Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Grind, part 3

Ambry walked into the hangar early that morning, finishing the process of tying her shoulder-length dark hair out of the way. She didn't expect the captain to be there at this time of the day -- the captain, in fact, hadn't gone near the ship in four days. Four? She counted; yes, four days. But that didn't mean Ambry, or the rest of the crew, should relax in their work. There was always something to be done, and should the captain suddenly require the vessel, they would all need to be ready.

The crew chief worried, quietly, about their captain. A reasonable and bright young thing, and remarkably personable for a podder. But she didn't seem to be dealing well with things. She'd spent more time staring moodily at the Vexor or jumping clones to lowsec than she had in space. The crew didn't care -- they got paid no matter the situation -- but Ambry worried.

And clone-jumping... She shuddered. Why anyone would put their body into cold-storage and then entrust the very core of who they were to FTL transmission relays, waking up in a new body elsewhere.... What if the packet was corrupted along the way? Would they forget things? Gain or lose bits of their personality? It was all too unpredictable for her; but then, she supposed that was why it took just a bit of insanity aongside the long years of intensive training to become a capsule pilot.

There was a message waiting for her when she reached her office near the heart of the ship, the blue alert light blinking cheerfully as the room lights came up. She settled into her chair before reading, then sat back with a thoughtful frown. This wasn't entirely unexpected.

Tapping a command into the console, she brought up the audio system and leaned forward to speak into the receiver.

'Attention all personnel, this is Crew Chief Koll. Prepare the ship for long storage and report to InterBus port 113 by 2200 for transit back to Empire space.'


'Hello, Captain Tiann. Back again, are we? Vat A-32 is available. Which link shall I establish today, Barleguet or Vitrauze?'

'Vitrauze, Mr Nirraen. Send me home.'

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Where Have All the Pirates Gone?

...I find I'm asking myself this more and more as I read the blogs of my fellow pilots in crime.

Many are getting in on the action in nullsec right now. A few have gone mercenary. So many of us are cleaning up our acts for various reasons. Is it a sea-change, the inevitable ebb and flow of ingame life? A year is a long time in Eve; hell, things can turn from black to white in less than a week in this game, alliances broken and remade quickly for the most unpredictable reasons.

I have to say, I think the ones who went where the fighting is are in better condition than the members of HellFleet; the urge to kill is being thwarted frustratingly by the need to keep security status up, and the moans and complaints are amusing.

Eve gameplay has changed a lot in the two and a half years since I paid for my account before my trial period ended. The average online population has doubled. More players means space is more crowded, less quiet. It becomes necessary to modify one's strategies and style in order to not be overwhelmed or left behind.

I don't think Eve piracy is dead, or even dying. It's changing, and that means the rest of us need to change. Some seem to be simply taking a break, getting new experience as a change of pace. Others continue as they have, forging friendships to deal with the more difficult situations.

To each and every one of my fellow pirates, or former pirates, I say this, with a wink and a knowing smile:

You'll be back.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

Hmph. Right.

I'm going to take a little break here and talk about something that's become kind of a big deal with me recently. I say 'kind of' because it's not something I would ordinarily do in Eve had I not a very good reason for it.

Now, let us postulate that you live in a very strange part of the world, and that you've been a street thug for years. You've never been caught, and your activites of stealing, murdering and shaking down hapless passers-by for coin have made you a wealthy, wealthy man (or woman, if you prefer; I tend to use 'man' as a catchall). People know you. It's pretty obvious to anyone what you do. Except that now you want to operate in a different part of your city where the police are tougher, and the rules are more stringent. In order to even get into that part of they city, you need to atone for your sins, as it were, and make up for your years of thievery in the eyes of the authorities.

Now, tell me: which of the following methods seems least realistic?
A) Bribing a contact to hack the system and clean up your record
B) Bribing the authorities to clear your record
C) Doing crappy unpaid piecework for someone important in order to get their 'word of honour' that you've cleaned up your act
D) Going out into the lawless regions and playing vigilante for a few weeks

After a week or two of very lazy sec-grinding -- yeah, lazy, I'm at -8.5 because it is SO dull and SO boring that there are days where I just cannot be arsed undocking -- I've realised that the CONCORD standings system makes very little sense. You spend years as an outlaw, and then go to a place where there are no sec-drops and kill NPCs for a couple weeks and come up smelling like roses. It's dull work, yes, but there ought to be more to it. The cost needs to be higher.

Case in point: I'm back up over a billion ISK in Shae's wallet. I'm being paid grandly for this. Now, I get that it's from pirate bounties, but if CONCORD's DED is in control of that, could they not simply deny payment to those with outlaw status? It's not like the outlaws could go waltzing into their highsec offices to beat the money out of the officers there, after all. Have you tried to get into Yulai as an outlaw? Well, sure, you can get in; getting out with your ship intact is a different matter entirely. You can't just dock up, either, because the stations won't let you in. Tough cookies.

It boggles the mind that CONCORD will not penalise you for other players killed in nullsec, yet will grant a full standings boost for every NPC you pop. Lawless means lawless: there shouldn't be any security changes down there. End of story.

But that means that you'd need an alternate way of boosting your standings, doesn't it? Hmm. Not many people are thrilled at the idea of ratting in lowsec. Knowing lowsec the way I do, neither am I. I have actually ratted there (shhhhhh, on an alt; I was introducing a friend to lowsec) but the lesser rewards mean it'd take much longer to raise standings out of the gutter.

Maybe the DED should have agents in nullsec, offering gruelling mission arcs. Only available to outlaws, situations CONCORD either doesn't have the strength to deal with or doesn't want to be seen getting involved in. Minimal pay, if any at all, but massive standings bonuses and the opportunity to pick up a piece or two of faction gear, similar to the Empire arcs. By the time you finish an arc, your standings are back up to -4, leaving you to figure out the rest yourself.

Sound good? It would certainly relieve the monotony of ratting sec up, add a bit more to Eve's massive background... and the risk would still be there, because you never know when the next branch will send you into a hot system. Give it the Sleeper AI so the difficulty scales with the type of ship -- or ships, if there's a group of you -- you bring in, and you're sorted.

Ah, but who am I to suggest such things? I'm one of the ones the current system is designed to punish for my predations on the community, after all.

*Returns to popping red crosses*

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The Grind, part 2

It sat there gleaming greenish chrome, bobbing gently in the antigrav field, looking for all the world like an oversized hand-held hair-dryer. In the gloom of the hangar, it might have been sitting deep underwater, and not for the first time I cursed the Federation's decorative aesthetics. Gallente-designed stations never flatter the ships on display.

I tugged the silken sheet closer around my shoulders. I'd only felt like curling up and waiting for the world to go away, but my brain wouldn't let me sleep. In the end, I'd opted for taking the sheet with me to sit on the floor of my suite's living-room in front of the massive floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the hangar.

The view wasn't particularly thrilling. Normally, I could look out there and see the Switchblade or the Geiger adrift at dock and smile at the memories and the possibilities. But the Handbasket was the most uninspiring view I'd ever seen. It even beat the Dominix I'd owned for a few short days; and I'd thought that had been ugly.

Maybe it was because of what she stood for: hours spent bouncing from belt to belt in search of a Serpentis battleship to pop. The most mind-numbing, soul-destroying experience short of being almost entirely trapped in that one system full of reds when my last corp fell apart.

Maybe I ought to rename the ship, but being in hell with the Handbasket tweaked the poetic side of my brain.

After all the suggestions people had made as to how to improve my nullsec experience, I'd sent an order for new modules and ammo to a friend. I told myself I was waiting for the new gear, but I knew I was simply making excuses to not get back in the pod and lose more of my sanity in the emptiness of Syndicate space.

What made me truly reluctant was the knowledge that, once I raised my sec up, I would indeed have to do this regularly if I wanted to continue to roam lowsec in between alliance highsec operations. Was it worth it?

I let myself flop back onto the carpet, folding one arm under my head, and stared at the arched ceiling. Was it, indeed?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Grind

'I want to make this clear: I'm only accepting volunteers for this. If you don't want to go, don't sign up for it. It'll be long dull hours, and there may be times where we don't dock up for a day or two. If you're not opposed to that... great to have you.'

I watched as the assembled crews filtered out of the room, muttering amongst themselves. The operation I'd just revealed to them was almost as far from the usual as it could be without me fitting mining lasers on a ship.

Hell, I don't even own any mining lasers.

Someone cleared their throat politely at my shoulder, and I turned to give a nod to Ambry Koll, the woman I'd hired as crew chief for the Vexor I'd playfully nicknamed Handbasket. She had better experience dealing with the challenges where we were headed than most of my regulars, and had jumped right into helping me prep the ship for action.

'It's pretty obvious to the crew that you're not thrilled about this. Care to talk?' She looked at me with serious blue eyes, and I sighed.

'Sure. C'mon into my office.'

I held the door open for her and gestured towards the couch as I went to the back to obtain cups of coffee.

'To answer your unspoken question: No, I'm not eager to do this, but it's for a good reason.' I set the cups down on the low table and dropped onto the couch beside her. 'I'm not comfortable in nullsec. I've lost too many ships and crews there to really want to go back, even for such a brief period this will be.'

Ambry simply nodded and blew lightly over the top of her drink before sipping. I inhaled sharply through my nose, then leaned forward, scrubbing a hand over my face. 'I've been an outlaw for nearly two years. This should tell you that what we'll be doing down there is not what I normally do. Shooting Serpentis to improve my ratings with CONCORD? I barely know where to begin. I'm too used to the challenge of engaging other capsuleers.'

'Well...' She paused, looking thoughtful. 'I can tell you that hunting nullsec pirates has its own challenges.'

'You mean avoiding being caught.'

'No, I mean getting into engagements where you're outnumbered and outgunned and bouncing off the rocks they've manoeuvred into. They do that, if they've their wits about them. Many a pilot has lost their ship because they got stuck and scrammed and couldn't rep fast enough. It's a different world, but don't go thinking of it as easy.'

I cupped my mug in my hands, enjoying the warmth against my palms. The taller woman was regarding me seriously, and I believed her. 'I always figured the hardest part about this would be getting in and out.'

Snorting, she shook her head. 'Difficult in different ways. Serpentis are wary of you podders, but don't get me wrong: they're not cowards. And they want you alive. You have tech and knowledge they could use, and they will try to take it. These boys won't be out for easy kills the way their underlings in highsec are. You're asking your crews to go into a situation where they are more likely to be captured, tortured, maybe conscripted, perhaps killed, if you lose your ship. The Syndicate is slow to send out rescue teams.'

Thoughtfully, I stared through the steam rising from the surface of my drink. 'What do you advise, then?'

'I advise you to stay focussed out there. But I'm telling you to show more confidence to your crew about this. They need to know you won't let them die.'

I shook my head. 'I have no intention of letting that happen.'

'You better not.' She was smiling, despite the threat implied in her words. I smiled back and took a swallow of coffee.

'I have no reason to believe that you'd put any of us into unnecessary danger, Captain. So let's go make CONCORD believe you've cleaned up your act, huh?'


Drifting somewhere between planets, watching the armour-repper tick over, I realised how right Ambry had been. Twenty-three percent armour left, one Rear Admiral down, and his support flotilla extremely pissed off that I'd popped their scrambler ship and escaped. Fun for the whole family. The crews were at work patching the nicks two of my Hammerheads had received when the smaller support had unexpectedly swapped targets, and I mused that while I probably had a better chance surviving out here, it was a rougher life than I was accustomed to.

-9.36. Such a long way to go, still.