Life in Eve: A Modest Proposal for ECM

So, I just thought of this, and maybe it’s been proposed many times before; I don’t know, but I’ve never heard it before, so I’m going to run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.

First, the current situation: ECM (Electronic Counter Measures, the specific brand of EWAR favored by the Caldari faction (and some pirates) is surprisingly un-fun. By that, I mean that it’s surprising that CCP hasn’t done something about it, given that pretty much anyone in the company will readily admit that it sucks, if you ask them directly — they don’t talk about it all the time (because generally you don’t want to keep bringing up something bad that you’re not doing anything about), but I doubt you’d find any developers who would waste two breaths actually defending the mechanic.

For those of you who don’t play EvE, the basic idea with combat is that you have to acquire a ‘target lock’ on anyone you want to shoot, basically adding them to a finite list of viable targets from the list of all POSSIBLE targets. (There might be 30 guys nearby that you might shoot, but only maybe 3 to 7 that you CAN shoot, because you’ve locked them.) Similarly, you need to lock anyone you want to do anything beneficial to as well. Also, it’s worth noting that the time it takes to lock ANYONE is (basically) an inverse of their ship’s size relative to yours (little ships lock big ships really quickly, big ships lock little ships really slowly, et cetera).

ECM basically is a magical beam that you hit a ship with and, if you hit them use it on them (it always hits), and you’re within your optimal range (which is quite far) and they haven’t fit any special modules that lower your odds (which isn’t incredibly common in most cases), you have about a 99.9% chance of completely clearing their “target lock” list and (further) making them unable to add anyone back to their list until you deign to stop using the ECM on them. (Some particularly skilled practiced ECM pilots will actually let their ECM lapse on a target, use it on another target for a cycle, then reapply it to the first target just as they’re about done reacquiring their target locks, thus jamming even more targets than they’d normally be able to, so just because you aren’t jammed right now doesn’t mean you won’t soon become jammed again.

Anyway, this sucks. Most people will agree that it sucks to get hit with ECM, because it means you can’t do much of anything during the fight (after 35+ years, EvE has basically reintroduced the generally shittiness of the the original DnD Sleep spell), but my personal opinion is that — if your goal with PvP is to have an exciting fight[1] — it sucks for you even if it’s working on your side, because it makes the fight boring. Anyone can shoot targets that can’t shoot back — there are a number of activities in EvE like that. What I’m saying is that ECM basically turns PvP into mining.

So, most anyone you ask will agree that ECM sucks, and yet nothing changes, probably because no one can think of a solution that doesn’t break the mechanic too far in the other direction (a mistake they’ve already made with other EWAR systems); ECM is ridiculously powerful right now, but because it’s chance-based and thus potentially ‘streaky’, it’s hard to fiddle with it without making it totally useless.

And You Think You Have it Figured Out, Genius?

The idea came to me while I was messing around with the new Ancillary Shield Boosters (which, if you haven’t, you should check out). Basically, the idea behind the ASB is that they’ve combined a Shield Booster (repairs your shields in mid-combat) and a Capacitor Booster (think a high-tech power potion that restores your capacitor and requires you carry around a cargo hold full of ‘ammo’ for the module) into one new module: a shield repair unit that only runs if it has “cap boosters” to run on, which repairs a bit more shield than a typical shield booster, but has a finite power supply and (this is a big deal) takes a full minute to reload before it can be restarted.

(Those of you playing other MMOs may recognize it as a potion cooldown, if you’re so inclined to make the comparison.)

Now, obviously, if you want to run your ship with a sort of “continual repair” kind of tactic, this module won’t work well by itself — a minute of downtime out of every two minutes won’t cut it.

But you CAN use two. It’s hard to fit, but it can be done. The basic idea is that you run one, then start the second one as you begin reloading the first, and keep going back and forth like that, with an ‘oh shit’ option to run both at the same time for about 50 seconds of tanking glory.

Yeah… see, I said “50 seconds”, not “1 minute”, didn’t I?

See, the diabolical thing about the ASBs is that a full load of cap booster ammo will keep the booster running for 50 seconds, but it takes a full minute to reload, so sooner or later you’re going to hit a gap where — even with two ASBs — one will run empty while the other is still reloading. Fun! Also, if it were somehow applied to offensive modules, it introduces a EvE-like version of diminishing returns for repeatedly applying the same effect to the same target over and over (a common mechanic in any MMO with a lot of this kind of ‘crowd control’).

And I got to thinking about reloading gaps. And about ECM.

So How About This:

You get rid of the magical beams of ECM in five magical flavors (one for each faction, plus the “multispectrum”), and replace them with ECM missiles in five magical flavors that hit their target and jam the target for let’s say 20 seconds[2]. Maybe these missiles launch out of special mid-slot modules, or (more likely) they launch out of regular missile launchers. Either way, the ECM-specialized boats gets some kind of bonus to them — probably a combination of fire rate and missile flight duration (longer range).

One thing you could then do is play with fire rates. Maybe (and this is just a random idea) the launchers loaded with these things only fire every 40 seconds or so. So, on an unbonused ship, you can jam your target for 20 seconds, force him to reacquire targets for x-seconds, and have to deal with x-seconds of pain until that next missile loads and you can jam him again. Or, you can cycle two alternating launchers on him. Or, use a specialized boat that narrows the margin between effective jam time and the rate of fire.

There are obviously things to address with this (such as ECM-emitting drones, which basically become just ECM multispectrum missiles with more fuel and a virtual intelligence), but that’s the basic idea.

In the short amount of time I’ve thought about it, this seems to introduce some interesting features into ECM warfare:

  • ECM retains the nigh-perfect jam rate, provided you can keep missiles cycling on a target. Easy if there are only a few targets, but with the difficulty of keeping multiple targets jammed scaling up far more quickly than it currently does.
  • Unless you’re getting hammered with ECM missiles from one very skilled pilot or multiple pilots, you’re going to start seeing more small windows of opportunity where you can actually do something during a fight. A skilled and prepared pilot (read: not me) can use those windows to accomplish some surprising things.
  • ECCM remains viable as a way to resist the effects of the missiles, but …
  • OMG there’s actually a use for those Defender Missiles that no one uses! A Falcon just decloaked on your Hurricane? Quickly reload your two ‘utility’ missile bays, swapping out normal offensive missiles with Defenders, providing a new (chance based) line of defense against the incoming ECM missile, potentially blowing it up before it gets to you!
  • Smaller ships, which are currently jammed quite easily, might actually stand a chance of outrunning ECM missiles long enough to do the ECM ship some harm or (and this would be cool) their speed might reduce the strength of the ECM pulse in the same way it currently reduces normal incoming missile damage, providing a third bit of defense for faster ships.

Hell, come to that, if you simply set the fire rate to 20 seconds with a 20 second rate of fire (base), but made the strength of the ECM from the missiles work the same was as normal missile damage (adjusted up by attacking ship type and relevant pilot skills, adjusted DOWN by defender skills, and possibly ship size and speed), that ALONE would rebalance ECM quite a bit, without crippling it.

Anyway, lots of ideas here. I don’t think of this as a solution so much as a collective brainstorm, so… thoughts?


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