Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Minor NPC Powers Of High Sec

I'm developing some standards for looking at empire (high sec and lowsec space) when looking at economic statistics like the Monthly Economic Report. I thought looking at the four main empires (Amarr, Caldari, Gallente, Minmatar) was an interesting idea, but then I came to looking at the Amarr and the realization that seven entities, not four, hold sovereignty over empire space. Here's a brief description of each.

The Ammatar Mandate

The Ammatar Mandate is a semi-autonomous region of the Amarr Empire. The Ammatar domain, San Matar, means "true home" in the tongue of the ruling tribe, the Nefantars. The Nefantar claim to being the true rulets of the Matari people is mainly based around the fact that a fair proportion of the old Minmatar aristocracy, or tribal leaders, were among them. In the wake of the destruction of a major Amarr fleet in the Battle of Vak'Atioth in 23216 AD, the Matari slave population conducted a successful revolt in several regions of the Empire. The EVE University wiki records the creation of the Ammatar Mandate in the resulting turmoil.
"As the Amarr fled their poorly defended border territories, the many Minmatar collaborators they had left with them. This left the Amarr with a significant problem. The many conservative Holders in the Empire's core worlds were reluctant to share territory with free Minmatar. Additionally, Amarr of all strata of society held a deep resentment against all Minmatar, not just those who were rebelling. Many of the early collaborator arrivals wound up being killed by angry mobs who had lost property, family, and friends in the rebellion.

"While some among the Empire's leadership would have been content to allow the collaborators to fend for themselves, more ingenious thinkers devised a way to utilize them. Several systems near the border of the Minmatar-held territories had been abandoned by the Amarr, though the Rebellion had not quite reached them. The Amarr decided to settle their collaborators in these border systems and task them with defending the space.

"The collaborators called the space San Matar, which means (among other things) “true home” in the Minmatar language. They settled the space, taking over the abandoned holdings and slaves on behalf of Amarr Holders, and began to build up a defense fleet. By the time the Rebellion finally reached them, the momentum of the Minmatar had slowed, allowing the entrenched collaborators to successfully resist.

"Over time, the collaborators expanded their territory beyond the core constellation of San Matar. The Gallente came to call the collaborators the Ammatar, a portmanteau of Amarr and Matar, which the collaborators eventually adopted as their official name. Since then, San Matar has officially been named the Ammatar Mandate."
Today, the Ammatar Mandate is in full control of its domestic affairs but foreign affairs are governed by the Amarr Empire. Within the ruling structure of the Empire, House Ardishapur is responsible for overseeing the Ammatar. In November YC110 (2008), Empress Jamyl I placed the Ammatar under Ardishapur vassalage."
"The empress's decree states that Lord Ardishapur, 'pursuant to Imperial directive, shall henceforth carry ultimate responsibility for the fates and fortunes of the Ammatar Mandate, its bordered districts and outlying holdings, its economic and military resources and the souls of its faithful servants.'"

The Khanid Kingdom

The Khanid Kingdom was founded over 300 years ago in the wake of the succession trials which installed Keideran Kador on the Amarrian throne as Emperor Heideran VII. The leaders of the other four royal houses were supposed to commit ritual suicide. One, Garkeh Khanid, decided to flee to his estates and seceded from the Empire. As the military commander of the Amarr Navy, he had access to both the Emperor's personal titans and appropriated one to make his escape with a sizable escort.

A passage from the Chronicles describes the kingdom that Khanid built.
"The Khanid Kingdom in many ways resembles the Amarr Empire. The caste system is intact - the Holders still reign as the social elite. The governmental structure and administration are all but identical, the only difference being the lack of checks-and-balances that many entrenched institutions and local barons exercise within the empire. Just as for the Amarr Emperor Khanid II is in name undisputed ruler of his realm, but in practice a number of powerful magnates share or dilute the power. In the empire’s case it’s the Heirs that compete with the Emperor for power, in the kingdom’s case it’s the members of the minor families that supported Khanid during his rift with the empire. Other features, such as the importance of religion and slavery, are also very much alike in the two states. In fact, the kingdom takes slavery even further than the empire. The Amarr Empire uses almost exclusively Minmatar and Ealur slaves, but the kingdom, denied many of their traditional slave sources, take slaves wherever they can find them. Khanid himself has a Gallentean - a former pop-star - as his personal slave, something he finds highly amusing but makes the Gallenteans frothing at their mouths.

"But even if Khanid has tried to build his kingdom to mirror the empire he once belonged to, there are many discreet differences. The biggest of these are the way the Dark Amarrians - so called for the color schemes on their ships - conduct their trade and business. The Khanid Kingdom is not nearly as rigid and stale in their governing of inter-stellar trade, for the very simple reason that the kingdom absolutely needs outside trade to survive, which is not the case for the empire. Since the Amarr Empire seized their attempts to reconcile with the separatists decades ago trade has started to flourish between the two. The result is that today the kingdom acts in many ways like a window to the outside world for the reclusive empire. Trade goods that can’t be directly transported into or out of the empire are carried through kingdom because of the much more lenient trade policies the empire has for them. Many Dark Amarrians have grown fat acting as intermediaries for Amarr traders and outsiders.

"Many other notable differences can be seen between the kingdom and the empire - the Dark Amarrians embrace technology, including cloning, much more willingly than the Amarr brethrens and even if most Amarrian traditions and customs still exist within the kingdom, they’ve been modified so that Dark Amarrian society is much more dynamic and robust than that of the Amarr Empire."
The Kingdom and the Empire have grown closer in recent years, partly due to the Khanid Navy's capture of Dochuta Karsoth, the former Chamberlain of the Amarr Empire who usurped power to rule the Empire after the death of Doriam II. In June YC111 (2009), Khanid II was granted a seat on the Privy Council. But that did not integrate the Kingdom back into the Empire.
"While acknowledging the rightful reign of Jamyl I as Empress of Amarr, the Khanid Kingdom will remain an independent nation. It will continue to field its own navy, but will enjoy a pact of mutual protection with the Amarr Empire. Khanid II will officially hold the Privy Council seat but will be allowed to name a proxy when he is unable to attend."
After the Amarrian Succession Trials following the death of Jamyl I, Khanid II did commit ritual suicide and was succeeded by his cousin, Farokh Khanid. Or did he? Given Khanid II's love of life and the Khanid embrace of cloning technology, I'm not so sure.
"Despite his advanced age, Farokh appears to share with his sovereign cousin the Khanid family trait of responding well to gerontological implants and has aged very handsomely indeed. The family resemblance to Garkeh has been remarked upon by many, although this has often been in the context of ironic comments as to how the even older Garkeh appears to almost be the same age as Farokh."

CONCORD

In the region of Genesis, the Amarr Empire holds sovereignty over all constellations except one: Ourapheh. Strategically located, an Amarr fleet could threaten 4 of the Gellente Federations 6 regions from the constellation. I strongly suspect that is one of the major reasons CONCORD set up its headquarters in Yulai.

CONCORD (Consolidated Cooperation and Relations Command) is a relatively new entity (over 100 years old) set up to handle the tensions between the 4 empires. At one time, the Jovian Empire was also a member, but they withdrew from New Eden and installed the Society of Conscious Thought as its successor in the Inner Circle and CONCORD Assembly. CONCORD is described in the Chronicles:
"The inner workings of CONCORD are democratic in nature, with each of the five empires technically possessing equal say in all matters (though a nation’s actual pull more often than not will come down to the persuasiveness of its representatives on the debating floor). Early on, the Amarrians were adamant that the Minmatar Republic would not gain admission to the assembly, but they later reluctantly agreed.

"For the first few years of its existence, CONCORD wielded limited power. The fledgling organization had little diplomatic sway, and regulation enforcement would time and time again prove difficult for its agents. It was not until 18 years after its founding that CONCORD gained the respect of the international community. After the battle of Iyen-Oursta – the bloodiest and most costly engagement the Gallente-Caldari War had seen in decades – both sides were tired of fighting, though long-entrenched hatred and pride prevented either side from asking for a ceasefire. CONCORD took the initiative, and in just under six months managed to negotiate a peace accord between these two bitter enemies, one that would endure for almost a century.

"In the last two decades the organization’s authority increased further, particularly as interstellar trade grew into the cornerstone of New Eden’s economy that it is today. The growing power of CONCORD often raised concern within the empires that the organization could begin to exercise leverage in areas up until then regarded as the nations’ internal affairs. No longer simply a neutral ground for the empires to hammer out diplomatic agreements, CONCORD had become an independent institution that set its own rules and regulations, ones which it was both willing and able to uphold. The organization’s ever-expanding bureaucracy had subtly severed its cords over time, so that it swore fealty to no nation. The only hold the empires had historically possessed over the organization – that of financial support – had in addition been almost completely erased, as revenues garnered through customs, confiscation of illegal goods, license sales and the like were (and still are) more than enough to keep the organization in the black."
Calling CONCORD a minor power is a bit of an understatement on the impact of the organization on the game. CONCORD's Directive Enforcement Department is well-known for keeping the peace between capsuleers in high security space, although allegations of corruption persist as some organizations seem able to inflict chaos with impunity. CONCORD also runs the Secure Commerce Commission, which is responsible for regulating and monitoring all trade transactions that take place on stations and citadels. Combined with an unmatched fleet designed and built by CONCORD Aerospace, the organization punches far above its weight. Still, the organization is not all-powerful. During the Elder War of YC110, a surgical strike took down the CONCORD network in a matter of 15 minutes, allowing for an invasion of Amarr and Ammatar space by the Elder Fleet and the Thukker tribe.

Conclusion

I realize that diving down a rabbit hole full of lore is a bit of detour when setting up economic reporting. The data produced by CCP involves player activity, not that of NPCs. I'd wager most players don't care about the universe they fly through beyond the thought of what they can shoot next. But I'm curious about how close the game world and player behavior winds up conforming to the lore.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Hot Takes On EVE Online's January 2019 Patch Notes

The January update is here and I thought I should actually read the patch notes for a change. Normally CCP releases something good-sized to focus on, but the January release looks focused on bug fixes and quality of life issues. Here are some of the highlights.

Fixed an issue where wormholes would sometimes not correctly expire over downtime. This could lead to static wormhole's reappearing at the same location as the previous one, or wormholes that lead to different locations in different directions. - This is way down in the patch notes, but I'm sure wormhole dwellers will rejoice.

The following Implants no longer affect fighters (only Drones):
  • CreoDron 'Bumblebee' Drone Tuner T10-5D
  • CreoDron 'Yellowjacket' Drone Tuner D5-10T
  • Overmind 'Hawkmoth' Drone Tuner S10-25T
  • Overmind 'Goliath' Drone Tuner T25-10S

I don't know about the effects in PvP, but I would wager the economic effects in PvE where carrier and supercarrier are concerned probably inspired the change.

It is now no longer possible to re-dock at an Upwell structure in high sec while having a criminal timer and flying any ship (except a capsule). This is now behaving the same way as for stations. - I have the feeling this was a bug. At least, I hope so. Something tells me gankers were using the "feature" to get around the 15 minute cool down. Since I hardly ever go where the high sec gankers hang out, I'm not too concerned (or jumping for joy).

Upgrades within the Seeker Investigation has been redesigned to be easier to understand, and so that it no longer relies on the redeem queue.- I like that the emphasis on the redeem queue is out. I didn't like using the redeem queue when I ran a character through the NPE. If new players do have things in the redeem queue, they can see them on the character selection screen when logging in.

Fixed an issue where some users were not receiving skill rewards from the Seeker Investigation. - For those who have not gone through the Seeker Investigations, I suggest going though the first task once to help CCP test out the fix. Trust me on this one. (h/t Matterall)

Being tethered to an Upwell Structure will no longer prevent an Interdictor from activating Interdiction Sphere Launchers. Once launched, the bubble will prevent the ship from being re-tethered until it expires. - Honestly, this one confuses me a bit. Does this mean an interdictor cannot tether if it has any bubbles still active? I guess the change could result in fewer bubbles dropped.

A new dissolve effect will now play when an after mining efforts deplete all mineral resources from an asteroid. - I don't normally watch the rocks pop while mining. Usually I'm too focused on my surroundings. Still, CCP putting in a nice animation when a rock dies is a nice touch.

Corrected the drone mining bonus on the Arbitrator to remove its impact on ice harvesting drones. - As miners know, CCP givith, and CCP taketh away.

Added an extra warning when offlining the last structure service module, which would put the structure into "low power" mode - A nice quality of life improvement designed to prevent accidentally losing your citadel or smaller structure.

Kill mails where a structure is the attacker will now include the structure owner's alliance. Previously only the corporation was included. - A change that might make intel just a little easier to gain. I'm pretty sure it only saves 1 or 2 mouse clicks or keystrokes, though. Of course, if someone is searching through 30 or 40 kill mails, that does add up.

Search history now visible in the EVE Search if you press backspace when the input box is already empty. - Any little feature that helps people use the new search feature instead of trying to remember a few places to look is definitely a nice quality of life issue resolved.

All the map fixes.- Honestly, I don't like the in-game map. I probably need to learn how to use the darn think. As long as I have Dotlan, I'm good.

Fixed an issue that caused the tether graphical effect to disappear a few km before the tether effect is removed. - I wonder if this bug had any effect in the big battles in null sec. Imagine a group of titans unleashing an avalanche of doomsdays on an invulnerable foe. That could help turn a battle.

The rest of the structure fixes. - Truthfully, I have a hard time getting excited about structures. I've never owned one, and never plan to.

I probably missed a few important items, but those were the ones that stood out to me. Out of all the fixes on the list, though, I really want to see the asteroid animation. I plan on hopping into a barge and watching a rock dissolve instead of just going poof.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Illinfrik Botter - Bots And Locator Agents

On Saturday morning, I opened up Dotlan expecting to see that the Illinfrik botter had finished running level 1 distribution missions and had moved the bot farm to Agha to finish grinding Trust Partner standings with the level 2 distribution agent there. Instead, I saw northern Derelik with slightly higher traffic but not the big increases in specific systems that indicated the bot farm had moved and was active. I figured maybe the botter had either not had a chance to restart the farm or had gotten sneaky and was running the bots distributed amongst the various level 2 agents in Derelik.

The Dotlan jump map for Derelik looked pretty much the same when I returned from doing my weekend chores six hours later. Since I have access to plenty of locator agents and a list of characters, I flew to the nearest one and conducted a search.


Nikh is exactly where I expected to see the bot farm flying. Logging into a second account, I flew the character I have monitoring bots in Derelik to Agha, home to a level 2 agent. Agha is a dead end system whose only exit is Nikh. If the bot farm was active, I should see some of the characters on my list flying by me before I hit the undock of the station in orbit over the sixth moon or Agha IX. Didn't run into any of the bots.

I thought the message I received from the locator agent meant that the character was flying in space when found. So I did what any EVE player does when confronted with a question. I opened up Google and searched for the EVE University Wiki entry for locator agents. As usual, I found my answer.
"Once done the locator agent will send you a Notification with the location of the target when you started the search which will include the system, constellation and region as well as the station the player might be docked at. If the target is in space, no station will be listed. E.g. "The sleazebag is currently in the Bukah system, Nohshayess constellation of the Khanid region." 

If the target is logged off, the locator agent will tell you the last known position. If the target is in Anoikis (wormhole space), the locator agent will tell you "I'm sorry, but I just can't help you with that one. I'm pretty sure O'b Haru Sen is well out of my zone of influence." - even if the agent can locate anyone in known space."
So the message from the locator agent indicates either that the character was flying in space and active or logged off in space. But why would a bot log off in space? Did downtime come and the botter just not start the bots back up, which is what I was investigating? Or did CCP ban the character, and the rest of the bot farm? Really, only time would tell.

So far, though downtime today, I haven't seen the typical bump in activity indicating a bot farm operating from an agent near Nikh. I also haven't seen any indications that the botter is operating in Illinfrik. I'm crossing my fingers, but I think the botter has had his fifth farm banned in the last 5 weeks. And this time, before the farm started running level 4 missions.

While the banning of another bot farm is good news, I want to include a warning to all the would be bot hunters out there. I've seen posts on the EVE Online sub-Reddit stating that CCP has not banned reported bots because they've tracked the bots with locator agents and the agents always report the bots are flying around in space. Take such reports with a grain of salt. Locator agents are just a tool to help confirm whether a bot is active or not, not an all-knowing oracle. Confirmation still requires eyes on the target.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

What Is Winning In An MMORPG?

On Monday, Rixx Javix posted an article of what I believe is a pet peeve of his, departing players saying they "won EVE." I don't want to get into the specific linguistic arguments about what terms players should use when leaving the game. Instead, the more interesting question is: what is winning in an MMORPG?

Are MMORPGs even games? Way back in the depths of the genre at the end of the 20th century, game makers often called what they created "virtual worlds." As such, the goal of the developers of these virtual worlds was to create a world simulation in which a player would willingly stay in for years. Games, on the other hand, have four components: goals, rules, challenge, and interaction. The Canadian philosopher Professor Bernard Suits is credited with one of the best definitions of what constitutes a game:
"To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude]."
When I think of games, one of the defining features is the game itself sets goals that define winning. In chess, the victory condition is killing your opponent's king (although players don't actually kill the king because rulers back in the day objected to regicide). In football (either the round or egg-shaped ball version), the side that scores the most points wins. Do such victory conditions exist in MMORPGs?

The answer is yes and no. In games considered "themepark" MMORPGs, players can reach the end of the content. Most MMORPGs I've played have two natural end points where players can feel they have "won". The first is reaching the level cap. For many, once a character can no longer progress, why play the game any longer? The game is essentially beaten. A second group would dispute that judgement. For them, a game is not finished until the highest level content is defeated. Both the level cap and defeating the game's baddest bad guy are natural stopping points.

In my own history, I stopped playing Vanilla WoW after reaching the level cap and finding the available content unsatisfying. In Everquest 2, I stopped playing in The Shadow Odyssey expansion. After my guild disintegrated, I stopped playing after reaching the level cap of 80, acquiring the maximum number of alternate achievement points, reaching max level in all crafting classes, and completing all the solo content. In both Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic, I reached the level cap and finished the main story arc in the base games. When I left EQ2, GW2, and SW:TOR, I felt like I had completed, or "won", the games. My exit from World of Warcraft was more like, "I'll never do that again."

A sandbox MMORPG like EVE Online is a little bit different. The game does not have character levels, thus avoiding the trap of needing to provide players with purpose after reaching the level cap. Also, the nature of PvE in EVE does not lend itself into the creation of a story arc where rescuing a damsel in distress makes one feel like the game is complete. As for PvP, no matter how many ships a player kills, the game will never flash a "Game Over" screen or animation.

Up until now, I never bothered thinking about winning an MMORPG, mostly because I've always thought the G in MMORPG is a lie. When I travel through an MMORPG, I enjoy the journey to the destination, whether that is reaching the highest character levels or finishing the main story line. I guess I see MMORPGs more as an entertainment experience more like a book or movie rather than a game. And if a player reaches one of the natural ending spots, the developers will eventually expand the experience. I just have to decide whether I want to stick around for the sequel. So despite thinking about the subject for a couple of days, I still don't believe in "winning" an MMORPG.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year's Gaming Resolutions For 2019

The year 2018 is in the record books. Finally. I won't dwell on the past year today, mostly because I'm still compiling statistics in EVE Online. Today's post is a look ahead to 2019 and what I plan on doing in my gaming and blogging life. I probably won't complete a single one, but the year is new and hope springs eternal. But since resolutions at the beginning of the year are a tradition, I'll go ahead and make some.

First, I want to play and finish some of the single player games in my Steam Library. The first is one I picked up in December, Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations. I bought the game in the Winter Steam Sale because the game usually costs $80 and the sale allowed me to pick up the game for 67% off. I want to finish all the tutorial missions and then finish at least one of the Live scenarios based on real world events. I purchased both Seasons 1 & 2 and even though the combined cost due to the sale was $12, I'd like to justify the purchase.

I also have two other games I'd like to play and finish. The first is Valkyria Chronicles. I bought the game in 2014 and even played 14 hours. But I never finished the game. Maybe 2019 is the year I succeed. The second game is one I purchased in 2012, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Yes, I purchased 38 Studios' only published game before the company crashed and burned. Surprisingly, not only is the game still available on Steam, but THQ Nordic acquired the rights to the IP in September. I only played the first few hours of the game before becoming distracted. If THQ does something with the IP, I'd like to at least have a little background on what came before.

Currently, I am playing two MMORPGs. In addition to EVE, I have a subscription for Elder Scrolls Online. Last night I hit level 40, so I think reaching level 50 by the end of the year is realistic. I understand the maximum effective number of champion points is 720, but I hear the maximum level of gear is 160 champion points. If I can wear the highest rated gear at the end of the year, I'll consider my objective achieved.

Last, but certainly not least on my game list is EVE Online. I want to finish up creating a base in Amarr space and then create a base in the Gallente COSMOS high sec constellation. I finally want to level up my Gallente standings to 9.9 in order to get the 2-run Megathron Navy Issue blueprint copy.

On the industry front, I want to build at least two battleships. The first is the Marshall. I am so close right now, so I need to add a second battleship. I think building a Tempest Navy Issue is a nice goal. I also want to build a Tornado, the Minmatar attack battlecruiser. I know, not ambitious, but I think the standings grind will take up a lot of time.

My resolution for the blog is to write at least 100 posts, or two per week. Last year I only wrote 73 posts, the fewest number in the 9 years of The Nosy Gamer's existence. A more ambitious goal is 181 posts in order to end the year with a total of 2000 posts, but I'm not really sure I'll have time to write that much, so my resolution is 100 posts.

Part of reaching my blogging goal my involve reaching inside myself and releasing my inner Matari. With the Minmatar region of Heimatar a magnate for a distribution botter, I planned on looking into the markets in the Minmatar Republic for evidence of botting and illicit RMT anyway. Why not expand the concept and look at the home of my favorite faction in EVE? The Caldari get a lot of attention due to the presence of Jita and the citadels in Perimeter. In null sec, the Monthly Economic Report often serves as a recruiting tool for The Imperium. Why not give the Minmatar Republic a little press?

Those are my basic plans for 2019. If I manage to get even one item on my list done, I'll call the year a win. Now back to tracking that botter down in Illinfrik. Yes, it's news in the Minmatar Republic, my we don't need that kind here.