Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Meaningful Activty In EVE

Last night I decided to do a little mining in a low sec belt somewhere in the Minmatar Republic in a Procurer. After pulling a load of Glazed Hedbergite, I noticed that I had a level 4 storyline mission, War Materials, waiting for me, with a reward of a +4 intelligence learning implant. I was mining anyway, so why not stock up on Kernite? At 8000 units required per mission, I decided to just mine kernite the rest of the night. I wound up with 37,000+ units of kernite, enough for 4 missions. Considering how often I'm running missions for the Thukker Tribe, that might last me the rest of the year. Then I can go back to mining the good stuff.

After turning in the ore and receiving the implant from the agent (worth approximately 20 million ISK), I decided to look at the new activity tracker introduced in the November release. My first reaction was "WTF? I didn't do any mining in high sec!". My second reaction was "Grrr Amarr!". Let me explain.
Grrr Amarr!
The activity tracker is not tracking where the ore is mined. Instead, the code checks the type of ore mined and classifies the location in that manner. No problem, right? In the Minmatar Republic and Caldari State, the low sec ores are hedbergite and kernite. However, kernite is found in 0.7 systems in the Amarr Empire, so the activity tracker gave me credit for mining in high sec.

For those wondering the three ores the activity tracker considers "low sec" ores are jaspet, hemorphite, and hedbergite. The Amarr and Gallente low sec ores are jaspet and hemorphite. Jaspet is available in all low sec systems while hemorphite and hedbergite are only available in 0.2 security systems and below. That means for those concentrating on the activity tracker, mining in either Minmatar or Caldari 0.3 and 0.4 security systems will not increase the low sec totals at all.

Fortunately, I have real reasons to mine in low sec. But I do have to take care in my mission running. With the advent of Abyssal deadspace, I have a need for Thukker Large Cap Batteries. I could just buy them off the market, but why do that when every 16 missions I run for corporations in the Thukker Tribe give me a chance at a +4 learning implant?

Another way to track activity
Last night's mining activity allowed me to finish a storyline mission for the Thukker, boosting me to 5.12 standings with the tribe from Great Wildlands. I'm not sure what good such high standings provides, since I have over 7.9 with both Thukker corporations and I don't trade in Great Wildlands. I do have to take care with my standings with the Gallente Federation. I can get a two-run Federation Navy Comet blueprint copy at 8.5 and I have not redeemed the tags to pick it up. Running storyline missions for the Thukker Tribe slightly lowers my standings with the Gallente Federation. I really should start the Gallente faction grind to take care of getting the faction BPCs from the COSMOS agents in Sinq Laison.

Last night struck home the difference between the new activity tracker and the old school ways of tracking activity such as the size of your wallet, standings with NPC corporations, and kill mails. The activity tracker shows a player that he/she did something. The pre-activity tracker measures showed a player accomplished something. In a game like EVE, the difference between the two is important.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Star Citizen Reaches $200 Million Raised

Star Citizen reached another milestone over the weekend, reaching over $200 million raised. I can't just pass by the event, as we may never see a crowd-funded game reach that level of funding again.

I know I should celebrate such a landmark achievement, but I find myself unable to do so. Why? I'm looking at the pace of development so are and wonder if Cloud Imperium Games can finish the game before running out of money.

In the history of MMOs, Star Citizen is approaching the costliest game to develop in history. Both Star Wars: The Old Republic and Elder Scrolls Online exceeded $200 million to produce. The only game to theoretically exceed that was Destiny, which is listed as costing between $100-$400 million to develop.

Right now, Star Citizen and CIG are in very rarified air. But what has me nervously eyeing the situation and not plunking down cash for a chance to cash in on Roberts-mania is how much work is still ahead of the developers. When evaluating the launch date for Star Citizen, I'm usually overoptimistic. But right now, I would guess at Squadron 42, the single-player game, launching no sooner than Christmas 2020. Star Citizen itself probably needs two more years of Alpha, plus a minimum of one year of beta testing. With that timeline, we are looking at a 2022 launch, although I expect the game to finally launch sometime in 2023.

Will Star Citizen fans continue paying $1.5-$2 million a month for the next four years to make sure their dream comes true. Somehow I doubt that will happen. I expect a big compnay, let's say Amazon Game Studios which already utilizes Lumberyard as their in-house game engine, to come in an finish the job started by Chris Roberts. I know that's far-fetched, as a major tech company coming in and rescuing a Chris Roberts game has never happened before, right?

Friday, November 16, 2018

What Does A "Double Training" Weekend In EVE Online Look Like?

When I first heard about EVE Online holding its first "Double Training" weekend, I imagined a call between Pearl Abyss' Deputy Director of Western Operations (Spaceship Division) Kim Jong Suit, and CCP WhatNow, CCP's Producer for Innovative Ideas.

Kim Jong Suit: Hello! I just came up with a great way to increase your player numbers this weekend!
CCP WhatNow: So launching the Onslaught expansion isn't enough?
Kim Jong Suit: Of course not! You also need to hold a Double XP weekend.
CCP WhatNow: A Double XP weekend?
Kim Jong Suit: Yes! Players will be so excited to get extra XP that they will log in and play for hours to get double the XP. And while they play, they will realize all the things they can buy to make their lives easier, and the money will flow through the cash shop.
CCP WhatNow: You haven't played EVE, have you?
Kim Jong Suit: Of course not! EVE is way too grindy.
CCP WhatNow: Well, players won't play more to get more skill points. The way EVE works...
Kim Jong Suit: It doesn't matter how EVE works! What matters is that Double XP weekends always work. Say, you mean CCP never held a Double XP weekend?
CCP WhatNow: No, we haven't.
Kim Jong Suit: No wonder we were able to buy CCP! Trust me. Do as I say and we will all be rich! *click*

A double-XP weekend just doesn't work in EVE Online like it does in other games due to the way players gain skill points. A character gains skill points just for existing and having a skill in the skill queue. CCP came up with an alternative plan more fitting for EVE.

We're super happy to announce that as of tomorrow downtime, New Eden will be enjoying its first double training weekend!
  • If you have an Alpha account, you can log in and claim 25,000 skillpoints twice this weekend.
  • If you have an Omega Account, you can log in and claim 50,000 skillpoints twice this weekend.
Be sure to log in over the course of the weekend and claim your skillpoints, they'll be available through until downtime on November 19th!

Yes, you do have to log into the client on two separate days, but to get the skill points does not require entering the game world on a character. The skill points are added to the redemption queue and don't expire for 180 days.

Honestly, I'm a little baffled by the promotion unless CCP believes that the content released in Onslaught is not enough to attract players back to the game.

I get the concern. But I didn't think CCP would try to goose the numbers up in such a fashion. This feels like something someone from Pearl Abyss who's never played EVE would think is a good idea. Because the reason to hold a double XP weekend is to increase player engagement with the game. A promotion that doesn't even require logging a character into the game seems to not qualify.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Yes, EVE Online Has Enjoyable PvE

I will admit to some skepticism when CCP announced the Abyssal Deadspace and Triglavian content this spring. The idea of instanced dungeons one had to complete in a set amount of time or die in didn't sound very appealing. Add in the possibility of a gank squad waiting outside the entrance to take my stuff, and I figured I needed to let the novelty of Abyssal Deadspace wear off before running the content on Tranquility.

Abyssal deadspace has a lot of good qualities that make the feature the best PvE content I've run in EVE. First, the 20 minute timer introduces a sense of urgency not even present when running sites in low sec. Don't finish the site in 20 minutes, your ship blows up and you wake up in a pod bay. The sites also have boundaries. Unlike the alliance tournament, though, running past the boundary does not bring instant death. Stay outside the boundary long enough, though, and the pressures of the depths eventually crush your ship.

Another interesting twist is the sites are procedurally generated. After awhile the different types of spawns become familiar. I do have to admit the remote repping battleships and the battleship that sits at the edge of the site looking to bait unsuspecting players to hurtle outside the pocket were disconcerting at first. No blindly orbiting an NPC an shooting until it's dead. I did that on the test server in the final pocket of a site once and wound up 60 km from the exit gate. A good thing death on Singularity doesn't really count. But I highly advise manually piloting, especially when facing Vedmaks. The Triglavians stop shooting at 23 km, which resets the ramp-up on their weapons. Orbiting an object allows the disintegrator to ramp-up to maximum damage. Death usually follows. The best part is, one never knows what encounters the random number generator will present.

Finally, the art team did a fantastic job on the sites. The Abyssal deadspace sites are probably the most beautiful in all of EVE. Sometimes I feel like I'm in the middle of an aquarium, which is fitting for the game's submarine-like physics. At other times I feel like I'm flying though an atmosphere with really great terrain. According to the presentations at EVE Vegas, CCP will use the Abyssal site technology to bring atmospheric flight to EVE for the first time in the upcoming live event in December.

Running the Abyssal deadspace sites did require me to leave my comfort zone. For over 8 years, running PvE content meant sniping from long range and signature/speed tank. An effective tactic although I'm sure many will say I'm playing the game wrong. But I never used faction or tech 2 ammunition or modules worth more than tech 2 gear. The goal was to not fly a blinged out ship that would attract attention.

With the introduction of Abyssal space, I fly a lot more bling than I did even as recently as a year ago. If I fit a cap battery, I find myself using faction types like Republic Fleet or Thukkur rather than a tech 2 version. Federation Navy 10MN Afterburners are now a staple of any of my ships running Abyssal sites. As for faction ammo? Never use a filament without it.

With all the PvE goodness represented by Abyssal deadspace, the big downside is that the average age of players running the content is 5 years. With an eye towards expanding player usage, CCP is adding features aimed at lowering the barrier to entry. The new multi-player option allows lower skill players to climb into a frigate with two friends to run the sites. The patch notes also indicate that CCP has removed all webbing frigates from the tier 1 (aka Calm) sites. In addition, all tiers have had an adjustment on how many NPCs can spawn at once, with tiers 1-3 spawning on average fewer NPCs.

CCP is also adding a PvP arena, but that falls outside the scope of this post. Personally, I don't make enough from running Abyssal sites to justify risking my heavy assault cruisers in a fight to the death. But I am getting to the point where I might soon see the profit potential. Through 72 sites, I've grown my initial stock of 3 tier 1 filaments into 28 tier 1-3 filaments and 8 tier 4 filaments. I even went out and purchased a Sacrilege to run the Dark Abyssal sites, the weakness of my Vagabond. I have 450 million ISK worth of drops sitting in a can in a station and sold another 150 million ISK in red loot to NPC buyers.

If I don't make a lot of ISK from Abyssal deadspace, why run the content? In my case, I find the content a bit addictive. I sat down at my computer Sunday and a few hours later had run 15 sites. One of the reasons this post came out on a Tuesday is I was too busy playing EVE over the weekend to write. Sure, I got some pretty screenshots, but I don't have a machine in which I insert screenshots and a post emerges.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Crimson Harvest 2018 (aka EVE Online Halloween)

This year, EVE Vegas fell during the period I normally would research live events on the Singularity, so no warning post about how much the Crimson Harvest changed from last year.  The third iteration of EVE Online's Halloween event will go down in history as the event in which players first could manufacture cerebral accelerators. For those unfamiliar with EVE, think experience potions. In other games, XP potions are either found as drops, or more commonly, purchased from the cash shop. The idea of craftable items isn't new, though. Black Desert Online, for example, allows players to make food and drink that grants XP boosts.

CCP divided the content into two types of instances, Crimson Gauntlets and Crimson Harvest Fields. The Crimson Gauntlets were the combat instances that dropped the good loot. I only ran the sites in high sec because I didn't really have a lot of time to play until Sunday and didn't have time for the interruptions I'd have running the content in low sec.

Under fire
I wish I had run the sites in low sec, as the drops even in high security space were pretty nice. I picked up a lot of faction crystals, which flying mainly Minmatar ships I don't use a lot. But I do fly the Stratios and Nestor, with an Astero in a hangar somewhere, so I will use them someday. I also picked up a couple of Blood Raider faction modules. But the main prizes were the cerebral accelerator blueprint copies.

I found three types of BPCs: Basic, Standard, and Advanced. The Basic flavor of accelerators grants +6 to all learning attributes for 24 hours and each BPC had 5 runs. The 3-run Standard BPCs create accelerators that increase learning attributes by 10 for 24 hours. The Advanced, of which I only had one drop, was a 2-run BPC that grants +12 to all learning attributes for 24 hours. The accelerators, like all drugs, is affected by the Biology skill, with Biology V doubling the duration of the accelerators.

Running the Crimson Gauntlet sites was rather simple. I took the Vagabond I use to run tier 3 Abyssal sites, dropped a mobile tractor unit down, and orbited the MTU at 2,500 meters. After destroying all the NPCs present, I would destroy one of the field generators which resulted in two additional waves of Blood Raiders dropping in. Warning for players. The Blood Raiders applied significant neuting pressure, which is why I used my Vagabond. My ship is able to handle the neut pressure from multiple Triglavian ships in a tier 3 Abyssal site. The neut pressure from the Blood Raiders wasn't that heavy.

I decided that since the MTU was gathering up the wrecks anyway, I might as well salvage the wrecks. The most efficient way was to run 3-4 sites, then hop in a Noctis and salvage them all up in one run. Each site brought in 1.5-2 million ISK per site.

For those looking to produce their own accelerators, running the Crimson Harvest Fields came next. In keeping with the spirit of the season, the layout of the site resembled a pumpkin patch. Asteroids were clustered in five areas, kind of like they are in the Resource Wars sites. Players received 10 event points for every 500 units of the special ore mined. The ore could then be processed to get the minerals needed to make the accelerators.

I decided to triple-box the sites, with two characters getting the points for mining and the third character providing Orca support. I discovered I could safely mine three of the five areas, but the last two areas were protected by a rather large fleet that almost put my Orca into structure. I came back with my Vagabond and had to warp off bleeding armor. It wouldn't be until Sunday that I finally got my revenge.

I needed a lot of ore, and since I finally had a few hours to play I decided to mine all the ore from a site. I cleared the first three groups of asteroids, then switched over to my mission running duo-boxing combination of a Maelstrom and a Claymore. The Maelstrom dropped a mobile tractor unit to scoop up all the loot and the Claymore drove in to trigger the Blood Raider fleet. Once they started warping in, the Claymore dashed off to rejoin the Minmatar battleship, which in turn was aligning to an asteroid belt, just in case the fleet proved too tough.

Harvesting in the pumpkin patch
With the Claymore picking off frigates, the 1400mm howitzers fof the Maelstrom first shredded the neuting curisers, then went to work on the battleships. The frigates that survived the efforts of the Claymore then ran into the Acolyte IIs of the Maelstrom. But it does no good to tackle a ship if the big guns don't survive long enough to apply damage. With the main threat taken care of, I then destroyed the three Blood Raider structures one at a time, destroying the resulting NPCs piecemeal.

Once I eliminated the threats to my mining ships, I carefully gathered my fleet back into the site. Keeping two ships in the site at all times, I would warp the third ship of my little gang to the bookmark I placed on the MTU instead of the site beacon. I noticed something strange. In the middle of warp, my screen would go blank for a second or two, then my ship would continue on. Happened for all three ships. I think the cause is that the beacon despawned, a new site spawned, but because I kept ships inside the original site at all times, the game needed to recreate the gate into the original site. Whatever the explanation, I mined the rest of the ore.

I shouldn't forget the basic rewards for the event. The long duration accelerator giving +10 to learning stats was available at 50 points, with SKINs for the Astero, Gila, Macharial, and Avatar available at 150, 300, 650, and 1000 points respectively. I had one character get all four, a second get up to the Macharial, and the third the Astero and Gila SKINs.

Overall, I'm not sure how much I liked the event. The requirement to mine for hours in order to get the materials to keep my characters in cerebral accelerators was a pain. But the mechanics were interesting and a change of pace. Now on to the next event.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

EVE Online In The News - 1 November 2018

I decided to start playing around with Google Alerts in order to come up with ideas about what to write about. While I didn't find any new ideas, I did get a chuckle out of what I read. I probably need to start collecting quotes, because I read some good ones. Here are the articles I received mention of over the last few days of October.

The first is an article by James McMahon that appeared last Friday on PCGamesN, titled "Eve Online is like a 'violent Facebook,' and it's changing the world." The article is one of the last covering EVE Vegas and at least EVE players don't come across totally as blood thirsty psychopaths. And CCP Guard came up with a great quote.
"Yet, because of how Eve’s community interacts and plots, the data CCP has collected is of massive value to academics who want to understand more about how people organise themselves politically. It’s also of interest to economists who want to do the same with financial systems. 'It’s basically violent Facebook,' Sveinn J√≥hannesson Kjarval says, the game’s senior community development lead, as he chuckles. He makes a good point. But, unlike Mark Zuckerberg’s digital-Filofax-for-sale, you can argue that Eve is actually making the world a better place."
On Tuesday, Kotaku published a piece by Lee Yancy on the upcoming changes to the war declaration system. The title, "EVE Online's Constant Wars Are Driving Away New Players", isn't exactly the most inviting, but did mentioned CCP's solution as well as spelling out the problem.
"CCP, to its credit, is finally fixing the issue. Last weekend, at the annual EVE Online convention in Las Vegas, CCP shared some of the data surrounding war declarations with the hundreds of players in attendance. It turns out the vast majority of the game’s wars are declared by just five player corporations, seemingly looking to farm easy kills.

"CCP has now stated that in EVE’s winter release, corporations that have not built a structure in space will no longer be a valid target for war declarations. This means that players who have formed social groups and have no interest in war nor capability to defend themselves will have a way to opt out of being targeted and hunted into extinction."
Halloween saw a pair of articles mention EVE Online. The first, by J. D. Biersdorfer, appeared in the technology section of the New York Times. Tucked away in an article named, "How to Find the Video Games of Your Youth", was this little gem.
"Steam has a larger library (and, for $20, access to the Atari Vault of 100 golden-age classics). But both platforms offer games that can be played on Windows and Mac computers. Not all games work on every desktop system and prices vary, but you can find 1990s favorites like Baldur’s Gate for $20, Star Wars: X-Wing for $10 or 2003’s EVE Online for free."
Don't let the title of the article fool you, though. CCP is not running a legacy version of EVE and the nano nerf is still in effect.

Finally, what would Halloween be without articles about scary video games. PC Gamer had a slightly twisted take, coming up with a list of 10 non-horror games that are scary anyway. Andy Kelly nominated EVE, explaining why with this tale.
"I rarely venture into those systems in EVE Online where other players can attack you without immediate repercussions from the space cops, but the first time I did it was utterly terrifying. A friend and I went to a lowsec asteroid belt to mine some ore, aware that these are often the hunting grounds of players looking for clueless people to rob. And, of course, after about ten minutes of mining someone in a much bigger ship warped in and started shooting at us. The ensuing panicky flight back to a safer system had my heart racing more than any horror game. I haven’t returned to lowsec since, and I never will."
I was pleasantly surprised by the results and plan to keep up with my reading. My only question is whether, without the presence of a major event like EVE Vegas, can EVE stay in the minds of the press?