Friday, November 19, 2010

Admit & Accept, Move On.

They say that it's possible to get addicted to anything. They say that some people find themselves becoming addicted more easily than others. "They" say a lot of things.

Hi. My name is Jamie, and I used to be an EVE addict.

It wasn't something I admitted to myself when I played. Yeah, sure I spent a lot of time playing it, but so did the guys in my corp. Over five, five-and-a-half years I moved house seven times, but I took EVE with me wherever I went.

It wasn't a problem when I was single. I've always been happier knowing that I have the option to go out and be social, but can instead stay in and be alone - something that stems from being physically disfigured until I had plastic surgery at the age of 12. I'm happiest in the company of people I know, but wary of new people. Social situations can still make me a tad queasy. You never know who's making fun of you in a crowd.

So I guess it was easy for me to fall into a game like EVE. A persistent world, still almost unique in its genre in that it's a sandbox full of space bastards doing their best to ruin each others day. It probably helps that I've always been fascinated by space and space travel, and the idea of this huge open universe, just waiting to be explored and exploited really appealed to me. There was also the continuity of contact with people - my corp, whose greatest achievements are chronicled here, grew from a games forum. I knew the names, eventually came to know the voices. Even met some of them. Got rat-arsed with a couple too.

It was a safe environment, and it's the type of game that needs time spent. Sure, you could just let your character train without actually playing it, but there was money to be made, missions to be run, experience to be gained, all with the danger of losing it all, permanently. I've truly never came across another video game that has made me feel as alive as EVE did in those days, when PvP was new. Even down the years, as I became more and more adept at gang- and then solo-PvP, then led small gangs, then large gangs, then fleets, I'd still get the shakes when it came to a fight. It's a tremendous experience.

Is that part of the reason why I was addicted? Sure. I guess. With the changes in my life at the time - moving cities, finally getting out of a destructive relationship - EVE became an anchor. The guys I played with became a surrogate family, and every night we gathered around the computer and fucked some shit up. Good times.

The problems started when things in my life took a turn for the better. I got promoted, got a ten grand payrise, met a gorgeous girl who loved me more than air, took over my own business, had a son... and I did all this despite still playing EVE anything between four and ten hours a day.

The job I lost through stupidity that had nothing to do with EVE. The girl, and my son, I lost because I couldn't take my eyes off the damn computer. Oh, there were other reasons, valid reasons. But the rot began with me sitting on my computer chair and her on the couch, night after night, while I talked on Vent and she watched TV. Maybe there are guys out there who have found women who don't mind this, but mines wasn't like that.

I was addicted to EVE, and, in part, it's cost me my future with my son.

It's hard to... no, that's bullshit. It's not hard to admit it now. It's easy to admit it now, because the damage has been done, and there's no going back. I've stopped playing the game, stopped sinking the time and spending the cash. I've grown the fuck up too late.

Is there a message in this? I dunno. This blog is like a falling tree in an empty wood - if there is a message there might not be anyone to read it (apart from the guy who keeps spamming about his shoe website). But if there is a message, it's this: grow the fuck up, early.

Games are growing more pervasive, more immersive, becoming more and more prevelant. The little ones are fine, they can be picked up and put down in one night, but it's the big ones that are going to kill us. Gamers have a bad enough rep as social retards as it is, so don't do what I did. Don't sit in front of a PC and let the best thing that ever happened to you wither and die.

I thought writing this would be more cathartic. I thought there might be tears. The truth is, that I'm not writing anything that I didn't know before. I knew I played EVE too much, I knew I was neglecting her... but I had posted on the forum that I'd lead an op on Thursday, and we had our regular Wednesday night thing, and I needed to rat, and if I didn't log on at this time on Saturday I'd miss my next skill change and jesus fuck it was a game.

Grow the fuck up. Early.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Grand Theft Complete

I've just picked up the Grand Theft Auto back catalogue for £4.99 on Steam. It's one of those deals you see and are almost obliged to take. Apart from GTA2, which I wasn't a big fan of, I've spent a horrendous amount of hours indulging myself in DMA/Rockstat's skewed vision of America - hours where I could probably have done something to make myself a more useful member of society, rather than the misanthrope I've slowly become.

Shame really. But at least I've had fun.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


Having a toddler around means watching lots of kids TV. This isn't always as annoying as it sounds as there's some genuinely enjoyably shows around to balance out the incredibly saccharine and sometimes outright patronising tone of the others. What I've found though, is that my mind seems to be spending a great deal of subconscious time working out the hidden meanings in kids shows.

Take In The Night Garden, for instance. Ostensibly a show designed around sleep and dreaming, I can't stop thinking about whether or not it's really a statement about UK in the modern age.

Take Igglepiggle. It's his falling asleep that triggers the visit to the Night Garden, but watch how he always carries his blanket around with him. That's because Igglepiggle represents the modern British man, a directionless metrosexual carrying the accoutrements of life - mobile phones, credit cards, designer clothes and celebrity fragrances - with him like a comfort blanket.

Upsy-Daisy? She's the ancient nemesis of the Thatcher-era Tory party, the single mother, moved forward to 21st century with all the ladette attributes and girl powah hangovers of the nineties and noughties, but mainly now representing the 20-something youth of today who got pregnant in her teens. Watch as her bed chases her everywhere, a reminder that she's living a double life of parenthood and partying. She kisses everyone she sees, dances everywhere she goes, but never invites anyone else to share her bed with her, both because she can't trust men anymore, and also because she only wants to sleep.

Which means that the Tombliboos must be her itinerant children, left to fend for themselves for the most part. Their home is a maze of tree roots and branches, mirroring the home life of many children who sometimes don't know why their mum or dad is alone, or why different people stay the night sometimes. Even their song reflects the relationships they have with men who come to see their mother: "...knock on the door/...sit on the floor/ is my nose/...that's how it goes!". The come in, baby gets left to it's own devices, perhaps with a patronising tap on the beak to say hallo, and then that's it.

The last main character, Makka Pakka, is the older generation. He moves around using a wheeled frame, caring for his rocks, which are symbols of the values of the past that still weigh on him as he struggles to understand the strangely liberal world he is growing old in. Watch him blow his trumpet, as he tries to get his views over to the younger ones, see him wash their faces, trying to remove the veneer of superficiality that's painted onto all of us in a celebrity obsessed media culture. WAtch him be ignored, as Igglepiggle spends all his time with Upsy-Daisy, while the Tombliboos shit in the corner. There's an obvious disconnection between the generations.

Next week: why Timmy Time shows the breakdown of the education system, and a discussion of the sexual themes prevalent in Big Cook, Little Cook.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Grumpy old men

"[Small gang PvP in EVE] wasn't relevant the moment a trapped 20-man gang was jumped out of a dead end system by their pet titan."

So says Jim Rossignol, famed EVE Online evangelist and a corp mate of mine in the game for nigh on five years, after a discussion on the state of EVE on our old corporations private forum. He's not wrong. EVE's player population has grown and grown over the last seven years - the record for most EVE players online at any one time was a scant10, 744 in September '04, not long before I started playing, but that figure was dwarfed by the 60, 453 in June 2010. Similarly, within that melting pot of ever increasing player groups has come a concommitant increase in the size of what we call "the small gang". When I were a lad, and StateCorp was at its peak we could perhaps manage as manage as many as 20 people in the corporation chat channel at any one time, although you had to bear in mind that 10 of those would be alt characters.

Our gangs were small, our tactics tried and tested and our pilots ever willing to lose ships in the name getting some killmails. We ran with our tails between our legs on many occasions, either after defeat or to avoid it, but we won more than our fair share of battles, sometimes outnumbered, sometimes outgunned and sometimes both. Our secret was simple - good intelligence. Knowing your enemy and outfitting your own ships to counter him is the best way to win. Or, as Sun Tzu probably would have said "The bastards are flying auto-canes, get me a Falcon with a full rack of Minnie jammers."

Getting good intel is one rule of EVE that has never changed, but these days it's becoming less important for the small gang. Actually, that's a lie. It's not that it's less important at all, it's more that you don't need as much intelligence before you can decide whether or not to commit to a fight. These days there are two main things you need to know: 1) Do they outnumber us and, if so, can we get enough people so we outnumber them and 2) Are they known to hot-drop with capital ships at the first sign of angry shuttle pilots?

EVE has become a numbers game, more or less. Back in the day a twenty- or thirty-man gang usually meant there was something really momentous going on, like a sovereignty battle. Nowadays a twenty-man gang is what you get on a rainy Tuesday evening. There's an alliance known as Rooks & Kings that are notorious for baiting with what, these days, is called a "small" gang of twenty or so ships and then using their Titan pilots to portal in another thirty or so ships as backup once they've engaged. They're not an isolated case. The tactics that used to drive PvP and make it a subtle, pliable beast have been replaced with sheer blunt trauma and excessive force. Ganking is now de rigeur, but it's no longer just pirate gangs sitting on a low-sec entrance gate, it's virtually the only way to guarantee PvP, non-consensual or otherwise.

The backbone of PvP in EVE has always been The Fear - the fear of losing your ship, the fear of losing a head full of expensive implants, basically the fear of losing all the assets you've worked your ass off to gain. It's something that has been absolutely integral to the games appeal, and those combat shakes are why I've played it so long and why, after all this time, I've had to try and find other ways to spark the same flame. It seems, however, that for many The Fear doesn't exist.

Perhaps it's another symptom of EVE's growing playerbase. All these new pilots need more and more ships to fly, more and more modules to fit to them. They mine more ore, they build more items, they expand the economy naturally and progressively and this is A Good Thing. But the flip side of that comes from CCP's desire to rid EVE of the problem of Real Money Trading that plagues other MMOs. The Game Time Card and its ingame equivalent, the Plex, have allowed players to legitimately use real world cash to buy in game money. No longer does the average EVE peon need to grind his way from nothing to afford his first cruiser or battleship - now you can just throw a credit card at Shattered Crystal and become an instant billionaire, able to afford a hangar full of replacements, neatly sidestepping the worry and stress and sheer adrenaline that PvP should create.

This proliferation of easy money - along with all the other ways CCP have made it easier to make ISK ingame, like wormholes and invention - has led to a potentially game-killing infestation of capital ships and jump capable sub-caps. It makes PvP a minefield. You may think your gang of twelve can have a good fight with that fifteen-strong mob of bad-guys, but when a cyno is lit within seconds of engagement you know it's time to run, cos here comes the backup. I'm not shy about admitting that I've used the same tactic myself but you know it's become a real problem when you have to gauge every single fight on the likelihood of enemy reinforcements coming in from 5-, 10- or even 20-jumps away.

Some will say it's the natural order of things, a reflection of combat in the real world. After all, why bring a knife to a gun fight when you can pack a rocket launcher? With more players come bigger gangs, harder fights, needing better fleet commanders and more committed players. Except fights are harder to get because it's harder to find a cluster of hostiles who'll commit to any battle when they're not sure they'll win easily. Ten-versus-ten, twenty-v-twenty, fifty-v-fifty even... they're all the basis of a good fight to me but the tide in EVE has turned and it seems that you'll only get a guaranteed fight when you're on the short side of ten-v-twenty or twenty-v-thirty or... you get my drift.

Combat in EVE, the PvP that kept me playing for so long, is gone. It's a different animal now, and I feel like a middle-aged Dad trying to understand why his son likes that god awful noise they call music these days. The game has moved on, partly due to the designs and desires of the developers, and partly due to the pressures created by a player base who all want to be the toughest kid on the block.

I never wanted to be the alpha dog. I would have grinned like a madman if someone told me that seeing my name in local worried them, I would have laughed like a maniac if I was told that people avoided my fleets if they knew I was leading them... but that's speculation and hope and daydreams. I would love EVE to still be the EVE of 2005, or 2006, or even 2007, before the capital age took over, but it's not to be. It's like wishing your ex-girlfriend dropped all the habits that always annoyed you and came back into your arms as the perfect woman you always imagined she could be. EVE wasn't a casual fling for me, like my dalliances with WoW and WAR, EVE was a relationship, almost a marriage. But my lover has changed, and it's time to move on.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Hot Seat

Being Fleet Commander in EVE Online has become, for me, what the game is all about.

It's a very grand title: Fleet Commander! Look at me! I am Fleet Commander! I am Hero! I am Great Leader! Well no, you're just a guy who plays a game and talks more than the rest of the players. From the outside looking in it must sound very pompous and self-important, something that the geeks have made up to make themselves feel less sad. Well fuck that opinion. Internet spaceships are serious business.

That's a phrase that's bandied about by the EVE community all day, every day, and it's most often said ironically, but the truth is that the players who have put years into the game do treat it seriously. Yes, it's a game, for all that that entails, all the stigma that it brings. Looking at it sideways, away from the stigma of being a (say it) videogame, it's just part of the twenty-first century's new wave of entertainments. We're not just playing a game, we're inhabiting a persistent world, we're creating and evolving and destroying something wonderful. And we all treat it very, very seriously.

The Fleet Commander isn't just the geek with the loudest voice - although sometimes that's all he is - mainly he's the guy who helps other players have fun and that's a great responsibility; a duty, almost. Internet spaceships are serious business. When we get a fleet of players together to go on a PvP op, I'll decide what ships they've to bring, I'll decide which way we're flying. If we find a fight I'll give the fleet orders, call primary targets, give the call to run away. If at all possible we'll come out of the fight with more kills than losses but if not I then have to get the fleet to safety. And it's hard. If things go wrong, it's the FC who gets the blame and all of a sudden you're the person who has ruined other folks' fun. That's when it becomes serious business.

When it all goes right, though... that's when the shakes come in, the adrenalin, the unbeatable feeling of being on top. That's why people FC in EVE. After five-and-a-half years of playing it's hard to find situations where The Fear is still there. Launching your ship into overwhelming odds, hoping for one kill and then getting out is one. Taking a fleet of other players into a battle and coming out victorious is another. It's (probably) the closest thing us armchair warriors are ever going to get to being heroes... being men in the romantic sense.

I think it's something that only EVE can produce. I imagine that in the good ol' days of World of Warcraft, when forty-player raids took hours to complete, that there was one guy calling the shots all or most of the time, but those raids were static and the experiences wouldn't really change on repetition. Every fight in EVE is different - different gang, different targets, different ships, different location. You're asking two or five or ten or seventy people to listen to your words and react, to do as you say and follow your commands, to make their internet spaceships shoot other internet spaceships; you're asking all these players of this game to listen to you and do as they are damn well told. And, most of time time, they do. Because you're the fleet commander, and you are in charge. And that is amazing.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

State of Identification

Seeing names in World of Tanks that I recognise is always a surprise. Here's a game that's been available for weeks only, a couple of months at the most, but even with my fairly sporadic play I'm still seeing gamer names that tug at the brain strings and say "I know you..."

The truth of the matter is that all these people are from EVE. Whether I've flown with them as corp- or alliance-mates, or merely seen them on a killboard or forum, they're recognisably EVE pilots in a different environment, and that got me thinking: why use the same name? Fair enough, if you're playing a new multiplayer game with friends you'll want them to know which spaceship/tank/soldier you are, but these days everyone has a forum, or teamspeak, or even Facebook - some easy way for folks of a like mind to get together and plan some internet shenanigans. There's no specific need for me to have the same identifier in World of Tanks as I do in EVE Online, except that it's also the name I use in countless other games, on forums and message boards, on console and mobile phone profiles. It's my secret identity, the one my non-gamer friends don't know about, or sneer about if they do. I am Jamie McEwan as much as I am mpk (or empeekay or M Piquet, or a variety of other versions).

Why is this? Why the need to be known as something other than plain ol' Jamie? Are the "experts" right - is the internet or, perhaps more specifically, the gaming part of it actually, really full of social misfits who can't operate properly in the Real World? Do we need to have a handle to hide behind to empower us into being the potty-mouthed, evil-minded little shits that comprise 90% of all internet denizens?

I don't think so. At least, I hope not. Because that would mean I was as weak as "they" say we are, someone who has been desensitised to violence and is, quite possibly, able to comfortably handle a gun.

I'm not saying there aren't people out there who wish they could subsume themselves into a completely electronic existence, the kind of social drop-out who is dying for William Gibson's future to hurry up and come true, but for me it's just a nickname. There are people from university who still call me "Gazelle Boy" after I jumped over a table in the refectory one day, and there are people from further back who still call me "Jesus" because I had the gall to be tall and skinny with a beard. Neither of these names define me, and neither does "mpk". It may be an identity, but it's not a personality; mpk isn't cooler than Jamie, he's not funnier or more attractive to women, but he does fly more spaceships and cause more explosions.

I suppose there is an element of wish fulfilment there, but there's no desire in me to be mpk. He's not the cool side of me; he's not even a "he", just me. But still, wherever I go, whatever I play, I use the name mpk to refer to myself. It's a nickname, sure, but it's a name that I share amongst the community of the internet, a community that isn't as large as you may think, given that most people travel in similar circles to their acquaintances. For instance this mpk is not me, nor this, and I definitely have nothing to do with this company, but if you see M Piquet at the to of your killmail, or if mpk destroys your tank, you'll know where to come to complain.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Drunkfleet!: The Battle Reportening

Dramatis Personae: RPS Holdings (Gesadt, Nimloth Valinor, Captain Beardface, Zekk Pacus, Mezgorod, Stoffl, M Piquet, TehMuffinMan, ry ry, Alim Thek, Eben Rochelle, Duckslayer, Han Chang), Huzzah Federation (Eaglecrys, Sashenka, Tiberius Funk, ihisly, rhialto, Laurea, Soraji, Meshfori) Gunshi Kuroi Doragon (Sprinkles, Bashius), Mustache Twirling Space Cads (Jim DiGriz), Solar Revenue Service (April7, Renegade, Tin Tong, Keanez)


Drunkfleet is something I used to do semi-regularly with Huzzah - to be honest it's really no different from any other long roam, it's just that we call it drunkfleet and expect everyone to get drunk, rather than wondering why, an hour into the roam, everyone has to safe up at a planet for their third pee in four jumps. You're forewarned when the fleet is called Drunkfleet.


I'd set the form up time ridiculously early because I wanted people to start thinking about being available earlier than usual; I knew for a fact we wouldn't have a gang ready for 7.30pm on a Friday night, but at least they would be getting ready to get ready. So bang on time, 8pm, we were good to go. And lo! it was with a glad heart and a full beer that we set off on our quest to rid EVE of stupid by getting pished up and entering consensual PvP. Our destination: Pure Blind, then Tribute, or an early fiery death.

The first part of the night was a bit, well, boring. No kills, barely even a target between 2X- and our first pit stop in A-S, but that wasn't the problem. Boring I could have dealt with.

We knew through channels that the typical Rooks & Kings 20-man T3/logistics gang (with cyno-bridge backup) was floating about, and we were fully intending on staying the fuck away, but they managed to flush out a Soldiers of Thunderstorm sniping-gang that was death incarnate to our frigate blob. As we tried to probe out some NPCers in QXW SoT came in, closely followed by R&K. We got our first kill of the night - an Imicus - and then we hid, to give them some space to go at it. They were both on our direct route for the roam, but in our ships we, theoretically, could just have ran right through them and then detoured past for the win.

Our next port of call was XZH, one of the most lucrative NPCing systems in all EVE. As we burst through the system's belts, looking for a tasty ratter, intel came of a Controlled Chaos fleet entering 9-4, the system next door. 100 of them. Shitting myself, I quickly ordered a fast retreat. Manoeuvring around 2 cruiser heavy fleets we could manage, but this was ridiculous. We burned back to A-S for a quick break and I had a good hard think about where to go next.



So then I thought, "Sod it, we can make Pure Blind". Yeah, so the SoT gang was still in the vicinity, yeah so the Controlled Chaos gang was still there too. Intel filtered in to say R&K had pulled out after suffering a beating at the hands of Soldiers of Thunderstorm, but we soldiered on. Our excellent scout squad, already depleted after the loss of Duckslayer (poor Duck) got eyes on the Controlled Chaos as they faced off against SoT on different sides of the same stargate. We burned past them, losing another scout, Eben, in the process, and ran through another couple of intervening systems before brutally violating an unsuspecting Myrmidon pilot who obviously wasn't watching his intel channels.

While we finished him off our local began to rise dramatically. It was the CC enormo-gang. We couldn't jump through as we had aggression timers so I made the call to warp off and then back in, jump through and run another couple of systems down. Amazingly we managed get out without losing any more ships. Things calmed down a little after this and we caught our breaths and moved back towards our ultimate destination. The next hurdle was always going to be P-2, a busy outpost system. Our scouts, once again moving ahead of us, spotted some battlecruisers on the in-gate to P-2, which turned out to be... Controlled Chaos. They'd used a jump bridge network to get ahead of us, which Soraji found out by jumping into them and then exploding. Abandoning all hope, we again found a side route and ran, we ran as only frigate pilots with a great big gang o'doom chasing us can run. And then we stopped, reapproached the gate and killed a Taranis. This proved to be something of a bad call, however, as the main body of their fleet moved a lot fast than I had anticipated and caught up with us, taking out Jim DiGriz, Renegade, TehMuffinMan and Alim.

We got away, again, and docked up in ROIR. Phew. That was close.



Things soon began to brighten up. From ROIR we moved to 5ZXX whereupon the locals undocked seven battleships and a carrier to chase us of. This is, historically, how every corp who has ever lived in this system has always reacted to intruders. Like a little prickly hedgehog making itself look big to scare away maruading foxes. And, like a space fox, we took our spaceships and flew away.

In EC-P8R we didn't find any hedgehogs, but we did find kills. Lots of them. In a spectacular display of sheer, unadulterated fail, two covert ops ships managed to decloak each other, and die while two other stealth bombers managed to do no damage to us and die. Much drinking and celebrating did commence.

Since high-sec space was next door several pilots took the opportunity to leave the fleet and go home. Do not consider these people cowards, for they have lived to run away another day. We, The Few, The Strong, The Incredibly Masculine And Brave moved on regardless. The fleet was depleted, but not dead.

Moving back through Pure Blind and towards Tribute, heavily infested Morsus Mihi space, we heard a strange croaking on comms. It was Zekk, our scout, reporting something that hadn't been seen in EVE since at least 2007. An unscouted, ratting Raven. It was with tears of joy in my eyes that I called to kill that silly fucker in the face. When would we next see something so rare and special? It was a wonderful moment, and I gave the order for all fleet members to quickly interfere with their bikini regions.

Morsus Mihi space would prove to be rich with idiots, it seemed, and idiots who did not share intel about us, as we quickly cooked and ate an Ishtar a few jumps later. I had planned our next break to be in H-W (mistaking it for H-P which was only 15 more jumps away, rather than two) and as we burned, Sashenka told us he had managed to tackle a Helios pilot. We quickly turned back and I ordered Sash to stop shooting so that we could all whore the killmail, like the proper gentlemen were were. We also killed a Prophecy and then, in a moment of sheer magic, we saw and destroyed a second ratting Raven. Two in one night? It was like finally seeing your mating pair of Giant Pandas screw all night long and then shooting them in the head with a high powered rifle.

Things went a bit hairy at this point, as a Morsus gang arrived and killed Zekk and Meshfori. We ran away again and then, in a moment of classy FCing, went to a safe spot so that I could pee.

INTERLUDE 3: INTERLUDE WITH A RETRIBUTION (cos they're better than the Vengeance)


Things began to wind down as we got drunker. Our last kill of the night came when a Helios jumped into us and then complained that it was his first flight in the ship and we shouldn't kill him. Lrn2cloak fule.

We eventually reached Empire some jumps later, having killed our final scout - Sashenka's alt - in a hilarious Broadsword related incident.


And they all lived happily ever after...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Writing to reach you

While scouring some old hard drives for blackmail fodder (i.e. drunken photos) I happened across the below. I remember writing it and being quite amused by my own cleverness at the time, although I don't know whether I'd have been sober or not. I've been a struggling writer for years, and by struggling I actually mean someone-who's-made-very-little-effort-to-do-anything: writing is something I've wanted to do since I was a small child and I've put down some words on occasion, but I've always wanted to go long form.

My problem has always been twofold - "Where the fuck do you start?" and "What if I'm shit?". The second one has been the hardest hurdle as I'm a creature of confidence, someone who'll gladly do absolutely anything until someone tells me I'm shite. It's probably says something about my own maturity levels that I still crave the pats on the back I used to get at school for being a very clever boy. It'd be nice to have someone read along as I write and tell me how well I'm doing, but my ultimate fear is that sycophancy - or worse, indifference - leads to me being found out.

Ho hum. Dry your eyes, as the song goes.

Anyway, this was written at some point in 2007. I think, but I'm not sure, I'd already read the first of Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch's brilliant novels, all of which, as everyone is aware, are far more than Tolkien with swearing.

Let's create a world.

The world must have, in the first instance, Good and Evil. These are the basic cornerstones of the Fantasy World. Everything is in black and white, East and West a la Tolkien. This is primarily because in a finite world there is always something to fight for, something definite. Hence, the Oppressed and the Oppressor, the Hero and the Villain.

In a Sci-Fi world, this isn't necessarily the case. There are more grey areas in Sci-Fi, thanks to the pure black of space. The vacuum sucks up everything, morality, reason, sanity. Nothing is for certain because infinity has no absolutes. Sci-Fi, Lucas aside, is the home of the grey area.

These are the basics.

Standard pulp fantasy to this day is the home of the linear plotline (well, duh, it's a book) and the po-faced, dull arse hero. There are twists, but they're all retelling Tolkien with various levels of swearing and shagging. Fantasy Hero embarks on a journey for (insert reason here), has a bit of a shit time in book two, then overcomes everything to save the day in book three. Wahey.

So we have, from a programming point of view, the following variables:

define Hero as Cliche(Background, CharacterTraits, Destiny)
define HeroEntourage as GroupCliche(ComedyName, Background, GrudgeAgainstHero, PercentageOfBeingAnnoying); HeroEntourage.LoveInterest; HeroEntourage.BigMusclyThickDude; HeroEntourage.StealthDude; HeroEntourage.SlightlyDodgyGuyWhoIsEitherBadGuyOrRedHerringDude; HeroEntourage.WiseOldSmartArseMentorDude
define UltimateEvil as OhNoNotAnotherOne(ReasonForBeingEvil, StupidLevel)
define UltimateEvilHenchmen as NotWorthNamingJustGiveThemARedShirt(CoolSwordThough)

etc etc.

Standard Trilogy Trajectory

being BookOne

define Hero.Background
define Hero.CharacterTraits
define HeroEntourage.WiseOldSmartArseMentorDude
define Hero.Destiny

begin Journey

define HeroEntourage

for HalfContractedBookLength

if WaffleFactorGetsTooHigh then HaveRandomFight

then TalkAbout Hero.Destiny

define UltimateEvil.ReasonForBeingEvil
define UltimateEvilHenchmen.RedShirt1
kill Hero.RandomFamilyMember
includeviolationof HeroEntourage.LoveInterest(StopStrugglingYoullEnjoyIt)

for TwelvePages
give HeroAKicking
then HeroEntourage.LoveInterest GetsRevenge

kill UltimateEviHenchmen.RedShirt1

end Journey

define Prophecty as OoohExciting
define Hero.Destiny(Again)

begin JourneyPartTwo
end BookOne

begin BookTwo

begin TheFunBit

for HalfContractedBookLength
then kill Hero.Entourage(SomePoorBastard)

end TheFunBit

begin ThePain
begin TheSuffering

define HeroEntourage.WiseOldSmartArseMentorDude as ReallyFuckingHigh

for FourChapters
then kill Hero(DidntSeeThatComing)

end TheSuffering
end ThePain

begin TheAfterlife

define God
define Pantheon
define Angels

define God.BoredomLevel
define God.CrueltyFactor
define God.MysteriousWaysQuotient
define God.PoMoFourthWallBreakage

define Prophecy as LoadOfShite
define Hero.Destiny(BitDifferentNow)

define Hero as UltimateEvil(YesReally)
define Time as Malleable

define God as ViciousBastard

end TheAfterLife
end BookTwo

begin BookThreeButReallyBookOneAgain(FromAnotherPointOfView)

define UltimateEvil as NotThatBadReally
define Hero.TrueDestiny
define Prophecy as HowTheFuckDoIWorkThisOneOut

begin JourneyTowardsEndOfBookTwo
includeviolentmurdersby HeroEntourage.SlightlyDodgyGuyWhoIsEitherBadGuyOrRedHerringDude(ReallyUltimateEviHenchmen.RedShirt1)
includeviolationof HeroEntourage.LoveInterest(StopStrugglingYoullEnjoyIt)
kill UltimateEviHenchmen.RedShirt1(buhbye!)
end JourneyTowardsEndOfBookTWo

begin EndOfBookThreeAndThereforeTrilogy

define UltimateEvil as HeroAgain
define HeroAgain as GrimAndGritty(UnshavenAndWearingATrenchcoat)

define Prophecy as OooohThatsClever

define Hero.Destiny as HopeItWasWorthIt

kill everyone

end EndOfBookThreeAndThereforeTrilogy

begin HopeForTheBest

I probably thought I was being very clever.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Battle of Vaajiata

There are two ways to talk about a battle in EVE Online. They're both hard, for different reasons. The first way, the easier way you would think, would be to weave a story around the events, set up the players and their motivations, give a little backstory and then blow-by-blow describe the eventual coming together of the two parties. It's hard because you first of all have to be good at telling a story, and you also have to be aware enough of all the events to make that story coherent.

The second way involves being dispassionate, analytical. This method is less attractive to the average reader, but for the hardcore EVE player, one more au fait with the technicalities of a PvP encounter, it can be a real learning experience.

So how to tell the tale of the Battle of Vaajiata? Well, bearing in mind that the raison d'etre of RPSH, one of the two protagonists, is to introduce new people to EVE as fast and as hard as we can, let's try a little of both.

Firstly, the roll call. On one side we have RPS Holdings (RPSH), a corp of over 100 players, dedicated to introducing new people to the world of EVE. At the core of the corp is a kernel of jaded EVE vets, some with over five years of playtime, and surrounded on all sides by a warm, fuzzy meatshield of players with only weeks or months under their belt. In the other corner is Allied Tactical Squadron and their friends (ATSQ), a conglomerate of experienced players with their fair share of newbies - although it has to be said that the ratio of vets to new players was higher with ATSQ, and that their new players were older than ours.

As we found out, it was common practise for ATSQ to declare war on other Empire only corporations as they revelled in cheap kills and easy ganks. No different to any other PvP corp, it must be said, but there are crucial differences in tactics between high-sec and null-sec combat - the obvious one being the ability to dock in far more stations, in busier systems with more stargates to run away through. You also don't have to worry about interdictors and anyone, absolutely anyone could be an alt.

Looking at the cold hard (alltime) stats of RPSH vs ATSQ, it's easy to wonder how we managed to win the war. 111 losses overall to them, compared with only 58 kills. Strip the stats down, ignore the 21 shuttle, noob ship and pod kills, and you find that 56 of the remaining losses are all tech 1 frigates, the cheapest ship type in the game. That's because we demanded that all our new players learn to fly disposable tackling frigates as early as possible and then throw them into the fray. Ridding yourself of The Fear as quickly as possible is essential for PvP in EVE where everything you own is earned through blood, sweat and tears and once it's gone, it's gone.

The War began, as they often do, with one innocuous action. RPSH's home system of Vaajiata, was sandwiched between ATSQ's home of Akonoinen and a low security system called Aurohunen. In Aurohunen it was possible to attack other players without repercussions from CONCORD, the ingame NPC police force, although anyone doing so would then be globally flagged as a criminal. I'd been a good boy for a long time, never really pirated in low sec systems, but living in high-sec space with RPSH was leaving me aching for the kind of PvP I was used to. When I spotted a lone Drake ratting in an asteroid belt in Aurohunen, I decided to go in for the kill... and what a kill it was, as thirteen of his friends piled in and took out my ship from under me.

The following demands then appeared in local chat:

[ 2009.10.16 01:30:17 ] Dozofprom > rps WILL DIE
[ 2009.10.16 01:30:34 ] Dozofprom > check your mail, u choose poorly
[ 2009.10.16 01:31:02 ] Dozofprom > pay us 2 bil in 24hrs or you all die
[ 2009.10.16 01:33:47 ] Dozofprom > including any poses anywhere

To which I answered:

[ 2009.10.16 01:35:41 ] M PIquet > I am authorised to say: "ROFL"

That didn't go down well. A few minutes later the declaration of war arrived, which was all very exciting.

The same can't be said of the war itself, however. ATSQ excelled in hugging stations and only ever engaged with greater numbers. Apart from the Battle of Vaajiata itself there were no gang engagements during the war, only a collection of ganks and solo wins. ATSQ also had a nice line in smack, telling us that we blobbed and had too many ships to contemplate fighting, neatly forgetting that they did, of course, war dec a corp three times their size. But such is the mindset of average EVE player: the game had to be set in space to contain all the incredibly large egos.

Tit for tat kills, although more tit than that, followed. They lost some ships, we lost some more ships. We tended to hide when their mainly US timezone gangs got together and similiarly they hid from us during European prime time. It all came to a head one Sunday night in October.

Our gang was bulked up and as heavy as it could get. Even though the majority of our corp members were merely months old we still numbered a several battleships and battlecruisers in amongsth our numbers, but our intelligence was that ATSQ were massing a sniper battleship gang on the Vaajiata gate in Akonoinen - our scout had seen them warping to the gate at range and then warping back out to a safe spot, clearly making tactical sniper spots around the gate. My inital thought, as fleet commander, was to get our gang out of Vaajiata and away from prying eyes and try to circle round behind the ATSQ home system and come at them from another angle, hopefully catching them either at their safe spot or at their sniper positions. We jumped into a neighbouring system to consider options, and waited, leaving one BS behind as bait. ATSQ took that bait, and the fight was on.

The decision of where to fight was basically taken out of our hands when two ATSQ battleships, including their own fleet commander Dozofprom, jumped through the Vaajiata stargate. Dozofprom had not endeared himself to RPSH with his incessant smacktalk in local chat but his apparent niavete in combat did ensure that I enjoyed going up against him. ATSQ were obviously used to empire combat and their first response in any engagement where they were overwhelmed was usually to deaggress and dock or jump out and run.

The ATSQ ships engaged in Vaajiata and we jumped back in, quickly warping in. ATSQ's numbers also rose in local and the fight was joined. We outnumbered them, although they had Falcons, jamming ships that were force multipliers and could potentially take at least four of our five battleships out of the battle, but our frigate pilots responded well and took the first one out as it uncloaked. Our BS and BCs quickly took out the first ATSQ BS - a Raven - and switched targets to the next. Two enemy Dominix went down as we lost a Typhoon, while an ATSQ Hyperion and Abaddon pair followed type and jumped back out. That left only two hostile battleships - Dozofprom himself, still futilely shooting away until his hull imploded, and a last Dominix which went down in no time. We'd lost one battleship, they'd lost five and two more had run away. We'd won.

My first instincts proved false as the ATSQ gang turned out not to be sniper fit, but were instead a remote-repair gang. That meant that they sacrificed overall firepower by fitting remote armour repair mods in their high slots. Used well this type of battleship gang is utterly devestating and can sometimes need capital support to kill. ATSQ forgot the first rule of combat in an RR gang, however - stick together. Fitted onto non-logistics craft, ships without bonuses to module range, the repair modules were only of use within ten kilometres, meaning all the BS would have to stay in a battle ball. Jumping into combat instantly means that ships within the gang can be up to thirty kilometres apart. In a triple-plated trimarked BS that could take anything up to a minute to travel. It was a bad decision, and the killmails only highlighted the terrible fits to go with them - a good RR gang has RR on every ship, not on half of them. If this sounds like arrogance, that's because it is, but it's the arrogance gained from total victory. Not all my fights have went this well, before or after, but this is one win I'll always remember, as much for the fight as for the immediate result...

Mere minutes later the entire corp received a notificaton by EVE-mail: ATSQ were retracting the war. We'd not only won, we'd defeated them so completely they withdrew all hostilities. The field was ours, the victory was ours, the enemy so defeated they knelt in supplication. This, surely, is what EVE is all about.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The morning after

The Cumbria Shootings are, of course, domninating the British media at the moment, as it should. It's an event of horrific magnitude and whatever "reasons" are uncovered for Derrick Bird's actions, they'll never be enough for the hundreds of people affected.

Reports now state that Bird's first victims where his lawyer and his twin brother, his brother for god's sakes, and that the rampage may have been sparked by an argument over a will. So he has a grudge, kills those responsible for it and then... makes a decision.

Now I, personally, can imagine hurting someone in retaliation for hurting me, or my son, or someone else very close to me. I cannot imagine, in my own mind, hurting someone because they've pissed me off. How desperate must you be to not only set out to hurt, but to kill? It's not something I can comprehend. But, having made that decision, to commit this violent act, Bird must have known that his life as he knew it was over. We'll never know when he decided to take his own life, but the most horrific thing about the entire day, for me, is that before he did, he must also have decided to keep on killing. In for the penny, in for the pound. Once you've started, why stop?

Forty people shot, 12 dead so far. Why didn't he end it straight away? What made him hate so much that he felt the need to shoot at random? It's probably better we never know, because no matter the reason, it'll never be explanation enough.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It must be summer because...

...I just found a spider the size of a golfball in my bathtub. Now I know it's not hurting anyone, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't die.

It was him or me, yer honour...

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Well hung

I am one of the 30 million UK residents who didn't vote. Admittedly, that number comes from here and doesn't take into account those below the voting age of 18 or insane or foreign or barred from voting for whatever reason. However it's worked out, only 29 million and change people voted in this election and I wasn't one of them.

There are reasons for this: the most important one is that my constituency is a safe SNP area. I knew this a week before polling day when I strolled around Perth city centre watching kids brandish SNP balloons while Conservative and LibDem party followers chatted amongst themselves rather than hand out leaflets or, god forbid, try and convince people that their party was the better option. I don't actually remember seeing any Labour party officials anywhere, which says a lot about their own campaign.

I don't like the SNP and I don't trust them. They may form the ruling party of the "Scottish Government" but that doesn't mean they're any more than the single issue party that they came from. They're short sighted, inexperienced and, ultimately, insane. They say that they have the best interest of Scotland at heart, but the main thrust of their party is that Scotland should be independent. Beyond that, they don't seem to have any ideas.

The Barnett Formula rules how much money Scotland receives from the UK Government. At the moment that's around 117% per capita of HM Funding as opposed to 97% in England. There's less of us, but we get more money from the Treasury. And Alex Salmond wants us to secede?

He's a fucking moron.

Let's secede then. Let's lose all that lovely funding for Scottish hospitals and the Welfare State. Let's let Scottish schools close. Let's let the UK Armed Forces move south because all of our men and women swore an oath to the Queen and have the self respect to keep that oath. Let's do what the SNP want us to do and fuck ourselves right in the arse with a poison tipped hedgehog.

Or, maybe, let's not.

I'm not going to pretend that I have any of the right answers. I'm just the guy on the street. But, at the end of the day, I'm also the guy who should be asking questions of my government, and so I have. I've emailed my local MP (who is of the SNP persuasion) asking him about how his party actually intends on running Scotland without the UK Treasury's yearly donation. I'm currently "Looking forward to his reply". Hopefully I'll be posting it soon...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Finally... internet is back! And now, some self aggrandising!

State of Temptation

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hallo Facebook people!

The Neptune's Pride creators have linked to this blog via their Facebook page. If you've come here from there, make sure to become a fan (of the game, not me :) )

Neptune's Diary Day 7

It's just before production cycle 7 starts. A full galactic week ingame and things are really beginning to move. The three AI controlled empires are in the process of falling - the light blues down to 5 stars, the oranges surrounded by vee's reds, and the purples massing ships on my border.

Down in my southwest is where the game is at it's most interesting. And by interesting I mean potentially deadly.

NPDiary 7

As you can see, there's a yellow peninsula being surrounded by vee's Reds and Scooped's green forces, in his fight with the AI controled LBD. To the south are the worlds of the AI orange empire, so far left alone by vee, who's been creating staging points on my borders.

To the north, Xen's Dark Reds have started taking worlds from Jon's Dark Blues. I've already taken some from him, but since the purples switched to AI control they have become more adventuresome. I'm hoping they'll provide a softer target for me, although they do have large fleets defending the border worlds.

In the meantime I am slowly capturing the last few free stars to the very north. Vee is still overall leader, but I control only three fewer stars. Since he's not moving to take orange stars, I can only assume he's decided top get ready early for an attempted conquest of my space. We'll see about that...

Writing to reach you.

I've been a brave lad and started writing about games again. Having seen someone post an ad for contributors for this site on RPS I decided to bite the bullet and submit a State of... column in the spirit of those I used to write for StateMagazine (BACK IN THE DAY).

I enjoy writing. I'd like to start doing it again on a regular basis, but I find I need a kickstart, something to do it for.

If it's accepted, I shall post a link here. If not, I'll post the column here at some point. We'll see how it goes. I was never terribly confident in my ability in the first place, and writing something "serious" for the first time in about 5 years was quite daunting.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Neptune's Pride Diary Day 5-6

Neptune's Pride

Things are beginning to move. After a day or two with no contact with my allies and with no movement on any scale, Day 6 sees things start to happen. Jon, the leader of the DBD had sent a fleet to the Sabik system but unfortunately for him my fleet was closer. By the time he arrived my forces had achieved defensive positions, boosting their combat prowess, and destroyed his ships easily. After some thought I decided to send a probing fleet towards his systems to see if I could scan out nearby fleets. This time Jon had a defensive fleet but his numbers were insufficient and the Segin system became mine, as did Dnoces.

The Dark Blue Danger must be destroyed. I am now moving to take his systems, with speed.

With the Light Blue Decadence and the Orange Entity now being controlled by AI usurpers, they are being slowly eaten up by the forces of Scooped and vee, which presents me with two extra large neighbours. Vee has the most largest empire in the 'verse already, with almost half the number of systems needed to claim total domination but seems to be only slowly moving westwards.

The Dark Red empire of Xen Star Monkey is also large, but seperated from me by the DBD and the Purple Peoples. They are also enroaching on vee's borders to the East. I can only hope they become embroiled in a border war, taking their attentions from me.

That leaves only the Purple Peoples, with whom I have had no contact. Their expansion has been slow and they are obviously preparing to defend their systems to the last... I wonder if they'll make a move towards my outlying systems while I prosecute this war against the DBD?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Neptune's Pride Diary: Day 4

Things look to be hotting up, ever so slowly.

Two of the players in our game (the Light Blue Decadence and Orange Entity, as I named them) have had their empires transferred to AI control. I imagine they'll be crushed in record time, sandwiched as they are between myself (the Yellow Eternal Empire of Eternalness), Scooped (the Green Army) and vee (Red Reality). However, I still fear for my own empire as both Scooped and Jon (Dark Blue Danger) have ships within striking range of my territory.

Was it wise to plunge so much time and income into expanding the economy at the expense of building a fleet? It'll certainly give me something to hold onto should my core systems fall, assuming I can increase my ships' range to allow me to run away quickly enough :)

Fight fight fight fight fight

"It started over nothing".

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Neptune's Pride Day 3

NPDay3 overview

The universe as it stands. I'm the cowardly yellow empire, surrounded on all sides by enemies (and friends? MAYBE).

Turns out diplomacy in this game is all about the trust. If someone scratches my back, for instance, I'm under no obligation to scratch theirs. And that's fine by me - it sets the ground rules straightaway. I'm reasonably sure I'm going to get pounded on all sides at some point, but am unsure whether the best defence is offence or, well, defence.

Defenders get a bonus in combat in this game, so there's an element where it's all about the numbers. Stars create 2 ships per day based on their industry level, so the higher the level, the bigger the fleet that can be sent out every day  - or, indeed, kept orbiting - but upgrading costs money, and to get money you need stars. Sitting still and turtling your core worlds may mean you have slightly larger defence fleets but, at the end of the day, you have no cash.

As the second largest empire I have lots of cash coming in. Ooh look at me, I can has bling? However, that cash can't be used on upgrading ships or weapons, only on upgrading stars. So, spend cash to breed more cash by upgrading economic levels on new stars? Increase industry for more ships? Or build expensive scientific stations to boost research rate?

I think I was right in my first assessment of this game. It's not going to be short.

Neptune's Pride: Day 1-2

I decree this game likeable.

It is, however, incredibly complex, while at the same time being insanely simple. I have no idea if any of the other players have had a combat event yet - I'm not sure if it'll flag it up if I'm not involved, y'see - but so far my interaction with the game has been limited to moving fleets towards planets and using the ingame email as a diplomatic device. I have the third largest fleet in our game, but I also have the most direct neighbours, having started off smack bang in the middle of the map. It's a tad unfair, but one has to do one's best before one is completely obliterated.

At the time of writing I have the second largest empire in terms of number of stars conquered, but find myself with no buffer between the mighty Eternal Empire of Eternalness and five other sentient races. I have made contact with some of these races, have been ignored by others, and can only wait and see what progresses.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Neptune's Pride: Day Zero

As spotted on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Neptune's Pride is a browser based 4X strategy game played in real time but with no fees. Intriguing, says I.

I've begun playing an eight-man (woman/entity) game with at least some of the other players being fellow readers of RPS. This is going to take some time, and I'm not entirely confident of doing at all well, but I shall report here every other day, with information and mis-information, just in case any of my fellow players are reading...

Saturday, January 09, 2010