(Un)intended game mechanics

EVE is not the only game where unintended game mechanics emerge, but it is a great example of how creative players can be.

Map OPC1 in Quake 3 ArenaFor example, have you ever heard of “strafe jumping” in Quake 3 Arena or other games on Quake’s engine? It’s a technique which allows players to move around the map much faster than originally intended by the developers. A whole “trick jumping” community emerged around this unintended gameplay, where players would learn and share creative ways how to move from point A to point B on original or custom Quake maps.

Reading forums I stumbled upon a post, which complains about Incursion mothership sites being closed “prematurely” by a group of players and how this is “griefing” the whole incursion community. Players who claim to know EVE and its game mechanics quickly replied that this way of playing incursions is in fact the orignal way intended by the developers. The question arises: is it really? And what should game designers do when players use game mechanics in an emergent and unintended way?

Before we answer these questions, let’s have a look at one more example: jetcan mining. New players might not realize, but Mining Barges didn’t always have such spacy cargoholds as they do now. One or two cycles of Strip Miners was enough to fill them completely. Bah, Mining Barges in fact didn’t even exist initially. Normal combat ships were used for mining, and because of their limited cargo space, players had to dump their ore rather often. Secure Containers (with up to 3900m3 of capacity) could be safely anchored in space and used as temporary 2005. before hauler pilots could pick the ore up and transport it to the nearest station. Each ship can however eject a jettison container, which has a capacity of 27,500 m3, which is far more than anchorable containers. Guess what miners started to do? They used jetcans as their temporary ore buffers. The downside of this was that anyone could take ore from jetcans, but back then it wasn’t very common to harass miners – the world of EVE was so big and there was many things to do more interesting than ganking mining ships.

Was this mechanic intended? Now we know that clearly it was not. But back then you had an alternative: either anchor a Secure Container, which you had to pay for first, and then spend 60 seconds on anchoring it, or simply right click and choose Jettison and get nearly 10 times as much cargo space for free. It doesn’t take a genious to realize it was (kind of) a design flaw, used by the players. Jetcans high capacity was intended for completely other purpose – to preserve all the cargo which survived the ship explosion, or when you wanted to transfer cargo between ships in space.

What could the game designers do if the mechanic of jetcan mining wasn’t intended?

First and easiest, they could simply accept the emergent gameplay and conisder it a valid use case. Secondly they could add bigger anchorable containers to game, so use of a jetcan would simply become less favorable thing to do. Unfortunately, this would break other game systems. Secure containers are “compressors” of sorts. They are bigger inside than they are on the outside by a factor of 1.3x. But if CCP added containers bigger than jetcans, there would be no ships in game that could carry such a big container. The first thought that comes to mind is “if containers are already bigger on the inside, let’s just increase their compression ratio, so they are bigger than jetcan but still fit in cargohold”. This however would affect hauling, making logistics a bit too easy.
“Well” you could say “Let’s just increase the cargo space of the mining ships then”. Which again is bad design decision if you look at it, because Mining Barges with huge cargoholds would simply be more favorable to fly than Industrial ships, making the latter obsolete.
“Wait” I hear you say “But mining barges in the end did get cargoholds bigger than jetcans”. Yes and no. Mining ships has got “Ore holds” which can only hold Ore, and cannot be used for any other types of cargo. This way Barges didn’t obsolete Industrials and Transports, which have general purpose cargoholds. But such specialized cargobays didn’t exist in game back in 2005, so game designers couldn’t use them to solve the unintended jetcan mining mechanic then.

Let’s get back to incursions. How are they supposed to work?

  • incursion consists of a constellation filled with random sites, which have varying tiers of difficulty
  • all systems affected by incursion have NPC induced debuffs
  • NPCs are tuned in such a way which prevents to complete it solo
  • with each completed site NPC imposed debuffs become slightly weaker
  • once players complete a specific amount of lower tier sites, a boss site spawns
  • to encourage players to complete sites, each participant gets the same amount of ISK after the site is completed.

2011.’s the unintended part? The rewards for completing lower tier incursion sites is high enough to make it the best ISK-making activity in high sec space. Players have no intent on completing the boss site, because farming Vanguard sites simply pays better. Now we’re back to the original forum post I mentioned at the beginning. Is completing incursions griefing? Or is it just playing the game the way it was intended to be played?

I am not the game designer, so honestly, I can’t know for sure. In most games farming is not desired, because it devaluates the rewards for the more casual players, who can’t invest the same amount of time (it would be ISK and Concord LP in incursions case).

If I were the game designer, how would I make sure low level incursion sites are not farmed?

There could be a couple of solutions, starting with a simple rule: If enough lower tier sites have been completed to spawn the boss site, I would reduce the rewards for completing the lower tier sites (even down to zero). This way I would make it undesirable for players to keep running lower tier sites instead of completing the boss site. If instead of a hard cut it was a gradual decrease, it would work even better.

One more approach would be to keep lower tier sites from respawning once the boss site has been spawned. Increasing reqrds for boss sites would be risky, because no one would attempt low sec or null sec incursions, if high sec mothership sites dropped the Revenant BPCs.

As you can see, solutions that would stop people from farming lower tier sites are simple. The fact that CCP didn’t do anything against incursion farmers means that this kind of player behaviour is not entirely unwanted.

Flag mechanic changed for remote repair in hi-sec

Today CCP has deployed a client update #2 for Incarna 1.1.3. In the patch notes we can find:

Client Update #2

  • To benefit the EVE community at large, a small change has been made to game mechanics in regarding criminal flags and how they are inherited in high security space. If a pilot is remote repairing, or otherwise assisting, another pilot who commits a criminal act then the repair module will now disengage. In order to continue repairs the module will need to be restarted and a message will appear warning of the criminal flag and possible consequences.
  • 67 Alliance logos have been added

A lot of players are already concerned about the change, because it was one of the ways to disrupt the Incursion fleets and was used by many griefers and wanna-be pirates. How does it work?

An Incursion fleet often consists of people who don’t know each other. Some elemental trust is required to fly in one fleet with people you don’t know. But unfortunately Incursion fleets rely on spider tank, as no local tank can withstand the DPS dealt by the Incursion NPCs. Remote repair used to have one disadvantage: if the repaired target is flagged (be it agression, war, or global criminal), then the repairing party also becomes flagged. At first, griefers would join an Incursion fleet, let themselves be repaired and then they would attack someone else in the fleet, becoming instantly flagged with global criminal flag. In high-sec that meant both the griefer and the repping party got Concordokkened. CCP promptly fixed the issue, but players quickly found a workaround: the criminal mechanic. A neutral character would steal from a container, becoming flagged for the corporation, who owns the can. Then the neutral pilot would join a fleet and let himself be repaired. The criminal flag would then be passed to everyone who repaired the neutral pilot, just as if they had stolen from a can, too.

Why is this flag mechanic broken? Because when someone else is flagged there is no visible sign of that flag until its too late (notification becomes available under the top left agression countdown, but you have to explicitly hover your mouse there to check who are you flagged against – normally it will be just Sansha NPCs).

Summing it up: this flag mechanic was flawed (GCC), it was exploited by people looking for an easy kill and it got fixed. Players then found a workaround for that fix and started exploiting it, too. Today CCP has fixed it for good.

PS. You can always gank Incursioners if you hate them so much.

PS.2 Thanks to @Mara_Rinn for spotting a mistake in my post!

Supply vs. demand vs. game design

I don’t usually mine, because mining in EVE Online does not offer much in terms of rewards. I do however build things from time to time and sometimes I need just a bit more tritanium or other easily accessible mineral. Instead of buying it from market I jump into a barge and get the job done myself. I thought about training an alt to fly an Orca, to make my occassional mining actually useful, even if I do it twice a year.

Usually such a character would train Mining Barges, Mining Foreman and Mining Director skills to 5. To improve the bonuses given by the Orca by another 50 percent, a Mining Foreman Mindlink can be used. And here comes a little, nasty surprise. I remember that these implants used to cost about 40-50 million ISK. Did you know, that they are now worth 10 (ten!) times as much?

To answer the question WHY

Mining Formean Mindlink price skyrocketed like this, we need to inspect the graph below:

The source of Mindlinks is neither NPC nor Blueprint: they can only be obtained by doing storyline missions (for example Shipyard Theft). In the Incursion expansion CCP has introduced an extensive batch of storyline missions, which results in much lower probability of getting “the right mission” with the Mining Foreman Mindlink implant. This is why I have marked the three stages of Incursion deployment on the price graph.

“What about the Hulkageddon” you might ask?

The amount of destroyed Orca’s and their pilots podded is marginal compared to the amount of Hulks destroyed in Hulkageddon, so I don’t think Helicity Boson could be held responsible. Hulkageddon is a great opportunity for people who build mining ships and is beneficial for the New Eden economy, even though miners disagree.

I’m nowhere near being a full time miner, so I will probably skip the “dedicated Orca alt” plan, because at this point the investment will not make a return.

Dear CCP:

Please look at the distribution of Mindlink implants, unless it was your plan to increase their price. If not, this issue should be adressed pronto.

Client update #3 for Incursion 1.6 released

Client update #3 for Incursion 1.6 released

During an extended downtime today, CCP has released a Client update, which fixes most of the problems introduced in the recent patch:

  • The Capacitor Stability Indicator on the fitting screen will now deplete in the correct direction.
  • The session change timer no longer blinks.
  • Combat shortcuts can once again be triggered by selecting objects in the overview and pressing the desired key.
  • The mailing list management window is operational once again.
  • The missing Jump Clone buttons have reappeared.
  • Job quotes from the Repair Shop will once again be displayed in the Repair Shop window.
  • The current Asset window tab will now retain focus when changing ship.
  • The number of outstanding contracts message will now display correctly.
  • Players will no longer experience missing entries in the market buy and sell order windows.
  • The Capacitor display has returned to the center of the HUD.

Server side fixes for Incursion 1.6, released June 3, 2011

  • Planetary Resources and the predicted Extractor Head output have been returned to their previous equilibrium, no more output inconsistencies should be experienced.
  • Please ensure that the latest client update is downloaded to avoid any further strangeness with Planetary Interaction.

Incursion 1.6 patch brings Carbon UI and… lots of problems

Incursion 1.6 patch brings Carbon UI and… lots of problems

New Carbon UIMost seasoned EVE players have already got used to a rough ride after a patch day. CCP has commited to make this experience less painful, and over the years, patches have became smoother and situations where a new patch introduced new bugs are not as common now as they used to be in the past. Unfortunately the latest Incursion 1.6 patch, which replaced the old GUI with a brand new Carbon UI, brought lots of quite severe bugs. Patch notes were rather short, so no one expected trouble, such as:

  • When running two clients on some machines, the client in the background crashes during jumping through the gate on the active client.
  • Hotkeys are currently working incorrectly – you have to press the hotkey before clicking on the object you want to interact with.
  • Planetary resources showing as 0. This can be fixed by clearing your cache.
  • Anti-Aliasing is causing “ghost” windows to appear after dragging a window. Workaround is to turn off Anti-Aliasing.

This forum thread contains a full list of problems introduced by the last patch. Good luck to CCP, so they fix this soon!

EVE Online simplified – Incursion 1.5 on the way

EVE Online simplified – Incursion 1.5 on the way

A while ago CCP has switched from regular huge updates  into a more agile development cycle, making the releases smaller (and supposedly, more polished). A crowd-sourcing poll was run, and the results are now being implemented one by one. This initiative has been dubbed the “little things” – small improvements, which make the game easier and more usable. There were a few dev-blogs about this, most notably Little things are still little and recent LittleThings4Lyfe.

Most players actually enjoy the improvements, as some GUI elements were really too complex (or too cumbersome in some instances), and needed improvement. Things already implemented include:

  • Remote jump clone removal
  • Drag and drop on container to move items into it
  • Deadspace, faction, officer, and storyline items now have an overlay icon like the Tech II and III items.
  • Probes can now be added to the overview.
  • Players with Starbase Defense Operator roles will now receive notifications about control towers under attack.
  • You can now rename ships in your hangar without making them active.

Little things initiatives continue, and the coming Incursion 1.5 update (to be deployed tomorrow, 19th of May 2011; remember to set long skill) will bring some good changes:

  • BPO and BPC finally receive different icons, in order to make them visually different. Copies will now have lighter icons.
  • On-board scanner (the one which can be used to probe for anomalies) range have been increased from 5AU to 64AU. Cycle time was reduced from 30 seconds to just 10.
  • single history tab in the fleet finder
  • show info page won’t show another players standing to all agents and corporations; from now on, it will only display standings relevant to player who clicked the show info.
  • When starting a manufacturing job without all the ingredients, it will now be possible to add (buy, move, etc.) the materials to input location (such as a hangar) without the need to restart the whole job from scratch.
  • Ships with jump drives will not be able to use jump bridges with the exception of the Black Ops group.
  • Agent quality will be removed. All agents will have -20 in terms of accessibility and +20 in terms of rewards.
  • Agent divisions will be simplified:
  • New Division Old Divisions
    Distribution (100% courier) Accounting, Advisory, Archives, Distribution, Financial, Marketing, Personnel, Production, Public Relations, Storage
    Mining (100% mining) Astrosurveying, Manufacturing, Mining
    Security (100% combat) Administration, Command, Intelligence, Internal Security, Legal, Security, Surveillance
    Research (100% research) R&D (no change)
  • Connection Skills will be updated as well, removed skills will yield free SP that can be applied to other skills (it will work the same way as in Learning Skills removal)

BPCs new icons
BPCs new icons

EDIT: The skillbooks for the new set of connection skills are reimbursed to your clone station – so you might not find it in your hangar.

Scorpion fitting for Incursion

Scorpion fitting for Incursion

Many pilots ask in Syne Public if Scorpion is useful for Incursions. It is definitely worth a look, provided you can armor tank it with enough resists, so logis can cope with incoming DPS. Shield passive tank would increase already high signature radius, making it even more vulnerable to Tama’s torpedoes.

Seven ECMs prove to be very useful in disrupting Sansha RR and limiting their firepower. Read more

The guide to solo Scout sites [Obsolete]

The guide to solo Scout sites [Obsolete]

This post is from 2011 and after changes in EVE: Hyperion is out of date

Almost every EVE player already knows, that trying to solo an Incursion site is a bad idea. But fear not, if you only need a few more hundred LP to get that famous Meta Capital repairer for your supercarrier, you can do a few small sites solo.

CCP has designed some easy sites with low pay for beginners and people who only need a little bit more LP: the Scout sites. Beacons for these missions spawn in Staging system and can be accessed just like the other Incursion sites. Main difference is the amount of NPCs, which is lowest; usually only three frigates at a time will be trying to kill your ship. Read more