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Jester’s Trek: A brilliant band-aid

November 18, 2013

Over the next few days, I want to wrap up a whole series of posts on a variety of topics, most of them centered on those last few features of Rubicon that I haven’t yet talked about, plus a few things that came up at our Town Hall meeting on Saturday.

That starts with a question that I was both asked directly recently (twice!) and which also came up in the Town Hall: “What do I think about Time Dilation?” And my position on TiDi is fairly simple: I think it’s a brilliantly designed, brilliantly implemented band-aid that I wish was not necessary to the survival of EVE Online.

Now granted, TiDi is immensely superior to what came before: black screens, unpredictable behavior, massive lag, et cetera. TiDi is better than all of that. No question. But is it introducing its own problems?

If CSM8 Chair Trebor Daehdoow had a law, it would be “Fleets expand to fill the lag available.” Back when TiDi was first introduced to the game, I predicted that it would simultaneously be the best single change ever for the game and the worst piece of garbage ever to be inflicted on the game. These were not incompatible beliefs. Enormous fights are good for EVE Online: they great for the game’s publicity and press, great for marketing and promotion, and contribute to the epic feel of the game. But I also predicted that it would simultaneously increase alliance sizes such that they could put thousands of ships on the field if they wished to attack or defend a position.

Both of those predictions have come to pass: enormous fights have been successfully used for marketing EVE Online and alliances sizes and fight sizes have doubled since TiDi was introduced with no corresponding increase in PCU count. Trebor’s law has been coming to pass: since alliances could put thousands of ships on the field, they have been.

And with these changes, the underlying problem that caused TiDi to be added to the game in the first place is again starting to rear its head. We’ve all now seen TiDi inflicted on us during routine in-game situations. Alliances are now large enough that they can reinforce 15 targets at once across multiple regions and then pick and choose which of those 15 they’re actually going to attack when the timers hit. They’re even big enough to show up to attack more than one of those targets simultaneously if they choose to. That makes asking CCP to reinforce the right systems tricky or impossible. Does the attacker or defender ask for all 15 systems to be reinforced? Even when the node is reinforced, some TiDi happens anyway.

TiDi is a brilliant band-aid and for now, it’s still holding the wound closed. But yeah, we can now see it’s not going to hold forever.

At the Summer Summit, I and other members of the CSM warned CCP Seagull directly that her vision for EVE, while fascinating, promises to create the biggest timer in the history of EVE Online. If a few thousand people wanted to be in Asakai for the fight there, can you imagine how many people are going to want to be in the system to see the first player-constructed stargate brought on-line… or not, depending on how the fight over this goes? I certainly want to be there, and I suspect there will be thousands and thousands of others that will be too, enough to make any prior gathering of players in a single system look like a faction warfare skirmish.

EVE is soon going to need more serious band-aids or — preferably — it’s going to need an architectural redesign at some fundamental level to handle bigger and bigger fights. This isn’t the job of one team; this is soon going to be a challenge facing the entire company.

In the meantime, TiDi is causing problems that couldn’t have been predicted back in 2011. At that time, I wrote:

In order to survive in 0.0, you have to learn, develop, and practice a whole skill-set around managing deficiencies in the so-called “game” you are playing.

And that’s swiftly becoming true around TiDi as well! One of the key components that made the recent live event so deadly for high-sec players, after all, was the fact that the null-sec alliances living around Doril had something like two hours to prepare their kill box… thanks to TiDi. Had TiDi not been a factor, the kill box wouldn’t have been nearly as efficient and the event might well have gone differently.

So now TiDi’s not only impacting the game, it’s creating an all-new meta-game, an emergent game-play mechanic that didn’t exist and couldn’t exist without TiDi! I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the intent. But it’s interesting, don’t you think? Discuss.

– Ripard Teg