Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hiding in Plain Sight

This post is an installment of Friday Flash Fiction - something that is run by Ecliptic Rift. Here is this weeks prompt: "This week, we turn our attention to the Syndicate region.“Formed by a handful of Intaki exiles in the wake of the first Caldari-Gallente war, the Syndicate today runs a thriving region of the same name on the fringes of Gallente space, providing a useful haven for less savory Federal citizens and outright outlaws. Denied the right to colonize planets in the region, the Syndicate instead operates exclusively from its network of autonomous stations, each of which is run by a station manager who is undisputed master of his own fief.” Here is my submission. I hope you enjoy.


"They say you can run but you can't hide. I say fuck running, and I say fuck hiding too."

Alehandra's Hulk pulled into station along Jamal's Orca. Disengaging from her pod she made her way off the ship. "Get these unloaded and into my storage." She gestured to both ships as she talked to Neelan. "Just the ore and the salvage, leave the drones and the crystals. The dock worker nodded. Alehandra started to walk away when Neelan called out to her. "Hey, there was someone here earlier looking for you."

Alehandra froze, turning around slowly. She was not used to unexpected visitors. "Who?" was all she could manage to ask. Her face a blank mask trying to cover the apprehension dancing in her eyes.

"I don't remember his name. Some Gallente, Harke-something I think. Said he had some news about your sister Illyena. He said he'd be around the station and he'd just track you down later." Neelan cocked his head slightly to one side, "

Alehandra turned and started to walk away muttering under her breath. "That was a long time ago."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A little smugness never hurt...

So if you haven't seen the Tyrannis trailer by now you need to watch it. I recommend viewing it in HD if possible with the sound way up and the lights way down. You might need a cigarette afterwards, or a cold shower. Go ahead, I'll wait.

(YouTube Link Here)

I'd like to think that trailer accomplishes exactly what a trailer should accomplish. It made me salivate a bit and very excited to play the next expansion. Obviously, the game play isn't going to be exactly like the trailer on the screen, but that is what it is going to be like in my mind. I can already picture Alehandra mapping out worlds and setting up remote stations on planets, controlling the harvest from afar. It oozed polish and awesomeness.

While it would be extremely arrogant to take any credit for the new trailer I will take a bit of smug validation. In the recent blog banter about women in Eve I stated in my submission, "What Women Want (in Eve)", I had stated that one of the biggest problems with pulling in new players in general, and especially women, was the poor job Eve did of advertising elements of the game other than combat. I had said that CCP needed broaden and retool their tutorial system to highlight the diversity of gameplay options, they also have to broaden their ad campaign to include other elements such as roleplay, industrialization, player run corps, mining, etc.

Less than a month after I penned those words (or typed I guess) CCP releases a trailer where the primary focus is creation and industrialization. Obviously they have been working on that trailer for months and they didn't have someone in their marketing department running down the halls screaming "Stop everything! We are doing it all wrong! Quick read what this amazing intelligent blogger has to say!" However, it does make me feel as if my observations are being somewhat validated by CCP's trailer choice. They could have easily gone for a trailer that focused just on the space combat element, they obviously had that bookending their trailer already, but to devote the majority to mining, industrialization, and planetary interaction shows their willingness to highlight the other parts of the game.

I hope that the banner ads that seem to flood the internet have the same angle in the near future. I think CCP should also consider an ad campaign that uses real player events in game, and perhaps real players, to help sell their product. Imagine if select [AAA] members were allowed to tell the story of the massacre in Providence, or imagine the victors being allowed to talk about their righteous victory, driving back the invaders from their domain.

Heck, even do both and have a whole "There are two sides to every war, but only one victor" as a slogan. Have another campaign where a market mogul talks about her rise to power, a pirate who speaks out on the honor of piracy, a miner who shares the tranquility of an asteroid belt. There is a veritable gold mine of PR representatives in the game itself that CCP could tap, most of whom would be willing to work for free - or at most a PLEX.

So if you marketing gurus ARE reading my blog, feel free to hit me up for that miner spot. I look forward to working with you.

Uneven is not Unfair

The topic of asymmetric gameplay came up recently in a blogger who has gained a bit of notoriety in the Eve circles. Tobold has recently been posting about Eve and the problems he has with Eve's mechanics. From the tenor of most of his posts I have come to the conclusion he doesn't like Eve, but I also believe he has some pretty backwards notions about game play mechanics and game theory.

He's made analogies such as:
Much is being made of EVE being a sandbox game, but in reality the new players are just playing in the dirt on the outskirts of the playground. The sandbox with the fine sand and the nice toys is occupied by bullies, and if you even get close they are going to beat you up and kick you out. So the goal in life for EVE players is to become strong, gather friends, and be able to beat up the bullies, kick them out of the sandbox, and become the bigger bully.
This over simplification of null-sec combat is really idiotic. He makes several assumptions about how battles are won and lost. Anyone who follows the chronicles of some of the fights in null-sec and low-sec space can easily come to the following conclusion, it is not just about numbers and it is not just about gear. A smaller fleet with superior strategy can take down a larger foe. Numbers help, and if all else is equal number can carry a day. But with sloppy intel and poor fleet command entire battles can be lost. The carving out of null-sec space by large corporations involves far more negotiation and political intrigue than anything else I've seen in an MMORPG. Furthermore, Tobold assumes that you need to be a big bully to enter nullsec. What you need is to join a corp in null-sec and there are plenty of options there.

In other posts Tobold said:
That is a principal problem of PvP MMORPGs: MMORPGs by definition have character advancement, in one form or another. Whether it is time played, gear gathered, real time skill training, or skills used, a player of a MMORPG is always getting better with time. Which doesn't matter all that much if he is facing PvE challenges, which can be scaled to his current power level. But if he is facing PvP challenges, the new player is at a fundamental disadvantage versus the veteran player.
The point of flying into nulsec was to show that this asymmetric PvP in EVE is the rule, not the exception. And just about every EVE player commenting on that thread confirmed that in different words: Being ganked when entering nulsec is "normal". EVE is institutionalized bullying. There is no fair PvP in EVE 
 Here we truly get into the idea of symmetric vs. asymmetric gameplay. In a symmetric gameplay system all players are operating with the same advantages and disadvantages. There are plenty of games you could use as an example from Chess to a standard FPS Deathmatch. All players, typically, have the same traits and what determines the winner is luck, strategy, and physical ability. Most sports, board, and card games follow this model (poker, football, etc).

Other games are based of an asymmetric model. In an asymmetric model all players are not created equal, they have unique traits, talents, characteristics, or rules that do not apply to the other players. An example of this would be games like Team Fortress, Dune, or even Wow (racial traits make an Orc and a Tauren Warrior different). Pandemic is another great example where depending on the players role in the game they have unique rules that apply only to them.

Frankly, game theorists both love and hate asymmetric gameplay. It is much harder to model because the rules and conditions can be so varied. But Tobold doesn't seem to quite grasp what asymmetric gameplay is entirely, and he certainly doesn't grasp how it can impact all gameplay in Eve.

The first error Tobold makes is in his understanding of the skill system. I am obviously a miner, I have over 17,000,000 skill points and the majority of them fall in non-combat skills. Even through I have been playing Eve for over a year I could be taken out by a pirate who has been playing the game for less that 4 months. If Tobold's thesis was correct then I should easily be in the awesome sandbox with the bullies after playing the game as long as I have with my skill points, but he forgot a fundamental point of the design of Eve.

There are so many skill paths and options that the game requires you to specialize. Unlike WoW where all characters of an equal class level and gear level have the same access (primarily) to spells and talents, Eve is based off the idea of having countless options. Skill points, which equates roughly to character age, has no bearing on player ability within a specific skill set.

The second huge mistake Tobold makes is in his understanding of the combat mechanics of the game. When I mentioned Eve was asymmetric I meant it, in countless ways. Every single ship you can fly in the game has benefits and weaknesses. I am not just talking about the fact that different ships are weak against different types of damage and if you don't know what charge your enemy is using it is hard to pick out hardeners. I mean that even through I may be flying a battle cruiser I could be in a tight spot in I get swarmed by a bunch of frigates who can beat my tracking speed.

Sure, Tobold got popped at a gate camp, so what? I've been ganked outside of Southshore in WoW countless times. It certainly doesn't prove his point about the nature of asymmetric game play in Eve. That would be like if he sat down to play chess with Kasporov and was surprised when he lost, or if he marched in to Ulduar and was surprised when his raid didn't take down Freya on their first try. Getting podded in null sec was not a result of asymmetric game play, it was a result of lack of skill and knowledge about how to safely negotiate null-sec.

In closing Tobold said
Personally I don't like unfair fights. There is a deeper philosophical discussion to be had about the moral dimension of liking unfair fights in your favor against other players. But for now it suffices to say that I think it isn't very good game design, based on the assumption that good game design produces a maximum amount of fun for a maximum number of players.
 The notion that fights must be 'fair' is a strange one. Games have always been about a meeting of luck with wits and skill and knowledge. As I've demonstrated above Eve is not about Fair Fights any more than any other game. If you want a game that has 'fair fights' then stick to games like death match and go fish. These games have one thing in common, like most symmetric games they are simple. However, when you want to get into more complicated, more engaging, and more interesting game play then you need to enter into the realm of asymmetric games.

While Tobold may not find Eve 'fun' I think that is due to a lack of appreciation and understanding or an inability to the more complex concepts of the gameplay. But to the many people who play Eve the challenge of perfecting small skill sets and developing an understanding of game tactics that extend beyond "stay out of the fire" and "mash these buttons in this order" this is fun.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Faster than a Gallente Shuttle

I didn't get much time to either play Eve or blog on Friday evening because I was busy building my new computer. It is a massive beast, and while it isn't top of the line (I can never justify the cost) it is pretty close. Here is the spec sheet of what I got:

  • G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory Model F3-10666CL9D-8GBRL
  • EVGA P55 FTW 200 SLI 141-LF-E658-KR LGA 1156 Intel P55 ATX Intel Motherboard
  • EVGA 012-P3-1472-AR GeForce GTX 470 (Fermi) SuperClocked 1280MB 320-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card
  • Antec TruePower Quattro TPQ-1000 1000W Continuous Power ATX12V / EPS12V SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified
  • Intel Core i5-750 Lynnfield 2.66GHz LGA 1156 95W Quad-Core Processor Model BX80605I5750
  • LITE-ON 24X DVD Writer Black SATA Model iHAS424-98 LightScribe Support
  • Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 ST31000528AS 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive (For Storage and non-gaming installs)
  • Crucial CT128M225 2.5" 128GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) (for OS and select Games)
  • Antec Twelve Hundred Black Steel ATX Full Tower Computer Case
All said and done the build was just over $2000.00 USD with shipping included (I'll actually get a bit more back when I fill out rebate forms.) And holy hell is it a wonderful machine.

After getting Windows 7 running I downloaded Eve (among other crucial apps). I took it for a test spin and was able to run two copies of Eve at max settings while still IMing, transferring files from my old computer via the home network, downloading ME2 through Steam, and watching some videos on Hulu. I haven't even started to consider over clocking potential, and this rig is made to be over clocked. We've had a bit of a heat and humidity spike here, so I might hold off on the overclocking till I break out the air conditioners or if the heat drops back down to respectable Spring levels again.

I promise to post some pictures of my gaming space later this week to show you my setup. I'm rather proud.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Descent into madness...

I was reading through my Capsuleer feed when I came across this post from The Planet Risk Show. It seems that their corp is looking for miners to join them in null sec. As I read through the post I found myself thinking, "I wonder what that would be like." I've been spinning my wheels in my current corp. Many of them have been exploring wormhole space and I'm not sure if I want to go that route.

So I talked to Merinid Dormer last night and the conversation went well. He gave me a brief rundown of what null sec mining is like. The only thing that might stop me is the inability to go out and handle mining on my own. With high sec mining I'm find with just my Hulk and my Orca. With the null sec mining fleet Merinid was talking about involved scouts doing recon, dedicated haulers, etc. It really sounds grand.

I've already talked to one of the CEOs of my current corp and let them know I might be making the move to Null sec. They are a great bunch of guys and I'd definitely miss shooting the shit with them in corp chat. I do also have a few real life friends in the corp as well. Also it would be kinda funny to go from high sec to null when the title of my blog is .5 or Higher!, but several bloggers have had the same issue before.

I guess I'll just have to mull it over. So what do you think? Any other null sec miners out there who can shoot me a few words of wisdom or encouragement, or perhaps a horror story or two to make me cry?