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

 

Change is Good

CCP Games' Team Five 0 published the first of a series of dev blogs yesterday on the massive revisions to fleet boosting mechanics. Essentially, boosts will change from a passive activity to an active role in fleet operations, and from system-wide bonuses provided through a fleet's hierarchy to local area-of-effect bonuses provided to ships within range of the booster when special modules are activated.

I will not recap the already published analyses on the implications of these changes, some of which I recommend to you here:

And Cue the Whining...

Reaction to the dev blog has been generally positive, but a few have thrown up their hands in disgust and demanded full refunds of skill points for leadership skills, or announced their intention to give up the game.

Some people just don't handle change very well. I find this perplexing, for two reasons.

First, CCP has been very open and public about their intentions to make these kind of changes to fleet boosting for years, so there's no excuse for being surprised.

Second, we now have skill extractors, so if you think your dedicated fleet boost alt is no longer useful under the new mechanics, simply suck all their skill points out and sell them in the market - or even better, sell that character whole in the character bazaar.

I've little sympathy for these complainants. In classic EVE fashion, I can summarize my reaction to their objections in two statements: "HTFU!", and "Can I haz your stuffs?"

My Surprisingly Sudden PvP Conversion

Personally, I am delighted with the changes, and I can't wait to try them when they come out in November. I have every leadership skill trained to V on Neville, and also on an alt character, and now I can finally put them to good use. I'd trained all of these on Nev way back when I was in E-UNI, so I could help out with fleet ops. I also trained mining leadership skills on an alt to support my resource gathering needs, and then extended that investment over time to include all the other leadership skills, anticipating the eventual introduction of on-grid local boosts. Now my patience will pay off, and I admit I'm feeling particularly smug about my apparently good prescience.

Suddenly, I'm an enthusiastic space bard!

Suddenly, I'm an enthusiastic space bard!

Let me emphasize how radical these changes will be for a player like me. I am a mission-running, exploring, mining, manufacturing, 100% absolutely non-violent industrialist space hippie. I don't PvP, as a general rule. I understand why people like to PvP, but it's never been my primary activity of choice in EVE Online.

Now, along come the new fleet boosting mechanics, and I can't wait to hop into a battlecruiser or command ship and die gloriously in the middle of a fleet operation, satisfied in the knowledge that my boosts helped my fleetmates and made a tangible difference in the battle.

If a change like this can convert a peace-mongering carebear like me into a blood-thirsty space bard, eager to jump into the middle of a fight, then clearly CCP is doing something right.

One of the reasons that I avoided PvP was that the old warfare link mechanics tilted the odds so heavily away from casual players like myself. Too many players were sticking their boosting alts in some remote corner of a system, and then getting outrageous performance out of their combat ships, making it impossible for any lone, solo pilot to win. Why bother looking for fights, when so many others can simply squash you like a bug, because of their invisible off-grid boosting advantages?

The new mechanics change all of that forever, and make boosts both highly visible and local. It levels the playing field, and adds really interesting new dimensions of PvP choices, tactics and strategies. I'm seriously considering signing my alt up with a more combat-oriented corp, just so I can try out these exciting new changes. To my surprise and delight, the new fleet boosting might be the one thing that revitalizes and reinvigorates my passion for EVE Online.

Mining's Great Porpoise

A little gem that was included in the dev blog was the confirmation of a new "Porpoise-class industrial command ship." We'll get more details in the next dev blog, which will cover mining-related boosting, but I'm excited to see mining get a little love, for a change.

The Porpoise appears to be a "mini-Orca", which can fit two of the new Command Burst modules (compared to the Orca's three), and gives a +1% bonus to Mining Foreman Burst Strength and Duration per skill level (compared to the Orca's +3% bonus). It sounds like an interesting ship, though I'm not exactly sure what application it may be best suited for yet. I suspect this might be the boosting ship of choice for mining ops in dangerous space, but until we see the stats, it's not entirely clear yet.

As for the Orca, I am looking forward to flying mine as a regular fixture alongside barges and exhumers, instead of just passively broadcasting bonuses next to a station or inside a POS shield. I sometimes do this anyway, as it's so easy to just throw ore into the Orca holds instead of shuttling mining ships back and forth to stations or a POS tower.

This does mean that Orcas will die more often to ganking gangs, but I don't think that is a bad thing at all. It certainly will be more interesting than the current, dull boosting mechanics. And anything that makes mining more interesting is a very good thing indeed.

Hooray for Hats

Rixx Javix's long campaign to get head adornments as an official option in the game has finally paid off, apparently. Confirmed via Twitter by CCP Darwin, hats are being introduced into the game. The first options appear to be just simple berets and baseball caps, but it's a start.

How long until we see more ridiculous options like top hats and ski masks in the game? I expect this will be Rixx's next campaign, as I suspect CCP's persnickety art department will be loathe to introduce such options.

I remember sitting in a roundtable discussion at Fanfest a few years back, when someone from the (now defunct) Gentlemen's Agreement alliance asked CCP for top hats and monocles (not the high tech ones we have now, but the old fashioned lenses), so that everyone in their group could look like their silly alliance logo. Everyone laughed, except the CCP art crew. They just frowned disapprovingly. I don't think we'll see any truly silly headwear in EVE Online anytime soon.

Perhaps we will see a new skill tree introduced into EVE Online: Millinery? With Advanced Millinery and Millinery Specialization skills, as well? Millinery Industrial Arrays, anyone?

Still Waiting for Upwell

CCP Fozzie confirmed via Twitter this morning that the new industrial arrays will be part of the November update. I was worried that they were being pushed back, in lieu of other features like the new boosting mechanics. But they'll still be out in the "fall", as originally announced. Since the winter solstice is on December 21st, a November release is technically still in autumn, though I was hoping for something in September. I'm still itching to get my hands on the new arrays, and try them out.

Fozzie promises dev blogs coming "soon". I'm both eager and anxious about seeing the performance statistics on these new platforms. I hope they don't spell eventual doom for a solo, high-sec manufacturing option. Just in case, I'm cranking out as many Tech II modules and ships as I can with my current POS-based manufacturing operations. This may be my last gasp for building things for profit in EVE Online, if the new arrays don't prove to be a viable option.

Meanwhile, I continue to wait.

Change is Good

I'm glad summer vacation is finally over, and the devs at CCP are returning to work. The prospects for an interesting November in EVE Online are looking very good. I feel my optimism about the game beginning a resurgence.

I'm eager to attend EVE Vegas at the end of October now. I am confident we'll be hearing a lot more details about CCP's forthcoming release plans.

Change is good. It shakes things up, and opens up new opportunities. I think the holidays are going to be a very interesting time for me in New Eden.

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