Complexity
Sunrise Aigele

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The blog banter for this month concerns missiles. The only thing I know about missiles is that I can hardly even fire them, let alone comment on their performance! Fortunately, Rixx Javix has come to my rescue with this toothsome post:

When I think back about how Eve was perceived at the time I started playing it is amazing to me that it was considered “complex” back then. This was the age when the infamous “learning curve” graphic was made. I find that surprising considering how simple Eve in 2008 seems compared to Eve 2015. Everything was so much more streamlined back then. Just off the top of my head we’ve added Strategic Cruisers, T3 Destroyers, Dominion Sov, Incursions, FW Systems, Missions, Wormholes, Crime Watch, Exploration ships like the Astero, Stratios, not to mention a slew of additional ships like the Barghest and others. And that is just off the top of my head. And soon we’ll be adding even more to that list. Citadels, player-built Gates, and a whole new Sov system. Not to mention other things that I suddenly remember, like y’know, Drifters and Sleepers and… the list is rather long.

Which begs the question, has Eve become bloated with features and choices? And is that a good or a bad thing?

I am not sure that it has. If anything the universe shrank once I realized that there was no significance to the fact that there were pirates within a few AU of the seat of the Empire, that it was merely an artifact of an archaic PVE system. The variously functioning merchant gates, dens of ill repute, and deadspace colonizations–some containing multiple stations!–were nothing but décor. To this day I believe that CCP lost an opportunity there to add a third dimension to high security space. I believe that if EVE suffers from anything, it is the extent to which its promise is unfulfilled. In many ways it is as much a series of large, mostly featureless rooms as it is a sci-fi virtual universe. Much of my early confusion was due to my not having sorted out which were true villages and which were Potemkin. The first revelation was that there is not much of a game at all, in the way you would normally think of one.

The issue EVE has is that its principle gameplay is preparation. I cannot think of another MMO bold enough to stake its existence on such a thing, but EVE has. Yes, there are people who “log in and pew pew,” but with rare exceptions their play style is made possible by careful and often invisible planning and logistics. If you wish to do much more than lose frigates, EVE requires a long view. To see the world from the top of a mountain, you must spend hours, even days looking at rock and stones. But when you reach the top of the mountain, it is all worth it. If you have guided others to share the view with you when they could not have made it on their own, that is its own thrill. For EVE to remain successful by this light, it must have many mountains.

The difficulties EVE has are the difficulties it has always had. The most immediate is simply that it is unlike any other MMO, so players coming from other MMOs, whether they are PVE or PVP players, are often bringing assumptions to the game that fit awkwardly–for example, the common misconception that missions are instanced content. The skill system is baffling and frustrating. The requirements to join the social part of the game are legendarily high, and the ways into that gameplay are haunted by people seeking to take advantage of those who do not yet know their own way. The game is not well documented. Its own wiki is out of date, and there is a long tail of obsolete third-party documentation. The forums are toxic, which, to be fair, is not unusual. There are worse! There are people who “test” new players to see if they understand the game before they have even had a chance to figure out which end of their ship is up.

The greatest difficulty is that its draw is not easy to market. Do you say “EVE rewards effort?” That is general. Raids in World of Warcraft reward effort. No, EVE is about the long game. It is not cooking a meal, it is designing and then building, staffing and running a restaurant. As EVE players both on the official forums and on Reddit have said, it makes you train your character overnight to access some of the most basic abilities in the game.

I strongly believe that CCP should downplay all of the “dark, war-torn” rhetoric. It is not that it is false, it is that it has been so overused by so many games that are so unlike EVE that it has been rendered meaningless, and so it only acts as a further confusion to new players. It makes EVE sound like games that are nothing like it. The best thing CCP could do to reduce confusion among new players is advertise the game as utterly unlike anything else, that it is less of a game than an investment. The last video using real player comms was a step in that direction, insofar as it showed planning and staging. But it only showed the tip of the iceberg. The Butterfly Effect video also showed this side of EVE well.

As I have said before, EVE is not the battle of B-R5RB. EVE is the months of staging and logistics and diplomacy and feinting and manufacturing and fundraising and fighting that led up to B-R5RB. That is the source of EVE’s legendary complexity.

Testing?
Sunrise Aigele

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[UPDATE: Thank you! I believe I have found the problem!]

If no-one has, I may simply be obliged to improve as a writer!

Failure
Sunrise Aigele

Rixx Javix has a series of posts up concerning failure, all written to the high standard that typifies his work, and with the same exhortation. Sugar Kyle has more introspective posts about her decision to abandon her long-running low sec trade hub, The Cougar Store, for the simple reason that the effort involved in moving it overwhelmed her available time. As she is “The Hardest Working CSM in Space Business,” I can see clearly how that would happen.

My failures have been smaller and quieter. I should disclose my mission before I continue: I wish to truly understand and experience EVE industry. I know that the smart thing to do is to buy most of what you use, but then I only know the last part of the process. I am building standings to get data cores. I am mining to build a supply of ore. I have a stable of researched and to-be-researched blueprints. Once I am satisfied that I know the game from the strike of the first mining laser to the successful production of the largest tech 3 ship, I will adjust for efficiency. I am playing for understanding now.

That brings me right to my title, for there is no understanding without failure. None. Someone who merely does the successful thing, as told to them by veterans, is indeed likely to succeed as long as they stay with what they’re told. The moment they try to step outside their received orthodoxy is the moment they first confront their lack of understanding head on. My way will be agonizingly slow. It will be desperately unprofitable. I have needed to pause in order to make ISK so that I could continue, and I surely will do so again. I may very well be overzealous in my desire to examine every cranny, but that is the task that I have set myself. The unexplored paths and the dark corners encourage me to log in. The long goal keeps my attention and my focus beyond any near-term tedium. There is always near-term tedium involved in any endeavor of any significance. There is also failure.

I am currently focused on building standings, because mine are askew. Somehow I have higher than 8.0 standing with several Minmatar corporation, while the faction has never been more than chilly. The Gallente also hold me at arm’s length. Mordu’s Legion has always welcomed me warmly for no reason that I could discern– that is, until it occurred to me to try turning in tags to data center agents to boost my dismal Gallente standings. It was successful, insofar as I am now able to run level 3 missions with any Gallente agent. But at that very instant my standings with the Caldari, Amarr and Mordu’s Legion all plunged from over 5 to low 4s. I must assume that this is a consequence of the penalty to my base standings being magnified by the multiplier that is Connections V, but it was still painful. I had spent time and trouble working those standings to 5, and in that instant much of my work was undone. It was dispiriting, but I learned.

There is a more fundamental lesson here: how many newcomers to EVE are never given the chance? There is concern all over the official forums about the plague of terrible corporations run by new players who do not understand the game, and the urgency with which they must be ripped apart and anyone who complains driven back to World of Warcraft, whose PVP culture is far more toxic than EVE’s, but no matter.

What is this? New players not immediately sounding the depths of the most unusual MMO in existence? Perish the thought! Yes, they will fail. Many of them will fail badly. There will be spies and thefts and drama and people failing to rise to leadership roles. How else are they to learn? Not everyone has the mind to research for months before even logging in, and there is no good reason to restrict the player base to the stark minority who do. Why not tolerate failure? Why not even celebrate failure, as it proves a willingness to try? Where is the rush to determine, on the basis of little to nothing, that a player “doesn’t belong here” because they are operating under common misconceptions, or bad advice, or just bad guesses?

We should embrace failure. Not only our own, but especially others’, and especially the failures of the newly subscribed.

Bad Wrong Fun
Sunrise Aigele

No, this is not an advertisement for my alliance. ^^’ This is a meditation on a subject that has come up in the context of the proposed change to fleet warps:

As announced on the o7 show we are making some changes to fleet warp. Fleet Commanders, Wing Commanders & Squad Commanders will no longer be able to warp to anything a fleet member couldn’t warp to on their own. This includes –

  • Probe Results
  • Bookmarks
  • Any private deadspace item (missions, etc.)

Commanders will still be able to warp their fleet to other fleet members, and all other ‘public’ objects.
The goal of these changes is to encourage more individual fleet member participation and reduce the speed at which fleets can get on top of targets (e.g bombers).

I will not discuss this change directly. As a consequence of my current goals it has been many months since I have fleeted up with anyone beside my own alt.

More than some of the negative response has come from an interesting place. It turns out that, in general, the only difference between the average mass of pilots in high security space and pilots elsewhere is the presence of a few people who are willing to work irrationally long hours at thankless work so that their organizations appear coherent, competent and organized. Many of them are in the above-linked thread bemoaning the fact that other people are unreliable and incompetent. Not “those other people,” either, but allies and corp-mates!

The engine of EVE may be hard-working and variously competent enablers, but its body and frame are players who are bad and who are doing it wrong. But what about fun? The enablers are clearly not having fun. The line members may be having fun, but how invested can they be in a game where most of the deep gameplay–fitting; flying; searching; positioning–is denied them? There are even doctrines for ratting ships! The argument goes that failure is not an option, which means that trying is not an option. So there may be the thrill of victory for line members, but they do not understand why and they cannot hope to replicate it.

There are exceptions. BRAVE is an obvious one. Alliances that celebrate bad wrong fun on the part of their members will increasingly show the way forward. There is an up-front cost in embarrassing kill reports, losses, and fleet wipes, but it requires only an adjustment in attitude to embrace these. The return is a more knowledgeable, more fearless, and more engaged player base, and if they allow it, less pressure on the enablers who currently work themselves to the bone.

Carrots and Sticks
Sunrise Aigele

CSM member and Goonswarm head diplomat Sion Kumitomo Thoric Frosthammer (thank you to his fellow CSM Sugar Kyle for the correction!) has a reasonable-seeming proposal concerning the new sovereignty system:

This is a major hole in this sovereignty system. The wealth in such a system needs to come from holding the sovereignty. It needs to be worth the pain of defending it. Not just  to plant a flag, which has some limited but fading psychological value. The negative value of being farmed for tears needs to be offset by a “need” or at least a strong desire, to hold the actual space. Otherwise very few will bother. It’s going to be particularly difficult to sell new entities on the poor trusec systems that will likely be left over once the major players squat on the better systems.

He speaks of ISK generation by “the little guy”–of course! who else stands to benefit? Certainly not his own alliance, newly concentrated in the richest regions in the game. Clearly the ISK reward he considers necessary for a small group to weather the depredations of every nearby predator in a relatively poor system would not be greatly concentrated in a giant alliance exploiting rich space! Surely not!

This is important: Phoebe and the new sovereignty system are both a significant buff to the power of ISK, which is already powerful enough to change the tides of wars. ISK can be kept forever in perfect safety. It can jump instantaneously across the cluster with no delay and without the peril of interdiction. Behold its power in the new EVE:

1) Are you unable to project force without accruing fatigue? Find a mercenary enough power who can and buy them! Goonswarm has used this tactic to devastating effect against N3 quite recently. Sion Thoric would be aware of it.

2) Are you in a long and difficult fight? Do you need to replenish your armies after a defeat? SRP! ISK allows a rich alliance to wear down a poorer alliance by attrition. They can lose every battle and still win the war.

3) Are you planning for a future with destructible stations? Never fear! ISK is never destructible and it is always available in arbitrarily large amounts with no fees! With enough of it you can replace any destructible assets you wish to. You can even liquidate trapped assets into ISK!

I believe that CCP is aware of this. I believe that this is why CCP Fozzie, formerly of mercenary super capital power Pandemic Legion, has deliberately refused to talk about increasing rewards. The main problem is not the rampant injection of ISK into the game from anomalies, it is the ability of sufficient concentrations of ISK to reliably and efficiently circumvent every planned constraint on power projection and application.

The Rivals
Duncan Ringill

LOLCaps057

EVE=PvP is a charmingly limited view, and “villain” is as adorable a handle for a pretend destroyer of pretend spaceships as “teacher” is pretentious. (But go learn how to fly a Cynabal–good stuff there.)

PvP is a small subset of war, but I’ll happily grant Dex the pride of the infantry grunt invoking the favor of the Queen of Battle.  The officer corps has its own swagger, to be sure, and rightly so.  Nothing, however, matches the arrogance of the war profiteer who moves the chess pieces.  The masters making trillions off the efforts of PvPers like Dex do not spare a thought for his chimpanzee fun, as he in turn may care little for the grand games they play.

Standing to the side are the markets, whose warriors enjoy quieter conflict.  I can imagine racing hearts even there, though, as the combatants sift buy and sell orders to try to divine the hearts of their enemies.  The struggle for resources that is EVE is nowhere so exemplified as in the marketeers, for whom everything has a price.  The masters of war bow to the need for fun, but the economy rules all.

EVE is therefore more a trading game than it is a war game, and far more than it is a PvP game.  Spaceship combat is simply what gets Dex’ juices flowing these days, but rather than argue with his passion I’ll encourage him to wallow in it–because when we break it all down, there’s a secret depth that no one talks much about: we are the nascent gods of New Eden, indulging every whim to live larger than do the NPC inhabitants of this little universe.  To do, in a word, anything.

What EVE is really, really about is being awesome in any of a ton of possible careers.

Adversaries
Sunrise Aigele

The problem with rhetorical tactics like this is that any discussion is primarily concerned with asserting the givens of the discussion rather than the arguments. I wish that I could confirm his assertion that his style of argument forces the reader to think, I am instead left to dredge up years-old observations one more time, in the interest of broadening the discussion into something potentially interesting.

Do stories require explicit adversaries? No! That is a common enough structure, but tension and resolution are adequate. The best writers play freely with them. The tension need not be obvious; say, the tension is that a given character is alive. The resolution need not be tidy or satisfying, nor is there any requirement that it carry the baggage of any message or lesson: say, the resolution is the death of the character. Given this, his assertion that we can only have clearly defined goals in the presence of opposition is false. Goals are personal, even if they are also social. I set them for myself regularly. I meet, or fail to meet, them myself, I certainly understand that a dedicated PVP player would set goals according to player opposition, that being the point of the play style. We are not all of that mindset.

Let us say that there are adversaries. This is EVE, after all. The title of his blog entry is worth a look. Consider the word “villain.”

A villain is someone who lives in a ville (village or town). It is an accusation of common pedigree, and implicitly of the coarse materialism that the vulgar supposedly employ in attempting to rise above their station, which implies, and which only makes sense within, a rigid caste system. The villain is dressed in ways that suggest hiding from the law, which would of course never be written to be just toward him in a caste system. The hero is boldly colored and out in the open, as he is the banner and the standard-bearer for the full machinery of power behind him and his noble, gentlemanly, chivalrous caste. This is the history behind the heroes and villains being color-coded. Sunrise, the Ni-Kunni girl who clawed her way out of the ghetto by sheer will and into immortality and wealth far exceeding that of her once Holder, could be seen as a villain.

There is a word he does not use which is more interesting: monster. The word means “warning.” The mummy of old, Dr. Frankenstein’s parody of life, Gojira, the aliens in The Day The Earth Stood Still, and Syndrome in The Incredibles are obvious monsters. The specters of children left to die in the wilderness are monsters. But there is no need for a monster to be supernatural or evil. Any presence that reminds a character of a failing or an evil they are complicit in has a monstrous aspect, and so they naturally establish an opportunity for a character to acknowledge and confront their past failings, and either overcome them or succumb to them. As devices, they also establish a character’s flaws, humanizing them. When you apply to a corporation in EVE only to be AWOXed by a member whose previous corporation you stole from years ago, you have a monster of your own. The terror of the monster is rooted in the belief that goodness lies in attention to the individual and the particular, that every overlooked detail, every person or situation taken for granted, and every unintended consequence is an evil, and every evil births a monster.

What happens when we apply that definition of goodness to an adversarial situation? Once a conversation reduces to a conflict, and only two sides are allowed, and the adversaries are looking to win rather than to listen, then goodness only becomes possible in the margins, in the ordinary citizens helping each other to flee the destruction wrought by both The Avengers and Ultron. The outcome of binary conflict is evil, and thus, it births monsters. Every monster is a potential adversary, and the cycle repeats endlessly.

Within EVE, none of this is undesirable. Make-believe conflict and evil are safely directed into play, and play is useful and valuable and fun as long as the implicit rule against taking the conflict off the field is honored by all of the players. Many people clearly enjoy this kind of play, including senior CCP employees. I want to be absolutely clear that I am not saying that no-one should be evil in EVE! Nor am I looking down on players who enjoy working within either side of the hero/villain trope. My alliance’s name admits an awareness that I might be doing it wrong by some consensus judgment. My point is that the appeal of conflict is not universal, even within EVE. I am not a competitive person. I have played competitively. I can do it and I can enjoy it. Sometimes I even win! Yet I seek fulfillment elsewhere. Competition does not animate me, nor does it drive me to improve myself, nor do I seek out stories centered around it. It can be an entertaining diversion every so often and nothing more. Sometimes, less.. And yet I play EVE. It is a huge game, much larger than any ambition of mine, much larger than any play style of mine. For me, that is its (bad, wrong) fun.

Work
Sunrise Aigele

In “Stories,” I mentioned that the real story of B-R5RB was not the climactic battle, as impressive as it was; it was all of the maneuvering and preparation and logistics and diplomacy, all of the smaller skirmishes (and the not-so-smaller battle of HED-GP before). That is EVE, much more than giant battles are. It is engrossing, but it is not “sexy,” so it is not often mentioned.

On my own minuscule scale, this is where I find myself: taking stock of what I have; consolidating; pondering a relocation; building standings; writing spreadsheets; running logistics. It is not exciting. It is perhaps not “blog-worthy.” Every last bit of it is EVE at its most implausibly compelling. The pilots with itchy trigger fingers and little patience often forget that this dimension of EVE exists. Usually, there is someone else in their corp or alliance who shoulders the work so that they only have to log in and shoot things.

I can say that I am working toward an entirely self-defined goal, slowly but surely, exploring every nook and cranny so that I see everything clearly and take nothing for granted. With the time I can spare, this is slow going! But it makes my little nerdy heart flutter, so I continue.

I have been distracted too many times. No more. One day, I will be able to make everything.

The Overview
Sunrise Aigele

Drackarn over at Sand, Cider and Spaceships has run headlong into one of the more vexing design issues in EVE. The Overview was designed for a far simpler game then modern EVE, and there are so many variations and so many competing needs that conflicts such as the one he is running into are as much due to the overburdening of what should be a simple element as it is due to any small bug in the current design. The Overview is trying to do too much. To solve Drackarn’s problem we should look at what needs to happen. Once we have established that, we can see whether it belongs in something like be Overview  or whether it belongs somewhere else. Perhaps some things that currently enjoy a great deal of importance, such as the player name, do not need to feature so prominently? After all, it is an overview, not an exhaustive report.

What if were possible for alliances and corporations and possibly even fleets to contribute to the individual display of standings, in much the same way that LDAP allows for hierarchical composition of permissions? So in other words, I could have criminals as a higher priority while in my current alliance, but if I join Drackarn’s alliance and it automatically updates to be in-line with his alliance’s, or corporation’s or fleet’s priorities? What if there were a local chat that was truly local in that showed you who’s on grid with you, assuming that you could see them? You could put standings there. There is no pressing reason to have two lists of players on screen at the same time. The Overview could become purely tactical. It could list type and distance and angular velocity, flags as set by the FC, and any EWAR being applied to you..

I realize that this is far from complete. I am not a power user of the Overview  Perhaps if we all put our heads together we can find better way to fix this problem then to burden the overview with yet another setting.