Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Primary" Drone Problems.

Once again, I emerge from the darkness that often befalls my poor blog.  Time is a precious thing, and I usually prefer to actually shoot things in space rather than simply write about them.  Right now however, I'd like to talk about drones, not just a continuation of my "ravings of a Gallente loyalist" series, but on all drones, and how a very specific iteration could go a long way towards truly making drones a "primary" weapons system.

In recent iterations (and in the upcoming Odyssey 1.1 patch), CCP has made a great deal of effort to enhance pure drone ships.  From changing the ships themselves to adding new modules, there are now a plethora of ships that can excel in the output of purely drone damage.  While this is not a bad thing (indeed, I and my skillpoints are quite happy) I believe there have been several unintended consequences.  First lets consider the ships themselves.  All dedicated drone ships have had one slot removed in comparison with other ships of the same class.  CCP has implied that because of abilities like untargeted damage, the ability to have any damage type you want, and the ability to things like EWAR drones are powerful enough to warrant having a lower slot layout.  I'll get to some of these other things in a moment, but for now remember that we are a slot short.
New modules have been added of late that increase the ability of drone based comps.  Damage, range, speed, all are now viable options for drone ship users to take.  Here is the side effect: this means that pure drone boats will usually never have onboard weapons (missiles or turrets).  Why?  For the same reason nobody ever fit a Megathrons (prior to latest balance) 8th slot with a missile launcher and then put a BCU in a low slot.  Having turrets or launchers not only takes away from the precious fitting restrictions many drone boats have, but it means that you want to focus ALL of your upgrades on your actually drones or tank.  This is further compounded by the fact that... you guessed it: drone ships have one less slot for all those upgrade modules.  This means that once drones have been neutralized by some means (smartbombs, targeting with smaller weapons or other drones, etc.) most current drone ships are mostly worthless.  While this is not a solid rule (ships like the Navy Domi still commonly use turrets) it is rule enough to consider bridging the gap.

This stands in stark contrast to turrets or missile boats that use cavernous cargo holds to carry any kind of ammo they need: close range, long range, high DPS, or better tracking are all options that non-drone ships have at their disposal for protracted periods.  The problem for drone users, and as CCP as put it the "advantage" of interchangeable drone damage types, is that only so many drones can be carried.  Even huge drone bays like those on the Dominix and Armageddon can only carry a handful of different damage, range, or speed drones.  Even if drones are re-balanced in and of themselves, it will not fix the underlying issue that when push comes to shove, the two main things you want out of drones are either DPS or the ability to catch targets creating the need for carrying a variety of drones rather than multiple flights of lights in order to apply "any" damage type.  Furthermore, even should a turret based ship run out of ammunition, he can be resupplied by looting the battlefield and scooping the ammunition needed.  While this will not ALWAYS be the case, it is not an uncommon occurrence.  Enter my suggestion to fill this hole:  Allow drones to be transferred from the cargohold to the drone bay.

Currently, any drones that are packaged cannot be fit during battle (unless you have a maintenance hanger).  By allowing drones to be carried in a cargohold and transferred, you give the ability to be able to truly have an option in any situation, capitalizing  on the wide range of drones available.  This can be tempered with multiple stopgaps.  A "reload" timer could be used when adding drones from the cargohold, say a minute (any number could be considered).  Drones would also not be able to me moved from the drone bay back to the cargohold, meaning once moved, would have to be launched and lost or launched and abandoned (without the ability to reconnect).  As drones are quite heavy, this would prohibit "endless" waves of drones, even light ones.  While it would allow ships with only 25mb bandwidth to carry multiple flights of drones, it would also inhibit the ability to carry extra ammo, or cap charges, thus diminishing the ability of many popular ships.

It is clear that CCP has committed to making drones a primary weapon system, however, without giving them the ability utilize all the "benefits" they proclaim drones have, it will be very difficult from drone ships to be considered anything other than niche.

EDIT: In some of the feedback I've received, I want to make one thing clear.  Yes it's true that ships like the Vagabond would be a MAJOR pain to catch and hold since tackle couldn't peel off drones, however, in trying to make drones a primary weapon system, I believe that in addition to the aforementioned changes, the number of ships that have drones should be reduced.  You don't see a great number of turret ships with a random couple of missile slots for those "amazing" rockets and you don't see a lot of missile ships with turrets for the "huge" amount of extra DPS they contribute.  By having soooooo many ships with drones that are already succesful ships even without said drones, you dimisnish the uniqueness of dedicated drone ships in just the same way Gallente blasters are "diminished" by having Caldari ships that often can accomplish the same thing while retaining speed or tankability.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Improving FW Occupancy And Making An Impact

There has been much discussion on how to continue to "fix" faction warfare and the lowsec it's in.  While it has, of late, been an unquestioned success through recent expansions, there are still glaring holes in the system.  Two of my biggest concerns are the reason for keeping a system at level 5 and FW/lowsec affecting the rest of Eve.  I have a couple of ideas that I think would touch on both of these things.

For a while, CCP was planning on implementing cyno jamming structures that could be put up in systems where the IHUB was upgraded to level 5.  After tremendous LP and ISK investments, this structure could then not only be destroyed, but once activated was AUTOMATICALLY destroyed.  This idea was never implemented, I believe, for two reasons.  The first being that FW people didn't want to invest so much LP and ISK only to have some alt corp activate it and let it automatically get blown up.  Secondly because nullsec groups said it would "fundamentally impact their ability to move ships and supplies" thus meaning there would be fewer wars, less fighting, etc.  Needless to say I think that is a load of pucky, one SHOULD have to actually "work" to keep supply chains open.  Additionally, it would mean that FW and lowsec groups would actually have some power over nullsec groups thus impacting the rest of Eve.

The first idea that I would like to see is a module or script for HIC's that would allow cyno jamming in lowsec.  This would create a mobile platform that could be kept with a fleet in order to discourage hotdrops.   This would work by only allowing 1 in system active at once, the jamming would essentially be a "siege" mode (preventing remote reps or movement), could not be activated inside a POS and would have a system wide beacon so fleets could find it.  This would allow for at least a short term "safe guard" against hotdrops while still allowing an enemy fleet the ability to turn it off.  Furthermore it would give HIC's another useful purpose in lowsec (something they desperately need).

In addition to this, I would like to see an automatic rule to encourage keeping a system up to level 5, something currently lacking especially in systems without industry capabilities:  Any FW system where the IHUB is NOT at 5, a ships could not jump or bridge OUT from.  In other words, you need an IHUB at 5 yo be able to jump out from, creating a sort of "jump hub".  Think about it.  Suddenly, while you can still jump or bridge into the system to kill that fleet or POS, one must think hard if it's worthwhile in case you can't then jump OUT from the system.  This would indeed hinder JF's moving supplies but would not entirely cut supplies as they can still jump a couple of gates if need be.  It would reduce the number of null blobs (in particular super caps) because they would need a station or POS to safe up in after the battle.  It would create the need to fight for and invest in systems that are critical to supply lines, thus creating more content, and would give the actions of FW groups much larger implications across Eve.  Something that CCP markets and is all about.

While there may be concerns that null sec entities could simply put alt corps into the militia for the purpose of adding LP to keep a certain IHUB up, that is fine by me.  That LP has to come from somewhere and as a system gets plexed that LP pool is reduced, it would not be a one time shot for said alts.  They would have to keep farming LP for the purpose of keeping systems up INSTEAD of farming LP ONLY for ISK.

Creating more risk, creating a reason to fight, and creating impact across Eve without breaking anything that's not already broken seems reasonable enough to me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Armor Tanking 1.Fail

Once again I arise from the dark void bereft of light or fun called RL and come to give thoughts on something that I feel could be one of CCP Fozzie's few failed balance changes thus far, armor tanking 1.5.  I say this with all do respect of course, as Fozzie has made so many great improvements to Eve that not only work wonderfully, but have made the game far more enjoyable.  As is well known, I am a Gallente supporter and once I saw the title and proposed changes needless to say I was very excited.

First let's look at what armor tanking 1.5 was supposed to do: Make armor ships (in particular active tank ships) go faster.  This was done by adding a new skill called Armor Honeycombing that would shave off 5% of the mass of armor plates per level, reducing the mass of certain plates, and removing the speed penalty on active armor repair rigs and putting on a powergrid penalty instead.   On top of this, CCP added the Ancillary Armor Repair units allowing more tank (in certain circumstances) from less modules and reduced the PG need of  medium and large repair units to offset the PG increase of the new rigs.  All of these changes are good in theory, but in the details, the theory was lost on all but one account.

Let me start off with the good (and somewhat ironic) thing about the tank balance that I like: the changing of active armor repair rigs to take away from PG and not speed.  This is huge for Gallente ships. As an example, our beloved Brutix* with an MWD on and a 1600 plate goes from 963m/s to 1091m/s.  Quite an improvement, as it allows a plated Brutix to actually catch a Drake without nano's on.  As I have said in other blog posts, speed is perhaps the Gallente's biggest (as there are many) Achilles heel.

What Gallente need more of.

But now comes the ironic part, this is exactly what armor tanking needs and yet all the other changes do about as much to fix this as trying to put out a campfire with a shot of whiskey.  Lets look at the same Brutix with and without armor rep mods and apply the Armor Honeycombing.  The Brutix with the trimarks now goes from 963m/s to 991m/s and with the active rep mods goes from 1091m/s to 1122m/s with AH to level 5.  A net gain of 28 and 31 meters per second.  Needless to say this is terrible.  But oh, you may say, smaller ships will benefit more.  True, a 1600 plate Thorax now goes a whopping 50m/s faster with the MWD on but this is still laughable.  A ship with the same fitting before 1.5 will have no better a chance at catching anything, and what's worse, is that it is a rank 3 skill.  Why is this important?

CCP had been making an effort to add content for both noobs and vets alike, adding new skills, isk sources, new player experiences, ships, etc. and to some extent have done well.  This skill (as it currently is) fits into no category of usefulness at all. Being a rank 3 skill it would take someone without implants nearly 18 days to train, in which time the noob could have almost trained two racial frigates to 5 (which is FAR more useful).  To the vet, spending 12-14 days training a skill that will make only a handful of my ships go slightly faster than getting bumped by a shuttle is entirely a waste of two weeks.

What then would make this skill worthwhile?  I have three ideas but would only ever suggest implementing one at any given time.
1. Change the skill to rank 12 and change the bonus to 20% per level.  60(ish) days of training for removing the mass penalty of plates.  This would have far reaching affects so I will mention the other two before going into details.
2. Change the skill to rank 1 and leave the bonus as is.  This gives the option to spend 5 days to train a skill that does almost nothing to increase my speed.
3. Change the skill to give a proportional increase to speed on ships fitting different sizes of plates.  This would involve the most coding and thus I don't think is very viable, however, by at least allowing a flat rate of speed increase (say 50 plate gets 10, 100/25 200/50 400/75 800/100 1600/150, note that while exaggerated these numbers prove a point) it allows more options and speed for MWD's and over-sized AB's.

Now to explain my first (and preferred) idea.  By changing the rank to 12 you prohibit every noob from training to 5 quickly, meaning that most pilots will have rank 3-4 before moving on to other things.  Vets on the other hand, who may have almost every sub-cap skill trained to 5 already, can spend 45 days training a skill that actually has benefit.  But wouldn't this make armor ships indistinguishable from shield ships in terms of speed?  Not at all!  Again lets look at our Brutix.  By removing the plate entirely, the trimark Brutix still only goes 1087m/s and the active rep version goes to 1232m/s.  This would allow armor ships to actually have a chance to catch shield/nano ships in a fight, not simply by a shield ship derping into an armor gang or by having boosts when the target doesn't.

The other reason why this would NOT be OP is becuase of a little module known as a Nanofiber Internal Structure which, go figure, is best used with shield ships due to the tank.  It doesn't take long to train for and allows a drake to go from 1003m/s to 1187m/s without sacrificing much tank or DPS (depending on your preferred flavor of Drake).  How do those numbers compare?  With my proposed skill change, the trimark Brutix gains 94m/s, an active rep Brutix gains 110m/s whereas the increase in the Drake, by adding two nanos, gains 184m/s.  Tell me how training 60 days to make that happen with a much smaller total speed bonus is somehow OP?  For the record, I am using these two examples as the Drake is now one of the slowest shield BC's and the Brutix "should" be one of the faster ones with the recent mass reduction.

Who would win a footrace?

Undoubtedly, CCP will release stats in the upcoming months showing how certain hulls are being used more now than they were before the tanking changes.  While I certainly don't doubt there will be noticeable changes (I myself have picked up two new Brutixes) I believe these stats will be skewed rather hard as, I believe, the changes in the ships themselves will have made more of an impact on their usability than the armor tank changes as they currently stand.  The AAR is kinda... meh, especially since you can't fit two and the PG changes in the reps themselves aren't that big a deal to existing fits.
I think that CCP has missed the mark here, rather than balancing active armor tanking (let alone armor buffer tanks and not considering the natural passive tank inherent from shield ships) I believe this has succeeded more in appeasement than in real change.  I didn't comment hard on this prior to the patch as sometimes CCP will have a little surprise change at the last moment or they will re balance things within the first week.  Neither of these have happened and thus, I am once again, left to continue lobbying for improvements to the ships themselves, or at least for a armor tanking 2.0, rather than being able to hail the tank changes as the improvements that so many of us have been wanting.

"When they see an advantage but do not advance on it, they are weary."  Sun Tzu

*Note that all stats were made in EFT with all skills at 5 (except for Armor Honeycombing) and do not include boosts, implants, or overheating unless expressly stated.