Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Career Paths, Starting Out, and What Am I Supposed to Do?

How does one start out playing EvE these days? I has been about three years since I last had to think about that. It seems like a lot longer to be honest. It is so far back in the cobwebs of my character's history that I honestly cannot remember what started me out wanting to play. To me Eve is a very content-dense game and I have been around and done so much that can't really remember the early days. I know I mined a lot, in a Navitas. Enough about me.

Something that I have come across in my travels is the masses of new players in the starter systems crying out: "I did the career missions. What now?" Eve is just so enormous that new players encounter face-first the paralysis of choice. This is one of the major problems with Eve, but it is also its strongest selling point.

What draws new players to this Terrible Game (TM)? To being my quest for this answer I began with the main website for Eve Online. www.eveonline.com Things have really changed a lot on the front-page since I was last here. Usually I only navigate here when I need my API key or I want to check out a Dev Blog; and usually the google search brings up the relevant page directly. They have really added a lot of neat content that does fairly well at trying to condense the immense amount of information that is Eve. There are a ton of hyperlinked pages and the inclusion of the interactive 3D maps are really nice. Buried in here are links to the wiki, the forums, and CCP's attempt at a FAQ. Most interesting to me was their attempt at a division of activities into "careers" that players can read up on. There is even a "personality test" that will ask you a series of questions before it displays one of the career paths that the player could like. These career paths are somewhat mirrored in the starting agents located in the beginner systems. Business, Exploration, Military, Advanced Military; but like all of Eve's quests they only provide a minimal introduction to a universe that is staggeringly enormous to a new player fresh out of Start Trek Online or WoW. Still even though these starting missions are better than they were when I started, they could be better. That is a discussion for another time though.

This abundance of information is helpful and all, but I still constantly see confused newbies flying about in their frigates and destroyers going: "What now?" Thinking about it some more I realized that there remains a disconnect between showing new players the beginnings of the game and transitioning them to the point where they create their own paths. Creating ones own path is really what Eve Online is about once you get to the meat of the topic. Yeah, the cookie-cutter "careers" are nice and probably provide a good launch-point; but it is that next step, that hook that sets in your cheek and you cannot get away, that will keep you logging in. For no reason was the saying created: "People never leave Eve, they just take breaks." It is very true.

In an attempt to try and provide at least more information and background to these starter careers I have made an attempt to try and inform players, new and old alike, what to expect and provided generalized paths to follow. These pieces will not be guides per-se, rather my goal was to try and provide a little more direction for a few of the "paths" that are available, show how each path plays its own unique part, and attempt to link each one to the rest. Eve is a game without a built-in win condition defined by the developers. Rather it relies on the players themselves to create their own win-conditions and working out a plan to achieve them. This is a concept that a lot of the new players, and even older players who are in-between goals (bitter-vets), struggle with as primarily win-conditions are spoon-fed left and right by just about every other game on the market.

I will be dedicating the next several posts to each of these "careers" that CCP has developed and go through their core functions, main features, and in general provide a wall of text that explains in depth: progression routes, ways and means, pitfalls to watch out for. But  most importantly - reminding you to have fun.

1) Miner (CCP)
2) Planetary Industrialist (CCP)
3) Salvager (CCP)
4) Explorer (CCP)
5) Manufacturer (CCP)
6) Trader (CCP)
7) Freedom Fighter (CCP)
8) Loyalist (CCP)
9) Bounty Hunter (CCP)
10) Empire Builder (CCP)
11) Pirate (CCP)
13) Fleet Commander (CCP)
14) Player-developed Careers

Friday, August 1, 2014

Mineral Balance in EvE

Ores, Minerals, and the Mining Industry compose the backbone of the EvE economy. That is one of the primary draws of the game for a large subset of the player base; as just about everything in terms of modules and ships have existed at some point as minerals tucked away inside of the silent asteroids that float in space. Those rare times when a capsuleer takes a moment for quiet reflection in the silent expanses of space are prime opportunities to reflect on the enormity of the entire process. From asteroids to minerals to ships for Tech I items; and asteroids to minerals to ships, with moons to goo to intermediate composites to advanced composites to components, all together to Tech II ships and items. It is quite an extensive process.

Material shortages are perhaps the most likely wrench to be thrown into the complicated machinery that is the manufacturing process. Good game balance would dictate that there would be enough of the raw materials to ensure that this manufacturing cycle is:
1) Possible, such that all raw materials are available to the players

2) Available in sufficient quantities relative to consumption demand. Thus there is not 900% availability of one raw material relative to the rest.

Raw materials should of course not be plentiful to the point of wasteful surplus. That is something that gets balanced early on in game development, that way your players have to spend a representative amount of time working through whichever part of the process that interests them. It all comes down to amount of time playing and subsequent subscription duration for monthly fee-based games.

Ok, now that all the background is out of the way here is my concern. Currently there appears to be a mineral availability mis-match when it comes to the reprocessing values of the asteroids; which are the prime method for mineral availability. Take a look at the graph below:

The above chart shows the amounts of minerals that are available from refining all the ores. It was created by making a table of all of the Ores in EvE, with their individual refine values per mineral, and summing each column for the respective mineral (Tritanium column, Pyerite column, etc). This chart looks a little wonky doesn't it? There appears to be a huge plateau once you start mining rocks that give Isogen and rarer! The first question that springs to mind is: "Is this greater mineral availability reflected in the mineral demands of the items that players build?" Let us check and see. 
Well, this is interesting..... There is no sharp knee in the graphed data for ship mineral requirements. This graph was created by plotting the average mineral requirement per mineral by ship class. E.X: average of all cruiser Tritanium requirements, all battleship Isogen requirements, etc. The astute reader will notice that the Y-Axis scales are different between the two graphs, so let me take one moment and present the data together on a single graph. 

Well, would you look at that. It seems that there should be a huge glut of the high-end ores out on the market! Is this a result of the recent Crius patch where all the refine and reprocess values were monkey'd with by CCP? Before we can go down that road, let us make sure that there isn't some large market-group that is consuming all these high-end minerals. 

Capital Parts?
Nope, Does not look like it. Though I find it extremely interesting that the capital parts and cruisers essentially line up!

Nope, A quick glance at ammunition BPOs shows that just about every type and flavor only requires Isogen and lower with only a few like cruise missiles needing 2 or 4 Zydrine. I know that Drug Manufacture consumes Megacyte but I am confident that that market is not THAT large. 

Wait a moment...... What about the actual process of acquiring the raw ores? What if CCP balanced against the amounts that are feasible/possible for a player to mine? So, for the purpose of argument lets work with this fairly decent alt pilot that I have, called David. David is pretty much your run-of-the-mill mining hulk-alt; ~10 mil SP, with 3.5 mil in resource processing, 2 mil in spaceship command, 2 mil in Neural enhancement and shields, and the rest in various other categories. He uses a Hulk with Tech II strip miners and Tech II crystals for HS ores and Tech I crystals for NS ores. Unbonused, just sitting in station, each strip miner pulls in ~1050 m3 of ore per cycle. Adding all that information to my spreadsheet, and calculating the VOLUME of ore that he can mine per cycle for three strip miners results in the graph below. 

Now this is really interesting! That purple line there represents the quantity of minerals, analogous to the first chart in this post, but adjusted for mining volumes for an average player. So not only is the mineral availability in EvE balanced to provide the necessary minerals for all production, it is also balanced with respect to player skills. The only real stat that gets changed as the player gets more skills (and of course the capability to use the higher meta-level items) is the volume of ore that is mined each cycle. This increase in mined ore will preferentially bonus the larger-volume ores like Isogen, Nocxium, and greater. The slight deviation in the slope of the adjusted mineral line most likely covers all the extraneous high-end mineral requirements from such items as boosters, various ships, and various ammo types. 

Originally I started writing this post as a means to say: "Hey! You guys broke something with minerals in the Crius patch!" Yet, as I delved deeper into the problem I eventually found the solution. So this isn't the "WTF CCP?" post that I intended. Since I had already expended all this effort to do the work I figured I would post it as a: "Nicely done CCP" golf-clap sort of thing. Plus it is an interesting topic to industrialists like myself and perhaps someone else out there would enjoy reading it. 

(Apologies to the readers for the completely unacceptable graph formatting, Google sheets needs to be better)