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Many of you already know how much I enjoy making space drugs despite the arcane, outdated, and masochistic manufacturing process.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.


  1. What ca i say... to some point i like it

  2. Who wouldn't like to be a smuggler! Great suggestions. A couple of comments:
    -Changes to snake implants should be reverted!
    -If slaves and prisoners had some real utility, they would most likely become farmables and this might lead to nonsensical use of any potential ransom mechanics. Instead, maybe they could be produced through PI on areas where sovereignty and occupancy do not match.

  3. Having slaves be a true 'useful,' trade-able and 'harvest-able' commodity should also allow, of course, to be able to convert slaves into 'Freed Slaves' and then perhaps into some sort of crew or other militarily useful capacity, like a Freedom Fighter. That would be awesome sauce for us RPers, I must say.

    1. Yeah, my oversight in mentioning the ability to actually "free" the slaves when writing this article just goes to show you I've been spending WAY too much time talking with Amarrian leadership this campaign season!

  4. Being a wizard hatter ( :) ) I picked up something that most probably wont be that interested in. You said, "one of the major Amarrian role play corps in Faction Warfare is staunchly anti-slavery", and I'd quite like to know which you mean? Since KotMC (Knighthood of the Merciful Crown), the only reasonably sized Amarr RP militia corp I know of is PIE Inc. and they are definitely not anti-slavery. If it is KotMC you are thinking of, then I'm afraid to say they collapsed a while back :(

    1. Yeah, I still think of them all as KOTMC in my head :) Many are in Imperial Outlaws now. But thanks for pointing that out, I've made corrections.

  5. When PI was first announced at fanfest 2009 Torfi talked alot about it featuring 'moral choices' which pretty heavily implied a functional slave trade mechanic. Sadly PI turned out to have no such features at all. I was happy then disappointed. PI is the logical means of 'producing' slaves.

    If slaves were made to be a functional mechanic, there would need to be a beneficial alternative to not using them, otherwise everyone will. That would just leave the anti-slavery RP'ers stuck with a hefty competitive disadvantage.

    Funnily enough though, if CCP's Incarna plans hadn't collapsed then we would have had an 'underworld' themed expansion in place of Crucible.

    Booster resource sites could easily be added to low sec/null but not to high sec (or at least rarer/smaller there) as a means of incentivising low sec. But it wouldn't make much sense to put sites in low sec that can't be found in null as well, unless they were themed around pirate faction drug labs.

  6. im thinking about serpentis super manufacturing modules and advanced serpentis smuggling technology right now

  7. Your suggestion of allowing us to tackle and scan for contraband but not open fire is pure genius.
    1. you make it a player controlled process
    2. you expand on existing mechanics
    this is the kind of stuff that can make smuggling realistically feasible as a game profession.
    instead of being merely a "yeah would be pretty cool" thing, a poor excuses for wis, yeah walk down a dark alley at some shady corner and the drug dealer stands there, because some people are just too eager for avatars without facing the fact game play mechanic concepts need to be formulated first to justify the existence and investment in avatars, because without gameplay we will just have a repeat of useless incarna.
    You may not want to alienate your constituents I've confirmed for myself that you are not a barbie freak like issler dainze, we are in good hands with you on the csm.

  8. Of course you can use slaves in manufacturing.

    The Purloined Sansha Codebreaker is a good example ... if you reprocess it, it contains one live human head being used as a computing unit.

    If nothing else, they can converted into biofuels ...


    Actual roleplaying mecanics?

    I might actually reactivate my account for this!