Lessons from Eve: Levels Kill MMOs

It has been 3 months since I started Eve and I have gotten into the groove of NullSec activity: avoiding roams, killing stuff on roams myself, playing the market, fighting in wars, navigating the waves caused by Drama, and so forth. Recently, some members of KiteCo (including myself) have felt burnt out on Eve and begun playing weird MMOs on the side as a diversion. Last week, it was the Korean fishing MMO; this week, it's a French strategic MMO (think World of Warcraft with Final Fantasy Tactics' mechanics). Yet playing these different MMOs after a quarter of a year on Eve has just made the things Eve does right stand out more. To me, Eve is the MMO-iest MMO out there. But why?

I'm writing these quick blog entries over the course of a few weeks to figure that out. First, we need to answer a particular question:

What is the defining trait of an MMO?

Interacting with hundreds of other players. The one advantage MMOs have over every other gametype out there is sheer numbers, with all of the drama, complexity, and conflict that ensues. Anything that hampers a player's interactions with the broiling masses is undercutting the main selling point of MMOs.

And levels, that holdover from single-player RPGs, are the prime culprit.

Levels Segregate, Levels Kill

While levels were originally used as an indication of how powerful a character was, in MMOs they have also turned into a gatekeeper for content, a sign reading "You Must Be This Powerful to Enter This Dungeon". Low-level players are only allowed to access the weak dungeons (and weak rewards), unable to get to the hard dungeons/loot until they grind their way past a particular experience level. High-level characters don't want to run low-level dungeons because their loot's bad, and low-level characters can't run high-level dungeons with their high-level friends because the game tells them they're too weak to.

If a new player wants to play with his high-level friends, he needs to put in overtime grinding up to their level. Or have his friends escort him through a few low-level dungeons out of pity. Or have them start new alts and level up alongside him. But these are workarounds for a problem that shouldn't even be there. In Eve, I was flying frigates alongside the big boys, helping them tackle and blow up enemy ships, just days after starting.

And it's not just because there's no artificial level requirement. It's because the power curve is gradual compared to the steep increases found in games with levels. A novice in Eve is 50-80% as effective as a years-old veteran. Meanwhile, a Lvl. 10 player in WoW is just a speed bump to a Lvl. 90 player; the veteran could probably kill him in one shot by sneezing. The mere existence of a numerical power gauge starting at 1 and increasing to some arbitrary number encourages the exponential increases in power that make novices worthless in comparison to veterans. Don't believe me? Then read this:

"A Lvl. 1 player is 75% as powerful as a Lvl. 40 player."

Did your mind instinctively think "that doesn't make sense" when you read that? We have been conditioned to assume high-level players can wipe the floor with enemies that would utterly crush low-level players; that causes a level system to encourage a steep power curve merely by existing. The resulting steep power curve makes novices nearly useless in a veteran group, to the point they're more hindrance than help. This encourages the developers to lock away dungeons, equipment, and even entire zones until players reach a certain level, which hinders their ability to group up with other players, which is the entire point of an MMO.

In short, level systems segregate players. Level systems actively kill MMOs by working against their defining trait, like a cancer killing its host. The sooner MMOs excise the level system and start experimenting with other methods of progression, the better.

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4 Weeks in Eve: Taswell vs the Russians

1 Week in EVE: Don't Fly What You Can't Lose

2 Weeks in EVE: Economic PvP

3 Weeks in EVE: The Long Haul

Right after writing my last article, I suggested my own roam: "Why don't I outfit a mining barge to bait enemies into attacking it, then grab attackers while the rest of the fleet jumps in to kill them?" Debate and suggestions broke out amongst Kite Co. about the best way to proceed while we slowly got about 10 ships into the fleet. Just before we were ready to roll out, a 10-man enemy fleet jumped into our system, intent on attacking BOVRIL mining space further in.

Us: "Oh, hey, someone brought content to us."

Them: "...Wait, you're all undocked?"

*pregnant pause*

*hell breaks loose*

The original intent of the roam was quickly forgotten as we chased them all the way to BOVRIL, back to CZK, and straight through BPA space into the waiting jaws of a SOUND defense fleet.

That's a pretty good analogy for how the last week has gone in Catch.

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I had a plan for this last weekly EVE update: now that I had cut my teeth on survival in NullSec and small fleet skirmishes, I would learn about commanding fleets and end my 1st month in EVE by leading my own small fleet on a roam.

EVE quickly overturned those plans. CFC (Goonswarm & Co) began deploying in Delve; N3 (Northern Coalition and Co) deployed there in response. The common N3 raids into our region of space slowed to a trickle... only to be replaced by a torrent of Russians.

The Russian alliance of AAA were the former owners of Catch. N3, being no friends of the Russians, had helped our HERO coalition drive them out of Catch. Now that N3 was deployed elsewhere in preparation for the brewing annual Summer War with CFC, AAA saw a chance to pay HERO back for taking their space. They were pissed, and they brought friends.

Things have been hot ever since. Every day brings a new timer on a starbase we need to defend or a blockade unit we need to take down. Fleets of 100+ go out daily to protect our new homeland. The previous N3 raids were a warmup compared to this; the Russians had a bone to pick with us, and CFC was eager to hop in on the glory.

-----

The first strategic-operation was 6 AM EST on a Sunday morning; the Russians had hit one of our starbases in an allied system hard, dropping it into Reinforce mode, and we needed to defend it once it came out of Reinforcement. Reinforcement is EVE's way of ensuring alliances don't lose starbases and systems before they can react: once a starbase or hub's shields are dropped to 25%, it becomes invulnerable until a set time the next day. Normally this time is set for the defender's busiest hours, so it can field a robust defense fleet. However, Reinforcement consumes Strontium fuel; if you don't have enough Strontium stored in the starbase, it drops out of Reinforcement early. And since this was a remote starbase, it was barely fueled... thus it only had enough Strontium to stay Reinforced until our wee morning hours, which was late night for the Russians. We would have to defend that starbase at one of our weakest hours (and one of the Russians' strongest).

Although we matched the Russians for numbers (100 vs 100), they were an older alliance and could field more advanced ships than most of us. After a half-hour of skirmishing, our fleet commander called for a withdrawal; we couldn't stop them from destroying the starbase with the forces we had. Morale was low on the trek back.

Standoff at the Starbase

"...Is this how we lose Catch?"

"Maybe we need to call N3 on the batphone."

"No, we can do this by ourselves. We can afford to lose this starbase. Save the batphone for an emergency."

-----

The Russian invasions alongside their CFC allies have forced me (and a lot of other HERO newbros) to reevaluate our relationship with N3. When I started a month ago, they were the annoying neighbors constantly roaming into Catch, hotdropping on miners, and blowing up any HERO ships they came across. But they didn't want our territory. The Russians wanted our territory badly, and they had CFC support. The only coalition that could fight on even terms with CFC was N3. Old grudges were put aside and N3 became a frenemy. Even INK, an N3-alliance who had tried to capture one of our systems weeks ago (see Week 2), threw their hat into the ring alongside us.

But why did N3 help a future enemy capture territory? Why did CFC, for the most part, step back and let their Russian allies get conquered? Content.

Alliances have to generate two things for their members: money and Content. Money is self-explanatory, but Content requires good enemies to fight on a daily basis. CFC and N3, the two biggest coalitions, have both signed treaties limiting how much they can interfere with each other, and attacks against each other carry the risk of escalating into humongous battles that wipe out spaceships worth billions of ISK. Neither side has such restrictions against HERO, and most members of HERO welcome the excitement.

HERO grabbed a foothold in Catch because it promised Content to the larger coalitions. Now with the Summer War gearing up, the Russians want revenge and CFC might want Catch as a staging grounds into N3 space. It remains to be seen whether CFC values Catch more as a foothold or a content-generator, but N3 prefers our content & would rather not let CFC get such a foothold, so they remain on our side for now. HERO survives just as much off our diplomacy & providing Content for the other coalitions as it does off our military prowess.

-----

Hours later, I returned to the former starbase's location to see what had happened. I expected to see a Russian starbase up; instead, I saw a Black Pearl Alliance starbase there. I messaged my contact within the BPA and asked what happened.

"After the Russians began constructing their starbase, we called in N3 backup, blew it up, and set our own starbase in its place. Did you think we'd let an enemy starbase get constructed in our backyard?"

When I relayed this news to Kite Co, they began howling with laughter.

"They set up a starbase and forgot to place the Strontium Tank first! Oh, this is too rich!"

Apparently the starbase should have gone into Reinforcement, giving the Russians a chance to defend it, but since they hadn't put any Strontium into it, it got blown up immediately. The Russians had made a bone-headed mistake just like we did. You may recall the Battle of B-R5RB (aka the costliest EVE battle to date) started because of an unpaid bill. Taking & holding territory in EVE reminds me of startup procedure in a flight simulator: if you don't do everything on the checklist, things fail spectacularly.

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Two days later, another strat-op launched out of our homebase of V-3 to destroy a Russian starbase being set up in a neighboring system. This was my first true large-scale battle; what started as a 100 vs 25 fight in our favor turned into 1 fleet vs 2 fleets, and then an INK fleet came to help us, and then- well honestly, things got confusing once there were more than 300 ships in the system. All of the fleets were jockeying for position in space, escaping to regroup and catch their breath, setting up stealth bomber runs, and past a certain point I just began focusing on my short-term goals of "shield-boost allies so they don't get killed". Naturally, being one of the fleet's "healers" made me a prime target; I lost 2 ships in that fight. The first time, I warped back to V-3, grabbed a spare fully-outfitted ship I had "just in case", and warped back into the fight. The second time, I called it a night.

"Incoming content."

Although I... think it was a loss for us (I'm not sure if we accomplished our goal of blowing up the starbase amidst all the carnage), it was my first big fleet brawl and I managed to save a few ships from premature destruction. The basic combat of EVE is quite simple compared to WoW: each ship usually has just one set of guns, some drones, a group of defensive or electronic warfare modules, and propulsion to turn on or off. Using those basic functions in a hectic fleet battle where you have to listen to target calls, lock onto multiple ships, keep track of distances to them, and watch for enemy ships targeting you, warp bubbles preventing you from escaping, and the occasional bombing run is much more complex. And then there's the preparation, planning, and spying that goes on around the battle itself...

"They used those ship types because they knew it was a good counter to our ship doctrine," a fellow KiteCo member explained. (Ship doctrines are standardized fleet makeups that work well together.) "You can be sure they have a spy or two in the fleet as well, relaying our primary targets to their support commander so they can start shield-boosting our targets before we fire. It makes it much harder to win these fights." 'Everyone's a spy' is a common joke in EVE, but it's often true.

"These fights would be so much easier if we practiced decent OpSex..."

"Wait, you mean OpSec?"

"Er..."

"First rule of OpSex: never tell your lover your name."

"Har har, very funny. But no, just figure there's always someone listening in for the enemy side, and don't tell people anything they don't need to know. Loose lips sink ships."

Any thoughts he might be a tad too paranoid were dismissed the next day, when I read a piece by Mittani (the de facto leader of CFC) detailing how his spies utterly frustrated an enemy's war against them by putting minor errors in their shared intel spreadsheet.

-----

The next day, an urgent call-to-arms hit our mailbox. "AAA is on the verge of destroying an ally's hub within the next day. We will not let that happen. If you can be there, be there. Do not run personal fleets during this strat-op or Military Command will rip you to shreds."

I joined early in another support ship and waited for the fleet to launch. So many people joined we had to split it into two fleets, and we were going to meet two other fleets there. By the time we were set up in the target system, there were over 500 allied ships in the system. We waited for the enemy to arrive...

...And nobody came. We saw 1-2 scouts which quickly hightailed it out; apparently the Russians decided they didn't like those odds and didn't even show up to the battle. We spent 2 hours destroying the Russians' blockade units and restoring the hub's armor & shields, suffering the occasional bombing run by a half-dozen Russian stealth bombers that destroyed a lot of drones but barely damaged us. In the end, the strat-op was declared a success.

"The best battle is the one you don't have to fight. Good turn-out, folks, we're proud of you. Don't worry if you didn't see any action today; I'm sure we've got plenty of fights left with the Russians in the future."

-----

Later, I learned a string of hit-and-run skirmishes had broken out between one of our larger roaming fleets and the Russians. An INK fleet arrived at the scene as reinforcements, scaring the Russians off except for a few scouts. The 2 fleet commanders agreed to lure out the Russians by having both fleets fire on each other. The Russians believed we were resuming hostilities and jumped back into system to take advantage of it. As soon as they revealed themselves, both fleets turned their firepower on them. We lost 4 billion ISK worth of ships, they lost 22 billion ISK worth, including a Carrier. Just from a random fight and a dirty trick.

I didn't participate in that, but man, I wish I had!

-----

With that, we come to today. My plans to lead a fleet of my own have been delayed by the Russians, but in the meantime I've learned about (and participated in) large-scale battles and defending territory. I am on the verge of learning the skills necessary to upgrade my support ship by a tier. I have 20+ combat-ready ships stored at 3 different stations. And I've just learned that Kite Co. has set up a new homebase dedicated to the late, great Ryan Davis. I'll probably spend the weekend moving my stuff from Pancake House to Point Taswell, in between helping with the defensive strat-ops, and once that's done it's back to mining ice for profit and fuel blocks. I'm not sure how long it'll be before something else rocks the boat, though; there's already rumors of Drama, and who knows what the Russians do next.

For now, though, I'll just take a moment to enjoy a view of the new station...

Point Taswell

With that, I wrap up my first month's impression of EVE. I've jumped from miner to missile gunship to trader to support ship to combat-ready miner. I've made contacts in 3 different alliances, had a fleet commander compliment me personally, and talked resources and economics with over a half-dozen people. I've lost 43 ships in combat, actually died 15 times in combat, and participated in several dozen skirmishes. And I have no idea what'll happen next.

EVE is a strangely fascinating MMO with long bouts of grinding punctuated by debates on economics, politics, espionage, counter-espionage, tactics, and the occasional explosion(s). The deeper you dive into it, the more you get out of it. And you can dive deep quickly. I don't know when I'll come back out, but until then, I'm going into OPSEC and REDACTING all my info.

See you around Catch. 7o

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3 Weeks in EVE: The Long Haul

1 Week in EVE: Don't Fly What You Can't Lose

2 Weeks in EVE: Economic PvP

It was a quiet Sunday morning. The Intel channel was barely alive, just a few isolated sightings of lone ships. I had spent the last hour going back and forth between the station and a nearby asteroid belt, slowly delivering giant payloads of ore. At the hour mark, I calculated the price for my ore, created a contract for it, and watched it disappear into the market. I leaned back in my chair a moment and realized something: I was utterly bored and wanted to play something else.

"Man, is this all there is?" I frowned. The initial rush of learning about the game was fading, and I knew enough to make money at a steady, but boring, pace. I don't play games to make money in them, though.

I shut off EVE for the time being; I needed to recharge my batteries. "Maybe it's time to try other ways of making money here."

-----

A day later, a fellow Kite Co. member asked if I was busy. "I'm doing an Incursion here, and I'm leaving behind a hundred wrecks. You want to salvage them?"

"Sure." I outfitted a Probe with Salvagers and Cargo Hold Expanders and jumped to the system they were in, where I spent the next hour trailing in their wake, looting every single wreck they left behind. At the end of it, I had 20 million ISK worth of salvage; not a bad haul, especially compared to my mining. It was just as boring, though, and required more attention: each wreck had to be manually targeted for salvage, so I couldn't spend much time reading other things. I decided I liked mining better, although I'd probably salvage whenever the situation came up again.

Exploration was more exciting, and sometimes more profitable, but it got old quickly too. I quickly fell into a routine of scouting the system for Relic or Data Sites, warping there, and playing the hacking minigame over & over again so I could loot them. It was something to do, but it wasn't much fun. It was enough of a change of pace, though, that I installed survey probes onto my Mining Venture ship and kept an Explorer ship nearby to visit any sites I found while mining. It was a decent source of profit, and was diverse enough to keep me semi-interested, but I was still hungry for entertainment...

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"When do you get into the endgame content of Eve?"

My fellow KiteCo members pondered that question a moment.

"Good question. Some people never reach it. There's plenty of players content to just do PvE in HighSec systems to outfit their ships in rare modules, but I don't think that's endgame content."

"I think you reach it once you enter NullSec," another corp member chimed in. "You got into it within days of starting."

Someone else had been silently pondering it and finally decided to speak: "I think the endgame content starts when you realize you can do anything you want. Find your niche, stake your claim, and go do something crazy. That's when you get into the endgame."

-----

"Mining Barge Level 1 learned."

I grinned when that notification popped up. After 2 weeks of flying around in Frigate-level ships, I was ready for something bigger & new. The mining barges enticed me with high-profit yields, mining a few million ISK worth of resources in a few minutes. It didn't hurt they were big and cool-looking, too.

I quickly bought the most durable Mining Barge I could find, the Procurer, and spent an hour mulling over how to outfit it. Once it was outfitted, I waited until the system was clear of hostiles and carefully navigated it to a nearby Ice Belt. I turned on the Ice Miner and waited. Fifteen minutes later, I returned to station with a haul worth 6 million ISK, nearly 6 times what I would make in the same time with my Venture. Soon I would be rolling in the dough!

After the first day or two, though, the ice belts were depleted of the expensive ices. I had deployed the Procurer in BOVRIL space, and since BOVRIL specialized in mining... there was often 3 other Procurers mining ice alongside me. I was also a half-dozen systems away from KiteCo's station, too far away to join them for roaming or defending the region. With a frown, I put my Procurer away and got on a Shuttle back to KiteCo's Pancake House to join the defense fleet there and shoot invaders while I pondered what to do about mining...

-----

"...Wait, there's a station here?!"

I blinked and looked again at my Overview. Sure enough, there was another station in the system right next to us. We had chased a few fleeing invaders out of our home system of CZK into the neighboring CNC system to blow them up, and in the aftermath I noticed the station icon in the Overview.

"I'm going to check it out quick."

I warped to the station and checked its info. It was owned by the Spaceship Samurai, allies of ours. Could I dock? I could dock. I checked the Station Services available. It had a refinery; I could process ore into minerals here. After the rest of KiteCo withdrew back to homebase, I was the only one left in the system. And a quick probe revealed... two ice belts. I had only seen one per system before. They were filled with rare, expensive ices. And I was the only one in system.

The only problem was it sat right next door to FAT system, which was where NC gathered for most of their raids against us. Although the system was usually empty, occasionally an enemy ship would come through looking for a kill. Sometimes, there would be 10, 20, even 80 of them warping through system. A lone mining ship would be tempting for them. Was it worth the risk?

A hostile ship warped into the CNC system. I quickly alerted the rest of KiteCo in chat. They gathered up around the CNC gate in CZK and obliterated him when he jumped through it.

Yeah, I thought, this is worth the risk.

-----

I moved my new Procurer out there once I found a scout for the trip (I didn't want to fly my brand new 40mil ISK ship there blind) and set up shop. My week spent mining alongside BOVRIL served me well; as soon as I saw a hostile or neut in local, I aligned towards a warp point and powered up my engines. The moment they popped up on Local Overview, I hit Warp. I was gone before they could react.

Scouting for KiteCo became a crash-course in quick use of my DScan. I found an asteroid belt within 14 AU of the gate to FAT system and kept an eye on Local. The moment I saw hostiles appear, I mashed the DScan button. It was a race to scan the enemy ships & type out the intel to KiteCo before I warped out of range. Then it was up to them to prepare an ambush at the jumpgate, or dock at the station before they were vaporized by overwhelming force. I listened to voice chat and smiled as enemy fleets were obliterated the moment they stepped foot in our system. I wasn't mining as fast as I was in safer systems, but this was much more satisfying...

In the downtime, I grew my list of contacts out of necessity. Our allies occasionally contacted me about my intel. I sent Emails to Spaceship Samurai's diplomat when I was barred from the station one day. I brokered a deal to sell my ice & ore to Catch's Switzerland equivalent, the Black Pearl Alliance. I started correspondence with one of the veteran Fleet Commanders in BRAVE. I didn't just interact with Kite Co; I interacted with our Alliance, our alliance of Alliances, friendly enemies, and abrasive allies. The myriad deals & relationships surrounding the game were more interesting than the game itself.

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"I used to play World of Warcraft," I mentioned to KiteCo while skimming through ship modules, "and it was much more fun than EVE. But I have more stories from less than a month of playing EVE than I did from 5 years of playing WoW."

One of my corpmates agreed. "I used to be in a top-tier WoW raiding guild, one of the guilds people on other servers knew about. But every week it was the same thing, we'd farm and grind and do the same raids everyone else did, time and again. We did it faster than anyone else, but we were still doing the same thing as everyone else.

"But this... we invaded & captured Catch. We've fought off enough fleets to make a planet-sized scrapheap in V-3. We're holing up and preparing to keep it. And we did it differently than the previous owners of Catch did, and we did it differently than whoever takes over Catch in the future will. Our story here is unique. Much more memorable than killing the same bosses for the 10th time in a row."

-----

It began as rumors that someone had managed to flip V-3's sovereignty back to neutral. Hours later, I finally learned the truth: the UnthINKables found a vulnerable Catch system and were busy flipping it to their control. An emergency defense fleet were already fighting in the system, but a reinforcement fleet would soon get underway. I pod-expressed to V-3 and prepared to ship out; by this point, I had gained enough skill points I needed to pay ISK to keep all my skills after dying, but it was worth it to join the battle.

By the time we got there, though, the main fighting was already over. Not only had BRAVE brought over twice as many people to the fight as INK, but INK had made a major tactical mistake by warping their long-range support into point-blank range of our guns. They withdrew from the system, and I sighed at the thought of missing another large battle...

The day wasn't over yet, though. Although INK's territorial control units were destroyed before they could activate, we still needed to get ours online to flip control back to us. That process would take 8 hours. Most of us withdrew back to V-3 and waited; I logged off for a while to play with some friends, keeping an eye on the BRAVE IM alerts for any emergency pings as I read up on the basics of sovereign control. When I logged back in, there was still 2 hours left before the system flipped back to our control.

"Hey," I asked, "who's got eyes on that system?"

"I do, but I should really get some sleep before work tomorrow."

"Hmm, I could watch it instead. Just tell me who to contact if shit happens."

The previous scout gave me the contact info of the Fleet Commander on duty that night, thanked me for taking over, and went to bed. I settled in for 2 hours of sitting around. I read GiantBomb articles in a smaller window, keeping an eye on the Local chat, as I listened to the other KiteCo members dunk fleet after fleet trying to get through CZK.

"They just keep coming!" Matt squealed between bouts of laughter. "Why do they keep coming to die?! Oh God this is hilarious! So much content! I need to pee so bad but I don't want to leave!"

I smiled sadly and sat back; it sounded like they were having a great time, but someone needed to watch the system. I gazed at the nebula beyond, idly going over the tidbits of information I had gathered over the week, plotting what to do next. For 2 hours, I sat in one place in a game. It should've been the most boredom I've ever experienced in a game, but it actually passed quickly. In the last 10 minutes of the countdown, the Fleet Commander warped in with a relief fleet.

"Scout, we'll take it from here. You're relieved of your duty. Thanks, you really did us a favor here." As I warped out of system, the entire fleet saluted via emotes. I realized then why the past 2 hours weren't boring: I had done something unique, I had done something important, and I had chosen to do it. I had helped BRAVE keep the system. I contributed despite playing for less than a month just by being there. And I had enjoyed it.

Still, missing a large battle for the 2nd time annoyed me. Through poor timing and bad luck, I hadn't gotten into a good fleet fight since I started the game, and the lack of combat was grating. I looked down in the various plans and ideas I had scribbled down and thought to myself, "Perhaps it's time to take matters into my own hands..."

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2 Weeks of EVE: Economic PvP

My first exploration run had started so well...

Enticed by rumors of big payoffs, I outfitted a Probe ship with Analyzers and found an untouched Relic Site in a system several jumps away from base. A few successful hacking minigames later, I had 20 million ISK worth of salvage & ancient tech in my cargo bay. That was more than I had made in my first week of mining on EVE. I began heading back towards base.

...And entered a system with 4 hostiles in it.

I panicked and hit the Jump to Gate button immediately in an attempt to get away before they could find me. Halfway there, I realized the system only had 2 gates, and they weren't on the one I came through...

I dropped out of warp right in the midst of them.

"Oh, crap."

I managed to jump through the gate before they could react.

"Oh, whew."

I took a moment to catch my breath. Then I saw red dots pop up on my scanner. They had followed me through.

"Oh, dammit!"

They quickly locked me down and blew me up. I lost a 20mil ISK haul and a 3mil ISK ship on a stupid mistake. I just logged off the game and sat back in my chair for a moment. I was utterly demoralized; I didn't log back in for several hours, and when I did, I immediately moaned about my loss to KiteCo.

"Heh, it happens. Let me link you a death I had."

The Kill Report was a year old; he had lost a freighter in our home sector to a hostile fleet. The total value of the freighter and its contents was in the billions.

"Everyone goes through that moment of truth you just did. They lose hours or days of work to a stupid mistake. And when they do, they have two choices: they can either quit the game in frustration, or they decide they can recover from it and get back to work. If you can't accept losses, don't play EVE."

-----

The most dangerous aspect of EVE is traveling. You jump blind into each system, praying there isn't hostiles gate-camping the other side. There is no scenic griffin ride; every step of the journey is a jump into the unknown. It's bad enough moving yourself... but you need to move your inventory, too. Everything in EVE has to be manually transported from Point A to Point B; the auction house doesn't mail you your stuff, you need to contract a Jump Freighter to haul it in and pray it doesn't get blown up along the way. There can be massive fluctuations in price within just 2 jumps of each other, if those 2 jumps are a warzone. Are you willing to risk your ship for 50%-off Afterburners? And can you get your new stuff back in one piece?

While I was still getting used to the Catch sector, I noticed a great deal on some ship modules: they were 60% lower than the market average just 17 jumps away. I was overjoyed at how cheap I bought them... until I actually tried to retrieve them.

On my first attempt, I ran into a roaming hostile fleet 5 jumps away and lost a ship to them. That ship cost several times more than what I had saved on the modules.

On my second attempt, I took the "Rookie Ship" you get for free whenever you arrive at a station without a ship. It had enough cargo room to store the modules, and I wouldn't lose anything if it got blown up. That ship got blown up 2 jumps in by a Northern Coalition fleet camping a major crossroads in the sector.

For my third attempt, I set my clone respawn to the station the modules were at, then killed myself. I took the free Rookie Ship I received there, then tried to complete the return trip. I ran into a persistent Crow that could warp faster than me and predicted where I was warping to by observing which direction I was facing. I respawned back at the station, smarting from the loss...

Only to realize I still had the modules. Somehow, I completely forgot to place the modules into my cargo bay. They were still stored on the station, waiting for me to take them! I could use another chance to-

"Screw it, this ain't working." I trashed them and reset my clone respawn for home base.

That was an early lesson in how much distance mattered. But it was also an early lesson in how different prices can be in the same sector. And if you could safely move that stuff to a more expensive region, you could make a lot of ISK...

-----

"It's Economic PVP."

"Huh?"

"The second most popular form of EVE PVP next to blowing stuff up. Buying cheap items and marking them up for a hefty increase, moving stuff to where it will sell better, finding ways to undercut the competition... You can make plenty of money playing the market. Of course, you can also lose a ton of money that way."

This quickly turned into a debate about the price of importing everything from HiSec vs locally manufacturing it.

-----

The same probes that cost 20,000ISK here cost 8,000ISK just 7 jumps away. Buying 8 of them would cost nearly 200k ISK here... or I could get them for just 64k ISK there. It would be a 60% discount...

...or a 150% profit.

I pondered that a few moments. Probes took up little space; I could fit thousands of them on a Rookie Ship. Multiply that by 12,000ISK and that's a lot of money. Of course, I would probably need to mark it down more than that- otherwise people would just head to that station like I did- but that would still be a hefty profit. And if I was careful enough, I could probably get them back in one piece...

I decided to risk it. I picked a spare Rookie Ship I kept just for situations like this, plotted a course, and waited for several minutes, just watching the Intel channel while looking at the map. The Intel channel was our way of mitigating the risk of traveling; alliance members posted notices in it if they spotted (or got blown up by) enemies, and everyone else avoided that area for a few minutes unless they wanted a fight. It felt like listening to HAM radio operators discussing the weather: East India Co. was camping the main gate to HiSec, NC had a squad camping the V-3 station dock, and there was an unidentified fleet moving towards Neocortex Station... but the route to the probes sounded clear. I decided to chance it. I undocked and began warping.

Two jumps away from the station, I encountered 2 hostiles gate-camping. I twitched a moment, then paused. Panicking didn't work the last time... and I still had several moments of cloaking from the gate-jump to concoct a plan. There were 2 other gates in the system, but warping directly to them would tip them off where I was going. There was also 7 planets in the system I could warp to... perhaps I could lose them there. I aligned to one of the planets and began to warp.

I promptly got my warp drive disrupted and blown up. As my capsule ejected, I slammed on the Warp button. It managed to warp before the enemies could lock onto it. The chase was on. We bounced between different planets, the enemy ships appearing on my scanner just as I hit Warp Speed, until I managed to line up 2 planets in the same direction. I chose the closer one and jumped. As I came out of warp, I saw the enemy ships appear on my scanner... and promptly zoom by me at warp speed. They chose the wrong planet. I quickly warped to the next gate before they could recover and made it to the station, shipless but alive. A new Rookie Ship was waiting there for me... as well as my stash of probes.

I sighed and collapsed into my chair. "I'll wait until tomorrow to transport these back."

-----

"It might be safer, and nearly as profitable, to just contract your ore to BOVRIL or Veldspar."

"Huh? How?"

"Check out their buyback program."

While there were plenty of general "do everything" corps in the BRAVE alliance, a few specialized corps stood out. There was a black ops corp, a wormhole-exploration corp... and the mining & industry corps, respectively named BOVRIL bOREers Mining Co-Op and Veldspar Industries. Both corps had notifications about Buyback Programs in the Alliance Message of the Day, but I hadn't paid attention to them yet.

"You see, with buyback, you figure out what they're willing to pay you for it, then you make up a contract to give that stuff to them in exchange for the payment. You make a bit less than you would if you sold it at the local stations yourself... but you don't risk getting blown up transporting it, either."

I liked the idea of not getting blown up while transporting millions of ISK worth of cargo. I clicked the links and brought up... a GoogleDocs spreadsheet. Simply enter the items & quantities you had and it would spit up a price for the contract. I crafted a contract using the items and prices specified and confirmed it.

When they say EVE is Spreadsheets in Space, they don't mention those Spreadsheets are made by the players.

-----

I started the trip back the next morning in the midst of a Kadeshi invasion. I figured it would still be easier than doing it during primetime... at least until I was trapped in a two-way system by 4 gatecampers. Neither escape option looked good, so I found an isolated planet and Safe Logged, causing my ship to disappear from the system after 30 seconds... and waited.

Hour later... still there. Two hours later... still there. I logged off again and did something else. EVE, like Dark Souls, punishes impatience. Four hours later, they had finally left, allowing me to safely complete my run. I put the probes up for sale at a station frequented by newbros for 14k ISK apiece; enough for me to make a profit without draining their coffers. I leaned back in my chair and exhaled.

"...If I do this again, I gotta pick a better time and more cargo."

-----

Mining in NullSec makes you alert. I had an eye on Local Chat and an eye on my Overview the whole time. The moment I saw a hostile in either, I fled. In BOVRIL homespace, it got more complicated; enemy stealth ships liked to camp the system and go AFK, threatening us without actually being there in person. (The only way to find an idle stealth ship is to come within 2 kilometers of them... tough to do when they have an entire solar system to hide in.) Mining there involved staying aligned to the station, keeping a close eye on the Overview for uncloaking ships and the local Fleet chat for attacks, and not mining in something shiny (expensive). Days went by without losing a ship, and I got my first payment for ore contracts: 12mil ISK, enough to outfit 4 mining ships. After draining my coffers for the past 2 weeks, buying replacement ships and backup ships and skill books, I had taken my first steps towards actually making money... and having some to waste on PvP.

-----

"You make money to dump it into PvP. Forget Metal Gear Solid, this is the war economy."

Our pre-roaming fleet discussion about EVE economics was promptly interrupted by a hostile appearing in our home system; he must not have expected such a prompt response, because our home fleet quickly surrounded him, tackled him, and killed him. Someone posted the Kill Report so we could all have a look at what he lost: 50mil ISK worth of ship & modules.

He came back a moment later in a second ship, peeked into the system, and left again. This time, we decided to follow him through the gate. We caught him unaware waiting on the other side of the gate and quickly tackled & killed him again. He lost 70mil ISK worth of ship this time.

A few minutes later, he came back to our system in a 3rd ship with a few friends. We gave him the standard post-fight remark: "gf" for "good fight". (I originally thought it meant something more vulgar.) He replied with a snide remark about us "actually leaving the system for once". His impoliteness in defeat struck a nerve.

"Aww," our Fleet Commander said, "You feeling salty today?" The other fleet members chanted, "Salt! Salt!" in response.

"What sort of idiot still says that? You're stupid," our opponent said as a half-dozen of his friends came through the gate to support him. We had a decent fight on our hands; we retreated back to station to scheme.

A stealth scout reported back: we could probably take them on if we struck fast and focused on one. But which one? Our Fleet Commander pondered this a moment. "Let's go after the salty one. He's a sore loser."

We warped in on top of him. His friends fled in a panic as we swarmed him & blew him up. As we withdrew back to station, we checked out the Kill Report and burst out laughing.

"He lost a 300mil ISK ship! Look at all this junk! He must've been so mad he forgot to clear out his cargo hold before he took it out! And it's a T3 ship, so he lost skill points, too! Oh, I'm so glad we killed that salty bastard!"

In his anger, he had lost over 400mil ISK worth of ships and several days worth of skill training trying to get back at us. Most of it could've been easily avoided.

"Lessons to be learned here: don't take losses personally, be courteous to the enemy, and revenge usually isn't profitable. Now come on, we have a roam to do."

We ran into a fleet twice our size at the end of the roam and lost most of our ships in the process, probably costing our Corp a few billion ISK. No one got salty, at least publicly.

-----

At the end of the week, I checked how my Probes were selling. I grimaced as I checked the market: someone had put 1500 of them for sale at the same station for 9,000 ISK apiece, severely undercutting me. To move them at all now, I had to cut the price myself to 8,800 ISK, reducing my profit margin to a measly 8% after taxes. I sighed and slumped back into my chair. No use getting mad about it, though; wins & losses were all a part of PvP, Economic and Otherwise. The best thing to do would be to get back to work on my next money-making scheme. I checked my Money Transactions...

...and was suprised to find two 50mil ISK donations in it. One of them arrived with a message from a Northern Coalition member: "Nice article on GiantBomb; hope you continue to write them!"

In a day, I had made more ISK from writing about EVE than I had made actually playing it. I shouldn't have been surprised: so much of EVE occurs outside of the actual game that paying people in-game for outside work is expected. You can play EVE without... well, actually playing EVE.

Well, if I didn't have enough incentive to continue my weekly series on EVE before, I sure did now. I sat down and began to type...

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1 Week in EVE: Don't Fly What You Can't Lose

"Yeah, this looks like World of Warcraft and plays like every MMO since... well, World of Warcraft."

My download of EVE Online completed while I was watching the WildStar QuickLook, an interesting coincidence and counter-point to all the MMOs chasing the 600-lb gorilla. EVE Online generates stories of backstabbers & warmongers that bewilder outsiders. However, a Bomber told me about a 14-day free trial on it and invited me to it; I took a deep breath and dived in.

I decided to try a crazy path for this crazy game: mining. I would make my ISK by mining.

My initial two days were spent going through the tutorial missions & figuring out the basics. I was getting plenty of equipment and basic ships from them, but it was also boring. I wanted to get into the crazy parts of EVE. So I contacted KiteCo, the GiantBomb corp on EVE, and requested an invitation. I quickly got accepted and they invited me to their station in NullSec (the Wild West of EVE; bring your own protection).

"So, how do I get my stuff over there?"

"Don't; you're going to be blown up along the way. Just sell it for as much ISK as you can, set your clone respawn for the House of Pancakes, and blow yourself up."

On a whim, I decided to try flying my escape pod there instead, through two dozen low/no-security systems. Somehow, I made it in one piece.

KiteCo's House of Pancakes station is located on the border between our alliance (Brave Newbies) and the Northern Coalition, an EVE superpower who sees us as easy pickings. Hostiles fly through the system constantly and there's fights every other hour. Once I dock at the station, they start hammering home the survival tips:

"Don't fly what you can't lose. You will lose ships. You will lose a lot of ships. Some because you're new, some because of bad luck. Don't blow all your money on one ship. Don't fly what you can't lose. Got it?

"Always keep an eye on Local Chat. If there's a hostile in system, he'll always show up on Local Chat.

"The moment you see a hostile, run back to station and dock before you get blown up.

"Neutrals are hostile."

With that, I got to mining.

-----

There is no minimal level for zones in EVE. You can make a profit in the most dangerous NullSec sectors with a starter ship if you're careful. There's no experience grinding, either. Experience goes up as time passes, whether you're logged in or not. (It also encourages you to keep subscribing; you're still gaining experience from it even if you barely log on.) Money, or ISK, is the largest issue for beginners. Luckily, most of our alliance's members were willing or even eager to toss ISK at newbies for just about anything. "Lost a mining ship? Here, take 2mil and buy a replacement." "Need a logi ship for the assault tomorrow? Here, have 10mil."

I learned later they just had that much cash on them. "Once you get rolling, it's easy to make money in NullSec. It's rough getting started, though. We like to encourage newbies to stick around. Warm bodies are more valuable than ISK here."

-----

I lost my first mining frigate to a supercarrier. I was trying to pass through a warpgate when it warped on top of me and blew me to smithereens. When I posted the kill report to KiteCo, the others burst out laughing.

"Oh, that's amazing! You got killed by a supercarrier!"

"Why's that so funny?!"

"He must be bored. He probably spent more on ammo killing you than your ship was worth."

"I still don't find it very funny."

"Here, have some ISK for a new mining frigate."

"Alright, I can find it a bit funny now."

-----

"So, what's the easiest way to get back to HiSec space?" It had been days since I left the starting area in HiSec space for NullSec, and I wanted to head back to buy some new skill books for training. Unfortunately, that passed through a dozen hostile systems; I hadn't managed to get through them unscathed again.

"Simple: just set your clone respawn for there then blow yourself up. We call it the Pod Express."

A moment later, I left my ship at base, flew to the sun with my capsule / escape pod, and set the Self-Destruct.

I woke up back in HiSec, trained the skills I needed, then set my respawn for the House of Pancakes and blew myself up again. I've died more often fast-traveling than in actual combat. Doctor McCoy would have a fit.

-----

I saw the assault notification just a few hours before it started: KiteCo was blowing up abandoned enemy stations in a nearby sector to solidify Brave Newbies' control of the sector. I asked for a loan from the alliance to quickly put together a support ship for the assault; I got 5x as much ISK as I asked for. I quickly threw together a rough support build and waited for the assault to begin.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much need for support in a fight against abandoned stations. I ended up taking weak potshots at the station while everyone else bombed it. On the other hand, I was still participating in "endgame PvP" with dozens of other players. It didn't matter that I had a weak ship & almost no experience. "The more warm bodies, the better."

I had to leave halfway through it due to work, got ambushed by enemy campers on the other side of the stargate and had my new ship blown to smithereens. "Note to self: don't leave fleets early."

-----

That Sunday, our Alliance leaders held a "fireside chat" in our Mumble chat.about our conquest of the Catch region. The chat was preceded by this announcement:

"Attention all enemy spies! We are about to start an alliance chat in here; please leave before you are bored to death."

The big topic of the chat was our transition from invading & conquering to building up our infrastructure and securing Catch from the enemies constantly invading it to skirmish. Diplomatic relationships with other nearby alliances were discussed, a black ops corp was welcomed into the fold, and they said the minutes to a council meeting would be posted shortly.

Half of the items on the minutes were blacked out.

-----

A week after I joined, a mysterious short-notice assault alert popped up on the calendar. It looked like it would be a short PvP assault, so I signed up for it.

Instead, an hour later I had gathered up with over a hundred Brave Newbies and jumped over a dozen systems away from our home turf. They still hadn't explained exactly what we were going to do when our Fleet Commander spoke up:

"Alright! Before we continue further, please set these alliances to Blue status temporarily! Northern Coalition..."

I typed out in fleet chat to the other members: "Wait, aren't we always fighting them?"

"Yes, but not this time."

"Who do we hate enough to ally with NC against?"

"Guess."

A few minutes later, we leapt into the next system, where a NC titan was waiting to jump us to the next system...

...Where we grouped up with several other alliances, all with the same goal: destroy a Goonswarm-allied Titan under construction. "PREPARE TO MAKE CONTENT!"

I had to log out for the main combat, but when I returned there was a thousand ships running around in the same system, EVE's Time Dilation had dropped us to 75% of real-time to avoid melting the server, and we were wiping out a few disconnected enemies before calling a retreat. I learned I was the only surviving support ship in the fleet, thanks to missing the main battle.

As we warped back, we ran into a Goonswarm mop-up fleet that outnumbered us. A few ships managed to distract them long enough for the rest of us to escape to a nearby neutral station and hunker down, logging off for a half-hour to hope they got bored and left.

When I logged back in, I realized I was a few minutes too late; the rest of the fleet had already left and I was a dozen jumps behind enemy lines. I quickly charted an alternate route back home to avoid the main mop-up fleet and managed to outrun the few loners who tried to tackle me. Somehow, I made it back with my ship intact.

I had only been playing for a week, yet I had already gotten exposed to the politics of EVE and participated in two large assaults, including one that made the headlines of The Mittani. Although it takes months to gain the ISK and skills necessary to pilot the giant capital ships, EVE has the lowest barrier to endgame PvP content I've ever seen. All you need is a warm body and a frigate to participate.

"Just remember: don't fly what you can't afford to lose."

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Tropico Tourist Trap Pt. 5: Blaze of Glory

Part I: The Colonial Era

Part II: Cigars, Depression Fruit, and Space Tanks

Part III: Peace for our Time

Part IV: Rumming on the Threshold of Time

When we last left off, the Cold War was swinging into full gear and I was preparing to exploit the uneasy peace with hokey tourist lures! Let's see what the new era has in store for us...

And we immediately start off with a request to replicate the Cuban Missile Crisis for the Americans! Lovely. I accept, of course.

For the first time during my reign, I've changed the Constitution to a more... educated viewpoint. I've opened voting to all citizens and required a High School education for soldiers. In the short term, that reduces my approval (apparently the women are crankier than the men) and my army (most of whom were uneducated). That should recover before it becomes a problem, though. In the meantime, time to start building the Tourist Trap!

First, there's a strange request from the Environmentalists. Just a few years ago, I would've refused to shut down my gold mines for anyone, but since they've been exhausted all I'm mining is iron and coal. The Environmentalists' favor is worth closing down those last 2 mines, although first I need to build up enough tourism to pay to import Coal for my power plant.

And then I get this counter-request to mine uranium! I want both factions' support, but their requests contradict each other... However, they don't care which one I fulfill first! I will simply demolish the mines first to please the Environmentalists, and then set up a Uranium Mine while they're occupied with the furry trout!

I can do all that once I'm done building the Tourist Trap, and then-

...Uh oh. Elections happened faster than I thought... those angry housewives are going to get me ejected from office! Unless...

Operation Re-Election is a 3-pronged process. First, I pass the Tax Cut edict, giving a good chunk of the island's savings back to the rich for their love and support. Second, I use the just-researched Democracy to make a few additions to the Constitution...

...And finally, for the cherry on top...

I win reelection without a hitch and continue building my Tourist Trap. The extra rebels from the election voodoo won't be a issue once my army refills itself with trained soldiers.

Unfortunately, the Tax Cut edict has left me extremely short on cash. My choices are either to take out a loan, or swallow my pride and make a deal with the devil...

I will consol myself with the knowledge the devil doesn't realize my run causes blindness and bladder failure.

I start by demolishing the ugly tenements that would otherwise greet tourists the moment they arrived at my port:

The residents can stand living in shacks for a while; I'll build new and better houses for them later! Meanwhile, I slowly build a thriving beachside resort for the tourists:

It's beginning to rake in money...

Which I hope to reinvest right back into building more tourist buildings; I still have numerous uneducated former soldiers I need to give new jobs to!

Things are beginning to look splendi-

...Ah, crud.

...Wait, did that tornado just thread the needle between my factories and my army base?

It did! It did! A tornado with no damage!

Well, there was some citizens killed, but they're easily replaced! I take this as a sign of divine favor and continue working on my Tourist Tra-

-Wait, what do you mean the rebels are attacking?!

Wow, that's a lot of rebels. Luckily I have enough military to win this...

...Er, troops? Troops?!

Aw, crud...

And so my grand plans, and the future of Tropico, comes crashing down. My military hadn't filled up again after the Constitution change requiring soldiers to be educated, the Rebel threat had increased from rigging the elections, and I was too busy building my Tourist Trap to realize the danger. I got complacent and Tropico punished me for it.

Epilogue

Rico 'Ryan' Davis and his family fled Tropico for the mainland, leaving the fledgling island in the hands of the rebels. Unable to see Rico's vision, they demolished the tourist town and focused on the island's cigar & rum business, indirectly killing millions through substance abuse.

Meanwhile, the Davis family settled down in anonymity, making a new life for themselves as normal Americans. One of their descendents seems to have taken a few cues from Rico Davis, though...

Conclusion

And thus ends my first game of Tropico. I lost by making a rookie mistake of focusing too much on the city-building and not enough on the potential threats. I believe this failed run still showed the major points of Tropico, though: mooching up to various factions, juggling city-building with securing your reign, the occasional lapses into unemployment, epidemics and starvation, the way everything can go peach-shaped in a moment, the utter snark permeating everything... Tropico just has more to do than SimCity, and brings its own sense of style to a bureaucratic genre. Perhaps I will expound more on the multiplayer or campaign later, or even try to reestablish the David dynasty in another game, but for now I think you have enough info to decide whether this game is worth $40 to you.

Viva la Tropico! May El Presidente reign forever!

2 Comments

Tropico Tourist Trap Pt. 5: Blaze of Glory

Part I: The Colonial Era

Part II: Cigars, Depression Fruit, and Space Tanks

Part III: Peace for our Time

Part IV: Rumming on the Threshold of Time

When we last left off, the Cold War was swinging into full gear and I was preparing to exploit the uneasy peace with hokey tourist lures! Let's see what the new era has in store for us...

And we immediately start off with a request to replicate the Cuban Missile Crisis for the Americans! Lovely. I accept, of course.

For the first time during my reign, I've changed the Constitution to a more... educated viewpoint. I've opened voting to all citizens and required a High School education for soldiers. In the short term, that reduces my approval (apparently the women are crankier than the men) and my army (most of whom were uneducated). That should recover before it becomes a problem, though. In the meantime, time to start building the Tourist Trap!

First, there's a strange request from the Environmentalists. Just a few years ago, I would've refused to shut down my gold mines for anyone, but since they've been exhausted all I'm mining is iron and coal. The Environmentalists' favor is worth closing down those last 2 mines, although first I need to build up enough tourism to pay to import Coal for my power plant.

And then I get this counter-request to mine uranium! I want both factions' support, but their requests contradict each other... However, they don't care which one I fulfill first! I will simply demolish the mines first to please the Environmentalists, and then set up a Uranium Mine while they're occupied with the furry trout!

I can do all that once I'm done building the Tourist Trap, and then-

...Uh oh. Elections happened faster than I thought... those angry housewives are going to get me ejected from office! Unless...

Operation Re-Election is a 3-pronged process. First, I pass the Tax Cut edict, giving a good chunk of the island's savings back to the rich for their love and support. Second, I use the just-researched Democracy to make a few additions to the Constitution...

...And finally, for the cherry on top...

I win reelection without a hitch and continue building my Tourist Trap. The extra rebels from the election voodoo won't be a issue once my army refills itself with trained soldiers.

Unfortunately, the Tax Cut edict has left me extremely short on cash. My choices are either to take out a loan, or swallow my pride and make a deal with the devil...

I will consol myself with the knowledge the devil doesn't realize my run causes blindness and bladder failure.

I start by demolishing the ugly tenements that would otherwise greet tourists the moment they arrived at my port:

The residents can stand living in shacks for a while; I'll build new and better houses for them later! Meanwhile, I slowly build a thriving beachside resort for the tourists:

It's beginning to rake in money...

Which I hope to reinvest right back into building more tourist buildings; I still have numerous uneducated former soldiers I need to give new jobs to!

Things are beginning to look splendi-

...Ah, crud.

...Wait, did that tornado just thread the needle between my factories and my army base?

It did! It did! A tornado with no damage!

Well, there was some citizens killed, but they're easily replaced! I take this as a sign of divine favor and continue working on my Tourist Tra-

-Wait, what do you mean the rebels are attacking?!

Wow, that's a lot of rebels. Luckily I have enough military to win this...

...Er, troops? Troops?!

Aw, crud...

And so my grand plans, and the future of Tropico, comes crashing down. My military hadn't filled up again after the Constitution change requiring soldiers to be educated, the Rebel threat had increased from rigging the elections, and I was too busy building my Tourist Trap to realize the danger. I got complacent and Tropico punished me for it.

Epilogue

Rico 'Ryan' Davis and his family fled Tropico for the mainland, leaving the fledgling island in the hands of the rebels. Unable to see Rico's vision, they demolished the tourist town and focused on the island's cigar & rum business, indirectly killing millions through substance abuse.

Meanwhile, the Davis family settled down in anonymity, making a new life for themselves as normal Americans. One of their descendents seems to have taken a few cues from Rico Davis, though...

Conclusion

And thus ends my first game of Tropico. I lost by making a rookie mistake of focusing too much on the city-building and not enough on the potential threats. I believe this failed run still showed the major points of Tropico, though: mooching up to various factions, juggling city-building with securing your reign, the occasional lapses into unemployment, epidemics and starvation, the way everything can go peach-shaped in a moment, the utter snark permeating everything... Tropico just has more to do than SimCity, and brings its own sense of style to a bureaucratic genre. Perhaps I will expound more on the multiplayer or campaign later, or even try to reestablish the David dynasty in another game, but for now I think you have enough info to decide whether this game is worth $40 to you.

Viva la Tropico! May El Presidente reign forever!

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Tropico Tourist Trap Pt. 4: Rumming on the Threshold of Time

Part I: The Colonial Era

Part II: Cigars, Depression Fruit, and Space Tanks

Part III: Peace for our Time

So I've finally managed to reach the Cold War era, unlocking tourism in the process. I can finally begin turning Tropico into a tourist trap. And yet, on the eve of our transformation, I find myself looking back at my exploits and realizing that in the heat of the moment, I focused so much on what was happening that I neglected to show off Tropico herself! Thus, let's pause a moment and regard Tropico on the eve of her transformation. Sit back, put on some slow salsa, and gaze on the Tropico of the past one last time, for tomorrow she will become a new woman.

The fertile fields that feed my populace (and grow the tobacco for those fine Caribbean cigars), snaking off the edge of town.

The main (and only) town of Tropico. The trade ports give way to defenses old and new, a few early fields I never moved further away from town, and then a slew of service buildings (the school, the police station, the embassy, etc) on the road to my Palace and the numerous residences nearby. She may still be small, but I am sure she'll grow up quickly!

Already the residents creep further out towards the newly-established College. And beyond that...

Factory Road. An army base guards the steel and textile mills here, along with the coal plant powering them both. Symbols of an old Tropico, they will be demolished once the tourism industry is booming!

And on top of the hill, a lone army base guards the ranches there. There used to be 2 gold mines here as well, but they were exhausted and abandoned just as the World Wars came to a close. Alas, nothing gold can stay, a stark warning of the dangers of relying on limited resources. Thankfully, there's no limit to naive foreigners!

And yet, much of the island remains untouched. There is room to expand on both the high ground and the low ground. If you squint and look past the llama ranches, you can even see ancient ruins we can turn into a tourist attraction!

Beauty is an important part of any tourist trap; no one want to visit an ugly island. While much of the town is wonderfully beautiful thanks to the large palace gardens, the area near the docks is notably red! No, this won't do at all, that's the first thing tourists to the island will see! My top advisors will get back to me on ways to change this unfortunate situation...

Luckily, the rest of the island is lush and vibrant. All the better to lure tourists in...

But not all of Tropico's wonders are in the land itself! No, Tropico is just as well known for its people!

After decades of wise rulership, Rico "Ryan" Davis has advanced to the 2nd level of enlightenment! Rumors he paid a Buddhist monk a large sum of money from his personal account to achieve this are grossly exaggerated. (Your Swiss bank account: not just for retirement anymore!)

Flavio Davis "Jr." has also reached Level 2, but as the result of years of fighting in the World Wars. Sadly, Bile "Space Sickness" Davis has been unable to level up due to his devotion to the local defenses. Don't worry, though! I'm sure he'll get his chance soon enough!

The new era has changed the people of Tropico as well; now they realize choices must be made between trees and smokestacks. Bitter lines have been drawn between the Environmentalists and Industrialists, giving Tropicans a total of three different subjects to hate each other about!

While the Environmentalists are indifferent to me and in the minority, their support is vital for a tourist trap. (Industrialists like factories; tourists don't.) I'll have to figure out a way to court their favor and get more members for them.

Tropicans, although satisfied with their lot in life, could be happier. Their drab entertainment will be taken care of by the tourism industry; entertainment venues for tourists can service Tropicans just as well! Don't worry about the low Healthcare and Religion scores; those are for wusses! Tropicans are not wusses!

Threats always loom close to Tropico, and with the passing of an era the players have also changed. Now we have to appease the USA and USSR, as well as fight off the rebel threat and make sure our soldiers and populace doesn't revolt. As for which nation to support... do you really have to ask? Those Soviets are pikers.

With a new era comes new technologies. We'll eventually have to reach the end of this tech tree to advance to the next era, but in the meantime there's plenty of interesting technologies to advance our goals. "Naive Foreigners" looks particularly lucrative...

The new era also brings new edicts, most of these centered around cleaning up Tropico's public image (and subtly eliminating the dirtier aspects).

We finally come to the crux of the era's changes: we can finally build lodging for tourists! There are 5 types of tourists (Slob, Eco, Family, Cultural, and Wealthy) and each of them has preferences on where to stay. Slobs want lots of entertainment nearby, Culturals want to stay near colonial buildings, Ecos don't want other buildings nearby, and so forth... This means I can't just build a one-size-fits-all tourist trap; I need to diversify! The lower ground, filled with beaches and the main city, would be perfect for Slobs and Families. Meanwhile, the high ground with its ruins (and safety from tsunamis) could host the Ecos, Culturals, and Wealthy. That is the plan. But will it work?

Ah, that is a question for another day. For now, just relax, listen to the music, and drink to our future success...

Continued Here!

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Tropico Tourist Trap Pt. 3: Peace for our Time

Part I: The Colonial Era

Part II: Cigars, Depression Fruit, and Space Tanks

Now that we have SPACE TANKS, it's time to close out this era of war and advance to a time peaceful enough to allow tourists onto our island. Until we advance to that era, we can't build tourist buildings and thus have to rely on exports & industry to finance Tropico. That will make building a healthy tourist industry later tougher (apparently they don't like sightseeing factories), so the sooner we can end the World Wars the better.

We start with another nice tidbit about Patrick's vacation spot:

And then leap right into even more requests to fulfill. The number of requests has picked up as the World Wars have progressed, giving us more opportunities to exploit, such as this:

I couldn't pass it up. "Unknown Consequences" is the Tropico version of "DO NOT PRESS". Puny Americans, ha! We have to put up with Penultimo every day!

Like this- look at the stress he's giving me!

I will never understand why we wrote elections into the Constitution... I must have been drunk that day. Yet another annoyance obstructing my dream of a tyrannical tourist trap. At least enough of the people love me I won't have to put too much effort into winning.

...Unless a tsunami wipes out a good chunk of my buildings and floods most of the rest 3 months before reelection. This is what I get for wanting a beachtown...

Winning this election might require a bit of help.

What could possibly go wrong?

...Inciting a bunch of citizens into rebelling, destroying my SPACE TANKS!, and burning a llama ranch to the ground before assaulting my palace, apparently. Fortunately the rebels get exhausted walking to my palace and call off the attack before they can reach it, citing victory as they slip back into the populace. (This is a prime example of the battle AI for Tropico 5 being dumb as rocks. Attackers target buildings at random, ignoring vulnerable buildings nearby to assault a building halfway across the island.)

This is a problem. Not only do I have to worry about foreign powers, but now my own populace is turning against me! Luckily, my policemen and agents have identified several key figures amidst the populace that I can... deal with.

Sometimes it's worth a bit of civil unrest to cut the head off the snake. Banish & Discredit are new options for dealing with troublemakers; I'll try to Banish an annoying Rebel Leader and see what happens.

...I like this. I like this a lot.

Now that I no longer have to worry about elections, and a good chunk of my land has been cleared off by the tsunami, it's time to start modernizing. The old, cheap country houses I've relied on are ugly and poor; I'd rather have houses & parks surrounding my palace.

I also build more mansions for my wealthy soldiers (I pay the people with guns extra) and a college so I no longer have to pay for expensive educated foreigners.

In retrospect, it might not have been a smart idea to build all this on the low ground again. ...Eh, what are the odds of another tsunami hitting us?

Meanwhile, one of my gold mines has been depleted. The other 2 gold mines are nearly depleted as well, which will take a big chunk out of my export profits. Hopefully I can get to the Cold War era and build a tourist industry before that happens.

Of course, exploiting US Prohibition for all it's worth doesn't hurt. I build a rum factory and a few more sugar fields and start raking in the dough; the Allies might not like it, but I've mooched up to them so much they want an alliance with me even though I'm single-handedly undermining their Prohibition. There's a slight catch, however...

Luckily, my SPACE TANKS! fare better against the Axis than they did the rebels, probably because they hit the main town (protected by numerous infantry squads) rather than the mines (protected only by a squad of tanks). After my military victory, the Allies strike an alliance with me and ask for more help...

It takes a year or two, but my army returns successfully with Flavio Davis gaining a level from his experience. This makes the army he manages better at fighting and reduces the damage all my troops take.

Finally, after years of fighting and waiting, the wars begin drawing to a close...

The Allies gladly sign a treaty with me. The Axis, on the other hand...

Luckily this invasion isn't any stronger than the last one and I manage to send them fleeing. Suddenly it doesn't seem like such a bad idea that 1/6th of my population is in the military. There's been 4 different skirmishes and I'm not even halfway through the game!

And with that, the next era is available...

Along with my chance to finally make a Tourist Trap.

As this game progresses, I like the Era system more and more. It slowly grows the number of options you have available, each Era has a different emphasis (Colonial Era is about farming & raw resources, the World Wars are about industrialization, and the Cold War looks like it'll be about tech, research and tourism), and the way your island grows and changes priorities feels organic. I can no longer start a Tourism-centered island from scratch; now I need to build the industry necessary to sustain it for several decades and then figure out how to cut out most of that industry to emphasize tourism. It's an interesting problem, and one that I'll tackle in the next installment.

Continued Here!

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The Issue with Transistor's Ending (SPOILERS)

It's been about a week since I've finished Transistor, and I've taken the interim to think about its ending. As I said in my review, "The ending provokes confusion instead of satisfaction", and it's not just because everything isn't revealed by the end. Please note that in discussing this, I will spoil the entire ending, which might ruin the entire game for you. (Also spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line, Mark of the Ninja, Casablanca, and Seven Pounds.)

You have been warned.

Last chance: turn back now to avoid spoilers!

When I finished Transistor for the first time, Red got the power to rewrite the city, but instead committed suicide with the Transistor so she could be with her lover. From my Internet research, this seems to be the only ending to the game. My initial reaction was mood whiplash; I had just beaten the game! The Process was eliminated! I could rewrite what they had erased! And then suddenly, despite her lover's (and my) protests, she kills herself. Credits roll as her lover breaks down over her body... cue a romantic song, and... wait, it ends with a picture of them in the Country? And they seem happy? What? How did her lover go so quickly from begging her not to do it to being glad she did? That dissonance clashed with the emotional tone they were going for. Sure, the lovers were reunited, but I wondered if I should be happy for it. I honestly thought I had gotten the bad ending somehow.

I wasn't the only one who felt that way. A blogpost in the Transistor Neogaf thread stated bluntly, "Red is *puppy* selfish... killing herself on the Transistor rather than repairing the city (which she showed she could do with minimal effort) or bothering to check for any other survivors despite the protests of the Transistor him/itself just came across as short-sighted to me." This is not how you want your audience reacting to the sympathetically-portrayed protagonist at the very end of the game.

More problems cropped up as I thought about it. I had just won the final boss fight to escape the Transistor... and then Red immediately goes back into it? What did winning that final boss fight accomplish, then? Looking further back, what did we accomplish, if anything, in the game itself? Nothing is saved as a result of our actions, and the moment we have the power to save something... Red doesn't use it. She gives up. She gives up and kills herself to be with her lover.

Suicide is an inherently selfish and despairing action. It is not something we react to well. It, like rape, requires hefty writing chops and a good deal of setup to pull off well. Transistor does not have this. Although 2 other characters committed suicide, Red never seemed to entertain notions of it. She always seemed driven to find some way to stop the problem. This causes her suicide to seem completely out of left field. Spec Ops: The Line, for everything it forced you to do over the course of the game, at least set up the disastrous consequences of the protagonist's decisions and his mind cracking so suicide seemed like a viable choice. Mark of the Ninja, another tragedy game, had the choice of suicide at the end, but also compared it to the alternative of going homicidally insane (wonderfully illustrated by the hallucinations you experience during the final stage), which made it more of a heroic sacrifice.

Sacrifice is something we like to see in our protagonists. The ability to put aside our own desires, including love, to accomplish something greater is a classic trope. Casablanca wouldn't be half the movie it is if the protagonists didn't give up their love for a greater good. Ebert put it well: There is actually no reason why Laszlo cannot get on the plane alone, leaving Ilsa in Casablanca with Rick, and indeed that is one of the endings that was briefly considered. But that would be all wrong; the “happy” ending would be tarnished by self-interest, while the ending we have allows Rick to be larger, to approach nobility (“it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”). You could say the same for Transistor: the "happy" ending is tarnished by self-interest.

Even worse, it encourages an act that is horrifying in real life. It reminded me of a review of Seven Pounds by Film Brain: when he reveals the ending of the movie says killing yourself to donate your organs is a good thing, he goes ballistic and rips it apart. In his commentary, he revealed the reason why: a relative killed himself, and the thought a movie would encourage such behavior infuriated him.

The ending of Transistor is the sci-fi equivalent of committing suicide to be with your lover in heaven. Sure, Shakespeare ended Romeo & Juliet the same way, but that was a tragedy, and Romeo & Juliet are implied to be idiots for going that far. What's the implication in Transistor? What are we supposed to take away about Red? The more I look at it, the less I like what it's saying.

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