Friday, March 4, 2016

Come to Loony Wolfie's Discount Heretics!

Let's build a spaceship!
(In EVE-Online.) ('Cause when those NASA jerks do it, they make it sound boring.) (Also, Kerbals have cooties.)

For this exercise, we'll build a pretty standard light combat ship you'd see being flown by any pack of griefers running around EVE, a destroyer. Now, while your character requires some skill training to make stuff, you'll also need a blueprint for whatever you're making, an object you have to move to the location of whatever crafting facilities you're using. Meaning you can get robbed of the means of production (which happened to me recently with a blueprint, but I don't like to talk about that.) So here are some blueprints in my hangar.

I suppose I could build a Crusader but I've always been more of a Heretic by nature so we're gonna do that one.
Uh-oh. Looks like we don't have all the materials needed. Most importantly, since this is a super-dooper starship trooper "Tech 2" vessel, it's actually an upgraded version of a basic destroyer, so first we need to build that "Tech 1" ship before we can upgrade it. Luckily, as you can see in the first image, I also happen to have a blueprint for the baseline Coercer model of destroyer.
The basic model requires a combination of six minerals like say, this "pyerite" junk. Hmmm, "mineral" means rocks and stuff right? And asteroids are just rocks floating out in space! So it's time to rev up a mining ship and leave the safe, cozy confines of the space station to venture out into the inky black. Ooooh, so daring; I'm all a-tingle.
We head out to the depths of the solar system to find:
Scordite! A wholesome, nutritious part of every complete construction. We set the might of our mining lasers upon those rocks and after a few minutes are rewarded with a handsome quantity of not very handsome ore. Some NPCs are going to take potshots at us, like that Sansha's Minion, but that's okay. They can't bring down this ship's force field. In most places in EVE, any player that happens upon you will also be able to attack you, with significantly more explodey results. Note that the little scordite we've accumulated takes up space in the ship's cargo hold, 620 cubic meters out of 7000 total capacity in this case. It must be moved (not mailed or in any other way teleported, but actively hauled by a player in a ship) to wherever it's needed.
Back at the station, we cram the raw ore into a reprocessing plant to refine it only to find that Newton was a total bastard for inventing thermodynamics. Some of our ore is lost to the inefficiency of the system and my own lack of expertise in refining ore. You may want to get a specialist to do it. Whoever owns the station (NPC or player) may also want to take a percentage of your hard work as tax for use of the facilities. Damn the man!

Before I go on: this is newbie stuff. Scordite is readily available in very safe areas of space near the starting zones. It takes the place of the copper you'd mine in a World of Warcraft copycat MMO at low levels. Of the six or seven minerals required to build a Coercer (or any other tech 1 ship) some are only obtainable from asteroids found in more dangerous solar systems with bigger NPCs and fewer protections from other players, but any starting player can grab a mining laser and effortlessly farm up some basic ore while learning the game then sell it to other players.

I want you to try a little exercise. Make a free account in WoW, LotRO, Rift, WAR or any of the other endless faux-MMOs out there, mine some copper then go to a top-level area and try to sell it. Get ready to screenshot your chat window to count all the exclamations of "OMG NOOB" - it'll start scrolling very quickly, so be quick with that Print Screen button. Hell, try crafting an iron knife or something (the equivalent of a tech 1 destroyer in EVE) and selling it. You'll likely have even worse results.

Yet in EVE, you'll notice that everything has an "estimated price" in its tooltip - around what you might expect to get by selling it to other players. Pyerite is no exception. People want it. Other players can use what you make. Your efforts as a novice can feed directly into the production line of the fattest fat-cats in the game producing entire fleets of shiny top-level gear. This is not insignificant. This is the "multi" in multiplayer - not hitting a hundred resource nodes so you can burn hundreds of ingredients by yourself which you'll throw away, all to "skill up" your crafting.

So, let's say we've sat there and mined asteroids 'til our ass gets teh 'roids, we cram them all into a factory along with our Coercer blueprint and a couple of hours later: voila! We've got a brand new, shiny destroyer to play with. We could strap some guns to that bad-boy and just go out shooting, but we've got a higher goal in mind, remember? We wanna be Heretics! What else do we need? Well, any nine-year-old will tell you that all the coolest spaceships are made out of Legos:

For those we'll have to turn to the hard-working populations of our planetary colonies.

Construction blocks require a mix of toxic and reactive metals, each of which must be extracted from a planet's crust and refined, then assembled on-planet and launched up into orbit. Maybe you can get all of them yourself, maybe it'll be more efficient to buy some reactive metals off another player. Maybe no-one else is selling... maybe you can wait. It's your call. In either case, once they're assembled it's time to head off into space again to pick up your handful of legos.

The rest of our required tech 2 components follow the same pattern of a panoply of basic goods being combined into several tiers of complexity, except in this case getting those basic goods requires controlling an entire moon. We jet off on our next adventure to a player-owned starbase, an orbiting cluster of structures whose upkeep generally requires the cooperation of a handful of players.
Though protected by a force field and other, more proactive defenses, POSes are nonetheless open to attack by other players. As one possible "home away from home" they can fill a variety of ship maintenance / support functions but their unique ability lies in extracting materials from the moon they orbit.
Each moon produces a couple of different raw resources.

Here's just a little taste of how complicated it can get.
Among the seven types of T2 construction components needed for our Heretic upgrade are nanoelectrical microprocessors.
These are made from four different complex moon materials, including nanotransistors.
Nanotransistors require three different reacted moon resources, one of which is neo mercurite.
Neo mercurite is made of two different raw resources...
And if you think that's all there is to crafting in EVE, I haven't even gotten into specialized skills, blueprint research, probing for deep-space caches, wormholes, salvaging and who the hell knows what else. At every tier of production, through all the possible combinations and permutations of resources, every step of the process is linked through EVE's market system. Deals are wheeled constantly.

Don't feel like mining? Pyerite is just eleven credits per unit at the biggest trade hub. Don't feel like playing farmville with planetary industry? Construction blocks, right here, under twelve thousand a piece, limited time offer, don't delay! Nanotransistors? Oh, you'd better buy quick, looks like their price is on the rise again, yes sir step right this way, right this way sir we have just what you need but they're going fast!

My Amarrian products require sickening quantities of tungsten carbide to make heavy-duty armor plates, so I've got a guy who can hook me up with a discount. Lets me stay competitive on the market. The price on terahertz metamaterials spiked last month; I knew that because I'd been watching the market and wisely waited for prices to drop before buying up all I needed. I also told my moon material supplier he might make a killing on that particular type if he has some on hand. Sometime you get ripped off; sometimes you rip others off. So it goes. Not only that but no goods can be teleported. Everything I've been talking about must be loaded into a ship and transported, often through dangerous space, to where it's needed. You can lose a billion credits' worth of legos if you don't watch your step or don't have people watching your back.

EVE does a lot of things wrong. Some like the warping / jumping mechanics and its semi-real-time combat are unfortunate sequelae reminding us that it's based on fifteen-year-old technology. Others are simply bad decisions, cynical concessions to the public mindless or legitimized cheating schemes. I've also been glossing over some of the ways in which this crafting system doesn't work quite as it ideally should, again involving concessions to player stupidity. EVE undermines itself in both major and minor ways. Credit where it's due, though. For thirteen years it's dared to give players something the entire rest of the industry denies is possible: a fully interconnected player-driven crafting economy tying into both PvE and PvP. It nails points 2 and 5 of the eight crucial demands in my MMManifesto and makes a decent stab for points 3 and 4. It's a bad MMO... yet still objectively a solid contender for the best one I see on the market.

And hey, if you've read all this and I still don't have you convinced, if juggling supply lines, production efficiency and shifting prices isn't for you, if a logistics nightmare isn't your idea of a dream game then worry not, fair hack'n'slasher! You can simply buy a shiny new Heretic at your local trade hub. In fact, I would encourage you to do so.
Why yes, sir, step right this way, right this way, no-trouble-at-all, we have just what you need here at Crazy Werwolfe's Fine Amarrian Merchandise!

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