I read with interest Mabrick's musings on the state of combat, with regards to the forthcoming changes to the targeting user interface. 'I find nothing as unrealistic in Eve Online as the combat', he says. Why is this? Because
I see perfectly well all my "enemies" in the [overview]. I can see their ranges from me precisely. I can exactly see their velocities relative to my ship. I can see them equally well whether they are in my field of view or are behind me.
This seems to niggle at him, because all of the information is displayed 'perfectly, precisely, exactly, equally[.] Since when have any of these adjectives ever described combat?' I find the answer to be surprisingly simple: since we started playing a sci-fi game.
I find it curious that fantasy games tend to give the player as much information as possible about their opponents without really being asked, including name, class, level, as well as any buffs and debuffs on yourself and the target, yet the more modern and technologically advanced the game is the less we are told. Or, at least, we are not told more. But we have technology on our side, so the amount of information available increases and should be presentable to the player.
We are already using computers to simulate the environment, and these archaic machines, compared to those that must be running on board advanced space-capable death-dealers, are able to calculate fairly basic information such as, well, the ranges and velocities of all targets within view, whether ahead or behind me. Pretty much what Mabrick finds odd. But we are not dogfighting pilots, without even basic radar, having to look around to see that we're being ambushed from behind, or from out of the Sun. We have technology to look out for us. If anything, it should be doing more, which it kind of does.
We know who is targeting our ship, who is shooting our ship, and who is applying other negative effects to our ship. I don't see this as unreasonable. In fact, it was only recently that the negative effects, or debuffs, were pulled out of the overview to be given a more prominent display in the HUD, so that we had more information about what negative effects our ship currently suffered, and from what source. Again, I think this is entirely reasonable. And, again, it should perhaps be doing more.
The spooling up of warp drives sounds like a kind of energy signature that can be picked up easily enough. Yet when we activate our warp disruptors we are given the message that we are only 'attempting' to warp scramble our target. Shouldn't we know if we are successful or not? If the drives continue to spool up then perhaps our ship computer can realise that a single point of disruption is not enough, or the warp bubble is not stopping that strategic cruiser. This is just one example, and there could be others.
Mabrick says that 'perfect intelligence about who you are fighting is terribly unrealistic', and he's right. But we don't have perfect intelligence. As TurAmarth writes in his own response to Mabrick:
what about Cloakies? Alts? Neutral spais & scouts? Corp Infiltrators? Logoff/Logon Tactics? AFK Cynos? There are still many unknowns in New Eden, we just have vastly more advanced technology is all, better 'tools'.
Add to that how the ships are fit, who's flying them, who's leading them, and you have a lot of unknowns that even our advanced technology cannot help us with. TurAmarth concludes that 'the Fog of War is not about technology, it is about the human factor.' Combat is less about which side does everything right, and more about who makes the least mistakes. A non-distinction, perhaps, but it highlights that mistakes will happen, and it's how you manage them that determines the ultimate outcome.
Never the less, even though I'm arguing that we should be given as much information as is reasonably available, I quite like the idea of providing some kind of technological denial of information. If it is technology giving us the information, then competing technology can take it away. The EW/radar battle is one that continues to progress, and there must be more imaginative ways to use electronics than effecting a total jam, or disrupting turrets and targeting range. I have a few ideas.
An obvious first thought is to jam transmissions. Mabrick points out that 'CCP has already said Dust Bunnies will be able to take down local for brief periods', which will be interesting. It would at least hide numbers and affiliations. Going further, it would be interesting if all communications could be disrupted, for short periods, at least on-grid. But because there is already a reliance on third-party voice comms in fleets I doubt that this would have as much of an effect as it could.
Mabrick's dislike of the overview extends to wondering 'what a Goonswarm attack would look like if [...] the Overview was gone', which is another interesting idea. Rather than jam the ship's ability to lock, take down its overview. Force the pilot to rely on his HUD and tactical overlay for his information. It would not prevent combat in the frustrating way that current ECM modules do, but force better situational awareness. Players would need to zoom their view out significantly so that ships don't get out of their field-of-view, but lose some fine adjustments that can be made to ship position and velocity, and vice versa.
Alternatively, jam the HUD and force players to rely on the overview, having them fly by instruments. The ship brackets and information flickers, comes and goes, during the period the jamming is in effect, as the ship's computer cannot reliably place the brackets in space, although the overview remains effective. Obviously, this option cannot be combined with disabling the overview without seriously impeding the player.
How about spoofing Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) transponders. Interrogate the target, have a decent hacking skill, and make your own ship appear to be a part of the enemy's fleet, purple icon and all. You won't actually be in the fleet, just appear as a fleet member.
Or spoofing IFF to appear as a different ship/hull, if only to the computer. Your ship broadcasts as a frigate, but you are flying a battlecruiser. Any pilot actually looking at you sees the battlecruiser, but your overview will show the bracket and class of a frigate. Only mildly confusing, perhaps, but this comes back to the human factor. A mildly confused pilot will fare worse than one not confused at all.
There are likely more examples that could be considered as new forms of electronic warfare. And the means to realise each example shouldn't be trivial, even if it is as minor as fitting a specific module. Module slots are limited, and any EW fitted will result in some kind of compromise. The results could offer considerable variety to even simple encounters. Fog of war makes for interesting combat, but straightforward denial of information in a sci-fi setting is a ham-fisted approach. Creating ways to deny that information using the technology available within the sci-fi setting, however, has significant possibilities.