5 May 2013

Butterfly Effect on a Ship Fit

Starwalker had long held the desire to be able to evaluate a ship fit and determine objectively whether ship fit A was better than ship fit B. Similarly, to understand the relative performance of selecting module A instead of module B. It was not possible beyond a purely theoretical scenario, there were too many variables and like in Chaos Theory a sensitive dependence on initial conditions or the butterfly effect.

The butterfly effect was also coupled with the rock, paper, scissors nature of New Eden. Particular types of ships had hard counters or could be put into situations to exploit weaknesses. Given the random nature of encounters it was entirely possible to lose a fight before it had even started, such as this experimental Heron, that never even got close to killing the light missile Condor, or this Breacher that landed at zero on a blaster Merlin and did not survive long enough to get out of range of the blasters.

Whilst the butterfly effect was in effect in full force in New Eden it was possible to make generalised statements about when to use one ship or module in preference to another, such as a brawler or kiter fit frigate or a web versus a tracking disruptor. It always came down to making choices and compromises and Starwalker had pondered those choices interminably as it related to fitting ships and defining his preferred combination of speed, damage and tank for any one ship.

Starwalker decided to do some EFT style warrior work to help decide on fine tuning a ship fit. Whilst it was not possible to objectively answer the question of whether a Condor was better than a Merlin or which ship would win in any one random encounter, it was possible to compare one Merlin fit to another. So assuming two brawling Merlins, which would win if both fought at their optimal range. And that was the key to defining the scenario - the ships had the same optimal range and all other factors were equal. 

Perhaps his favourite ship over time had been the Merlin, even back when it had sported two turrets and two launchers, as opposed to the newer three turret version. It was certainly this first ship he had lost in a fight, an arranged tournament in the Ambivalence Co-operative. Currently, Starwalker favoured the Merlin with a neutron blaster fit with two magnetic field stabilisers, EFT:

Awesome firepower (> 200 DPS) for a frigate with a very respectable tank (~6.5k EHP). However, he questioned whether the second magnetic field stabiliser was really worth it or would a Damage Control II be better. The second fit had slightly less gank (~176 DPS) but more tank (~8.2k EHP) and everything else was the same:

So if these two ships met and slugged it out at ~1km, which would emerge victorious? Starwalker calculated the outcome - incoming DPS modified for ship resists would destroy it in some number of seconds. So which ship would survive the longest. the fit with the damage control or extra magnetic field stabiliser? Starwalker had his objective answer:
Ship - Fit - Metrics Survival Calculator Raw HP Incoming DPS% Self Repair Incoming DPS ~1km
Merlin LNBMSE2MFS 211-6.5-29 1043
Survives (s)
Merlin LNBMSE 176-8.2-33 1043 
Survives (s)

This same technique could be used to answer similar fitting questions using the same assumptions and that was the limitation - it was only a useful answer in a specific context. Starwalker understood that even a theoretically inferior ship could still win in practice by virtue of superior tactics alone, ignoring other factors such as relative skills, piloting, human error, use of boosters, initial positioning and so on.

The Merlin with two magnetic field stabilisers could use tactics by starting the fight at 5km and attacking with null ammunition. This would effectively out DPS the target Merlin, assuming the target was using close range Caldari Navy anti-matter. If the target Merlin switched ammunition to null too, then the attacker could switch to close range ammunition and come in to a range of 1km. The target would not have time to change ammunition again and would have effectively been out damaged for the whole fight.

Starwalker recognised that the analysis was useful within certain limitations but like with the butterfly effect the consequences of a myriad factors made an outcome unpredictable. More predictability came from controlling (or trying to) as many factors as possible such as initial position, range, damage projection, tank and speed but to paraphrase Moltke "no battle plan survives contact with the enemy".

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