Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Minecraft in space

I want to write a pair of posts about space-based industry in EVE Online (as well as a bit about industry in EVE Online in general). But I'm going to write the first post in the context of Kerbal Space Program. The two games are more connected in this small way than you probably realize. Or at least, they should be. Because both of these games involve building things that fly in space. And because building things that fly in space in KSP is insanely fun.

Doing so is challenging, engages your brain, and instills a real sense of accomplishment when you build something big and it happens to work. This applies whether you're doing it in space or on a planet or building some of the truly goofy creations that KSP players have come up with.

Building stuff -- just building stuff! -- in KSP is insanely fun.

Though my progress in the game has slowed down a lot (due to the factors I mentioned this morning), I'm still in the process of building my Jool exploration ship. And I got it into my head that I'd kind of like to use the same basic design as spaceship Discovery from the movies 2001 and 2010: thin and really long, crew cabin up front, engines in the back. But to put a KSP spin on it (and in a slight nod toward reality) I decided that instead of jettisoning fuel tanks from the sides the way I did it with my Enterprise design, this time I'd jettison fuel tanks from the length of the ship.

Fly around for a while, undock from both ends of a fuel tank, cut it loose, redock the remaining components, fly around for a while. Before long, I'll just have the small fuel tank up top left with a few landers (both remote-controlled and piloted) attached to it. I'm making the whole thing modular, and playing around with different modules. Do I want to use the tried-and-true Skipper engine to power the thing? Or do I want to go with a trio of nuclear engines like the movie Discovery? How long should I make it? What should the landers look like? What should the probes look like? It's all pretty much in flux, though I think I've finalized my Leythe lander:

That sucker can make it into orbit from the surface of Kerbal, easy, which means it should also be able to get itself into orbit from Leythe despite that moon's gravity. I'm absurdly pleased with it, actually: everything I need to actually land -- parachutes, landing legs, lights -- is attached to the three outboard fuel tanks and engines. Once it's on its way back to Leythe orbit, I can cut all that stuff loose. The central spacecraft is surprisingly light and nimble.

And in doing all of this, from the design of the ship to the design of the unmanned probes to the design of the landers, I'm using past experience from my previous KSP ships. I'm testing each piece, then I make sure the pieces work together. I'm trying out different engines, trying out different landing strategies, starting to pay more attention to mass than I have previously. It's all immensely satisfying.

It'll be weeks before I actually get around to flying the mission and I don't much care because I'm enjoying the playing and tinkering. I'm having fun, which is kind of the point to playing a game. Anyone remember that?

Compare and contrast with EVE, where building things that fly in space is a workmanlike chore. It's spreadsheets and logistics and huge cans full of obscure stuff. And all of it is about as much fun as one's real job... probably less so, because lots of people do enjoy their real jobs.

Building my space stations in KSP felt like a project, and it was something I was invested in at each stage of the process. I thought about the design, the elements I wanted to include, and how all of them were going to fit together. I thought about my stations in the context of what I was going to use them for, which meant that I had to think about what items I wanted to incorporate and where I wanted to incorporate them. It took skill to do and instilled a real sense of pride of ownership when I was done and they were doing the job that I wanted them to do.

Again, compare and contrast to EVE, where building a starbase is a task that players dread and will avoid if they can at all do so.

As CCP Ytterbium has revealed, EVE is doing an industry-based expansion for the summer. Heaven knows it's been a long time coming. And as a partially industry-focused player, of course I'm happy about it. But in a lot of ways, what was announced in the dev blog announcing this theme is really just polishing the sneaker: making industry a little bit easier, making it a little bit more interesting, and changing the dynamic of how and where things get built (more on that in my second post).

But I don't kid myself into believing that building stuff will be any more fun. The game and the fun that goes with it is still very much about what you do with the ships after they're built, not the enjoyment of building the ships. But does it have to be that way all the time? KSP (and other games that focus on the mechanics of building things, and making building things fun) says no.

It's an answer to the question that maybe CCP should consider at some point.

Anyway, more about the actual mechanics of what's being announced in the dev blog in my next post.

My cup runneth over

Quickie note from the management: I am incredibly, incredibly behind on my EVE mail.

This has turned into a fabulously busy two weeks for me, between blog posts, trying to keep up with CSM-related EVE-O forum threads, trying to keep up with my RL life and job, and my desire to put a decent amount of time into Elder Scrolls Online. But as a result, right now I'm running about two weeks behind on my EVE mail and it's piling up.

So if you've written me something in the last two weeks, I apologize in advance. I'm not ignoring you. I'm just getting behind on it. I'll get caught up this weekend.

I apologize and thank you for understanding...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

So, Kirith Kodachi by way of The Ancient Gaming Noob has a new blog banter question out, and I am continuing to try to keep my promise of staying up with them. TAGN writes:
Write about somebody who is "space famous" and why you hate/admire them, somebody who isn't space famous but you think should be or will be, or discuss space fame in general, what it means, and how people end up so famous.
Kirith adds:
I'd like to add another take on the subject, is there a cost of being famous in EVE and if so, is it worth the price?
An old adage that I sometimes like to quote -- maybe it's even original to me -- is that if you ask someone three questions, they'll answer the one they like and ignore the other two. It was really tempting to do that here. Instead, I'm going to twist this topic and come at it from a completely different direction.

Are famous people good for EVE Online or bad for EVE Online?

On a per capita basis, EVE has more "space famous" people than any game I've ever heard of. Oh sure, there are famous Starcraft players and famous League of Legends players and famous World of Warcraft players. But compared to EVE's player base, the percentage of "famous" people -- at least within the community -- is actually remarkably high. It's a high enough percentage that it adds yet another layer in which a novice EVE player can look foolish or ignorant. In EVE, not only do you have to know the corps, the alliances, the modules, the ships, the tactics, the fleet doctrines, and the mechanics, you can be looked at is if you are stupid if you don't recognize by name EVE's famous people too.

Hell, you can practically speak by metaphor about this game if you care to, and some people do. After all, we talk about "Awoxing" as if it were a verb. If you can't follow a reference to SirMolle or The Mittani or Haargoth Agamar, you might miss a whole layer of reference to a narrative story. You'll certainly not be able to follow a single thing in the first "True Stories of EVE" comic. If you don't know who Chribba or Darknesss or Somerset Mahm are, then references to why they're important will just fly over your head. If you don't know who the good EVE tournament pilots are, you won't be able to follow tournament commentary half the time. If you don't know who the big alliance or coalition leaders are, you won't be able to keep up with EVE's politics. It goes on and on.

But -- believe it or not! -- it even goes beyond that. CCP made a specific choice to make the players the content of their game. And in so doing, they literally built space fame and the cult of personality right into the very DNA of EVE Online. You don't have to idly know these famous people to be in on the conversation. You have to know these famous people to even understand the landscape of the game that you're playing! Sure, you can choose to play EVE solo and you can choose to ignore the landscape of the game that you're playing and some people do that. But in so doing, they're never going to understand or be able to cope with how that landscape can suddenly shift underneath them without warning.

An example will suffice: Burn Jita. A lot of solo players were taken completely and utterly by surprise by this... and then they were enraged by it. And then they blamed CCP for it. How could CCP let a mere famous person shift the fundamental landscape of the game? But that's how EVE is. Again, it's built into the DNA of the game.

But of course that brings me to the ugly bit, the bit that a lot of EVE players don't like to face: most "space famous" people in EVE aren't famous. They're infamous. They're famous for being bad people, for doing bad things, for making other EVE players like the game just a little bit less. Or maybe a lot less.

When I read the original question, I couldn't help but focus on that word "admire." What space famous people do we admire? The word and the context behind it, quite frankly, struck me as a little bit puerile and naive. Don't get me wrong! I certainly don't mean to insult Wilhelm Arcturus of TAGN, who is a really smart guy. And the question is certainly interesting. But seriously: think about it. Sit down and really think about it: how many famous EVE players do you actually admire, as such? And if it is more than a tiny handful, why do you admire them?

More to the point: do you admire them? Or do you merely wish to emulate them? A lot of players have jumped into EVE over the years not because they want to play the game itself but because they want to emulate and imitate someone else who is playing the game in such a way that they want to play the game. It's imitation, not admiration. Again, it's the players that are the content driving the narrative. Space fame and/or the desire for it has almost certainly brought in more potential EVE players than CCP's actual marketing ever has. CCP -- to their credit -- recognizes this. Every time someone or something becomes famous in this game, there's CCP right there hanging a lantern over it.

So in that way, I've answered my own question: famous people are good for EVE. Mostly. Because instead of asking whether there's a cost to being space-famous to the people who are, maybe Kirith should have asked: is there a cost to the game? I've already said my piece about that bit...

Another interesting banter topic! What do you think, Dear Readers?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fit of the Week: Instablap Loki

Here's a ship that proves I'm just a really really bad person. And yet, every great once in a while in a low-sec gank fleet, I enjoy flying it.

[Loki, Instablap Loki]
Damage Control II
Gyrostabilizer II
Tracking Enhancer II
Tracking Enhancer II

Experimental 10MN Microwarpdrive I
Adaptive Invulnerability Field II
Sensor Booster II, Scan Resolution Script
Sensor Booster II, Scan Resolution Script
Large Shield Extender II

Small Unstable Power Fluctuator I
720mm Howitzer Artillery II, Republic Fleet EMP M
720mm Howitzer Artillery II, Republic Fleet EMP M
720mm Howitzer Artillery II, Republic Fleet EMP M
720mm Howitzer Artillery II, Republic Fleet EMP M
720mm Howitzer Artillery II, Republic Fleet EMP M
720mm Howitzer Artillery II, Republic Fleet EMP M

Medium Targeting System Subcontroller II
Medium Targeting System Subcontroller II
Medium Core Defense Field Extender II

Loki Defensive - Adaptive Shielding
Loki Electronics - Tactical Targeting Network
Loki Engineering - Power Core Multiplier
Loki Offensive - Turret Concurrence Registry
Loki Propulsion - Chassis Optimization

This ship is custom-built to do one thing: make sure a smallish gank fleet roaming through low-sec doesn't leave any pesky frigates behind. You've seen those frigates, so secure in the knowledge that anything with quick enough lock speed to tackle them can't tank the gate guns for long enough to hold them. This particularly applies to low-sec hacking site runners, who roam the wilds in frigs with two, three, or more Warp Core Stabilizers with the intent that even if you do somehow manage to tackle them, they're still going to get away.

Well, they won't get away from this really terrible little ship.

First rule of this ship: don't fly it unless your FC knows what you're doing and approves of it. Second rule of flying this ship: don't tell anyone else what you're doing if you don't have to. Oh my word, will you get yelled at.

Anyway, the basic idea behind this ship is incredibly quick lock time combined with very high alpha damage. You're not even bothering to tackle the target; you're just pumping a 4000 damage alpha into it every 12 seconds or so. That's sufficient to cut straight through most frigates in a single volley. The standard ship for these sorts of tactics is a Muninn fitted to a similar spec. The Loki beats it in several key areas:
  1. Alpha is 25% higher than the equivalent Muninn;
  2. Lock time is 50% quicker than the equivalent Muninn; and,
  3. the base tank is more than three times as strong.
That last bit is critical. An instablap fit Muninn is rather fragile; if it doesn't pop its target on the first go, it will soon have to get off the gate. And if a small group of frigs comes through, the Muninn won't get more than one or two before having to clear the gate. The Loki does more alpha and can stick to the gate longer so even if a group of frigs comes through, the Loki can clear one every 12 seconds or so until the frigs wise up and decide to depart.

The tank comes from a single T2 rig, a LSE, and an Invul. That last is not included in the equivalent Muninn and can be overheated. Resists are surprisingly strong: 70% plus even before heat, making this ship quite friendly to reps from nearby logistics.

But of course the key mods on this ship are the two lock time rigs and the two Sensor Boosters. This is about as terrible a way to play EVE Online as you can get but damn if it isn't effective. This ship can lock a typical frigate in just over one server tick meaning if the target isn't in an instawarp Malediction or something similar, you're pretty much assured of the ability to put damage on it.

Damage is applied through alpha volleys from artillery with good tracking. You can increase the volley damage somewhat with a faction Gyrostab but I don't bother. This ship is intended to be fairly inexpensive by T3 standards so if you lose it you can chuckle about what a bad person you were without feeling it too much. The lock time rigs, in particular, have fallen below 10 million ISK each making them quite affordable even on a budget. The one thing you do lose compared to the equivalent Muninn is cycle time; the HAC refires every 7.5 seconds. This is definitely nice to have (particularly in a frigate swarm). That said, the Loki gives more reliable kills.

A utility neut completes the package but particularly aggressive pilots can go for an Auto Targeting System II instead. This adds three more lockable targets so you can just lock up the world applying your alpha to each target you can keep locked long enough for your guns to cycle. Drop booster is an excellent addition to this ship, but for maximum terrible player attitude, add a Quafe Zero. This makes your lock time even more ridiculous...

This is a rather specialized ship, and will get you called all sorts of names, both by your fleet-mates and by the people you're shooting at. Still, volley tactics from a variety of ships are becoming standard practice right across New Eden. I'm seeing more and more players eschew Muninns for Tornados specifically fit for ultra-fast lock time and ultra-high tracking. But the Loki retains mobility over these ships and is more generally useful in fleets whereas the Tornado is better for gate-camping.

It's a bad old world out there. This ship will let you contribute to that, if you choose to... have fun!

All Fits of the Week are intended as general guidelines only.  You may not have the skills needed for this exact fit.  If you do not, feel free to adjust the fit to suit to meet your skills, including using meta 3 guns and "best named" defenses and e-war.  Ships can also be adjusted to use faction or dead-space modules depending on the budget of the pilot flying it.  Each FOTW is intended as a general guide to introduce you to concepts that will help you fit and to fly that particular type of ship more aggressively and well. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The lost gem

I'm coming up to my fourth Iceland trip in the last thirteen months. Each of these trips, my suitcase has come home progressively lighter on the return trip than the outgoing trip. That's because each time, I've been bringing small and large gifts for people I know I'm going to see while I'm there. For Fanfest 2014, I have some question about whether my main suitcase will be too heavy to fly. ;-)

But for Fanfest 2013, I didn't know that many people at CCP very well, so I only brought two gifts that first visit. One was for the alliance-mate who agreed to pick me up at the airport. The other was for Jon Lander, CCP Unifex.

Now I'm not going to get into what the gift was, but you can rest assured it was pretty nice. And it was given for a simple reason: as far as I'm concerned, Jon Lander saved EVE Online. To keep the record straight, I'll say that I had my doubts about this guy when he was first named to the position in December 2011. But over the following 18 months, he made a believer out of me. CCP had just come out of the harrowing summer of rage, subscriptions were falling like a meteor, and it seemed that CCP could do nothing right.

Jon Lander came in and very quietly and resolutely pulled the game out of the pit that :fearless: had driven it into, got it into the air and got it flying again. He got the troops re-energized and moving. Without him, I sincerely believe that there wouldn't be an EVE right now, or at best, it would be a shadow of its former self. He focused development on what customers wanted and then he got the teams to deliver.

Is that a strategy for long-term success? No. The apocryphal Henry Ford quote fits here: "If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have said 'faster horses.'"

But he also came up with a development strategy that I strongly suspect will be the bedrock principle for how CCP develops games for the next ten years, and he led development through the ground-up rebuilding of one of the core systems of EVE, Crimewatch. When he left the post of Executive Producer of EVE Online last year at this time, I was upset but understood his reasons. He can talk about them if he ever cares to. But knowing what a gem he had in his hand, CCP CEO Hilmar P├ętursson seems to have very sensibly given him carte blanche: work where you want, work on what you want. Hilmar clearly knew the value that Lander had brought to CCP in his previous job.

So yeah, my first ever gift to a CCP employee went to Jon Lander. So you can imagine how I feel hearing today that Jon Lander is leaving CCP. This is confirmed by his LinkedIn profile, which publicly lists his final position at CCP as a Senior Development Director... in Atlanta, after spending six months publicly rotating between CCP's mobile strategy and CCP's Valkyrie strategy. What was Lander doing in Atlanta, and what was he Senior Development Director of? That has never been announced by CCP.

In the meantime, I say farewell to a legend of EVE development. I'm still a believer. I myself will be watching very closely to see where this guy ends up. I'm sure it will be a universe worth exploring.

New MMO blues

So, The Elder Scrolls Online had a major patch overnight to bring the game up to version 1.03. For thousands of players (including me), the patch updater is badly broken and wrecks the game installation. There's a posted fix for it; it's called an "Error 209" problem. But the fix isn't working for lots of players (including me). So for the players for whom the simpler fix isn't working, the devs are dropping back to "reinstall the game!" as their fallback position. Why yes, I am being serious.

Fortunately, I have CDs to spare myself a 30GB download. Mostly.

So, in honor of ESO's first great screw-up, I thought I'd make fun of the developer of one of the game's quests for a few minutes. ;-)

The quest we're going to talk about is called The Dungeon Delvers. And it's hysterically badly designed. As a matter of fact, it's so poorly designed that it should be forever preserved as a case study into bad MMO level design. Here's how it works:
  1. For those that know Elder Scrolls lore, the dungeon is a Dwemer ruin populated entirely by Dwemer "spiders".
  2. The level itself is split into three large circular rooms connected in series by corridors. Call them Room 1, Room 2, and Room 3. The entry door spits you out into a corridor leading to Room 1.
  3. Before you reach Room 1, you are stopped by an NPC that hands you a Macguffin and explains that the Macguffin will allow you to take control of a damaged spider, but "it might take a few tries." The NPC advises you to take the Macguffin into Room 1 and try it out.
  4. Inside Room 1 are spawn points for about eight spiders, each with a spawn rate of about once per minute. As a result, the room spawns about eight spiders per minute.
  5. It takes about four tries for the Macguffin to successfully take control of a damaged spider. So you whack one a few times and try the Macguffin until it works. If it doesn't work, it kills the spider. If it does work, you get a little spider pet. The game directs you to Room 2.
  6. In Room 2, you again find the NPC, who now advises you that some of the machinery in Room 2 needs repairing and for that you need repair parts. The spiders were originally Dwemer repair bots, so she advises you to go back to Room 1, kill a few more spiders, then use the Macguffin which will now tell your spider to salvage the dead spider for parts. Come back when you've done this to five spiders.
  7. So you return to Room 1 with the same eight spiders, whack them a few times, then apply the Macguffin. If you do it right, a counter goes up telling you that you've succeeded. You keep doing this until the counter reaches five.
  8. Then you go back to Room 2 with your pet spider in tow. The rest of the quest is irrelevant to my discussion.
By now, the experienced among you realize what the problem is and are laughing about it. For the rest, I will explain.

There are eight spider spawn points, which will spawn about eight spiders per minute total. To complete the quest, you need to damage something between nine and 14 spiders depending on your reflexes and your diligence to the quest instructions. So, if you were in the level by yourself, you would spend three to four minutes in Room 1 to complete the two steps necessary, plus a minute or so for reading instructions and travel time.

But you're not by yourself, are you?

So yeah, Room 1 is complete and utter chaos. Remember: for the first step, you have to damage the spider, then apply the Macguffin. If you kill the spider, you have to try again! Meanwhile for the second step, those players just want to kill the spiders. Therefore, at any given moment, there can be upwards of a dozen or more people in Room 1, all falling on any spider that is crazy enough to spawn and often obliterating it in a fraction of a second. If anyone manages to apply the Macguffin, it's a miracle. It would be funny as hell if it weren't so stupid:
  • You've got people just coming into the room for the first time who haven't read the instructions properly and are smashing any spider they see and wondering why the quest doesn't work;
  • then you've got people who did read the instructions who are trying to be fairly gentle with a spider so they can Macguffin it, wondering why there's a dozen people in here smashing any spider stupid enough to show its face, not even close to understanding why, and getting frustrated;
  • then you've got people who did somehow manage to get step one completed who are only motivated to smash spiders as fast as they appear and getting frustrated because before they can get their hit in, someone else has already obliterated it and claimed credit for the kill; and,
  • you've got a few people who have figured all this out and are just smashing spiders as fast as they can just to grief groups two and three.
  • Finally, a lore book points you at this very same dungeon(!) as a source of a treasure chest, so you've got not a few randoms wandering through and killing spiders just 'cause they're in the way.
It's unbelievable, hysterical chaos. It's almost EVE-like in its grandeur.

There's no equivalent of "local" in ESO: just one chat channel for the entire zone. But it's actually pretty easy to imagine the rage this room promotes all over the world. And if a group enters Room 1 together? Forget about it. How did I myself get through it? As I keep mentioning, I live in California. So I waited until late one night and came in and cleared the thing while everyone else was asleep.

So yeah, in the theme park that is this part of Elder Scrolls Online, I expect this little ride is going to have an "out of order" sign slapped on its front door before too long while the level designer gets a talking to from his team lead and gets the job of rearranging this mess.

And my reinstall is now 93% complete. That was diverting.

CSM8 Status Report: Week fifty

I'm going to keep this update fairly short.

The CSM9 election season is in full swing. If you haven't voted yet, why are you reading this? Go vote!

CSM8 is suddenly busy again with meetings, more Skype chats, and more private forum threads. As we get closer and closer to the release of the summer expansion, the topics of more and more of these will be appearing in the Features and Ideas section of the EVE-O forums: pirate faction battleships and mining barges and exhumers, for two. We'll also be seeing dev-blogs of the larger changes, such as the drone rebalance going in for summer. Most of these as they appear will be getting reviewed by CSM8 as we head out the door and some devs seem to realize that they're getting their last shot at getting our input to spot any holes in these announcements...

Now that they're public, they go to all of you for your comments, so don't neglect to do that!

CSM8 will be holding our last Town Hall of our term on:
Saturday, April 26 at 1900 EVE time
As always, EVE University and EVE Radio will be providing their excellent technical support to our efforts. I'd like to once again thank Neville Smit and DJ Wiggles for their assistance! If you have questions, send them to me either in the EVE-O forum thread above or to my EVE mail and I'll get them added to the queue for the Town Hall. Hope to see you there!

In publishing the Winter Summit Minutes, the minutes for one session got left out by mistake.. that session is now available. However, just to give you a hard time, I'll leave which session was missing as an exercise for the student. ;-) In addition, the remaining sessions will be released once the topics of those sessions are no longer under NDA. Don't think we've forgotten about the DUST session from the Summer Summit, either, because we haven't. The content of that one is also still under NDA.

Speaking of DUST, I realized this week that I don't think I've ever mentioned: the CSM and DUST 514's CPM stay in pretty close contact. We have Skype channels both with the CSM and CPM only, and with the CSM, CPM, and CCP devs that work on the EVE-DUST link. You'd be surprised at the amount of cross-talk there is between the two player councils, particularly as we enter election season for both of us. And it's very very common for us to share ideas and strategies for how to deal with our mutual enemies in Reyk and Shanghai. ;-)

And that, I think, is all there is to talk about this week! More next week...

Monday, April 14, 2014


Just a quickie, but bad news.

This morning, CCP announced they are halting development of the World of Darkness MMO. This follows the announcement at the beginning of the year that 15 people from that staff had lost their jobs and CCP was "reevaluating" the project and deciding what to do with it. It looks like they've decided.

The net result of this is that 56 more CCP employees have now lost their jobs. CCP itself will be 100% focused on EVE Online, DUST 514, and Valkryie development, or as the press release puts it, this "will mark the first time since 2006 that the entirety of CCP will be working on a single universe." My sympathies go out to those CCP employees and their families affected by this unfortunate situation and I hope that you find employment elsewhere very soon.

The press release states that the realities of the WoD MMO "were falling regretfully short" of their aspirations. That aspiration list was becoming long, interesting, and challenging. In particular, the devs were hoping to combine the strength of an EVE-style sandbox to an ever-growing theme park of developed content, something that no game has managed to successfully combine yet.

In the meantime, some of the WoD developers "have been offered roles on other projects inside the company." We'll have to see what this means in the coming days. We'll also have to see what the future has in store for CCP's Atlanta office; a few of the company's management team have been based there...