The Middle Way

Alright so I am going to start this one from way out in left field. In Buddhism, the fundamental state of the universe is described by what’s called the Four Noble Truths:

  1. All of life is jacked up.
  2. There is a way out of all the jacked up crap.
  3. The Buddha knows the way out.
  4. The way out is the Eightfold Path.

Now the Eightfold Path is eight things to get correctly in order to achieve enlightenment. They are things like Right Thinking, Right Intent, and six other things you can look up if you really care. But what they basically describe is what Buddha called, “the Middle Way.” Before he found the correct path, he wandered among a bunch of groups that advocated extreme asceticism and dedicated practice on the one hand and epicurean not worrying about anything on the other. His goal ended up being a middle way between these extremes.

So thus endeth the lesson on Buddhism. Totally irrelevant, yeah? Well, I see my alliance, the Brave Collective, as finding its way between two extremes. On the one hand, we are a group that is completely devoted to individual gameplay. We’re all about fun per hour and devoting ourselves to the individual’s game experience, sometimes overwhelmingly to the new player. However, on the other hand we are a nullsec alliance and we do the things that nullsec alliances do: hours of POS bashes and sov matches, laborious logistics, etc. We get all the alliance mails that sov alliances send out: train this, show up for that, etc. We are not like the Pandemic Chodes who have PL take care of everything for them and who must leave their alliance to advance via Waffles. In Brave, the bloc FC and the supercarrier pilot have the same alliance ticker, often the same corp ticker, as the day old noob. Events like B-R and the This is Eve trailer fill us flush with new members from time to time where our noobiness is overwhelmingly apparent, but those events don’t happen every day and at times we actually show some age, with a lot of members having been in the alliance for months or years. We also have players that have been in the game for many many years. Our mantra, the beautiful and necessary commitment to ‘undock and die’ can in many members be replaced by the burning urge to undock and kill, and to do that we need to run a tight ship.

In addition to our role as a holistic alliance that runs the gamut of nullsec experience, we’ve also had a penchant for being in between the powers. Although we have recently suffered defeat at the hands of Pandemic Legion’s ploy of welching on agreements and exploiting miscommunication in order to poach members, in fact most cases of our alliance’s moves and evolution have been defined by our becoming too big and bad for our environment. We are all too often just too powerful for many enemies but not powerful enough for others.

Because of these situations, our commitment to being a for-fun alliance for newbies on the one hand and a legitimate nullsec alliance on the other, and for our being very powerful in some respects but very weak in others, it’s easy for a member to get confused about Brave’s focus. I mean we send out mails and post on reddit about participation but we don’t count participation via PAP links or anything. Further, summer is upon us. Summer is normally a time where logins fall and CCP keeps things going via various events (ala alliance tournament and others) until people hole up for the winter for serious gaming. So a lot of people in Brave are wondering what they should do.

Well, I think the answer to that is to understand Brave’s place in the overall kind of game that Eve is. Yes, a lot of our newer members are with us because of the This is Eve trailer that portrayed Eve as being filled with more gut-wrenching excitement that HALO or Diablo III. It probably didn’t take long before most of us realized that those moments in Eve can be infrequent. Eve really isn’t that kind of game. When thinking about hobbies, I might compare Eve to my days of sport bike riding where I would wake up at 5 AM to perform an hour of maintenance before an hour long ride to my road of choice that I would ride over and over, memorizing every curve, calculating just how far I could lean and how fast I could go, ultimately mastering the road and the ride after weeks of work. A lot of you probably don’t know it due to surfers’ reputations as Jeff Spicoli pot heads, but surfing involves early mornings for long drives out to beaches for hours of wading through 50-degree waters braving rocks and sharks in search of that perfect wave. Eve is a bit like that. It’s a game to be worked at and to be mastered. Those who do well have something to be truly proud of, like a chess master or a medalist in a sport.

In Eve I’ve heard tales of how glorious it was to grind Catch in stealth bombers. Yes, there were many comments of ‘that was the most miserable thing I have ever done in life,’ but there was an honor gained by doing it and a certain pride in telling the story. I’ve heard stories of the collapse of Fountain during the days of TEST about all the valorous (and thoroughly miserable) things that happened to those guys. Those stories are the height of pride for those who have them.

Now going into summer, and having thought about the above, I think the way to reconcile Brave’s goals as an alliance for fun per hour with its goals as a legitimate nullsec alliance is to convey an understanding of what fun is. In Eve, fun is most certainly getting that sweet kill or chilling with the bros over beers while mining rocks. However, it is also in building oneself in order to build one’s corp in order to build the alliance and the coalition. Eve is actually a game where the fun is in working at stuff, and fun is in accomplishing things through the group that you can’t accomplish alone.

That said, should we become like every other alliance and take PAP links for fleet participation and kick people who don’t have the doctrines trained? No. Should we refuse to support any kind of content that isn’t station spinning until the next stratop? Definitely not. I recommend a middle way. When you get the mail to train Crucifier because it’s just a week long train, see if you can get it done in a few weeks. When you get the mail to form for every fleet, see if you can make a commitment to fleet up 2, 3, 4 times a week or however much a responsible assessment of your schedule allows. Further, just because it’s sunny outside, don’t abandon the game for the next 3 months. Your alliance is counting on you. No need to play every day all day, but see if you can log in on a regular schedule. I’ve read that the overwhelming majority of the world’s geniuses and exceptional people, from Mozart to Michael Jordan, were raised in environments where they could practice to an extreme degree. Mastery of Eve requires practice, just like football or olympic sprinting. It’s not about the skill queue. Player expertise is the key.

So for Brave, let’s take a middle road and make sure we have healthy lives and casual, fun play, but actually consider devoting ourselves to our sport (Eve isn’t really a game – it’s a sport) and our community of friends in a moderate and responsible way.

King of Battle

It’s time to talk about the dreadnoughts. Fozziesov is coming. I think a lot of people are expecting more than will really happen. In our time in Fountain, Brave has actually engaged in very little sov warfare, though there has actually been a tremendous amount of ‘territorial’ warfare in the form of POS warfare. Sov affects the ability to dock and some sliders in the realm of industry and ratting, but the real bedrock of territorial war in Eve are the structures in space, and those won’t be changing until later in the year. This being the case, until the various structures in Eve are switched over to the entosis system, much will stay the same. Nonetheless, whether sooner or later, the era of the large hitpoint battles over structures will come to an end. Warfare will be about field control through the destruction and manipulation of opposing combat forces. Everyone has already started crying about an obvious effect of this change: dreadnoughts are basically about structure warfare. Yes, they do have a part to play in field control and engagements between forces in space. A dread is a really nice way of taking out a triage carrier. Dreads are also handy for bringing down supercaps. Nevertheless, without their role as structure pounding damage machines, their role will be so greatly diminished that they likely won’t be worth the months of training time. CCP has assured us that something will be done, mostly in the context of supercapitals, but certainly in the realm of capital ships in general. With this post I would like to propose some ideas about modifications to dreadnoughts. As with my usual posts, I will proffer myriad details, many of which will ultimately prove ludicrous and very few if any of which would actually be workable given the number of unknowns in these giant leaps of evolution that CCP has planned. However, these details will rest upon a fundamental concept that I would like to introduce or advance.

In this post, before details are mentioned, explaining the fundamental concept will take some paragraphs in its own right. So let’s begin. In MMOs there are generally five determinants of battlefield interaction: the damage dealer, the healer, the buffer, the debuffer, and the tank. Eve includes all these elements, though often in very unique ways. Game designers are often tempted to look to these fundamental properties when creating team interaction. Beyond these properties, game designers tend to look to the material that their games display as a driver for these determinants. World of Tanks has it easy. When making a tank game, you just look at tank warfare. Spaceship games don’t have it so easy, as spaceship warfare has only existed in the realm of fiction. Normally, due to the long history of continuity in science fiction, the primary inspiration for spaceship warfare has been naval warfare. This works quite well, as vast ocean plains and the depths of the seas do replicate the emptiness of space fairly well. Being a technological battle environment, however, the ranges and firepower involved in naval warfare are astronomical, and naval warfare in the 21st century is actually often an issue of detection and timing more than anything else. Naval warfare is therefore missing a key element that is present in Eve due to the technical design of the game. Eve has an on grid world and an off grid world. Right now, very few off grid elements affect the grid. Bookmarks, cynos, and warfare links are the only ones that I can think of at the moment.

Fozziesov, with it’s constellation-wide entosis spawn points is an an effort to expand warfare outside the grid by creating battles on many different grids. This is an effort to break up the blob, among other things. I think this effort will improve the game most certainly. However, I think a lot more could be done to kill the blob, and I think the way to do it is to develop more avenues in which warfare can transcend the grid. I know CCP has been on a crusade to get rid of off-grid boosting for a while. At this point I am wondering why. I mean would it really be so hard for a party to get some scan ships and a bit of DPS in its own fleet or squad to go hunting down the links? Someone would actually be doing something apart from the blob. Dictor and scout are just about the only non-blob roles I can think of. Link hunters are another. I don’t know what the rush to get rid of this idea is about. I mean in a naval war, the E3 Sentry with its AWACS system feeding intelligence and telemetry data to a flight of Hornets in the North Sea might be loitering over Iceland. Off grid boosts are very realistic and lore compatible. Perhaps they need to be dialed to create more engaging fights, but they definitely fall into Fozzie’s direction of multiple smaller battles to win an engagement. So if you’re a hater of off grid boosting, you’re going to hate this idea, because the idea, the fundamental concept of this article, is to turn dreadnoughts into off grid weaponry, not specifically focused on structures or anti-capital warfare, but on all aspects of warfare in New Eden.

In order to mine military history for inspiration, it’s best not to look to naval warfare, where absolutely everything except aerial dogfights are off grid. I therefore propose we look to the Army and the Marines in their land warfare capacity. About a decade ago, the Army changed its nomenclature for its method of categorizing its force determinants. Previously, the various branches of the Army were referred to as Combat Arms, Combat Support, and Combat Service Support. The Combat Service Support branches such as Finance, Transportation, Quartermaster were redesignated as Force Sustainment. The Combat Support branches such as Military Intelligence and Signal branches were redesignated as Operational Support. The Combat Arms branches such as Infantry, Armor, and Artillery, were redesignated as Maneuver, Fires, and Effects. So CA, CS, and CSS became MFE, OS, and FS respectively, with abbreviations being used more often in speech and text (MFE) because Maneuver, Fires, and Effects is just a mouthful.

It’s MFE that I would like to concentrate on. The reason for the name change from something easy to say (Combat Arms) and pretty easily comprehensible (‘the guys pulling triggers’) to a mouthful of military theoretical terms was an important one recognizing that there are some distinct elements involved in trigger pulling. There are a lot of different types of triggers to pull. These military terms should therefore be explained. There is a debate in military circles as to who gets to call themselves Maneuver. The grunts will tell you that only the infantry, the Queen of Battle, gets to call itself Maneuver. Until you can send a foot soldier into Saddam Hussein’s office and rip the phone out of his hand and hang it up, you really don’t have control over the ground. That’s principally the definition of Maneuver: forces that control ground. Tankers, however, will tell you that columns of tanks rolling through the enemy streets are a pretty effective form of control, and if need be a tanker can get out of his tank and accomplish what the infantry can. Further, there is no force more effective for rolling over any hostile on the ground than the tank. Therefore, military theorists generally recognize that Infantry and Armor are the only Maneuver forces. I’m not really interested in talking about Maneuver forces, however, as I think Eve has that dimension pretty well covered. I’m wanting to explore Fires and Effects. Truly, the primary asset of any nation in delivering fires to the ground will be its air force. However, not being a flyboy, I’ll concentrate on the Army’s traditional version of it, our rotary Aviation branch. Aviation is the Army’s most flexible system of delivering immense firepower. That’s the definition of Fires: immense application of firepower without exertion of ground presence or control. I want to concentrate on fires, because with regards to Eve, a way to deliver firepower without controlling the space would be to place it off grid. However, I don’t want to talk about fires alone. The principle branch that controls battlefield effects are the Combat Engineers. They build bridges and blow them up and they emplace mines, concertina wire, and barriers in order to canalize the enemy and limit his movement. They create hills to put machine gun nests on for enfilading fire. They dig holes to put tanks in for defilading fire. They clear trees to make spaces for helicopters to hide in (called ‘masking’) and pop out of to deliver fire and then hide in again after delivered. They basically do all these things, create effects, in order to influence the battle. Eve has woefully few battlefield effects. Bubbles come to mind, but not much else.

There is another branch in the Army that straddles the world of Fires and Effects: The King of Battle (the traditional name for the Artillery). The Artillery does compete with the Air Force and Aviation for delivering precision fires, usually with complicated and inconvenient delivery methods but with less occasion for friendly fire because you have a forward observer there on the ground guiding the missile or the Copperhead precision round to target. However, artillery’s traditional realm of supremacy lies in the realm of suppression. Frankly, firing guns day and night making an entire neighborhood or forest into an explosive fire zone won’t cause as many casualties as sending in the riflemen and the tanks, but it will make people stay in the basement or stay in their bunkers and holes. Artillery is a method of delivering immense firepower not specifically to kill, but to suppress the enemy. Further, the artillery applies battlefield smoke in order to mask friendly movements. Not a lot of people know this, but artillery guns in the US Army can also deliver a FASCAM, which is a mine field. Artillery can lay down a minefield over multiple kilometers from many kilometers away during the midst of the battle. However, artillery generally can’t just roll along and deliver fires and effects. Time must be taken to emplace and calibrate guns and rocket launchers and calculate fire data before a battery is ready to go. Basically, an artillery battery must siege, like a dreadnought.

I propose that we make dreadnoughts like the artillery, delivering fires and effects from some number of AU from where the fight is. As a balance and dialing element, I propose that there be some sort of element of the forward observer, perhaps a T2 scout destroyer that has a module that paints a target and/or a module that drops a beacon to which a dreadnought can fire.

I also propose that nothing be taken away from the dreads’ current function. They can still siege and lay down 15K DPS on grid to anyone that comes to attack them. However, I propose that they be able to be fitted with additional types of ammunition capable of delivering certain fires and effects up to say 5 AU away. These fires and effects would not be the same as the current damage and ammunition. It wouldn’t be 15K DPS from 5 AU away cumulative with each dread. There would be a certain limit to the damage done, so that maybe 3 dreads wouldn’t do more damage than 30. Perhaps, though, if certain damage types were area damage fields (like being able to plant smart bombs in the midst of an enemy fleet) the more dreads you used, the larger this field could be.

I also propose a UI enhancement, either as something clicked on the fleet menu or a separate button on the Neocom for dreadnought and scout destroyer pilots in the same fleet. They’d get a separate window that would show the dreadnought pilots what other dread pilots were in the fleet and what scout destroyers were in the fleet and would have information about which scout destroyers were painting a ship or dropping a beacon. The exact amount of information present would be something to discuss at another time. This window, however, would be the method of selecting targets for the dreadnoughts. Along with this UI window, I’d propose the concept of batteries. Certain types of ammunition delivering certain types of fires and effects would require a certain minimum number of guns. So delivering, say, a minefield would require a minimum of 15 guns, or 5 dreads, all clicking their modules within a second of each other or something, and/or being in the same battery in the UI window. These rounds would have a speed and flight time so they would not deliver the fires and effects instantly. In addition to launching the rounds within a second or so of each other, the rounds must land within a second of each other or thereabouts requiring that the 5 dreadnoughts be located at the same point of origin. So that a battle supported by 15 dreadnoughts might have them dropped 6 different locations in 1 battery of 5 dreads delivering some heavy duty fire or effect and 5 batteries of 2 dreads delivering some less devastating effect.

Ideas for effects could be damage over time smart bomb style mine fields, cloaking fields (battlefield smoke), or warp disruption bubbles or stasis webification bubbles, as well as all the various types of EWAR in the game – neut bubbles, etc. Various rounds can have various ranges and speeds and flight times, some may be able to be applied only to a ship painted by a scout destroyer while others may be applied only to dropped beacons from scout destroyers and still others could be applied to both. Requiring various rounds to be fired from batteries of various sizes would prevent a force from dropping 50 dreads in 50 different locations in a system to create fewer engagement areas at which a party must invest a substantial amount of ISK that would be vulnerable to subcap attack or counter drop.

Allowing dreads to be a form of off grid weaponry that could provide a variety of fires and effects to one grid from a variety of different grids would further cause fleet break up not only at the system level, where battles will spread through a constellation, but within systems. Further, an element of attrition would be added to capital warfare. An opponent may be able to drop four dreads on a battery of two dreads providing fires and effects on the main battle at the entosis point, but he may have trouble dropping 30 dreads to take out all six of the batteries in the scenario delivered above. Commanders may have to decide to take out batteries with subcaps, further splitting forces, but in very many cases portions of a force’s dreadnought force will be able to do their job safely. This will counter the N v. N+1 problem. No longer will you be required to land 60 caps on grid in order to destroy the enemy’s 30 caps on grid. If your enemy has 30 dreads in system and you can only muster 5, you may be able to take out a battery of 2 or 3. Overall, these changes will further split up forces and break up the blob as well as fill out the dreadnought’s role as an anti-ship system participating in field control rather than just a structure basher.