Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A pirate's life for me! Please!

By experiencing different aspects of being a pilot in a corporation and part of an alliance, I am learning more about myself.

I love lowsec piracy best. Win or lose, nothing gives me more of a thrill than finding a target in local, scanning him down to an accessible point in space, tackling him, and going at it. Even if I'm just ganking a T1 mining frigate or a shuttle, adrenaline courses through my veins as I warp to his presumed position. If I walk into a trap, so be it; something inside me admires my opponent for his prowess in sucking me in, even as my mind wonders how--if--I'll ever be able to exact revenge. If I lose a close fight, I go over the fight in my mind again and again, thinking of what I could do different next time; and if I win a fight against a more experienced pilot in a more capable ship--oh, the glory!

Now, some of my mates prefer large-scale fleet combat in nullsec. They like killing "real combat pilots" in "real combat ships fit for PvP." The implication--and sometimes it's said outright--is that lowsec piracy is killing noobs in ships that aren't well fit. They actually have a point there; many of my victims in lowsec are, well, noobs; and their ships bristle with the kind of sensors and armaments that are the opposite of formidable.

Still, I die plenty in lowsec. I've even been killed by rookie ships (and their friends, waiting in the wings), mining at a belt for the sole purpose of enticing overconfident frigate pirates such as myself. The risks are real. And based on my experience, large-scale fleet combat is, if anything, even less risky than lowsec piracy. The blobs I've flown with in nullsec are so massive that in more than 95% of the time a target presents itself, I can't even manage to get a lock before the target is dead. Granted, the target was a combat veteran in a PvP-fit battleship; but when faced with a mighty fleet, he'd have stood a better chance facing me and my Taranis in a Navitas. When my fleet isn't just pwning everything that moves in nullsec, it's because we're being pwned; even then, I have little to stimulate my imagination in after-action reflection. How much more can I do to avoid being primaried when it's my turn?

I imagine it could be stimulating being a fleet commander in nullsec; I'm a long way from being that. With the bulk of my experience in frigates, and the rest in a poorly-flown battleship or battlecruiser following fleet orders, I'd be a poor choice as FC.

Alliance life, to me, has come to mean alliance politics. Right now every single pilot in the corp has been ordered to stand by in our alliance home constellation in lowsec; the alliance has sent out a call-to-arms to weed out the reds and neutrals that have been encroaching on what we consider "our" space. This is probably a great thing from the perspective of the industrial pilots in the alliance; having their lowsec POS's for research, mining, and manufacturing no doubt fills the coffers. However, for pilots like me, ops like this mean I lose ships frequently while simultaneously gaining less in loot. Maybe if I was in another corporation, some of those industrial pilots would be corp mates, and maybe we'd have a ship replacement program. But my corp is pure PvP, we have no ship replacement program, and we're meant to be self-sufficient pilots, funding our ships and modules from loot and ratting alone. I find ratting boring in the extreme; I make all my ISK from selling loot, and from playing the markets. Ops such as the one we're engaged in now, to protect the economy of some brother corps, cut into my money-making ability (I've had to cancel market orders in order to pay for ships for the campaign).

To add insult to injury, it seems to me that our corp takes this call-to-arms more seriously than the very corps we're there to help! I have frequently cooled my heels in a space station in the alliance constellation over the past week, being available for ops as ordered. In the meantime other pilots in the alliance have been ratting in nullsec or going on long roams in space entirely unconnected with the dominance of our alliance in the constellation in question. When enemy ships are spotted, the intelligence is quickly passed on--and there seems to be little interest in responding.

This past shift is a case in point. I reported for duty, starting by fitting out a new interceptor to replace one I lost in the previous shift. Four targets were reported on more than one occasion in our headquarters system; the consensus seemed to be to ignore them, as they just liked to play dock/undock games. Ignore them? Then why can't I be off in some system, hunting in the belts? As I flew a couple of systems over to pick up some missiles I'd purchased (as usual, our corp ammo locker was empty of the ammo most of us actually use), I found that the gate to our headquarters was being camped by three enemy, two of them with outlaw status. I reported the intel, and just a single other pilot indicated his willingness to respond. No action resulted; there's not much two of us could do against two battleships and a battlecruiser. In the meantime, in our "PvP ops" communications channel, the rest of the alliance pilots--spread out across several regions of space--made plans for a joint ratting op. While I worked my shift being ready to defend their lowsec base of operations. Finally I clocked out, disheartened.

Fortunately, I'm hearing this call-to-arms will be canceled sometime within the next few days. The official line is that we've been successful, and so the op can be concluded naturally. It is true that we have destroyed a number of POS's while protecting our own. But some of the other pilots seemed to hold a different perspective--rationalizing their inaction? They were saying over an alliance comms channel that the reds in the constellation could never be driven away.

I hope, dear reader, that you will take this post in perspective. I like my corp mates, and I like flying with them. Our alliance is solid, and has opened up nullsec combat for those in our corp that crave that sort of thrill. Apparently my periods of active duty do not correspond to the periods when our best alliance fleet commanders are taking names and kicking butt. But if I, who consider myself relatively fortunate, feel this way, feel sorry for those in less happy situations.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Karma

Don't ever do any ratting or mining at an asteroid belt in Ouelletta. Ever. This small lowsec system is along the pipe from the Placid region of space to the Essence region, so every pirate or opportunist in three regions passes through regularly. To make matters worse, every one of the three asteroid belts in Ouelletta is within scan range of both the pipe's incoming and outgoing stargates. Show up at an asteroid belt in Ouelletta, and within seconds--literally--everyone in the system will see it, and every pilot entering the system will notice it.

I passed through Ouelletta yesterday, as I often do, and noticed one of my corp mates cruising at a safe spot in the system, waiting for some rookie pilot to jump in from Jufvitte to try their hand at the famed rats and ores of low security space. Knowing that any young pilot straying far from the sentry guns at the stargates or space stations would not live long to regret it, I continued on deeper into Verge Vendor lowsec space. I've been on something of a roll lately, racking up a string of decent-if-not-spectacular kills, and hadn't been podded for many many days. I hadn't jumped three systems away, however, when another corp mate called for assistance at a space station in Placid, and I turned my Taranis around and headed back.

When I jumped into Ouelletta on my way to assist my mate, at first I couldn't believe my eyes. All that showed on my scanner was a Hulk. I entered the command for a fresh scan, wondering if my directional scanner display was showing stale results from another system. But the new results confirmed that a Hulk was in the system, and nobody else--not even my corp mate I'd thought was camping the system--was showing up. I narrowed my scan arc to 5 degrees, and found the Hulk in the direction of the first asteroid belt I checked. Half believing I was warping into a trap, I set a course to the belt and activated my damage control systems. My corp mate would just have to wait.

I'd like to get a ransom some day from a Hulk, so I didn't immediately go for the jugular like I ususally do in my Taranis. Instead, I set a wider orbit around my target to avoid any stasis webifier he might have fitted, pinned him in place with my warp disruptor, targeted some of his T1 drones, and began shooting them down. I opened a private ransom channel with my victim and asked for 20 million ISK as I finished off his drones. As I switched my fire to his vessel, my target accepted my demand and asked that I hold fire. I'd chewed right through his shields and armor in no time--I ordered my drones to return and orbit my ship, and de-activated my blasters.

I'd given the Hulk 30 seconds to pay, but figuring I could finish him off within seconds, decided to let him have some extra time. However, time dragged on and I wasn't seeing any action in my wallet. "10 seconds," I broadcast to my target, then "5 seconds" about 15 seconds later. Paying a ransom is simple with standard New Eden microcomputer systems; all my victim had to do was right-click my image on his local communications channel and select "give money" from the menu that would appear. I began to suspect that my target had no intention of paying the agreed-upon ransom. As it was clear he was repairing the damage I'd done to his armor, I decided to remind him of the peril of his situation; I opened fire again with my blasters (keeping my drones in reserve), and knocked him back down into structure. "Time's up." I refreshed my wallet display one more time; no deposits. I activated my guns again, and the Hulk blew up.

I was unsuccessful in catching the pilot's pod, and was further annoyed by what he communicated in my ransom channel: "Why did you kill me? I would have paid you your ransom if you'd given me more time!" More time?! I'd bent over backwards, stretching my 30-second time limit to three times that. Bah! Why is it that whenever I kill someone and ask for ransom, I end up getting lectured about how to do my job? The Hulk pilot then informed me he was putting a 20 million ISK bounty on my head instead of giving me the funds in ransom. Yeah, whatever.

Before I could properly evaluate the loot in the Hulk's hold, an Exequror-class cruiser arrived at the scene. Forgetting about my loot for a moment, I quickly targeted, tackled, and destroyed the cruiser--and the pilot's capsule, when it showed up on my overview. I was in no mood to ransom such an inexpensive ship. I suspect the Exequror was the backup my Hulk friend had been hoping would arrive before the conclusion of our engagement; both pilots were in the same corporation, though it was one of the big mega-corporations and it may have merely been coincidence.

I then turned back to the Hulk's wreckage, moderately pleased with my haul; although the three T2 strip miners were beyond repair, I managed to recover a half-dozen other T2 modules and a named armor hardener, worth maybe 10 million ISK. I had to make several trips to a safe spot in space with the loot, wanting to remove as much as possible from the high-risk asteroid belt before other pirates showed up in the system. On one of my trips back to the belt, a shuttle was on the scene; I shot first--well, I shot him dead, no questions asked, then or later. (He mailed me a few minutes later, mocking me for being so bold as to attack defenseless shuttles.) No loot to speak of in the wreckage of the cruiser and shuttle.

Finally the heat was off of me, and I could safely approach a space station without drawing fire from sentry guns. I began to make trips from my loot cache in space to a local space station. The cargo space on my Taranis doesn't hold much, and I was hauling some very large modules, filling in the corners with Golden Omber the Hulk had been mining. By this time a very experienced pirate was in the system, and he parked his stealth bomber right at the undock point of the station to which I was transferring loot. I kept a close eye on him, but managed to get most of the loot to safety without incident.

As I left the station for my last trip to my loot cache, however, the stealth bomber fired a full salvo at me, knocking my shields out and biting into my armor. I calmly assessed the situation, decided I could probably have killed the bomber if I'd reacted right away, but decided to re-dock for repairs before taking a second salvo. Repairs completed, I undocked and attacked my foe; he docked up in turn. I retrieved my last load of booty and dropped it off in the station. Then I set out for my base a few systems away, thinking to come back in an Imicus fitted with cargo expanders to pick up my haul.

Back in Ouelleta with my Imicus, I first darted over to the asteroid belt. I tried to salvage the wreck, but quickly learned I just wasn't skilled enough to salvage such a high-tech mining barge. I contented myself with grabbing a hold full of ore from the Hulk wreck, and set a course to the nearby space station. I'd seen a Taranis on scan as I entered the system, and sure enough my scanner showed him at the belt I'd just left--that crafty old pirate was still out to get me. (And why not?)

In the space station, I found I could load all the modules recovered from the Hulk and Exequror wrecks, the frozen corpses of the cruiser and shuttle pilots, plus most of the Golden Omber I'd scooped up. Daydreaming about what I could buy once my loot was sold (a new Taranis maybe, fully fit?), I undocked. And there sat my stalker, flashing red--this time in an Enyo-class assault frigate.

I acted quickly this time--too quickly. I tried to warp to the stargate to get out clean; as soon as I activated my warp engines, however, I lost the temporary protection of the undocking systems, and that Enyo had me locked down, fast. Because I'd acted so quickly, the space station docking setup had not had time to cycle, and I could not re-dock into safety. My Imicus--and my loot--was lost. I kept spamming the warp button, but to no avail; things seemed to go in fast-motion as my capsule was also tackled and destroyed. The next thing I remember, I was waking up in a medical clone bay several jumps away, feeling disoriented.

Before I could forget, I negotiated an upgrade to my medical clone, making sure that if I get podded again soon I wouldn't lose any of the knowledge that let me pilot with what skill I've gained in my short career. Then, as I sat there taking stock of my situation and trying to come up with a plan, a thought occurred to me.

I opened a long-range private communication channel with the pirate that had killed me. Considering the outcome of our engagement, he was very decent with me. I asked if he'd received a bounty for killing me. He hadn't noticed, but checked while our connection remained open. Why yes--he was 20 million ISK richer, having done the region a real service in ridding it of an outlaw such as myself. It was Karma, alright; the pilot that couldn't figure out how to transfer 20 million ISK to me to save his expensive ship, fittings, and cargohold of ore--that same pilot had promptly and efficiently managed to set a bounty on my head, sometime in the 60 minutes before I shuffled off my mortal coil.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I eat crows for breakfast!

Wait--wrong idiom. What I should have said is, "I've been eating crow!" (For those of you who don't speak English as a first language, the title of this post is an English idiom that means it is easy for me to handle crows; "eating crow" is another idiom that serves as an admission of being wrong after taking a strong position.)

For all my pontificating here in my journal and on the public forums at http://myeve.eve-online.com, and after my recent solo victories over a Drake and then a Rupture, it is perhaps fitting (my victims might call it karma) that I've lately been in a real slump--suffering a string of painful losses. I've lost three Taranis-class interceptors in the past week--to a Rupture, a Thorax, and most recently to a Caracal.

In all three cases, I was fairly confident (though not at all certain of victory), and it was I who was the aggressor. I've killed similar cruisers before, even back in my days as an Incursus pilot. So when I spot something tempting at an asteroid belt, or flashing red on my computer overview at a jump gate, I may be forgiven for succumbing.

These last three losses were decisive; none of my supposed targets ever seemed in any real danger of destruction, according to my sensor readings, while my own defenses just evaporated. I can't say I was unlucky, either--in all three scenarios, I jumped in at optimal range, got a quick lock on my target, and even had a few seconds' advantage in dealing dps. The Thorax came back at me with simple T1 drones, the Caracal with T1 light missiles; only the Rupture had high-tech weapons to counter my own.

I may have grown overconfident. In the past, I was very careful to assess the experience of a cruiser pilot before risking my frigate. Now, made careless by success, increasingly skilled, and flying high-tech interceptors with state-of-the-art weapons systems, I need this reminder that not every other pilot out there is flying under the influence of consciousness alterers with one arm around an ambitious crew-member. There are experienced combat veterans sharing space with me, and I owe them more respect. To the friends and families of the crews that were lost due to my callous disregard for danger, I apologize.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Interceptor kills Drake--solo!

. . . if you don't count sentry guns.

While waiting for all my corp mates to get their gear down to our new office in preparation for moving out into 0.0, I've been prowling the nearby lowsec systems but after days of hunting had no kills. Hungry for blood and impatient, I clone-jumped back to Verge Vendor, a region that holds many a fond memory for me. After a fruitless loop up into Placid earlier in the day, I set out a second time, this time towards Essence. I struck gold after a single jump.

Jovainnon is not normally a great system for hunting. It is the hub for dozens of pilots that frantically go on courier mission after courier mission, jumping from station to gate to gate to station and back again, 23 hours a day, 7 days a week--continually under the benevolent shadow of government sentry guns. Flying frigates, as I almost always do, I leave these ships alone. I popped one or two, back in the day, flying my Thorax-class cruiser, but was disappointed in the loot I could recover from the wrecks; odd things such as dolls could be found among the jumble of cargo expanders, and that is about all. Typically my local communication frequency shows 20-30 such pilots in the system, and only very rarely is there a miner or ratter at one of the belts.

Today as I jumped in nothing was any different. There were a Punisher and a Drake on the gate; the Drake was flashing red--meaning the sentry guns wouldn't pound me for attacking him--but those Drakes have some mighty tanks on them. I entered the coordinates for the next jump gate on my way, and warped off.

But as I warped away, I overheard on my short-range radio the system officials inform the Drake pilot that he was engaged in unlawful activity, and they opened fire from the sentry guns and billboard. I wondered how much a single Drake could tank . . . but really, I had no idea. Presumably the vessel could tank the sentries well enough while he destroyed industrial ships; but if Drakes are known for their tanks, Taranis-class interceptors fit like I was are known for their damage-dealing capability. I called up the Drake pilot's records, and found that he had more hours at the helm of a space ship than did I . . . but not by too much of a margin. Impatient for some action, I turned right around when I dropped out of warp and went back down the warp tunnel I'd just left. Would the Drake still be there, or would he warp away from the sentry fire after having killed his prey?

I dropped out of warp, and immediately a red symbol began flashing from my computer overview monitor--an outlaw ship (other than me, of course) was in the vicinity--and it was the Drake! I got a lock on him, and as I was already practically on top of him, immediately engaged my warp disruptor, stasis webifier, and launched my two T2 Hobgoblin drones as I set a close orbit around my quarry.

At first, the Drake didn't seem too worried; it was several moments before my sensors indicated he had a lock on me. But once he had me in his cross-hairs, I felt it. Heavy missiles began slamming into me; I watched as first my shields indicator, then that for my armor, began to turn red, 20-40% at a time. The display of damage to the Drake, however, barely registered at all what I was pouring out from three T2 Light Ion Blasters and those two drones. Part of me was very worried, but another part of me was happy my weapons were registering at all. I was also concerned that the Punisher at the gate was still there; he could engage me at any time, if he wanted to, because of my outlaw status--and unlike the battlecruiser with which I was engaged, the Punisher's weapons would be ideal for hurting frigates.

The Drake had about 65% shields when I engaged him; by the time he'd knocked me into structure, he was down to 20% shields. I began making preparations to try to warp away. Normally, this wouldn't be too much of a concern when facing a Drake-class battlecruiser; they tend to rely on other ships to tackle their opponents. But this pilot was ganking industrial ships as they jumped through the gate, and there was a good chance he was fit to pin them down in the process. But as my finger hovered over the button that would engage my warp engines--if possible--I hesitated. In a Taranis fitted with a T2 Damage Control System, half my defenses were in the structure, rather than the shields or armor. The Drake, on the other hand, had all his defenses in his shields, and he was down by this time to 10%, taking all my firepower plus the sentry guns. Slowly I drew my hand back. Wait just a little longer. . . .

I broke the Drake's tank with about 75% structure left (well, the sentry guns and I did). I was relieved to see the rate of damage really pick up speed now that, his shields gone, my guns were biting into his armor. Still, my own margin for survival kept narrowing. As I kept switching my gaze from my own damage indicator to my target's, I grew more and more confident. Sure enough, I brought the mighty battlecruiser down!

I got out of there fast, not even taking the time to loot the Drake's wreckage. With just 10% of my structure left, I was very gun-shy around that gate; the Punisher was still there, and could have had an easy time of me, and even a Navitas jumping through the gate with a point and a mining laser might have been able to finish me off. But what loot might I have left behind? I sat at a safe spot for a few minutes, greed battling caution, watching my shields slowly recover. Impulsively, I pointed my badly damaged interceptor back to the gate, and engaged my warp engines. The Punisher was still there; now, though, I thought I might make it to the gate if he attacked me, thanks to my rejuvenated shields. I briefly engaged my microwarpdrive and orbited the Drake . . . and recovered about 20 million ISK in T2 modules that had survived the encounter! Woohoo!

Cargo hold filled to capacity, I jumped through the gate and set a course to the space station where I kept my loot in this region. Without even taking the time to unload my cargo or make repairs, I ran over to a Vexor standing by in my docking bay, and headed back to the gate; there were still 6-10 wrecks at that gate, and with the way my luck was going, who knew what I might loot? My optimism had me at the con of a cruiser with more than twice the capacity of my interceptor's hold. I went through the wreckage of the nearest industrial ship, but found only a half-dozen T1 cargo expanders. As I sailed toward the next wreck, though, the Punisher (still there) locked me, and then a Celestis arrived on the scene. I wasn't too worried--a Vexor could handle those ships--but I did grow cautions.

They opened fire on me, and although I activated my armor repairer, I didn't immediately return fire. As things stood, I could jump through the nearby gate immediately, but my attackers would be barred from jumping right away because of their shooting. My caution paid off, for within moments I picked up a Raven on scan; he dropped out of warp in our vicinity and locked me. Deciding not to push my luck any further, I approached the gate and got out of Dodge (down to 25% armor in no time flat).

Back in the stateroom I rent in the nearby space station, I gloated over the killmail I'd received. I'd recognized that I'd scooped up some good loot right away; only now did I learn that the vessel I'd destroyed had been rigged out with some very expensive modifications to enhance his defenses. How sweet!