November 19, 2015

Mercenary Coalition Contract Recap: Ring of Fire

I blogged about this contract differently than I had any others. I didn't plan it, but what ended up happening was that I wrote more often about this contract than I usually would. Typically, I'd save everything for the contract recap, but that has its downsides. For starters, the information wouldn't be fresh on my mind any more. I would, however, have more of the overall story in mind when I was writing. Instead, I just wrote about what happened on a particular day, which ended up helping craft the story all by itself. I think I like this style.

Regardless, an official contract recap is in order.

After my last post, there really wasn't anything exciting that happened. Suddenly had all but given up. We took a few more towers and The Culture took the 1-3 station as intended. It was all very uneventful from our end, but that just means we did a hell of a job.

Needless to say our employer was very, very pleased.

And, well, that's it! That's the whole contract recap. Luckily, I do have a bit more information to share, although I can't go into too much detail at this point. One of the things you hope for as a mercenary is minimal downtime. Ideally, you'd go straight from one contract to the next without delay. This keeps the game exciting for us and gives us new challenges. Now, you do need some down time after a few back-to-back contracts, or you get burnt out. However, in reality it's quite that you'd have one contract directly after another. In practice, due to the way mercenaries work in EVE, it's more common to have to find your own content for a week or two between every contract.

Well not this time! Mercenary Coalition has already begun moving a very long way for a very big contract. This actually built off the success of our Ring of Fire contract. Had we done poorly there, we probably wouldn't have been offered this contract. That's the way it is, too: when you're doing well, you get more contracts. When you're doing poorly, you're offered less.

I haven't done one of these contracts in a long, long time (I'll link to the last contract recap I wrote where we performed this service in my next contract recap so as not to spoil anything), but it's going to be a blast. Well, it'll be a blast after the pain of moving is over. That's never fun thanks to Phoebe (but I promise I'm not complaining).

I'll also be dusting off some ships I haven't truly flown in over a year! That's always a special treat :)
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November 17, 2015

Ring of Fire Simmers Down

Yesterday was a big milestone for the Ring of Fire contract. Unfortunately it was also a very uneventful day. One of the hallmarks of a successful regional assault contract is when the target just gives up and stops trying. Like I say, it's uneventful - downright boring, in fact - but it gives me a certain measure of satisfaction to know that we've taken things to the extreme, that we never left the result of the contract a question. That's what people pay big money for.

I was happy that the "big day" happened on the weekend at least. No more watching from the sidelines while the alliance rakes in all the klls and has all the fun! And despite the fact that there weren't any kills, I did have fun.

The objective of the day was the station in 1-3HWZ. This station was called "No Not Believing in Station", a not-so-subtle reference to the alliance Noir. founded after leaving Suddenly Spaceships. Perhaps they did so as a Bat Signal of sorts to call us back home, the desparate attempt of a pre-teen to flirt by teasing. Whatever the reason, they apparently didn't want us to dock in that station, renaming it to Onae'Takku'Tree (a racist pronunciation of the system - real mature, these guys) when they realized they had no hope of defending it.

We had seen Suddenly lighting a lot of cynos in 1-3, but we were hoping they were bringing stuff *in*, not moving it out. Alas.

Speaking of no hope, I mentioned that no one from Suddenly Spaceships, The OSS, or Pyschotic Tendencies were to be found outside of *any* station. They clearly had the raw assets, they spent two days trying to move it all. But they weren't interested in losing any more of it, I guess.

In the hope that we *would* see some action, we formed in our Ishtars that proved to be quite effective before. We spent a while warping around, trying to locate any potential fleets and to keep any scouts on their toes with our true destination. Eventually we just sat in a POS while our entosis ships finished off the system and the station. There were a few times when we scrambled to support an entosis ship from a solo aggressor, but they didn't stick around.

And just like that, with nary a whimper, the station was taken. 

The rest of the night was spent shooting at towers. We, again, had no resistence. We'll continue shooting at towers until the contract is completed, but I have a feeling there is going to be far less resistence.

No one said being a mercenary was all adrenaline pumping action. Sorry to burst that bubble.
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November 14, 2015

Another Day, Another Dead Suddenly Fleet

Once again, my work has frustrated me to no end. I've had to sit there, quietly and fervently working on things that my company deems "important" while my alliance is getting into fantastic brawls, Maybe I should quit.

Today, the fight happened over another one of Suddenly Spaceships towers. this was an Amarr Control Tower Small located in 10UZ-P. Our theorycrafters and logistics pilots spent the day before the op putting together a new Ishtar doctrine for the alliance. It's pretty standard, but getting it all put together for 300 people is a feat to be applauded. Personally, I was a bit nervous because there was more than one person who said they hadn't flown one before!

But, my fears were misplaced, as I found out by constantly refreshing the killboard while at work.

Going back to the tower: it vaporized. No trouble at all. Suddenly didn't even try to contest it, or they didn't have time. Instead, they decided to camp our fleet out of LSC4-P with help from OSS using Sleipners and Hurricane Fleet Issues with Basilisk logistics.

After the tower died, our fleet warped to the LSC4-P gate and immediately burned away, dropping drones as they went. MC held at range for a while, just trying to see what the next move was going to be. After about a 15 minute stand off, our fleet burned back towards our drones to scoop them up. Suddenly decided this would be a good time to jump in.

Unfortunately for them, we were immediately able to burn away unhindered. They were suddenly in our optimal ranges, and while we took some heavy damage at first, once our tranversals were higher, there was no incoming damage.

We began melting through their fleet and they jumped in a Nidhoggur to try and keep up. Unfortunately, as the fight wore on, our drones weren't able to apply damage effectively, and were taking damage. The MC fleet warped off and back on to try and get into a better position. Apparently, during this interim, The Unthinkables arrived in Machariels and began alphaing through the remaining fleet.

It was already a done deal before The Unthinkables arrived, Suddenly admitting that we were breaking their reps. We only lost 4 Ishtars total, all near the beginning. We were in no danger of losing the fight at any point.

Here's the full battle report with the video from INK's point of view.I have to admit, watching INK's view is pretty awe inspiring. Their alpha damage is impressive, to say the least. I definitely do not look forward to being on the receiving end of that!

Shortly afterwards, we found a Barghest sitting on a tactical off a gate in A-SJ8X. Boom. And pod.

For some reason, while we had a 20-man fleet roaming 22 jumps away from our staging system, some Suddenly pilots decided to come to our home and talk shit. I'll quote them below, as the hilarity, irony, and hypocrisy of their hollow taunts can only be appreciated in their voice:

Khanadore > WAKEY WAKEY
Memphis Madagascar > they are big girls
Memphis Madagascar > only attack offline pos, as per their blog :P
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November 13, 2015

Mercenary Coalition's Burning Ring of Fire

Mercenary Coalition has fully deployed on our current contract. This one has some history for me, and the rest of Noir., as the target is Suddenly Spaceships. I'll save the details of the contract for my recap, but needless to say this contract struck an interesting chord for Noir.

It'll be helpful to give some context. Let's start with the most recent bit of relevant information: a Suddenly Spaceships alliance meeting recording.

If you don't have the time, I'll quote Talladar from his Reddit comment:

07:30 SMA are helping us evict Horde
08:45 We are going to install renters into Could Ring
12:36 Some guy with downs “WHAT DO ABOUT FWEDDIT BEING BLUE”
13:00 Downs guy: what value does standings with Fweddit bring?
13:20 CEO: None, OSS made us blue them.
14:00 CEO: They helped us defend our space and gave us two money moons (makes sense)
14:10 CEO: I would like to remove them from Cloud Ring (Cooooold!)
18:40 SMA wants to evict Horde and give us their constellation
19:25 I want to build a small empire using 30 guys in bhaalgorns
20:00 Imperium will never hit our space
20:30 After Horde is removed we turn Cloud Ring into renter space to buy 40 bhaalgorns
25:00 We just want to play the game for fun frags (and apparently run a renter empire)
27:04 Apparently SS had a meltdown at the thought of losing their sov station. (Wouldn’t that be a shame…)
There is more but those were my highlights.

Station Name: No Not Believing  in Station
Secondly, Suddenly Spaceships is apparently very bitter about Noir. leaving them to this day. They've named their station after the alliance we formed after leaving Suddenly Spaceships and have sowed Reddit with some serious salt in the last couple of days.

I won't go into it all again, I've written on the absolute horrible management, embarrasing organizational skills, and outright shameful leadership style of particular members of Suddenly Spaceships in the past. And while Suddenly Spaceships apparently thinks about Noir. every time they dock, I like to quote Don Draper, "I don't think of you at all." Suffice to say, I don't miss a single thing about being in Suddenly Spaceships.

Nonetheless, someone apparently had a bone to pick with Suddenly and contacted us shortly after the meeting was leaked. Connection? Perhaps! I honestly don't know, but my speculation says there's something there.

Anyway, off we go! We had a couple of skirmishes with Suddenly that were very bad for us. I have no idea why some members of Mercenary Coalition are fighting frigates in Stealth Bombers, but they did and they paid the price multiple times. It was quite frustrating for me and the other late US time zone players since Suddenly Spaceships is so heavily EU focused. We're not able to get in on the good action and really pick fun fights.

But, luckily for us late US players, Suddenly does have quite a few POS in the area. Some of them offline, it turns out. We killed a small and a large offline tower without any response from Suddenly or the alliances they rely on to keep them safe, The OSS and TISHU.

This, apparently incited Suddenly into some sort of rage, and so they decided they'd take one of our towers too! And so they formed up 34 members of The OSS, 27 members of TISHU, and 26 members of Suddenly Spaceships in 27 dreadnaughts, 8 carries, and 46 battleships to take it from us.

In turn, we formed up 43 members of Mercenary Coalition. Athen switched back and forth between a few doctrines as more and more information became available. In the end a Cerberus doctrine was decided on. The plan was to coordinate with our POS gunner and take as much out as we could. The tower was worthless to us, and losing it meant absolutely nothing in the short term.

However, The Culture and Pandemic Legion had scouted the tower out already, it seems, and decided to come and pile onto it already. When they saw that OSS and TISHU had fielded such expensive fleets, they made the decision to come in with Rattlesnakes and kill them all. They weren't interested in the ISK our Cerberus fleet represented. In turn, they brought Pandemic Legion who arrived a bit later and helped secure the fight.

It was, frankly, a positive turn of events for us - and an unexpected one. In the end, we lost a tower worth 293M ISK and a few cheap ships. The others, combined, lost about 100B ISK. All in all, a pretty good day.

The full battle report can be found here, along with the footage from our perspective below.

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October 25, 2015

When I Grow Up I Want to be a Carrier Pilot

Have you read the Capital Ship dev blog yet? If not, you'll want to check it out. It's pretty high level in most cases, but does a good job of laying out CCP's intentions. To summarize, capital ships will be given more options and deeper specialization. As a result, they'll be less well-rounded, and more vulnerable. There are a lot of changes coming to all capital ships, but all I want to talk about are squadrons. After reading the dev blog, I couldn't help but think flying a carrier after these changes will make you feel a lot like Admiral Adama.

Squadrons are groups of up to 12 fighters that a carrier or supercarrier pilot controls. You can launch up to 5 squadrons and all the fighters follow the orders given to the squadron - no granular control of individual fighters.

The gameplay for a carrier pilot is in the decisions you'll be making in putting the right squadrons on the field. You'll be choosing between Light Fighters, Support Fighters, and Heavy Fighters. Each type has a role: anti-fighter and light combat, ewar, and capital/structure damage respectively. Furthermore, each squadron can have up to three abilities which look to be actively controled, similarly to a ship's modules.

The look and feel of the proposal really strikes a chord with me. Look at these mockups:

This image does a good job of conveying a 'minigame' type of gameplay for carrier pilots. Managing the squadrons that are deployed, their status (some abilities may need to reload apparently), and getting squadrons on deck (or in the launch tubes if we're going to continue the Battlestar Galactica theme), and choosing what types of fighters will be in what squadrons could be a lot of fun.

This image gives us a taste of what the squadron control may look like. While you can't order individual fighters around, you do get a bit of granular control back by activating multiple squadron's abilities.

And quite interestingly, the tactical overlay begins to look more like something you'd see out of a strategy game, or perhaps reminiscent of a sci-fi movie's idea of a tactical overlay, as compared to just showing weapon ranges. This is important because you'll be able to order your fighters to whevere you want in space rather than interacting with a specific target.

Apparently the new camera controls that will be coming is in large part due to the gameplay requirements of squadrons. The range of fighters will only extend as far as the grid, but that does mean they can still be hundreds of kilomters away. It's pretty easy to imagine how difficult it might be to keep an eye on everything, so hopefully the new camera and the tactical overlay will help with that.

Combined, these changes could lead to be a really exciting new way to play. It strikes me as more RTS and less staring at modules and overviews, which is a really cool direction to go. Obviously this is all very early information and I won't be holding my breath, but I'm very intrigued by what could be incredibly engaging gameplay that makes you feel like you're in control of a real carrier. Up until now, drones and fighters have not been exciting to control, and this could change that.  I wonder if this type of gameplay will ever make its way to sub capitals.

I hope there are more moves in the future to add interesting ways of interacting with the game, shifting from the overview.
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October 18, 2015

The Perception of Skill Cost

Obviously the EVE Blogosphere is buzzing about the Exploring the Character Bazaar & Skill Trading dev blog that was released on October 15. It could, after all, result in a major mental culture shift. Like all changes in EVE, there are those who are support and those who are in dissent.  I fall into the latter, just barely, because of one simple reason: I don't think this change will help those it was intended for.

The Target

Who, exactly, is this change intended for? For that, we can pick up a few clues from the dev blog itself. CCP Rise writes, ". . .I made that jump from 15mil SP to 33mil SP. . .". He's writing about some of the downsides to the current character trading system when he says that, meaning that while he got the extra skill points and skill point allocation he wanted, he had to deal with things like names and corporation history that he didn't want. 

Let's have a look at the mechanics too:

Creating a Transneural Skill Packet requires approximately 500,000 skillpoints (we will fiddle with this number a bit to make it most practical considering common skill level denominations)

And in regards to diminishing returns:

0 – 5 million skillpoints = 500,000 unallocated skillpoints added
5 – 50 million skillpoints = 400,000 unallocated skillpoints added
50 – 80 million skillpoints = 200,000 unallocated skillpoints added
> 80 million skillpoints = 50,000 unallocated skillpoints added

He goes on to say, ". . this design favors skill transfers for younger characters and makes them very inefficient for older characters."

So it's obvious that this is aimed at new players, players within the first few months to couple of years under their belts. These are the players that, commonly, believe that they aren't competitive with older players, players who have retained the "level up" mentality from other MMOs they may have played. They don't understand or appreciate specializing because they don't realize the advantages, and they want to sit in new ships. And hey, let's be honest, that feeling is completely understandable to a certain degree. We all love our new ships, we just don't think that having a newer, bigger ship makes us better at the game.

The Mentality

I fear that this mechanic will cause a cultural shift in and out of EVE, one where new players aren't worth their weight in warp scramblers anymore. For a long time, it wasn't fun being a new player. Years ago, new players were told to spend weeks and weeks training "leaning skills" which just made them learn other skills faster. CCP eventually got rid of the design because it created an artificial hurdle for new players to feel useful and it just plain wasn't fun.

Over the last few years EVE has enjoyed a culture of supporting new players, thanks in large part to so many successful newbie-oriented corporations and alliances and likely the frigate rebalances. A new player was (not scornfully) told they'd be able to get into the action in just a couple of days at most, and to have a lot of fun doing it.

Even so, the mentality of those outside looking in hasn't enjoyed that type of shift. People constantly wonder if they'll even be able to compete, if it's worth getting into EVE at this point since everyone has a "head start". We all know the answer to that question by now: no, it's not too late. No, you won't be useless or behind, but you will need to specialize. 

All the skill points in the game don't matter when you undock. Skill points just mean you have more choices in the hangar. A young pilot who has mastered his ship is more deadly than a "veteran" who spent the last decade playing Skill Queue Online. This type of lesson is valuable, and likely will be lost.

Furthermore, when those questions are asked from an interested outsider, the answer will change. People will now say, "No, it doesn't because you can buy all the skill points you want. Sure, it may be a little expensive later on, but you can do it." And I fear the response will be one of severe disinterest.

People already equate skill points to levels, and levels to power. The issue we'll face is one of perception, not one of mechanical balance. And for a game that wants to bring in new players so badly, we're not giving them a good view of reality.
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September 30, 2015

Contract Recap: Black Hole Theory

This contract recap was written by Godolphin for our internal forums. Used with his permission. 

Quick Summary: Black Hole Theory hired Mercenary Coalition to destroy a heavily shielded Amarr large control tower in J130253. During the tower reinforcement we also approached the clients about smashing the POCOs in system since we were already there. The client agreed to pay us additional for the POCO kills and even came out to help. Sorta. The terms agreed upon were completed to the client's satisfaction and thanks to the 8 POCOs, destroyed we even came out ahead on ISK efficiency.

The plan was fairly simple. Or so I thought.

Completing a contract in Wspace always comes with its unique set of situations. In this case one of our biggest logistical challenges was getting everyone from our home system to the contract wormhole. J130253 is a C4 wormhole with a C4/C2 static. Since a class 4 wormhole cannot connect directly to known space (with the exception of micro wormholes) a class 4 wormhole is the most secluded and hardest to reach from known space. The first entrance the client gave us was a nice tidy highsec not that out of the way. We initially brought AHAC 2.5999 (mostly Legions) to reinforce the tower. After about 3 hours of shooting the tower our friends Odin's Call/Wrong Hole dropped by for a visit. Their doctrine included a mix of heavy beam laser/neut Legions with webbing Lokis and rail Proteus. After completely annihilating our clients early warning Bestower ( they proceeded to attempt to get tackle on a couple of the clients' Vargurs sieging the target tower. Heavily bubbled, the Vargurs were able to MJD to safety after the Sabre/initial tackle were volleyed off.

In standard wormhole fashion Odin's Call slowly ramped up the engagement by first warping in a small contingent of Guardians (in this case 4). After the fighting began they brought the rest in. An unconfirmed number of Guardians which numbered at least 4 but not more then 7. In addition to the Guardians they brought along their Nestor. After a number of hours shooting a POS, Odin's call showing up suddenly was a bit jarring and we were a tad unprepared. With our brains close to mush, we proceeded to fight our way out of tackle and attempt a few kills. Being too outnumbered to do any real damage we were forced to leave the field taking a few losses. The end result can be seen in this battle report: (

After the engagement, Odins extraction was rather sloppy. They miscalculated the mass left on the hole they entered from and it collapsed leaving about 6 T3s stranded with no logi support. Unfortunately maintaining tackle on a couple nuet Legions and a ECM Tengus is nearly imposible with a solo Stratios with a scram (the entirety of our tackle in fleet). Even timing my navy cap 150's with my scram cycle I eventually lost tackle before we could kill anything. I scanned their new exit and chased them around a bit but in the end we decided to just let them go and get back to the objective. At this point we decided to reship into bombers to complete the objective with no further interference.

Wormhole exploration can be incredibly frustrating at times, especially when your route collapses behind you. After scanning out the new entrance through the target wormhole's C2 static we brought the bombers back in and finished the job. The tower entered reinforcment for 1D 16H as per the wormhole standard of "buying as much time as possible". In an effort to create even more unrest, the POCOs were set for downtime which is not an awesome timezone for MC. Downtime nearing and our current connection to the C2 static was nearing the end of its natural lifetime, broadcasts were made on Slack to seed early for the upcoming tower/POCO destruction. This connection was 2 jumps from Dodixie and was an amazing hole to abuse. Sadly at downtime the hole died and the new static C2 was a Nullsec/C4. Basically a dead end. We eventually found a way in through the Static C4 however, through the course of the day after the POCOs were destroyed the client had put the hole on the verge of collapse by "playing with a raven" which was then EOL by the tower op. Not being able to manipulate connections by collapsing wormholes due to a lack of a wormhole closing kit we were totally at the mercy of BOB and his inhumane humor.

Attempts were made to get people into the wormhole through this EOL/CRIT chain but not being able to send somone out to guide people in severely hindered our attempts, as well as corp bookmarks not propagating (not sure what was happening with the bookmarks) left us with just what we had in system. Thankfully this Amarr tower now had 15 offline hardeners and the job was much, much faster. Not having been in the chain home in awhile we were surprised to find that the way home had collapsed. Stranded in this new wormhole with multiple people scanning furiously we eventually found a C2 with a static highsec. Funny enough the new C2 was the same one as an old which reduced the amount of scanning drastically. [NEHE] was able to reconstruct the chain we used and visually represent it. For all those who want to know why you did not have a way in.....

The Red "X"s denote a wormhole that died and forced us to rescan. Green denotes the final exit used. This is the reason for the "confusion" and the subsequent frustration that occurred. Combine this level of complexity with lack of sleep and you got a very stressing op. You can also see the amount of scouts that were employed to keep us safe by watching for hostiles in the chain. Each gray wormhole above had a scout. Its important to note that the Odin connection happened the day after the fight and was not there when they showed up initially. That is the will of BOB. Also of note: Exohmin slept through his alarm and missed the final POS bash. As a result he woke up with a broken toe. Punishments from the wormhole god can sometimes be extreme.
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