Tuesday, February 9, 2016


(No, not the movie or TV series. Made you look!)*

This is about stargates in EVE-Online.
So that big bilateral glowy thing surrounded by spaceships is a stargate. They're used in EVE to travel between solar systems. Pretty exciting the first few times you go through them: your ship vanishes and you're sucked into this whooshing, rumbling tunnel-vision sciencefictiony wormhole graphic just like in Contact and then you find yourself in a whole new solar system (which is mostly just like the old one, but that's a topic for a different discussion.) Sometimes there are NPC ships by the gate for added flavor and in NPC empire space, even (I could not make this up) space-billboards!

However, no number of bells and/or whistles can disguise stargates' true nature as zone lines and in this respect, despite its server and graphic updates over the years, EVE is showing its age. Zone lines are such an outdated mechanic that online games long ceased even advertising their lack as a positive feature. It'd be like that hotel near where I used to live in the mid-90s that still had a giant billboard advertising "COLOR TV" in a rainbow-colored font. Far out, man, like totally groovy!

By zone line I don't mean just that thing in most games where the terrain changes color and a title like "The Crossroads" or "The Underdark" flashes across the middle of your screen yet your character keeps moving around normally, but a major discontinuity in the game world. Old-school zone lines are places with their own separate rules or where the rules change abruptly. They're loading screens, where players are incapacitated while their game client loads the new zone. This makes them prime locations for spawn-camping in any game with even a slight opportunity for griefing. You can still see them in the form of transitioning to separate continents, entering or exiting major cities, etc., but in older titles they made a patchwork of the game map and it took many a year for developers to figure out that they needed to provide buffer zones for players while they loaded a new zone. Those permeable edges between safe and unsafe locales were themselves open to endless abuse.

EVE contains over five thousand solar systems, each of which is actually its own miniature zone. At EVE's launch, this allowed CCP to create the largest interconnected (if discontinuous) game world online. Yeah, they kinda cheated on their definition of space by using empty space but still, the sheer size of EVE was quite impressive but had to be subdivided for technomological reasons beyond my ken. Those divisions became problematic, being not only choke points for player traffic but spots where your computer would hang while loading until you loaded to find yourself hung out to dry by spawn-campers. As technology improved and CCP added a grace period of automatic cloaking it became less of a sure-fire death but being such a pervasive feature was never removed entirely. EVE's basic design had embraced it too decisively, incorporating it into its basic travel mechanics and aesthetics. It remains a millstone around EVE's neck, a shameful anachronism in 2016 when you can seamlessly ride or fly across entire maps populated by over a thousand warring players in Planetside 2 and its like.

This brings me back to the image above. That's a spawn-camp, and nine tenths of the time it's what passes for PvP in EVE. Sit there for hours on end with a dozen of your buddies hoping an enemy will mistakenly jump through so you can feel big about yourself for getting your name on a "kill-mail" notification to be posted on half a dozen websites and measure your e-peen accordingly. No objectives, no shifting battle lines.

So, if you hear of EVE as the one single PvP MMO take it with a grain of salt. EVE is an antediluvian relic from before WoW raped to death any attempt at a rational definition of an MMORPG, before every single developer eliminated PvP from persistent worlds for fear of scaring their new hapless, aimless and gutless brainless mass-market customers away. It retains a number of inherently positive features like open PvP and depletable resource nodes which you'll not find in any noteworthy competitors, but it also retains some of the failures and limitations of decades past, compounded by its own half-measures in updating such mechanics.

Spawn-camping is not nor ever was PvP.

*Note to self: write real blog post about Stargate.

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