Tar-Palantir is interested in constructive feedback. It isn’t short – it is typical Tar-Palantir Wall of Text™.
So, get something to drink, put on some music you like, and sit back for a long read.
Just in case you missed the memo about what is triggering this – new Sov System Dev blog.
Tar-Palantir will start out with one important Point of View note since it very much shapes all of his analysis and ideas below. Tar-Palantir started playing Eve because of wars. Not massive 4000 man fights – Asakai actually was of no interest to him. No, the wars. Fighting between parties that spanned months. The logistics, the internal organization, the resource collection, the strategy, the repeated fights, the stakes that make it worth all that effort – that is what Tar-Palantir loves about Eve. Other online games provide PvP – 1st person shooters, tank games, PvP arenas, space ship flight sims. Not interested – don’t really ever play them. No, it is the scope, the big picture, the war that interests Tar-Palantir. It started with following the ASCN war between BoB and ASCN back in 2006 (had RL friends on both sides of that war) and continued through The Great War of 2007, MAX, BoB Sov drop and Delve War II, the IT invasion of Fountain, INIT’s 2010 conquest of Catch, the destruction of the old Northern Coalition by the DRF, Raiden and White Noise vs Goons, TEST vs CFC of 2013, the Halloween War of 2013-2014, etc, etc, etc. As far as Tar-Palantir has found, no other online game offers this. It is unique to Eve. Tar-Palantir is just a foot soldier and scout in wars, but that massive scope and all that goes with it is his passion.
NONE of that is to say that he likes the current current Sov mechanics nor the state of Null-sec politics. He doesn’t like them and could write an equal Wall of Text™ about it, but is not diving into that here. This is focused on the new Sov system proposed. This is a Tar-Palantirian Wall of Text™ – it isn’t short. So it has 3 sections so you can avoid having to read it all.
1 – Summary version of problems with the system (2-5 sentences long each).
2 – Detailed version of the problems with more examples to help see the logic chain (if needed, not every point in the summary section has a detailed version)
3 – Some design ideas/examples from the past Sov systems that are NOT proposals, but good food for thought when designing a Sov system.
The new Sov system appears to have several critical problems with the design. While Tar-Palantir understands where the proposal is coming from, he fears people haven’t considered the full ramifications of the proposals and just how players will actually use them. Now, the proposals are a bit vague on exact mechanics, which is understandable at this stage. However, Tar-Palantir doesn’t feel that exact mechanics can be tweaked to remove all of these problems so believe what follows still stands even if the exact mechanics come out a bit differently than Tar-Palantir’s current assumptions.
1. Attacker has a massive advantage while putting very little at risk. The defender on the other hand has everything at risk. A single attacker in a fast ship can threaten Sov, reinforce stuff in 12-40 minutes, and even take Sov fairly quickly if not stopped. All that the attacker risked was 1 fast ship. No longer do attackers need fleets to at least be a threat (may need them to actually win however). The defender has everything to lose – IHubs, IHub upgrades, Sov indexes, strategic infrastructure. So the defender needs to treat every single neutral or hostile that shows up in local as a threat to Sov. The attacker calls all the shots throughout the entire Sov struggle. Such a tilted scale allows attackers to harass the hell out of Sov holders at low cost/risk and can be done with minimal or no actual fighting.
2. Extreme Blitzkrieg – an attacker can blitz and entire section of Sov space using both a main fighting fleet and small ships that split up and blanket the region. They can reinforce every single system in the region in less than 1 hour. A equally sized defender can react of course, but they have a main combat fleet they need to deal with as well as all the small groups. Unlike the attacker, they don’t know what is happening 1 hour in advance. It is very unlikely they will be able to stop them all fast enough. This then creates a huge timer burden 2 days later when ALL of that stuff comes out. Like with #1 – the attacker hasn’t risked a lot (bunch of fast ships and 1 main line combat fleet) while the defender is looking at possibly losing most of their Sov space 2 days later.
3. The Prime Time vulnerability window is very limiting. Neighbors on different TZs can harass one another (see item #1) but can’t really fight pitched battles/Sov contests. They are invulnerable to one another most of the time. Members of the alliance outside of the Prime Time window can’t really fight for the alliance when it is under attack. They can do some support tasks, but not fight. The time window size can be expanded, but until that window becomes quite long (probably 12 hours-ish), RU TZ alliance and US TZ alliance neighbors can not really fight a Sov war.
4. Removing the Prime Time Vulnerability makes #1 and #2 far, far worse. Suddenly instead of having to guard every system 4 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, the defender has to defend every system 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you are a primarily 1 TZ alliance this is not viable.
5. Range of “painting” and mobility of the “attacking” ship. The T2 mod has a range of 250 km and the attacking ship can still move. While a defender can prevent progress by the attacker by painting the structure with 1 ship as well, the threat isn’t really removed till the the attacker is dead (leaving the system doesn’t really solve the threat either since they can just attack another system). So the attacker can be a threat that has to be countered while taking very little risk himself (back to point #1). While the attacker can’t warp during module cycle, with a 2 minute cycle it is possible to paint, run around/keep range, turn off module, and when the cycle finishes, warp off and come back a bit later or go hit another Sov structure.
6. Alliance with large member bases are very powerful in this new system. They can obliterate smaller powers using their #’s to just swarm surrounding space in a Blitz-like attack. The same numbers help them again in the timers with all the different command site contests. They can do this very rapidly, 1 hour on 1 day to reinforce an entire region, 4-5 hours on the timer day when everything comes out. Their large numbers mean that small attackers can’t really return the favor. They can harass as in #1, but not actually take as long as the large alliance chooses an appropriate amount of space to hold.
7. Alliances can’t take a break from Eve, not even for a day. Christmas? Nope – all your stuff could be reinforced in 1 hour by 40 guys who don’t observe Christmas. Russian alliance that mostly celebrates Eastern Orthodox Easter while the rest of Europe celebrates Easter on a different day? Same problem. Chinese based alliance (there are a few) – similar problem on their unique holidays. The ease and speed at which an attacker can threaten Sov makes what used to comprise a mild annoyance in the past a major threat to Sov.
8. If Sov is very fragile and systems change Sov holders rapidly/frequently (say every few weeks) very few will be willing to invest resources or time into systems they won’t be able to defend. The large alliances can – they have the resources and manpower to be reasonably secure. Their members can risk investment. Any infrastructure investment by small powers is a very risky investment as it can be wiped very rapidly by a larger neighbor. Reductions in investments in infrastructure and assets reduce the incentives to actually risk ships in fighting to defend it.
1. Risk/Resource Imbalance Between Attacker and Defender
The attacker can put close to nothing at risk and threaten Sov by reinforcing stuff. A single ship can threaten Sov. If we interpret the clause “low fitting requirements” to mean “can fit to a frigate”, the attacker can put basically nothing at risk. Now, that single frigate may be easy to drive off if the system is occupied – that is true. However, it doesn’t change the fact that he can threaten your Sov very easily. The current dev blog rules out warping/jumping while the module is active, but not moving. So it sounds like a frigate could run around grid “painting” the Sov structure or command site and alone be a threat to your Sov for which you need to scramble people to counter. So a random group of 10 people in frigates can now tie up your alliance with defending your Sov. If they get completely wiped out – they lose 10 frigates. If they get countered but not killed, they don’t make any progress, but they don’t lose anything other than time, while they tie up all of your defending forces chasing/trying to kill them. If you aren’t able to scramble in 10-50 minutes, you already lost struggle #1 for Sov. To 1 guy with a frigate.
Now a counter to this is… you should have someone in system during your 4 hour window to protect your Sov! Ok, that is part of the design. However, as the system currently works, you may want 3 people per system – one for each structure. Even with that, all you can do is prevent them from making progress. If you only put 1 person in system, he has to run around system figuring out which structure the guy is hitting. If he module cycles after you arrive to defend, he just turns it off, warps off to one of the other 3, and starts on that one. You can solo chase them with your frigate, maybe even get a nice 1 v 1 fight and … now a 1 v 1 fight determines whether a system gets reinforced. Again, 1 guy in a frigate is calling the shots.
Yes, the defender has other options – they can send 5 guys with combat Intys and AFs out to counter the 1 guy and they’ll probably kill him, or at least drive him off. However, the general idea stands – 1 person is a risk to Sov and you as the defender have to treat every single guy in a frigate as a threat to your Sov. If they cycle their “painter” and warp off, they can just move to another system and start over. So you’ll be chasing them around till they finally die.
This same principle then applies to the combat site timers in the next stage. Assuming the attacker eventually found a system the defender doesn’t get to in time, or the defender loses the 1 v 1 fight, you now got to stage 2. That single guy can go racing around “painting” the flags in the command sites. Now, because of your defense bonuses, you’ll be able to beat him without too much effort, but you will have to show up and do it. If the attacker wins a 1 v 1 fight with your guy countering him, you have to scramble more people/replacement ship to prevent lost Sov. More likely, the defender will at least have several people show up. If the 1 attacker is smart, he’ll just go 5 systems over and threaten Sov there. So now you have to defend a new system and these command sites all from 1 guy in a frigate.
This makes harassing the hell out of Sov holders easy. Sov holders will have to have people on duty in every system they hold for the 4 hour Prime Time vulnerability window. Just to prevent people in frigates from generating timers. This seems to take the idea of required occupancy a bit far. You can up the fitting requirements to try and deal with this, but that just moves it to nano-cruisers. Pretty sure it being a BS mod doesn’t fit “low fitting requirements” design principle.
2. Extreme Bliztkrieg
In part due the the above, a decent sized alliance can blitz an entire region in 1 hour for very little cost/risk. Let us say that an alliance can put 250 people in fleet during their prime time. Multiple large alliances are easily capable of this. Their hostile neighbor is roughly the same #, and same TZ. The attacking alliance takes 150 of the group in typical fleet doctrine BS and moves to the main staging/living system of their foes. They besiege the station, threatening Sov and fighting with the defenders – it is their staging system after all. The other 100 guys are in frigates – Intys and AFs likely work best. They split up into 2 man pairs and spread out across the 50 systems in the region. In each system the attacker hits the IHub and Station (if there is no station they can threaten the TCU – but more likely you would threaten only the IHub with the other frigate providing combat cover/protection). Intys can cover a region in minutes with their warp speed and interdiction nullification. You make it a cruiser and above module and the attacker can go nano cruiser or user more expensive and nullified fast warp speed T3’s.
So the defender puts her response fleet together, only having a few minutes warning of a hostile fleet entering their space. Assuming they form up quickly, they are ready to fight in 20 minutes. By now, some system are already reinforced – anything with the lower 1/2 of defense bonus’ to the timers. The other systems are already 1/2 way to being reinforced. They undock and engage the main hostile fleet and a nice fight breaks out. Such BS fights usually take awhile – let us assume 1/2 hour. They utterly destroy the attacking fleet. Their staging system is saved. All 49 other systems they hold are in reinforced. In 2 days time they will have to defend 49 different system with possibly 49-98 timers – each generating 5 combat sites per timer in various nearby systems. Think about that for a second. Most of that was done by 100 guys in frigates. The attacker did risk (and in this case lose) a BS fleet that went to the defenders staging system. In 2 days time, the defender could lose the entire region in 1 large fight even after WINNING the main BS fleet fight during the initial blitz.
That is the extreme “we formed up to defend our staging and couldn’t send someone out to clear other systems” worst case scenario. Let us assume somewhat more favorable events happen. The defender has some small defense squads outside of their main staging system. So those squads move around to systems chasing and killing what frigates they can while the main force forms and fights in the main staging system. Let us assume they are quite successful and in 20-30 minutes time they are able to burn around and kill or drive off 1/2 of the attacking frigates. Ok, now they only have 25 system that could fall in 2 days, each generating 5 command sites per sov structure for a total of 25-50 timers. Again, all the attacker put at risk was one 150 man BS fleet & 100 frigates. The defender could now lose 1/2 of a region in a total of 2 days, all happening in a 1 hour time window.
It gets even more extreme when we come to the reinforcement timers in 2 days. Same parties involved. This time the attacker puts all his effort on 1 system using one 250 man fleet. This system is important to you, but it’s not your staging since you saved that from being reinforced 2 days earlier. If the defender focuses all their people on that system for the fight, you could lose 48 other systems to 1 frigate from a 3rd party wandering around. Or perhaps a 5 frigate squad from allies of the attacker. Nothing major, nothing your intel channels or spies would have warned you about. If you split up your forces, the main fight you are now at a #’s disadvantage. The defender here is looking at potentially losing most/all of their Sov space if they lose that main fight. They can try to do what the attacker did the 1st time, put a smaller fleet in the main fight and have guys run around to save systems. However, they’ll probably lose the main fight then and while they will save some of the systems, suspect they won’t be able to save them all. Also, 3rd parties can easily pick off systems while the two are fighting. The attacker has risked very little – 2 BS fleets and 100 frigates. The attacker has gotten to make all the choices – which systems to hit, when (within the narrow window this is true), with what.
3. Prime Time Vulnerability
That your Sov is only open to attack during a 4 hour “Prime time” vulnerability window is very limiting. It means that for defense purposes, your other TZ players don’t matter for Sov. They are USELESS to defend your space except by raising your indexes by ratting/mining. The one thing they can do (and some people will like this aspect) is they can ATTACK someone else’s space. They don’t have anything to defend (since they aren’t in the 4 hour window) so they are free to go attack others. But when it comes to defending the space they live in, they can’t really help.
Yet, even attacking your neighbors may not work. They have the same Prime Time vulnerability setting. So, let us assume a heavily Russian TZ based alliance lives next to a primarily US TZ based alliance. Each logically set their Prime Time vulnerability windows to their strongest times when they have the most active people. That is intended behavior under the design. Result – those 2 neighbors will NEVER fight a Sov war. For most of the day they can’t even attack each other. They can follow the above idea of sending in frigates to harass the enemy – that still works. Forcing the defender to chase your frigates around for 4 hours. But due to the forces involved, they can’t be serious threats to each other.
To be a viable attacker with this new system, your Alliance needs to have a pretty even TZ coverage. Single TZ/country/language based alliances basically can only fight other alliances with similar TZs (think of Russian alliances, or Chinese speakers, or French, or German, etc). So this really pushes all Sov holding alliances to be very diverse in their membership. TZ coverage is useful with any reinforcement timer system. However, with this system it is a requirement to attack people.
4. Removing Prime Time Vulnerability
If, due to the above problems in #3, you remove the Prime Time vulnerability window and make it either very wide, or removed entirely, the entire system breaks down into a horrible mess. Now you need people in every system 24/7 to prevent a single guy in a frigate from reinforcing stuff in less than 1 hour at very little risk to himself. So now, the only alliances that can hold Sov are those with good TZ coverage on all hours of the day. The Sov system is now completely and utterly broken for a game. Needing guards active in every system 24/7 is a job, not a game.
You can try a tweak where the system is always vulnerable, but the defense timers will come out inside of that 4 hour window. That does give the defender something to work with. However, it still means that a 1 TZ focused alliance can have all their Sov space reinforced by a small number of different TZ guys in frigates in 50 minutes. All the timers may be in that 4 hour window, but you could still have dozens of them (50-100 timers if we use the 50 system example from above). So a small number of guys in 50 minutes on a TZ where your guys are all asleep or at work puts all your Sov holdings at risk and forces your alliance to spend 4 hours running around running command sites. They don’t even need to show up for those timers, they can just do it every 3 days to annoy the hell out of you.
5. Range and Mobility of the Ship “Painting” the Sov Structure
The Dev blog mentions a 250 KM range on the T2 module, and while ships can’t warp or jump while the module is running, they don’t say anything about moving. Assuming “low fitting requirements” means it can fit on a Inty, you can be truly evil and insane in attacking Sov. Fit out an Inty so it can lock out to 150+ km (this can be done with a Crow without too extreme of mods), fit for as much speed as possible with that lock range (implants included). Now orbit said structure at 150+ km at high speed. As the defender you can paint the structure with your own mod to at least prevent them from making progress but that just gets you a stalemate. They can warp away at any 2 minute interval when the module cycles. Or they can just keep orbiting, forcing you to sit there countering them until they decide the leave. You could also call in backup while you sit on the structure painting it to “defend” and have your buddy in a fast Inty try and got out can tackle the guy. If he speed implants and speed bonuses you won’t catch him unless you have the same. This works for the defenders too by the way. The defender can have a single guy in such a max range Inty doing the same thing, tying your 150 man BS fleet in knots, unable to reinforce the system until a single Inty is killed. However, this is harder to pull off for the defender since it requires GETTING there quickly, while the attacker decides when he will show up, and can also decide when he will leave. Defenders don’t have those choices.
This one is actually solvable by making the range of the mod shorter. Perhaps it was just a typo in the dev blog – don’t know. Another possibility is to make the ship immobile, or perhaps unable to use a AB/MWD. That at least decreases the chase insanity.
6. Power In Numbers
Large numbers are very powerful with this system. A large power can blanket a region of smaller powers with ships for 1 hour. Having enough people, they can crush or delay most resistance until many systems are reinforced. Come back 2 days later for 4-5 hours and win most of the contests unless an equally large opponent comes to stop them. The small guy can’t do anything but get = #’s to help them with all the Sov contests. Even if you have a good combat force, with all the different timers that a blitz can create, you need man power that you can spread across all those different command sites.
The large #’s in an alliance help on the defense as well, providing the manpower to crush any threats from smaller powers. A large alliance with a high population density is fairly safe (especially with the Prime Time Window) while being capable of obliterating anyone smaller within frigate or HAC travel range. Large powers have always had advantages, but now they can obliterate smaller powers’ Sov completely in 3 days time with just a few hours of actual work. The attacker can lock the smaller powers out of their stations entirely by coming back for the 2nd set of station timers if they want.
So, having burned down parts of the current proposal, Tar-Palantir is going to lay out some ideas about what a new system should have. These are more general ideas and examples from the past than proposals. They are things that people more inventive than Tar-Palantir can think about when designing a new Sov system. Tar-Palantir will readily admit to not being that imaginative.
Ideas/Examples that are Definitely Not Proposals
A. The attacker needs to be required to put some effort forward and something at risk to attack Sov. Needing only 1 ship means completely disrupts the risk/benefit balance. 1 person can destroy all the benefits of Sov unless the defender is always there in force to protect it. Harassing becomes so easy that attackers do it just to make the defender squirm.
The old POS Sov system required the attacker to come with an actual fleet of some kind. POS can shoot back, so it needed to be a combat fleet. The defender could scramble a few people as POS gunners to put up more of a fight/slow things down while they formed up a counter/response. Fights could evolve. 1 guy in a frigate couldn’t threaten your Sov.
The defender also had a say in how much the attacker had to put at risk. If the defender put in the time and isk, she could have large POS, lots of guns, points, webs, and neuts. However, there was the initial isk cost of those mods, the long hours of setting the damned thing up (longer back then than now), and then the fuel costs of the POS, which back then went up based on the # of online mods. The defender could save herself costs by just putting up unarmed small POS, but then roaming HAC gangs could just reinforce everything. So the 2 sides had decisions to make about the amount of resources put forward. It also allowed a wealthy/well organized alliances to invest heavily to help them fight off much larger but less resource/less organized attackers. They could invest in strong POS infrastructure, organized logistics to support them, good design of the defenses of the POS, and adjust them over time in response to how the attacker attacked.
B. The attacker needs multiple ways to threaten/take Sov. Not multiple mechanics, but rather a mechanic that is open to multiple approaches. The Dominion system is very direct brute force. You must put down SBU, then DPS down these structures, show up for a list of timers and DPS down those structures again. You’ll need to win the fleet fights around those timers. SBUs added a little variety – defenders could either defend the station/IHub or go on the offense and kill the SBU before the attacker could kill/reinforce the IHub/Station. But in practice, it usually wasn’t that interesting.
The old POS system, for all its flaws (it had them) offered the attacker more options. The attacker needed the majority of the POS in system, but there were multiple ways to get this. You could blitzkrieg the system, reinforce everything, pick the best timers from the results, and try and kill enough POS so that you could replace them with yours to get the needed majority. Or, you could ninja-spam POS on open moons and start a race that way with both sides spamming POS to keep majority. Ships spamming POS are vulnerable to attack – far more so than covert haulers uncloaked for a grand total of about 15 seconds when SBUing. POS also need to be fueled and stronted – so interdicting POS fuel shipments was a viable tactic as well.
Timers weren’t hard set – they were based on stront. So the defender and attacker had to make decisions and try to anticipate/manipulate what the opponent did for stront timing. You could attack at an odd hour so their default stront timing was “off”. You could blitz so their stront timers didn’t have time to get there to change stront timing. You could kite POS to force the timers into a different TZ. The Defender on his side could adjust the default timing based on what he though the attacker would do. If the defender expected kiting, he could adjust as such and a kiting attacker would get a nasty disappointment when she finally finished her kiting.
Also, you had more than 1 or 5 timers. There could easily be 20 timers for one system with both sides reinforcing the POS of the other, so both sides could pick and choose which ones mattered most. Fighting daily over a system for a week was not uncommon. The key was it was constant/daily, which is good. It was a war, not a “we’ll show up in 5 days with a massive fleet and win the only timer that really matters, then rep everything”. There are people to this day on both sides of the fight that still fondly remember the December 2007 siege of NOL-M9 in Delve. A week of nearly constant fleet fights all day long across all TZs as both sides struggled to kill POS and take/defend the system Sov. While that is one of the more famous sieges, it isn’t the only one.
Ok, that was long and this isn’t saying we should go back to the old POS system (though, honestly, it is better than this new proposal and better than Dominion was). However, it gives you some of the good stuff in that system that can be used in a new design.
C. The Sov system needs to scale badly. The larger you get, the harder/more effort it takes to hold together. Phoebe already helped here, by restricting rapid movement via teleportation (cap ship jumps, titan bridges, jump bridges). The old POS systems scaled badly. The larger you got, the heavier the burden of the logistics of running all those POS became. Same for distribution of POS gunners and stront timers. While it annoyed the hell out of the major alliances, that was a good thing. Dominion Sov scaled linearly for the most part. You just paid a higher Sov bill, but at the same cost per system. Just be sure to have the isk in the right wallet! The new system also scales badly, so it has that idea. However, for the reasons already listed above, it doesn’t actually work out well. However, this bad scaling is an important consideration in a Sov design.
Scout, tackle, warp-in point, suicide agress, die.
your humble Interceptor pilot
Editor’s Note: Gyrn Fzirth has edited Tar Palantir’s original post to include a few links and images with Tar Palantir’s permission