Blog Banter #47: How complex is too complex?

My first banter! Time to make an idiot of myself.


So this month’s Blog Banter will gravitate around knowledge, specifically EVE knowledge. Some examples of topics to cover: Is EVE too complex for one person to know everything? Is it, in fact, too complex for one person to know everything about one topic? How do you maintain any knowledge or skills related to EVE over time with breaks and expansions? Does CCP do a sufficient job documenting the features of the game, and if not, what could they do better? How does one determine where the gaps in their knowledge even are?

EVE is a very complex. game. EVE has simple mechanics. The first statement is true. The second statement is mostly true. EVE is made up of many small, simple parts, which come together to create a monstrosity of enormous complexity. Consider Chess, or Go. Both games with a simple rule set (Go is incredibly simple) but the complexity of thought required to master the games is immense. Eve is similar. It just has a lot more independent rules.

Could one person understand all of Eve? If you exclude the players, I’d say yes, without too much difficulty. It would just take time, and a good memory. Of course, understanding and applying are very different. Being able to apply the understanding, that’s the difficult bit.

Take Industry. Learning how to do the basics of industry is simple. Once you’re comfortable with those, moving into T2 industry is just a case of getting to grips with Invention. Tech 3 is yet another step, just another increment on what you already know. Manufacturing Capitals is just Tech one manufacturing writ large.

Of course, then you have moon mining and reactions to take care of. But those could be quite happily left to someone else to take care of, until you’re in a situation to learn them and roll them into your vertical integration.

That is the core of the complexity of Eve. Lots of simple little things, all coming together to create a symphony of complexity.

Just look at the Rules of Eve. They’re all made to be broken, when and only when you understand why they exist. They hide the complexity behind simple rules of thumb, letting people operate at a reasonable level, until they can take off the training wheels. Sure, they may continue to stay upright, to continue the metaphor, but if they need to, they can bend the rules, taking a corner at a higher speed.

Anyway, to answer some of the questions raised:

Eve isn’t too complex for someone to know everything. But it is wide enough that most people aren’t interested in knowing everything. And knowing isn’t the same as ‘being good at’. Sure, I could run a fleet. I know what Eve provides to do that. I would be bad at it, however. Those soft skills are the limiter.

How do you maintain any skills and knowledge? Application and reading. You read the dev blogs and patchnotes. You try things out, on Sisi or on TQ if you can afford the losses, or need live opponents. It also helps to be plugged into a group who can answer questions – Remember it’s a two way street. Someone asks about something you know, answer them.

CCP do an ok job of keeping the documentation up to date. It’s not perfect, with the Wiki often being behind reality (see cruiser stats until recently), but it’s survivable. With a game that changes as frequently as Eve does, even if those are fairly small incremental changes, no documentation could be entirely up to date, without spending a lot of developer time on it. There are some situations where it’s nice not to know things for certain. Take the spew cans for exploration. It took some time for people to work out what was in each type of can. That’s complexity which makes the game more interesting. Allows for a separation between newbies and veterans. Where a level of personal skill or knowledge makes a difference.

Thankfully CCP has been removing some of the more annoying versions of this. Rote memorization of large quantities of information is a bad form of complexity. Now it’s easy to pick out the explosive damage Torpedo. Before, you had to know that it was a Bane Torpedo. Other ammo types weren’t so bad, as they didn’t change between size levels. Some people call it dumbing down the game. I call it removing pointless bullshit.

As for the final point, determining where there are holes in your knowledge, the big macro holes are simple. “I don’t know industry” isn’t uncommon. Or “I don’t know how to PvP”. The problem is when you know a little. That just casts what you don’t know into darker shadows.