Thursday, November 12, 2009

Training and Learning

Training in general, and learning skills in particular have been a subject of contention ever since EVE implemented them.
Despite most users generally agreeing the overall concept of background training is a healthy, liberating one compared to the traditional model of treadmill grind prevalent in most MMO, its balancing and impact on player experience and behaviour are complex and touchy issues.

Some people argue for the pure and simple removal of Learning skills, while on the opposite end of the spectrum, some are still foaming at the mouth over the reduction in prerequisites for Advanced Learning skills (from lvl5 down to lvl4 in respective basic skills).
I, for once, sit firmly somewhere in the middle.

I like that people get a chance to specialize their toons sooner if they so choose, by training Adv. Learning skills early, and pumping select attributes to +8 without putting essential skills on hold for weeks, and I like that the current system allows compulsive optimizers to remap their toons' attributes once a year to align them to a finely-tuned long term training plan — and of course, the recent addition of Queueing, although long overdue, is more than welcome.
Finally, the early-training speed boost granted to characters under 1.6 million SP (exact figure ?) is a boon of n00bie goodness which I heartedly approve.

All these changes are Good™ in my view, as they improve playability and accessibility, and grant players more flexibility and freedom, while not detracting from one of my personal favorite characteristics in a 'sandbox' design: player choices should be meaningful.

Conversely, removing ghost training was stupid and misguided beyond belief, but I covered that at length in the past, so I won't go there again today.

Specialization is Good™ (as long as you can change course if you want to):

Remapping attributes only makes sense because you can't do it every week, or you might as well get rid of attributes entirely and set a fixed learning speed applicable to every character and skill type in game.
Similarly, Learning skills allow you to make meaningful choices about which attributes you want to prioritize, and to support specialized skill sets, which contribute to the flavor and strategic depth of the game.

Which is why, as much of a n00b-lover as I am, I'm not favorable to the idea of removing training skills entirely and just toss a blanket +9 boost to all new toons attributes.
The fact is, that bonus would not make any difference to the usual scapegoats for that sort of proposal: the 50+ million SP vets, but would be a huge slap in the face of the mid-range (10-25m SP) toon owners who wouldn't benefit from it.

Honestly, when you're past the 40-50m SP mark, odds are your toon is already both fairly specialized and enjoys +8 to +9 across all attributes, save maybe your single less-favored one. Furthermore, you're reached a point where the majority of the skills in your plan are level 5s with Rank 6+, thus you're already looking at training from a multi-weeks scale perspective, which makes the investment in long Learning skills both comparatively painless and sensible. Oh and you have +4 to +5 implants on all but your combat clones

Between 10 and 30 million SP, you may not be able to afford multiple custom tailored sets of clones, and you probably make do with a single mixed +3/+4 set, with maybe a +5 tossed in the mix if you've spent the time on Cybernetics lvl5 (a week or so).
At this stage, your choices in skill sets are significant: you can be a decent Battleship pilot or a well-honed frigate specialist, or you could be starting to look good in a T2 cruiser, but hardly all three.
If you spread yourself across fields, say between drones and Leadership, or Trade and Industry, you can do stuff, but there will definitely be a wide gap between you and a specialist in the field, which can play a significant part in deciding the roles you can successfully fill.

…and this is not necessarily a bad thing.

In a small group of players, or among n00b-to-midrange toons, specialization is a factor of differentiation and can be valued and rewarded by the recognition of your peers, or get you entrusted with the jobs you can do best, etc: it is part of who you are in the group, and why you have a unique, identifiable place in it.

To sum up: in the first three years of your pod pilot career, what you decide to train should already mean something, and learning skills should both help you get there faster and set your skill set apart from those who have chosen another path.

That said, accessibility is also important, and I support the notion that having to put on hold essential skills early in your spacenerd life until you reach +8 across the board of your attributes is an uncalled-for pain.

A possible fix 

…would be to grant new characters a freebie of all Basic Learning skills (attributes boosters and Learning itself) injected and trained to level 1 at creation, and to allow Learning skills to be trained in a parallel queue, at 50% speed (without penalty to the main queue).

Combined with the current speed boost to training awarded to n00b toons, this offers a wealth of interesting choices to make:
  • parallel-train Learning Skills early and you get better attributes sooner, but you also hit the training speed-boost barrier before those who don't (your Learning skill points still count against the upper limit on 2x training speed bonus) ;

  • focus on the essentials and you're mission-ready earlier, but it will take you the little bit of extra time to get really good at it, as your Learning skills catch up on the side (which should also give you — the player — some time to learn how to fly that ship properly and avoid the overly expensive lessons of upgrading to T2 or bigger ships too soon).
Adv. Learning skills in this context don't need further tweaking, or minimal, like drop the prerequisites to lvl 3 of respective Attribute skill, add Learning lvl5 as a prerequisite for all, and maybe slightly adjust their rank so +7 on any attribute can be managed fairly fast, while +8, 9, 10 require more serious commitment.

[Caveat: I'm unsure whether one should be allowed to train Learning skills in the main Queue, too, either while the Learning-only queue is idle, or in parallel… I'm leaning toward 'yes', as it would allow players who want it to focus hard on learning for a while at any point in their plan, but it could also result in people feeling compelled to do nothing but Learning until it's done, which is the main criticism I hear about the current Apocrypha system.]

On a semi-separate note, I wonder how good or bad it would be if it was possible to trade-back skill points put in skills one no longer uses to acquire new skills faster ?
Maybe with a 50% points 'waste' penalty, and a capped usage: no more than once every 3 months, no more than X skills/levels at a time…

Food for thought.


  1. There have been a few forums postings about trading in skill points so that you can finish out other skills and further specialize your character. I would love to see that happen.

    As for the learning skills, I think they should change the, to allow you to be able to unlock attribute reassignments per year. For each level you complete across the board, you not only gain 1 point per attribute, but unlock one more reassignment. Example, you finish training all the skills to level 2, you now can shift your attribute points around 2 times a year. If you train them all to level 5, that 5 shifts. Train the advanced learning skills all to level 5, that's 10 attribute reassignments a year.

    For a new player, that's a bit much, but for a vet who wants to leave capital ship combat and become a miner, it really allows you to tailor your training plans to get the most skills trained up in the least amount of time.

  2. @Ga'len:
    As mentioned in the article, I fear allowing too frequent remapping ends up making attributes moot on the whole.

    The vet example especially doesn't help that case, imo: most toons able to properly fly a dread or carrier will have the majority (if not all) the prereqs covered to properly fly a barge or rorqual, and will be readily specced for the las leg of the trip.
    If by chance you left out memory hovering at 8 before, it's only one remap needed to cover all the industry/mining specific skills.

    [I know I took a good long look at my training plans before I remapped any veterans chars, making sure they had enough on their plate to keep them busy for the duration on skills suited to their new attributes.]

    My guess is that would hurt if you remapped first chance you got to further optimize your training for capitals, and that was 3 months ago, because you'd be looking at a long wait before you can remap again, but as far as vet players/characters, that falls squarely in the fair box of decisions=>consequences.

    For new players however, the potential to mistakenly burn your yearly remapping ticket could hurt quite a lot. Maybe there should be a grace period of XX weeks after character creation (or under N skillpoints) during which you can undo your first remap and redo it ?