FATE: The Goddamn Batman

So there are ways to stat out Batman as a starting character. But (a) someone already did that and (b) I need an NPC version of Bats for a game where he’s one of the Big Three and the PCs are playing newly minted players on the super-powered stage.

So basically I started with the idea that Batman is a ‘skills’ character, and his best skills are going to be about 2 better than the best a ‘normal’ super can bring to the table, solo. That gave me a skills pyramid that peaks at “Fantastic” and literally includes every skill in the setting, even “Lore” (used for magic), which Bats understands the theory behind, even though he doesn’t have the requisite mojo (aspects) to cast spells.

My personal favorite bit is using the Cover Identity stunt from the new Fate System Toolkit to make Bruce Wayne, and then give Bruce, not Bats, the high Resource skill — Bruce is where the money is, after all.

As for the rest, I basically went with Batman as he’s portrayed in stuff like New World Order and Tower of Babel.

BatmanBatman_0683

Aspects

High Concept: World’s Greatest Detective
Trouble: Bruce Wayne is my mask
Dark Knight
All Those Wonderful Toys
Bats are great survivors

Skills
Fantastic (+6) Investigation
Superb (+5) Stealth, Provoke
Great (+4) Fight, Knowledge, Notice
Good (+3) Athletics, Will, Craft, Shoot
Fair (+2) Physique, Piloting, Drive, Contacts, Survival
Average (+1) Empathy, Burglary, Deceive, Lore, Rapport, Resources

Stunts
Elementary. You can pick apart a lie by analyzing the details. Use Investigate to defend vs. Deceive.
Utility Belt. An array of useful little things. Whenever you need something, you have it, provided it’s not something too unusual (for you) or too large to fit in a pocket, belt pouch, or backpack. When you say you have something, the GM should be likely to agree.
Batcave. Get a +2 to Craft or Knowledge for creating advantages or overcoming obstacles, provided you can access the cave.
Where did he go? You can roll for concealment even when being directly observed, provided any sort of “distraction”-type aspect can be invoked.
Secret Identity (see Cover Identity, FST): Bruce Wayne. [Aspect: Billionaire Playboy. Apex Skill: Resources (plus Deceive, when defending the identity.)]

Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Pseudo-review

So, a few days ago, a conversation I was having on g+ crossposted to this blog. That wasn’t intentional, but I let it stand, because it brought a few more people into the conversation and (also important) let me check out how well the google+blog integration for wordpress was actually working.

Anyway, the conversation/question was about how to handle Mind Control in FATE, and one of the comments here on the blog was kind of important:

“What is this ‘FATE’ of which you speak?”

I Have Been Remiss

What with one thing and another, I haven’t been able to play a lot of tabletop RPGs for the last… umm… lifetime of my youngest child. That doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to (or kickingstarting) new games coming out, but I haven’t really been talking about them much, because I’m not playing them, and I feel playing a game is sort of important when determining if it’s worth recommending. “Dungeon World is an interesting game to read” isn’t exactly a value-add for the global conversation.

But FATE is different. I’ve been playing FATE (a little) and more to the point I’ve been playing with FATE (a lot) in terms of really digging into the rules and seeing what I can do with them. I thought I’d share what I’ve found so far.

FATE?

Once upon a time, there was a game called FUDGE, which was really more of a free toolkit of basic rules mechanics, a guideline on how to add color and setting flavor to those rules, and a very energetic group of folks on a mailing and IRC list, playing with the tools in the box.

Much later, Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue (both guys I knew through the online Amber DRPG community) came up with FATE, which was basically the first publicly distributed version of of a FUDGE hack they’d been working on and running games with for a long while — I think of this public, Open Gaming License version of the game as Fate 2.0 (with Fate 1.0 being the private version), though I don’t know if that’s accurate. I did a lot of gaming stuff with that version of FATE, as did Dave Hill (specifically with the espionage game he was running at the time). I enjoyed it a lot, though it certainly had it’s rough edges.

The game continued to develop, and while a “Fate 3.0” never really saw the light of day officially, more advanced versions of FATE continued to be released as parts of new ‘branded’ games. This ‘era’ saw the release of Spirit of the Century, which focused on pulp-era heroics and was a big one that I played and ran a lot. Thanks to the way Fred and Rob (and now Lenny Balsera) distributed and supported the rules, lots of other game designers got in on the fun and wrote their own games with the FATE rules. Diaspora — ‘hard’ science sci-fi — was one that I also played and enjoyed. The big score for FATE during this period was probably the massive Dresden Files RPG, which showed some real growth and evolution in the way the game’s developers were using the game.

Things went a bit quiet for a bit, which is usually a sign that there’s something going on behind the scenes. The result of that period of relative silence was FATE Core, and the FATE Core Kickstarter.

Simply put, Fate Core is the best version of Fate we can possibly make, built upon over a decade of play and design experience by Evil Hat, and with the Fate player community at large, taking the best lessons from all of gaming and distilling them into a cohesive, compelling whole.

The FATE Core kickstarter started out with a modest goal of $3000 to release a PDF of the new game version. Instead, the project attracted over ten thousand backers and over 425 thousand dollars, and the stretch goals took the project from a single new PDF of the rule book out to Hardback rulebooks, new games, a ‘ultra-lean’ Fate Accelerated Edition that takes Fate Core and boils it down to 42 pages, more new games, dozens of settings and worlds worked out for the rules system, a young adult novel written by Carrie Harris… it’s crazy. Just crazy.

But What’s the Game Like?

The PDFs for FATE Core and Fate Accelerated are both out now for a “pay what you like” download. I’ve had a chance to mess with them for months as well, so let me see if I can sum it up.

This is a game that is intended to let the narrative drive the rules and not the other way around. This is a fancy way to say “figure out what you want to do, say what you want to do, and how to do that in rules will be obvious — don’t start with the rules, start with the story.” It demands characters that are proactive, and assumes those characters are competent.

The game uses classic Fate dice, specifically four. These are standard six-siders, with two sides are marked with a +, two sides with a -, and two sides blank. They are read by adding up the results, so ++[blank] – = +1, which is then added to your rating in a relevant skill, which are rated from 0 to 4 by default (though this range can be extended).

Most importantly, the game uses descriptive Aspects to represent important… umm… aspects of everything in the game, from characters, to scenes, to entire campaign settings. These Aspects are used to justify influencing the story or dice results; for instance, by providing bonuses to die rolls, allowing reroll of bad rolls, creating (or simply permitting) special effects, or being used as a justification for an action. Aspects are double-sided things, and can be used for or against anyone, regardless of where they originated.

In FATE, you can treat anything in the game like it’s a Character.

What’s that mean? Let’s say you’re playing a Game of Thrones-inspired game. Here’s your setting:

The Seven Kingdoms

Aspects (as of A Feast for Crows)

  • Under the Thumb of the Bitch Queen
  • Sparrows are Everywhere
  • Winter is Coming

Maybe you’re up near the Twins in the Riverlands, which is currently in turmoil for a number of different reasons. In Addition to the aspects on the whole of Westeros, this area also has:

The Riverlands

  • Guest Rights don’t mean as much as they used to
  • The Night is Dark, and Full of Terrors

All of these aspect are those the players can use to boost their actions or justify pretty much anything, and that’s ignoring the Aspects the characters themselves have. When you’re playing someone trying to negotiate the peaceful surrender of a castle under siege, both sides of the conflict might consider calling up bonuses from any of these before they ever mention their own traits (like “Kingslayer” or “Too Old to Care About Anything But a Good Death”).

More importantly, since everything in the game can be treated like a character, and Aspects on characters can be changed, you have legitimate (if not at all easy) ways to get rid of the Queen — hopefully the replacement will be better.

Mechanics

For those who have played other version of FATE in the past, I’ll simply say that the mechanics for conflicts are more streamlined than ever before. Forget about complicated ‘zone maps’ with ‘borders and barriers’ and all of that stuff. Forget about Block actions. The authors have taken a hard, hard look at the rules and realized that in many cases they were just using different names and applying minute edge-case rules to a bunch of stuff that was really all the same thing. Conflict, for example, has been boiled down to four clear, straightforward actions without costing you anything in the way of flexibility or options – you’re less restricted than you may have been in older versions of the game, because you don’t have to remember all the different options: it’s so much simpler now — figure out what you want to do first, in the story, and the rules will follow. Fate Core is excellent.

And, if anything, Fate Accelerated is even better.

FAE?

As good as Fate Core is, it’s still a 300 page rule book. Fate Accelerated is 42 pages, and manages to be both satisfying in terms of the character depth is provides (sacrificing none of the nuances of Aspects in the pared-down rules), and quite possibly the best set of pick-up-and-play rules around, which is awesome for someone with limited time.

The big difference between FAE and Fate Core is the skill list: FAE doesn’t have one. Instead, characters rate Approaches (reminds me a bit of In a Wicked Age, which would be a great FAE Hack). Once Kaylee gets back from Grandparent Camp, she and I (and maybe Katherine, if Kaylee can convince her) are going to take this out for a spin.

So far, I’ve worked out characters in FAE ranging from Marvel superheroes to Doctor Who companions, and read some wonderful examples of characters ranging from Star Wars to Warhammer40k Space Marines — maybe the only version of WH40k I’ve read that I’ve wanted to play since Space Hulk.

Bottom lines

There’s too much for me to write about in this game. From the fact that you do campaign creation during character creation, to the chapters of GM advice that make the PDF worth paying for by themselves, I feel there’s something for everyone, and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it some more (if nothing else than just to share the Doctor Who write-ups I’ve done). If you want a comprehensive review, try this one or, for FAE, this one. I think it’s a great game, and for a couple bucks (or even free, if you’re particular cynical/suspicious/doubtful) you can’t beat the cost of checking it out for yourself.

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice – Putting the Play into Practice (4/4)

Whew.

Okay, let’s see if we can pull all this musing into some kind of coherent plan for missions. There’s a lot here, so let’s boil it down.

Here are the parts of the topic already covered:

  • Part 1 and Part 2 talked about the fundamentals of PvP in Eve (as broken down by Ripard Teg), and how those could be applied to new missions.
  • Part 2.5 answered some questions that parts 1 and 2 generated.
  • Part 3 talked about the ways Ripard’s “stages of PvP” could map to “stages of a mission.”

From that, I want to boil down some of the rules and guidelines for making new missions based on the precepts of Eve PvP.

  1. Current PvE missions are kind of terrible. Outside of the UI, it is in PvE mission content that Eve truly shows its age: dated, primitive, simplistic, and boring.
  2. Aside from being boring, all but a few of the missions teach piloting behavior at direct odds to every other part of the game. Yes, running missions will teach you how to interact with Eve’s UI, but in all other respects missions actively train that player in ways that makes them demonstrably and steadily worse at every other kind of play in the game, including:
    • Poor ship selection. (Bigger is better! Battleships beat everything! Gear determines success!)
    • Poor ship fitting choices. (Cap rechargers! Propulsion modules are pointless! What’s a Warp Scrambler?)
    • Poor target selection/situational awareness. (Shoot the battleship first: it’s got the biggest bounty. What do these icons over my HUD mean? Nevermind, don’t care!)
    • Poor threat assessment. (There’s only fifty of them and one of me. No problem!)
    • Poor or non-existent manual piloting skills, let alone an understanding of transveral and/or signature/speed tanking. (I’ll just approach the next acceleration gate and slowboat that way as I kill everything.)
  3. I’m not talking about missions getting harder, unless by “harder” you mean “requiring some preparation and thought.”
  4. I’m not talking about replacing all the old missions, because the old missions form a backbone of salvage that the market needs. That said, those missions where you’re fighting 50 on 1 should CLEARLY MENTION that you’re not fighting a credible threat like capsuleers, and mention this OFTEN.
    • Corollary to this: mission agents should be dismissive of the threat of normal fleets to a capsuleer, and if anything overreact to the possible threat from even a small group of ‘capsuleer’ NPCs in a mission.
  5. Higher level missions do not automatically (or even often) equate to ‘you need a bigger ship’.
  6. The level of the mission should determine how much “ship fitting” hand-holding the player gets beforehand.
    • Level 1 and any Training missions: “Okay, this is the situation, in Detail. Because of those Details, that means you need a ship that can do X, Y, and Z. So: get a ship of [this class] and [this role], which includes ships like the [names here], and make sure that it has [this module], [this module], and [this module]. If you don’t have that stuff, you’re going to have a bad time.”
    • Level 2 missions: ”This is the situation, in Detail. You will need to do [These Things], which probably means [this general ship class] with appropriate modules to perform [X, Y, Z]. I leave it up to you to make sure you can perform as needed.
    • Level 3 missions: “This is the situation, pretty much. This is what you have to be able to do. Handle it.”
    • Level 4 missions: ”This is what little intel we have. Further instructions once you arrive and can give us eyes on the site. Good luck. We trust you.”

Important:  This is about bringing the skillset of the PvE pilot closer to skillset of the PvP pilot, so that acclimation from one mode of play to another is easier and, thus, more likely to see crossover.

This is not about moving higher level missions to low- or null-sec. Doing that won’t ‘force’ anyone in the game anywhere, except “out of the game.” It’s a GAME, people will play how they want, and if you try to force them, you’re just hurting the game.

Now, with all that TL;DR summary in place, let’s talk some specifics.

1. It’s Not the Size of the Ship…

Different ships fit different roles. Each class of ship has areas were they excel, and others where they are weaker. Bring only one type of ship to a fight, and you are that much more likely to encounter a “hard counter” that will annihilate you.

Missions should drive home an understanding of the strengths of various ship classes.

FF (Frigates): Excellent Tackle. Excellent Scout. Decent bait, provided support is nearby. Moderate to Good EWAR platform. Not-bad support option, in some situations. Reasonably good damage mitigation versus larger ships, thanks to high speed, but otherwise comparatively fragile. Comparatively poor damage.

DD (Destroyers): Serviceable tackle, if nothing else if available. Serviceable Scout, if nothing better is available. Decent bait, provided support is nearby.Generally poor EWAR platform. All but non-existent support capability. Moderate to poor damage mitigation (tank can be matched by some frigates, too slow to speed tank very well.) Comparatively OUTSTANDING damage: Excellent versus frigates or other destroyers. Excellent cost-to-damage option versus larger targets.

CC (Cruisers): Generally poor tackle versus smaller targets, good “heavy” tackle versus bigger targets. Not recommended for scouting, but often decent bait. Potentially excellent EWAR platform. Potentially excellent support capability. Good to great damage mitigation. Good to great damage (though you probably won’t get that AND good mitigation). Great all-around ship versus moderate resistance, and can tweak fittings to deal with many different types of ships. Best versatility for cost.

BC (Battlecruisers): Generally as a cruiser, but more so. Exceptions: poor EWAR or support except in gimmick small-gang fits. Even more flexible options in terms of modules makes it potentially more versatile than a Cruiser (giving up less to get what it needs) at higher cost that may or may not be worth it.

BB (Battleships): Poor tackle. Terrible scout. Obvious bait. Rarely used as ewar, except on dedicated ships. Support options are often somewhat gimmick fits. Great damage mitigation. Great damage (and can easily do both at once, by comparison to smaller ships), though applying damage to any smaller targets may require specific modules (webs, scramblers, target painters, et cetera).

One of the main reasons to make sure missions continue to ask for all classes of ship, regardless of mission level: it helps players understand that no class of ship ever becomes ‘useless’, regardless of the level of play you reach.

2. Your Role in this Mission, Should You Accept It…

Damage: We have a lot of missions like this already, and if any more are added, they should be against “capsuleer”- grade opponents, to teach pilots to access threats in way that more closely represents every other part of the game: one-tenth the number of ships for the same amount of overall threat.

1v1: Get capsuleers challenged to 1v1 “duels” versus NPC capsuleer opponents (or arrange for them to “challenge” an NPC via the agent). This can be balanced by level of mission, with ship restrictions to ensure the player doesn’t steamroll. Even better: don’t worry about the ship restrictions, and just have the NPC warp out if you show up in an inappropriate level of ship or bring backup. Have this sort of thing cause the failure of the mission, since the point is to get the guy to fight, pin him down, and kill him, whereas scaring him off will “set our pursuit back by months, if not years.” HOWEVER: if you can get a scram on the guy and THEN bring in backup, that should work. It does in the rest of the game. Honor-shmonor.

I’m not going to do more of these, because most of them show up in some other area: Damage dealing is requisite.

Wait, one more consideration: Range. Some missions should specifically call for sniper fits, mid-range fits, or brawler fits, and what the means should be different for different classes of ships.

Long range artillery: Awesome, though maybe not THIS awesome.

Tackle: Oh what fun we can have here.

First guy through the accel gate. Sort of like ‘cheating’ at the 1v1 above. The idea is to go in on an otherwise superior opponent and get a tackle, holding it until your (NPC) backup arrives. Higher level missions provide the NPC target with webs, neuts, scrams, smartbombs, backup of his own, and may mean the backup takes longer to arrive.

“I was there.”

Speaking of giving your NPC forces a chance to warp in, why the hell don’t we have a mission like this?

That would be cool.

“There are pilots camping our station in snipe battlecruisers.” – I’d love to see a way to do this right in high-sec, right on the station where the Agent is at. “Enemy” NPCs show up outside the station. You need to get tackle on them so NPC support can come in and finish them off. Instant-undocks can make getting away from the fire of the ship much easier (maybe an earlier mission walks the player through making one for a ‘scouting/lookout’ mission). Get tackle and let the NPCs mop up. All NPCs involved would be impossible for others to shoot without being CONCORDed, to prevent mission griefing.

In-mission variation: The mission is in a non-gated deadspace pocket, and the pilot is encouraged to warp in at range to land on top of the offending ship. Those that don’t do that get a quick lesson in how to spiral approach. 🙂

In fact, seeing the way in which the UI can be affected by the new scanner overlay coming out soon, I have NO DOUBT that a ‘how to spiral approach’ tutorial missions could be built, with blinky box overlays on the HUD to show where to manually pilot in order to keep from getting splatted by a distant sniper.

Catch that guy before he gets out of range! Basically, get scram/web tackle before the NPC leaves. The best idea here is if you have a mission where the enemy have set up a Stargate (See: “Halt the Invasion”) and the enemy ships appear through the stargate and land in your trap. If you get both scram/web, the target dies. If you get only one, he might make it out. If you get neither, he’s gone, and you fail.

EWAR/Support: Sometimes damage isn’t the point. In this situation, you’re asked to come in as support for an NPC gang or even a solo pilot. Specific types of EWAR will probably be called for, and the reasons for the need given:

  • “We need target painters to get a bead on those little bastards.”
  • “We need tracking disruptors so we can get under the guns of those big bastards.”
  • “We need energy neutralizers to break the enemy’s self-repair capability.”
  • “We need ECM so the enemy rages in local and leaves.”
Support modules (repairs, etc) are called for in something like one training mission to sort of ‘resurrect’ a damaged ship. It’s terrible. Missions for logi/support pilots should exist, and thanks to the new support frigates and tech1 cruisers, can start right away. The job is simple: wait for the NPC to shout for help, get in there and keep him standing. Alternately, warp into an ongoing battle and try to turn the tide of the fight with your amazing rep skills.
Medic!
Scouting/Bait

Setting up the conditions of the fight to be favorable to your side — a great player skill to train. This is an excellent opportunity to build missions around flying around a system “Looking like bait.”  Try to get the NPC enemies to engage you by looking helpless and alone, then tackle them when they show up and your backup jumps in. Level 1 versions of this mission might lead you by the nose, so you get an idea of what’s needed (“Warp to Planet 1 at 100. Now Align to the Sun. Warp to the Sun at 0. Now warp to the Asteroid belt on Planet 1 at 50. Now the Acceleration gate and jump through. Hold there. Here they come!”), while higher level missions merely tell you “Get their attention and lure them into the complex before you call us in.”

"Clearly, I am a harmless loon. Come fight me!"

Non-bait scouting might be more of a tutorial, and teach the player to use d-scan on 360 max range, narrow beam long range. 360 short, and so on.

Does anyone have a cyno ship handy?”

Combine any of the tackle/bait ideas with a “prototype (nee: civilian) cynosural field generator” and have the player call in their backup with a full-blown cyno. (No beacon in local, and ‘works’ in high-sec — hence “prototype”.)  This is a mission — one of the few — that should send the player to nearby space held by the enemy faction. Some missions might be a “bait, get them to attack, then light the fire and hope you live” situation, while others would be more of a ‘sneak our forces in behind enemy lines” scenario which, if done correctly, would result in no combat all. “Tiptoe in, tiptoe out. Like a cat, one might say.” Obviously, as with the rest of the game, any size ship might be appropriate for a cyno job, depending on the type of mission.

There is, not for nothing, an excellent opportunity here to tie this kind of mission into the lore of everything that’s happening in New Eden right now. Tensions between the empires are rising, and these sorts of behind the scenes sneak attacks would be great to get into the game.

Would it be cool to be able to call Hot Drop O’clock on an enemy force you tricked into engaging? Sure.

You know what else would be cool?

What if you take a mission from the Minmatar, and they want you to sneaky-cyno a fleet of their ships into Gallente space? No combat, of course — it’s all just ‘training maneuvers’ — completely legitimate. Still, probably better not to ask any questions, though you might be able to guess their reasons.

So…

All classes of ships used, in all levels of missions.

Jobs to perform that mirror the roles you play in PvP, and the play priorities.

Sometimes, the need to run after you win. Sometimes that means having missions where you kill a specific target and get out, and sometimes it means MANY missions should have stupidly overwhelming backup arrive on the field about a few minutes after the last NPC dies. Angry backup.

No real changes to the current missions. (Except making sure players understand that non-capsuleers are NOT in the same classes as the pilots “like you”… and making low-sec mission rewards actually provide rewards comparable to the risk/cost of living in lowsec, so they’re worth it.)

Fitting priorities and expectations more in line with every other part of the game. Basically, short and brutal fights where mobility, buffer, and burst tanks far outweigh the importance of cap stability, and tackle modules actually AFFECT THE NPCS. (I’m looking at you, Faction Warfare destroyers that fly 5500 meters/second while scrammed. So stupid.)

What do you guys think?

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (3/4): Stages of a Mission

So let’s continue this conversation about how to create new PvE missions in Eve that are more engaging, interesting, and just generally “better” by applying the fundamental rules of PvP as explained by Ripard Teg over here. This is the last the of “mapping” posts; the final post will give examples of the kinds of missions we could get out of this method.

Stages of a Mission

From Ripard:

All PvP in EVE comes down to five basic stages:

  • Preparation
  • Travel
  • Engagement
  • Combat
  • Disengagement

Make no mistake: all PvP in EVE operates within these five stages in one way or another. If you’re not the one following these steps, your enemy is.

Preparation

This is where you decide what ship you’re going to bring for the job at hand, and a place where Eve Missions truly fail to reflect every other area of the game. Missions as they stand right now are simple: bring the biggest fucking thing you can squeeze through the acceleration gate. I if doing level 4 missions, just make sure you ship can put out some combination of sustained tanking + sustained damage that equals about 1000 dps. The end.

This teaches terrible lessons to a new player to the game in terms of making good ship selection for the task at hand.

“There are war-dec pilots camping our station in snipe battlecruisers.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“We have hostiles on our static wormhole in cloaky tech 3 cruisers.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“The FC is doing a frigate roam.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“There’s an enemy destroyer in the Medium Complex in system.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“Does anyone have a cyno ship handy?”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“I need someone to scout ahead of the fleet.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

It also leads to frustration on the part of anyone dealing with such a pilot, because they say things like:

“Man, I feel so cheap and ghetto in this frigate.”

Consider: the guys you’re flying with might spend 90% of their time in those ghetto frigates you’re talking about, successfully killing idiots in Battleships that think they can beat every other sub-capital ship in the game. You are not endearing yourself. Some of the best solo and small-gang groups in the game fly frigates ninety percent of the time, not despite the fact that frigates are twitchy, hyper-responsive, relatively fragile, and the ship class most unforgiving of mistakes, but because of that.

We can address this issue in new missions in a number of ways, but the main one is this: Disconnect the size of the ship from the level of the mission.

Instead, the level of the mission should determine how much personal research the player needs to do to figure out what sort of ship they need to bring to the mission.
  • Level 1 and any Training missions: “Okay, this is the situation, in Detail. Because of those Details, that means you need a ship that can do X, Y, and Z. So: get a ship of [this class] and [this role], which includes ships like the [names here], and make sure that it has [this module], [this module], and [this module]. If you don’t have that stuff, you’re going to have a rough time.”
  • Level 2 missions: “This is the situation, in Detail. You will need to do [These Things], which probably means [this general ship class] with appropriate modules to do [X, Y, Z]. I leave it up to you to make sure you can perform as needed.
  • Level 3 missions: “This is the situation, pretty much. This is what you have to be able to do. Handle it.”
  • Level 4 missions: “This is what little intel we have. Further instructions once you arrive and can give use eyes on the site. Good luck. We trust you.”

To quote:

Your first job is to understand what kinds of ships the FC wants and to comply with that. If the FC is asking for cruisers and below, respect that. Do not bring your battleship.

Some of the requirements of the missions may hinge on:

  • Flying style — “Hit approach and F1” should not be the only tactic people need to know.
  • Range of the engagement (brawling, point range, skirmish range, sniper range).
  • The job you’re supposed to actually perform.

Travel

Holy crap do some high-sec people bitch about having to travel a couple jumps. They’re like the New Englanders of Eve. Sometimes trouble will come right to you and you’ll fight in your home system. But sometimes you need to travel.

Why the HELL are the missions always defensive? If, in Gallente missions, I’m fighting Amarr anyway, why the hell am I not being sent on away missions to Amarr space sometimes? Genesis is, like, five jumps away! Take the fight to them once in awhile. Sheesh.

The way missions work right now sets up bad expectations in pilots encountering PvP for the first time.

“Where are we going?”
“Roam’s forming in Rens. We’ll check out twenty or thirty systems in Great Wildlands, then up into Curse and maybe Scalding Pass, then we’ll see how it’s looking by then.”
“I… think I’ll sit this one out.”

I’m not saying every mission should be 15 jumps away, but cut the fucking apron strings sometimes: take some cues from the Gurista and Sisters of Eve epic story arcs. Travel is a part of (say it with me) every other part of the game.

If you really want to do something unspeakably cool: set up a mission where the pilot gets to take a Titan bridge. That would be excellent. Bonus points if the mission agent chews you out for bumping the titan out of position.

And how about gate-to-gate-to-gate escort missions, designed on the lines of basic fleet scouting? Yes, some mission griefing is possible in that situation, but it could be mitigated by making sure Players shooting the escort NPC was a Concord-able offense.

Engagement

Setting up the conditions of the fight to be favorable to your side.

This is an excellent opportunity to build a mission around flying around a system “Looking like bait.”  Try to get the NPC enemies to engage you by looking helpless and alone, then tackle them when they show up and your backup jumps in. Level 1 versions of this mission might lead you by the nose (“Warp to Planet 1 at 100. Now Align to the Sun. Warp to the Sun at 0. Now warp to the Acceleration gate and jump through. Hold there. Here they come!”), while higher level missions merely tell you “Get their attention and lure them into the complex before you call us in.”

Try to look helpless.

Combat

We already have LOTS of fights where you have to kill everybody and their pet dog. Far more interesting and useful are situations where you’re getting messages from your Mission Agent about different targets. Level 1 missions start out with one guy you need to kill and can then leave, while Level 4s might get to the point where you need to tackle two different guys and put damage on a third to keep him interested until your NPC backup arrives, followed by methodically working through a randomized list of named targets.

EXPLAIN, IN THE MISSIONS, WHAT THE HELL “Yellow boxed” and “Red boxed” are, and what they indicate. Have Aura do a damned tutorial, with proper animations.

(Unrelated: for your colorblind players, the UI really needs to be updated so players can change the colors for “yellow” and “red” boxes… and damn near anything else.)

For Bonus Points:

Have fights where your job is logistics, with NPCs calling for reps. Start with Logi frigates and one guy you need to protect, to level 4 missions with Logi Cruisers, 30 friendlies on the field, and randomized broadcasts for repair (this would need some kind of UI additions, probably, but it would still be extremely valuable and pretty damn fun).

For MORE bonus points:

Have missions where you don’t get support from NPC repair ships without using your fleet “Broadcast” buttons and/or hotkeys.

Disengagement

Sometimes, winning means knowing when to get out. That means (a) having missions where you kill a specific target and GTFO, but it also means that many, MANY missions should have stupidly overwhelming backup arrive on the field about [rand(7-15)] minutes after the last NPC dies. Angry backup.

The enemy now knows exactly where you are, exactly what your composition is, exactly how many of your ships they have destroyed, and they are probably watching you. You are extraordinarily vulnerable at this moment.

Mission Agents will direct you to recall drones, “scoop loot”, and will be advised to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. If an allied NPC fleet of ships is on the field, they may advise you to stay fairly close to them until they’re “ready to leave.”

These new missions, the way they are structured, will not substantively add to the overall “NPC Loot” intake in the overall game: we have missions for that, so these missions are about ISK, Loyalty Points, and a few nice drops off a few key ships. These are not missions where it’s a good idea to reship into a Noctis.

Almost Done!

Did any of this give you cool ideas for new missions? Share them in comments, and I’ll add them to the fourth-and-final post.

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (2.5/4) — Answering Questions and Comments

The last couple posts have attracted some good questions and feedback, and raise some points I want to address before I move forward.

The questions came in from all over, however, so apologies if I don’t attribute the questions to the right speaker in all cases.

Narol Decyg:

I would personally LOVE for missions to get harder.

That’s… fine, but it’s really not what I’m talking about. When I said the mission NPCs should get about 10 times harder, I also said there should be about one-tenth as many of them. That isn’t about difficulty, but about teaching players in missions that five ships can be a credible and dangerous threat, so that when they see five players coming at them, they don’t think “oh, I can tank 50 NPCs — I’ve got this in the bag.”

More about his further into the post, actually.

Druur Monakh

One core aspect of PvP is evaluating and taking a risk against ultimately unknown odds – namely your human, unpredictable opponent. No AI will ever be able to emulate that, no matter how PvP-like the mechanics are. PvE would have to simulate the inventiveness of real players to clear this hurdle, and I don’t see it happening in any game.

Absolutely. There’s really no way the AI is going to get as good or as hard as playing against another good player (it can easily simulate fighting a bad player, though) — you can rebalance the NPCs to be generally harder to defeat, however, and use fewer OF them, to teach players better threat recognition.

Also, far more of what I’m talking about for these missions is about what the player’s are called on to do, not what they’re going to fight. Missions right now are stupidly, stupidly simple: go in, kill everything, and (sometimes) grab A Thing and bring it back or (rarely) deliver a thing to a box. It’s fucking terrible.

More on that further down.

Niamh Aideron

… or move more missions to low sec but increase the rewards to reflect the increased risk from PvP ambush.

Two thoughts on this:

1.

I don’t personally believe that moving currently-highsec missions to lowsec will do any good — ultimately, I think it will harm the game, to be honest, because there are people playing the game who, if forced to travel to Low or Null sec to continue doing what they enjoy doing (missions), will simply quit playing. Most of us know we don’t want that, and the people that say they do are idiots. Multiplayer games only work with multiple players.

With that said, I do think missions in low-sec should have higher payouts than they do currently. Missions given in highsec but going to lowsec should pay better than highsec going to highsec, and lowsec-located agents sending you to lowsec should pay very well indeed — in Loyalty Points, especially.

I don’t believe in forcing players a certain direction, but I do believe in luring them. 🙂

2.

What I’m advocating in this series of posts are mission changes that call for techniques and ship fitting philosophies that have use and merit valuable in areas of the game OTHER than PvE.

I don’t care where people live. At all. I definitely don’t see the ‘natural flow’ of the game to be High -> Low -> Null. That’s just group-think from a (very) organized minority in the game.

What I do care about is whether or not players feel as though they are suitably equipped to take a weekend roam into low-sec, or spend a month ‘deployed’ to the constellation controlled by Mordu’s Legion. Missions don’t do that right now, they could, and really they should.

MBP

I don’t agree that you can improve EVE PVE content by making it more like PVP. PVE players and PVP players want different things and trying to turn one into the other will just annoy both.

There is already one type of mission in the game which meets most of your criteria: the universally reviled low sec courier mission.

Forcing some hi-sec distribution-mission-running hauler to go into low-sec for a mission isn’t “making the missions more like PvP” — that’s just taking someone and throwing them into an environment where they don’t know what to do. That’s not what I’m after at all.

As I said, I have no interest in trying to force all high level missions into more dangerous space. That is often the solution that people talking about this come up with, especially if they just happen to be from nullsec. I think, personally, it’s a bad solution.

What I’m talking about is changing the design of PvE missions so that they can be completed following the same basic approach and fitting philosophy as PvP. For instance:

  • Mission runners should know the difference between a Warp Disruptor and Warp Scrambler, why you’d want one over the other in different situations, and how it interacts and/or complements a Stasis Web… or a tracking disruptor… or whatever. More, there should be missions that call on players to use one or the other (or, for a real challenge, both at the same time on two different targets).
  • One of the primary design differences between PvP and PvE fittings is Cap Stability, or how long you can run everything on the ship before you run out of juice. Standard Mission Fits go for 100% cap stability forever, because slow and steady wins the day. In the process, however, you sacrifice so much on your ship fitting that your ship is laughably easy to destroy in PvP. PvP ships, conversely, aim for about 2 minutes of functionality in a solo or small-gang situation, and if they get more that’s either a specialty-fit ship or a happy accident. Active Capacitor Booster modules are a mystery to Mission Runners, because why would you use something that only keeps you Cap Stable until the charges ran out… and fill up your hold with the Charges in the meantime? THAT’S WHERE MISSION LOOT GOES.  Conversely, passive Cap Rechargers are horrible, horrible things to see on a ship that’s intended to be used against other players, and I see them on people’s ships ALL THE TIME. I think Sleeper-killing PvE ships are quite close to a happy medium between the two — closer to the sweet spot for PvP-teaching PvE content than anything else out there right now: my alt’s Drake can run everything on the ship for about eight minutes, which is just about enough to clear a Class Two sleeper site, solo. If I’m not solo, it’s even easier, because I can flip off some of my tank in between, and more to the point, I’m fit in such a way as to be a semi-credible threat if I happen to get attacked while running sites.

Those are a couple examples. I’ll have more in part four of the series.

The point of all that is this: when a pilot decides to join some friends for pvp roam, and the FC says “Just bring something fast with short range guns, MWD, scram/web, and a buffer armor tank”, the pilot in question can say something besides “Whut?”

Gor

Your posts got me thinking about one of the things I’ve always disliked about Eve.

5 low investment, low cost ships can and will demolish far more massive and expensive ships.

To this day I think that the cost of ships is out of balance in Eve. If a ships material cost is going to be 10x more than another ship, it needs to bring the firepower, armor and abilities at 10x the magnitude. Eve doesn’t do this, except in PvE.

I don’t know if you agree or disagree, but I’d love to hear you address the ship size/cost imbalance in PvP.

Man, there is so much to talk about here that it could easily be its own post, but I’m going to stick to my guns and get all these comments addressed.

So let me just break this into tiny parts and talk about each one.

5 low investment, low cost ships can and will demolish far more massive and expensive ships.

First, I will challenge the term “low investment.” If you’re talking about skill points, Frigates use EXACTLY the same gunnery, missile, and tanking support skills as battleships. Especially when it comes to tanking skills, a well-skilled Frigate pilot and well-skilled Battleship pilot are IDENTICAL.

Further, with the skill tree changes, there is very little training time ‘distance’ between a well-skilled frigate pilot and a well-skilled battleship pilot in terms of just flying the ships around. The Navigation skills for a good pilot of either are identical, and training distance from level 4 Racial Frigate to Level 4 Racial battleship is ~12 days.

So the only truly significant difference in training time is the guns, because right now, if you want to shoot tech 2 large guns, you need to train both tech 2 small guns and tech 2 medium guns. I think it’s important to mention that because once the new expansion drops, guns will be only thing in the game that works that way. Missile systems and Drones have never worked that way, and all the Ship skill trees that work that way today (you need tech2 Assault Frigates to fly tech 2 Heavy Assault Cruisers) are being changed in a month or so. I think it won’t be long before the Gunnery skill tree changes as well — it sure as hell should change, because it’s stupid to have it work differently than everything else in the game.

Anyway, ignoring guns (which I am), you’re talking about less than two weeks of training time between a well-skilled frigate-only pilot and well-skilled battleship pilot, so I’m dismissing the idea of “low investment” in terms of skills, because in the “five frigates versus one battleship” example you give, the amount of training represented by either side is — all other things being equal — vastly in favor of the five frigate pilots.

What about cost?

There’s a tendency, when comparing ships, to just look at hull costs, and that’s terribly misleading, because ships have fittings, and those fittings narrow the cost gap between ships immensely, even if you fight on a budget.

For example, almost every one of the frigates I fly — all of whose naked hulls cost about half a million isk, give or take — will be worth about 12 to 13 million isk once they are fully fitted and supplied with appropriate amounts of ammunition for PvP (read: enough for two reloads, most of which will never be used before the ship explodes). If I’m flying a Fed Navy Comet (which I can acquire for rougly 1.5 million isk via Faction Warfare, but which retails on the open market for roughly 13 to 14 million for just the hull), the value of the ship goes up to about 22 million, all told — roughly the same value as the Destroyers I fly.

(Yes, you can fly them cheaper. You can also fit them more expensively. I’m using my fitting standards as the baseline, because it’s what I know.)

By comparison to my average Comet, this Vexor we killed is actually the cheap ship — the hull plus fittings were only 15 million. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost Tormentors  more expensive than that, and I don’t really even like Tormentors.

“But,” you protest, “that’s a bargain basement fit for a cruiser. That’s hardly a fair comparison to your frigate, which is fit with mostly tech 2 modules.”

Sure. This Thorax is closer to 40 million — about the cost of three of my frigates or two of my destroyers, and as a general rule I would think it fair to expect it to BEAT or drive away three of my frigates or two of my destroyers in an otherwise-even fight.

But if three frigates brought exactly what they need to fight a thorax (read: a lot of tracking disruptors and enough webs to keep me from jumping a gate), I might die without killing any of them. That’s just preparation on their part and poor target-selection on mine: that particular thorax is a terrible choice for fighting frigates, and in any case that’s not what I built it for. (I didn’t build it to fight two battlecruisers and two tech 3 cruisers either, unfortunately, even though that’s what I ended up facing.)

On the flipside, I might take a Vexor (which is now entirely comparable to and a better brawler than the thorax) against worse odds — three destroyers, for example — and hope to kill one and escape the other two. These things happen.

Let’s get to bigger ships, though. How about this Myrmidon? Aside from some changes I’d made to the tackle modules, there’s really nothing wrong with that fit as far as PvP goes — it’s a fairly traditional triple-rep Myrm, and comes in at right around 105 to 110 million isk. (I’m adding a bit, because of the drones he was attacking with that don’t show up on the kill.) Based on the value of the ship, that should be the match of 8 to 10 of my 12-13 million isk frigates, right?

Maybe. Or maybe it really isn’t that hard to find a single frigate that’s worth just as much. Are those two ships comparable? Could one kill the other?

Is the Isk value any kind of indicator of the correct answer?

Of course not.  That’s no more relevant than the fact that Guardians in LotRO have really expensive gear and Loremaster’s armor is relatively inexpensive by comparison. Remember one of the Principles from yesterday: You are not your ship.

To this day I think that the cost of ships is out of balance in Eve.

Bottom line: don’t try to tell me that the Isk value of the ship’s naked hull is any relevant indicator of its threat level. If you point me at a Battleship, I’ll point you at a frigate that cost more, and I won’t even have to look that hard — that fight was last night, and frankly I’d rather try to solo the Armageddon than the Hawk.

If a ship’s material cost is going to be 10x more than another ship, it needs to bring the firepower, armor and abilities at 10x the magnitude.

The fittings on the ships level out actual difference in ship values in many cases, and even if they didn’t, ISK value is no indication of actual worth, any more than Plate Mail should mean that you always beat the guy wearing the robe. It helps, but it doesn’t determine the winner.

Second, when it comes to little ships killing bigger ships, I have two words for you: Star Wars. Here’s another two: Battlestar Galactica. How about…

Actually, no: it’s easier to say that the idea of smaller ships being able to hurt larger ships if they can get in close enough to get “under” their larger, slower guns is one well-established in the genre, and leave it at that. Big ships expecting to fight smaller ships either need support from smaller ships, or need to fit themselves in such a way as to be able to deal with little ships.

Which brings me to…

Third, when you’re talking about battleships getting demolished by five frigates, your usually not talking about a PvP-fit battleship — you’re talking about a PvE fit battleships who think they are badass and are actually incredibly poorly fit for PvP.

The video’s sadly been taken off Youtube because of the background music used (which is stupid: that background music encouraged me to buy three of that band’s albums), but I’ve seen a solo Dominix pilot fight a gang consisting of a Brutix, Hurricane, three Rupture cruisers, and a Stiletto interceptor, kill all but two of the ships, and leave the field intact.

Would I do as well in such a ship? No, obviously, but that’s on me, not the ship — I’m bad at Eve. With the introduction of the Micro Jump Drive, battleships really have a new lease on life in solo and small-gang PvP, because they can force engagements into their best effective range (where things like Heavy Neuts can be applied to pesky small ships) or, if their opponent won’t come in and hold them down, they simply leave the field with the MJD. And all of that really ignores the updates coming to the Battleships with the summer expansion.

Battleships are better than frigates. Frigates cannot be fit in a such a way as to deal with every eventuality, from fighting a battleship to fighting frigates. Battleships can be – making them quite literally a bristling island of threat versus whatever they might face.

Can they deal with 50 opponents at a time, like they can in PvE?  Of course not, because PvE missions are incredibly misleading.

If a ship’s material cost is going to be 10x more than another ship, it needs to bring the firepower, armor and abilities at 10x the magnitude. Eve doesn’t do this, except in PvE.

This is where a tremendous amount of the disconnect comes between PvE missions and PvP. Missions set a terrible expectation for new Eve pilots, and the first time a PvPer shows them the reality of the situation, it is a cold slap in the face.

The problem is, I know exactly why the missions are set up the way they are and (worse) given the reason for it, I can even understand and conceptually agree with it.

The thing you ABSOLUTELY MUST remember about current mission NPC is this:

You Are Not Fighting Capsuleers

Now, as soon as I say this, everyone who knows anything about the lore of the game will nod their heads and say “right, right…” but how often do you really think about that in the game? Almost never.

But the fact of the matter is, YOU are playing someone who, with little or no crew (depending on the size of the ship) is controlling a space craft the way you would control your own body. It is your body, for all intents and purposes, and when you face mundane ships crewed with mundane humans, who all have to do everything so incredibly slowly, you fucking destroy them, because you are quite literally a god among mortals — an adult challenging first graders.

This is you.

Yes, you are the match for fifty or sixty or even more of these insects. Good for you.

The problem is, you kick the shit out of grade-schoolers for months on end, and you start to think this is normal — that this is how the whole universe matches up to you — 50:1, with the advantage to the 1.

Suddenly you run into someone else like you.

They aren’t slow. They aren’t weak.

And they haven’t been spending their time fighting seven-year-olds at recess. They’ve been fighting with other grown-ups.

I call this the Amberite Issue — a tribute to the Amber series by Roger Zelazny — also known as “What do you mean there are other gods?” In short, you are immortal and impossibly powerful to nearly anyone you’ll meet in whole universe… except for the other people like you. To them, you’re just another young punk who needs to get his ass whupped a couple times to learn some respect and actually become marginally useful.

NOW this is you.

I know why CCP does this: you are a god, and you should get a chance to feel like one. I get that. Some of those ridiculous “50 vs. 1” missions need to stay, if only for flavor.

But when they come, they should REALLY be pointed out by the mission agent.

“Listen, they have an entire fleet defending this base — support craft, battleships, missile batteries, everything — but they don’t have any capsuleers, so really this is going to be a walk in the park.”

(I mean, that’s why Sleepers are so nasty — they’re almost capsuleers.)

Then do a mission where the whole defense force is, say, “a small squad of five novice capsuleers” and have it be just as hard as the full fleet of normal pilots.

When that’s done, make sure the mission agent mentions that while that was hard, at least they weren’t actual full-fledged capusleers like yourself.

Make sure they say that, and make sure they say it a lot.

That, plus getting the pilots some experience with tactics and modules, might help with the shock of trying PvP.

That’s it.

More soon!

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (2/?)

So here’s the premise:

  1. PvE mission content in Eve comprises some of the weakest PvE content in any MMO, and is inarguably one of the weakest, least-fun parts of Eve itself.
  2. PvP in Eve is pulse-pounding, adrenaline-dumping, heart-beating-like-sneakers-in-a-clothes-dryer stuff.
  3. We can improve the PvE in Eve by adopting some of the fundamental guidelines of PvP, and in the process make it much less of a shock for a PvE-experienced player to PvP.

In the last post, I talked about how a couple of the fundamentals mentioned by Jester can apply to missions, specifically:

Don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose 

Bigger is not always better. In Eve, going Bigger can be a wildly inappropriate and/or stupid choice. Missions should call for lots of different sized ships, depending on the mission and irrespective of the LEVEL of the mission: there is no reason we can’t have Level 4 missions where a tech 1 Atron frigate is a viable option — maybe the best option — and many good reasons why we should have them.

Assume what you’re flying is lost the moment you undock

Variations in mission content should surprise pilots routinely and cost pilots resources beyond ammo. Sometimes ships blow up. Some missions (like the one in “Advanced Combat” Tutorials) should require a ship be sacrificed for the greater good.Truly demanding missions where death is likely should have commensurate rewards if you can pull it off without losing the ship.

In fact, why not get rid of the idiocy of Ship Insurance and just have missions with a high chance of ship loss pay out at least as well as Platinum Insurance on the most appropriate class of ship for the mission? That way, you’re compensated if you lose the ship, and dancing a jig if you don’t.

“But what if the pilot brings friends?”

YES. WE SHOULD PROBABLY TEACH PLAYERS THAT BRINGING FRIENDS TO HELP WITH TOUGH FIGHTS IS A GOOD IDEA.

90% of PvP in EVE is preparation

PvE players learn no sense of PvP threat scale from doing PvE: they tank 15 battleships, 20 cruisers, and 10 frigates in a mission and can’t figure out why five condors flown by regular players can kill them in about three minutes. Back-of-napkin calculations suggest PvE mission opponents should be ten times more dangerous and one tenth as numerous, ballpark.

But that’s just the last post. What about Jester’s other fundamentals?

Don’t blame others for what happens in PvP

I’m not really sure what you can do with this in PvE, except shutting down appeals for losing a ship to a mission you had no business taking. HTFU, people.

I know someone who lost a cruiser when they charged into their first Level 3 mission. They appealed it, and the GM replaced the ship.

I was, in a word, appalled. I’m plenty new-player-friendly, but come on. The player fucked up, they should deal with the consequences. Obviously. If they don’t want to lose ships, they should stay docked.

If you are flying with an FC, the FC’s word is law 

This isn’t even that complicated: LOTS of MMOs have complex instructions for their missions; by comparison, the missions in Eve are insultingly simple and boring. Give the players complex instructions for missions and either penalize the HELL out of their rewards if they screw it up or (just as acceptable) provide large bonuses if they get them all right — think of it as Hard Mode for a mission, with rewards for better performance, and the stuff the agent asks for is the same stuff that is routinely required in (say it with me) every other part of the game:

“Shoot only Target X. Leave everyone else standing. Yes, even the annoying bastards webbing you. Focus. Fucking. Fire.”

Sneak into the complex. Stay cloaked. Get within 10 km of Your Target, decloak, and Activate your [Mission Cyno]. Try not to die until the Module stops running, then warp out, but even if you get blown up, mission accomplished.  Forgot to stay cloaked, or just tried to kill everyone yourself? Everyone warps away, and you fail.

“Shoot Target X. STOP! Shoot Target Y! STOP! Shoot Target X again! X! X X X! Now Z, but keep a web on X! WEB ON X! STOP SHOOTING Z AND KILL X! KILL! X! GOOD! X is down! NOW RUUUUUUUUUUN!”

Movement is life

This goes back to ideas for several of the other principles. Small, fast ships should sometimes be the perfect solution for high-level missions. Also, with mission NPCs should be tougher, harder hitting, and less numerous, making movement more effective as a defensive measure.

PvE mission runners should understand that sometimes just getting to Point B as fast as possible is “Winning”, and they should learn that even when you bring a big ship, slow = dead. Afterburners are just as much a damage mitigation module as they are movement boosting.

Related to this, get rid of the 40-minute slugfests. Any “real” fight in Eve that a solo pilot or small gang has the slightest chance of winning  is going to be Nasty, Brutish, and Short. PvE pilots should have the same expectations in this regard as PvP pilots: if a fight goes past 5 minutes, it’s probably because something is going wrong, and they should consider getting out before reinforcements arrive.

(Yes, I know big fleets are sometimes different, but solo PvE teaches solo PvP in this case, right?)

Maintain situational awareness

Since we’ve got fewer NPCs on the field, we can make them meaner. More Neutralizers. More Webs. More Scrams. More Ewar. (Fewer ships on field mean that even the much-hated ECM NPCs can be dealt with with some Eletronic Counter Countermeasures ‘tank’ and target prioritization.)  Teach the pilots to pay attention to everything that’s happening and react to the problems in order of threat level, not just “shoot the biggest guys first.”

You are not your ship. You are not your pod

This just goes back to not flying what you can’t afford to lose. Ships are disposable, when it comes right down to it, and while losing them always sucks, quite often the win you pull off by sacrificing your ship makes the loss MORE than worth it. Big rewards for ‘sacrifice’ missions will take the sting out of it, I suspect: people are running missions to make isk, after all.

Learn from your defeats. Learn from your victories

Mission-writers can do some heavy lifting here. If the pilot takes a mission where ship-loss is highly likely, but saving the ship is possible, and the pilot fails to save the ship, have the mission-agent offer some tips and advice on how NOT to lose their ship the next time – yes, this is an opportunity to talk about transversal, spiral approaches, gun tracking, optimal ranges, and other such advanced stuff.

But That’s Not All…

I suspect this series will be in four parts. Part Three will cover the five Stages of a Mission, and I’ll wrap up in Part Four with suggestions for new missions, stolen directly from common solo and small-gang PvP scenarios. See you then.

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (1/?)

When I first started playing Eve in earnest (which does not count the attempt some seven years ago) I went through all tutorials (this was only a few years ago, right after the new avatars, but before Incarna, so the tutorials weren’t as utterly terrible as they had once been), then did the Sister’s Epic Arc, and then started running missions.

I mean, that’s what you do in MMOs, right? Tutorial, then the mission chain the tutorials send you to, then take missions from whoever seems interested.

Mostly, I did those missions on my own, but I was sometimes joined (and often advised) by Gor, who was a veteran of High-sec PvE and any-sec industry. I remember the first time he actually rendezvoused with me in a system (Nine jumps away! The vast distance! Travel takes so long!), stoically floating next to my trusty Vexor cruiser in his slowly pulsating Megathron Navy Issue battleship. Many times, he would lead the way into a mission, knowing the massive bulk of his ship could handle virtually anything the NPCs could throw at him, and that I could safely proceed to pick off the small stuff without fear of reprisal.

Time passed, and I became interested in Exploration and eventually Wormholes. Once I’d gotten to what was probably the absolute BARE minimum level of skill for handling the most basic of Wormhole anomalies, I went hunting for them, and convinced Gor and CB to come along on a little daytrip into the first uninhabited system I found.

Gor brought one of his mission-running battleships.

It wasn’t pretty.

Gone was the idea that anyone was ‘safe’ in the site. Anyone on the field was a valid target, because the Sleepers switched primaries randomly, and even if they hadn’t, none of us could really handle the incoming damage: if you had a hole in your defenses – ANY kind of hole – the sleepers found it, bored in, and tore you to pieces from the inside.

After a dozen attempts at the site, we finally prevailed, looted the field, and limped back to known space. I’m fairly sure most of us were on fire.

Gor was, to put it mildly, peeved. Insulted, really. The way the sleepers had manhandled one of his best mission-running ships was just… well, it was clearly broken, is what it was — it was just ridiculous — he hadn’t been that close to losing a ship against an NPC in years.

Eventually (it didn’t even really take that long) we figured out how to fit ships that could handle sleepers, and we adapted our play to their little foibles as well. There were some painful losses along the way (and not all or even most to Sleepers), but we managed. Eventually, it all became routine — even the most challenging of PvE in Eve is pretty predictable, manageable stuff.

Later, I dropped into a random site in known space and was struck (shocked, really) by how EASY it was — compared to Sleepers, these known-space NPCs were a walk in the park. I even ran a couple missions — easily destroying objectives in an Ishkur frigate that I had once struggled to complete in a Myrmidon battlecruiser. Some of that was my increased training, yes, but far more was the simple fact that I’d been forced to up my game.

“I understand your frustration now,” I said to Gor. “These guys don’t prepare you for Sleepers in the least.”

“I know,” he said, sounding disgusted. “I almost didn’t come back to wormholes when you wanted to try again.”

Now imagine how much worse the shock is if, as someone new to PvP, you jump into a fight thinking that missions have prepared you for what’s to come.

You expect this.
You get this.

What’s that going to be like for the new PvPer?

Well, they’d be insulted. The way the other player(s) manhandled their ship was just… well, it’s clearly broken, is what it is — just ridiculous.

And that impression is not the fault of the PvP — it’s the way in which missions (and really any of the currently designed PvE) completely fails to prepare you for everything else in the game.

So how can you fix that in such a way as to make the PvE suck less (it is, honestly, quite poor — ironically the worst 10% of the game, yet all that 90% of new players ever experience) while preparing players for the sorts of the gameplay you’ll regularly encounter in PvP?

You Play the Way You Practice

Recently, Jester started up a PvP 101 series that I’m going to use as a sort of brainstorming blueprint for improving PvE in Eve. Jester’s guide is very good, and the things he mentions a player needs to consider are important regardless of what you’re doing in the game, so why not use the missions to teach those lessons, since that is where players coming in from other MMOs will start anyway?

The goal is three-fold, and the results are all beneficial: reduce or eliminate the profound culture shock that players experience when moving from missions to PvP, actually familiarize them with the skills and techniques they’ll use in that environment (beyond just “this is what a web is”), and improve the missions themselves by making them more interesting and engaging.

But… why?

Jester said this best, so let’s just let him explain it:

Player-versus-player combat in EVE is a rush that is very difficult or impossible to duplicate in other games. Your first few times in PvP battle, your heart rate will go up, your hands will shake, and you will have a visceral emotional reaction to what’s going on. Even after months or years, from time to time you will still have this reaction. When you are killed, you will feel compelled to obsess about why it happened and when you succeed, it is something that will cause you to smile for hours or days afterward.

Compare this to Eve’s PvE experience, which involves missions so boring that players routinely fall asleep if they run them for too long, and win anyway.

General Principles

Don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose.

One of the first and most profound differences between PvP and PvE in Eve is that, with PvE, Bigger is Always Better. This calls back to most traditional MMO designs in which the bigger and badder a mission is, the bigger and badder you need to be to defeat it. Think of any MMO where someone figures out how to beat a high-level mission on a low-level toon, and that method will quickly be labeled an exploit, a patch will be applied, and the innovative player in question should count themselves lucky they weren’t banned.

That’s… not how Eve works.

First of all, innovation in play is sort of the point.

But more importantly, this idiotic ship progression requirement in missions is teaching players the best ship for any given situation is the biggest fucking thing they can undock, and that is simply not the case in any other part of the game. Sometimes, you need something small and fast. Sometimes, you need something tough, and damage doesn’t matter. Often, you need something that’s got a bit of a bonus for a particular role.

Some faction warfare missions kind of work this way: in almost all of the highest-level faction warfare missions, the best ship for the task is the incredibly fragile stealth bomber frigate. That’s a fine start, but it’s ultimately a bad example, because it’s still just one ship type that must be used.

There’s a mission, for example, called The Reprisal, where you have to kill a commander flying a battleship. It’s one of several missions of this type in Faction Warfare, but in this case the target you need to kill flies quite fast (reducing the damage sustained from the bomber’s torpedoes) and actively repairs damage (eliminating what little damage he does take).

The solution to this problem in every other part of the game would be to get a fast interceptor or attack frigate to haul ass after the target, get a web and a warp scrambler on the guy, and pin him down while the bombers do their work.

Doesn’t work. NPCs don’t work like real ships, and can just go as fast as they like for as long as they like. Scramblers don’t work to shut down the high speed of the target, and without that a web doesn’t work nearly well enough.

So: the mission fails to teach players anything about how every other part of the game works.

How do the players deal with it?

They just decline the mission, because it’s terrible. Not worth the effort, and introduces no interesting game play.

Solution: change around the missions to let pvp modules (and pvp-style fittings) have significant impact. Have agents offer hints and suggestions to that effect. Level 1 missions might be as simple as flying a tackle frig in and holding down a target until the NPC battleship can land and take him down… but the exact same mission can be offered at level 4, except now the target in question has a web he uses on you, a heavy neutralizer he uses to cap you out, and let’s say five aggressive frigates flying escort that you need to deal with WHILE keeping the target pinned down.

That would be interesting. More, it would mean that the best solution for a level 4 mission isn’t whatever damned battleship you have in the hangar. Sometimes you need an Ares interceptor.

Assume what you’re flying is lost the moment you undock.

And sometimes, you need something cheap and very, very disposable, because you know you’re going to lose it.

THAT is the thing that all but one mission in the whole game fails to teach:

Ships blow up. Pods blow up. They aren’t you and it isn’t the end of the world. You are immortal, so act like: reship and get back in the goddamn fight.

Frigates are just like any other consumable, and roughly as durable as these soda cans.

Missions should have unexpected twists and unknown triggers that may result in ship loss. To be somewhat balanced, those unexpected twists should happen more often when (a) the best ship for the mission is cheap and/or (b) the mission level is higher, or where the threat is clear and obvious in the mission text.

Adjust rewards to compensate, if you like, but ship loss should happen, and it should be no big deal.

90% of PvP in EVE is preparation.

Thanks to the eve-surivival website, you can prepare up to your eyeballs for missions, but the preparation you do is completely unrelated to the preparation you do for any other part of the game.

Missions set up some of the most unrealistic expectations in terms of your ship survivability.  How many level 4 missions in the game involve warping into a site and seeing a kitchen sink collection of fifty ships on your overview, from frigates to battleships?

You know what mission runners do in that situation?

Target the closest guy and start firing. They already know they aren’t going to lose the ship.

You know how that same fight goes in a PvP situation?

Without support, your ship will be scrap before you lock your first target.

Imagine the culture shock when some experienced mission runner jumps through a gate, sees five pirates on his overview, and those five ships — one tenth the number of NPCs he just destroyed in his last mission — wipe him out before he can even get back to the gate.

“Unfair. Broken. Unfun. Impossible. Never going to do PvP.”

Solution: First, change up missions (again) so you aren’t always bringing your biggest, most expensive ships. Second, use the missions to set realistic expectations. That means cut the number of opponents in missions by a factor of ten, but increase the relative difficulty of “pure combat” missions by 10%, overall. A player familiar with missions should have learned how to assess threat levels in every other part of the game by participating in missions — it should be fun, but it should also bestow relevant experience.

There’s a mission — I think it’s the second to last mission in the Sisters of Eve epic arc — that kills a lot of ships. It’s a tough fight, especially for one player in a tech1 frigate.

And it’s just one guy.

Just one.

“One guy,” this mission says, “can be a credible threat.”

It’s a good mission. It has value.

… and then you get done with the arc, and you go to normal missions, and get something called The Barricade and learn you can ignore all that “single ship is credible threat” bullshit.

But Wait, There’s More

This post is going on a lot longer than I’d expected, so lets break it up into multiple posts and see where we end up.

More soon.

In the meantime, grab a frigate, look up a friend in game who does that scary PvP stuff, and see if you can tag along.

Believe me, it’s not that bad.

Life in Eve: Heavy Hangs the Head

This bit of reflection came out of a (sadly) half-finished conversation with Dave and Margie, where we were talking about my time with Faction Warfare in Eve, and their time playing Ingress.

The Minmatar/Amarr faction war zone has been a little crazy the last few months. Amarr units have been on an organized tear, capturing a sizable chunk of territory — more than I’d ever seen them take over, actually — enough to have a clear advantage in terms of system control. More, they’ve held onto it for quite some time.

Disconcerting, but also (weirdly) a bit of a relief. The last few months prior to that push, our group had been involved in occupying and defending a constellation of systems that, to be honest, we just didn’t have quite enough people to manage, especially in the face of the previously mentioned Amarr offensive. We held on fairly well, and even managed to push our side’s war zone control back up to tier 4 (out of five) for awhile, but it was exhausting, and eventually we just wore out and retreated to an area where we had more allies and fewer systems to worry about.

Now, with the pressure to hold ground gone, we’re left fighting roving battles across a landscape that, thanks to Amarr taking a bunch of systems, suddenly presents many more targets of opportunity. This, like the rest, is a new experience for me. I came into the war at a time of Minmatar dominance (selecting Minmatar over Gallente primarily because I wanted to shoot slavers more than I wanted to shoot corpo-fascists), and often had to wander over to the Gallente/Caldari war zone and fight with my allies, because with the Amarr holed up in fewer than five systems (out of ~70), there just wasn’t much to do. Things have changed: with half the war zone in Amarr hands, the question isn’t what to do, but what to do first.

The current situation has given us many opportunities for spirited autocannon debate.

And in some cases, “what to do” ends up being “recapture lost systems.” This opportunity arises because (as we’ve learned and the Amarr presumably are now discovering) holding big chunks of territory is kind of… wearying, and that seems to be by design.

See, a lot of the ‘draw’ of being on the winning side in a conflict is the idea that you’ll reap nice benefits. This is true in faction warfare… to a point. It turns out dominating the whole war zone isn’t really a good use of anyone’s time. As you approach high levels of war zone control, it becomes far more difficult to hold it and/or capitalize on advantage. The costs of system upgrades increase exponentially, until you get to a point where holding the highest tiers of control cost more than you’re making — you’re better off dropping down to a less resource-intensive, easier-to-maintain, albeit slightly less profitable level.

In short, achieving total dominance is a hollow victory: it’s costly to keep up, the rewards gleaned at the highest levels don’t justify the effort, and if you’re just logging in for some quick and easy fun, the fact you pretty much own everything means (thanks to little enemy territory and a demoralized foe) you have no options for entertainment… which is rather the point of a game.

Conversely, now that the Minmatar are behind the Amarr in terms of war zone control, we have lots to do, but still have a good resource base to work with. It doesn’t hurt that many of the main Amarr groups don’t seem to have much patience for the slog of territory ownership — the lure of a good fight usually prevails, and it feels to me as though they’re getting bored with the drudgery of being on top.

That’s okay: we’ll seesaw our way to the top, if they’re sick of it, then they can take it back, and on and on in perpetual, bloody, entertaining motion. I’ve seen far worse designs.

CCP has struggled to achieve this balance for a long time in Faction Warfare — as my friend Dave has observed, it’s not a problem unique to Eve — and they’ve made more than a few slips and trips on the way, but it seems to me as though they’ve finally hit very near a sweet-spot that reminds a bit of Conan:  Lots of fun and rewards in the midst of struggle, but heavy hangs the head that wears the crown, and how willing the king becomes to throw down scepter and rejoin the fray.

I can’t imagine CCP could wish for much more.

Life in Eve: How I Learned to Love Hating “Safe Zones” in New Eden

I didn’t intend to write any more stuff about CCP and the development direction of Eve; it’s not really what I do.

However, I was having a good discussion on Reddit about yesterday’s post (someone put it up there and I dropped in to say hello), and one of the threads of conversation gave me what I think is kind of a cool idea. It started like this. Someone asked:

But don’t you worry that it [restriction on non-consensual PvP] could compromise the unique identity that EVE has built for itself?

I think it’s clear from yesterday’s post that the personal answer I came to in regards to that question is ‘no’. I said:

I love the scams, the free for alls, the Asakai’s, the alliances disbanded from within, the wormhole ambushes, bomber’s bars, freighter ganks on the way to Jita, and the 70-minute logi-assisted lowsec complex brawls. I love it all. But looking at it from CCP’s point of view, I believe they’ve got to be asking hard questions about whether or not they can introduce a few [safe] systems in New Eden… like… hell, I dunno, the 1.0 and 0.9 systems and training systems, or something. That might be all it takes to reduce the number of “tried it, hated it, everyone’s fucking evil on that game” guys who leave four hours into the trial period. If I’m CCP, and I have any faith in the game at all, I have to believe that if I can keep that trial guy around even a little longer, I’ll secure another player.

Except I didn’t say [safe] systems — I said “Mandatory Safeties Green” systems.

Because that’s all it would take, isn’t it? Certain systems where everyone’s safeties get flipped green and locked there until you leave the system. Easy, easy code.

More importantly, it gave me what I think is kind of a cool idea for building a storyline around this. Stay with me.

1. We have pirate rookie ships on the test servers right now.

Pretty cool, no?

2. Based on the existence of pirate rookie ships, we can assume (for a moment) that CCP is seriously considering a way for players to switch their allegiance to a pirate faction.

Y’see,  there’s no way to get rookie ships of a particular faction in the game unless someone in the game is a member of that faction. So it follows that if these rookie ships exist, there’s going to be some way for players to join those factions, sort of faction warfare style.

3. If that happens, imagine a significant number of pilots will do that, and damn the consequences.
I really don't think this is a very difficult thing to imagine, knowing our playerbase.

4. Let’s further assume that being in a pirate faction is more than just vapid window dressing.

If the certain mechanics in the game are slightly different for pirate faction players (such as the stuff Jester suggested a few months ago), you see a sudden and serious upswing in player-on-player violence. I’m thinking specifically of the idea of pirate faction players getting paid bounties by their pirate faction not for killing NPC rats, but for killing empire players — kind of like how faction warfare rewards you with loyalty points when you kill war targets — and paying out especially well against those players with high sec status.

High sec status: that’s important. It means that a veteran carebear who should know how to protect his shit is a far more attractive target than a two-day-old newb in his first catalyst.

5. In response to this upswing in “terrorism” (which, ironically, CCP engineered), CONCORD implements highly intrusive, insulting levels of “security” in certain high-profile areas of New Eden.

CONCORD reveals the ability to remotely lock a pilot’s ship system’s safeties to Green, something they’ve perhaps always been able to do and haven’t had a good excuse to try.

It’s security theatre, and offers no demonstrable levels of increased safety for anyone, but they do it anyway.

As an American who flies frequently, I'm sure I have NO IDEA what that's like.

6. People hate this new restriction, but (at least for the most part), they hate CONCORD for it, not CCP.

This effect can be ensured if CCP drops hints that it’s just a “storyline” restriction — a yoke we will be able to throw off later, if resistance in-game is high enough. In addition to player resistance, you can have some empire factions that rage against it (Gallente, Minmatar), some that seethe quietly (Amarr), and those that openly embrace it as a natural fit (Caldari).

The Amarr: great seethers.

7. The story concludes in summer of 2014 with some kind of in-game event.

In this event, capsuleers band together to say “This is not how New Eden works!” and shuts this CONCORD restriction off.

Seems to me this would:

  1. Be a pretty neat story arc.
  2. Combined with the pirate faction stuff that offers ‘bounties’ for high sec status kills, simultaneously add ‘safe zones’ and make New Eden more violent.
  3. Sort of ‘build the brand’ of Eve – what a great story that would be for the news outlets, when all of New Eden rises up to state, as part of an in-game event: “Nowhere is safe, and we like it that way.” What a neat way to get players to band together: sort of an in-character Summer of Rage, with beneficial effects (press) for the company and the game.
  4. Give CCP a year-long window in which to cushion new players a bit.

I dunno. Seems kind of cool to me. Thoughts?

Life in Eve: Life on the Playground

My kids go to a charter school. This may not mean much to anyone reading this, so I’ll sum up what it means to me by saying that charter schools are basically public schools with limited enrollment, where the parents are encouraged if not in fact required to be more involved. There’s an after school program my daughter’s in that literally would not be running at all if her mom didn’t volunteer every week to come in and help the teacher with it, which she does because she feels it’s worth the time commitment.

And in any case, we have to volunteer: every kid’s family must log at least 40 hours at the school every year.

I do most of my volunteer time as a playground monitor for recess. I like it: I get to see my kids, meet their friends, play the gruff but affable grownup. Whatever.

And I get to watch the kids play, which is always… enlightening. The first time I ever did a session as a monitor, I found out that when my daughter isn’t doing kinematic dismounts off the jungle gym, she plays soccer. Impromptu, full-tilt, free-for-all soccer. On the concrete basketball court. And is – literally – the only girl out there, among a surging riptide of boys who clearly aren’t planning to cut her any slack. She makes her own choices. Good thing to know what they are.

During one recess, I spotted a kid making a different choice. Something of a reverse of Kaylee, he was one of the few boys not playing soccer. Instead, he’d found a railing to perch on, mostly turned away from the rest of the playground, and was eyeballs deep in a story, the hardback book about as thick as The Stand, though probably a bit less apocalyptic.

Oh man, I thought, I’ve so been that kid. And I had. Not always, but if I was in the middle of a really good story and recess rolled around? Kickball could fucking wait, you know?

Then, while I watched, a couple other kids crept over and dumped a backpack full of woodchips over the kid’s head, which kicked my level of empathy up a notch. I’d been there too, once or twice.

What did I, parental playground monitor, do? Nothing. To my mind, as much as it sucks, it’s not so very different from the challenging academic curriculum at the school — it’s the same reason I don’t make the soccer players stop when one of them comes over with basketball court road rash all up his (or her) arm. Choices. Consequences. Good stuff. In any case, the woodchip backpack dumpers didn’t repeat the assault, and the book reader just brushed off the pages and kept reading. If he wasn’t going to reward them with a reaction, I certainly wasn’t going to. A minute or so later, two of his friends (good friends, I think, one boy and one girl) came over and cleaned the wood chips off his head and uniform — he hadn’t bothered, not while anyone was watching — then sat down with him and kept an eye on his six while he read them parts he liked.

(Okay, maybe I wandered over and stood in more direct line-of-sight of the kid’s perch. But that’s it.)

Would I have got involved if the kids had come back with another backpack full? Probably. If the backpack had been full of rocks? Obviously. If the kid had come to me for help? Sure, if only to offer advice. Otherwise? No.

But let’s change the situation a little bit.

What if, instead of recess, this was some kind of independent after-school program: A massive playground, offering virtually every kind of activity any kid could want to do, but at a cost.

Further, I’m not a volunteer in this scenario, but an employee, and there are a bunch of other, competing, similar-but-different programs like this out there.

Does that maybe change the way I approach that situation? Of course it does. It’s not about letting the kids have a ‘tough love’ experience that will hopefully make them a more self-reliant person. It’s not, in fact, about education of any kind — it’s about making money by providing entertainment. It’s about retaining customers, which in turn is about making those customers — all of those customers — happy.

With me so far?

Okay, let’s talk about Eve Online.


The Eve Playground is a product — it exists to make money for those running it, and while as a product it might satisfy many other needs among its playerbase (most of them social), when you get down to brass tacks, the company that maintains it serves no other purpose higher than “Be a profitable business.”

And let’s be fair: Eve is a pretty good product. Eve players like to joke about “this terrible game” (and it’s true that at the end of a decade, parts are showing their age), but as far as full-featured playgrounds go, it’s got a lot to offer: pretty much everything to offer, really, when it comes to playgrounds, whether you want play in a prefab treehouse, build your own treehouse, conduct mock battles between tree house kingdoms, explore the vast woods out back, play dodgeball, crawl around on jungle gyms, play in the big playhouse with surprisingly accurate hardware and fully functioning Easy Bake Oven, or even sit off on the side, your back to almost everyone, and read.

“You can do any of that,” the pamphlet assures the prospective parent, and it’s technically true.

But there are problems.

2012 was about spending time dealing with the things which build up in a game that has been running for nearly 10 years.

That’s CCP Unifex, Executive Producer at CCP. To figure out what Unifex is talking about, look at what the company did with the game in 2012. I think a fair summary would be “make the game more accessible for new players, and give those same new players something close to a fighting chance against the kids who’ve been on the playground a lot longer.” Yes, some of the changes did other things as well, but ALL of them affected new players. All the ship classes immediately available to new players: buffed up across the board. Major “late game” mechanics like logistics, brought down to entry-level gameplay. Improved (if still not great) tutorials. Ever-so-slightly simplified systems. A UI more like the UI of modern software systems. A vastly improved Faction Warfare model (already one of the better new-player-accessible, NPC-‘controlled’ systems in the game).

It’s easy to see why to make the game more new-player accessible, but a lot of the effort with ships and so forth isn’t so much about immediate accessibility as it is leveling the playing field. Why is that a big deal?

Well, this playground is pretty fucking rough on newcomers when you get right down to it.

CCP has always adopted a very hands-off approach to their playground: technically, you have the right to sit off in the corner and read, but at the same time, that other group of kids “have the right” to play dodgeball, and on this particular playground, that “right” extends to the fact that some of those kids will include anyone they feel like in their dodgeball game, even if the kid in question is doing something else and doesn’t have the least interest in dodgeball.

Yes, if they come over and smash the book reader (or the jungle gym crawlers, or the kids playing cops and robbers) in the face with the ball, they’ll get a minor time out, but no one’s going to call their parents, and they will never lose their access to either the ball or the playground. Doing so would deny them the activity they want to engage in on playground, right?

Except their activity, the way they’ve chosen to play it, makes it impossible for those other face-smashed kids to use the playground their way.

To which the free-for-all Dodgeballer says “Fuck those kids. They’re fucking lame anyway.”

Fine.

Except those kids pay to use the playground, too.

In fact, there are a LOT MORE of those kids than Dodgeball kids, ESPECIALLY if you only count the dodgeball kids who forcibly include everyone on the playground in their game. That numeric discrepancy is a real problem if you’re the guys running the playground, because (a) some of those non-dodgeball kids will leave —

(“Fuck em” mutter the dodgeballers.)

— and more importantly, a bunch of potential kids who have never tried out this playground never will, because people talk, and what they say isn’t always good. “Come get a fat lip from a dodgeball while you’re innocently playing house,” isn’t a marketable ad campaign.

Welcome to Eve. Here's a free wrench.

(“Fuck em” mutter the dodgeballers.)

See, the kids on the playground are, collectively, pretty much shit at fixing this problem, because kids don’t want to stop doing whatever it is that is most fun for them. Even the most approachable dodgeball players can only go so far as to offer sarcastic advice about how to change the way everyone else plays, or point out how the book-reader’s habits made the face-smashing too much for a dodgeballer to resist.

“It’s really their fault, you see,” they explain. “If they were more like us, there wouldn’t be a problem.”

And they’re wrong, of course. There still would be a problem. If you’re the guys running a playground that says “Here is a place where you can play however you like, but you’ll have to respect this playstyle more than any others”, you will reach a point where everyone who’s likely to find that playground fun is already there.

That’s fine, if you’re playing dodgeball: you have enough people to play your game.

That’s not fine if you’re running the business, because businesses need to grow.

And it could be Eve has already reached that point of saturation. Forget dodgeball: heaven help you if you’re some kid who wants to build their own tree house (and really who hasn’t wanted that at some point in their lives?): all the tree houses are controlled by four or five major tween gangs, and they will gleefully curb stomp anyone who tries to join in without an invitation and/or humiliating servitude. Dodgeballers are a Hello Kitty birthday party by comparison.

This is, if you ask the treehouse guys, not really a problem at all.

So what’s CCP going to do?

Not what they ‘should’ do; I’m not arrogant or blinkered enough to pretend to know better than a company that’s managed ten years of success — I’ll leave that to other bloggers.

No: what are they obviously going to (or must) do?

EVE is a universe where you can do all sorts of things, and we will continue […] expanding on what’s available to do. We’ll do this with releases that are themed around some aspect of the New Eden universe.

This means […] we will find a theme that can connect features and changes that touch multiple play styles in EVE across a spectrum of activities like exploration, industry, resource gathering and conflict.

– CCP Seagull, Senior Producer, EVE Online Development

So: any expansions they work on, going forward, will (ideally) expand play options for everyone from the book reader to the dodgeballer to the treehouse warlord to the woodland explorer. Smart.

There are some people who […] enable others to have fun in EVE. […] We believe that helping these […] archetypes achieve their own goals is the best way to have the sandbox of EVE thrive. […] We want to make EVE more accessible […] as a way to find new features to develop for play styles or time requirements where we have gaps today.

– CCP Seagull, Senior Producer, EVE Online Development

Eve is a playground, yes. Play how you like, yes.

But Eve is also a product, and CCP needs that product to reach more people. In order to do that, they need to level the playing field not just between new and old characters, but between play styles.

And that means that at some point, it’s not the kid reading the book in the corner that’s going to need to adjust the way they play, for the continued growth of the playground.

Maybe – just maybe – that means dodgeballers find out that it’s a lot harder to involve unwilling participants in their game. Which, as a dodgeballer myself, I think is fine, because we hardly lack for willing players.

Maybe – just maybe – it will mean that it will become a lot harder to hold on to multiple treehouses, and a lot easier to hold on to just one. Again, I think that’s good, because war games are more interesting with more people involved.

Do I think there’s some place in Eve for a safe zone? I don’t know, and guess what: I’m not being paid by CCP to come up with a definitive yes or no answer. I do think it’s a question worth asking periodically: is non-consensual PvP really that big a part of what defines Eve and makes it a great game?

Food for thought: There were two big events in Eve last week, related to PvP — events that verifiably brought in new players when they got out into the larger news: a single-misclick that turned into one of the most massive super-capital fights that low security space has ever seen, and 28,000 destroyed ships in a pre-planned free for all in null-security space.

You know what those two events had in common? They were consensual PvP. Yes, one started because of a misclick, but it was a misclick that — even if it had been executed properly — was meant to start a fight. In fact, any of the really big stories that have come out of Eve in the last 10 years — the scams, the fights, the alliance-killing betrayals — all consensual PvP of one kind or another, as defined by where it happened, or the people and groups involved.

High-sec mining barge ganks don’t make the news; they don’t bring in new players.

What to nail me down on something? I do think consensual PvP is better. More interesting. More compelling. More sustainably fun in the long run, for the largest number of people. I’ve done both kinds, and when it all comes down to it, I’d rather play dodgeball with the other kids who came to play dodgeball.

I didn’t start out playing dodgeball, you know. I was playing cops and robbers in the ‘safe’ part of the playground, and played for long enough without getting face-smashed (much) that I got interested in everything else going on.

But I was lucky.

CCP really can’t rely on “lucky” anymore. They’re going to need a few more monitors stepping in if they want more kids paying the bills.