Many games feature invisibility in some form. An excellent moment I recall from my days in World Of Warcraft was necking an invisibility potion to run past a load of mobs I couldn’t fight, while my rogue friend stealthed his way through. (If only that game had more such emergent highs.) Anyway, the Invisible Bastard joy I want to talk about is probably only applicable to Eve Online, although I’d love to know about any parallels in other games. It’s a thing that stood out for me over the years and something I loved, because it spoke of persistence, human psychology, the value of patience and the delight in being a big meany. I would leave my laptop logged into Eve, with a character cloaked in various star systems, and do nothing, for weeks.
Why would I do that?
My Eve Online corporation, whose exploits I explored in some detail here, generally operated as a small hit and run group. We did get dragged into giant fleet wars here and there, but our real interest was in the fast, roaming gangs of less than twenty people. To do this we would often base ourselves in the territory of much large groups of players, and then try to disrupt their money-making, and blow up their ships as they went to and from various activities around their claimed systems.
Of course Eve’s players are extremely canny, particularly after facing years of such activity from groups of players often far more proficient and persistent than my own. They use chat channels to report intel in, and often leave scouts out to watch for incoming baddies. My solution? My second account, a pilot in a cloaking ship.
Cloaking in Eve is a powerful tool. It is total invisibility. Cloak up a ship and the only way it could be found was for it to collide with something (which would happen more often than you’d imagine in the vastness of space). This means that cloaking characters are powerful tools. They can be used to see what’s going on somewhere without being seen themselves.
Of course there’s a flaw in this for the cloaking player: local chat. This chat channel always displays the number of people in a local system. If you are cloaked in a system, you are nevertheless “present” for the other players there. Once they’ve done a bit of work with their long distance scanner it won’t take too much for them to figure out that they have a cloaker. This means they’ll be much more careful about what they’re doing. They know they’re being watched, so fancy battleships will be staying docked, and those great big juicy mining operations disappear from the asteroid belts.
Unless, of course, that cloaker guy is always there. There is where the bastard part comes in. For much of the time I was playing Eve, I wasn’t able to play for more than an hour snatched here or there, so finding something to shoot – I was a dedicated PvPer during those years – became extremely tricky. I would want to have targets ready to go. And the best way was often to pick a nearby busy system in the lawless 0.0 space, and leave my cloaker in there. The account would sit quietly on my laptop, adrift in space, cloaked, and I would only have to remember to log in after downtime every day to make the cloaker a permanent presence in the system.
After a few days of nothing happening, well, you can imagine what happened: the cloaked ship became background noise. Sure, they’d try to figure out if it was “awake”, by starting conversations, but they always went unanswered. Eventually they ignored it. They forgot about the danger. And for most of the time there was nothing to fear. I was genuinely asleep. Or at the pub. Or visiting game developers in Nottingham. When I got home, however, and there was a faction battleship out shooting NPCs in the belts. Oh dear. In swooped my main character, knowing exactly where to go, and what to fit to kill the target. Kill after kill.
Looking back on this, I suppose it was a kind of griefing. I was abusing the way the game worked, but then that was sort of in the spirit of Eve: finding a way to defeat on your space enemies, whatever the cost. Taking things to extremes.
Frankly, I miss being an invisible bastard. Perhaps, one day, I can be invisible again.