Sunday, March 18, 2012

EVE Online: Iniquity

The unfortunate side effect of a looming summer expansion to discuss is that there hasn't been a real great place in all the campaign chatter to share some of the more purely imaginitive ideas we candidates have for EVE's future. I thought it would be fun share my thoughts on a subject that has received little attention so far – New Eden's underworld. The criminal trades in EVE Online are sadly unsupported by game mechanics, and the result is that NPC's are the ones getting to have all the fun breaking the law. With an expansion focused particularly on vice, I believe there exists opportunities to simultaneously increases the value to low sec space, industrial mechanics, and inspire a wide array of new role play opportunities.

While there hasn't been any commitment on the part of the developers to address any of these items in the near future, these ideas reflect an expansion I would love to see someday, should the resources be available.

The first one is always free.

Many of you already know how much I enjoy making space drugs despite the arcane, outdated, and masochistic manufacturing process. For those unfamiliar with this special vice of mine, I have been making boosters for almost two years now, creating small batches of literally every drug in the game, from Synth X-instinct to Strong Mindflood. I would love to see an expansion that simultaneously adds depth to the mechanics of booster consumption, creates more appeal and demand for their use, and relieves the headaches caused by their manufacture and transport.

For those of you interested in learning to make space meth, here's the TL:DR version of the existing process:

  1. Scan down and raid LADAR combat / hacking sites to obtain reactions and blueprints.

  2. Scan down and mine LADAR gas clouds. Mykoserocin is used for synth boosters and can be found everywhere, Cytoserocin makes all other boosters This currently involves humiliating a respectable ship like a battlecruiser by fitting harvesters instead of guns, and some mix of cargohold expanders and warp core stabilizers. Pro tip: Get some music you can spam D-scan to the beat of. You'll be doing it a lot.

  3. Put up a POS tower. I started with a medium, which could run one reaction at a time and some defenses.

  4. React the gas with ingredients like spirits and garbage (yes, these are actually used to make stuff in the game, don't throw them away!), creating a pure booster product. Apparently capsuleers can't handle flavor of this magnitude, so there is a final step in the process.

  5. Manufacture the drugs in a drug lab using the blueprint, which basically has you cutting the pure product with megacyte. (Yes, the stuff your ships are made of. If you're getting high, you're mostly snorting/injecting/huffing rock dust.)

  6. Get the drugs to market. Low sec is a great place to sell these, pilots can buy your products and not have them confiscated by CONCORD. High sec "smuggling" just means you'll be hit with a hefty fine and shot at for not giving up your dope when the customs vessels catch you (random chance each gate), but you can spam jump quickly and survive. The fines are not to be trifled with – it is possible to end up in your destination with a negative wallet balance and be unable to sell your product if you're reckless.

  7. OR – Get high on your own supply. Drugs are fun, they can give you god-like active tanking, they can save your carrier by providing precious capacitor reserves, they can allow your guns to successfully track a destroy a tackler enabling you to escape. Reducing the harm from side effects involves pairing drugs with ship fits, like cheese and wine. You will gain 30% armor repair by popping a Strong Exile, but you could also lose 30% of your tracking. Swallowed while piloting a triage nidhoggur, this side effect suddenly becomes an acceptable risk. Every booster has four drawbacks pilots should consider when pairing them with a ship.

While I find the chance-based side effects to be one of the fun elements of boosters, they don't do much to lull pilots into braving their use, nor do they create a persistent market demand for their production.

I'd much rather see drugs work like real drugs. Instead of the constant risk of a major bad trip, I think a lot of capsuleers would enjoy a minor but predictable side effect. These might persist after the high wears off, creating a lingering effect that might encourage repeated dosing to stay "lifted'.

For example, instead of lasting an hour, what if boosters lasted 15 minutes, but had a 30 minute cumulative side effect per dose? Strong Exile might give 30% more armor repair, but leave you at -10% armor repair during the "hangover", which would get longer with each hit. Roams lasting an hour or two might see pilots popping pills to delay the onset of these effects. Current booster effect durations are too long to create an addiction feel in a reasonable night of PvP, and most engagements are short enough we could reduce drug costs and durations at the same time, and make their use more common and situational.

For this demand to be met, CCP will have to follow through on looking at the gas cloud distribution and drop tables. There simply isn't enough gas and blueprint sources to meet any kind of spike in popularity. This is why during talks about the Crucible expansion I fought hard against the proposed changes to boosters, which would have removed illegality and side effects completely. Pilots would have rushed to the markets to swallow up what few are made, and prices would have skyrocketed. I would have made a fortune overnight, but boosters would have lost their dangerous feel and essentially become officer-module priced "potions". Many traders rushed to the markets and ultimately lost isk speculating on this proposed change, which we successfully convinced CCP to postpone until they could devote time to giving it the proper treatment.

The solution here is simply adding more gas clouds and blueprint drop sites into low sec and null sec systems. They should still be rare enough that there is competition for them which adds value, but not so rare that only the obscenely rich can affor their use.

One of the cool things about drug manufacturing is that deepening the system is a relatively straightforward process. There needs to be dozens of flavors of drugs affecting a much wider array of attributes. Adding more gas cloud types, more recipes, and more bonus types can all be done with a major artwork investment, which is usually one of the more time-consuming elements of the development process.

I really like the way that gas clouds are found in unique locations, it brings regional appeal and variety, and forces pilots to network themselves or become extremely talented at deep-space exploration and extraction, so I'd hate to see this lost in the process of improvement. But with a wider spread to the distribution of anomaly spawns many more capsuleers can become involved in the manufacturing process, and we'll see incentives to take up residence more evenly throughout low sec space.

Last but not least while we're on the topic of booster production – it cannot be said enough that POS mechanics require a major overhaul. Regularly producing drugs for years now has been a major test of my patience, the POS interface is horrible and the amount of silos I have to bump around swapping chemicals in an industrial is plain silly. I won't spend much time here beating the dead horse, but I will say this much – if CCP can't be bothered to dedicate an expansion cycle to nailing this issue in the near future (which they should) they should at least make a singular interface point for POS ingredients, instead of manually flying to each silo. It's a major time waster, and I see no reason why we can't pretend there are drones shuttling materials and have just a single interface point, like we enjoy with POCO's for Planetary Interaction.

"I never thought I'd be smuggling myself in them. This is ridiculous."

One of the atrociously boring parts of the drug trade are the current "contraband" mechanics, which essentially amount to a randomized tax on illicit goods transport in high sec space. Capsuleers - don't let the scary customs officer try to intimidate you if you're hauling some dope and you get caught landing on the gate. They'll ask you to surrender your contraband, instead you should tell them to go to hell and spam jump instead. You'll be fined, I promise!

There is nothing thrilling or dangerous about this assuming you have the isk, and it ruins a perfect opportunity for interesting PvP game play. If CCP were to take the time to develop an underworld-focused expansion, it should certainly include a contraband system enforceable by players. I'd love to see a module that scans a ship for illicit goods, and can possibly flag a ship as a criminal upon detection.

This could be integrated right into Crimewatch mechanics – what if successful "customs work" by capsuleers with contraband scanners allowed for the tackle of a ship, but not its destruction? CONCORD might allow players to engage in actual search and seizure of contraband, and offer PvP opportunities if smugglers refuse to cooperate with the inspection.

Contraband could even be turned into CONCORD stores in exchange for LP, which could be spent on some new and more affordable rewards. I'd love to see a playable version of the CONCORD customs officer cruiser, which should of course carry a bonus to the use of the contraband scanner.

Last but not least, we need to have a new module that is the low slot equivalent of the secret compartments on the Millenium Falcon, capable of hiding valuable merchandise and resisting attempts at detection. These could protect against conventional ship scanners as much as contraband scanners, maybe even increasing the number of kestrel pilots who think its safe to autopilot around with stacks of PLEX on board.

The most dangerous cargo of all

As a lifelong member of the Minmatar Militia, I've seen my fair share of slaver jokes, usually from casual role players heckling each other despite the fact that many slaves were freed under the Empress Jamyl and one of the  Amarrian role play corps we used to fight in Faction Warfare was staunchly anti-slavery.

Despite the progressive approach to slavery taken publicly by some Amarrians, there is no denying that slavery still exists in New Eden and continues to be a major source of resentment between the various races.

I think there is a major missed opportunity here to capitalize on the slave trade that is so rich in New Eden's story but almost non-existent in current game mechanics. I want those items we carry in our cargohold to mean something. Not just be fined or shot because we carry them, I want them to be functional. These are my people we're talking about here! I'd like to know that even if they're in chains, at least they're not completely useless.

There isn't much debate anymore about whether or not low sec needs more incentives for pilots to live and reside there, whether they involve streamlined PvP mechanics, more lucrative drops, or increased anomaly spawn rates. What hasn't been talked about much is what we can do to foster more mining and industry.

Personally, I think it would be rad to see slavery introduced as a dynamic industrial mechanic as part of an underworld-focused expansion.

Here's where I'm probably going to get myself in trouble with my Matari friends - I would LOVE to see slaves be able to be pumped into manufacturing and industrial processes, increasing their speed and efficiency, or more likely substantially lowering costs.

Slave labor could be integrated into POS tower operation – perhaps lowering fuel costs by using up slaves over time (due to on-the-job accidents). Amarrian towers would have to be bonused for this, of course. Manufacturing in stations could see a substantial fee reduction if you pilots could substitute their own slave force instead of paying the local workers to make their goods.

This begs the question of slave acquisition – there needs to be a fun way to capture slaves. I see our outlaw low sec friends coming in handy here. Some pirates I've talked to have mentioned wanting to see an actual ransom mechanic built into the game, I envision crew capturing becoming integrated into this mechanic. A successful ransom attempt may net a certain number of captured crew slaves, depending on the alleged number of humans on board each ship size.

Others have argued a structured ransom mechanic cripples the ability of pirates to dishonor their own agreements, so it wouldn't be a necessary mechanism to acquire slaves. Perhaps there was a module like a probe launcher, or perhaps even a special type of "Breacher Drone" that could latch onto a hull and inject marines or terrorists, returning to the ship that launched them laden with freshly harvested slaves.

Slave capture wouldn't just have to be limited to EVE Online...I'm sure there's
ways we could allow Dust 514 mercenaries be complete bastards as well.

Because slaves would still be considered contraband in many areas of space, they couldn't just be added on their own, the laws shaped by the lore would simply favor the two races who morally supported this practice, and punish the two that disdained its use and fought to enforce anti-slavery law. I see this as the perfect time to bring to life the rest of the "fluff" item humans that are the game – scientists, soldiers, farmers, miners, and of course – exotic dancers. I would love to see these people come to life and be used to influence in-game activity. From increasing mining barge efficiency, to speeding up research processes, playing an important role in planetary yields, to boarding other ships and abducting their people, there are loads of game play possibilities here.

By turning on the "people" of New Eden, and bringing them into our world in a visceral, mechanical sense, capsuleers are constantly reminded of the fact they are no longer human themselves and forced to come to terms with the power they wield and make decisions as to where to direct it. As horrible or delightful as it will sound depending on your own moral proclivities – I'd love to see the opportunity for capsuleers to turn their corner of the sandbox into an ant farm.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Q & A: Stories and Standings

I recently received a great set of questions from capsuleer Kenpachi Viktor of Electus Matari. Rather than answer privately, I decided share our discussion with everyone else who might be interested in ways we can further develop storytelling in EVE Online.

*Please note: The opinions and views expressed in this conversation are those of the players, and not of the characters*

Ken:   For me a game is comprised of 3 things: Story, Art and Mechanics. EVE is very strong in all 3 over all, but in recent expansions, art and mechanics have gotten a lot of love, with story only getting what ever was needed to justify the mechanics Do you see the need for CCP to maintain a focus on their stories in EVE?

Hans:   There has been a lot of care and detail written into the backstory supporting the EVE universe, I don't want to CCP ever stop fleshing out the universe they created through additional chronicles and lore tidbits. I especially enjoy that many of the stories are written from the vantage point of "the little guy", such as the two humans complaining about the recent change in ownership at a customs office in Welcome Party. Writing stories at this scale protects the right of capsuleers to shape the larger narrative themselves. 

One specific way I'd love to see story being supported by CCP in the near future is through the use of Live Events.  These have been overwhelmingly well-received, and since a heavy lore component accompanied the original rollout of Factional Warfare, I would love to see a new set of storied events update the lore while ushering in the latest set of changes to the war zone.  Despite the erroneous
stereotypes still in circulation, role play within the militias remains at an all time low.  A successful Faction Warfare expansion should include elements that encourage role play to take up its former place as a major contributor to the scene.  

Ken:   There have been 2 novels written by CCP TonyG. These reduced CCP's story of EVE from lots of little factions to a deus ex machina. This upset all the role players that were engaging with CCP's stories out side of heavily scripted ones such as missions, incursions, and faction warfare. What direction(s) would you like to see CCP take their stories?

Hans:   Again, while I appreciate the care and detail put into imaginative efforts like Empyrean Age, Burning Life, and Templar One, ultimately I think we need to be careful about treading on the opportunity for players to shape their own story arcs. CCP prides itself on not being a "theme park" MMO - but they need to understand that walking through a theme park is precisely what an original novel can feel like to the role play community. 

Ultimately, I would be thrilled to see EVE novelizations take a different direction. The bottom line is, there is enough substance within "real" in-game events, that there is no reason that these can't be documented and uplifted as rich pieces of science fiction.   If the events described actually transpired, is "fiction" even still the appropriate term for such literature?

They were counting on me to fly through 200 klicks of open space 
directly into a wall of gunfire. My hands...were shaking...I didn't 
think we were going to make it!   But there I was - flying through 
the whole pack of them.

This is the kind of question that will really inspire someone picking up an EVE novel at a bookstore. A Science Fiction fan that had never played the game might read a riveting tale and realize they can be a part of that universe, and star in the next story to be published. For those of you familiar with The Neverending Story, you'll know what I mean when I say I want a reader to fall in love with New Eden the way Bastian succumbs to Fantasia.

Ideally the work of the EVE novelist should be that of a journalist – analyzing battle reports, interviewing characters, studying the economy, reviewing interconnected player-written blogs and reflections, and piecing them together into story enjoyable by readers who may not know a single thing about the game itself. 

Ken:   Faction warfare allowed people to join an NPC faction out side of the starter corps, and align themselves with one of the 4 main NPC entities. Do you support the introduction of joining all the minor factions such as the Angels, Sansha, or even the EoM; even if they have nothing to officially fight over? 

Hans:   I see no reason why eventually capsuleers shouldn't be able to align themselves with any NPC faction in some practical manner. Obviously deepening player involvement with NPC's takes time, so there are the obvious issues of resource allocation and order of priority. But ultimately if an NPC entity exists in EVE I want to see players allowed to enlist and support its work. What if you could join CONCORD and be rewarded for punishing outlaws? What if you players could set up Sisters of Eve sanctuaries in remote areas of space, providing supplies to those in need that were far from home? What if you could enlist as a pirate faction member and actually fly alongside NPC's in a new flavor of Incursion? The possiblities are endless. 

Care should be taken that the lore CCP provides to support the game does not cast us as the servants of human empires or mere passengers in the flow of storied events.   The important thing to remember is that capsuleers are immortal gods that shape the universe - we are the most powerful beings in New Eden and should always play the starring role.

Ken:   Faction standings currently only affect player-NPC interactions, and really only access to agents. Would you support changes to faction standings to make them affect belt rats, station access, as well as faction standing gains and losses from shooting other players, that are not officially in a militia? 

Hans:   Whenever I discuss Faction Warfare improvements, I talk about the need to address the low-hanging fruit first. Having faction-owned stations in a system fire upon enemy milita members just make sense. I am a little more dubious about something like fully restricting station access, as I feel that crosses the line in hampering casual PvP in what will be ideally a dynamically fought over set of territories.

But restricting station services? Sure thing. If the Tribal Liberation Force invades Huola and sets up shop in the 24th Imperial Crusade station, our marines should be able to hold the Amarr agents as prisoners of war, and "incentivize" Scotty and his docking crew / repair team to be more discriminating about who they will do business with. 

For neutral pilots not enlisted in a militia or pirate faction, I'd still love to see PvP kills affect standings with that corp or entity. Standings are a vastly underutilized role playing tool, not only in terms of how capsuleers engage each other diplomatically with arbitrary settings, but also the metrics derived from player actions that should cause the NPC's of the universe to respond to them in as many ways as possible. 

Ken:   Currently there is no way to gain standings other than by doing missions, or handing in tags. Would you support changes to standings to include pvp, and use of a faction's station(s) for market activity and mineral refining as ways of gaining standings with a corp and their faction.

Hans:   A classic example of the kind of change I'd like to see is the ability for players to hunt outlaws and increase their status with CONCORD. A player with positive security status killing an outlaw is contributing to the regional anti-piracy effort in a much more meaningful way than he is by popping a belt rat, and yet its the latter we encourage through the mechanics. 

By now I hope readers have noticed something really significant – we've been completely talking about story, standings, and conflict in terms of spaceships blowing up other space ship. EVE is not merely a combat simulator, however. Research, Industry, and Trade are of equal importance and its a shame that the only way to build standings with an NPC corp is to run missions, or shoot its enemies. EVE should be playable purely as an industrialist – with plenty of ways to engage in these activities and support NPC corporations without being forced to play truck driver or hitman. What if scientists could sacrifice a POS slot and research a specialized blueprint redeemable for standings? I want players and veterans alike to have ways they can merge game play and narrative without needing to fit weapons on their ships. 

*Imagination should always be enjoyed responsibly.  I am in NO WAY suggesting Goons start tracking down pilots out of game so they can play "throw the pubbie in the dumpster".

Thursday, March 1, 2012

But you don't have to take my word for it.

"This year, interestingly enough, there is only one Serious Contender: Hans Jagerblitzen. While Hans is a passionate advocate for Factional Warfare, it's clear that he also understands the need to represent the interests of the entire EVE community. . . . Good luck in the elections, Hans. You've demonstrated that you have the primary characteristic of a good CSM; the willingness to work hard, without letting emo or ego get in the way. "

Trebor Daehdoow, Dirt Nap Squad - CSM6

Hans Jagerblitzen is an extremely impressive candidate to me. . . He reminds me strongly of Two Step with his outspokenness and enthusiasm, and I feel confident that he'll bring a lot of experience, hard work, and communication to the job.

Ripard Teg, Rote Kapelle - Jester's Trek

"This time around I am convinced we need far better grass roots representation of the player base and much less monotone nullsec influence on the council. . . I'll be endorsing your candidature and sending my votes your way."

Jade Constantine, The Star Fraction - CSM1 Chair

"Wondering if I had a single vote to give, who'd get it...tough question. I really want to see@HansShotFirst get a Top 7 seat."

Mynxee, CSM5 Chair - Life in Low Sec

"For CSM7, my endorsement (and my votes) goes to Hans Jagerblitzen...When you're a fan of strategy and grand designs, it's easy to forget that for many people the fun is in the fight itself. Especially when it comes to smaller scale PVP (which despite what some may tell you, is still very much alive in NPC nullsec, lowsec, hisec and wormhole space), most people aren't really out to accomplish grandiose objectives so much as they are to find a fight and make explosions, and mechanics which make it easier and more enjoyable to get a fight on this scale are really good things. From reading Hans' manifesto, it's clear that this is something he gets."

Azual Skoll, Agony Unleashed - The Altruist

"For lowsec voters, he’s the guy everyone else has to beat. He needs all the support he can get, being a fresh face and not aligned with a super organized bloc."

Marc Scaurus, The Tuskers - MALEFACTION

"His charisma is off the charts and he knows his stuff when it comes to spaceships too. When it comes to faction warfare and low sec, he’s the full package. I don’t think anyone has campaigned as hard as this man" 

Arydanika, Amok. - And Knowing is Half the Battle

"Anything that brings more people into lowsec benefits me as a lowsec -10 dweller.   You have my votes."

Anabaric, Shadow Cartel - So Many Demons

"He is not one of those griefers you see on the forums whining that Empire is too safe, nor is he a carebear advocating rainbows and ponies. His vision is fair and balanced and, if implemented, would go a long way toward freshening up Empire life."

Aedin Dallocort, Colonic Hyperbole - Obfuscated Reality

"Everyone here realizes that Hans is going to be on the CSM, right? Just checking. Carry on."

Seleene, Body Count, Inc. - CSM6

"I support Hans Jagerblitzen as the high-sec candidate of choice for CSM7."

Poetic Stanziel, Major Kong Freight - Poetic Discourse

"Though we are enemies on the battlefield, I cannot think of anyone else who is more prepared and more qualified to take on this election and WIN it. He is a man who will go the distance for us, for all of us."

Shalee Lianne, Imperial Outlaws - Sovereignty Wars

"You have my support"

Capitol One, Wolfsbrigade - FC, Amarr Militia

"I endorse this candidate"

Super Chair, Project Cerberus - FC, Caldari Militia

"You have my sword"

Gallactica, Shadows of the Federation - FC, Gallente Militia

"We have to show some solidarity behind Hans for his wonderful support of the core gameplay aspects we all enjoy."

SigmaPi, Valkyr Industries - FC, Minmatar Militia

"Hans is one of the better candidates out there, he's not from a power bloc, and he supports sensible changes to the areas I've flown in the most over the past year. I'm on board, and here's two votes for you Hans!"

Tommy Rollins, RvB BLUE Republic - Rollins Ride

"Vote for Hans, Save the Pirates!   Hans Jagerblitzen dropped below -5.0 today.   Welcome to the dark side."

Susan Black, Late Night Alliance - @Gamerchick42

"He’s passionate about the game and has done his research. He has been in constant contact with the current CSM and talks to devs and other players. His presence is undeniable."

Sindel Pellion, TEST Alliance - EvENews24

" Come on you hi-sec industrialists, miners,missioners and traders,
  Come on you brave low-sec industrialists and POS owners,
  Come on you low-sec militia pilots,
  Come on you pirates of low sec who yarrrrrrr daily,
  Come on all of you who play, live, fight and die in a fire in Empire space.

      Vote Hans Jagerblitzen and lets have a voice on the CSM. "

Drackarn, Shadows of the Federation - Sand Cider and Spaceships

" the moment I'm inclining towards Hans Jagerblitzen, because I do believe that empire space needs a sympathetic advocate.    (By which I mean in sympathy with me)"

Malcanis, Vanishing Point - author of "The High Sec Manifesto"

"You have the support and endorsement of the man who stands against all candidates, I hope that means something to people. Good luck!"

Noneofthe Above - reformed protest candidate

"Lowsec has been abandoned by CCP and by the greater playerbase for years. It needs a slap across the face with a trout. Same with Faction Warfare. Hans is someone who knows both areas well and more than anything else has the desire to make his home in EVE better for him and for everyone else that lives in lowsec.

In addition, he is humble and listens to others when they talk. He’s a team player. Those two factors alone make him an excellent addition to any team and the CSM needs more people like him."

Sneaky Noob, Late Night Alliance - The Late Nite News 

"I listened to many podcasts, read many blogs and posts, and Hans is my favorite amongst many good candidates this year who seem to be using the logic of a rising tide lifting all ships, as opposed to focusing on one or two pet areas. But he was the most outspoken and eloquent, and got my vote."

Grimmash,  Ark of the Covenant  - Warp to Zero