Daily Archives: September 18, 2006

EVE Online Impressions


I am now four weeks into playing EVE Online and I like the game.  It is reminiscent of a number of single player games I have had in the past.  You’re a new pilot in the galaxy with a small ship and a desire for big things.  Unlike the many past iterations of this genre, the universe is huge, full of live people, there is no scripted story-line you have to follow, and everything keeps on going when you log off.

Visuals

I love the way the game looks.  Yes, sure, out space, how hard could it be?  It can be beautiful and complex and quite a sight.  I find myself taking screen shots more often than in other games, usually of stuff in the background or my ship transiting some planet or other feature.  I tend to have APOD screens as my desktop pictures, but I have taken some in-game shots that could challenge them.  Or would challenge them if there was a way to hide the UI the way there is in WoW.  Is that feature available? 

The interface is reasonable and most windows can be minimized so they do not get in the way of what you want see.  The tutorial takes you through most of the basic operations of the interface in its first pass, but will spring back up again (if you leave it on) when you go to access something as yet unused.

The ships that I have seen look good.  I haven’t strayed too far from my starting point, so most ships I see are the first one you are issued or the frigates you immediately aspire to fly.  Your ship shows the weapons or mining lasers you have slung from the various external hard points.  In combat the hybrid 75mm Gatling I have mounted slews towards targets and fires bursts.  Missiles streak from the launcher.  I want to train up skills in energy weapons just to see what they look like in combat.  However, I have other skill priorities to tackle first.

Skills vs. Levels

There are no levels in EVE Online, everything is skills based.  You start with a certain number of basic skills and can buy more.  Training a skill takes time.  This prevents somebody from coming in on day one, getting a lot of money via friends of other means, and suddenly being uber.  To get to the point where I could command a destroyer, I have to train at least the basic Destroyer skill.  But that skill has prerequisites, one of which is Spaceship Command Rank 1 level 3.  So until I get that trained I am stuck in a frigate.  But I need a skill even to advance to a frigate, though that requires just Spaceship Command Rank 1 level 1 and Caldari Frigates Level 1, which is a considerably shorter path.

The first level of most of the skills I have seen take 20-30 minutes to train while the fifth (and last) level of one of my skills lists 9 days as its duration.  Since EVE runs in real time (GMT) that means if I start training that 9 day skill today, it won’t be done until next week.

There is some good news on that.  First, you can continue doing things while you train you skills.  They just train while you mine or run missions or whatever.  Second, skills continue to train when you are off-line.  This means you want to get a nice long duration skill going before you go to bed.  You can keep your skills training all the time if you keep track of them.  Finally, you can halt the training of one skill to go and do another and not lose the progress you have made on the first skill.  So, for example, I have kept that 9 day skill (Learning Rank 1 level 5, which will help me learn other skills faster) going for the last week.  But when I log on, I usually start training some shorter duration skills.

Money

Of course, all those skills, and ships, and everything else, costs money.  In EVE the unit of currency is the ISK, which I have read stands for Inter Stellar Kredit.  You will be awed by how much ISK you need for things.  A million ISK seems to be a somewhat modest sum when you look at the market, but you won’t have close to that much when you start.

There are lots of ways to earn money in EVE, but at the beginning you will have two real choices, mining or missions.

Mining is what I did initially, but only because I did not know any better.  Well, that and because I got destroyed utterly on the first mission I took.  So I mined for a while.  It is safe and easy to jump out to the asteroid belt of your local system, mine one of the asteroids for ore, bring the ore back to the station to be refined, and sell it on the market.  The money is slow but regular and you can use the time to train up skills.  Eventually I earned enough money to get the skills for a frigate, to buy one, and to fit it out.  Then I went back to missions.

I figured out later that there were two agents available to me for missions.  One of them gives out combat missions and one of them gives out courier missions.  Had I gone to the courier missions agent I would have earned my money much faster along with some supplies I could use.  But once I had a frigate I finished off the mission that killed me on the first try and then kept on going for combat missions.

Not only are missions for agents more lucrative they also gain you faction (to use the common MMO term) with the group giving you missions.  As you increase in faction, other agents become available to you with better missions and so on.  It also helps raise the faction of your corporation.  Failing to complete missions, or asking for missions and then rejecting them too often, lowers faction for both you and your corporation so you have to be careful.  Fortunately most missions have long durations (I finished of that first mission 5 days after I accepted it) but there is usually a bonus for completing a mission in a short time frame.

Corporate Life

I mentioned corporations.  Those are the equivalent of guilds in EVE.  Sort of.  To equate a corp to a guild as they stand in most games is to equate a computer to an abacus.  Corps can do a lot of things, though I am not at all clear on exactly how they work.  I joined the first  corp that asked me, one with the unlikely name of PWN Shop (symbol: PWN.), just to start learning about what they do.  I did pick up some tips on skills and such, but not much else.  The leader/founder left the corp after two weeks and we appear to be adrift with other people leaving as well.  So I am on the look out for a corp from which I can learn and to whom I can contribute in my own modest way.

Death

I also said I was destroyed on my first real mission.  My first ship, my little Ibis scout (or whatever class you consider it… I think the standard for the genre is a scout), was taken down rather quickly by the pirates I was supposed to eliminate.  But destruction of your ship need not mean death.  Unless you are a fumble fingers like myself.  As your ship disintegrates around you, the pod you start the game in is released, you inside of it, and it is able to warp away towards home or other safety.  If you survive, you will get a note from the insurance company (you bought insurance, right?) about their settlement on your ship.  For an Ibis, you get a new ship.  Later, with a frigate, I just got ISK, and since I was cheap buying insurance, not much ISK at all.  Always buy platinum level insurance.  While a policy is only good for 12 weeks, that is a long time.

If you fail to warp out in your pod because you hesitate in selecting a destination or because you are AFK, your pod can and will be destroyed as well.  Then you come back to life as a clone.  You get a basic clone that can store a certain number of skills you have learned.  If you exceed that amount, you lose the skills and have to train them again.  You can upgrade your clone, but it costs ISK, but not too much, and given the time skills take, you want to be fully covered when it comes to clones.

Concerns

The game itself can be overwhelming if you try to take it all in at once.  All of those skills, all of those ships, all of the possible equipment for those ships, all of the things you could do, all of it can be more than a bit daunting on the first day, or even after the first year I imagine.  I manage this feeling by just taking on missions as they come, getting tips where I can, and setting small goals.

The monetary system itself can take a bit to get your mind around as well.  In WoW for example, I am pretty happy to have a couple hundred gold on hand and have yet to see anything for sale that requires 4 digits.  In EVE you have to get used to looking at numbers in the thousands and up, with prices in the millions being quite common.  I feel like I am dealing in Yen.  You get used to it, but it can be something when you first start out and have almost no money.

Game play itself can be a slow.  Travel takes time.  Combat takes time.  Training takes time.  Everything goes along at real time.  There is no speeding things up.  This is fine for me most of the time.  Still, I learned the hard way about security levels in star systems when I walked away from the keyboard during a flight that had 19 stargate jumps and came back to find my ship destroyed and myself pod killed.  When you look at your route and see “travel advisory” with a red dot next to it, it pays to be at the keys when you arrive.

The Tranquility cluster, on which everybody plays currently, has been having some issues lately as was pointed out in the EVE Dev log I linked in a previous entry.  I have experienced that a few times first hand in the weeks I have been playing.  Finding myself in a queue of 600 people trying to log into the game is a pretty good sign that the server running the system I parked in is down. 

The game client itself seems to be sensitive to background tasks as well.  If an IM pops up in the background or if Eudora downloads a large message, the client tends to hang.  This, of course, generally happens when I am in combat, but I have not yet died as a result.

And a final small gripe.  I do not like the chat interface.  I tend to minimize it and forget it is there, only to find myself answering people on the corp channel about an hour late.  I would prefer a chat window that went transparent to one I can minimize.

Where To Get It

You can download the software from the EVE Online web site.  When you create an account there in an indication that you can buy the game in a traditional box on the shelf, but I have never actually seen such a box.

Once you have it downloaded, there is a 14 Day free trial you can get that requires no credit card and has few restrictions.   The 14 Day free trial is available via a link at Virgin Worlds.  That is where I picked it up.  I could swear I have seen it other places as well, but cannot recall one at the moment.

New Arcade Joystick From X-Arcade

X-Gaming has a new MAME compatible arcade joystick out now called the X-Arcade Tankstick.  It is a bigger version of their dual joystick model with a trackball in the center. 

We have the dual joystick model installed at the office in a stand-up MAME arcade machine we put together out of an old Defender machine, so I can attest to its durability and functionality.  It also offers support for USB connections, unlike the HanaHo HotRod joystick I have at home.  The HotRod is better made and feels more solid, but it only supports PS/2.

You can, of course, use the Tankstick for games other than MAME.  They sell adapters that allow you to configure and hook up to Playstation 1 and 2, XBox, and GameCube.