Archive for February, 2014

Erdi Erdem tweets at @milleniacinder and works as a Systems Analyst. Hit him up for more about EVE or Bill Paxton. He is happy to discuss both.

The Titanomachy Monument

“In Greek mythology, the Titanomachy  or War of the Titans (Greek: Τιτανομαχία), was the ten-year series of battles which were fought in Thessaly between the two camps of deities long before the existence of mankind”

There is a good chance that if you’re reading this blog, you’ve heard this word quite a few times since last week.   Either you heard this obscure Greek mythology buzzword for the first time or you heard it from people who have no business knowing about the war between Cronus and Zeus.  There is, of course, a very good reason for this and it has to do with the great excel-spreadsheet-second-life space simulator of our time, EVE Online.

In the wee hours of January 27th, EVE’s resident police force, CONCORD, came to collect on rent and protection money for the space station owned by the corporation H A V O C in the B-R5RB system.  The bill hadn’t been paid because someone somewhere forgot to check off a box to auto-pay for the station.  For want of a nail and all that.  War never changes and neither does human error, even virtually.

On January 31st, CCP Games erected a vast memorial at the site of the Battle of B-R5RB.  Titled Titanomachy, the derelict, non-salvageable remains of the 75 Titan ships lost will remain a permanent fixture in dedication to the historic battle.  Over the course of 12 hours, nearly 8,000 unique characters (people) fought with every kind of ship in the EVE arsenal in various systems (locations) in the EVE universe.  The particular system in question held 2,670 players at peak vying for control over the base.  The numbers are staggering.

Totals Destroyed:

  • Titans – 75 (74 in system, one on its way to the fight.) The losing alliance, N3/PL, lost 59 titans and the winner, CFC/DTF, lost 16.  Just for the record, the most titans lost in one battle in the entire history of EVE Online prior to this point numbered at 12.  The winning side lost 25% more Titans in victory than any group had ever lost before.
  • Supercarriers – 13
  • Dreadnaughts – 370
  • Carriers – 123
  • Thousands of frigates, fighters and drones.

The impact to EVE’s player-driven, free market, laissez faire, capitalist economy was 11 TRILLION ISK lost in ships and resources.  In real money that is estimated at about $300,000.  You read that correctly.  $300k.  It was also, with its 8,000 participants, the largest single battle in video gaming history.
“Fire Everything!”

But I hear you.

“What is this guy talking about?  It’s all Greek to me.” (Hah!)

Let me explain.  There are four major factors that make EVE Online unique in the world of gaming:

The first is that EVE Online is potentially gaming’s greatest sandbox.   EVE is a massively multiplayer online role playing game where characters are pilots with the ability to fly various spaceships throughout the EVE universe.  There is no goal or endgame.  There is no pervasive storyline forcing a player in any particular direction.  There is just a pilot working towards whatever role, aim or design he or she may imagine.  The EVE world is full of clans called “corporations” which work very similarly to corporations in our world.  People join in various roles and each corporation has its own aims.  Some corporations are involved with mining while others provide mercenaries to carry out hits and collect money using EVE’s bounty system, et cetera.  Everything is completely open.

The second biggest factor that makes EVE so unique is the way it handles its servers and player base.  There is only one server in EVE and everyone plays on it.  All 500,000+ players are on the same instance at all times.  The world is, therefore, large and varied.  Players can join various Alliances via their corporations.  Everything is happening at the same time because there are so many places to go.  There are over 7,500 systems in the EVE world, each with something to explore.  The processing marvel here is significant.  CCP runs EVE on server nodes using complicated balancing and a factor called “time dilation” where the action is slowed down across the board to prevent lag.  For example, during the climactic battle at B-R5RB with 2,700 players, the game slowed down to about 5 FPS for everyone within that system.  For three to five hours.

Third, EVE’s sandbox quality comes with very few rules (and those only regarding common MMO rules like sharing passwords or selling accounts.)  The EVE universe has two types of territories.  “Highsec” or high security is the first, where new players can safely move about and learn the game or explore what little PvE exists in EVE.  The second area is called “nullsec” where everything is game.  There are no warnings for PvP, no do-overs and no security.  Players and their ships can be killed at any time and unlike other MMOs, if your ship is blown, that’s it.  If you didn’t get insurance then that’s just too bad.  You have to start over and build everything from scratch.  Worse yet, if you haven’t prepared a clone for yourself, that’s it.  Game over man.  These concepts have opened the door for some of the most incredible storylines in multiplayer gaming.

“Hey, I think this guy’s a couple cans short of a six-pack.”

Examples include impressive in-game feats such as “Ricdic’s” heist of 250 billion ISK from the coffers of the corporation he infiltrated or Goonswarm Alliance’s taking advantage of a bug to swindle 5 trillion ISK, for which they were lauded… by CCP.  Other examples highlight the deep and friendly community ties in EVE and the spill out into the real world such as with the death of player Vile Rat, aka  Sean Smith, one of the four U.S. diplomats killed during the attack on the consulate in Benghazi.  There are, of course, certain unsavory stories as well such as when a player was banned for a month after he mocked a potentially suicidal player during a forum event.

EVE Online provides players with opportunities to play the game in any way they want.  Usually, players aim for two things.  One is to have fun in whatever way suits them and the other is to aim for PLEX, which is the fourth reason why EVE is unique in the MMO landscape.

PLEX, or Player License Extensions, are cards that can be bought to extend your EVE subscription.  They can either be bought for real money, or they can be bought for the in-game currency, ISK.  This key game mechanic is the reason behind every real life dollar figure given to an EVE battle, heist or exploit.  True, CCP Games does ban players for selling ISK for real money; however, it is still easy, engaging and convenient to use the fixed price of PLEX to put a real-world figure on these engagements.

In reference to the breakdown of numbers earlier, please refer to this chart containing conversation rates from 2010. The cost of one Titan (remember that 75 were lost in this battle) was about 120B ISK which translated to $7,600 and 3,400 hours of construction time.  Today, these numbers are a bit different as Titans have become easier to produce.  Each one costs about $3,000.  I know.  Chump change.  This kind of thing is why EVE is called “Excel Spreadsheet Online.”

True, it may not be the most engaging game to play.  However, one would be hard pressed to see another game make the news as often as EVE for things most often found in the Wall Street Journal.  In the wake of this conflict, the Titanomachy monument will serve to commemorate this achievement, joining other monuments and milestones in EVE such as the New Jita memorial or the memorial to Steve, the first Titan destroyed in battle.  Travelers can even find a memorial to the aforementioned Sean Smith of the U.S. State Department who was killed in Benghazi.


The Strategic Illogic Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Posted: February 3, 2014 by kdatherton in Uncategorized


Sam Ratner tweets at @SamRatner and works as the project coordinator for Iran Matters.

Does SHIELD Have A Strategy?

Friend 1: “The part with Hulk throwing Loki around!”

Friend 2: “The part with Downey sassing Captain America!”

Friend 3: “The part with Galaga.”

Chorus of friends: “THE PART WITH GALAGA!”

Me: “But guys, what kind of SHIELD governing council made up of presumably rich and powerful English speakers thought nuking New York was a defensible strategic decision?!”

Chorus of friends: “…”

The above is a play in one act entitled “Why My Friends Don’t Take Me To See Summer Blockbusters Anymore.” It’s more of a memoir than a play, really. That scene took place after I went to see Marvel’s The Avengers in the theater last summer.* I enjoyed it a great deal, but my question continued to bother me. What were the SHIELD Council thinking? The Avengers had the alien invasion confined to a 3 block square in Manhattan.** Even if the fight expanded to the whole island, the damage inflicted by the battle would be cosmetic compared to the destruction of a nuclear blast. Don’t believe me? Take it up with the editor. What’s more, no one knew if the aliens were vulnerable to conventional arms. The military never got a chance to show up. Even if it turned out a nuclear bomb was necessary to close the portal, surely you have to give the Avengers and the military a chance to hold the aliens off for long enough to evacuate the civilian population.

The only justification the Council gives for the “stupid-ass decision” (Nick Fury’s words, not mine) to go nuclear that early comes when Fury decides to make a mockery of SHIELD’s command and control system by flat out refusing to follow the direct order to launch the nuke. The Council leader, doing his best Walt-Rostow-as-domino-theory-proponent impression, responds  “If we don’t hold [the aliens] in the air, we lose everything.” Fury displays some Clausewitzian wisdom in telling the Councilor that the act of nuking New York will itself lead to SHIELD losing everything, since how are they going to retain their legitimacy as defenders of Earth if they go around irradiating the Hudson? The Council never gets a chance to reply, and their thought process remains a mystery.

Maybe the SHIELD Council really are strategic morons on the scale of The Best And The Brightest, but that’s a pretty unsatisfying answer for a Marvel universe that will dominate our summers for years to come. There should be a better explanation for SHIELD’s strategic choices, and I’ve become a little obsessed with finding it. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve made some unfortunate, even embarrassing, personal decisions in service to the search. That’s right, I’ve watched Agents of SHIELD. Multiple times even.

Two U.S. Navy Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bombers in flight, circa 1942

Two Avenger torpedo bombers. Not “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” not “The Avengers,” but still pretty cool.

I’ve found more questions than answers. Under whose authority does SHIELD operate? Is it a wing of the American government? Where does it get its funding? What is its bureaucratic structure? How does it do its procurement? Is it bound by international law? Is it completely secret, and if not, who are its PAOs and how the hell do they do their jobs? Basically these questions boil down to two fundamental strategic questions: what is SHIELD and what are its goals?***

I have found a couple answers though. We got a small window into the international law question through an (unintentionally, I think) hilarious discussion of how an organization that tried to nuke New York could work around the fact that they were barred by treaty from operating in Malta.

Most of what we see in the show involves SHIELD defending Earth against alien threats, whether in the form of viruses or Asgaardian weapons. Yet we also learn that SHIELD is a great deal older than our knowledge of the existence of aliens, and therefore has terrestrial reason to exist. Last week we got our first confusing hint of what that reason might be.

“The Hub” took us to SHIELD headquarters on a mission with no extra-terrestrial or supernatural components whatsoever. It seems that a separatist group in South Ossetia built an “overkill” device that could trigger any weapon in a substantial radius. At first we were led to believe that SHIELD was only sending in a small team to deactivate and recover the device, thereby maintaining the delicate balance of power. It seemed like an exercise in a Star Trek-esque preference for stability. As the episode continued, however, we learned that SHIELD had a rather more activist mission in South Ossetia. As soon as the overkill device was disabled, a large SHIELD force swept in to destroy the separatist army that was set to assault Georgian forces behind the power of the device.

Assuming that SHIELD isn’t an agent of the Georgian government, who might want to protect the world from alien attack, even at the cost of New York, and would take strong action to limit South Ossetia separatism and, by extension, the expansion of the Russian sphere of influence? Is it possible that the SHIELD council take their orders from… China?

Guys, I’m totally trolling you with that last sentence. I actually have no idea who would want to do that. But don’t you kind of like the idea that SHIELD is actually the agent of a repressive and self-interested government and that Fury, Agent Coulson, and the Avengers will eventually realize this and craziness will ensue? Doesn’t that make more sense with the pro-individualist, anti-censorship values of the show that are constantly running into the realities of being cogs in a giant machine? That’s my best guess, but I’ll probably keep watching to learn more. I want SHIELD to think strategically, and the nice part about watching a world created by an auteur rather than a bureaucratic/legislative mess is that I may just get my wish.

"The Avengers" by Samuel Thomas Gill. Not the Avengers we're talking about, but too great not to share.

“The Avengers” by Samuel Thomas Gill. Not the Avengers we’re talking about, but too great not to share.


*Since you are a living human, I assume that you saw the Avengers and retain some memory of the relevant plot points. If, however, you are a zombie with exceptional intellectual curiosity, here is a quick plot summary. Loki (the bad guy) has opened a portal in the skies above Lower Manhattan through which his army of evil aliens are flying to begin their campaign for world domination. The Avengers (the good guys) are fighting those aliens as they come through the portal, and have confined their battle to a three block square. Nick Fury, The Avengers’ titular boss and head of an organization called SHIELD, explains all this to his bosses, a council of four headed by a guy who looks eerily like Charlie Rose. Charlie Rose, for reasons unknown, orders Fury to detonate a nuclear weapon over Manhattan in an attempt to close the portal.

**If Captain America had stayed true to his enlisted roots, this would be a great place for a “3 block war/strategic Corporal America” joke. Alas.

***I’m aware that SHIELD has a long history in Marvel comic books. For our purposes, I’m only interested in the SHIELD of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Partially that’s because I’m just not interested in going back and reading all the comics, but mostly it’s because the Whedonverse SHIELD is distinct from the SHIELD of the comics. For example, in the comics SHIELD stands for Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate, but in the Whedonverse it stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. If that’s not a dog whistle that Whedon’s SHIELD is meant to be a commentary on modern security issues, I don’t know what is.