Monday, June 17, 2024

Kiting, sniping and beer

I have been dabbling in a null-sec PVP here and there. It is quite different from what I am used to. Despite playing EVE for over a decade, null is a new experience for me, so in a way, I feel somewhat like a new player, which is quite nice as it lets me re-experience EVE in some aspects. For anyone feeling stagnated, I recommend changing it up and trying new things. I did low-sec piracy, wormholes, high-sec can-baiting, and even some suicide ganking, but I always swore against null-sec without any strong reason to do so. So far, I am happy I challenged and threw myself into a new environment. The people I fly with are friendly, and there's always content if I look for it. I love the relaxed environment, even though keeping track of activities in the corp, alliance, and coalition can be daunting at times. Seriously, so many discord groups and channels. I don't know how people keep up with this stuff.

First impressions

The first fleet I joined was Windrunner (WR) Tornadoes, which basically means you warp bounce a lot and take potshots at the enemy fleet from beyond the 100km range. It was quite fun. I imagine this hit-and-run requires quite a lot of skill in maintaining angles and distances. I have a lot of respect for FCs and the people who do it. For the rest of us grunts, pushing F1 and following aligns is not exactly the most challenging experience. However, at times, I still struggled to follow alignment points. Where the fuck is that ESS again? What the hell is an "ansi". And some other terminology and orientation objects with which I had to familiarize myself. I like the WR concept as it is high-risk. As it happened in my fleet, the FC warped us into the bubble, and the rest is history.

While I do enjoy WR fleets, I am not a big fan of the kiting meta in general. All ships "fight" at the 100km+ distance and try to snipe each other before Logi can react.

I start to see the pattern. The image above illustrates your run-of-the-mill fight: You chase around the enemy fleet, and if they are faster, you give up. Ships shoot each other 100km apart while  2 Scorpions jam from 200km+ behind the fleet. I just don't know about this. In my opinion, 100km should be reserved for battleship-sized guns, and all cruisers or even battle cruisers should be much closer. I even had a bloody Hecate snipe my interceptor from 100km. I mean, come on.

The other day, we went stabber roaming with the corp mates. I jump into a system and find this interesting sight.

A gate camp waiting 150km off with Warden sentries. I did consider if we could jump in, burn the other direction, and warp on them, but I had no cloaky scout with probes, and it didn't really feel like our 4 stabbers were a match for this setup. Overall, props to people for putting somewhat expensive ships on the line, but coming back to my original comment, I really dislike projecting DPS from such a large distance in anything smaller than a battleship. My personal take, you don't have to agree with it.

Let's also discuss ESS. On paper, I understand what CCP was going for, but in practice, it's a fighting location I am not too enthusiastic about. 

You can't use MWD inside and can't warp in the area as it's dead space. The attackers have a major positioning advantage, which is fine, but I have yet to see an exciting ESS fight. If you bring a bigger fleet, the enemy fleet simply warps out. There is no way to surprise in any way, such as a combat probe or bounce off a celestial. You always land in relation to the acceleration gate. I think they should perhaps remove the deadspace outside ESS and just leave it inside. But I haven't played long enough, so maybe others have the best fights on ESS. I need to join more fleets.

You can take a wormholer from a wormhole but can't take a wormhole from a wormholer. if there's no such saying, there should be. I occasionally jump into the wormhole space, looking for targets. Thankfully, I have some corpmates who do the same thing, which is very unusual for people living in null-sec, who are often times allergic to scanning. On one such trip, I got a ping of an ongoing mining activity.

We took a couple of ships and paid them a visit. No local, unexpected ganks and often close and personal fights. I am confident at some point, I will return to wormholes. However, for now, I want to learn more about null-sec PVP. So far, most fights have happened around the home area, but the ambition is to work on a setup that I could pilot to get good fights with only a few people in remote regions. I would like to find a combination of 2-4 ships that I could fly and have good engagements.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Exploration in null - Guristas edition, Part 2 - Engagement, Loot and Effort

I have settled down in my new null-sec home for the most part. During my limited play time, exploration has been my core activity. I believe I managed to try out every site the region has to offer. Here are my thoughts. I will simply point out good things and flaws in how I see it.

Relic/Data sites

Tl;DR: If you are a new player or someone, in general, looking to earn ISK from exploration activities, go to Null and do Relic sites. Travel directly or find a wormhole with a remote null-sec connection to bypass gate camps and do Relic sites. Cargo scan for efficiency. That's it; there is no need to read any further. I also recommend null over wormholes, as local gives a big advantage.

In all seriousness, I quickly found out that data sites are a complete waste of time. Just the other day, upon undocking, I found 2 relic sites that netted me below loot (minus obvious ammo and probes):

Granted, these were high-end sites with luck on my side, but after weeks of clearing data sites, not once did I get anywhere close to the loot drop I got here. I am sure someone has averages posted somewhere, so I won't bother with data analysis, but the imbalance is undeniable. In my humble opinion, the best data sites equal the worst relic sites. It is unfortunate, and while I understand the demand is player-driven for the most part, I can't help but feel there is some potential to re-adjust the loot tables and end product requirements to make the data/relic site running more rewarding (I read that high-sec has the opposite problem due to low t2 salvage). Also, WHY PARTLY CLEARED SITES DO NOT DESPAWN? The fact that people can cherry-pick valuable containers and leave with the site still showing active is the biggest design oversight of all.

Leaving the "total value" relic vs data topic aside. the lack of "jackpot" items makes them rather mundane. You always know you will not find anything out of the ordinary, and the loot overall probably doesn't differ all that much between high, low, and null sec, only the amount. Meaning you get the same shit, just less of it the higher the system security. I like to daydream how it would be amazing if relic and data sites had some unique, rare drops part of the loot table, but I guess that's where sleeper cache and ghost sites come in.

Overall, the majority of the loot that drops is unique and only obtainable via said sites, which is what I like to see. If more unique items were added to the loot tables tied to low/null, it would be a great addition.

Sleeper Caches

There are three types of sleeper caches: limited, standard, and superior. They spawn in the empire regardless of security status, which I think is great. I had a chance to do all three.

Limited - pretty simple and straightforward, only one room with some environmental damage that can be avoided/mitigated.
Standard - a bit more complex with one main room and a hidden room. Some important knowledge is required regarding alarms, but otherwise straightforward.
Superior - most complex, with most rooms that require a good understanding of what needs to be done.

My relationship with Sleeper Caches is a bit of a love/hate. During my first run, I was confused and scared, which was a good thing. I think the risk of losing your ship makes them great, where you are left with the choice to either put the expensive, tanky ship on the line, which can still die, or use a frigate that every slip up can result in death. And there are many such slip-ups! While I think Sleeper Caches are a little overengineered, the risks they pose are what I like to see in exploration content.

These sites are not new by any means. Therefore, the market has settled.  Overall, loot-wise, when benchmarked against null Relic sites, anything but Superior Caches feels underwhelming for the risk and effort required to run them. The storyline and polarized gun blueprint drops are a nice addition, too bad many of them are quite worthless. I never understood why most of "storyline" loot is subpar to faction and deadspace. I feel the stats of many items should be revisited to make them more appealing.

CCP sometimes makes strange design choices. Take the example of the Superior Sleeper Cache "The Archive" room. Specifically, the Nanoplastic Membrane and Self-regulating Machine Gears loot. This content is not new, so I would assume people would have found any "hidden" meaning, but nope. I couldn't find any use for these items. Intravenous Oscillation Fluid x3 is required to trigger the final event, and as far as I am aware, the other items you get are junk. WHY? If they indeed serve no purpose, the designer needs a good smack to the head. Or maybe he got smacked and wasn't able to finish coding the purpose for the remaining 2 item types.

Other than that, I like the increasing pressure of shock waves that makes me sweat and race against time to hack as many cans as I can. Initially, I used a cargo scanner to cherry-pick important cans, but I realized I could almost hack all cans available before the damage became too much.

Ghost Sites

Covert Research Facility, a.k.a. Ghost Sites, is my favorite exploration content, and I think it should be the gold standard for future exploration designs. It is simple, risky, and rewarding. You have to prioritize your hacking. Enemies will melt your face if you do not have a good tank or don't warp out fast enough before they arrive. The timer is unpredictable, so it's always a race against time. Drops unique implant blueprints that are rare enough to make you excited when you find one. Although I only find "Improved" sites, and sometimes overall loot can be less than a high-end relic site (even with cargo scanning and cherry-picking), it does have good payoff chances, so it is always worth doing them. Honestly, Ghost Sites win my "Best Design Exploration Content" award. There. Not much else to say. They really hit the mark.

Unrated Guristas Combat Sites

Now starts the "ugly" part. I feel the unrated combat sites are the legacy content that hasn't been touched since EVE's inception. I may be wrong, but it sure feels that way. The dark ages when someone duct-taped things together without too much thought and called it good enough. Let's see what we have, shall we?

This is one of the easier combat sites. The most challenging part is staying cap-stable while flying from one side to another. It starts innocently with the acceleration gate only 65km away.

Then you get one spawn 50km off, another 100km off, and finally, the reinforcement wave spawns 175km away.

But let's not forget the second room where the tower itself is roughly 200km away with a timed wave spawning 140km from the warp, which, to my understanding, serves no purpose as you need to destroy the tower to get the faction to spawn that can trigger an escalation. This whole site is bizarre. I really struggle to understand why NPC is placed so far away apart. Especially in the second pocket when they can just be ignored, and they are too far away to be any threat to you.

Overall, it's pretty straightforward. It has 2 locations. 1st location, you may have a faction spawn, which, once killed, may trigger a second stage. No weird distances to cover. You destroy Guristas Research Facility, which may trigger the final "boss," who will drop goodies if you are lucky.

Overall, I have nothing particularly negative to say about this expedition, apart from the fact that it's not clear which structure to shoot to trigger the waves, but that is a common theme with many escalation triggers.

You land in the middle of 3 hostile groups but can blitz the room pretty quickly by snipping the tower and taking the acceleration gate. This spawns an additional group of battleships and frigates that web and scram you, so there is a risk they will tackle you before you can warp out.

Blitzing is an interesting concept. It can be done right, or it can be lazy. In this case, I think it's more on the "done right" side. Simply the fact that I am presented with a choice of either playing safe and clearing hostiles before triggering a reinforcement wave or taking a risk and going straight for the trigger that can put my ship in danger. 

I would like to highlight a few things once I was reflecting on my experience. Playing EVE for a long time and checking EVE University wiki has become second nature, but if we pretended we had no such source and I was new to the game, I would have no idea what is the escalation trigger. There is basically no visual, text, or audio indication of what needs to be done. It would be nice if sites were designed so that it would be obvious what needs to be done.

The second room has a big station and a massive amount of tank.

Upon shooting it, it releases a high-damage smart bomb with a range of 100km. It will nuke all your drones if you are not careful, as I found it the hard way. Also, a fun fact - it releases a smart bomb for each character that attacks it. So, if you have a fleet of 4 cruisers and attack it at the same time, there is a good chance everyone will die.

Overall, the site can be tanked in an Ishtar without big problems. The commander that may or may not spawn will for sure not give you anything worthwhile. At least, that has been my general experience. I am not even sure I am isk positive with this site due to the amount of drones I lost while multiboxing. Nuked 3 sets of Wasps more times than I could count.

But we run these sites for the escalations, right?

The first 3 rooms are pretty straightforward and can be completed quickly. Warp in, snipe the commander, collect garbage loot, and go to the next location.

If you are lucky, you will get to the final stage, the 4th room. The last room, unlike until now, has timed spawns. No way to blitz through. You just have to kill stuff and wait for the final boss to arrive. In this case - Hanuo Wako.

The problem with escalations is that they can take you anywhere. If you are lucky, the expedition will be in a friendly territory or in a hostile one. To finish Pirate's Path escalation, I had situations where I had to travel to a hostile territory with no stations. I use ~720 dps. The Maze fit Proteus for this purpose. It is pimped to tank excessive damage. Just like The Maze, Pirate's Path also does considerable damage if you focus on "blitzing" and shooting commanders as they spawn, which still takes considerable time as spawns are timed. The Hano Wako took a long time to kill. 700 DPS seems to be just above the threshold to break his tank. As mentioned, I ran this escalation several times, and each time, I got jack shit from it. I know it's RNG and all, BUT multi-stage escalations, in general, SHOULD give SOMETHING. Unlike standard DED sites, you have so many stages to get lucky: get initial escalation and get continuous escalations with each room. Not to mention, you are often forced to go many jumps away to complete them. Escalations should have a UNIQUE loot pool to them. They should be exciting, and people should be willing to risk shiny ships in hostile spaces to run them. As it is now, the unrated combat sites are often skipped by explorers, as I see multiple days go by with signatures still active. I am not surprised. I think many people get complacent and just accept these things as they are. While the new content is good and exciting, CCP should consider some Life Cycle Management practices for existing content. Either remove obsolete content or make adjustments to make it new and refreshing. Hacking sites went through numerous iterations until they landed in a hacking mini-game, which I think is a great implementation compared to the old system. I wish they revisited combat sites across the board someday, too.

In the next part, I will continue to review the remaining combat sites. Thanks for sticking around.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Exploration in null - Guristas edition, Part 1 - Introduction

Exploration was the first activity I engaged in when I joined EVE a decade and a half ago. I still remember scanning and exploring the vast space in my trusty Imicus. Everything back then felt unknown, scary and exciting. Safe to say, exploration is the PVE activity closest to my heart, and it is probably no surprise my career path took to wormholes where scanning and exploring are at their core. Therefore, I will speak from the position of passion while describing my exploration experience in null-sec. I hope the criticism of some parts will not be mistaken for complaining but rather taken as a missed opportunity for what "it" could have been or still be.

Home area

It is probably no secret that TEST & friends live in Deklein. The first thing I learned was that each Alliance have its own space carved out, and you are not allowed to run any anomalies or exploration sites outside defined borders, with few exceptions, such as events and escalations. For TEST, that means an area for a total of 19 systems. When I first heard this, I wondered how such a big alliance with so many members fits in this small area. I did not follow null-sec politics, but from what I understand, the alliance went through some dramatic shifts and is not what it used to be in terms of size. While many people might find the current state "disappointing", for me, who comes from wormholes, the smaller, the better. I joined the corp and not the alliance anyway. It just happened to be TEST, and it could have been anything else. One thing I learned about null-sec residents was that most hate scanning. The majority of people run combat anomalies and mine to fund PVP. A small percentage focuses on exploration, meaning competition is not that bad. So, let's talk exploration.

Exploration toolset and philosophy

For the first few weeks, my approach to exploration was that of a vacuum cleaner. I did not care about isk/hour, total value, difficulty, or anything else. I would clear every site I could find, from low-end data sites to high-level DED combat complexes. It took me a few days to bring in all the tools, but I spared no expense. My philosophy is simple - throw money at the problem to minimize failure. For things like Ghost and sleeper sites, the question is not how I can escape intact before rats or the environment gets me, but how to tank it best. Difficult hacks with a risk of failing and exploding can? Can I buy my way out to negate that risk? What ship is needed to run 10/10 without much sweat? And so on... Here's how my setup currently looks:

  • Tengu - scanner & data/relic site runner (Alt)

Initially, I just used my trusty WH stalking Proteus with expendable implants. Despite rarely dying, I always went with the setup that in case I died, I would just shrug it off. Few implants to support scanning, but nothing crazy. My starter process was - to scan with my alt and run sites with my main. I soon found this to be inefficient. If I found a good Relic site and a combat site 5 jumps away, that was a lot of lost time travelling back and forth. The reason for using Proteus was the same as in WHs - have a tanky tackle ship for spontaneous targets. Worked really well in wormholes but does not work in Null. Mostly because no one but "blues" run sites, and any PVP target will be either a big fleet passing by or a cyno bait. Very rarely would you get an engageable small gang situation. Proteus would still work for day-tripping to wormholes, but they don't spawn that often and even if it did and I found targets, I realized one - my corp and probably alliance, in general, are allergic to wormholes, and two - all doctrine ships are kity stuff that works well in null, but will be difficult to utilize in WHs which requires more tanky setups. Plus, no armoured doctrine exists, meaning no armour reps, and the universe will die before I exchange my trusty cloaky tackle Proteus for anything else when it comes to stalking.

So, I made the decision to park my favourite ship in favour of a Tengu, purely for exploration purposes. Now I scan and run all standard Relic/Data* sites and bring my main for specific Ghost/Sleeper or combat sites. I even added a Zeugma Integrated Analyzer and a full set of  Virtue implants for good measure.

Reasons for Tengu and not a covops ship are: 1) I feel safer as it is tankier and normally, hostiles don't assume it's for scanning/exploration. 2) I can still snipe and kill hostile exploration frigates I encounter.

  • Proteus for Ghost/Sleeper sites (Main)
Designed to tank Ghost sites and Superior/Standard Sleeper Caches. 
  • Proteus for The Maze & escalations (Main + 2 alts)
Pimped out for maximum tank against Guristas and specifically designed for clearing The Maze, which is a 10/10 DED combat site. It is also used to do escalations outside the home area as it can travel fit with an interdiction nullifier and covops cloak.
  • Ishtar for general combat sites (Main + 2 alts)
Ishtar was originally designed for anomaly runs but was adapted to run all exploration combat sites within the home area. It's cheap, tanky and boring, but gets the job done. I still can get ganked if I run into a fleet, but the intel channel and a scanner scout make that very unlikely. The only reason I use it instead of pimped Proteus is that I couldn't be arsed to swap between combat & travel fits. Also, I can buy 5 Ishtars for one Proteus, even if the risk is minimal. Not to mention, it makes me not worry about situations like if I get disconnected when tackled mid-site. I am sure there are Ishtar fits for The Maze, but I am allowed some excitement in my life, eh?
  • Proteus for WHs  (Alt)
While it mostly sits in the hangar, I still use it to explore wormholes when the region has few sites to run, and I have time to spare. I still need to bring the tools for WH ganking. The last thing I want is to find a couple of Marauders running sleeper sites, and my corp does not have anything beyond Stabber. I can call Alliance Fleet, but I have yet to build rapport and determine how that would work in practice. It would be simpler if I was in a big corp like Dreddit, but I am not, meaning I have to use Alliance comms and I can't really ping targets because I am not an FC. I still have some figuring out to do on the null-sec life.

In the next chapter, I will discuss my experience running specific sites. While some are as old as the game itself, many sites were new experiences to me, as funny as that sounds. So, the story will be from the perspective of a "new player" with a flavour of a bitter vet.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Playing EVE as a busy dad

It seems I can never win this game in the long term. Years can go by when I go on about my business without a second thought of EVE, but eventually, I end up launching the game.

This time was no different. I caught myself in the game for several evenings, spinning my ship in Jita or taking Deimos for a joyride and shooting high-sec anomalies. It's not like I have more time on my hands. I started winning EVE after my first child, now a toddler, was born. But as if the suffering was not enough, we added another one to the mix. So here I am, spinning a ship while trying to deal with a crying 2-month-old and a constant attention-seeking toddler. Maybe I launched this game to remind myself of the heydays of my early twenties when I had no responsibilities and a lot of time on my hands. However, at best, I only have a few undisturbed hours in the evening.

So what can I do with those few hours in EVE? Probably not much, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. So what are my options? Certainly, wormhole stalking is still an option. There are a few concerns, however. For one thing, I wasn't sure what my setup should look like after the latest Marauders' buff, which is old news by now, but it's time I stopped actively playing. Maybe Leshak + 2 Nestors would be enough to kill without losses, something like 1-2 Marauders; maybe it wouldn't. If the enemy focuses on a Nestor, that's only 2 large reps received from another one, which sounds quite low. I was never too good at theory crafting and always relied on a hunch more than actual number crunching in Pyfa. 

There's always an option of joining a corp. Should I continue the status quo and go for WH Corp? Should I get back to my early roots and dabble in low-sec piracy? Or should I try null-sec? Despite having an account that is almost 14 years old, I never lived in null. Big empires and big fleet battles never attracted me all that much. But "never having lived in null" is a strange checkbox to leave unchecked for an account as old as mine. I decided to try it at least once.

Finding a new home

While looking for a corp, one requirement I had was a chill, mature corp with an RL comes first attitude. It turns out almost every corp in the recruitment thread emphasizes this. I guess a big portion of the EVE player base grew old. So, I browsed through some recruitment ads and decided to join NARVI, an industry-focused corp with flavours of PVE/PVP, which is part of a bigger alliance (Test Alliance Please Ignore). PVE was kind of my aim as I wanted to relax, do my thing, and be able to go AFK on a moment's notice. And if there is an itch for PVP, I am sure these big alliances always have fleets up and running. The more I thought about it, the more I got excited. Let's see how this null-sec life will treat me.


I recently changed jobs in real life and had to go through the onboarding process at my new organization. It was less of a hassle than joining a corp under TEST. I am no stranger to ESI checks and onboarding checklists, but having only been to small and medium-sized corporations, joining a big alliance takes the whole onboarding process to the next level. I understand there are reasons for every step, so I don't disagree or agree, but I will simply describe my experience.

All characters in the auth tool
Regardless of whether they will join TEST, every account and character must be added to the auth tool. I have 7 accounts, many of which have 3 characters. Some of them are dormant, and some are traders who rarely undock. I guess this problem is unique to players with many accounts, but it was a pain. It's also the first time anyone asked ESI access to out-of-corp characters, but I get it. Spies everywhere, can't be too careful.

No dual corps are allowed
This rule is probably the one I really wasn't sold on. During my time, I had a few alt corps setups to help me manage my affairs. The fact that every non-TEST character had to be in NPC corp was one of the bigger pills to swallow made me question if I was making the right decision. I also fail to see the reasoning behind it since I give ESI access to alts anyway.

Onboarding documentation
Finally, officially joining the corp/alliance, it was time to get myself familiar with new member guidelines. And there is a lot to process. Read about different services, authentication and communication setups, alliance and coalition rules, coalition services and authentication. Thankfully I could skip new EVE player topics, such as doctrine training skill plans. In contrast, my previous experience upon joining a corp was an EVE email with few paragraphs and several doctrine ships outlined, which I could go through in 10 minutes.

First impressions

It has been over a couple of weeks since I have moved to null. I have mostly been doing PVE while jumping on occasional fleet here and there. I will write a dedicated PVE post that talks mostly about the state of exploration from my perspective. I have a lot to say on that matter. So what are ISK making opportunities in null? I list them below and offer my view on it.
  • Ratting - mostly refers to shooting NPCs in an anomaly, but can also be belt ratting. It seems anomalies are the go-to #1 activity for the majority of null-sec residents. Many opt in for an AFK-style ratting with a drone boat, usually Ishtar. Others go for more engaging methods and use Battleships with active targeting for faster clearing. I have tried Ishtar ratting exactly once, and it was enough to understand it is not for me. While it offers a set-and-forget option, you still need to keep an eye on the local, and if you multi-box, you still need to keep an eye on each client. Going for the same site with multiple drone boats is inefficient because some multiple ships distract rats, who are more inclined to switch aggro on drones; therefore, 1 drone boat per site is recommended. 
  • Mining - is probably one of the most relaxing activities. Even though I never really considered it personally, I see the value of dabbling in manufacturing. While ISK/hour may not be great, it can save you from the logistical nightmare of importing minerals.
  • Exploration - this has been my go-to activity. It fits me perfectly. I like scanning, and I am efficient at it. The variance of different sites makes it somewhat interesting, and I would argue on average it pays better than AFK-Ishtar in anomalies.
  • Industry - the thought of producing stuff has always intrigued me. I have always wanted to do some serious manufacturing operations, but I was never able to start them. I thought this time could be different. I had a lot of faction/storyline/t2 module and rig blueprints that I would like to use for manufacturing rather than selling but trying to estimate the profit, plan production and materials import made this such a huge headache that I put any manufacturing plans on hold. For example, I considered using the booster blueprints that have been collecting dust for a long time

Unfortunately, no gas sites spawn in the area, and I would need a 776k volume shipped just for Malachite Cytoserocin. Napkin math says I could expect 8 billion in profit, but 2 billion alone would be spent just for the alliance freight services. Realistically, the profit would probably be even less than that. In the end, if I did it, it would not be for ISK, but for an activity itself. The problem is the planning and calculation. I have yet to find a good tool that would let me select a container of blueprints and give me a nice summary of materials to import. In most tools I looked at, I have to manually add each blueprint, and going through hundreds of blueprints IS exhaustive. It works easy if you have to produce 1 thing 100 times, but good luck trying to produce 100 different things one time. 
  • Freight & Market - this is another area I am excited about. One of the attractions of joining a null-sec bloc was to seed the markets. To do that, however, you have to have a Jump Freighter and a couple of alts. It is not a problem in itself, but the last freighting I did was over 10 years ago when I lived in null-sec. Trying to get up to speed and reading about Lance dreads disabling gates scares the hell out of me. Then, I get reminded of the importance of creating a route, picking stations, and creating bookmarks. Not to mention tons of strict alliance rules for your alts. I park this idea again as I only have a couple of hours to spare, and just the amount of effort required to get started reminds me why I sold my Jump Freighter in the first place. I know complexity is EVE's trademark, and knowing specific mechanics is a big part of it, but things like station docking ranges or kick-out stations, in my opinion, are legacy artefacts and don't have a place in a modern game. I put it in the same bucket of features like 24-hour limited training queues (remember those?) or days when there were no safety buttons, and suspect/aggro timmer was invisible (shooting wrecks in HS to extend the timer, lol). Not everyone may see this way, but in my opinion, there is good complexity, and then there is bad. Ideally, I should not need to read a 3rd party 10-page manual to do a straightforward activity in EVE.
Alright, let's talk PVP. Ok, in all honesty, it is a bit early. I have only been playing for a couple of weeks, and most of my time was spent on settling in, moving in ships and doing carebear activities. I participated in a few fleets, and while considered small by null-sec standards, these fights were bigger than what I normally engage in during my time in wormholes. In all honestly, I do not know how FCs can process information on such a scale. I had trouble managing my overview with so many ships on a grid. If not for broadcast, I couldn't find a target if just called by name. Anyway, I look forward to engaging in PVP more with time and will write about my experience in more detail in follow-up posts.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Story Time

Let me tell you a story that has been overdue for quite some time. Sit back, relax, grab a drink and enjoy the ride.

From time to time when I visit high-sec I like to check the killboard for Mobile Tractor Unit (MTU) kills. There are always people around the high-sec who engage in MTU pvp. There are roughly 2 types of pilots that you will frequently see on the killboard with MTU kills. Pilots that only destroy MTUs and do nothing else, for whatever reason. And pilots that shoot MTUs to bait mission runners into shooting them, otherwise known as ninja salvaging. When I look at the killboard, I am first and foremost interested in the first type of pilots. Sometimes those pilots fly unreasonably expensive ships to shoot a deployed structure that doesn't shoot back. So once I am in high-sec I scan through the killboard to identify potential opportunities for a hunt outside w-space. While there are a lot of MTU kills happening in high-sec it is actually quite difficult to find someone using an expensive ship with consistent and frequent kills in an area that is not some ridiculous 50 jumps out.

After browsing through the killboard history a few days back, I do not manage to find any potential targets that would excite me. However, there were a couple of notable pilots that always kept catching my eye when looking at MTU kills. Those pilots were Captain544 and Burntime. Both pilots operated in different regions and were very active. However, there is one caveat: they belong to a ninja salvaging category of pilots that shoot MTU to bait the aggression from the mission runners. As someone who dabbles in ninja salvaging myself, I am not particularly excited about shooting my own kind. Nevertheless, I feel "ninja salvagers don't shoot each other" is more a code of a past than the present. Maybe it was never a code, to begin with, but all I know we used to have quite an active community that helped each other, shared stories, and laughs. Now, myself and maybe 1 or 2 other pilots are the most you will see sitting in the Ninja Dojo channel. I decided to bend my self-imposed rules and mark everyone not a part of the channel as a fair game.

The hunt, part 1

Now that I have the targets, it's time to begin the hunt. There is a lot you can tell about a pilot looking at his killboard. You can often read between the lines and build a profile. I realize that this will not be a simple matter of deploying an MTU, parking the cloaked Proteus, and killing the target once inevitably my MTU gets scanned at shot at. No. For one thing, both pilots like to fly Nergal as the main baiting ship, which is a frigate, and highly unlikely I will catch any of them unaware, lock and tackle in time. Furthermore, pilots are more interested in baiting mission runners than shooting unattended MTUs, which means I will actually have to do some roleplay and do missions as bait. Third, both pilots do have an active pvp history outside high-sec and are very likely to do a killboard check on me. While I have mostly wormhole kills, it might smell suspicious of me doing high-sec missions, which is one pve activity I have never done. No, for this I will need to be a little bit creative. Instead of using my main accounts, I decided to put my trader alts to work. I have been slowly training some pvp skills on them on the off chance I will need some additional utility beyond selling and buying items in trade hubs. And it seems the time has come.

As a Gallente fan to the end, my ship of choice. of course, is a Dominix. A frequently used battleship in mission runner circles. The fact that I don't even have skills for t2 drones will add an additional level of charm. As a ninja salvager myself, I would dive in without much thought to a clean killboard character with t1 drones shooting mission rats. I set up 2 traders to bait both pilots in their respective regions simultaneously. While pilots are operating in an area, their pattern is a little bit unpredictable so I need to cover as much ground as I can. I move to the mission hub of the area, add red standings to my targets and keep an eye on a local with the intention of starting my mission as soon as I see any of them. As watchlist no longer shows if the pilot is logged in or not (lol, ancient history) I have to keep an eye on killboard, local, and locator agents for the best chance of "accidentally meeting" them in the system.

It all starts with Burntime. I spot him in local first and immediately accept the first mission and get to work.

Ah, high-sec local, it's always lovely to see friendly social banters or scams. Some things will never change. It doesn't take very long and my Dominix catches the attention of "someone" as I spot combat probes on the short-range scanner.

Alright, here we go. I wait and wait, but nobody warps to me. Finally I see a Nergal pop on scan, just outside the accelerator gate.

Everything is going according to the plan so far. Now all I need is for him to warp in and shoot my MTU. I impatiently wait for the Nergal to show on the overview, but instead, he disappears from the d-scan altogether. It confuses me. Soon after a Vexor shows up, all flashy up in my face.

How disappointing. I am not about to waste my clean character and all that setup just to get a Vexor kill. Nergal is a ship I am after as it often tends to be pimped in order to kill more tanked mission runners. A Vexor, probably fully t2 fit doesn't excite me as much. I decide to warp off and try again in another mission. After all, not all is lost. I know he is using Nergal as the primary baiting ship, but he must be cautious of using it against drone battleships.

Unexpected guest

While on another mission I get an uninvited guest. A Praxis warps in.

What's the big idea here? Certainly can't be a ninja baiting with a battleship. That would be the first. He doesn't get flagged and just sits there. I finish killing the rats and continue to chill. He sits, I sit, we both sit. After quite a bit of sitting involved, I decided to finally break the silence.

I get an immediately obnoxious response. Clearly, the guy is in the system for the same reason I am, probably even the same target. I do my best not to break the act. I don't need anyone to be aware of my business. Despite obnoxious attitude, the guy doesn't seem to be able to put 2 and 2 together and come to the conclusion why would I be also sitting in the same, empty mission as if I was waiting for someone. Then again, I've seen a lot of strange mission runners so anything is possible. Logic doesn't always have its place in mission hubs.

After few more tries and still getting the Vexor visit me instead of a Nergal, I let my hands down and did not have many expectations from mr. Burntime. Perhaps I need to revisit in a somewhat smaller ship, but not in the mood now as my other target just became active.

The hunt, part 2

Captain544 is in the house.

He starts about his day and off goes to terrorize the surrounding systems while I warp to my first mission. I must say, it is not going as straightforward as I'd hoped. While I do see him flash in local, I can't seem to get mr. Captain544 give me a visit. Checking killboard I even see MTU kills, ship kills, yet I have to meet him in my mission. I would see probes in the system, but suddenly he would just warp to another system. While he did operate in the area, he would often be 3 jumps one system or another, away from the mission hub. Frantically using locators and warping around the systems I did my best to wiggle my tail in front of his face. Otherwise, what is the point of me doing a mission if Captain544 is not there to find me in it? I stick with my pattern and do some most serious mission running since I joined this game. I also avoid staying still in an empty mission to look more legit. Back and forth I work, as a slave in a mine digging in hopes of finding that precious diamond. My diamond being Captain544 flashy in my overview.

One thing my blog readers know about me is that I am patient. Once I set my eyes on something or someone I'll spend a lot of effort in trying my best to get it. It's the thrill of the hunt, there's nothing like it for me. Finally, my d-scan fills with promising results.

Here we go. Let's see if the story will take a different path than the one with Burntime. I will be damned, it does! Captain544 is straight to business kind of guy. He warps straight in and gets to work without delay, all flashy orbiting my Dominix.

I take my time to lock him and unleash everything I have. I have only one chance and I came prepared. I used my unallocated sp to finish t2 drone training, use drones to match his resist hole, added a heavy stasis grappler, heavy neutralizer, and small blasters as a cherry on the cake. The pain train, the anti-frigate killing machine was ready.

The fight was swift. Under heavy neut pressure and heavy tackle, Nergal did not have many options and soon gave in, despite putting up a reasonable fight, all things considered. I did one fitting mistake as I used MWD which was disabled and Nergal was slowly making distance with the risk of getting outside webifier range. However, drones did manage to do their work. I loot and shoot the wreck and the only thing that is left on the overview is Captain544's link Tengu alt angrily staring at me.

I was also happy with the killmail. While from value perspective zkillboard estimates 600mil, with few abyssal mods I believe it's not unreasonable to expect it to be closer to 800 or even 1bil. 

Regardless, it's not about the value of the kill, but the kill itself and, of course, the hunt. What makes this special to me is that Captain544 has an insane 95% killboard efficiency. His losses for 2021 you can count on your hands' fingers and unlike myself, he is a much more active pilot. Almost 3 months have passed and my alt is still a proud owner of his last loss and the only "expensive" loss for 2021, more so when it comes to high-sec. Honestly, this was one of the main drivers behind this hunt. It's mostly about the sentimental value.

The aftermath

Uploading: 40385 of 40385 bytes uploaded.
After the dust has settled we exchanged a few words.

To tell the truth, the outcome where I just threw my hands and went on my own merry way was very close. I was struggling in getting Captain544 to visit me in my mission. And while a story may look like all was quick, it took me almost a week to set everything up, stalk, wait and strike both for Burntime and Captain544. Of course, since I used my trader alts, I was free to use my main accounts for stalking wormholes as usual, but that is still an extra effort spent.

Captain544 mentioned his Tengu does have a ship scanner and I was lucky enough to have my fit concealed. Clean toon with no pvp history was the key aspect that made this bait successful. As anticipated in the beginning, my bet paid off of not using the main account.

Also, stars have aligned to me this fight. I realized I did not train thermodynamics and because I was MWD fit, if Captain544 kept scram and pulsed afterburner he could have escaped, especially when his Tengu with links landed shortly after. We exchange few extra words and part ways in a friendly manner.

Since our parting, it seems Captain544 continues to have tremendous success in high-sec with a replaced Nergal as also destroying ships in low-sec. I wish him well and to continue to be an inspiration for ninja salvagers around. Burntime has since also moved to low-sec and is enjoying active and successful pvp. As for me, due to my new parental responsibilities, I find myself a very limited time available to focus on EVE. In addition, with cloaking and interdiction nullification nerfs it looks like afk cloaky style of Cloaky Bastard might have come to an end. I have yet to decide what impact that will have on me. The future will tell.