Saturday, October 31, 2009

Islands in the net.

[Continued from part 4 on Dominion]

Editor's note: Damn, I was on time today, but the intarweb devils didn't let me access blogger, so for the 5 of you checking daily, you're not crazy: I indeed faked the post time by about 5 hours. Thanks for waiting.

Imagine, if you will, nullsec as a vast tropical sea, each solar system a shallow-depth volcanic raise reaching up from the bottom of the oceans to mere feet below the surface, each constellation a loose archipelago, each sun a radiant pool of peaceful water surrounded by the reef of planets rising just high enough above sea-level to draw the shape of a lagoon — add dolphins to taste.

Dreamy, ain't it ? Let me fix myself a suitable drink, real quick.

There… where was I ? Right, space lagoon:

Comes a ship flotilla, a nomadic sailing tribe of settlers, captains and engineers, bringing with them tools, building materials and hungry stomachs from the faraway drylands of Empire…

Soon enough, the colonial ships are moored just outside the lagoon, break out rowboats, and sailors start fishing in the shallow, warm waters where swarms of timid but unsuspecting creatures are easily caught to feed the starving crews. Meanwhile, the engineers get hard at work, building simple pontoons at first, then, later on, cranes and forges to dig out from the volcanic reef precious ores that will be melted to forge more fishing hooks, tools and weapons, while the mining waste is dumped nearby to raise more ground above sea-level.

Mere weeks later, the lagoon can now be seen from miles at sea, thanks to the smoking chimneys of stilts-raised huts, the masts and the longshoremen cranes that peak high over the now-continuous crescent of banked rocks. No longer a desert, a new dryland is born in this archipelago — by all definitions of the term, an outpost.

I'd carry the metaphor with the sailboats further, but we'd need to wait for trees to grow on our artificial islands, and that'd take longer than we can spare on this article, so I'll just run you through the high-level picture of what happens next, because that's the relevant bit.

  • People on the lagoon quickly eat most of the fish around, plus the fish tends to get annoyed by all the noisy locals and by being eaten so much, so there's less of it — fish.

  • Good news is, our settlers now have the means to build fast, nimble boats and routinely venture to nearby reef archipelagos where the fish is plenty, and the occasional digging of volcanic rocks and sand doesn't frighten the food longer than the time it will take before the fishermen return on their next fishing campaign.

  • Smartly, our settlers decide not to colonize those other lagoons and reefs, in order to keep a steady source of fish and other materials handy.

  • One day, however, a fishing expedition runs into unknown sloops, who seem bent on forbidding them their usual fishing waters ! After some cursing and a burned down ketch, the intruders are repelled.

  • As time goes by, such incidents become increasingly common, until eventually a fishing party is forced to race home to the outpost lagoon, chased by foreign boats most definitely rigged to sink ships rather than trawl shrimps.

  • Decision is made to erect some catapults on the lagoon's banks, to escort all fishing parties with ballistas-equipped schooners, and to start actively going after the intruders.
I reckon you can tell where it goes from here…

Un-screwing things one at a time.
Can you spot the differences between Dominion and this picture ?
  • Colonized space is easier to defend, supports and enables critical industry, and provides reasonably secure housing of goods, equipment and people, but quickly runs short on natural resources to gather and exploit.

  • Wild space can't readily be protected against intrusion and interference from competing groups, but is resource-rich, and as such precious enough to defend by active patrolling, as are your group's gatherers.

  • The optimal strategy for any newly established territorial alliance is to pack infrastructure where it can be defended, while limiting the infrastructural sprawl over hunter-gatherer space, and to preserve wild areas close to the colony to minimize the length and risk of trips to the hunting grounds.

  • As the size of a colony grows, it can seed new colonies remote enough from the first settlement(s) to preserve interstitial hunting grounds, or expand the core colony at the cost of requiring a larger band of wild lands around it to keep resources coming, and with the corollary displacement of the hunter-gatherers population's residence toward the fringes of the territory.

Protip to CCP:

Strong defensive and industrial benefits should come from developing high levels of sovereignty and infrastructure, which should incur heavy penalties for local PvE resources.

Keep true-sec as it is, significantly boost base wealth in conquerable null-sec, make loot/spawn tables adjust dynamically (downward) based on local infrastructure, average population, local and surrounding sovereignty 'score' (which conversely boost and enable industry/defense perks), and you have a system that gives the edge to small-medium alliances built on a well-coordinated mix of PvPers and industrialists over sprawling herds of PvE hunter-gatherers, while forcing codependency between both styles, and creating interesting friction areas in the interstitial, richer wild lands.

Yes, I too am impressed by the skill CCP displays in doing it exactly back-asswards.

[Tomorrow, unless I get distracted, I'll show you how to make sovereignty warfare fun with sand fortresses — no kidding.]

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