Saturday, June 23, 2012

The local channel: a revamp proposal

The local channel in Eve Online. Should it stay or should it go? The debate is ongoing, with arguments pro and contra. Those in favour of keeping it, usually claim that removing 'local' would harm industrial and other casual nullsec activities; those wanting to see it removed claim it gives defenders or carebears an unfair advantage, contradicting the sandbox principles of Eve Online.

There is something to be said for both sides. I have been thinking of a way to reconcile the two views, and I think it can be done by tying the presence to sovereignty, jump gates and giving nullsec some properties of wormhole space.. It has become quite a long post, but please bear with me!

Jump gates - let them rot
I have examined the lore surrounding jump gates, and frankly, there isn't a lot of information. But from the evidence available, it seems jump gates need maintenance crews to keep them functioning, and there is talk about 'new versions of jump gate design'. Who pays for jump gate maintenance and keeps them up and running, or applies the upgrades isn't really clear, although for highsec it seems logical to assume that the empires and/or Concord are doing it.

soon to be offline?

In nullsec, a sovereignty holder pays sovereignty fees to Concord, but there is no noticeable Concord presence out here. To assume that Concord would do jump gate maintenance in nullsec doesn't make sense: they wouldn't send their maintenance crews unprotected into the 'lawless outer regions', especially given the fact that for many systems there is no sov holder to pay them. And the empires sure arent doing any maintenance out here, either. 

Given the lack of a plausible maintenance backstory, I propose that jumpgates be allowed to deteriorate over time if they are not actively maintained (more on that below). A deteriorating jump gate would, if it's efficiency falls below a certain threshold, occassionally fail to jump ships, with the percentage of failure progressing over time as it's efficiency level drops further. After a while, it would cease to function completely and go offline. And it would take the local channel down with it (more on that below as well).

Jump Gate maintenance
Jump gate maintenance would be needed to keep gates alive. It would have to be done through a specialised (tender like) ship and module, possibly aided by matching drones. Keeping a jump gate at 100% (or at least acceptable levels of) efficiency, would require a certain amount of 'maintenance points' to be applied, every week. Just like you need to fuel a POS, you need to maintain your gates if you want them operational. But, every pilot can apply maintenance points to a jump gate, irrespective of their standings to whomever has sovereignty in the area.

A sovereignty holder has other means of arranging jump gate efficiency: they can buy and install a 'jump gate maintenance' upgrade in the TCU or ihub. With that upgrade (and a noticeable extra monthly fee to Concord) all gates leading to or from the solar system where the TCU or ihub resides, are maintained at 100% efficiency without requiring pilot intervention.

An ever changing map
Allowing jump gates to become inactive would alter the map of New Eden's nullsec regions. Some parts might become difficult to access over time, perhaps creating pockets where a smart corporation or small alliance might find a home for themselves, flying under the radar and keeping out of sight as much as they can. Keeping tabs on what gates are operational and which ones aren't becomes an important part of nullsec intel, and those who live in the area certainly are at an advantage in this regard. Yet, offlined gates might be repped back to life by anyone, so you are never certain. And, of course, black ops ships and cyno beacons still work.

So what does this have to do with the local channel? I propose that the working of each local channel is tied to a solar system's jump gate efficiency level. Systems with 100% jump gate efficiency have an immediate local channel: the local jump gate system knows precisely who entered but did not leave the solar system, there is full and immediate 'pilot presence intel'.
If one or more jump gates deteriorate, the quality of this 'pilot presence intel' deteriorates with them, and hence a delay is introduced: it takes longer and longer for a pilot to appear in the local channel, after jumping or logging in. If the jump gate deteriorates further, a pilot may or may not not appear at all. And when the combined efficiency of all jump gates falls below a certain threshold, the local channel goes into permanent delayed mode, failing to show any pilots unless they happen to actively use the local chat channel.

Live there, rule there
It has often been suggested, that having sovereignty somewhere should be related to actually living in the solar system in question: conquering it once and pay the sov bills forever afterwards, shouldn't be enough. It seems to me that this could fit in with the jump gate proposal as sketched above. Large swathes of nullsec are virtually uninhabited as it is today, because independend entities can't live there, as there is no place to hide. But, I don't see the large power blocs sending jump gate maintenace teams all over nullsec to keep the gates alive, so it would become harder for these large entities to maintain full control over those uninhabited systems. And with deteriorating jump gates everywhere, smaller entities might indeed be able to find a difficult to access nullsec pocket or semi closed corner to live in for a while, basing out of small (mobile?) star bases or POSes, and cynoing goods in and loot out as needed. And the occassional passer by might barely notice you, because there's no immediate local. Until someone reps that jump gate, of course..

But, in order to make nullsec life more worthwhile for such smaller corporations or alliances, it might be needed to buff NPC anomalies, belt rats and/or ores to mine, in systems that have delayed local. 

Double edged sword
Having jump gates at 100% efficiency, and a fully operational local channel, might very well end up to be a double edged sword. It means you can spot anyone coming in, but it also means anyone *can* indeed enter your system; and those who enter also get to see your pilots! Your space is open and accessible: having full presence knowledge comes at a price, security wise. If you live in a nullsec area, it's your choice how to balance ease of access with giving away local intel to each and every pilot who jumps in.

Open the sandbox - by closing off parts

The proposals outlined above might turn the lesser inhabited parts of nullsec into something resembling wormhole space: less predictable in terms of access and availability of intel, more profitable, more interesting: "I wonder what happens behind this closed gate.." And yet, by virtue of applying jump gate maintenance, every pocket can be opened and no walled garden is guaranteed to remain forever! Deteriorated gates might be guarded and defended vigorously, scouts might have to work hard to get access to pockets.. It seems to me that this construction fits in with Eve Online's sandbox principles, and could lead to some interesting situations, in terms of (emergent) gameplay. Not to mention several new ships, modules, skills and professions.

Some issues and objections
When thinking along these lines, some problems appeared, and I think it's only fair to mention those.

For instance, the 'forever fortress' issue: alliances could chose to let certain important jump gates deteriorate, making it very hard to enter their space for an enemy, while using jump bridges to circumvent the barrier themselves. An example: if -A- could disable the jumpgates out of HED-GP into Catch, they would probably do so in a heartbeat.. or whenever an invasion threat is looming. -A- would have to make sure the gates aren't repped, and most of Catch would be much safer, instantly: conquering Catch is difficult if you don't take HED-GP. This is obviously not the intended usage of the system outlined above, and this use case would certainly have to be dealt with. Perhaps the option to add security, by letting jump gates deteriorate, should be balanced by the removal of jump bridge capability in 'deteriorated constellations'? Or the presence of jump bridges automatically means all jump gatges inbetween are maintained at 100% efficiency? Difficult issue, and constructive suggestions here are certainly welcome.

A second objection could be, that small gang pvp is negatively affected by this, as small roams might keep running into offlined jump gates. I'd say that's probably true, but there will also be a lot less intel available to their potential prey, because many systems won't have an immediate local channel. So scouting becomes very important: identify a route of working jump gates, and try to find those pockets without immediate local! And breaking into that  supposedly safe pocket in nullsec would also an impressive feat. Overall, nullsec becomes less predictable to all inhabitants, be they roaming gangs or mining nullbears.

And what to do with the fact that there are always two jump gates involved in jumping? It is conceivable to have one of the pair deteriorate, while the other is maintained, effectively creating a one way street. From a gameplay perspective, it might be better to have the efficiency level determined per jump gate pair: bringing one side up to 100% always restores full jump capability for instance. This area, too, needs some thought.

Finally, the rate of deterioration and the amount of maintenance points needed to restore a gate to working order, need to be balanced very careful. You don't want each and every solo passerby to be able to rep a gate in a few minutes, but you also don't want to turn gate repping into a carrier fleet operation, taking hours to complete. Balancing these is going to be difficult, perhaps.


Tratz said...

It would make null more interesting if it could potentially become a closed system (kinda like wormhole space). Though I kind of wonder at what point we should draw the line between "game" and "just too involved." Neat article!

Anonymous said...

Interesting! Gate deterioration could effect transportable ship size making it easier for scouts and small gangs. While big ships might get problems small ships should always work. I think a connection between two gates should be influenced by the state of maintenance of both sides, but symmetrically. Also rate of deterioration might be influenced by the load that is placed on the gate by traffic. You might want to modify dscan (maybe with modules) to balance the partial loss of local. Dscan resolution based on ship signature, distance and collimation would be interesting.

Crassus Detlator said...

I really like this idea. The Jump Gates always seemed to me to be something that lacked some sort of player control. Being able to close or open them on a whim by the holding alliance is to over powered, but this kind of system implies that even if you don't like it, the gate can become active and give access to your systems.
The biggest issue would be, as you point out, the jumpbridges.
Requiring the hold ally to maintain all gates in a constellation to in order to have JBs sounds a bit too mucho work, but it could serve to deter large jumpbridge networks and embiggen nullsec...
I really think CCP should consider something like this to iterate upon nullsec sov system.