Bits & Pieces: October 2016

CCP Games' developer team has been busy over the last couple of weeks, issuing a series of meaty dev blogs and news. Each of these are worth multiple blog posts of analysis about their implications for EVE Online, and for its community of players. Specifically, the big reveals have been:

I intend to explore some of these announcements in more depth in future posts, but for now, I'd just like to share a few reactions and opinions.

Mining Changes - It's All Good

This dev blog focuses mostly on how mining boosts will change using the new area-of-effect mechanics, to be released with the recently named Ascension expansion set to debut on November 8th. It also covered changes to the Rorqual and Orca mining support ships, and introduced the new Porpoise-class industrial command ship.

I'm excited about moving fleet boosting to an on-grid, entirely visible experience, in general. I wrote previously about how I can't wait to try the new mechanics in combat, which is way off my usual playstyle preference for EVE Online. Applying the same kind of local boosting mechanics to mining fleets makes perfect sense, though I recognize that it will change the experience significantly - nevertheless, I think it will be all for the better, on the whole.

This does mean that I'll keep my Orca on grid with my fellow miners, in asteroid belts for the most part. And that means it will be vulnerable to roaming ganking gangs. But with the effective 50 percent bonus to drone hitpoints and 100 percent bonus to drone damage, flying the Orca with a fleet of Skiffs packed with combat drones means that miners now have a fighting chance to fend off gankers, especially when supported with the Orca's 400 percent bonus to Remote Shield Booster optimal range and the bonus to Shield Command Burst strength.

The new, improved Orca industrial command ship, now with extra oomph!

The new, improved Orca industrial command ship, now with extra oomph!

I haven't finished running the numbers yet on tank and damage potential for an Orca-supported mining fleet, but my back-of-the-napkin calculations look almost too good to be true. Unless my math is seriously off, I'm seeing applied drone damage of an Orca with four Skiffs at more than battleship-level ranges. The only downside is the long target lock times due to the Orca's low scan resolution. In high-sec, it looks likely that CONCORD will wipe out any gankers before the mining fleet could apply significant damage themselves - especially since the Orca's logistics bonus and effective buffs to the mining fleet's EHP will make miners a much harder target, for sure.

I admit I'm enjoying the whining from the ganking community in the feedback comments thread about the Orca now being too overpowered - but I must also admit, they might be right. Personally, I can't wait to give my refreshed Orca a whirl in November, and see how it actually operates in practice.

I've not yet flown a Rorqual, but the changes look very interesting, and I suspect there will be a lot of experimentation in null-sec come November. Given the creativity of EVE players, I suspect we'll see this ship being used for many purposes other than just mining support.

The new Porpoise-class entry-level industrial command ship, based on the Noctis design

The new Porpoise-class entry-level industrial command ship, based on the Noctis design

As for the new entry-level industrial command ship, the Porpoise, I will certainly get one for my collection, and am eager to try it out in wormhole space, especially since its low mass can fit through frigate-only holes - shattered wormhole ice mining, anyone? And since it will have cruiser-level DPS from drones, the Porpoise should be quite fearsome there. And it is relatively cheap, so even if it is lost, it won't break the bank. I like it.

Finally, the changes and new additions to mining drones fascinate me. The addition of ice harvester drones, new Excavator drones and enhanced mining drones, along with buffed stats for regular mining drones provide a lot of new options to miners. I'm going to have to experiment to see what combinations of drones and bonuses work the best, but I like what I see very much. I'm especially intrigued by the "new set of NPCs that will be announced in the near future" mentioned in the dev blog, which will drop the revised Harvester drones - what could this be, I wonder?

The weird, squid-like Excavator mining drones captivate me - too bad they can only be used with the Rorqual in null-sec space.

The weird, squid-like Excavator mining drones captivate me - too bad they can only be used with the Rorqual in null-sec space.

All in all, this dev blog reveals a very thorough refresh of mining capabilities - I'm finding myself looking forward to organizing some mining fleets in November to check out the new features. Still, it leaves me wanting more - huge asteroid belts that fill the now much larger grids, comet mining, ring mining, new team mining options. Improving the ships and giving us more diversity in the tools we use is good, but I think the mining profession in EVE Online needs a real revolution. But for now, I'll take what CCP has given, with pleasure.

Engineering Complexes - the End of an Era

This dev blog, which I've been eagerly awaiting for months, finally reveals details about the new industrial platforms to be available in the Ascension update. And unfortunately, it confirms my worst fears.

The new medium, large and extra large Engineering Complexes - shown with an Avatar-class titan for scale - these things are big.

There is much to love about the new structures. They provide very substantial bonuses for research, invention and manufacturing operations. They can be tailored and specialized with an abundance of engineering rigs and service modules. They are significantly less expensive than Citadels. They use the same tethering and asset protection mechanics as Citadels - with a special provision that BPOs will always be protected.

But as a solo Tech II manufacturer in high-sec, it looks like an Engineering Complex will not be as flexible as my current medium POS tower and arrays. Clearly, these new structures are intended for use by a team of players in a corporation or alliance, and not by individuals. They will not be able to be unanchored and stored quickly enough to protect them against wardecs, like you can currently do with a POS. They will have longer vulnerability windows than Citadels, one-third fewer hitpoints, and much weaker defensive weaponry levels. Unless you have a sufficient number of players willing to defend the structure, an Engineering Complex is going to be a big, fat loot piñata for wardec'ing marauders.

And I suppose that is the point - these structures are obviously designed first and foremost to provide points of conflict and combat content. To that end, I think they will serve their purpose very well. But I don't think I will try to operate one as a solo venture - that simply looks unwise. In addition, as a result of the much higher effectiveness bonuses for operating engineering complexes in null-sec space, competing as a high-sec based manufacturer is going to be more difficult. I'm still crunching numbers and running analyses of different scenarios, but the message seems clear: CCP strongly prefers that players manufacture things in 0.0, and not in high-sec.

Roger that, CCP - message received and understood. Looks like my days of Tech II manufacturing in Empire space are nearly over. Time to find another way to make a living in New Eden.

Alpha Limits - Wisdom Prevails

This dev blog describes more details about how the new free-to-play Alpha clones will be limited. I've already written about my pleasure in how the CSM and CCP Games are handling this. Treating Alphas the same as current Trial Accounts, by making multiboxing with them a violation of the EULA, is a good thing. I'd still prefer to see safeties locked on for Alphas in high-sec space, but I'm happy enough with the planned restrictions.

Now, only the question remains: how successful will Alpha clones be in attracting new players to EVE Online? And even more importantly, how many will remain to play, and ultimately upgrade to Omega clone status?

The answers to these questions depend a great deal on the improved new player experience (NPE), slated for release in November. If that NPE is compelling, and is able to entrance novices with an emotional hook, then I think the Alpha clone program could be quite successful. I'm very keen to see what CCP Ghost and his team have wrought at EVE Vegas, at the end of October. And I'm planning to generate a new character myself and give it a try. Then we shall see how good it truly is.

The End of Gambling Sites

Speaking of the EULA, this dev blog highlights all the prospective changes that will become effective with the release of Ascension. Many of these are changes needed because of the introduction of Alpha clones, but the most significant by far is the inclusion of this one line:

You may not use, transfer or assign any game assets for games of chance operated by third parties.

One short sentence of 18 little words and *POOF* - goodbye to all EVE-related gambling sites.

The best summary of what this all means, and why it is happening, was published by my friend and fellow EVE blogger, Noizy, on his site, which you can read here. (Go ahead if you haven't read it already - it's an excellent post.)

While this action was obviously stimulated by illegal Real-Money Trading (RMT) activities, the community has reacted with shock at CCP's broad policy. I personally have enjoyed wagering ISK on eve-bet.com for EVE tournaments, and I'll miss the option to do so. It's a shame that well-run and above-board sites like eve-bet are being closed down as a result of others' illegitimate actions, especially when so many in the community have benefited from their support and generosity. But as streamer Manic Velocity eloquently parodies in this video, those who enjoy making EVE-related content will continue to do so. Even without the support of gambling sites, I think we can all rest assured that the game shall endure.

Still, as I was cleaning my tinfoil hat yesterday, I wondered: does this mean that CCP Games may introduce their own in-game casino, as an alternative? I find it interesting that the minutes of the recent CSM summit meeting redacted out the entire session on monetization. Do they contain plans for generating income from legitimized in-game ISK gambling, wholly within the EVE Online client, and to CCP's exclusive benefit?

Inquiring minds would like to know.

New Character Sheet - Change is Hard

CCP announced a new character sheet, needed to support the introduction of Alpha clones, but also to incorporate more graphic information about a character's skills and capabilities. In theory, this is supposed to make it easier to understand what you can do with your character, and how you can develop them, but it's a significant change. It's going to take a while to get used to.

The new, improved character sheet

It certainly does look pretty - I'll grant CCP that. And by consolidating the training queue into the character sheet, it eliminates a potential point of confusion for new players, as there is now just one window to view what is happening with their character.

But I'm an old bittervet, and old habits die hard. I'll probably stumble around the new character sheet after Ascension comes out, and take much longer than I should to eventually figure it out. I might even come to like it, in a few months. Change is hard.

New kids in EVE Online don't know how good they have it. Why, back in my day, we had to log in every night to update our skill queue, and we liked it. (/me shakes cane angrily)

Fly safe! o7

 

Semi-Active

I'm in a strange place regarding EVE Online these days. I log into my industry alt characters a couple times a week, to restart planetary interaction runs or to adjust orders in the markets, but that's about it. It's not that my interest in EVE has waned - I just don't have any clear goals at the moment.

I keep searching for something new to grab my attention and stir my enthusiasm. I eagerly scan the #tweetfleet thread on Twitter a couple times a day. I regularly check Total EVE for new postings. I read my favorite EVE-related blogs. I check out the latest dev posts on the forums. I watch the newest EVE videos on YouTube. I download EVE podcasts and binge-listen during my business travels. So far, all this effort has produced nothing but a persistent feeling of ennui. It's disappointing, and frustrating.

Sadly, this summarizes my feelings about EVE Online lately.

Sadly, this summarizes my feelings about EVE Online lately.

I became acutely aware of my recent lack of active involvement in game when Mynxee, CEO of my current corp, the Signal Cartel, sent me a message asking if I was still playing EVE. Until she mentioned it, I did not realize that I haven't signed on as Neville in over three months. What little time I've spent in game has been entirely on my alt characters. "Wow - has it really been that long?", I asked myself, incredulous.

They say time flies when you're having fun. I guess it also flies when you're not having much fun, too.

I asked Mynxee to keep me in the corp (and I promptly logged in, if only to update the timestamp on her corporate member report). I am not ready to give up on EVE Online yet. I'm simply waiting for the "next big thing" to revive my passion for the game. But I'm not yet sure what that may be - the thing that sparks my interest and gets me back into the game with gusto, once again.

Fiddling About

Certainly, it won't be mining, alas. I read CCP Fozzie's post about upcoming changes to mining ships, and was underwhelmed. The prospective changes to mining craft are insubstantial, and not really consequential.

Generally, it looks like mining fittings will get a little tighter. Some ship production bonuses will get removed, but will then be given back with adjusted module stats. The ultra-hardcore miners are spinning their spreadsheets to see how to milk out maximum tank and/or productivity to the tenth decimal place of precision, of course. But for me, a quick review tells me that CCP is simply fiddling about with slots and stats, only to arrive at about the same levels of potential production.

We'll get some shiny new ship designs for mining barges and exhumers soon, as this excerpt from the recent o7 show indicates.

These adjustments mask the real issue with mining: the essential mechanics remain the same. 'Roid mining is still boring. Gas mining is still boring. Ice mining is still boring. Fly to your belt or anomaly, target something, activate modules, collect resources, rinse, repeat - over and over. Nothing about mining is new - nothing has changed.

Want to get people like me excited about resource harvesting, CCP? Keep the old mechanics for the casual miners, if you wish. But introduce some new team mining mechanics - perhaps in some exotic new locations like planetary rings, or in distant Kuiper belts to harvest comets. Let me earn higher production by introducing a mining optimization mini-game, requiring more of my constant attention. Make asteroid belts enormous, using the now much larger grids. Bring back the harder-to-find but potentially lucrative mining anomalies that require probe scanning to discover. Do something - anything - to shake up the dull routine of mining. Give us more variety - please.

The latest mining ship adjustments won't be enough to stimulate my active involvement in EVE Online, unfortunately. I'll play with fittings a bit in EFT, but that will be as far as it goes. I'll continue to wait until CCP decides to actually do something interesting with this essential aspect of the game.

Hopeful for Industry

I am more enthusiastic about the pending arrival of the new industrial array structures, scheduled for release in the fall. But I am becoming increasingly worried that we still know relatively little about them.

Will they be defensible? Will they be suitable replacements for POS towers? Can I operate them successfully as a solo industrialist in high-sec space? The lack of specifications and stats on their prospective performance concerns me. Autumn is almost here, and it's not even certain what date we will see the new industry structures introduced in game.

I will definitely log in to give the new industry platform a try. My hope is that it will stimulate my interest in manufacturing again. But without any specifics, it is only that for now - a hope.

The Big PvE Tease

At the beginning of the recent o7 show, CCP Seagull said, "We're ... working on some exciting developments when it comes to PvE content in EVE that I hope to share with you soon."

If there is anything that might revitalize my interest in EVE Online immediately, it is the introduction of some meaningful new PvE mechanics and content. I've written often and at great length in this blog about the importance of PvE to the future success of EVE Online, and I won't revisit those arguments here. Suffice it to say that I think changing PvE will do more to improve player engagement and retention than any other possible development investment.

But like the new industry structures, we know little of what CCP is thinking or planning specifically for PvE. I have many questions:

  • Does this include a revamp of standings with non-player character organizations in the game? Will this new PvE make relationships with in-game entities more or less important?
  • Will this new PvE content include linked goal-driven missions and tasks (dare I say "quest" style campaigns) - something more robust than the static epic arc mission threads today?
  • Will this PvE content be dynamically generated, which would forever eliminate the current unchanging predictability of missions?
  • Will this PvE content change how players interact in mining, exploration or anomalies?
  • Will the PvE be connected to EVE's rich in-game lore? Or will it have little impact on the ever emerging storylines in the game?

I enjoyed the "Shadow of the Serpent" event last month, but let's be honest: that was a clever reconfiguration of the current PvE mechanics. I'd love to see entirely new PvE features introduced to the game - things that requires time and effort to learn and master.

I could not be more delighted to hear CCP Seagull mention PvE is getting significant development attention. I am trying hard to control my speculations, but I have high hopes - perhaps unrealistically - for something truly innovative.

Viva, Las Vegas!

Perhaps we will learn more about new structures and PvE at EVE Vegas at the end of October. My experience at Fanfest in April was disappointing, but I hope Vegas will be different. I want to give CCP one more chance to thrill me with some exciting announcements and plans for the future of EVE Online.

So, I hope that my experience in Vegas lives up to my expectations. If it does, then I am sure I will dive back into active play in New Eden with aplomb, in order to pursue new opportunities, or at least to prepare for the new capabilities that are forthcoming. But in order to keep my hopes alive, I need some visibility on what CCP is planning. More than anything else, I hope that we see a revised, updated vision for the future of EVE Online. It doesn't have to be highly detailed, but I hope it will be more specific than the vague timeline we've seen in the past.

I'm looking forward to meeting Mynxee and my fellow Signal Cartel corpmates in Vegas, too. Perhaps this, and some exciting announcements from CCP about new kinds of gameplay in EVE Online, will reinvigorate my interest in the game. Or so I hope.

Fly safe! o7

I Owe You Nothing

My industrial alt's corp received a random war declaration by another so-called "leet" high-sec "mercenary" corporation, so I packed up my manufacturing arrays and stored them in station. In a way, it was kind of nice, as it gave me a convenient excuse to take a break from my EVE Online maintenance routines for a week.

Today, I checked in to see if the war was being renewed. As expected, it isn't - and as expected, after checking the war report, I saw there were no kills on either side. Typical.

There were certainly targets available for our allegedly "leet mercenary" foes to bash. I'd left my POS tower hanging in space, albeit stripped of anything valuable, and there were a couple of POCOs nearby that could have been fun to pop. But apparently they couldn't be bothered.

After looking at their rather garishly colored killboard, they were obviously too busy lurking around trade hubs in Tornados, one-shotting ignorant haulers at long range - something our corp knows all too well to avoid in wartime. The result: another wardec passing with no blood shed on either side.

Thus ends another impressive show of PvP mastery from one more super-elite high-sec mercenary corporation, eh?

For those immune to sarcasm, allow me to be more explicit and point out the blatantly obvious, yet again: EVE Online's wardec mechanics are seriously broken.

And, I must admit, mercenary corps who exploit the currently bizarre war rules owe me nothing. They are under no obligation to demonstrate their supposed combat prowess. They can pay their wardec fees and hover outside of trade hub stations, waiting for easy kills, all they want. (Gosh, that sounds like fun, doesn't it?)

Surely, CCP and our current Council of Null-Sec Management (plus good Steve Ronuken) have talked about our long-suffering wardec mechanics at length, and are close to announcing some exciting ways to improve them. Surely, yes?

CSM Radio Silence

It's hard to know if our virtually all 0.0-based Council of Stellar Management cares, because they have been amazingly quiet since they took office three months ago. In fact, I'm a bit disappointed that there hasn't been any crazy drama from the CSM, so far.

I was looking forward to entertaining reports of leaks, in-fighting, backstabbing, public posturing and political intrigue that characterized the last few months of our previous CSM's term. It's a tribute to CCP Guard's supervision that he's kept such a tight lid clamped down on CSM internal discussions. If there are any shenanigans going on, nothing has seeped out to the EVE media yet.

All we've heard from Guard is that the CSM is "working hard", and that everything is super hunky-dory - although it's interesting to see who really is showing up for the meetings (only good Steve Ronuken and The Judge have a perfect attendance record, so far). 

The next CSM summit is scheduled for mid-September, and CCP has announced that all 14 representatives will be invited to attend. Clearly, the developers at CCP are looking for a wide diversity of opinions about the EVE Online player experience. Oh, wait - they're all null-sec guys (except good Steve Ronuken). Well, at least they can talk about critically important issues like the drag range of bubbles. I'm sure the entire EVE community is sitting on the edge of their chair waiting to see how that finally gets addressed.

To be fair, I admit I am extremely cynical about the CSM (can you tell?), and have personally written them off as almost completely unrepresentative of my preferred play styles in EVE Online. As a result, I have no expectations whatsoever from them. Like the high-sec mercenaries, they also owe me nothing.

I'm certain that the CSM is focused on improving the game that they and their peers play in 0.0 space. If they do anything that also just happens to help the game in high-sec, low-sec or w-space, that will be a serendipitous by-product, and I'll be delighted to benefit from it. But frankly, I have little hope this will happen.

Perhaps my cynicism is misplaced - I certainly would be thrilled to discover that it is. I'll read the minutes from the September summit, and we'll see how much the CSM even considers issues in the game that I care about - like wardec mechanics, for example. Then we can confirm whether we have a broadly-thinking CSM in office, or just a narrow focus group catering primarily to null-sec concerns.

Waiting for Upwell

I took a quick inventory of Tech II items I've manufactured over the last couple of months, and discovered I have nearly 10 billion ISK in value waiting to be sold in the market. Not bad for 15 minutes a day, grinding out boring routine tasks. Invention and manufacturing in a POS has become very repetitive and dull, and I'm eager to embark on a new project in EVE Online, and hopefully re-invigorate my level of engagement once again. 

And so, I eagerly wait for the new industry array structures to be released by the Upwell Consortium in the fall. The wait feels interminable, and there is still quite a lot of mystery about exactly what kind of specifications and mechanics they will entail. If they simply operate like a POS, with new paint and snazzy graphics, I'll be disappointed. The general assumptions are that they will use the same asset safety mechanisms that citadels use, but will be weaker with less defensive capabilities and a longer vulnerability period, but none of this has been validated for certain yet.

If the new industry structure just turns out to be an easy-to-pop loot pinata, designed for "leet mercenaries" to plunder, it will be the final death knell of high-sec manufacturing. I doubt that is CCP's intention. I've been hearing dire predictions of the end of high-sec industry ever since the Crius update, but have found ways to make a decent profit regardless. But perhaps I'm wrong, and these new structures are indeed designed to finally drive all profitable manufacturing into null-sec, once and for all.

If that turns out to be true, then I will shrug my shoulders resignedly, and recognize that my high-sec manufacturing days are over. After all, CCP is not obligated to give me any guarantee of profitability for my preferred method of earning ISK - they owe me nothing.

We'll just have to see what the new industry structure specs look like when they are finally released. And so, I wait.

With thanks to  @TheNeocom

With thanks to @TheNeocom

Walking the Walk

I read with interest the recent article by my friend and editor at Crossing Zebras, Niden, about "walking the walk" in EVE Online. Niden criticized EVE media pundits who do not actively play the game, but who eagerly spout increasingly uninformed opinions in every forum they can find. In his editorial, Niden describes these self-appointed commentators:

On podcasts, reddit, Twitter, forums, and streams they appear. Their bread and butter is fame; their currency, visibility. They are the politicians and cheesy salesmen of EVE. Making noise and having an opinion is what matters, not the substance of what they're saying, or actually having a perspective anchored in reality, or some kind of real need within the player community.

I think Niden makes good points, but as I was reading his harsh indictment, I wondered: "Am I one of these people?"

After all, my activity in EVE Online has subsided ever since Fanfest in April, as I've since documented several times in this blog. I've become disenchanted with the game, and have not actively pursued new avenues of play. Instead, I've simply reduced my level of involvement to a trickle, and settled in to wait for the "next big thing" to revive my interest.

And yet, despite my currently low level of activity, I have been eager to post some aggressively critical opinions in this blog, without reservation. This sounds like I may indeed qualify for Niden's definition of "unrealistic motherf***ers" - those who have no real business issuing public opinions about EVE Online.

Perhaps he's right. Perhaps I should wait until I'm more engaged in the game to post any opinions about EVE Online or our community. Perhaps I am out of line, until I am logging dozens of hours in the game each week, once again.

But I remember why I started this blog in the first place. Before I ever posted my first post here, I wrote a mission statement of sorts, which you can find in the "About this blog" link:

What is this blog all about?
Good question - glad you asked. This blog is a learning tool for me. That's it.  
With the depth and complexity of EVE Online, I have found that one of the best ways to learn the nuances of the game is to write and dialogue about it. Therefore, I decided to start this blog, to give myself the opportunity to discover insights that might be useful.
Since the sole intent of this blog is to help myself become more enlightened about EVE Online, the primary audience shall forever be me - and only me. If you are entertained by reading this blog, that is well and good, and you are welcome to it.

My level of activity in EVE Online is indeed lower than it has been in the past, but I still love and care about the game, and about the community of players it brings together. And I hazard to suggest with only a bit of humility that my opinions are more informed than most people playing the game today. Most importantly, I'm still learning things about EVE - and this blog is still helping me learn.

And so, whether or not anyone likes it, I'm not going away anytime soon.

To be blunt, dear reader, I owe you nothing - except honesty and sincerity. It's up to you to decide if my words are useful. Keep reading or discard them as you see fit.

Fly safe! o7