A little catch up

Hi Everybody!

This is my first update to the blog since November, I never really meant to leave it so long but tme has flown and I never seem to get around to sitting down to type.  I have wanted to give a few thoughts I’ve had in recent weeks and months though so as Fanfest is imminent now is probably the last chance before CCP unveil the next steps.

First off, I’ve got a little confession to make that I put off talking about.  A big reason why I haven’t been writing recently is that I made the decision to let my subscription lapse back in December.  I simply was not playing the game enough to justify paying for it.  When I was logging in I wouldn’t really do anything then I’d log out again, so I decided it was time to bite the bullet and step away from trying to make myself play.

I have however been keeping an eye on the game and reading about the updates from CCP and in the occasional player blog, so I feel reasonably up to date on the game development and direction.  The first thing I wanted to mention was the clearly improved attention to storyline.  CCP Seagull promised that storyline would become a more important part of the game and it does seem to be happening (at last) with stuff like Caroline’s Star and the introduction of the Drifters.

It is great to see CCP weaving narrative into the game development and I feel that the more frequent releases do support that much better and dynamically than the old two expansions a year model.  For awhile CCP used storyline as a marketing tool to build up the next releasewhich just meant that nothing at all happened for months on end.  I am curious to see how far CCP go with the new Drifter threat arc and mechanics, NPC’s that hunt down your pod is interesting enough,  them being of Jovian descent is even more curious.  When CCP removed clone grades there was talk of future work being done to create new game mechanics around clones and implants so I wonder if that might be an offshoot of these developments.

I saw that work is under way on revamping corporations and alliance tools.  I have been waiting for CCP to tackle that mess for a long, long time.  I have been of the opinion that the sorry state of corp mechanics has been hampering the game for a long time and that the impact extends well beyond corp CEO’s and directors.  In the past I ran a medium sized null sec corp that held parts of our key sov-holding infrastructure and ran into problems balancing the need for security with enabling the more junior members of my corp to run industrial activities by themselves.  I ended up having to deny players the opportunity to engage with areas of the game they were interested in (running their own POS) because it exposed the alliance to having cyno jammers and the like offlined by infiltrators.  It is a much needed overhaul and one I hope will enable corp leaders to find the solutions they need with a cleaner interface presenting better options and that in turn will allow for more players to just go do the stuff they want to do.

And then we have the big one; the Sovereignty overhaul.  I can only imagine what is running through the heads of some people out there at the moment!  It really is a huge undertaking and like the corp overhaul, sorely needed.  I gave up on null sec years ago now, but I think CCP are aiming to bring back the sort of null sec I was happy to put so much time into back before massive coalitions slowly squeezed the life out of it.  That is, quite simply, a null sec where a greater variety of smaller entities compete for control of much smaller volumes of space.  I’m not sure how successful the proposed changes are going to be, but I do feel that they are well intentioned and worth trying.

I like that CCP are finally trying something other than structure shooting.  Most people blame Dominion for introducing the structure grind with TCU’s and I-Hub’s, but the reality is that sovereignty was based on structure grinds well before that.  Pre-Dominion sov holding was determined by whomever owned the largest number of POS control towers in a given system (weighted to the size of the towers present).  In those days you could be battling over a system with [i]more than a hundred towers[/i] in it attempting to blow up the opposition’s while anchoring and on-lining  more of your own.   Rather than shooting at one I-Hub, you could be grinding your way through dozens of (hardened) control towers instead.

The goal of Dominion was to reduce that mess down to something more tangible and less reliant on sprawling spreadsheets (and often dodgy intel) on what towers were on which moons from day to day by doing away with all those towers (which constantly needed to be cleared out even after the fighting was done) so in place of all that we got the trinity of sov warfare grinding that is TCU > I-Hub >  Outpost.  Same principle, less mess.

At the same time, we also saw super capitals redesigned to be the future solution to grinding huge HP buffers and the seeds of our current stagnation sown in the form of the n+1 problem.  With fewer but more monolithic targets, players simply resorted to bringing ever larger fleets in ever bigger ships to sledgehammer their way towards victory.  It took time, but eventually the coalitions grew and grew forcing the little guys out and making everything very dull.

The hope has to be that a combination of the recent force projection nerf and the upcoming removal of structure shooting means that it is no longer as viable or in fact mechanically as important to bring massive sledgehammers to do every job.  In time then players will start to use smaller forces in smaller ships to achieve more local goals and we begin to see the super coalitions downsize themselves as they cease trying to hold dominion over every last scrap of space.  Will it work?  I have no idea, but I can hope.

So here is what I like about the new system:

* No more structure grinding.

* Even better, no more structure repping!  Have you ever found yourself beng one of the few people community minded enough to suffer through repping up the outpost while every other bugger desperately pretends to be AFK so they don’t have to sit through the tedium?  It sucked and was never, ever fun.  But someone has to do it, right?

* While sounding a bit contrived, the capturing distributed nodes thing does sound like it will encourage fleets to split up in order to achieve objectives and that should open up more interesting tactical opportunities than just ramming two large fleets together and pressing F1.

What I like less:

Simply, timezone mechanics.  One of the flaws of the Dominion system was that by reducing the number of important fights down to TCU > Hub > Station it became easier for coalitions to choose their battles and bring everyone to that one key timer.  I am concerned that the proposed system of sov only being vulnerable in a window of the defenders choosing will lead to alliances very strong in one timezone being difficult to dislodge even if they are weak outside of that timezone.  This will need thinking about.

Ok time to wrap this up.  Fanfest thoughts.  I’ll be watching what I can but I definitely won’t be able to watch it all live this year.  I looked over the schedule and two things came to mind.  Firstly, I don’t think that CCP are going to unveil anything particularly huge and new that we don;t already know at least a bit about.  If I am wrong then it will probably be announced very early on on the oddly open ended sounding presentation about the future of Virtual Reality at CCP.  To me this implies that CCP are not just playing around with Valkyrie and might have some other thing to hype up.

The other thing that struck me was that there is no dedicated Dust514 keynote this year.  The closest thing seems to be Thursday 13.00 in the Jita meeting room (the third largest space) for ‘DUST 514: Collected Learnings’.  Dust514, and to a lesser extent maybe Valkyrie, don’t seem to be getting as much attention this year.  I’m guessing this means that Project Legion is either still not under full development (likely) or is staying under wraps for now.  Dust certainly isn’t appearing on the EVE TV schedule anyway.  Hopefully someone attending will report back on any new announcements.

I have played a bit of Dust recently.  Contrary to popular opinion, it still isn’t completely dead, which is nice.😉

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New Eden’s Job Centre

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss how we pick our Agent Missions in EVE.

In the CSM9 Summer Minutes there is a section (from page 128) where CCP & the CSM discuss the mission agent system.  Rather than discussing the content of a mission, the discussion was on the process of selecting missions, their rewards and how players interact with them.  CCP are looking at  four key areas; Cherry Picking, Clustering, Dynamic Payments and Immersion.

Is it a problem that players attempt to avoid certain missions like the plague to the point that content goes unused?  Is it a problem if mission runners cluster together in the same systems?  Should mission payouts be dynamically adjusted based on activity?  And finally, to what extent should the game’s NPC factions hold a grudge against you for running their enemies missions, should a Minnie FW player be forever barred from Amarrian high sec?

These are excellent questions, and an idea began to form in my head while reading this discussion.  One of the things CCP are least happy with is the way that players are offered one mission which they either accept or decline, then another, and if you don’t want to run that one either then you pretty much have to wait a few hours to decline it or face a standings hit.  The reason why players will want to decline missions so often is because some are simply deemed to be too much work for limited reward which is where ‘cherry picking’ behaviour comes in and certain missions are relegated to unused content status.  One idea then is to give the less-run missions an increased pay-out to make them more desirable, and to have automatically adjust based on how often they are run.

At this point, I started thinking about Elite Dangerous.  Or, more specifically, its Bulletin Board mechanic which frankly I think CCP might find a good source of ‘inspiration’ here. ;)  When you dock in one of ED’s stations, you can go look at the Bulletin Board which lists all of the jobs on offer (including those not available to you personally) such as item requests, courier missions and combat missions.  You can pick from the pool on offer and find the work that most appeals to you.

How about we do that for EVE?  Rather than be offered one job at a time, have every agent in the station post all of their current jobs to one screen for you to peruse and pick from.  If each local agent offered a selection of missions from their pool you would then be introduced to a varied and lively selection of jobs which you could accept or ignore with much greater flexibility.  As an added bonus, if all of the station’s agents are posting their missions then you would no longer be tied to one category of mission.  Maybe, if presented with the option, you might suddenly feel like taking a break from shooting stuff to go do a quick delivery run instead?  Who knows, but I do think that seeing the options could add to the immersion and create a greater sense of a living universe.

I think that the bulletin board concept could be taken several steps further.  What if the pool of missions you are shown was the same pool that everyone else sees?  What if each agent posted several jobs at once that any player could pick up?  Once accepted the job is removed from the pool and a new mission is drawn.  I think this could add a bit of competition to proceedings as players compete a little for work and those most desirable of offers.

As I picture it, you see an Angel Extravaganza pop up and race to grab it first.  Being the first to select it reserves the job offer for a few minutes giving you time to read the briefing and decide if you want it.  If you decide against it then the job returns to the public pool, while if you accept it is removed and a new mission is randomly selected from the Agent’s roster in its place.

There is of course an issue here, and that is where unpopular missions will begin to stack up and the most popular may become difficult to obtain as other players snatch them away.  This is where I see dynamic payment stepping in.  What if the rewards for a given mission increased the longer it sits in the mission pool?  At any time any player can take the job, and at some point even the least lucrative of missions will become worthwhile.  There could be a mechanic that if a mission is not taken after a certain amount of time that it expires, but I feel this is a bit of a cop-out.  Obviously we don’t want to see a situation where players are forced into running content they don’t want to do like with certain exploration or combat sites clogging up systems so that nothing better can spawn, so there is a balance to strike here.

This system would I think lead to a couple of interesting behaviours arising among mission runners.  For one thing, if you opt to run missions in a very busy system then you will be competing with everyone else to grab the choice missions.  On the other hand, moving some place quieter would reduce the competition and potentially result in higher rewards as missions will be sitting on the board for longer periods of time.  If more difficult missions no-one wants to run alone begin to clog-up the board we may see players grouping up to take them on together and clearing the board from time to time which would result in increased player interactions.

Finally, if CCP did decide to remove faction standings as a barrier to which level agents you can work for then we might see groups of newer players banding together to take on tougher jobs.  I am struggling to see a downside to that notion.  For clarity, the discussion in the minutes suggests changing standings from being a barrier to entry over to a different benefit such as giving increased rewards.  Your standings are not going to become worthless.😉

So maybe there is a way to design the mission running market to be more interesting and community orientated than it currently is, without explicitly forcing players into group play.

Posted in CSM, EVE-Online, Out Of Character | Tagged , | 1 Comment

CSM9 Summer Summit

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss the CSM9 Summer Summit minutes.

I have been steadily working my through the CSM9 Summer Summit minutes for a few days now.  As usual, it is a chunky document covering lots of stuff.  This is also I think the shortest ever turn around between the Summit being held and the minutes being published, so that is a great start.  Unlike some of the more recent Summits, these minutes have been released promptly enough that their contents are actually still relevant rather than being so out of date as to be near irrelevant.

That said, I was surprised by how few surprises there were in it.  Perhaps even more surprising, I find this in a way to be a good thing!  Compared to the past, I think that CCP are being much more open with the players about their plans and are keeping stuff under wraps for less time.  It may also be a by-product of the shorter release schedule.  Features are being rolled out more quickly and once they are ready and less stuff is being kept quiet for the bi-annual marketing push.  This all rolls together under the development roadmap and the fact that CCP have repeatedly identified what they consider to be the feature roadblocks that must be addressed to modernise and advance EVE (Industry, corps/alliance, starbases, null sec/sovereignty).

So, there were fewer points in the minutes that made my jaw drop, but most of it had my head nodding in agreement.  Big changes are on the cards for null sec with CCP currently prototyping two alternative approaches to future sov mechanics.  This makes for a bucket full of possible speculation but not much hard detail at this point.  When the summit took place CCP’s null sec working group were focusing on the Force Projection changes that just went live in the Phoebe release.  Something that did come out of this was that CCP Greyscale seems to believe that they might be able to do away with reinforced timers and move to something with better gameplay behind it and fewer ‘time zone wars’.

Another area that caught my eye was a discussion on using Command Ships in low sec roaming fleets.  Low sec roamers typically focus on using faster, lighter vessels to cover more ground while looking for fights.  Since the warp speed changes, towing a Battlecruiser-sized Command Ship around has become more awkward as its presence slows down the whole fleet.  CCP it seems are very interested in making a gang-boosting Destroyer, but not under the current gang-boosting mechanics.  It kind of suggested to me that CCP are looking at tackling this in the not-so-distant future and so ending off-grid boosting.  I like this thought, but I guess we’ll see if they can fit it in.

The final area I wanted to mention at the moment was Agent Missions.  There is quite a big discussion about how CCP want to rebuild the system behind missions and the way that players are offered and accept missions.  This is one of EVE’s older systems and a bottleneck in improving the PVE content.  As you might expect, CCP see that players very much cherry pick which missions to do and will invariably decline certain missions at every opportunity.  This results in a large amount of unused content in the game which CCP want to bring back into use.  I had an idea while reading about this that I’ll cover in my next post.

Just to finish up, I’m trying to watch last nights episode (#2) of the o7 show.  I say trying, because my internet is terrible and the recording keeps hanging on me.  At the rate its going it may take me 80mins to watch a 40min show.:/

Anyway.  I just watched the bit where they talk about changes to EVE’s death penalty.  Apparently Clone grades are being scrapped and players will no longer lose skill points for having out of date clones!  Did not see that coming.  My first thought was ‘this is taking away from the harshness of EVE’ but then I got over it.  I think players typically fall into one of two camps these days.  Either they are rich enough to not care about the cost of a new clone, or they are new/poor enough that getting podded is a severe kick in the nuts that actually harms their experience of the game.  Alternatively, it could be argued that its a mechanic that only really affects those in a rush or otherwise forgetful, at which point you could lose weeks of training.  I’m not clear if CCP are removing the ISK-cost of being podded entirely or changing the way we pay for it, but I’m kinda hoping they go bold and just remove this mechanic entirely.

After 10 years of training the same character but never becoming at all wealthy I do find that getting podded can take an uncomfortable chunk of ISK out of my less than 1 billion ISK wallet.  Maybe doing away with clone fees will make us all a little risk-adverse and more willing to put our high-sp characters into positions where they are liable to get podded, such as when flying Interdictors.  Seems to me that would be good for the game.

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Elite Dangerous – Downloading!

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss Elite Dangerous.

Elite Dangerous LogoOk, I cracked.  After months of holding onto what is left  of my money I finally went and upgraded to beta access for Elite Dangerous!  What can I say, I have an itch I couldn’t scratch.😉

Way back in December 2012 I backed the Elite Dangerous Kickstarter.  It was a fairly modest event and I was hopeful if a little wary.  It wasn’t the most dazzling of campaigns to begin with, something I always felt hampered it a little.  Kickstarters tend to make most of their funding either early on or at the very end of the campaign.  Some people will immediately fall in love with an idea amd throw money at it, while most will wait and see.  While the ED campaign had pedigree from the previous three games, it didn’t show all that much up front to get people talking.  As such the campaign made slow progress and looked in real danger of not funding for awhile.  Fortunately it did and as Frontier Developments released more material it became a more promising pitch and finally got the cash.

Since then I’ve kept a close eye on development from the sidelines and was impressed enough with coverage of the alpha and earlier beta builds (From Frontier, the gaming media and most importantly player videos)  that I doubled down and bought the Lifetime Expansion pass before it was removed from sale a few months ago.  I was confident by then that Frontier were going to deliver something good that will likely hold my attention for a long time to come.  But I still held back on buying beta access.

Throughout the development process to date I have been impressed by Frontier Developments.  At each step of the way they have managed to put out solid and timely updates that just seemed to make sense.  From what I’ve read the game is currently fairly buggy as you’d might expect from a beta but manages to draw an impressive level of praise for its general playability regardless, and this has seemed pretty consistent since the early builds.  The possible deal breaker that I’m bracing for is the online networking code.  It sounds like the latest beta release has improved matters but beta 2 was plagued by players suffering from networking issues to the point many switched to single player modes.  If it is as bad as I’ve heard about then this would probably be the main cause for any delays in the final release.

Speaking of which, the release isn’t all that far off.  On November 22nd the option to buy beta access is going to be removed from sale.  If Frontier hold to pattern then this could mean that the game will be launching in late December, which would make my decision to buy into beta this late in the day a dubious one.😉

I do have a couple of reasons for jumping in now.  The secondary reason is that Frontier are dangling a last-minute carrot in players faces to encourage the upgrade purchase:

Being a Beta backer extends far beyond getting early access to the game. All Beta (and Alpha) backers have access to the beta forums and we will continue to support Alpha and Beta backers with additional benefits and special offers in the future as a thank you for the early support you have given us.

This sounds a bit like a take on the CCP Mystery code from the EVE Second Decade Collectors Edition to me.  I’m really not sure how much of a benefit having this will be but hey, it’s a thing.  The first reward to it is that Alpha/Beta backers will be able to access the restricted Sol system without having to earn authorisation first.  This doesn’t blow me away but its a ‘thing’ I guess.

The main reason for getting into the beta however is that I really do want to get my hands on the game!  My shiny new joystick is sitting around waiting to be used and I wanna use it.  I’m a bit concerned by the bug reports/networking issues that the game might be held back into the new year for bug fixing/polish and frankly I’m done waiting!

I haven’t really talked about it that I can recall but the main reason why I got into EVE-Online was Frontier: Elite II.  I don’t think I picked it up at release, but sometime later when my brother and I were in a local computer shop and found a slightly banged up box in their budget games bin.  Limited to our pocket money as we were it was probably  going cheap.  I remember that it came on one floppy disk and took up less than a megabyte.  And it contained a galaxy.  I spent many an hour of my teens flying about in an Imperial Courier with a big beam laser carving chunks out of whatever strayed under my cross hairs, or ferrying passengers across light years.  Oh and the occasional hyper drive malfunction flinging me into the middle of no-where without enough fuel to get any place else.

When previews of EVE turned up in 2002/2003 I recognised the Elite influences and knew it was going to be a game I wanted to play.  So I have, for over a decade.  When in turn the Elite Dangerous kickstarter went live it felt like the chance to come full circle.  I am very excited to see what Frontier have come up with using twenty years of technological advances.

The game may not fit on a floppy disk any more, but it still contains a galaxy.  The current Beta 3 has something like 2,500 star systems in it while the full release will contain 400 Billion.  That is a ludicrous number, but one that pretty much guarantees that any player will be able to be the first to explore a system if they want to.  With so many systems it even possible that no other player might ever go there again!

Think about it.  The human population of Earth today stands at a little under 7.3 billion.  That makes for something like 55 systems per human on earth.  I’m pretty sure a few people alive today won’t get around to playing ED so that should leave us with a good few systems each once players start to spread out from the core worlds.

And on that note, my download is done.  So if you are in the Elite beta, I’ll see in space.  Maybe.😉

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Dust514 – Less dead than expected?

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss Dust514.  Which is apparently still not dead…

dust1

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a week now, I’m starting to think that my life is running in fast forward as I keep losing track of time!  So anyway, last week a new Dust514 dev blog was posted giving a development update on Dust514.

There are multiple surprises in store here, the first being that this wasn’t yet another developer spotlight and actually contained something worth talking about!  It is my personal opinion that CCP like to put out developer spotlights to fill up long gaps when they have nothing else to announce.  Since Fanfest we’ve seen a fair few of these interspersed with the occasional announcement of an event or one of the hotfix updates going live.

You may recall that the Fanfest 2014 Dust514 keynote was the infamous ‘Rouge Wedding’ where CCP dedicated the bulk of the brief presentation to showing off the ‘Project Legion’ prototype for a potential replacement game that would take the Dust514 vision back to the drawing board.  It is never good for a game when its big keynote presentation is dedicated to its potential replacement as the developers effectively declare their existing game to be a failure.

It was at this point that the world pretty much wrote off any remaining hopes that Dust514 would ever reach its original potential.  There was no port to PC/PS4 on the horizon, no new content on the cards and development effort now apparently being invested into building a new game instead.  Shortly afterwards CCP announced their upcoming plans for Dust to come in the former of ‘hotfix’ updates that would focus on rebalancing existing content, rather than add anything wholly new requiring a client update.

Since then we have seen four hotfixes which have made a long list of balancing changes to just about everything.  This sort of work is great for the health of the game and undoubtedly has improved the game quite a bit, but it isn’t all that exciting and doesn’t take the experience anywhere new.  Personally, I stopped logging in regularly months ago as I didn’t feel like there was anything new to see or do.  I haven’t completely given up on the game, but I wasn’t rushing back and I’m sure this is the general attitude towards Dust among EVE players.

This latest development update then has surprised me.  After six months or so of nothing ‘new’, and about 18 months since the game officially launched with Uprising 1.0, we are suddenly getting Uprising 1.9!  The headlines for the update are new maps (at last!) and the option to sell unwanted gear back to an NPC vendor which has been much called for and much needed in the absence of a proper market.

Following on from the 1.9 update CCP say:

We also want to add more variety and flavor with new modules and weapon variants. That‘s why this is the right moment to bring out more content in the form of Blueprints and Personalization options to allow players to express themselves. That‘s something you‘ve asked for repeatedly in the past and present, and we are more than happy to deliver in the form of a new content update.

So combine that with the new maps and we actually have some new graphical assets going into the game for the first time in ages.  I wasn’t really expecting much of that as I figured CCP Shanghai were putting their people to work on building Legion rather than on the all-but-canned Dust.  Which makes this other statement interesting.

We‘d like to take a quick moment to reiterate the message from EVE Fanfest 2014. If Project Legion becomes a reality, the absolute intent is to offer a migration plan as fairly and quickly as humanly possible. However, Project Legion is not an official game yet.

Interesting to see CCP Rouge stressing that Legion has not been green lit and still might not happen.  I’m not sure then if this means that the team has returned their sights to Dust while they wait for CCP management to decide on Legion’s prospects, or if Dust is getting some love in order to extend its lifespan.  I imagine the answer is a bit of both.  The update tells us that Dust is actually doing better than I think most people would have thought.

We‘re very happy to see that our player base remains both stable and active. In fact, we are currently seeing the highest engagement numbers in over a year, averaging around 300.000 Monthly Active (unique) Users over the last few months.

It is very surprising to hear that Dust is seeing players clocking more time in game now than they were well before Fanfest.  You’d think that the ‘Rouge Wedding’ and lack of new content would have kicked much of the enthusiasm out of people but it seems that the hotfixes have been helping and players stuck around.  If Dust has managed to hold onto its playerbase this long then honestly I think things are looking quite good!

The game’s ability to retain a solid (if relatively small) community despite a ‘challenging’ year is a good sign for CCP and may well be cause for some fresh investment in content.  New maps and gear will freshen up the experience while adding personalisation options gives players more stuff to buy in microtransactions.  All in all in appears that Dust remains a viable product for the time being!  You weren’t expecting that, were you?😉

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I think it may be settled

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss EVE’s current release(s).

When I wrote about EVE’s last release, Oceanus, I felt that we had reached that first instalment of the new release cycle that was light enough on features to be declared ‘universally underwhelming’ as a named update.  And sure enough it prompted quite a few people to start muttering their doubts over the new(ish) smaller-but-more-frequent release cadence.  I was hearing speculation here and there that the plan wasn’t working.  We were not getting more stuff faster, just a steady drip of the same.

I felt that this was an inevitability.  The first two updates, Kronos & Crius were big chunky things benefiting from containing most of what would have been a traditional expansions worth of content, meaning that the new release plan was starting with an ‘artificial’ amount of content built up over months.  Hyperion surprised me a bit by containing yet more stuff including Burner missions and a surprise first pass at revamping and rebalancing wormhole mechanics so was much more substantial than I expected it to be.  I think Oceanus was the release where the ‘back log’ of stuff already in the works largely finally ran out and we had a much less significant release containing mostly graphical updates.

phoebeI wasn’t too sure what we would actually get in Phoebe.  I thought it would be more attention grabbing than Oceanus but wasn’t sure if it would contain much of note.  Yeah, I know, right?😉

So the day after Oceanus was deployed, CCP went and dropped the mother of all bombs by announcing the jump drive nerf that knocked everyone sideways in its scope.  While I think everyone expected CCP to do something about force projection, I don’t think anyone expected anything so comprehensive, far-reaching and frankly so dramatically bold.  While the most punishing aspects have been toned down a bit (Jump Freighter jump ranges, capped jump fatigue) in order to avoid crippling EVE’s economy, it remains a very bold move on behalf of CCP and is being hailed by many as the most significant change EVE has seen in years.

Personally, I consider Crimewatch 2.0 and Factional Warfare’s iterative overhaul to be pretty huge, the main difference being that they were less significant to null sec than this will be.  People also dismiss ship tiericide too easily I think.  Frankly I think it takes more work to comprehensively rebalance almost every sub-capital ship in the game than it does to reduce jump ranges and add a fatigue timer.  But yes, the jump nerf will have a more dramatic impact on null sec than buffing Mallers or nerfing jet can shennanigans.  And it means people should be more confident in using capital ships in low sec too.

In Phoebe we are also getting the Invention overhaul, a major sensor overlay update that adds bookmarks viewable in space, updates to exploration sites, multiple market sell order creation and the much hyped unlimited skill queue amongst a bunch of other things.  This is going to be a very strong update!

So strong in fact that I was wondering what would would follow it.  Sadly I tuned in a little late to watch the EVE Vegas stream today and just missed CCP Seagull’s keynote!  Think I got my timezones mixed up a bit there. :S

What I missed was the announcement that Rhea is going to feature a new ‘tug’ ship class for moving other ships about (a freighter with ship bay apparently) along with Tech 3 Strategic Destroyers!  According to twitter:

New Tech 3 Tactical Destroyers, no skill loss, no subsystems, will have 3 modes Speed, Tactical, and Sniper modes.

So that is pretty cool.  Not totally surprising given the event that has been running for the last week, but I hadn’t guessed it would be destroyers.  Years ago CCP declared their intention to create T3 Frigates so I was leaning towards those or some sort of T3 modules.  This honestly sounds better.

But most importantly, I think CCP are now clearly demonstrating the value of the new release cadence.  We are seeing more stuff.  We are seeing more ambitious and daring stuff.  We are also starting to things slot together and how things are being delivered in sections much more reliably than before.  We got the main industry revamp in Crius and now we are getting the Invention revamp.  We are getting the force projection nerf next with planned sets of null sec changes coming in the next few releases in a much more dynamic fashion than before.  Between all that we have seen wormholes being shaken up in unprecedented ways.

I think the new plan is working and this bodes very well for the next year and for CCP’s ability to advance the development roadmap more quickly than ever before.  It will be very interesting to see how Phoebe and Rhea really shake things up as the year draws to a close.  And of course, what else CCP manage to fit into Rhea!😉

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A swing of the (nerf) bat

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss the upcoming changes to force projection in EVE.

And lo, CCP did swing the nerf bat and it did strike hard upon the jump drive!  The masses did cry out in terror at the force of the blow, and in its wake there was much wringing of hands.

So CCP went and announced their plans to tackle the thorny issue of force projection in EVE.  I’ll give them this much, they definitely are not messing about here!  This is an issue that has been a cornerstone of the structure that defines null sec as we currently know it.  Over the years power blocs have grown larger as capital and super capital strength has become an ever increasingly large and concentrated aspect of null sec politics.  Both the ability to field the greatest amount of fire-power in the form of New Eden’s largest vessels and the ability to move both sub-capitals and freight via jump bridge with ease has created a formidable bottleneck and arms race that has led null sec into an increasingly stagnant and dull place.

Tackling the above is hard, and no half measures is ever going to fix it.  CCP had to find a way to put the break the players out of the cycle we have all become locked into and begin to break down the handful of monolithic war machines that dominate the game.  Their solution is, I think, is deliberately heavy handed.  It is not good for the game to allow players to ‘teleport’ entire vast fleets across the map in a trivial amount of time every time a fight of any significance begins.  We have simply ended up with a small number of fights that grow to be so big that the game cannot physically handle them properly.  That needs to change.

The changes that CCP have proposed are I think surprisingly uncompromising but also what needs to happen.  Some of the numbers probably need to be tweaked, but only tweaked.  Null sec needs to be hit hard and if people are being made to feel uncomfortable then I think that is a good sign.  The status quo has not been working for some time now, comfort zones need to be challenged and this will require bold action, so I think that CCP are broadly on the right track.

I have some pretty high hopes for the impact of these changes.  My best experiences of null sec were of epic struggles involving hundreds of players clashing repeatedly over a span of weeks, rather than of thousands descending upon a mere handful of pivotal battles.  Today’s infrastructure running EVE’s servers is able to handle much larger battles than I used to take part in with relative ease.  If we do see the average battle becoming smaller then we should also spend more time playing under better conditions than ever before.

A major factor behind my decision to opt out of null sec was that coalitions had become too large, sprawling and impersonal for my tastes.  I hope that as the ability to project force across the map declines, we will see smaller entities return to more autonomous decision making, politics and conflict.  If that happens we will see new leaders and personalities begin to emerge again which re-opens the door to a greater diversity of player narrative top unfold.  Far too much has been locked up in the hands of far too few for way too long now.

I’m interested to see what response players give to the impact of restricted jumps on those all important Jump Freighters.  Will we see an exodus of players leaving the outer regions for fear of untenable supply lines?  Will increased traffic through wormholes become the alternative?  Will anyone be able to buy anything if they live more than 5 light years from empire space?  Time will surely tell.

What I think will happen is that for the first month or so everyone will try to carry on as before but bitch more about the inconvenience while they lobby CCP to increase jump ranges and tone down the fatigue mechanic.  I suspect that CCP may relent slightly on one or both counts, but not by much.  The emphasis is going to remain firmly on the players to adapt to the new reality.

After as few weeks and the big players have gotten a feel for how the mechanics will play out in the wild, we will begin to see the real response.  I don’t think that the largest coalitions will suddenly cease to exist, but I do think that there will be some pruning.  Each will decide which regions they value and which alliances they most want to keep close.  Those out on the fringes will find themselves increasingly unsupported and isolated until they eventually cease to be part of the coalition any more.  Then the fun begins.

Somewhere out there will be hungry alliances that believe the time is coming for them to finally stake their own claims to null sec.  They will look to those increasingly isolated sov-holding alliances and try to break in to null sec.  When this happens and new players begin to take and hold space independently of the existing power houses we will be able to declare successful change.  I’m hoping that we will start to see this happening some time around Christmas.

The great unknown right now is to what extent capital ship warfare will change, and how groups will begin to manage their deployment.  It will no longer be a viable option to hurl fleets of capitals around the map or to make jump after jump in rapid succession to hit one target after another.  At some point jump fatigue will cut short your ability to redeploy capitals leaving you unable to counter an enemy action.  It seems likely that alliances will start holding their capital strength in reserve while making smaller tactical deployments than before (fewer dreads being deployed for more siege cycles?).  Jump fatigue and the need to manage it will become a new strategic resource which is a very difficult dynamic to predict.

CCP are making a bold move in offering the players a complex new set of challenges to take on.  It is a move I very much welcome.

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Is there something in the water?

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss the upcoming Oceanus release…and beyond…

At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, I haven’t been logging in much lately.  My run of logged in EVE-activity dropped off sharply after Ushra’Khan were knocked out of the Alliance Tournament as we stopped running the training sessions that I had been focusing on.  I did make an effort to watch the rest of the tournament as time allowed and enjoyed it considerably.  Unfortunately, I just haven’t been feeling very motivated to get stuck into EVE and have been easily distracted by other things.  I’ll probably do a couple of blog posts about those things as I have found them interesting.

I have however been keeping track of EVE developments.  Quite a bit has gone down in the past month, from the final Somer Blink scandal to AT12, to people suiciding carriers for charity to the reveal of the Oceanus update.  And it is Oceanus that I want to touch on because its feature list is causing some disquiet in the community.

Back when CCP announced that they would be moving from two expansions a year over to ten releases a year, I felt it was only a matter of time until we got a point release that many players would look at and find lacking in substance.  On paper, and from the reactions I’m seeing, Oceanus appears to be it.  Kronos was ‘artificially inflated’ by virtue of delivering features originally intended to be the bulk of a traditional expansion.  Crius followed by delivering the rest of that expansion in the shape of the industry revamp.  Hyperion then surprised me by bringing what could be described as a first-pass Wormhole revamp and burner missions.

A first look at Oceanus on the other hand reads as a bunch of graphical tweaks plus a few more UI tweaks and another set of Burner missions.  This is not a feature set that leaves players trembling with anticipation, and it is prompting a fair bit of speculation and questions about whether or not the new release cadence is delivering.  I’m finding this irritatingly predictable.

The faster paced release schedule was never meant to be a guarantee of something awesome every six weeks.  It was simply about deploying finished features more quickly while allowing larger projects be undertaken without the need to fit into a six month expansion cycle.  It was always inevitable that some updates would be ‘less significant’ than others.  You can’t deliver something the size of Kronos or Crius every six weeks, players will need to learn that they can’t expect every sixth week release to deliver on the scale of a sixth month expansion or for there to be a tent-pole gamer changer every time.

Oceanus is a house keeping release adding some nice new visuals, a little bit of content with the new burner missions and some balance tweaks with changes to the first batch of named meta mods (module tiericide) and Interceptor/Interdictor tweaks.  Then some minor UI stuff and one big UI thing in the form of the optional prototype feature for notifications.  I’m quite looking forwards to that one as it could be a nice quality of life improvement.  And I really like that it is being soft-launched, a very smart move this is.

Finally we have a pair of under the hood updates including an update to the mac client (which I imagine will make some people very happy) and an update to pave the way for future ship customization.  It is difficult to get very excited about changes that you don’t even notice if they are done right, but these seem like pretty important stuff to me and entirely worthy things to be putting into a release.  Even if they aren’t sexy.

I suspect that the final two releases for the year may get players more excited.  We know that the Invention overhaul is well on the way and could well be in either release.  We also know that corporations & alliances are currently in CCP’s cross hairs for a revamp and have been for a few months now.  I could be grossly underestimating the complexity of whatever CCP are actually planning to do on this front, but it seems like something we could see rolling out by the end of the year along with the nullsec working group’s modest first efforts.

The CSM are presently in Iceland for the belated Summer Summit and I imagine all of the above is being discussed in considerable detail.  CCP certainly seem to be spinning a lot plates and developing a range of things simultaneously.  It feels quite different to the old days of tackling a specific feature set in a known timeframe to meet an arbitrary date.  I kinda like it.  I think that the system is working as intended and starting to produce the results expected.

Its just we the players who need to better wrap our heads around what to expect from release to release.

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ATXII Day One

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss day one of Alliance Tournament XII.

AT_XII_logo-banner

Well that’s one for the memories.  My second alliance tournament as a pilot and my first match since the fifth tournament!  Nerves were high, not helped by the fact our preferred FC’s connection went very sketchy indeed ten minutes before the match started.  We ended up swapping him out to fly a smaller ship (from a Rattlesnake) and hoped for the best.  Luckily, he made it through the match without another disconnect!

The ship bans we were quite happy with as we got to fly the setup we wanted to start with.  The big surprise for us was the lack of sensor damps in TEST’s setup!  In our practice matches against other teams the meta was dominated by Drone/Damp setups which led to us gearing towards counter-damping.  Although the opening matches of the AT did suggest that would be the dominant theme, there have been far fewer matches than I was expecting to go down that route.  I thought we’d see far more damp-wars than we have so far.  I’m not sure if we will see more of it coming in later on or if the meta is shifting away from that.

In the end, I think I let my damp-obsession get the better of me and I flew on the assumption that as the Ushra’Khan logi pilot, I was going to get damped down hard.  I became a bit too focused on sticking close to my team to provide reps and didn’t give myself the range that would have kept me alive a bit longer.  Losing our logi early gave TEST an edge that swung the match although we did drop their logi fairly early on in return.  I’ll need to watch the recording back later but I think I miss-clicked in my scramble to lock ships at the start and sat stationary for a little while as the TEST tackle swooped down on my Scimitar.  I intentionally delayed activating my MWD in order to conserve cap but may have been too slow to switch it on and pull range.

Despite all of that, and despite losing the match, our team was quite happy with our performance and thoroughly enjoyed the experience!  It was pretty funny listening to the commentators talk about an early defeat demoralising teams as everyone was laughing, joking and fist pumping with adrenaline on our teamspeak!😀

It was very gratifying to hear all of the (mostly) positive things being said about our performance (and TEST’s) on the Twitch stream.  It seems we didn’t disgrace ourselves even if I am feeling that I personally flew better in practice than I did on the day.  Ah well, we had fun.  And that is such a relief to say as the preparation we put in for this has been stressful and frustrating.  It seems that TEST got wind of the issues we have been having in getting enough players together to hold meaningful practice matches and were expecting us to field a sub-12 man tinker setup of some sort.

It has been tough.  We have had a small core of hard working individuals putting in a lot of work but we have really struggled at times to get enough bodies onto the test servers to practice fleet compositions.  We had good days when we felt we were getting somewhere, then we had bad days where we would struggle to get anything useful done.  Tempers have run high, frustrations have gotten the better of people and less than a week ago we had a very serious conversation about withdrawing from the tournament altogether.

All of which was swept aside today and replaced with a group of guys determined to put on a good fight.  And after that fight, we had one pumped up group of people ready to do it all over again.  A celebratory cruiser roam set out straight afterwards.  Heads are held high today in Ushra’Khan, despite what the scoreboard says.  I think our team is going to be feeling pretty fired up for next weekend.  So look out A Nest Of Vipers, Ushra’Khan will be coming for you!😉

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Hyperion – The other stuff

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss the Hyperion release dev blog.

New news today!  CCP Seagull has released her dev blog outlining the Hyperion release along with a few little bits of news.  There is indeed more to Hyperion than the wormhole updates, although with one possible exception I’d say they are the centre piece of the release.

But there are indeed other things.  One generating a lot of buzz is the work done on sharable overviews.  This has been on Singularity for awhile but basically means that you can share your overview settings with another player from within the client by handing them a link.  Which is a pretty cool quality of life improvement for almost everyone!

In a similar vein to the work done on wormholes, CCP apparently also found time to rework the Incursion Scout sites to make them better for small group play.  I’m not involved with Incursion running but last I heard these sites are generally ignored at the moment so hopefully CCp can do enough to open up more content options for players here.

This next part is very interesting in its implications.

A new kind of Level 4 missions
Take on a single, powerful enemy using fitting skills and combat tactics in new optional level 4 missions for frigate size ships that will be available from all security agents in Empire space. An upcoming dev blog will present the new missions.

We haven’t seen a new type of mission added to EVE in a very, very long time.  And there is a reason for that which CCP have given a few times.  The tools used to make PVE content in EVE are ancient.  Also, by all accounts terrible.  Making new PVE content for EVE is a laborious, inefficient and difficult process largely because the tools devs have available are out-dated and underwhelming.  The current Ghost sites are considered to be the pinnacle of the tools are capable of.  Which is why CCP Seagull made it a priority to build new tools and put people to work in building them in order to overcome that production bottleneck.

The feature set of Hyperion is making me wonder if CCP are now starting to use those new tools and are testing the waters with them.  If so, we can expect a steady stream of new PVE content to start filtering into releases.  This would be great, as just today I was chatting with someone at work who was bemoaning the repetition of EVE’s mission running and the ease with which he can now breeze through lvl 4’s…

The PI in null sec change is interesting.  I’m not too sure what inspired it all of a sudden but it seems sensible.  The Customs offices will likely belong to the sovereignty holders which means the rest of us either pay their tax rate or use planetary launches to smuggle stuff off-world.  Probably not a game-changer but all fair enough.

Then we get into PLEX and Aurum related thingies, sure to enrage somebody over ebil microtransactions I guess.  What will it all do to the PLEX market and is a new wave of hysteria about to ensue?  Well either way, Character Re-sculpting and Multiple Character Training will be available through the New Eden Store in tradeable item form.  As those services already exist, why not make them a bit easier?

Hyperion_Apparel

And finally, we are getting some vintage clothing and cybernetics.  Allow me to express an unpopular opinion; I like character customisation!😀

These items are likely to please some of the other older players who also care about their avatars.  These are updated versions of assets from the original character creator that fell by the wayside, their return will allow some players to finally re-create their original avatars if they so wish.  Me?  I have an eye on those black cybernetics.  While I liked the white versions that shipped with the Second Decade Collectors Edition, they weren’t a good fit for my characters.  Might be spending some of that free Aurum left on my account….

Oh yeah, it isn’t in the dev blog but the Nestor is getting buffed!  It is getting a 5,000m3 Ship Maintenance Array and a small sig radius reduction, increasing its support credentials.  Also the prices should come down as the drop rate of Nexus chips from rogue drones is being increased ‘dramatically’.  Will it be enough?  Time will tell.

So overall not a bad update on paper I reckon.

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