Sunday, May 25, 2014

Ways to Improve the Skill Training System

A good friend of mine is getting out of the military in August.  Since we used to play first-person shooters and World of Warcraft together 8 years ago, it makes sense to me that he might want to try Eve.  To plan for this, I started training a PVP character on a new account earlier this year.  He'll have around 10-12M SP in August, will have good all-around support skills, and will have Caldari Frigate V & Caldari Cruiser V with T2 missiles.  If it turns out that my friend isn't interested in Eve, then I can either keep this as a Tengu alt, or sell it on the Bazaar for a couple Billion isk.

Eve is great in that a 2-day old newbie can fit a out a frigate and be useful in any fleet as a tackler or a scout.  In WoW, if I just start playing then I'm completely useless to my level 90 friends until grind through the quests and reach level 90.  This takes a couple months with a normal level of play (at least it did when I last played wow, it might be even easier now).  In Eve, after the same couple of months...you're probably still going to be flying a tackle frigate in most organized gangs.  While a brand new character can be useful to any fleet, there is a large skill training "gulf" that must be bridged before you can start branching out to other roles or performing optimally in a solo pvp situation.  The 10M SP that my new alt will have is really what I consider now to be somewhat of a minimum in order to fly a decent variety of ships well.  When you reach 20-30M SP, then any ship you can fly you can fly well, and training only gets you into an ever-broader variety of increasingly redundant ships.  It's no coincidence that many PVP corps have minimum SP requirements near this level.

I think that to be more accessible to newbies, Eve needs to help players bridge this gap between 0 - 10M SP faster.  I have a few ideas on how to do this.

1. Condense Existing Skills

There are too many "mandatory" support or fitting skills that are frankly quite boring to train.  In terms of fitting skills this includes CPU Management V, Power Grid Management V, and Weapon Upgrades V.  I would also argue that the Armor Tanking, Shield Tanking, Navigation, and many of the basic Drone skills also fall into this category.

I would condense many of these into a single skill; for example I would have a single skill that covers CPU & Power Grid management, which would significantly reduce the amount of time needed to train fitting skills.  Why not combine the armor repair and remote armor repair skills?  How about shield operation & shield compensation?  And do we really need four separate armor & sensor compensation skills?  This is actually pretty minor and wouldn't have a particularly huge impact, but ultimately it means less time training boring support skills and more time training into fun new ships to fly or fun new weapons to use.

Unfortunately, recent trends show that CCP is actually moving in the opposite direction here.  The most recent example are the revamp of the drone skills.  After the Kronos patch, newbies will need to train a 1x skill to V in order to use T2 light drones, plus an additional 2x skill to use T2 medium drones.  Ironically, I stand to benefit greatly from these skill changes because it means I will not have to train Combat Drone Operation to V anymore, and I will simply be given Light & Medium Drone Operation V.  I really believe that this is a mistake and that CCP should make more of an effort to help new & future players catch up to established vets.

The other example, which I firmly believe was a mistake, was the splitting of the Destroyer & Battlecruiser skills, which happened last year.  Certain players who trained accordingly in anticipation of this change benefited immensely in the form of millions of "free" SP in these racial hull skills.  Someone who makes a new account today will have to spend 4 times as much time training in order to have the same capability.  This is MONTHS of additional training time!  No wonder there's a perception that new players can never catch up.

2. Accelerate Skill Point Gains for New Accounts

Ok, so there is technically already a booster that greatly accelerates skill training for new characters, but I think CCP should go a step further.  I would do something very simple: give away SP that can be spent however the player chooses.  For example, when an account is first upgraded, I'd give away 1M SP.  After another month, give away another 1M SP to the account.  One more month, another 1M SP.  This is on top of the normal skill queue and any boosters taken to enhance attributes.  I think this would do a lot to help newbies get established, and would probably also help retain new players.  Personally, I would also give away 1M SP to every account a couple times a year unannounced, because I think the whole community would appreciate it.


Obviously, I haven't thought these proposed changes through too much.  I'm not sure of what the unintended consequences of this would be, particularly if established players start new accounts to abuse this.  I suppose it would also become much easier to create new hauling, PI, and industry alts, which may impact the overall economy.  I still think that some of these are worth considering.  Also, I want to be clear that I mostly like the skill training system.  The greatest thing about it is that it completely removes any pressure to grind XP, and as long as my queue is running, I never feel as though I'm falling behind.  On the other hand, changes can certainly be made in order to make the game more accessible.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thoughts on off-grid Links

Not too long ago, my covert-ops alt finished training into a link Loki with T2 skirmish links and a skirmish warfare mindlink.  Now that I have some experience solo roaming with links, I thought I'd write about it.  This is a topic that many feel very strongly about, and many feel that links (especially off-grid boosting) should be heavily nerfed in some way.

I'll be completely honest here: skirmish links are pretty much completely unfair in solo fights.  They provide a huge advantage which benefits just about any ship in any situation.  I'll be completely honest again: I am not a good person.  I am a pirate.  I've never made any claim to being good at pvp in this game, and I likely never will (I have many corpmates who are much better than I'll ever be).  I don't always use links, but if I'm engaging above my class, multiple targets, ganking a mission runner, or if I simply feel like it, then I'm turning on the links.  I didn't spend months training my alt in order to leave him sitting in the station.

Looking at this in a different way, skirmish links allow you to engage targets or gangs that are otherwise un-engageable.  Under normal circumstances I would never warp into a plex which has a frigate gang inside of it.  However if you have links and you're flying a kiting ship, then you can burn out of their scram range before you're tackled and potentially get a decent fight out of it.  Solo roaming with links allows me to get more fights/hr than I normally would.  You might think this is unfair.  You might think this is an example of "pay to win" on my part by exploiting multiple accounts.  That's life. Deal with it.  I don't give a damn.

For gang roaming, things are a bit different.  The way you get a good fight in Eve is for your gang to look less scary than they actually are.  One major way you can achieve this is to use off-grid links.  This is the biggest reason that I think links should remain in the game as they are.  Forcing links to be on-grid only empowers the blob, and makes good fights less likely to happen.  This would make it much harder for smaller gangs (such as the typical Tusker gangs) to punch above their weight.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Merlin Revisited

I used to fly Merlins very often when I first started PvPing.  Small hybrids were the first weapon system I trained into T2, and the bonus to shield resistance made them very attractive for use in the E-Uni frigate gangs that I frequented.  I slowly began to phase them out when I trained Gallente Frigate V, and when I learned how easy it is to kite a blaster Merlin and basically stopped using them altogether for several months.  I still don't think that a Merlin is a very strong ship for the kind of solo PvP I mostly do: it's a rather slow ship and its conventional rail variant is inferior to the Incursus.  In fact, I usually look upon a Merlin as an easy win.

I've recently finished training Caldari Frigate V, and I'm now taking another look at the Merlin.  There is one role in particular the Merlin excels at: counter-fitting for specific targets.  The idea here is armor-tank the Merlin, and use its mid slots for unconventional e-war mods that allow you to beat targets that you otherwise can't.  The first example is the perfect counter to Slashers:

[Merlin, Dual Web Rail Merlin]
Magnetic Field Stabilizer II
Damage Control II
Small Ancillary Armor Repairer, Nanite Repair Paste 
J5b Phased Prototype Warp Scrambler I
X5 Prototype Engine Enervator
X5 Prototype Engine Enervator
1MN Afterburner II 
125mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
125mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
125mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S 
Small Auxiliary Nano Pump I
Small Hybrid Burst Aerator I
Small Polycarbon Engine Housing I

A Slasher usually looks at a Merlin as an easy target since they have a huge advantage in speed.  Against a blaster Merlin, a Slasher can either orbit at 5km and neut out the Merlin, or an armor variant can simply apply an optimal-range tracking disruptor and then scram-kite with Barrage ammo.  A conventional rail Merlin (with only a single web) is an even easier target: the Slasher uses its speed advantage to establish a tight orbit where it can't be hit, then can neut, run a tracking-scripted TD, and brawl down the Merlin using faction EM ammo.  Easy win.

The Slashers speed advantage and its ability to dictate range is completely negated by fitting the Merlin with two webs, and this completely turns the fight around.  Now the Merlin can scram-kite the Slasher outside of its neut range and use its rail guns to apply superior DPS.  If the Slasher has a TD, then the Merlin simply switches to thorium or iridium ammo, and still has better DPS than the Slasher at this range.  

The next version is a TD Merlin:

[Merlin, TD rail merlin]
Magnetic Field Stabilizer II
Small Ancillary Armor Repairer, Nanite Repair Paste
Damage Control II 
J5b Phased Prototype Warp Scrambler I
X5 Prototype Engine Enervator
DDO Photometry Tracking Disruptor I, Optimal Range Disruption Script
1MN Afterburner II 
150mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
150mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
150mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S 
Small Hybrid Burst Aerator I
Small Auxiliary Nano Pump I
Small Polycarbon Engine Housing I

With a polycarbon rig, this Merlin moves at 1100 m/s, which is not outstanding, but its faster than a Tormentor, a Punisher, a plated Incursus and a dual-rep Incursus.  There is literally almost no way this ship could lose to any of these ships aside from pilot error.  Its simple: kite at the edge of scram range, apply an optimal range TD, and plink away with railguns while avoiding any incoming DPS.  

In fact the TD Merlin is an interesting fit against any turret ship: A rail Incursus or a rail Atron fitted for speed and projection will probably have to disengage, and a Slicer would have to come within scram range in order to apply DPS with Scorch.  I think I'll fit a few of this up now...


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Alliance Tournament

I haven't been blogging much in the past month, for one reason: The Tuskers are entering the alliance tournament.  Therefore, most of my non-playing time is being spent theorycrafting tactics, fits, and gang comps instead of blogging.  Also, there's no way I can write about anything AT related except in vague generalities (at least not until after the AT).

I will say this though: thus far prepping for the AT has been a very positive experience for both myself and for our corp as a whole.  It's really amazing how this has galvanized our loose confederation of low-sec pirates into a cohesive unit, and I believe that we'll perform much better than many will expect.