Thursday, September 15, 2011

Back in the EVE Saddle

A month ago I began my third trial of EVE Online after reading a convincing article (part 2, part 3). I decided to jump in the deep end and stir up trouble. Previously, I had fallen into pitfalls or made up reasons why I discontinued playing. Friends of mine will cite the same excuses for not playing, so I decided to enumerate and debunk them.

"I can't fly the ship how I want."

Players often expect avatar control to be transferable across games. WASD is the de facto control scheme for any game in which the player assumes a character. Players expect familiar interfaces. How a planar movement model would work with three dimensional space is an unaddressed question. If not WASD, players expect something akin to a flight simulator or Tie Fighter.

The issue really stems from the simplification of the controls. In EVE a destination is selected, and then the Approach/Orbit/Warp button is pressed. Manual flight is as simple as double-clicking anywhere in space. Players' ship controls are abstracted to the point where player agency feels stifled. Fumbling over controls to move from A to B can be frustrating.

This awkwardness can be overcome, but it feels like relearning to walk. While the tutorial does have content to help the player move about in space, it takes several sessions to get accustomed to it. It becomes second nature eventually.

I should also point out that EVE is not a space flight simulator nor a shooter--don't expect the game to meet those genre criteria. The game must be approached with an open mind; it is unlike anything else.

"I have no idea where I am."

This attitude also derives from the control abstraction. Players move about with what seems like lists of planets, stations, and warp gates. How all these objects relate to each other spatially can be a mystery.

There are two tools in game that I think can be helpful: the Map and the Mapbrowser. The map (F10) defaults to the Star Map of the whole galaxy and can be confusing. In the World Map Control, there is a button labeled "Solar System Map". This is a navigable view of the current solar system. It displays all the planets, stations, and warp gates in positions such that players can understand where these objects are.

Additionally there is a Mapbrowser (F11) which displays 4 panes on the side of the player's screen (Universe, Region, Constellation, and Solar System). Only the bottom, Solar System pane is useful: it displays a flat representation of the system as well as a white cone showing the direction the player camera is currently facing. It helps to put celestial objects in perspective.

The maps at Dotlan are also very helpful.

"Combat is boring."

I agree that solo combat against mission NPCs is boring, which is why I don't do missions. But EVE is not really a fast-paced action game. It is slower and tactical. Where, when, and how to approach a target is paramount. Knowing when to activate, "pulse", and overheat modules assures victory against smarter or better-armed opponents.

It is also worth noting that there is no such thing as a fair fight in EVE. PvP in MMORPGs is about exploiting advantages, cheating, using every trick up your sleeve to win the day. This is what "world PvP" is, and exactly what Battlegrounds and Arena are not. An unwritten rule of EVE is "always assume your target has friends". Kill him before they arrive :) When I want a fair fight, I play TF2 or a board game.

PvP is emotionally charged. This is the sole reason I gave EVE another chance--the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat after my heart races and my mind defends that which could be lost. I can analyze and read literature explaining the exact effects and chemicals that I am experiencing, but adrenalin and fear of loss are visceral, and I want to be swept away by my animal instincts.

"I can't be competitive."

Since training is all time-based in EVE, players assume that they cannot catch up to the veterans. While they may never catch up in raw Skill Points, they could catch up in a singular role. EVE is very wide, and veterans can fly a variety of ships, but only one at a time. As long as players set their sights on a single ship and fit, they get get there quickly and be competitive. And skills are often prerequisites and stepping stones for more powerful modules and ships.

To give you some numbers (for PvP):
  • Within a week, you can fly a throw-away Cruiser.
  • In a week and a half, you can fly throw-away Battlecruisers.
  • Within 2 weeks, you can fly a tech 2 fitted Frigate.
  • In 5 weeks, you can fly a tech 2 fitted Interceptor or Assault Frigate.
  • In a month an a half, that Cruiser and Battlecruiser can have tech 2 modules.
  • In 3 months, you could be sitting in a very formidable tech 2 Cruiser (AKA Heavy Assault Cruiser).

Cruisers and Battlecruisers are staples of small gang PvP. Even though newbies won't be packing much heat without tech 2 guns, they are still an asset to the fleet. These ships can get really cheap, too, which helps when players are learning the ropes. I calculated that the Rupture cruiser I bought cost me 8,836,500 ISK. Insurance pays out 6,875,000 ISK, meaning the total loss would only be 2,360,500 ISK. That is practically free. (I would equate 1 million ISK to 1 WoW Gold.)

Players can easily earn more money than they can spend if they leave the beaten path and try things other than missions. Within a few hours and in cheap frigates, a fresh character can make 40 million ISK an hour from ninja salvaging and hacking. Or you could scam your way to trillions.

"I don't have the time."

Some players think that they need to invest vast amounts of time or know everything about EVE in order to play. Null-sec territory wars might require players to log in for 6 hours at a time while a station is being attacked, but small gang PvP can be very spontaneous and take only an hour block.

If long sessions are few and far between, there is plenty to do solo in and out of game. I spend half my EVE time reading about EVE. That includes fits and modules, planning training, how wormholes work, can I fight a ship belonging to a certain class, and miracle stories of raid fights. EVE is as much a context for my learning about EVE as it is a game. I am enjoying the whole package.

EVE really is about finding the fun. The game will not deliver fun-cakes to you, but instead give you ingredients to bake your own, or a machine gun to steal someone else's. Other players are my content, and I am content for other players. Players who are willing to learn and are open minded about the game will find it to be a treasure trove.

Within a month: I've roamed around lowsec looking for fights that never happened; stole millions of ISK from players running missions; lost ~10 frigates; was podded in a gate camp; joined a player corporation which received a Declaration of War a week later; and prepared for war that ended in 2 days. And all of it was really fun.

Plus all my ship names come from the Space Mutiny episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Congratulations on the insurance on your ship. A very wise choice indeed. This letter is to confirm that we have issued an insurance contract for your ship, Stump Beefgnaw (Rupture) at a level of 100.0%.

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