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?

9 Replies to “Life in Eve: A Modest Proposal for ECM”

  1. Any kind of ECM consumable charges (Be them rainbow missles, booster charges, ect.) would definitely even out the field some. Including different effects, durations, ect to different sizes and flavors of the ECM consumables would make it more fun for both sides. As a newbie, using and receiving ECM is rather dull. Having some variety would spice up my life.
    And I like the idea of ECM being moved to a high slot. This move would be a nerf to any DPS or neuting the ECM boat could do, without taking away the effectiveness of ECM.

  2. I like the idea as a whole, but shooting them out of normal launchers rubs me the wrong way. I don’t want to reject it out of hand, but all the other ecm slots are mid slots. It would seem unfair that the Caldari would have to sacrifice their DPS. I do however like your idea of defender missiles countering the ECM missiles. There is also the idea of Caldari using missiles for EVERYTHING. And another counter for this jamming method would be the battleship firewall brigade, where a bunch of Battlships fit up for remote repair and smartbombs, which destroys any missiles that get close to them. But on whole, I think this is an excellent was for missiles to be revamped.

  3. Hi Derek! Two points:

    1. Thanks for mentioning the fact that Caldari use missiles for everything — I thought of that when the idea first occurred to me, and forgot to write it in the post.

    2. Amarr sacrifice their highslots for one of their two EWAR modules: neutralizers.

    Caldari are special in that they only get one type of ewar, and their ewar ships get double bonuses for that single type, so what they might lose in DPS (which is a non-issue on the dedicated ECM boats anyway) they’d gain in recovered mid-slots and a beefed up tank.

  4. This is an old old story which even predates EVE. In every mmorpg I have played “disabling” skills have always been problematic in pvp. The normal course of events is that a game has a disabling (crowd control) skill for PVE and then complaints roll in because it is completely unbalanced in PVP. Several patches later later the disabling skills is nerfed to hell in PVP but is left more or less intact for PVE. CCP managed to buck the trend only in making a disabling sklll that is useless in PVE as well as being awful in PVP. If ccp haven’t maanged to balance ecm in nine years then it is unlikely they will magically be able to fix it now but personally speaking I don’t think balance is the problem. The problem is that disabling skills suck the fun out of pvp games. I think they should get rid of it altogether and give Caldari some other form of Ewar entirely. What about something which reduces accuracy for example?

  5. Actually reading the post gave me an idea to partially balance ECM – the effect should only last as long as the module is active, with a fresh dice-roll at the beginning of each ECM cycle.

  6. “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.”

    I stopped reading at you over-simplification here that doesn’t take into account jamming strength of the ECM or sensor strength of the target, making your 99.9% mere hyperbole. And as you said, there are counter measures (sensor dampening should be included here). Pretending they don’t exist and then saying ECM needs fixing is questionable.

    1. A couple points:

      1. Sensor Dampening only works if you aren’t already jammed. If you are jammed, it doesn’t work.

      2. 99.9% chance is an exaggeration, yes, but I don’t thinks it’s so far off as to be considered Hyperbole.

      3. I’m oversimplifying because some of my readers don’t play EvE, and if you don’t play EvE, detailed discussions of EvE mechanics are BORING.

      With that said. Let’s look at my numbers, using the most very basic example I can provide.

      First, let’s take two basic, tech1 frigates, both good at their respective jobs: the Incursus and the Griffin.

      Let’s assume the Incursus is dual-rep fit, does good dps, has scram, et cetera et cetera. It’s mostly tech2 fit, and rigged. According to EvE Central, the ship and fit costs 28 million ISK, but for the sake of argument, lets assume a frugal pilot and say it just costs about 20 million.

      The griffin, for the purposes of this experiment, is going to be fit like so:

      [Griffin, Griffin – Cheap PVP 1v1]
      ‘Hypnos’ Signal Distortion Amplifier I

      J5b Phased Prototype Warp Scrambler I
      1MN Afterburner II
      Compulsive Multispectral ECM I
      Compulsive Multispectral ECM I

      [empty high slot]
      OE-5200 Rocket Launcher
      OE-5200 Rocket Launcher

      Small Particle Dispersion Augmentor I
      Small Particle Dispersion Augmentor I
      [empty rig slot]

      Hobgoblin II x1

      Let’s notice a few things about this Griffin.

      1. It has exactly one tech2 module: the afterburner. It also has a tech2 drone, because I felt sorry for it.
      2. I’ve left a rig empty.
      3. I’ve left a high-slot empty, which could easily be filled with either a turret weapon or one of those new high-slot target painters that are coming out soon. Either way, the Griffin has PLENTY of grid left over to fit whatever it likes here.
      4. Eve-Central prices this Griffin at 3.9 million isk — roughly one seventh its estimate for the Incursus, and a bit less than one-fifth the lower cost we decided it might really cost.

      Fit like this, using multispectrum jammers (the weakest kind versus any given opponent, compared to racial jammers), the Griffin has a 6.3 jam strength against the Incursus, or 7.1 if he overheats (which he can do on both those jammers for at least 3 minutes).

      The Incursus has a sensor strength of 9.

      What does this mean?

      The chance of one ECM module to jam a ship on each of its cycles is “p”, where p = ECM strength / ship sensor strength.

      So in this example, the chance of the Griffin to jam the Incursus is exactly 70% per jammer, if the Griffin pilot doesn’t overheat, and 78%(…) if he overheats. In all cases, the probability that the jam fails is 1-p, or 30% and just a hair less than 22%, respectively.

      But wait! The Griffin has two jammers. For this example, the number of jammers a ship is using on the target is “N”.

      The probability that N jammers all fail is (1-p)^N, and so the probability that at least one jammer succeeds is 1-(1-p)^N.

      So…

      Unheated Jammers: Chance of Jam= (1-(1-0.7)^2)
      Heated Jammers: Chance of Jam= =(1-(1-0.788888)^2)

      Put another way, if the Griffin pilot does nothing special, he has a 91% chance to jam the Incursus (a ship of the same size and tech-level, but roughly 5 to 7 times the cost) on every cycle, and if he uses heat (which of course he will in any 1 on 1 fight, knowing that it will be long over by the time 3 minutes goes by, even with his terrible dps), he has a 95.5% of getting a jam on every cycle.

      So, yes: 99.9% was exaggerating.

      But not by so very much as ECM pilots would like everyone to think.

      (And lets just ignore the fact that the Griffin has the weakest ECM bonuses of all the ECM ships in the game. Moving up to the Falcon, we see that the ship bonuses have doubled and the number of ECM slots have effectively tripled, allowing a full spread of far more powerful race-specific jammers, while a comparable opponent (pick your favorite HAC) has seen a sensor strength increase of only 66% over its tiny tech1 cousin.)

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