Killmail Archivist

EVE Online theorycrafting and history


Missiles in Early Eve, and Cruise Missile Kestrels

If you had the fortune (or misfortune, as it sometimes was) to play Eve shortly after launch, you’d remember that missiles used to be very, very different from today — and different from any other weapon system in the game at the time.

Missile launchers existed in similar varieties and meta-levels as today, but had names that denoted their capacity.  For example, all heavy launchers had a 50m3 capacity for ammo, and all had names starting with H-50.  (For example, “H-50 ‘Arbalest’ Heavy Launcher”.)  Likewise, you had the M-12 Standard Launcher, the A-3 Assault Launcher, S-110 Siege Launcher, and so on.  The crucial difference between those days and today is that any missile launcher could load and fire any ammunition that it could fit in its bay.

For example, a single reload of a plain M-12 Standard Launcher I could hold your choice of:

  • 40 rockets
  • 12 light missiles
  • 2 heavy missiles
  • 1 cruise missile

Regardless of what missile type was loaded in it, it’d fire every 14 seconds before skills.  The same was true for larger launchers; a meta-0 siege launcher could hold 10-20 cruise missiles / torpedoes or 40ish heavy missiles or hundreds of light missiles/rockets, but always fired every 20 seconds before skills.  In general, smaller launchers featured faster firing rates (meaning higher spike DPS) but had less flexibility and more frequent reloads.

Assault launchers were particularly different back then: they had frigate-sized fitting requirements, and were intended to be a midpoint between the standard launchers and the rocket launchers of the era.  The rocket launchers in retail launch and Castor had a tiny capacity and could only fit 3-4 rockets per reload, but had miniscule fitting requirements and fired incredibly fast; assault launchers were roughly in the same space that rocket launchers occupy, with the added bonus of being able to load 4-5 light missiles if you needed to engage at long range.

With missiles working like this — and with the fact that missiles of this era were AOE weapons with splash damage — the dominant frigate of the era was a Kestrel with four standard launchers, loaded with cruise missiles.  Loading cruise missiles meant that they could only fire off a single volley before reloading, but it allowed them to put out extremely high spike damage: A single cruise missile of the era did 300 damage to targets at its center, meaning that a single volley of four cruises was sufficient to one-shot frigates and smaller industrials. [1]  Stow a few lights in the cargohold just in case, and you were good to go!  Needless to say, cruise Kestrels were fantastic for high-sec suicide ganking as well, where they were known as “KamiKestrels.”

Eventually, during the Castor Period, missiles were refactored into the groups that we know and love today.  Some collectors still have Kestrels squirreled away with cruise missiles loaded in their launchers; however, using them in combat is considered an exploit.

1: At this time, all ships had roughly 1/3rd of the base HP that they do today, across all sizes and classes.  CCP would eventually bump up the base HP for all ships during Red Moon Rising, in the interest of making combat take longer and be less brutal; from there, most ships have slowly crept upwards in base HP over repeated rebalances.

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Blog Banter: Understanding How To Fit

Kirith Kodachi’s latest Blog Banter is a topic that’s very close to my heart:

“Obviously that is a not just a bad fit, its horrific. But the guy might not know any better. We get these all the time circulating social media and corp/alliance chat. How do we educate players on fitting? This guy has been playing four months and can fly a BC, but has no idea how to fit one. What could be done to help bro’s like this?

Furthermore, what (if any) responsibility do veterans players have in finding these players and instructing them on the finer arts of ship fitting? If it exists, does it extend beyond them into teaching PvP skills, ISK making skills, market skills, social skills, life skills…

And another question you can think about is this: do purposely wrong fits, aka comedy fits or experimental fits or off-meta fits, offend you or your corp? Would you, like Rixx Javix when he was in Tuskers, face expulsion for fitting your ships differently than the accepted standard?”

Multitasking: It’s Not Just A Skill

I think a large part of this problem originates in a new player’s attitude towards their ship.  Namely, I’ve noticed that new players tend to identify with their ship in a way that older players don’t.  A new player might say “I’m a Drake pilot” or “I’m a Hulk pilot,” where a veteran pilot would just see ships as merely a tool to be used.

This is one of the reasons that we tend to see ships out there attempting to multitask — that is, to have a mix of short and long range, to have utility modules like probes and data/relic analyzers, to mix shields and armor, and so on.  These new players are attached to their ships, especially if it’s the first ship they’ve ever flown in a given class.  They’ve scrimped and saved for that ship, and they probably only have one of them; they’re going to use them for everything!  (Plus, they want to feel like they’re progressing in the game by moving to ever-larger ships.)

Having more than one ship, each fit for a different purpose, requires lots of spare isk — an amount that boggles the newbie mind.  So, instead, they have one ship, and they try to fit it to do everything they’ve seen in the game… and die horribly.

That’s the first issue: You have to teach new players to break that temptation to multitask, and help them build up an early supply of ISK that allows them to afford to specialize.  Nosy Gamer was close to this when he described older players keeping spare ships as a form of “pre-paying the death penalty“; new players get attached to specific hulls precisely because they haven’t done this, and they don’t think of a ship as a canvas with which to create utility and specialization.

Once you can get a player thinking in terms of specialization, they’ll automatically avoid some of the worst sins of poor fitting.  They’re less likely to mix weapons, less likely to dual-tank, and so on.  That little bit of mindset goes a long way.  Not all the way, though…

No, We Don’t Really Need EFT In The Game

A few of the early responders to the blog banter have proposed implementing an equivalent to an offline fitting tool (EFT/PyFa/EveHQ) directly in the game.  This would be a nice feature; however, adding it wouldn’t really solve the problem of bad fits.  After all, BattleClinic’s fitting section is full of the wreckage of terrible fits that were lovingly handcrafted in EFT!

Fitting tools, whether offline or in-game, are fantastic for comparing the performance of different fits, and for experimenting with small subtle changes before you go on a Jita shopping trip.  However, neither of them really guide you on how to create a fit; they’re just a drawing board!  When an experienced player creates a fit for a ship, there’s a mental process that they go through:

  • Picking a role for the ship
  • Determining what modules are 100% necessary for that role (i.e. “I need a scrambler, I need a MWD, I need at least 300dps”)
  • Getting those modules to fit
  • Filling in the gaps (i.e. “I have two spare lows after meeting my core roles; I’m a bit thin, so let’s add a suitcase.  I’m a bit slow, so let’s add an overdrive.  I have a spare mid; should I put in a web, a TD, or an injector?  Maybe I’ll skip on the injector, and fit a nos instead?  etc.”)

Giving new players the ability to replicate that mental process is the real meat in the center of the fitting nut.  Everything else is just tiny tweaks and mechanics.

I’d actually love to see a section of the new player tutorial that guides people through coming up with a fit for a ship, comparing modules, and fitting up the ship.  Barring that, Von Keigai has a great idea on having a fitting “checker” that scans your ship for a list of venial sins, and I’d love to see this feature added to Eve.  (I’d add one more entry to his list of sins: Players should get a big red flashing warning if they’re less than 6 months old and attempt to undock a ship with an officer module fitted.)

Alliance Doctrines

That said, any alliance worth its salt will have a doctrine — a set of pre-approved ship fits to use.  A standard doctrines have a couple purposes, such as simplifying logistics and training programs; however, the most important tool they serve is allowing an FC to create a checklist of ships to have, and be able to figure out their ability to gank and tank with just basic multiplication.  For example: “I know that our doctrine Drake does between 450 and 600 dps, depending on pilot skill.  Therefore, if we have ten Drakes in fleet, I know that I’ve got 4500-6000 dps.”

The double-edge sword of a doctrine is that players can fit up a doctrine-compliant ship and contribute to a fleet without understanding what makes that fit good (or bad).  And, unfortunately, understanding doctrines is crucial: it’s important for making new players into vets, and it’s important for keeping alliances relevant.  Doctrines get stale if they’re not constantly questioned and improved.  Also, many alliances’ doctrinal fits are great for large-fleet PvP, but are not suitable for soloing or missioning or exploration; players need fits for these roles as well.

Doctrines are a useful tool, but you have to make sure that your players understand the purpose of the doctrine, and be willing to debate on changes to them, and be capable of living outside of doctrine when they’re not in fleet.

The same mechanisms of teaching people mechanics and thought processes can be done for anything: market trading, wormhole running, optimizing mining, optimizing level 4 mission running, or even out-of-game life skills.  If your alliance isn’t full of players teaching each other, you’re in a bad alliance.

Oddball Fits

Are you kidding?  My main claim to fame is a PvP video where I exclusively fly combat-fit covert ops ships.  (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition… or a Buzzard with rockets, scram, web, and two TDs.)

Creativity, surprise, and the threat of the unexpected is what keeps this game interesting.  And if you fail, the only thing lost is the isk in your ship.  If your alliance truly cares about that, you’re probably in a shitty alliance.  Boredom is the universal killer of alliances in Eve; keeping your players logged in and entertained is far more important than keeping your stupid killboard green.

If you have a rank newbie who is flying bad fits because they don’t know any better, then help them.  Teach them how to fit competently, teach them how to think about ships as tools, and make the newbie into a vet.  But if you’ve got a bored veteran who wants to try killing canflippers using a tackle-fit miner, or wants to go welp dual-rep battleships into the local gate camp, or go solo roaming in faction cruisers?  Let them.  Whether they win or lose, you’re letting them build a story that they’ll tell for years, and you’re keeping them interested in Eve.

So, here’s an action item for you readers: Next time you see a killmail that’s an obvious shitfit, go ahead and laugh for a bit — and then convo the pilot.  Ask them if they understand why they’re suboptimal.  Explain.  Teach.  Help that pilot become better.  It doesn’t take long, and it means they’re more likely to keep playing the game… even if that means that you get an opportunity to kill them again.  :)


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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.


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Missing Skills: Black Market Trading

If you poke around EveBoard’s list of the characters in Eve with the highest SP, you’ll notice that a few pilots have some skills trained that aren’t found on the Market.  Where did these skills come from?

In many cases, these are skills that were added for an upcoming feature and made available early (through market seeding, agent LP rewards, or NPC pirate drop tables), only to have that feature canceled.  CCP would stop seeding the skillbooks on the market, but any of the already-purchased skillbooks in people’s inventories would remain.  If you had already injected the skillbook and trained it up early, the SP would stay in your head, forever useless. [1]

After their cancellation, skillbooks for these lost skills would occasionally show up on Contracts for huge prices, catering to collectors, but are otherwise not widely available.  CCP even makes a nod to collectors for some of them: the description of Astronautic Engineering, should you find one of those rare skillbooks, will read: “Skill and knowledge of Astronautics and its use in the development of advanced technology.  This skill has no practical application for capsuleers, and proficiency in its use conveys little more than bragging rights.  Can not be trained on Trial Accounts.”  Out of the 6.7M players currently being tracked by EveBoard, only 143 characters have this skill — bragging rights, indeed!

Some of these skillbooks eventually get removed from the game entirely: for example, Mobile Factory Operation and Mobile Refinery Operation have been marked in the Eve item database as “unpublished,” and will no longer appear in-game in Market or Contracts searches.  But, the skillbooks definitely existed in the past, and were being traded for billions of isk each, as late as 2010.

However, there’s three of these lost skills that are particularly special: they never had skillbooks created for them in the first place! They are:

  • Genetic Engineering
  • Mnemonics
  • Black Market Trading

The first two of these skills, if you were lucky enough to have them, were removed from all character sheets (and their SP refunded) during the Crucible expansion.  However, the Black Market Trading skill can still be found in some players’ sheets.  How did you get these skills?

These three skills were obtained during the old character creation system.  Today, when you create a new character, you always start with the same balanced attributes, and eleven skills: the appropriate turret skill and frigate skill for your chosen race, and nine common basic skills.  But, this wasn’t always the case.  Character creation used to completely and totally suck:

  • Your choice of character race, family, and occupation determined your base training attributes; certain races would learn skills faster than others, in certain fields.  This is why, in Eveboard’s global ranking, the vast majority of the highest-SP characters are either Gallente Intaki Reborn or one of the Caldari Deteis — they had the highest Perception score, which is used in the most skills.
  • Your choice of occupation would also determine what skills you started with.  Not only was there a wide variation of starting skills, but some skills were worth more SP than others — a character could start the game with as little as 6,000 SP, or as high as 300,000 SP, depending on their choices.
  • No matter what you picked, you were pretty much useless at the start of your Eve career.  Today’s “ten days to get into a competent PvP Catalyst” simply wasn’t happening back then.  On top of that, you had learning skills to do first!  (Eve used to have meta-skills that gave you permanently higher attribute points, making all other subsequent training faster: the first order of business on any newly rolled character was training up those skills to 5.)

If you think Eve is unfriendly to newbies today, then trust me — it used to be much worse.

So, when your choice of race/family/occupation determined your starting skills, some of those combinations included unique skills that could only be received on birth.  Black Market Trading, the only one to still exist, was obtained by rolling a Minmatar Vherokior Retailer.  There is no other way to obtain this skill: you need to have a character of that combination, created prior to the character creation revamp in late 2006.

What does Black Market Trading do?  Officially, the skill description states that it reduces the chance for high-sec Customs Agent NPCs to detect contraband — boosters, and certain roleplay / mission items such as the Khumaak — in your cargohold.

BMT in game, on one of Nam's cyno alts.

However, repeated testing indicates that the skill is broken (or never implemented) and doesn’t actually affect the game.  So, it remains simply a memento of how much better Eve is today, and a good story to tell.

1: Sometimes, forever is a short time.  For many years, Salvage Drone Operation was one of these canceled skills; when CCP eventually implemented them, nearly five years later, they simply reused the existing apocryphal skill, and started seeding the books again.