Advanced piloting techniques
This is meant to be a compilation of the various things that separate capsuleers from monkeys. There is more to piloting a ship than locking a target and pressing a button, after all.
So, in a one on one fight between two equal ships, how do a pilot get the upper hand and come away with the win? A similar question would be,: in a swarm of fifteen tacklers barreling towards an enemy fleet, how does a pilot keep himself/herself alive when frigates are popping all around?
Setting a heading
Double clicking in space aligns your ship toward the horizon in the direction you clicked. Even if a user were to click in space next to a object, the ship will be directed toward the space infinitely distant behind the cursor. Therefore clicking in space will almost always make your ship align away from the camera. If you imagine, from the perspective of the camera, a vector shooting out from the middle of the screen, the horizontal and vertical angles are determined by where you click on the screen, and the depth component is determined by which way the camera is facing.
Ship Control Panel
The autopilot is capable of setting a route to one or more way-point systems, and automatically flying your ship there. However it warps to all stargates at 15km, so travel time is significantly greater than manual flight. You will also be a sitting duck for ship-scanners or gatecamps. If you decide to go into low-sec space with autopilot on, you will likely be shot. Besides, the whole point of this guide is that you can pilot your ship better than the computer. The autopilot is mostly useful for is route-plotting.
The Tactical Overlay
The tactical overlay button (above the Reset Camera button in the buttons to the left of your capacitor/health circle) puts range markers on your view of space (or, if you have it open, on your solar system map) so you can get a better sense of distance. If you mouse over one of your modules while in the tactical overlay, a bubble will appear around your ship that shows the range of the module.
Directional and system scanner
The system scanner will scan the system for Cosmic Signatures, which are less advanced versions of the actual sites found with exploration. If you have scan probes fitted, they will integrate to form a much more powerful system scanner (see Scanning & Probing for more details).
The directional scanner is a tool on every ship which can scan a sphere with a radius of around 14 AU around you. You can manipulate the scanning range and the direction of the scan from 360º to 180º all the way down to 5º to figure out where something is.
The velocity control (where your velocity is displayed) lets you manually choose what velocity you want to travel at, up to your max velocity. Simultaneously pressing both the Ctrl and space buttons on your keyboard will stop your ship as long as you are not in warp. If your warp drive is active, but you are still aligning, ctrl+space will stop you and cancel the warp. If you use a custom throttle velocity, you'll have to set it again after you jump through a stargate, since it resets to full speed again.
The Overview and Brackets
The overview is the main source of information about what’s going on around you in space. It is a table of objects listed in horizontal rows whose details are sorted into vertical columns. If set up properly, good pilots should be able to play most of the game just by looking at overview information. General concerns within the overview include the ability to display an object’s distance and velocity (including radial, transversal, and angular components), hostility, and description. In addition, by looking at the ship icons in the overview, you can tell whether you have been locked onto (flashing yellow targeting box), or have been attacked (solid red box).
Brackets refers to the symbolic system representing ships out in space. They use the same configuration options as the overview, however the symbols and information for brackets are displayed on top of their corresponding objects.
Selected Item Window
Selecting an object
New items can be selected by clicking an entry in the overview or out in space. If the client is configured to automatically target ships back that lock a pilot, the selected item window will switch to the most recently targeted ship.
The approach button simply aligns your ship in the direction of the selected object and increases your velocity to the velocity you’ve set in the throttle. This maximizes your radial velocity and minimizes your transversal velocity. This is the same as the “align to” command, but “align to” is used for objects at warp distances, and approach used for objects at subwarp distances (less than 150 km).
Starts the process of warping to the selected object greater than 150 km away. To warp to something it must be an object in space, a bookmark, or a ship in your fleet. You can adjust how far you will land from your target when you come out of warp, from 0 to 100 km. Again the default value on the button can be changed by right-clicking and presets can be found in the right-click menu. For example, warping to something 150 km away within 100 km will move you inline toward the object 50 km.
When you press the warp button, first you have to align to the target. There are two steps to aligning which happen at the same time:
- Lining up the target with your ship’s movement direction within 5º
- Increasing ship velocity to 75% of its maximum
Your ship will not warp until it meets both of these criteria.
How long this process takes depends on your ship's agility and acceleration. Once you are aligned you will see your normal engines cut out, your warp engine will turn on and you will no longer be able to stop the ship until the warp bubble collapses. Until your warp engine actually turns on, you can still be locked, tackled, bumped (see below) and fired upon as normal.
The orbit button tries to put your ship in a circular orbit around the selected object. The value can be set by right clicking and manually entering a default orbit distance, or by right-clicking the object in the overview and choosing from some preset distances. Orbiting maximizes your transversal and angular velocities, and minimizes your radial velocity.
Your ship’s agility will determine your orbit speed: the better your agility (lower agility modifier), the closer your orbit speed will be to your maximum linear velocity. Depending on your agility and the relative speeds of you and the target, your orbit may drop from circular to elliptical, or even to the point where you can’t maintain a stable orbit if the other object is moving too fast.
Keep at Range
This draws a line between your ship and the selected object, and adjusts your ship velocity to move you backward or forward along that line in order to maintain the selected range. Like orbit, the default value can be set by right clicking the icon, or you can choose from presets in the right-click menu. Keeping something at range will minimize your radial, transversal, and angular velocities.
The currently selected item may be targeted by clicking the target button in the selected item window. Objects may also be targeted by holding the ctrl button and left clicking an object in space or an entry in the overview.
The currently selected item may be untargeted by clicking the untarget button in the selected item window. Objects may also be untargeted by holding the shift and ctrl buttons while left clicking the object in space or its entry on the overview.
Pretty self-explanatory, you jump through the stargate if you are within 2500 m. In order to jump instantly you can spam the button starting half a second before you drop out of warp (you can see your engines slowing down). You may also want to set a keyboard shortcut to turn the autopilot on midwarp, which will then jump instantly for you if you are following a route. If you do that, be sure you disable the autopilot immediately after the jump.
The currently selected item may be looked at by clicking the look at button in the selected item window. Objects may also be looked at by holding the alt button while left clicking an object in space or an entry in the overview. Looking at an object changes the camera’s anchor point from your ship to the selected object. You can use this to see where, if anywhere, another ship is aligning, and what kind of weapons it has equipped. Unfortunately missile launchers don’t show up, nor do smartbombs or energy warfare modules. The absence of turrets on a battleship designed to take advantage of turrets is often an indication they have fitted smartbombs.
Warping is critically important for moving around space, and manual piloting of your ship has a big impact on how effectively a pilot can utilize their warp drive. After pressing the warp button, several things happen. The ship begins to align toward the intended destination. The ship expends a certain amount of energy from its capacitor based on skills and the distance of the jump (if a pilot cancels the warp at this stage the energy is still lost). The ship begins to accelerate up to the speed necessary to begin warping.
Pods align instantly, and shuttles nearly so (about 1 second). Under most circumstances, if a pilot is paying attention, and is not under the influence of lag, they should be able to enter warp while in these vessels before another pilot can target them. Frigates have a typical align time of 3-5 s, cruisers might be more like 7-9 s, and battleships, industrials, and larger ships can take 20, 30, or more seconds to align for warp.
Align time depends on both mass and inertia. Higher mass makes it harder to accelerate, decelerate, and turn the ship. The inertia modifier multiplies the ships mass to obtain an “effective mass” that determines how agile a ship really is. Modules like nanofiber internal structures and inertial stabilizers reduce a ships inertia modifier and therefore reduce its align time. The 3rd party tool Eve Fitting Tool (EFT) is often used to determine an approximate align time for ships.
The bottom line is that you should always be aware of how long it will take you to get to the safety of warp. Whether you’re hauling trade goods or at half structure in the middle of an enemy fleet, good warp awareness can come in really handy.
Pre-aligning a ship to a target allows an instantaneous warp, even in a massive ship. Because the EVE universe has a top and bottom, however, if a ship’s engines are off, it will slowly drift back into a horizontal alignment. In order for the ship to stay aligned, its engines must remain online, even if it’s at 20 m/s. Of course to be truly aligned, keep your velocity above 75%. If you are in a frigate, you tend to orbit a lot and pre-aligning might not be practical. But in a larger ship in a dangerous situation, pre-aligning might save your hull. Some people will tell you to always fight pre-aligned.
Aligning at speed
Another way you can use manual piloting to improve align time is to “pump the throttle”. It is harder to turn your ship if it has a lot of velocity. When the computer aligns the ship it tries to maximize velocity at the same time as it turns the ship. If you come out of a station in an industrial and align to something 90º away, you will have an agonizing wait while you make the turn at max velocity. If you align to something 180º away, your velocity will drop drastically as you turn around and you’ll see the ship turn much faster.
So the maneuver in this case is to close the throttle to cut your velocity manually if you know you’re going to need to make a turn, then open it up again so you can warp. Obviously you need to decide whether this will be worth it. If you are in a situation where turning the ship will take much longer than building to 75% velocity, then pump the throttle. If you guess that the align time will be fairly short it might not be worth it.
Aligning at a stop
Note that when your ship is stationary (usually, when you've come through a stargate), it is aligned nowhere, even though the graphics have to show it pointing somewhere. When it is stationary, your ship will take exactly the same amount of time to align in any direction.
Accelerating to Warp
Another point to remember is that your required speed to align is always 75% of your current max velocity. Being webbed can sometimes help you get into warp faster, since it lowers your max velocity -- if you're piloting a freighter you can speed travel up by bringing a friend (within your corp, so they don't get CONCORDed) along to web you. This is also why tacklers are taught to 'point, then web'.
Using a propulsion module (usually a MWD) can reduce your align time if it is normally more than the cycle time of the module (this can be the case, for example, with an MWD on the Orca). By pulsing the module once, the aim is to get past your normal align speed, even though your align speed with the module active is much higher. Once the cycle ends, your max speed (and the required align speed) will drop back down to normal and you should warp soon after.
Where you come out of warp is critical. As discussed above, autopilot is bad because you come out of warp so far from the gate that you cannot jump immediately. If you warp to 0 km on a gate, you’ll land within jump range, which is crucial if you want to avoid confrontation.
Likewise if you’re warping to a hostile gate, you’ll be at a decisive advantage if you drop out of warp at your optimal range. The easiest way to do this is by warping within X km, where X is your optimal range. Remember you can set X to anything between 0 and 100 km by right-clicking on the warp icon. If you have bookmarks around the gate you have even more options for recon, or for warping past the gate, or somewhere unexpected.
One last thing about warp within: if you warp to a cloaked ship in your own fleet, never warp to 0 because that will break their cloak and leave them vulnerable. Warp to within at least 5 km.
Manual Flight and Gunnery
The second major topic has to do with tracking mechanics. Damage from both turrets and missiles is affected by how the ships are moving. A boiled down summary:
- the higher a ship's angular velocity, the harder it is to hit with turrets.
- the higher a ship's absolute velocity, the less damage it takes from missiles.
- the smaller a ship's signature radius, the harder it is to hit with turrets (provided you move) and the less damage it takes from missiles
So, given these facts how can one sway a fight in one's favor? Well first one has to assess the situation and decide which strategy to utilize. Does one's skills provide a better offense or defense? The relevant numbers are the time it will take to defeat an opponent’s tank versus the time it will take him to break your tank. The goal should be to make the first time less than the second time, which can be done through increasing your ship's applied DPS, or by increasing its survivability.
It might work better to use examples:
EXAMPLE: Two identical frigates: Artillery vs Autocannon
The pilot using artillery knows that artillery do less damage per second (DPS) than autocannon. But if he can maintain a range of 20 km, he knows that he can damage his opponent while his opponent's autocannon can't damage him: the artillery will win in the end. So he can set my orbit to 20 km, or if he wants to do more damage, he can keep him at a 20 km range so that the angular velocity goes down and the artillery track more easily.
The autocannon pilot knows he has to get up close in order to do any damage. Once he's there, if he goes into orbit he’ll have maximized his angular velocity and will probably avoid all the fire from the slow-tracking artillery, while applying lots of DPS from his fast-tracking autocannon.
You might notice that in this situation, whoever has the higher speed and agility is going to have a decisive advantage: they will control the range of the fight so their guns are doing maximum damage, and they will be able to set an orbit around the other ship such that they will take minimum damage.
If you are the slower ship in this situation, it’s an uphill battle but it’s not over. Taking another example:
EXAMPLE: A frigate vs. a cruiser
The frigate pilot knows that he won’t last long if he lets the cruiser's medium guns track him with low angular velocity. But he also knows that his defense will be very high if he can get under the cruiser's guns by establishing a close orbit.
Getting in close without getting hit is a problem though. The best technique for frigate pilots to do this is to 'spiral in' on the target rather than simply approaching directly (read about spiralling in in detail here).
The cruiser pilot knows that medium weapons struggle to properly hit the frigate –- and the frigate will have the speed advantage, and so can make itself very hard to track. But there are a couple of options. One is to deploy drones, which have a much easier time tracking and orbiting fast ships. Another is to minimize the transversal so that he can get some good hits off. As the frigate is approaching, he can try to keep at range to keep angular velocity low.
Even if the frigate successfully gets into a close orbit around the cruiser, it’s not over yet. If the cruiser has a decent velocity it can make the frigate's orbit elliptical: and when the frigate goes around the narrow ends of the oval its transversal will be lower than average. Changing directions frequently and sudden bursts of speed from a pulsed overheated propulsion module will also make the frigate adjust its orbit and possibly lower its traversal.
This works even better if the cruiser pilot times his direction/velocity changes well: for example, as the frigate is moving across the top of the cruiser pilot's screen to the left in his orbit, the cruiser pilot can make a quick right turn and this will make the frigate chase the cruiser –- with low angular velocity –- for a little while.
EXAMPLE: A cruiser in a L4 mission
Let's assume for fun you're in an autocannon ship and all the enemies are turret based as well. You might be suicidal running a L4 mission in a cruiser but this is just a thought experiment. First thing in a close range heavy fire situation: always keep moving. You'd want to have an afterburner on constantly. Next you'd have to figure out what was doing the most damage. It might not be a battleship -- a lot of that damage is reduced because of the size difference. It might be an elite cruiser. Whatever it is, you'd orbit it to minimize the damage. Then you'd set your drones on the frigates that are warp jamming or webbing you, and, using the overview, pick out ships that have a low angular velocity to attack.
Now obviously you'd want a massive tank (a HAC or a T3, perhaps?) to actually pull this off. But the point of this is twofold: a lot of these maneuvers will fail in missions because there are just too many ships and well..have you seen the last scene in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"? Just like in other games, pilot skill is going to shine more in small gang or solo fights.
The second thing is that long range weapons are often really good for PvE. By staying at long range using missiles, beam lasers, railguns, artillery or drones, you avoid a lot of short-range turret-based DPS and the enemies present themselves in sub-waves separated by the different times they take to get close to you.
Bumping is basically the act of throwing your ship directly at an opponent at high speed, to turn his ship around and mess up any aligning or movement he’s trying to do. The faster and more massive a ship is, the better: Machariels and Stabbers with battleship-sized MWDs fitted (with Reactor Control Units to increase their powergrid) work nicely.
Bumps may keep a slowly-aligning ship from entering warp indefinitely. They can also, together with webs, delay a ship which is trying to burn back to a gate after jumping into a gatecamp.
Knowing what modules can do -- their ranges (cold and overheated), the amount of capacitor they're likely to use up, and their effects -- is very important. Even better, knowing the enemy's modules and what they’re capable of. Use the Look At button to see if that guy has artillery or autocannons. Figure out from their speed in the overivew if they’re using an AB or MWD. With some experience, a pilot can often deduce how their opponents will behave by knowing which kind of propulsion module and which weapons they're using.
The Thermodynamics skill lets you overheat modules, at the cost of damaging them. Usually this just gets you more oomph -- more DPS from guns, stronger jam strength on ECM jammers, &c -- but overheating webs, warp disruptors and warp scramblers increases their range, letting you catch the enemy earlier, or hold them at a longer range for a short while. You can read a detailed guide to overheating here.
If you are in the middle of locking someone, you can activate your modules and they’ll instantly turn on when you’ve completed the lock. This can make the difference between a tackled target and a free target.