October 25, 2015

When I Grow Up I Want to be a Carrier Pilot

Have you read the Capital Ship dev blog yet? If not, you'll want to check it out. It's pretty high level in most cases, but does a good job of laying out CCP's intentions. To summarize, capital ships will be given more options and deeper specialization. As a result, they'll be less well-rounded, and more vulnerable. There are a lot of changes coming to all capital ships, but all I want to talk about are squadrons. After reading the dev blog, I couldn't help but think flying a carrier after these changes will make you feel a lot like Admiral Adama.

Squadrons are groups of up to 12 fighters that a carrier or supercarrier pilot controls. You can launch up to 5 squadrons and all the fighters follow the orders given to the squadron - no granular control of individual fighters.

The gameplay for a carrier pilot is in the decisions you'll be making in putting the right squadrons on the field. You'll be choosing between Light Fighters, Support Fighters, and Heavy Fighters. Each type has a role: anti-fighter and light combat, ewar, and capital/structure damage respectively. Furthermore, each squadron can have up to three abilities which look to be actively controled, similarly to a ship's modules.

The look and feel of the proposal really strikes a chord with me. Look at these mockups:

This image does a good job of conveying a 'minigame' type of gameplay for carrier pilots. Managing the squadrons that are deployed, their status (some abilities may need to reload apparently), and getting squadrons on deck (or in the launch tubes if we're going to continue the Battlestar Galactica theme), and choosing what types of fighters will be in what squadrons could be a lot of fun.

This image gives us a taste of what the squadron control may look like. While you can't order individual fighters around, you do get a bit of granular control back by activating multiple squadron's abilities.

And quite interestingly, the tactical overlay begins to look more like something you'd see out of a strategy game, or perhaps reminiscent of a sci-fi movie's idea of a tactical overlay, as compared to just showing weapon ranges. This is important because you'll be able to order your fighters to whevere you want in space rather than interacting with a specific target.

Apparently the new camera controls that will be coming is in large part due to the gameplay requirements of squadrons. The range of fighters will only extend as far as the grid, but that does mean they can still be hundreds of kilomters away. It's pretty easy to imagine how difficult it might be to keep an eye on everything, so hopefully the new camera and the tactical overlay will help with that.

Combined, these changes could lead to be a really exciting new way to play. It strikes me as more RTS and less staring at modules and overviews, which is a really cool direction to go. Obviously this is all very early information and I won't be holding my breath, but I'm very intrigued by what could be incredibly engaging gameplay that makes you feel like you're in control of a real carrier. Up until now, drones and fighters have not been exciting to control, and this could change that.  I wonder if this type of gameplay will ever make its way to sub capitals.

I hope there are more moves in the future to add interesting ways of interacting with the game, shifting from the overview.
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October 18, 2015

The Perception of Skill Cost

Obviously the EVE Blogosphere is buzzing about the Exploring the Character Bazaar & Skill Trading dev blog that was released on October 15. It could, after all, result in a major mental culture shift. Like all changes in EVE, there are those who are support and those who are in dissent.  I fall into the latter, just barely, because of one simple reason: I don't think this change will help those it was intended for.

The Target

Who, exactly, is this change intended for? For that, we can pick up a few clues from the dev blog itself. CCP Rise writes, ". . .I made that jump from 15mil SP to 33mil SP. . .". He's writing about some of the downsides to the current character trading system when he says that, meaning that while he got the extra skill points and skill point allocation he wanted, he had to deal with things like names and corporation history that he didn't want. 

Let's have a look at the mechanics too:

Creating a Transneural Skill Packet requires approximately 500,000 skillpoints (we will fiddle with this number a bit to make it most practical considering common skill level denominations)

And in regards to diminishing returns:

0 – 5 million skillpoints = 500,000 unallocated skillpoints added
5 – 50 million skillpoints = 400,000 unallocated skillpoints added
50 – 80 million skillpoints = 200,000 unallocated skillpoints added
> 80 million skillpoints = 50,000 unallocated skillpoints added

He goes on to say, ". . this design favors skill transfers for younger characters and makes them very inefficient for older characters."

So it's obvious that this is aimed at new players, players within the first few months to couple of years under their belts. These are the players that, commonly, believe that they aren't competitive with older players, players who have retained the "level up" mentality from other MMOs they may have played. They don't understand or appreciate specializing because they don't realize the advantages, and they want to sit in new ships. And hey, let's be honest, that feeling is completely understandable to a certain degree. We all love our new ships, we just don't think that having a newer, bigger ship makes us better at the game.

The Mentality

I fear that this mechanic will cause a cultural shift in and out of EVE, one where new players aren't worth their weight in warp scramblers anymore. For a long time, it wasn't fun being a new player. Years ago, new players were told to spend weeks and weeks training "leaning skills" which just made them learn other skills faster. CCP eventually got rid of the design because it created an artificial hurdle for new players to feel useful and it just plain wasn't fun.

Over the last few years EVE has enjoyed a culture of supporting new players, thanks in large part to so many successful newbie-oriented corporations and alliances and likely the frigate rebalances. A new player was (not scornfully) told they'd be able to get into the action in just a couple of days at most, and to have a lot of fun doing it.

Even so, the mentality of those outside looking in hasn't enjoyed that type of shift. People constantly wonder if they'll even be able to compete, if it's worth getting into EVE at this point since everyone has a "head start". We all know the answer to that question by now: no, it's not too late. No, you won't be useless or behind, but you will need to specialize. 

All the skill points in the game don't matter when you undock. Skill points just mean you have more choices in the hangar. A young pilot who has mastered his ship is more deadly than a "veteran" who spent the last decade playing Skill Queue Online. This type of lesson is valuable, and likely will be lost.

Furthermore, when those questions are asked from an interested outsider, the answer will change. People will now say, "No, it doesn't because you can buy all the skill points you want. Sure, it may be a little expensive later on, but you can do it." And I fear the response will be one of severe disinterest.

People already equate skill points to levels, and levels to power. The issue we'll face is one of perception, not one of mechanical balance. And for a game that wants to bring in new players so badly, we're not giving them a good view of reality.
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