Mittwoch, 4. März 2015

Parasite EVE Online

About a year ago I randomly stumbled upon a guide about PI in EVE. Which was good, since I was actively searching for PI-guides at that time.

For better understanding: PI is Planetary Interaction. In EVE Online, one of the things you can do is set up factories and ressource extractors on planets to abuse the workers. I mean to make money. Essentially, you get stuff or build stuff on planets and haul it to a market hub to sell it. That's the short and easy gist of it, at least. As everything in EVE, it can get complicated really fast.

So, since you don't have to be online all the time, PI can be a nice additional source of income for fun stuff with your other characters. The best planets with the best ressources are in a part of "New Eden" (the strange galaxy where the game happens) called W-Space or J-Space. That's short for wormhole-space: Thousands of solar systems only connected through random wormholes you have to find. Wormholes break down based on mass of ships jumping through and time. Every time a wormhole breaks down another one respawns, connected to somewhere else. It's like a giant murky labyrinth in space. (J-Space is a reference to the system names over there: Every wormhole-system with one exception has a name consisting of the letter "J" and a number.)

Now those strange systems have also one "static" connection, which leads always to the same region of space and it's always constantly respawning in the same wormhole-system. It's essentially a lifeline preventing the odd situation where every wormhole decides to respawn somewhere else, leaving everyone trapped. The static wormhole is always there and prevents this.

Giant riches await in those strange places and since EVE Online is quite a few years old, a lot of players have infiltrated this part of space to make a living. Back then I was preparing two characters on my second game account (Yes, multiple accounts are a thing in EVE Online. The game is strangely addicting.) for Planetary Interaction. I maxed out the relevant skills (Skills in EVE Online are learned over time, even if you're logged out. The drawback here is, some skills can take enormous amounts of time. Preparing those two fresh characters took therefore literally months ot waiting for skills to finish.) and made some rather crude colonies.

This was my learning phase. I read up some guides and tried setting up colonies in different regions. I learned a lot and I finally decided I needed some sort of low-effort setup so I could go back to my main character to play other stuff. Spaceship related stuff.

Then in a rather odd but interesting guide, I learned about "PI-Parasites". And was immediately in love with the concept. You see, normally if you want to build colonies in W-Space, you enter not alone, but with your corporation of players. (Think World of Warcraft guilds, but with CEOs instead of guild leaders.) You replace or build the customs offices orbiting the planets, plant starbase towers at moons and so on. PI is just one thing of many you'll be doing. Or you'll do it and your corpmates do something else. Whatever.

But even if the customs office of a world is controlled by a certain player organization, as long as those players aren't cutting you off just to spite you, other players can still use them to transport stuff to or from the planet. They just have to pay taxes set by the owners. Since W-Space is so goddamn rich in ressources, sometimes even high taxes are worthwile if the planets are good and not too many enemies lurk around.

Now, if several people colonize the same world, they can drain each others' ressources on accident, lowering the output of their colonies, which is bad. In W-Space however, the population is low enough this is mostly irrelevant. One or even a couple neutral players won't have enough of an effect on the output to do any damage to profits for someone. So in most cases, the owners simply set some random, not too high tax rate and just skim a bit from your profits. Everyone is satisfied.

The thing is, if you're not planning on living in that particular wormhole, or if you're not willing to expend the time to deal with space towers, foreign and aggressive corporations and so on, tough shit. Some unknown industrial transport ship generally can only expect fiery death if it drops in unanounced and starts collecting stuff.

So being brazenly business-as-usual doesn't work in this region, especially as W-Space is one of the most dangerous parts in an already PVP-oriented game.

Puh, that was a lot to explain, just in case you aren't familiar with EVE Online. But now back to the story:

Back then I was still unsure what was best. I tried HighSec, the most harmless region of space, but the planets are mostly shit and overrun with countless players, so the profits aren't great. Later I did some fancy setups with other characters, since factory planets don't need ressources (you import them from somewhere else) and you can build some strange, highly profitable stuff even in HighSec, but that was still in the future at that point.

My PI-alts were supposed to do only PI, so I tried to find the best possible concept for their use. LowSec-colonies worked better, but after several weeks of surveying my new colonies were kind of drawn out and hard to reach. Lot's of PVP tended to get in the way. Profits were higher, but it was also more effort.

At that point I was deciding on either putting my colonies into NullSec instead (the other super-dangerous region in New Eden) or into W-Space. NullSec had an entirely different set of trouble, but theoretically it was doable. Then I found this guide explaining W-Space Parasites and I was hooked.

This is how it works:

You need at least two characters. After you found and scouted the wormhole-system you want to use, you infiltrate the system with your two characters. One is a stealthy hauler, the other a stealthy character able to find the hidden wormhole connections, so you won't get stuck. Theoretically, you can have one character doing both with some creative fumbling around, but the thing is: If someone collapses your wormhole if you're outside the system, you're probably won't find the way back to your colonies for a long, long time, if ever. Thousands of systems randomly reconnected each day, that's harsh.

With two characters, you can always use the second one to scan down the static connection and re-open it. Then at least you'll know where the new entry to normal space is and your poor, locked out character can travel there to try entering again.

Now your characters are safely inside the wormhole-system. Then you're doing complicated, EVE-related stuff to prepare possible routes of retreat and hiding places around the system.

Next you'll stay hidden under a cloak and use the command centers you bought and brought with you to build colonies on the worlds of that system. This is an entire science in itself. Every character can have 6 colonies at max skill levels, so if you have two, you can have twelve colonies all in all. So you go hog wild.

Now stuff is getting extracted and build and slowly piles up until there's no space left anymore. From that point forward your stealthy "parasites" occasionally log on to maintain the colonies and about 1-2 times a month you spend some time on emptying out your colonies and secretly transporting it back to normal space, where people have market hubs to sell and buy stuff.

If no-one catches you at those vital times, you'll get a shitload of money. Then your parasites go back to their system, log off and that's it. Rinse, repeat.

This was perfect for me: Not much effort, at least once a month lots of money to spend on fancy starships and I could secretly stalk around like a bunch of ghosts, which is great fun to me.

Over time I even modified my parasites a bit: Since a first experiment ended with the owners of the system getting upset at my presence, I made sure from then on that my command centers are integrated in my network of extractors, warehouses and factories. Why? As long as you only want to export things off the planet, you don't actually need an expensive launchpad to send stuff to the customs office orbiting your planet. It's just more convenient and most of the time, actual human players demand less taxes then the automatic 15% tax on command center launches.

Also those emergency-launches are restricted to 500m³ with a 1-minute cooldown between every start. Compare this to the 10000m³ launch capacity of a normal space port and you'll understand why people keep using them.

Experience taught me however, that sometimes people are unreasonable. They get territorial. They don't want you there. They really do see you as a parasite, sucking out their precious ressources.If you want to go with a stealthy parasite-setup, you'll have to be prepared for this.

Normally, since your two guys will only randomly log in at a hidden spot maybe once a week at most, the stalwart defenders will be practically unable to dislodge you as long you aren't getting to cocky. The defenders do can close you out from their customs offices, however. Or blow up the old ones and replace them with their own, then close you out.

In that case you can't send up launches of precious motor oil or whatever you're producing and even if you could, you wouldn't be allowed to take it out of the customs office anyway. If you were smart enough to connect your command center to your warehouses, you can just avoid this blockade, however. Just send those invisible, un-scannable containers up into space. Collect them carefully, and smuggle them out when the defenders aren't looking. Done.

And since you have two guys, the defenders can't even collapse a wormhole behind you and even if you fuck up royally and get blown up, you have a second chance to get this right. Your second character can simply wait until the right moment, then open up another static connection to let your other comrade in again.

Most of the time of course it won't be as dramatic as this guerilla war I just described. You'll simply and carefully collect your products, pay taxes, sell them, go back into hiding.

That's W-Space Parasites in a nutshell. And man, having to explain all this stuff just in case a non-EVE player reads this blog really inflated this post more then neccessary.

Well, hopefully it was still an enjoyable read. Maybe I'll even write more EVE-related stuff in the future!

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