Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Pod Pilot Must Never Have Fleas

This one's from a house of ill repute (of the best reputation) in Teonusude.

You may slurp at your soup
Wear pink ballet boots
Or fart just as loud as you please
But whatever you do
Bear in mind this taboo:
A pod pilot must never have fleas

For a pod’s not a place for your fleas
They bite and they transmit disease
Your ship yaws and pitches
When you get the itches
Pod pilots must never have fleas

You may juggle five cats
Or wear Twitter hats
You may sup on malodorous cheese
You can snigger and burble
Make loincloths of gerbils
But pod pilots must never have fleas

You may eat unripe fruit
Dressed in your birthday suit
You can pick at the scabs on your knees
Grow hair from your nose
‘Til it tickles your toes
But pod pilots must never have fleas

(Feel free to add a verse or two of your own)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Winter Is Coming

The Winter Supercapital Nerf ®.

Throughout the Eve forums, blogosphere and news outlets, it's spoken of in reverent tones. One would think the Winter Supercapital Nerf ® was holy grail, the once and future king, and the ultimate talisman against evil all rolled up into one. The reasoning around it goes something like this:

1 ) The Drone Russians and their subject vassal alliances have used overwhelming supercapital superiority to take over most of nullsec

2 ) By taking over most of nullsec, the DRF & Vassals control both its revenue-generation capacity and the means of production for supercapital ships, both of which are the de facto prerequisites for sovereignty

3 ) Thus, barring suicide, the DRF & Vassals cannot be displaced, as any challenger to their domination of nullsec must have access to a stockpile of supercapitals comparable to that of the DRF & Vassals.

4 ) Any alliance wishing hold nullsec space does so at DRF & Vassal sufferance, lest they risk being curb-stomped by DRF & Vassals' supercapital blobs at any time the DRF and/or Vassals deem it appropriate/convenient to so curb-stomp

5) Once the Winter Supercapital Nerf ® is deployed, the DRF & Vassals' supercapital advantage will be much diminished. Supercapital blobs will no longer be the nullsec 'I Win' button. The DRF's cruel grip on nullsec will loosen. Puppies will gambol in the meadows, beer will be free, and men who play with cartoon spaceships will become like catnip to wildly attractive women.

OK, I made up the bits about the puppies, beer and women.  And the catnip. But you get the idea.

In fact, there is so much expectation with regard to the Winter Supercapital Nerf ® that the last few entities capable of opposing DRF dominion over nullsec have given up the fight. Until Winter; when the Winter Supercapital Nerf ® will, so they say, reset the game board.

"Aye," say the whispers in the forums. "Then we'll have them."

Looking at everything CCP has actually said about a potential supercapital nerf, I'd say a little expectation management is in order, because they are presently way off the reality charts. Denial, as they say, is not a river in Egypt.  

CCP Greyscale has already indicated a profound reluctance to lay a significant nerf on supercapitals. Chances are, all we will see is an adjustment of some of the numbers for these monsters as well as the ability of their pilots to either dock their supercapitals in station, or possibly use jump clones to board and disembark from them. A change in how and when fighterbombers can be used seems to be in the cards as well.

Very likely, current events in nullsec are being discussed at CCP and are of some concern. However, as one of the most high ticket items in New Eden, supercapitals are critical to Eve Online's ability to generate revenue. CCP want's these ships to continue as a "must have" item for nullsec.

Sorry about that.  Hey, I'm only the messenger.

However, don't despair utterly. Not quite yet, anyway. I do suspect  CCP Greyscale will look to other mechanics in order to somewhat level the nullsec playing field.

Changes to jump ships mechanics seem to be one place he sees as a sweet spot for achieving many of his design goals. I'd expect to see a dial back on jump ship range in order to make covering vast distances much more expensive, time consuming and dangerous. This, of course will impact jump freighters as well as combat capitals and supercapitals, but CCP Greyscale has already expressed his desire to nerf the jump freighter, so he's unlikely to see that as a design obstacle.

Greyscale has also talked about curbing the effectiveness of combat jump ships by adding a spool-up time for cyno jumps. Instead of the current timing (in which there's no lag between the time a cyno goes up and when the jumpships can drop into the target system) a spool-up timer would be required to elapse before the capital ship could make the jump. This would allow the defending fleet a greater opportunity to kill the cyno ship before having a blob of supercapitals dropped on their heads.

Now, if you look at CCP Greyscale's design goals whiteboard, you'll see an interesting item under Territory and Conquest. It's in the middle of the lower row, right in the middle of the flash reflection. See it? It says "Shoot People Not Structures".  Reading the extended interpretation of this white board item we find the following:
Extensive empirical testing has shown that shooting at structures is in-and-of-itself boring, and even when it results in a good fight, it generally does so in spite of the structure-shooting mechanic rather than because of it. There are other ways to achieve the upsides of sitting in front of a stationary object with your weapons cycling for half an hour that don't make it indescribably tedious if the other side doesn't show up.
In other words, "If you want to keep it, you've got to defend it". This is a paradigm of which I heartily approve as it more effectively represents real life. Dominion began this change in that you have to actively defend certain limited set of strong points in order to hold onto systems under attack. However, the Dominion strong points are equally strong whether or not the defenders put up a fight.

With the advent of the supercapital blob, a defender has days before he has to show up and defend a system; a defense made near certain if you have a massive fleet of jump ships at your disposal. Even if the defender abandons his territories altogether, the invader must spend weeks reducing abandoned strong points.

Taken in isolation, these changes don't seem to offer much in the way of relief from the supercapital blob. However, taken together, they might be a potent antidote to the current status quo.

If undefended systems are easy to tip, and if defending supercapitals are harder to move, and require an extended cyno spool up to join a battle, and if they are a bit more vulnerable and less effective when they arrive, the "small alliance with a big supercap fleet" paradigm may fall apart. Why? Because of the Bruce Lee factor.

Bruce Lee could open up a huge can of martial arts whup ass on anybody, and I mean anybody (pre-mortum, of course). However, he could only open that can of whup ass on a few people at a time. Happily for Bruce, evil minions have a whole queuing protocol they use when attacking heroes. One must take one's turn in the evil minion game.

Likewise, supercapital blobs are exceedingly nasty. But they can only defend one system in the empire at a time. Under Dominion, they have a number of days to get around to defending a system, depending on the number of sovereignty defensive layers in place. And they can get there very quickly. However, if getting across New Eden suddenly takes longer, and the smelly barbarians all along your borders suddenly figure out that an empty castle is much like a castle waiting for a new owner, and once you arrive you announce your arrival with an extended cyno spool-up....

Well, let's say your supercapital blob is going to spend a LOT of time rushing about. They'll retake systems recently lost, only to lose those system again when the barbarians return. And the barbarians will return because your supercapital fleet will be riding off to rescue some other system. I call this the "Nibbled to Death By Ducks" paradigm.

Even Bruce Lee can be nibbled to death, given enough ducks with an bad attitude and a hunger for human flesh.

Now, of course you can spread your supercapital blob out over your vast empire; garrison your frontier and the vulnerable points your interior. Of course, all spead out like that, they're not a blob anymore, are they?

All of this assumes that any such changes, let alone all, will be introduced. Or that they'll be introduced any time soon. Meanwhile, it's almost September, and no clear decisions seem to have been reached. Time passes. The DRF advance continues, -A- and their allies retreat, Goonswarm has capitulated. Free nullsec fades.

Winter is coming. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


If you want a vampire dead, you have to drive a stake through its heart.
-Fiddler's Edge

Nobody ever said Ivan was dumb.
-Tom Clancy Red Storm Rising

Never assume your enemies can't learn from past mistakes.

Nearly a year ago, Against All Authorities (-A-) played a clever game of rope a dope with the combined forces of White Noise, Pandemic Legion, IT Alliance, The Initiative, Circle of Two and Dead Terrorists (CIF, or Combined Invasion Force). It was a game born of desperation, but one that was well played all the same.

Pardon me while I recap:

Last September the CIF invaded -A-'s nullsec holdings. Realizing early in the proceedings that they were not a match for the CIF invaders at their gates, -A- leadership chose to run a rear-guard action against the invaders, while retreating the bulk of their fighting strength to NPC nullsec. Thus, rather than spending that strength in a pitched war against overwhelming odds (as had the recently defunct Atlas Alliance) -A- preserved it to fight another day.

Now, at the time this was an exceedingly risky strategy. Ordering your members to turn tail and run and then watch while the enemy occupies and divides up your homelands is not normally a winning tactic in New Eden. Atlas Alliance, having accepted humiliating surrender terms from the Drone Russians not a month before, had dissipated like a puff of smoke on a windy day as its players and corporations quit the alliance in either despair or disgust. It was assumed by all and sundry that -A- would likewise failscade in short order.

In fact, the widely held assumption that -A- would soon follow Atlas Alliance into the mists of Eve history likely saved the alliance.

The CIF invaders, assuming -A- was as good as dead, did not pursue them into NPC space. They set about dividing up their newly won space and cut loose Pandemic Legion. While White Noise stood pat with its territorial gains and ceased operations against -A-, The Initiative and its vassals Circle of Two and Dead Terrorists continued operations against Stain Empire with a much reduced invasion force. As far as the CIF invaders were concerned, -A- was out of the game and it was Miller time.

As I documented in a running series of posts (The Undead , AZN-D2, Resurgence , The Return of -A-, and The Initiative At Bay), the publishing of -A-'s demise was just a bit premature.  -A- waited for their moment and then struck back. Supported by Stain, Red Overlord and a handful of allies, they took back Catch and later reclaimed Teneferis during the Drone Russians conquest of Northern Coalition space.

Now, the trouble with risky but successful strategies is that, once executed, they become part of the standard playbook. Everyone assumes you can pull that rabbit out of the hat again at will.

A year later another invasion of -A- space in in progress. This time the invaders are the Drone Russian Forces (DRF) and their vassals, who currently own most of nullsec and are in the process of taking over the rest. Presently the Southern Russians (led by -A-) and Deklein Coalition (led by Goonswarm) are the only remaining players on the board with any hope of organizing the free alliances of nullsec into a coherent defense against the Drone Russians' plans for dominion over nullsec.

Once again, -A- is outmatched, this time by the DRF's supercapital blob and well-padded bank accounts. With Goonswarm apparently having announced that Deklein will not ride to -A-'s rescue, the latter cannot look for relief from any corner. Thus, -A- reaches into the play book and announces it will attempt a repeat performance of the Retreat to NPC Space.

This time, however, the enemy will not be so blithe to let them be. Knowing the history of this tactic, the DRF will not let -A- use NPC space as safe harbor as The Initiative did last time. Unless DRF discipline breaks down, expect the DRF and their vassals to follow -A- into NPC space and undertake a griefing campaign against them there. Despite the safe harbor afforded by NPC stations, a grinding campaign in which -A- pilots can hardly undock without being swarmed and cap-dropped would take a monstrous toll on morale.

In short, the DRF will not be content to let the vampire lie in it's coffin. Having learned form the mistakes of others, they'll try to put a stake through -A-'s heart. 

Meanwhile, up in the North, GoonSwarm is doing a lovely impression of Vichy France.

The Goon PR department went into full bloviate mode in the last week or two, making much of past slights and grudges between -A- and GoonSwarm. This was done in order to justify their leadership's decision to stand down and take no action down in the war between the DRF/Vassal coalition and the rest of free nullsec.

Mittens and company appear to have made a separate peace with the Drone Russians. My guess is that the deal struck was that the Goons don't go South to defend -A- space, and in return they'll be allowed to exist in nullsec as a source of good fights for the Drone Russians and friends. It wouldn't surprise me if the deal was sweetened by a large donation to key players from DRF's accounts, as the latter tends to sweeten their threats with large piles of the Iskis. 

It makes capitulation go down a lot easier.

Some players are making much of the rumored "Winter Supercap Nerf" and are assuming this will level the playing field against the DRF. "Winter is coming," is the watch-phrase for what remains of free nullsec. However, from what I've heard the supercapital nerf will be nominal, and unlikely to do much to offset the vast supercap and fundraising advantages enjoyed by the DRF and their vassals. But desperate folk find comfort where they can.

A more likely source of relief will be a little talked about change in sov mechanics. More on that next time.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The House of Dreams

I've been looking at the recent Nullsec Development: Design Goals devblogs by CCP Greyscale. I read it as a vision statement for nullsec; a statement of how nullsec would work if the kids at CCP could have it all.

The response from the player community has been reasonably positive. Unfettered by reality, CCP can offer up a nullsec vision that is quite appealing to a broad cross section of capsuleers.

Goals are like that.

My personal design goals are to trade off twenty pounds of fat for ten pounds of muscle, get a PhD in string theory done in two years, run a marathon in under two and a half hours, write the Great American Novel, have wild sex with Anne Hathaway, end world hunger, and live a robust life until they come up with a cure for death.   

Like CCP's design goals for nullsec, all of these goals are laudable. Most of them are achievable. However some are less than realistic (sorry Anne). Some are mutually exclusive. Those goals that ignore my own limitations, are dependent on an improbable series of events, or ignore the likely behaviors of myself and others based on historical precedent are, shall we say, long shots.

Once we have laid out our design goals, the next step is to hold the vision up and look at it in the cold light of reality and decide which parts of it to pursue. That is CCP Greyscale's next task. He's given us the vision. That's the easy part. What part of that vision is he going to actively attempt to design and implement? 

Visions are nice, but they are a house made of dream, where anything is possible. Before Greyscale gets out the lumber, hammer and nails, he'll have to pare the dream back to something that can actually be built, and hold together under actual conditions of use. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Capsuleer Song

Heard this one at a dockside bar in Molden Heath:

Oh all you young spacers who dice with the deep
Come wake from your slumbers; arise from your sleep
There’s an empire to humble and a fortune to seek
Come follow me mates, to Etherium Reach

To Etherium Reach and the Wildlands beyond
Our ships fast and true and our crews brave and strong
Come form up your squadrons and gather your fleet
And we’ll fight the Drone Russians at Etherium Reach

Their fleets are so vast that they blot out the sky
But stand to your tackle and spit in their eye
We’ve axes to grind and some lessons to teach
And we’ll teach them right sharply, in Etherium Reach

Now fit up your ships and unlimber your guns
There’s space for the taking and worlds to be won
It’s ships to the line and once more to the breach
Come show them your worth at Etherium Reach

So all you young spacers who dice with the deep
Come wake from your slumbers; arise from your sleep
Free nullsec is calling; tell all that you meet
That we’ll make a new home in Etherium Reach

Saturday, August 6, 2011


 One item on my list of things to do while on vacation from Eve Online is to finish and submit a science fiction short story that's been sitting at the bottom of my desk drawer for some time.

The story has its genesis in a flash fiction (3,000 words or less) piece I wrote back in 2006.  It was quick write, ninety minutes total from blank page to finished story. Flash fiction is nice that way; a good exercise for getting out the way of a story and letting it roll onto the page. At the time I thought that was that. Mission accomplished.

Funny how some characters won't leave you alone. While I was finished with the story, the story's narrator (who had no name at the time) wasn't finished with me. He has sat quietly in the intervening years, just beyond my field of vision, insisting I tell the rest of the tale.

And I think it's a story worth telling.

The structure of the story is well in hand. The original piece, called Fireships, (which you can read here if you're inclined) remains the opening scene for the larger story with only a few tweaks. The draft for the rest has been written and is in revision.

I'll let you know when it starts making the submission rounds and if it gets picked up by a publication.

Nuff said. Back to work.

God's Blog

So I was reading The New Yorker the other day. (Hey, don't sneer. Just because I read Paris Review, doesn't mean I can't slum now and again. Besides, the cartoons make me laugh.) There's a humor bit this week called "God's Blog" in which blog commenters respond to a post from God asking for feedback on the recently completed creation of the heavens and earth.

One of the posters responds:
Not enough action. Needs more conflict. Maybe put in a whole bunch more people, limit the resources, and see if we can get some fights going.
Heh. Who knew CCP Greyscale ghostwrote for the New Yorker?