Thursday, July 31, 2008

EVE online: Pricing Buy and Sell Orders

EVE's market screen is a wonderful tool giving every buyer and seller full visibility of all the prices in a region. This is great for creating an efficient liquid market but it also means that buying and selling are "winner take all" games. If a competitor puts the same goods up in the same station for a paltry 0.01 ISK lower than your price then your sales won't drop by 20% or 50% they will go to zero. Likewise if your buy order is even 1 lousy cent less than the market leader you get nothing.

I am convinced that only the price leader actually completes a buy or sell order and only price leaders actually make any money. If you want to be successful in EVE trading you need to pick your chosen market and you need to own that market. I don't know of an easy way to do this. From my experience you need to fight aggressively for each and every order that you hope to complete.

Here are some of the things I have tried:

- Set a fair price and let it sit hoping to get some sales when the low price leader has sold out. You could be lucky but be prepared for a long long wait. Sounds nice but in my experience it doesn't work. In all likelihood someone else will come in at a better price point than yours and you will buy or sell nothing.

- Find a market that has no competition. Well duh.... If you can find a good one go and milk it for all it is worth. In my experience an uncontested market is usually uncontested for a reason - often because turnover is so low that there is no money to be made. I have found a few cases of uncontested markets with moderate turnover but even then it rarely lasts for long - usually within a day or so someone else finds it too.

- Fight it out by dropping your own price in response to the competition. In my opinion this is the only real option if you hope to sell your goods in a reasonable time period. Unfortunately this is hard work and requires that you log on regularly to monitor the price of each and every order. Since you can only monitor market prices in one region at a time you need to visit every region in which you have open orders. The effort involved in this has convinced me that it is best to focus on a small number of goods in no more than two regions. Any more than this and it becomes a nightmare trying to maintain price leadership on all your open orders. Alts can help a lot here - using one alt in each region in which you are trading.

By the way I have also formed some opinions on the best way to fight for price leadership. Do not be tempted to lower the price by a healthy chunk (eg 10%) in order to buy yourself some breathing space. This won't frighten off anybody and is really just a signal of weakness. It tells a competitor that you are hoping not to update the price again for some time. Also if you drop your price too far an aggressive competitor may just buy your stock and relist it at a profit.

In my opinion the best price change is to set your price exactly 0.01 ISK below your competitors price. The sooner you do this after he has set his price the better. In addition to maximising your profit this also sends the most demoralising message to a prospective competitor. Many just give up and go away when they see that their every move is countered in this way.

EVE Online: Fun with 800k skill points

Marb Pelico my main pilot has languished in a station reading skill books for the last week while I have been having fun with my 800k skill point alts.

You can actually do an amazing amount of fun stuff in EVE with a brand new out of the box character. Fresh characters make great scouts for exploring dangerous regions of space. The small nimble noob ships can often get away from traps that would catch bigger more heavily armed prey and even if you do get caught you get a free replacement ship and clone. A fresh character is also a good way to explore your dark side if you are that way inclined. Once you accept that there is no hope of besting an opponent in a fair fight you can get up to a lot of mischief in a noobship. All kinds of theft, fraud and general blaggardism can be perpetrated within the safety net of an anonymous disposable character.

Once I tired of exploring and general goofing around though it was time to put my alts to work. It is my intention to use them to earn an honest living in the heady world of EVE trade so I started them off with a seed Capital of 20 million ISK and told them to get to it.

I have just done a quick inventory so I am in a position to post the results of my trading efforts for the first week:

Initial Cash invested: 20 million ISK
Closing Cash Balance: 21 million
Closing Inventory: Approximately 30 Million

The Good: On paper I have more than doubled my investment in less than a week (about 4 days of active trading since I was away for three days). I have also achieved a (barely) positive cash flow which is a significant indicator of sustainability for any business. Overall I have shown that I can identify and exploit market opportunities.

The Bad: I seem to be building inventory faster than I can generate cash. A net cash gain of only 1 million ISK for 4 days work is pathetic, one good level 3 mission would net more than that.

Of course I could increase my earnings with more working capital but I find that playing the market is far more time consuming than I expected. The lucrative markets in EVE tend to be very competitive and you need to aggressively watch and manage your prices in order to complete your orders. I had hoped to use these alts on a casual basis in order to earn a bit of cash in my spare time as it were. I wasn't expecting it to be a full time job.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

EVE Online: Penalty Points for Speeding Pod Pilots

I have been away for a few days and I come back to discover that CCP dropped a bombshell while I was on vacation. I am in the happy position of not having played for long enough to be bothered so I can sit back and enjoy the drama as it unfolds on the forums, the whining of the affected and the joyous celebration of those who have hitherto struggled under the effects of the imbalance this nerf is designed to counter.

My noobish understanding of the problem being addressed is as follows. Apparently in the game as it now stands it is possible to tune up certain ships to fly far faster than the developers anticipated. At these "ludicrous" speeds (their term) the ships become almost impossible to hit granting them near invulnerability in combat. This is such an advantage that these nano-ships (named after one of the components commmonly used in achieving such high speed) have become almost mandatory in pvp combat.

I don't have in depth knowledge of the issue but from what I have read the case seems fairly clear cut. The situation is so imbalanced that it need to be addressed with a nerf. I have to say I am impressed with what CCP proposes to do. They have indicated their intention to dramatically alter just about every item in the game that affects speed. When CCP wield the nerf bat they don't just tap gently, they swing away with gusto.

Of course an unfortunate consequence of any nerf is that some players who have spent time and resources perfecting certain techniques will find their preferred playstyle is no longer viable. That hurts. Its just one of those things you have to put up with when you sign up for multiplayer gaming.

I will even be affected in my own small way by one of the consequential changes proposed. In addition to drastically reducing the speed attainable by nano-ships CCP are proposing to make a compensating reduction in the effectiveness of Stasis Webifier modules. These modules can be used to reduce the maximum speed of a target ship. Previously reductions of over 90% were possible but a new limit of 60% reduction is now proposed. My autocannon Hurricane uses a webifier to slow down a target while I close in to kill it with my short range autocannons. Will my Hurricane setup be rendered useless by the proposed change? I don't know and anyway I am not bothered. There are plenty more things to try and I am sure any change will bring its own new opportunities.

Webifiers have been a traditional staple of pvp. They are used to stick a ship in place while it is killed. If the webifier change is implemented it means that a very fast ship may still be able to outrun its pursuers even if it is webbed. Interesting times. It could make for some very dynamic and fluid combat.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

EVE Online: Character Creation Revisited

I am making an alt to help Marb with a bit of trading and ferrying so I have had a second opportunity to experience EVE's character creation system. When setting up Marb I choose Minmatar Brutor for no more scientific reason that the fact that I liked their style. This time I have had a chance to study character creation in more detail with the help of two detailed forum posts from Akita T (who explains how race and bloodline choices affect character attributes) and Tiberyya Za (who provides an excellent spreadsheet detailing the starter skill packs you get with each of the chosen professions).

Like many things in EVE the character creation process is far from intuitive and it is entirely possible to gimp your character from birth. Any character can learn any skill in EVE but a character with a poor set of starting attributes could take weeks or months longer to reach their desired goals.

Characters attributes (perception, intelligence, memory, willpower and charisma) do not in themselves convey any abilities but they speeed up the learning time of certain skills. The trouble is that certain attributes affect far more skills than others. So for example a character who hopes to learn a wide range of skills will benefit far more from a high perception which affects many skills than a high charisma which affects few skills.

The conclusions drawn in Akita's analysis are a bit depressing. It seems that the races are hopelessly imbalanced. It is quite hard to make a bad Caldari while it is equally difficult to make a good Amarr. Marb, a Minmatar Brutor Slave Child turns out to have been a middling choice.

Aside: Caldari players are far far numerous than Amarr. I wonder is this evidence of intelligent decision making by players or is it conincidental. Then again I could be mixing up cause and effect - the larger the number of players the larger the whine factor if there are serious problems with that race and the more likely that such problems will be addressed.

For this trader hauler alt the character choices are simplified somewhat because I have no intention of investing any more than the bare minimum of skill training time into them. They will have to survive on little more than their starting skill set. This makes attributes largely irelevant and puts the spotlight on Tiberyya Za's spreadsheet.

Every race has a business - trader profession with a genrous allotment of trading skills. The Minmatar trader actually has the most skill points invested in this line with two heavy 5 pointers followed by Gallente, Caldari and Amarr in order.

Equally important to this character is the ability to ferry stuff about and I want to be able to fly a decent sized industrial transport with minimal additional training time. The Amarr scores most highly here on several counts. Firstly only 1 level of training in Amarr industrials is required to access their heavy industrial with an impressive 4800m3 base capacity. Secondly Amarr ships all have plenty of low slots for fitting useful modules like cargo expanders and armour plates (to deter suicide gankers). Morevoer the armour trader already has level 3 in the hull upgrades skill which is required for thes modules.

For pure trade the Minmatar wins hands down. A natural 5 in daytrading allows orders to be manipulated from anywhere in the current region - a huge advantage for active traders. Unfortunately Minmatar offers no advantages in the way of quick access to industrials and or cargo expanders. In the end I plumped for the Amarr option - seduced by the thought of what can be done with all those lovely low slots.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

EVE Online: A Very useful EVE blog

It has been a while since I updated my blog roll but I have to add at least one EVE blog. Turns out that is an easy choice. Crazy Kinux is a one stop shop for all things EVE. In particular look out for the regular "speedlinking" posts in which Crazy compiles a great list of interesting EVE links.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

EVE: You can do anything you want.....but you can't do that.

Although I admit to using the occasional impolite language I do believe there is a time and a place for everything. I would not therefore normally have any sympathy for someone who was banned from an MMO for using profanities accompanied by personal insults in the public chat channel particularly if I heard that the banee hadn't even made it out of the two week free trial before losing the run of themselves.

In StanlyManly's case though I am almost ready to make an exception because of the laugh I got from reading his elegant expression of incredulity that he could be banned from EVE, a game in which every manner of underhand human behaviour is encouraged, just because he used a few naughty words. To quote Stanly:

" I guess my foul mouth and I are just too offensive for that upstanding and mature group of cheaters, pirates, market fixers, spies, liars, extortionists, backstabbers and egomaniacs."


For someone who didn't even make it through the 2 week trial without getting banned Stanly does a pretty good job of describing the dark side of EVE. It made me chuckle. You can read the whole thing here.

EVE Online: Missioneering Update

At this stage I pretty much have level 3 missions on farm status using an armour tanked Hurricane battlecruiser:


It does the same job as the amour tanked Rupture that I previously used in level 3's but has the considerably more hit points, capacitor and fire power. Having three active armour hardeners is another nice feature and allows me to tailor the tank for the expected damage profile from any given mission.

Using short range autocannons goes somewhat against accepted missioneering wisdom. Unlike the Rupture the Hurricane does have enough power grid to fit longer range artillery but this short range set up is so much fun to use that I have decided to stick with it for the time being. You need to chase down enemies with afterburner enhanced speed before you can bring your main firepower to bear. HAving a slot available to fit a webber on the Hurricane is another huge advantage over the Rupture. Once an enemy gets within the 10km webber range you can pin them in place and open up with the autocannons. There is nothing in a level 3 mission that can survive those six 420mms at close range and everything dies very quickly once you get them webbed.

The high firepower of the autocannons helps me finish missions quickly but you do have to be careful. Getting into close range exposes you to the full brunt of enemy fire and it is possible to get overwhelmed. This is definitely not AFK missioning, you need to stay awake but that makes things a bit more interesting. An unexpected advatage of short range fighting is that enemy wrecks tend to be less dispersed which eases the tedious job of looting and salvaging.

With level 3's pretty much sorted the time has come to plan for Level 4 missions. Some folk have reported successfully doing level 4's in a battle cruiser but from what I have read they use ridiculously expensive rigs and equipment to get battleship level performance. Better, I think, to train up for a battleship proper. It will be a couple of months before I have the skills I need and in the meantime I need to farm quite a bit of cash to fund the step up in level. As a general rule I never like to spend more than half of what I have. A decently fitted out Maelstrom will probably set me back 200 million so it would be nice to accumulate 400 million or so over the next few weeks while my skills are training. That's a lot of level 3 missions :(. Perhaps it is time to revive Marb's market trading career and see if I can squeeze a few extra isk out of that.

Friday, July 18, 2008

EVE Online: Let Someone Else Pay Your Subscription.

CCP has implemented a form of controlled real money trading (rmt) using play timecodes. It is a neat system in which the only party that receives real money is CCP while players trade play time for in game currency (ISK). A consequence of this system is that players who amass a considerable amount of in game wealth can pay their monthly subscription using in game currency and thus play the game for free.

A quick look at Timecode Bazaar, the official forum for buying and selling time codes shows that there were over 450 separate posts on the 17th July. Not every post resulted in a sale while some posts resulted in multiple sales. If I somewhat unscientifically assume that this amount of posts equates to 450 sixty day time cards being sold on an average day that suggests that 60x450 = 28,740 EVE accounts are being paid for using in game currency. If this is true then about 11% of EVE's quarter of a million active subscriptions are being paid for with in game currency. It should be remembered that CCP lose nothing from this - they still get the money from those who purchase timecodes to sell for ISK.

That 11% figure is a crude guess but it tallies with my own experience of talking to more experienced players in game. Many of them, in particular established PVE players seem to pay for their game time with ISK and effectively play the game for free.

At one stage I even considered this as a potential in game objective for myself. From various sources I have read that an established player can earn around to 30 million ISK per hour of playing. Sixty day time codes are currently selling for 400 million ISK. So 13 hours of money grinding would pay for two whole months subscription.

Good value? Errrr ....No. I can buy the same timecode for around €22. Thirteen hours of grinding to save €22 works out at €1.70 an hour which qualifies as slave wages in any developed nation. For the moment I think I will hold on to my ISK to spend on fancier internet spaceships.

It would be different for a gamer who's preferred in game activities naturally generate a large surplus of ISK over and above their in game requirements. Hard core miners, mission farmers and in particular traders may well generate the funds required to pay for their gaming time merely by doing the things they would be doing anyway. This probably explains why the folks I see in game who play for free tend to be PVE players. PVE play generates wealth, PVP play destroys it.

In a previous post I commented on the abundance of multiple account players in EVE. The ability to pay for accounts using in game currency adds a new perspective to this. If a player sets up their alts as ISK earners they can run multiple accounts with little or no cash cost to themselves. Some activities like mining, hauling or trading can be undertaken with relatively little human interaction allowing a player to build up a self sustaining cohort of 2, 3 or even more characters all paid for by their in game earnings.

Mass Effect

In between flying missions in EVE I have been playing Bioware's Mass Effect in the background. This crpg/third person shooter hybrid was heaped with praise in its XBox 360 incarnation so I have been looking forward to the pc version for some time.

Its far too early for a definitive evaluation but first impressions are a little mixed.

On the positive side the rpg elements feel very like KOTOR Bioware's previous space based crpg. This is surely a good thing because KOTOR was one of my all time favourite gaming experiences.

On the negative side the rpg elements feel very like KOTOR. I played that game. I enjoyed it a lot. I am not sure I want to play it again.

One carry over feature that is currently bugging me is the implementation of a "morality meter". In Kotor your choice of actions and in particularly your choice of dialog options earned you points from either the light or dark side of the force, increasing your powers in the relevant light or dark side skills. In Mass Effect your choices earn Paragon (broadly good) or Renegade (broadly nasty) points. From what I have read you really need to focus on one of these in order to maximise that trait and fully open up at least one line of dialog and quest options. This annoys me because neither the sacharine sweet paragon nor the ruthless renegade stereotypes appeal to me. I find myself naturally opting for a middle path. I am concerned that this will prevent me from maximising either stat and hinder my game progress.

While KOTOR stuck to its crpg roots with a superb turn based combat system Mass Effect becomes a squad based third person shooter during combat. This is an interesting change but since you seem to spend at least as much time talking as shooting it remains to be seen whether this novelty will be enough to hook me in.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Eve Online: Multiple Accounts

EVE seems to have more players using multiple accounts than any other game I have come across. Witness the responses to a request on the official forums for advice on maximising earnings from PVE missions. Three of the first four respondents admit to using multiple accounts. We are talking about separate paid accounts here each with their own subscription.

My gut feeling is that the skill system is the main reason for the popularity of multiple accounts in EVE. In mmos where character progress is based on playing time it can be very difficult to level a second character without neglecting your main. In EVE the main on a second account can be trained independently with little time investment other than logging on periodically to initiate new skill training.

Having a fully developed second character is obviously a significant advantage either as a source of alternate skills or as a backup in combat situations. In addition to their game play utility alts can play a role in the complex information war that underpins EVE's pvp game. This concept is explored in Nate Combs' recent Terra Nova article: "A Culture of Mistrust in EVE-Online"

While CCP does not officially support multiple accounts it certainly encourages it. In the past they have given special offers to encourage starting multiple accounts. More recently they have implemented patches to facilitate the running of multiple clients on one computer. Why would they not, every additional account increases their subscription revenue.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Eve Online: The Tyranny of Skill Training

Eve's innovative real time skill training frees a player from the XP grind that accompanies most mmorpgs. At first glance this appears to be casual friendly but at the moment I find that EVE's skill training system is forcing me to schedule my life around the game.

If the first commandment of EVE is to "Never fly what you cannot afford to lose" then the second is "Always have a skill in training". The real time nature of skill training means there is no way to catch up on lost hours in which your character is not learning something. This creates significant pressure to log on and pop a new skill on every time one finishes.

It is not possible to queue skills and there are no out of game tools that will start skill training for you. You must launch the full game browser every time you wish to start a new skill. If a skill finishes at 3:00am then you have to get out of bed and log on to start a new one or else miss out on several hours of valuable training time. It can be particularly tricky to juggle EVE training with a regular work schedule.

Skills vary in training time from minutes all the way up to weeks and I am using the excellent EVEMon tool to try and juggle EVE training with real life commitments but it is still more intrusive than I am comfortable with.

I have seen several forum posters requesting the implementation of a training queue or similar approach to eliminate the need to log on but the fact that this hasn't been implemented in five years to date makes me think that it probably never will be. One of the counter arguments is the worry about AFK character farming: People training up characters with little or no user input just to sell them later.

I believe it gets better. Once I have a good base of short skills then I should be left with mainly long training time skills. If a skill takes six weeks to train I am not going to lose sleep over an hour or two turn around time.

EDIT: It has come to my attention that someone is selling a third party automated skill queueing tool for EVE. It looks like a legitimate commercial product but I could find no mention of it on the official EVE forums, not even a condemnation. There is a security worry about giving your password to a third party program and it probably contravenes the EULA. I won't link to it but if anyone has used a program like that I would be interested in hearing about your experiences.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Eve Online: The Benefits and of Having Unlimited Storage

Many MMORPGs torture their players with ridiculously tight storage limits. There may conceivably once have been some kind of server side resource limitations which required these limits but I personally think it is a stupid game mechanic which upsets every player at some point in the game.

Thankfully EVE has not gone down this route. Individual ships have limited cargo carrying capacity but you can store as much stuff as you want in a space station.In fact you can have separate unlimited stores in every one of the thousands of space stations in the game.

Such bountiful storage is a godsend for those of an acquisitive nature but it does bring its own housekeeping problems. I must put my own guilty hand up and admit that after less than three months in game I have a tally of 492 items in storage spread across 13 solar systems. That doesn't even count the stuff stashed in the holds and fittings of any of my 12 spaceships.

Some of this clutter is the result of foolish buy orders placed in the early days when I imagined I could make a living as a trader. At the time it seemed like a good idea to place region wide buy orders for stuff at low prices. I overlooked the fact that I would have to actually fly to all these out of the way places to collect the stuff in order to sell it again at a profit. Somehow I never quite got around to making all the 20 hop round trips through low security space to collect those 10 piece lots of small projectile ammunition.

It is not just that however because in addition to allowing unlimited storage capability Eve has a number of features which encourage you to accumulate stuff.

First off the fact is that nearly all of the loot you pick up is actually useful. In other mmorpgs the level 1 rusty letter opener becomes completely pointless (!) once you have gotten your hands on a level 2 bread knife of uberness. In Eve even the cheapest tech 1 module can still be useful - perhaps filling out the last slot in a build or maybe helping you to experiment with a throw away frigate.

Closely allied to the above is the fact that stuff gets destroyed so you need replacements. My battle cruiser already has its full complement of auto cannons, but If I pick up another one I'll probably hold onto it, just in case.

Eve doesn't funnel player into certain roles. Just because I am a mission runner today doesn't mean I can't try mining tomorrow or freight hauling or pvp. Even stuff that is of no interest to you now may be useful at some future date. If I pick up a Tridiagonal Dilithium Crystal Sensoriser I may have no idea what it does but I might still hang on to it just in case it turns out to be useful later.

Also you can keep as many ships as you like and each ship needs its own complement of modules. You may want to experiment with different fittings, different builds and different tactics for any given ship. All good reasons for holding on to stuff rather than selling it.

Even if you finally decide that you really don't need to hang on to 42 small Microwarp Drives there may still be reasons not to sell straight away. The dynamic nature of EVE's economy often means that you will get a better price by holding onto it for you next trip to Rens or Hek or Jita or where ever.

Anyway they are all my excuses for keeping so much junk. I have to admit they don't seem quite so convincing when I have to wade through 200 items in my inventory to find that medium armour repairer I need for my current ship. Perhaps I ought to follow Winterblink's lead and do a clean out.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

In which Eve online is compared to Guild Wars and a number of remarkable similarities are found.

In a gaming space where the dominance of World of Warcraft has strangled many would be competitors both Eve and Guild wars have managed to survive and prosper by carving out their own special niches. They are very different games: Guild Wars is a fantasy game, Eve is set in Space. Eve charges a monthly sub while Guild Wars does not. Guild Wars is almost entirely instanced while Eve is entirely un-instanced to the point where all players play on a single server. Eve allows for non consensual pvp. Guild Wars pvp is strictly consensual. The differences are obvious but there are also a few surprising similarities that I would like to explore.

Most obvious is the fact that they are both generally acknowledged as PVP centric games. Perhaps less well known however is that both of these games have a very sizeable proportion of players who are pvp-phobic carebears. Taking a very unscientific look at the official EVE forums I notice that the strongly pvp focussed "Crime and Punishment" forum has 14,851. Compare this to the more PVE centred "Missions and Exploration" forum with 25,309 topics. Does this mean that the majority of EVE players are carebears? I don't know but it wouldn't surprise me.

I am pretty sure the same applies to Guild Wars. When the game came out the amount of PVE end game content was very limited and the general feeling was that the PVE game was really only a training ground for PVP. Over the intervening years a succession of high end PVE missions and dungeons have been added to the game which can only be a reflection of the developers realisation of just how important PVE players are to the game.

Another point of similarity is that both games have taken a fairly novel approach to doing away with the usual levelling grind in mmorpgs. Guild Wars put a hard level cap that players reach within a few weeks of starting to play. Eve uses real time based skill learning so that you don't even have to play to level up.

It is curious to note that despite these innovations neither game has actually turned out to be grind free. In Guild Wars the grind is mainly voluntary but nevertheless many players invest thousands of hours grinding for elusive titles or prestige armour sets. In Eve there is a far more traditional grind for in game money. Happily there are a variety of ways of earning ISK but whichever method you pick you need to be prepared to do a lot of it in order to fund your space borne adventures.

A final similarity that has struck a chord with me is that both games have a sophisticated metagame involving character builds. Guild Wars characters can carry only 8 active skills out of the hundreds available. Combine this with the extremely flexible respeccing rules in Guild Wars and you have a fascinating mini game setting up the right character build for a given situation. World of Warcraft's model with unlimited skill slots and barriers to respeccing tends to result in a few limited cookie cutter builds that everyone aspires to. Guild Wars on the other hand has thousands of viable builds and players dream up new variations every day.

In Eve builds are focussed around ship fit out. As my last few posts have shown there is a fun to be had fitting out a ship to do the job you need it to do. Like Guild wars you are faced with a wide variety of options (modules) but must work within a rigid set of constraints. In Eve the constraints are set by ship capacity, player skills, the players wallet and the often overlooked constraint of how much you are prepared to risk losing if the ship gets blown up.

In one sense however ship fitting in Eve is less satisfying than Guild Wars character building. The rigid constraints in Guild Wars mean that a good character build has a certain longevity. It will not be surpassed in utility merely through the character levelling up. In Eve however there are always bigger, better ships to be had. Find it hard to do squeeze everything you want into a frigate? Just wait till you can afford a destroyer. Struggling to do level 3 missions in a cruiser? Save up and skill up for a Battle Cruiser and life will get much easier.

There you have it. Two very different games that have some striking similarities. Of course I didn't mention what is probably the most important similarity: Both games are not afraid to innovate. This fact more than any other has probably ensured their ongoing success in a very tough marketplace.

Afterthought: The number of carebear PVE players who join and continue to play PVP focussed games is an intriguing topic and one I would like to explore further. Perhaps fuel for another post?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Eve: Rupture Armour Tank Update

Well ...

It seems to work. I have done 2 level 3 missions (Rogue Drone Harassment and Angel Extravaganza) in the armour tanked configuration described last post and I am still alive to tell the tale. I skipped the optional last part of extravaganza - that has battleship class rats and I doubt it could be handled solo in a cruiser.

The combination of short range weapons and a strong armour tank are quite new to me. The red arc across the top of my status panel indicating my rapidly disappearing shields took a bit of getting used to.

This set up takes a bit more concentration to use than a passive shield tank. I use drones and missiles to tickle enemies from range while I try to close in rapidly using afterburners. You can't run afterburner and armour repairer together for very long without draining cap so there is a tantalising few moments while you fly into a hail of incoming fire with no armour repairer on, trying desperately get into autocannon range. Once you get within 9,000 metres or so you can switch off the afterburner, switch on the armour repairer, open up with your autocannons and breathe a sigh of relief. The auto's seem to wreak quite a bit more damage than I am used to from longer range artillery and the enemies shields and armour vanish satisfyingly quickly.

Even though autocannons have a frighteningly short optimal rage (less than 1km) they have a decent accuracy falloff distance and still manage to inflict about 50% damage at 9km. I found that orbiting the target at 4km using my un-boosted max speed of 250km seems to give a good combination of distance and angular velocity.

Once you have the armour repairer going the tank feels quite a bit stronger than I remember the passive shield tank being. The PST depended largely on just having a large number of hit points whereas this has better resists and a solid active repairer.

In the Rogue Drone mission the acceleration gate dropped me right in the middle of the second pocket, automatically aggroing all 9 cruisers and 2 battle cruisers. Amazingly the armour tank managed to hold up under their combined fire while I took them out one by one. I don't think they were hitting very hard however and I can imagine that a group of well spaced cruisers/battle cruisers with proper long range weapons could really cause this setup grief as I tried to fly under fire from one target to the next.

Fast moving frigates can be tricky also because the autocannons can't track htem once they start to orbit. As long as there are only one or two the assault launchers can handle them but if I knew a mission was going to have a lot of frigates (especially tech 2 versions with fast speed and high resistances) I would swap one autocannon for a third assault launcher.

Careful pulling and target selection is essential of course as is control of your drones. Nevertheless I consider the set-up a success and am going to keep using it. It seems to clear the missions more quickly than the PST / Artillery rupture, not least because you are forced to get close with the enemy quickly in order to use the short range autocannons but also because the armour tank seems tougher with fewer emergency warp outs required.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Eve Online: Armour Tanked Rupture

I decided to follow the advice of commenters Van Hemlock and Jason and experiment with an armour tank on the Rupture. As I had previously focussed almost exclusively on shield tanks I had to buy a bunch of stuff and train some skills but here is what I came up with:


Lows:
Armour tanking is all about low slots so we have a named medium armour repairer providing ongoing defence and a beefy armour plate adding some depth to the tank. In addition there is an active explosive hardener filling the hole in armours explosive resistance and a passive energised adaptive membrane providing an additional 15% resist across the board. Specific resists can be adjusted to best suit the type of damage expected. The Tech 2 Damage control II costs over 1 million isk but I reckon it is worth it because it performs 2 important roles. It gives 15% universal resist to armour which is as good as having an additional energised adaptive membrane. It also gives a whopping 60% resist to structure which is my insurance policy if ever my armour tank gets overwhelmed. Hopefully this will buy me enough time to warp the ship out of danger.

Mids:
Two Cap recharger II's fill the mid slots. These are pricey (1.3 million each) but I choose them for a reason. As long as the afterburner is turned off they can just supply the capacitor requirements of armour repairer, active hardener and damage control making the set-up capacitor neutral. This is actually a very finely balanced thing. It only works because my repair skill is trained to level 2. If I trained up to level 3 or higher my armour repairer would cycle more quickly and the set-up is no longer cap stable!

The afterburner is intended to be turned off while tanking to avoid draining cap. It is purely used for getting into position. I reckon it is vital to have though because of the close range armaments on this rig.

Highs:
I would like to fit long range artillery and heavy missiles on this but I can't. There simply isn't enough power grid. The armour tank modules eat up a good chunk themselves and by filling the low slots they prevent me from fitting reactor controls to get extra power.

I can't fit artillery so I have had to make do with short range autocannons. Two assault launchers should help to kill frigates who have enough angular velocity to avoid being hit by the turrets. Three medium drones add to the overall damage output.

I must admit I am scared that this short range weaponry will get me killed. I need to chase down enemies before I can hit them which makes the afterburner essential. Meanwhile they are getting in free hits while I am flying towards them. It is also much harder to control aggro and line up enemies correctly when you are in the thick of the battle than when you are firing from long range. Perhaps scariest of all is the fact that I will no longer be able to keep comfortably out of webber and scrambler range.

For comparison here is a passive shield tanked Rupture I have successfully used to complete level 3 missions:

At first glance the armour tanked Rupture seems better having higher effective hit points (18641 vs. 17758), higher sustained defence (63 dps vs. 52 dps) and higher damage (125 dps vs. 116 dps). However the Passive shield tanked Rupture uses long range weaponry wher as the armour tanked version needs to be within a couple of thousand metres to do maximum damage.

It is also worth pointing out that the armour tanked version is much more expensive (16 million as opposed to 9 million). That 7 million difference could be used to buy three shield reinforcing rigs which would allow the PST Rupture to out tank the armour tanked version and still retain its range advantage.

All in all I am not convinced the armour tank is actually better but in the interest of science I am going to try it out. I ran it through a couple of level 2 missions last night but it was no real test - the mobs never even got the shield down so I didn't get to test the armour tank. I will take it into a level three tonight and report back. Wish me luck.

Woot ....I won something

It is my lucky day. I have won a copy of Boom Blox in DM Osbon's Sweet Flag competition.

I don't actually have a Wii to play the game on yet but perhaps this will nudge me towards investing in one. Even if I don't get a Wii myself I have several younger relatives who would be delighted to get a copy allowing me to earn major brownie points.

DM and co writer Tom Bastable are putting a lot of effort into Sweet Flag and it is developing by leaps and bounds as a significant gaming review site. Plus of course DM himself is one of the nicest guys in the gaming blogo-sphere. In a world populated by cynically jaded would be hacks DM's optimistic enthusiasm and general all round friendliness make a refreshing change.

(Of course I have to say nice things about him, don't I? He is sending me a free game.)

Friday, July 04, 2008

Mousemats Revisited: An interesting Discovery.

After 9 months of heavy gaming my beloved apple shaped mouse mat is showing its age. The top surface has developed some stains which refuse to wash off while the grippy bottom surface has started to peel. Luckily I have managed to find a replacement which is even better but in the process I made an interesting discovery.

My new mat is a Sweex Laser Mouse Pad. The Sweex pad has a more conventional design than the Fellows circular disk. It has two layers: a rubberised high friction bottom layer which grips the desk like glue and a plastic top surface. I suspect the top surface is made from PTFE (Teflon) because my mouse literally glides over the surface under its own momentum. It is coloured a neutral grey and has a fine surface pattern that seems to be just right for my laser mouse.


After using the Sweex for a couple of days I noticed that occasionally my mouse would behave erratically, sometimes sticking in place and sometimes moving of its own accord. I was on the point of abandoning it when a niggling doubt prompted me to try moving the mouse from an old PS/2 input port to a USB2 port on the back of my computer. Bingo. All erratic behaviour stopped. I don't fully understand what happened but it seems as if the PS2 port could not handle the high data rate from a precision laser mouse.

I then tried the mouse on the wooden table surface and found that with a USB2 connection it gave much smoother less jerky movement than with the PS/2 port. I still don't like the friction of the desk surface though so I am now using my new mouse mat. It gives silky smooth movement and precision mouse positioning. All in all a bargain for less than €6.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Eve Online: Almost Blockaded

Well I finally finished Blockade (lvl 3) in my Rupture last night ..... at 3:00 am.

It seems my naive optimism after clearing the first couple of waves the previous night were misplaced. Not alone had everything reset after yesterday's downtime but everything seemed to have gotten harder. There appears to be a random element in the spawns and I appear to have gotten the unlucky draw. In every case I got more enemies and tougher enemies than listed in the normally excellent Eve-Survival guide. Frigates turned into cruisers, cruisers turned into battle cruisers and battle cruisers turned into tech 2 Arch Gistum ships with insane resistances.

Even the triggers proved trickier than I expected. On two of the waves the trigger ship was not unique but one of a bunch of identical ships. This slows things up enormously as you need to work your way around the map avoiding killing any of the possible triggers. It also gives you a lottery of which one to kill last in order to avoid triggering the next wave.

It was slow, tedious work and my poor rupture cruiser was stretched to the limit. My tank was unable to sustain the high damage from groups of cruisers and battle cruisers so I had to resort to hit and run. Warp in and kill a straggler while my shield gets whittled down under a withering barrage. Then warp out again to recharge shields. At least this isn't a deadspace mission so I was able to create a ring of safe spots around the map to warp to and from which helped enormously both in keeping me alive and also in herding the npcs where I needed them to go.

My big passive shield tank (over 7000 shield hp) works well for hit and run but the biggest difficulty is my very poor dps. In some cases I struggled to kill even one enemy before I was forced to warp to a safe spot. A bunch of Arch Gistum Predator cruisers nearly scuppered me. They have very high resistances and even with all guns blazing I could bearly deplete their shields before I was forced to warp to safety. NPC shields regenerate just like a player's so a hit and run strategy will only work if you deplete a ships shields and take a bite out of the armour on every pass. If you don't get down to the armour then the pass is useless.

I swapped out shield power relays for gyrostabilisers in order to increase my dps a little, trading survivability for increased damage. Then my inner nerd came out and I put together a fairly nifty Excel spreadsheet plotting damage versus distance for various ammo types against a given npc ship. This allowed me to choose the best ammo and the best distance for optimum dps and eventually I was able to break down those pesky Arch Gistuums. I am quite proud of the spreadsheet. If I get a chance I will tidy it up and link it here.

I fired over 2500 projectiles and almost 1000 missiles. I lost 10 drones due to carelessness. I didn't even get to reap the bounty of salvage because most of the wrecks had long since disappeared by the time I finally cleared the mission. Nevertheless I finally did it without losing a ship.

I used a variety of fit outs during the mission but this was probably the most useful: A Gyrostabiliser replaces one shield power relay to increase dps and a shield hardener replaces the afterburner to give increased survivability. I didn't need an afterburner in this mission because it isn't in deadspace and I was able to warp around.



Where to next? My confidence in the Rupture's ability to do level 3's has been dented somewhat. I am glad I managed to pull it off in the end but I can't afford to pull all nighters just to complete missions.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Eve Online: Level 3 Misions in a Rupture

Having finally worked up enough standing to access a decent lvl 3 agent in a safe system (Eystur) I ran a few level 3 missions in my Rupture last night.

First mission was "The Mordus Headhunters" which I found quite challenging with a mixture of heavy hitting cruisers and fast moving frigates including webbing interceptors. I got through it in the end with a few lessons learned and happily no ship lost.

Second mission was the Serpenti version of "Unauthorised Military Prescence". This mission was a comparative doddle. The Serpentis didn't appear to have any effective long range weapons so I could pick them off from a distance with impunity. They did use sensor damping to break my target lock occasionally but this was no more than a minor annoyance.

The third mission offered to me was "The Blockade". The level 2 version of this was long and challenging so I was expecting this to be very tough but I decided to give it a go anyway. Blockade is a tricky mission with multiple waves of opponents. In each wave a certain ship is the trigger to spawn the next wave. In the level 2 version I didn't bother to read up about it and just blasted away triggering multiple spawns at once which almost overwhelmed me. I took a much more cautious approach this time - making sure to kill everything but the trigger before unleashing the next spawn. With careful pulling I managed to clear the first two spawns but it was getting late so I decided to call it a night. The mission will reset during server downtime today but I am hopeful my tactics will see me through it tonight given more time.

I am sticking with the passive shield tank that has served me so well in level 2's. My DPS is still poor although I have upgraded to medium artillery and heavy missile launchers to try and get a bit more oomph. These put quite a strain on my power grid so I have had to trade off some speed and tanking in order to fit reactor controls power upgrade modules. The basic fit out looks like this:

My mid slots have two large shield extenders which form the basis of the tank and an afterburner.

In order to fit medium size artillery I have had to to sacrifice two of my low slots to reactor controls which do nothing other than upgrade the power grid. The power diagnostic system in the third slot is a kind of wonder module which provides a smaller power grid increase along with increases to my shield and capacitor and my rate of shield recharge. The two remaining slots are filled with shield power relays which provided a healthy increase in shield recharge rate and are a cornerstone of passive shield tanking.

For offence I have four medium artillery turrets, two heavy missile launchers and three medium drones. This is set-up for for sniping at the enemy from a distance of 25-30km.

No room for overdrive injectors to increase speed, no room for weapon upgrades to increase damage, no room for shield hardeners to increase my resistances, no room for a damage control unit to give me that extra insurance policy in case my tank fails.

I actually vary the fit out a bit depending on what I am up against. If there are a lot of fast moving frigates about (especially interceptors) I swap out the heavy launchers for assault launchers which are better suited to smaller faster targets. On the other hand if there is a clump of heavy hitting cruisers who can hurt me plenty at my preferred 25-30km range then I swap the afterburner for an appropriate shield hardener to cut down the incoming damage while I take them out one by one. It is possible to change mid mission by warping out and docking before returning to the fray.

So, back into the fray tonight. I am reasonably confident that this set up will see me through a bunch of level 3's. It will have to because it will be a while before I have the skills to upgrade to a bigger ship. My weapons skills in particular are lacking as evidenced by my poor dps figures but this is the downside of being a Minmatar. Our ships are very flexible combining projectile turrets with missiles and drones but it takes a lot of training to get proficient in all three areas.