June 14, 2015

Whoa, I'm in Space?

I totally logged in today. That was cool. Haven't done that in a while, but I've taken a step back from EVE for a while as one is want to do at times, and now I'm feeling refreshed and excited about Noir, No Not Believing, and EVE again.

So when I saw a broadcast go out on Slack about CVA bringing in a lot of armor, I totally logged in. Nothing happened, because what was apparently looking like a doable fight quickly turned into a few dozen carriers and dreadnaughts, but still: I totally logged in today.

But now I'm going to play H1Z1. We'll do it again very soon, EVE.
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April 19, 2015

The Trouble with Teaching

When I first volunteered to start helping Noir. Academy, back in early 2013, I had just started a job which had me playing video games from home. It didn't work out (surprise surprise), but at the time I had nothing but time, so I figured I'd be happy to help out the program that got me where I am today, taught me how to PvP, helped me find my EVE home. So when, at a corp meeting, volunteers were called for, I said I'd help with recruitment. Little did I know what that would turn into.

Helping with recruitment is basically the easiest thing I could have done for Noir. Academy. As much as I treasured the corporation, the program, and what it had done for me, I had gone through it out of necessity, not love. The goal was to join Noir., and Noir. Academy was a stepping stone. So while I was happy to help a bit, I had no intention of, nor desired to focus the majority of my efforts on a training corporation. I had seen what had happened to the two CEOs previously: burn out, and quick. It's a lot of work and it's certainly thankless. 

But, before I knew it, I was basically running the thing. And to be honest, I didn't mind. The more and more I got involved, the more I enjoyed it. I really liked being able to shape the program, try and create better pilots, fulfill a student's needs before he realized he had them. But my attention was split. I was, and am, a Noir. pilot first. I'm the CEO of Noir. Academy second. A huge part of my reform was to try and provide a great learning environment with very little instructor overhead. As you can imagine, that's easier said than done.

After a handful of tweaks the first iteration of the program, a few major tweaks, and one gigantic one (moving Noir. Academy into the Of Sound Mind) alliance, I've come to the obvious realization that there's just no substitute for full-time instructors. The second obvious realization is that Noir. pilots are here to be in Noir., not train students - much like myself. I had a couple of guys volunteer to move down to Catch with NA. and be there full time, but unsurprisingly they didn't last terribly long. It's just not what we signed up for.

I believe I've created a terrific program, and if I only had five full-time instructors, it'd run almost flawlessly. But I don't, and I probably never will. So, with that in mind, it's time for a change - and while I'm not sure it's the best one long term, it is the best one for the foreseeable future. And there's a chance that it'll actually become a great choice, one that will be sustainable and enjoyable.

I sat down with my instructors Saturday and had a pretty long meeting. I wanted to nail down a lot of things in detail, and I'm really happy with what we came away with.  Here's what we decided:

  1. Noir. Academy is leaving Of Sound Mind Alliance and joining No Not Believing Alliance.
    1. This was the biggest decision. I've been super happy with OSM and their treatment of my students, and generally students have been very happy with the situation too. However, we've found that the divide between Noir. and Noir. Academy was too great. We're going to be careful not to return to a state where students felt no impetus to graduate, but we feel it's critical that we're constantly in connection with them at all levels.
  2. There won't be any more "Stages" in the academy. You're either in or you're out, whether you graduated or you were kicked.
  3. The hard limit to graduate is going to be enforced at three months.
    1. We had this before, but I felt it was unfair to students to kick them if we weren't able to provide timely classes. And I was also bad about removing people who took extended breaks. 
  4. Students will be limited to a specific set of ships that feel are important to master yet won't be a detriment to a contract if multiple ships are lost in good learning experiences. We'll provide them, but students need to pay for them.
In essence, we're stripping the academy down into a more streamlined, but faster-paced program. We're also putting a heavy emphasis on Noir. pilots to connect with the students, even if you're not interested in helping train them.

I'm hopeful that with our new alliance culture that Noir. Academy will find a great home in the alliance, one that wasn't exactly present when we were flying under the Noir. Mercenary Group Alliance.  I'm certainly excited to be there when these guys get to go on their first contract. That's always the highlight for me. Turning good newbs into good mercs, one day at a time.
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April 9, 2015

A Game of Thrones Boardgame - Win or Die

Surprisingly, when I talk about A Game of Thrones during this blog post, I'm not referring to the HERO situation, Lannister-esque as that whole deal is. No, instead I'm talking about the board game published by Fantasy Flight, the company known for high production value and high price tags. I dropped the $60 on it last weekend in preparation for my company's Borad Game Night on April 7. I knew a small amount going in, but had purposefully read only enough to convince me it was worth the price tag. So when me and four others gathered around, chose our Houses and began vying for control of Westeros, I wasn't sure how it was going to play out. So, you ask, who ended up on the Iron Throne? I'm afraid you'll have to wait eight years for that reveal.

Just kidding, George.

First of all, this game is huge. It has hundreds of tokens, units, and various other doo-dads. Make sure you have a boardroom table at the ready before you buy it. That's pretty typical for Fantasy Flight games, so I knew to expect that. I have to admit that while it was all packaged very, very nicely and neatly, there didn't seem to be a lot of thought into repackaging it with the same level of care. That was sort of disappointing. The next time I decide to play, the first 20 minutes is just going to be picking out all the tokens from the haystack (tokenstack?) and ensuring everyone has all pieces they need.

But once everything was organized, we picked our houses. Total available houses include Stark, Baratheon, Lannister, Greyjoy, Tyrell, and Martell. I picked Baratheon. I had read somewhere it had natural advantages and, hey, this is the game of thrones we're talking about here. I'll use every dirty trick I can get.

Since we had five people rules dictated that House Martell weren't available for play, much to the disappointment of fellow coworker and mercenary Alekseyev Karrde. He ended up with Tyrell.

The game's mechanics are fairly straightforward, but there are nuances to almost all of it. You win the game by having 7 strongholds or castles or, at the end of 10 rounds, having the most. Any ties in regards to the winner are decided by who currently sits on the Iron Throne, whether they're a party in the tie or not. See? Already finding nuance. There are three phases: Westeros Cards, Planning, and Action. You skip the Westeros Card phase the first round, but the game round progresses each time the Westeros Card phase comes thereafter.

There are 3 Westeros Cards which are drawn in order and have different actions, or non-actions, that must be resolved immediately upon drawing. These cards can have fairly simple effects such as a specific player determining that certain actions can't be taken in the round, or that nothing at all happens, or that everyone gets to muster new troops. Or it could cause the wildlings to attack.

The real meat of the game is during the Planning Phase. Each player has a number of Order Tokens that they place face down in the areas containing their units, and optionally any areas they control with no units. All of these tokens are then simultaneously flipped over once they've all been placed. You can issue move orders, consolidate power orders, defense orders, support orders, or raids. Each type of order is resolved in particular order - confusing sentence - based on the Iron Throne Influence Track. Moving units into another area with another faction's units causes a battle. Battles are resolved immediately and have their own set of rules. Raids remove certain types of orders in adjacent areas, etc etc.

Oh, I haven't explained Influence Tracks? It's important, but I haven't even finished explaining orders yet!

I think you get the point here - the rules are fairly straightforward on the surface, but there are levels to each. There's definitely a lot of skill in manipulating orders cleverly. But you may have already noticed the really interesting part here, is that everyone issues orders to every unit in secret. The game encourages players to make alliances - and break them at their convenience. So if I make a deal with another player, saying we won't attack one another, the only thing we can offer one another is trust. So we have to trust each other that when we place order tokens on our units in neighboring areas, those order tokens aren't movement orders, and if they are, they're not targeted towards us.

So say I'm honorable and I place a consolidate power token down in that area (which means that nothing untoward happens to anyone else due to that area's orders), my neighbor doesn't know that. I can't tell him what my order is. Likewise, he places his token down and I have to trust his word that it's not a movement order. When we flip them all over, much to my surprise, I curst his inevitable betrayal as I see a movement token for his army and, sure enough, he uses it to attack me.

That's the real beauty of this game, it captures the feeling of the books. You build alliances, you scheme, you plan, you plot, you try and manipulate other players to do what you want by showing them one thing and then doing the other suddenly, without warnng, when your time is ripe.

There's also an element of risk and reward outside of just springing your traps at the right time. Those influence tracks I mentioned earlier? You have to bid on those with Power. Power's used to control territory you don't have units in and you have to consciously use an order token to gain it, typically. The trick to bidding is deciding what Influence Track is most important to you and trying to get it without over committing, because you lose whatever Power tokens you bid, no matter where you end up on the track.

The Iron Throne gets to decide all ties in non-combat situations. For example, let's say you currently own the Iron Throne and the time comes to bid on the influence tracks. You want to keep the Iron Throne so you bid high, but end up tieing for first place. As the current holder, you get to decide the winner of the tie! The Iron Throne Owner even gets to choose the winner of ties regarding the winner of the GAME!

The Fiefdom track grants the The Valryian Blade to whoever is highest on the track. The owner gets +1 combat strength once per round which is pretty useful. Ties in combat are also determined by placement on the Fiefdom track, so placing high can be a big deal.

And finally The King's Court grants The Raven. The Raven lets the owner, once per round, change one order after all the orders have been revealed. That's pretty big. He can also look at the top card on the Wildling Deck and choose to do whatever he wants with that information: tell you, keep it to himself, or lie about it. That can also be pretty big. The higher you are on this track, the more "powered up" order tokens you can place, too.

But if you bid too much power on one track, you may not have enough power to retain a solid position on other important tracks. Wheels within wheels. It's awesome trying to juggle your entire army, its supplies, everyone else's armies, their possible motives, their REAL motives, the wildlings, and retaining enough power to be in a good position when the time comes.

And you really do have to be careful in your juggling. Take Alek's moves from last night's game. He and I had an alliance going for a short time and he decided to betray it earlier than I was able to, and he ended up taking a couple of castles that put him in a pretty decisive lead. But it was too early in the game! He had shown his hand with way too much time left for him to solidify and retain his position. So naturally we ganged up on him!

I'm happy to say that he did not win with House Tyrell. Neither did I with Baratheon, but I did help ensure the winner claimed his seat upon the Iron Throne with relative ease, surely gaining favor in his court of House Greyjoy.

All hail House Greyjoy! King of Westeros!

Until we play again...
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March 20, 2015

CSM X Results

Well, I can't say I'm not disappointed a little, but it really isn't bothering me which is nice. I would have loved to have been on this CSM in particular, but who knows? Maybe I'll run for CSM XI! No promises though. Besides, I don't have time to be bummed because I'm going on a company ski retreat eight hours after I write this! I'll try my hand at snowboarding for the first time, and I predict painful results.

Back to the CSM.

I was surprised to see a few people elected, and surprised a few people weren't, but overall the CSM is pretty much a done deal save one or two seats. That's not really the most ideal end result as far as getting a lot of different world views, but it is what it is, and that is as much EVE as anything, so I'm not complaining in the least.

I got to catch a little bit of the keynote, just until right after the CSM announcement basically, before heading into meetings, so I'll have to go back and watch the whole thing in total. I tried catching up via Reddit, but it's not enough detailed information for me. I'm especially intrigued to see what was said about the roadmap and all this I hear about gates with fittings. Hopefully it'll be up tomorrow so I can watch them all over the weekend, if they're on a day-long delay.

I also saw something about alliance logos. Have you seen our alliance logo yet? It's amazing. Lioso made it. He does cool pictures. He did my last website header in fact. Anyway, if you haven't seen it before: BEHOLD!

This will definitely be in game when the logos are available again!

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March 10, 2015

Contract Recaps

I just realized on the way home from work tonight that I had skipped a contract recap! That means you'll be getting two in one post this time! We'll just jump right in:

Contract Type: POCO Destruction

Our employer wanted us to destroy some POCOs in a wormhole. Some of these were NPC POCOs and others were player POCOs. We didn't expect much resistence, but there was a decent chance of a response fleet.

This was a pretty straightforward contract except for one thing: the timeline required that we launch the contract at a fairly bad time. It landed a few hours before the EU timezone really kicked in and way before the US timezone was active. I wasn't sure if we were going to have enough pilots for the initial push to make headway early so we could wrap it up quickly. Luckily we had some allstar EU and US players who weren't at work that handled it all very quickly. They reinforced or destroyed every POCO in the wormhole back to back, and by the time reinforcements came to relieve them, there weren't many left to hit.

Two days later they came out and we re-emerged to destroy them all in pretty quick succession. We had to wait a few minutes in between some of the POCOs, but that was nice since the wait was just long enough for a bio break and some food, but not so long that you got bored.

The contract itself was completely successful, but obviously it would have been nice to have a fight too. We ended up with six player POCOs and two NPC pocos destroyed.


Our second contract was very last minute, and pretty late US timezone. Once again, our heros in the allaince stayed up way past a sensible hour to help make this contract successful as well.

Contract Type: POS Defense

Our employer had a POS that had been reinforced by a kitchen sink: Tornadoes, Ishtars, Dominixes, and a handful of stealth bombers. We expected a similar fleet composition for the destruction attempt with the possibility of Dreadnoughts so we fielded an Ishtar fleet with Lachesis, Scimitar, and Maulus as support. The plan was to time our arrival with the enemy fleet - to let them get into position and begin their assault and have our employer and his corp grab tackle as we swooped in.

Things moved according to plan: we were moving a dozen or so jumps to get into position and were four jumps out when the employer announced the enemy fleet was on grid. He was in the POS shields ready to nab tackle when given the order. There were a few other members of his corporation online, but to our dismay they weren't capable of participating due to lack of combat-allocated SP or understanding of mechanics that weren't realized until too late. We had to make due with one tackle and hope for the best.

Once we got two jumps out the employer was told to go ahead and start making his approach for tackle. Unfortunately that attempt failed and as we were landing, no one was tackled so they just warped away.

We found their POS and kept eyes on them while our Scimitars began repping the tower. The employer brought in his Thanatos to hep rep but he didn't have any triage. He was strongly encouraged to go fit triage and instructed on how to position his Thanatos so it wouldn't be in any real danger if things went down after all. That took probably 15 minutes before he was fit out properly and in position though. Our scimitars did some serious work.

Eventually the enemy fleet began to log off, realizing there wasn't much they could do here and we left the employer to finish repairing his POS after about 45 minutes or so of our logistics helping in that regard.

So again, a nice, clean, successful contract but kind of a bummer that there wasn't a fight. Our employer clearly wasn't experienced, but I can't blame him. That's what we came for. It's unfortunate that it was such short notice or I think we could have helped prep him a bit better. I always like doing that, helping the employers that want to get involved to be useful. Often it's a new experience for them and is out of their comfort zone, but they always have a ton of fun. In the end he was still very happy with the result, and as a mercenary I certainly can't complain about a paycheck.
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March 7, 2015

California Summer, June Can't Come Fast Enough

My first week in California comes to a close! It's been absolutely awesome. My work is amazing. The entire office is full of really cool people who show up every day with passion and energy and focus with a desire to kick ass. It's such a refreshing change from my last work where every day was like pulling teeth, everyone was always angry, and people were more interested in not being blamed for things than getting work done. What a massive difference the cultural atmosphere makes. I come into work early and leave pretty late every day because time flies by. I've got so much work, but it never feels like a drag.

My first week here also coincided with GDC. I didn't get to spend any time at the conference, but I did get to go to a few GDC parties and meet a lot of cool people which was great. It turned out to be kind of a bad week to actually start working here since it was so hectic, but it's worked out alright! Next week should be a better indication of a normal week.

I'm still trying to find a place to live which is really difficult. I'm surprised that it's such a struggle. As you may know if you've been reading for a while, I used to be a sales and marketing consultant in apartment leasing. I figured I'd be able to use that experience and wam, bam, thank you ma'am find a place to live really quickly. Newp. It's ridiculous. I've been staying with a really nice family during the weekdays, but I can only do that for another week so I hope I can find a place by then!

So I was going to try and segway the California weather with summer, but it doesn't really fit anywhere, so let's just say: I'm super excited for this summer! I'm sure you've already read Fozzie's Novella Part One and Two, and that's the crux of my excitement. There are some tweaks that will likely be made, and I think others have done great service to that topic already so I won't rehash that information. What I want to do is talk about how this is going to effect mercenaries.

In short: big boom.

I can pretty safely predict a huge upswing in sovereignty changing hands as soon as this system goes live. We'll see everyone pretty much scramble to take what they can, play with the new mechanics, and generally just have fun. But shortly thereafter, and probably in the midst of that, we're going to have some very interested people who are having trouble any gains and they're going to call for help. Some of those people will be in alliances and coalitions large enough that they'll look internally for that help, and we likely won't have much involvement with them. But there's a size of nullsec-interested groups, call it medium, that don't have that luxury or even combined force who are going to want to get in the game and ensure their efforts succeed the first time. And they're going to look for mercenaries.

I predict a really strong upswing in the mercenary business come June. Obviously we'll reap the benefits of that, being able to support offenses or defenses, control territory for node-grabs, disable station services - you name it. But I also predict an upswing in other mercenary corporations that are going to get hired for this type of thing. Right now nullsec mercenary work is pretty much a barren landscape. There's us, BL, and PL. I imagine the latter will see more than one contract every few years that they're currently receiving, but I'll be interested to see how their members react to having to move so often if they want to actually become a player - my guess is it won't go over too well.

That's another interesting part of this system that mercenaries will have to contend with: the length of these events. Currently, a sovereignty focused deployment and contract would last a few weeks if not longer. That's fine for deploying 100-ish carriers of stuff. Plenty of time to recover your in-game fatigue and your RL fatigue from the boring mechanics. But post-June these things aren't going to last a month or more, it's going to be a matter of days. There's a delicate balance here between the employer and the mercenary too. An employer may be willing to pay you to stay for a week to make sure everything is smooth, but if the actual content only lasts for two days it's boring and let's be honest, the mercenary career is still about having fun. So the mercenary CEO can't just take long contracts to cover the Fatigue aspect because the fun has to be a consideration.

Instead, and I can only speak for ourselves, I think we'll be looking to reinvent the way our supply chain works. We haven't discussed it internally yet because there's simply not enough information to start making plans for a redesign like this, but if it does end up looking like most of these contracts are going to be super short term, something will have to be done. Either way, I can't wait to find out!

Hurry up, Summer!
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February 27, 2015

Time to Go!

Today is the day I move! I'm flying first class from Atlanta this evening and arriving in San Francisco after a few hour direct flight. My CEO Alekseyev Kardde will be picking me up from the airport and I'll crash on his floor for a couple of nights while I find my own place. I hope that part goes smoothly. I'm not one to stress at all, very laidback, handle things as they come. But I'm definitely worried about this part. I have a feeling I'm just going to have to put up with a really unenjoyable apartment for a year and then find the place I really want after this lease is up. I'd look at getting roommates but my girlfriend will be joining me in June (although I hope she'll be my fiance by this point). I also have a dog which will be joining me when she comes, so I have to plan in advance for that, but without the luxury of both our incomes.

Still, it's very exciting. I can't wait to get out there and start working with an awesome company and having a lot of fun! Plus, I won't be on horrible internet anymore. It's honestly been since June 2013 that I've had reliable internet. From June '13 to July '14 I was traveling across the country for work, often having access to internet speeds worse than dial up. Currently my internet is DSL, so it's manageable, I can play games, I can watch Youtube, except when I can't which is usually two or three times a day. Surely San Francisco has better infrastructure. Boy I hope so.

No Not Believing is also on the move! We've got our first contract as an alliance and, while it's not glamorous, I think it's a really nice challenge and experience especially for the guys who haven't done a contract yet. I'm just finishing up the last things before I leave later this evening: washing a few more clothes, checking my list, cleaning up. If I can get all that done, I plan on attending this contract, but gotta make sure I don't miss the plane!

I'll write a contract recap once it's over, of course!

In other news over 19,000 people have already voted in CSM X elections! That's over 5,000 more than last year. With more candidates than we've ever seen, I hope we'll also see more votes than ever too. It looks like the last big promotional event for this election season will be this weekend on the Declarations of War podcast. I'll be joining the Townhall session in which all of you are welcome to joi our TS and ask the candidates questions live. I love interacting with people "fact to face" so I'm looking forward to it!  There are still some slots left, so if you know any CSM candidates, encourage them to participate! The DoW format is unique in that it lets candidates speak with one another, which I find is a really nice change of pace to the one on one interviews.

Next time I write a post, I'll be in the sunny West Coast!
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