The Local Problem: A Tale of Two Solutions

The concept of "the local problem" has suddenly sprung back into discussion as of late, and this time a few bloggers have thrown actual suggestions into the ring. Poetic Stanziel offered his entry up in his post "Getting Rid of Local." It's simple, but shallow, a fact which is probably less a reflection of his character than it is his self-imposed constraint to stay within existing systems as much as possible. More on why that's bad later; the other proposed fix offers a stark contrast with its thorough revamp of EVE's entire system of intelligence. It's authored by Rhavas and is titled "Unbreaking Local - An EVE Intel System Proposal." I really, really like Rhavas' system and can really only offer minor tweaks to it, but would like to elaborate on why I think it's so great.

If you don't care to read their respective posts, here's a quick recap of the two proposals.

Poe's "Getting Rid of Local"

  • Local is removed and becomes a pure communications platform, just like in wormholes. If you do not talk, you may as well not exist as far as those in the system are concerned. It's worth mentioning that this general concept, the unlinking of intel from local, is one CCP is onboard with; @erlendur is CCP Explorer.
  • Directional scanning takes the place of local intelligence in either active or passive modes. Several configuration options can be set and saved, much like overviews.
  • "Passive" scanning functions like d-scan does now, providing only the name of the ship and its type.
  • "Active" scanning provides all the information you get from passive scanning, as well as the pilot's name, affiliation and standings.
  • A new skill, "Directional Scanning", enables the use of active scanning and increases the range of both passive and active scans by 5AU per level, up to 35AU (provided CCP can overcome the 32 bit limit on scan range)

You see what I mean when I say it's shallow?

Rhavas' "Intel System Proposal"

Like Poe's proposal, Rhavas decouples local chat and intel, but the similarities end there.

  • The "IFF Beacon" is the first of a handful of new features Rhavas proposes. It would be a new structure that replaces local's current intel function. In highsec, lowsec, and NPC null they're NPC owned and indestructible, but with differing functions. Highsec beacons provide intel identical to local's current function, while lowsec is delayed. NPC null beacons function like highsec beacons in station systems and lowsec beacons one jump from stations; everywhere else they're not present. Meanwhile, they must be constructed (and thus are destructible) in player sov, and have better capabilities with higher sovereignty or upgrade levels. I'm sure it would be a heavily debated question as to whether they should be able to deliver perfect and instant intel; personally, I think it would be fine, but only at the highest levels, with all the associated cost that implies. Though Rhavas did not explicitly state it, player build beacons presumably only share intel with a whitelist determined by standings.
  • A "system security probe" would be launched by Covert Ops ships or anything that can fit the necessary probe launcher. I would characterize it as a sort of modified core scanner probe; it can detect ships, POS, structures, and so on and provide their rough locations and (if in warp) trajectories across a very wide range, but not provide strong enough hits to warp to. In this way, it provides many of the features of the IFF beacon.
  • "Constellation Gate Recorders" would be available to FW militias and owners of player sovereign space. These essentially keep a list of comings and goings by pilots not on the "approved" list (as determined by standings). Intel captured would include pilot name, affiliation, ship type, standing to the owner, and timestamp, with the quality of data improving a with higher level of upgrades. Personally, I think a useful feature (by default or as an upgrade) would be the ability to filter the list to exclude those who have both exit and entry logs, thus generating a list of hostile targets that may still be within the constellation.
  • Cyno Jammers get a tweak to become an anti-cloaking module... sort of. As he explains them, they'd be able to send out a pulse that scrambles the cloaking systems of a covert cloaked ship, but only if it also had a covert cyno fitted. It's the only part of his proposal that I'm not 100% on board with; I'll explain why later.
  • Finally, directional scanner tweaks. Unlike Poe, Rhavas settles for merely making the scanner more usable and intuitive; one very obvious example would be having the range of the scan set and expressed in AU, instead of (or in addition to) kilometers.

My Take

As I alluded to before, my problem with Poe's proposal is that it feels half-assed. "Lazy" might be a better term for it, since it really amounts to giving everyone the same system wormholes use, with a few tweaks to d-scan. While it's a classic application of KISS ("Keep It Simple Stupid"), it also shows why I favor KIASANANS ("Keep It As Simple As Necessary And No Simpler") as a philosophy. It's not as catchy, but it's always good to remember that lack of complexity can be as much a problem as overcomplexity.

Rhavas' suggestion, on the other hand, is more nuanced and offers plenty of depth. It's not a one-size-fits-all solution. In highsec and w-space alike, things don't change - and why would they? Things change a little in lowsec, but not much. I'm not a lowsec dweller myself so I'm not really sure what they think of it, although from Susan Black's commentary on Poe's suggestion, I suspect that those who do make it their home would find Rhavas' system more palatable (and incidentally, some of Susan's ideas are interesting too.) NPC null takes on a new character as well.

And player sov? That's where it gets really fun. The current paradigm is parity of intelligence: everyone has access to the same instant intel. In Rhavas' system, it would start that way by default as well, except everyone would have little or no information. The owners of the system can gain an edge, but to do so they must build them, pay for, and protect the beacons, which forces a choice of just where they want to cover. And the best answer isn't necessarily "the best possible coverage, everywhere." Naturally, instant intelligence would be preferable in favored ratting or mining systems, or important staging systems, but why pay for it in the deserted backwater? If, for some reason, IFF Beacons actually shared info with friend and foe alike... that would be strange, but okay, really, as it adds a different dimension. Perhaps the owners of an area of space purposefully leave areas uncovered to create pockets in which to ambush intruders.

Another upshot is that these structures, the IFF Beacon in particular, would be a legitimate candidate to qualify as a "small gang" target. Antenna are not exactly known to be the most robust structures, after all, and there would be no good reason to give them an inordinate amount of HP. An intruding gang could, with relative ease, eliminate the local beacon to provide a blind-spot for their gate camp... or perhaps in addition to being destructible, they're hackable, and invading forces can take control of them for their own purposes. In larger scale warfare, perhaps an invading force (subcapital or otherwise) is preceded by a smaller gang, knocking out their target's beacons to hide the presence of the inbound fleets.

That Cloaking Thing

To wrap up, I'm going to take a closer look at that cloaking thing, the anti-blackops pulse attached to a cynojammer. I mentioned that I'm not entirely sold on that idea, and there are two reasons for that. The first is that I think AFK cloaking is actually a symptom of the perfect intel offered by local. I admit that I'm part of the problem. I fly, when I can be bothered to log in and play, with the Goonwaffe "Blackops" SIG. Among other functions, we goes into hostile systems and disrupt their moneymaking; kill the ratters, run off the miners, and destroy or evade their (usually) futile and pathetic attempts to fight back. But more often than not, that involves a depressingly large amount of AFK cloaking. Even though my ship is cloaked, I remain visible in local, and so locals are perfectly aware of my presence. While I and many like me can use this to our advantage for area denial, it makes for decidedly boring gameplay. I'm on another character or in another game if I'm at the computer at all, while the ratter is doing the same or leaves the system in hopes of finding an empty place to rat. So, any decoupling of local from intel eliminates AFK cloaking as a strategy, because it won't be necessary anymore. If I'm caught on scan, but then vanish, there's no way to tell if I've left system, or if I'm simply temporarily cloaked.

I'll admit, however, that the idea of an anti-cloaking pulse is a common one, and isn't really meritless. That brings me to the second problem with Rhavas' solution: it doesn't really go far enough. As a side note, I'm sure some readers will take this as proof of their preconceived biases; you know who you are. Anyway, contrary to Rhavas' understanding, Blackops hotdrops are not terribly common and adding a defense against them is not going to be incentive to maintain cynojammers one would otherwise not build. However, extend the anti-cloak pulse to scramble any cloaking devices and you've got something useful, and probably reasonably well balanced. Improving safety in your most popular ratting or mining systems could be worth the additional sov bills (an extra 600m/mo), which combines with the downside of impeding your own cyno traffic to help make them something one uses with discretion. The two hour cooldown, meanwhile, means that they're effective but cannot simply be spammed; I do think the hour long spool-up is excessive, though. Waiting for a POS to come online is no fun, waiting an hour so you can hunt down that cloaked punk wouldn't be either, all the worse if the pulse triggers only to reveal that he's not actually there. Overall it is, in my opinion, a much better approach to the issue than the oft-proposed fuel requirement for cloaks.

So that's that. I've probably only scratched the surface of the new tactical and strategic depth Rhavas' system would open up for player owned nullsec, and that's part of why I think it's so great. It achieves the goal of nerfing local while offering replacements that expand gameplay potential. It also has the upshot of being something CCP could implement now. One major beef I have with most ideas to nerf local is that (unlike wormholes) the risk:reward ratio in nullsec is already a bit lacking. Rhavas' proposal addresses that by affording the option of maintaining safety, but only at a price. Needless to say, should I follow through with my not-so-secret plans for a run at CSM8, I'll be cribbing the proposal as part of my platform.

Seven year veteran & economics guru of EVE Online as well as CSM 8 representative. On the side I play PS2, WOT and Hearthstone.