Idle Musing: The Joy Of Being An Invisible Bastard

By Jim Rossignol on March 9th, 2012 at 7:00 pm.


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.

, , .

63 Comments »

  1. Bhazor says:

    Eve. A strange game.

  2. weego says:

    Reminds me of an article about magic tricks by Teller I read a while back:

    Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth.
    You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest.

    • JFS says:

      Yeah, like letting your laptop run for weeks and bumping up your electricity bill just to cause some poor people sorrow. What a strange world we live in.

  3. Swabbleflange says:

    Every time anyone writes anything interesting about EVE, I open a tab to the official site and sit there, staring blankly while my brain engages in a battle with itself over resubbing.

    • Calculon says:

      Same. I wonder how my class 5 wormhole is doing, and whether the vast majority of people have finally moved out of WH space and back to 0.0….and then I realize all of the poor poor decisions CCP made, The “golden goose”, The Drake, Mothership buff, and Titans to name a few…and then I sigh and close the tab.

    • Limyc says:

      Yup, exactly. I just got an email too with a discount on my next two months back. This is a problem.

  4. NthDegree256 says:

    I don’t know if this is still possible in Tribes: Ascend, but it’s the first thing that came to mind while reading the opening paragraph.

    • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

      How beautiful. I am wiping away a tear. :’]

    • Davee says:

      Man I SO need to try that with my INF :D

    • Limyc says:

      Yes, it’s still possible. However, they increased the speed at which the player must be traveling to instantly die when he hits you. Most players will lose ~60% of their health since they aren’t good enough to grab at 200+km/hr

  5. vadvadindabad says:

    I’m sorry, I don’t get it. He was invisible and the next part I don’t understand. Why did the ship attack npcs? and why was this good?
    Edit: Aah I get it now, thanks for the replies

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Jim had a second character, apart from his main one, that he left logged in on a separate computer. when he saw the residents of the system out running missions (ie shooting npc pirates), he could fire up his main character (and probably call in a few mates) and go kill the resident mission runner who was out in his fanciest ship.
      In Eve, if your ship gets destroyed then that’s it, unless you have insurance, you’re going to have to shell out for that high end ship again, not to mention all the modules and weapons, so it really hurts. And everyone else will listen to you complaining about a fucking griefer (Jim in this instance) pewing your favourite ship, and you will be told:
      “don’t fly it if you can’t afford to lose it”
      Eve is a harsh game, but the high stakes make it interesting.

    • vatara says:

      The ship was attacking NPCs to make cash, foolishly thinking he was safe. While the invisible bastard is sitting there as a warp in point for main account to come blow up the vulnerable fancy battleship.

      • thetruegentleman says:

        ..its kind of funny to think of a battleship as vulnerable. Eve is funny like that.

    • President Weasel says:

      A way to make money in EVE is to “rat”, go shooting the pirate spawns in asteroid belts. It is quicker to kill them (especially the higher-end rare spawns that drop the better loot) if you do this in an expensive ship fitted with expensive gear.

      Another way to make money in EVE is to take a ship optimised for PVP, blow up someone’s ship which is optimised for PVE, and hope some of the expensive gear drops so you can sell it on the Auction House.
      (Also, carebear tears taste like sweet, sweet nectar. Plus you get a bit of kudos for a killmail with a big sticker price on it)

      Faction Warfare was broken in EVE (yet another new shiny thing half-implemented and then put to one side in favour of a newer, shinier thing – but on the plus side, at least they kept trying to give us shiny things). However, doing the faction war missions in a stealth bomber gave me quite a few excellent Das Boot moments. Maybe not Invisible Bastard, but there’s a deal of adrenaline to be had trying to stay invisible in a little eggshell of a ship while Visible Bastards try to catch you at the warp ins.

      (and for my own Invisible Bastard fun, I did outfit a stealth bomber with normal missiles and a point, and go hunting PVE-fit ones. Didn’t work out too all that well since the other side tended to go out in pairs, one bomber one frigate. The few times I did catch and kill a bomber were fun times though).

    • Maldomel says:

      I’m confused too. This invisible bastard story is clearly messing with our minds!

      Oh! Now I see the whole point of doing this.

  6. Heliocentric says:

    Battlefield heroes, sat with 2 or 3 fellow commandoes.

    Being invisible as commando is the rule, not the exception, you pick your targets, agree them over voice chat and rain whither fire upon them. Then you disappear again and move on, you simply don’t die any more.

    Whether sniping, stabbing or blazing with your pistols you become gods of war.

    Also, completing elder scrolls games with 2100% chameleon because you are bloody sick of the combat.

    • FRIENDLYUNIT says:

      I did that in Morrowind. My character wasnt even a stealthy type but I had a “travelling suit” of glass armour to avoid the cliffracers. A nice side effect was that I also got lots of free sneak attacks from right in from of them.

  7. Premium User Badge

    RedViv says:

    I really enjoy games which allow me to be invisible, yet still achieve my goals. Where in the freezing blazes did that precious gold go? Nobody saw Garrett. Why is the Emperor dead? Why is there an Alliance legend in the chamber with the human terrorist “doctor”? Hehe.
    Most of all, of course, where the heck did the Bat go?

    EVE allows for special bastardly things though. Gets the Grand Prize from me.

  8. Aufero says:

    All good Eve stories revolve around being a bastard, one way or another.

  9. Fiwer says:

    There are a lot of great stories about people being EVE bastards, but paying for a second account for months just so you can watch a bit of empty space hoping that you’ll be lucky enough to stumble on a good target is pretty damn boring. After all is said and done, you’re the guy wasting $15 a month to do this which is a lot worse than the guy who just lost a bunch of spacebucks in his battleship.

    • Blackcompany says:

      You see it as waste. jim sees it as strategy. This is the joy of truly hardcore games like EVE, I would imagine. It caters to a demographic that I think most gamers see as at least a little nuts.
      .
      Oh how I wish single player games would take a lesson from this.
      .
      What if skyrim featured enemies who would come after you specfically? High end enemies, seeking to take things you had earned? What if, after growing complacent, you stumbled out into the world one night, ill-prepared, and instead of dying, you went to knee upon losing and lost 25% of your gold, one weapon and a random piece of armor after the elite robber barons ganked your ass?
      .
      I would welcome something to make lengthy, single player games as dangerous as some of these hardcore PVP games. Something with real risk, and real reward.
      .
      If I knew where to even begin with games like EVE – if I could log in and not be totally, utterly lost, thanks to years of conditioning from quest markers and journal entries – I might give it a go.
      .
      As it is, I find it intriguing to read about. And think about. Sometimes, I wish things were different in gaming. I wish I felt as if I were taking a real risk when venturing into some of these big, open sandbox worlds.

      • Ragnar says:

        I believe that setting is called permadeath.

        Though I wonder if what you’re asking for is the omnipresent fear of death, or just the challenge. For example, I hate having to constantly look over my shoulder when playing, and don’t have the time or inclination to play anything with the threat of permadeath, but I enjoy a challenge where I don’t lose much in time and can learn from the experience.

        For example, Demon’s Souls was tough, but you learned from it, and each time you failed you got better and faster at navigating through the level. I also loved the design behind FF XIII battles, in that you could have difficult fights that required trying out different gear loadouts and strategies without being punished for trying something that didn’t work.

    • Dave says:

      alt accounts are a large part of eve due to its specialised nature. At the height of my Eve career (dont laugh, you know who you are) i was running 5 accounts for various things as the time it would take to train 1 account to do all these things is measured in megayears.

      the upside of course is that unlike other MMO’s you can start and be comparable/competitive with 5 year vets within a month at a given role

      (well some roles BS5 with T2 guns etc will take you longer but thems the breaks)

      • President Weasel says:

        I also liked how you were drinking for each alt too. Those fleets were… interesting.

    • Grakkus says:

      There’s also the fact that if you make enough ingame money, you can pay for your subscription with it. I run two accounts for no real money cost.

  10. Theyos says:

    I immediately thought of Infiltrators in Planetside upon reading the title.

    Now they, THEY are the real bastards of gaming. Backhacking, backstabbing, boomering little… well, bastards.

    • tungstenHead says:

      I knew a fellow that would roll around in an infiltration suit and he’d send tells to MAXes from opposing empires saying, “Stand still a sec, I’ll repair you.” When they actually listened and stood still for a second, he’d put a boomer under their feet and KABOOM!

    • Davee says:

      Hands down the most enjoyable class of the game for me. Catching groups of enemies by surprise with a few well-placed boomers never got old. :)

  11. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    Having read an article on detecting terrorist surveillance today, this is kinda interesting. Would be more interesting if you were surveilling visibly, and had to blend in with local traffic while gathering intel.

    • smg77 says:

      You can do that too. You just have to get a spy character into the hostile corp/alliance.

    • Dreforian says:

      Shattered Galaxy had “camo” for some units. Activate it and their armor highlights would switch colors to match the enemy faction’s. Since the factions had access to all the same units you could blend your army in with theirs (especially if you made your forces move as theirs did) and then infiltrate their backfield or wreck em with AoE when they bunched up and cause chaos in the ranks.

  12. niko86 says:

    I loved playing the invisible bastard role. ,y weapon of choice the nos pilgrim. I’d leave the client running while at work, and if the locals had forgot about me and plucked up the courage and started mining or ratting then I’d strike. I kept it up for almost a month haunting the systems our alliance used to live in, before I made a stupid mistake. Then the nerd came and another one of my favourite ships got hit by the nerfhammer.

  13. FataMorganaPseudonym says:

    This post makes me glad that I never tried to play EVE and justifies my disinterest in it and games like it.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Oddly, this post, more than any other, pikes my interest in EVE and games like it. Just the thought of having to put that much thought and effort into a game – and having the freedom to do it – really interests me. The thought of real risk…of leaving the theme park for the wilds and a REAL adventure, instead of a hand-crafted attraction disguised as an adventure in the wild world.
      .
      The only concerns regarding EVE are being so utterly lost its ridiculous and the time investment. You pretty well work, eat and play EVE, it seems. Not much time for other pursuits. Least, that’s the impression I get.

      • marcusfell says:

        Its not as bad as you think. The game has stuff in place so you can set up a “que-list” of skills to train and let that run for as long as you need. You are basically subbed without playing, but you don’t lose as much progress compared to your chums.

    • marcusfell says:

      Are you afraid of clever hit teams?

  14. Dreforian says:

    I immediately gravitate toward stealth and stealth abilities in any game I’m playing. I guess that makes me conflict averse in an industry selling conflicts… As for my own invisible bastard story, I have many but one of the more unconventional ones comes from Shattered Galaxy. If a big battle was going on in a territory and I wasn’t already in it, I’d run intereference in surrounding territories to keep the main force from being cut off from reinforcements. Fast units with cloaks or radar evasion could easily keep a slower or poorly equipped enemy from capturing the map’s domination points long enough for other players to arrive and start a whole new battle. Been on both sides of that and it BLOWS when you’re the aggressor.

  15. speedwaystar says:

    Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space.

  16. deke913 says:

    Good read, Jim.

  17. Odeon says:

    I’ve never experienced quite this level of cloaking, but the closes I’ve gotten was in Star Wars Galaxies. Back when the game was more fun and less screwed up (relatively speaking), I played a Ranger. One of the skills available to that profession (this was before they changed to WoW-like classes) was a kind of cloaking that I can no longer remember the name for. The profession was geared more towards mobs than other players, so you could walk pretty much under the feet of the craziest critters around without them noticing, but at high enough levels, your dot on the radar would disappear from enemy players. Once you attacked, you’d pop up again, of course, but as long as you just stayed far enough away from NPC and player-controlled enemies, you could easily be the eyes and ears needed for a base raid or similarly-large attack.

  18. JBantha says:

    Forever Cloaked <3 I used quite a similar strategy on RO.

  19. zal says:

    I was thinking maybe games like this are too complex for the market they’re catering to. I’d make a game called space chess.. its exactly like chess except you can move any pieces you like as long as someone hasn’t hit the “I’m watching you button” in the last 5 minutes within 100 spaces of you, also it takes 1 week to make a pawn, 2 for knight, 3 for rook etc… but killing any piece would give you 2 days per week it took to make it. and hm… allow one piece per person per subscription per minute, so you can get some multiple subs to really rake in some cash.

    then put em all on a giant 3d chessboard and go. oh! let there be random yatzee squares on the board that let you roll to try and get a super power for a piece, to appeal to your gamblers. I suppose you could put some “npc” chess pieces in just to make sure you hit all the demographics.

    everyone would know how all the pieces work, so super easy for newcomers.. players who want to sink hours into it still have a way to convert thier social life into to in-game advantage. theres still room for the good ol money advantage with extra accounts, and backstabbing would still work just fine as long as you let pawns move backwards.

    it’d probably be super simple to code too, so you just toss something together, and watch the cash roll in.

    and because its 4am I forgot to put the point I was going to make. which is that the games are basically the barriers that keep me away from something like that. like if I knew the rules walking in, I’d be way more likely to get into something like that. for me there’s 2 types of games, games where you get better at the game from playing, and games where its just a system to allow interaction. why even bother with the veneer of skill when everyones there for the interaction side.

  20. buzzmong says:

    AFK-Cloakers.
    Bastards indeed.

  21. Cerzi says:

    Early UO, you could hide outside someone’s house and then when they came to open the front door you stealth in behind them. Then you sit there patiently until they bugger off before calling your friends, unlocking the door from the inside and proceeding to haul the entire contents of the place off.

    The sad part is, most of this emergent excitement in online games has been “fixed” over the years, meaning there is very little enjoyment to be had outside exactly what the devs have prescribed. It’s only recently developers have finally started to realize the value of these original quirks, 15 years later.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      I think 99% of people disagree with your concept of enjoyment, and especially don’t like being on the receiving end of such a theft. I guess some people enjoy losing hours, days and weeks of effort to a well-organized band of scoundrels who prey on others.

      But most don’t.

      Personally I guess I can see that it would be interesting if you have your own gang and can chase down the looters, but usually these people are cowards and prey on defenseless noobs.

  22. omgitsgene says:

    DAOC milegate camping with stealthers. Pick off the last person in a disorganized group or the soloers brave or dumb enough to walk through. Then it becomes a stealth on stealth metagame where you have to deal with other stealthers come out to pick you off. It’s akin go the sniper warfare in games like TF2. There’s a struggle for superiority with this type of class so that side eeks out an advantage overall. A separate war with it’s own intricacies that changes the balance of the main conflict. It is it’s own sort of beauty.

  23. ektor says:

    i was the main scout for Goonswarm, for years, during delve I and delve II wars.
    6 accounts, 12 scouts characters, it was a really nice feeling to track every move of our ennemies.

    tracking them, finding their main fleet, and reporting, that was intense

    and i loved to follow their main fleet, jumping cloaked inside their fleet, and each time running away.
    it was a nice mind game, usually they werent able to catch me, and they were aware that we were tracking them, so no surprise effect.

    same with cyno alts, i had all the cyno and cap pilots in my address book to find them.

    love eve, sad it is too much time consuming now

  24. Reapy says:

    Im sure no one will read this but have to say anyway…i really dislike invisibility in games, it feel slike the cheap and easy way to do stealth. I guess in eve world and future tech or magic context you can say it works. I just think of the forst time i played splinter cell online, it was the first time i liked stealth in a game. There is something special about having to work activly in game to stay hidden using multiple techniques and being clever that is so much more rewarding than pushing an instant stealth button. You would use shadows that were really dark so others couldnt see, you would walk slower so you did not throw out sound indicators, you would use gadgets to disguse your presence and escape. If discovered you were at the mercy of the mercs and had to flee.

    All in all it was a really amazing eay to do stealth and it is a shame that this story didnt involve him using various radar modes and tricks to stay undetected, that would be quite the game. I wish someone else would try some varients on splinter cells really cool mechanics in the future.

    • Sumanai says:

      Proper stealth mechanics are good, when done right. They get really bad if they’re coupled with RPG skill system that introduces random chances of failure. It’s really frustrating to go through the trouble of sneaking around and then the Random Number God decides that I’m noticed.

      A game mechanic should either be testing my or my character’s skill, not both. In the sense that “both have to succeed”, it’s fine if it’s “either” though I expect that not many share that opinion.

  25. Belua says:

    Every single time I read something about Eve Online, it sounds like an incredible game and I really, really want to play it, especially since I am a huge geek for space and exploration.

    But sadly, I don’t have the amount of time for gaming that I used to have, which means two things:
    a) I won’t get anywhere in the game (compared with other players) for months, probably.
    b) A monthly subscription of 10-15 Euros (not sure right now) will feel like wasted money if I only get to play a bit every once in a while, which will lead to bad thoughts in the back of my head about where I could better invest that money and turn the game into an obligation instead of playing for fun.

    Add to that that none of my friends are the type of gamers who would play this game, I’d be going in solo, making it even worse. So, all things considered, I guess I won’t be joining Eve any time soon.