Friday, January 23, 2015

CSM 9 Winter Summit: Improving AI

Everywhere around me, I see people demanding improved artificial intelligence.  Earlier this week Microsoft announced that Halo's Cortana is coming to a desktop near you.  Game companies are also seeking better AI to run the NPCs in games under development, from the Kythera engine in Star Citizen to Storybricks in EverQuest Next.  So hopefully, the fact that CCP is seeking to make the artificial intelligence in EVE Online a little smarter comes as little to no surprise.

We got a taste of things to come with the release of the minutes for day 2 of the CSM Winter Summit yesterday.  Team Space Glitter is in charge of the development of the AI for NPCs and went into some detail about the newest NPC, the Circadian Seeker.  I know that some don't like the level of detail coming out of the summit minutes, so I'll post the details as written from the minutes so people can decide for themselves:

"CCP Frellicus started off the session by going over the new behaviour trees being used by the new Sleeper Scouts (Circadian Seekers) to give them some new ways of interacting with players. These behaviour trees are what makes them explore systems and work in groups.
"The Seeker priorities are (in order) Survive, Roam, Scan. If there's nothing to scan, they'll just idle. (though generally they'll just start scanning you).
"Ali asked if these behaviour trees are only going to be used for the new NPCs or if they're planning to backport it to other NPCs. CCP Frellicus replied that it's primarily for the new NPCs, but it may be backported to specific NPCs.
"Corbexx asked how much can it let them do. CCP Frellicus said it depends upon development time available but the system has very few limitations.
"He went on to elaborate that it allows them to do more advanced actions including calling in reinforcements, warping around the systems.
"CCP Affinity asked the CSM how they thought about NPCs podding players. The CSM were open to the idea. Ali added the caveat that it should be clear that these NPCs can possibly pod. The implications regarding implants and the change to pod death costs and loss were discussed.
"CCP Affinity indicated that they would likely introduce it, but with a twist. Mike asked if they plan to announce they're making a change to NPCs to allow them to do so. CCP Affinity answered that no, they do not. (If you're reading this, consider yourself lucky!)
"CCP Frellicus then showed some Circadian Seekers and the Behaviour tree in action. The CSM noticed that when spawned, they all warped to the same location. CCP Affinity pointed out that this was their blackboard in action, they behave like a fleet. (A blackboard is a way for them to share their intentions with each other. They have a shared blackboard where if one of the NPCs posts a location or primary target, they will behave like a well organised fleet following their FCs commands.)"
Hopefully everyone noticed that CCP doesn't plan on telling players when the cute little Sleeper scouts will start podding people.  Looking on Singularity won't help, because they are already podding people on the test server.  But this kind of notice will get players more interested when new content enters the game.  Players are already reporting that Sleepers are attacking POS and Reddit threads are springing up reporting new Sleeper battleships and structures.

Don't expect CCP to go back and retrofit the existing rats soon, however.  The plans disclosed in the minutes are for those rats to remain fat, dumb, and easy to kill for some time to come.  But CCP doesn't plan on relying on 2003 technology to power EVE's PvE content, even though New Eden is famously a PvP universe.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The CSM 9 Winter Summit: The Great Team Security Chili Cookoff

To the amazement of all, CCP and CSM are the minutes of the CSM 9 Winter Summit during the summit.  The minutes for day 1 included sessions titled "Roadmap & Release Cadence", "New Player Experience", "Web Team", "Team Size Matters", "Corporations & Alliances", "Team Homegrown", and "Team Security".  Needless to say, I was interested in the Team Security session.

I'll have to admit, I was a little disappointed by the minutes for that session.  The chili recipe was kind of weak.  Huh?  That's right, the session was almost entirely NDA'd, so one of Steve Ronuken's recipes was inserted instead.  However, the topics discussed were revealed, which is a plus.  Those were: multiboxing, account authentication, DDoS attacks and mitigation, and a status on the effort against illicit RMT.  All topics I'd like to know about.

I'm pretty sure that a lot of people are disappointed in the news blackout, but I'm not.  Considering the speed with which the minutes were released, the security guys probably decided to NDA everything to make sure no information leaks to the bad guys.  Personally, I can wait for the sanitized version Team Security will present at Fanfest in less than two months.

Don't I want to hear about all the people banned?  Yes, I do.  I'd like to hear that the numbers are low because players are obeying the rules.  However, I know human nature. Even though the ISBoxer developer changed the defaults to turn the input broadcasting features off on 1 January, I expect some ISBoxer users to get banned simply for thinking they can't get caught.  I also expect that a lot of people didn't get the word about the new ban policy for those buying ISK from shady people and so those numbers are higher than CCP would like.  I already know that over 300 players were banned for purchasing ISK in the first week of 2015.

But, do I really want to hear interim figures?  The policies only went into effect three weeks ago.  I can wait a couple more months, when hopefully Team Security will release figures for the first 2 months of 2015.  I'll admit my attitude is probably shaped by the fact I have to scrounge around and dig up a lot of my own facts about illicit RMT, which includes things like botting and hacking accounts.  I'm used to CCP not just handing out facts.

Also, what's more important, satisfying my curiosity or keeping sensitive security methods under wraps?  While the ban numbers probably aren't sensitive, details about account authentication methods (dual factor authentication coming soon?) and how successful CCP is at fighting off DDoS attacks and how they have achieved any successes probably need to stay secret, at least for now.  If the whole session is overclassified, well, as I mentioned before, we'll get a sanitized, more comprehensive version at Fanfest.  I'm patient.  I can wait.

Still, for the next sessions that are heavily NDA'd like this, could we get some shopping and restaurant recommendations for Fanfest goers.  Would you believe some people attending probably haven't heard of Nonni's?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I'm A Talking Head

On Sunday the Cap Stable podcast recorded the first of a series of panels that will discuss the candidates running for the 10th Council of Stellar Management.  In addition to the usual cast, the guests joined the panel discussion: Lockefox of the Hydrostatic Podcast and EVE Prosper Market Show, Random McNally of the High Drag podcast, and me.

One of these things is not like the others.  That's right, I'm a blogger in the middle of a bunch of podcasters.  Now, Sunday was not my first podcast.  I've appeared on the Declarations of War podcast as well as an earlier edition of Cap Stable with Lanctharus.  However, this podcast was my first as an "expert".  I guess I know a fair bit about this CSM election, having read all of the candidates' announcement posts on the EVE Online forums, listened to all of the Cap Stable interviews at least once, and read all of the interviews over on Just For Crits.  But could I actually get the words out in the midst of all these experienced podcasters?

Instead of going into details about what we discussed, I'll just provide the link to listen to the podcast.  What I'd like to do in this post is go a little behind the scenes, because what the Cap Stable guys are trying to do is amazing.

First, I should point out that the Cap Stable podcast has a link to one of the biggest gaming podcasts, The Instance.  I used to listen to The Instance every week and when I heard that a corp named Alea Iacta Est Universal had formed in EVE, I knew exactly what was happening.  AIEU, the corp that is the home for the Cap Stable gang, is an off-shoot of the AIE mega-guild that formed around The Instance.  I heard that before Blizzard decided to kill the mega-guilds in WoW that AIE boasted a membership of over 9000 members.  That's right, WoW had a guild that rivaled the size of Goonswarm.

When I look at the Cap Stable podcast, I can see some of the lineage from The Instance, including some of the little things like the presence of the Creative Commons license and the humor in the segways between segments.  Of course, if you have access to a successful podcaster like Scott Johnson, might as well ask him how to do things right.  Over the years, I've watched the Cap Stable podcast grow up into a pretty good listen.

The Cap Stable crew is pretty organized, which is a good thing since their goal is to interview everyone running for CSM.  For Sunday's panel, I received an invite via Google mail early in the week along with a Google doc with an outline of the subjects we'd discuss on the panel.  The Google document was nice because I could track the changes as more interviews were published.  Of course, the more interviews published, the more work I needed to do in show preparation.  While the hosts were doing all the work, I didn't want to make a fool of myself by not knowing the subject!

A brief note about the interviews with the candidates.  I think Lanc discussed the format on the podcast, but I think the point needs some repeating.  The interviewers are trying to get information out of the candidates, which means their approach possibly isn't as confrontational as some would like.  But as only a couple of outlets are doing projects of this nature (currently Just For Crits is the other), getting the information out is more important than playing gotcha journalism.  Besides, I don't think that Cap Stable is just lobbing softballs to the candidates.

About a half-hour before the recording time, the Google reminder went off and logged onto Skype.  Lockefox was already on and Lanctharus was making the final changes to the show notes.  I know that show notes are a pretty standard thing for podcasts, but I still think watching the process as the Google doc updated as the conversation occurred on Skype.

I should add that the Cap Stable crew is pretty disciplined where the length of their podcasts are concerned.  The interview length of 30 minutes that Xander set for his CSM 8 interviews worked and the Cap Stable interviews continue the tradition.  A 30 minute interview is long enough to give a lot of provide a lot of information but short enough not to drive people away.  That principle also applies to the panel shows.  A 60 minute podcast is a reasonable length of time not only to listen to, but to record.  Also, I imagine the length also makes editing the recording a lot easier as well.  I feel sorry for the poor souls that have to edit two and even three hour long podcasts.

In the discussion before the podcast, we knew that Lanc was going to moderate and that we needed to take care not to talk over each other.  I think we did an okay job of that.  I haven't listened to the podcast let, but hopefully a  couple of the longer pauses were taken out during the editing process.

Like I mentioned before, I won't discuss what we talked about, but I think the session went well.  Random was a little late (hey, real life > EVE), and I think the session picked up steam once he joined.  The only awkward moment came when the last candidate's interview, Psianh Auvyander's came up, and I was the only one of the guests who had listened.  Remember when I mentioned doing show prep?  I had my notes in my own Google doc and was able to talk about him.  Thankfully, Psianh is one of the better candidates so I had enough material to talk intelligently about him for a bit.  I can't imagine trying to do that for some of the others.

Looking at the title of the podcast, you'll notice it reads CSM X Analysis Show #1.  That's right, I think we will record these shows every week right up to the beginning of the voting.  We'll continue to talk about the candidates whose interviews were published during the week.  Next week's show already has corbexx and Mike Azariah on the list, so I think that will prove interesting listening.

So now I'm a talking head pontificating on the important subject of internet spaceship politics.  EVE definitely has led me to a strange place, hasn't it?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Rabbit Hole: Monopolizing Resouces

This week, I'd like to continue discussing the five reasons why real money trading (RMT)  has negative effects on massively multi-player online games as spelled out in the initial post of the series. In his 2006 paper, "A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Real-Money Trade in the Products of Synthetic Economies", Dr Edward Castronova stated that, "RMT induces gold farmers to occupy territory and system resources."  However, I'd like to modernize the statement a little, to state that real money trading results in gold farming activity that monopolizes content and uses disproportionate amount of game server resources.

Monday, January 19, 2015

CSM X Election: Bobmon And The Rules

Last night I was on a podcast panel discussing the CSM X election.  That's right, I've graduated to the coveted position of talking head discussing the important area of internet spaceship politics.  I'll discuss the experience more once the podcast is released, but I'd like to discuss a subject that came up: Bobmon and CSM's age requirement.

I don't think I said anything about the subject.  At least, I hope I didn't say anything, because after a good night's sleep, I finally came up with an intelligent answer.  That's the problem as a blogger on a podcast; blogging doesn't require the ability to think quickly.  So while the other panelists went back and forth about CCP changing the rules, I remained quiet.

For those who don't follow the subject closely, Bobmon, according to the current rules, is not old enough to run for election to the CSM.  However, CCP Leeloo stated that Bobmon would have no problem meeting the age requirement:
"We are indeed looking into changing the age requirements for the CSM. More information about this and other changes will be included in the candidacy opening blog, which will be published on January 30th as I mentioned here. Roll
"At this point I can assure you that Bobmon will not have any age related issues with his CSMX campaign."
Without giving anything away, one point was alluded to, but not brought up plainly.  CCP Leeloo has not posted the rules for the election yet.  That's right, the election campaign has basically run since the beginning of December and the rules everyone is running under are still unknown.  CCP Leeloo made a good decision in disclosing the one rules change so that Bobmon isn't penalized by making him start his campaign late.

Should CCP post the election rules earlier?  I don't think so, even though doing so would make my life as a talking head easier.  I don't think CCP should begin the official election season until the last major piece of CSM activity for the term, the winter summit, has concluded.  At that point CCP can begin the transition from supporting the current CSM to creating the next one.  Posting the rules one week after the end of the winter summit seems appropriate.

However, I'm glad that candidates do not wait until the election rules are posted to begin campaigning.  Working on the election page for CSM Wire, I know I wouldn't have a life if I had to try to do all the work beginning on 30 January.  Or, more likely, I just wouldn't try.  I don't know for sure, but I don't think the Cap Stable guys would try to interview all the candidates either.  I also don't know how Marc Scaurus would get his interviews done over on Just For Crits either.

Of course, I didn't think of any of this during the recording.  Like I mentioned at the beginning of the post, thinking quickly isn't a requirement for blogging.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Thoughts On The o7 Show

Yesterday's o7 Show probably has lots of people upset.  Not the majority, but lots.  Or, the usual suspects will begin sounding the "EVE is dying/becoming WoW" chant.

The first item on the show, the new Minmatar tech 3 destroyer was interesting in that we now know the ship will appear in the February release.  No stats are known, but the artwork shows the ship is not vertical.  For some reason that matters to some people.

Next up was the replacement for the existing ship skins, Super Kerr Induced Nanocoating.  Instead of applying a ship skin on a ship (which then created a whole lot of extra ship types), the Super Kerr Induced Nanocoating is a license that follows the pilot.  I'm assuming CCP figures that players don't purchase ship skins because they are lost when the ship explodes.  I know I don't.  With the Super Kerr Induced Nanocoating, CCP can make a lot of color schemes and probably sell them to a significant portion of the player base.  I think CCP is thinking of the League of Legends champion skins model.  CCP has certainly infiltrated enough spais into Riot recently to have all of their secrets.

Following a lot of community news, including a teaser for the Fanfest pre-event, CCP Punkturis and CCP Sharq made an appearance to talk about UI improvements.  CCP Punkturis is working on the corporation interface, a sore spot for a lot a players (i.e., everyone who runs a corporation).  What they discovered is that the UI is a lot more complicated than necessary.  CCP Over-complicating things?  I'm shocked, but I'll believe them.  So the goal is to perform a lot of "little things" fixes until the corporations receive a complete revamp.  Roles are also on the table and CCP Sharq seems in charge of that.

Perhaps the most controversial, in terms of potential noise/crying/taunting on the forums, is giving corp leaders the option to turn friendly fire off between corp members.  Everyone looks at the move as one targeted against those who like to go on "safari" (join a corp and then start shooting players until kicked), although the new mechanic will still not prevent corp theft or awoxing.1  

For me, those were the highlights.  But they were just a taste of things to come, which is what the o7 Show truly is, a tease.  But a good tease.

UPDATE: CCP Masterplan has posted a clarification on the corp friendly fire mechanic on Reddit.


1. Awoxing is the practice of infiltrating a corp, then providing a warp in point to hostile fleets.  As awoxing does not involve shooting at other players, the practice is unaffected by the new mechanic. Remember, every time someone misuses the term awoxing, CCP Fozzie cries.  Or he thinks about nerfing a ship, I'm not sure which.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

CSM X Election: Not Quite According To Plan

After last year's horrendous turnout of under 31 thousand voters, CCP needed to do something about increasing turnout.  Okay, needed is too strong a word.  But CCP's efforts to publicize the CSM elections the past two years were pretty bad.  Last year, the emphasis was left entirely to the players.  I wondered if that was a result of a deliberate policy to keep turnout low or just CCP Dolan being CCP Dolan.

If I can say one thing about CSM 9, the differences with CSM 8 are pretty big as CCP Leeloo works to clean up the mess CCP Dolan left before he left to work for Riot.  Not only was CSM 9 involved in PR situations like the final SOMERblink scandal, but we didn't have to wait months for the summer summit minutes.  And CCP Leeloo has shown she wants to publicize the CSM X election as well.

Yesterday, CCP Leeloo published a dev blog mostly written by seven members of CSM 9.  Finally, before the election season starts, CCP publicizes what the CSM does, from the players own words.  Something in writing so that players who don't follow the CSM can see that the player body is not just a toothless PR tool.  Well, Sion Kumitomo decided to dump a steaming pile of cow dung on the effort with his contribution.  Here is the first few paragraphs:
"This review comes at an interesting point in the term. By this time, particularly given that I’m running again, I should have a string of accomplishments that I could hang my name off of, but I don’t. I should have the dedicated enthusiasm required to stay active for the entire term, but I don’t. I should have platitudes to offer and abounding praises. I certainly don’t have those. Instead, I find that I’m deeply frustrated and increasingly having to defend an institution in which I struggle to believe.
"There will no doubt be council members who sing CCP’s praise and proclaim the efficacy of the CSM. Broadly speaking, I don’t know how any of them could get to that conclusion via any evidenced based rationale. The new release pace frequently means that the CSM is cut out of the development feedback process, sometimes nearly entirely. There’s a growing list of items, some major, that we saw at the same time the rest of the player base did.
"When the CSM attempted to get looped into the new development model better, we sometimes started seeing items one day, perhaps two, before they were released. Even something as major as the 0.0 revamp has been a dead topic since the last summit. This is all the more frustrating because after the scuffle erupted from the CSM's name being used to promote changes we didn't endorse, we had a meeting where we were assured that we would be kept in the loop.
"Actions speak louder than words. The shared Skype channel is frequently home to all manner of defensive, passive aggressive, or antagonistic exchanges.
"All of this makes it very difficult to work as the institution should. Some EVE pundits will say that the CSM is a toothless institution that CCP uses when convenient or as a marketing tool, and nothing more. There's some truth to that. The CSM was designed around a titled system with a Chair and two releases per year. The institution hasn't adapted, and its relevance, such as it was, has suffered because of it."
Sion's section is the main part of the story.  Forget what the rest of the CSM members stated, especially corbexx, who seems to have done yeoman work representing wormholes and providing CCP with valuable data on POS use and PvE content.  When someone establishes a Skype channel that connects CCP devs with wormhole leaders and diplomats to make sure wormhole concerns are at least heard, something positive is happening.

Now, corbexx didn't say no problems exist with the CSM/CCP relationship.  He concluded with the following:
"Some CCP teams/groups make great use of the CSM, but I feel some groups don’t, be it they don’t think we would be interested, They maybe don’t see how we could of helped. I’m not suggesting we can help in every team/department, but if we don’t know about stuff we sure as hell can’t help."
Sugar Kyle also gave some thoughts on interacting with CCP:
"When it comes to interacting with CCP a lot of time is spent advocating player concerns and worries. Even if it does not want to be heard or it is an old topic it comes back up. There is not always resolution. Not all of these make it into a large review. Some are not yet finalized and some are more quiet events. Yet advocating does simple things like create more clarity to players who do not understand what things like SSO are. It will, hopefully, do other things such as a better way to search through channels so that players with unsupported languages can more easily find each other. It is not easy and it is not always successful, but the effort is made."
Mike Azariah, who was first elected in CSM 8, had these comments:
"As a group the CSM has spent a lot of time adapting to the new faster (MUCH faster) pace of the release schedule. Things change so quickly that some does not get seen by us much sooner than it is is seen on the test server. Other broader strokes we try to get input as early as is possible. Do we know everything and see everything? No, and I am not sure that that is even possible. A summit often covers projects coming up but then that project is done and two more run before another summit happens. This goes back to CSM 8's attempt to build more bridges to other teams and get more lines of communication open to the devs.
"Progress and change have been made. The decision to eliminate officers showed that we could function without them. Personal projects and one on one contact with devs started to replace the idea that we need to talk to entire teams taking them all away from the job at hand. Helping bridge the gap between players and the dev teams have lead to a more open and direct exchange of ideas with CSM acting as enablers, not the conduit itself. Hell, if we do this well enough we might manage to organize ourselves right out of a job. Or, better yet, change the job as this one will be done and we can take on a different aspect."
I think what we are seeing with the CSM is an institution in transition, partly due to CSM 8's decision to make CSM 9 operate without officers for the first half of the term.  CSM 9 then decided that if no officers is good for half a term, then why does the body need officers at all?  After all, on paper, the officers had absolutely no power.  What were they good for?

I also think that corbexx judged the matter correctly.  CCP is not some faceless monolith.  Some people love the CSM (think CCP Fozzie) while others think of them as an inconvenience.  I always thought CCP Greyscale fell into the latter camp, but that is just from looking at the situation from the outside.  Then again, who wants a bunch of players telling you that you're wrong?  I can see that perhaps on something as large as the null sec revamp that you want everything as solid as possible before presenting the plans to the CSM.  The plan is going to have holes anyway; why not try to keep the period spent patching the holes as short as possible?

Regardless, CCP Leeloo has now done as much to promote the upcoming CSM election as CCP Dolan did for the CSM 9 election.  I do think, though, with Sion's commentary (which she allowed to remain), that the dev blog didn't go entirely as planned.

CORRECTION:  I was contacted by Ripard Teg about the decision not to have officers for the beginning of CSM 9's term.  Apparently, the suggestion to do so was made to the members of CSM 8 running for re-election by CCP Leeloo as a result of Kesper North's election to an officer position and then going AFK most of the term.  She thought that having a couple of months to evaluate who was really participating before voting on the positions.  So the decision was not made by the entirety of the CSM.

UPDATE:  Apparently my correction was unclear.  Ripard Teg was not trying to take credit for CSM 9 deciding not to have officers.  He wanted to clarify that CSM 8 as a body did not decide that CSM 9 should not have officers at the beginning of the term, just those running for re-election.  As Ripard did not run for re-election, he and the others who chose not to stand for re-election had no voice in the decision.

I apologize for any misunderstandings.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Circadian Seekers In The News

YULAI – The Directive Enforcement Department has recently completed initial investigations into the Sleeper drones designated as "Circadian Seekers" and concluded that they are in the process of adapting to perceived threats. We believe this process is well advanced and are issuing an emergency advisory under the provisions of the Yulai Convention.
We especially urge capsuleers not to become alarmed by changes in the behavior of these drones. We recommend that all pilots exercise caution when approaching Circadian Seekers and are sufficiently prepared for retaliation.
Please report any unusual activity to the lawful authorities or your local DED liaison office.
Are you one of THOSE people?  You know, someone who doesn't follow CCP's channel for EVE Online's game world news?  Someone who believes that the game world news is for dirty role players and all someone needs to do is read the patch notes, and perhaps the CSM summit minutes, to keep up with the important stuff?

Well, I have some news for you.  CCP has stated (I believe at EVE Vegas, but I don't have a link) that they do not plan to put all changes in the patch notes in the future.  Players will need to pay attention to how objects and mobs react in-game as well as read other sources of news like the game world news.  If I read the words with my tin foil hat on, the message is, "We're not going to spoon feed you everything.  What do you think this is, WoW?"

The second example (the first was Caroline's Star) is the Circadian Seeker, a Sleeper cruiser that began appearing outside wormholes in the Rhea release.  Insensitive players began to target and destroy the peaceful little drones.  That wasn't a nice thing to do.  Circadian Seekers have feeling too, you know!

Now, looking in the patch notes for Proteus, the only mention of the Sleepers is in reference to the new Superior Sleeper Cache exploration site that the patch notes call "challenging".  Are the Circadian Seekers part of the reason CCP calls the site challenging?

Reports from the Singularity test server describe how the Circadian Sleepers are "adapting to perceived threats."

They chase ships off-grid?  EVE now has an NPC that actually pods players?  And the DED advisory tells players "not to become alarmed by changes in the behavior of these drones." I think Angry CONCORD Guy slipped that sentence in as a joke.  He hates capsuleers.

I don't think we've discovered the full ramifications of the new behavior of the Circadian Seeker.  Do they follow players through jump gates?  How long will they camp a player?  If a player logs out, how long before the Circadian Seekers become bored and leave?  Can a player go back to the past ala EverQuest and train the Sleeper cruisers around a system, causing them to attack other players?  Can a player create a Sleeper gate camp by training a group of Seekers to a jump gate?  I think the Circadian Seeker may prove to provide a lot of entertainment in the weeks ahead.

UPDATE:  Seems that players still are not podded on Tranquility.  Remember, not everything on the test server gets updated to the live server, even when a change is apparently in the final test build.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Rabbit Hole: Monetary Inflation

In last week's post, I wrote about the five reasons that real money trading is bad for massively multi-player online games (MMOGs) according to a paper published by Dr. Edward Castronova of Indiana University.  In today's post, I'd like to tackle a subject that even subject matter experts disagree on: does RMT cause monetary inflation in the virtual worlds in online games?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Who Wants Loading Screens?

Sometimes, playing other games helps me realize some of the things EVE Online just does right.  Currently, I'm playing Star Wars: The Old Republic and fighting through the annoying lag that 40-45 players creates on Alderaan.  Quite frankly, if I had a death star like Darth Vader, I'd vaporize the planet also.  But I'm not here to praise EVE's time dilation (TiDi) system for handling lag.  Instead, I have a more mundane concern to discuss: loading screens.

I've played a lot of MMORPGs throughout the years and EVE is probably the most instanced of those games.  With each of the game's 7,000+ systems plus individual instances for when a player is docked, one might expect a lot of loading screens.  Well, players do see a lot of loading screens, but they are probably the least annoying I've ever come across.

Hurry up, I want to play!
Above is an example of the loading screen I see in SWTOR after I select the character I want to play.  The screen is nice, letting me know generally where in the story I am.  But I have a long time to read the synopsis, as the game initially takes a lot longer to load than EVE.  Okay, but I only have to put up with the long wait once, right?

Wrong.  If traveling off-planet, even if a player only wants to hold a conversation on the ship with one of the player's companions, results in another long loading screen.

At least I learn something ... maybe.
I think just hopping into and out of the ship is the most annoying thing about the instancing.  I don't want to leave the planet, I just want to drop something off or talk to someone!  Sometimes, a quest takes requires a visit to use the hologram receiver on the ship and a short conversation.  Yet, I have to watch my ship take off from the spaceport and endure a loading screen.  Then, once I'm done with my business, I have to watch my ship travel back to the planet, then endure another, longer loading screen.

Admittedly, except during large fleet fights, EVE doesn't have as many objects displayed on the screen as SWTOR.  That said, EVE's loading screens when traveling between instances (i.e. systems) look a lot better than SWTOR's.

Skip to 1:28 if the video starts at the beginning

In the Odyssey expansion, CCP replaced the old loading bar with a warp tunnel effect to link two systems.  While I had a period of adjustment due to the effect making my stomach queasy, the warp tunnel definitely does not break my immersion in the game.  Unlike in SWTOR, the game does not take me out of the universe with a loading screen.  That's really good, because sometimes I'll travel 25 jumps to visit a particular agent when I want to grind out Sisters of EVE loyalty points.  If I had to endure 25 loading screens like I see in SWTOR, I'd probably rage quit. 

I realize that loading screens seem like a small thing to criticize a game about.  However, the little things do matter.  Let enough annoyances build up and some people will stop having fun and unsubscribe.  That's one of the reasons I'm okay with CCP trying to fix things like the New Player Experience, PvE content, and the UI before really marketing the game to new players again.  EVE is hard enough to learn already without having annoying features.  Fixing some of the major systems that either enhance or detract from the game will help the retention rate.  And for a subscription MMO, a company needs to hang onto the players it attracts in order to pay the bills.