Vanguard in New Eden

Another month, another expansion bump from CCP.

I actually had to think for a moment about the title of this post as, not being an EVE Online blog, the name Vanguard might bring up the late and ever troubled (while it was around) Brad McQuaid project.

I am not sure I succeeded with that title, so let me just say now that there is no Brad McQuaid connection to New Eden… at least none that I have ever heard of.

Yes, CCP announced that full sized expansions would be returning, but they will also continue on with the scheduled smaller code drops to deliver smaller feature updates and fixes at regular intervals.

Today’s drop is Vanguard and I am going to say that the biggest item… there being no dev blogs or such on Vanguard features to indicate importance or scale… on the list of features it brings is the change for new characters.  Fresh characters in New Eden will show up with more skills and skill points.  You will essentially start 400,000 skill points into your lifetime of training, up from 50,000 previously.  That is maybe 10 days of training (and a bunch of ISK), but those first days in the game are important and can shape your destiny.

Neville Smit has posted before/after pictures of the skills being added while over at Th Nosy Gamer there is a far more detailed look at what skills are being added and what they mean to players.

The next up and probably most talked about change, at least in null sec, is the combat and Navy issue battlecruiser rebalance.

FC, can I bring my Drake now?

FC, can I bring my Drake now?

This has vets happy, since we remember a golden era of battlecruiser dominance where we flew Drake and Hurricane doctrines every day.  I miss my 2012 pera-MWD Drake of doom.

So these old hulls… old being defined as anything that was around when I started playing in 2006… are getting a buff.

The problem is that it just isn’t 2006… or 2012… anymore.  These ships can’t stand toe-to-toe with the strategic cruisers still, which can fit a battleship level tank if needs be, nor are they as versatile, not having a subsystem swap option to make them interdiction nullified or able to use black ops bridges or whatever.  And in the post-Phoebe world of jump fatigue battlecruisers are slow travelers when you have more than a few gates between you and your destination.

So they are a cheap… and now a little bit better… option on the home defense front or for nearby deployments, but if you’re going to go far my gut says that alliances will bring harder, more survivable, more expensive ships to fight.

But we’ll see.  Maybe Reavers will be drop Tengus and pick up Hurricanes.

(A run down of the changes over at Crossing Zebras.)

And then, also a big deal in null sec, the ability to fit Entosis Link modules has been removed from interceptors.  The trollceptor is dead, but I am sure something will rise to take its place.

After that, we have:

  • Physics based rendering (PBR) being applied to stations and Amarr and Minmatar strategic cruisers.  Make more shinier.
  • Jump invulnerability timer: You will now have a visual indicator as to how long your cloak will hold after you jump through a gate or wormhole.
  • Wormhole polarization timer: You can now see when you will be able to jump back through a wormhole.
  • A multi-buy option for the market, the flip side of the multi-sell option introduced previously. (Dev Blog up now.)
  • New Guristas burner missions.
  • Blue Tiger skins for a range of Minmatar ships.
  • Festival launchers no longer require a launcher hardpoint, just a free high slot.  Launchers for all your carriers!

Then there is the typical range of small fixes along for the ride on this particular release vehicle.  And new issues for new features…

There is a release page for Vanguard and a set of patch notes which tell most of the story of the release between them. (But never the whole story.)

That is what Vanguard brings us… well, all that a theme song.

WildStar Goes Free to Play

Two years ago I was wondering if The Elder Scrolls Online and WildStar were throwing themselves under the bus by declaring for a monthly subscription model in an era when only a select few games seem able to hold enough customers to make that model work for their vision.


Back then the team doing TESO said that a subscription model was essential to deliver the experience they wanted while the WildStar team felt they could offer a PLEX-like option and declare themselves free to play already.

The subscription business model champions of 2013 have come around to free to play in 2015.

TESO went first, going free back in January, while WildStar, after a precipitous drop in revenue, reflected in the NCsoft quarterly results… I believe somebody said that WildStar might end up bringing in less revenue that City of Heroes when NCsoft shut that down… announced that they were going free to play back in May.  This staved off closure by the trigger happy team at NCsoft for the time being.

And today is the day.  WildStar is now officially free to play, another such title in a veritable forest of free to play MMORPGs.  I cannot name a single factor that would set it out from the crowd of other options.  We shall see if free is sufficient inducement for players to keep the game going.

The WildStar site has been updated and there is a FAQ spelling out what free to play means for the game.  As with the game itself, nothing in the FAQ stands out as new and different enough to separate it from the pack.

The Barad-dûr in Minecraft – First Attempt

I had an idea.  After digging those long tunnels in the roof of the nether I was looking for something to do with all of that netherrack that was piling up.  So I started refining it into nether brick, which gave me a decent supply of dark building material to work with.

What better plan than to use all that dark material to try and recreate the dark tower of Sauron, the Barad-dûr.

I went for a somewhat modest first try.  While I had a lot of netherrack, the supply wasn’t infinite, and I was leery of building too far up both because I tend to fall off of things and because once something is above the cloud line, it tends to get obscured at night.

So I ended up with this.

A dark-ish tower

A dark-ish tower below the cloud line

My brilliant plan was to make the eye at the top a portal.  That seemed a bit easier than trying to work with lava, as I had originally intended.  I had seen various screen shots of rounded portals.  However, that is not yet a feature of the game, meaning portals still have to be rectangles.  So I ended up with more of Sauron’s Jumbotron as opposed to his eye.

The original tower was all in dark nether brick.  But then I decided it needed something to spice it up.  With some colored clay from the mesa biome I put together a lidless eye of sorts.

Sauron has a sanpaku eye...

Sauron has a sanpaku eye…

All of which would be innocuous enough, except that I chose to build this monstrosity just within the view range of Xydd’s castle. (Complete with road from my own complex.)

Xydd's castle and the tower from a map render

Xydd’s castle and the tower from a map render

So now when he looks to the north, the north looks back at him… or some such.  That top screen shot is the view from the top of his mountain.

Also, Xydd looks to be building some sort of parking garage on the far side of his castle.  The tower might not be the biggest eyesore soon.

So Close to Taming an Ocelot…

After several expeditions into the nearby jungle biome, I finally ran across an ocelot in one of the clearings I had made on previous trips.  It wasn’t even a single ocelot, but an ocelot with two kits.  My quest to tame one seemed to be close to success.  I crouched, put a fish in my hand, and approached.

The ocelot family was attracted and came over to be fed.

The ocelot family, ready to be tamed

The ocelot family, ready to be tamed

It was only then that I noticed that I had forgotten to grab that stack of fish I had set aside for this venture and had only three fish available.  Three attempts to tame the ocelots.  And they all failed.

Once the last fish was gone they sprinted off into the jungle.

The hunt continues.

Into the Roof of the Nether

I went down into the nether earlier this week only to be confronted with a grand new structure there.  Amongst our various portal protecting block houses there was a tower that seemed to stretch to the very top of the nether, decorated with lava no less.

Lava tower in the nether

Lava tower in the nether

Of course, I immediately had to go investigate, climbing up and down the ladder that went up the center of the lava spire.

It was mesmerizing to travel through...

It was mesmerizing to travel through…

A hell of a structure, and I had little doubt that Aaron was behind it.  Like all of us, he has a building style of his own.  While Skronk is decorative, Xyd is grandiose, and I am… erm… somewhat primitive in my style… okay, my stuff tends to look like a 4 year old’s LEGO project, but I’m working on it… Aaron has a flair for both monumental scale and efficiency.  Just look at his farm.

Nobody tell PETA please...

Nobody tell PETA please…

Sure enough, the next time he logged on I mentioned it and he said it was his, and that it was central to a plan he had come up with.

Rather than all this mucking about on the floor of the nether, building roads through walls and over seas of lava while under constant attack from ghasts… along with the lurking threat of the zombie pigmen… we should just go up to the top of the nether, burrow into the netherrack up there, and then dig tunnels through that to wherever we wanted to go.

Having faced some of that peril in the past, I was good with the idea.  And so began the excavation at the top of the nether.  Aaron started out with a plan to dig to the location where he could link up with the portal he had previously put up the mushroom island he found during his explorations the previous week, while I decided to head off in the direction of the mesa biome.

Digging northwards from the top of the lava tower, which was at level 108, it quickly became clear to me that we were not quite high enough.  I ran out of “floor” after a short distance, so started filling in with cobblestone, back filling way up over a lake of lava on the nether floor below.

It doesn’t matter how far you fall if you’re falling into lava I suppose… but I still wasn’t going to lift a hand off the keyboard to screen shot that view.

After running down my supply of cobblestone, I decided it might be better just to go up a little higher, so I stair-stepped myself up to level 118 and carried on.  That turned out to be just about ideal.  I had more than 600 blocks to mine to get to the right coordinates, but never once broke through the floor to a long fall at that level.

I also seems to be pretty much immune to my one dread tunneling in the nether, the random pockets of lava.  Grinding through netherrack with an iron pick is fast work, but you have to be wary lest some of that fast moving nether lava suddenly start pouring out into your dig.  I only hit one such pocket the whole way across.

Aaron reported similar success as he dug towards his goal, though later on, when he started on the dig to the ice spike biome, he was beset with lava pockets and died repeatedly until he managed to get past what must have been a pretty thick mass of lava there in the roof.

I managed to get all the way to the right coordinates, at which point I dug out a decent sized pocket in order to house the portal, a chest for supplies, and to have some room for a rail stop.  The grand design wasn’t just to have paths, but to build a series of mine cart tracks up there to speed through the nether.

Having finished the basic tunnel, I walked back to the top of the lava tower, prettied things up a bit, and put up a sign.

Mesa biome, this way

Mesa biome, this way

Of course, it wasn’t quite ready yet.  I had to get back down to the bottom of the tower and then walk all the way to the portal I had previously built down on the nether floor, take apart that portal, get back up to the new location, rebuild it there and then light it up.

I also did the same for another portal to the north, just to get them all on the same axis.

Then it was time to use up all my iron building tracks.  I always worry about not having enough gold for the powered segments of the track, but with the ration of iron to gold track segments being 30 to 1, iron gets used up a lot more quickly.

I started laying track.  Ran out.  Made more track.  Ran out.  Made even more track.  Ran out.  Mined for some more iron and made a bit more track.  Ran out.  Went and scrounged through chests I had scattered about three bases and several outposts, found I had a lot more iron squirreled away than I though, used that to make more track, and actually got to the end with about a stack of rails left in my possession.

Something to start the next rail line.

So we now had a significantly quicker way to get to the mesa biome to collect colored clay.

Mesa biome rail terminus

Mesa biome rail terminus/launcher

I think the most immediate beneficiary of this new travel route was Skonk and Enaldi, who used the new access to harvest up supplies for their growing base being built in something of an Italian Renaissance style.

Colorful shops on the end of the piazza

Colorful shops on the end of the piazza

I am definitely stealing some of their ideas.

Anyway, the first rail connection has been setup and there are tunnels to two others.  Now somebody just have to collect enough iron again to roll out the next set of track.  Meanwhile, the lava tower stands in the middle of our efforts in the nether.

The lava tower, another view

The lava tower, another view


Desert of Flames Vote Up Again on Stormhold

Another 30 days have passed and it is time to vote again on whether or not to unlock the Desert of Flames expansion on the Stormhold time locked expansion server… and the Deathtoll PvP server as well, though I don’t have any characters there, so won’t be voting there.

Last time around I was actively encouraging people to vote against the unlock, the server having only been up for 30 days.  That seemed like way too short a duration to enjoy the original 50 levels of content.

This time around I am voting against the unlock again.

The vote is up

The vote is up

However, I do not feel as strongly about it, for the most part because I have not been playing much in the last 30 days.  I never ended up finding somebody to play with… the obvious target, Gaff, who got me to buy the game back in 2004, picked up EVE Online again just as the server went live… and other games have filled the gap.

So as much as I would like the server to sit and wait until the time was ripe for me, it won’t be a personal tragedy if the whole thing moves on to another expansion.

But I am still voting against.  The vote runs through the weekend, closing at noon on Tuesday, with results expected shortly thereafter.  To vote you just have to log on to the server and check your in-game mail.

Throwing Claws Around Cloud Ring

After a week or so in Fountain shooting towers and getting the occasional fight (EUTZ had a couple of good ones I heard) the Reavers withdrew from their staging and headed back to home.  Asher convoyed a chunk of us out this past weekend, avoiding a large Pandemic Legion fleet that apparently didn’t know we were there and managing to work around a LowSechnaya Sholupen fleet that looked to be actively hunting us.  Fortunately we were in a part of Aridia at that point that had a number of cross connected systems, so they went one way, we went the other, and we ended up looping around them and off to our wormhole without direct contact with the hostiles.  Op success and I didn’t even leave yet another 300 million ISK Basilisk parked in a distant station.

And there we rested, the Reavers standing down again.

Not that there aren’t things to do.  Northern Coalition decided to come to the north from which its name was initially derived to try to coordinate with Mordus Angels and stir up some action in Pure Blind.  There have been an ongoing series of ops in the region, enough to keep everybody busy.

Plus Asher always has his eyes open for other non-deployment actions for the Reavers, such as the planned recon fight against Ron Mexxico and Pandemic Legion.

Then there are always the doctrine experiments.  We’ve gone out with him, had fun, and occasionally died horribly, in a variety of ships over the year or so that Reavers have been a thing.

And so it was that this week Asher said he was having a batch of what he called “Fozzie Claws” imported so we could go out on a roam.  The Claw is, of course, a Minmatar interceptor, like the Stiletto it is a tech II variation of the the Slasher.

A Claw up close

A Claw up close

Always keen to try something new and, having recently passed 145 million skill points, likely having the skills required, I bought one when they came up on contract.  (There are still gaps in my training though. When the Ron Mexxico fight came up I found that I had never even injected the skill for recon ships.  There is always some new skill I need.)

The fit was… interesting.

I generally fly logi, so am no expert on interceptors.  But still, strapping on an interceptor with no web, no point, and no propulsion module seemed… odd.  Sure, the three guns and the missile launcher, those were good in the way that firepower always is, though the range seemed awfully short.  I don’t generally spend much time… alive… at the under 12km mark around hostile ships.  Sensor boosters make for a quick lock, so I got those in the mids, but the warp core stabilizers though, that was new.

I was certainly keen to find out how this would work.

Of course, there was a plan, even if my limited imagination could not see it.

Asher called us up after leading an op in Pure Blind and we assembled in YA0-XJ and got in our Claws.  Once we undocked he sent us racing off to Cloud Ring.  At least in an interceptor movement across regions is still quick.  When you’re able to move at 8 AU a second, there are systems were you spend more time waiting for the gate transition than you do flying through the system.  We were at our destination fairly quickly.

Cloud Ring, abandoned by The Imperium as part of the Fozzie Sov realignment, has been a hotbed of activity.  J4LP… or Fweddit, to call them by their main and best known (and best named) corp… tried to fill the power vacuum when The Imperium pulled out, but was set upon by various entities such as Pandemic Legion and their newbie friendly subsidiary Pandemic Horde, Lethal Intent, Black Legion when it was still a thing in null sec, The Irukandji, Suddenly Spaceships, and even The-Culture from across the Fountain border.  Systems have see-sawed back and forth, and our Imperium allies, SpaceMonkey’s Alliance have jumped into the fray as well.

Basically, fights happen in Cloud Ring and, as it turned out, Asher’s Claw doctrine depended on fights in progress.   Once we arrived in the region we went cruising for hostiles and, once we found some I got a taste of what the doctrine entailed.

We would all hang in space, aligning where told, while Oxygen, who had a ship fit for probing, would scan down a hostile.  He would then fleet warp us all to the target.  However, he was exempt from fleet warps, so we would all warp off while he remain, having essentially “thrown” us at a target.

When we landed… and if we found ourselves within our rather limited engagement range… we would lock up the target, open fire, and then Asher would warp us back to Oxygen after a volley or two for another throw.  A small target would generally be dead by then and we would be back and ready for another throw soon enough.

Of course, a small target would also die very quickly under the hail or 220mm artillery fire, so it was time to learn how to lock and fire quickly.  To the speedy went the kill mails, while I fumbled for quite a bit until I got a system down.

From there we went off stalking targets.

Lock range… and just gun range… were important factors.  We had to land right on top of a target to be able to bring it down before it was time to warp off.  Oxygen had to identify a target and warp us to it while it was still there.   Even moving at 8AU a second, a fast moving target would often be well out of our range by the time we landed.  Even I could appreciate that there was clearly as much “art” or “feel” for where and when to throw us as there was science.

But it was a lot of fun.

Again, being used to the lumbering logi and bigger ships in general, zipping around space in an interceptor.  There is a sense of speed and agility in landing, shooting, and warping off.  You’re like a bird of prey.

And we did catch some targets.  We butted in on a running fight between an SMA Drake fleet… seeing Drakes in action brought back a surge of nostalgia for 2012 and the reign of the perma-MWD Drake…  and some WAFFLES Gilas supported by Scimitar logi.  We bounced around trying to get a good shot at somebody, but the Gilas were to well hardened and the Scimitars were moving fast enough that finding the right opportunity was a challenge.

We were in and out of that battle, but after a lot of throws we didn’t get any direct kills.  We did manage to hit a Scimitar that SMA finished off for us.

We had better luck with some Pandemic Horde pilots we seemed to be hanging about in space in Prophecies doing…something.  We got thrown at a couple of those and managed some kills.  Those were ships that took a lot more than a couple volleys to take down, but the pilots seemed to be rather docile.  If they had launched some drones they could have taken a bite out of our fleet, but they seemed more keen to run.

Fortunately, somebody couldn’t fly a Claw and brought a more conventionally fit Crow with a point, so we were able to hold them down long enough to kill them. (kill one and kill two)

We almost got a third, but we found him on a gate, which lead to a bit of a stand off.

We sent the Crow through to grab him when we jumped, but he didn’t seem keen on jumping.  He was waiting for us to engage so we would be stuck behind a 1 minute aggression timer when he jumped.  So a couple of us started shooting him, slowly wearing him down.  However, a Prophecy can have a lot of EHP, so he was content to wait us out for a while.

Eventually he jumped through and the Crow pointed him on the other side.  We all jumped through as well, locked him up and opened fire.  However he went straight back to the gate and had enough armor left to get there before we could bring him down.

So he got away, but not before we put some fear into him I am sure.

We had a few people who could have taken us at range and picked us apart run off.  A couple dozen Claws dropping in your vicinity can be unnerving, and I supposed nobody suspected that we would be running around without an MWD fit to allow us to close or give chase.

All good fun and a new experience for me.

Along the way, in 00TY-J to be exact, I was recognized by Orion Sa-Solo, newly part of WAFFLES, and he called out in local.  We follow each other on Twitter.

Somebody in fleet had to mention this to me as I tend to keep the message column for local compressed as far as possible… because how often does somebody say something useful in local… so it is mostly just a list of names for intel purposes.  Thus prompted though, I waved back, as such things go.

[ 2015.09.23 04:47:44 ] Orion Sa-Solo > Wilhelm Arcturus heyo
[ 2015.09.23 04:48:19 ] Wilhelm Arcturus > Hey hey!
[ 2015.09.23 04:48:28 ] Thomas Hornigolds > Spai
[ 2015.09.23 04:48:46 ] Orion Sa-Solo > a damn good one too dont you forget

Ships passing in the big night sky of Cloud Ring.  We were off to another system a minute or two later, but I’ve seen another #tweetfleet person in space!

We flew about for a bit more, but things seemed to be dying down in the region, so we were soon pointed for YA0-XJ or other systems or other systems closer to home.

An interesting tactic, being thrown about in a short range interceptor.  But I’m still not sure why they got the name “Fozzie Claws.”

And I have a few screen shots from our time out in Cloud Ring.  Click on the images to see larger versions in a gallery view.