What Do You BeliEVE?

Once again, expert EVE Online conversationalist Dirk MacGirk invited me back to the Open Comms show, this time to chat about the latest developments on Alpha clones and PvE (player vs. environment) content. I enjoy being a guest on this show, though I am invariably exhausted afterwards. The regular panelists all bring very passionate perspectives on the game, and this always produces very animated discussions that can feel like verbal jujitsu, as everyone wrestles to include their points of view.

We discussed the recent PvE "town hall", which was hosted by CSM representative Jin'Taan on EVE University's Mumble server last week. Dirk and I were both a little disappointed in that event, as it was mostly a qualitative review of different types of existing PvE experiences in the game - missions, complexes, exploration, incursions, anomalies, etc. Not a bad discussion to have, by any means, but not exactly the format to elicit any new and groundbreaking ideas.

CCP is definitely working on PvE content. CCP Seagull teased some "exciting new developments in PvE" at the beginning of the most recent o7 Show. The question is: are these developments simply incremental iterations of existing PvE options, or will they be something truly novel? I suspect we will have to wait for EVE Vegas at the end of October to find out.

EVE Content Religions

I'm always surprised at the intensity and diversity of responses that the subject of PvE in EVE Online provokes. It's like stating a religious opinion - sure to generate a strong reaction, and in sometimes unpredictable ways. Simply mention PvE in EVE Online to a fellow player, and you'll immediately know the brand of content religion to which they hold allegiance.

There are the fanatic PvP extremists who intone their mantra, "EVE is a PvP game" with fervor, as if it was a declaration of divinely delivered truth. These players believe that any investment in PvE is a blasphemy against the "real EVE", and diminishes their dearly-held sacred dogma that nothing truly matters except players' ships killing other players' ships. Suggest any kind of equivalency of importance of PvE with PvP, and the extremists all go into apoplectic spasms of violent rage and utter disgust. To the PvP fanatics, PvE is a sin, and all who choose it over PvP must be ridiculed and expunged vigorously, in tribute to the god of the almighty F1 key.

There are the money counters, who belong to several different orders, but all are devoted to the idea that "EVE is ISK" and nothing matters but money. They want PvE to be invariable, predictable and lucrative, so they can generate as much in-game cash for as little effort as possible. Their principal tenet is the holy credo of "ISK per hour", which is the only true measure of goodness. Suggest that PvE could be made more dynamic, and money counters go berserk with revulsion and shock, as such sacrilege threatens the essence of their ideal - a state of infinite ISK inflow with nil effort or time.

There are the technicians, who study various forms of PvE to levels of depth that would alarm even the most fastidious scientist. They see PvE as a puzzle to be solved, and they believe that EVE enlightenment comes from a deep and intimate understanding of the mechanics of their chosen specialization. Here you will find masters of minimization and maximization, who fret about discovering how to complete the exploration mini-game in one less click, or how to precisely place ships in an Incursion mission room for optimum effect, or how to identify the perfect fitting for clearing a Sleeper site most efficiently. They earn ISK from PvE, to be sure, but their primary motivation is the joy they feel from attaining absolute mastery.

There are the lore seekers, who see PvE as the means by which New Eden's backstory is revealed. They believe that EVE enlightenment arises from discovering tidbits of information in PvE that illuminate the previously unknown, and provide clues to the mysteries of the ancient races of New Eden. Any suggestion that EVE Online would be better with less emphasis on the mythos and legends of New Eden wounds lore seekers deeply. Lore seekers demand a constant stream of new PvE content - it is the lifeblood in which they revel and thrive in the game.

There are the dirty casuals, who fly lower-level missions and simple system anomalies only for the pleasure of seeing little red icons go boom. They are not interested in earning wealth, or solving deep mysteries, or becoming experts, and they do not have time to find other pilots to fight. They simply want to log into the game for a while, and have a bit of quick and easy fun. They are not interested in enlightenment, or in playing EVE with any kind of depth or intensity. All of the other more dedicated sects of EVE content religions regard the casuals with distaste, and hold them in low esteem. Soon, with the introduction of Alpha clones, the dirty casuals will find themselves in a lower caste of EVE Online playerdom - and they will embrace this with joy.

CCP's Challenge

The diversity of player opinions about game content, and specifically, about the "best" forms of PvE, presents a real challenge to CCP Games' developers. This wide range of beliefs virtually guarantees that whatever new PvE content that CCP produces will fail to win over everyone. There will always be some segment that will see it as "wrong" for the game, as seen from the perspective of their chosen EVE content religion.

As for me, I have always enjoyed PvE in EVE Online, though I am much less engaged in it as I once was. I became somewhat of a money counter in level 4 mission-running for a while, until I started earning more ISK from Tech II invention and manufacturing. The recent "Shadow of the Serpent" event revived some of my interest in PvE, and I enjoyed running many of those assigned tasks while the event lasted. But those assignments also reminded me of what I hope to see added to EVE's PvE options.

EVE does offer quite a diversity of PvE alternatives, but one thing it does not offer is a form of PvE that bridges more smoothly into PvP activity. Burner missions are the closest that we have to this today, and they can be quite challenging, though they too can be cracked and farmed, once a player unlocks how to fit and fly each of them.

Bridging PvE to PvP

To create this bridge, I long for a new form of PvE based on two qualities: dynamic generation and responsive design.

  • Dynamically generated PvE would be unpredictable. The construction of a mission, and the NPC targets that inhabit it, would be generated spontaneously on selection, and no two missions would look exactly alike. Ideally, the mission design would take into account the level of mastery of the player - perhaps revealed by their certificates - and adjust content accordingly. A player flying into a dynamically generated mission would not know how the mission room would be constructed, or even what kinds of targets they would encounter, except in a very general sense. This would force the player to omnitank and fit their ship as if they were flying into a PvP situation - something that current mission-runners rarely do.
  • Responsively designed PvE would scale up or down depending on what kinds and numbers of ships that players fly into the mission room. Whether they fly a solo frigate or a fleet of battleships, players in a responsive mission would see waves of reinforcements that scale up or down, relative to the strength of the player threat. With a responsive design, mission level designations become meaningless.

In addition, I would love to see mission NPCs act as much as possible like players do in PvP situations. I want to see them use drones, electronic warfare, and flight techniques that a player would see in a typical PvP encounter. CCP has been experimenting with greatly improved AI for NPCs for quite a while now, and we've seen considerable advances in this regard, but more work needs to be done. When a player cannot tell if they are flying against an AI or a real player, then we will have achieved the optimum state for PvE design.

Threatening Belief Systems

When I described my vision of dynamic and responsive PvE design during the Open Comms show, I was surprised at the negative responses it received. Some fanatic PvP extremists dismissed it outright - they want to maintain a clear gap between PvE and PvP, as they believe this will encourage more players to abandon PvE and embrace their preferred playstyle. A couple of apparent money counters disliked the unpredictability, as that poses a threat to their "ISK per hour" efficiency paradigm. An obvious technician had a hard time wrapping his head around the idea of an ever-changing unsolvable puzzle - he decided it was an unreachable ideal, and that CCP could never produce it.

But I remain steadfast in my hope that CCP will one day introduce the style of dynamic and responsive PvE that I desire. I think it would add a whole new richness to the game, and help make it easier for more players to transition into PvP, if they so desired.

I await CCP's upcoming announcements on PvE development with great anticipation. It will be fascinating to see how the player community reacts, and I won't be surprised if it is a mixed bag, no matter how innovative and creative CCP gets with PvE design. If my experience is any indication, some players' beliefs about what kind of content is "good" for the game are too deeply entrenched, and anything that does not align with their idealized values will be summarily rejected.

As for me, I will take what comes, and try to find a way to enjoy it. One should be open to new possibilities, as they arise. I might even switch my own EVE content religion. Inner peace is worth changing my mind from time to time.

I wonder how many EVE players feel the same way?

Fly safe! o7


EVE is (Not Only) a PvP Game

The EVE Online players' reaction to CCP Games' announcement of free-to-play (F2P) Alpha clones coming in November has been generally positive, though some have expressed concern about potential abuses. Specifically, players worry about swarms of Alpha pilots creating havoc for mining, and for ganking in high-sec space. CCP wrote a follow-up dev blog acknowledging these issues, and I also wrote a post examining what to do about the Alpha ganking issue.

I have been reading the comments about Team Size Matters' and CCP Seagull's announcement with interest. Most worrying are some justifications for allowing Alpha clones to have unrestricted ability to participate in high-sec ganking, which inevitably boil down to one common rationalization:

"EVE is a PvP game."

There are several themes and variations of this assertion in the comment thread, but the gist of the argument goes something like this:

  • Unrestricted non-consensual player-versus-player combat in every type of space is a core design principle of EVE Online.
  • Ganking is an allowable form of non-consensual PvP.
  • Therefore, CCP must allow ganking without restrictions to every type of player, including F2P Alpha clones.

I don't disagree with the general direction of this argument. EVE Online was indeed designed to support PvP activities - with or without mutual consent - in every type of space. Ganking is a legitimate form of PvP, and should be allowed and preserved in high-sec space.

But the argument ignores another and much more significant reality of EVE Online: PvP is only one part of the system that makes EVE Online work. EVE is a network of interlocking game mechanics which support a balanced cycle of gathering, building and destroying. PvP contributes only to one part of this vital cycle, and is completely interdependent with the other two parts.

To say that "EVE is a PvP game" is like declaring "a human body is a heart". The heart is a critical organ, to be sure, and without it, the body dies. But the heart would not last long without all of the other organs that sustain and support it. The entirety of bodily systems, running in continuous balance, is necessary to keep a human being alive and functioning. Similarly, to declare that "EVE is a PvP game, and therefore you must allow X", conveniently ignores all of the other interdependent mechanics that must also operate in balance to keep the entire game running.

The Inconvenient Depth of EVE

To illustrate the point that EVE is far more than just a PvP game, let's examine the relative number of different player activity options in EVE Online (thanks to Altrue for compiling this chart):

No matter how you look at it, PvP is a part of a much, much larger tapestry of interwoven mechanics in EVE Online. PvP is certainly a vitally important part of the game, and to say that "EVE Online is a PvP game" isn't untrue - it just doesn't tell the whole story.

Including the Bigger Picture

The larger tapestry of EVE Online, and the interdependent nature of its systems and mechanics, means that the "EVE is a PvP game" argument doesn't always make sense. Overemphasizing one aspect disrupts other systems, and causes an imbalance. Even though it is set in space, nothing truly lives in a vacuum in EVE Online.

So, whenever EVE Online changes in some way - such as introducing F2P Alpha clones, for example - CCP must be very cautious about what they allow as a result of that change. While giving Alpha clones unfettered access to every option in EVE Online may sound like a nice ideal, we have to recognize that it would also be highly disruptive to multiple systems and mechanics in the game. This is why Alphas are restricted to a set number of skills and skill points, and limited to certain types of ships and modules, by design.

I'm all for more options for anyone who plays EVE, up to the point that it creates an unworkable or unsustainable imbalance in the game's cycle of gathering, building and destroying. Then we have to pause and consider the implications, and impose reasonable limits.

Given the number of available player options in EVE Online, I could argue that "EVE is a PvE game", and thereby rationalize that mission-runners should be protected from outside interference by other pilots. But I know that is a silly argument, because it removes too much risk from missions and upsets the current balance in game mechanics.

I don't think that PvE'ers should be a special, privileged class in EVE Online.

This is why I get frustrated with the "EVE is a PvP game, and therefore X" arguments. In many cases, I fear that what is really being said is: "I think PvP is more important that the other parts of EVE, and therefore, let's ignore them." Or, even worse, it sometimes means: "I only like PvP in EVE Online, and don't care about the other parts of the game, so let me do whatever I want."

I don't think that PvP'ers should be a special, privileged class in EVE Online.

Such an argument, whether uttered by passionate PvP'ers or PvE'ers, is more than just poorly reasoned - it is pure selfishness, thinly disguised. I think we can all do better than that, and consider that our personal preferences aren't the only ones that might have merit.

EVE is much larger than just a PvP game - it is an intricate simulation of gathering, building and destruction, and no one part is more important than the others. Let's all try to bear that in mind, please.

Fly safe! o7

My Favorite EVE Online Ship

I have a hoarding problem. I collect ships in EVE Online. I'm not sure why, but it feels very important to have at least one of every ship in the game.

About half of the Nev ship collection - I think I have a problem... 

About half of the Nev ship collection - I think I have a problem... 

Early in my EVE career, I decided that I would train to fly every sub-capital ship in the Gallente fleet, because Gallente rule, as everyone is well aware. Once I reached that goal, I cross-trained into Minmatar and Caldari, and I've nearly exhausted those paths as well. Next shall come the Amarr, and then capitals. I've flown almost every sub-cap ship in the game, either with Nev or on an alt.

I periodically conduct a class in the UNI to introduce the Gallente ship line to new players, where I undock an example of each ship for students to inspect, while I describe the strengths and weaknesses of each in a running monologue. It's a fun class to deliver, as it brings back memories of both exciting and stupid things I've done in each ship type.

In my last Gallente 101-102 class, one of the students asked me, "What's your favorite ship?" 

I had to think about that one. I've really enjoyed flying a lot of different ships. For level 4 mission-running, nothing comes close to my LMJD-fitted Rattlesnake - it's an unbeatable missioning machine. And my trusty Myrmidon was always a joy to fly, when I was working my way up the Gallente line. For tackling, I love the Ares - fast, effective, and easy to fly. For mining, you can't beat a Mackinaw. For UNI fleet ops, I loved my Megathron, though I must admit I never had much luck in it, and now it looks less attractive with the recent Odyssey changes. For hauling in dangerous spaces, both the Viator or the Prorator have given me some interesting times - there's nothing quite like zipping around in lowsec or 0.0 with people trying to hunt you down and kill you.

But as I considered all the ships I've flown, I had to go back to my first real love: my first cruiser, a Celestis. 

"A Celestis?," my inquiring student replied, his grimace audibly detectable on Mumble,  "I wasn't expecting that."

The amazing Celestis

The amazing Celestis

I can understand his confusion. The Celestis is not a very glamorous ship. It's a fleet support ship - a disruption cruiser, specializing in sensor dampening EWAR. It doesn't get final blows on killmails, and it doesn't get much glory. And it looks... weird. Why in the world would I pick this ungainly monstrosity as my favorite EVE ship of all time? 

Me and My Celestis

When I was brand new to EVE, and a freshman in EVE University, I was fascinated by fleet operations. UNI fleets were a great learning experience. In those days, most UNI fleets were blobbing affairs, to be sure, but they were still a lot of fun, and great for novice pilots like me. But all I could fly then were frigates, and the only role I could fill was tackler. And the UNI was awash with eager noob tacklers - too many, in fact, for many fleets. Some of us got left behind every once in a while. That wasn't fun.

I noticed, however, that EWAR was always in demand. UNI fleet commanders loved EWAR - some fleets had enough Blackbirds to blot out the sun, it seemed. EWAR was the Great Equalizer. While Caldari ECM was most favored, a few Maulus or Celestis were very welcome, too.  I didn't want to be left behind again, so I set my training for sensor dampening.

I had picked a bad time to specialize in Gallente EWAR, however. Sensor damps had just been nerfed hard by CCP - so severely, in fact, that some bittervets criticized my tentatively offered Celestis fits as "completely worthless - go learn ECM".  But I persevered, and got my Celestis anyway.

It's an ugly ship, I admit. But it was my first cruiser, and I loved it. It was slower than a Vexor, and had less firepower than a Thorax. No one understood why I had such an affection for my ugly duckling.  

Mostly, it was the flexibility. Usually, I fit a traditional Gallente armor tank, which worked fine. But when I wasn't damping things in fleet, I could use the five midslots to fit a shield tank, and though my shield skills were terrible, I still learned a lot experimenting with extenders and invulnerability fields. I also trained a few missile skills, since the Celestis could fit them, and discovered the advantages and limits of that weapon type. It had a decent drone bay, and could fit blasters or rails. My Celestis may not have been the best at any one thing, but it could do just about anything well enough.

The best thing about my Celestis, though, was flying it in fleet. Back then, no one primaried damping ships - that honor went to all the ECM boats. And I got on a LOT of killmails. I was always at the bottom of the list, but I was always there, amongst the survivors. I never had a better ISK efficiency ratio than when I flew my trusty damping cruiser.  It was a wonderful time for me in EVE.

Eventually, I outgrew my Celestis habit and moved on to more glamorous ships - Myrmidon, Brutix, Megathron, tech II variants and strategic cruisers. My old Celestis sat in the hangar for years, gathering dust, long forgotten. 

Finding My First Love Again

But then CCP decided that ECM was too powerful, and that sensor dampening was not powerful enough. The Retribution expansion injected new life into Gallente EWAR. Suddenly, the Celestis is cool again. And I have the skills and experience to fly it - extremely well.

Over the last few months, we've seen a resurgence of favor for sensor dampening ships in fleet - both Maulus frigates and Celestis cruisers. For example, Shadoo mentioned recently in an EVE University guest lecture that Pandemic Legion is experimenting with fleet doctrines heavily laden with sensor damps. I'm also seeing more buzz about Gallente EWAR ships in EVE blogs, too. PvP expert Azual Skoll updated his briefing on disruption cruisers, stating "I'd actually argue that the Celestis is one of the more powerful ships in this class right now." UNI alumnus Apoth published an excellent overview of Celestis fits on his blog, as well.

I pulled my Celestis out of mothballs recently, and tried it on once again. Remarkably, it still feels very comfortable -  like a broken in glove. But my skills have improved quite a bit since the old days, so it is time to push the limits of my fleet damping ship to the max. Behold, the ultimate anti-logistics/anti-sniping EWAR platform:

[Celestis, Anti-Logi/Anti-Sniper]

Damage Control II
Signal Amplifier II
1600mm Reinforced Rolled Tungsten Plates I
Armor Explosive Hardener II
Energized Adaptive Nano Membrane II

Remote Sensor Dampener II, Targeting Range Dampening Script
Remote Sensor Dampener II, Targeting Range Dampening Script
Remote Sensor Dampener II, Targeting Range Dampening Script
Sensor Booster II, Targeting Range Script
Sensor Booster II, Targeting Range Script

Prototype 'Arbalest' Rapid Light Missile Launcher, Nova Light Missile
Prototype 'Arbalest' Rapid Light Missile Launcher, Nova Light Missile
Prototype 'Arbalest' Rapid Light Missile Launcher, Nova Light Missile

Medium Particle Dispersion Projector I
Medium Particle Dispersion Projector I
Medium Particle Dispersion Projector I

Vespa EC-600 x5

This admittedly extreme fit is designed to make logistics ships' lives miserable and to foil snipers, at long range. With my skills, this Celestis can target anything at 250 km, and exert damping effects at 119 km optimal + 126 km falloff.

It lacks a propulsion mod, so it's slow - only 263 meters/second. This is a significant weakness. But it has a good armor tank at just under 37K EHP.  The missile launchers are for fending off any small targets that wander too close. The ECM drones, in combination with the sensor damps, are a particularly nasty combination for closer targets.

I'm eager to try this in fleet, though I expect that I'll actually get targeted now. I'll have to fly it at range to keep it safe, and warp away if anything starts to come my way.

Going back to your first love is wonderful. 

Fly safe! o7