Friday, 10 August 2012

Day 54: Sandbox

The Mining Barge changes are out, I’m off to experiment. I find that not only has the yield of the Retriever been boosted for my skills but that I can also boost it further with three Mining Laser Upgrades that for some reason I couldn't fit before. This is on top of the fact that the ore bay falls just short of the massive storage capability of a jet can. As I predicted it feels odd not using the stationary cans I threaded along the belt. I fill them anyway just for old times sake. They may still come in handy if I decide to get the next largest Mining Barge which has a higher yield potential and yet a smaller ore bay.
 While mining, worrying about mineral and ore prices falling and yet grinning as I chew through the belt without trying, I read some blogs. There is a post up by Mabrick discussing the sandbox nature of EVE and whether it is a good thing or not.
Mabrick is interested in the initial thoughts of a new player to EVE who regards the start of EVE as a solo player game, and a response to that post that makes the sandbox nature of EVE seem like an obstacle to new players. I don’t think I have enough experience of EVE, yet, to argue a position but I can give the view of a newcomer.
Like the author of the initial post that caught the eye of Mabrick, I too was a massive fan of Elite, the old wireframe graphics space trading game. I’ve mentioned it before in this blog. I’m reminded of it constantly in game, particularly when switching to Tactical view. The author goes on to post some pictures of his Catalyst destroyer, the one I wittered on about so much and described as being like an interstellar version of a WWII bomber. It is still my favourite ship though I’ve come to love them all in one way or another and will often fly them for no purpose other than to fly them and compare the feel of handling. Admittedly I’m doing the latter bit as part of a self training exercise for later combat. Some combat skills are real outside the game, some are just bonuses learned by your character inside the game.
Anyway, the first point was that CCP the makers of EVE have been pushing the social aspect of EVE and that this new player didn’t think he needed it to get along at the start. I agree. You don’t need the social aspect at the start. If this was your first MMO then it might even be a distraction - just another skill to learn in order to play. I wasn't new to MMO's, I was straight into the Rookie chat channel and within a week was helping people myself, often with the advice I was given. Hanging out in the Rookie chat channel gave me a better idea of what was going on and added a new dimension to the scope of the game. EVE really took off when I got involved in a situation where multiple watching pilots were chipping in on the conversation between a ganker and another pilot he was trying to trick into a 1vs1 frigate scrap. I kept on talking to a couple of the other pilots afterwards. One is still in my fledgling corporation.
I think what I am saying here is that maybe CCP is pushing the social engine aspect of the game because while the game itself is beautiful and amazing, it only comes alive once you start to interact with the other real people enmeshed in the same virtual reality. Once this happens the game begins to live and breathe in a way that transcends any code that CCP may have written. Code is written to assist social interaction (chat channels, voice channels, contracts, etc) but essentially it happens mind to mind where CCP didn't have to invest in order to realise the infrastructure. It has the knock on effect of making the world they did write, begin to pulse with its own life. It comes alive in the mind of the player and it suddenly isn't a game they can put down because IT IS STILL GOING ON WHETHER THEY ARE “THERE” OR NOT. They have taken the red pill.
The second issue Mabrick has is the sandbox may be an obstacle. What is the sandbox? Sandbox is a term used to describe the fact that EVE may be played as a game without engaging in any authored narrative. Sure, there are missions, there are Incursions, there is Factional warfare between NPC groups that you can get involved in. All of them pre-authored, but they are all situated in a universe where the basic rules for flight, combat, society and the economy are enough that you can go out and set your own goals. The game becomes working within the wide, basic definitions to achieve these goals. In EVE even the linear narratives are often subverted by players for their own purposes, creating conflict and thereby non-linear narratives. Occasionally this is damaging enough to the economy that CCP need to step in and regulate, presumably before the system collapses (not that the whingers will realise this is a possibility).
My experience of the sandbox was better than most, I hardly ran any pre scripted missions after the tutorials until my first month playing was over. I was busy doing my own thing, finding things out and completing my own plans. I hadn't played Elite in over twenty years and then someone handed me a better version where I could do what I wanted. I didn’t have much of a choice in getting out there.
Mabrick cites the example of his family members playing the game at an early stage when all of a suddenly their family business became embroiled in a war and both his brother and son felt that they needed more skills before playing the game some more in order to be safe, to contribute or just to be safe. Before I continue, let me say I love the idea of Mabrick and the “family business”. That is the sandbox and the social aspect right there. There is no mechanic in game that creates the sense of belonging that his family feel towards the business that is constructed from the basic rules of the game. I salute you all and if you ever need a hand then you can call on me. I’m a noob but I’m getting there.
The problem is the in game learning mechanism that is part of the foundations of the sandbox. I have been here many times myself, as recently as day 51 and 52. You run across a situation where the only solution requires you to have more in game skills. Learning these skills requires the passage of real time, exponentially increasing from level to level. A skill where learning level 1 might take 10 minutes will take you four days to learn from level 4 to level 5. There is the sensation, a feeling, that you can’t progress until a certain skill has been learned. This is bad enough where it is an absolute requirement, for example you want to fly a particular ship and simply cannot until a that skill is learned. ( CCP - a suggestion : allow players to rent their expertise and time - allow someone to fly a ship if they have a co-pilot along who has the skills to do so.) The feeling is even worse where it is only that: a feeling. The worst case of this is combat with players, where the social hits the sandbox. Players of many years standing will be able to fly better ships, equip them better, and have more skills improving their use of them. It feels impossible to compete against them. It isn't.
Here are my thoughts
a) Skills. The exponential rate of increase of skill learning means you will almost catch those players up. It won’t be long before you are within a distance of their abilities that can be ruled out by good flying and tactics. Of course, there is still the wait, but time is money - get earning it - you’ll need it when you have the skills.
b)  The wait. What were you doing before the event that triggered the need to have these skills? I generally had more things on my mind than I could keep track of and all I had to do was to reorganise my plans to incorporate my new targets while moving back to the tasks I was previously involved in.
c)  Adapt. There is fun to be had in adapting, or attempting to adapt, under pressure. Even if that adaptation is running. What was the first thing you saw the Millenium Falcon doing? The sandbox allows you to do more than one thing, allows you to do more than an enemy can keep up with if you think fast enough.
d) Safety. It is rare in EVE. Outside the Empire stations there is always the chance that you will suffer harm and loss. It makes the game all the sweeter for those prepared to accept it as a benefit but I do think that to a new player it can be horrifying. This is the barrier to the sandbox. If you get in, then it is rewarding but you are going to have salty grit in your sandwiches now and again.
I think that in the end, the only solution to the sandbox problems is... the sandbox. I've talked before about it being a self regulating system and so I won’t bore you with anymore musings on that. Look at the rise of the various player run organisations that exist specifically to help new players. There must be ways to adapt in such a complex system. In the case of Mabricks relatives both wanting to contribute and feeling they didn’t have the skills for combat yet, and wanting to be left alone to make ISK and fly ships, there must be some sandboxy solution out there. Time for a sub-division corp of Mabrick Mining and Manufacturing ? Mabrick M&M Exploratory Division? Scouting Division? Geology Labs? Flight school? Time is money. There are plenty of reasons in game to go on a mission to the other side of space and report back.
a) Sorry for using you as an example Mabrick, the faintly patronising tone during descriptions and suggestions was a result of trying to provide a real world example to those players newer than I, and to those totally unfamiliar with the game. I'm sure you’ve thought of more than the above.
b) Sorry to everyone else for spouting what might be self evident crap, just so I could get my own head around the problem.
EVE Track of the Day
We Have All The Time In The World - Louis Armstrong


  1. Nice read; well done - you almost made me late for work! Don't worry about possibly offending me. So long as it isn't personal you can't. If it is personal, I'll just find you in game... wait, that's what Goonswarm did. Never mind, if it is personal shame on you! *LOL* As bloggers we inspire each other. Feel free to "use" my words against me any time.

    1. Cheers! It wasn't personal, I have some "space morals". God forbid the wrath of MABMM come down on my head. There is a story right there. I will be watching and reading though, and up for getting into the argument ( as soon as I stop mucking around with the damn skill queue )

  2. Good post, just keep writing about it as it happens to you... be honest to yourself and you'll do fine. =]

    Just a note... almost all skills can be taken to L3 very quickly... however, once you start to get to 'needing' L4 and L5, you will find that those skills queues can be, very daunting, even for a vet.

    Take "Astrometric Rangefinding" (a scanning skill vital in holes)... with my Attributes & Implants (base plus a full set of +3s) giving me: 20/20/20/30/25, to go to L5 will still take me... 39 days, 38 minutes & 42 seconds REAL TIME... sheesh =\

    1. I'm just starting to properly plan now. EVEMon (I gave in and downloaded it) is telling me I have a plan for 119 days. Twice as long as I've already played. On the upside that is 46 skill updates. I'm still in the realms of getting x1 skills to IV and V, let alone x8 skills!

  3. LOL believe me my friend, I know ONLY too well of what you speak... When I joined my son and CEO and out third Director had both been ingame almost a year... I have been playing catchup ever since.

    Hang in there and remember, not all skills are learned from the skill queue... But, if you can play for the long term rewards, they are there to be had. This is a 'high hanging fruit' game. =]

  4. so...being a WoW player and all (never played it myself) do you consider that game to be a "theme park" (anti-sandbox)?

    1. I guess I do, though that doesn't mean I didn't have a good time there. Looking back it feels.... linear.