Friday, February 29, 2008

How do I savage you? Let me count the ways...(highsec)

I hear a lot of talk about what is and isn't "piracy" in EVE-Online. As far as I'm concerned, piracy is whatever we mean by it; it could be something different for you than it is for me. But in this post I thought I would catalog the acts that fit my definition of piracy.

Highsec piracy falls into three categories: those crimes that rely on the target to flag himself a legal target, those crimes that incur the inevitable wrath of CONCORD, and war.

Can-flipping targets highsec miners who, to save time, routinely transfer ore from their cargo holds to a jettisoned cargo container. Such containers, known as "jetcans," have a much higher capacity than most miners' cargo holds. Once the jetcan is full, the miner warps to a space station, leaves behind his mining ship, and returns to the jetcan with an industrial ship to retrieve the ore. The pirate steals the targets ore and leaves it there in a jetcan of his own. The newly-emptied jetcan disintegrates with nothing inside, leaving the newly-filled jetcan instead. The new can will appear yellow, rather than white, to the miner, and the pirate will begin flashing red on the miner's overview display; these clues indicate that the can or ore does not belong to the miner, and that the pirate is a legal target--he has been flagged so for 15 minutes for stealing the miner's ore.

At this point the pirate is at risk; he can be attacked, but he may not legally engage first. Most pirates aren't bothered; they came to the party in a PvP-fit ship, while the miner is encumbered with such modules as mining lasers, strip miners, and mining drones. Any such miner who is fool enough to defend his ore under such circumstances is quickly spanked. What many novice miners don't realize, however, is that taking the ore back makes them legal targets for the pirate--in effect, they have stolen the ore (back). If the miner reclaims his ore, whether in ignorance or under the sad assumption that the pirate has moved on, the pirate quickly takes advantage of his kill rights.

To avoid being victimized by can-flipping pirates, miners may (1) simply choose not to mine into a jettisoned cargo container, (2) gracefully admit their mistake when the ore is stolen and consider the ore lost for all time, or (3) exchange their mining vessel for an uber solo pwnmobile or equivalent gang of mates before engaging the pirate or reclaiming the ore. As an alternative to jetcan mining, I suggest anchoring a large secure cargo container at the mining point instead. Pirate's can't so easily steal ore from password-protected containers.

Wreck-baiting, like can-flipping, depends on the target taking some positive action which renders him in the eyes of CONCORD a legal target for the pirate. In this case, the pirate prowls a system's (or a few systems') asteroid belts and ice fields, killing rats but being careful to leave loot in the wrecks. Any player who comes across those wrecks and takes the loot for himself is flagged for 15 minutes a legal target for stealing loot which legally belongs to the pirate. You may be sure the pirate is not far away, looking above all for pilots who are flashing red on his overview...and when he finds you, chances are you'll be sorry. Such pirates sometimes give themselves away by swooping in on another ship in the vicinity of their wrecks; when they see that their loot has not been violated, they rather lamely move along...but remain close enough to take action should it become possible.

Suicide ganking refers acts of sheer agression that doom the pirate to swift retribution at the hands of CONCORD. While such pirates may be crazy, it's more likely that they are well-informed and well-organized. Suicide gankers consider the cost of their ship and fittings against the proft to be gained from looting your wreck. They have likely scanned your cargo, so they don't sacrifice themselves for a cargo of dolls or janitors; instead they're looking out for original blueprints or high-end fittings or rigs and the like. They also tend to work in teams, so that even while the ganker is fleeing in his pod, his confederate is scooping up the surviving cargo from both wrecks.

War deccing (piracy by declaration of war) is an organized form of extortion. Some pirate corporations specialize in disrupting the lawful activities of industrial corporations to the point that it is cheaper for the target corp to pay a ransom than to wage war. Such pirates like to target small- to medium-sized corporations with PvP capabilities that are comfortably within the pirate corp's ability to face. Simply by declaring war on a target corporation, that corporation's pilots all become legal targets as far as CONCORD, sentry guns, and faction police are concerned. As with most other pirates, war-deccers tend to enjoy combat about as much as profit, and are not at all sorry when their targets decide to fight rather than pay. Still, they are professionals, and in the end they usually get paid.

Mercenaries also rely on declarations of war to gain legal aggression rights against corporations, but rather than earning money primarily through extortion, they work on a contract basis for third parties. Being targeted by a war-deccing pirate corp? Being elbowed out of the belts by a rude industrial corp? A mercenary corp will be happy to come and augment or replace your own corps' more limited PvP capabilities--for a small fee, of course.

In highsec space, if you keep your nose clean--if you don't loot other people's ships, if you don't take ore from other people's cans (not even if they're right where yours used to be, and have the same name), and if you don't shoot first at other people's ships, chances are you'll be free of problem pirates. But if you are known to be traveling with a hold full of expensive cargo, travel with care to avoid suicide-gankers; and if you catch the eye of a pirate corp bent on extortion, calculate what you'd pay for the right to continue your operations free of disruption.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Crow: My Maiden Voyage

The Crow may be one of the most feared interceptor-class frigates in New Eden. Although not the fastest interceptor out there, it can fly fast enough to stay ahead of missiles and drones, and fast enough to muck up the tracking of even small turrets. What makes the Crow such a menace, however, is the fact that it can launch standard missiles from three missile launchers while orbiting at top speed; while the target ship's guns, missiles, and drones chase the Crow fruitlessly, the Crow's missiles slam into the target with deadly monotony. Over the past three days, I've been putting a state-of-the-art Crow through its paces. This is my report.

First, I found the Crow an expensive ship to buy and fit. The ship itself cost me almost 20 million ISK--I placed buy orders at lower prices, but found no takers in my home region. On top of that, the three 'Arbalest' Standard Missile Launchers I fit it with cost an arm and a leg; fortunately, I managed to loot the launchers I used. Unfortunately, that means I missed out on millions of ISK I could have realized from their sale. With such a hefty investment, I went ahead and used T2 modules for most of my other fittings, wanting to get as much of an edge as I could over my opponents.

Although I'm still filling out my skills at effectively commanding interceptors, I had to take quite some time to hone my missile skills. Even though I had significant missile training from my military training as a youth, I was (and am) unsatisfied with my overall efficiency at maximizing missile run times, speed, and accuracy. This is a situation I continue to remedy.

When I tested a railgun Taranis, I was completely unimpressed and haven't pursued additional opportunities to command such ships. When I tested blaster Taranises, I was ecstatic and fell in love with the brute power offered up. So what do I think about the Crow? I haven't fallen in love with it; but on the other hand, I have a growing appreciation for its role in combat.

Compared with the Taranis, the Crow is simply faster, while the Taranis deals out more damage. In combat, I typically flew the Taranis in close orbit at speeds of 5-600 m/sec, and did over 190 in DPS. I typically took damage, but only for a short period of time--the few moments it took to gank my target. In the Crow, on the other hand, I orbit at about 20 km out, going at speeds of over 5 km/sec, and doing less than 40 DPS to my target. I generally don't take any damage at all in solo combat, even if it takes me several minutes to kill my target--even if it takes me half an hour of firing missiles and waiting for more and more mates to join me in nibbling our target to death.

If that was the whole story, I'd just ignore Crows and continue to fly blasteranises for now. But one more difference between the two interceptor classes is what types of ship they may safely engage. In a blasteranis, I was confident against T1 frigates and cruisers, and if the captains were inexperienced, battlecruisers. In a Crow, I feel comfortable engaging all those ships, plus assault frigates, battleships, and even many heavy assault ships. Either ship will fare about as well (or as poorly) against other interceptors, using their corresponding strengths. In the Taranis, I could only engage ships that would be quickly overwhelmed by my DPS; in the Crow, I just have to avoid ships that can run me down and web me (and there are several that can).

Over the three days that my first Crow survived, I killed four frigates and two destroyers in solo combat, and with the assistance from a wingman killed an Ishkur-class assault ship and won a 17 million ISK ransom from a battlecruiser. BattleClinic valued those kills at 28.75M ISK, against 42M for my Crow. Not a profitable run; but not bad tuition for a new fighting style, either.

My last battle started with me tackling a Myrmidon ratting in lowsec (where else). My mate then jumped into the system in his Enyo and warped to the battlefield as I took out the battlecruiser's drones. We demanded a 20M ISK ransom, but our target claimed he didn't have it and countered with an offer of 17M. My colleague and I decided to reject the offer, and set our weapons to maximum DPS against our victim; we expected a long fight, given the Myrmidon's tanking ability and our limited DPS. However, the fight was cut short when a Rapier appeared at the asteroid belt. My wingman, wiser than I at such things, got out immediately. I, however, told the Myrmidon we accepted his counter-offer, and immediately my wallet flashed as the ISK was transfered to my account. I quickly set a course to get away from both ships, but before I knew it my ship was simply shot out from under me (teaching me about Rapiers and long-range webbing, which let every drone, missile, and rat in the neighborhood catch me and beat the living daylights out of me).

The Rapier apparently did not want the security status hit of attacking the Myrmidon, so the battlecruiser paid his ransom and lived to rat at lowsec asteroid belts another day. The Rapier scooped up about 10M ISK in loot. My wingman received 8.5M ISK for his share of the ransom. I managed to warp out in my escape capsule and return to my home station, where I fit a backup Crow that was standing by; like my intended victim, an overall loser in spite of earning over 10M in ransom and insurance.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Blasteranis, strike two

My second blasteranis lasted less than five days. It gave me a good run, right up to the point where, as part of my test-my-limits program, I attacked a Blackbird/Vexor duo. (Lesson learned: Don't attack Blackbirds solo when piloting a blasteranis. Maybe I should have learned it last time I tried, but I got away that time and so the lesson didn't stick.)

Still, my second blasteranis in just a few days garnered me four frigates, three destroyers, four cruisers, a battlecruiser (that's right--a Myrmidon!), and a mining barge, all solo kills. My 13.5M ISK interceptor racked up a 13:1 kill ratio, and Battleclinic reports ships, modules, and cargo worth 175.8M ISK was looted or destroyed. Nothing to be embarrassed about there! (When I do suffer an embarrassing lost, I just may conveniently neglect to mention anything about it here. Or maybe I will write it up, just for the attention.)

A blasteranis relies on its DPS to survive and win battles. Unlike other interceptors, it takes a beating from drones, missiles get their licks in, it even endures guns pounding away. It doesn't tank this damage; a blasteranis relies on its own blasters, so is just as concerned about transversal velocity as its target, so not even speed-tanking is pursued. A blasteranis stands toe-to-toe with its target, trading blows, and hopes it gives a lot more than it gets. The only time one need get fancy piloting a blasteranis is against ships that don't want to stand toe-to-toe, and that have the means to avoid it. As part of my test-the-limits program, I have learned a blasteranis can kill a cruiser under these circumstances even before the combined firepower of the cruiser and five T1 medium drones or T2 light drones can prevail.

Blasteranis, I heart you!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ten days

Ten days. That's how long I pillaged and killed in my first blaster-fit Taranis (henceforth, blasteranis) before being brought down by a much more experienced pilot flying a Crow-class interceptor.

Not too thrilled with the Taranis' I had lost fit out as interceptors--I didn't like having to choose between DPS or survival each encounter--I decided to fit out one of the Taranis hulls still in my ship locker as a blastaranis. I devised a fitout that would maximize my DPS potential, while still having certain advanced features such as speed. Compared to traditional interceptors, a blasteranis takes large risks--it intentionally flies within web range and puts itself at the mercy of whatever guns, missiles, or drones are brought to bear. Many consider the blasteranis in these terms, and avoid it. But compared to my trusty Incursus, the blasteranis has more DPS, more speed, a smaller signature radius, and more HP; it just outperforms the Incursus across the board--with the exception of cargo capacity and price. And let's be clear about that DPS: my blasteranis is capable of delivering well over 200 DPS, which puts it up there with some battleships. (See the specs I was guided by at BattleClinic.com.)

Then, over the course of ten full days, I had my longest run ever in a single ship. By the time my streak was over, I'd killed 16 ships, and podded most of their pilots. Those ships were valued by BattleClinic at 98,622,309 ISK; the same outfit valued my blasteranis at 11,133,911 ISK. I killed 4 frigates, 2 destroyers, 8 cruisers, and 2 mining barges; all solo, except for two--a frigate and a cruiser--while in a small gang. On top of that, I engaged in an extended one-on-one combat with a Blackbird; eventually I decided I was never going to get a target lock on him, and I managed to escape after he destroyed my drones.

My tactic is identical to the one used when flying an Incursus. First, I close range--only now I do it faster, and can scram my target's warp drives from farther away. Second, I orbit real close while pouring out the hurtin'. Third, I loot and scoot. Unlike the Incursus, if I need to bail out of a fight in my Taranis, I can flip on the MWD and have a chance of powering out of web range to make good my escape.

I've just finished preparing another blasteranis, wondering if I'll make it ten days again. I don't think so. It's clear to me I need to push the limits a little more, try to take a bite out of some bigger prey. We'll see.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Put the smackdown on smacktalk

Short version: Don't do it.

Long version: What are people trying to accomplish when they smack on local radio frequencies? It seems that in any encounter--win, lose, or draw--I must put up with smacktalk from my victim, killer, or target.

When I kill someone, I am frequently warned not to do it again. People assure me I just got lucky; normally (if they weren't targeting an asteroid, for instance, or if they'd been ratting in their Vagabond) I wouldn't have stood a chance. Furthermore, it seems I have an uncanny habit of killing people from large, powerful corporations and/or alliances; no doubt the only reason I'm alive to write this is I am too insignificant for them to waste their time on. Others eschew the threats, being content to educate me as to my character: a** this, f** that, and sometimes of distasteful ancestry. I guess these people are trying to save a little of their dignity. Little do they realize that their most entertaining comebacks end up being tacked on the bulletin board of our corp wardroom.

Lately, I've even been smacked several times for failed ransom attempts. On one occasion I had to endure a lecture on how I should have reminded my target that he may be wearing implants--this after he scorned my quite reasonable ransom offer, insulted me, and dubbed me with offensive profane names. Another time I did take the time to raise such issues; my target offered me 500k ISK instead of the 10M I'd demanded, then later told me I should "suggest" an amount. Because he suffered from poor reading comprehension, I was once again reviled and cursed. One other target even chewed me out for not asking for a ransom--that Brutix pilot, who according to his public records had only been piloting for a week, informed me he was immensely wealthy and would have paid me several times the value of his ship to protect his rare implants.

When I die, I must endure some smug goading. If my Thorax was just killed by 2 Dominices, a Typhoon, 3 Ravens, a Brutix, a Vagabond, and a Drake at a gatecamp, I get a pithy lesson on traveling in lowsec. If my Incursus is interrupted in its efforts to kill a Merlin at an asteroid belt by an Astarte and Hurricane duo who show up on the scene, I'm fed comments that assume I thought I was god's answer to belt trash and invited to admire the chest size of my manly betters. If I gallantly charge into a mining party of several cruisers and frigates all by myself, I'm told to count how many are my enemy before leaping into action next time. Once, I attacked a ship named "Bait" at an asteroid belt, only to find out he was bait for a trap. Chagrined, I joked that next time he should name his ship "Bait" or something. My killers pointed out with derision that I should have looked at the ship's name--it already was "Bait." The irony lost on them, they didn't see the humor even when I tried to explain. I guess that's why momma always told me not to explain jokes.

And then there are the times when I neither win nor lose. Alone in a frigate, I cautiously approach a ratting battlecruiser; by the time I judge I can take him and kick in my microwarpdrive, he manages to escape--but not without a smirky smiley and a "Not fast enough!" on the local public communication channel. If I test a Punisher or a Drake, find I can't break his tank, then disengage and go my way, my "gf" is answered with crowing and chest-beating, as though the cows who just sat their in their cookie-cutter setups had pulled a major coup. And if I warp to several belts, moons, and planets before realizing my quarry is at a safe spot in space, he's likely to speak up with some insufferable quip about the low value of my time.

Of course, my own civility prevents me from using the vocabulary of typical smacktalk. Suffice it to say that I have received an education, and have had opportunity to ponder situations, portions of anatomy, and modes of death I find quite distasteful and would have preferred not envisioning. In the end, however, the meaning is that pirates are bad; surprise, surprise. (I must comment here, to my former Caldari masters, that at least pirates are open about their character, and do not hide behind government protection.)

For myself, I don't talk smack, and I don't like flying with other pilots who do. My actions speak for themselves--win, lose, or draw. No "spin" I can put on a violent action in cold space will change the ISK looted or lost. My mistakes are my mistakes, your decisions yours, and I seek the truth about each. Many true combat pilots share this code (while others who talk smack are no less true). Out of mutual respect come friendships, alliances, rewarding rivalries, and knowledge. Out of smacktalk come revenge, griefing, disrespect, and yellowing slips of paper on the wardroom bulletin board.

My Vexor was being killed slowly by a fast-orbiting interceptor. As my cruiser lost integrity and morphed into twisted tendrils of scrap metal I broadcast a simple "gf." After I escaped in my capsule, the interceptor pilot and I discussed the action with civility and courtesy. He did not offer to "make it up" to me--he was the victor and the spoils were his. I did not ask for mercy or quarter. But in the end, I was invited to join a new corporation.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Interceptors in small gangs

I'm not exactly falling in love with interceptors. In fact, I fit out a couple of Taranis interceptors as close-range blaster boats, and have been having great success (haven't lost one yet); in my longer-range railgun Taranis, I was struggling against ships I could handle solo in my Incursus.

Yesterday I had an experience, however, that showed me the role interceptors can play in piracy: I spotted a Cerberus heavy assault ship (HAC) in the system where I was in my blasteranis, and called in some corp support. There was no way I would mess with a Cerberus in anything short-range. A single interceptor tackled the Cerberus and held him there for well over 20 minutes while we tried to kill it. I had time to wait out a criminal timer and fetch a Vexor; I sent in 15 drones against the Cerberus, and eventually he popped them all. Another corp mate likewise lost all his drones. The whole time our interceptor pilot was pinging away with some light weapon that barely registered on the Cerberus' shields.

After 20 minutes, we had the Cerberus down to about 40% shields--not much to show for such a long time. As we were sitting there scratching our heads trying to think of where to come up with some DPS that could hurt the Cerberus while surviving its missiles, the Cerberus managed to briefly get out of range of our warp scrambler and escape.

Obviously, it's frustrating not to be able to do significant damage. In my Taranis, I can kill many ships in a matter of seconds. However, any ship that can tank what I dish out--and scram me while he's at it--will kill me. The flip side of locking a ship down from long range is survivability. My mate in a relatively easy-to-train-for interceptor survived more than 20 minutes against an HAC. Our corporation likes to tackle ships, and then hold them there for 5 minutes, 10, even 20...until before long a swarm of light interceptors is buzzing around the target, eventually bringing it down like so many piranha on a wild boar.

I'm considering learning how to fly the Crow interceptor built by my own Caldari people; to its' survivability it adds a rack of missile launchers that can do significant damage at any speed. In the meantime, I'll just be doing it the old-fashioned way...up close and personal.