Jin’talks – Nullification at ScaleJin'taan
EVE Online has held my interest as long as it has in part because it continues to show me new ways to look at the same things. Every time you begin to think you understand EVE, you discover a whole new dimension to the universe we play in and being a part of the CSM has greatly empowered this process. Being asked to listen to and represent players of playstyles I may have never experienced is challenging. Additionally, our peeks “behind the curtain” give us insight that maybe we wouldn’t have from the trenches of gameplay alone. It also allows me to track the story of a change, thanks to our (hopefully positive) efforts in the matter. The recent nullification bubble change is one with enough complexity and history to compel one to write about it.
I’m sure some of you will remember the CSM thread put up during the previous summit on the EVE-O forums. It changed some minds at CCP regarding static bubbles, which lead to the modifications implemented. These changes are still working through the overall meta of the game but seem to have generally had a positive impact.
However, one part of the conversation ignored was the impact of interdiction nullification at scale. And by scale, I specifically refer to the impact that 30-150 Interceptors can have on multiple levels. It’s a topic I’ve broached multiple times on the Declarations of War podcast and debated with many people who’ve helped to shape my current opinion on the topic. As such, I would like to not only lay out the problems as I see them but also a few potential solutions for these that don’t affect the healthy aspects of nullification in general. These aren’t intended to be the be-all end-all solutions, but simply to jumpstart what I feel is an important conversation to have.
However, before all that, let’s look at some of the key positives nullification offers to the game so we know what we want to preserve in regards to any changes that will affect the mechanic.
Nullification offers a quick and easy way for people to get from point A to point B, without having to worry a huge degree about whatever lies in between, the exception being smartbomb camps. This helps player movement in nullsec dramatically and really shouldn’t be underestimated. Being able to go from staging to Jita to grab a solo ship and then pew-pewing in lowsec because there’s no content in your local area is a major facet to why nullification is a valuable addition to the game. This applies to both tech 3 cruisers and Interceptors and is something that should be preserved. I’ve also argued for nullification (and the 90% non-combat fatigue reduction) to be added to shuttles as I feel this ability should be given to Alpha pilots, but that’s neither here nor there, and would most likely have to come with nerfs to its agility.
Listing “hunting” as a positive may be slightly more controversial, as some consider this to be a problem with the mechanic in general. However, I feel that the fact that nullification allows people to – at a smaller scale – get around defensive bubbles in order to start fights is a valuable addition to the game. This is a huge point in favour of nullified tech 3’s that are used as tackle for say, BLOPS gangs, or the use of Interceptors as joint tackle and scouts for a gang. Once again, this is a way in which nullification adds to the game by giving countermeasures to inherently strong mechanics like defensive bubbling, and promoting content by allowing an aggressive group to force a fight. This has diminished as a factor slightly with the reduction in massive bubble walls, but still is a valuable thing to preserve.
So, with these in mind, let’s take a look at some of the impacts that I personally see as having been brought by the rise of nullification – most specifically Interceptor nullification – and the larger meta implications of them.
- Aegis Sov Impacts
At a large scale, the major problem with Interceptors – especially those that fit in the archetypical ‘FozzieClaw’ (high alpha, sub-2 second align) style – are similar to the ways that Slippery Petes prior to the probing mechanics changes impacted the game. They gave a way for an entity to impact the grid in a larger scale fight that without incredibly specific countermeasures, was simply impossible to interact with. With Slippery Petes, this was the use of spies and crack probers or simply using your own Petes to shoot the enemy Petes. With FozzieClaws, this is the usage of counter-Interceptors (sometimes called X-Wings) with multiple sensor boosters. I hope I don’t have to explain how if the counter to something is just using the same thing against it, there might be a balancing issue there.
This is then further compounded by the mechanics of Aegis Sov, which relies on one or two entosis ships – who cannot be repaired – to signify Grid Control for the purposes of determining who is winning a fight. As FozzieClaws can warp in, volley most subcaps, and warp out without the usage of very specific countermeasures. These Claws can move from system to system and node to node with very little chance of being caught due to the way interdiction nullification and sub-2 second align time warping interact.
The impact of this is very noticeable, with entities in an actively contested sov war primarily using Capitals as their entosis vehicles of choice to capture the nodes. This is simply due to the fact that capitals these cannot be effectively dealt with by Interceptors, which allows the nucleation of fights to occur with enemy fleets in the area. Whilst this is an effective countermeasure, it leads us to question to the entire point of Aegis Sov – which was intended to move away from these static, single point conflicts, being made moot. In fact, if anything, the shift to capital entosis has made single point force more important than ever before, as it turns the focus of said warfare to Cyno Jammers – or lack thereof.
- De-Incentivisation of Active Defence
The other problem precipitated by nullification is how it actively works against the pre-nullification dynamic of active defence (aka – gate camps and standing fleets). The fact that the defender could force the start of the engagement was a key part of an ecosystem in nullsec that had operated in the favour of producing fights for as long as I can remember. In fact, my first FCing experience came from running gatecamps and my first fights that I can remember were running drops or ambushes on gatecamps.
Perhaps I am looking at this with rose-tinted glasses but I feel like gatecamps provided a huge amount of the small scale PvP action that made EvE feel alive to me. You knew where people would be set up, how to get there and that you would be able to get a fight. Even as gatecamps started to become less popular in 2014-15 as the standing fleet concept was iterated on for defensive action in one’s space, this still had the same effect – people itching to fight any fleets coming into their space.
However, with the introduction of nullified Interceptors and the popularisation of full-ceptor gangs as a roaming tactic becoming standard (at least in my own area of space; perhaps this is a bit anecdotal and the same is not as true in the north), both of these modes of active defence became noticeably less popular.
Gatecamps were easily avoided, standing fleets having no way of forcing an engagement and even baiting and dropping the fleet lead to no major fights due to the fact that Interceptors simply cannot trade blows with any fleet and are therefore incentivised to simply leave, using their nullification to avoid any forced commitment via interdiction. As such, standing fleets, gatecamps and baiting anything became inferior in defending one’s space over using methods of passive defence – most notably intel channels – and simply getting safe as the fleet rolls through.
Whilst this passive defence was always a strong option (perhaps too strong, though that’s a topic for another piece), the fact that it became the only thing that could be reliably be used to work against these fleets hurt non-nullified roaming fleets more than it did the Interceptors, as they no longer had the ability to engage the existing methods of active defence. This left them to deal with either a far superior (and specifically crafted) reaction fleet, or have little to no content at all to engage with.
With both the negatives and positives laid out, as I personally see them, let’s take a look at ways with which we can mitigate some of the negative parts without impacting or breaking the fundamental role of Interceptors as they currently stand, or damaging the positives they give to the game. These are options that I’ve discussed with multiple people, all of them having both their positives and their negatives, but I think elaborating on them and pointing out the flaws in them is necessary to having a constructive discussion here.
- HIC Bubbles
This was probably the first, and, for a while, most common opinion on what could be done to fix the issues of nullification at scale. Simply make Heavy Interdictor (HIC) bubbles ignore nullification. It makes a lot of sense, given that it would merely stop more degenerate uses of nullified ships, as HICs with a bubble up are by and large a lot slower than Interceptors, making it difficult to trap them from extended periods of time. It also requires more investment to deploy than a regular Interdictor or anchored bubble, and leaves a vulnerable target for nullified ships to attack in order to escape as HICs cannot receive remote repairs whilst their HIC point/bubble is active.
However, the simplicity of this is deceptive, as it adds yet another layer of complexity to the web that makes up interdiction, with a general rule, “you can warp,” and its counter, “you can’t warp if you’re bubbled,” and that counter’s exception, “you can warp if you’re bubbled if you’re in a nullified ship,” meeting a counter-counter-exception, “you can’t warp if you’re in a nullified ship if it’s a specific type of bubble”. As a rule of game design, the more layers you introduce like this, the more unintelligible it gets. In addition to this, you run into other gameplay issues that make the implementation of it more challenging – how do you portray this to the player? Would you use a different colour bubble? A status effect in the bar indicating the presence of a HIC bubble? How visible can that be? How much coding effort will need to go into differentiating bubble types?
It also has the side effect of hampering positives I associated earlier with the mechanics, making gatecamps able to catch anyone travelling, which is a sub-optimal impact.
- Non-Aggressive Nullification
This was an idea that was pitched to me by someone within my own alliance that I thought was a rather novel take on the concept. Leave the nullification mechanic as it currently stands completely alone, and introduce no mechanics to stop it. However, make the nullification ‘fall off’ when an aggression timer is acquired by the ship. In short, giving a window in which a nullified ship can be more easily tackled that’s linked to it attacking someone.
This manages to keep all the major positive aspects – being able to pierce defensive bubbles to tackle down a target, making travel relatively easy – whilst tackling some of the major impacts seen on a combat level, without the need for any direct nerfs to intended use cases of the ship. It also keeps gatecamps from returning to their previous, dominant state, instead making baiting far more important to fighting nullified ships.
Honestly, of all the ideas I’ve heard, this is the one I feel best hits the major pain points without completely crushing the power that Interceptors hold, which is very healthy for the game to have – people shouldn’t be able to rat in complete safety behind a wall of bubbles after all – but it does have some problems. For one, it’s crossing two separate systems over within EvE, Crimewatch & Dogma. This makes it something that is potentially difficult to implement. In addition, it is also going to be difficult to express to the player, for the same reason as HiC bubbles are. It’s a limitation to an exception to an exception.
- Splitting the Class
This third idea comes from discussions with my co-hosts on Declarations of War (who soundly disagree with me on a number of points), who suggest that the problem is that the two roles of an Interceptor – lightning fast, instant DPS & fleet tackle – are insufficiently separated. Both of these certainly have a place in the game, but combining them has overall led to the issues we’ve seen when they’re used en-masse. As such, why not split the class down the middle, and give small gangs the option between a tanky, quick, nullified Interceptor with little to no DPS and a fast, hard hitting, glass cannon DPS option – both of which have bonuses to tackle range.
This comes at two costs however, with it both having the potential to not really fix the issues, just making it require more people to abuse, which would unfairly benefit larger organisations disproportionately. In addition to this, it does require a complete rebalance of a class, which takes a significant amount of time, and more significantly a desire to review and iterate on it to make sure it’s right. The fact that there is a straight dichotomy within a class is something that CCP has also steered away from in recent history (see; Command Ship revamp).
I’m not here to make a decision though; I’m here to start a discussion. Do you agree with what I’ve listed as the major positives and negatives of the current state of nullification? Which solution do you think is best, and more importantly, why? Do you think that my concerns are unfounded? Post your replies to this wherever you feel best, I’ll be watching and responding to this as much as I can.