it was important. Good job fellas (and ladies).


This is me being interviewed by CCP StevieSG, I wish I'd held my gut in a little more - I look like a right porker, but none of you are looking at me anyway so I don't suppose it matters. (photo stolen from CK).

Fanfest Journal: The Eve of Fanfest

Long Jack and I arrived in the icy, volcanic motherland of CCP's EVE Online the day before the official event started. A friendly (but expensive) cab driver played tour guide en-route to our hotel and we docked at Reykjavik I - Grand Hotel Station in the mid afternoon. Our contact with other EVE players had been non-existent to that point, although we were seeing the most likely demographic, pale-skinned men between twenty and forty, with increasing frequency.

After checking in, we unloaded our cargo then re-fitted into more appropriate attire when a Tweetfleet distress call was received via Twitter. TheSlayerEVE had arrived early at the Celtic Cross and was unable to establish contact with any other Tweetfleet members. Refuelled, we set out to assist our Tweetfleet ally.

We needn't have worried for him. When we arrived, the small Irish-themed pub was already bustling with loud, drunken activity. Getting served was an issue as the poor mid-week barstaff were over-run by an unexpected crowd of slavering, glassy-eyed EVE players. Striking up conversations with the nearest obvious capsuleers, it soon became clear that we had stumbled upon several groups of null-sec alliance players, who's opening conversational gambit was invariably "What alliance are you in?" Being sans-alliance and, at least from their perspective, carebears, they were polite enough to hide their derision but soon wandered back to their tribes to imbibe some more Brennivin.

As the evening wore on and the pub filled far beyond expected capacity, we met players from Goonswarm, Wildly Inappropriate, Against All Authorities and Razor. Where were the casual players and the high-sec dwellers? These guys were hardcore professional players and the idea of just playing EVE for a few hours a week seemed anathema to them.

Fortunately, we spied an equally bewildered-looking bearded fellow called Petter, who turned out to be a reporter for GameReactor. Finally, someone who wasn't all about the alarm-clock Call to Arms and trying to destroy their braincells with The Black Death.

A later influx of folk saw us have the opportunity to meet EVE luminaries like Crazy Kinux (he's a big lad), DiannaLynnETC (a Tweetfleet member and a really nice lady), Song Li of the Missions Collide podcast (he mineswept my pint!), Quivering Palm and Luminous Ardokay (the Planet Risk Show podcast, now videoblogging my tonsils), Omber Zombie (a very laconic Jazz Club owner) and many others. A few CCP devs were in the mix too, but it was tricky identifying who was who in the throng.

It was clear that many folk had met before and there was a sense of old friends catching up, but for the first-timer it was quite bewildering and difficult to keep up with the pace. The social etiquette of whether to use real names or character names was a bit of a minefield - essentially having to remember two names for every person you met. The whole evening was a strange social experience which I am sure I will reflect upon again, but now I've dipped my toe, there's no going back.

Onward to Fanfest.


[Photo: Offroad monstrosities with CCP livery parked outside the hotel this morning, presumably whisking the Sisters of EVE tour participants off to a mountain somewhere.]

Monday, 21 March 2011

Battle of the Frigates: The Contenders

Many times the question “which is the best combat frigate?” has been asked, with no easy answer. The Minmatar Rifter is highly regarded in PvP circles and the word 'Dramiel' is whispered is hushed tones across New Eden. Then factor in the tech two assault ships and the debate reaches furious proportions. However, here at Freebooted, we think we've come up with a perfectly acceptable way of resolving the disputes once and for all.

Who needs statistics and loadouts when we can consult the Great God Google. Each ship name will be fed into the oracle of the internet, then the results will be studiously examined and an accurate picture of the combat potential of each will be assessed. The ships will then be entered into a duel to the death, with the outcome based entirely on arbitrary information gleaned from the digital ether.

With the draw to take place at a later date and subsequent blow-by-blow accounts of the visceral combat to be reported in a future edition, let's look at the Tech-1 contenders.

Atron
This isn't a good start, 'Atron' isn't even in the dictionary. The closest we could get was as a suffix in various pseudo-scientific words, so we'll go with our favourite; the Orgasmatron from the cult sixties sci-fi film 'Barbarella'. Pedants will point out that the device was actually called the Excessive Machine and Orgasmatron is a misnomer, but we ignore the pedants here at Freebooted. The OrgasmAtron's combat potential is unclear, but at least it's opponents are likely to enjoy the fight.

Bantam


Oh dear, it's a chicken. And not even a full-sized one. Unless the opposition has poor resistances to pecking damage, I can't see this one going the distance. Good luck little fella.



Breacher
This is more like it, the Breacher is 72-ton tank with a bloody great cannon, used by the US Marines in Afghanistan. Nicknamed the Shredder, it's chassis is based on the M1A1 Abrams tank and is used to clear mines and roadside explosive devices, presumably by driving over them or shooting at the ground. So a good aim is hardly necessary. Surely this is an early favourite for the title.

Caldari Navy Hookbill


One of the many avian entrants from Team Caldari, the Hookbill is a parrot. Not all that impressive in combat terms, but as it's named for the shape of it's bill, Wikipedia claims that it has a “much stronger crushing power of the beak”. He'd best hope that he draws the Bantam then if he wants to progress.



Condor
At last, a proper bird. The Condor is one of the biggest birds-of-prey and has a distinctive lack of feathers on it's head and neck, which exposes the skin to the sterilising effects of solar ultraviolet light at high altitudes. Does that sound like thermal resistance to you? Me too. Finally an entrant with a tank that isn't actually er... a tank.



Crucifier
Whilst probably not the guy who actually did The Deed, Pontius Pilate is renowned for being instrumental in the crucifixion of a certain Son of God. He was also the Fifth Prefect of the Roman Province of Judea from 26-36AD. Allegedly pretty handy with a javelin ('Pilate' is thought to refer to his use of a roman weapon called the 'pilum'), if he can just get past his obsessive compulsion to wash his hands at inopportune moments, he might have a chance.



Cruor
An archaic word meaning 'clot' or 'blood issuing from a wound' and is quite possibly an amalgam of 'crude' and 'gore', we at Freebooted like to think that this was complete luck on the part of EVE's designers. The truth was more likely to be something along the lines of a late night alcohol fuelled brainstorm.
Designer One: “Hey, this is a great ship design, what are you going to call it?”.
Designer Two (drunk and hugging the porcelain): “Crrruuuooorr...” (vomits).
And so, our Cruor entry is a puddle of festering vomit. Sorry.

Daredevil




The superhero with the disability is the obvious choice here, after all he's used to fighting, whether it's crime or poor movie reviews. So step up Mr. Affleck and don your kinky leather suit, there's a ruck to be had. Mind that door.





Dramiel



Another of CCPs apparently made-up words (auto-correct keeps trying to change it to 'cranial'), the first non-EVE explanation spat out by Google was, Dr. Amiel, a neurological surgeon from Baltimore. Into the fray you must go, doc. Good luck.





Executioner


A sinister hooded figure from history, the executioner swings his axe with the finality of the Grim Reaper. In fact, surely the Grim Reaper himself is the ultimate executioner. So come forward Mr. De'ath, there's work to be done.



Federation Navy Comet
Fed up with living in Rudolph's shadow, Comet the Reindeer has been training hard pulling sleighs across the winter skies and is looking for his shot at the big time. With the Jolly Fat One in his corner, who knows what eldritch tricks might be up his... antlers?



Griffin


A mythical creature from medieval folklore, the Griffin has the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. More than capable in a fight with his mighty leonine paws and razor-sharp beak, the ability to fly seems almost like cheating.





Heron
The heron is a rather weak and silly looking bird, but the largest of the heron family - the Goliath heron - might have a chance with it's apparently strong legs and harpoon-like beak. It has questionable fighting tactics though, largely consisting of standing still until the opposition gets close enough to pluck out of the water. Probably a long shot.

Imicus
Other than EVE, the only other claim to this apparently nonsense word is a UK-based rock band of the same name. Their website claims “the focus is on big riffs and choruses and strong song writing - Drawing comparisons with an eclectic range of rock and metal acts.” let's just hope you can fight too, eh boys?



Imperial Navy Slicer

The interwebs are chock full of great deals on meat slicers, ranging from small things for the home kitchen to blooming great industrial spinny sharp things. Let's assume we've found a sentient one and throw it into the ring with all the other weird stuff.


Incursus


This, apparently, is a fancy word meaning to 'rush at' or 'assail'. Looks a bit Latin to me. This is a tough one for the selection committee, but we reckon we can get away with using Russell Crowe, since he is allegedly a bit partial to the odd assault.



Inquisitor


With a few historical figures already in the mix, we'll steer clear of the nasty Spanish fellows who tortured and killed in the name of God and head on thirty-eight thousand years into the future where, according to Games Workshop, the Inquisitor is a nasty armoured fellow with big guns who tortures and kills in the name of his god. Oh.




Kestrel

Enough with the birds, Team Caldari! If one of the opposition turns up with a scarecrow, you're screwed. Anyway, the Kestrel has got really good eyesight and can hover. That should give the opposition cause to worry. Or wander off bored.



Magnate

Wikipedia states that Magnate, from the late Latin magnas means 'a great man', in reference to a noble or other man in a high social position, by birth, wealth or other means. So we'll go with the late, great Doors front-man, Jim Morrison. He was always high.



Maulus



There the Gallente go with their funny made-up words again. This sounds like more of a camp request than a proper ship name, “Ooh, maul us, you beast.” So on that tentative link, we'll try to cling to the sci-fi theme and go with the campest robot in the universe, C-3P0.




Merlin
With birds of many kinds already represented elsewhere in this competition, this can only be a certain pointy-hat wearing prestidigitator of Arthurian legend. With the ability to travel backwards through time and call upon the mystical arts, the old fella has a good chance here.



Navitas



This seems to be a popular fancy-sounding corporate word with countless Google hits for Navitas Industries and Navitas Recruitment etc. So how about king of the corporate figurehead, Bill Gates. He can buy his way to victory, if he hasn't given it all away yet.




Probe
We'll attempt to stay out of the gutter with this one and go for another safe George Lucas reference (who knew Star Wars was so risque). The nasty looking Viper probe droid that discovered the rebel base on Hoth might be an interesting addition to our combatant line-up. It looks like it's made from Sleeper technology, but given it's woeful performance in a firefight against Han and Chewie, we doubt it's got Sleeper AI.


Punisher


Unless you're a career criminal, we bet the last person to administer any punishment to you was your Mum. I'm sure she's a really nice lady but even if she does a good line in stern expressions, we don't think she has any place in a fight to the death.






Republic Fleet Firetail
Now the Minmatar have gone avian. Well we're not having any more birds and that's that. Let's see what else has Google got to say. Firetail orchid? No that's weak. Firetail Scorpid, a level 2 NPC from a certain other MMO? Well why not. We're sure we'll be completely unbiased when this low-polygon cartoon scorpion steps into the arena.



Rifter
Aah, the Rifter, loved by combat pilots across New Eden. Well we're bloody sick of it, it gets far too much press. How does one 'rift' anyway? “There he goes, rifting again.” You what? However, the dictionary definition of the verb 'to rift' means 'to tear'. So who can tear stuff? A seamstress who's lost her scissors, that's who.



Slasher


The slasher movie was an entertainment staple of the eighties, with a long-running rivalry between the three kings; Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger. They probably decided who was the winner in one of the many abysmal sequels, but we're going with Freddy, cos he's got a sense of humour.



Succubus


Another mythological creature from medieval times, this saucy minx was a demon who would find her way to reality through the dreams of sleeping men and have her way with them. It sounds like a lame excuse for a wet dream, but she looks good so she's in.





Tormentor


The most likely candidate here is the obnoxious kid from early school days who passed the time pulling the legs off spiders and stealing your lunch money. Let's just hope the ubiquitous School Bully finally gets his come-uppance.



Tristan



It's a boys name, and not even a very manly one. We once knew a lad called Tristan. He was nice enough, but I doubt he could've punched his way out of a paper bag, and once he'd found God, he was probably too busy turning the other cheek to want to.





Vigil



A vigil is a period of purposeful sleeplessness, as exemplified by night watchmen. So who better to represent the vigilant than the cynical Captain Samuel Vimes from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. There's a man who knows how to fight clever and dirty.





Worm



Well, well, Maybe the Bantam isn't the long shot of the competition. This insignificant little annelid doesn't stand much of a chance at all. It's practically a bye. Unless it's the slightly larger version indiginous to the desert world of Arrakis. Then it's a whole different story. But it's not, despite the picture.







Notable Absence:

Burst
Whatever way you look at it, 'burst' is an awkward word and doesn't really lend itself as a viable concept to compete in this battle royale. Well, unless we either start getting really abstract or go with the Swedish progressive metal band of the same name, but they disbanded in 2009. So to make the numbers a nice tidy 32, we'll say the Burst is a no-show due to the fact it did “exactly what it said on the tin”.


Stay tuned to find out who faces who in the preliminary rounds and which ship will eventually be crowned 'Champion T1 Frigate'. Other ship types will participate in their own qualification rounds at a later time.

Next: Qualifying Rounds

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Extreme(ly Stupid) Missioning: Rookie Swarm


Combat missions in New Eden are the bread and butter of many a capsuleer, with level four missions being widely regarded as one of the best 'ISK fonts' available. In order to access level four missions, a pilot is required to have a sufficient standing with the agent, corporation or faction to be deemed worthy of the task. This is most often achieved by progressively working through the lower level mission agents.

Traditionally, as the mission level increases, so too does the recommended ship class. An appropriately fitted tech-one frigate will make short work of most level one missions. However, as improving standings allow access to increasingly challenging missions, so the pilot is required to upgrade to destroyers, cruisers, battlecruisers and ultimately battleships to take on the tougher level four missions. This is the traditional path and it works.

I've Got a Stupid Idea, Who's With Me?

But here at Freebooted, we're not interested in tradition. If there are two ways to do a thing, and one of them is wrong and a bit silly, that's our way. What we wanted to find out was how far we could push the envelope using only rookie ships. That's right, those terrible little ships that they give away at stations when you dock in your capsule; one low slot, one medium, two highs and no rigs. In anyone's book, they're rubbish.

So the challenge was this: Get as many pilots in rookie ships as possible and attempt to complete combat missions of increasing difficulty, starting with a level one and working up to a level four. This, my friends, is going to get messy.

Firstly, we needed willing participants to assist in our foolhardy experiment. Myself and fellow Freebooter Long Jack were joined by Old Pond Pub regular Vsmit. Our Flying Circus operating associate, Monkey Polo, provided two of his own big-top minions in the shape of Lozyjoe and her ertswhile partner in crime, Caveat Emptor Tempora. Several more pilots showed an early interest, but their failure to appear in the chosen system suggested that they had seen sense. This was a bit of a shame as I'd hoped it would have been more of a community event. Never mind, there's always next time.

Polishing Turds

Fitting out the rookie ships proved fairly simple, with options being so few due to the limitations of the vessels.  The lack of low- and mid-slots meant that armour or shield tanking was never going to be an option. Speed-tanking would provide the only chance of survival, so the addition of an afterburner capitalised on their small size and relatively good speed. In order to fit any kind of weapons turrets more powergrid was required, so the low-slot demanded a Micro Auxiliary Power Core I. After that, limited resources and racial bonuses dictated the size and nature of the weapons turrets to be fitted. Each ship could also accommodate a single small drone, with the exception of the relatively heavy-hitting Velator which can carry two.

The one exception to this fitting standard was to be Vsmit's decoy Reaper. As the racial bonuses of the Reaper provided additional velocity per Minmatar frigate level, the installation of a micro-warp drive meant that he would be able to achieve speeds in excess of 3000 metres per second. The strategy was to be that Vsmit would enter the mission areas first, obtain aggression from all hostiles, then burn for the stars. It was hoped that this would allow Vsmit to get beyond their weapons range and lead them on a merry chase, paving the way for the rest of the rookie swarm to warp in and happily explode our way through the distracted enemies. Vsmit would only be able to watch the resultant fire-fight, as the fitting demands of the MWD would leave him weaponless.

And so, with multiple ships prepared in advance, our plucky band of demented missioners went forth to smite the evildoers of New Eden.

Level One Mission: Unauthorised Military Presence

The crew mustered by the preliminary acceleration gate and watched Vsmit as he was hurled into the fray in his unarmed Minmatar suicide missile. We waited, Long jack and Lozyjoe in Amarr pulse laser Impairors and Caveat and myself in double-drone blaster Velators. We listened on voice-comms for his confirmation of aggro obtained, which came quickly, then we jumped.

As we arrived in the deadspace area, we could see that Vsmit was already nearly 100km away with a squad of five Guristas frigates in futile pursuit. We closed and engaged. They fell quickly without the need for us to concentrate our fire. We quickly approached the second acceleration gate and repeated the process against the hostiles in the second pocket. With a combined DPS in excess of 200, the second wave fell as quickly as the first. We returned to station victorious and completed the mission.


Level Two Mission: The Blockade

We knew the five of us were in for a rougher ride when The Blockade was offered, as it's one of the more difficult missions. However there was the advantage of every subsequent wave of hostiles beginning a good distance from the central point, which played into our 'range tank' strategy. However, we were mindful that this would be the first time we would encounter cruisers and we were prepared to concentrate fire if necessary.

Vsmit warped in and quickly reported that there was no acceleration gate and he was already being targeted. He went evasive but incoming fire was still reaching him. As we warped to his location, his report made grim listening; despite his rapidly increasing range, he was already well into structure and was about to explode. As we arrived 'on grid' Vsmit appeared on the Watch List as three completely red bars, but somehow he'd managed to achieve a safe orbit range and his Reaper, engines spouting flame, seemed to be holding together with duct tape alone.

However, with optimum combat conditions just about obtained, our Rookie swarm set about thinning out the numbers whilst trying to steer clear of the individual ship that would trigger the second wave of enemies. We managed to whittle down the numbers, but as we were still picking individual targets the final three hostiles fell almost simultaneously and the next wave deployed without our being able to prepare. The long reach of their weapon systems meant that we were now all taking fire, which wasn't part of the plan! Our shields were quickly collapsing and armour began to buckle, I initiated a squad warp and prayed. We all warped out safely except for Long Jack, who had decided to take umbrage at being auto-warped and hung around a little longer just for the hell of it. It was a close call, but even he managed to get out without a ship loss.

After a quick regroup and repair, we returned to the fray using the same decoy tactic. We focused on the quicker, more accurate frigates and destroyers first, then worked together to bring down the cruisers. Having learned from the arrival of the previous wave, we warped out briefly to allow Vsmit to regain all aggression. With our tactics established, the remainder of the mission went smoothly and we successfully completed level two Blockade without a ship loss. All hail the Rookie ships.

Level Three Mission: The Spy Stash

Referring to EVE-Survival, this mission was always going to be a huge undertaking, with the first deadspace pocket containing four elite frigates, three destroyers, two cruisers and two battlecruisers, in addition to three light missile batteries. This was underlined by the decoy ship's initial arrival resulting in it's quick destruction. As Vsmit reported his demise over the comms, the acceleration gate suddenly activated and Long Jack catapulted off into the void. That wasn't part of the plan, but what the hell. With trepidation, Lozyjoe, Caveat and myself followed, fairly sure that a quick death would also await us.

Arriving in the first pocket, we found ourselves surrounded, with the hostile ships all within a few thousand metres of us. Long Jack's ship was taking heavy fire and exploded before our eyes. The remaining three of us picked a direction, engaged afterburners and accelerated, hoping to out-range the enemy before we met the same fate. However Vsmit's earlier attempt in a quicker ship suggested futility.

Lozyjoe and Caveat both started reporting incoming locks from the ships and the three missile towers focused on me. I had deployed my drones at the nearest missile tower as I sped away, my ship rocking as the missiles began to pound through my shields. I watched in dismay as my Watch List slowly turned from grey to red and the amassed Guristas ships made short work of my remaining squad mates. Meanwhile, my shields had just about held and I breathed a sigh of relief as I realised I was now beyond the range of the light missile batteries.

However, my relief was short-lived as the two cruisers, now 50km away, locked me and launched their missiles. helplessly I watched as their orange glow grew closer and closer, then slammed into my fragile vessel. My shields halved. The plucky little Hobgoblin drones started to take damage too as the other enemy ships had turned their attentions on them. The drones were close to finishing off the missile tower and I made the decision to allow them to complete their task, just to score a small victory for us. The second heavy missile salvo from the cruisers put me well into armour and I knew the end was close. The missile tower exploded and with no other targets available, I called the drones back knowing that they would probably not make it under fire, but then there may well be no ship for them to make it to anyway. The third incoming salvo put me into structure and one of my drones exploded. As the fourth salvo closed, I waited for the end.

It never came.

I'd escaped. As the heavy missiles fizzled and died before reaching me, my drone docked and I realised we might now have a chance in what had been looking increasingly like a hopeless cause. The two cruisers were still in pursuit and both distant missile towers were still pumping their ammunition uselessly in my direction. With the Guristas now dividing their fire, the other squad members might have a chance to gain a foothold.

Unfortunately, this didn't prove all that easy. Further attempts to enter the deadspace pocket from the others still yielded the same result, a quick death at the hands of the ships idling near the warp-in point. Meanwhile, despite my recharging shields, my ship was in a bad way, I was a drone down and there was no way for me to re-engage without being quickly picked off my the missiles that still relentlessly flew in my direction.


Then, there was another breakthrough. Vsmit managed to break out of the kill-zone and achieve a safe orbit distance, drawing fire from all but two of the idling ships. Interestingly, the two cruisers started firing at Vsmit's Reaper too, despite maintaining a lock on me [I wasn't aware that NPCs could maintain multiple targets]. Another boon (read: bug) was that due to some spatial oddity resulting in the relocation of one of Caveat's abandoned drones when one of the cruisers warped back to it's companions. If I could recover that drone, my DPS would be back up to nearly 100 hp per second and I could attempt to engage one of the distracted outlying cruisers.

Meanwhile, Lozyjoe and Caveat could now enter and, providing they avoided aggro from the remaining two static hostiles, could set about destroying the enemy. This was a relief as, judging by the changing tones on comms, morale was starting to drop. Long Jack had already decided to sit out and rest for a while (he's not well at the moment). Finally, we were making progress and with only a couple more ship losses, we managed to bring them down, even the two Ferox battlecruisers.

With the first pocket secured after an exhausting session that lasted for well over an hour, I was doubtful that the remaining squad members would want to continue. Even my own enthusiasm was waning. Before attempting the last deadspace area, I proposed a choice; attempt the second pocket in rookie ships again now that we had our "suicide blitz" tactic, try it in frigates instead for a little more survivability or give up and and find something else to do. I felt a swell of admiration as both Vsmit and Caveat immediately called for rookie ships However, there was some unintelligible grumbling from Lozyjoe.

But democracy rules and so on we went. All four of us warped in together. And all four of us died fairly immediately. We took that as a sign that this was just not going to work without hours more dedication, which I think none of us could face. After a brief discussion, we agreed to give it one more go, but this time Vsmit was going to use his other 'rookie' ship. It was fitted with a civilian shield booster and only deployed one drone, but there was something oddly 'modular' about it's design. However, Vsmit did say it was "low key", so I guess it's not cheating. With this new technology beguiling the Guristas, we were able to work our way through all remaining resistance to score another victory for the plucky Rookie Swarm.


You Want More?

After the gruelling five hours it took for us to complete the first three missions, we decided to stage a tactical withdrawal to consider what we had learned, perhaps taking on the level four mission at a later time. Given the difficulties that a moderate level three mission presented us, we would certainly need a bit of a rethink and a lot more pilots if we were to make any in-roads into a level four mission.

Any volunteers?