Exploring EVE Online #3: Playing 'World of Spaceships' with Red vs. Blue
Since becoming the Guild Launch EVE Correspondent, the ongoing odyssey to explore the many and varied communities of EVE Online has taken us to the yearly expo in Iceland in Fanfest and “The Nation of EVE”, then on to following The Rookie’s Path & EVE University. This next leg of our New Eden tour promises to take us to into the heart of EVE’s brutal spaceship combat as we join the endless conflict between the Blue Republic and the Red Federation, who are collectively known as Red vs. Blue (a.k.a. RvB – or "Arveebee" to its friends).
New Eden is a vast universe embroiled in intrigue and deceit, with grand strategies and political subterfuge creating tectonic shifts in player-driven power struggles. The entire cluster of over 7,000 star systems is awash with deep themes, dark mysteries and epic experiences.
RvB couldn’t care less.
The pilots of the Red Federation and the Blue Republic are too busy locked together in their private dance of destruction to be concerned with any of that fluff. They just want to blow each other up. Repeatedly. They’ll all be smiling as it happens too. RvB is all about instant action, maximum enjoyment, minimum fuss.
But first, some context.
GEARING UP FOR COMBAT
The spaceship combat of EVE Online is a unique experience about which the uninitiated deserve some explanation. Whilst ship-to-ship combat can be simple and elegant in its execution, it can be bewilderingly complex in the planning and preparation. There are hundreds of unique ships available (although only a fraction initially accessible to new players), each endlessly customisable with a host of interchangeable modules, so much so that the rookie pilot might find themselves confounded just by the ship-fitting process, let alone the combat.
Designing good ship load-outs is an art-form which some excel at and enjoy, but for others it can be a chore. There are many factors to take into account, from capitalising on a given hull’s natural strengths to fitting the ship to perform a specific combat tactic. There are numerous discussion forums and third-party tools available to assist with ship fittings and some might say that load-out theory-crafting is a niche community all of its own.
Once the chosen vehicle of destruction has been assembled, a pilot would need to determine several factors before being ready to seek out death or glory in player-versus-player combat. Is there a friendly fleet available? Is flying alone a viable option? Is the local area conducive to combat or are the authorities going to get involved? In a labyrinth of star systems linked by stargates and filled with celestial bodies, where are targets likely to be found? How far should be travelled? How long will it take?
With the quest for combat undertaken, our would-be combatant might eventually find himself in an exchange of fire with a hostile target, where he will need to understand how his ship behaves in order to obtain an advantage and win the day. What is the best range for the ship’s weapons? How fast can the hostile be orbited to evade incoming fire? How can the odds be improved mid-battle? What the hell does the overview do? What does that alarm sound mean and what just went bang? On reflection, it’s probably best he knows these things before getting into a combat situation (after all, that’s why we went to EVE University last month).
The truth is, a player could spend hours in game without firing shot as he prepares his vessel and roams the stars looking for a suitable engagement and when it does finally happen, it may be over very quickly. For some, this is part of the entertainment; the slow build of anticipation in a sci-fi game of cat-and-mouse, with the roles of hunter and prey switching back and forth and the experience being as important as the result. It is a style of space combat suited to those who would consider the Kirk and Khan’s nebula duel in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to be the pinnacle of starship combat. It is a valid and challenging play-style with much merit.
But that’s not RvB’s way.
GOING OVER THE TOP
The Red vs. Blue ethos takes all of the above and throws it into the nearest star. Wherever possible, the clever folk behind the RvB organisation have streamlined EVE’s naturally complicated gaming experience to enable members to get their combat fix in mere minutes. If the earlier combat example was the Wrath of Khan experience, RvB offers one which is more Star Wars: Return of the Jedi‘s Battle of Endor (with a dash of the Battle of the Somme).
In contrast to last month’s EVE University recruitment marathon, the RvB application process was incredibly simple. I spoke briefly to recruiter Garron Flintex in the ‘R-V-B’ in-game public chat channel, clicked the ‘apply to corporation’ button, got an acceptance email and off I went. When I asked for clarification on any rules I needed to be aware of, I was told it was essentially “don’t be a dick”. I later came to learn there were a few more than that, but I immediately understood the relaxed nature of the whole RvB setup.
All in all, the barrier for entry is very low, with little regard for security or previous knowledge – refreshingly, much of RvB culture is built around gentlemen’s agreements and fair play. RvB is not for totally new players, as basic grasp of game mechanics is expected, but as long as you know what buttons to mash and when, nobody will judge you for being terrible at it. As Red Federation member and infamous Fly Reckless podcaster Connall Tara so eloquently put it;
“RvB is not here to hold your hand and it’s not here to protect you from the monsters. RvB stands behind you and eggs you on to charge headlong into the face of destruction.”
Now if that doesn’t echo the mentality of military tactics in World War One, I don’t know what does. Tally-ho chaps, over the top we go!
THE GENTLEMEN’S AGREEMENT
The key to Red vs. Blue’s success is the use of EVE’s War Declaration system. In the protected “high security” regions of space, aggressive behaviour toward other players is punished by computer-controlled CONCORD law-enforcement vessels destroying the ships of any perpetrators. This can be avoided by engaging in a legally recognised war, enabling the participants to engage each other without police interference.
Capitalising on this arrangement, RvB have established their stomping ground in a small pocket of four interlinked star-systems, with headquarters established for each corporation. This creates an effective arena for instantly accessible fleet fights. In this way, Red Federation and Blue Republic are able to fight each other in the comfort of their own backyard without having to enter more lawless regions of space where other organisations would certainly interfere.
To further compliment this set-up, a nearby star system has been agreed by both sides as a free-for-all duelling arena, meaning any pilot from either corporation can freely engage one another in pursuit of a quick combat fix, to test a new ship or just as an alternative to the larger engagements.
Pre-fitted ships are available on contract exclusively to members, completely bypassing the need to design, purchase, collect and build a combat vessel. Cameron Zero is the tireless grease monkey behind the construction of hundreds of these ships every month. With vessels quickly purchased (more than one is recommended – they don’t last long), finding some action is the next step. During my membership, there was always a group of friendly players in a fleet nearby with whom I could rendezvous for some fairly immediate conflict. Everything in RvB is on a plate – this was just exploding spaceship fun in a can.
THEY ALL BLEED PURPLE
The community behind RvB is fantastic. Despite being two competing corporations, the fleet commanders on both sides maintain contact to ensure a fair fight. If one side drastically outnumbers the other, one side will agree to “ship-up” or “ship-down”, ensuring that the hardware on the field makes up for numerical shortfall. Many players have characters in both corporations, which also provides some flexibility in the balancing of fleets. Ultimately, it’s about providing regular entertainment rather than playing to win and every member buys into this ethos, making for a very pleasant gaming environment.
The forum is lively too – in researching for this article, I posed a few questions and got forty responses, all of which were very enlightening and amusing. The RvB forum is also where regular events are organised; from “Purple” roams, in which Red and Blue pilots unite to engage common foes (read: everyone else), to unique events such as those organised by RvB events guru Mangala Solaris.
I enjoyed taking part in Ganked 26: Into the Breach, a Breacher-class frigate-only event led by celebrity fleet commander, Agony Unleashed alumnus and author of The Altruist blog, Azual Skoll. Much hilarity was had with the arrival of our 120-man fleet being announced in the local channel by a deluge of Elizabethan insults involving the words “varlet”, “buffoon” and “quim”. Almost inevitably and in true Shakespearian style, we eventually all met a tragic end. Fie on’t, ah fie.
I also took part in the dramatic and ambitious Battle of the Forge Sea event, wherein the opposing Red and Blue fleets were each required to escort an expensive faction flagship across several star systems in a capture-the-flag style mission. This proved to be total carnage and my single most expensive session, but it was a lot of fun despite my being a little confused by the rules and our team suffering a crushing defeat. One thing I’ll say for RvB, it soon cures you of any hang-ups about ship loss.
IN THE TRENCHES
Is there a downside to Red vs. Blue? That depends what you’re looking for in your internet spaceship experience. This was EVE stripped down, with no regard for consequence, politics, lore, or the long game. Many would argue that is a good thing, but it really is down to personal taste in the kind of game you enjoy.
Oh, there is one negative – it can be expensive. There is little opportunity to generate the ISK (Interstellar Kredits) to fund all those ships that you will lose. Another source of income will be required. During my membership, I saw a number of forum posts to the effect of “I’m off to earn some ISK, back soon.” In other cases, some players had apparently already made their in-game fortunes or had another character who did the heavy lifting to fund their RvB habit. Personally, if I ran out of ISK, rather than have to do something less fun, I would be very tempted to take advantage of the PLEX or Game Time Code systems that facilitate a legitimate means to gain more in-game currency.
The many RvB members I spoke to came from a variety of gameplay backgrounds, from EVE rookies who fell straight into RvB and have no desire to leave, to well-seasoned veterans who sought a simpler play-style and might have hung up their spaceboots if it wasn’t for the RvB experience. Here are some of their comments:
“To me RvB is the forbidden fruit of Eve Online. There are no CTAs [Calls To Arms], there’s no sovereignty warfare, there’s no fruitless 3 hour roams. RvB is a place where I can quite literally undock into combat, fight for hours (sometimes continuously), then immediately log off and come back any time I want.” - Belkadan
“I don’t get [excited] over statistical analysis or enjoy heated debates over the merits of this fit over that one, like some of our more “competitive” players do. I simply throw a ship together with the barest minimum of attention to whether the fit makes any sense.” – Mortis Aguila
“…you can get a good fight pretty quickly rather than hunting around lowsec for ages and maybe finding nothing you can engage. You can join a fleet, or not, whatever you feel like, and nobody will mind if you have to leave. Nobody cares if you bring a cheap crappy ship instead of something worth half a billion. If you screw up and fail horribly it’s no big deal, you can just keep throwing ships in the enemy’s general direction until you learn how to aim properly.” – Rafen Weems
THE FINAL SCORE
In conclusion, I have very much enjoyed my time with RvB and I am sad to be leaving to continue my New Eden odyssey. However, I will definitely be arranging to leave an “alt” character in the RvB ranks so I can still get an occasional quick combat fix.
RvB does so much, so well, especially given they are an organisation of over 4,000 members combined (although, given the number of “alt” members only a fraction of this number tends to be concurrently online). They are well organised, with simple rules that allow the gameplay to flow. They provide quick access to constant action in a target rich environment against co-ordinated opposition in a friendly, competitive environment. It’s great drop-in/drop-out gameplay in a similar vein to World of Tanks. It really is as close to World of Spaceships as can be found.
Much respect to the organisers and members of the Blue Republic and the Red Federation. Thank you for making my stay so enjoyable. If EVE University is New Eden’s most prestigious academic organisation from which I failed to graduate, RvB has been my dropout party.
Long live Red vs. Blue, I’m pretty sure it won’t be over by Christmas.
[This article was originally published on 2 June 2012 on the Guild Launch blog.]