Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Ballot of Voth

"... The mistakes committed by ignorance, in a virtuous disposition, would never be of such fatal consequence to the public weal, as the practices of a man, whose inclinations led him to be corrupt, and who had great abilities to manage, to multiply, and defend his corruptions." - Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels
I actually intend to vote late-ish again this year; I like to save my ammo in case of new information, last-minute upsets or my own change of heart. But as voting opens today, here is where I stand for now.

The Rules of Voth

Ranking is hard, but making a list is easy; just apply the rules of Voth:

1. Wheaton's Law: don't be a dick. Don't vote for anyone who indulges the casual racism, sexism and homophobia that are sadly rife in large segments of our community.

2. Check for intelligence: Don't vote for anyone who plainly doesn't understand how EVE, the CSM or the voting process work. As a dreadful scrub, if I can tell that someone's ideas are silly, they have clearly disqualified themselves. "Features and ideas candidates" fall at this hurdle - and I speak as an enthusiast for features and ideas; that's simply not what the CSM is for. No-effort candidates also lose out here.

3. Judge on judgement: drama accomplishes nothing, and yelling at devs is a waste of their time and energy. Only vote for people who inspire you with confidence that they can express themselves calmly, clearly and cogently, without hyperbole or rancour.

4. Vote with your heart: having excluded anyone who fails these tests, vote for the people who care about what you care about, who want what you want, and who you look forward to hearing from and reading about for the next year. This is how I have ranked my ballot - and it's the hardest rule to apply.

5. Vote, dammit! Not voting, or a voting for only one candidate, adds proportional weight to the votes of the big blocs, especially the CFC.

Vote wisely. Voth has spoken.

Monday, 16 February 2015

The Vision of CCP Leeloo

Picture of CCP Leeloo's avatar
CCP Leeloo, visionary and badass.
"I was afeard of her face, though she fair were,
And saide, 'mercy Madame, what is this to meane?'"
 - William's Vision of Piers Plowman
A paradigm shift is under way in EVE Online. CCP Seagull has been the vanguard of change, not only championing a bold strategic vision of how EVE should develop, but far more radically, transforming the development process, changing the way developers work and collaborate, with dramatic and far-reaching effects on every aspect of the game. Take the Council of Stellar Management, for example. Cap Stable interviewed CCP Leeloo and CCP Falcon on the CSM recently, and true to recent form, CCP Leeloo cheerfully dropped a number of bombshells.

"[The CSM white paper] is one of the things we're about to drastically change." of the things?

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Comet Landing - a dramatisation

In which Philae the robot lands on a comet, not once but thrice, amid general rejoicing. A loosely paraphrased adaptation of the live TV broadcasts and twitter commentary. Soundtrack here.

Rosetta: Have fun!
Philae: (detaches) Wheeeeeeeeeeee

500 million kilometres away, a Nice Lady is speaking to the TV cameras and Assembled Dignitaries. She is almost the only woman in the room.

Nice Lady: We're going to talk to some white men about science.
50 million girls: Mummy, is she a scientist?
Mummies: No darling, she's just a TV presenter.
Assembled dignitaries: 7/10 I would.
Nice Lady: Mr Churyumov, thank you for joining us. You discovered comet 67P...
Churyumov: No, but I was on many committees. Now I will sit on more and better committees. I tell you story of entire life until now.
Nice Lady: Please continue.

45 mins later

Philae: eeeeeeeeeeee
Churyumov: ...and that is how I got the credit.
Nice Lady: Thank you Professor. Now let's talk to this chubby middle-aged woman whose name I have already forgotten. Aren't you excited to be getting all this attention from so many important men?
Gerasimenko: (through interpreter) Not really. Never before and never again will they give for me time of day.
Assembled dignitaries: WTF LOL she looks like my housekeeper. (all check Twitter)
Nice Lady: How did you help Professor Churyumov make this important discovery?
Gerasimenko: (through interpreter) I did the scien-
Nice Lady: That's all we have time for. Now we need to talk to a person who was in high school when the hard work was done on this project, but is about to be given most of the credit.
Matt Taylor: This is very exciting! I am finally gonna get laid.
Matt's shirt: I LIKE SEXY LADIES
Everyone watching: He looks like a PUA.
50 million girls: Mummy, what's a PUA?
50 million boys: Dad, I wanna be a PUA.
50 million dads: Hehe, ye little tyke.
Nice Lady: What would you like to say with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to inspire a generation with your humility and insight?
Matt: I am literally hard right now.
Matt's shirt: LOL TITS OR GTFO
50 million dads: Finally a scientist who can communicate like a normal person.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Wanton Gods pt.II: A Modest Proposal

This post is the second in a series; you can find part one here.

"...having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation." - Swift, A Modest Proposal

Two years ago Ripard Teg tackled the topic of in-game ship crews, a notion that's been on the table at CCP, and in the dreams of players like me, for a long time. Ripard rightly pointed out that there were some fundamental problems with a lot of the ideas that have been put forward to date; to paraphrase:

(1) - it would be too easy to game any experience system by "giving [an] alt 100 T1 cruisers and blapping them slowly with fighters";
(2) - it would further widen the gap between veteran and novice players (already huge because of maxed-out skills, boosters, bling, etc)
(3) - it would funnel high-end crews towards high-sec PvE at the expense of PvP;
(4) - it would tend to increase risk-aversion in PvP.

He'd never seen a workable proposal that addressed these concerns, and neither have I - but I where he sees a problem, I see a game design challenge, so since reading that post I've been chewing, on and off, on a way to make crews work. Here's my proposal: tell me why I'm wrong.

EDIT: Sugar Kyle very kindly commented on these ideas, in a post where she expressed her own misgivings about the notion of crews disturbing her congenial shipboard solitude. The comments went off on various pleasing in-character tangents, prompting a follow-up from Sugar that had me chortling.

Time for a Remap

Our characters all have attributes, a staple of roleplaying games since Gary Gygax (peace be upon him). This stands to reason - some people are by nature smarter, some more charismatic and so on, and it seems an appealingly straightforward way of making characters seem different and distinctive. But attributes are supposed to be more or less fixed - so CCP in their wisdom decided that they would affect the speed we learn new skills. They also added learning skills (later removed) and implants, so we could learn faster - and remaps, so we can change our attributes if they no longer suit us. This, of course, removes a lot of the point of having attributes in the first place; they don't make my character feel distinctive, they're just a means to a rather abstract end.

All in all, this a mildly horrible piece of game design. Learning implants (which increase attributes, accelerating learning) have a few redeeming features, but they too are badly flawed in execution and impact. I've learned recently that this is not a universally-held view, so let's unpack this for a moment.

1. Remapping attributes offers no interesting gameplay choices, and requires zero ingenuity. There is an optimal choice, and a range of sub-optimal choices; putting a wish list into EVEMon and pressing "optimise" involves neither mastery nor fun. Even without third-party tools, anyone willing to do the busywork of checking the learning attributes for every skill in their plan can easily create a near-optimal training plan for themselves; it's not clever, it's just a hassle. Compare this with post-Crius manufacturing, for example, where the interplay of job costs, logistics costs, risk exposure and market prices creates a complex system, where dozens of variables have to be juggled to find a constantly-changing range of differently-optimal solutions.

2. The optimal learning plan always comes at the expense of usability and usefulness for active characters. For optimal results, I have to neglect whole categories of skills for long periods; this generally means that I can't take full advantage of the skills in my plan for months at a time. I sacrifice a gradual, incremental growth in capabilities in order to get to my end goal sooner. In other words: in order to progress optimally, I have to have less fun.

This is also the problem with learning implants: they punish risk-taking, as the optimal learning strategy is never to undock. Subcap PvP with a head full of +5s isn't a bold and audacious choice which can pay off for a skilled or lucky player; it's simply a mistake. Again, this mechanism rewards inactivity at the expense of active players; inactive alts can be left with +5s in-station to train, whereas players will hopefully want to undock and do things on their main, and rightly recognise the foolhardiness of doing so with high-end implants.

3. The consequence of all this is that attributes and learning implants offer a large advantage to (veteran) players training inactive alts in comparison with active (new) players training main characters. If I spend PLEX on an alt account or multi-character training, I can train my alt up to fly a freighter or whatever, and do nothing with that character until their training is complete. This is not an option for an active newbie, who will want to increase their capabilities gradually and as soon as possible, necessarily sacrificing efficiency in order to increase short- and medium-term utility.

Sacrificing fun for success was bad enough, but the last of these, to me, is the killer. EVE has long been described as a gerontocracy, and the accumulated resources and skills of veterans will always dwarf the capabilities of newcomers, but the game's design should aim to mitigate that problem, not exacerbate it. Veterans will always be able to take maximum advantage of any game system, but Malcanis' law notwithstanding, the systems should be designed to make it possible for a resourceful new player to gain the maximum benefit without having to sacrifice their own gameplay or fun.

With me so far? Ok. So here's the thing: the idea of being able to customise my character is nonetheless really appealing. Why shouldn't Voth be better at some things and worse at others? The problem is not with the idea of attributes, but with the way they function in the game. Changing the function of attributes could make them more meaningful and interesting; rather than simply removing them from the game, let's use them to make different characters feel slightly, but recognisably, different.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Wanton Gods

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport. - King Lear
Capsuleers are the wanton gods of New Eden; the baseliners who serve them, as far beneath their masters as the ants beneath our feet. The mortals may be cherished as pets, disdained as automata, or tormented as playthings at the Empyreans' deranged whim, but all can be cast on the flames in a heartbeat when it serves the goals of the capsuleer. The power of capsule pilots over their terrified crew, their sweating technicians, their serried ranks of administrators and the teeming populations of the stations and planets they rule is complete, unassailable and tyrannical. This is the Empyrean Age.

The game of EVE Online shows us nothing of this; the countless mortals that serve the needs of capsuleers, living cheek-by-jowl alongside them on ships and in stations, are largely invisible in the client. There are whispers of their presence - Exotic Dancers and Militia retrieved from destroyed structures in an idle moment, glinting lights on the night-side of temperate planets - but none are functional, none are relevant, none impinge in any way on the grim game we play among the stars.

EVE is a game of scale. The moments of "wow" come from a sense of hugeness - the scale of the ships, the size of New Eden - and too often, both client and gameplay struggle to convey that sense of awe at these vast machines in the pitiless depths of space. The mortals who serve our capsuleer characters offer a new way to convey that sense of scale, to create "wow" moments, a shiver of horror as hundreds or thousands of lives are tossed into the void, the moment of chill as we see what we are doing to the populations and workers on the planets we dominate. Actually interacting with mortals - "as flies to wanton boys" - has the potential to make EVE Online a darker, more compelling experience, to inspire, as we watch our characters' deeds, that elusive shudder of pity, and of terror.

Two years ago, this would have been pie-in-the-sky thinking. The game was broken in a dozen ways, and addressing those basic flaws was such an overwhelming priority that talk of expanding the game in new directions was quiite sensibly shot down in flames. Now, everything has changed; the last of the glaring problems with the game are being fixed at last, CCP has become far more serious and methodical about strategic development, Incarna is a distant memory; player-built stargates are months, not years away, and thoughts are turning to the long-term future. How might the game grow beyond the roadmap presented by CCP Seagull? How could EVE Online interact with Valkyrie, and (whisper it) Legion? Is it time to decontaminate, at last, the station environment for capsuleer consumption? And where, Otherdamnit, are the baseliners?

Tell me why I'm wrong

So, I'm Cyrillian Voth - an EVE nobody, really; a space dilettante, settled in Providence, flying with CAIN when I get online, and happy to roleplay when I get a chance. I dabble in the game, and wallow in the meta. In real life I train people to teach English as a foreign language, and do various other odd jobs in language and education.

I'm not an expert on any part of EVE; I just have a thousand ideas about it, many of which are definitely terrible. But I do have an inkling about game design, and I care passionately about making this a better game. More than that, messing around with design principles is how I figure out complex games: "what happens to the game if you change this bit here?" I enjoy the discussions this generates, even when the final answer turns out to be "a nasty mess".

So I'm starting this blog to put some of my ideas out there in the hope that they will get shot down. I want to know why it won't work, to examine the unintended consequences, to understand why these ideas would achieve the opposite of what I have in mind. Bring me your (constructive) feedback! Fire away: tell me why I'm wrong.