August 15, 2013

Code Name: Atlas Review

I had never heard of Code Name: Atlas or its author Tony Evans, but luckily Tony found a review I had written for the book Armor on the website Goodreads and sent me a friend request saying we might have similar tastes.  I looked at his profile, realized he was an author and had one published book.  It had fairly good reviews on Goodreads (3.75 out of 5 stars), and decided to check it out.  I found it for $2 from Barnes & Nobles' Nook website so figured it was worth a shot, especially since I'm on a business trip and just finished my last book, I had nothing else to read.

All I knew going in was that it was post-apocalyptic science-fiction book and that it was apparent that Tony had military experience (which he readily admits in his biography, having done at least one tour in Iraq).  So I started to dig in with little prior knowledge, which is how I generally like it.

The book starts off near the end, the majority of its story is technically a flashback. It's told mainly from the first-person perspective of the main character, Atlas, but will switch into third-person for short periods of time when Atlas isn't present.  The writing is terse, short sentences, and Evans doesn't use much in the way of flowery language or words.  Sometimes it kind of annoyed me (you already said the wooden table two times in this sentence, Tony!), but for the most part it lent itself well to the overall feeling and environment of the story.  We're in a broken world now, where something has happened.  Atlas isn't really sure what, at the beginning of the story, because he heeded the President's advice and went underground in a bunker, hunkering down during the worst of it.

The main focus of the story is the rise of Atlas, from just trying to protect his wife and unborn child long enough to get them out of The City (we're never told which, but my feeling is it's too small to be one of the more famous southern Cali cities).  He's just a devoted husband who wants to create a safe place for them, to plant roots in creating their family and not have to worry about what's going on around them, more or less. The events of the story are all kicked into being by their relationship and the desires they both have.  Atlas makes his choices based on trying to provide the world he and his wife believe in.  Atlas realizes he has to take action to make this happen; it's in his nature, but Amori, his wife, just wants to run away with him and find that place.

I'm sure you're not surprised to know that Atlas isn't given the chance to run away when the topic is first brought up, and Atlas quickly finds himself leading more and more people due to his natural leadership abilities and semi-famous status in the "old world" as a decorated soldier.  It's during this phase that the book really shines.  Evans uses his military knowledge to really showcase the burdens of a commanding officer in charge of an entire military, even one that's comprised of mainly foot soldiers fighting on a destroyed planet.  As the story progresses, more information is discovered about why and how the planet was so badly destroyed.  It was a cool explanation.  Atlas doesn't dwell on it much because, for the most part, the reasons why and how it happened don't matter at this point.  All that matters is the now and how they're going to continue to survive each day.

Battles are very well defined, described, and detailed, giving the reader a clear idea of what's happening and why.  The strategic importance of locations was never in doubt for me, and it was very interesting to read the methods and purposes of claiming, using, defending, or attacking those positions.  Larger battle plans share the same method of delivery, and were always fairly easy to follow and gave a good sense of what was happening.

The action itself was also well described.  It was also fast-paced, chaotic, frantic at times.  Everything felt grounded, too.  Nothing was totally unbelievable.  I really give credit to him here, and you can definitely feel the personal experiences that Evans must have had in Iraq.  I never felt taken out of the action.

Another solid point for Evans was the characters themselves.  They're well done, if not stellar.  You'll meet a goodly amount of people, but I felt I understood each of them.  Their motives are understandable, especially in the times these people are living in. Even when I hated someone for what they did or are doing, I didn't think they should have done anything else, if they were to going to stay true to themselves.

I don't want to talk about the ending too much, but I'll say this: I'm glad Tony Evans found me.  It was a good read, although the stutter-step pace of the sentences was sometimes off-putting. But after finishing it, all I could think was, "I hope there's a sequel."
Read More

August 12, 2013

Where is the Ambulation Discussion?

It's time we moved past the up-in-arms attitude (if you still have it) regarding Incarna.  Yes, it was a fiasco, and yes it was a very low point in CCPs history, and yes we should never forget it lest we repeat it. CCP has shown that it understood the problem and has worked very hard to lay the foundation for a better system of updates and patches.  Unless CCP suddenly goes dark again, releasing things that were never discussed in public, I don't think we'll have to worry about where the direction of the game goes.  But when is CCP going to feel they can work on Ambulation again (I'd prefer to call it Ambulation vs Walking in Stations because hey, there's no reason to restrict yourself)?

There's a lot of ill-will still felt towards the Summer of 2011, and it's justified, but it's aimed at the wrong place.  It wasn't Walking in Stations that was the real issue, it was CCP's unwillingness to listen or discuss their ideas.  It was their arrogance that they felt their work was perfect, without flaw, and above critique from lowly subscribers like us.  It was the disregard of the CSM and the minimizing of their efforts.  Walking in Stations was simply the target for our anger.

So yes, I think that Incarna was implemented poorly, and the idea itself was wholly unfinished and totally superfluous - two things EVE players generally dislike, especially when combined.  But it's time CCP revisited the topic publicly.  Surely there are still people at CCP who are working on this thing, right?  What are they doing? What are their thoughts and plans? How do they see Ambulation fitting into the grand scheme?

I saw a video a while back of CCP presenting a video to a group of people; I've never been able to find it again.  I think it was an Eastern European or maybe Russian meet up.  It was recorded pretty poorly, and the video was just protected onto a screen, so the quality wasn't great.  But what CCP showed was very interesting.  It was simply a proof of concept that used stick-like figures and basic polygons for objects, but the gameplay was structured around moving through very dangerous areas (usually abandoned stations or something like that) in search of items that can be returned to your ship and sold.  Other players could obviously be a threat, and you wouldn't know if they were friendly or not until perhaps it's too late.  Cooperative play definitely made things easier.  There was always danger: your ship could be stolen out of its docking station, your character could die from the radioactive waves released by the items you hunted, other players may be wandering around the station too.  It was basically DayZ, but the video was posted on Youtube before DayZ's release.

So now, a year or so after that video, why hasn't CCP made any more public statements regarding their vision for it? Was this proof of concept scrapped for something else? Was it refined?  We've seen games like Pay Day and Pay Day 2 (which are a lot of fun, definitely pick it up if you haven't) which focuses on co-operative play to steal and rob banks, jewelry stores, etc.  DayZ is getting its own game now.  There's obviously a market for this type of gameplay, and I would definitely be interested in doing this in EVE.  CCP needs to HTFU and face their fanbase and let us know what they're doing in this regard.  We're ready to hear it.

Potential Issues

Of course, it won't be easy to dovetail a game like that into EVE.  There are a lot of things that would have to be done, and it wouldn't be quick.  I'm certainly not expecting something to be released for a few years. There are quite a few hurdles to overcome, both lore-wise and mechanically.

Let's start with lore issues first, I guess.  Why not?

For starters, a capsuleer is not immortal outside of his ship.  Of course, technology has advanced since capsuleers first arrived on the scene and we now have DUST soldiers who can be cloned without an entire pod.  The technology was discovered through the very exploration of derelict space stations, even. This technology hasn't spread to capsuleers because they need the pod to control the ship.  Even if a capsuleer had the work done to have the implant placed inside of his head that let him become immortal without a pod, he'd never be able to compete with other pod pilots in space.  So without his pod, if he died on a station, he'd have lost whatever memories he gained since his last clone date.

Mechanically, that would mean lost skill points.  Definitely doable, as proved by T3 ships, but just something to keep in mind.

Secondly, our capsuleers are not trained foot soldiers.  They fly massive ships; they don't have shoot-em-ups.  This obstacle is pretty easily overcome - new skills.  Kind of annoying though.  It's pretty EVE-like to do so, I guess. You could have skills that could improve things like accuracy, recoil, reload speed, etc etc - all the stats you see in other shooters.  Personally, I'd prefer our pilots to all be fairly mediocre at this though.  A capsuleer is a very expensive investment.  They're chosen after a very rigorous and challenging program, that not every applicant survives.  It doesn't sit well with me that an organization would front the money for a capsuleer who is just going to pick up a gun.  Why not just make a DUST soldier at that point?  I mean, it's fine to branch out, but a capsuleer's main job is to be a pilot.  Unless you're a station trader, I guess. Cowards.

It would be pretty neat to have a little cross over between DUST and EVE though.  Some of the weapons used by DUST mercenaries could easily be used by EVE capsuleers separated from their precious ships, of course, but others specifically state that they require special suits to use (ie the heaviest of the weapons in DUST 514), but pistols and medium weapons would be easy to wield for our puny pod pilots.  There could be special EVE-only weapons too, perhaps, which DUST soldiers would view as useless or inferior.

This is probably the second largest mechanical issue: how to balance weapon usage.  You don't want to have too much cross-over with DUST, or you have some serious issues.  Shooting guns in EVE should be a clumsy affair.  Third-person view would be best; it fits with EVE, looking at the outside of your ship, and it provides a less precise movement and aiming scheme, which fits with my above points.

Of course, the golden rule of anything in EVE is that it has to matter in some way.  Does it provide engaging, fun, and dynamic gameplay? Does it add to the overall game, mainly by way of the economy?  If so, then let's start the conversation up again, CCP.
Read More

August 9, 2013

Assist Of Sound Mind Contract Recap

If you haven't heard, CVA and Of Sound Mind came to a cease fire agreement the other day.  The war officially ended on August 8, like the announcement says, but SOUND called us off the day before, alerting us to what was happening, so that there wouldn't be any issues during this fragile time.  But, enough about the end, for now; let's talk about the contract as a whole and Noir.'s part in that.

You may not know, but Noir.'s CEO, Alekseyev Karrde hosts a podcast called Declarations of War.  One of the co-hosts is Ali Aras, who is, of course, in SOUND.  So when this whole thing was really heating up, and war was obviously coming, Ali and Alek had a little chat, and we were subsequently hired to lend a hand in the defense of SOUND space.  This was one day after we had just finished the Delve contract where we were hired to harass TEST's income-producing space for three weeks.  We were planning to have a lot of R&R, but as a mercenary, plans change sometimes.

In Delve, we had spent almost all of our time doing black ops fleets.  It worked perfectly with the geography and our mission.  We all brought down ships of all types - shield, armor, bombers; everything - because we weren't sure what was going to happen, specifically.  We were prepared for anything, but there was a kink in the plan: Noir. Academy.

Noir. Academy is, of course, the training arm of Noir.  I'm the CEO, and we recruit twice a month: 1st-5th and 15th-18th of every month.  This contract was announced after a recruitment cycle had started, and so we had a bunch of pilots who we had never flown with joining us on a contract that, turns out, required highly precise flying.

Anyway, we spent a lot of time in bombers - typical Noir. - and from the start, we were doing decently (although not as well as we would have liked), and a few bomber losses with nothing on the killboard put us in a position we weren't happy with.  As I mentioned in my post titled Who Cares About Killboards?, we were having a very large effect on the war at large, but a lot of that wasn't showing up on paper.  Our employer was happy, and so we were too, generally, but as a point of pride, we wanted to bring the killboard back up into at least the 80% range.

A general day for us consisted of hopping into bombers and harassing any CVA fleets that were trying to reinforce I-HUBs, stations, POSes, etc - sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The way the timezones worked out for us and our employer, we'd usually be at that for a few hours and then they'd ask for some support in some type of fleet, so we'd go back to reship if we needed and meet up to do some more work.

A lot of these bomber fleets were very intense.  CVA had been on the receiving end of dozens and dozens of bomb runs by the end of the war, from nearly every party involved.  We could see their tactics evolving and improving to try and reduce the effectiveness and increase the danger of doing bomb runs on their fleet.  Luckily, we have very good FCs who recognized this and we were able to remain effective, causing a lot of confusion and fright among the CVA fleets, wondering how we managed to continue to devastate their fleets and beat their fast responders who they had positioned specifically for stopping us.  Unfortunately, we were often stationed just a few thousand meters away from enemy ships in preparation for these attack runs, and the brand new students were being asked to fly at levels they had never flown before, make no mistakes, do everything perfectly with minimal instruction.  It wasn't the ideal situation for a new student, and understandably, a few of them made mistakes that lost them their ships.  Hopefully it was still enlightening and entertaining.

We mixed in a little black ops from time to time to remind CVA that just because SOUND only controlled two stations on paper, Noir. controlled Providence.  Luckily, as most of you know, Providence residents are not the smartest, and they're not unfamiliar with neutrals coming into system on a regular basis.  Each black ops fleet turned out pretty well, but these were perhaps my favorite kills (despite the fact that I blew up the wreck of one, destroying two faction heat sinks! Newb.)

Finally, just two nights before the contract was technically ended, we went on the offensive, reinforcing two towers held by a mysterious CVA member, TSOE, who we knew shot other CVA members who stuck their nose too deeply into their space, and CVA let them slide on the aggression (ironic, huh?).  But, that's because TSOE was secretly building capital ships.  Yulai Federation also had an R64 moon that they were exploiting.  TSOE also stayed isolated when it came to joining intel channels and joining Providence CTAs - again, with impunity.  Taking these down was, in my opinion, the perfect way to end the contract, smashing CVA in the mouth, driving home the hypocritical nature of their leniency with one group but not another. And of course, they had to agree to let SOUND leave peacefully, only getting rid of them because they agreed to.

How long could the war have gone on if the treaty didn't materialize? Who knows.  CVA certainly had the upper hand in that regard, at least theoretically, but I'll bet SOUND would have continued to surprise all those considered if it had come to that.

This was one of my favorite contracts based on how knock down drag out the fighting was.  It was messy, ugly, confusing, and glorious.  It took a steady hand to fly into that hornet's nest and come out alive and with kills.  I also really liked the political aspect of this war, how it started over a small incident, degraded via bad diplomacy, and came out of nowhere.  That's the EVE I love.
Read More

August 5, 2013

Who Cares About Killboards?

Killboards are often very faulty tools for measuring the proficiency of an individual pilot.  They give pilots full contribution for the kill regardless if they actually do any damage or place negative effects on the target.  Of course, every corporation keeps a close eye on their killboard nonetheless.  It's still an effective way to judge the efficiency of the organization as a whole, not to mention the intelligence that can be gleaned from it.  As mercenaries, the killboard is doubly important, as it functions as our business card as well.  The recent statistics can even affect the price that can be demanded for a contract payment.  But in Providence, I simply don't care about the killboard.

Well, that's not entirely true - I still strive to avoid all losses and maximize my own kills, like normal.  But as the contract is progressing, I'm finding that our participation isn't measured in the killboard as much as usual.  We're doing a lot of ops, pretty much constantly, in fact, but the kill count is actually fairly low often times.  We've turned the tide of at least three fights from bombing drones, making our employers very happy, but not having anything to show for that on paper.  We're saving stations, chasing off offensive SBU bashers, and much more, really driving the cost and effort of war home to CVA, with little physical evidence of our involvement.  And I'm loving it.

I have kind of a weird work schedule where I work 40-46 hours a week, seven days a week, for forty-five days at a time.  Then I'm off for two weeks or so, and back to another 45 days solid of work.  I haven't personally been able to contribute large amounts of time to the CVA war so far, but if it continues for another week, that would change.  Even so, I get to play an hour or so a night, and while that's not enough time to really partake in the festivities, I'm really enjoying this type of war we're in now.  Remember, we just got done with three weeks in Delve where we harassed TEST's home-front, barely had any losses, and got many, many expensive kills. That war was fought in a completely different manner, and it had a totally different day-to-day feeling, too.  This war is hectic; emergency fleets are put together only to reship a few minutes later based on a new situation emerging.  The battlefield itself is chaotic, with CVAs fleets being...unpredictable, not always to their detriment.  Our students are being asked to react faster, smarter, and better than they've ever been required to before.  

This is definitely a war where our contribution is measured in the outcomes, not the kills, and so far we're doing amazingly well.  SOUND has continued to keep their knees straight in the face of CVA, despite the opposition thinking they would be defeated quickly.  Many other organizations have helped make this a reality, of course; it hasn't been us alone, not by a long shot.  Dirt Nap Squad, Brave Newbies Inc., Verge of Collapse, even TEST and Goonswarm have showed up.

CVA didn't expect the war to go like this, that's for sure, and I didn't expect to measure it in the way that I am.  It's been a really interesting and enlightening lesson, tracking progress by the days that SOUND still has their name on Dotlan rather than by the amount of kills we've made.  The amount of kills are still part of it, of course, but to me, they're secondary.
Read More

August 3, 2013

CREST is King - Or Well, it COULD Be

On July 11, 2013, CCP announced they were going to release a portion of the CREST API that allowed developers to do interesting things with stats from Alliance Tournament XI.  CREST was originally announced in December of 2012, but to my knowledge, there aren't any applications created solely with CREST until today. released an amazing web application today that shows in-depth replays of the ATXI fights, including ship position, status effects, and health.  The process itself isn't revolutionary or even unexpected - we see almost this exact same thing on the official stream itself, and we pretty much knew this would be possible based on the official announcement that CCP released regarding the temporary API information sharing.  What's great about Nullsec's efforts is that it's the first large undertaking regarding the CREST API that's been released to the public, and it presents fight data in a clean, easy to understand GUI.

To keep Nullsec from "one upping" them, CCP showed what they could do with the same information, and released the Battlespace Simulator XI.

Both applications show essentially the same information, which is a replay of a fight between two sides, what ships they flew, their positions, their negative effects, and their health.  They're displayed in slightly different ways, but that is largely just an aesthetic difference that doesn't really matter in the end.

So what's so great about this?  Well, CCP has stated that they'd like to release this information after the tournament is over in a more permanent state, and that they even plan to release it for DUST 514 usage. In its current state, the data is in basically real time.  What that means is that if you're watching one of these web applications that's linked to a live match, you see what's going on almost as fast as it happens. Of course, EVE being EVE, this would be too powerful, if released into the wild.  But it could be an amazing tool, nonetheless, and exploitation free.

When someone streams EVE on Twitch, a delay is almost always in effect.  If it weren't delayed, people would use that live, up-to-date information as an intelligence tool, and who can blame them?  The same principle can be applied to this battle API, as we'll call it.  If it had a sizable delay, just a few minutes would be fine, in fact, the information would be worthless as a live intel tool, but would still be invaluable for analyzing later.

Every single person in EVE that is concerned with PvP could benefit from it. Whether you're a solo pilot, a group of friends who are flying in assault frigates, or a major corporation/alliance, being able to analyze fights in such detail could be critical to improving and adapting.  The data collection itself can't be very taxing, certainly less so than trying to FRAPs everything (look, another 2GB file from my last 30 second recording!).

Right now the graphical quality is very barren, which is fine, don't get me wrong.  But imagine the future where a fully realized battle can be replayed later - not only would the quality of pilots increase, but the opportunities for budding EVE movie makers would explode!

Of course, CCP has to be extremely careful about the information they release, and they're unsurprisingly keeping this battle API very close to their chest, but now that in-depth, complex apps are starting to appear from the community, it will only be a matter of time before CCP is more comfortable with taking the next step. And what a glorious step it could be.
Read More

August 2, 2013

What Would the Fall of CVA Mean for EVE?

It's no secret that CVA is in the midst of a civil war right now. Formed in November 30, 2004, by a group known for (among other things) being roleplayers, CVA is one of the oldest alliances in EVE's history.  Very few alliances that formed in 2004 are still kicking today, especially in the context that CVA is.  CVA reminds me a little of Israel in many ways.  The land they occupy has no great economic value (Providence), yet is a hotbed of small battles, and is inhabited by peoples from many different backgrounds.  They've also both survived, inexplicably, when opposed by much larger enemies.  Somehow, CVA has managed to survive many close calls, and they always manage to rise from the ashes.

But what if they didn't?  CVA is not only unique for its longevity and history, but it is also one of the last areas that live by the Not Red Don't Shoot rules of engagement.  This makes Providence very newbie friendly.  Anyone who doesn't have a bad history with CVA can come through the area freely.  For new players, this means that Providence represents a great place to try nullsec for the first time.  If CVA didn't exist, would the NRDS policy and neutral-friendly lifestyle survive?

The war has only begun so far, consisting of two major fights: a nearly 300-man CVA fleet which attacked Of Sound Mind station, and then a 400 man fight over the same station on August 2nd, EVE time.  CVA easily reinforced the station the first time, but were pretty soundly defeated when they came back.   Quite a few third-part organizations came to 4B to be involved that may not have been expected, such as TEST, Dirt Nap Squad, Brave Newbies, and us, Noir. Mercenary Group.

Credit: JayneF
As I mentioned, CVA has survived many battles and wars that could have ended them, through which they persevered.  But let's imagine that this war with SOUND proves to be the end for them.  Let's imagine that the war turns uglier and lasts longer than anyone had anticipated, what was thought to be a quick purge turns into a slug fest that lasts months and months.  A civil war that started over a neutral ship being shot at (which is against the NRDS policy we spoke of), turns into a war in which every fight has neutrals show up, sometimes they shoot at you, sometimes they don't.  Will the common man in CVA become disgruntled at a ROE they view shackles them?

I doubt that CVA would fall from pure military action alone.  They've been there before, they know how to armor themselves against that, to weather the storm.  But if dissent were to become so high among the grunts of the alliance, fighting a long, drawn-out war over one Omen and began to leave the ranks? Certainly that could be damaging enough to CVA to allow for a hostile take over.  And without a unified alliance, it may be a one-two punch that they can't recover from.

 CVA is precisely the type of thing CCP loves to proclaim: an alliance that forged its own path, creating an entire culture out of nothing.   If they were gone, totally and irrevocably removed from Providence - along with their policies regarding neutrals - I think EVE would lose a valuable resource for new players. Outside of CVA, I don't see a place for the NRDS ROE.  The friendly, inviting nature of Providence would be gone.

Providence would likely become a fractured region with CVA out of the picture. The map would be in a constant state of flux, and it'd be ripe for any large alliance that would want to move in (although it's unlikely anyone would. Well, maybe TEST will continue to be pushed across the map and move in!) It'd likely still retain its overall feeling for those of us who used Providence as a hunting ground. That is to say, Providence would almost certainly remain an area that people go to when they're looking for a fight. But without the large intel channels, it'd be easier to move through.  And although unlikely, it'd be interesting if pirates moved back in, bringing Providence full circle to its origins.

In any case, if CVA were removed from Providence, the ones most effected would be the new players, without a doubt.  While there are still many groups that are newbie friendly and provide experiences in nullsec (Brave Newbies Inc., EVE University, TEST, just to barely scratch the surface), CVA allowed new players to come in, live in nullsec as long as they wished, and be safe from any hostiles while they were there.  They didn't have to join any particular group, pay any fee for staying there, or commit to some sort of defense organization.  They could come and go as they pleased.  If, in CVA's place, a half dozen feuding corporations moved into Providence, the freedom of movement currently offered wouldn't be an option any longer, and it would add a barrier to people who enjoy not being tied down, but having open access to an entire nullsec region.

There's no doubt that with CVA gone, EVE as we know it would be different. Would it be better or worse overall? Well, personally I'd be sad, but I'm a romantic.  Besides, in EVE, one can't be afraid of a little change. Right?
Read More