Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Bubbles and Rogues

"We were aiming for the moon, we were shooting at the stars
But the kids were just shooting at the buses and the cars"

Modest Mouse - Bury Me With It

Aren't they pretty? They're also quite the example of overkill, since just one would usually be enough. Anyway those pretty shiny bubbles are just one facet of EVE-Online's peculiar addition to MMO crowd control, warp scrambling. See, as I mentioned before, EVE is an old game containing many mechanics meant to compensate for the limitations of technology... increasingly outdated technology. It does a pretty decent job of faking continuity, but the cracks remain visible. Solar systems are separate zones "connected" by stargates (loading screens) but other measures had to be taken to limit the number of players within sight of each other at any one time.

On such would be the warping mechanic, the not quite instant teleportation allowing faster than light movement within each solar system. If you're at asteroid belt 14, you move from 'roid to 'roid with your ship's sub-light engine which might top out (yeah, empty space imposes top speeds in EVE) at a couple hundred meters per second. To reach something like a planet or another asteroid belt several million kilometers away, you engage your vessel's miraculous warp drive and are treated to some whooshing noises as you teleport across the interstellar void. Each ship has a warp core, with a numeric strength. This can be lowered by offensive abilities. If your core's at least at one point of strength, you can warp, escaping any danger in your local area. If not, you're a sitting duck.

As an aside, if anyone's heard of EVE these days it's as "the" PvP MMO. By dint of the increasing lack of any MMORPG worthy of that categorization since EVE's launch, this can even sound true. The industry's regression into endlessly copycatting World of Warcraft has left EVE at the peak of what little's left of the old niche market. However, while it may offer more meaningful PvP by comparison with WoW-clones' stilted, predictable small-team arena fights, its working definition of the term differs quite a bit from the glorious clash of competing forces of players it tries to portray in its advertising.

A year after EVE came out, I left it to switch over to World of Warcraft. I joined a PvP server. WoW was originally advertised and designed as a Warcraft game, which meant offering a unit's perspective of that hectic RTS battle royale we'd learned to associate with Blizzard's games. WoW at its launch was meant to offer a world-sweeping conflict and towns with shifting battle lines. Towns had NPC guards but could be assaulted or infiltrated to assassinate NPC vendors and questgivers and set the other faction back and the greatest goal in the game was storming an enemy capital to kill a faction leader NPC.

However, as the months dragged on, it became obvious that Blizzard was ratcheting back all this PvP instead of building on it. NPC vendors respawned too quickly for killing them to mean anything, towns could not be taken over for your faction's own use and killing faction leaders had no effect whatsoever. All that remained was griefing. Though killing other players served no purpose whatsoever, not even some material reward for your character, anywhere you went in the game world you could be sure that the first little cretin from the opposite faction who came upon you would try to kill you for no other reason than to ruin your day. And since PvP had been reduced to griefing, the designated griefer classes like rogues acquired more and more goodies to let them beat down unsuspecting victims with impunity.

EVE is not a PvP game. It's a griefing game. Though it too initially headed toward depletable resource and territory control, it lacked this functionality at its start, so PvP combat rapidly devolved to destroying other players' ships with no further purpose to the action. In other words, griefing. Thus, instead of the dreamy SciFi fans it had attracted during its pre-launch hype campaign, it began to accumulate more and more brainless, hyperaggressive backstabbing little wastes of air to whom such activity appealed. Griefers. As it transitioned from a flexible skill-based game to a class-based one, it only reinforced the definition of PvP as not a goal-driven contest between dedicated forces sacrificing themselves for a greater cause, but as an interaction between attacker and victim. It acquired designated victim classes (flimsy mining and support ships) in addition to designated griefer classes.

This was largely inherent in the warp mechanic from the start. A warp scrambler is an ability you'd only choose for your ship if you intend to kill someone. It prevents escape. Griefers target only designated victims who will not have such items equipped. To attract the rabid little shits to whom such gameplay appeals you not only have to offer them sure wins over players trying to do something constructive within the game's economy. You have to ensure their ability to grief others with no risk to themselves.

World of Warcraft's greatest escape skill wasn't featured on the classes most likely to get targeted, on healers and mages. The "vanish" skill was handed to rogues instead. In Planetside 2, the only thing which can kill an invisible sniper is another invisible sniper. In TF2, spies not only one-shot other players but were handed options to instantly disappear upon doing so.

So, while EVE acquired invisibility, the most efficient cloaking devices were handed not to mining or transport ships (blockade runners aside) but to bombers and cruisers. The warping mechanic itself has become amusingly convoluted, with short-range warp modules for slow-moving battleships. Transport ships were handed some defensive warp core bonus. Those deployable bubbles in the image above, however, block all warping within them, regardless of core strength.

All, of course, except for that of a griefer special, interceptors, which have complete immunity to warp scrambling. Vanish is a rogue skill.

In one of my earliest posts I said I'm not going to stop calling WoW-clone hunters huntards. The choice of playstyle says a lot about a player and those whose minds stretch no further than hitting things (really, really hard) are probably dumber than those drawn by more complex role definitions. The most disgusting mindset, however, is that which predominates any PvP game, that of the griefer. Not only are they incapable of working towards the grander goals which define true PvP beyond deathmatch, but those whose only focus is hurting others also by definition lack the fair-mindedness to accept any consequences for those actions, to take a death for the kill they inflict. Any game which begins to bank on catering to them will only implement more and more methods of legitimized griefing and cheating in order to keep them satisfied.

Invisible, invincible, unstoppable, using teammates as disposable bait to leech killing blows on weakened enemies yet never aiding in team gameplay, the rogue / assassin archetype has been at best extraneous to multiplayer games and more frequently vastly detrimental, not only for its direct negative effects on gameplay but in encouraging developers to cater to those who would play the "griefer special" class. While it's more frequently included from the start, it can also more gradually arise as a result of game mechanics like EVE's warp scrambling which separate players into designated griefer and victim class choices.

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