EVE Evolved: Grid-Fu and bending space

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In last week's article, I described how EVE Online maintains the illusion of full-scale solar systems by dynamically creating small pockets of high-detail space called grids. It's within these discrete bubbles that everything we do in space takes place, from mining asteroids to running missions or shooting at other players. The system is designed to split up space into manageable chunks to reduce server load while still maintaining persistent 3-D space that appears to span the entire scale of a solar system.

Grids have been in EVE since it was first created, but over the years people have noticed a few odd things about how the system works. Flying about 250km-400km away from a stargate causes your ship to disappear from that grid and pop into a newly created adjacent one, for example, but this doesn't always happen. Bizarre occurrences such as abnormally shaped grids and ships mysteriously disappearing and re-appearing on the same grid were always thought to be freak accidents or unintended bugs until an interesting document emerged in 2009. Titled Grid-Fu: A Practical Manual, the 18-page PDF described the process of bending and manipulating space for a tactical advantage.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at the various ways that players have manipulated space to their advantage.

Game side imageHow do grids normally work?

Splitting up space into discrete grids is essentially an optimisation technique used to limit the amount of bandwidth a star system uses. Every player in space is sent regular updates on the position and heading of all objects in the same grid, and so the total bandwidth required to do that for an entire grid grows exponentially as you add more players. Stationary objects like stargates and stations have permanent grids centred on them, and warping to any arbitrary point in space will create a grid at the destination coordinates.

Grids start out as approximately 250km radius spheres and will naturally expand further in all directions if hundreds or thousands of players enter the area, reaching upward of 1200km from end to end. Interestingly, they will also dynamically expand when there are multiple objects too far from the center so that the grid wall is never normally crossed during a large battle. The creators of the Grid-Fu manual learned that this could be taken advantage of to expand a grid in any direction practically indefinitely, squash grids down in size to hide nearby ships, or even make little pocket grids for safe observation.

Game side imageExpanding a grid

If you fly far enough from a stargate or other object on normal thrusters, you'll eventually hit the grid wall and move into an adjacent cell. This typically happens when you get more than 250km from every other object in the grid, but you can actually push the invisible grid wall out further by dropping any object near the edge. Launching a probe or jettisoning a cargo container or corpse into space will effectively cause a new sphere of radius 250km around the ejected object to be added to the current grid.

An object used in this manner is said to be "holding the grid open," and if it disappears, then the 250km sphere it was contributing to the grid will disappear. The area will extend again if you fly a further 200km or so from the newly jettisoned object and drop another object, and there doesn't appear to be any limit to how far you can extend the grid. Cloaked ships will also hold a grid open, allowing invisible manipulation of the battlefield to let your fleet position ships hundreds or thousands of kilometers away but still have them show up on the overview.

Game side imageUses of expanded grids

Artificially expanded grids have been used in some pretty interesting tactics over the years, giving players the ability to set up unorthodox battlefields on which to fight. Extending grids used to be a common method for fighting the effects of lag and an almost essential part of setting up to attack or defend a starbase. The load time when warping into a heavily populated grid was often so long that some ships would be attacked and destroyed before their pilots had even seen the enemy, putting the attacker at a severe disadvantage.

By expanding a grid several hundred kilometers in one direction, ships created a safe spot outside attack range, which let the fleet load the grid before then warping into attack range. The introduction of Time Dilation has made this practice less necessary by allowing fleet battles with thousands of players to proceed virtually lag free at a reduced pace, but there are other potential advantages to manipulating the battlefield. Extending the grid in the direction of a particular stargate will give you a few more seconds of advance notice when enemies warp in, for example. People have also used grids to create pit stops for large fights by placing remote repair ships just across the boundary into the next grid cell, and they also use strategically placed grid walls to escape when under fire.

Game side imageCompressing the grid and other tactics

One of the basic rules of space in EVE is that once separate grids are created, they cannot be merged together. The Grid-Fu manual gives instructions on how to use this fact to shrink a grid by extending adjacent cells. This can produce a grid with walls only 120-150km from the center, which allows you to use the dirty strategy of placing a sniper squad on the grid boundary. When a ship in the squad comes under fire, he can simply cross the threshold and all ship locks on him will be terminated.

If you've ever traveled through nullsec, you've probably experienced the frustration of being dragged out of warp by anchorable warp bubbles. This happens when you warp to an object and your warp vector intersects with a bubble in the same grid as that object. Extending that grid a few thousand kilometers will let you drag players thousands of kilometers off from their intended destinations. It's reportedly possible to intercept players warping to starbases outside the range of the starbase's guns by using clever placement of grid walls, and there are even reports of people being pulled out of warp up to 1AU from their target destinations.

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The grid system was originally designed as clever optimisation technique that lets EVE Online cope with the scale of whole solar systems, but over the years players have found ways to twist it to their advantage. The power of bending space first became known in late 2008 when players discovered that they could hide a starbase by compressing the static grid at its host moon. This specific use was eventually declared an exploit and was subsequently fixed by moving all starbases to the center of the moon's grid, but no other use of the technique has yet been declared an exploit.

When the techniques of Grid-Fu were publicly released in mid 2009, the science of bending space became available to all players. Tacticians started creating pit stop lanes for starbase battles, making tactical warp lanes to pre-load battlefields, and fighting at the boundary between grids. It was even found that two players working together could break a small pocket grid off the main grid and use it as a safe observation post for a cloaked ship. Recent reports of players being pulled out of warp 1 AU from their destination or near a starbase suggest that there are still undiscovered secrets to the science of bending space. Far from being just a historical curiosity, Grid-Fu might be more important than most of us know.

Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to brendan@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.