Behind the scenes at Tiger Ears

10th June 2012 – 3.09 pm

Despite making regular references to my notes, I don't really explain what they are, or how I take them. This omission naturally leads to the occasional comment asking what they are, or how I take them. My standard response is to point people in two directions. First, to my anatomy of a post, where I transcribe my notes and show how I turn them in to a post. Second, to a comment where I include a snippet of my spreadsheet of w-space systems. However, not only is this information tucked away where no one looks any more, or could reasonably be expected to find it, it is also rather out of date. I'll rectify these issues in this post.

W-space spreadsheet

I started keeping track of the w-space systems I visited because I realised the arbitrary nature of wormhole connections neither guaranteed seeing the same system twice in a year, nor not seeing the same system twice in two days. Simply keeping bookmarks for the systems you visit becomes a bookkeeping nightmare when you have no idea when you'll next visit a system. The location of towers could be useful, but these can be torn down or destroyed within a day anyway; and the location of wormholes is pointless to keep after a day, and sites after a week. What I wanted was a way to keep track of this information that could only show me relevant information. A database would be perfect, a spreadsheet fit with my limited skills.

I mostly knew what I wanted to store about each system. The system number is obvious, the class of w-space merely a reference, the destination of its static wormhole can be good information, and the position of any towers can reduce time spent looking for occupation and the whereabouts of ships. I included tickboxes for the types of activity that we did in the system, which helped to see at a glance that I only travelled through the system and so didn't stop to note the towers there, or that I engaged in combat with other capsuleers. All good information, I thought, which along with a notes field should give me all I need to know.

The information kept on the spreadsheet has changed somewhat. Part of that change is driven by the length of time I've been using it. The written notes I take are now more detailed, which is purely down to how much information I care to type in there. It's all well and good to see that I popped a salvager in a system, but there are only so many times I can insert 'Tengu: pop and pod Noctis' before each entry blends with the other. And with the loss of individuality comes the loss of meaning, which negates the point of making the note in the first place. If the note doesn't identify which Noctis I podded, or what made it interesting—at least so that I can refer to the corresponding journal entry, which may in itself help to identify pilots and patterns for myself—there is little point in making that note. And so I try to include more context, either about the site, situation, or result. I want to be reminded of what happened and why, so that I can use that information when prowling through the system again.

Another change to the spreadsheet happened after considering writing this post. In what way, I asked myself, have the notes changed in the spreadsheet, and why? And I answered myself that my notes changed so that I would have relevant information about repeat visits to any particular w-space system. That led me to consider the tickboxes I use and fill in consistently each day. Because of the situation we are in, I pretty much scan every system I visit, and if I don't I can pretty much tell by the entry for the 'wormhole found' column being empty. Because I scan almost every system I visit, I almost never only travel through one, and travelling through a w-space system that I also scan is not really worth noting. And, sure, maybe we shot Sleepers the last time we were here, but that won't and shouldn't affect my decision to do so this time. Having a strategic cruiser for scanning essentially makes scouting a roam in itself, and if there is any PvP I make a note of it in the notes field. None of the boxes seem relevant any more, so I deleted them.

Okay, I hid the boxes. The data is still there, should I consider it relevant again, but I am no longer filling in the information. I don't suppose I'll miss it. All the information I consider important remains, although I still struggle with the relative placement of the system class column. It is the first piece of information I can fill in, recognising the class of w-space from the wormhole colours, but the system number seems a more important column and so has precedence. Either way, it's a minor niggle and doesn't get in the way.

Finding matches for previous visits is easy, as the auto-complete for the cells shows me similar J-numbers as I type in the system number, so I can tell at a glance if I need to search for a match. If I do, I use the 'find' function, which tells me how many other entries for the J-number there are. I can select the previous one and use the information saved there, as it is the most recent, whilst also seeing how many other times I've visited the system. If a tower is listed I can quickly see if it remains, gaining me a significant chunk of time I don't need to spend looking for it if the tower is in the same place, without losing much time if it isn't.

Overall, the information in the spreadsheet saves me some time at the cost of maintaining the data as I fly. I suppose I find it most valuable for linking posts, as previous engagements are much easier to track, which helps create a stronger narrative.

Writing physical notes

Even before I played EVE Online I kept notebooks handy so that I could jot down thoughts and ideas for posts. Memory is ephemeral and notoriously unreliable, and my short-term memory can be a pig. I have to leave letters lying on the floor on the way to the front door so that I remember to post them. I also know that if I think of something clever, interesting, or witty that I want to include in a post I had better write it down. It doesn't matter how obvious I think the joke or phrase is, or how easily I think I could construct it again from first principles, I can guarantee I'll forget it in five minutes. If I'm lucky, I'll remember that I've forgotten it to encourage me not to make the same mistake again, but often I'll even forget that I had anything I wanted to add. So if inspiration strikes, write it down!

Initially, my notes were fairly basic, little more than a list of events and facts that I would later link together in to a narrative. My anatomy of a post has details of what my notes looked like almost three years ago and how I turned them in to a post. And, for the most part, the process is the same. What has changed is the level of detail I include in my notes. As I have continued to write I have found a groove. This groove, coupled with my familiar style, means I pretty much know what I want to write about and how a story will unfold as it is occurring. This story will regularly change as new events happen, but I no longer separate playing from writing. My mind is continually shaping my story as I experience it.

Instead of notes that contain the simplest details, I now feel I am almost writing the posts as I fly. I still pay attention to what I'm doing, particularly during combat, but in-between I am writing not just notes but phrases, sentences, and meta-information that often gets put in to posts verbatim. I still have plenty of work to do to draft the resulting posts, as the notes are still mostly fragments that rely heavily on context and triggered memories and need to be structured and pulled together to form a coherent whole, but much more of my writing is now achieved on paper than before. The result is a reduced amount of editing that's required. Previously, my notes would become an electronic draft, as my they were sparse and needed much fleshing out, which were then edited to get the flow and pacing right. Now it seems that my physical notes are more the (rough) draft that gets converted to be an almost-complete post. My current editing process is almost all looking for typographical errors.

The simplest evening is spent shooting Sleepers, where each site is the same as the last, and unless we get jumped there really isn't much to report. These are the most challenging to write about, because essentially nothing happens. This is where you'll find me musing over the interface, basic operations, and how much ISK we pull in. Scanning with nothing to show for it comes in the middle of writing difficulty, as there can be plenty to write about but little to show for it. I need to find a way to make the same activity interesting, which isn't always easy. Posts where I engage other capsuleers in combat pretty much write themselves, in the sense of finding a focus, and because plenty happens in a short span of time. Let's see some examples. I shall contrast a relatively simple excursion with some combat.

Sleeper combat

My notes begin:

EVE—A BM to an unopened WH waits for me as I cloak on the edge of our system—what else waits for me I can only find out—2 extra sigs @ home at least—gas, rocks—and unopened WH remains that way—but not for much longer, just as Fin arrives too—although she tempts me to mine [margin comment: argh!]
—>C3a—>J      scan/
—but succeeds in getting me to shoot Sleepers—could use the isk
—so WH remains unopen

I still precede every new entry with 'EVE', if only to delineate evenings and posts more clearly. I strike a line underneath every finished entry in my notepad, but seeing the 'EVE' heading makes it obvious where I'm starting a new day. I also still use extended dashes to separate thoughts and happenings. The dashes are more obvious than normal punctuation, are quick to jot down, and let me easily understand the flow of an evening when looking back.

Note the use of jargon and abbreviations, which I will rarely use in the posts themselves. I can understand the argot, and makes for shorter, quicker notes, but I don't presume that every reader will understand what a BM or WH is. This much is the same as when I started taking notes.

The line that is struck through is where I expected to jump through our static wormhole, taking me to the neighbouring class 3 system. There are times when I definitely need to focus, and other times when I can let my attention wander. Changing systems needs me to be alert, whereas the time between scans, recalling probes, and warping normally doesn't, and I'll use that time to pre-emptively make some notes. In this case, my note-taking is scuppered by changing our plans to shoot Sleepers first, hence the line is struck through.

Much as before, but slightly modified, I indicate which system I am entering, what the J-number is, what I expect to do there, and where the tower is (which will come after the slash). Because of my change to how I keep system data, the 'scan' section will be elided from future note entries as unnecessary. Let's convert these notes to written paragraphs.

A bookmark to an unopened wormhole awaits me today, as I cloak on the edge of our home w-space system. What else waits for me remains to be seen. As much as I'd like to jump ahead and look for targets to stalk I've spent enough time in w-space to know that circumstances can change at any moment. It may not matter for my plan to roam cloaked through the constellation, but it would be good to know if there are any new connections opened in to the system before I go on my way.

I launch probes and blanket the home system, revealing two signatures I can't account for. They're not exciting or troublesome, though, just a pair of new sites holding rocks and gas, which should mean the unopened wormhole remains that way. But not for much longer, as my scanning gives me the green light to explore. However, before I get my ship pointed towards the wormhole my glorious leader makes a reappearance. Wicked Fin tempts me to mine some rocks, which I am able to resist despite her silver tongue, but our isolated system presents us with another good opportunity to make some iskies from the indigenous population.

Edits between the first draft and published post are included in-line, in all examples, because the changes are generally minor and restricted to typos. You can't see any in the above paragraphs because, in this case, there are no changes made. This should be a good example of the groove I have and how the text flows on to the page compared to a couple of years ago.

As I have explained, I am now thinking about how a post will be made from my game time all the while I'm making notes. As the introductory sentence and paragraph is important as a hook to the entire post, I will take care to try to keep each opening fresh in some way, and often write it as the game is loading. As can be seen, not much changes between my notes and post in this case, and it is the care I take when making the fuller notes that gives me a more complete post, as the creative process is already well-formed by the time I'm typing.

I have expanded the notes quite a bit still, although that's because I know I am writing about Sleeper combat and that not much actually happens. I probably shouldn't admit to fluffing up my posts, but there you are. Most of the notes are converted fully to be in the post, except for the margin comment. Margin comments are notes that generally get thought of out of sequence, and often after the whole night's notes are written, when I need to find somewhere to add a comment, realisation, or observation that I don't want to forget. In this case, I just call Fin wicked. The notes continue:

—Sleeper Tengus—3 sites to destroy—go!
—oops, Fin leaves @ end of 1st site
—well, before end, 2 BS left—see if she comes back before I blow up—or Sleepers blow up before me—1 BS pops
—got enough transversal going for last BS to only be scribble me scratching me
—passive recharge is enough to keep me afloat—and she's back
—double damage! pop

More abbreviations, and casual language I never end up using, but I understand what I mean. This will get expanded in the draft. The deleted scribble is my first attempt to write 'scratching', where my bad handwriting and haste made it so that I didn't think I'd be able to recognise the word later, so I have a second go at it.

I'm still thinking that I'll only be writing about Sleeper combat, hence the detail about Fin disconnecting and my simple strategy in staying alive until she logs back in. When we shoot Sleepers and go on to a more exciting activity most of this detail will be left out of the post as obvious filler, but in case this will be our entire evening I make sure I will have something to write about. It's easier to gloss over unneeded notes than to try to remember details that aren't jotted down.

Our static wormhole remains unvisited and unopened. We swap covert Tengu strategic cruisers for rather more overt ones, bristling with missile launchers and ballistic control systems, and warp off to engage Sleepers in what should be relatively safe conditions. We've done this only recently, so get in to a decent groove in the first site. Even so, a well-practiced act can still go awry. Almost at the end of the first anomaly, Fin takes an unscheduled break, leaving me alone with a pair of Sleeper battleships.

I wouldn't normally worry about being alone in w-space, but in this case the modules that are repairing my Tengu's shields, and ultimately keeping me intact, are on Fin's ship. With her gone, I am relying solely on the shields' passive recharge rate to keep them healthy, which is pretty minimal. Well, I say that, but there are tricks that can mitigate damage, which can be equivalent to repairing a greater amount of damage in some situations. For a start, tThe first battleship is almost destroyed, so I chip away at its hull until it explodes, which drops the damage I'm taking by half. That's not really mitigating damage as much as directly removing the threat.

By then But by now holding a tight orbit around the remaining battleship I can reduce its gun damage to almost nothing, as it can't track me too well at this range, and its missile damage to manageable levels, as my speed is kept high. It's not long before Fin returns, warping in to rejoin me in the anomaly. What shield damage I've taken is repaired and the final battleship, taking double the number of hits now, pops to clear the first site. Onwards!

Again, much expanded because I am trying to present fairly mundane details in a way that is interesting. The first paragraph is new material, as we transition between scanning and Sleepers, and even though I try to keep full notes I still appreciate being able to flex my creative muscle.

Out of necessity to keep a mundane activity fresh, I focus on what is different about today over other days, in pretty much the same way I do with PvP combat. And here are my first edits, which are simple changes to aid pacing and clarity. As I note above about this type of post, concentrating on Sleeper combat, I get involved with little tips and tricks that would normally be inconsequentially lost when compared to more significant situations. Now on to the final scribbled notes:

—on to 2nd site—easy—on to 3rd and in to bloom of doom
—2nd wave, Fin's shields turn to red—argh, what's happening?—oh, not got reheat going—thought I had, bloom obscuring activation light—that's my excuse, anyway—burn + navigate inc. damage, rep what's been taken
—done—d-scan empty so far
—salvage—not expecting a haul like last time, but can hope
—Fin hits jackpot in 1st site!—I get poor result in 2nd
—we combine to be awesome again
—198 bloot + 28 × 7 salvage = same as last time 198+196 ≅ 400 M—okay, good result

When nothing happens, there's nothing to write about. I blast through the second anomaly in five words, before having something to write about in the third. And when something happens amidst very little, I will be thinking of taking screen grab to include in the post. I may have taken one in this case, but decided not to include it. Not every post needs an image. Again, the notes are not just dry facts but try to keep the story flowing as I am perceiving it. The last of the notes get converted in to the following paragraphs:

The second site holds no surprises for us, but the third moves us back in to the bloom of doom. So much blueness, it burns! And it looks to be burning Fin's shields as well, which is troublesome, her white turning to red with little my remote shield repair module can do about it. Ah, I see the problem. Our speed is low, my reheat isn't on, so we are taking full damage from this nasty second wave of Sleepers. Thanks, bloom of doom, for obscuring the activation light. I get the reheat working and—zoom—we're away.

Three anomalies are cleared, we're still alive, and d-scan remains clear. All looks good to salvage. We break out the Noctes and start sweeping loot in to our holds, although I'm not quite expecting the haul of salvage that we recovered last time. Sure enough, it doesn't look like we're getting it either, as I bring back a paltry handful of the expensive melted nanoribbons in my hold. Fin, however, hits the jackpot, and our combined loot is exactly what we salvaged from our previous outing. Safely bringing home four hundred million ISK in profit from three sites is a good result an excellent result for the evening.

There's not much I can say about the second site, particularly when I have no notes about it. I again build around particular phrasings instead of working from scratch. There is still creativity involved between paper and screen, though, and I particularly like how I segue the bloom of doom in to our predicament with Fin's shields. As I note above, the mundane nature of Sleeper combat often gets me musing about the user interface, and shooting Sleepers in our pulsar w-space system will regularly have me complaining about the bloom obscuring other elements of the interface. I calculate the ISK made in the evening as it is easy to do on paper, and only include the total in the post itself. The final edit is purely to give a feel of a proper conclusion.

PvP combat

Now let's take a look at some PvP combat. The following post is longer than for the Sleeper combat, because there is more actual activity and plenty of context and detail to include. I won't present all the notes and all the post, but just enough to provide a comparison. The first paragraph is illuminating:

—now to take a roam through w-space
—>C3a—>J112420 scan/III-1
—Itty, Heron, shuttle—tower—locate
—easy enough—1 M around P where d-scan shows them to be—warp in to recon
—no pilots, aww

There's no 'EVE' heading, because this is actually a continuation of the evening after shooting Sleepers and the same page of notes. As I have mentioned, Sleeper combat doesn't always make for good reading, so I will occasionally gloss over it almost entirely if something more interesting happens. In this case, however, what actually happens creates a rather large post in itself, and the Sleeper combat included a couple of events I wanted to include. I didn't want to either cram the Sleeper detail in to half a paragraph or exclude it completely, so I split the notes in to two posts. I think it works.

Here we see a typical transition from one system to another, with the arrowed line indicating the jump, and the system class, J-number, and tower location noted afterwards. I know most of the ship classes, so I only note their names, often abbreviated, and 'M' and 'P' are used regularly in specific places for me to know that they mean 'moon' and 'planet'. It's all quite brief, because I've just entered a new system, want to get specific details down for the post, but not waste time in finding potential targets.

I haven't visited this system before, so there isn't a written note to that effect, but I should mention what I do. My spreadsheet matches the system numbers and I note the date of my last visit, but in two ways. I note the actual date of the previous visit, as well as the relative time difference. Because of the delay between game time and the appearance of posts, the relative date lets me write about how long it's been since my last visit and the actual date lets me keep accurate records. Between them, I can search Tiger Ears and link to older posts, if necessary.

Here's the opening paragraph of the second post:

We've made some iskies, now we can look to destroy some. Our static wormhole has been scanned and resolved but kept unvisited, so that we could rake in the profit from some local Sleepers, and with the profit made it's time to explore. Jumping in to our neighbouring class 3 w-space system has a promising start to blowing up innocent industrialists, with an Iteron hauler visible on my directional scanner, along with a Heron frigate, shuttle, and tower. Locating the tower is straightforward enough, as d-scan shows it to be around a planet with only one moon, and I warp in that direction. Unfortunately, there are no pilots to go with the ships, so my hope that the Iteron would collect planet goo will go unrealised for now.

'Readers are kindly for the most part. They'll forgive a clunky phrase or two later on if you win them over in the beginning', so writes Patricia T. O'Conner in Words Fail Me. It really isn't punchy to start with 'Now to take a roam through w-space', so I create a new opening hook for the post. And as it is a new post, not a continuation, I take care to mention I'm in w-space, use the full 'class 3 w-space system' instead of the abbreviated 'C3', and refer to the hull or role of each ship when introduced. The opening paragraph needs to set the scene for the rest of the post.

The next paragraph is simply scanning the system, so let's skip ahead to the paragraph after that:

—C2 K162—nice—>C2a
—>C2a—>J151047 scan/IX-1-2
—targets! Ret, Covetor, 2 Hulks, Badger, 4 cans—And Naga
—and 2nd Covetor
—see if I can launch probes
—2 towers—Noctis, Helios, Harbi—+ Itty
—recon towers
—Noctis + Itty pilots @ 1
—Helios, Harbi, + Badger piloted @ other

Damn, indeed. It is a peculiarity that I'll note that I'm jumping to the next system, then on a clean line note again which system I'm jumping to. The first note is essentially shorthand for where I'm heading, whereas the second is a formal record of my exploration, which can help when drawing a constellation map.

Again, the notes are short and punchy, focussing on details and using as many abbreviations to let me write quickly as I check d-scan and warp around. This starts as a clean hunt, and I know what I would do in a clean hunt, so it is easy to read between the lines, so to speak.

The two wormholes are a static exit to low-sec empire space and a K162 from class 2 w-space. I like the looks of that K162, so jump through to see what lies beyond. Targets, that's what! Out of range of any tower, d-scan shows me a Retriever and Covetor mining barge, two Hulk exhumers, a Badger hauler, and four cans presumably being stuffed with ore as the Badger tries to empty them. The additional presence of muscle, in the form of a Naga battlecruiser, is a little worrying, but it's probably nothing Fin and I can't handle. My main concern is what other pilots are here and available to protect the mining operation. If it's just the Naga we should be fine. If it's more we could fly in to trouble.

As a second Covetor appears on d-scan, I warp away from the wormhole as a second Covetor appears on d-scan, hoping to find somewhere to launch probes without being seen, as well as looking for a local tower. I find two towers, in fact, with four more ships split between them. A Noctis salvager and Iteron hauler are piloted at one tower, the second hauler indicating just how much ore is being mined, and a Helios covert operations boat and Harbinger battlecruiser are piloted at the second, where the Badger presumably from the gravimetric site warps to as I reconnoitre it. That's a fair few pilots. But we have some potent ships at our command, and the element of surprise. That is, if I can scan the site without being noticed, and I still don't have probes launched.

I explain the presence of the ships as well as the significance of there not being a tower in d-scan range. I'm pretty sure Fin reassured me about the Naga, which is a note I remember and not something I wrote down, but it's a good point to make. I know that I check for occupation, extra pilots, and somewhere to launch probes covertly whenever I hunt, so it is easy to slot those details in at the appropriate place.

I change the order in the first sentence because of potential ambiguity in the draft. I didn't warp away because the second Covetor appeared, merely warped away coincidentally at the same time. I take care to note the class of ships so far unmentioned, because I consider the context important. Finding piloted combat ships at a newly discovered tower is more threatening than finding industrial ships, and this information can be relayed simply by including its class without explicitly mentioning the threat. But I still need to launch probes:

—warp to the other side of the system—nope, nowhere to hide
—give it a go—launch—ok, probes out and safe—cloak
—locate mining op—warp to system centre + start looking
—still going, so probes not seen—good
—but Naga + haulers drop off scan—then Ret + Cov
—now Hulks—but not probes, my cloak is not active

Slightly more detailed notes now, as the normal flow of hunting is broken up by complications. I am making these notes as I warp around the system. There's little to do in warp, making it a good time to jot down some details. I also have hunted miners before, which lets me take some more pre-emptive notes. I scribble what I am expecting to do rather than what is actually happening. This mostly works out, but occasionally results in some deletions when the situation goes pear-shaped. Trying to predict what will happen generally saves time, though, so I continue to do it. For example, it's fine to assume my probes weren't seen and write that note as I am in warp, deleting it if untrue but, in this case, adding 'good' once I confirm they weren't seen. I can now get to hunting the mining operation as soon as I drop out of warp.

I cross to the far side of the system in the hopes of simultaneously dropping off d-scan of the towers and the mining operation, but can't manage both. I will either be in range of the tower or the operation, wherever I sit in the system. S, so I choose the tower. The odds are the miners and escort will be watching d-scan avidly, whereas the few pilots at the tower may be twiddling their thumbs or dozing off. And it looks like I'm right. I get my probes launched and sent far out of the system, and return to the inner system to see the mining operation still in full swing. All I have to do now is scan their position quickly and quietly.

Using the system map, I start swinging d-scan around until I get a good bearing on the ships, at which point I... well, I would reduce d-scan's bearing to narrow down their location, but what I actually see is the ships warping away from the site. The Naga is first to leave, which isa noble reaction from the an apparent escort,followed by the haulers, then the mining barges, and finally the exhumers. I don't quite understand what's happened, as my probes are certainly not visible on d-scan, and the delay in their leaving means they didn't see me launch them. Ah, but my inactive cloak has my Tengu show up quite obviously, and the appearance of an unknown strategic cruiser was bound to spook the miners.

I clarify what 'nowhere to hide' means in this context, my resulting options, and why I chose to do what I did. I have made the same decision before, and would do the same again, so I have no trouble explaining my choice despite it not being explicit in my notes. The addition of a comma in the first paragraph came from reading back my post and realising the pacing was wrong. The short sentence didn't work where it was and flowed better as part of the previous sentence. The change from 'the escort' to 'an apparent escort' is because I can't honestly say what the Naga was doing in the site with the miners. I also changed the commas for m-dashes in order to highlight his actions.

Even though my notes look sparse, they contain plenty of information that I convert. Most notably, the order of events. I don't have to remember that the Naga left the site first, because my pen-written notes indicate so. That it was followed by the other ships in a certain order also means that, when I write up the draft, I can be sure that any images I have won't contradict the text, or vice versa. Not that I'm infallible in that regard, as one draft of a post mentioned:

—Bzd approaches WH as I decloak [...]
—and it's followed by a 2nd

Which turned out to be:

Just as I approach the wormhole so does a Cheetah cov-ops. I can't resist taking a shot, so I decloak and try to engage, but he just keeps calm and carries on, jumping through the wormhole. I follow the Cheetah and am thoroughly unsurprised when I fail to snag it in the C5, at which point I cloak and punch d-scan just in case I am about to get a surprise. I kind of do, but only by a second cov-ops jumping in behind me, this one a Buzzard.

In this case I had images for both ships, taken and stored chronologically, and I saw my mistake and corrected it prior to publication. On the one hand, it was good to get my facts right. On the other hand, without the images I wouldn't have potentially written about two Buzzards and shown evidence of a Cheetah and a Buzzard.

Back to the post in hand.

—holy crap, what bad luck—no idea how that happened—but killed the op
—Drake in site now—and pod on scan
—and pod near me—must have got a good look at me
—how embarrassing
—scan site anyway—practice—cans there
—as are 2 Scorps + Tengu
—bah, 1st attempt 99·63% on grav
—but 100% on 2 Sorp + Tengu now there
[margin comment:—thanks, chaps!—couldn't have done it w/o you!]
—warp in—hope I don't hit a rock
—nope—and 3 cans there
—Fin coming in SB
—recon towers
—Drake in grav on a can
—Harbi + haulers @ tower
—Itty on scan, Badger moving
—Fin in Manti, entered system + lurking in grav
—she's gonna bomb a hauler collecting cans

I've busted the mining operation, so with the overall sense of urgency lowered I can keep better chronological notes, along with my personal thoughts of the situation. I no longer know what is relevant and what can be ignored, so I note pretty much every event.

I strike through the line with the ships being in the rock site because I realise even as I'm writing these rough notes that the narrative would work better if they are discovered as part of the scanning process, given that I don't get the site if not for the ships being there. As I have the results of the scan on my screen, I make sure I note the precise percentage result of the scan, so that I don't accidentally overlook it in the edit, particularly as I know I'll have a screen grab of the results.

Holy crap, I have no idea how my cloak deactivated. I burn away from my probes as I launch them precisely so that I don't get tangled up and can cloak immediately afterwards. But however it happened, the hunt is off. Damn it, that's embarrassing. A Drake battlecruiser now sits on d-scan, presumably in the gravimetric site, as does a pod. Actually, the pod is fifty kilometres from me, which makes me think that they got a good look at my Tengu when I was clearly visible, but he may just be bouncing around the planets checking each one in turn. He doesn't find me, as I have thankfully managed to get my cloaking device working now. And as the jet-cans are still in the site, and I have probes launched, I may as well get some more hunting practice.

I get a bearing and range on the cans, and move my probes in to position for a scan. My first attempt only bags me 99ยท63% on the site itself, but I get a solid 100% scan on the two Scorpion battleships and Tengu now sitting there. Thanks, chaps! You're in the site for no good reason, and I couldn't have done it without you. I get a single scan hit on the site, letting me recall my probes with them having been visible for as short a time as possible, and I warp in to take a look. The three combat ships have left by the time I get there, but three jet-cans remain. It looks like the locals will be collecting their ore, regardless of who has wandered in to their system.

Maybe it's good that I scanned, and scanned well, if it means haulers are coming and going from the mining site still. Mind you, if the haulers get combat escorts with each trip then there's not much I can do. Fin, on the other hand, can throw a spanner in the works. I may have unintentionally scuppered her plan to drop a heavy interdictor on the miners but she has brought a stealth bomber this way, which is the perfect ship to surprise a flimsy hauler. Fin enters the system and warps to the rather convenient position in the mining site I find myself in, where we sit and wait. Well, where Fin sits and waits. I should probably reconnoitre the towers.

There's not too much happening. It looks like most of the pilots have gone off-line, leaving the Harbinger and haulers at the towers, and the Harbinger may not be part of the operation. But the Drake seen earlier is now back in the gravimetric site and hovering around one of the cans. It seems a good bet that the next hauler will warp to that can, to be protected by the Drake from my nasty Tengu. What they won't expect is a bomb to be launched their way. Fin warps her Manticore in to a good position for an ambush, as I call an Iteron warping away from the tower. This should be good.

Notes become sentences, only fluffed up a little to add context. One edit adds clarity, the other expands on the bad decision of the pilots to put big ships in the site for no apparent reason. The margin comment is a point I consider too important to forget, and phrased in a way I want to use, so I squeeze it in to a space in the line when I realise their mistake after I've logged off for the night.

Yes, 'logged off'. This is a good enough expression for exiting a game, and even though I am hardly writing a roleplaying journal I prefer 'going off-line', as it fits better with flying spaceships and is in less danger of breaking immersion.

As I mentioned, I will note as much as possible that happens chronologically so that I can choose whether it is important later. Concern that I may hit a rock and decloak as I warp in to the site is valid, but probably only worth mentioning if I actually hit a rock and decloak. Fin coming to the system in a stealth bomber is important, but not where it appears in my notes, so shift it to where it becomes narratively relevant.

There are also details not in my notes that I remember, like our initial decision to drop a HIC on the miners. I was busy trying to find the miners, so assumed that I would mention the Onyx when we were in warp to them, and once the operation was ended it seemed to become irrelevant. But it is a nice contrast against the new choice of ship Fin brings, highlighting the importance of different tools for different situations.

On to the actual combat:

—screw the towers, I want to watch this
—the locals expecting Tengu, SB bombing under Drake guard will be fun
—warp in as Itty warps in—but Drake guarding 1 can, which Fin took to be hauler target, + Itty has gone to other cans
—but that puts Drake far to far for it to be a direct threat
—and I can get to Itty before it chomps 2nd can
—hope for no cloaky tacklers, and warp in!
—decloak, lock, point—pew pew
—crumbles easily—pod flees
—I cloak and disappear
—woo! adrenalin shakes from that

Nearly all of this will have been written whilst in warp from the tower, or after the surprisingly short assault. After 'Itty has gone to other cans' I stop writing and concentrate on the situation. My short-term memory may be bad, but it's not that bad, and I cannot be distracted from what is important.

I ambush the hauler, warp out, and once safe start jotting down what happened. I focus on the important details: how far the Drake is, that I can get to the Iteron in good time, and that I'm hoping it's not a bluff and there are no cloaked ships waiting. All of this is what makes this combat unique, so it must be reflected in the post for it to keep a reader's attention. What occurs during most engagements—decloak, lock, point, 'pew pew'—are all actions that can be expected to occur, and I only need to note their appearance for chronological purposes. These notes are again brief and to the point, and I rely on them evoking emotions to aid recall. What we get is:

Yes, this should be good! I want to see it happen, not sit at the tower. I warp back to the gravimetric site myself, although at the safe spot far from any action, to be an observer. But the situation doesn't always work as we plan, and Fin is dismayed to see the Iteron land at the two cans far from the Drake, and far from her. Whether this was miscommunication between the locals or a bluff we can't say, but it has prevented Fin taking her shot. It may not stop me, though. My decision to warp back to watch the carnage may be to our benefit, as long as there are no cloaky surprises waiting for me.

I warp in to the jet-can the Iteron is crawling towards, the hauler having chomped the first, and decloak when close. I'm far enough from the Drake for it not to be a direct threat, and close enough to the Iteron to scare the crap out of its pilot. Or, rather, to blow the pilot out of the Iteron. I lock on, disrupt its warp drives, and start shooting. The hauler, optimised for cargo space, takes little encouragement to disintegrate, and neither does the ejected pod to warp back to the tower. I'm still quite agitated about the possibility of being counter-ambushed, what with all the ships recently seen flying around, and am happy to warp back to my safe spot in the site, rather than looting and shooting the wreck. I'd only find expanded cargoholds cargo holds and ore anyway.

The 'should be good' line is mirrored from the previous paragraph, replacing 'screw the towers', for more effective emphasis. After that, all the details are included, from the hauler landing in the wrong place, the distance to the Drake, and if this is a mistake or a bluff. Even though I eschew most of the informal language in my notes, I keep a colloquial 'chomp' to add some individuality to my writing. The reference to the 'adrenalin shakes' is converted in to 'agitation' about a possible counter-attack, which I think creates a better sense of narrative.

One interesting change is that of the cargo holds. I can never remember if they are 'cargo holds' or 'cargoholds', but I try not to worry about it in my draft when I am simply trying to write. When I come to edit the post, I'll search my blog for occurrences of the term and see which I use so that I can at least achieve consistency within my own writing. The same is true for 'cov-ops' and 'covops', and 'micro warp drive' and any of its hyphenated or concatenated variants.

Let's finish the post:

—recon towers again—Prot there now—warps to grav + cloaks
—ok, time to go home
—no point forcing a 2nd engagement
—SB was great choice too, just unfortunate that + 50/50 chance went the other way
—and glad I warped in to watch the kill—got it myself instead
—so good that I scanned site, which was possible w/ cans remaining there

—no ships on WH, either side, so we exit safely + get home—time to sleep—been a good evening overall, despite the hiccups
[margin comment]—another cheap kill, but a satisfying one

I'm still keeping the narrative in mind, and am feeling the night drawing to a close. Once we both exit the system and are cloaked safely away from the wormhole I pause again and write more detail. I linger on the other side of the wormhole for a few minutes as I gather my thoughts to conclude the evening's adventure, perhaps because floating in space helps me focus more than shutting down the computer and getting distracted by other activities. These notes become the final paragraph of the post:

Well, that was fun! A single Iteron wreck is not quite the carnage of multiple mining barges and corpses, but disrupting the operation and still managing to pop a hauler is a fair result. It's a cheap kill, but a satisfying one. I don't think there's much more we can do, particularly when another look at the towers sees a Proteus strategic cruiser get prepared and warped towards the gravimetric site, disappearing before it gets there, no doubt cloaked. It's time to go home. We leave the system behind us, seeing no ships loitering on either side of the wormhole, and reflect on the hunt. Decloaking was unfortunate, but scanning the site anyway worked to our advantage. The stealth bomber was an excellent choice of ship, it was just a shame that the Iteron didn't warp to the guarded can. Finally, it can be good to see what's coming, but there are advantages in having options at the pointy end of the action too. Despite the hiccups, it's been a fun evening.

Brr, I only noticed the second use of 'carnage' when skimming the post in my RSS reader. Yes, I subscribe to my own blog, and it's specifically so that I can pick up on typos and other little details that nag at me. It really helps. The two uses of 'carnage' are hardly a problem, but reading it back makes the only occasionally used word look a little too prominent. It's too late to change it now.

As with every other post, I try to write a final paragraph that feels like a conclusion. Interestingly, the Neal Stephenson method of just stopping arbitrarily can be quite effective. For example, this post could have ended on 'the pointy end of the action too' quite comfortably, and so I don't always end with a final thought, as such. A little variety helps keep the writing feeling fresh.

Putting it all together

It's perhaps worth pointing out that I don't convert my notes directly in to my Wordpress editor. This is ostensibly because I can't access my own journal from my work computer, thanks to some aggressive blacklisting of gaming sites, so rather than have some posts drafted in Wordpress and others in text files or e-mails, I took to drafting all my posts in a text editor first. As a result, I don't worry about internet connection dropouts causing problems whilst writing posts, and I get to write in a fairly basic editor that won't suffer the feature creep which blogging software inevitably does. To keep a strict chronology of events, I e-mail each completed text file to myself, using my e-mail in-box as an in-box. Fancy that. I use text files because Outlook remains a broken piece of crap which likes to insert extra line breaks but delete spaces it thinks to be superfluous. It's a horrible, horrible e-mail client.

An unintended consequence of writing to text files and e-mailing them to myself is the effective separation of the drafting and editing processes. If drafting each post in Wordpress, it would be easy to preview the first draft immediately and glance over it again, but it would perhaps be too soon to do so. E-mailing myself the text file and transferring them in to Wordpress has me reviewing a small batch of posts at a time, where going back even a few posts in time has my focus shift sufficiently to be reading the text from a fresh perspective, allowing me to more readily gauge the flow of the writing. More typos and weird sentences would probably remain in my writing if I didn't have my odd writing process.

The images that accompany each post are naturally taken during the relevant session. They are dumped to my desktop, because I use OS X's screen grab facility, thanks to CCP in their wisdom mapping the screenshot key to 'Print Scrn', a key not on my keyboard, and locking it to prevent the keymap being changed. It's irritating, but doesn't stop me grabbing images, so it's hardly a bind. One advantage is that the cursor is not captured with the screen grab, so I can select one object whilst using the mouse to highlight another, to have the image display the text of both at once without the cursor obscuring anything. If you've ever wondered how I am able to show the names of two separated ships at the same time in my images, now you know.

At the end of every session where I've captured images, I review them and tentatively decide which ones I want to include in a future post. Obvious images are engagements with ships, explosions, and unusual events. As there is a fair amount of time between events occurring, posts being drafted, edited, and images added, I need a robust method to help me keep track of what I want to include and when. As such, any image I want to use I will crop, give a name, and move the resultant image to be next in the queue. The queue is the other side of the my desktop, where I store the images in columns in chronological order, with a gap between images from different days, so that I can better match up posts with images when I come to put the two together.

What I'm not able to show is how I create my w-space constellation maps. I sketch the connections either in the middle of a page, giving myself plenty of room, or using the top margin, normally starting half-way through the constellation once I realise the map will be interesting enough to include, and adding to it as new systems are discovered. I check the map as I travel, so that I get the system classes and direction of the wormholes right. These constellation map images also end up on my desktop, although because they are created separately they end up in a corner of their own, and I need to remember for which posts I created them, normally by using a descriptive filename.

I end up with a rather cluttered desktop, what with all of the images for quite a few nights of w-space combat that I capture. But at least I have the space to use, not having to worry about program icons everywhere, and it gives me an added motivation to schedule more posts so that I can clear my screen a little. And I never schedule a post until the images are added. I draft in a text editor, edit and save as draft in Wordpress, adding the images last before scheduling the post. Once a post is scheduled, the images get moved to a local directory that mirrors the on-line image folder, and e-mails with text files are deleted from my in-box after the post is published. I would say that the process then starts again, but it's pretty much continuous. Or, at least, not strictly linear. I play and write most days, edit posts some days, and schedule posts others. My decision to publish posts daily at around the same time means that most readers won't even realise my own slightly sporadic schedule. Hopefully, Tiger Ears looks like a well-oiled machine.

  1. 8 Responses to “Behind the scenes at Tiger Ears”

  2. :o

    By Sebastian on Jun 10, 2012

  3. Really enjoyable post! My RL job includes teaching recent uni grads how to write to a specific style and format, which has led me to become fascinated by other people's processes for getting from thought to text. I like yours and I think you do a great job of adding colour, drive and suspense to the basics your notes give you. I hope you do this how-I-do-it post again if your process changes or if there's any significant development in what you're trying to achieve in your writing. Oh - thanks as well for the entertaining blog - I buried the lead!

    By MMcC on Jun 10, 2012

  4. blah blah blah tldr

    By J on Jun 11, 2012

  5. Wow! Monster post. Very interesting. I was wondering how you got multiple targets to show up. Actually, I even posted to a few forums to ask, but no one knew. The secret's out!

    By Paxx Bello on Jun 11, 2012

  6. Awesome post, thank you! You might like for drawing up the constellation (e.g. was one of our runs last week).

    I've thought of keeping a log of my WH travels for personal enjoyment and reference and like your format (I'd probably add a Filter so I can easily list all visits on a date or to a specific WH or class), but that's "extra" work to slow me down in scanning with limited game time, so I've never started. :( Perhaps now I will!

    By Lolmer on Jun 11, 2012

  7. Outstanding post, thank you. It is at once fascinating and humbling to read just how much thought and attention to details goes into your posts. Excellence doesn't come cheap. Thanks!

    By Splatus on Jun 12, 2012

  8. I see what you did there :)

    Hiding all your trade secrets in plain sight by overloading the attention span of the reader.

    Tres elegant mademoiselle

    By Mme. Thalys on Jun 12, 2012

  9. Thanks all. I hope it was of some interest. Yeah, it's pretty long, and regular stories are back again.

    That diagram tool looks pretty handy, Lolmer, but I quite enjoy working out how to fit the schematics together, and kind of need control over the size of the resulting image, because of the restrictions I've settled on for conformity.

    I never knew showing multiple targets would be such a secret, Paxx, but I thought I had better include how I did it in this post, at least.

    If I've missed out any specific point or detail, please feel free to ask. I maintain this journal because I enjoy the process and creativity of writing, and am only happy to talk about myself.

    By pjharvey on Jun 12, 2012

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