Eve-Online Trammel/Fellucca features, the good and the bad

They put online the expansion page, so we got also the features list.

The good:

* Factional Militias
Governments on every side of the war are eager to recruit pod pilots, and have set up factional militias as a means of bolstering their standing navies. Each faction has a corporation open to all pilots with the appropriate factional standing minimums. CEOs and directors are also encouraged to bring their entire corporations under the aegis of the militias, to better fund and coordinate the war effort. Regardless of corporation membership, all militia members will share a chat channel and read-only mailing list.

* Ranks
Each of the factions relies heavily upon the support of their militias, granting the privateers great political clout. Talented pilots dedicated to the cause can rise through the newly-created ranks, 10 for each faction, by increasing their standing with their chosen militia’s corporation.

* Factional Warfare Agents
In order to handle the influx of mercenary pilots, each of the four militia corporations have hired new agents-over 320 in all. These new agents are specifically tasked with coordinating the activities of freelance pod pilots and assigning them missions inside territory held by enemy militias.

* Statistics
Due to the emphasis placed on the role of militias in the conflict, many stations now boast new Militia Offices. Pilots can track their own warfare victories and kill statistics, as well as those of their corporation and faction. Each pilot’s map has also been upgraded to better accommodate the increased flow of logistics data. The galactic map can now be configured to show occupancy status of a system, as well as detecting the presence of hostile navy forces.

* World Shaping
The confines of settled space cannot contain a war of this scale, causing the fighting to spill over into a new region. Named “Black Rise,” this new region contains 49 new star systems and nearly 40 stations, many of which are already sworn to one faction or another.

* System Occupancy
In light of the formal declaration of war, CONCORD is now recognizing a new level of system control beyond sovereignty: occupancy. Factions gain occupancy of a system by winning conflicts in contested complexes. When a militia accumulates a certain number of victories for its faction, it is authorized to assault the star’s System Control Bunker within 24 hours. Should the bunker fall to the attacking militia, a cease-fire is called in the system’s Factional Warfare Complexes, and that faction gains occupancy of the solar system.

This is looking very close to my expectations and original thoughts. Something linear like a military career with the goals and steps clearly defined.

The two important elements that are missing are about the faction itself providing directly the ship, modules and munition to fight. AND polish the combat zones so that same-rank players are equally matched and not wiped clean by someone who brought there a titan. Or insta-killed by a specialized corp that decided to take over a particular spot.

It’s absolutely indispensable that everyone can jump in, and that the tasks and battlegrounds zones are dynamically tweaked to regulate the players power, number of players active in the system and the zones distribution.

The bad:

* Factional Warfare Complexes
As war rages across the stars of New Eden, a myriad of hidden deadspace complexes have taken on great strategic importance. Militia pilots that successfully scan for a complex and hold it uncontested for a set amount of time will claim it for their faction, and be rewarded with corporate standing-as well as more tangible benefits. But capturing these points of interest will not be easy, as they’re guarded by rival naval forces. Speed and cunning are required to keep these important sites out of enemy hands, which is why microwarpdrives have been cleared for use in the complexes.

My fears is that instead of a dynamic mission system, they are using a fixed zone-based one.

Holding a complex uncontested may as well sound like sitting in one place for “x” hours doing nothing at all. This really needs to stay out of the game.

The system itself should record the number of active players that are taking part in this system, THEN matchmaking them on the fly, directing them to the active system, or spreading them, or tweaking the zones so that the players are sent to fight in their proper-rank zone.

Permanent complexes are a threat to the accessibility of this system if they aren’t controlled and managed by the system. With the risk that once again new and unorganized players don’t have the chance to participate and things fall again in the hands of a minority.

Factional Warfare finally not just vaporware? (Trammel/Fellucca)

I remember to have read not long ago, somewhere I can’t track again, a critics about Eve-Online, saying that when you spent a year developing a graphical upgrade and now your bigger project is about an avatar system that is only going to be used for social purposes, then it’s rather clear that your aim isn’t to enhance the gameplay but just to make the dress prettier.

Now if someone can remember the source I would be immensely grateful, so I can quote it.

I was noticing that the launch of the graphical upgrade in December lead to a predictable behavior. If you look at the server activity you can notice that there was a bump up in the number of players that lasted about three months, and now the curve, for the first time in a long time, is seeing a consistent, progressive dip.

I have no idea what goes on inside the game and why the player activity is decreasing so sharply, but my guess is that this is the direct consequence of the game development strategy. Just working on the surface of the game (the graphic) means that you get good short term results, but once the novelty is over the players who came back (or joined) to check the shiney will just leave again. I am one of them.

Eve-Online didn’t reach its maximum potential. But it did reach the topmost *exposition* it could aspire. What does this mean? That the game won’t benefit anymore for a better presentations to lure in new players. Months and years ago the game needed all the exposition it could get, because there were a whole lot of players who didn’t know the game and didn’t know it was a good and special one, deserving consideration. But now the potential reach is tapped and if CCP wants to grab even more subscribers they have to change their strategy: no more trying to publicize their game and improve just its presentation, but trying to aim for those players that are warded off by Eve design, and who don’t find the core of the game (the deeper layers and interactions between players) accessible. I’m again one of them.

I subscribed again in December to check the new shineys, and shortly after canceled again because the perspective of running again a bunch of dull, repetitive missions to grind money and standings didn’t appeal me at all. It simply means that the kind of gameplay that I saw within my reach wasn’t worth my time. And that I didn’t have the concrete competence and expectation to move away from that dullness and toward more interesting and compelling game.

This is firstly and foremost my incompetence at getting hooked in the community and the deeper layers of the game. But it’s also a flaw of the game that wasn’t able to ferry me (or provide the means) to that part of the game. It left me alone, in space. In the absolute, frightening loneliness that the immense space represents. Alone and doing grindy, aimless missions dressed up as a pretty screensaver mixed with an Excel spreadsheet.

If this was just a personal case then it wouldn’t be worth consideration, but my idea is that it’s instead an enormously widespread situation that not only is relevant, but that I believe it’s decisive to the future and growth of the game. And also with a higher, important task for the whole MMO development industry: demonstrate that PvP games with layers of complexity can be both extremely popular and accessible to the masses without sacrificing that complexity, but building on it and taking advantage of it.

The keys to all this lies in the “Factional Warfare”. I discussed already at length the possibilities of this system and the important point is that it plugs in the game a junction ring between the dull PvE game all the players see when they begin playing, and the more complex PvP game and player-driven gameplay.

Eve-Online’s future depends on that junction ring. The possibility to move players toward more interesting gameplay, to showcase better its qualities, to offer stronger hooks so that the players are motivated to stay and continue to p(l)ay. Something exciting. Goals to achieve.

Or: directed gameplay offering, but not forcing, patterns to follow inside a freeform game. It’s not an easy task to achieve, but it is possible and, in particular, worth it. Both for the concrete success and long term profitability of the game AND showing the whole game industry that it can be done.

In my mind, concretely, this takes the shape (or the example of many possible shapes following a similar pattern or model) of a military career. Not anymore just disconnected, solo missions. But a more fleshed out system where you get medals, gain new ranks, get access to specific, “leased” equipment. Hooks, rewards. Something players can desire and look forward to. Both short and long term objectives that keep players hooked to the game.

My “ideal” game that I described in the past had a lot of this: from a side you have what Eve already has, a complex structure of player-driven organizations that take control and manage parts of the game and resources, from the other a system-driven factional structure that puts all the new players, RIGHT AWAY, together in an NPC/system driven faction (or factions as Eve already has four NPC empires).

This scares a lot of players and CCP itself because they fear that this major shift can destroy the first layer and lose many players that like the game as it is now. It’s a well founded worry but that can be overcome if the system is well designed. The goal is to not introduce one layer at the expense of the other, but making the two interact, one orbiting around the other. And, in a later stage, when the new system is well-oiled, link directly the two so that the current corps can use the new possibilities within their own independent space.

Risky and ambitious, sure. But worth it if there’s the possibility to advance the whole game industry and really innovate toward something valuable: accessibility and depth.

In short the Factional Warfare should provide an almost linear pattern that clueless players can follow. A “career” not in the sense of class, but a linear path with goals and rewards. Showing the players the path, leading them to the next step. Clearly defined so that you don’t get lost. With an UI panel dedicate to it where you can track your own stats and progress clearly, showing what to do next.

So: a linear path very similar to those in other popular and simpler games, but then modular and hooked to the other layer: the factional warfare. Where the efforts of those players are collected and then have visible outcomes on the way the four NPC empires develop, expand or shrink. Dynamically. In the same way players and corps fight each other in zero security space, the NPC driven empires should battle each other and offer a similar, more directed, layer. With a mix of generated missions, both PvE and PvP, inside zones working like PvP battlegrounds, BUT PERSISTENT. And as controlled environments where those who enters share the same condition (a similar level of equipment that can be chosen between various possibilities/sets offered). So matching the fun and depth of factional PvP with the accessibility of the system that allows everyone to jump in and have fun.

The “sandbox” game shouldn’t be the antithesis to the linear one. It should be instead a complex environment where both linear and freeform patterns can coexist. Helping the players to choose the one they like better, or move more easily from one to the other, and back again as they wish.

The risk isn’t about removing parts of the game that the current players enjoy. The risk is about offering alternatives that some players may like better. This isn’t a bad thing at all (but may bring back memories of the Fellucca/Trammel separation). It may change the way the game is shaped, but it’s more important to rise the bar and do something ambitious (and motivated), than simply be conservative. Then observe what happens and, if things look too unbalanced, work to give the other part of the game new exciting tools and possibilities. Raising the bar, pushing things forward while paying attention and make the changes that are needed.

I talk about this because after a very, very long silence they are starting to talk about this again.

So, we have this expansion coming out this summer called Empyrean Age. It’s going to be pretty neat, and it’s going to include this thing called Factional Warfare, which is a feature we’ve been talking about for a fair while now and is generally regarded as something of a big deal. Over the course of the next week or so I’m going to thrash out the fundamentals of the entire design in a series of blogs, starting with this one.

This summer? I wouldn’t count on it considering the past experiences.

Their goal is not far from the ones I’ve set a while ago while commenting the game and that I repeated here:

There are a lot of things that Factional Warfare could be. What it is, right now, is in its most basic form a gameplay bridge from high sec to null sec – from the safety of Empire to the wild lands of Alliance space. High sec and null sec have very differing communities of players with very divergent play styles, and while moving from one to the other is obviously possible, it’s harder than it should be.

Factional Warfare provides a halfway house for players from Empire to get into the sandbox at the shallow end. It serves other functions too, for other types of player, but this is its primary function.

The core gameplay element of Factional Warfare is small-scale PvP combat. We believe that rounding up your posse, rolling out into contested space and having a healthy exchange of opinions and weapons fire with your sworn enemies is fun. Factional Warfare is designed to make this kind of experience accessible, with low entry requirements and a target-rich environment.

Underline mine, as I can’t stress enough that a core concept of PvP is the convergence more than the open wide spaces. Players need to know clearly where to go, what their goals and rewards are, and be able to jump in at any time.

What I ask may sound like exact copy of WoW’s PvP. The difference is that this system should fix the two parts that WoW fucked: social cooperation and persistence. So that those battles will be meaningful, so that the goals can be shared and players feel part of a greater cause, and so that they can organize together and see the outcome of their efforts.

Something that joins the complexity of Eve-Online, with accessibility and compelling gameplay.

Give us true battlegrounds and warfare, from small scale to epic. Not the fake paintball of WoW. One model doesn’t necessarily contradicts the other, and it is possible to take the best from both.

And hire some designers and programmers, instead of just more and more artists.

The Shadow of the Torturer – Gene Wolfe

I’ll start quoting another review:

An Earth of the far future; a post-technological society living on the ruins of the past; ancient guilds with arcane rituals and origins lost in antiquity; cold and casual depictions of torture… Gene Wolfe describes all of these things in magnificent and luscious detail. Unfortunately, this takes up so much space that there isn’t room for a plot.

On a forum recently I wrote that I’ve never been so close to the end of a book without having a clear opinion about it. In fact I could write two reviews, one full of praises and another as harsh criticism. I still don’t know whether I liked the book or not, but I can say I was intrigued.

In a way the impression it made on me is a mix of Lovecraft and Gaiman’s Sandman. It’s nowhere a classic fantasy setting, or even a classic tale. It is… weird, shady, full of convoluted, self-referential symbolism. I could say that the book builds a barrier between the fictional world and the reader. Either you are able to pass it, and get sucked in, or you bounce back, and you’ll never understand what’s so special about it. I somewhat sat on that edge and took a peek at what’s beyond, but without really getting into it completely.

That quote from the review is symbolically important exactly because it underlines a main trait, and what I expect to be a typical reaction to the book. It is baffling because you pass time reading with the hope to find… something. A development, or a direction that turns what you read before into something meaningful. You read and expect a build-up. Toward something. But you keep reading, and waiting, this something never arrives. You turn the last page and you wonder: so what?

There’s no resolution. This is just a first book in a series, so you don’t even expect that kind of resolution, but at least you expect something, somewhere. A direction. A point. You expect a plot driven by something, but as that quote says, you keep reading and you don’t find anything. So is this book completely empty of meaning?

Nope, on the contrary. But that meaning isn’t where you usually look for it. There’s no plot, no direction, no resolution. Characters are ghosts, the events are entirely disconnected and improbable, there’s no logic sense or flow whatsoever. Yet the book is full of meaning. It just isn’t where you are looking. It’s not in what is written, the black of the text. It’s instead in the white between the lines. The place where you don’t usually look for things.

The content in the book will be only accessible if you got a key to decipher it. Many readers, with typical expectations, will glide over this kind of book and find nothing. They aren’t to blame as the writer surely didn’t care about them, and didn’t try to make his book accessible. In my case I fell in the first group, keep on reading with the hope of finding a key somewhere, then started reading forums and websites and finally got some clues about where to look.

That’s the risk with this book, that you read it without knowing where to look, or expecting something that never arrives. So what is this all about? It is about the two levels. One is the surface, the denotative level. What things are explicitly. So the plot, what happens, the dialogues, the descriptions. And then there’s the symbolic level. What things represent. This book is filled with this kind of superstructure. It’s weighed by it and, in fact, it’s not an easy read. It’s terribly twisted, convoluted and alien. It is not simple because you have to move there and understand a way of thinking that may be so far from yours.

Where the book becomes extraordinary is in its internal consistency. This book isn’t a tale. It represents instead the head of its narrator. It’s written in first person and it is the mind of Severian of the Torturers. In order to read it you have to enter his mind. And his mind doesn’t work as common minds. Everything you “see” is filtered through Severian eyes. You don’t see the world in its “correct” representation, but as personal interpretation.

And here comes the main theme of the book: deception. The writer, the god of this world, making things as he wants, lies. So you have to look past this curtain. You have to look between the lines. From a side you have to understand the wicked mind of Severian, his twisted, paradoxical way of thinking, enter into it, from the other side you have to tear it apart to understand the blind point. Where he is lying. Where he is moving the pieces and for what kind of reason.

This is why most of the book come as an enlightenment. As an epiphany. You read dumbly and somewhere you see glimpses of light. How often depends on your affinity with the writer, because as I said Gene Wolfe doesn’t really care whether you get it or not. He isn’t writing for you, he is writing for his kinds.

It’s also no wonder that this book generated so much speculation. It lives past the text as what makes it unique is what beyond the text. Your own (and other readers) speculations. What makes interesting discuss the book instead of simply reading it as a direct experience. So you enjoy it with this kind of delay.

Even in this case what makes it great is the internal consistency and hidden layers that make it deep and complex. That is typical of this kinds of “worlds”. That go past the medium itself. The mythos. This book generated its own mythos that survives the book itself and that is as deep as you decide to dig.

You decide whether you want to lose yourself into it, or if this kind of commitment isn’t for you. Sure is that Wolfe requires a kind of total attention that no other entertainment medium requires today. It will remain in history as one of those things that less and less people manage to understand and love, but with an heart special and unrepeatable.

A little gem that will be often mistaken as colored glass.

I contributed with one slight speculation here.

Who wants the Arenas

Taking a cue from D-One who pointed to a counter-rant of a moderator against those who hate the Arenas in WoW.

The truth is that anyone saying “arenas suck!” doesn’t actually think they suck, they’re either just trolling, or they have a specific and related issue/problem. I think we’re able to break those reasons out though, filter everything down and get to what the issues actually are, see what may need to change or be fixed, and get down to it. If they’re not the right kind of PvP for you, fine, hopefully we can address that by giving you more PvP in other places, if you don’t like PvP at all and are afraid they’re taking time away from the content you do enjoy – don’t worry, they aren’t, if you want to like the arenas but feel there are inherent issues with them, we hope to address those as well.

Well, the truth is in that my own case I DO think Arenas suck and SHOULD be entirely removed from the game.

Not because every aspect of the game I don’t like shouldn’t be liked by anyone else, but because the gameplay concept behind the Arenas is inappropriate for WoW. A mmorpg based on some degree of persistence and, in particular, on character progression, doesn’t fit with a *good* arena game that is more aimed at competitive, and balanced gameplay and no real “RPG”.

My suggestion:
– Strip the Arenas part from WoW. Make it an entirely different game. Make it accessible through the same client, Make it even playable as standalone paying a 1-2 dollars subscription for those who just want these arenas. Then add a tiered system where each tier gives you the choice between same-value armor sets, so that you can combine the pieces freely while also keeping the players in the same tier balanced. And then keep a sense of progression by putting better equipment in higher tiers, but without letting players in different tier compete between each other. Make it that you can even export your WoW-normal character, getting evaluated by a system and then put in the proper tier to compete fairly.

That would please everyone. Those who don’t like the arenas, and those who like them and would like a more fair environment in which to compete.

It wouldn’t work, though. Because what I think is when the players bought the game, they wanted to play a MMORPG. Not eSport.

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