Saturday, March 31, 2012

PI Redux

I recently moved back to the same chunk of space where my PI installations are.  I never took them down, so I decided to visit those command centers, clean out the warehouses and reemploy my minions of production.  Mostly I wanted to see if my predictions of doom and gloom were actually true.

Well, they mostly weren't.  The reactivated planets are pulling in a nice little profit, even with the new taxes.  I think it may even be more profitable than before, but I can't be arsed at this point to dust of the spreadsheets and try and do the analysis at this point.  However there is still the sticker shock of looking at that export fee!  <<834,456.00 ISK>> to get a small pile of plasmoids, yeouch!

The export fees do represent a little bit more of a barrier to casual players who may be cashed-strapped though.  Getting your planet set up costs a few millions, usually, and I wonder how many players have set up a planet and then come to pick up the goods only to be oddly disappointed and discouraged by the taxes...  Perhaps the costs could be defrayed by installing a planetary shuttle structure and shifting costs to the actual running of the PI structures (like manufacturing)?  You sacrifice a little PG/CPU to skirt the NPCCO/POCO by running a private shuttle network?

Regardless, I was partially wrong in my assessment of the changes to PI, but the whole system could still use some work in order to be enjoyable.  I wonder how Dust will interface with PI?  That could be interesting indeed.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

April 24th: Welcome to the Inferno

Bravo Mittens.  Bravo CCP.

The Eve community has just been granted an amazing chance to do a lot of things, and we have one month to prepare.  Regardless of your opinions of The Mittani, CCP's reaction to his comments, and all the other arguments made in the last week, the players of Eve have just had a gauntlet thrown down at our collective feet.

To the White Knights:  You have just been challenged by Biggest Bad of Eve to what will either be the largest battle the game has seen, or the quiet acceptance of Dear Leader's arrogance and bravado.  If you want to take a stand against Goons, against griefing, against everything The Mittani and the CFC stand for, you know when and where to organize.  On the 24th of April you will be given the opportunity to take the field and send CFC back to the fields of nullsec in ruins.  On April 24th you can quietly be elsewhere and let the CFC shut down the hub of New Eden, fueling the burning superiority and pride they so blatantly display.  The choice is yours.

To the CFC:  I hope you make good on the speech Dear Leader gave.  If you burn Jita, the game will be fundamentally altered for some time.  You will prove yet again that you can run rampant through New Eden.  At the very least you will exemplify the fact that players in Eve create the content in a way no game designer ever could.  I wish you luck, and hope you have someone to fight when you get to Jita IV.

To CCP:  This needs to play out.  Inadvertantly or not, your actions and reactions before, during and after Fanfest have just spawned a defining moment in New Eden.  This is the true test of the Sandbox.  As has so often been stated, we will watch what you do, not what you say.

Inferno is coming, perhaps a month earlier than anyone expected.  It will interesting to see who ends up getting burned.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fanfest 2012 Impressions (Part 1?)

After a few days to process the info from various blogs, video streams and the interwebs at large, I think I have a grasp on Fanfest 2012:

Overall, I think the wardec revamp looks like a good starting point for iterations.  There is no ability for aggressors to retract poorly chosen targets, so I think we will see more selective targeting.  Giving defenders the ability to add support while denying this to attackers should also have the same results.  I am a bit worried about what happens to small corporations that cannot defend themselves.  Poetic has some thoughts on member-disparity based pricing, which may not be perfect, but provides disincentives for tremendously unequal conflicts.  My biggest fear is that small corps will still be "grief decced", as the 20-30 million range is still rather low to prevent organized griefers.

Centralized Killboard?  Yes please.  Crimewatch changes?  Yes please.  I am interested in what these will both actually come out as, but the principles are good.  I would love to see more done to prevent station games, something like longer aggression timers at gates and stations, coupled with some sort of "station view" so pilots in stations can look out the damn windows.

Skill and Ship Balancing
These two topics are intertwined in my mind.  This also represents a huge minefield for CCP in regards to reimbursement.  Although I am not opposed to reworking the skill progression so that Destroyers and Battlecruisers are not "orphan" skills, I would rather see ship bonuses split into more categories.  Most ships have 2 or more bonuses, and require a racial hull skill.  I would rather see a generic hull skill at each level that opens up ships themselves, and racial hull skills unlocking the bonuses.  The same could be done for turrets/launchers.  This would allow more people to fly more ships before you specialize into the specific hulls and weapons systems you decide you like.

As for the ships themselves, CCP needs to tread carefully.  The tiers are an outmoded concept given the number of hulls in the game, but I have a suspicion that CCP needs to focus on buffing poor ships and not nerfing popular ships.  I think there is also a lot of room for freeing up restrictions on turret slots that could let players get more creative with fitting ships.  Powergrid, CPU and slot layout already dictate a lot of what we can do.  Is it necessary to keep odd turret/launcher restrictions in place?

Also, the ship role slides from the presentation looked like an odd mashup of Warhammer 40k unit types. While not necessarily a bad thing, dramatically redefining ship roles could cause space rage.

Dust 514
Hmm.  The game looks cool.  But the passive skill training of Eve does not seem like a good fit, especially when they already have over seven (!!!) years of skills to train.  In a free to play game based on instant-on PvP, this skill system misses the point.  Or it may be the greatest idea ever.  All I know is the market base for Dust is FPSers, who are a somewhat different breed from Eve-ers.  And the competition in the FPS market is much deeper than the spaceship MMORPG market.  Asking players to commit long term to a FTP game may be a mistake.  Also, PS3 exclusivity means a huge number of players are not coming to the Dust table.  For many players, Dust 514 will cost $250.  That's a lot of PC/Xbox/Wii games they could otherwise be buying and playing.

That's my first set of impressions.  I may have more to say about modules, industry and the drama of Fanfest after some more time to properly think about things.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Man Makes MMORPG Mad

I'm going to piss people off with this, so if you don't like that, you can stop reading.

The Mittani got drunk at the Alliance Panel at Fanfest, made some very poor comments about suicide, and now is getting railroaded all over *gasp* the Eve blogoshpere.

Players (Human Beings) in Eve use terms like "rapecage", "rape face", homosexual slurs, racist slurs, and probably some things I have never heard.  Players in FPS games hump dead opponents.  Duke Nukem talks about sexual acts on amputated body parts.  "Gamers" have a lexicon that would make a nun burst into holy flames due to proximity.  This is insensitive and childish and immature.

This is also the state of online gaming, the internet and locker rooms in the United States, and I would wager in the world at large, in the bored male demographic.  What Alex Gianturco said was something I assume he regrets, but was nothing even remotely beyond the pale for gamers to hear.  This incident speaks more to the sad state of discourse in the greater gaming community at large, and if anything should a be point for gamers to rally behind.  Not to rally against one drunk guy, but to rally against all gamers who use such terms in any context anywhere.

If you want to get indignant, call, email and riot in every game you play against anyone who uses such terms.  Report every incident of any offensive language you encounter.  Stop using it yourself.  But until you can say you have never told someone to die in a fire, you've never drunk the tears of another player, and you've never done anything that could have made someone angry or mad or depressed, please spare the world your righteous indignation at one example of an otherwise pervasive trend.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tripping in Rifters

I put a frigate pilot in RvB recently, and this was a good choice.  A few highlights of the whole RvB experience:

  • People tend to pay attention to comms and be somewhat focused.  This is a great change of pace from some small groups I have previously flown through hostile space with.
  • The PvP ON button.  As long as I get on between lunch and midnight (US TZ), there is usually a 30-40 man fleet cruising around, looking to find the other fleet and make some fun happen.
  • Cheap ships are fun.  I fly T1 fit Rifters, because if I loot one wreck every few fights, I pay for all the ships I lose and then some without really trying.
  • RvB communication.  They tend to try and balance fleets against each other to make the fights at least interesting.  This is not to say there is not some blobbing, or stragglers caught out, but it is generally attempted to make things fair-ish.
  • 89-9 kill ratio, at this point, with 99.5% efficiency.  That's just sick, and more indicative of how the other fleets call primaries as compared to my skills in a Rifter.  And the fact that my Rifters cost about 500k right now...
Some not-so-highlights:
  • Modules being bought out/not stocked.  I dare say some budding industrialist could set up shop in Hageken, Ako and Autaris and make a killing supplying just about any module regularly used in PvP.  It's awkward trying to fit ships in a permanent warzone that is not conducive to cheap indy ships.
  • Complaints about hulls being used.  Both sides do it, but the corp I am not in seems to love moaning after seeing someone undock in a 'Cane.
  • The overview.  This is my first real experience of fleet-sized engagements, and the overview is rather painful, and I know understand the challenge of trying to find that damn Maller in a group of 30 flashy reds.
But overall, putting an alt in RvB has been phenomenally fun and a great way to learn a little bit about PvP.  You should try it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mass Effect 3: A Lesson in Player Investment

I don't often post about other games here, but I wanted to take a look at the uproar over Mass Effect 3 and the endings, and something it says about games and gamers in general.  I promise there is a tie in to Eve at the end, but to explain the ME3 situation will require a lot of background.

<There are ME spoilers here, so be warned.  Also I have always played a paragon female Shepard, so I refer to Shep as "her", and may have only directly experienced portions of the game available to a paragon.>

If you have been living under a rock for the last few weeks you may not have noticed the anger amongst players of ME3 over the various endings available.  There are a few complaints, briefly:

  • The ending is illogical, employing a dues ex machina once the Crucible is activated.
  • The behaviors of the team mates are illogical, with them all teleporting to the Normandy, as is the consequence of the Mass Relays being destroyed.
  • The sudden change of the nature of the synthetic-organic conflict does not take into account anything the player has done.
  • The 3 endings are, aside from colors and types of explosion, identical.
  • The 3 endings are all "bad", in that Shepard dies, all life is either destroyed or is scattered, and the mass relays are gone, making everything Shepard and team have done a pyrrhic victory at best.
I'll tackle these, but in a different order.

Although the actions in the Crucible do reek of deus ex machina, I think that is somewhat unfair.  There is plenty of subtle foreshadowing, especially as you get closer to the end.  However, if you chose to save the Geth and Quarians, and invested in EDI and Joker's lives, this ending is a deus ex machina, as the only thematically hostile synthetics in the game are hybrids: Cerberus and the Reapers.  More on this later.
The disappearance of the Normandy makes no sense.  When and why did Joker jump the ship?  Where was he going?  How did people get back on?  If the Mass Relays are destroyed, you are essentially setting off a pile of supernovas throughout the galaxy.  The endings all show this, and given the layout of the galaxy, this is equivalent to letting the Reapers kill everyone anyway.
The ending videos themselves, when viewed side by side, are an exercise in either a rushed ending or a lazy ending.  The color varies (green/red/blue) and the effect varies (energy glow, explosion, lightning), but every other part of the cutscenes is identical.  This is garbage, and an offensive way to claim multiple endings.  Those are not alternate endings, those are alternate costumes for one ending.  Bioware must have expected this sort of response to palette swapped videos, and I am a bit shocked they appear confused.
I would call all 3 endings "bad', in that they end tragically.  That's fine, except for one main problem.  The endings, at least for a paragon/neutral Shepard, are not thematically relevant in any way.  For a bad ending to work, go watch Blade Runner, or Gladiator.  Shepard gives up everything around her, and her life, and this outcome only satisfies a thematically jarring plot device, and ignores player's actions in the game.  The renegade option, oddly, seems to leave Shep alive, no longer in space.  What?  When did Shep become John Constantine?  None of these endings work thematically.  This leads me to my main complaint, and aside from the lazy videography, my fundamental issue with the endings.
The framing of the conflict between Organics, Reapers and Catalyst does not stand up to any scrutiny of the preceding narrative.  No evidence is given for why synths will take over, either in the conversation with the Catalyst, or in the preceding games. The Geth, if you played paragon, are actually victims of speciesism via the Quarians, and if you follow Legion's side quests throughout ME2 and ME3, you learn almost all the reasons the Geth are "Evil" is because they were just trying to survive or were essentially indoctrinated.  The only open hostilities in the game are lead by the Salaarians, the Quarians, the Reapers and the Krogan.  All all organic or hybrids, none are synthetic.  EDI, the ship AI, is consistently moral, or seeks to be moral, or at least wants Shepard's (organic) approval for her actions.  The whole premise of the Catalyst is baseless in the fiction provided, once you understand all the parts.

To take this one step further, the Catalyst is an AI controlling Reapers (hybrids), and is the only major force seeking to do the very thing it claims to be combating, wiping out all life.  The Catalyst is making a solid case only against itself, or maybe only Organics, in a really tortured, self-contradicting philosophy.  Some Organic made the Catalyst, or the AI that then made the Catalyst.  Russian dolls!  Then, also mysteriously, the Catalyst implies that Shepard making it to the Catalyst has broken the cycle the Catalyst is using to maintain order and life.  Only Shepard can make the choice of what to do next.  But, all those choices, if you play them out, lead to roughly the same outcome as letting the Reaper keep going.  This, oddly, is not a choice.  At the last choice of the game, literally an intersection, you have 3 choices that make no sense and do not consider any of the rich storytelling, world building, or decision making that the player made.

And this, I think, is the crux of the problem of Bioware has stumbled into.  They built three beautiful, engaging, vibrant games that focused heavily on players impacting that world.  There are small impacts (each decision) and the aggregate decisions (paragon or renegade) that dramatically influenced both individuals and civilizations.  The end of the series throws all of that development at the feet of a nonsensical and irrational child who gives you the choice of which end of the world you prefer, with all three options destroying the galaxy you tried to save.  This insulted the expectations of the players.

That is the key - expectations Bioware built over years both through marketing and gameplay.  Games are interactive, unlike movies, novels, or any other form of media.  The players invest in the characters and story.  They explore the options, the nooks and crannies of the game world.  They make dramatic relationships, kill vilains and heroes, and I would wager no two ME trilogy play-throughs are identical for any two players.  At the pinnacle of this series of choices and investments, the model was changed, the rules were tossed out, and the creative capital players invested into their Shepards turned out be about as valuable as CDO in late 2008.

I think this is something MMO players, and Eve players in particular can identify with.  How many times have you heard the "Dream of Eve" tossed into a discussion to validate opinions?  How many players rage when the game is changed away from the way they learned and loved it, or even from their concept of what Eve is?  Some critics have called gamers entitled or overly critical of Bioware, citing the dev's artistic license to end the story how they want.  Sorry to break it to those critics, but in a medium where emotional investment determines the future of a company, player opinions and desires are a very real concern.  When a TV series or novel ends, it's over.  Also, a novel or DVD generally runs a lot less than $59.99.  Game makers ostensibly want to keep selling games, and a big enough let-down of player expectations and trust can sink not just a franchise, but an entire company.

Incarna was the case example of this in Eve.  The dream was betrayed for a rushed, incomplete piece of game that combined hardware failures, a poorly implemented Cash Shop, and nothing for players to invest in emotionally.  The results were profound.  Mass unsubs, riots, threadnaughts, The Mittani becoming a champion of the players, and tangentially, layoffs, corporate reorganization, and thankfully a heartfelt apology from Hilmar and one of the most dramatic turnarounds in product development to ever have been seen in the gaming industry.

MMOs actually have the finest measurement for player emotions:  Time spent playing, logins, and subscription numbers.  If the devs are making poor choices, the players will speak through these metrics.  Traditional games do not have a rolling metric to show how people feel.  Once the $60 has been spent, the only feedback in on forums, blogs and Youtube.  I hope Bioware, and the rest of the gaming industry, learns from the lessons of the player reaction.  You can patch and iterate in Eve or another MMO.  When the next Bioware series comes, the iteration will be seen in sales numbers, and an all-or-nothing proposition has a lot less margin of error.


Over at Jester's, there was an interesting post highlighting what I think is a common view in multiplayer games.  A commenter posted that Eve doesn't have smarter players, it has less players doing more with alts, and also that CCP has failed to deliver on the "Dream of Eve".  The poster seems to imply that because players are using alts, and focusing on optimized play-styles, Eve is dead to him.  Ripard seems to take that same premise and draw the opposite conclusion, that optimization is good.  I think both slightly miss a larger function of Multiplayer gaming in general.  The older a game gets, the more people learn the "right" ways to work, and many players will gravitate towards this.

Take WoW as an example.  I played a hunter for some time, and during each expansion, there came a point where the optimal gear for each build was known, and if you didn't use that build and gear, finding a raid spot was tough.  This took some creativity and trial to learn, but once it was found, most groups with progression on their minds demanded you work towards the optimal.  This holds true across classes.

Look at TF2.  Each map has specific characteristics and each class can use those to some degree.  If the Engineer guy decides to build teleports to a point that is far from conflict, or puts a sentry in a poor firing location, he will be jeered by teammates.  If a sniper runs around meleeing instead of using geometry and range, this will also be called out.

As time goes on in any situation, people figure out the rules and how to push them to the edge, and how to optimize achieving goals.  In Eve this usually means killing people or making isk.  After 9 years, it is not surprising that many players have maxed skills, min-maxed almost ever ship in the game, and have come up with the best income streams for most of the markets.  I would go so far as to say Eve's market dynamics are so complex that I doubt anyone, even at CCP, truly understands how all the bits fit together, much less the players.  And new players willing to look around have a lot of resources telling them how to rat, plex, fit, market, build, scan, mine and scam.  They aren't trying to reinvent the wheel, because someone else already did it for them, and they know it.

This holds true in any game.  Few"srsz bsnz" players try non-cookie cutter fits/builds/strategies in most games unless they are looking to "fail" in hilarious fashion, or they are bored.  Civ, Sins, any RPG you care to name, all games that have been on the shelf for a while have tomes of knowledge on the interwebs just waiting for people to find.  This is the mature phase of any game.

Players also have a new phase and a mature phase.  Reading both Ripard's comments and the poster's, I draw this conclusion:  Once you learn all the rules of a game you care to learn, you have hit the mature phase.  At this point, you rapidly learn if you enjoy the game for what it is, or if you are bored.  If the gameplay intrigues you after you have learned the ins and outs, you keep playing.  You optimize, you screw around, you do these actions to amuse yourself.  If you find the game boring after you have learned it, stop playing.

Blaming the devs or other players for your boredom probably means you want to like the game, or you regret the time you spent because the shine is gone, or you are just nostalgic for the new feeling almost every consumptive media gives when you first find it.  But failing to consider your own development  arc in a game, and blaming others seems to me to be an easy way out.  I would rather gracefully say goodbye and hit the unsub button, and move on to the next world.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Quickie Update - CSM Endorsements

Real Life and Eve Corp issues have dominated the last few weeks of my down time and will continue to do so, hence my apparent fall of the face of the earth.  That said, I wanted to get my CSM Votes/Endorsements on the record. I have three votes, and here's how I cast them:

Hans Jagerblitzen

I listened to many podcasts, read many blogs and posts, and Hans is my favorite amongst many good candidates this year who seem to be using the logic of a rising tide lifting all ships, as opposed to focusing on one or two pet areas.  But he was the most outspoken and eloquent, and got my vote.  He also found my blog, which means he was looking rather hard for people to ask to vote for him.  I hope he works as hard at solving issues on the CSM and his campaign seems to promise.


Love him, hate him, he knows CCP, he knows how to work with them, and he isn't afraid to call CCP out on things.  I am voting for him because I think he brings a little "insider understanding" to the CSM side of the table, and he can still comport himself well when talking about various issues.  I particularly liked his responses on the last Voices from the Void debate.  Which brings me to:

Two Step

As has been said by many, Two Step turned an alternate position into a full position just by giving more shits than he was expected, or even needed to.  If you haven't seen Two Step talking, posting, interviewing, or being generally available, please do not vote - you are not paying attention.

Interestingly, I was initially not going to vote for any incumbents, figuring most will easily make it back in.  But after listening to Trebor, Two Step and Seleene on Voices, I realized they all deserved another round because they already understand the CSM - They already work together, and the show was less of a debate as opposed to each member explaining what they had done, and what the others did to help.  That speaks loudly to me, and I support all three.  But I only had two votes left, so them's the breaks.