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Turret Mechanics (Part 2) – Transversal vs Angular Velocity

(You might want to read Part One first.)

Imagine that you’re sitting still, at zero m/s.  You have three targets nearby:

  • A Rifter (red) is orbiting you at 500m.  They’ve got their AB on, and are keeping up a steady 1200m/s speed in that tight orbit.
  • An artillery Wolf (blue) is orbiting you at 20km with MWD.  They’re moving at 3600m/s.
  • A Jaguar (gray) is burning directly at you at 2500m/s with MWD on.

14dec2015_transversal

Let’s assume, for now, that you had artillery with infinite range.  The damage you do is determined entirely by tracking.  Which one do you shoot?

When you customize the set of columns that Eve puts in your overview panel, there’s four options for you to choose from:

  • Basic velocity — Shows how fast they’re moving in their direction, in meters per second.  Ignores anything you do.
  • Transversal velocity — Take your direction, and project the target’s movement in that same direction.  Take that part of their movement that’s parallel to your direction, subtract it from your speed, and display the difference.  Measured in meters/second.
  • Radial velocity — The rate at which they’re approaching or retreating from your ship.  Draw a direct line from your ship to their ship, and measure how fast it changes length; ignore the line’s direction.  Measured in meters/second.
  • Angular velocity — the rate at which they change angle to you.  Draw a direct line from your ship to their ship, and measure how fast it sweeps around your ship; ignore the line’s length.  Measured in radians/second.

Notice that angular velocity is different from the other three in the units it uses — in fact, it’s the exact same units that are used to measure the tracking speed of guns!

Returning to our example:

  • Because we’re not moving, all of the ships have the same transversal velocity as their normal velocity, meaning that the Rifter has the slowest transversal, and the Wolf has the highest.
  • If you have radial velocity on overview, the Rifter and Wolf have zero radial velocity (because they’re orbiting you at a fixed distance), while the Jaguar is approaching you at 2500m/s.
  • If you have angular velocity on overview, the directly approaching Jaguar has zero angle, and is easiest to hit.  The Wolf may be moving quickly, but it’s doing so from a great distance, so your turrets only need to move a pokey 0.18 radians/second to track it.  The Rifter, meanwhile, is moving at a zippy 2.4 radians/second.

Transversal is the most familiar to Eve veterans, because it was the only thing available in the early days of Eve.  In theory, it provides easy feedback to how quickly something’s moving away from you — if it’s low, then you’re moving parallel to a target, and should shoot.  However, transversal often lies to you, especially when you’re moving slowly or looking at distant targets; it only becomes consistently useful when you’re skirmishing with another moving target at a moderate distance.

If you’re trying to figure out what you can hit on the battlefield, angular velocity gives you a much more accurate view of the field, and it directly corresponds to the tracking of your guns.  If I know my artillery has a tracking value of 0.013 (radians/sec), then I know that I’ll be able to track and hit anyone on my overview who has an angular velocity less than 0.013, assuming they’re in my optimal range. [1]

In practice, I actually tweak my overview based on what I’m flying.  For artillery and other slow-cycling weapons, or for very slow ships, I use angular velocity.  When I’m flying Taranises and other ships with fast tracking and high speed, I use radial velocity, since that tells me how quickly something is approaching me.  I almost never have transversal on my overview anymore; the only time transversal is notably useful is if I’m trying to fly parallel to someone at a distance, and that rarely happens in modern Eve where kiting tactics are common and speed are essential.

How is this relevant to turret damage?  Remember from Part One: turret damage starts by calculating a chance-to-hit for your guns, and then making a dice roll to determine if you hit (and what the damage is).  Angular velocity and tracking go hand-in-hand in calculating that chance-to-hit.  We’ll discuss how it’s used in Part Three.


1. CCP, if you’re reading this: It’d be significantly either to use both the tracking speed in Show-Info panes, and the Angular Velocity overview column, if you multiplied both numbers by 1000.  Call it milliradians/sec.

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Turret Mechanics (Part 1) – Roll For Initiative(dot)

The easiest way that I’ve found to explain turret mechanics is a throwback that should make immediate sense to tabletop RPG players:

Every time you activate a turret, the Eve engine calculates a chance-to-hit percentage. You then roll a 100-sided die (D100), and use the following rules:

  • If you roll a 1, you get a crit (wrecking blow) — a guaranteed hit for triple damage. [1]
  • If you roll any other number less than or equal to your chance-to-hit, you hit.
  • If you roll a number greater than your chance-to-hit, you miss.

When you hit on any number other than a 1, you take your roll, add 50, and treat the sum as a percentage of your turret’s base damage.  So, assuming that you’re shooting a stationary target at optimal range (100% chance to hit), each roll of the dice can produce a hit ranging from 50% of base damage (a glancing blow) to 150% of base damage (a penetrating/smashing shot).

As your chance-to-hit starts dropping, not only do you start having rolls that miss, but your highest quality shots are the first ones to get converted to misses.  For example, lets say that you have a 75% chance to hit a target; that means you hit on a roll of 1-75, and miss on a roll of 75-00.  That means that you will never hit for more than 125% of your base damage; you cannot get penetrating shots.  As it drops off, not only do you have more chances to do no damage on a shot, but your shots that hit will be of increasingly lower quality.

This is the main way that damage drops off with range, and it’s particularly important for alpha-strike doctrines; fighting in falloff doesn’t only reduce your fleet-wide average damage per cycle due to misses, but it dramatically depresses individual volley damage as well.  Likewise for shooting targets with tiny signature radii.

The other crucial part of turret mechanics is how we actually compute the chance-to-hit percentage.  That’s complex enough to be its own topic, and it’ll be in the next post.


1. Wrecking shots aren’t actually a guaranteed hit — you can only get a wrecking shot if you have a non-zero chance to hit, even if it’s very small. Imagine that you’re in an artillery Tornado with Quake loaded, and an AB Taranis is orbiting you at 500m; you have a near-zero chance to hit it, due to tracking, but it’s still a tiny fraction above zero.  Thus, wrecking shots are possible.  Now, imagine that the same Taranis is 225km away; you have a strictly zero chance to hit with EMP, even if both you and it are completely stationary.  You will never hit it, even if you roll a one.


Oversized Afterburners: Pros and Cons

(Yes, I’m back to writing!)

When fitting a ship in Eve, you generally pick a propulsion module that matches the size of your ship — frigates and destroyers use 1MN afterburners and microwarpdrives, cruisers and battlecruisers use 10MN modules, and battleships use 100MN modules. With one exception [1], you should never use a prop mod that’s smaller than intended for the hull.

However, there are occasionally good reasons to use a propulsion module that’s larger than intended, especially afterburners. (It’s particularly popular right now to use 10MN afterburners on the Tech-3 destroyers, the Svipul and Confessor.) Why would you do this?

Advantages

First, an oversized afterburner allows you to move very fast, as long as you don’t have to make any turns. This can be surprising to newer players; if you look at the stats for a 10MN afterburner, it lists a 135% maximum velocity increase, compared to the 500% increase on a 1MN microwarpdrive. However, they have different thrust amounts!

Screenshot of 1MN MWD and 10MN AB.

The actual top speed given by a prop mod is actually proportional to both the maximum velocity bonus, and the thrust generated:

Vmax = ship base speed * (prop mod boost% * (prop mod thrust / ship mass))

So, for most frigates and destroyers, overheating a 10MN AB will give you a top speed equivalent to a non-overheated 1MN MWD! [2]

Secondly, using an AB allows you to ignore warp scramblers. Warp scramblers have two functions: they prevent a target from warping away, and they disable any MWDs on the target ship, reducing their ability to maneuver.

One way to keep mobile while scrammed is to fit both a MWD and an AB, and switch to the AB once you’re scrambled. (This is commonly called a “dual-prop” fit.) However, a properly sized AB won’t give you the same speed as the MWD — plus, it takes up a second mid slot, which most ships don’t have many of. Another solution is to use an oversized AB as your sole prop mod, which gives you speed similar to an MWD in a single mid slot.

Keeping mobile while scrammed is particularly useful for the Svipul; it doesn’t get a turret range bonus, so it almost always operates at ranges of 15km or less. (Confessors get a range bonus while in Sharpshooter mode, giving them a little more flexibility.)

Finally, ABs of any size do not have the “sig bloom” of an active MWD. If two ships with an MWD and a 10MN AB are moving at the same speed, the AB ship will take far less damage from missiles, and be hit less often (and for less amounts) by turrets. Thus, oversized ABs can act as a form of damage mitigation.

Disadvantages

However, there’s also some significant downsides to using an oversized AB:

  • Every propulsion module has significant mass, which is added to your ship, similar to an armor plate. The 10MN AB is nearly four times as massive as an entire Svipul! While an oversized AB allows you to move at high speed in a straight line, it robs you of your agility. You have a massive increase in inertia when you use an oversized propulsion mod; you can’t turn on a dime, or hold a tight orbit, or sling-shot a long range tackler.
  • Due to the increased mass, oversized afterburners also produce less acceleration than a MWD. Even though they have similar top speeds in a straight line, an oversized AB will take 15-20 seconds to reach that speed, compared to 3-5 seconds for a properly sized MWD. This is particularly painful if you jump into a gatecamp and need to reapproach the gate.
  • An oversized afterburner requires nearly three times the power grid of a properly-sized MWD to online. This usually means compromising some other aspect of your fit: giving up tank, firepower, or utility modules.

One of these downsides limits the number of ships you can use this on. Because you can’t turn quickly, it’s nearly impossible to manage your angular velocity in a ship with an oversized prop mod; so, you generally don’t want to use them on turret ships. Save oversized afterburners for ships with bonuses to drones or missiles.

Also, this technique isn’t limited to frigates and destroyers; there are a number of cruisers that perform well with 100MN ABs fitted instead of 10MN MWDs. (The main candidates here are drone cruisers such as the Gila and Ishtar, although it can work well for missile cruisers as well.)

Update: Added a mention on sig bloom mechanics, per some smart eyes on Reddit.

1: Supercapital ships will often carry an X-type 100MN MWD. It won’t actually allow them to move quickly in a straight line, due to the monumental mass of their ship; however, they can use it to speed up alignment times when warping to celestials, or to use it as an E-brake to prevent being bumped out of a POS.

2: This equation also explains why undersized propulsion mods generally don’t work well; the thrust that they produce is overwhelmed by the larger mass of the ship.


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The Server Tick (or, “WTF, Why Didn’t My Point Turn On?!”)

It’s a scenario we’ve all experienced: You’ve got a fleet on a gate (or a station undock), and a hostile’s just appeared.  Everyone drops drones and assigns them to the fastest locker in the gang, waiting for “point!” to be called on voice comms.  The hostile de-cloaks, and it’s a fast ship.  Everyone starts locking, and a few of you even appear get a lock on him… but before your point activates, the hostile warps away.

Congratulations: You’re yet another victim of the 1Hz Destiny Server Tick, the processing loop that forms Tranquility’s beating heart.

What IS the Destiny Server Tick?

There’s a few different parts of the Eve Server. [1]  But, when it comes to shooting things in space, the most important part of them is Destiny.  This is the part of the Eve server/engine that simulates grids — it handles advancing the physics simulation of Eve (ships and drones and missiles flying around), and communicating things to the client (physics updates, module activations, target locking, health/status, and other visual elements).

Each solar system, on the server, has a Destiny processing loop associated with it.  At all times, this loop is running, and the code inside this loop looks something like this:

  • Pre-Tick Work:
    • Move people between grids, as they warp in/out or cross grid lines
    • Manage client actions (“I want to warp to gate X”, “I want to orbit object Y at 2km”, “I want drone X to return to my bay”)
    • Manage server actions (“Drone X just exploded”, “Object Y just spawned a missile”, etc.)
    • Send packets to clients containing everything they need to know to render the game for the next second
  • Physics (aka “Evolve”):
    • Simulate ships/drones/missiles moving around on grid.  Handle bumps/bounces.
  • Post-Tick Work:
    • Clean up, and go to sleep until the next tick.

The goal of the server is for a server tick to run exactly once per second (or, 1 Hz).  If it takes less than a second to do a tick’s work, then everything’s great, and we go to sleep for the rest of the second.  (Or do a tick for another system on the same node.)  But, when it takes longer than that, we have a hard choice to make: either put off some work until the next tick, or come up with more time to process the tick.  And that’s where Time Dilation comes in — it stretches player activity out so that we have several seconds to do one tick’s worth of work.

Does This Mean Eve Is Actually Turn-Based?

Nope!  Quite the opposite, in fact.

Destiny does a lot of work on the tick, but it can do a lot of work outside the tick as well.  When client messages (including “start locking a target” or “turn on a module”) are received by Tranquility, it typically processes them immediately, and will even tell your client the result if it can.  For example:

  • If you’re trying to jump through gate, it will mark you as “jumping through the gate” the instant that it receives the message, and will send back an acknowledgement right away that you’re jumping.  However, everyone else on the grid won’t know that you’ve started jumping until the next server tick.
  • If you activate a turret module, it’ll immediately calculate the damage, and immediately apply it to the target.  It’ll send back a packet right away, telling you, “I activated this module for you.”  However, you won’t receive information about how much damage was dealt until the next tick!  And neither will the target!  Yes, this means you can be dead for up to a second (or up to 10 seconds, in the case of severe TiDi) and not know it yet!

Also, some tasks are completely divorced from the tick and can happen at any time, subject only to the latency between you and TQ.  (For example, starting a scan with probes.)

The most important place where this affects you is a pair of closely related actions: aligning/warping, and locking a target.  In both cases, they get “rounded up” to the next nearest server tick!

Rounding Up: Warping and Locking

The biggest example of rounding happens in align times.  When you click “Warp to X” in the UI, your client immediately sends TQ a message: “Align me to celestial X, and warp me as soon as possible.”  TQ immediately acknowledges this request, and queues up a work item for the next server tick.  At the next server tick, it switches your state from Impulse Mode (normal grid flight) to Pre-Warp Mode.  Then, immediately after that, and for each server tick afterward, it’s going to do this check: “Are you above 75% of max velocity, and in the proper direction?  If so, immediately switch you to In-Warp Mode.  Otherwise, continue to move on grid as needed to align.”

Because the check for 75% is done on the tick, your align time gets effectively ’rounded up’ to the nearest tick — if EFT lists your ship’s align time as 4.5 seconds, the actual time needed to enter warp will vary between 5 and 6 seconds.  If this sounds bad, don’t worry; it’s even worse for a would-be tackler.

Imagine that you’re sitting on a gate, with a warp disruptor “primed” (i.e. pre-activated, before you have a lock).  Something jumps through the gate, and you want to lock it and turn on your point.  You have a 3.5 second lock time, and you have a 75 millisecond latency (aka a 150 ms “ping” time, since pings measure round-trip) between you and Tranquility. [2]  What needs to happen?  In order:

  • TQ processes the tick in which the target decloaks and starts aligning.  It sends a network packet to your client that tells you, “ship X just appeared on grid, and it’s aligning towards Y.”
  • 75 ms later, the “target is decloaked” packet successfully crosses the Internet, and your PC receives the packet, processes it, and the target appears on overview.
  • Your eyes and brain see the ship appear on the overview, and get your finger to click.  Let’s say this takes 150-200 ms to do. [3]
  • Your PC sends a network packet to TQ, saying “please start locking target X.”  Another 75 ms to cross the Internet!
  • TQ receives your “lock it” packet.  It immediately starts counting off lock time, queuing a “finish locking” work item to trigger in exactly 3.5 seconds.  It also immediately sends a packet back, acknowledging that you’re starting to lock.
  • 3.5 seconds later, outside of the tick loop, the work item fires.  TQ says, “Okay, mark down that they’ve marked ship X (for preventing cloak).  At the next tick, tell the client that they’ve successfully locked.”
  • At the next server tick — which could happen instantly after, or could happen up to a second later — TQ sends a packet to your client, saying, “You locked ship X; it has this much HP on shields, armor, and hull.  By the way, it’s still aligning towards Y.”  That packet takes another 75 ms to cross the Internet!  (At the same time, it’s sending a packet to the pilot of X, notifying them of a yellowbox.)
  • Your PC receives the “lock finished” packet.  It sends TQ a packet saying, “OK, activate my warp disruptor module on X.”  Yet another 75 ms to cross the Internet!
  • TQ receives your “tackle it” packet.  It immediately activates the packet, and queues the “You warp scrambled X” message to be delivered at the next tick.

That’s a huge list!  Most importantly, it requires four trips across the Internet between your PC and the server.  At a minimum, it rounds up to the next server tick — and it can be worse if you’re on a high-latency connection. From your 75 ms perspective, it took you four seconds to lock; adding an additional 100 ms of latency would add a full second to your final point activation time, making it a five-second lock!

Practical Application: Instalocking Gatecamps

These rounding effects are particularly painful when it comes to very quick-locking ships, and very quickly-aligning ships. The 1Hz tick of the server produces some nasty thresholds when it comes to gatecamps.  Given the above information, it’s pretty easy to write a tool that plays with delays in server tick and effects of latency to TQ, and simulates ships trying to lock other ships.

Imagine that we have a Keres with two sensor boosters on it, both scripted for scan resolution.  This gives the Keres an advertised lock time for of 1.2 seconds for most interceptors.  For comparison, the official align time for most interceptors is between 1.9 and 3.0 seconds, depending on fit and player SP.  In theory, the Keres should be able to catch all interceptors with plenty of time to spare.  Does it?

In practice, due to latency and server tick rounding, it doesn’t!  The threshold is two seconds; any interceptor with an align time of less than two seconds will get away from the Keres.  (At best, the Keres will appear to lock them, but the point won’t activate before the interceptor can start warp.)

So, let’s look at nano-fit interceptors.  What lock time do we need for the Keres to catch a ship that aligns in 1.9 seconds?  This answer depends a lot on your latency to TQ:

  • With a 100 ms latency to TQ, the Keres needs to be officially able to lock them in less than 0.725 seconds — achievable with three sensor boosters.  And, again, this is highly thresholded; anything below 0.725 seconds will catch everything, and anything equal to or above 0.725 seconds will miss everything (due to the point not activating in time).
  • With a 150 ms latency to TQ, the Keres needs to be able to have an official lock time of under 0.625 seconds to lock and point a 1.9 sec-align interceptor.
  • And so on.  In general, each 50 ms increase in latency to TQ requires a 100 ms (0.1 sec) reduction in lock time to compensate for it.

To put it bluntly, if you want to catch instawarping interceptors, the most important part is living in London!  That, or have a lot of remote sensor boosters — which, unfortunately, are subject to stacking penalties.

Can We Fix This?

Ironically, we can, and not by nerfing interceptor mobility.  Increasing the server tick rate to run twice per second, instead of once per second, completely eliminates most of these distortions — and, far more importantly, it makes playing Eve a much better experience for people on high-ping connections such as Australians / New Zealanders.

The server tick time in TQ is actually a compile time switch; flipping it is as easy as recompiling the server and deploying it.  (And, in fact, this has happened in isolated parts of TQ, during the “inverse TiDi” mechanic of Alliance Tournament.)  However, don’t expect it to happen any time soon.  Doubling the server tick rate means roughly doubling the CPU load for each node.  In a world where Jita regularly has TiDi kicking in just from normal player activity, bumping up the server tick rate is probably a non-starter.

Alternatives include sending “prime my module” packets to the server (to eliminate one of the roundtrips), or varying server tick frequency with load (i.e. Jita/Amarr/Rens is probably just fine with 1Hz ticks, or even 0.5Hz).

1: Can any CCP employees, past or present, ping me and explain how Michelle and Macho got their names?

2: For where I live (northwestern United States), a 150-160 ms ping to TQ is typical.  Australian players can have 300 ms or more.

3: Reaction times (for a simple ‘I saw something, immediately flex a muscle’ response) will vary between 150ms and 200ms, depending on age and mental agility.  If you have to select between two targets and pick one to tackle, your brain’s pattern recognition systems have to kick in, taking 400ms or more.


Modules With A Story: Micro Auxiliary Power Cores (MAPCs)

(This will be a short one; I was planning to do a piece on server ticks today, but I need a few more days to work on an interactive demo for that, as its a slightly tricky topic.)

What is a Micro Auxiliary Power Core, and when should you use it?

There are three general categories of modules in Eve that can increase the power grid on your ship for fitting mods.  All of them consume a fixed amount of CPU, and add grid:

  • The Reactor Control Unit (RCU) increases your power grid by a percentage — +10% for tech-1 modules, +15% for tech-2.
  • The Power Diagnostic System (PDS) increases power grid by a smaller percentage (+5%), but also gives you bonuses to capacitor size, capacitor regeneration rate, and shield size/regen rate.
  • The Micro Auxiliary Power Core (MAPC) increases power grid by a fixed amount: between +10 and +13, depending on meta level.

The distinction between percentage and fixed amount is mainly important for frigates and destroyers.  An Atron has between 37 and 46 MW of power grid to fit modules (varying with skills); a +10% bonus would only yield 3.7 to 4.6 grid, not enough to make a significant difference.  Adding an absolute +10 grid, on the other hand, is a significant improvement.  The same is true for most destroyers.  But once you start working with cruisers, an RCU (or even a PDS) yields dramatically more grid to work with.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re looking for more grid, you should only use MAPCs for frigates and destroyers, and only use RCUs/PDSes for cruisers and larger hulls. [1]

In fact, there are actually very few modules in Eve that add absolute bonuses to a ship attribute/stat, rather than percentage boosts:

  • MAPCs add a fixed amount of power grid.
  • Capacitor batteries add a fixed amount of capacitor.
  • Drone Link Augmentors (and equivalent rigs) add a fixed distance of additional drone control range.
  • Armor plates add a fixed amount of armor HP and mass.
  • Shield extenders add a fixed amount of shield HP and signature radius.
  • Signal amplifiers and auto-target-lockers add a fixed bonus to your max number of target locks.
  • Propulsion modules (both ABs and MWDs) add a fixed penalty to mass.
  • Data/relic rigs add a fixed bonus to virus coherence.

(Most of these absolute boosts are particularly beneficial when used on “undersized” ships — which is why Stabbers with 100MN MWDs are used for bumping, and why cruisers tend to use large shield extenders and 1600mm plates. [2])

MAPCs were the only “Micro” module whose blueprint continued to exist after Red Moon Rising; throughout most of the game’s history, only the plain Tech-1 module and some meta versions were available.  Navy versions were added during the introduction of Faction Warfare in 2008 (as part of the Empyrean Age expansion), and the Tech-2 version was added during Crucible.

1: The one exception to this is when you're flying a shield-tanked frigate with unused low slots.  The PDS is the only low-slot module capable of increasing raw pre-resist shield HP; if you have absolutely nothing better to fit in a low slot, you might consider a PDS.  In practice, there's almost always a better use of that low-slot; the main frigates that use PDSes are shield-tanked tacklers such as the Hyena and Keres.

2: It's also that absolute boosts are generally not subject to stacking penalties.  In fact, RCUs and PDSes are one of the very few modules that are not subject to stacking penalties.


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Interceptor Balance: Risk Versus Reward

Over 17,000 pilots flew an interceptor in combat in the month of May.  (Either because they showed up on a killmail, or because they became one.)  Looking at those pilots, 38% of them didn’t lose a single interceptor in May — if those pilots flew nothing but interceptors, they would have an infinite kill-to-death ratio!

If we dig further into this data, we can select the set of capsuleers with a K:D ratio higher than 10:1 in interceptors; if you check their choices of interceptors to fly, three hulls are used almost exclusively: the Malediction, Crow, and Stiletto.  The Stiletto’s appearance on this list is fairly unremarkable; it’s an extremely popular fleet interceptor, and we discovered earlier (in Wednesday’s post) that it does comparatively little damage in most fights.  However, we also found on Wednesday that the Malediction and Crow do relatively good damage — between 80-95%, on average, of the damage of a “gank” interceptor like the Taranis or Crusader.  That’s odd, and deserves some looking at.

Committing To The Fight

The Taranis, Crusader, and Claw are all extremely high-DPS ships — and they can even be reasonably sturdy.  (Taranises favor reinforced bulkheads after the Kronos changes; Claws typically carry a local armor repairer, and Crusaders typically fit a 200mm plate.)  However, all of them have weapons that encourage engaging at very close range: 1-3km for blaster/AC fits, and 6-8km for railgun/artillery/pulse laser fits.  Fighting at this range exposes them to a lot of danger:

  • It puts them in range of warp scramblers, stasis webs, and medium neuts.  (In the case of blaster/AC fits, it also puts you in range of small neuts and smartbombs.)
  • When orbiting, you can maintain full speed in a large orbit, but tend to lose speed when in tight orbits (subject to your ship’s agility stat) .  This means that you’re more likely to be hit by light drones.

As a result, these close-range ships are forced to commit 100% to a fight; they rarely have an opportunity to escape if things don’t go their way.  Taranises and Crusaders wade into a fight, guns blazing, and don’t leave until at least one party has died.

Rote Kapelle once had a guide to interceptors on their forums, and it had five points that looked roughly like this:

  1. Pick how far away you’re going to engage (i.e. long range vs close range ammo)
  2. Pick how you’re going to avoid damage (i.e. keep-at-range versus orbit).  Set that range.
  3. Burn in.  Press whatever movement key you’ve decided on.
  4. Overheat everything.
  5. Cross fingers.

 

In summary, these hulls present a lot of risk to the pilot, but that risk is balanced by the reward: extremely high DPS for an interceptor.  The Taranis and Crusader are capable of burst DPS that can overwhelm local tanks easily, and take down hulls much larger than themselves.

We can contrast this with the classic tackle interceptors — the Stiletto and Ares — which present a low risk, low reward choice.  These hulls lack the damage bonuses of their counterparts, but get a bonus to the range of warp disruptors and warp scramblers instead, allowing them to tackle at long range.  Both of them typically fit some weapons; however, the hulls have extremely low power grid and a limited numbers of low slots, discouraging long-range weapons or high damage builds.  Their guns/missiles are largely intended for shooting down drones that are chasing them, and potentially defending themselves from other frigates that have successfully warp-scrambled them.  In exchange for that limited utility, they can operate largely risk-free: they’re nimble, and can maintain a point from 30-36km away, well out of the range of most weapons and even heavy neuts.  When orbiting at long distance, they can maintain high speed, meaning that drones have to shift in and out of MWD mode and will struggle to apply damage to them.

The Brave Sir Robin of Interceptors

The Malediction and Crow, however, live in an intermediary area: they are low risk, but moderate DPS.  They’re billed as tackle interceptors, and have the matching bonus to point/scram range; however, they also have bonuses to all missiles, and the grid/cpu to fit light missile launchers.  As a result, they can both tackle at long range, and apply damage at long range.  They aren’t required to close to a hostile ship’s web/scram/neut range, and can fight for a sustained period of time.

This explains why Wednesday’s findings showed Maledictions and Crows with a median damage-dealt value so competitive with the high-damage interceptors: the high-damage interceptors are forced to wade into dangerously close ranges, and have a lifetime measured in seconds.  They output a very high DPS for a short period of time!  The Malediction and Crow, on the other hand, output a moderate amount of DPS for a sustained period of time (due to not being threatened by tackle, neuts, or light drones) and end up putting out a similar amount of damage on each completed kill.  And the player base has certainly figured this out, given that over 90% of Crows and Maledictions are fitted with light missiles.

This is particularly notable given how difficult it is to fit LMLs, since they have high grid/CPU needs.  The general theme for most of Eve’s weapons is that close-range weapons have high damage potential and low fitting requirements, while long-range weapons have a slightly lower damage potential and high fitting requirements.  Fitting LMLs to a Crow or Malediction requires significant compromises in tank and mobility, compared to a rocket-based fit; however, the vast majority of Eve players prefer LMLs.

While the Crow may be more popular, I’d argue that the Malediction has the lower risk-to-reward ratio here.  While it may have much lower damage potential than the Crow, the Malediction compensates for this in two ways:

  • It has four low-slots, giving it room for mobility mods, at least one damage mod, and at least one tank-related module (either a suitcase or a small armor repairer).
  • It’s significantly more mobile than the Crow, and does so with a smaller signature radius (being armor-tanked instead of shield-tanked).

A Malediction with two speed modules is capable of jumping through a gate, aligning to its outbound destination, and entering warp in under two seconds.  Meanwhile, it is tiny enough that even the fastest-locking ships will take one second or longer to lock it.  This means that it’s exceptionally difficult to catch — even if you have a remote-sensor-boosted interceptor or Keres that can lock a frigate in less than a second, you will struggle to activate tackle modules on the ship, because the tackle modules won’t activate until the subsequent server tick after you lock the target.  (I’ve got a blog post on server ticks queued up for next week.)

As a result, Maledictions that are fitted in this way are near-invincible.  They’re only killable by catching them while they’re in the process of killing something (i.e. while the pilot is distracted) or killing them in mid-warp with a smartbombing battleship.

I actually don’t think that this mobility is a bad thing.  I find it quite interesting to have a ship that’s nimble enough to evade instalocking gatecamps, especially when combined with the bubble immunity that’s common to all interceptors.  (In particular, I think the Taranis is excellently balanced against the Enyo.)  However, when you have this functionality AND the ability to put down decent damage from a safe range, things start breaking quickly.

Steps Forward

There’s a fair amount of argument among Eve bloggers that giving bubble immunity, or high mobility, to interceptors was a mistake.  I disagree with this — I think they’re fantastic for running down targets, and for providing an interesting alternative to assault frigates.  However, the long range of Maledictions and Crows is a problem.  Thus:

What if Maledictions and Crows had a bonus to rocket damage only, instead of all missiles?

In this case, LMLs would still be an option to those pilots that desired to fit them; however, their damage on those systems would drop to be comparable with the Stiletto and Ares.  However, they could still fit rockets to get moderate-to-high damage for self-defense versus drones, or for high-risk ganking at scrambler/web range.


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Interceptors Kills/Losses, May 2014

I’ve got a post coming up regarding two of the interceptors; rather than just making a bunch of assumptions, I figured that I’d actually gather some data about how inties are actually being used in Eve.  (I love data!)

Squizz and Karbo are generously allowing people to query the zKillboard database through a JSON API, and I wrote a quick set of Python scripts to pull down all killmails involving interceptors for the month of May, and do some number crunching.  In the end, I got the following spreadsheet:

Interceptor Kills/Losses, May 2014

There are three pages to this spreadsheet.  The first page tracks all killmails where an interceptor died.  The second page tracks all killmails that had at least one interceptor on the attacker list, and marks what system it took place in and what weapons were used.  The third page is the interesting one — it breaks down killmails by the ship class of the victim (i.e. all T1 frigates, all cruisers, all interdictors, etc.) and computes median damage for each interceptor against that class.

There’s a few interesting conclusions to draw, most of which will be no surprise if you do any amount of PvP with, or against, frigates:

  • The Crow is the most popular interceptor, leading the pack in both kills and deaths.  For kills involving interceptors attacking, the Stiletto sits in #2, and the Malediction #3; for interceptors exploding, the Stiletto and Taranis are tied for #2, followed by the Malediction.  Hardly anybody uses the Raptor — or, as it’s better known, the “Craptor”.  While a strict K:D ratio isn’t particularly meaningful here, the Malediction would certainly win at it.
  • Roughly 80% of kills with at least one interceptor on the mail occur in null-sec.  (The Malediction and Crow, however, have a little more popularity in low-sec space.)
  • The Crow and Malediction are primarily being used for damage dealing, as opposed to tackling.  How do we know this? For each engagement in the game, the Eve servers track the last module you activated on the target, and your total damage.  However, if you’re activating a slowly-cycling non-damaging module, such as a warp disruptor, the server may forget your last weapon. In that case, when the target actually and the server assembles a killmail, it will put the name of your interceptor hull as the weapon, which zKB and EveKill treat as “Unknown”.  For most of the interceptors, these unknown weapons account for 30-50% of killmails; however, for the Crow and Malediction, they account for less than 1% of killmails, because their weapons are constantly cycling and applying damage.
  • Crow and Malediction pilots overwhelmingly favor light missiles.  In 92% of killmails where a Crow had a visible weapon, it was a light missile; 88% for the Malediction.  In comparison, the other eight interceptors mainly favor close-to-medium range weapons.  (I consider the artillery Claw to be close-range, since it’s typically aiming for a 10km optimal.)
  • Almost all other interceptor pilots use short-range weapons. The Taranis, Stiletto, and Crusader favor close-range weapons almost exclusively; Claw pilots mostly favor autocannons, although there are a few artillery fits designed to kite in scrambler range with high-damage ammo. Ares and Raptor pilots are split between railguns and blasters, but when they do take railguns, they’re typically 75mm Gatling Rails due to grid or tracking constraints.
  • Breaking it down by target ship, in most cases, the Taranis leads the pack on average damage output (as expected), followed by the Claw and Crusader.  However, the Malediction and Crow are usually right behind them! Why is this remarkable? The Malediction and Crow are billed as the “tackle inties” due to their point range bonus; the other two tackle inties (the Ares and Stiletto) typically do very little damage to their targets, while the “combat inties” (Taranis/Claw/Crusader/Raptor) do not get bonuses to point range.  In fact, for nearly all target classes, the median damage of the Malediction and/or Crow are within 20% or better of the Taranis’ median damage.  Pretty good, especially for a a weapon system that’s good out to 30km, instead of the Taranis’ 1km-optimal blasters or the Claw’s autocannons.
  • In many cases, if at least one interceptor was on a killmail, there was more than one interceptor, and those interceptors did a healthy chunk of damage.  In fact, if you lost a frigate and had an interceptor on your killmail, there’s a 25% chance that you died solely to inties.

Is this data indicating a balance problem? Probably.  The full explanation will come on Friday, once I finish writing it.  :)

In the meantime, the source code for my scripts and the raw output is here, if you’d like to look.  To run the scripts yourself, you’ll need Python 3.4, a copy of the CCP SDE in SQLite3 format from Steve Ronuken, and about 600MB of free disk space for all the killmails.