Monday, February 9, 2009

Progressive Review: EVE Online

I'm doing something different this week. Instead of one review on Thursday, I'll be doing mini reviews on my progression through EVE Online. I'm hoping to post every day, or every couple of days, until the trial period runs out. And then, I'll tell you, my dear readers, whether or not I'm going to pony up the $15/month to keep playing.

I'd heard of EVE years ago, and totally ignored it like I do all MMORPGS. You know, Mentally Malignant Oppressively Redundant Grind Systems. It isn't so much that I find the idea of a MMORPG repulsive. Indeed, I love RPGs of all genres, and only in a multiplayer setting is there any chance for actual role-playing. It's rather that they lack the thing that draws me to RPGs in the first place: the ability to make a difference in the game world.

In WoW, for instance, you're assigned a quest. You go and fulfill the quest, kill the Giant Demon Dragon of Spoogeton, and five minutes later the goddamn thing respawns. It's literally impossible to affect the world, because the quest has to be available for the next player who wanders through. There may be alliances and guilds who play together, and against one another, but there's nothing that's actually owned by those groups... there's no reason to fight, other than the rapidly-tarnishing joy of killing another player by repeatedly clicking on them. I had figured EVE was the same way.

And then I heard about the Band of Brothers vs. GoonSwarm fiasco that made even mainstream internet news. Apparently, in EVE, player-owned corporations can actually hold territory. There's a functional and nuanced economy. There is strategy, and not merely raid-level tactics. There are giant battles between hundreds of ships.

So, after reading a lot on the BoB/GoonSwarm intrigue, I finally decided to give it a go. I checked online and discovered that they have both a linux and a Mac client, which is mandatory since I don't have Windows. It runs flawlessly on my high-end Ubuntu box, and it runs pretty well but with occasional stutter on on my Macbook. This is despite the fact that the minsysreqs claim that I need a discrete graphics processor, while the Macbook has only integrated Intel. I do suspect, however, that the Macbook would flicker along at an unacceptable 5 frames per second if I were involved in a large fleet action.

So, I signed up for my 14-day trial account and logged in.

I created my character based on *gasp* roleplaying choices, since I had not the slightest idea how to minmax a character. Hell, I didn't even know which skill made it easier to shoot somebody. I chose the race that claimed to support democracy; chose some other options to maximize my stats; chose to have a special forces background.

There's lots of information during the character creation process as to how the different attributes and skills interact, but nothing about the high-level actions that they enable. You'd assume that "Gunnery" would be shooting, and I think you'd be right... but, I didn't find anything that explicitly said, "Higher ranks of Gunnery improve your probability to hit an enemy." Already, I was wishing for a manual. One about six inches thick, if you don't mind.

So, after finishing my character creation, I accidentally skipped some intro movie, and was dumped in space. In a ship, mind you, not naked with my blood boiling out of my eye sockets. In EVE, you practically are your ship. Aside from a relatively generic character portrait, the only avatar you'll ever have is whatever ship you're piloting today. You can't get out of your ship and run around the space stations at which you dock.

There's a tutorial that started to guide me through piloting my ship in space. Of course, when it told me to double click on empty space to fly there, I accidentally wound up directing my ship close enough to a training drone for it to aggro. And I had not the slightest clue how to defend myself.

The interface is complex and non-intuitive. The left-hand edge of the screen is a column of buttons with labels such as "Journal", "Wallet", and "People and Places". There's a cluster of GUI elements at the bottom center that's made up entirely of icons and infographics. There's a proximal object list on the right-hand side--essentially a list of every visible object within range.

In a panic as blue plasma death rained down on my poor frigate, I clicked next on the tutorial window until the bitch told me how to shoot back.

I can't figure out if combat is complex or as simplistic as other MMORPG combat. To shoot down that pirate, I had to select it either in the game display or in the proximal objects list (I'll call that the POL from here on in). Right click it. Tell the computer to orbit the pirate at 1500m. Then, I clicked the icon representing the only gun I had mounted. After that, I had nothing to do but watch as the training drone and I circled each other exchanging fire.

My difficulty in determining the complexity of combat comes from the difficulty of selecting a target and navigating the context menus under fire. Since space is three dimensional, it's next to impossible to visually acquire the bad guy and select him directly. This is exacerbated by the fact that the selection/targeting rectangle is tiny. So, right-clicking a fast-moving object and selecting "Orbit at->1500m" before the sucker flies off the screen is damn-near impossible.

The POL makes life easier, but only a little. There's no obvious mechanism that ties a POL entry to a game-display object. If there's more than one baddie attacking you, the only clue you have as to which target to prioritize is a range entry on the list. Depending on the attack pattern, the currently closest ship may or may not be the best target.

Life got a little easier when I noticed the row of tiny buttons at the top of the POL that allow you to quickly select actions without going through the context menus. There is, for instance, an orbit button. And if you right click those buttons, you can select default parameters. So, now it only takes me two clicks to orbit at 1500m instead of three clicks with a very finicky context-menu selection in between--the menu disappears when your mouse leaves the confines, meaning that imprecise mousing results in starting over.

So, I made it through that battle. And the next one. And then I mined some ore.

Ore is part of the economy. And this economy bears no resemblance to that of any other MMORPG I've heard of. Instead of mining ore and then taking it to some shopkeeper who will buy it at a set price from anyone who shows up with the stuff, there's an entire commodities exchange. You can place buy and sell orders in a market, which has fluctuating prices based on demand. That ore you mine can be processed into metals; those metals can be built into ships or guns or cargo pods or whatever. And there're multiple kinds of ore, producing multiple kinds of raw stock, producing LOTS of different manufactured goods.

Almost all of this economy is player driven. Prices fluctuate with the demand of players for manufactured goods, rippling all the way back down the supply chain organically. If there's a big war between two alliances, they'll need more ships. More ships means more metals. More metals means more ore. The prices go up.

The prices are also local, varying with location. I've sold several objects at ludicrously low prices, and bought them at stupidly high prices, simply because that's the price at which they were selling at the station at which I was docked. The game does tell you the best price you could get, and how many hyperspace jumps away it is. But, just like I'll pay an extra fifty cents for a pack of cigarettes at the village general store instead of driving all the way to WalMart, I couldn't be bothered to make the ten minute trip to some less-secure region of space in order to buy ammo.

One thing that I noticed in the fora threads discussing EVE is the level of boredom many people experienced. I can't say that I've felt bored yet, but I do understand what elements of the game would turn them off. It hasn't struck me as the kind of boredom that comes from repetition, but rather the sort of boredom that comes from downtime.

The developers understand that space is really, really big. Huge, even. And so to move around it requires time. You travel at obviously faster-than-light speeds, so you needn't worry about properly briefing your kids to carry on after you've died mid flight. But, you do spend a fair amount of time letting the autopilot guide you between jump gates and through systems.

Likewise, combat seems to be a war of attrition. You designate targets and ranges, and click on the weapons you want to use, and your computer handles the rest of it automatically. When one target is destroyed, designate a new one and repeat. If you have the shields and weapons to destroy them before they destroy you, you'll win; if your shields or weapons are weak, you'll die.

One thing I find interesting is that improving skills requires realworld time. Instead of leveling up and getting points to spend for immediate skill upgrades, you choose a skill to train and go about your business. A progress bar slowly creeps upward until you gain the next skill level. The question I have now is whether or not time counts if you're not logged in. Like, can you select a skill to train, log out, go to sleep, and have finished training when you wake up? We'll see.


  1. Hi,

    Congrats on joining the most mature MMO out there ;)

    I have been involved with EvE Online for now almost 6 years as a very casual player. As a very casual player I am still one of the most skilled (character skill points) player out there. This skill is not acquired with grinding, but as you say... the passage of time. And yes, your skills train when you log off, but they do not if when your account expires (which will only happen if you stop paying for more play time).

    your POL is called an overview btw :) and you can ctrl + left click to quickly target stuff on the overview. Also note the small triangles next to the text "overview" where you can color code different stuff and further customize what your overview displays.

    You are very perceptive about the economy and the grand scheme of things. Indeed there are great virtual events in the world that effect everyone. I for one couldn't stop giggling that day when the Goons closed down BoB.

    Characters as spaceships. This is subject to change. There is an update coming to the game (soon - you'll see this word a lot but it actually means "you will see this feature eventually") that is called Ambulation. In ambulation you will be able to exit your spaceship and walk around in space stations, meeting other people and set up shops and stuff... it's more of a cosmetic addition as far as I can tell.

    Also, updates are free. There are two updates each year (BIG patches). We are talking graphic engine updates, huge content patches and revolutionary new mechanics ... FREE. You don't have to go to the store to buy it for $30 or whatever, you could say it is included in your monthly fee (you can decide to pay 3, 6 and 12 month subscription ... saving you some money).

    More on the money, if you actually do good and make a fair good amount of isk (the ingame currency "interstellar kredits") you can buy gametime for that ingame isk. Current rates are around 300 million for 30 days:

    There is mindless grinding stuff available in EvE of course ... but it is your choice to go down that path. Sure, it is the easiest way to make isk but no way the only one ... and most surely not the biggest bucks way either.

    EvE is complicated ... in a good and bad way at the same time. As I said before, I am constantly learning something new (discovered I could use scrolling on my mouse to increase or decrease the number of units or the sell/buy price in the market buy/sell window ... wtf?!? - keyboard free shopping!)

    But if there is one thing you take away from EvE that you wish would work is left clicking and dragging to get a 3D view of an image. I keep trying to do that to pictures on the web :S

    Anyway ... just have fun - that has been my motto for 6 years and it hasn't failed me yet.

  2. Just as an fyi, they're coming out with Walking In Stations this year.


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