Saturday, 31 December 2011

BB31 Community Review of EVE Online: Crucible

It has been said that a Massively Multiplayer Online Game like EVE Online cannot be accurately reviewed due to the vastness of the world and ever-evolving nature of the content. Nonetheless, as the final Blog Banter challenge of the year, twenty EVE players were bold enough to try.

Given licence to approach the review in any manner they chose, a variety of reviewing styles were employed by an eclectic mix of bloggers. One reviewer had less than one month's experience of EVE Online (welcome Moriarity Kanenald) and Keyanu of MuppetNinjas is so old he struggles to remember his account password. Many reviewers were primarily combat pilots, but industrialists, roleplayers, miners and alliance leaders were all represented.

Opinions Shared

Whilst there were some differences of opinion, there was a strong synergy amongst almost every review. Commonly recurring themes included the widespread condemnation of the ancient user interface and the universal celebration of the peerless metagaming community. Crucible was strongly applauded as a successful expansion and EVE's visuals were widely regarded as one of its stronger assets. Perversely, EVE's other pillar of success was its PvP combat, the activity that most discourages the enjoyment of the lauded visuals.

Also frequently noted was the difficult new player experience, although in many cases these were anecdotal experiences from veteran players, so it was unclear if the most recent revisions to the new player experience had been taken into account.

The Big Result

So can we divine a single, final metacritic-like score from the reviews? Would it be of any value? That, dear reader, is up to you to decide. However, through the magic of arcane algorithms and occult mathematics, approximately 65 years of EVE Online playing experience has united to provide a community-sourced score of:

>>> 82% <<<

But the review doesn't end there. Read on to find out the opinion of the players who most align to your style. Find out what they really thought and how they arrived at their conclusions. Or just find out who was foolhardy enough to take on this challenge.

As a side-note, I may have used some creative licence when describing the reviewing bloggers so some "facts" may be a little... unresearched. :)

Meet the Brave, the Bold, the Bloggers:

Myrhial Arkenath
Diary of a Pod Pilot

In-game form: Since 2007 - Roleplaying Luminary, leader of prominent pro-NPC faction alliance. "Designated Station Pilot" and "Dairy Queen".
Real-life dirt: Long-time blogger, RP mover-and-shaker. Suspected Venutian.
Review: One does not simply review EVE, but can certainly make a decent try.
Review Approach: A sage and balanced overview of EVE from a veteran player.
Key Quote: "EVE Online is a pretty amazing and unique game with its own quirks and challenges. It’s got something for nearly everybody, and if it doesn’t, well who knows, maybe at some point it will. You’ll never know if you never try."
Scoring: None Given.

Mike Azariah
A Missioneer in Eve

In-game form: Since 2008 - Mild-mannered rookie-friendly veteran with a sideline in incursion-running.
Real-life dirt: Fiction-writing blogger with CSM aspirations.
Review: The Difference is...
Review Approach: An in-character discussion on the impact of a single-shard universe.
Key Quote: "This is a game where you make your own story and are the hero, antihero, or even villain. We don’t tell you a story . . . you become part of it."
Scoring: None given.

Ender Black
Pod Goo

In-game form: Since 2006 - Wormhole explorer.
Real-life dirt: Respected podcaster and community hero.
Review: Title Analysis
Review Approach: A unique and cogent investigation into the meaning and motive behind CCP's choice of expansion title.
Key Quote: "By giving this mea culpa expansion the name Crucible implies to me that CCP saw the disgruntled players as an insurmountable obstacle they were able to surmount. I am not sure I enjoy that idea."
Scoring: Title Choice - 2/5

Sand, Cider and Spaceships

In-game form: Since 2008, Director of a 100-member PvP Corporation, Faction Warfare specialist.
Real-life dirt: "In real life, I'm Dave, 35 and a Brit expat living in the Middle East with my long suffering "Eve Widow" Debbie!"
Review: EVE Online Community Review
Review Approach: A broad overview zeroing in on Faction Warfare from the perspective of a new player.
Key Quote: "...when CCP gets something wrong the players do all they can to encourage CCP to put it right. With such a supportive fan-base, a company that actually listens to the players and fans and a constantly evolving and improving game..... I cannot see Eve Online going anywhere for a long time."
  • Ease of Getting Into - 3/10
  • Graphics - 8/10
  • Gameplay - 7/10
  • Community - 10/10
  • Longevity - 10/10
  • Conclusion - 38/50

Jace Errata
Year of the Snake

In-game form: Since 2011 - Miner, Missioneer, writer of funny bios.
Real-life dirt: a.k.a. Cobalt Snake, an enigmatic gaming entity that seems to exist across multiple platforms.
Review: Challenge Accepted.
Review Approach: A focused look at gameplay, community and the Crucible expansion.
Key Quote: "In general, with some exceptions, the EVE community is comprised of cold, heartless, new-player-hating, meta-gaming bastards."
Scoring: None given

Rixx Javix

In-game form: Since 2008 - Combat Pilot, Low-Sec Piracy, has experience in corporation and alliance management and null-sec life. Spends much of his time moving assets from one end of the galaxy to the other.
Real-life dirt: Prolific blogger and curator of the Blog Pack. Draws pictures occasionally.
Review: The Rollercoaster Thrill Ride that is EVE Online, with Cookies.
Review Approach: If Radiohead wrote EVE reviews, this would be it. A casual ramble through the mind of a seasoned EVE player.
Key Quote: "It is a deep, dark, complex universe that is hard to have fun playing and will probably kill you dead... I can highly recommend Eve Online."
  • Unlimited stars for potential.
  • 4 out of 5 stars for reality.

Moriarity Kanenald
Moriarity Kanenald

In-game form: Since 2011 - "I have only been in game less than a month and I am a complete nubbins." Still in NPC corp.
Real-life dirt: A newcomer to the EVE metagame, he has yet to let his mask slip.
Review: Reviewing Eve Online
Review Approach: A refreshing view of the bewilderment that is a player's first month in EVE. Moriarity shows remarkable awareness and nous in his early assessment of life in New Eden.
Key Quote: "My only qualifications are I am fresh to the game and so probably know a lot less than others... Eve is nothing like opening Pandoras Box. When you play it you are in the box, the box is firmly closed and you are not getting out."
  • It is sexy 10/10
  • The 'Community' 9/10
  • Backstory 7/10
  • The 'Sandbox' 6/10
  • Overall 8/10


In-game form: Since 2004 - "A low-sec dweller whose sole aim is to try to ruin people’s day."
Real-life dirt: Tireless humanitarian, charity-worker and nun.
Review: Review
Review Approach: Like if your Grandad wrote a review about remembering when this was all fields. Except it's a review of EVE.
Key Quote: "I go back to the time where afterburners were stackable, battlecruisers wern’t invented nor MicroWarpdrives and torpedo’s could be fitted to Kestrels... EVE Online has gotten a hell of a lot easier for new players with the generosity of skillpoints, the availability of PLEX and the availability of good starter corps out there. There has never been a better time for a new player to sign up."
Scoring: None given.

Adhar Khorin
Margin Call

In-game form: Since 2006 (intermittently), Industrialist, Economist, POS jockey.
Real-life dirt: "Father, husband, community volunteer, business professional, small business owner, and gamer."
Review: That's Not a Moon!
Review Approach: A measured look at several aspects of EVE Online, from industry and player housing to PvP and the metagame.
Key Quote: "Bigger, more deadly, deeper, and with longer-lasting implications than any other game I’ve ever heard of. When a game comes along that deletes your account and steals your car when you die, I’ll concede the point."
Scoring: None given.

Eelis Kiy
The One That Writes

In-game form: Since 2006-2011. Currently unsubscribed but still flirting with the metagame.
Real-life dirt: "Hello. I am Karen. I like gaming, tech, sci-fi and fantasy. Sometimes I like to write."
Review: Community Review
Review Approach: A comparative review looking at two opposing player experiences.
Key Quote: "Eve Online... is the playground for minds that think out of the box and it offers an incredible level of immersion."
Scoring: None given.

Shalee Lianne
Living a Lie

In-game form: Since 2009 - Combat Pilot, Faction Warfare, Roleplayer
Real-life dirt: Roleplaying owner of XX chromosomes who can explain "icly" and "oocly" through the medium of blogs.
Review: Why EvE Wins.
Review Approach: Roleplaying-focused comparison to World of Warcraft (with just a touch of bias).
Key Quote: "There are many reasons why EvE Online is simply the best MMO there is... one server, learning skills via time instead of grind, and well, it's spaceships. RP on EvE is far superior, so if you're playing WoW, quit and RP on EvE..."
  • World of Warcraft: 0
  • EVE Online: 10

2nd Anomaly From the Left

In-game form: Since 2005 - Former member of veteran combat corporations such as Noir. and m3 Corp, FC, PI, probably experienced in other two-letter acronyms as well.
Real-life dirt: A mystery. Blog history back to March 2010. Few RL references.
Review: A Way Forward (Revised)
Review Approach: A veteran's look at the newest content and the impact new changes have had on game balance.
Key Quote: "Crucible brings back the ability for the smaller fleets to operate as they once did, without the spectre of some supercapital ship dropping on them and wiping them out."
Scoring: None given.

Tommy Rollins
Rollins' Ride in Eve

In-game form: Since 2009 - Incursion runner, Missioneer, recent convert to PvP.
Real-life dirt: Errant son of former rock hellraiser Henry Rollins (maybe), just finishing high school.
Review: The Game Outside Eve Online
Review Approach: An account of personal experience of the early days of playing EVE Online.
Key Quote: "Its a pretty solid game. Its certainly still a work in progress, and Crucible has been a fantastic step... Its a full immersive simulation in an alternate universe, and it can be so addictive it should come with a warning label."
Scoring: None given.

Lukas Rox
Torchwood Archives

In-game form: Since 2005 - Industrialist, Covert Operations, Combat
Real-life dirt: A throughbred technogeek and a native Polish speaker, Łukasz Poźniak writes a blog in English because he's too clever for his own good. ;)
Review: EVE Online Review
Review Approach: As much a guide as a review, this is a great article for rookie players considering their options.
Key Quote: This challenge, the emotions connected to it, and the choice to make what you want make it a game you can play for years.
  • Character advancement: 8.5/10
  • Character professions: 10/10
  • Player vs Player: 9/10
  • Player vs Environment: 9/10
  • Crafting: 9/10
  • Visuals: 9/10
  • Music and Sound: 8.5/10
  • FINAL SCORE: 9/10

Rants from New Eden

In-game form: Since 2010 - Combat Pilot
Real-life dirt: Another internet enigma. Probably human.
Review: Attempting the Impossible
Review Approach: A general review tailored specifically for the MMO format.
Key Quote: "So, we have a ourselves and MMO that struggles to let you in, with its many challenges, like skill training, bad UI, and so on... Yes, this is EVE, the second job you are charged for... If I must summarize EVE in one word, what would it be? I'll probably go with internetspaceshipnerdgasm."
  • Atmosphere 70%
  • Presentation 80%
  • Scale 90%
  • Entry Barriers 50%
  • Longevity 90%
  • Synergy 95%
  • Community 90%

Ripard Teg
Jester's Trek

In-game form: Since 2007 - Combat Pilot, Incursion specialist, Null-sec Alliance member.
Real-life dirt: Former video game reviewer, current Robo-blogger.
Review: Objective(?) review of EVE Online.
Review Approach: Five thousand word megablog with analysis of broad aspects of EVE Online.
Key Quote: "...those that can accept EVE's limitations will find one of the best, if not the best, true multi-player MMOs out there, and its deep gameplay and rich environment will keep them immersed for months or years at a time."
  • Interface - 4/10
  • Game-play - 7/10
  • Story - 8/10
  • Graphics - 9/10
  • Sound - 6/10
  • Multiplayer - 10/10
  • OVERALL - 8/10

Through Newb Eyes

In-game form: Since 2010 - Previously a high-profile member of a hi-sec PvP corp, currently exploring wormholes.
Real-life dirt: Blogger and tweeter with an affinity for the colour red.
Review: EVE is what the player makes of it.
Review Approach: A rookie-centric view with a look into the many ways to fund the first few weeks of combat, from conventional (missioning) to corrupt (scamming).
Key Quote: "I’ve heard many a reviewer call EVE boring – if you find EVE boring, make something up to do. Go shoot someone. Go scam. Go scan down and salvage people’s missions. Go mine. Build a ship. Explore a wormhole. Infiltrate a corp and steal everything. Make EVE exciting. This game is only as good as you make it."
  • Graphics – 9/10
  • Sound – 7/10
  • Gameplay – 9/10
  • Lifespan – 10/10

Max Torps
Starfleet Comms

In-game form: Since 2006 - Suspected carebear with a hair trigger. Will  pay ISK for nonsense poetry.
Real-life dirt: Podcasting guru, Northerner (subspecies: Geordie), adopter of two lovely children.
Review: Eve Online Review December 2011
Review Approach: Broad strokes discussing the evolution of EVE Online, the dramas and the developer/player relationship.
Key Quote: "Overall, I think now you will see a game backed by a company willing to improve the core product - which can only be a good thing."
Scoring: Overall totally subjective score: 4/5

Urziel's Eve Chronicle

In-game form: Since 2011 - Sov-warfare refugee, high-sec miner, null-sec PvPer.
Real-life dirt: US truck driver and MMO veteran.
Review: Reviewing EVE Online
Review Approach: The EVE experience viewed from a conventional angle from the perspective of a fresh player.
Key Quote: "Failure has real consequences, so caution and paranoia are handy skills to have... Only one rule works in Eve: Trust No One."
  • Challenge 10/10
  • Variety of Content 8/10
  • Graphics 8/10
  • Complexity 10/10
  • Overall score 9/10

Harrigan VonStudly
Gun Turret Diplomacy

In-game form: Since 2008 - Combat Pilot, Small-gang PvP.
Real-life dirt: Child of the sixties. Shy and retiring Twitter Tweetfleet regular. Consumer of tasty beverages. Like Indiana Jones, named after a dog.
Review: The Entire Wormhole That Eve Is.
Review Approach: A look at the state of EVE Online through the eyes of a non-gamer, following the introduction of wormholes in 2009.
Key Quote: "The wormhole in Eve, that is Eve, represents the unknown. It represents different. It represents new. It invents. It reinvents. It encompasses our real life in to a virtual life that may very easily be mixed up with and confused for what is real and what is not."
Scoring: 10 out of 10.

Blastrad Tales

In-game form: Since 2008 - Rooted in Royal Amarr Institute NPC corp.
Real-life dirt: Collects and dries exotic vegetables.
Review: Players
Review Approach: A uniquely original approach, look at the people you might be flying alongside.
Key Quote: "Choose any area of the Eve universe you like and you will meet the most incredibly surprising people. Executives will laugh along with factory workers, Uni students with retirees, business owners with the unemployed"
Scoring: None given.

Thank you all for taking part and a Happy New Year to EVE bloggers and readers everywhere. May 2012/YC114 bring you good luck and good loot. 

Mat "Seismic Stan" Westhorpe.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Blog Banter 31: EVE Online Community Review

Welcome to the thirty-first EVE Blog Banter, a community conversation between anyone and everyone with an interest in discussing EVE Online. For more information on how this works, check out this link or for details of this edition's topic, read on.

As any games journalist would probably tell you, a true and complete review of a Massively Multiplayer Online game is impossible. MMOs are vast, forever evolving entities with too much content for a single reviewer to produce a fair and accurate review. However, a collection of dedicated bloggers and EVE players (past and present) with a wide range of experience in various aspects of the game might be able to pull it off.

This special 'End of Year' Blog Banter edition aims to be a crowd-sourced game review. Using your gaming knowledge and experience, join the community in writing a fair and qualified review of EVE Online: Crucible. This can be presented in any manner of your choosing, but will ideally include some kind of scoring system.

With each Blog Banter participant reviewing the areas of EVE Online in which they specialise, the result should be a Metacritic-esque and accurate review by the people who know best.

For clarification; although the current edition of EVE Online is Crucible, this does not restrict reviews from using a broader brush and delving into content introduced earlier, in fact that would be preferable. But equally, don't be afraid to specialise, pick a unique angle, focus on one thing - we don't want everyone writing the same broad review do we? The purpose is to leave no stone unturned, lets give the world an honest appraisal of all the content.

Reviews just in:

["Blog Banter 31" header reproduced with permission from Rixx Javix of EVEOGANDA. He's got mad skillz, check out his other stuff as he's running out of commissions ;)]

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Freebooted vs. Ninveah: The Anatomy of Fail (Part 3 of 3)

One quiet Sunday afternoon two gentlemen bloggers, rather than waxing lyrical upon the idiosyncrasies of our favourite internet spaceship game and mulling over the finer points of bloggery, decided to blow the crap out of each other instead. Of course, bloggers being bloggers meant we had to write about it afterward.

Welcome to part three of my analysis of how I got a virtual space-battering from a mild-mannered Canadian. In case you missed them in the two previous combats, I suffered two close defeats; in the Frigate duel, Kirith Kodachi's Rifter escaped destruction due to my poorly prepared Merlin and our Catalyst on Catalyst Destroyer duel saw my idiotic suicide charge gift Kirith with a surprise victory.

My chances were now hanging by a thread. The rules Kirith and I had agreed upon meant that Kirith was one win away from a flawless victory. I on the other hand could not afford another defeat. To be honest, I wasn't sure I could afford a victory either, given that the longer I clung on the more each ship loss would cost.

My ship selection for the Cruiser bout was more a statement of loyalty than anything. Instead of opting for my tried-and-tested safe option of a kiting Caracal, I wanted to breathe life into the much maligned Moa. It's the Tech I Caldari hybrid turret platform and an out-and-out combat ship. In the past, whilst in an active null-sec alliance, trying to acquire a couple of Moa hulls to put together some throwaway roaming fits proved a fruitless search met with derision. "A Moa? Why?" was often the response.

But now, the post-Crucible Moa could be a different beast. It is now a tad more agile (5% bonus to inertia) and hybrid turrets have received some positive rebalancing attention too; they are less demanding on powergrid, CPU and capacitor, reload times have been halved and tracking and damage has been enhanced.

Surely it was time for Quasimodo to step out of the shadows.

The Ship: Moa, SSS Moose Murderer

High Slots
Anode Neutron Particle Cannon x5, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge M
Rocket Launcher II, Caldari Navy Gremlin Rocket

Medium Slots
Large Shield Extender II
Invulnerability Field II
Stasis Webifier II
Y-S8 Hydrocarbon Afterburners

Low Slots
Magnetic Field Stabilizer II x2
Damage Control II
Power Diagnostic System II

Medium Core Defence Field Extender I x2
Medium Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer I

[3x Warrior II Drones]

Key Statistics
Effective Hit Points: 33,428 EHP
Shield Resistances: 66%/63%/72.4%/77%
Weapon Range: 3.23km Optimal +6.25km Falloff
Damage Output: 393hp per second (345 hybrid/48 drone)
Speed: 495m/s with Afterburner
Capacitor Stable at 46.9% with everything active.

The Strategy: Close-Range Bell-Ringer

This fit was solid, simple and idiot proof (or so I thought). It would either work or it wouldn't. Its only real weakness was its speed, making it vulnerable to a fast long-range kiting strategy. I was gambling that Kirith would have some kind of close-range face-ripper which this should have the chin to stand up to with its phenomenal omnitank (I've seen respectable battlecruiser fits with weaker tanks).

Some pretty malevolent DPS at face-butting range, a rocket launcher and three Warrior IIs to deal with enemy drones and capacitor stability to have some staying power against energy neutralisers had me feeling pretty confident about my chances this time. This ship was unsinkable!

The Duel: Moa vs. Arbitrator

An Arbi-what? As I warped to zero and pretty much pulled up alongside Kirith I pondered the surprise hole in my ship knowledge. Caldari, Gallente, Minmatar and faction ships I'm pretty au fait with but I suddenly realised I knew feck all about Amarr ships beyond the fact they were exclusively armour-tanking (therefore slow - which suited me) and used energy weapons (EM and thermal damage only, my weakest resists but still solid). I mean, I'd heard of an Arbitrator, but aside from the fact it looks like an industrial clothes-peg it was a mystery. Oh well, this changes nothing, lock and fire.

Oh wait, he's got five Hammerhead II medium drones? The Amarr have a drone boat? How odd. No problem, I planned for this. Out go my Warrior IIs and I open up with my rocket launcher, assisting with my webifier. At this point I had no idea that he had another ten of the little bastards waiting in the drone bay. My shield tank was holding up admirably despite some filthy electronic warfare and capacitor neutralising effects I noticed. I still wasn't worried as I focused on whittling away at his drones, occasionally recalling and redeploying them to frustrate his locking.

Then I ran out of rockets. Oops. Someone forgot to put any in the cargo hold. That slowed down drone destruction considerably. Oh well, I should probably just concentrate on killing the Arbitrator which my heavy neutron blasters were slowly plodding on with. My shield was getting low and the Arbitrator was still at roughly half armour.

It was then that I realised that despite my afterburner happily contributing to my increasingly worrying capacitor drain, I wasn't actually moving. Arse-biscuits! No wonder I was struggling to make further headway into the Arbitrator's armour, I was at a dead-stop and had been for the entire time! Aarghh, massive piloting fail! With my ship making no attempt to achieve optimal range and with Kirith's tracking disruption, it was probably the Crucible rebalancing I've got to thank that I'd registered any hits at all.

Only then, with my capacitor at critical levels and my shield tank about to fail, did I make a desperate break for my optimal orbit. Suddenly I realised I was the underdog and I was in danger of paying for my earlier complacence. The hostile Hammerhead IIs relentlessly chewed at my armour and on into my hull as my neutron blaster salvos started to exact their toll on the Amarr cruiser. From my optimal my shots were registering much better and more consistent damage, stripping away the Arbitrator's armour and smashing through to the hull, causing smoke to belch forth.

But it was too little too late as my hideous hunchback Moa left a lifetime of ugliness for a moment of incandescent explosive beauty and I was left facing the reality of a three-nil drubbing at the hands of the upstart colonials. The contest was over.

The Conclusion

Once again, a competent fit was undermined by my piloting incompetence. Had I been putting out damage from my optimal range throughout the combat, I have little doubt that the Arbitrator's tank would have failed long before the Moa's. My key errors were;
  • Focusing too much on drone-on-drone combat, distracting me from the business of actually flying my ship.
  • Failing to pack enough ammunition to get the job done (38 rockets were as much use as a chocolate teapot).
  • Underestimating an unfamiliar enemy ship. Note to self, fly more Amarr to get a better understanding of those flying door-knockers.
Despite the result, I really enjoyed these duels, particularly this one. I found cruiser combat to be comfortably-paced compared to the lightning-fast frigate and destroyer duels. It's been a great learning experience for me and all credit must go to my venerable opponent for being the better pilot and gracious in victory. Thank you Kirith for being patient whilst I dithered, for FRAPSing the whole thing and for making it look like I had a chance.

If one learns more from defeat than from victory, I must by now be the wisest pilot in New Eden.

FINAL RESULT: Canada 3-0 England

Epilogue: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has been in touch and as a result of this duel, Canada is allowed to maintain its independence and Kirith is getting on the New Year's honours list. Meanwhile my standings with The British Empire have been reset and I am now KOS to all Beefeaters.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Freebooted vs. Ninveah: The Anatomy of Fail (Part 2 of 3)

For some, the thrill of ship combat in EVE Online is heading out into the unknown in search of conflict. However, I find lengthy roams are often fruitless and unrewarding and, in my experience, the victor is often decided by weight of numbers. But one man's "Blob" is another man's "Good Fite". To each their own.

Pre-arranged duels can be a good way to skip much of this pre-amble and get straight to the fun bit of exploding ships. The key is to pick an opponent equal to your level of incompetence - something I've not quite mastered yet it seems.

Following some social media "smack talk", fellow blogger Kirith Kodachi challenged me to a series of duels, one in each of the sub-capital ship classes (frigate, destroyer, cruiser, battlecruiser and battleship). The first duel was between my Merlin and Kirith's Rifter and saw me snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

With all my ships pre-planned and docked-up locally there was no opportunity to re-fit, so I hoped that for the next duel my unorthodox Catalyst set-up would see my opponent flummoxed and out-strategised. I was playing the odds and worked on the assumption that Kirith would stick to the popular choice of the Minmatar Thrasher, favoured for it's unmatched speed and ferocious damage output. So I set about planning a counter for that.

The Ship: Catalyst, SSS Beaver Basher

High Slots
125mm Railgun II x8, Spike S

Medium Slots
Catalyzed Cold-Gas Arcjet Thrusters
Phased Muon Sensor Disruptor I

Low Slots
Magnetic Field Stabilizer x2
Nanofiber Internal Structure II

Small Ancillary Current Router I
Small Hybrid Locus Coordinator I
Small Polycarbon Engine Housing I

Key Statistics
Effective Hit Points: 3,434 EHP
Damage Output: 180 DPS (165 turret/15 drone)
Weapon Range: 41.9km Optimal +9.38km Falloff with Tech II Spike ammunition.
Speed: 1,962 m/s with Micro-Warp Drive.
Align time: 4.6 seconds

The Strategy: Thrasher Dodger

As you can tell from the stats above, this Catalyst fit is quick and agile, hits hard at an impressive range, but has the structural integrity of a soap bubble in high wind. It also has another weakness, but we'll get to that later.

The key to protecting the ship would be to dictate range (41km) and prevent incoming damage by crippling Kirith's locking distance. A MWD Thrasher (1,873m/s) is naturally a touch faster than a similarly fitted Catalyst (1,711m/s), hence the Nanofiber Internal Structure II and the Small Polycarbon Engine Housing I rig. If Kirith had short-range weaponry, my superior speed would ensure he could never get in range to hit me and my dampener would negate any long-range efforts. There was no need for any tackle modules as I should be the faster ship and warping out forfeits the fight.

The one caveat to all this was that everything (MWD, Remote Dampener and Railguns) needed to be running all the time, giving me two-and-a-half minutes of capacitor to get the job done. Should be plenty.

The Duel: Catalyst vs. Catalyst

Oh crap - another Catalyst - not what I was expecting at all. But we'd warped to the combat area at a comfortably long distance apart (100km+) so I had some thinking time.

The first threat was Kirith's drone. The Catalyst was the only destroyer that could carry one, but even a single Warrior II posed a real threat to my paper-thin tank. That little bugger would have to go.

I started to close the distance and as soon as I could achieve a lock I dispatched my own drone and opened fire on his Warrior II. Whilst Kirith's drone was being murdered, a few long-range shots from Kirith ripped through my shields, reminding me my only protection was to fire up the Dampener and be mindful of maintaining the range between our destroyers. I'd drifted in to 35km despite supposedly orbiting at 40km.

As Kirith's drone exploded, I returned to my optimal orbit, now safely protected by my dampener-enhanced range tank. It was then that I discovered a glaring flaw in my fit. With the Small Hyrid Locus Co-ordinator I rig, I'd increased my bank of eight 125mm Railgun II's optimal range from 36.5km to 41.9km, but my maximum targeting range was only 41.3km. On paper this hadn't looked like a huge problem, but in reality it left little margin for piloting error. In retreating to my optimal I had inadvertantly gone a touch too far and lost lock on Kirith, thus was no longer range-dampening him. I had to approach once again to achieve a lock in order to make progress, which would allow him once again to fire at my weak tank.

It was in this final assault that almost the entire damage to both sides occurred, all in less than 30 seconds. My drone had been nibbling away at Kirith's shields, whilst my shields had been depleted by his earlier shots. With patience and accurate piloting, I should have been able to toy with Kirith and slowly kill him at my leisure. But perhaps being oddly protective of my drone on which he was now focusing fire, I had a rush of blood to the head and instead went barrelling toward him with my MWD-enhanced signature radius, forgot to re-engage the dampener and unsurprisingly died 15km from Kirith.

Despite my woeful tactics, I still managed to get Kirith's Catalyst into structure before I met my inevitable end.

The Conclusion

I've watched Kirith's video back several times now and I just can't figure out what I was thinking at the end there. It's like I suddenly thought I was back in my short-range Merlin fit from the previous duel. So what did I do wrong? In short, I failed to adapt appropriately to the changing situation and instead reverted to default comedy idiot mode.
  • When initially confronted with an unexpected ship (Catalyst rather than Thrasher), I identified his drone as the main threat, but this was only the case if I utilised my modules to eliminate the threat from the opposing Catalyst, which I didn't.
  • This Catalyst loadout was flawed, with the narrow range band between optimal and out-of-range being a millstone. Successful use of the Dampener or rig-boosted range are good ideas, but not at the same time. The Remote Sensor Dampener should perhaps be replaced with a Sensor Booster to focus on superior range and simplicity of piloting.
  • Despite having an optimal of 40-odd kilometers and a speed of nearly 2km/s, I was 15km from the enemy when I died. This is inexplicably stupid.
Kirith didn't win this duel as much as I lost it. I had every opportunity to stay beyond his guns and win the match on my own terms but I failed to do so. I think this combat is a good example of thinking clearly and adapting quickly being more important than having the best fit or most expensive ship.

SCORELINE: Canada 2-0 England

Next: Part Three - The Cruiser Duel

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Freebooted vs. Ninveah: The Anatomy of Fail (Part 1 of 3)

They say you shouldn't undock in anything you're not prepared to lose. My recent duels with blogging forefather and upstart colonial Kirith Kodachi seem to show I've taken this ethos a step further and only undock if I'm prepared to do everything in my power to ensure my own destruction. This is the first of three posts analysing exactly how and why I fail at PvP.

Shady Kodachi's negative security status meant that a low-sec system was to be our duelling ground. After theorycrafting my ship loadouts in PyFA, I headed across high-sec to Dodixie under fire from the Gallente Faction police (they've got long memories, I have no idea what I did to upset them) to make the necessary purchases before Kirith's alt couriered everything to our chosen system of Aliette.

The stage was set for a best-of-five match, with a combat in each sub-capital ship class starting with frigates then destroyers, cruisers and if necessary battlecruisers and finally battleships.

Kirith was a busy man with pressing real-life commitments so his time was limited. I was already running behind schedule so I hastily threw my chosen Merlin loadout together, but disaster struck - there wasn't enough powergrid to online the afterburner. What?! Has PyFA lied to me? I knew I should've stuck with EFT.

However, in referring back to my planned loadout I saw my error - I'd forgotten to purchase the required powergrid-optimising "Squire" implant. Kirith graciously offered to offline a module to make things fair, but I declined. Instead I botched a sub-optimal fit together by installing a second Power Diagnostic System II instead. The loadout was as follows;

The Ship: Merlin, SSS Kanuck Killa

High Slots
Rocket Launcher II x2
75mm Gatling Rail II, Javelin S
Small Unstable Power Fluctuator I

Mid Slots
Medium F-S9 Regolith Shield Induction
Invulnerability Field II
Stasis Webifier II
Cold-Gas Arcjet Thrusters

Low Slots
Power Diagnostic System II
Damage Control II* Power Diagnostic System II

Small Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer I
Small Core Defence Field Extender I
Small Ancillary Current Router I

*Squire PG2 implant required

Key Statistics
Effective Hit Points: 8,560 7,304 EHP
Shield Resists: 66%/63.3%/72.4%/77% 61.2%/58%/68.5%/73.8%
Damage Output: 64.2hp per second/159hp per volley
Capacitor: 1m10s 1m30s (stable without neutraliser at 48.8%/56.6%)
Speed: 864m/s with Afterburner
Cost: 13m ISK approx

The Strategy: Rifter Killer

Given Kirith's skills were undoubtedly maxed out across the board he would have his choice of ships. His logical ship choice was a Rifter, generally considered the best T1 combat frigate.

The plan was to have a shield tank tough enough to withstand a close-range assault from autocannons whilst having the versatility to deal reasonable damage at any range under 10km; the Rifter would almost certainly have the speed advantage to dictate range, even when tackled (given that he'd be tackling right back). I didn't bother with a scrambler as warping away would forfeit the duel anyway. I took the decision to sacrifice some damage output in favour of the energy neutraliser in the hope that he would have an active tank I could undermine.

The Duel: Merlin vs. Rifter

As the battle was joined, I allowed myself a smile as I had predicted Kirith's ship and fit almost perfectly. My only concern now was whether my weakened tank would hold up to the ferocious assault of a face-ripping Rifter. We started slugging it out at point-blank range, orbiting tightly. I tore through his shield quickly (I'd loaded EM rockets in case he'd gone for high-damage gyrostabiliser/shield tank fit), but made the mistake of not switching to kinetic when it was clear he had an active armour tank.

Even so, I was looking comfortably on course for victory as his armour hit 50% whilst my buffer shield was well above that. I had him at 50% structure when my shields finally gave, but surely it was too late for him.

At this critical moment, my rockets ran out. In that long ten second reload period, everything changed. Somehow, Kirith found enough capacitor from somewhere to pulse his armour repairer whilst my armour melted and my unprotected hull was exposed and stripped. Against the run of play my Merlin exploded, leaving Kirith's smoking Rifter surprisingly victorious.

The Conclusion

How did I lose? In hindsight, this fit was perfectly suited to killing Kirith's Rifter. The ship and the fit weren't at fault, just the pilot. I made the following mistakes:
  • Forgetting the Squire PG-2 Implant forcing the replacement of the DCII with a PDUII cost me 1,256 EHP. I suspect Kirith had a lot less than that left at the end.
  • I was using the worst possible damage type (EM) against an armour tanking ship. I should have exploited the likely kinetic hole.
  • My combat brain is a headless epileptic chicken on speed. I was randomly overheating things without any clear strategy, just because I've heard it's the thing to do.
Closer adherence to the Law of the Seven Ps is in order here: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.

Watching Kirith's FRAPS footage of the combat shows how relaxed and in control he was throughout, even when defeat was a real possibility. His controlled heat and module management seems orderly and focused. All credit to Kirith, I believe his disciplined armour repairer management won the day for him.

In contrast, I wish I could show you the frantic face-chewing and random button-mashing that was occurring at my end.  Actually, I don't.

To summarise; in my opinion the right pilot won, but the wrong ship.

SCORELINE: Canada 1-0 England

Next: Part Two - The Destroyer Duel

Monday, 5 December 2011

Crouching Developer, Exploding Mountain: A CCP Interview

Amidst a tumultuous barrage of discussion about Darren Aronofsky/Michael Bay mash-ups and EVE-playing world leaders, my podcasting co-host Arydanika and I recently had the opportunity to discuss all things EVE with Nick Blood and Nathan Knaack, better known in EVE circles as CCP Dropbear and CCP Headfirst. I wanted to introduce them as the Content and Storyline team of EVE Online, but it turns out that the truth is a lot more nebulous than that.

Storyline Ninjas

Like keyboard-wielding double-agents, it seems that any number of CCP staff could be considered part of this crack squad of sci-fi scribes, depending on the need. It may well be that Tony Gonzalez (CCP TonyG) and Hjalti Danielsson (CCP Abraxus) are the Hannibal and Templeton "Face" Peck of this sci-fi A-Team, which would leave Dropbear as the mad pilot Murdoch and Headfirst as the bullish B.A. Baracus - which makes at least some sense given that Headfirst ain't getting on no damn plane, instead staying in Atlanta to develop DUST 514 whilst Dropbear heads for Iceland. Quite who this leaves CCP Big Dumb Object and other contributors to be cast as I'm not sure (Colonel Decker and co.?), I knew I should have gone with the Mission: Impossible comparison instead. Or maybe Charlie's Angels.

Overstretched pop-culture analogies aside, our CCP encounter was enlightening and encouraging, with Headfirst's scattershot "rants" an entertaining highlight. Both Dropbear and Headfirst were engaging and verbose, perhaps in part helped by the beer they were consuming - it was their Friday night they were giving up to talk to us after all. It was a shame then that Headfirst's sound quality was marred somewhat by what sounded like his continued use of a blowtorch. Nevertheless, they (and Arydanika) graciously endured my amateur podcasting foibles (co-host? What co-host?) and some interesting topics were covered.

Faction Tales

Discussion of EVE's storyline and lore led into an explanation of the technology behind the ongoing incursion encounters that take place across New Eden. Currently the automated process of selecting and supporting these constellation-wide invasions is restricted to the Sansha's Nation NPC faction, but Headfirst and Dropbear pointed out that it was a powerful tool that could, in theory, be capable of so much more.

Both the re-invigoration of Faction Warfare and in-game support for pirate faction affiliation are perenially popular dreams amongst players, as exemplified by recent Blog Banter discussions and countless other blogs and forum posts. The Tale system could play a pivotal part in making at least part of this wish a possibility. A tantalising (but sadly purely theoretical) picture was painted of a future involving Incursions across New Eden by a variety of aggressors, with Guristas contesting Blood Raiders turf whilst Serpentis pushes on the Gallente Federation's borders and Amarr militia forces press out toward Providence.

Such a vision would be further improved with the ability for pilots to fight under the flag of their chosen faction, be that 'Empire' or 'Pirate' faction. This is already possible with the Faction Warfare system allowing corporate affiliation to any of the four major high-sec powers. Clearly, the seeds are there for a grander, more dynamic system; An overhaul of Faction Warfare, an unshackling of the Tale Incursion system and the Content and Storyline ninjas given free reign to cause havoc could give rise to the Aranofsky-Bay 'Way of the Exploding Mountain' experience that Headfirst so colourfully described.

Player Power

Could the above concepts actually happen? According to Headfirst and Dropbear, possibly. Much depends on the players.

The CSM is heading to Iceland for their Winter Summit this week and Faction Warfare is certainly on their agenda. As Headfirst pointed out, irrespective of recent events and the ever-present forum whiners, CCP has an exceptionally good relationship with its players and have shown that they are prepared to steer the ship to shores favoured by their subscribers. To take a positive from the recent controversies, the experience has set the foundation for a new co-operative relationship that can hopefully function without quite so much acrimony in future.

Nonetheless, the playerbase needs to be clear and vocal in what it wants. This doesn't have to take the form of a mutinous and blood-hungry mob every time, but organised and focused it must be. There are a multitude of issues that are deserving of focus and certainly the CSM should be the champions of these issues. CCP has provided a system to hear what we want and we must continue to make our voices heard.

Other mechanisms are also available to us. As Dropbear pointed out, the construction of Arek'Jalaan Site One: Antiquus in the Eram system is a great example. Over 30 billion ISK in materials was provided by players to construct what is essentially "roleplaying fluff". This proves that there is a strong interest in the more thoughtful 'Aronofsky' take on EVE (with of course a side-order of Bayhem).

It is certainly my intent to continue to promote the ongoing storyline content to the wider audience with the Tech4 News podcast. I believe that the ongoing lore of EVE should be central to EVE's future and an important consideration with EVE's direction.

To a degree, if your hobby involves flying a pretend spaceship in futuristic space battles, that makes you a "roleplayer". Everyone enjoys the fictional content at some level and this can be used to push for changes that the players want. To quote Headfirst, "Roleplayers are a powerful lobby."

Planetary Battlelines

DUST 514 is coming. CCP Headfirst's primary role is now concerned with the pioneering PS3-exclusive first-person shooter and he painted us an exciting picture of what is to come. Powered by the Unreal engine and intrinsicly linked to EVE Online's persistent universe, there is no doubting CCP's bravery or vision in attempting to revolutionise the console FPS market. DUST 514 will be free-to-play with microtransactions fuelling its continued development. Sony's enthusiasm to back such a venture makes DUST 514's 2012 launch potentially a pivotal moment in online gaming history. Its success could open many doors.

We discussed whether the console market would be receptive to such a pioneering concept. Is the ADHD generation ready for such a persistent gaming commitment? To paraphrase my co-host Arydanika; after so many FPS one-night stands, are console players ready to settle into a steady relationship (with the gaming equivalent of a violent, unpredictable crack-whore with a Machievellian control-freak ex-boyfriend no less), or will CCP find itself waking up alone in the morning laying in the wet patch?

Dropbear and Headfirst think the the future for DUST 514 and CCP is bright and I was encouraged by what we heard; terrestrial environments true to the various design aesthetics of the EVE universe, customisable equipment consistent with the damage/resist system EVE players are familiar with and ample opportunity for metagaming skullduggery and shenanigans. It'll certainly be an interesting experience for the console-only players and one I hope they'll embrace. In anticipation, I have been attempting (and failing) to embrace the inferior console control system for a possible future PS3 purchase (although the PS4 is apparently being unveiled next year). I know I'll end up failing at DUST as much as I do at EVE, but I've got to try.

Listen to the Voices

It was my first CCP interview and one I enjoyed immensely. Both CCP Dropbear and CCP Headfirst are clearly top blokes who know their stuff and have their fingers on the pulse of EVE Online and DUST 514. Much was discussed that I did not mention here, so I strongly suggest you give the interview a listen over at Voices From the Void, on iTunes or on EVE-Radio on Tuesday 6th December at 1600GMT. Sadly we had to edit out Dropbear and Headfirst's manly beer-wrestling, their King Solomon-esque method of resolving lore disputes and the GM who sounds like a goat, but there is still much entertainment and information to be had.

Look out for the touching story of a helicopter pilot who contemplates an exploding mountain. Confused? So were we. Go listen.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Putting Moose Beaver to the Sword

These days, my EVE-related activities are more metagame than actual EVE-playing. I spend hours every week reading, writing and recording EVE-flavoured things, but very little time actively flying my internet spaceships. This makes me sad. I enjoy the meta-activities too much to give them up and until I learn how to fold time to my will, my in-game activity will probably remain pretty occasional.

But excitingly, today is one of those occasions.

Due to my natural English pomposity, it seems I have managed to offend those mild-mannered Canadians, provoking their champion to challenge me to a spaceship duel. It wasn't easy though - perhaps too laid-back and chill for his own good, Kirith 'Defender of the Moose Beaver' Kodachi only threw down the gauntlet when I pointed out he should have been offended by my gently racist comments about boots and boats (eh?). He obligingly did so, tossing a fluffy moose-skin mitten to the floor of the Tweetfleet meeting hall.

Kirith nominated the place (which I think is better left undisclosed for the time being) and I suggested the terms to which he agreed.

  • The duel will be decided by up to five combats of increasing ship class beginning with frigates, then destroyers, cruisers, battlecruisers and finally battleships.
  • The winner is the first to secure three victories.
  • All ships must be Tech I non-faction variants.
  • All modules must be Tech I or Tech II (only ammunition may be Faction).
  • Warping from the field of combat, refusing to engage or behaving in a manner contrary to the spirit of the duel counts as a forfeit of that combat (ideally decided by adjudicator).

That's about all we've agreed on, I'm sure we'll hammer out the finer details as we go. It should be an entertaining engagement. Both Kirith and I are long enough in the tooth for skillpoints to be pretty irrelevant, so this combat will be decided by knowledge, experience and cunning.

Which should ensure I do hilariously badly.

Tally Ho!