Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Warship Wednesday - Cruisers

Third in our review of classes in World of Warships is the mighty Cruiser class.

Battleships are hard hitting behemoths and destroyers are fast moving hornets with deadly torpedo stingers, and cruisers fill the middle of the road between the extremes. Compared to battleships they are faster, more agile, and have main guns that rotate faster and fire more often. Compared to destroyers they are tougher, longer ranged, and have better anti-aircraft support. But there are downsides of being the middle of the road as well because cruisers are not as tough as battleships lacking the armour, hitpoints, and ability to self repair some damage while being easier to see, track, and hit than the small destroyers are.

How this plays out in game really depends on the individual cruisers. Some cruisers have powerful torpedo batteries themselves which make them want to close distance with the enemy battleships and deliver crippling blows, while others have fast shooting long range artillery that they use to rain shells down on the enemy while weaving a serpentine course across the sea.

The American cruisers currently in game start with torpedo launchers but tend to move away from them as you increase in tiers while the Japanese tend to continue making use of them. I'll admit that the Japanese cruiser line is one I didn't work on recently as I needed the slots for American battleships.

During a battle cruisers have two primary goals. The first is to provide anti aircraft cover for battleships as they tend to have high AA rating and at higher tiers a special ability for AA barrage which can really cripple air squadrons. Their second goal is to fend off approaching destroyers as their main artillery can track the fast transversal better and fire rapidly while having the agility to dodge incoming torps (hopefully). Destroyers hate cruisers.

After those goals are seen to, cruisers are capable of engaging any other ship on the field of battle with decent success. A wolfpack of cruisers can easily burn down a battleship before succumbing to its main guns, and a lone cruiser can work well with a friendly destroyer to overwhelm a hostile cruiser quickly or run down a spotted carrier.

On the other hand, cruisers should try to avoid situations where they are one on one with a battleship or facing multiple targets shooting at them as they lack the hitpoints, armour, and repair to survive very long.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lore Payoff

As excitement swirls around the ongoing story about Drifters, its worth commending CCP on the recent efforts in the past year to bring the background story to the foreground and make the universe feel more dramatic and dynamic. As I said in my post "The Lore is Important" in December:

Roleplayers or not, its easy to get excited about the background we engage each other in becoming more alive and vibrant. The game has always played second fiddle to player actions, but there is no reason for the background to be cardboard cutouts and completely hollow shells. The ride gets more exciting when there is more life to the animatronics.
And most importantly, the lore being dynamic and moving helps to bring players in and keep them engaged in those lulls when a player is between corporations or alliances. Hell, I want to go see Thera and I am fully engaged in Faction Warfare.
So good on CCP for continuing to build on the momentum with more mechanics, hooks, like Scope videos and the Drifter autopsy report, live events, and more wormhole systems being explored as I type this on Singularity.

However, I'm going take this moment to remind CCP that it can't all be Lore Hype, eventually there has to be a payoff in part or in full to justify the excitement and resolve storylines to make room for new storylines.

You see, EVE's background story is not like a movie or a series of movies; in those you are aiming for one massive final climax (the hero finally faces and defeats the villain or the group of survivors gets to permenent safety) that can leave the viewer with a sense of completion and satisfaction. EVE, however, is more like a long running TV series with several threads of storylines that wax and wane in importance and severity over time, but most importantly have a definite resolution.

Right now I would say there has not been any serious storyline resolution since Templar One in EVE's major backstory threads. Back then, we had the mystery of Sleepers, Jamyl Sarum's sudden return, what were the Templar / DUST soldiers, why did Admiral Noir crash a Nyx into the Ishukone station and the novel resolved those questions either fully or partially.

So I feel its high coming upon time for some serious storyline resolution of some or all of the ongoing threads as we approach the culmination of the Seagull Plan.

(I realize we have decent theories and pieced together stories for some of these, assembled carefully by hand by our lore enthusiasts with amazing diligence, but we need a big payoff for the larger audience.)

Specifically:

1. What's Up With Sansha's Nation? What are they doing with all the people they steal in their incursions (motto: we come for YOUR people)? How are they generating those incursion wormholes? What are they doing in the shattered wormhole? How do they relate to the other storylines?

2. What happened to the Jove? Were they all dead prior to Caroline's Star event or did that event do them in?

3. What exactly happened with Caroline's star anyways? We have some decent theories in the community but no confirmation.

4. What's going on with Jamyl Sarum? Is the presence of the Other completely in control now? Is she going to maintain control of the empire?

5. Who exactly are the Drifters? What are their goals / aims?

6. What happened in Thera and the other shattered wormholes?

7. What's going on with the Sleepers? Are they all dead too?

And that's just the major storylines!

Come on CCP, we need some resolution of some of these dangling threads!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Limits

**NOTICE**: Non EVE Related Post, regular EVE and gaming posts to resume tomorrow.

I found my limits this past 5 months.


For the past couple years I was scrum master / team lead / senior developer of my team at work which I enjoyed and am good at. But changes in personnel over the past year have seen a few senior developers leave the team and suddenly at the beginning of this year I found myself having to take on a large architectural role for my team and in development overall.

At first this was not a big commitment but over time the increased responsibilities began to wear on me, not only externally dealing with the big picture broad strokes of architecture, but increased development lead internally on the team. Coupled with my current duties of scrum master (really, I prefer Scrumlord) I found my development time decreasing, my free time evaporating, and my stress levels and interruptions increasing. Add on to that the constant pressure of family and home and all the related responsibilities therein implied.

I started to hit my limits on how many balls I could keep in the air, and as a result some balls started to drop and my patience and reserves along with them.

It has been years since I felt that level of constant stress and frustration, not since the twins were newborn and sleep was at a premium, and even then it was mostly exhaustion. This time was real pure stress over a sustained period of time that I have never experienced. Spikes of stress in school were more intense but short lived, a couple of days at most. This was weeks upon weeks of unending things to do and people to help or take care of.

When I finally blew up at my boss while I was trying to fix a broken build and he wanted to ask an unrelated question, I knew I had hit my limits. I had warned my boss previously that I was getting close to that point earlier so we both knew that the yelling was the culmination of the issue. Something had to give.

Last week I talked it over with my boss and I decided reluctantly to turn over scrum master to a co-worker on the team and I will focus on my newer architectural duties, the hope being that with fewer things to distract day to day I can achieve a better balance. So far this sprint I have felt much better and less stressed, we'll see if it keeps up.

What all this means for you, dear reader, is that I hope that I can find some free down time to be able to blog more regularly, and for my corp mates to see me back leading fleets again as the past couple weeks have seen me rather absent.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Away From Keyboard Gameplay

One of the thoughts to come out of the discussions about Faction Warfare plex farmers and  warp core stabilizers discussions that I want to explore further is Away from Keyboard (aka AFK) gameplay.

EVE Online is chock full of passive activities or partially passive activities that require limited player involvement, from mining to manufacturing to plex running. Some of it can be considered true AFK gameplay, others simply passive gameplay.

For the purposes of this post, AFK gameplay is defined as an activity where the pilot is required to be in game and engaged in the activity but the player is only partially engaged and could be doing other activities either on the computer but in different applications, or away from the computer entirely and only checking in occasionally.

This definition embraces activity as varied as autopilot movement through high sec (set destination, hit autopilot, come back hours later), asteroid / ice mining (checking in every few minutes to move ore / ice to hauler), mission running / ratting where a pilot warps in and launches drones, sitting cloaked in a system, etc. And of course, it includes faction warfare defensive plexers who only half pay attention to their ship orbiting the button.

In all these examples, the in game pilot is required to do something (even if its sit there and keep the ship running in the case of an afk cloaker) but the player is free to do anything else out of game. In some cases the player could stay at the keyboard and make the task run more efficiently (e.g. warping gate to gate and not relying on autopilot, or actively running a mission instead of letting drones do the work) but there is common property that runs through AFK gameplay: often the task is repetitive and boring and the player would happily do something else out of game rather than be stuck in game. In some cases, like afk cloaking, there is virtually nothing to be done.

So we need to ask a few questions: is this gameplay beneficial or at least non-harmful to EVE? And secondly, what can be done about it?

Is AFK Gameplay Harmful?

To be blunt, yes. In every single instance, you want players when they are logged in and doing an activity to be engaged in what they are doing and invested in paying attention. Having gameplay boring enough that players would rather do something else, in some cases sacrificing reward, is bad design.

Is There Anything CCP Can Do About It?

This is where things get more convoluted. In some cases it makes sense to change mechanics to make the gameplay engaging and requiring the player to WANT to be involved in it, but at the same time you don't want to make the gameplay frustrating or needlessly repetitive which may drive players away. If you go too far the other way, make it less boring by taking less time, you possibly skew the entire balance of the mechanic. For example, market differences drive a portion of the economy and if mass transportation of goods is allowed to discourage people from afk autopilot hauling, you could destroy a market trader career.

Other things could be easily addressed with a mechanics addition or change and not disrupt any vital economic or balance issues, like AFK cloaking, but beg the question if addressing the gameplay is worth the backlash of the players who utilize it.

A more current events example is faction warfare plexing (ignoring the whole warp core stab thing) where a defensive plexer is potentially faced with 10-20 minutes of button orbiting that may or may not get interupted by a hostile that the player then runs from. If we make the effort more intensive than simply orbit, e.g. require shooting at a rat or using an entosis link or some hacking minigame, than the fallout of that could be players stop defensive plexing and move on to other non-addressed AFK gameplay, perhaps depleting faction warfare of some pilots, and thus possibly fewer pilots in space. Depending on your point of view, this might be a GOOD thing (fewer pilots in low sec that avoid fights means less time hunting runners and more time finding fighters) or it might be a bad thing (less deplexing means home systems more vulnerable to attack means possibly less stability and investment in militia low sec HQ systems which possibly means less fighting pilots living in low sec). ALTERNATIVELY, you could make deplexing less time consuming thus being less attractive to going AFK while doing it, but then you run the chance of the risk-vs-reward dynamic becoming to tilted to reward and flooding the market and destroying the LP conversion rates... and so on and so forth.

In other words, since many things are interconnected, sometimes quite strongly, CCP can't simply go from one AFK gameplay mechanic to another and change them to make them less attractive to AFK gameplay, even in some cases where we strongly would like to remove boring gameplay (and let me tell you, orbiting a button is boring).

This is all not to say that CCP should never try and fix things. Don't be ludicrous! All I'm saying is that addressing them needs to be done carefully and with an eye to the knock on effects.

For now, we're faced with a number of AFK gameplay mechanics.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Welcome to my Citadel


On my podcast I already raved about the dev blog introducing Citadels but I'm going to go into again here because I cannot stress enough how much I like it.

I've lived and worked out of Player Owned Stations, aka POSes, before in null sec, low sec, and wormhole space over the 8.5 years I've been playing this game.

I still remember that feeling of awe the first time I saw one back in Pelille in my misspent youth. Someone was showing me how to scout out moons and we warped in to check it out. The large glowing sphere, the mysterious icons with names I saw nowhere else like Moon Harvesting Array, Silo, Corporate Hanger Array, etc. Some time later my group of friends decided to set up our own POS and I began to learn the Byzantium art to anchoring and setting up a "stick" of our own. And began to learn the horror of fueling calculations (be thankful new players for that evil has been vanquished at least).

Later on I would join a null sec alliance and our corporation would live in a stationless constellation and we, all 20 or so of us, would live out of one or two POSes. In order to have some private space for modules and loot, we each had anchored a secured cargo container at least 150 km from the POS itself so you could do short warps back and forth instead of having to slowboat around the POS itself. God, I hated that.

And then having to unanchor that thing? And all the structures? Evil.

I once had a high sec research POS in my solo indy corp but got war decced and it was destroyed in a long weekend I was away with family. That's when I decided that solo POS was not for me.

All this is to say, POSes are evil. They are overly complex, use mechanics that are not really shared anywhere else, and are generally a pain to setup, manage, and take down. Pretty, but pain in the ass.

And up until recently, the only thing outside of null sec Outposts that players could erect for themselves to live in, and Outposts require a magnitude larger amount of resources to make and then you could lose it in the next sov war.

Citadels hold great promise to fix this frustration. By using well understood and common mechanics (i.e. fitting modules like one fits a ship) and introducing station like docking and asset management, we enter a new age where players can come toegether to erect, live out of, and defend their own home without having to be part of a huge alliance or deal with the terribleness of the current POS mechanics.

I'm very excited.

Of course, there is a fine line to be traversed here in order to make feasible. In low sec, a common conflict driver is control of the Player Owned Custom Offices in the areas in which entities live. They are in a perfect balance of risk versus reward versus effort triangle where it takes enough effort to reinforce and destroy them that people are not doing it willy nilly but not so much effort that only the big entities can even consider doing so. Citadels, being potentially a lot more valuable than a POCO, will attract a lot of attention of people willing to expend more effort to reap the possible rewards of good kills and tears, so need to be sufficiently hard enough to justify the effort while not being so hard as to be impossible to reinforce and destroy.

So I eagerly await to see the final product for Citadels and how they change the landscape of low sec and beyond because I think they have tremendous potential for interaction and excitement.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Great Warp Core Plex Farming Issue Write Up

Gamerchick42 over at her blog has an excellent dissection of the talking back and forth between Rixx and I over the past week, please go read it!

Personally, I feel I've gotten everything I want to say about the issue out and raised the points I think were missed or glossed over in Rixx's campaign. I'm not opposed to changes as long as they are the right changes for the right reasons that have beneficial results for the most people.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Warship Wednesday - Destroyers


This week we look into the deadly Destroyer class of ships.

When Wargaming.Net was formulating what World of Warships would be, many excited players asked if submarines would be included, being another iconic early 20th century ship class. However, the developers said no, there would be no submarines, and its obvious to see why in retrospect. The matches are intended to be relatively quick and dynamic affairs and submarines would not offer compelling gameplay, lying in wait for a quick torp salvo once or twice a match. The complications of introducing balance, counters, and interesting gameplay would be too large in a game like this.

Fortunately for those disappointed souls the stealth and surprise style of gameplay is present in the Destroyer class of ships.

Destroyers are small, fast, and maneuverable with higher than average concealment attributes, and have a special smoke screen ability which allows them to throw up a cloud of concealing smoke for them or allies (or enemies!) to hide in or behind. Couple those evasive abilities with the dramatic punch of torpedo launchers which can cripple or outright destroy other ships once they get in range and it pretty much encompasses all the gameplay a wishing submarine captain could wish for.

They also have various degrees of artillery firepower that is very short ranged compared to equal tier cruisers and battleships, and not very damaging. The real power comes from those torpedoes. Unlike torpedo bomber planes, destroyers that are able to get close to a target can unleash a scary accurate salvo broadside, and even other destroyers need to be careful not to eat a load of those "fish".

The greatest threat to destroyers are cruisers with their fast aiming and firing main guns, other destroyers up close, and support weapons from battleships if you stay close to them too long. Carriers are virtually defenseless as their planes need a lot of luck to take out a destroyer, and their support weapons pretty weak.

Use of the smoke cloud varies from captain to captain, some use it to put up a screen between the friendly and hostile fleets, other use it to help evade detection while capturing objective points. Speaking of which, destroyers often start the game making a rush for objectives in Domination mode and then slipping away under the cover of smoke as the rest of the fleets move up.

Destroyers love cover be it smoke screens, other ships, long distances (their concealment factor makes them harder to see at range), or islands. If you are a battleship or cruiser (or anything really), beware blind corners around islands.

Both American and Japanese lines of destroyers are in the current game. American versions tend to be heavier with bigger guns but torpedoes range is much shorter (~5km). Japanese are lighter and faster with much farther ranged torps (sometimes around 8-9 km) but smaller armament.

Next week, cruisers!

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