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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Red Planet

The past week in Kerbal Space Program has seen several years go by for Jebediah and the other Kerbalnauts. Through these years, they have been completely in training mode, for the most part. There was a Mün mission as well as a couple of Minmus missions completed by Jebediah, Bill and Bob. But for the most part, the Kerbal's efforts have been focused on building a rocket that could get an unmanned probe to the surface of Duna and return it with a complete science payload.

It took many, many test flights to figure out a rocket system that could not only get the transfer and return stages to a 650 kilometer orbit above Kerbin, but do so with enough fuel in those stages to actually accomplish the mission. The final design incorporated three six-meter rockets with "Skipper" engines and eight two-meter rockets attached directly to them. The entire assembly had to be strut-taped together. The vibrations from so many engines was tremendous, and had the bad habit of shaking the entire first stage apart. The fuel system was set up to maintain an even distribution of fuel between all tanks. This behemoth weighed in at just under 400 tons and had a surface Thrust to Weight Ratio (TWR) of 1.05. It needed all the thrust it could generate!

[caption id="attachment_1554" align="alignright" width="300"]Duna Lander My first Duna transfer, soft lander and return rocket in Kerbal Space Program.[/caption]

And it did what it was supposed to do. It got the transfer and return stages to a 650 kilometer orbit with less than 50 fuel remaining. I even got a picture of the transfer and return stages in orbit.

Because the first stage needed so much fuel to get the upper stages into orbit, I had a real problem with the rocket getting top heavy as the fuel drained out of the first stage. The upper stages needed to be as short as possible to stop the rocket from tumbling at high altitude. This is why there are "lobes" on the upper stages. It made the entire rocket short enough the Advanced S.A.S. could control the entire thing during ascent.

Once all the system checks were complete, commands were sent to the lander to begin it's long journey to Duna. But just because the journey is long doesn't mean it is slow. To get away form Kerbin's gravity well requires a vessel to reach at least 3,431.02 m/s. And the vessel is still pretty much traveling that fast when it reaches Duna's gravity well. It would take a tremendous amount of fuel to attain a circular orbit around Duna at transfer velocity.

Fortunately Duna has an atmosphere. This allows for an aerocapture maneuver. This is done by allowing your fast moving craft to dip into the planet's atmosphere where friction and the resulting drag will slow your craft to a speed that places it into an elliptical orbit. Once in an elliptical orbit, performing an aerobreaking maneuver (it's the same thing as before but you're already in orbit) will lower the craft's apoapsis and allow you to start planning a landing.

[caption id="attachment_1555" align="alignleft" width="300"]First Duna Lander My first Duna lander failed it's aerocapture maneuver spectacularly.[/caption]

This aerocapture maneuver is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, it's down right unforgiving. If you make the slightest mistake in trajectory as you pass through the atmosphere, you will either not achieve a capture, or worse, you could end up like the first lander we sent to Duna.

No amount of fuel could have slowed this probe enough for a soft landing. However, we had it expend all it had in the hope the chutes would hold. They did, but the sudden negative g-forces were so high when they deployed the engine and fuel tanks ripped right off the lander body. The amazing thing was, the science section was relatively undamaged. We were still able to operate most of the science package (one instrument was actually under the probe body so we couldn't activate it) and transmit the data back to Kerbin. Thank goodness the Kerbals insisted we put a 1000 volt battery on that sucker because the Blutonium generator was the one piece of the lander that didn't survive impact. There was just enough juice to transmit it all.

Our second lander fared much better with it's aerocapture maneuver. In fact, because of the magic of LouKermanArts™, Mohawk Kerman was able to film the entire landing! Here's that 4 minute landing sequence in glorious Duna red.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCir_nmZB8k?rel=0]

But landing is only half the mission. There is the getting back that must also be done. And that's just as hard, if not harder, than getting there. The lander had more than enough Δv to get into an 825 kilometer high orbit of Duna. The return transfer was picture perfect. It went so well no one thought to make any records of it - oops. The lander came into Kerbin's gravity well with a periapsis of just over 50 kilometers. The aero-capture went perfectly. Unfortunately it was done at the wrong time of the month. As the craft came around Kerbin we projected its apoapsis based on the new velocity. We realized it got far too close to Mün. The Kerbals ordered the lander to burn all the fuel it had left, all six seconds of it, to try and stop the inevitable. But sure enough, Mün tugged at our little Duna lander just enough to raise its periapsis above aerobrake altitude. The lander was stuck in a highly elliptical but stable orbit. Damnit! We were so close. It looked like this mission was going to be another data transmit semi-success. But the lander had a docking port. We began contemplating the feasibility of a rescue mission. Jebediah was up for it!

And as we pondered our options, we discovered what Mün taketh away, Mün can also giveth back. On the lander's sixth highly elliptical and useless orbit, it again got very close to Mün after rounding apoapsis heading for periapsis. And instead of flinging the lander out of the Kerbin/Mün system, Mün slowed our lander; reducing it's periapsis to a Kerbin intercept. The lander came home, and it brought over 500 science points home with it. Success! (Yeah, I air punched when it touched down. :-) )

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How can a T1 Battleship Cost more than a Fully Fit Marauder?

If I were to tally up the cost of my Kronos Marauder, modules and all, in it's current configuration, I've probably sunk 1.25 billion ISK into the ship. It's that expensive because it's not only a second level technology (T2) ship, but it takes some serious hardware fitting to make it an excellent PvE ship. It's good enough to have had an ROI that was less than two months long. When was the last time you had such a large expense with such a short ROI? If this was RL, I'd be fist pumping in the office.

Now along comes the Nestor, the new Sisters of Eve (SoE) first technology level (T1) battleship. The initial sell prices were at about 1.9 billion ISK in Dodixie, though some think they can get more.

[caption id="attachment_1545" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Initial Nestor Dodixie Prices Initial Nestor Dodixie Prices[/caption]

The price will stabilize at around 1.6 or 1.7 billion ISK in all likelihood. That's over 60% more expensive than my Kronos hull. How can this T1 ship, with some great stats mind you, but still a T1 ship, cost so much? The answer is in the exchange rate between LP and ISK.

If you're an old hand at EVE Online, you may want to just skip to the next paragraph. If you're a new bro, here's how it works. LP is awarded to you, along with some ISK and perhaps loot, as reward for completing missions for NPC agents. LP is awarded in increments from about 1000 LP for an easy level IV mission, to just over 6000 LP for a hard level IV mission like Worlds Collide. For Level I through III missions, reduce the award considerably. This is fairly standard across all NPC agents, no matter the faction. However, you can only spend LP in the LP store of the faction that awarded it to you. These LP are used to buy items that are unique to that faction. Thus, if you want to buy blue print copies (BPCs) for SoE ships, you have to earn SoE LP with which to buy them. There is a small ISK fee too, but most of the "cost" is in LP.

The cost of each BPC is in the public database. The Astero frigate BPC costs 30,000 LP, the Stratios costs 120,000 LP and the Nestor costs 600,000 LP. Here I can tell you why the Nestor final price will likely be 1.6 billion. An Astero sells for about 85 mISK on the market now. The BPC costs for a Stratios is four times the LP of an Astero BPC. Four times the Astero market price is 340 mISK. That's about the price of a Stratios hull. If we extend that to the Nestor, which is 20 times the LP cost of an Astero, it's ISK price will be around 1.7 bISK.

But LP doesn't cost any ISK you say and the ship costs are just pure profiteering? That's just not true. There is a very high cost to that LP. In order to earn enough LP to buy one Stratios BPC, I have to run at least 30 level IV missions. If you run a full loot and salvage, one man operation, and you're slow like me, it takes from 30 minutes to 120 minutes to run a mission. If you assume a 60 minute average completion time per mission, that's a 30 hour investment in real time. And since time is money, the LP earned are most certainly not "free." I can guarantee you I will not be lowering the cost of my Stratios hulls. It's just not worth my time to sell them for less than I deserve.

And that's interesting economics to me. I make something, a ship, for a lot of time investment and a little bit of ISK. I sell it for a lot of ISK. In a game like EVE Online, what's the economic reasoning behind allowing that to happen? I mean, in real life that's like creating fine art and selling it. It's a lot of time investment with little money spent but can be sold for an amount seemingly beyond its material value. So is my ship manufacturing filling the same niche in the EVE Online economy that fine art fills in the RL economy? That's the odd question I've had cross my mind repeatedly during my mission running and SoE hull production, and I've not come to any conclusions about it. What do you think?

One thing I do know, I'm gonna keep doing it. It's good ISK, and I'm still working on the mission blitzing  data. I'll have more to say on that in about three weeks.

Fly Careful

PS: Go back up to the graphic and take a look at the description on the big picture of the Nestor. Obviously some Caldari punk teenagers have already hacked and altered the public database. :-D

Sunday, January 26, 2014

FFFA: First (Every) Frigate Free for All

I needed a break. I've been running SoE missions so much I'm starting to dream about them. That can't be healthy. So I took the day off. Instead, I flew over to Jovainnon to check out the Stay Frosty FFA - or as it was for me, FFFA. Yeah, almost six years old and I've never done a Frigate Free for All. Isn't that... something.

I decided I'd do an early appearance. It began at 16:00 New Eden Central Time, which is 8:00 AM Mabrick time. I tell you, it's hard dragging myself out of bed that early on a non-work day. Fortunately Rixx Javix and the crew at Stay Frosty had just the wake up call I needed. I'd positioned myself just beyond Hevrice the night before so it was two easy jumps to Jovainnon.

Once in system, I docked at Jovainnon VI, joined the Stay Frosty FFA channel and x'd up for any of their free fully fit T1 frigates. I drew an Atron. Perfect, I'm Gallente. I undocked, but it was still early. There weren't too many around yet. I warped to a Mobile Depot conveniently placed directly off the undock, grouped my guns, arranged my modules in my preferred order (all top row: point, web, guns, active tank in that order,) and started to look for a fight. There there was this in local.
[ 2014.01.26 16:28:38 ] Awarmingcoat > real ffa at sun
[ 2014.01.26 16:28:40 ] Awarmingcoat > lol

I missed the "lol" on the second line. Of course it was a trap, this is EVE Online. Not only was it a trap, but they had no intention of playing by the rules. As I did, up until about 10 seconds after this event, have intentions of playing by the rules, I didn't immediately warp my pod out. Thirteen jumps later I was back in Jovainnon - with kill rights. :-)

The next ship I drew was a Condor. I'd never flown a Condor. I'd flown a Drake many, many times though so I was at least familiar with missile combat. Kite was now the name of the game. My first kill was made with that Condor. I just managed to keep my range out there far enough, and got some help at the very end of the engagement, so it was no solo kill to be certain. Still, I was rather pleased with how it turned out.

[caption id="attachment_1510" align="aligncenter" width="800"]15% Structure 15% Structure[/caption]

I waited out my timers, docked and repaired the Condor. I lost it in short order to an engagement that started way too close, but that was okay. There were plenty more where that came from.

The next ship I drew was another Atron, and then right after a Rifter - from the same request. That was odd. A quick check of the Atron confirmed my suspicion. I think there must have been a 'spai' or some such in the Stay Frosty FFA channel delivering unfit ships to unsuspecting new bros. Anti-social-R-us. I decided to have a little fun with it, so I posted this to local.
[ 2014.01.26 18:14:19 ] Mabrick > Okay folks, I'm undocking in an unfit ship. I'm going to loot wrecks for a fit. If you shoot me, it'll ruin half the fun. Wait till I'm done, fit and undocked again and THEN shoot me. Got it? Here I come.

For good measure I'd named the ship, "No Guns Don't Shoot." Can you guess what happened?
[ 2014.01.26 18:14:28 ] (None) Undocking from Jovainnon VI - Federal Freight Storage to Jovainnon solar system.
[ 2014.01.26 18:14:51 ] (combat) Warp scramble attempt from ;∴ Merlin Joffy Aulx-Gao's Merlin | Pete Butcher - to you!
[ 2014.01.26 18:14:52 ] (combat) 197 from Pete Butcher[KMSM](Merlin) - Light Neutron Blaster I - Penetrates
[ 2014.01.26 18:14:54 ] (combat) 170 from Pete Butcher[KMSM](Merlin) - Light Neutron Blaster I - Hits
[ 2014.01.26 18:14:57 ] (combat) 218 from Pete Butcher[KMSM](Merlin) - Light Neutron Blaster I - Penetrates
[ 2014.01.26 18:14:59 ] (combat) 133 from Pete Butcher[KMSM](Merlin) - Light Neutron Blaster I - Glances Off
[ 2014.01.26 18:15:01 ] (combat) 170 from Pete Butcher[KMSM](Merlin) - Light Neutron Blaster I - Hits
[ 2014.01.26 18:15:02 ] (notify) Requested to dock at Jovainnon VI - Federal Freight Storage station
[ 2014.01.26 18:15:02 ] (notify) Your docking request has been accepted. Your ship will be towed into station.

So I repaired then repackaged the Atron and sold it. Who says you can't make ISK at an FFA? The other ship I got from the real Stay Frosty member was a NOS fit Rifter. That actually got me a little more excited than I already was. I've read lots about how sick Rifters are.

At about this time, here is what the New Eden star map looked like.

[caption id="attachment_1511" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Jovainnon 2 hours into Stay Frosty FFA Jovainnon 2 hours into Stay Frosty FFA[/caption]

It's times like this I'm reminded of words like, "Half a league, half a league, half a league onward." I undocked, insta-warped to the Mobile Depot and then warped to my safe. Yeah, yeah, yeah, safes were highly discouraged by "the management." So was podding and you see where that got me. So one little ol' safe wasn't gonna spoil anyone's fun. Besides, I lived in worm holes for a year. I'm fairly competent with d-scan. That's how I singled out my next victim.

And that's exactly what he was. When I scanned he was alone. When I arrived, two other's had has well but I was the first within scram, web and NOS range of his Executioner. I executed him. Unfortunately the other pilots did more damage, but dammit I was the first so it's my kill! *LOL*

I was not so lucky on the next pounce. There were a lot more waiting on me than my last scan indicated. That's the nature of FFA's I'd say. When my Rifter landed on grid, everyone was like, "KILL THE RIFTER!" So they did. I still got one of them to half armor and managed to get my pod out. It was great fun.

And that was how my first Frigate Free for All went. It was three hours that just seemed to fly by (except for those 13 extra jumps.) I'm certain there will be more in my future. Of course, by then it will be a lot different. As I was waiting for timers to expire, I started thinking how different FFAs would be when the new Mobile Scan Inhibitors go into effect. And can you imaging what it would be like if someone dropped a new Mobile Micro Jump Unit in each belt and at the sun? If you've not heard about these things go read this. I know the Mobile Scan Inhibitor has been asked for many times in the past along with a Local Inhibitor. Seeing the one leads me to believe we may see the other. Either way, they are going to change the way FFAs go down, and PvP in general. That makes me think of another set of words, "May you live in interesting times."

Fly Careful

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Taking a Cue from Virgin Galactic

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="510"]Kerbin Air Density and Pressure at Altitude Kerbin Air Density and Pressure at Altitude[/caption]

Virgin Galactic unveiled one of their new kerosene powered rocket engines, named Newton, to the world yesterday. However, the craft that caught my attention (again) was the SpaceShipTwo during its third successful rocket powered trip into space two weeks ago. And it's not the ship itself that intrigued me this time, though it is an outstanding achievement. No, what got me thinking this time was it's assistant airplane, WhiteKnightTwo. It's a very clever, fuel saving practice to move one's launch pad well above the center of one's gravity well. And since air density, and thus resistance, declines as one gains altitude, it's a win-win for any rocket trying to get into orbit - they require less Delta v to get into orbit and experience less resistance in doing so.

That got me wondering. Could I do something similar in Kerbal Space Program? As you can see by the graph, there is virtually no atmosphere remaining at 15,000 meters above Kerbin. Could I launch from 15,000 meters using jet engines to lift my launch platform to that altitude? I was a little hesitant. I've not had much luck building space planes for the Kerbals. I think that part of the research needs a little love - or I do. However, all the plane parts are available in the rocket hanger. Why couldn't I just use them there? So I did.

My specific intent was to build a low cost method for putting a telecommunications satellite into Kerbisynchronous Equatorial Orbit. What I built was a reinforced, square platform in the shape of an 'H' with a jet engine at each corner. Heavy landing pads support the entire structure. The rocket sits on a pedestal, for lack of a better term, in the middle of the 'H.' It consists of an 800 series and a 400 series 2-meter fuel tank with a T45 engine attached. Attached to that rocket by radial decouplers are two large solid rocket boosters. Atop it all is the communications payload - a satellite with it's own small rocket, solar panels, a battery and an antenna.

After a few test flights, and some collaboration with he who is responsible for my KSP addiction, my friend Shatteredhip Fajardo, I moved a final version of my launch system onto the pad to see if it could indeed place my first Kerbisynchronous  telecommunications satellite into orbit. Here's how it went.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWPWC93_WQo?rel=0]

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Don't Apologize Unless You Did Something Wrong

As anyone who keeps up with what's going on in EVE Online knows, there was a huge battle in HED-GP over the weekend involving an estimated 4000 pilots. Two null-sec power blocks decided they would have a throw-down to decide the fate of the universe. Well, that's what they believe in their imaginations at any length. Really, about all they were going to decide was whether the big blue doughnut got larger or not. The majority of the EVE Universe would have continued on with barely a blink and a nod. But that's just my opinion, sitting in high-sec, playing my own game the way I want to play it.

And from that vantage point, I could not believe some of the things I was reading on Twitter from some of the participants of that fight. They were angry at CCP because of the Soul Crushing Lag message they were getting, etc., etc. Here, read for yourself: Tweets about HED-GP. Twitter it seems is forever, so these tweets should be there for some time - unless the sender deletes them. Can they do that? It doesn't matter. That's not what this post it about. Moving on now. Don't get me wrong, there were lots of good, positive things said during the day. But the whining and outright demands made by some of those caught up in the Soul Crushing Lag were ridiculous. One I found particularly silly went something like, "I had that dread for over two years. Thanks CCP." Dude, rule number one is don't fly it if you can't afford to lose it. Stop being a cry baby. What'd you expect would happen when 4000 capsuleers tried to jump into the same system and launch thousands upon tens of thousands drones, missiles, bullets and laser pulses?

Then, today (today being Tuesday,) I read that CCP apologized to them for the Soul Crushing Lag. You - have - got - to - be - kidding - me. What the hell does CCP have to apologize for? For allowing the other tens of thousands of capsuleers online that day to play through? At it's peak, Tranquility hosted 50,245 players on Sunday. And to be certain, during the course of the battle in HED-GP, many more people than that came and went in the EVE Universe without even noticing the Soul Crushing Lag elsewhere in New Eden. But for some reason, the less than 8% of players who were in HED-GP think they deserve an apology. What you all really deserve is a dunce hat. Soul Crushing Lag was the completely predictable result of your activities that day. In my book you can place the blame on yourself for being just plain dumb.

It doesn't end there though. There are demands by those involved, the less than 8% at peak log in, that CCP must resolve the Soul Crushing Lag issue now and with whatever resources are needed. Some are leveraging the apology to get just that. Doing so would be a horrendous waste of CCP resources. There are so many play styles in this game, so many things to do, so many other players doing other things. Yet this vocal minority must feel they are the only reason EVE Online exists. I have news. They aren't. They aren't even close to the majority - I don't care how many alts they have. That day there were over 200 mission runners and gankers in Apanake. At this very moment while I write, there are 117 in Osmon, with a concurrent log in total of 30,040 pilots. There are always more than 1000 pilots in Jita. At practically any given time, if you take all the trade hubs together, they probably equal the number in HED-GP that day. And all these players are happily doing those things which make EVE Online fun for them sans Time Dilation let alone Soul Crushing Lag. That's incredible when you think about it.

CCP should stop apologizing to the self-important null-sec blowhards who think this game is just about their play style. CCP should only apologize if they do something wrong, and they did nothing wrong - even having another system on the same node as HED-GP for a time. There was no foul in that. The rest of us greatly appreciate the remaining nodes of Tranquility hummed along with hardly a hiccup all day, allowing us to play our way without the slightest bit of lag. To me, that is a monumental achievement. CCP should be lauded, as many less egotistical players have done. I'll reiterate. Well done CCP.

Of course, the vocal minority will likely start to "shout" at me again. Things like, "You know nothing of null-sec," and, "STFU pubbie." That'd just be another indication of their own sense of self-importance. They fail to understand that far more people enjoyed playing EVE Online last Sunday than did not - myself included. Most of them were in high-sec carrying on business. If you take raw numbers into account, CCP should ignore those who went to HED-GP and continue down the path they've started upon. There is no reason to reinvent EVE Online because a few people want it to be other than it is. We live in a world of constraints, and FLOP limits are one of them. I'd tell the whiners to go play another game if there was one even remotely like EVE Online. Since there isn't, I'll just say next time be a little smarter about how you play and HTFU. It was your choice. CCP isn't to blame for anything.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Income Since Rubicon: Part Two

As I mentioned in an interim post, my goal for the second month of SoE security mission running was to do one mission a day and see how the profit compared to the first month. You can see my first month profit here. If you don't want to click, I made 442,004,255.01 ISK the first month after Rubicon. The second month of mission running ended yesterday.

I did not meet my goal of running one mission a day. I was only able to run 27 missions in a 31 day period. However, I have a great excuse. I was sick for most of the the week over New Year and didn't feel like doing much of anything. ;-) Still, I am not disappointed with the results. Here's what I was able to put into my wallet.

SoE Missions 2nd Month

The Market Transactions include one Stratios I built and sold for 400 million credits on December 21, 2013. At the rate of one mission a day, it is a toss up as to whether I'd have enough Loyalty Points (LP) to buy another Stratios blue print copy (BPC.) It takes 120,000 LP to buy a single-run Stratios BPC. For the same amount of LP, I could buy four Astero BPCs and see ISK coming in at a more even pace. It's a six in one hand and a half dozen in the other proposition. Stratios prices have fallen to, at best, about 350 million ISK apiece in Dodixie, the trade hub out of which I'm based. Astero prices seem to be holding, again at best, around 85 million ISK apiece.

Stratios Dodixie Price History 19JAN14          Astero Dodixie Price History 19JAN14

And while I'm on the topic of BPC income, if you strip that out of my Market Transaction total, I only made 166 million ISK from the high-value salvage I've obtained on my missions. Loot drops are definitely poor. I can easily understand why so many don't even bother with the loot and salvage. There are several very good reasons to skip it in fact. Stopping to loot and salvage can sometimes double the amount of time it takes to run a mission. It also makes you vulnerable. Staying in one place too long in a pimped out mission ship is an open invitation to gankers. And besides doubling the time it takes to run the mission, there is the time it takes to haul it to market and sell it. To be sure that actually isn't a great deal of time comparatively speaking. I only had to haul to market once (I only do so when my transport has a full cargo hold.) But it took an hour, and I could have possibly run two more mission in that time. Nevertheless, there is probably a happy medium in there where you loot and salvage the battleships but leave the rest. One word of advice to those wanting to be high-sec mission runners though, don't ever bother salvaging drones. There is no longer anything valuable in them. It is a total waste of time.

The last thing I'd like to do is give a (half) nod to those who've argued so passionately about using rails instead of blasters on the Bastion Mode Kronos. No, I am not taking back what I said about blasters being the right fit for a Bastion Mode Kronos. I am only going to modify that a little. Blasters are the right fit for most missions, though not all. I had a chance to run Worlds Collide again a few days ago and evaluate blaster performance during the mission. In that specific mission rails would have allowed me to complete it much more quickly. It took a ridiculous 2 hours with blasters and doing full salvage and loot. It really is hurting your ISK earning potential if you have to spend so long on a mission. So have both available, know your missions, and fit appropriately for the mission. If you are going to use the Micro Jump Drive and kite them as Worlds Collide practically dictates you must, then fit rails for the best damage beyond 85 kilometers. Most of my engagements started between 100 and 120 kilometers, and that was just a bit too far for the blasters. I did a lot of waiting for things to come within range. Waiting around just makes it more likely a gank squad will zero in on me. I'll still fit blasters for 90% (or more) of my missions, but I also have a set of 425mm Railgun IIs on hand for when it makes more sense to use them.

So where do I go from here? Well, I think I'll explore the statement made by quite a few others that not salvaging and blitzing missions makes more ISK. So for the next month, I will be doing just that. I will not loot and salvage, and I will blitz any mission that has that option. I will still try and run a mission a day. Now keep in mind, that's not a literal thing in all cases. I have a set amount of time I can play, and in that time I try and run enough missions to count as one a day. But the real goal is to do at least 27 missions as I did in this past month. I'll let you all know how that goes next month.

And one last thing, many of us use Eve-survival.org to get information on missions and to increase our ISK earning potential. Lately they've experienced issues they've been trying to resolve. Their latest attempt caused the site to go down for some time yesterday. If you have the means, they could use some assistance. There is a donation link on the main page of the site. Please lend a hand if, like me, you make extensive use of the information the site provides. Thanks!

Fly Careful

Thursday, January 16, 2014

KSP: Is Using MechJeb Cheating?

Kerbal Space Program (KSP) is a seemingly simple game. Its user interface consists of fairly static screens and an old fashioned menu driven selection system. What isn't static or menu driven is done with a somewhat primitive point, click, drag and drop functionality that could have come from any game of the early 90s. The height of graphical sophistication KSP is not.

But a game isn't always about its pretty face. I must cop to having a thing for beautiful immersive graphics. I wouldn't have a dual 580 GTX rig if I didn't. (Hey! This setup was state of the art three years ago, and very few cards can beat its capabilities today - though I do twitch every time I see a 690 GTX) Back to beautiful graphics. They can only make a game enjoyable. They can't make the game fun, and having fun is really why we play games.

screenshot28So what is it that makes KSP so fun? It's the challenge of it! It makes up for all its lack of graphical sophistication by having at its root a physics model that is virtually 100% true to real Newtonian physics. Terms like Delta V (Δv) and terminal velocity take on real, tangible meanings within the game. Apoapsis and Periapsis are not just words in a text book in this game. KSP is all about launching things into space, getting them to other planets, and for the sake of the Kerbalnauts, getting it all home - and doing so within the rules the universe made. You can't game those rules. Anyone with a passion for space flight knows it's no easy task. And even though KSP is a simulation, there is a tremendous feeling of accomplishment when it all works and your Kerbalnauts land safely.

First off, you can't do something in Career mode until you research that technology. This includes MechJeb. You may be able to load the module, but until you research an appropriate technology, all those nifty features that allow you to auto ascend and auto land are disabled. In fact, the technology needed to perform an auto ascend or auto land is in the 6th science. It takes 300 points and a good, long time to unlock that capability. Until you do, all your orbits and all your landings will be done the old fashioned way: manually. That in and of itself leads me to believe it is not cheating. You don't suddenly get this huge advantage over the game if you install it. You only get what you've earned.So is it cheating if you use a plug-in like MechJeb to calculate your trajectories and auto-pilot your spacecraft? That's the question I've seen asked on the KSP community forums, and it's a question that nagged me - at first.  I almost convinced myself not to use MechJeb; to take the purist route. I'm glad I didn't. Here's why I don't think MechJeb is necessarily taking the easy way out.

But there is still an argument to be made that having a computer to calculate your trajectories is somehow... wrong. Well, maybe those people might want to tell NASA and the other space agencies that. From almost the beginning our spacecraft have had some form of automatic device to make the journey more successful. The Apollo Guidance Computer may only have had magnetic-core memory and only 15 data bits of processing power plus a parity bit, but it got mankind to the moon. Whether it was an altimeter to gauge when parachutes should deploy or a "full blown" computer like the Space Shuttle carried, manned space flight has always included an automated device to make it easier - and less dangerous.

screenshot24But just because MechJeb can calculate and execute a Hohmann trajectory to Mün, doesn't mean you know how to land - or even position yourself to land where you want. Even if you use the MechJeb landing computer, it does not guarantee you will land safely. At no time does the computer obviate you from the need to think, plan and react appropriately. If you are on final approach and you see you are going to land on the 60 degree slope of a crater wall, MechJeb will not abort the landing for you. It knows how far you are above the crater wall, but knows nothing of the slope or the fact your lander will tip over on it. Nor does MechJeb have enough intelligence to know if your remaining Δv is enough to attempt another landing and get your Kerbalnauts back to Kerbal. It's just a computational device, not an AI as such. You must determine that - by pencil and paper if you like - but you still must make the call.

screenshot27You make the decisions, at every stage of your Mün shot, that mean success or failure. Making the right decisions means Jebediah and his brothers get home safely. Making bad decisions will require more work on your part to get them home. MechJeb is only a tool to assist you in accomplishing that objective, and it can never make the decision for you. And in my experience, it does not lessen the feeling of accomplishment when I succeed. All MechJeb does is free me from piloting chores so I can actually concentrate on being the program director. I don't have to be the pilot too - most of the time. ;-)

Fly Careful

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Internet Neutrality isn't what You Think it Is

The U.S. Federal Communications Committee (FCC) yesterday lost a U.S. Appeals Court case involving the regulation of Internet Security Providers (ISPs.) For those unfamiliar with U.S. bureaucracy, the FCC is the regulatory authority for all things telecommunication in the U.S., including the Internet. This particular suit was brought by Verizon and challenged the FCC authority to regulate ISPs; requiring them to treat all traffic equally on their portion of the Internet (their network in other words.) The FCC generally sees "equal" as allowing all traffic on the Internet to flow without hindrance or modification. That's my interpretation. The legal definition is somewhat more involved. Suffice it to say, Verizon challenged the FFCs authority to legally make such regulations and won.

That's the summary. The reaction was immediate and initially very lopsided toward those who feel this was a bad decision that endangers the Internet. The reason I bring this up on this blog is easy to explain. As an avid online gamer, I depend on my Internet connection to deliver the speed I need to play the games I love. If you are reading this, I wager you do to. I'll also wager that many of you are part of the "Save the Internet" ilk as well. Do you actually know what you are talking about? I mean that literally, not as some snide remark couched as a question. Do you know what the Internet is, how it works and what has to happen every second for your game to work properly?

[caption id="attachment_1429" align="alignright" width="800"]OSI Model OSI Model[/caption]

I'm sure many of you know something about packets, and routing and protocols. However, only a few of you probably know about the layers known as  the network stack, more formally called the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model. There's a simplified diagram of the OSI model on which the Internet is based to the right of this paragraph. You can't miss it. Now, this picture represents the OSI model from the network engineer's perspective. Let's look at it from your perspective.

Gamers play at the top most level of this architecture. We use programs that tie into the applications level: EVE Online or League of Legends or [insert your favorite online game here.] All the other Internet consumers also live at this top level. All the Facebook users, all the bloggers, all the Netflix watchers - all of them. We are all competing for a share of a single thing we call the Internet. And you know what? There is nothing neutral about it, something I'll try and convince you about in a moment. For now I need to address the other layers of the OSI model as they relate to you.

The next two layers, presentation and session, are within the purview of programmers for the most part. Many others get involved, but typically they work for companies like Riot and CCP and Google and any other company trying to make a dime from software or services.

The fourth level is where the thing we typically think of as the Internet starts. This is where the transport protocols live that get our data from place to place. When you hear the term packet used to describe Internet data, this is the point where the packed is fully encapsulated, addressed and sent on it's way ( that's very simplified BTW; there are exceptions.) This is also the layer where ISPs want to not treat all traffic equally.

They can do this by manipulating the next two layers. The network layer is what we all think about as the Internet physically. It's all the routers and wiring needed to make the Internet a physical entity. It's the train station linking all the seperate tracks together allowing that change over to the Rock Island line. Layer 2, data link, is the oldest version of the hardware layer that we typically see as the Internet. It's what the Internet started out as. It's like the subway system in New York. It a train that can take you just about anywhere in New York you want to go, but you're never going to get to Hoboken on it.

The last layer, physical, is actually your PC's network adapter. Or any other network adapter for that matter, and it doesn't have to include a wire. It's the WiFi transceiver in your MiFi as well as the Verizon transceiver in the same device. It's the WiFi transceiver in your Kindle Fire HD and your iPhone. It's the connection you use to get to everything else. In summary, you sit at layer one, but you are most interested in layer seven. Clear as mud so far?

Now, keeping that in mind, it's easy to believe if every application was treated equally by the ISPs, then everyone would get equal Internet service. We'd get what we want, when we wanted it, every time. And that might even be true if you only had to be concerned about layers seven and one. But there are five other layers that we must consider to get equal Internet service. Let's have an example of good Internet service. How many of you have ever dealt with a hung program? How many of you have dealt with a runaway process? Sometimes hung programs are actually run away processes. It is so busy doing something in the background, the foreground user interface won't respond. What is it doing in the background that has it so busy? What if it were a web browser stuck in a loop continuously requesting a specific web page? In the course of a few seconds it could make thousands of requests to the remote web server for the same page. That would translate into tens of thousands (or more) data packets asking for an acknowledgement (ACK) from the remote server. Unfortunately, your program can't respond to the ACK the web server sends each time because it's a runaway, so it just keeps asking. What's a web server to do? Well, it just drops the session. The hung program is now something only you have to deal with. This has always been what web servers do. It makes sense. Why should one runaway process cause so much work for the server? There are many other Internet users trying to get access to the server. They all have to wait while the server sends ACK after ACK to the runaway. If we required absolute equal treatment of all requests, the server wouldn't be allowed to simply disconnect the problematic browser. If it had to maintain every such runaway connection, sooner or later the web server would succomb to a denial of service (DoS) type situation. No one would get access to the server. It would be too busy trying to send ACKs to runaways. That makes no sense whatsoever, so the established norm is for the server to just drop the runaway's session. There is nothing neutral about it.

Yet that is exactly what we want ISPs not to do at layers two through four. We ask them to treat every single packet of data alike. But every single packet of data is NOT alike. The packet used for the Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP, what we use for email) is small and there are only a few sent per email as emails are mostly text, and in their most basic form uncomplicated. The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP, what we use for web pages) is by comparison a monster requiring many more individual packets to complete a single web page request. And both of those are dwarfed by the newer packet structures required to stream any form of video across the network we call the Internet. Not only are the packets more complex, but they are constant and, to the hardware that must handle the moving of these packets across the Internet, unending. They consume huge amounts of bandwidth. An SMTP transaction, a single email, uses less than a kilobyte of bandwidth to complete. A single high definition (HD) Netflix movie consumes a gigabyte of bandwidth per hour, or more! That's not just a magnitude of difference, it's over one million times more bandwidth than a single text email.

What happens if the Roku on the other end of that stream has a bad cable from the Comcast router to the Roku? What if packets are lost? By default the Roku asks for a resend. That's standard protocol. It continues to ask for resends just like the runaway process above kept asking for ACKs. Now we are right back on that road called DoS. With the current rules, the ISP would have no choice but to allow all those resends to be sent. What's the cost of that? My game, my mother's Facebook and my brother's email would all have to compete in that environment. They would lag terribly as the Roku consumed more and more of a quickly vanishing limited resource. That's right, the Internet does not have unlimited bandwidth boys and girls. Even with a fibre backbone, there is a limit on how much traffic it can carry. That's a fact of life ISPs have to content with every day. But right now, they are not allowed to do the sensible thing, which is to curtail bandwidth hogs so the more well behaved applications can work for the rest of us. You see, it's not about allowing applications to have equal and unfettered access to the Internet. That misses the whole point. It's about giving users of the Internet equal an unfettered access and that isn't Netflix people - it's you and me. If my Netflix stops your EVE Online from working properly and you get blown up, you will not feel like you got a "neutral" deal would you?

Personally I do watch movies over my Internet connection. I also used to use BitTorrent over a Comcast connection. I remember when Comcast started choking off BitTorrent streams. I noticed it, catalogued it and was not happy. I called and complained but of course got the, "we don't do that" lie. But eventually Comcast finished putting in place a Quality of Service (QoS) plan that could distinguish those who consumed over 90% of their limited bandwidth from those like me who don't. A funny thing happened then. I no longer needed to use BitTorrent to speed up my downloads because the bandwidth I got was suddenly sufficient to do it without BitTorrent.  Get it? Today my Internet speeds have never been faster. I'm not saying that will be possible with streaming video, but right now streaming video is a problem for ISPs to handle while still providing good service for everything else we do on the Internet. Therefore I welcome this ruling, not because it kills streaming video or might increase the cost of my Amazon Prime account, but because it gives the FCC one more chance to get it right.

You see, the FCC doesn't really understand any of what I just told you. They look at the Internet like it was some sort of glorious telephone system. It isn't. Regulating it as such does none of us any good. We need smarter regulations that work with ISPs to determine how to provide the best service to all, while we make the entire Internet more capable. Those regulations can also be used to address our concerns that some might see this as an opportunity to make unfettered profit at everyone else's expense. And it should require those that use a resource to help bolster and improve a resource. I happen to believe companies like Netflix should share in the cost of developing the faster, broader and better Internet future we all want. Currently they do nothing to increase Internet capabilities, and when ISPs complain about how much bandwidth their applications use, Netflix throws the Internet Neutrality card down. But Netflix only cares about the upper three levels of the OSI model though there are four others to worry about. They use and abuse the lower levels and claim they have no responsibility to improve them. In actuality, their business would not exist without those layers. They owe everything to them. They should step up to the plate and be part of the solution, rather than pretend it's not them causing the problem. Admittedly the solution will cost a lot of money, but many wallets make for a smaller proration, and it's the price of doing business.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Just Rewards

It seems Jester has opened up a real can of worms with his post about eliminating the core skills in EVE Online, thus allowing new players to get into the game faster.  Corelin over on Mad Haberdashers already has had two posts in reference to what Jester said. To weigh in on what Jester says, I believe the idea has merit. However, I don't think it's a stand on it's own sort of change. It needs to be part of an overall strategy. More on that after I discuss Corelin's idea.

The idea that Corelin proposed is to award new players (all players?) skill points (SP) related to the skill they are using as they play the game. This would rev them up faster, so to speak. This is the dominant view of how players acquire skills within most games. It is something I could easily find myself getting behind. He also mentioned giving someone with multiple characters on an account the option to use skill points from one character on the others. I don't find myself opposed to that idea either. I just don't see how it'd be implemented.

Now on to my own idea concerning skill points and how a player can obtain them. I think CCP should monetize extra SP. Now, before you go ranting at me about anything pay to win (P2W) or some such, just read this through. What if CCP sold SP for PLEX? You could apply a PLEX to your account to obtain the equivalent of 1000 SP for one U.S. cent. That's 100,000 SP per dollar. Since a PLEX costs $15, that would amount to 1,500,000 SP. If we incorporate Jester's idea that all players start with core skills, that 1.5 million SP could give a new player a leg up into a nice ship, but not so much as to vault the player into a Titan right from the start. Unless, that is, the player decided to buy 100 PLEX. If that's deemed to be a problem, CCP could handle the scenario just like they handle neural remaps: restrict the number of times it could be done in a year - or not. I'm mostly in the 'or not' camp myself. I don't think it'd be an issue. Just because you have the SP doesn't mean you know how to use them. CCP could also program a diminishing return on the number of skill points obtained through a PLEX where a player like me with over 100 million SP would get practically nothing in return for a PLEX. Or, more in line with how I feel, CCP could opt to allow full SP trade-in at any experience level. That sure would make getting past some of those 45 and 60 day training queues less of a drudge. I think I'm definitely more in favor of the latter.

To those still fuming over the thought this will be P2W, or whatever your issue with having had to do it the hard way, this will not be a P2W scenario. As I said, having the SP doesn't mean you know how to use them. Besides, anyone who wants can right now go out to the official Character Bazaar and buy themselves a suitably pre-trained character. No one seems to have an issue with that happening. Unfortunately the bazaar puts no money in CCP's pocket by my understanding, unless the buyer uses PLEX to obtain the ISK with which to buy the character. That's a big if. Allowing SP for PLEX would give CCP a more certain revenue stream. It'd be a nifty monetization leveraging game mechanisms that already exist. It would also remove all the bureaucratic hassle that comes with running the bazaar. The bazaar would become moot and could be abolished.

Now, let's put it all together. Combine Jester's idea of automatic core competencies with Corelin's idea of SP through play and my idea of SP for PLEX. Do you know what you get? You get free to play (F2P) EVE Online. That's right! People could play EVE Online for nothing, but they would only get SP beyond the basic skills by playing the game. If they wanted to obtain SP faster, they would have to buy a PLEX. That makes a 100 million SP character worth $1500 to CCP. It took me over 5 years at $131.40 a year to get there. That's less than half the cost of buying SP under the SP for PLEX model, but that's the benefit of doing the subscription plan. You get real time training and EVE Online for half price! Of course, you could still PLEX for SP if you really wanted to. ;-)

"But Mabrick, people would just log in and stay logged in to accumulate SP and pay nothing," you say. That's not going to happen. CCP already has an anti-BOT program and Team Security is doing great things. I'm sure they are up to the challenge of figuring out who is actually playing and who is cheating. Furthermore, I am not worried about those few who would abuse the F2P system. They are a fact of life and can be dealt with. For each of them there may be five others playing EVE Online legitimately using the F2P system. Talk about an order of magnitude difference in log in numbers. Could you imagine seeing over 150,000 people logged into Tranquility? Gods I'd love to see that day. I think this F2P system as described could get there.

The real problem is going to be with the code. We hear about how difficult some of the legacy code in EVE Online is for the devs to change. Perhaps the training system is the most deeply buried code in the entire program, and there's no way this could ever happen. In that case, more drastic measures might be needed. The character training code might have to be completely rewritten... in the EVE Launcher. Just comment out all the legacy code in the client. That may make bot detection more difficult, but perhaps they could program a secure way for the client and launcher to share "in play" information. But hey, I never said this would be easy to do. Coming up with hair brained ideas is the east part.

Here's the tl;dr for all this. You have two types of player, those who pay a monthly subscription progressing mostly as we do now, and those who don't. Of those who don't, people play for absolutely no money, but progress more slowly as their SP only accumulates when they play. To progress faster they have to buy PLEX to convert into 1.5 million SP a pop. People only have to pay when they can afford to pay, but when they do pay, it's roughly twice as expensive per SP as subscribing. I'd also advocate CCP allow players to change from the subscription to the F2P model, but only after they're current subscription runs out. But to stop any abuse of this, make players buy the subscription in at least quarterly increments. Allowing conversion would eliminate any financial burden on a player who suddenly had a loss of income and could no longer make the subscription fee. You know what's most cool about that? They won't have to stop playing! And more casual players who can afford it and don't want to spend as much time playing as Neville Smit does can still subscribe and progress as we do today. What do you think about them apples?

Friday, January 10, 2014

No Ulysses Pact to Save Me

"First you will come to the Sirens who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song."
 - Circe to Ulysses, Book XII, The Odyssey

After my post summarizing the ISK I'm making running level IV missions for the Sisters of Eve, I decided I'd run an experiment. I wanted to see how much ISK I could generate running security missions like they were PI. It works like this. I'd run a mission a day like I used to attend to my PI setup every day. In the past, I'd spent 30 to 60 minutes doing PI related stuff each day. Most level IV missions I can run in a lunch hour. So it's roughly equitable. Then I would have a comparison point to make.

Unfortunately I'm a little behind on my mission a day goal. It's been more like I miss a couple days and then have to make them up by running several missions in a row.  Since December 18th, the cut off for my last income post, I've only run 20 missions. I should have run 22 missions by now. I'm such a laggard. I'll have to do better.

All I can do is place blame where blame belongs. It's those damn sisters of Jebediah Kerman I tell you! They are Sirens, and I have no mast upon which to be tied. Just last night I sat down at the keyboard saying to myself, "Time to catch up on my mission count!" But then that damned music started to play. I couldn't resist it. Instead of running SoE missions I did this:

That's Jebediah on the dark side of Mün just after he planet the Kerbal flag. I completed two successful Mün landings in two new biomes, East and Northwest Crater. I also completed one successful orbital insertion of a probe around Dres. I unlocked two 160 point technologies and one 300 point technology. All in all, it was a very busy and successful evening: just not doing the thing I set a goal about doing. Oops.

I'll endeavor to do better this weekend... hopefully.

Fly Careful

PS: To Mr. Anonymous - thank you for catching my typos in the last post. It was a long one and those things happen. I appreciate your editorial diligence. As for the rest of your comment, if you want negativity posted you should provide a name. If you want to hide behind anonymity, I feel no obligation to share your negativity with the world - no matter how small a fraction of it actually reads this blog. Step up to the plate and take some responsibility for what you write instead of being pusillanimous about it. K? Thx. Bye.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

BB52: Casualties of War and Industry

Go to the always useful EVE-Offline.net (http://eve-offline.net/?server=tranquility) and take a look at the All Time (weekly average) graph for concurrent accounts logged in.
For the past four and a half years, the graph has hovered around that 30,000 mark; it is, for all intents and purposes, a plateau. But everything must come to an end sooner or later and that is what this blog banter is about. 

What's on the other side of that plateau?  

Is there any path for CCP to follow to raise those numbers upwards for a sustained period, or is EVE going to enter a decline to lower logged in numbers from this point? How soon will we see an end to this plateau? Months? Years? Or will you argue that 'never' is a possibility? Or you can look at the root causes of the plateau and tackle the question if it could have been avoided or shortened if CCP had taken different actions in the past. 

Also, what would EVE be like with an order of magnitude fewer or more players?
*** 

This graph is a wonderful discussion piece. In my nearly 6 years of playing... wow, I just had to stop and think about that. Six years is by far the longest I've ever stuck with one MMORPG. That in and of itself should blunt some of the anxiety many (most?) feel when they look at the above graph. Regardless, once again it's time to discuss this issue, and as I was going to say, in my 6 years of playing I cannot remember a time when this was not a topic of conversation in the metasphere of the EVE Universe. It's the invisible elephant in the room whenever we discuss the future of EVE Online. Does it mean EVE Online is dying? Has EVE Online stopped growing? Is the golden age of the empire over?

Those are the questions most want answered before the questions actually asked in the banter are answered. Because of that, this could get a little long. The tl;dr is yes, EVE Online is in decline, but it's not the game's fault. EVE Online will likely not die - at least not straight away. It'll continue for quite some time (and by that I mean years) in this state. But CCP and we it's loyal subscribers need to prepare for a future where EVE Online may have to be very different in order to survive. Ultimately it will be up to us subscribers to decide its fate.

So, that out of the way, why would I say EVE Online is in decline but not dying, or at least dying a very slow death? It's because this plateau we all see has a couple of causes, and none of them are a flagging interest in Internet spaceships. To make my point about this I am going to lean heavily on two well known bloggers who have way more authority on this subject than I. The first is Nosey Gamer. The second is Ibe Van Geel of the recently shuttered MMOData.net. Interestingly enough, Nosey's latest piece is about MMOData.net closing. Synergy, you have to love it.

So first, let's talk about what Nosey does. Nosey is our BOT and RMT expert. If you don't know what those things are and why they are bad you should read his blog. It'll educate you better on the subject than about anything I can think of. In his 2013 recap of CCP's efforts in their war on bots and RMT, he posted this chart.
He then goes on to explain the drop around March 1, 2013 is, "Partly as a result of Team Security's increased anti-botting measures." It was an 8.2% drop. That's significant. Now, part of that drop has been recouped, but not all of it. CCP's anti-botting measures are working. However, the are directly reducing the number of concurrent sessions running on Tranquility. This has been going on for some time. In fact, you can go back to Team Security's own posts and see how they've had a "negative" impact on log in numbers since they began. That's what banning does.

This has not hurt the game though. It has actually strengthened EVE Online by getting rid of those who use the game but do not play the game. However, those losses are reflected in the plateau so many are concerned about. Keep that in mind as you evaluate the plateau. There is a keen difference between a subscription and a good subscription - that being someone who plays the game for the game's sake. For the most part, we have just about as many of those good subscriptions as we've always had.

That does not mean there is not a general decline in overall good subscriptions. I am certain there is. I can be certain of that because of MMOData's charts for one thing. MMOData used to get hard subscription numbers from many MMOs. These came straight from the companies, and it was a great way to track the growing prosperity that was subscription based MMOs in the first decade of the 21st century. And even though the site is now closed, all that data is still publicly available. Have a look at the historical chart from MMOData that includes EVE Online.
This chart goes right up to the time that CCP stopped providing subscription numbers. Do you see what I see? No, it's not the steady growth in EVE Online up to about 2012. Look at ALL the lines. Are any of them growing at the point this chart ends? The short answer is no. This is what the decline of the subscription model looks like in real data. There are three other subscription charts in MMOData's archive. Have a look at them too. Every single subscription based game on those charts is in decline except for a select few. That select group is led by EVE Online. That's a win for CCP when you look at what's happened industry wide.

Still, it's not good news. It just means CCP has some time to do something about the decline. But the issue isn't EVE Online itself. It's the subscription model that EVE Online functions under. That is why the log in numbers have plateaued. People just don't want to pay a monthly fee any more. In the fast paced, get it now world we live in, having to setup a payment for every month is just more hassle than most want to deal with. I know I pay for my account a year at a time because I just don't need another utility bill. It's the state of the world, not just EVE Online.

Now we can get to those questions asked in the banter. What is on the other side of this plateau? Well, if current industry trends continue, and EVE Online does not change from what it is today - a subscription based service - the other side of this plateau will be more plateau in the best of circumstance. In the second best circumstance there will be a steady but shallow decline that goes on for years. In the worst situation, a non-subscription competitor emerges that does everything EVE Online does but is free to play (F2P.) Which of these is more likely in my opinion? Well, to be honest with myself the last one is the one I see as most likely but with a twist. That emergent new game everyone flocks to has every chance of being EVE Online.

Unfortunately the biggest obstacle to that happening is the current player base of EVE Online. We proved that with the Summer of Rage. We flat out rejected Incarna and with it the model CCP intended to use (IMO) to transition from a subscription based game to a F2P model. With that rejection, CCP had to scramble in a new direction, one that it wasn't wanting to take and for which it was frankly unprepared. That has caused an issue for CCP ever since.

That direction was Dust 514. They had to rush it to get their foot into the door of the new F2P business model. That created a game that debuted to lackluster reviews and poor player participation. And what's worse, it has tarnished the reputation of CCP as a company that does the extraordinary. I can't help but wonder how many potential investors walked away from CCP because of this. What business opportunities never presented themselves? At a time when CCP could have used those opportunities the most, did they not appear because of what we the players forced CCP to do? I honestly don't know. You can't prove an absence of fact. That does not stop me from wondering how it could have all been different though.

These past three years have been difficult for all of us. As a player I wonder if there will be a future. I wonder because CCP is loath to discuss plans because they were burned so badly before. It's a terrible loop to be stuck in. Their reluctance to talk feeds our anxiety. Our anxiety expresses itself as dissatisfaction. We express that dissatisfaction by acting out. That feeds CCP's fear of another player revolt. It makes them more inclined to keep quiet about everything. Rinse, lather and repeat. Yes, that's a nice vicious circle and we players can take most of the responsibility for it. We started the cycle, even though we tried to warn CCP. I don't like it any more than you do, but there you have it.

So what do I see as the way forward? Well, many of you aren't going to like this but too bad: you've had your say starting three years ago and we all know how it's turned out. What CCP needs to do is join the rest of the gaming industry by turning their company finances into one based on the F2P business model rather than the subscription model. Notice I did NOT say they had to turn EVE Online into a F2P game. More on that in a minute.

I think CCP understands this. They are savvy game industrialists. But knowing it and making it so are two very different problems. One is easy to see, and one is very, very hard to do. CCP has had a hard time of it developing Dust 514. It's been a growing experience for them to be certain. After years, it's finally showing some glimmer of being a solid game people will want to play. From that CCP can build a micro-transaction income model for the game. Once that income model is in place and generating revenues, they can turn their attention to the other things.

But before I say that other thing is EVE Online, I have to stop and write one more word: Valkyrie. You know, sometimes the card you need most does show up on the river. There was a tweet two weeks ago from CCP Karuck which I've placed to the right here. Yesterday there was this twitter thread,

https://twitter.com/CymaticBruce/status/420702814386417664

Valkyrie is getting some excellent press. It is generally felt in the gaming world Oculus Rift will release this year. They are very close to their specification goals now, as indicated in this article out yesterday: http://www.joystiq.com/2014/01/07/testing-the-huge-breakthrough-in-new-oculus-rift-vr-prototype. With all the positive buzz and barely constrained enthusiasm from hardcore gaming industry experts to the average player-Joe, Valkyrie has taken CCP from being practically ridiculed for Dust 514 to being lauded for their Valkyrie vision - pun intended. In this new technology, and the game they so quickly "threw" together, CCP may just have given themselves the breathing room they need to make the transition they must make.

And that leads us back to EVE Online. EVE Online cannot live forever in it's current subscription model. It will eventually die. To believe otherwise is to live in denial about what is happening within the gaming industry at large. The cards are quickly stacking up against the EVE Online method of doing business.

The inescapably problem for CCP is EVE Online keeps the lights on today. They tried making the change to a more F2P model and got slapped hard. I frankly don't think they are willing to put the entire business at risk by trying it again. If nothing else ego will prevent it, but their message has been very firm on that topic for years.

If I were in CCP's shoes, I would reduce the business risk by supplanting their dependance on EVE Online subscription revenues. Dust 514 is one column in this new financial spreadsheet. Valkyrie will be another. I will be very surprised if they ever come close to considering a subscription based model for it. There may be other projects in the wings of which we are not aware. I hope there are, but CCP won't say - loop again. With any luck, in total they will match EVE Online's revenue stream before subscriptions drop into financial red ink. When the do match the revenue, then (and I believe only then) will CCP attempt to "fix" this problem that is EVE Online. Perhaps we'll see Incarna, or the future Incarna Plus. Whatever we see, know it will be pushed onto the player base from a position of strength that allows CCP to say, "Take it or leave it." At that point, they will not need EVE Online to survive as a company.

What would EVE Online look like on that day? My divination spell does see walking in stations, but that would only be the vehicle to the revenue generators. There would be stores for in-game micro-transaction purchases. Space stations would be a virtual mall. The stores would have not only clothes, tattoos and other character adornments, but also ship skins and special implants to change the color of your pod, or your contrails, or your blaster bolts. Custom graphics would proliferate everywhere as players gobbled them up. Riot Games proves how lucrative that can be. There would also be tie-ins to real world businesses. There could be casinos for instance, and I don't mean Somer Blink. I mean real, online casinos where players could gamble real money for real money. The house (CCP) takes a cut of course. Oh sure, players could agree to play for ISK, but the house should still get a cut. Could this lead to legal problems? Sure, but there is great reward in great risk. That applies to the real world as well as the virtual. So long as the future of CCP the company is not in jeopardy, why not? Amazon dot Amarr anyone?

I'm sure Incarna Plus isn't the only thing CCP could do to morph EVE Online into a F2P model. But here's the key ingredient, it will be done once CCP has new revenue streams ensuring their future as a business. Then they will turn back to EVE Online. They won't abandon it: not unless we do. But they will make the change, and they will give us no option. They won't have to. Then it will be up to us to decide if EVE Online lives or dies. We can either rage quit at that point, or embrace the change as inevitable and enable EVE Online to live on another decade. The choice will be ours. Won't that be an interesting day?

Fly Careful

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Art of PvE: Intelligence

"The earliest known Principles of War were documented by Sun Tzu, circa 500 BCE. Machiavelli published his "General Rules" in 1521. Henry, Duke of Rohan established his "Guides" for war in 1644. Marquis de Silva presented his "Principles" for war in 1778. Henry Lloyd proffered his version of "Rules" for war in 1781 as well as his "Axioms" for war in 1781.Then in 1805, Antoine-Henry Jomini published his "Maxims" for War version 1, "Didactic Resume" and "Maxims" for War version 2. Clausewitz wrote his version in 1812 building on the work of earlier writers."

- Wikipedia

If you take a look at the many war doctrines espoused over written history, from Sun Tzu to Carl von Clausewitz, there are certain principles that recur. They have been expressed in slightly different ways, but they all boil down to some fairly common sense rules. Have more offensive ability than your enemy has defensive. Concentrate on what's important. Keep it simple. And my favorite, don't give the enemy an advantage by your own ignorance. This is summarized with the single word "security" in Field Manual 3-0 of the United States Army, as well as the British Defense Doctrine of 2011. Russia refers to it as Information Warfare. Sun Tzu called it "the use of spies," which has been translated in modern Chinese doctrine as Intelligence and Espionage.

How is this relevant to EVE Online? For a care-badger, it is everything. As anyone knows who reads this blog regularly, I am currently running level IV security missions for the Sisters of Eve. This awards me LP which I use to by blueprints for the new SoE ships. I foresee doing this until CCP decides to nerf the Bastion module, or announces something more interesting to play at.

There are some dangers in running level IV security missions though. First, you are in a big, expensive ship. It would look good on anyone's kill board. Second, that ship is fit for fighting rats efficiently, not surviving (let alone winning) PvP actions. Third, you are actually making good ISK; many feel it's easier to take candy from a baby/parent than to to do anything worthwhile with their lives.

"But I'm running missions in high-sec, I can't be attacked," you say. You think if someone attacks you CONCORD will stop them? This is EVE Online. If you want to succeed, you need to stop believing such fairy tales. Nowhere is 100% safe except your Captain's Quarters. If that's where you want to play EVE Online don't let me stop you. I firmly believe in freedom of choice. But if you are part of the 99.̅9̅ % who don't play this game just for the Captain's Quarters, you need to understand you are never safe - especially in high-sec. In fact, not only are you in grave danger, but you'll be blown up with no recourse - no kill rights awarded and no option for revenge.

The first step in understanding how this can be is to do some intelligence gathering - thus the title of this post. We have perhaps the greatest tool in all gaming to assist us: the EVE Online API. Use it. When you decide to play the PvE game, you need to understand the space you will be playing in. If there are 250 people in local, as was the case in Apanake yesterday, you'd better not leave dock until you have some idea of who they are and what they're doing. You need to do a risk assessment. You're best source for that information is one of the kill board services. I personally use EVE-Kill.net. I used to use Battleclinic.com a long time ago, but their search options do not provide what I need. I need this:
This is a system search using EVE-Kill. It shows kill mails generated in a specific system. I am certain this is a 'duh' for many of you. However, I know there are some for whom this is new. It is to them I write this post, because I don't want you to become that poor dumb ass in the Paladin shown above. Here's the link to the kill mail. For the price of a Tornado, that gank squad have a 3 billion ISK kill mail on their record. Do you need any better proof of danger point #1 above?

And what's more, the worse any of those involved got as punishment was a suspect timer - notice there are no CONCORD kills during or right after the Paladin kill. The schmuck who lost the Paladin probably got nothing but heart burn over the incident. The clue as to why is all over the rest of the page. Look at all those Mobile Tractor Units (MTU) destroyed. What's up with that?

What's up is anyone can shoot at them without CONCORD interference. All the shooter gets is a suspect flag. Read about it here (#8) and here. He hasn't actually shot at the Paladin so no CONCORD intervention required. However, he did shoot at the property of the pilot. That's the point. Either the Paladin pilot was dumb enough to shoot him, or his drones were set to aggressive mode. When the MTU is shot, the drones react by attacking the 'hostile' just like they attack rats. Either way, that makes the engagement consensual. That's when the original suspect's buddies/alts all pile on. It's a free kill at that point.

Now, is this a bug? Not really. It's been the case for a long time (a year isn't it) that shooting a suspect makes for consensual PvP in high-sec. The drones are just doing what you told them to do - attack anyone 'hostile' to you. But carebear ignorance of engagement rules is giving gank players undeserved PvE ship kills and bloating their worthless kill boards. It's like shooting fish in a barrel, but some people get off on that sort of feckless activity. A pilot like Rixx Javix, Drackarn or Repard Teg can be proud of their records. High-sec gank kill boards are a joke and every one of them an A.J. Dicken. They're an insult to real PvP pilots in my book, and only us high-sec mission runners can preserve their honor... by not getting assploded by the asshats.

Now that you know about it, it's fairly easy to avoid getting blown up. Here's how you stay out of trouble.
  1. Make certain your safety is set to green. This should always be your default in high-sec.
  2. Make certain your drones are set to passive. Click on the three horizontal lines in the upper left corner and click "Passive" so the radio button is filled (see picture.) You can order drones to fight by selecting a target and pressing "F."
  3. If someone shows up in your mission site uninvited, pull your drones in AND DO NOT TARGET THEM. Do not shoot rats while they are present.
  4. Empty your Mobile Tractor Unit and scoop it to your cargo hold. If you are too far away, don't worry about it. It's only loot. There's more where it came from.
  5. Don't "talk" to the interloper. Just keep your mouth shut. Talking to them only eggs them on and gives them an opportunity to try and enrage you. There is no point in talking to them, so don't.
  6. If they start to shoot your wrecks, let them. If you want to make a statement, shoot your own wrecks. Be careful, you don't want to inadvertently shoot them. But shooting your own wrecks gets the point across to them faster than anything. It says, "I'm not playing your game."
That's all you have to do. Don't shoot back and wait them out. They'll get bored in short order. When you won't fall for their shenanigans, they'll go find someone else to bother. Those types lack the patience to wait when it's obvious you're in it for the long haul. Patience is your best weapon when faced with these types. Now go make some ISK!

Fly Careful

Friday, January 3, 2014

CY 116 - Resolutions Required

It is now year 116 of the Yoiul Convention. I can't help but feel New Eden is at a cross roads. I do not make this statement lightly. It is also not a personal observation. It is one I apply to the entirety of the EVE Online universe. I had planned on discussing in this post things I wanted to try this year, but I find myself unable to come to any decisions.

CCP has gotten insanely quiet about the future of EVE Online. They have discussed Project 2 and Project 3 only by acknowledging there are two large projects that are under such stringent NDA they can't be named publicly. That's utterly cold war mental if you understand what I mean. That also indicates a Project 1, but that is likely in process and we've seen parts (if not most) of it released in Rubicon.

About the only thing CCP is talking about is Dust 514 and Valkyrie. That would be their game that is not quite ready for prime time, and their game that flat isn't ready if for no other reason than the hardware it runs on isn't even officially released yet. It's easy to talk about one game that has obvious short comings that need addressed, and one that has nothing but potential. It's easy to talk about potential. It's such a nebulous concept. But potential doesn't bring subscriptions.

Yet still there is nothing leaking out about EVE Online. The party line is, "all is great; wonderful things are coming." Other than pie in the sky comments of future new space involving player built star gates, we have no details on what to expect. Anyone who says otherwise is full up on conjecture and not much else. The facts are we just don't know and CCP isn't talking. In this game of poker, the cards are being held so tightly I'm certain they'll have fingerprints on them when shown.

That makes it very difficult to decide what I will do from here. Last year I tried the big alliance life in both worm holes and NPC null sec. The year before that I took the plunge into lower level worm hole life. Before that I'd been an industrialist and a miner before even that. But this year, I have no idea what I'm going to do. I'm simply marking time by running missions for the Sisters of Eve. It's like I'm waiting for the next shoe to drop. I'm not fond of the feeling.

I don't believe I am alone in this feeling. I have suspicions that others may be flying a holding pattern as well. It's really more like a gut feeling, but it's one I can't shake. CCP needs to start making some announcements - ones with substance. With the holidays over and everyone coming back to work, I hope we won't have too long to wait. The Rubicon player upswing has already peaked and is back to pre-Rubicon numbers. Check it out for yourself on EVE Offline. Someone needs to give and that someone would be CCP. If you look at subscribers as foot soldiers, the last thing you want is for them to become bored. CCP needs to get their NDA problem resolved, and start feeding their loyal subscribers something to keep them interested. Nothing good can come from bored soldiers.

Personally, I can't make any decisions until I know more about what is to come, so I guess I'll just have to end this with...
A full transcript of the ideas for this post will be released if and when some features are announced to the public at large.
Fly Careful


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

CY 115 in Retrospect

Year 115 as marked by the Yoiul Convention began with fire. At the end of YC 114, Hiigaran Bounty Hunters, Inc. (HBHI) had finished constructing a Chimera in our C3 wormhole. This made us a target. Capsuleers who were and are members of the alliance Surely You're Joking (HAHA, but they use SYJ internally) decided they needed to destroy our carrier. They needed no more incentive than my writing about it. They hunted down our system and setup a permanent presence to record our schedules and decide how best to entice our carrier onto the field of battle.

There was no battle. For all our aspirations, HBHI might as well be Brave Newbies. Our combat experience was limited, and about all we could do against much more experienced capsuleers was to die in a fire. We paid ransom to get them to leave us alone. This they did for five billion ISK. It took all our corporate liquid assets and considerable personal assets to pay, but we paid it.

Then we left the C3. It was a marked system. We knew that once extortion is paid, it is only a matter of time before the extortioners come back asking for more. We packed up everything and in three long days flew it out of Anoikis. That was a hard decision, but not as hard as the next one we had to make.

HBHI had been part of a defunct wormhole alliance for most of their time in Anoikis. They were looking to change that by joining a new alliance. The biggest obstacle to our joining others was our size. At about a dozen capsuleers, most alliances don't even want to talk to you. It's not a "what can we do for you" proposition from their point of view. It's a "what can you do for us" one. But interestingly enough, SYJ was willing to take us on.

So about a month after we moved out of the C3, we moved into SYJ's C6 with the rest of the 700 pilot strong alliance - though I never saw more than about 40. The first couple of month's there were grand. We had fleet fights on the static. We escalated sleeper sites galore. I made enough ISK to increase my personal fleet from one Proteus to three Proteus and a Tengu. Along the way I added an Oracle and a Phobos, though I lost the Tengu on our static. All in all it was a good time. In May, June and July I wracked up over 20 billion ISK in destroyed ships and equipment flying with SYJ.

But as with all good things, they have to come to an end. Our constant 40 pilot fleets got SYJ labeled the Goons of Anoikis. Our adversaries disappeared when they say us coming. Probably the last straw was when SYJ was paid to take down TLC. It was an inside job, most are, but it made SYJ pariahs of Anoikis. At least that's my view of it. I wasn't involved in that operation personally. For me the fun had ended some weeks before when SYJ had become an EST centric alliance and began starting ops when I wasn't even off work. But now that no one was having fun, alliance leadership decided it was time for a change.

Initially the alliance was going to break into 20 pilot fleets and go roaming. We'd run sleeper sites in other C6 worm hole systems. They were mostly now abandoned anyway. It would be lucrative. But that was evidently too boring for them - or more likely didn't make enough ISK. Our capital pilots, who'd always rather thought of themselves as the elite of SYJ, started talking about desires to fly super capitals. The next thing HBHI knew we were being told to pack up and head for Stain - for fun and PvP.

So I decided what the hell, why not? It was time I found out what that null-sec thing was like anyway. I was also willing to learn PvP. Well, in a word I didn't. It was boring. First of all, I didn't think moon POS bashing was real PvP. I could have done that in Anoikis, though we did get one "good" fight out of it. Then our opposition, Strictly Unprofessional (UNPRO) started camping our clone station hard. It was turning into a really good brouhaha! I lost two bombers to that camp and would have lost more. It was actually fun!

But then it stopped. UNPRO failscaded - or something. The next thing I knew, five of the former UNPRO corporations were set blue to the alliance. Four of them later joined SYJ; I'm not sure about the fifth. Hell, I'm not really even certain of the total number. What I am certain about is that the fun stopped and it was leadership's fault in my opinion. All the PvP operations shifted to low-sec and were run out of Amarr, but we were expected to be ready to jump clone back to Stain in a heart beat to defend moon POSes. Oh sure, there were a few Caracal roams in Stain but a) I couldn't fly the fit and b) there was no one to fight.

The last straw I suppose was when alliance leadership decided we were moving to another part of NPC null that had better moons. It seems SYJ now wants to become a non-sov holding null-sec alliance (and that's not my opinion, it's something I heard from a capital pilot.) There would be PvP - for awhile. Then it'd be the same old shit on a different day - support fleet so a capital pilot could get his ricks off. And all along the way I'd be constantly told what a crap PvPer I was and blah, blah, blah. What a circle jerk. Perhaps it always was and I just didn't want to see it.

That's when I decided enough was enough (both in game and RL) and moved back to high-sec to prepare for the imminent release of Rubicon. That started off well, but the constant war declarations against SYJ from mostly high-sec war-dec corporations were really putting a cramp in my mission running style. So I decided I needed to go back to an NPC corporation where I could have fun with my new Kronos and make ISK running level IV security missions and making Stratios cruisers.

Oddly enough, I've seen more potential PvP while doing high-sec missions than in Stain after the bluing started. I had a run in with a Malediction before I joined Alliastra, and just this past Saturday a Hurricane warped into the mission I was running and started to shoot my tractor unit. I calmly took my loot out of it and scooped it to my cargo hold. Then I sat there and let the remaining four rat battleships shoot me. Everything else had been cleared from space. I salvage as I go. He hung around waiting for what I don't know. I could have tanked the rats forever. But he was flashy yellow and I was feeling froggy, so I targeted him. He took off like I'd thrown boiling water on him.

And that's what CY 115 was like for me. It started off very hopeful and fun, went bad and then picked up again. I suppose that's the greatest risk one takes when hitching themselves to the aspirations of others. Whatever the result, the one thing I know for certain is that API checks work both ways. If there is one overarching lesson I've learned this year, it's to be very careful before joining someone else's crusade. Take your time. Check them out. Don't jump on board simply because it's offered. I'll no doubt go back to null-sec some day. I still need to know what that's all about. But it'll be with a group of people I've vetted and know get enjoyment from doing the sort of things I want to do. And no one will be anyone's means to an end in that group. Of that you can be certain.

Fly Careful

PS: Happy New Year