Khalia has already posted about the recent wormhole engagement in which he and I were jumped while running sites, resulting in the loss of a Thanatos and other small ships. I highly recommend you read that post first. I will not give a second telling of the story, but will note that that situation spurred the discussion that led to this very long post.
My purpose in this post is not to tell an amusing story, but to lay something out that I didn’t know most people didn’t know. In the immediate aftermath of the fight, I used the terms “OODA Loop” and “Condition White” when discussing what led up to the losses, and he indicated that he was unfamiliar with them. He seemed to find my explanations interesting and helpful, so I’m sharing them with you!
Some background: Though I now am a small business owner, I spent some time as a patrol officer for a city police department. Before that, I was interested in personal defense and had grown up using weapons from childhood. My family’s situation was such that guns were not just toys or a hobby, but valuable tools needed for practical reasons. I got lots of firearms and personal safety training before, during, and after my law enforcement career, and a part of that training may prove useful for the capsuleer, regardless of the player’s feelings about guns or cops.
“It is the man, not the gun, that wins.” –Jeff Cooper
Jeff Cooper, arguably the driving force behind the transition from one-handed duelist-style shooting you’ll see in pictures of prohibition-era police to the two-handed modern grip that is taught to most police and military shooters, introduced a color code as a way of explaining the mental state of an individual before and during any sort of combat. It is primarily taught in military and police academies, but is just as applicable to the common person… or the pod pilot of New Eden. I have adapted the four colors for our use.
Condition White – Completely oblivious. This is you when you’re not giving any thought at all to what is going on around you in Eve. It’s not a bad thing if you’re completely safe, such as when sitting in a station or a POS bubble while not responsible for watching or protecting anything. It is also the state you’re in when AFK mining or missioning, or lazily flying through gates while you talk to your spouse about the fact that you forgot to scoop the cat box. Again. You’re not hitting your directional scanner. You’re not watching local. You’re not giving any thought to those that might be preparing to drop on top of you. You’re the guy in the line at the post office with his headphones on who is texting with his cell phone six inches from his face. You’re the lady who has fallen asleep on the subway. You’re a sitting duck, relying either on the goodness of those around you or your unworthiness as a target.
Condition Yellow – Relaxed alertness. This is (hopefully) you when you’re driving down the interstate. This is a police officer while he’s finishing up his hamburger before going back on the street. It’s not a sense of paranoia or fear. It’s not even necessarily you thinking about the threats that might be out there. You might be thinking about your market orders, or the fact that the cat box still needs to be changed before your wife gets home in half an hour. The important thing is that while your higher brain functions are worrying about things other than your safety, your monkey brain is still swiveling your head so that your eyes can take in information about what’s going on. In this condition you might be talking with a friend on skype, but still hitting D-scan every few seconds and checking local as you pass through space that should, but may not be completely secure. You aren’t thinking about the fact that you’re clicking Scan and scrolling down the list every 15 or 30 seconds, but your brain will still sound alarms when you see that heavy interdictor that isn’t one of yours. Which brings us to…
Condition Orange – This is the “Hold on, what’s that?” moment. You’ve seen something that concerns you and could potentially be a threat to your safety. It may be nothing, but it justifies putting on hold whatever you’re thinking about and focusing your attention on what is happening. This is you standing in line at the post office when a sweat-drenched guy comes in muttering something about “making them pay” while wearing a thick coat in the middle of the summer. It’s you on the highway when you see brake lights on the horizon. It’s the cop that sees the back door of a fast food place standing open in the middle of the night. Any of these things could be non-events, and probably are! But they might be the real deal, in which case…
Condition Red – Shit, as they say, has become real. What you initially thought might be a possible threat has turned into a verified immediate danger to your well-being. The cop sees a masked man coming out of the open door to the McDonalds holding a shotgun in one hand and the night clerk’s severed head in the other. Your frigate lands on the bubble with a dozen reds in formation around your landing spot. Whether you have a plan or not, the threat has come to you and you don’t have a choice about whether you have to deal with it. Fight or Flight. It’s time to nut up or shut up.
Clear as mud? Now to get some OODA Loops in! Bear with me, and I promise I’ll tie this all together soon.
To my knowledge this concept was originally introduced by the US Air Force for instructing pilots, though I wouldn’t rule out the abstraction going back much further. It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It’s what happens to anyone who is confronting a threat or engaging in any kind of combat.
You observe the situation, orient yourself to the threat to gain an understanding of what is going on and what your options are, decide on your course of action, and then act on that plan.
While investigating the open door, the cop observes the crazed murderer coming out of the McDonalds. He orients himself to his situation and what his options are. His nearest backup is several minutes away, so immediate help is out of the question. There is a dumpster a few paces away which he had noted earlier would make good cover, the steel being thick enough to stop buckshot or slow down a slug. The night clerk, bless his heart, is beyond saving, so the cop needs to concern himself primarily with his own safety and apprehension of the gunman. The cop decides to draw his weapon while getting to the cover of the dumpster, after which he will radio that he’s in trouble and his partner needs to turn and burn to get there. Then he will confront the suspect from cover and engage if needed. The cop acts on his plan, ducking toward the relative safety of the dumpster while unsnapping his holster and keying up his radio. Because he had his eyes open and had already spotted good cover, he was able to act very quickly when a routine event became a fight for his life.
While in warp to the next gate in your route, you see a red pop into local and spot a Devoter heavy interdictor on your directional scanner. It might be a friendly devoter and you might have missed an AFK-cloaked enemy in system earlier, or this might be the beginning of a trap. You land 15km from the gate and observe that you have landed on a bubble in a field of reds. You orient yourself to your situation: The gate is dead ahead, and your only options are to charge through the bubble to the gate, or turn around and try to get out of the bubble and into warp. The enemy force is mostly battlecruisers and battleships, with one interceptor, who apparently charged outward from the gate but overshot you and is now 30 km behind you. You decide to make a break for the gate in front of you, since the interceptor will be on top of you in a moment to prevent flight back to the gate from whence you came. You act on your plan, clicking approach on the gate and engaging your afterburner. Because you saw the Devoter on scan before landing at the gate, you weren’t shocked to be caught in a bubble. You could immediately see the layout of the battlespace and pick a good option for getting out.
I know that it seems like we’re overthinking these situations. The detail is important, and I’ll explain why in a minute.
When You Aren’t Ready
What if the cop had been talking on his cell phone with his girlfriend, spotted the open door, and gone to remind the night clerk for the hundredth time to lock up when he’s there alone at night? What if you’d been playing Words With Friends on another monitor while autopiloting through your “safe” alliance space?
In either case, the good guy is completely unprepared for the engagement, and will only escape unharmed through luck or the ineptitude of his opponent.
Watch this scene from The Matrix. Don’t worry, you only need the first 45 seconds.
The guards are supposed to be the very first line of defense for what is supposed to be a very secure government building. Yet, what do you see the guards doing? They’re sitting on their asses at the X-ray machine. When Neo walks in, they obviously consider him to be just another in a long list of people who need to go through this boring administrative task of getting cleared by security. If they treated this duty like the deadly serious job that I’m sure was described for them when they were assigned the post, do you think they’d be sitting in swivel chairs?
Here the metal detector goes all the way to eleven. Even if they were bored before, this should have put them into Condition Orange. But it doesn’t.
If you watch the video again, you can see Neo observing the layout of the room and the positions of the guards at about 0:20, but the guard that “confronts” him isn’t doing so because the machine indicated that there was a lot of metal on him. The guard was going through a perfunctory script, asking someone who was acting very strangely and had set off the metal detector to take any keys or loose change out of his pockets. In the above shot, the guard has a basket in his left hand and the metal detector wand in his right. He’s standing at shoving distance from an unknown subject, and doesn’t have a hand free for his weapon or to push away this trench-coated weirdo if things go pear-shaped. His friends are obviously unconcerned with the situation, talking amongst themselves and not even looking at Neo.
This is the exact look you have on your face when you look over from your Scrabble game and realize you are in a warp bubble surrounded by enemies. Total surprise. The guards make a very unpleasant transition from Condition White to Condition Red, which is, as always, accompanied by the “Holy shit!” exclamation.
By now, Neo and Trinity are inside the OODA loop of the guards, who can observe that something very bad is happening, but don’t have time to figure out who or how many bad guys are confronting them, much less where they are or where they’re going. The result is the predictable comedy of errors, with guards skipping straight to the act step, diving in nonsensical directions, attempting to engage without any cover, or calling for backup which will never arrive in time to help. This guard at 0:38 is so far behind the curve that when the elevator doors open with a ding he just freezes. In the moment it takes him to realize that the woman pointing a gun at him is another aggressor and swing his revolver toward her, she shoots and kills him. Action beats reaction, every time.
What You Can Do About It Now
“OK, OK!” I hear you say. “You’re the fancy ex-cop, blah blah, you’re a badass with the body of a god and the mind of a chess master. I get that I need to be more aware of my surroundings. I can’t always see the game six moves ahead like you can.”
First off, I’m glad you’ve noticed that I work out, but I’m really not that smart. I just want to give you some things to do even when you’re away from your computer that will help you next time you see combat in Eve.
Visualization. By thinking about the things you do on a regular basis in Eve, and what kinds of situations you might find yourself in, you can mentally put yourself in that situation and think about what you could do to improve your odds of surviving it. Remember all the detail I went into for the cop at the McDonalds, or the pilot flying into a gatecamp? You can do the same thing while daydreaming at work, or laying in bed at night, or pretending to listen at a meeting. Turns out, your mind files away those contrived experiences and decisions the same way it does actual experience.
The guards in the lobby worked the same assignment, every day. Yet when the very event they were assigned to prevent happened, they immediately became as worthless as a bag of assholes. Why was that? They had hours on end five days a week to think what they would do if they found a gun on someone at the security checkpoint. In an alternate universe, where the guards had been visualizing scenarios to prepare for a fight, what might the “Holy shit!” guard have said?
“Yeah, sometimes we sit around thinking about what we’d do if someone tried to get past us. Mostly the job is boring, and most of the people are boring, but it’s understood that if the metal detector goes off, everyone needs to be paying attention to what set it off. I’m really vulnerable when I’m explaining to the person that they need to remove anything metallic from their pockets, so I leave the basket on the table and step a few feet back from them while I explain what they need to do. Bernie and Jim usually will put down whatever they’re holding step halfway behind a column. Their job is to watch the person’s hands and save my pasty white ass if he makes a move. It’s all real friendly and the casual observer wouldn’t see anything fancy in it, but it keeps us a little safer, you know? Sometimes after the building closes for the day we’ll put water guns in our holsters and practice where we’d stand if we got into a gunfight in that lobby. It’s become kind of a game after a while, and I suppose we’ll probably never have to actually use any of that stuff. Still, it’s the job.”
When you go over in your head what you’ll do when a certain situation or one like it happens, you’ve shortened the Decide portion of the OODA loop and given yourself that much more time. If you can make your next decision while the bad guy is still processing your last move, then you can turn the tables on an aggressor and get away clean, or even turn an ambush into a rout in your favor.
For the most common of situations, you can develop a mantra. Much like “steer into the skid” is something that they make you repeat over and over in Drivers Ed class up North, simplifying what is probably the best course of action into a very simple set of commands and repeating those commands to yourself can cause your subconscious to scream them at you again under stress. Police undoubtedly hear “MOVE! SHOOT! COMMUNICATE!” when the crap hits the fan. Marines probably hear a Sergeant screaming “SPORTS, SHITBAG!” reminding them of what to do when their rifle goes click instead of bang. When you are mining and you suddenly see the Local list fill up with red skulls, maybe you’ll train yourself to hear “PLANET, CLICK, WARP!”
And maybe by thinking about what kind of spots you’ll get yourself into, keeping your eyes open so you can spot trouble, and deciding in advance what to do, you can buy you the time you need. You’ll overcome your surprise and plan the next move before your attacker even realizes that you’re not where he thought you’d be.
Thanks for reading this far. Hope it helps.