Saturday, September 29, 2012

Finally! An Update to NPC AI


CCP recently released a dev blog about planned changes to NPC AI. You can read the dev blog here

This is a change that has been a long time coming. As someone who has spent a lot of time in wormhole space fighting Sleepers, I know that CCP can do a lot better than the AI we see in the NPCs in known space. Sleepers are much more challenging than other NPCs. This is due, in a large part, because they can prioritize targets and change targets. EVE Online is a GAME. It is not a simulation that is designed to run by itself. The fact that people can and do AFK rat and AFK mission should be a red flag to CCP that something is drastically wrong. 

These changes to the NPC AI is a step in the right direction. It's also a plus that old cumbersome code is being replace with new slick code (hopefully). 

Will this change be enough to breathe some life into EVE's PvE experience? No, it won't. CCP really needs to pick up the ball when it comes to PvE. The fact that EVE is a "sandbox" game does not get them off the hook when it comes to providing content for the game. It's great that players can create our own content in EVE Online, but that should not be the end of it. 

In the end, it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. If you'd like to see more and better PvE content in EVE, then make your voice heard. It seems CCP has learned that they ignore the desires of their players at their own peril.

I, like many people, believe that PvP is "where it's at" in EVE. It's the most fun I've had in the game. However, even PvP'ers occasionally find themselves engaging in PvE activities, if only to generate ISK. Imagine a game where such activities are actually enjoyable in their own right, as opposed to a game where they're merely a grind and a means to an end. That's a game I'd enjoy playing. If CCP doesn't provide that experience in EVE Online, it's only a matter of time until another game comes along that does. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Concept of Overhead



The concept of overhead is an important one to grasp if you earn a significant portion of your ISK through PvE activities like ratting, missioning, or Sleeper sites. 

Just as in the real world, many players of EVE hold to a love of "bling" or "pimping your ride". This is a foolish and ultimately self-destructive attitude. There will be far more PvP types who are attracted to your expensive mission ship as a lucrative kill than there will be PvE types who will admire it and think you're something special because of it. 

There are many possible ways to measure success in EVE. Unlike a game like RIFT with character levels and raid progressions, any measure of success in EVE has a degree of subjectivity to it. One person's yard stick may be irrelevant to another player. Some measures of success in the game include killboards, wallet size, and ISK/hour. Some people gauge success in the game by how pimped of a ship they can fly. 

This article is not an attempt to place value judgments on these various measures of success in the game. One of the beauties of EVE is that there are so many different ways to play the game, which theoretically will appeal to different types of players.

This article is aimed at those of you who earn ISK through activities like ratting, mission running, or clearing Sleeper sites. It can be very tempting to "show off" by flying as pimped a ship as possible. There's also the perception that one can make more ISK/hour by flying a more powerful ship. There are many players in the game who get their enjoyment by hunting officer-fit fleet-issue PvE ships. If you gain a significant portion of your ISK in game through the above PvE activities, you should always keep this in mind. So before you undock in your officer, faction, or dead space fit Paladin, Tengu or Navy Issue Apocalypse, consider the concept of overhead.


An accounting term that refers to all ongoing business expenses not including or related to direct labor, direct materials or third-party expenses that are billed directly to customers. Overhead must be paid for on an ongoing basis, regardless of whether a company is doing a high or low volume of business. It is important not just for budgeting purposes, but for determining how much a company must charge for its products or services to make a profit.

In EVE, overhead consists of the following components:

  1. Initial Cost. This is the cost of your ship, fittings, insurance, initial ammunition, etc. This is the amount you must make before making PROFIT.
  2. Ongoing Expenses. This includes the continuing costs of things like ammunition, drones, and even taxes if you're selling loot and salvage. These costs must also be deducted from your income when determining profit.
  3. Replacement/Loss Cost. This is the cost of replacing your ship, fittings, etc. in the event your ship is lost, whether from NPCs or other players. This cost should be considered in any business analysis, as eventually you WILL lose your ship. The insurance payout can be deducted from this cost.  
Now let's get back to the perception that one can increase one's ISK/hour by flying an expensive ship and fit, like a tech III cruiser, fleet issue battleship, or marauder with faction, officer, and/or dead space fittings.

It is true that you will bring in more ISK/hour with these higher DPS, higher tanked ships. [Note: This point can actually be argued. Depending on your activity, the more difficult sites don't necessarily yield a higher ISK/hour. This, however, is beyond the scope of this article.]

However, such a thought process is ignoring half of the equation. A very simplified form of the equation is:
Income - Cost = Profit



This is where the concept of overhead comes into play. If you spend a billion ISK on your mission or ratting ship, then that means you must make a billion ISK before you begin to make any profit. It also means that you're risking a lot more. If you lose that ship, you have to spend another billion ISK to replace it. In a game of non-consensual PvP, this is something to really think about. You're not safe in high sec, you're not safe deep in your territory in null sec, and you're not safe in a wormhole. Even if you do everything right, you can STILL lose your ship to a situation that's beyond your control. In EVE, this reality must be considered in any business model and profit projections.

Humans have a tendency to oversimplify. Ignoring the cost side of the ISK/hour equation is an example of this that could end up costing you a lot of ISK, and more importantly, time. 

In the end, you must find a balance between income, cost and risk. There isn't one right answer for everyone. This isn't as much an issue for veteran players who may have billions of ISK in their wallets (but even so, do you want to needlessly waste it?). However, it is more of an issue for new players. Don't fall into the trap of blowing your wad on a shiny, expensive ship that you really can't afford to lose. Even if you can afford to risk it, consider whether it's really in your best interests to do so.

A good way to quantify this is to compare your ISK/hour income with your start-up cost and loss cost. How many hours of missioning will it take to pay off that initial investment of your ship? If you lose the ship, how many hours of ratting will it take to replace it? How much will it set you back? Having these figures in front of you will help you make an informed decision.

Fly smart.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Ship Balancing in the Winter Expansion

CCP has recently released a dev blog highlighting the ship changes they're planning for the winter expansion. You can read the dev blog here. I am very curious to see how this all plays out. Here are a few highlights.


Frigates


The remaining frigates will be balanced, including the combat frigates, exploration/scanning frigates, disruption frigates, and support frigates. There will also be a new ORE mining frigate; you can see the concept art here. I really like that the exploration frigates will now get bonuses to salvager, analyzer, and codebreaker times. 


Destroyers


New destroyers! Although CCP isn't giving out any details yet, there are new destroyers on the horizon. How far away that horizon is is anyone's guess. CCP is giving some love the the Coercer, the Amarr destroyer which has suffered from only having one midslot, which makes it pretty much useless for anything. The Coercer will now have 2 midslots. Also, the proposed changes will make it easier to fit medium pulse and beam lasers on destroyers, as well as improvement to damage and explosion radius for light missiles. You can read about the proposed destroyer changes here.


Cruisers


Changes to EVE's cruisers are also planned for the winter expansion. The highlight here for me is the Maller is getting some much-needed attention. CCP hopes to turn it into a "mini Abaddon" with bonuses to laser damage as well as armor resists. The Omen will hopefully be upgraded to serve as a "mini Armageddon", making it easier to fit. 

Conclusion


Although none of the proposed changes are set in stone, I am cautiously optimistic about them. I'm glad to see some of the more problematic ships in the Amarr line (Coercer, Omen, Maller) getting adjusted to something more viable. CCP is on the right track with their new concept of roles for ships. Hopefully, instead of a bunch of mediocre ships no one flies and a handful of effective ships everyone flies, we will see more ship types being used in the future. In the real world, no one would ever spend the time and resources to design and build something as expensive as a starship without a clear function or role in mind for that ship. It also wouldn't make sense to undertake such a venture if the end product was going to be inferior to something else already available or planned. I really don't know where CCP was coming from when they originally designed some of the ships, but I think they have the right idea with this new direction.

However, my optimism is CAUTIOUS, because I've learned that when it comes to EVE, the proof is definitely in the pudding. Dev blogs are nice and all, and the proposed changes look alright on paper, but it will be impossible to truly evaluate them until they're implemented. 

Fly smart.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Life in Wormhole Space




Following is an article that I wrote for EON some time back. 


Wormhole space is dangerous and unforgiving of mistakes; wormhole systems are filled with deadly sleepers and deadlier capsuleers looking for a kill. However, unparalleled riches await those dedicated enough to make their home in w-space.

Since the beginning of my career in New Eden, I’ve known I wanted to live in wormhole space. Frontier life excited me, and I looked forward to the day when I could live in the wilds of w-space, far from the space stations and stargates of Empire. I’d heard stories of the vast amount of riches that could be made in wormholes.  In the months I’ve spent in wormhole space since, I’ve never regretted my decision. But what is living in wormhole space like?


In some ways life as a wormholer isn’t a whole lot different from life in Empire space. We mine ore, harvest gas, and do planetary interaction. Sometimes we have to jump into our combat fitted ships and protect what’s ours. It is true there’s a lot of ISK to be made in w-space, but it’s not easy. Operating successfully in a wormhole requires a great deal of teamwork and logistics. The most important thing for any wormholer wanna-be to remember is to be prepared. For the initiate, this means knowing what you’re getting into and what you’ll need to succeed.



THIS ISN’T HIGH SEC ANYMORE


If you’ve spent your career in high sec, then there are some differences to living in wormhole space that you should be aware of. The first is that the space stations you’ll find in wormhole systems aren’t run by empires; they’re run by individual corporations. You’ll find no repair facilities there. It’s always a good idea to bring the modules you’ll need to repair the shields, armor and hull of your ships.

There are no markets in wormhole space, so you have to rely on your own resources and the resources of your corporation. This requires a great deal of planning when you first move into a wormhole. Not only will you need to bring all the ships you’ll want to have—scanning ship, hauling ship, combat ship, gas harvesting ship, salvaging ship, mining ship, etc.—but you’ll also want to bring everything else you’ll need in the weeks to come—modules, ammunition, skillbooks, exotic dancers…. You will be able to find routes to high sec, but depending how deep you are in w-space, these might be few and far between. Always plan ahead.

Another big difference in wormholes is the complete lack of Local communications networks. There are no such networks in unexplored space. This means you can’t rely on your Local channel to alert you to possible threats. The only warning you’ll ever have of impending doom is probes or ships on your directional scanner. Using the directional scanner is an active process, which means it only works if you use it on a regular basis. Many capsuleers have gotten free rides to high sec due to lack of diligence with their directional scanner. Even when you’re in a fleet, it’s unwise to rely on a designated scanner. You should always be scanning yourself. Because of the lack of a Local channel, you can never be 100% sure your corporation is alone in a system. Even with diligent scanning, someone could sneak in. This is just another part of the mystery, danger and allure of wormhole space.



CALLING ALL SCANNERS


Ask any wormhole corporation out there what they want in a new recruit, and I bet they all have one requirement in common—you’ve got to be able and willing to scan. If you want to live in wormhole space, you’d better love scanning because you’ll be doing a lot of it. If you don’t like scanning, you should find another line of work, because w-space won’t be for you.

In wormhole space the only things you don’t have to scan down are planets, moons and stars. They are easily warped to, just like in high sec. However, everything else must be scanned down. This includes wormholes, Sleeper sites, gravimetric sites, ladar sites, etc. Some wormhole systems will have dozens of sites and multiple wormholes. Scanning these systems takes a lot of time, even for a skilled and proficient scanner. Scanning is best done in teams. Not only is it much more expedient and efficient, but it’s also a lot more fun. The best ship for this is the covert ops frigate. Most corps will recommend all scanning skills at IV (including covert ops), especially if you’re in a class IV, V, or VI wormhole system.

Not only do you need to scan everything down for each system you visit, but you will need to scan your home system multiple times per day. The signature ID’s change every day, and you never know when a new K162 wormhole will open in your system. Intelligence is key in wormhole space. This is why scanning is the single most important job you can do for your corporation. If you want to get into a wormhole corp, work on your scanning. They’ll love you for it.



SHOW ME THE ISK!


Besides the thrills of exploration and adventure, the main reason to make your living in wormhole space is for the ISK. Wormholes are filled with ISK. The question I hear asked most often from those interested in living in wormholes is, “What can I do in wormhole space? How will I make ISK?” You have a lot of options open to you. What you decide to do will ultimately depend upon your skill-set and what you enjoy. Remember that all these pursuits are secondary to scanning. Having twenty ladar sites in your system won’t do you any good if you can’t find them.

The easiest way for younger capsuleers to make isk is through gas cloud harvesting. You only need one skill to harvest gas, which is in stark contrast to the array of skills you’ll need to be an effective ore miner. Also, there are no specialized ships for harvesting gas clouds, so you don’t have to train to fly an exotic ship (again in contrast to ore mining). Most people I know gas harvest in either a cruiser or battlecruiser. I recommend a cruiser because they’re more agile, allowing you to get into warp more quickly if hostile capsuleers show up in-system. Cruisers are also cheaper, which reduces your overhead. Not only is gas harvesting easy to train for, it’s extremely lucrative. You’ll make far more ISK/hour than you ever will mining ore.
Most wormholers also do planetary interaction. Resources on wormhole system planets are extremely abundant compared to what you’ll find in Empire space. It always fun to hear new corp-mates’ exclamations when they realize how much they can make off planetary interaction in w-space. PI is also very important for the corporation as you can produce PoS fuels along with other necessary products. PI is also a great way to pass the time when all the cosmic signature and anomaly sites have been cleared. Planetary interaction is also relatively easy for newer capsuleers to get into.



BECOME A WORMHOLE TYCOON


Another great way to make ISK in the wormholes is mining ore. This isn’t as viable for newer capsuleers, as there are more skills to train for. You’ll also want to train to fly a Hulk, or at the very least a Covetor. The nice thing about ore mining, though, is that there’s a lot more ore in wormholes than there is gas. A small fleet can clear a ladar site in a matter of minutes. Gravimetric sites in wormholes take much longer to clear. You’ll see asteroids the size of small moons, and even a large fleet will take hours, if not days, to harvest all the ore from a gravimetric site. The ore mined is also very useful to the corporation as it can be used to build ships, including capital ships.

There’s also a lot of ISK to be made in the radar and magnetometric sites as well as the various cosmic anomaly combat sites. However these are more challenging, as the Sleepers you’ll face in these sites are formidable. That said, this is where the real ISK is. These sites require organized and effective fleets. Combat skills are key here, as well as skills in archaeology, hacking and salvaging. Even if you’re not skilled enough to fly in the combat fleet, you can make a killing by helping with the salvaging, analyzing and code-breaking.



HOW TO GET STARTED


If you’ve decided you’d like to give wormhole life a try, your first step will be to evaluate your skills and determine a training plan. Make sure you have the skills you’ll need to do what you want to do in the wormhole. Train all those scanning skills and covert ops. The ships used most often in wormholes are frigates, cruisers, and battlecruisers. The ultimate wormhole ship for combat ops is the tech III cruiser, so you might want to consider that in your plans. Logistics ships are also extremely valuable, as the tougher Sleeper sites all require fleets with logistics.

The next step will be finding a corporation. Sure, you can live in w-space solo if you want, though you’ll be limited to the lower class wormholes, but if you do that you’re kind of missing the point, not to mention a lot of the benefits. A good corporation will be the difference between a rewarding or an awful wormhole experience. You want to find a corporation that knows what it’s doing, has experience in w-space, and is well organized. I recommend you find a corp that is dedicated to living in a wormhole. There are a lot of corps who try to have a presence in high sec, null sec, and wormhole space, and in my experience it usually doesn’t end well. I’ve been in more than one corporation that decided to pack in its wormhole operation once the leadership realized corp resources were spread to thin. You don’t want to be in a corp when that happens. The only thing more tedious than moving into a wormhole is moving out. I’m very happy with my corporation, Lone Star Exploration, and they’re a perfect example of how a good outfit will be run. Not only are they well organized, but they have a great deal of resources for capsuleers new to wormhole space. I’m sure there are lots of good wormhole corps out there, though. Shop around until you find the one that’s exactly what you want.

Once you’ve joined a good corporation, they can give you guidance as far as what kind of ships they tend to fly. If you’re an armor tanker, you don’t want to join a corp that primarily shield tanks and vice versa.  


It’s true you can make a ton of ISK in wormhole space, but the best reason to try it for yourself is because it’s so much fun. If you feel like life is getting too easy for you in Empire, or if you want a new challenge to test your skills, then give frontier life in the wormhole systems a shot. You’ll be glad you did. Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll see you out there. Of course, you won’t see me, because I’ll be cloaked.

Fly smart.



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Traveling in Dangerous Space



When you need to travel through dangerous space in New Eden, there a few tools you'll want to have in your tool box. Some of these techniques may work slightly differently (or may not be needed) depending on whether you're traveling through low sec, null-sec, wormhole space, or high sec. Nowhere is truly safe in EVE. Even high sec can be dangerous if there are suicide gankers about, or if your corporation is at war. However, it is possible to travel through dangerous space and get your ship through in one piece.

Pre-Flight: Fitting Your Ship


You can greatly increase your odds of success before you even undock. Consider your ship and its fittings. Depending on where you're going and why, you may want to use a "travel fit". Here are some options to consider:
  • Install a Cloaking Device. If you're flying a ship that can fit a Covert Ops Cloak, then by all means put one on. Even if it can't, a lesser cloaking device can be very helpful. If you're flying a larger, more cumbersome ship, you can always use the cloak+MWD trick when going into warp. Also, if things do get rough and you find yourself trapped in a system, it's always nice to be able to cloak up in your safe.
  • Fit Warp Core Stabilizers. You usually won't want to use these on a combat ship, but if you're going for a traveling fit, these can save your ass. It's best to fit two if you can, as two will protect your from a Warp Scrambler as well as a Warp Disruptor.
  • Fit for Agility. Modules like Nanofiber Internal Sructures and Low Friction Nozzle Joints increase your ship's agility, which will decrease the amount of time it takes you to get into warp. 
  • Use Dual Propulsion Modules. This refers to fitting an Afterburner and a Microwarpdrive. If you're being warp scrambled, an MWD won't work, but an AB will. This often won't be an option, but if it can fit on your ship, it's something to consider.
  • Get your Tank on! Ideally you should be avoiding fights all together if you're just trying to get from A to B, but if things go south, it's always nice to have good resists and EHP.

Scout Your Route


Once you undock, the best advantage you can give yourself is to have a scout jumping ahead of you. Your scout can let you know if the coast is clear. 

Whether or not you have a scout, make use of Local (if it's available) and your directional scanner. If local is empty or only blue, then you can warp gate-to-gate and not worry too much. However, if there are reds or neutrals in local, or if you're in wormhole space, you're going to want to use the below techniques.

In w-space, d-scan is your only friend as there is no local. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you to be hitting d-scan every few seconds. However, even in k-space d-scan can be very useful while traveling to get an idea of the types of ships around you. Just remember it has a 14 AU range, and anything beyond that range won't come up on d-scan. A quick look at an overview showing planets will let you know whether or not the entire system is within your scan range.


Tactical Bookmarks


This requires a bit of planning and foresight, but having good tactical bookmarks of the systems you'll be traveling through are a must. You'll want to make these ahead of time in a fast ship. The ideal ship for this is a Covert Ops ship since you can make them pretty quick and they can warp cloaked. Other good candidates are Interceptors and the newly balanced Attack Frigates. It's best to have a MWD so you can burn those distances as quickly as possible. You can find more information on making tactical bookmarks here. Ideally you'll have all the following tactical bookmarks set up ahead of time:
  • Stargate Perches. You'll want at least one bookmark that's on-grid with each side of every stargate on your route. These are usually 150-300 km off the gate. Never warp to a gate at 0 unless there are no hostiles in system. Rather, warp to your gate perch. From here you can see if there are any hostiles on the gate (as long as they're not cloaked). If the gate is clear, you can then warp to the gate and go through.
  • System Safes. You'll want at least one safe in each system. Ideally this safe will be more than 14 AU from any stargate or celestial body (so as to be out of d-scan range). In some systems this won't be possible. Also, you don't want your safe on the line of travel between any two gates or celestial objects. The easiest way to do this is two create two safes while warping between celestial objects, and then create a safe in-between the two in-line safes. If your corporation or alliance has a PoS in the system, this can be a great place to safe up. Just remember you'll be easy to find in the PoS.
  • Station Perches. Just as with the stargates, it's a good idea to have an on-grid perch outside every station. This perch needs to be greater than 150km away from the station, so you can warp directly from the perch to the station and dock.
  • Insta-Undocks. These bookmarks are useful if you're in a station with hostiles in-system. To make one of these bookmarks, exit the station in a fast ship, and don't touch any controls other than to turn on your MWD. You want to by flying on a straight vector from the station. Burn out 1500 km or so, until the station disappears from your overview. Make your bookmark. Now, when you exit the station, you can warp to this bookmark, and your ship will enter warp almost instantly. I find it helpful to have People & Places open with the Undock bookmark scrolled to the middle of the screen. It's a lot easier than dealing with the right-click menu in a tense situation. Once you get your bookmark made, test it to see how it works. Some stations can eject you in a few different vectors, so you may have to make a few of these before you get a good one.

The Art of Bouncing


Everyone knows that bouncing is what tiggers do best, and you'd be well-advised to take a play from their book. Bouncing refers to warping to an intermediary celestial between stargates (or wormholes). You don't want to travel directly from gate to gate (or hole to hole) if you know (or suspect) hostiles are in system. One reason is because it's predictable and telegraphs your destination, making it easy for hostiles to bomb you when you arrive at the new gate. Also, in null-sec and wormhole space, hostiles can deploy warp disruption bubbles along this path. This will pull you out of warp, and you'll often have a very unfriendly welcoming party waiting for you. 

You avoid all this by bouncing. Warp to a planet or moon in between each gate (the sun is usually a bad idea, it's obvious and you may find unsavory types waiting for you). Don't warp to the planet at 0, and don't warp to it at 100, as these are the most common choices. The best thing to do is to set your "Warp To" button to a non-default distance. Do this by right-clicking the button, and then inputting a value that isn't one of the default possibilities. Just remember the change if you do this. If you want to warp to something at 0, you'll have to use the right-click menu. This is especially useful when used in conjunction with the cloak+mwd trick, as you can spam the warp button and not land at 0. It's also nice to have if you ever lose your ship, because you can spam that warp button and 9 times out of 10 get your pod out (unless you're in a bubble).

Ideally you want to warp to a celestial that is in a different part of the system from the gate you're heading to. The idea is to come at that gate on a different vector than you'd be on if you were coming from the original gate. This way, if there are any bubbles, you'll miss them.

Putting it All Together


Examples are really helpful, so here's an example to illustrate. Let's say we're leaving a station in system A, travelling through system B, and then docking up in system C. The sequence of events might look something like this:
  1. Check local. We see that there are hostiles in local, so we need to be careful.
  2. Open People & Places, and get the InstaUndock bookmark within easy reach. Click the undock button, and as soon as you load the grid, right click on the InstaUndock bm and warp to it.
  3. Warp to your perch on the B gate. Look for reds on or near the gate. If the gate is red, warp to a safe, try another route, or warp to the station perch and then dock. If the gate is green, warp to the gate at 0 and jump through.
  4. Let the grid load and don't move. You have 30 seconds of invulnerability after coming through the gate. Use this time to assess your situation. Are there reds on grid? If so, how many and what type of ships? Are you in a bubble? Are there reds in local? You can use d-scan without breaking your cloak. 
  5. If local is clear you can warp immediately to the next gate. If there are reds in local, warp to a planet at a random distance (not 0 or 100). If there are reds nearby, use the MWD or MWD+cloak trick if you're in a slow-to-align ship. 
  6. Once you land near the planet, warp to your perch for gate C. Check the gate, if it's clear, warp to the gate at 0 and jump through.
  7. Assess your situation. If local is clear you can warp right to the station and dock. Otherwise, warp to a random planet at a random distance. 
  8. Warp to your station perch. Check the station for hostiles.
  9. If the station is clear, warp to the station at 0 and dock.


Conclusion


I hope this guide will be helpful to you, especially to the newer EVE players or those just beginning to venture out of high sec. As is often true in this game, I have only been able to scratch the surface here. If you have any questions please leave a comment. If you have any suggestions of better or different methods, or if you disagree with something in this guide, please leave a comment. 

I learn something new in this game every time I play. I don't pretend to know everything. When I first started playing EVE, I got a LOT of help from my friends in AIEU. My goal in writing these guides is to provide a resource for players who may not always have someone on hand to ask questions.

If these guides have helped you, let me know. Feel free to message me in game, or holler at me if you see me in local. And to all my readers, thank you for reading!

Fly smart.