Space War Is Hell (A Laggy, Complex Hell)
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Today the spaceship MMO EVE Online, colloquially known as Spreadsheets in Space, experienced its largest battle to date, with more than four thousand individual players duking it out to the bitter end. The players of EVE Online, each controlling their own spaceship loaded with weapons or utility modules, are no strangers to fights or fleet actions, but battles on this scale are rare and usually turn into historical events that separate the newbies from the veterans. A space rumble this big isn’t all action, explosions, and heroic bravery as many sci-fi films would lead you to believe, and the fighting here looks more like a swarm of insects or a jam-packed disco dance floor (complete with lasers) than a World War II dogfight or naval engagement.
What makes this fight special and EVE Online distinct from other MMOs is the scale of these completely player-driven engagements. World of Warcraft is the largest MMO to date, with some 11 million subscribers at its height, but even then those players were divided over a bunch of different servers; parallel but completely separate versions of the same world, each with around 3-4 thousand players. EVE has the entirety of its subscriber base, about five hundred thousand people, on a single server, with everyone playing in the same world. This allows for larger groupings of players and greater bouts of tension between them, resulting in massive battles like what we’ve seen today.
This clash between two massive groupings of players is neat to read and look at without context, but understanding why this battle is occurring and the factors at play can tell us a lot about the game itself. It’s safe to say that while EVE has a steep learning curve and requires a massive time investment to really get going, it is one of the deepest and certainly the most dynamic MMOs out there now.
In EVE, space is separated into two areas: The safe, newbie and market friendly areas of Empire space, and the deep, player-contested reaches known as Nullsec. While Empire space generally have more common names like Jita, Amamake, Old Man Star, etc. Nullsec areas are so numerous and supposedly unexplored that they are designated with numbers and abbreviations.
Center empty region is Empire space, the colorful surrounding border is the space Nullsec alliances control. Each white dot is a single system.
Player run corporations and alliances (a bunch of corporations working together) battle it out for the luxury resources like minerals from moons and asteroids that are only found in Nullsec. This particular battle played out in the system of 6VDT-H, located in the Fountain region of Nullsec (middle-far left on the above map). The forces at play were the Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC), a combination of alliances including the Goonswarm Federation, Razor Alliance, and Fatal Ascension, all of whom come from the northern reaches of Nullsec, and the TEST ALLIANCE PLEASE IGNORE Alliance (TEST), who call the south-western area known as Delve their home.
The CFC initially invaded 6VDT-H, which is considered TEST’s capital in the Fountain region, and attempted to take the Player Owned Station (POS, think of it like a castle) located there. The mechanics of capturing a POS are intricate, but in layman’s terms it involves the invading force having to strip the station of its shields, which then puts the station into a “reinforced” mode where it can not be attacked for a certain period of time. This affords the defending players some time to organize a defense, which is what TEST did, declaring they would make 6VDT-H a last stand situation. In the meantime CFC ensured their complete control of the system, installing various installations at each of the moons around the main TEST POS in 6VDT-H, so when TEST decided to fight, they would have nowhere to run.
A scene from inside the chaos. The large blue spheres are Warp Bubbles, which stop or block players from warping in and out of the area.
The reason for all this action centered on this system is varied. The POS in 6VDT-H was believed to be the home of a large amount of TEST’s own moon minerals, resources which help them build ships, fuel other POSes, and which can be solid in bulk for lavish prices. As well, there were various strategic and morale objectives for CFC in taking 6VDT-H. Being TEST’s main capital in the Fountain region, CFC saw the potential capture as a final act in pushing TEST from the region, as well as the beginning of a greater downfall (complete with movie poster). Geographically, as Blake over at the K162space blog notes, 6VDT-H is one of the few major TEST hubs that is only one carrier jump from the safety of Empire space. This means that for more mining and industry focused characters, the backbone of any great alliance, shuttling equipment and resources between Nullsec and the more active Empire markets was made easier, with no need to go through traditional stargates where enemies can camp out and pick off vulnerable freighters.
Like real wars, it’s all about money and geography
The battle began in bumbling fashion. CFC were apparently already waiting outside the station for the POS timer to finish with some 2400 ships assembled. TEST had their staging area outside the system and used one of their massive Titan ships to “jump” people in. Unfortunately, their problems were two fold. First, they warped their fleet, about 1400 ships in total, onto the station and subsequently in the middle of the CFC blob, starting the fight off outnumbered and in extremely close quarters. Second, the player piloting the Titan at one point accidentally clicked the button to warp himself instead of his fellow pilots, placing his ship in the same bad spot where it didn’t take long for him to be singled out and picked off. From there the action slowed waaaay down. With the number of players in the system quickly breaking four thousand, all of them performing actions, the servers were hammered with activity and huge bouts of lag kicked in. This triggered an ingame feature known as Time Dilation, which slows the actions of the server down so it can more easily process everything that’s happening. However this results in said actions sometimes taking over ten minutes to register, and any sort of quick reaction to events going out the window. Fleets commanders had to carefully pick out who to target and take out, knowing the situation they were reacting to could change well before their reaction was processed. Getting the jump on TEST helped CFC commanders pick off TEST’s own, leaving TEST’s fleet in a less than ideal situation when it came to focusing their fire. Players’ games crashed, with many unable to log back in due to lag. Sporadic battles occurred around 6DVT-H as well, with CFC stealth bombers camping stations in neighboring systems to take out TEST reinforcements as they tried to go help, and players of both sides fighting over and camping the stargates which act as bottlenecks in and out of the system.
A player’s perspective, Each individual square is a player. Purple/blue are friendly, orange/red are hostile.
In the end, after about five hours of combat, the CFC came out on top, eliminating the majority of the TEST fleet and capturing the station. TEST had attempted to reinforce their fleet throughout the fight, but with numbers against them, it turned into a meatgrinder which saw the loss of more than 2500 ships, and a total of 3800 or more from both sides.
With victory obtained the EVE universe moves on, having seen just another battle out of many. But with an ever increasing playerbase, it’s safe to say that there may be bigger battles yet to come. Whether EVE players will want to participate in more of these lag-filled slugfests, or whether the developers will work on decreasing that lag to accommodate ever increasing fleet battles, remains to be seen, but it will certainly be interesting to read about.
You can check out some live blow-by-blow reporting of the battle over at The Verge or The Mittani complete with more pretty pictures. For now, enjoy this photoset from one of the many who joined in.