March 28, 2010

How Not To Dictate Range

It comes a time when every pilot thinks "why be good at shooting at a single distance, when I can do multiple?" or "why fit only autocannons if I can fit autocannons and artillery?" Well, here's a rule of thumb:

Never mix ranges.

I say ranges because it includes mixing different weapon types, and charges (crystals, ammo) that has different ranges. Why  not? Simple: your enemy will only ever be in one place. He may move from place to place, but will never occupy multiple places at once.


Here's a nifty graph to help (click to view a larger version). Why did I choose a Coercer and a Rifter to illustrate? Because of this kill that I got. The graph above may not be to scale, since the Coercer's damage sucked so much that it did about 300 damage with 8 guns in the same time that it took me to deal 1888 damage with 3 guns. Now, in response to the graph, some might say
But what if the Rifter is smart and moves out of your focused range, and you would  be doing more DPS with a multi-range fit?
Then you'd be wasting the DPS in the long-range guns/ammo you have fitted. The meager DPS that you would be dealing would only serve to keep you aggressed and unable to flee a fight that you are clearly not prepared to fight.

The Coercer could have done that. He was autopiloting (through 0.0 security space!)  which means his autopilot took him to 20 km off the gate, then flew to the gate. I wasn't dealing enough damage to pop him before he got to the gate, and my Thrasher friend wouldn't have gotten there in time to finish  him off. But he engaged me away. Pro tip: frigates are small, but that doesn't mean they pop in one hit to any bigger ship.

If this entry really disappointed you, you may want to train your drone skills and fly Gallente ships. Drones are range-independent to a large degree. However, they can get shot down. Properly used guns deal just as much damage, and can't.

March 17, 2010

Tanking 101

The sad truth of space is death. Or happy truth, if you're a trigger happy maniac. However, in order to successfully be one of those (or a regular fighter) you need to learn how to not die.

The most common and straightforward way to accomplish this is by "tanking". Named after the sturdy terrestrial machine of war, this means becoming harder to kill by increasing the amount of damage that must be dealt to you to destroy you. Since your ship's integrity is measured in its shields, armor, and structure points, it is usually best to pick one of these and strengthen it to fit the situation. Each ship has certain strengths and weaknesses that affect this choice, but if you pick to tank using your hull's structure strength, you should come see me personally. In space. Alone. When I have a bunch of guns.

Shield Tanking

Some pilots prefer to boost their ships' shield capabilities to ensure survivability. The ships best suited for this are the ones with a greater number of medium-power fitting slots, since all shield tanking modules fit in the middle slot.  It is also CPU-intensive for the ship using it, so the ship must fulfill that criteria, too. Some good examples are the Drake Caldari Battlecrusier and the Raven Caldari Battleship. Shield tanking is preferred by the Caldari race for nearly all their ships.

Raven

The simplest form of tanking is the buffer tank. This is just done by getting a Shield Extender type module (or more than one), plugging it in, and calling it a day. This increases the amount of shields that your ship has, and buying you more time in which to kill your enemy. This is the type of tank I used on my late Firetail, and used on many ships where speed is more essential than protection (like Vagabonds, for example).

Vagabond

While a buffer tank can be useful when you're sure on your guns' strengths, it's still one of the poorest forms of tank you can fit. The reason: EM damage. Shields have 0% default resistance to EM damage, be it from lasers or from a Matari gun. This means that having more shields is hardly useful if your enemy knows how to destroy them. There are solutions: Shield Hardener and Invulnerability Field modules. Hardeners add large amounts of extra resistance to one certain damage type, while Invulnerability Fields add even amounts of resistances across the board. Use these along with extenders, and you can add much more life to your shields with an enhanced buffer tank.

Combine the techniques so far with a couple of Shield Rechargers, and you've got yourself a passive tank. The rechargers boost the shield's default slow regeneration speed to something more useful, making your ship a choice one for low-DPS encounters.

The last form of tank here is the active tank. This involves all of the above, plus a Shield Booster of some kind. The booster sharply increases shield regeneration rates in short boosts. An interesting example of this is here. Take note of all the warp core stabilizers, and how there are two interdictors on the killmail.

 Moooar shields!! (Drake)



Armor Tanking

Armor tanking works on the same principles as shield tanking. Mostly. Except it's more manly, because you actually let the projectile/bolt/laser/missile get to you. You just stop it with huge pieces of metal instead. (Hull tanking is the manliest because you stop it with your liver). It requires large amounts of power from your ship's power grid, but not much CPU power. It is also mostly reliant on the ship's low slots. This is the preferred tank of most Amarr ships.

Unlike shield tanking, when relying on armor it's not advised to just slap on some extra plating and call it a day. Armor does not regenerate itself, so you'd be stuck with whatever reduction you got from even minor damage. This means that, if it's capable to get past your shields, any ship can bring you down given enough time. For short engagements, this may be acceptable, and some pilots opt for a combination of Reinforced Plating and Resistance Plating to both up the raw amount of armor, and its resistances (which are already higher than default shield resistances), for some form of a passive tank.

Omgwtf, it starts with 90% EM resistance?! (Wolf)

Active tanks with one (or more) Armor Repairer modules are very common. These are similar to the shield boosters of shield-tanked ships. However, just like shield boosters, they are capacitor hogs, so it is impossible to have a constantly running active tank. If it needs to run as much as possible, pilots would use the middle slots for Capacitor Rechargers, or Capacitor Boosters to help feed power in. If not, the pilot can just wisely use the repairer at critical times. Or mash it crazily when he is down to structure to annoy the heck out of his opponent (and win).

My Hurricane battlecruiser has an active armor tank for hunting Sansha Pirates. (No, I am not aware of any "empire" that uses a similar-looking ship, and I am offended you asked.)

Combine the strength of a good armor tank and the ranged power of the Apocalypse Amarr battleship, and another module called the Remote Armor Repairer, and you've got yourself the RRBS tactic (Remote-Repair Battleship). RRBS is popular in fleet engagements since targets are usually singled out by Fleet Commanders, and all fire focuses on one ship at a time. No single ship can withstand such a barrage, but if it has enough buddies with Remote Repair modules ready, he can have an instant active tank right when he needs it. If anything, it will keep him alive until he can warp out to a safe spot and get repairs by a Carrier or something. In small gangs, it is more common to RR using Logistics cruisers. Side note: yes there are Shield Transporter modules too, but I have not heard of them being used efficiently.

Pew Pew! Bnarrrr!


Damage Control Unit 

Using this module is one of the best things you can do. It's an active module, but uses minimal capacitor. In exchange, it boosts both shield resistances and armor resistances a good amount, and hull resistances most. Even the cheapest damage control can help you stay alive for much longer. It is also vital for a...

Hull Tank 

From the Elite Hull Tanking certificate you achieve when you max out all skills related to operating hull tanking modules:
This certificate represents an elite level of competence in the infamous practice of "hull tanking". It certifies that the holder can fully use all modules relating to hull tanking. The holder is aware that "real men hull tank", and also that hull tanking is really dumb. With this certificate, you've maximised your ability to rely on your structural systems to absorb damage, although hopefully you're smart enough to know what a daft idea that is.
Hull tanking involves using Reinforced Bulkheads to increase structure HP, and one Damage Control II to boost all resistances in your hull to 60%. Plus, if you're really hardcore, you can also fit Hull Repairers, though their re-activation time is "measured in glacial terms" as someone on Battleclinic wisely put it.

I can't put an image here, because I have no recollection of any ship that can successfully hull tank. Sorry.

Speed/Signature Tanking

Okay, I lied. You can also "tank" in a way by moving too damn fast, or being too far away for anything to shoot you. This is a whole other art, though, and isn't be covered here. If there's one thing that needs saying, though, is that if you don't know what you're doing, you're better off with a real tank. 

Honor Tank

Most common in duels, an honor tank is the intangible thing that prevents your opponent from murdering you painfully, usually stopping when you hit structure. It can also apply to things that are not "honorable" to kill, like miners or haulers. In fact, this is the most effective tank you can fit when flying these. To do it, fit all your low slots with Expanded Cargohold modules, to be able to hold all your honor in. Also make sure to fly a really big ship when you do this, like a jump freighter, or a dreadnought. If it doesn't work, your cargo hold wasn't big enough for all the honor.

March 16, 2010

Turrets 101

Almost all new pilots have a natural wish: to shoot stuff. To that end, your first ship is already equipped with some basic gun fittings. If you're Amarr, you are granted an Impairor-class frigate, equipped with a Civilian Pulse Laser. If you're Caldari, you receive an Ibis-class frigate with its own Civilian Railgun. Gallente pilots are given a Velator frigate with a Civilian Electron Blaster. And, last but not least, the Minmatar receive a Reaper frigate with a Civilian Autocannon mounted. All of these also have a Civilian Miner, but combat pilots won't care much for that.

These "Civilian" quality weapons downright suck, but they do fire at people, and they don't use any ammo. Therefore, they're going to be your best friends for the first few minutes... until you get your hands on some real weapons. 

Unlike the beginner turrets, real-man turrets use "charges". What these charges are depends on the type of turret: laser turrets (pulse and beam) have frequency crystals that focus the energy into a beam; hybrid turrets (blasters and railguns) have special hybrid charges; and projectile turrets (autocannons and artillery) have projectile ammo. Hybrid charges and projectile ammo is used up with every shot, while frequency crystals typically last a longer time before cracking. Additionally, lasers and hybrid turrets also require energy from your ship's capacitor to fire.

Some new pilots may then ask "why so many types? I'll just use the one that makes the enemy cry most! Which one is that?" Well, if you have to ask, it's the neutron blasters - a hybrid turret. However, their range is abysmal. A Taranis interceptor, the hardest-hitting interceptor, can hit nigh-nothing that's farther away than 5 km. This is because for maximum damage, it usually is equipped with Antimatter hybrid charges, that do a ton of damage, but don't travel very far. When it is up close, though, it hurts.

As such, all weapons have something they're good at. So, let's take a look at all turret types, starting with the ones I'm most familiar with:

Autocannons and Artillery

Minmatar guns and ships are known for their versatility. This means that they can adapt to whatever foe they are fighting in order to best fight him where he's weak. This means that, for example, my Claw fitted with autocannons in the kill I linked above could probably have taken the Taranis down, if I had moved outside his range. Equally, if I met a ship with railguns, I could move up close and it would not be able to harm me. To this end, autocannons have amazing accuracy falloff distance, with a short optimal range. They also have the best tracking of any close-range weapons. Their damage, however, is not the highest, because of the more "primitive"  method the damage is delivered: projectiles.

Another point to be made about Minmatar guns and their versatility is their ammo itself. Projectile ammo has a wide range of damage types to best take advantage of the enemy's weakness. If the enemy is shield tanked, a smart Minmatar pilot loads up his EMP or Proton rounds, to hit the shields as hard as possible with EM damage. If the enemy is armor tanked, Fusion or Nuclear ammo is a better choice, depending on range. In the hands of a pilot on his toes, these different ammo types can easily bring an enemy to his knees, even if the raw damage of autocannons is inferior.

The damage of artillery is stranger, though. The philosophy of artillery dictates that more damage up front beats more damage over time. In that respect, their volley damage is incredible, but their rate of fire is very slow. However, it does not matter much if they deal low DPS, if they can pop their target in one shot, does it? This makes a small gang of Thrasher destroyers very dangerous against lone targets. 10 Thrashers fitted with artillery can take down an unsuspecting hauler or battlecruiser in seconds, while only costing a fraction of what they destroyed. This is the frame of thought behind the infamous "suicide ganking" in high-security areas. Watch out for it.

 

(Warning: the information below may be inaccurate, since I have never used any of these, yet)

Blasters and Railguns

Hybrid weapons are perhaps the most bipolar of weapon types. Blasters are super-painful, but can only be used at short range, while railguns are long range, but deal mediocre damage. Power consumption can be an issue with both, since they require capacitor power to run, and no ships have bonuses to capacitor usage from hybrid turrets. 

I don't have much else to say about these, other than that I do not like to be pointed at with a hybrid turret. Be it the Gallente preference for blasters, as shown by my friend, the Taranis, or the Caldari preference for railguns, as demonstrated by (arguably) the best sniping ship in the game, the Rokh, I would much prefer you keep these pointed at my enemies.

 

Hybrid weapons usually deal kinetic and thermal damage, which means that they are neither good nor bad against shield or armor tanks. Their raw power more than makes up for it, though.

Pulse and Beam Lasers

The choice weapons of the Amarr, the lasers are the most intensive so far as capacitor use out of any weapons. They are also the ones that have the poorest tracking and falloff, so it is paramount for ships using them to keep at or near the optimal range. They also don't eat up ammo, and Amarr ships meant for laser fights have bonuses to capacitor usage by laser weapons, making them as efficient energy-wise as hybrid weapons. In this way, lasers are the most straightforward of weapons.

However, don't expect them to make a "pew pew" sound. That's closer to blasters.

Pulse rangers are close to blasters in damage, and have a bit of a wider range, while beam lasers are superior to railguns in damage, but lag behind in range slightly. In fleet fights, a large complement of remote-repairing Apocalypse battleships with beam lasers is a popular way to go about hitting the enemy hard.



The greatest weakness of lasers is the fact they only deal EM and thermal damage, most of which is in EM. The problem with this is that, while shield-tanked ships will be susceptible to being brought down by lasers, Amarr ships are hard pressed to kill armor-tanked enemies. 

So that's about it as far as turrets go. Sorry, Caldari pilots, I can't address your missile systems at all so far, as I have not successfully fired a single missile out of any of my ships.