Exploring NPC Behavior
Upon reading my last blog post on ninja ratting, you may have had the following questions: Cannot a NPC frigate target you in less than 15 seconds? Would not a MWD make them target you faster? After cloaking, why wait 15 seconds before decloaking again? And since you are trying to avoid getting targeted by NPCs, why not fit remote sensor dampeners? The answers to all of these questions lies in the fact that ninja ratting works by taking advantage of fascinating subtleties in NPC behavior mechanisms.
But before I delve into this further, let me first say that I have never actually seen the source code driving NPCs, I have never talked to a dev, and the devs are vague about how exactly NPCs work. So although I have extensively tested this in game, it is still just a theory.
Now to understand how Eve Online NPCs function, you must first realize that NPCs do not follow the same rules that capsuleers in New Eden do – NPCs merely imitate capsuleer functions. For example, NPC targeting mechanics are nothing like player targeting mechanics; the apparent “targeting delay” that various NPC ships have has absolutely nothing to do with your ship signature radius or their signature resolution.
Instead, NPCs have two states: active and inactive. NPCs are normally in their inactive state, but they enter their active state as soon as a player appears on the grid. Once in their active state, they wait for a set amount of time before selecting a target and engaging. Because this delay is intended to mimic a player’s targeting, larger NPCs wait longer – a battleship takes around 30 seconds while a frigate takes around 15 seconds. However, due to the fact that NPCs switch to their active state as soon as a player appears on grid, this countdown starts while a player is still in warp (unless the player is cloaked). When the player disappears from the grid (either via warping off or cloaking), the NPCs remain in their active state for a short period of time (around 15 seconds) before reverting back to their inactive state.
This knowlege of NPC behavior makes a huge difference in ninja ratting in the following ways:
Decloaking too quickly. When you land in a belt cloaked, the NPCs are still inactive, as you are not visible. As soon as you decloak, they switch to their active state and begin their selection delay. When you recloak after 15 seconds, they continue to finish their countdown and remain in an active state for a short time. So if you decloak too quickly after recloaking, they will target you nearly instantly, as their delay is already up.
Warping in decloaked. If you are decloaked while warping in, you do not have time for two volleys as usual because the NPCs start targeting from the moment you decloak, not from when you exit warp.
MWDing. Turning on your microwarpdrive while uncloaked does not cause you to get targeted any faster, as NPCs do not really “target” a player.
With that said, NPCs in belts, missions, complexes, and wormhole space do not all behave the same way. For example, not all NPCs in missions give security status gains (despite giving ISK bounties), and NPCs in wormhole space (Sleepers) can shoot a player through his cloak.