Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Ship's Crew Debate


Does Your Ship Have a Crew?

It seems like a simple question, but one that provokes a surprising variety of responses.

It has long been a contentious subject and has been the focus of many forum threads and blog posts over the years. However, I've never really been entirely satisfied with the conclusions. Forum threads and blog comments have been known to get surprisingly vociferous, with some posters claiming that they control their vessel alone, whilst others state that it is impossible or that the lore doesn't allow for it.

In the Beginning

I felt it prudent to do some research to see what evidence there is available that might help to clarify the matter. It made sense to go back to the beginning, so I began by reading through the original documentation that came packaged with the 2003 CD-ROM release. The backstory material originally published wasn't very helpful, there was some broad history about the discovery of New Eden and the rise of the five races but very little about the ships and technology beyond a brief description of each playable ship (and there weren't many of those back then). There was no real reference to the presence or absence of a crew.

In fact, the information included on capsules and clones leads me to believe that the canon that we are now familiar with may not have been fully realised at the time of release. The entry entitled 'Capsules' reads as as follows;

"If your character chooses to eject from a ship, or the ship was blown up, he or she will reappear adrift in space in an escape capsule. You will need to make your way to the nearest space station to pick up another ship. Your capsule has the same steering and warping functions as your ship. You may use these to get out of the line of fire. The capsule lacks weapon capabilities, and can be fired on and destroyed. If this happens, your character dies and becomes a frozen corpse in space before your clone is activated."

I remember having numerous capsules littering hangars as they would be left behind to board new vessels. I suspect that this is an example of how the lore has evolved and expanded to provide explanations as questions were asked, with some information being ignored or revised as was convenient. In any case, the removal of redundant capsules certainly made hangars a little tidier.

Outdated Information?

So this seems to suggest that the original backstory featured more a more conventional means of ship control, with the capsule serving only as an escape mechanism. The rediscovery of old ship schematics including data on crew numbers further supports this. It is unclear at time of writing whether these schematics originate from CCP and are therefore canon or whether they are the work of a creative third party.



It is also interesting to note that in the 3rd-party skill monitor EveMon, buried amongst the ship information is a 'Max. Passengers' statistic. I am assuming that information used by EveMon is taken from source provided by CCP. The following table shows the crew compliments according to the old schematics along with EveMon's maximum passenger stat. I have only included those ships for which I have found schematics, although EveMon seems to have passenger statistics for more recent ships, including strategic cruisers.

Badger (Caldari Industrial) Crew:150 Passengers:100
Condor (Caldari Frigate) Crew:1 Passengers:8
Iteron* (Gallente Industrial) Crew:90 Passengers:120
Maller (Amarr Cruiser) Crew:800 Passengers:500
Megathron (Gallente Battleship) Crew:6900 Passengers:1000
Moa (Caldari Cruiser) Crew:650 Passengers:500
Probe (Minmatar Frigate) Crew:3 Passengers:10
Punisher (Amarr Frigate) Crew:3 Passengers:12
Raven (Caldari Battleship) Crew:7400 Passengers:1000
Rifter (Minmatar Frigate) Crew:1 Passengers:2
Rupture (Minmatar Cruiser) Crew:620 Passengers:690
Tempest (Minmatar Battleship) Crew:6500 Passengers:1000
Thorax (Gallente Cruiser) Crew:660 Passengers: 760
Vexor (Gallente Cruiser) Crew:580 Passengers:670

(*The Iteron displayed in the schematic does not appear to be an exact match for any of the 5 known variants, but it's length is listed as 300 metres, making it closest in size to the mark IV.)

Expanding and Changing Lore

As EVE grew from strength to strength, so did the depth of its supporting literature. The EVE fiction portal now contains a wealth of backstory and although it is difficult to determine quite when and how things evolved to the current understanding, they have indeed changed. In the summer of 2009 CCP Gnauton undertook a project to revise and correct the existing fiction, stating ""The aim is to solidify the backstory, patching up the cracks in the plaster so we have a stronger foundation to build future fiction on." So it is important to bear in mind what was early canon may no longer be.

However, a 2007 quote from CCP Ginger on this thread discussing ships crews seems fairly definitive, as he states "Ships have crews, most pod controlled frigates do not, above that they have crews of varying sizes."

Furthermore, approved pages from Evelopedia's ship database shed some more current light on crew numbers, stating that battleships are "...crewed by many as 10,000-15,000 lives, the combat efficiency increases greatly with the use of the pod reducing minimal crew needed to the hundreds." A similar entry for cruisers says "...400-500 personnel to a small handful of 50." and frigates "...are the smallest combat capable craft that is able to accept pod technology easily reducing crew needs of 5-20 personnel to virtually nothing."

So there you have it, some fairly ball-park figures, but definitely solid proof that your ship has a crew. But that was never really in any doubt, was it. What I also wanted to find out was whether a capsuleer is required to have a crew. Is the technology available within the canon to allow for entirely capsuleer controlled vessels of cruiser size or larger? This was going to involve a certain amount of research into the official fiction.

Fiction Archaeology

According to the current timeline, the year is YC112. The Amarr built the first modern stargate 2,058 years prior to YC112 (21,290 A.D. in old money) and the four major races have been flying around in spaceships thumping chunks out of each other ever since.

As an aside, given that the crew statistics gleaned from the schematics may well pre-date the modern capsuleer demi-god concept, I thought those figures might still be accurate for older, non-pod upgraded vessels (read: NPCs). Out of curiosity, I looked through the ship descriptions for any references that might age the hull designs. The descriptions of both the Augoror cruiser and the Rifter frigate make mention of service in the Minmatar Rebellion, which took place in 132 years ago. The Minmatar Wreathe and Scythe both state they are "one of the oldest" and "the oldest" Minmatar ships respectively, making them presumably at least as old as the Rifter. But the Grandfather of the EVE fleet is the Gallente Dominix, which dates "...back to the Gallente-Caldari War" 193 years ago.

The introduction of the current cloned capsuleer demi-god concept is well described in the Chronicle: Jovian Wetgrave, which details the Caldari acquisition of capsule technology from the Jovians 124 years ago. So this was the earliest possible time that a (non-Jove) ship could have been controlled from a pod. However, the age of the Capsuleer did not come about until YC105 (seven real and game years ago - neatly coinciding with EVE's release and meaning every subsequent event has happened in real-time) when cloning technology was combined with capsules to create the modern immortal starship captain.

The idea that the modern capsuleer still uses a human crew is further supported by the chronicles Hands of a Killer and All These Lives Are Fit to Ruin. The first detailing the recruitment of a crew member and the second outlining a possible career exit for the disgruntled mortal. Incidentally, both stories allude to crew numbers of approximately 6000, in line with our earlier schematics' figures rather than the more generous amount mentioned in Evelopedia.

Solo Capsuleers

So far, still not much evidence to support the idea that a capsuleer could single-handedly manage to control every aspect of a vessel any larger than a frigate. However, anyone who has had any dealings with rogue drones or sleepers will tell you that they are fully-autonomous mechanical space-vessels that can be battleship-sized. So if battleship-sized rogue drones can exist and smaller drones can commandeer vessels to effect an escape as detailed in this chronicle, then the technology is surely available to automate a starship. Humanity did build these same drones, after all.

Furthermore, the solo-piloting of a starships has actually been done according to the official lore and is, in fact, the entire reason why drones exist:

101 years ago, a scientist named Ceul Darieux became stranded alone in a wrecked construction ship, adrift in a system without a stargate following an asteroid strike which killed the rest of the crew. Decades later he managed to jump back to civilised space having invented drones to aid his ship's return. Darieux, now an old man, subsequently founded CreoDron, New Eden's premier drone construction corporation. The system that he had been stranded in for decades used to be called Ouperia, but was renamed in memory of his feats. It is also the name of the chronicle detailing his story; Old Man Star.

So in conclusion, if an ordinary man nearly a century previously could have devised the means to pilot a ship alone without the aid of capsuleer technology and subsequent advancements have been made with the introduction of Jovian technology, Crielere Project-initiated Tech II and Sleeper-derived Tech III, I really don't think it's much of a stretch to imagine that a Capsuleer could, if he so chose, pilot a battleship alone. The know-how is certainly out there.

But it might be wiser to have a crew, unless it's the fellas at the top of this page.


[Thanks to Pian Shu/Parity Bit of EVE's Parity Bit for the research and the inspiration for this post.]

13 comments:

  1. Screw that. The whole point of the capsule is being plugged directly into the ship. If the damn thing still needs a crew, what's the point of being a capsuleer aside from eternal life through clones? What makes it relevant to flying a spaceship? Let the NPC's have crews. Pod pilots don't need'em, and it makes for a much more interesting story without 'em.

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  2. Maybe a capsuleer could pilot a battleship alone, but could he actually take it into a fight? I'm inclined to say no, but that could be my bleeding heart talking.

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  3. I prefer to think of capsuleer as the higher functions of a brain. He can fly the ship with perfect precision and activate modules instinctively. Meanwhile, the crew handles the lower functions of the ship, like standard maintenance. The capsuleer doesn't need to be aware of the crew any more than we need to be aware of our white blood cells.

    Besides, hiring/enslaving a few thousand wrench monkeys is probably a lot cheaper than buying drones that can handle the same tasks. :-)

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  4. I think it makes sense that they would have crews. Someone needs to realign the dilithium crystals and flush the plasma conduits every once in a while :P

    It's one thing to pilot a ship and another thing to do basic maintenance, repairs, cleaning, cargo loading/unloading, etc.

    Also, it's clear from the newest EVE novel that Capsuleer piloted ships have crews, as the Blood raiders appreciate pod pilots dying in their space and bringing their crews with them.

    My real question is, why can't my extractors keep extracting without a capsuleer having to tell them to do the one thing they were created to do every single day....

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  5. I think the lore is clear enough on this, ships have crews, and capitol ships like the Nyx will have many thousands if not tens of thousands for crew. In the novel "The "Empyrean Age" the Nyx, for example is described as "A literal city of Federation personal and equipment"

    I like the idea of these ships having a crew, but it does present some problematic practical issues. The lore seems to suggest that Capsuleer pilots are regarded as almost god-like to the average citizen. It could be supposed that serving on a Capsuleer ship may be considered a great honor. One could imagine this being case in, say, the Amarr royal navy.
    But what of backwater nullsec Alliences. Its nice to think that they to must have extensive crew support, but how do those crewmen see themselves? Does the Capsuleer pilot indeed have little to no contact with his crew? Surely he must at least speak to his senior staff occasionally? What of things like crew misconduct, crew performance, moral, etc?
    At any rate, the crews seem completely and easily expendable. Even granted that enough people would still even -want- to crew for a nullsec capsuleer pilot, think of the logistics involved? A corporation with 20 BS flying pilots would need the facilities and infrastructure to house and feed tens of thousands of personal. And I am not even talking about the ships.. what of your POS? The corperate hangars, all the other support infrastructure? Do these people get payed? If so, from where? Has the salary of all these people, and other necessary running costs to support them already been deducted from our income before we see the amount come in on our accounts?
    And where do you find all these people? Think of the consistently massive recruitment and training effort needed to replace all those screws all the time. Where do they pull all these people from in the far reached of nullsec, and are they all equally willing to have their lives thrown away casually?

    I wish CCP did a little more to acknowledge the fact that these things must be somewhat worked out, if you wish to maintain that ships have crews.

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  6. I'm with Haddasha and Shirrath on this one. I can buy that ships might be able to limp across New Eden with just a pod pilot, but to actually go into combat you'd need some sort of crew. And, clearly the crew isn't in charge of running navigation, or modules of any kind (as we activate them).

    But, and this is a big but, CCP's lore from 2008 suggests they are important.

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  7. I like that ships have crews, I think that makes the world more interesting. I always imagined that the ship with the pod pilot would behave more like a living thing, reacting to the world around it. NPC ships without pod pilots react more slowly as orders are relayed.

    Also, who says drone ships are individual entities. Maybe they're infested with thousands of sub programs.

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  8. I'm almost certain I read somewhere in the Chronicles that a ship was flown solo by pod pilots. But ofc I cannot find this information.

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  9. http://www.eveonline.com/background/potw/default.asp?cid=20-04-09

    I think that pretty much sums it up, and it was a chronicle from just this last year. If you need another i give you this one http://www.eveonline.com/background/potw/default.asp?cid=14-07-05

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  10. Seems like the Burning Life Novel did cover some of the questions. Apparently

    "Ship crews spend most of their journey in their escape pods, and are awoken with adrenaline only as needed? Source: The Burning Life novel by CCP Abraxas."

    I took that quote from here -> http://backstage.eve-inspiracy.com/index.php?topic=217.0

    But that would lend to ships having crews, that they(crews) would survive combat to some extent, backed up by previously mentioned posts.

    I also remember mention that Crews do the lower level cleaning and maint of the ships in space but the capsuleer remains in their pod for the duration of the flight, and that would make sense given you don't exactly move around the ship.

    Wait found the reference here

    "That ship crews only perform cleanup, maintenance, and lower-order operations on ships? (The Burning Life p 31)"

    Same thread in that forum, a veritable wealth of information there, actually answering other questions I had!

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  11. Before I started looking into it, I, like most people was very protective of my own interpretation. My opinion was that crews were not necessary for capsuleers and their inclusion by some pod-pilots was due to personal preference, adherence to tradition or as a cost-saving process. In my mind solo-capsuleering was the norm, with only a minority of pod-controlled ships having crews.

    However, following my research, the evidence strongly leans toward the presence of crews in almost all cases so I've changed my opinion; although the canon would allow for crewless ships, I now imagine the majority of vessels to be crewed to some extent.

    But if nothing else, I think it shows that there is flexibility enough in the canon for everybodies interpretation to work.

    Robert's comment above is certainly food for thought though. Does somebody want to do the maths to figure out the population turn-over of capsuleer activities versus a projected total galaxy population? No, me neither.

    There's some great additional quotes and links there folks, thank you, I'll copy those into an Addendum at the bottom of the main article at some point if that's okay. Except for Scaldari Anitoba's URLs, who has provided links for two chronicles already covered in the main text - thanks for skimming Scaldari ;/ .

    Now to find my copy of The Burning Life that I never finished reading, now Logan Fyreite has shown me the error of my ways.

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  12. @Robert I did end up doing the maths, and you're right, it doesn't add up: The End of New Eden is Nigh.

    P.S. I decided against adding a resource list at the bottom of the post. That's what the comments are for.

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  13. "Except for Scaldari Anitoba's URLs, who has provided links for two chronicles already covered in the main text - thanks for skimming Scaldari ;/ ."
    Actually i read your article in great detail and with intense interest, the links where only meant for the post i replied to.

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Lay it on me.