Team Five-O announced proposed changes to Upwell structures on 18 January with a scheduled release date of 13 February. Since the dev blog was released, CCP Fozzie and other devs on the team have monitored feedback and actively responded along the way. The release of the Upwell 2.0 dev blog came at the end of the CSM winter summit. More importantly, it also happened to drop the day after the Imperium successfully put a Pandemic Horde Keepstar in 9-4RP2 into its final reinforcement cycle. The intersection of the proposed changes and a showdown between the game’s most powerful coalitions created an opportunity to view the existing mechanics and proposed changes in context and at scale. This was a fully defended Keepstar, a record-breaking number of players and level of hardware on field and in reserve, in a max Time Dilation (TiDi) environment despite being on the most reinforced node possible.
As we now know, the Keepstar survived as the repair timer ran out with a relatively modest level of losses in aggregate. The latter is why I question whether the proposed changes go far enough. In my opinion, they do not for three key reasons: the non-time dilated repair timer, the tether mechanic, and the reluctance of players to throw assets into a meat grinder in order to massively overcompensate for the first two reasons.
I fully recognize that not every structure siege is going to result in the conditions witnessed in 9-4RP2 and I want to try and take that into consideration and “think about the little guy.” However, the game is what the game is, and all too often when it comes to consequential targets the number of participants is going to increase and TiDi is possible. Likewise, even when the numbers are small and the load on the server is not an issue the attacker is at a distinct disadvantage as they are forced to account for the structure’s defences, a fleet of defenders and a race against the clock.
Let me first address the latter of the three issues I raised above simply to get it out of the way. Let’s be honest, as EVE currently stands, no single structure is the lynchpin to anything. Asset safety exists and even the proposed addition of an intra-system transfer fee of 0.5% does little to change this. Asset safety is likely here to stay in one form or another in non-wormhole areas, but more importantly, the complete abandonment of asset safety would do little to dramatically change the equation of most engagements. If anything, abandonment or excessive cost would only result in players maintaining fewer assets in structures they believe are at risk, much like the old days when we lived in Player Owned Starbases (POS). Thus, why would coalition, alliance or corporation planners choose to lose more than is reasonably necessary in order to attack or defend any given Upwell structure, regardless of size?
There are some who believe the 9-4RP2 Keepstar could have been destroyed. I don’t deny the possibility even under the circumstances related to the server choking on commands and massive disconnects occurring. The Imperium could have welped countless waves of dreadnoughts, or some other combination of ships, simply to get the job done. But at what cost and for what reason? The same goes for the forces of the North. They could have done more, taken a ballsy risk and counter-attacked, but why would they? Defanging the incoming damage was all they needed to do.
Risk and reward are a constant calculation in EVE, and while many groups are willing to come away on the ISK-loss side of the equation to achieve an objective, there is a boundary beyond which it simply isn’t worth it. This applies at all levels, big or small. Thus, in the case of 9-4RP2, the Imperium chose to limit its risk by hugging the tetherzone and simply deploying long-range heavy fighters at range. Anything beyond that level of commitment would have been foolhardy, especially under the server-related conditions; conditions that should be expected anytime EVE’s biggest superpowers have days to plan a face off.
None of that means we need to make it easy to take down an opponent’s structure. There should be a base structural advantage for the defender when it comes to an assault upon a hardened position manned by defenders. There should be a lopsided trade in the absence of mitigating factors like a superior fleet composition, tactics and execution. But as it stands today, and into the foreseeable future, that advantage remains overly biased towards the defender and further exacerbated by external factors when TiDi comes into play. As a result, attackers will likely continue to err on the side of avoiding structure sieges where the outcome is strategically inconsequential for anything other than trying to bait a brawl.
The Repair Timer Needs To Go
I’m not even trying to bury the lede there: the repair timer needs to be fixed post haste, or abandoned. The TiDi shield it creates simply adds too much in the way of defender advantage by way of forcing the attacker to not only beat the structure and the defender’s fleet, but also the clock. But this isn’t just a TiDi issue. The mere fact that an attacker has to choose between engaging hostiles or the structure to pause the repairs may not be a big issue for large groups who can effectively split their forces. However, smaller entities may not have the ability to engage both simultaneously and then all of a sudden the clock runs out. Now this may be one of those cases where we say, “sorry little guy, you have to bring more and get good,” and I can live with that. But I’m not convinced that this doesn’t affect even mid-sized groups as well.
As many of you know, CCP Fozzie was a guest on Talking in Stations this past week and just prior to the show he posted an announcement on the forums that they were abandoning the structure-based Gravitational Transportation Field Oscillator (GTFO) superweapon and the 5 minute fitting window following the 24-hour anchoring period. He also stated that they would be extending the repair timer during the “last stand” hull reinforcement phase from 15 to 30 minutes. Fozzie also mentioned that they are investigating options around dilating repair timers, but that there are technical concerns. I’m not saying the structure repair timer being extended isn’t a tweak in the right direction, but I don’t think it actually fixes the problem. First, the second-stage armor timer would still be an issue for all the same reasons that exist now. Second, it’s still that race against a clock while dealing with the power of the structure itself and any fleet(s) present.
For the record, I understand that it isn’t really the tic-toc of the clock itself that we’re talking about when we refer to the repair timer. Based on my acknowledged rudimentary understanding of the mechanic, the clock is just a representation of the time it takes for the automated repair process to complete. Which of course is unaffected by TiDi while incoming DPS is slowed by it. So if they can’t reasonably solve the alignment of the repair process clock with the time dilated variant that affects everything else, then abandon it and let’s move on to something else.
Maybe structures should be able to fit modules for local repairs that require a human to log in, be present and actively press the button. This could include standard modules that consume capacitor, which is also necessary for offensive weaponry, or it could include something akin to Ancillary modules that consume some sort of fuel. This solution doesn’t mean we need three types of repair modules across mid and low slots like we are accustomed to on ships. A single, all-in-one module that can affect repairs is sufficient. Not only would this allow for repairs to take place on an equal footing with incoming DPS, but it also doesn’t require a major rewrite to obscure code related to time dilation. And yes, I would allow it to repair shield on an initial attack. Now I know this means passive repair would go away, and that could invite troll attacks. So perhaps some minor level of passive regen should be allowed, but is shut off when a module goes active. Or maybe, in the absence of a gunner on site, the module could be set to automatically activate when the structure is aggressed. In the end, the goal here is to resolve the issues related to a passive regeneration system that creates issues both in and out of time dilation sooner rather than later.
In all honesty, I sometimes think about allowing remote repair once again, even if it was capped in much the same way damage is capped. There is just something about ships in space and the ability to engage them directly that feels right. Not only would it allow a defender to provide a potentially higher level of damage mitigationbut it would also make ships in the tetherzone vulnerable to attack. And if they are vulnerable to attack then they have to decide: continue repping the structure, rep each other, or rep combat ships in support. However, I know it is unlikely that we’ll see a return to that mechanic and it would probably suck in an era of Force Auxillaries blotting out the sky. But it would also be a solution to the technical issues related to the current repair timer
Let the Bodies Hit the Floor
The tether was meant as the replacement for the POS shield; a place of refuge where a ship could be bumped, but not attacked except under certain circumstances. However, in the case of sitting inside a POS shield, a ship was unable to target another ship let alone fire upon them without first making itself vulnerable by creeping outside of the shield. As it stands now, a ship can go from sitting cuddled up in the tetherzone one moment to fully engaged at the speed it can lock. Then, it can disengage, wait out its aggression timer and tether right back up again. Worse, entire fleets can stack one upon another around a structure and operate this way. In the post-Upwell 2.0 era, carriers and supercarriers can still sit in tether range, and though they will become vulnerable once they deploy their fighters, they need only to abandon those and wait out their aggression timer before snuggling back into the cozy embrace of the tether. This assuredly led to what we witnessed in 9-4RP2 with both sides sitting in range of their tethers, 1,000km apart, with no real need to engage one another’s fleets.
People can gripe about the Dominion sovereignty system all they’d like, but that has been replaced by both the Aegis sovereignty mechanics and the Upwell structure mechanics. Sadly, what has also been replaced is the need for fleets to be equally exposed with no safety net when they do choose to engage something. This isn’t how we fought through the years until tethering came into existence. Dominion didn’t introduce that; it was the way it always was. Fleets fought on gates and around POSes and everywhere across a solar system, and if you needed to disengage you flew inside a POS shield where you were no threat until you reemerged, or you bounced safe spots until you shed your aggression timer and docked up, jumped the gate or logged off.
While a ship can be warp scrambled to stop it from re-tethering that requires an aggressor to expose itself to an unequal level of risk. That ship has to get close enough to scram an enemy, which also means it is well within range of just about any structure out there. I’m quite certain we will see the day when in warps a contingent of Scramcats followed by “suddenly cyno” and a mountain of DPS, and that will be great. But it is unlikely that this will become the standard counter used by most entities.
The fact is that we need to find our way to fighting outside of tether range in much the same way we fought outside of the POS shields. If battles are going to take place on and around structures, both sides need to be exposed before they lock and fire. Then the side near their own structure needs to not only de-aggress, but also motor back into range of tether. At the very least we need to disallow locking a target while in range of the tether, or we need a way of disabling/disrupting tethers.
Since I made mention of it on Open Comms and Talking in Stations, I won’t hide from it here even though progodlegend said it was stupid. But I raised the idea of bringing back a variation of the Sovereignty Blockade Unit (SBU) that would disable tethering across the entire solar system. For those too young to recall 2015, the SBU was a deployable that when anchored on more than 50% of the stargates in a system caused the sovereignty-related structures in the system to become vulnerable to attack. It took time to anchor – 3 hours in that case – but I’m not advocating for hours of babysitting. I’m not even advocating for Tether Blockade Units so much as something that could disrupt or disable tethering. Personally, I’d prefer a deployable of some sort because many a good fight was had merely over an anchoring or onlining SBUs. They were a fight generator away from POSes and stations, and I’d much prefer something that generated a fight over the introduction of another hacking mini-game (though I do think hacking for reinforcement intel is a good addition coming in Upwell 2.0). The idea behind a deployable that could disable or disrupt tethering, and do so system wide, came about after seeing and hearing various comments related to disabling tethers on structures under attack. I don’t like the idea of only a single structure getting all the hate. That pushes too much advantage in the other direction as attackers may have their own structure with active tethers while defenders are left hanging in the breeze. Thus, an option that can cut the cord for everyone.
The general point here is that the current tether mechanic is detrimental to fights. When coupled with the ability to direct fighters across 1,000km or more it encourages risk aversion for anything but the fighters. Not to mention what the ability to sit a titan fleet on a Keepstar and pop subcapitals at range encourages. Dominion sovereignty may have sucked amid a proliferation of helicopter-dicking supercapitals, but cuddling up in the tetherzone is downright terrible even if there is a supposed counter to it. Fleets need to be exposed and let the body count pile up. If being exposed means one side or the other decides to blue ball and not take the fight, then so be it. Blue balls are better than no balls.
I fully understand that the entire development of structures, and combat in general, has to somehow be balanced for the big and the small and everything in between. I also recognize that my views on this are likely lacking on a number of different fronts, but probably none more than that “little guy” question. There are plenty of brilliant theory crafters in this game and hopefully some of them will also contribute in a way that leads to a more comprehensive discussion.
The real problem with 9-4RP2 wasn’t just the TiDi or the server gagging, it was the fact that with all that hardware on the field, both sides sat in tether range because that was the smart thing to do given the current mechanics. Even in a workable TiDi situation the only way THAT fight was going to escalate was if one side or the other didn’t do the smart thing and chose to feed the meat grinder, or handed an opportunity to the other by putting themselves in a vulnerable position off the other’s cuddlezone. Many say that more structures need to be destroyed, and perhaps they should. Though I’d be happier to see a mix of successful attacks and defenses with plenty of ships burning on the field from both sides. We just need mechanics that make sense and don’t discourage either side from engaging the other.