Balancing Supercapitals

This post is intended to constructive criticism of CCP and the developers. For the sake of being charitable, the benefit of the doubt will be given when possible, and no specific names will be mentioned as targets of criticism. I will criticize not only gameplay elements, but where stated design philosophy and attitudes have not been met.

A caveat: I am writing on this topic only because it both presents an interesting problem to solve, and because I deeply care about the health and longevity of EVE Online. I read a lot of EVE-related material and regularly watch several podcosts, but I myself am not a capital or supercapital pilot. I am by no means claiming myself to be an expert. These are simply ideas I tossed around in my head. Feel free to rip them apart, because that’s how solutions are found.

THE CAT THAT’S OUT OF THE BAG

Supercaps have destroyed the NullSec game. CCP made a huge mistake in introducing supercapitals, a mistake they’ve made time and again with other features: underestimating the players. When the game was first launched, CCP expected it would take a year or two before the first Battleship was built by players. The first Battleship was built in a few months. When J-Space was introduced, CCP - practically on a toin coss - decided to allow POS anchoring. CCP did not expect that anyone would actually live in J-Space. But the players did. And there are some players who live in J-Space permanently. I would not be surprised to find groups or individuals who live in Shattered Wormholes, using Poproises and Mobile Depots in lieu of Citadels. Today, J-Space is active and thriving, and players regularly fight over territory. And need I mention the situation with skill trading and Rorquals? EVE’s playerbase is anti-fragile and highly innovative. If something can be done in EVE, no matter how difficult, expensive, or time consuming - the playerbase will find a way. But EVE’s playerbase are also, in a way, their own worst enemies: seeking propserity and stability, they find it boring and stagnant once they find it. Supercapitals have created the safety to allow for prosperity, and mutual risk aversion to losing such costly assets has created stability. And everyone is sick to death of it.

CCP needs a new design philosophy, a new habit of thinking: they need to be wildly less conservative in their estimates. If something can be done, CCP needs to assume that players will do it, and do it a lot. If they estimate that it will take X amount of time for something to be built or happen, CCP needs to assume the actual time is 1/4 of that estimate. CCP needs to stop assuming “there will only be Y number of asset” or “players will never do X”, unless specific game mechanics obviate X and Y.

When Titans were introduced, they were made so expensive that CCP estimated only a handful would exist at any given time. But because Titans are so powerful and expensive, not only do players rush to build them, but they also do everything they can to protect these assets. The result is that many are being built but few are being lost. Granted, it took many years to see this level of proliferation, but once the playerbase and population of NullSec grew to a critical mass, proliferation became exponential.

And because Titans (and Supercarriers) are such a game changer, such apex predators, and so prolific at this point, they have become a requisit for both taking and holding Sov for any group that does not wish to be beholden to a major power bloc (aka, any group that wishes to disrupt stability). But there’s a catch: in order to build supers, you need Sov. In order to take Sov, you need an asset that you must first have Sov in order to produce. Because of this, NullSec has become static and stangant. And this is terrible for the health of the game, as huge numbers of players reside in NullBloc alliances (many tens of thousands), and NullSec intrigue and bloodshed draws much needed attention to the game.

CCP has stated that the cost of a ship is not a major factor in balance. And they have largely followed this design philosophy - except when they first introduced Titans as the biggest and most powerful ships in the game, balanced against cost. This didn’t work. It is now time to remove the cost of supers as a balancing factor and bring them in line with the rest of EVE’s balance and development philosophy.

An old balance used to exist in EVE: The rock-paper-scissors of Battleships, Dreadnaughts, and Carriers. This was the bread and butter. That balance was broken with the introduction of supers. Supers need to be rebalanced with a rock-paper-scissors mindset. They need to fulfill specific roles within the BDC triangle. If the only counter to ship class X is ship class X, there is a huge balance problem. It forces players to use “the apex predator” - or be marginalized.

There are ways to balance supercapitals with capitals and subcapitals, and I have a few ideas I’d like to present to the community to talk about, improve upon, or to inspire new and better ideas:

First, a balance pass to the “old guard”, BDC ships. Roughtly speaking, if: Battleships countered Dreadnaughts (by defeating their tracking, getting “under the guns” of the larger, slower ships, and whittling away at them), Carriers countered Battleships with a combination of fighters, bombers and staying out of range, and Dreadnaughts countered Carriers with their big, slow, longer ranged guns - then we’d have a balanced, rock-paper-scissors scenario. Ignore seige mode for the moment, we’ll get to that in a bit, as the mechanic presents a special balance opportunity.

(I would like to note here that it could play out another way; Dreadnaughts counter Battleships with sheer DPS and EHP, but Carriers counter Dreadnaughts with range and fighters, while Battleships counter Carriers with speed and being poor targets for fighters - either way would work. As long as the three ships each counter one of the others, it’s balanced.)

Now, introduce supercapitals. To be balanced, supercapitals cannot be the one, single answer, otherwise we would just have supercapital fights. So therefore, supercapitals cannot just be “apex predators” - bigger, stronger, better versions of what’s already on the field. For every strength they have, they must have a weakness - and that weakness must be a threat posed by BDC.

And that threat can be in the form of the Dreadnaught’s seige mode. A proposed change: Make siege mode the anti-Supercapital (and structure) operating mode of Dreadnaughts. In normal mode, Dreadnaughts can track and reach out to Carriers, but struggle against Battleships unless properly positioned (or lay the hurt on Battleships but fail to reach out to Carriers, again, either way works). But when in seige mode, Dreadnaughts receive a buff to EHP (via resistances) and experience vastly increased DPS and range with reduced tracking. In this way, Dreadnaughts would pose a hard threat to supercapitals; in siege mode they could not only (reasonably) tank the incoming damage, but could deal the hate as well. This would be balanced by making them almost completely ineffective against ships smaller than supercapitals.

(Note again: If you’re upset at the idea of 2 billion ISK Dreadnaughts being a counter to 12 and 50 billion ISK supers, please read what CCP Fozzie wrote a few years ago: “Our vision for cost-balancing is that cost should play a limited part in balancing ships and that obtaining a roughly linear increase in effectiveness should require an exponential increase in cost.” Tippia expands on this: “Cost will never make an unbalanced ship balanced — it needs to be balanced first, and can then be given a price that roughly corresponds to its place in the overall balance of things. It’s actually more accurate that balance is a factor in cost than the other way around (since, as titans taught us, it doesn’t balance anything out).” Increasing costs and barriers to entry will not reduce supercapital proliferation. Only balancing them will do so. Cost can even be lowered - if the ships are balanced, they will not be unhealthy.)

So this would be an interesting and useful change to Dreadnaughts. It would give them a multi-purpose role, although still holding to the idea of them as strictly combat ships; to counter Carriers (or Battleships) in normal operation mode, and to counter supercapitals in siege mode. They have a place in either fight.

So now I’ve presented a way that an existing game mechanic can be changed in order to help bring balance to supercapitals. But changes must be made to supercapitals themselves, and these changes are threefold: 1) Roles, 2) Vulnerabilities, and 3) Production

I’ll start with the production side of things, because it’s the quickest to address: If supercapitals are so powerful that they are required to take and hold Sov (because everyone currently holding Sov either has direct access to supercapitals or is protected under the “umbrella” of supercapitals), then supercapitals cannot require Sov in order to build. It creates a spiteful catch-22. If, however, supercapitals are brought into balance and are no longer requisites for taking or holding Sov, then current construction mechanics are (probably) fine.

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SUPERCARRIERS

What role should a Supercarrier play? Just a bigger, strong version of a Carrier? Why bring a Carrier then?

Drawing on inspiration from Attack Battlecruisers, what if Supercarriers, offensively fit, were simply slow “attack carriers” - basically just platforms for oversized carrier sniping offensive capability? They would have less than or about the same EHP as carriers despite being bigger (all that size being used up for storage space, serving fighters, controlling fighters, etc), but did more DPS. They would be a powerful asset on the field, able to lay the smack down on large targets - but vulnerable to Dreadnaughts and poor positioning.

Another way to balance them would be creating vulnerability. What if in order to field their heavier fighters or additional flights of fighters, they would have to enter a “launch mode”, similar to a Dreadnaught’s siege mode - immobility, rendering them vulnerable to a squad of fastly approaching Battleships - but allowing them access to their full DPS capability. In normal mode, they’re just a normal Carrier, but more expensive. In “launch mode”, they now have longer ranger and can field more DPS - but are immobile, capitalizing on their vulnerability of low EHP and large sig radius. They would be prime Stealth Bomber targets.

There are many variables to play with: EHP, fighter control range - maybe Supercarriers could be tanky, short range, but low DPS “brawlers”. I think however, that making Supercarriers more fragile and situational is the best way to go.

Another option to bring other ship types in as counters lay in in the humble Destroyer and Cruiser. Destroyers are already anti-frigate platforms, and at least some Cruisers can be set up that way. Perhaps these ships can also serve as anti-fighter platforms? They could equip specialized “flak cannon” weapons, similar to friend or foe missiles, which would automatically target fighters when launched - balanced with a short range, requiring MWD and pursuit? Destroyers could equip flak that was effective against light fighters, and Cruisers against heavier fighters? Not a hard counter, but a way to put pressure on Carriers and Supercarriers.

In summary: Fragility and immobility can create vulnerabilities that balance Supercarrier DPS, and additions to Destroyers and Cruisers can create a role for smaller ships in countering Carriers and Supercarriers.

(more to come)

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TITANS

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I do like some of these ideas. One of the biggest complaints i see about battleships is there speed, mainly warp wise as they take longer to move system to system. Capitals on the other hand can jump, and that was because they couldnt take gates which was sort of a balance in the fact that you needed a ship to cyno. Now though they can use gates, so do you think they should retain thier jump abilities?

I think “force projection” is a real problem with capitals. It’s a complicated topic because, with changes to docking for supercapitals, structure balance now comes into play.

Cynos are important. One the one hand, people need jump capabilities in order to move out to NullSec and bring supplies in and commerce out - especially in this day and age with 10,000+ player groups, standing fleets, and gigantic intel channels. And the quickest and easiest way to move capital assets is to just jump them - warping from gate to gate would quickly become tedious and promote burn out.

But at the same time, force projection for combat ships can’t be oppressive, which it still is, especially when you can just stage supers and jump clone. I don’t think nerfing jump range and timers is the solution, however, because players will just build whatever structures they need and stage ships all around their space. If you think a Keepstar in every system with Titans and Supercapitals in it is unrealistic, remember this is EVE Online we’re talking about. Perhaps there need to be limitations on the number of structures than can dock capitals and supercapitals allowed per constellation. Perhaps a region wide limit and a constellation limit. This would make deployment of these structures a strategic decisions, and not just a matter of spamming.

I would like to see changes whereby deploying any capital asset is a strategic decision and requires a certain level of commitment, and I would like for that to compound on jumping. Changes that would require capital assets to require support in order to become operational after a jump would be good, and allow for niche roles and lowered barrier of entry for lower SP and poorer players.

I’ll have to think more on this, so

FORCE PROJECTION AND STRUCTURES

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Great thoughts, watching this thread.

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