Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I have seen the enemy...

...and it is me.

It is possible to make a profit in piracy. I did it--easily--back when I was flying around in the old Jousting Junebug (my Incursus), and even as I branched out into T1 cruisers. Even flying some pricier T2 ships, I've had spells where a string of good kills that dropped good loot salted with some good ransoms kept me in the gravy.

But those days appear to be gone for now. Warping into the holiday season, I look over my recent losses and just shake my head. Two stealth bombers, a recon ship, a heavy assault ship, and an interceptor--my last five losses have all been T2 ships, and not cheaply fit, either. (My Incursus loss doesn't count, as that was lost in the course of a Tusker corporate tournament.)

Taking a few minutes to reflect on my losses, I asked myself, "Jolo" (I call myself by my first name at times like this), "What can you learn from these losses?" I then proceeded to answer myself: "Well, it appears I am incapable of learning. Everyone one of those five ships was lost needlessly, due to noob mistakes. You should have learned better long ago."

The first Nemesis was lost after a good fight wherein the Tuskers held their own. As I surveyed the field after the battle, I noticed an enemy stealth bomber salvaging some of the wrecks. I thought I'd just warp in at range and let loose with a couple of salvos, protecting the wrecks for our team. Unfortunately, his wingman showed up in a Rifter, at far enough range to warp to a wreck near my position and jump all over me. I'd forgotten an early lesson: Don't go for cheap kills when the enemy is capable and on the alert.

Next, I lost my Arazu. Actually, our Tusker fleet had just come out of a small-gang fight pretty poorly, but I'd managed to cloak up and save my ship. Then I saw a stealth bomber out away from the herd..."Jolo" (I can call myself that), "Let's pick him off!" I warped near a wreck in his vicinity, lit him up, and like totally pwned him. But before I could warp away to safety, or even move far enough away to cloak up, an interceptor, well, intercepted me. So I killed the Manticore, but so what? It cost me an Arazu, and I didn't even get any of the loot. Once again, I'd forgotten...er, the same lesson: Don't go for cheap kills when the enemy is capable and on the alert.

I'd been able to pick up an Ishtar for a good price from a corpmate some time ago, and eventually I was able to fit it out and pay the insurance premium. So, a few days ago, I took her out on her maiden cruise. As I approached my third jump gate, I saw a Curse in the vicinity...and just as I jumped, the Curse landed on the same gate. Then, upon reaching the other side of the gate, I found a Rapier waiting for me. At first, I did the right thing--I sat there under the protection of jump cloak and thought about my options. I decided to go back for the gate rather than trying to get out before the Rapier could lock me.

It didn't look good; the Rapier webbed me, as I thought he would, and the Curse jumped on in to join the party. I didn't think I would make it to the gate in time, though if I did, both ships had aggressed me and would be unable to follow me through. In a moment of panic, I made my mistake: I launched my sentry drones, hoping to take one of my attackers down with me, or maybe even drive one off. Almost immediately, I reassessed things and realized I could make the gate in time--the Curse was hurting me with his energy neutralizers, but I had dual cap boosters and was managing my reppers fine. So without having ordered the drones to engage the enemy,I gave the command for the drones to return to the bay and kept straining for the gate. (I didn't really expect the sentry drones to keep up, but with all the stasis webifying going on it was worth a try.)

And--I did make it back to the gate in time! Sadly, however, the gatekeepers judged I had recently been performing acts of aggression and denied me passage. I lasted but a little longer, but soon died. Although I had carefully not returned fire on my foes, for the short time my sentry drones were deployed, they had followed their programming and opened fire on a ship attacking me. I had broken the rule: Do not deploy drones when you don't want to aggress. And it was a costly lesson not to learn.

I lost my next stealth bomber after a glorious battle in which the Tuskers lost a Maller and a Myrmidon but killed a Caracal, a Myrmidon, and a Harbinger. As the other team's cavalry arrived, I took a few parting shots and warped to safety...or so I thought. As soon as I entered warp, I stopped paying attention for a few seconds; and only when it was too late did I realize I was not cloaked and being tackled by a Rifter. I'm still not sure whether I forgot to cloak entirely (unlikely, I think), cloaked but was decloaked by a wreck as I warped off, cloaked but was decloaked upon landing on top of the Rifter (I'd warped to a planet in line with my direction back at the battle), or been followed by the Rifter who decloaked me as he dropped out of warp. At any rate, in most of those scenarios had I been paying attention I could have cloaked and/or warped to a safer position. A real fundamental rule of combat is: Keep paying attention. Check and double-check.

And finally, what is perhaps my most embarrassing loss. Our gang had successfully killed a cruiser, destroyer, and frigate while some bigger targets fled. While sitting at a safe spot, I received intel that one of our targets was approaching a jump gate leading to highsec. I warped to the gate and found my target in a destroyer. I tackled him, and watched in amazement as his destroyer ripped my fragile interceptor apart. It was not until looking over the killmail later (I'm so ashamed to write this) that I realized he'd ripped nothing apart; I'd foolishly warped my interceptor to a set of sentry guns while classified a global criminal. Rookie pirate rule: You can't speed-tank sentry guns.

To recap:
  • Don't go for cheap kills when the enemy is capable and on the alert.
  • Keep paying attention.
  • Do not deploy drones when you don't want to aggress.
  • You can't speed-tank sentry guns.
These are the sort of rules meant to be learned while flying T1 frigates. And I thought I'd learned them. But to all of you smack-talkers out there: You were probably right. More than 1,700 kills notwithstanding, I fail--there's no arguing with facts.

As I skulk through lowsec, looking over my shoulder and salvaging other people's kills, a new dream begins burning in my soul: to master these fundamental lessons and start losing ships by neglecting more advanced rules. If I ever get the ISK to afford a new ship, that is...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Post the Raven? Nevermore

Sometimes (though not as often as I might like) a good fight never gets posted to the killboards. And so it happened yesterday in two separate Tusker actions against Ravens.

Early in the day, I was roaming in an ad hoc Tusker gang when Suleiman Shouaa spied a Raven and a Loki in Hulmate. They actually fired on him as he undocked from the station! "These guys want to play. I'm going to try to draw them off the station," he reported. (Tuskers generally don't fight at stations or gates, as the sentry guns have a grudge against us and almost always choose to support the other side.)

So Suleiman flew his ship (I think it was an Arbitrator) to a planet while the rest of us--I in an Ishtar, Ronan Jacques in a Rapier, and new Tusker Ian Morrolan in an Ishkur--took position at the Hulmate gate in Onne. I should tell you that at this point all I was thinking was, "We're seriously trying to engage a Raven and a Loki? Dang, I'm going to lose my Ishtar." But of course, I wanted to seem cool and brave in front of my corp mates, so I went along.

For better or for worse, Suleiman managed to get a tackle on the Raven at a planet. The rest of us jumped in and sped to his aid. At first, the fight went well. The Raven's drones were hurting Suleiman, so we killed them; after that, we had no problem staying under the Raven's long-range guns.

And then the Loki showed up on our 360-degree scanners. "Get ready! Here comes the Loki. Primary the Loki when it arrives!" So we all got as ready as could be.

But the Loki didn't come. It disappeared from our scanners.

Turning my attention back to the Raven, I was happy to see his tank would not be a problem for us. With a little effort we had him out of shields. Should we ransom him? "Let's ransom him. Everyone stop shooting," I ordered. "Wait! I see a capsule...he's ejected! Stop shooting!" Suleiman interrupted. But still the Raven's hull was taking damage. Someone was still shooting at a ship we now considered our own. "Stop shooting! Get your drones off!" By the time everyone most assuredly did call in their drones and disengage their turrets, the mighty Caldari battleship has barely 50% structure left...just enough for the air machines to keep up with the leaks.

Now our problem was what a set of pilots specced for Amarr, Gallente, and Minmatar combat vessels should do with a Caldari workhorse. Ronan Jacques had to leave, so the rest of us opened up our black books and got busy. First, we confirmed that no fellow Tuskers we could get ahold of knew how to fly a Raven. Next we turned to the Tusker public channel--a dodgy sort of place populated by hopeful recruits, professional contacts, and intel-gathering opponents. It was with a sigh of relief we learned that Drummond, a pilot who was in the process of applying to our corp, was willing to help and able to sit at the con of a Raven.

So there we were, three pilots in small ships with global criminal timers, orbiting a prize ship at a celestial in the middle of Hulmate. Our savior Drummond was on his way but had about a dozen systems to navigate getting there. We began to look over our shoulder. In our eyes, every frigate was the scout for the Raven pilot's friends, every cruiser was the vanguard of a counter-attack. Nervously now and then one of us would ask Drummond for a status update. We counted our ISK (What bounty might be in the Raven's hold? With what faction modules might she be fitted?) and we counted pilots in local. Drummond was almost here.

The Loki showed up again on 360. A battlecruiser showed up on 360. Both ships stayed on 360. Local spiked. My heart pounded. "Hurry man! They're about to rain destruction and ruin on us all and take the Raven back!" Drummond docked up and left his ship in the hangar. Drummond undocked and warped our way. "Stop shooting the Raven; let's let it build up its shields a little now that Drummond will be flying her," I said. Suleiman was more helpful: "Stop targeting the Raven altogether, otherwise Drummond won't be able to board." Finally the Raven's transponder blipped and now Drummond's name was on the tag.

I warped our gang (now including a Raven) to a safe spot, imagining teeth nipping at my heels. We all did whatever pilots do to relax--had a smoke, sipped some coffee, or got a back rub from an exotic dancer. Still greedy at heart, we queried Drummond on the Raven, learning it was T2 fit but not for PVP, and that only cap boosters and ammo were found in the holds. Still, she was triple-rigged, and none of us announced his intention of turning down the loot split. Our criminal status notched down, the Raven's shields at full, we scouted her home to Hevrice. I began speccing for Caldari battleships (I already had the textbooks and manuals, just had never got around to peeling off the shrinkwrap) with the idea of fitting hull reppers on her later and saving us some ISK; in the meantime Suleiman fit some remote armor repairers and saved us a lot more. So that's why there's (temporarily) a refurbished Raven in my hangar.

The second story, I'm sure you'll be relieved to hear, is shorter. "There's a Raven at one of the belts in Old Man Star. Are any Tuskers nearby?" Issamailkin is an impatient and foolhardy Tusker but he does wrap himself in glory. As it turned out, there were no Tusker pilots nearby, but several of us were near Hevrice and announced our intention of fitting out proper ships with which to address a battleship and head his way. I organized a fleet and headed towards Old Man Star in a Blackbird.

Old Man Star is the Wild West of the Essence region. Mighty Gallente and Caldari fleets clash there often, and when they don't have each other to shoot at, they don't object to shooting at anything else with a warp drive and an airlock. Cocky pilots looking for a reputation prowl the first asteroid field around planet V picking fights. Gangs of pirates and vigilantes organize raids and traps. It is common to find oneself in a three- or four-way fight, with each side trying to figure out who to primary, who to smile at, when to loot, when to cut one's losses, and when to just worry about one's implants.

In the middle of all this was Issamailkin, sitting at the con of a destroyer and shadowing a Caldari battleship. "It looks like he's ratting. He just warped to another belt. How far away are you guys? This belt is out of scan range from everyone else in the system center." This worried me. Issamailkin has a tendency to rush in where angels fear to tread. Worse, the angels seem to like him for it. As a fleet commander, I've used Issamailkin as bait on many an occasion, and find it unnatural how he'll often annihilate an entire gang with his T1 cruiser before his backup can warp to his position from our hiding place. "I'm two jumps out! I'm approaching the Ladistier gate in Aeschee now!" I reported. Another Tusker was just one system behind me. I started muttering to myself..."Issa, be patient. You're in a destroyer and that's a battleship we're talking about. We're almost there. Steady, Issa, steady..." But to no avail.

"I'm going in for a point. Hurry up guys." I hadn't even landed in Ladistier yet.

On our way!" I confirmed, as I landed and immediately gave the command to warp to the Old Man Star gate.

"Point!" That's right, Issamailkin had tackled a battleship with his destroyer. "Oh, good, he's not hitting me at all. I'm under his guns." Based on past experience, I now feared not for Issa's safety but that the Raven would be dead before I could ninja the killmail. Of course, another part of me, based on a different past experience set, couldn't see how this would be possible. Nevertheless, I tried stalling him: "Maybe you could ransom him. Tell him you have a gang on its way." I was dropping out of warp at the Old Man Star gate.

Issamailkin liked the idea of a ransom. "How much should I ask?" he wondered. I think I suggested 50-75 million ISK, figuring the Raven was insured but maybe the pilot had implants. As I finally began warping to Issamailkin, he reported "He's going to pay. So don't shoot him if you get here in time." (That's right, he said "if" not "when.") My blackbird dropped out of warp 50 km from the action, and as fast as I could I began trying to jam the Raven.

"Is he still targeting you?" I asked. I wanted Issa to know I'd made it on scene and was Providing Combat Support.

"Yeah," was the response. "I just got him to pay me 120 million ISK. Let him go."

!!!

"Roger that" was all I could say as, seconds after engaging the Raven, I warped to a safe spot in space.

"Ka Jolo, do you want any of this ISK?" Issamailkin was being both hopeful and gracious.

"You're darned right I want some ISK. I'm a greedy pirate. But whatever you think is fair; I barely made it there in time to get one jam cycle in." It turns out Issamailkin is generous and gracious.

May there be many more days like yesterday, where I post not a single Raven killmail!

Friday, November 20, 2009

A trip down memory lane

In your face, Wensley! That's right, another solo Rifter kill in my Incursus. Jolo's still got it!

Some of us Tuskers in T1 frigates and destroyers were chasing a former Tusker around Hevrice in his Rifter while keeping an eye on a menacing Thrasher also in system. We weren't having much luck, and in fact we never managed to engage either target. But as I warped to a random factional warfare outpost, apparently this Rifter pilot was warping to the same destination.

I landed a second or two before him, and had little trouble getting him locked down. At point-blank range I unleashed whatever fury my Incursus could muster, waiting to see what would develop. "Warp to Jolo! Warp to Jolo!" I let my gang in on what was going down, not wanting to deprive them of some excitement in their dull lives.

What developed was the Thrasher showed up on my overview, blinking an angry red. My damage display was also getting redder by the second. Certain I would be dead in moments, I calmly selected a destination to warp my capsule to. Hmm. The damage against my Incursus' armor was slowing, while the Rifter was literally falling apart before my eyes. "Primary the Thrasher!" I broadcast, with ever-growing hope I would be able to kill the Rifter before being killed in turn.

The Rifter finally went dead in space, leaving me with 30% of my armor left. I didn't stick around to recall my drone or scoop loot; there was still a chance I could save my ship if I bugged out fast--and lo and behold, I did. Ah, what a great feeling: a solo Rifter kill, and I saved my Incursus from the evil clutches of the Minmatar destroyer.

My smugness was dampened somewhat as it turns out the destroyer had been sitting 100km away the whole time, a detail I hadn't registered in the fog of battle. Seeing my backup arrive, he simply warped to safety. My mates arrived too late to ninja the Rifter kill, but they managed to tackle the pilot's capsule. Sheepish at having fled from an imaginary threat, I returned to the scene, scooped my Hobgoblin, and struck up a conversation with the Rifter pilot. He had some implants in his clone, so we let him go free in return for a modest consideration.

I love it that a simple T1 frigate fight still does it for me.

I mean, don't get me wrong: three-sided fights like the rolling skirmishes yesterday in Adirain and Aeschee--involving battleships, HAC's, logistics ships, and recons--really get one's adrenaline pumping. I hope for more and more good fights like that. But I'm glad my joie de vivre can come from a simple T1 frigate fight just as easily.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Silent Service

[Thank you, all my loyal readers who have sent me encouraging notes and donations of various sorts. Be assured I have not abandoned this blog!]

Unbeknown to many a hapless pilot in New Eden, there is a whole world of intrigue lurking in space, undetected by your ship's scanners. I'm speaking of the world of cloaked ships.

Just about any spaceship is able to equip a cloaking device. My "friend" uses a cloaking device on his Bestower, hoping thereby to escape gate camps when hauling a load through pirate-infested lowsec. In fact, many a hauler faced on jumping through a gate with a gang of pirates in heavily-tanked combat vessels has mastered this art: (1) Align toward the destination stargate or space station; (2) Immediately engage the microwarpdrive or afterburner; (3) Immediately engage the cloaking device. For a few precious moments, your ship is invulnerable to being locked by the enemy, even as you slowly gain speed approaching that needed to warp. But at any moment your cloaking device will shut off the microwarpdrive; as soon as that happens, (4) Disengage the cloaking device and issue the command to warp. Aligned and at speed, with any luck at all your hauler will be able to warp away before the pirates can lock and tackle.

But I digress. We can disregard any number of haulers in the universe cloaking for a few seconds to get away from gate camps. Similarly, we can set aside the smart miners and ratters that, at the first sign of a stranger in the solar system, warp to a safe spot and cloak for the duration.

You see, many a space pilot has died because he did not realize the apparently empty solar system he was traversing held invisible stalkers. Right now, as you read this, a scout for some pirate corporation could be approaching your ship, transmitting your location to his gang so they can warp in on top of you. Nowhere is safe--not a deadspace complex, not a "safe spot," not even a deep safe spot. There are many ways clever pilots use cloaking devices to their advantage (e.g. Stealth Bombers or Black Ops battleships), but I want to talk about just two of them. Both types will be using a special "covert ops" cloaking device, which cloaks their ship not only under impulse power but also during warp.

First is the Force Recon pilot. This pilot and his high-tech cruiser is able to hunt you down just as any other cruiser pilot might--only you don't see him coming. By the time a Force Recon ship shows up on your overview, chances are he's in range and has already issued the order to lock you as a target. You might see a Rupture at a nearby planet as he tries to resolve the exact asteroid belt you're mining, giving you time to call in your drones and warp to safety--but you'll probably not see a Pilgrim until he's within his weapons system's optimal range, ready to unleash a firestorm of destruction on you from his deadly drones. You may view your odds against that battlecruiser as favorable--only to pound your console in helpless desperation as a Falcon appears on your overview and jams you blind. You may count on your speed tank to dance around your adversaries--but not when a Rapier reaches out and touches you. You may count on your range to keep you safe from your foes--until an Arazu suddenly appears, tackling you from across the battlefield.

Force Recon ships are the ace up the sleeve of many a small gang. In many parts of New Eden, "Because of Falcon" is a colloquial expression meaning something like, "We had every advantage, in numbers, in firepower, and in support--but then it all crashed down upon us." Fortunately, in spite of their unique advantages and their shared ability to use covert ops cloaking devices, Force Recon ships are not particularly hardy vessels. A prepared pilot or small gang does have a shot at killing a Force Recon vessel when it appears--and losing a Force Recon ship hits hard in the wallet. Furthermore, covert ops cloaking devices have the weakness that they interfere with targeting systems. For a few seconds after they disengage their cloak (the more skilled the pilot, the shorter the delay), they are unable to target anything smaller than a Class 5 star. Use those precious seconds wisely, whether to make your escape or neutralize the new threat.

The second sort of invisible foe I want to discuss is the Covert Ops pilot. His Covert Ops frigate is, frankly, weak and puny. All it really has going for it is its speed, agility, and invisibility. Unfortunately, that's often all it needs. You may think your hauler is slipping through a system unnoticed, but a Covert Ops pilot may already be shadowing you. You may think your trap is well-laid, not realizing a Covert Ops pilot is scant kilometers away from your backup in the next system, reporting to your supposed prey the composition of your fleet and the identity of your pilots. You may think life is "business as usual," never suspecting that a Covert Ops ship is sitting 50km from your home station, recording names of your corporation's pilots, what sorts of ships they command, and what time of day they typically sortie--information of great interest to that corporation that just declared war on yours. The "eyes" of a well-organized combat gang are often a team of Covert Ops pilots.

Did I say all a Covert Ops frigate has going for it is speed, agility, and invisibility? I should have added "and the ability to find you anywhere in space." For Covert Ops ships are purpose-made to sport scan probe launchers that can pinpoint your exact location, whether you're in mid-warp, at a safe spot, exploring a deadspace complex, or regrouping 1,000 km. off a stargate. Many ship classes are capable of fitting scan probe launchers, of course, but at such a cost that they become good for little else (though watch out for certain Force Recon pilots); Covert Ops ships, with little purpose in the first place other than to observe and report, fill that role even more excellently when among the information they can report is the location of your safe spot.

What frequently happens is a Covert Ops pilot picks up your ship on his on-board scanner, and quickly realizes you are not at any known celestial body. He determines your range by limiting his scanner to various limits until he knows at which setting you can be detected and at what range you cannot be detected. He notes the general direction you are in in relation to his location or the location of known objects. Next, he launches a flight of combat scan probes (perhaps warping someplace out of range of your own scanner, so you won't see him as the launch of his probes briefly decloaks his ship). Within just a minute or two, any competent scanner will have the ability to warp directly to your location.

Now, if that was all there was to the matter, this would not be such a big deal; in fact, most pirates would welcome the sudden appearance of a Covert Ops vessel within range of their weapons. The problem is that there is all too often a gang that goes along with the Covert Ops pilot, and when they show up close enough to read your ship's ID number with the naked eye, why, they're generally prepared to lock you, tackle you, and have their way with you--were it not so, they would not choose to warp to you in the first place.

I hope this tale has given you something to think about. The next time you lay a trap, but nobody takes the bait...the next time your hauler, full of valuable cargo, just happens to be the one that gets ganked while a moment before your scout reported the gate was clear and the two other haulers you jumped through with escape unmolested...the next time you're tempted to warp to a "safe" spot and set your ship on autopilot while you grab a bite to eat--well, take another look at local and think invisible.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Location, location, location!

In the cat-and-mouse game that is lowsec piracy, location is everything. Here's what that means, from a pirate's perspective:

Jump gates. Several elements are significant when fighting at jump gates. First, the presence of sentry guns, even at lowsec jump gates, determines the circumstances under which one might engage. We outlaws are at a disadvantage at jump gates, as anyone may freely fire at us with no penalty, while we ourselves will incur sentry gun fire if we initiate hostilities against a pilot who is not an outlaw. Gate-campers typically trust in their defenses to shield them from the combined power of their target and the sentry guns, but pirates in frigates are generally out of the fight.

All of my mates are outlaws; if one of us is attacked at a jump gate, the rest of us must let him sink or swim on his own. Even a fellow corp member in our gang who is in distress may not benefit from our back-up; were we to engage a ship that has attacked him, we are guilty of "assisting an outlaw" and the sentry guns open fire. This is why a law-abiding pilot at a jump gate may find himself utterly ignored by a menacing fleet of outlaws in light ships.

The second element to consider when fighting at a jump gate is the "cool down" period enforced by jump gate operators. Simply stated, no ship is cleared to jump through unless he has avoided all combat activity for at least 60 seconds. For the gate-camper, this may mean that one must be able to destroy the target before the target reaches jump range of the gate; otherwise, the target may simply approach the gate and jump through, while the attacker must cool down for 60 seconds, allowing the prey ample time to escape. For this reason savvy pirates will have a tackler on the other side of the gate. These mechanics encourage fast, agile ships; the attackers need ships that can quickly and lock onto their prey, while the supposed victim needs a ship that can quickly align and enter warp before being tackled.

There are several ways to defeat gate camps in lowsec, particularly the ill-prepared ones. Most effective is a cloaking device: simply give the order to align to your next destination, then immediately activate your cloak; when aligned, deactivate the cloaking device and engage your warp engines. This makes it difficult for the hostile ships to lock their target in time. Another useful technique is to make use of warp core stabilizers; campers can only tackle you, then, if their combined warp disruption capability is more than your warp core strength. Very fast ships may find it easy to simply speed out of tackle range before warping off, while moderately agile ships (especially ones with some significant tank) might opt to make best speed back to the gate and return from whence they came.

In spite of these obstacles to lucrative PVP at jump gates, gate-camping and fights of opportunity at jump gates remain popular. The reason for this is that ships at gates are simply vulnerable. To go from one system to another, most ships have to approach and jump through a jump gate. Canny lowsec survivors that are aware of the pilots in local and move from safe spot to safe spot just can't avoid passing through these choke points if they wish to leave the system. Add to this the extra vulnerability of outlaws, and one can understand why much anti-pirate and pirate-on-pirate action takes place at jump gates.

Stations. Certain pilots seem to specialize in fighting within docking range of space stations. This combat style requires patience and the ability to capitalize on one's opponent's mistakes. Space stations share several elements with jump gates, in that pilots may escape the fight even if tackled, there is a 60-second cool-down period to enter a space station, ships can't leave a station without passing through the undock area, and sentry guns are standing by. On the other hand, when a ship docks up it is truly safe, with no worries of what lies on the other side of a gate. Further, either party in a space station fight may have a stable of ships just inside from which to select when re-emerging from one's hangar, and often repair facilities await inside.

Fights at space stations are sometimes characterized by the term "docking games." Heavily tanked ships are content to take their chances by attacking any ship that undocks, knowing if their target has teeth they can live to fight another day as long as they can tank the return fire and sentry gun damage just long enough to outlast the cool-down timer. As ships engage one another outside a space station, it is common to see one or the other docking and re-docking to repair, change ships, or deny the other a victory.

Pilots adept at this sort of combat are alert for opportunities to maneuver their opponent outside of docking range, especially when a space station has a relatively small docking range. They may ram their target to force it away from the station (a tactic known as "bumping"), or fly well outside of docking range themselves to draw their eager foe away as well. Once the target is well clear of the dock, its impulse engines can be stasified while the attacker shifts his attack into high gear.

Take advantage of the temporary invulnerability a space station affords immediately after undocking; if you find yourself camped, remember that your foes can't touch you until that protection expires, or until you activate any module or change course. You can return to the space station immediately if you desire, but do it quickly before you can be bumped away. The best way to escape such ambushes is to have an "undock safe" already prepared: a point immediately in front of the space station's undock point, and far enough away you may warp to it. Since you leave the space station at speed, and your destination is straight ahead, you'll enter warp almost immediately even if your ship is large and clumsy.

Celestial objects. Certain heavenly bodies, such as stars, planets, moons, and known asteroid belts, are pre-programmed in every ship's navigation computer. Because every pirate out there will be able to warp directly to such objects, and because pilots are on their own in lowsec once they leave the relative safety of jump gates and space stations with their sentry guns, you are at your most vulnerable when you are at a celestial object.

Many foolhardy pilots brave the dangers and go to lowsec asteroid belts, whether to mine ores thought to be more profitable than those available in highsec, or to fight no-name pirates ("rats") that lurk nearby. Pirates are well aware of this, and the first places they scan when hunting are asteroid belts. You are warned. I would go so far as to say that if you are ratting or mining at a belt, you should just assume that any other pilot who shows up in local frequencies is probably on his way to attack you at that very moment. If your attention wanders for just a moment at just the wrong time, the first sign of danger that may penetrate the fog of your negligent brain is his red-flashing icon on your computer's overview; you have but seconds to warp away--and perhaps not enough seconds to align and engage your warp engines before his sensor-boosted targeting systems have you locked.

Two types of pilots are found at asteroid belts, really. First are pilots so inexperienced they have no idea what danger they are in; second are pilots looking for--and ready for--a fight. Pirates hope you're the former, but are typically prepared for you to be the latter. Simply by checking your employment history I have a pretty good idea which category you're in, and if you're inexperienced enough I have no problem trying to kill your ship outright no matter what you're flying, or at the very least holding you down while backup arrives. If, on the other hand, I think you're looking for a fight, I have to evaluate our relative ship capabilities and backup potential. Are you bait? If I know you're bait, and engage anyway, will you know that I know you're bait? If so, will you run away, figuring I must also be just the tip of the iceburg that is my fleet, or will you stay, thinking your trap is sufficient to the challenge? Suffice it to say that plenty of combat goes on at asteroid belts, one way or another.

One interesting feature of combat at asteroid belts is--get ready for this--the presence of asteroids. These can be helpful or unhelpful. If your attacker is in an interceptor that is moving fast enough to nullify your weapons, try to get him to run into an asteroid; he'll come to a screeching halt, and for a few precious moments your drones, missiles, and guns can pound away. On the other hand, nothing is more agonizing than trying to warp out, only to find your ship corralled by an asteroid or two.

Pilots with more experience, but without enough time in the local system to have acquired a set of safe spots, will frequently mitigate these dangers by simply never going to an asteroid belt at 0 kilometers. As they maneuver from point to point to scan for targets or threats or to pursue prey or evade pursuit, they may warp to the local sun, planets, or moons. This remains dangerous, as an opponent can pinpoint their location at 5 degrees and often determine at exactly which heavenly body you are located, and warp themselves to that same body. This in turn is often complicated by everyone's ability to warp at any range from 0-100 kilometers. Nevertheless, what with fast interceptors and multiple fleet members warping in at a series of ranges, it is common for fleets to end up engaging one another at celestial bodies.

Deadspace. Many pilots work for agents who assign them missions that take them to deadspace pockets in lowsec systems. There are also previously undiscovered asteroid belts, sites of archeological interest, criminal bases, and other uncharted points of interest. These areas are much safer than celestial objects, as pirates don't have their coordinates in their navigation systems and so often must glare with frustration at a potential target they can pick up on their sensors but cannot approach. Just remember, "safer" doesn't mean "safe."

A significant number of pirates are adept at the use of combat scanner probes; these probes are remotely piloted and, with time, can provide their user with your exact location, a set of coordinates to which they can warp. Frequently, pirates work in teams with one ship fit for probing and at least one other ship ready to press the attack. This is a lucrative specialization, as many "mission runners" or "explorers" depend on the remoteness of their efforts for survival. Such pilots therefore are often fit with expensive specialized modules, and are considered real prizes by the pirates who hunt them.

One interesting feature of certain deadspace pockets (especially those accessed through acceleration gates) is natural phenomena that disrupt microwarp drives. Mission-runners are typically expecting this and are prepared, fitted with afterburners rather than microwarpdrives; but frequently an attacker is focused on fighting in "normal" space and is gimped in deadspace by having a microwarp drive rather than an afterburner. This makes pirates in ships that rely on their speed for their efficacy, such as interceptors and nano-ships, more vulnerable than they would like.

There is no need to panic in the presence of probers. Before they can get an accurate fix on your location, they must get at least four of their probes within a few a.u. of you. Shorten the range on your on-board directional scanner, make sure combat scanner probes (including Sisters combat scanner probes) show up there, and stay alert. Check your scanner every 30-60 seconds; if you do see a probe, start checking even more frequently. If you see more than two probes within about 4 a.u., get out, even if it jeopardizes your mission.

Safe spots. The final category might well be termed, "anyplace else." A safe spot is typically created at a random spot in space. Some are "safer" than others, when factoring in drive-by sightings, range from celestial objects, etc. The only way for a pirate to pinpoint your ship's location (necessary if he is to attack you) is through the use of combat scanner probes, so the same caveats apply as for deadspace pockets (though microwarpdrives work just fine at safe spots).

Some people, I'm sorry to say, feel entirely too safe at safe spots. They warp to a safe spot and then leave the bridge unattended while they spend time with crew or family members, or even take a nap. Meanwhile, they're being probed, and eventually killed--sometimes alerted by onboard alarms reporting they're already targeted, sometimes not alerted at all until they find their escape capsule floating in space.

I've killed ships and looted their wrecks at each of these locations. I'm kinda ashamed to admit it, but I've been killed and plundered at each of these locations as well--in fact, I've lost ships at "safe" spots more than once.

Welcome to lowsec, but remember: one place is not the same as the others.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Fighting fair

Oft do I hear the lament, "Nobody fights fair anymore." Well of course not!

People seem to have the idea that "a fair fight" consists of two equally-matched opponents risking it all in a thrilling space battle. But if one were to stop and consider for a few moments what "equally-matched" could possibly mean, it becomes clear that there is no such thing as a fair fight. Consider this short list of factors that contribute to one's ability to win a fight:
  1. Skills (in broad terms, skills affect speed, DPS, EHP, agility, and the modules one may fit; in more narrow terms, skills affect speed, the damage capability of the turrets one may fit, the range of those turrets, the rate of fire of those turrets, the tracking of those turrets, the damage capability of one's drones, the number of drones, the range of the drones, the speed of the drones, the hp of the drones; they affect the actual HP of one's ship, the resists to various damage types one has, one's scan resolution, one's manuverability; they affect the size of one's turrets and the tech levels of one's modules). In other words, fighting completely fair has to start at the beginning of a pod pilot's training.
  2. Ship and modules. Two equally-skilled pilots may make different choices as to ship (e.g. Incursus or Tristan) or modules (e.g. web or tracking disruptor). Even ships with roughly the same fitting could actually have modules with different meta levels. Further, two ships fit identically could still load different ammo. So fighting fair has to take into account one's fitting bay.
  3. Numbers. More is better. This is easily controlled, unless you don't find it easy deciding which members of your gang don't get to get in on the killmail.
  4. Pilot experience. At what range to fight? Traveling at what speed? Which modules to activate, and when? Which ammo type to load? Which drones to deploy? Shoot the ship, or take out her drones first? Fly into that asteroid field, or steer clear? Should I use up my own cap to suck up theirs? Good answers to these questions come from native intelligence and experience, and an intimate knowledge of the other pilot's ship, modules, experience, and personality doesn't hurt, either.
Now, tell me if you can how to balance these factors to end up with a truly fair fight? Bah, there's no such thing as a completely fair fight. Furthermore, it is foolish to want a fair fight. In the history of combat, any good commander is looking for an edge, whether it comes from numbers, armament, terrain, intelligence, politics, logistics, whatever. The people who complain about a battle being unfair tend to be the losers.

On the other hand...

I do actually believe that the combat we engage in is fair. Let's back things up a little.
  1. As a pilot, I am free to choose which skills to train, which ships to spend my money on, and how to fit that ship. Sure, I can't have it all, but the information is available to me to help me understand the trade-offs. No other pilot in the game makes these decisions for me.
  2. As a pilot, I am free to roam lawless space's asteroid belts, or stay huddled in my hangar. I get to decide whether to undock, and where to go and what to do if I so choose. The information is available to me to assess the risk of any activity: system security levels, recent kills, pilots in space--all are publically available information. In the system where I am--in the place where my ship is vulnerable--I have further intelligence on every other pilot: their security status, their employment history, and their tenure as a pilot.
  3. As a human being, I get to choose whether to live a solitary existence, or whether to build relationships with others. Society with others can be a powerful deterrant, and having friends who are willing to risk themselves for my sake can make all the difference in whether I win or lose a battle. If I do have such friends, I get to make the decision whether to fly with or without them.
  4. Finally, in many instances I get to decide whether or not to engage. The judicious use of coverts ops cloaking devices, warp core stabilizers, safe spots, and speed cover a multitude of combat vulnerabilities once one has made the decision to share space with combat-ready vessels of all types.
If I know that my ship could be destroyed within seconds of undocking, what do I mean by claiming "Unfair!" when it happens? If I know that some pilots don't honor their word, yet I agree to a duel anyway, how can I claim it isn't fair when I get blobbed? Have they somehow exploited the laws of physics or broken some civil law? If I myself seek to win fights by countering my foes' advantages with advantages of my own, how is it fair to prohibit them from doing the same?

The basis for fairness in New Eden is free will (I get to choose how to prepare myself and my vessel), full disclosure (I have access to information that helps me assess risks), and actual rules (everyone knows that anyone may attack anyone in any system of any security status).

No fair fights in New Eden, you say? "All is fair in love and war," says I.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Isht-YARR!

Way back almost two years ago, when I first set out for the life of a lowsec belt pirate, I dreamed of roaming the space lanes at the console of an Ishtar-class Heavy Assault Ship. It was considered the wtf solo pwnmobile of its day. Feeling alone in the universe, I determined to work my way up into one of the most feared combat vessels available, and the Ishtar was a stand-out. Based on the Vexor's cruiser-sized hull, the Ishtar is relatively agile and manuverable. It's design centers on drones, and it has both the drone bay and drone communications bandwidth to field more than one set of heavy combat drones or even sentry drones. And so I began patiently accumulating the skills to fly Ishtars, starting from the bottom and working up.

After more than a year of tedious learning, I was poised to see my dream come true. I had laid a fine foundation of support skills, and was looking at the final stretch of learning: high-tech heavy combat drones and sentry drones--an arcane and complex tangle of physics, electronics, space traffic control, specifications, fuel computations, mechanics, and tactics. It was at about this time that, in the face of new discoveries in physics and a mass of class-action suits, microwarpdrive manufacturers brought an end to the golden age of high-speed combat. The Ishtar, until then one of the poster-boys of nano-combat, fell from grace.

Hearing the lamentations of Ishtar pilots across New Eden, I re-evaluated my path, and did not learn the final skills needed to master an Ishtar. I completed my regime to fly Gallente battlecruisers instead, and specced for Recon ships and Heavy Interdictors. Mastering these ship classes gave me the ability to pilot some notorious ships: the Myrmidon, a beast of a battlecruiser; for the first time, my fights lasted longer than a few seconds; the Arazu, one of the better ships for solo hunting when wants to pick ones fights; and the Phobos, my first ship with a real tank, allowing me to tackle anything while easily soaking up damage from sentry guns. Heck, I even went back and took the courses needed to fly Assault Ships well. It turns out the same scientific and legal issues that knocked the nano-Ishtar down a few notches elevated the Ishkur-class Assault Ships to dizzying heights.

I had my share of fun with my new toys as I acquired them, one-by-one. I remember perma-tanking a Drake I tackled with my Ishkur, waiting patiently while comms contacted potential backup ships to come and finish him off. A pesky Myrmidon slipped through my fingers once, and I jumped into my Phobos to try again; the Phobos did the trick and my gang got that Myrmidon kill. I roamed far and wide in my Arazu, and time after time I would appear on my victim's overview two or three scant kilometers away, spewing drones and death. My Myrmidon gave me opportunities to engage multiple foes single-handedly, and the flexible drone selection broadened my pool of targets.

Oh yes, I had my fun. But the fly in the ointment for me was the fact that none of them were the mythical Ishtar I had dreamed about. The Ishkur was an excellent ship, but not suitable for engaging many of the targets that presented themselves to me: I could kill most other frigates (some interceptors would manage to escape), many cruisers (I still had to watch out for well-flown drone boats), and even some battlecruisers. The Myrmidon was also a good all-arounder, but a bit slower than I'm used to flying, and I had to watch out for small gangs. The Arazu gave me confidence over any T1 cruiser I might find, but was very vulnerable if my target had backup. And while I've never lost a Phobos in battle, and it is just the ship needed when the target has warp core stabilizers fitted, it is strictly a niche ship--I use it only in gangs, and only rarely, because its DPS is, well, its DPS isn't.

The bad thing for me was that these ships were expensive. I'm a pirate, and I get in a lot of combat. Sure, the Phobos has been a one-time expense for me, and I can afford to lose my share of Ishkurs. But each loss of a Myrmidon (well-rigged) or Arazu hit me hard in the pocketbook. From a cost-benefit perspective, I grew cool toward such ships, and found myself flying Vexors and Thoraxes along with my Ishkurs. In other words, I was selecting ships primarily because they were cheap, and letting juicy targets go unmolested. That hurt.

By the time I finished achieving competence in each of those four ship classes, I had noted sporadic reports coming in that the Ishtar was still a formidable PVP ship, whether solo or in gangs. This picture did not emerge immediately, as more pilots could not agree on how to fit their Ishtars. Some continued to shield-tank their Ishtars and fit them for speed; others fit double armor repairers and swore by their tanking ability; yet others fit heavy armor plating and rigged them for survivability. Eventually concluding that the Ishtar remained a flexible and deadly option, I put the final skills needed back on my schedule and forewent replacing my latest big-ticket ships.

I formed a plan to try each "flavor" of Ishtar to get a feel for their relative pros and cons. The so-called nano-Ishtar (a shadow of its former self) does retain a respectable speed, and is able to run under the guns of ships such as battleships that sport heavy weapons. The double-repper Ishtar doesn't run under guns so much as absorb their damage, making it fairly impervious to most single opponents. But I decided to start with the plate buffer Ishtar, which can take a real pounding before calling it a day.

I started out slow. Spooked by heavy losses in Myrmidons and Arazus, I kept the Ishtar in my hangar, and brought it out when I would be in a Tusker gang and my DPS and tanking ability were both issues. I didn't really start to actually roam in an Ishtar until May 15, and even then it's taken me a long time to get a feel for the ship. Many of my early fights were fights I would have won in my Thorax or even my Incursus. I'd make foolish decisions regarding range and drone deployment: I'd warp in 30 kilometers away from the target and deploy sentry drones, unable to help tackle and often without landing any shots. Several brave Tusker pilots went down in flames as I experimented. But I learn.

At this point my confidence in the Ishtar is growing by leaps and bounds; I find myself cautioning myself not to become over-confident, as my Ishtar faces each new battle situation and comes out on top. The Ishtar's DPS is good, but not stellar; my current configuration can dish out up to about 480 DPS, compared with my gank Thorax's 575 (both my Taranis and my Ishkur do about 210). The EHP on my plate-buffered Ishtar is also good--over 62k, compared to over 70k on my dual-repped Phobos or almost 46k on my blaster Myrmidon. Next, this flavor of Ishtar is speedy enough, with boosted speeds of over 1100 meters per second, about the same as that Thorax and beating the 900 that Myrmidon can do. Finally, the Ishtar has flexibility in deploying drones. If I'm fighting something fast or small (or both), out go the light drones. If it's big and heavily tanked, a full flight of heavy drones do their thing. If it's big and can outrun the heavy drones, or if there are multiple targets not right on top of one another, I can deploy five sentry drones and hit targets out to about 100km.

The thing is, this Ishtar is the whole package; while not really shining in any one area, it does well in all. More than once I flew my Ishtar into a trap. Not only was I able to warp away once the trap was sprung, but I've also been able to kill the bait first. What I like about the Ishtar is it seems to be a forgiving ship; I can make a few mistakes, take too long to figure something out, and still be fine.

For example, a few days ago I was ganking a destroyer when a Hurricane dropped in and I started taking heavy fire; my shields evaporated, and he was making steady inroads into my armor buffer. I finished off the destroyer, then dropped heavy drones on the 'Cane as I opened the range to get out of his optimal. This worked well for a few minutes, and I knocked him down to about 25% armor. Then he stopped taking damage, and after another couple of minutes I noticed he was actually regenerating his shields. Why did my drones stop hitting him? I checked, and saw that my drones were about a hundred kilometers away; I was having no problems keeping up with the battlecruiser, buy my Ogre II's were huffing and puffing to no avail. So I abandoned them, dropped sentries, and went in close to web him so he couldn't get away from them in time. It worked--I still had 15% of my buffer left when he popped. I spent my Global Criminal Countdown looting wrecks and scooping drones over a 200+ kilometer battlefield.

Over the past three weeks since I started flying almost exclusively in my Ishtar, I've done quite well. In terms of solo kills, I've killed 5 frigates, 3 destroyers, 2 industrials, 1 covert ops, 3 assault ships, 9 cruisers, and 4 battlecruisers; in fact, I managed to lock 5 of the capsules in time to kill them as well, and extracted a ransom from a Retriever mining in lowsec. On top of that, in small gangs I helped score another 2 frigate kills, 2 more destroyers, 2 assault ships, 4 cruisers, 1 recon ship, 1 battlecruiser, 2 battleships, and 4 more pods. We let a battleship go for ISK, and we let a battlecruiser pilot keep his implants in exchange for his ship.

50 kills and 3 ransoms--but that's just one side of the story. To really understand my growing infatuation with the Ishtar, we have to ask the question, "How many Ishtars did I lose in the process?"

Zero.

I'm still flying my first Ishtar. That's right, I'm getting some nice kills, my hangar is filling up with T2 and faction loot, and my biggest worry is when will I have to fetch more cap boosters.

Ishtar? Isht-YARR!

Monday, April 20, 2009

To shoot or not to shoot...

To shoot or not to shoot--that is often the question of the moment in New Eden. Take just now as an example.

Feeling in the mood for something a little different, I hopped in a Phobos and went to an isolated point in space, far out of range of the directional scanner of any ship near a charted celestial object. I had my mind set on a little gate-camping. A friend of mine, quite law-abiding as far as the authorities are concerned, flew his covert ops ship into the next system, a high-security system where I myself would have been shot at on sight. My pal cloaked a couple of hundred kilometers off the Hevrice gate in Raneilles, a perfect vantage point for watching ships approach the gate.

Our plan was for him to alert me when an interesting target would approach the Hevrice gate, so that I could warp to the other side of the gate and attack the ship before it could warp away. In the meantime, ships entering and leaving the system would notice nothing unusual. As new ships entered Raneilles from other highsec jump gates, my comrade ran their pilots' names through public databases to assist us in identifying targets.

It wasn't long before an industrial ship--a hauler--showed up on the overview in highsec. This was the first time we asked ourselves, "To shoot or not to shoot?" In the event, we let the hauler pass; he was known to us as a local who typically hauled such cargo as garbage or refugees. Since my planned attack on the gate was almost sure to result in punitive sentry gun fire, we determined this ship was not worth it.

And so it went for half an hour; ship after ship passed through the Raneilles-Hevrice jump gate, but none was deemed a worthy target. Some frigates were judged too fast for me to tackle; most were local haulers, though, and we were waiting for more lucrative targets.

And lo, one appeared! Our first warning was a new pilot showing up on the local comms net in Raneilles; my mate ran his name, and found he was a member of a corporation neither of us was familiar with--in other words, not a local short-run hauler. But was he bringing a cargohold full of bounty into low-security space, or merely conducting business at one of the space stations in Raneilles? This question was answered as the pilot's ship itself--a Mammoth--showed up on my mate's directional scanner, approaching the Hevrice gate. Again, we asked ourselves, "To shoot or not to shoot?"

This time I sprang into action. My Phobos was already set to warp to the jump gate, and all I had to do was give the go order; within seconds, we were in warp to the gate. As we came out of warp, the Mammoth was already aligning to warp away, but unfortunately for him he was within range of my heavy interdictor's warp disruption field generator. With the aid of a high-tech sensor booster, I had him locked and had his warp drives disrupted within seconds. Two sentry guns anchored near the stargate opened fire on me as I closed range with my target, but again my heavy interdictor was able to control the damage quite easily. It was but the work of a moment to blast the industrial ship beyond repair.

My search of the wreckage was rewarded by a couple of high-tech ship modules...and a couple of POS modules worth millions of ISK! I jettisoned some of my capacitor boosters to make room in my hold, before realizing that my Phobos would never have enough room for such massive structures. My mate offered to come for the loot in an industrial of his own, and I gave the order to return to deep space.

When my mate returned to the scene of the crime, the question now was, "To loot or not to loot." For there in space sat a Cyclone-class battlecruiser, piloted by none other than the pilot of the Mammoth I had destroyed. My mate approached the wreck, counting on the Cyclone's reluctance to incur sentry fire for protection, but decided not to loot; taking the loot from the other pilot's wreck would strip him of any protection from the sentry guns, and the Cyclone would be free to destroy his ship. Now the question was to me--"To shoot or not to shoot." Well violence may not be the answer, but it is the question--and for me the answer was, "Yes!"

I warped to my mate--scant meters from the menacing Cyclone, and certain of a hostile reception by the sentry guns, which still had me as a target. I took a few token shots at the Cyclone, but really had no taste for a fight against two sentry guns and a battlecruiser. Instead, I jettisoned a cargo container into space and transferred the treasures from the wreckage directly into that "jetcan." Doing so made me a legal target to the Cyclone--not that it made any difference after I'd just destroyed his hauler and was already under sentry fire.

As I hovered, anxiously managing my armor repairers and feeding my capacitor booster, my mate transferred the loot from my jetcan to his hold. In the eyes of the law, he was now stealing from me, not the Cyclone pilot, and so he had nothing to fear. With our financial security assured, he warped off to a space station. I also then gave the order to warp to deep space, halfway expecting to find the Cyclone had me scrammed; but my warp engines engaged and I was off to the space station to join my pal.

At first, the space station would not grant me permission to dock; I was still showing on their computers as an active combatant. As I waited for their computers to update themselves, the station's own sentry guns inflicted further damage on my Phobos--but the Phobos can take it. Soon I was granted permission to dock, but as I did so the Cyclone arrived on scene.

My mate and I examined our booty and made some repairs to damages taken during the attack, and pondered that Cyclone orbiting the space station. I didn't want to face him down with the sentry guns still hungry for my blood, but if we waited a bit my global criminal status would expire and we might be able to get something going.... We made our preparations.

As my global criminal status expired, I was at the helm of my Myrmidon, while my mate conned his heavily-armored Maller. My partner undocked first, and immediately locked the Cyclone, just to get its attention. To shoot or not to shoot? Nope; our target was neutral to my buddy, and we didn't want the sentry guns against us. And then the Cyclone pilot answered wrong to the question, "To shoot or not to shoot"--or rather, one of his drones did. Incredibly, my partner reported taking fire from the Cyclone's drones--bringing the sentry guns into the fight on our side! My gangmate scrammed the Cyclone, double-webbed him, and opened fire with five small pulse lasers all fitted with close-range crystals.

I undocked as fast as I could. Good! The Cyclone was already flashing red on my overview, a response to his unprovoked attack on an innocent pilot (remember, in the eyes of the law I and not my friend had stolen from the Cyclone's former ship). I gave the order to lock the Cyclone--and it disappeared from my overview!

My first thought was that he'd docked up. I've been in a lot of fights at the docking bays of space stations, and that's a common occurrence. I was disappointed, because I didn't think he should have had enough time for the space station's computers to realize he was no longer an active combatant. And then I noticed a new wreck on my overview, and realized that my mate--in a low-tier low-tech cruiser--had already (with the assistance of sentry guns) destroyed the Minmatar battlecruiser! We scooped yet more loot into our holds, and docked up, satisfied with our day's work.

"To shoot or not to shoot?" The answer can mean death and destruction; it can mean fame and riches. Choose wisely.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Arazu: Gallente Force Recon vessel

A lost another Arazu today, and it got me to thinking.

I really like the idea of these Gallente Force Recon ships. A cruiser-sized covert ops vessel, the Arazu is able to move, observe, and warp undetected. With my skill in Gallente recon ships, I am able to move while cloaked at about the same speed as uncloaked. I can sit at a safe spot with no danger of being probed out. I can warp to an asteroid belt or station or gate to take a closer look at ships detected by my on-board scanner--and even if I had a global criminal timer, the sentry guns would leave me alone.

There are two ways I like to fit my Arazus. First, I like a blaster Arazu, a stealthy cruiser that is also tough enough to take a respectable amount of damage. With heavy blasters, a trio of damage enhancing ship modifications, and a mixed bag of drones I am able to dish out a capable DPS of over 400, while an innovative passive shield tank provides me with almost 30,000 EHP. I enjoy roaming solo in my blaster Arazu; my victims rarely know their doom is upon them until I suddenly decloak within just a few thousand meters of their ship. With the Arazu's built-in bonuses to warp disruption technology, I am able to disable my target's warp engines and microwarp drives from about 20 kilometers; my own afterburner allows me to outmaneuver my thusly disabled prey.

Imagine yourself in a T1 cruiser--your favorite model--as you're killing a battleship rat at an asteroid belt or scanning for targets from a planet. Suddenly, my Arazu appears on your overview. Your speed drops as your microwarpdrive disengages. You throw at me everything you've got, but it's not enough. We fire broadside after broadside at one another, but my ship is tougher and the numbers work in my favor. Within a minute or two, you're dead. That's a blaster Arazu.

When I fly with a gang, however, I go with a force-multiplying configuration. This flavor of Arazu is more conventionally armor-tanked. The distinguishing characteristic of this Arazu is a set of three remote sensor dampening modules, each of which reduces a target's targeting range by over 40%. If I activate all three "damps" on a single target, his targeting range is drastically reduced. Another feature of this setup is a faction warp scrambler with which I can shut down both warp engines and microwarpdrives from almost 24 kilometers. I typically fill my drone bay with fast and light Warrior II scout drones.

Now picture yourself as a dreaded Falcon pilot. Your mates are under attack by a gang of Tuskers, and you warp in at 100 kilometers. You drop your cloak and proceed to target the Tuskers, jamming several of the most dangerous ships. Suddenly, my Arazu appears on your overview, maybe 80 kilometers away. As a flight of light drones speed towards you, you lose your lock on your other targets; with your sensors dampened, the main fight is taking place outside your targeting range. Your choices are to speed closer to the fight (and risk your expensive ship in the process) or warp away and try to warp back in at a closer vantage point. But the truth is often that by the time either option works out, the fight is over and Tuskers hold the field.

Or how about this--imagine you're an interceptor pilot, and you've just tackled a cruiser orbiting a planet. You're prepared for a long battle of attrition, or perhaps you have mates a couple of jumps away who are coming to help resolve the situation. Suddenly my Arazu uncloaks near your target. As you carefully ensure you are out of web range but still close enough to keep your prey tackled, a flight of Warrior II's start chasing you. No problem--your speed provides a measure of protection from even those speedy little bastards. But wait--what's this? Although still 20 kilometers from the Arazu, your microwarpdrive has deactivated. Those drones have caught you and start poudning on you relentlessly--and you can't take much of a pounding. Adding insult to injury, you lose your targets, as your already puny targeting range has been more than halved. In a panic, you align your ship to a celestial object, and hope that your natural high unassisted speed is enough to get you out of tackle range before those drones finish what they've started, even as my microwarpdrive-assisted Arazu is making top speed in your direction.

It would appear that life is good for an Arazu pilot, wouldn't it? And so it is. Unfortunately, there are two small flies in this ointment. The first is that it takes several seconds after disengaging her cloaking device for an Arazu's targeting systems to cycle through their start-up routines. An interceptor or even a cruiser with his wits about him should be able to warp out before being tackled, and a sharp-eyed Falcon may have time to target and jam an Arazu before he himself is targeted and damped.

But the second issue is even more serious; I've simply not found Arazus to be generally cost-effective. I can gank any number of T1 cruisers, mining barges, and industrial ships solo, and with my Tusker comrades even prevail over some very nice combat ships--and still end up with an pwned bottom line from losing just one 150M-ISK dampening Arazu or 175M-ISK blaster Arazu.

A lost another Arazu today, and it got me to thinking. As much as I enjoy flying 'em, I won't be going right out today and replacing the one I lost.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Yo ho!

One fleet consists of a Harbinger, Ishtar, and Falcon. An Ishkur, Maller, Vexor, Thorax, and Incursus compose the second fleet. Which would you bet on?

Last night, five intrepid Tuskers teamed up to hunt together. At first I in my Ishkur, Gilad Ayn in his Vexor, and Cap'n Tickles in his Incursus went to Agoze to escort kor anon back to Hevrice in an unfit Devoter; after an uneventful trip, kor anon and I struck a deal and I received his Devoter in exchange for one fully-fit Maller and the promise of two more in the future. So kor anon hopped into his new Maller and off we went.

I assigned the scout role to kor anon, based on the awe with which I regard his ability to get fights. In his Maller of Doom (tm) he's a force to be reckoned with. In fact, on his second jump he was attacked at the gate by a Lachesis! As much as I would have loved to have helped my mate, I respect the laws of CONCORD regarding assisting outlaws, and so the rest of the gant hung back and let kor anon take solo credit for a Lachesis kill. With his T1, tier 1 cruiser. The Maller of Doom (tm). Next kor anon started trying to pinpoint the location of some ships his onboard scanner was picking up--and a Taranis attacked him, again under the watchful protection of sentry guns. Once again our "scout" scored a nice solo kill.

Not getting a good fix on his bogeys, kor anon piloted his Maller to an asteroid belt, as if out for a pleasant spell of ratting in pirate-infested space . . . and it worked. Another Lachesis attacked! Our gang promptly jumped into the system, learning as we rushed to our comrade's aid (and hoping to get there before he hogged another killmail) that a Rapier had joined in the fray against us. We dropped out of warp near enough, but the Rapier had picked us up on his scanner and was already getting out; he left his mate to his own devices, and most of us managed to get a point on the Lachesis before it popped. This was shaping up to be a good hunt!

Tusker Aldour Larrt joined our gang in an Incursus at about this time, and we larked about for a bit in Ouelletta. An outlaw Jaguar and a respectable Rupture wanted to play undock games at one of the space stations there; we tried engaging them, during the course of which Cap'n Tickles lost his Incursus, but they would just dock before we could kill them. However, just before we moved on the Rupture engaged kor anon's Maller (!) as he undocked from a station. My crew jumped into a Myrmidon kept ready in the station, and we undocked to assist; the station's sentry guns opened fire on me as my drones sped to the Rupture. At this point the Jaguar arrived on the scene and opened fire on me as well. It didn't take long for him to cease all aggressive actions, however, and duck back into the space station as other members of our gang dropped out of warp. The Rupture went out in a burst of flame as gases vented through super-heated breaches in its hull.

I cooled my heels in the space station in Ouelletta, mindful of an all-points bulletin issued on me for assisting an outlaw (never mind he was attacked by that Rupture first). Cap'n Tickles went to pick up a Thorax to continue hunting in. The rest of the gang looped up around Stacmon. When my Global Criminal status expired, I re-embarked on my Ishkur and sped in their direction; we met up in Alperaute, as they were returning towards Verge Vendor.

Upon jumping into Agoze, kor anon scanned out a Harbinger. He made a couple of futile attempts to tackle the Harbinger, only to find the Amarr battlecruiser always one step ahead. Falling back to a tried-and-true ploy, kor anon flew his Maller to a nearby asteroid belt, as though out for a bit of ratting in pirate-infested space. It worked! The Harbinger jumped to point-blank range, and kor anon had him tackled. Our gang was speeding to the fight when kor anon reported a Falcon on scan.

A Falcon! Pilots from one end of New Eden to the other curse the day that class was ever developed--unless, of course, one of their mates is flying one. Falcons are able to uncloak on a battlefield and jam multiple opponents, causing them to lose lock on their targets, from the safety of a hundred kilometers away or more. I begin to get a bad feeling about this fight. Nevertheless, with two drone boats we had a chance to finish off the Harbinger; quickly Gilad Ayn in his Vexor and I in my Ishkur and Cap'n Tickles in his Thorax unleased our drones against the hapless battlecruiser. We were in time! kor anon was more or less perma-jammed, but the rest of us got points on the Harby and watched as his shields and armor dropped, painfully slowly. At this point an Ishtar dropped right on top of us.

An Ishtar! A heavy assault ship of some repute, Ishtars are deadly damage-dealers. As a rookie pilot, it was my dream to some day fly an Ishtar, seeing it as the epitome of solo piracy. However, just as I was ready to spec for advanced Gallente cruisers, vulnerabilities discovered in systems popular with high-speed setups such as the Ishtar was known for led to the grounding of entire classes of ships. I began to spec for heavy interdictors and recon ships instead of heavy assault ships. Now that those vulnerabilities have been "fixed" (no ship will ever fight at the speeds they once did), Ishtar pilots are developing new strategies (or falling back on old ones). I was just thinking to myself it may be worth getting my Ishtar papers after all. Anyway, when this Ishtar dropped on us I lost my nerve and gave the order for the fleet to get out.

Cheeky as ever, kor anon countermanded me, insisting we could do this. I was filled with shame as I reminded myself of Tusker values, and confirmed that we would stay and face the Harbinger, Falcon, and Ishtar to the bitter end. The Harbinger was in structure by this point; I reaffirmed him as primary, steeling myself for the worse and activating my afterburners as the Ishtar targeted me. With one salvo he sliced through my shields and bit into my armor. Aldour Larrt in his Incursus engaged his microwarpdrive and sped toward the Falcon; miraculously, the Falcon pilot panicked and warped away. I activated my armor repairer, willing the Harbinger to hurry up and die already; after what seemed way too long, he did.

I was relieved not to be taking further damage from the Ishtar as I shifted my blasters and drones in his direction, settling into a fast, tight orbit around him. Gilad Ayn reported he was taking heavy damage from the Ishtar, but it was clear to all of us this Ishtar was not prepared to take damage. Webbed multiple times, his warp drives scrammed several times over, it was do-or-die for him as well. Even the return of the Falcon, and the subsequent loss of target lock for a couple of our gang members, could not save the fearsome heavy assault ship. As the Ishtar lost structural integrity and imploded, the Falcon pilot ran for his life.

Casualties? Pilots began reporting their status in fleet comms. Our light fleet of three cruisers, one assault frigate, and one frigate had killed a battlecruiser and heavy assault ship at the cost of--nothing, actually. We all survived! With glee we picked through the drifting wreckage of our enemies' ships, shouting out each time we recovered intact a piece of high-tech gear; we even found a pricey faction module. We rendezvoused at a random point of remote space, jamming the fleet frequencies as we recounted our victories of the day and dreamed of what we would do with the booty.

Yo ho!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Excuses, excuses

I've written before about the polite offering of a simple "gf." Lately, I've come to appreciate that simple courtesy even more. You may assume that, if a foe does not transmit "gf" in a public channel after a fight, the most common alternative might be some smacktalk. And yet, while smack is directed my way on a regular basis (even from people whose ships I have killed), the most common alternative to a respectful "gf" is in fact an excuse.

Quite commonly the pilot claims to not have been paying attention: "Napping is bad." "That's what I get for watching TV." "Was AFK." "Eating and EVE don't mix." Normally, for my part I just leave it at "gf," but here I'll tell you what I'm thinking. Do they really think they would have beat me if they'd been right there, ready to go? Would I have attacked them with something I didn't think would beat them under most circumstances--certainly including a savvy and prepared pilot? I don't think so. And anyway, I don't buy this excuse much. It is certainly plausible for a pilot to park at a safespot while taking a quick break of some sort or while his attention is directed elsewhere; I've done it myself (and said "gf" when I've returned to a dead or dying ship). But when I am immediately locked back (competent PVP pilots don't have this done automatically), when their drones immediately deploy, or when their backup arrives while the fight is still on, I call "Shenanigans!" They were there, they were fighting, they were pwned.

"Lag =P" is another one I hear quite a bit. Plausible--I've died due to lag myself now and again. But often I experienced the same lag spike as my opponent during the fight, and still won. Or how about this excuse: "I would have had you except I was targeting an asteroid/the container/the beacon." That's right, a person so stupid as to fight a harmless object while I'm opening a can of whoopass on their sorry ship is coincidentally so uber they would beat me if, by some quirk of fate, they managed to target me? I don't think so. That's right up there with the pilots who discount my victory over them by claiming, "You're lucky I wasn't in [some other ship they can fly]." Why? Do they think I would have attacked their Nyx with my Thorax? And what does it matter? The fact is--now give me my due--I hunted them down and killed them in the ship they were actually flying. Come on, that's got to be worth something!

These excuses--excuses of any kind, even true ones--are lame. Win or lose, just say, "gf."

In the meantime, I will continue my search for a bona fide victory: An engagement with an opponent who is ready for me, confident in his ship's abilities, and one I can still win. Do such pilots exist?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

100 minutes of Tusker glory

Over a period of just 100 minutes, seven Tusker pilots engaged at least ten enemy vessels during a series of skirmishes in Aeschee and Hevrice. With no losses, the Tusker pilots downed eight of the enemy and recovered loot worth over 238 million ISK on the Verge Vendor market and the contract market in Jita.

The intrepid Tusker pilots:
Bfoster
Joc
Ka Jolo
Ronan Jacques
Rylack
Toady11
Who8MyLunch

The kills:
Megathron
Enyo
Harbinger
Rupture
Ferox
Rupture
Thorax
Vexor

It should be noted that the pilots of one of the Ruptures and the Thorax, Muaddibsep and StupidFast, are members of the evil Dark Sun Collective, a corporation which has recently declared war on the brave Tuskers. Further, an additional Ishkur and an Ishtar were engaged during the course of this battle but fled the field in disgrace.

I did not have enough ISK in my coffers to pay out the loot splits immediately, so a friendly hauler took them to Jita try to set up contracts (8 faction items) or to place on the local market via sell orders. Sadly, he was suicide-ganked in Jita, losing the faction items.

Tuskers for teh win!