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.