Tuesday, 31 July 2012

BB38: Designing the Future Experience

(or "Has CCP Thrown the Storyline Baby out with the Incarna Bathwater? A Tutorial Review".)

To address Blog Banter 38, I decided to get an insight into the current design philosophy behind EVE. In order to better understand how the revitalised CCP would be moving forward and addressing design idiosyncrasies in the future, looking at incoming improvements seemed a good barometer of change. After all, there's only one chance to make a first impression, so the upcoming changes to "New Player Experience" will be crucial to the EVE playerbase of tomorrow. How that first experience is received will determine who sticks around and who clicks uninstall.

Singularity, the EVE Online test server open to players, allows early viewing of new content coming to the "real" EVE Online on the Tranquility server. Yesterday, I played through the new tutorial to get an idea of the first impressions New Eden's new arrivals might have. The experience left me excited, impressed but ultimately sad and disappointed.

For those of you without the inclination to read through what has evolved into quite a lengthy post, here's the TL:DR;

New Player Experience = Technically Improved but Increasingly Soulless

For a deeper analysis, read on.

Necessary Sacrifice

The most fundamental change is immediately apparent, with the ship hangar view being used in favour of the Captain's Quarters [CCP Greyscale has pointed out that this is inaccurate - the new player still starts in the CQ, but the tutorial no longer covers the avatar environment]. This is a complete U-turn on the previous approach and I have mixed feelings about it. On the positive side it keeps focus on the core spaceship gameplay, but the "disconnected" feel is back in force. Established EVE players might not see the problem here, but that's because they've already adapted. For many players who have migrated from more traditional MMO environments, that humanoid avatar connection is vital to ease their transition into the universe of New Eden. However, given the current lack of meaningful content or player interaction in the Captain's Quarters, this was the right decision. It's just a wasteful shame.

The next thing that is noticable is the new tutorial window. Defaulting to the lower-right corner of the screen, it occupies a similar portion of the screen to its predecessor, but appears clearer and cleaner. The most welcome change is the auto-resizing. There was nothing more frustrating with the original UI than having a default window size that required you to scroll down to read the last line of text. I look forward to seeing this technology applied to other UI elements, such as item info and the Unified Inventory.

The flow of the tutorial has more pace and doesn't get bogged down in as many details as before. Without much ado, the new player will find themselves floating in space in their capsule, where they are quickly encouraged to understand the camera controls. This is a great change, with the needlessly bloated previous experience of drowning in windows banished and the disorienting initial in-space experience better explained. Basic gameplay elements are introduced as necessary, with just enough introduction to the overview without having them running for the hills. Ship fitting is handled well too, with a simple step-by-step process being presented in a rewarding manner. Once the rookie ship has been obtained from it's location in space, the rookie is guided to dock up to  fit a weapon and a shield module - the default civilian weapon and miner are gone! Sadly, the Aura voiceover has also been dumped, but it would no longer make sense with the new tutorial flow, I can only hope there are plans to record new audio.

Technical Triumph

The real jewel in the crown for the New Player Experience is the floating tooltip technology. This new system boldly directs the player's attention with a laser-pointer-like line leading to an encircled object of focus. This line is "rubberbanded" to a text box containing useful information. Not only is this an absolutely superb way of leading the rookie by the nose and avoiding that "WTF do I do now?" experience which was probably the single biggest cause of loss of interest, it suggests some exciting applications in the future. What if targeted items could be linked and highlighted in such a manner? Imagine a customisable heads-up-display with information previously crammed into the overview able to be presented dynamically.

In support of this new, fresher tutorial interface are some great UI elements streamlining interaction with agents and missions. An elegant Agent Mission drop-down menu hides in plain sight in the top-left of the screen beneath the system information. It cleverly avoids unnecessary screen clutter by being almost invisible until interacted with, when a number of contextual options appear as a dropdown. As with other recently introduced UI elements, it has a smooth feel as you interact with it.

The user interface improvements really are very promising for the future  of the client experience as a whole. It could herald the dawn of a more attractive and user-friendly interface throughout the EVE client. Exciting future possibilities are flooding through my mind as I write this. Anyway, I digress. At present, it's just a useful and effective way of presenting information to rookies.

All things considered, the tutorial is a big positive step toward better new player retention and the introduction of elements which could bring so much more to the game as a whole.

The (Un)Importance of Words

But for me, there's a problem and it's potentially a big one. Game-breaking even. It's not anything directly to do with the tutorial, which I think is a triumph. It is to do with the culture it represents.

Before CCP Greyscale's recent devblog on the tutorials was released, I posted my review notes to the Test Server forums. I was surprised and honoured to get not one, but three developer responses. I'm grateful to CCP FoxFour, CCP Sisyphus and CCP Greyscale for their feedback in which they explained most of their decisions behind some points I raised. The way the tutorial was approached and the design philosophy behind it makes perfect sense and as players we are lucky to have a developer-player culture that allows for this level of communication. This is something that CCP developers are clearly making an effort on, in response to criticism. Again, this is something we are fortunate to have - game designers who respond to player communication and input in a positive way. Great explanations were given for all of my concerns.

All except one, and I am happy to admit it is one that is a matter of taste. But from my point of view, there is  irony to be found in the fact that, as developer communication improves out-of-game, they seem to have lost the art in-game. For all their design-fu, their current designer-led use of language suggests a worrying trend.

Attack of the Designers

The written nature of the tutorial is as dull as dishwater. It has no character, it is like reading through an instruction manual. This is as off-putting as any design flaw. There is a lot of text to get through and if it's boring, new players won't read it properly. They'll likely start skimming, get lost, confused and reach for the off switch. That the tutorial is entirely text-driven will already be a mark against it in many player's minds. They are here to play a game, not read a manual or be taught a dull lesson.

I understand that a lack of time and resources meant that - at least initially - an entirely written tutorial format was the only viable option and may be improved upon later. Fair enough. With that in mind, I suggested making the new text more engaging, using EVE's rich lore to provide a bit of colour and the option to explore the backstory further. I hoped that I would be told that the existing text was simply a placeholder until it could be refined. That is not the case. The anodyne and unengaging text was a design decision. The key word here is "design". Stepping out from the shadows over which he formerly had mastery, CCP FoxFour wrote:

"This was also a rather conscious descion on our part. The tutorial is rather long as it stands and one of our goals going through the NPE this time around was to cut it all down as much as possible. There is a good chance we may have cut to much and finding the right balance between lore and length is a hard thing to do. Even adding a single sentence to each page adds up to a whole lot of extra text. Again though we went in with the primary goal of cutting the text down as much as possible and so we did. Hopefully in future iterations we can look at ways to bring that lore back into it without exploding the amount of text in it."

This all seems perfectly logical. It also shows a vision of the future of EVE; "simple", "effective", bland. These are individuals who are excellent at designing, at being given a target or a problem and engineering a path to the solution. God knows after over a decade of growth, EVE Online needs people like this to prune the features and trim the code. But they need the other kind too to bring character, flavour and depth to the EVE experience.

Oh wait, no.

That's now entirely the players' job according to CCP Unifex. As was stated in his interview with Gamasutra, despite having a lot of game designers, programmers and engineers, there are only four content developers, because apparently EVE development is all about...

"...building tools so that players can make the content, and that content is firmly rooted in interactions with each other."

I can't help but find this a little irritating and insulting. Having an active and creative customer base does not absolve a game developer from providing good quality content. It certainly doesn't mean that they should just skip over the details entirely. Given that it seems to be down to the players, I would offer to revise the tutorial text for a (possibly optional) canonical version, but I suspect it's an offer that would be ignored - besides, they've apparently got at least four people that should already have been approached to do that.

Teaching Doesn't Have to be Boring

To further underline CCP's emphasis on design over content, all my attempts to suggest the addition of flair were rebuffed with "design" reasons. I pointed out that simple text changes could still tick all the concise and clear boxes, whilst broadening the appeal and creating a degree of immersion.

Here are two examples:


The new tutorial text says:

"If you ever enter a station with no ships available, you'll be given a free Rookie Ship, so you're never stuck without proper transport."

No attempt is made to explain why a new ship should miraculously appear and the sentence isn't even that clear - the "no ships available" could mean on the market, not in the player's hangar as is intended. Furthermore, this is a perfect opportunity for a bit of colour to draw the new player into New Eden. In the forum thread, I suggested the following;

"If you dock at a station in your capsule and there are no ships in your hangar, a new Rookie Ship will be provided by the SCC."

This provides all the required information and does it more clearly and more succinctly. It also provides a link to more information that can be ignored or explored according to the new player's curiosity.


The new rubberbanding tooltip draws the new player's attention to the first hostile ship they've ever encountered with the text "This is an enemy ship (not as good as yours)". What? This trite and bland information, whilst doing the job, is incredibly uninspired and has no place in a professional MMO. I understand that what the designers want the player to realise is:

  • This ship is hostile.
  • Although it's shooting at you, don't panic - it's no real threat and you can take him.

What has either not been considered, or has been dismissed, is what players might wonder - why is it attacking? What makes it "not as good"? In the Minmatar tutorial, the attacking ship model was a Rifter, so our new player may now associate Rifters as being "not as good" as rookie ships. The text could easily be replaced with something like "Poorly maintained pirate frigate" - not only is this shorter than the existing phrase, addressing FoxFour's concerns about text length (33 characters instead of 44), it explains why the ship is hostile ("pirate") and why it might be easy to kill (it's "poorly maintained" - but maybe if it wasn't, you'd be in trouble).

However, CCP Greyscale explained why this was not something they would embrace:

"For now we're erring on the side of trying to focus very hard on teaching, and trying to throw in as few unnecessary concepts as possible. As a fiction-head I'd love to be doing more of what you're describing, but as a designer I'm not confident enough in our revised NPE yet to start throwing in references to the backstory and links to the wiki when our overriding goal is to get people through the tutorial as effectively as possible."

The Abandonment of Soul

So we have designers actively keeping any flair or lore out of the tutorial experience due to a lack of confidence. As a result, we have a design culture that puts EVE firmly on the path to providing shiny tools which will only come to life when players make the effort to flesh out the content. The myriad of designers who are working so hard to improve EVE Online are inadvertently sucking the life out out of it by openly avoiding its own history.

This smacks of CCP suffering post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the failure of Incarna - it's almost as if they're avoiding all immersive content at any cost. If the tutorial acts as a filter to ensure the retention of the right kind of players and the repulsion of the unwanted, it seems quite clear that CCP doesn't want those with an appreciation for narrative detail, immersion, an engaging science-fiction environment or a grand space opera. What they are now looking for are players who can endure mediocre content until they find the right social hook.

This single-minded approach to focusing on the "social engine" leads me to interpret CCP Unifex's words to mean that we players are expected to embrace the community-driven stories or clear off. If we're really patient we might see the rare scrap of professionally-written narrative, but it's not a priority. The future of the EVE story isn't going to be in the form of quality science-fiction akin to the works of sci-fi greats like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, it will be EVE News 24. Sorry Mr. Lander, but if that's the case, count me out. I like a bleak and dystopian future as much as the next sci-fi geek, but I couldn't cope with endless clumsily-written jargon-heavy accounts of what the big boys in the space playground did to the slightly smaller boys in the space playground. Plug me back into the Matrix, please.

It seems that - when CCP accepted they botched the Walking in Stations concept and had their change of direction - they threw the storyline baby out with the Incarna bathwater. Now the crib is empty and the house is silent, so CCP has to keep inviting players to throw parties to fill the void.

The baby is still dead in the gutter though.

Sad times ahead. I think I'll go play Incarna: The Text Adventure to cheer myself up.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Blog Banter 38: Dogma

Welcome to the 38th edition of the EVE Blog Banter, a community discussion that delves broader and deeper into the topics of the moment in all matters EVE Online. This month's community meat upon which we dine is inspired by an obscure and inactive blogger you've probably never heard of. ;)

"In his recent "That's just the way it is" post on Jester's Trek, blogger Ripard Teg posits that the established EVE player-base has come to accept many of EVE's design idiosyncrasies, rarely questioning their purpose or benefit. Conversely, he also suggests that new players might not be so forgiving of these "quirks". In an interview with Gamasutra, Senior Producer CCP Unifex describes EVE Online's developers as "relatively hands-off janitors of the virtual world", underlining that he has only four content developers but "a lot" of programmers and engineers.

Has a culture developed where CCP has started to take player effort for granted - expecting the "social engine" to fulfil tasks that might otherwise be CCP's responsibility? Or should this culture be embraced as part of "emergent gameplay" with these quirks accepted as the catalyst for interaction?"

As always, the question has been sent to everyone on the Blog Banter mailing list, but the discussion is open to all. Please take the time to read the many and varied entries and to share your opinion with those bloggers who pique your interest. For more info on how blog banters work, read this.

For the real meat, the following butchers of the unknowable have already carved their cuts of truth from the carcass of controversy.

The conversation was already in flow with these two juxtaposed opinions:
The continuing bloggery:

Also check out the excellent responses from the EVE-O forum community in these associated threads:

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A Complete History of the DUST Franchise

So you've heard about DUST 514, but you're worried you won't be able to get into it as you've not played the 513 prequels? Do not fear, what follows is everything you need to know about the earlier games before attempting to play the revolutionary massively multiplayer first-person shooter that is DUST 514.

The history of the DUST franchise is shrouded in mystery, but now in the hands of Icelandic MMO developers CCP, there are high hopes that this 514th iteration will recapture some of DUST's former glories. However, those are hugely ambitious goals, as this brief history of the DUST franchise will show. Here is the never-before told story of the previous 513 iterations. 

Sort of.

DUST 1 (originally released as "Cosmic DUST")
The initial DUST release was hugely broad in scope and the legendary Big Bang distribution campaign is widely considered to have been the most effective marketing ever. Sadly, exact records are unavailable due to the pre-history release date, after all, pens, writing and even existence as we know it hadn't really been invented. With nothing but rocks forming out of the cosmic DUST, early subscribers could only really do mining or attack each other (PvP). Some scholars claim that the entire DUST project was originally conceived, built and distributed by God. However, there is no hard evidence to support this. In any case, DUST quickly spread across the entire universe and was considered a huge success.

DUST 2: Terra Firma
Still in the hands of the mysterious Original Developers, the first DUST was continually being iterated on, but ongoing expansion was slowing down the release schedule. It was decided to aim at a single Carbon-based platform, introducing the concept of permanent death (later shortened to 'permadeath'). Elements of the original DUST were taken and moulded into a smaller, but more detailed environment. Using the DIETY development system, this enabled releasable material to be produced on a six day cycle, allowing for one day of rest. The Development team looked at their work and "saw that it was good". There were some early problems with "Dev Hax" and a snake with an Apple, but these were ironed out fairly quickly, copyright litigation notwithstanding.

DUST 3: Evolution
Taking the work that had been done on previous versions, the team continued to build on the theme, combining DUST elements to create more complex content. Using the DIETY system, two key systems were put in place to create better emergent gameplay; the Evolution character system enabled users far greater customisation of their avatars and the Ecology system formally integrated the way players interacted. But there was a problem - it soon became clear to the Original Developers that the Giant Lizard character class was hugely overpowered. The decision was made to shut down the servers and start work on a 4th version. The final day in-game event is still talked about today as the mischievious developers wiped everyone out with a DUST cloud.

DUST 4: The Cold and the Dead
This 4th version was initially unremarkable, retaining the some of the framework from the previous versions but starting character classes from scratch. However, the new visual aesthetic was universally panned as being too monochrome. An over-reliance on ice environments led to an unpopular and sparsely populated world. Only the hardiest of gamers continued to take part, with the only real playable race being the Proto-humans. The Woolly Mammoth class was fun for short periods, but once the novelty of being a giant hairball wore off, there really wasn't any depth to the advancement options - as there were none. So it didn't. Advance, that is.

DUST 5: Rise of the Humans

The introduction of new, warmer zones meant that subscriber rates picked up. More work was put into the Human race, with a number of sub-classes being made available through the Evolution system. The was a brief period where the Neanderthal class became popular, but their demands for a PvE-only server were ignored as they were beaten into extinction by the PvP-proficient Homo Sapiens players.

DUST 6-15 
These releases were really iterations on a theme, with the Fertile Crescent server becoming over-crowded, various new elements were introduced in order to encourage the proliferation of players to other parts of the server-cluster whilst reinforcing high population areas. Broadening the environments appealed further to a variety of playstyles, although the aggressive Homo Sapiens continued to dominate and the majority of new features were introduced to appease their thirst for violent interaction. DUST 9: Civilisation was notable for its introduction of agriculture and community tools.

DUST 16: Blood and Iron
With antiquated code under ever-increasing pressure, more and more bugs, hacks and exploits began to appear. Most notably, one player claiming to be a Dev was using hacks to heal the sick and turn water into wine. In that particular case, his account was banned for three days, but the problem rose again when he did and so the account was deleted. Events leading up to and including the now infamous J35U5 hack have been well-documented elsewhere and are beyond the scope of this article.

Clearly players were developing the means to harness more power than was good for the gameworld so, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the DUST 3 reset, the Pandemic system was introduced to deliver basecode-level changes without the need for a world-ending event. This allowed the introduction of fundamental revisions and code changes to be obscured by a localised or worldwide catastrophe, enabling the covert deletion of any affected accounts without harm to the basecode. A brutal but effective solution.

DUST 17-49
Whilst exact records are still sketchy at this point, it is notable that during this period the development team almost certainly expanded or changed hands. As the gameworld and its residents evolved, there is evidence to support the possibility that players were recruited into development teams. This resulted in the introduction of some interesting new social systems using the new RELIGION engine (actually the formalisation of some metagame elements introduced by players as early as DUST 4). Team Hindu seemed to be a significant early contributor, but as time went on Teams Christian, Islam and Judaism became more responsible for much of the content. There were some interesting contributions to lore from Teams Norse, Roman and Greek, but sadly records show their input seemed to dwindle after a short time and presumably were disbanded. Team Buddhism was responsible for catering and contemplation.

DUST 50: New Order
This release was significant as it was the last of the old numbering system. In a bizarre and confusing move, it was decided that subsequent versions would retain the "5" in recognition of the introduction of the now exclusively dominant Homo Sapiens class around which the gameworld had since been entirely reshaped. As a reward to the PvP-obsessed Homo Sapiens, they were reclassified as Humans and all other Human sub-classes were removed from the game as they had fallen into disuse.

It is also significant, but coincidental, that around this time a group of Human players got lost whilst roaming for PvP and discovered the previously unexplored Iceland zone, an isolated area of the gameworld occasionally used by the Developers for testing.

DUST 51-54
This was another period of granular iteration seeing the continuing development of society-based gameplay. PvP continued to be popular with player-driven territory-based warfare and meta-roam "crusades" being particular highlights introduced in DUST 52: My God or No God.

DUST 55: Renaissance
With a significant portion of subscribers becoming increasingly unhappy with the prevalence of PvP in all game zones, the Developers responded with this expansion, which introduced player-made content-sharing on a much grander scale. The popularity of art, literature and philosophy rose as a result. Exploration and trading playstyles got a huge boost with the introduction of new Seafaring skillsets and equipment. 

However, as with the RELIGION-based expansions, this just gave the PvPers new things to fight about. 

DUST 56: Industrial Revolution
Built almost entirely around player-created content as a result of an explosion of shared knowledge, the Developers introduced a robust new interface for player-created items. The Humans quickly embraced this and invented many new ways to solve old problems. Mostly how to kill the enemy in larger numbers more quickly. DUST 56: The Industrial Revolution is still widely regarded as one of the most successful expansions in Human history.

DUST 57-59
These releases were largely focused on refinements to the technology tree as the Humans devoted significant resources to research and development gameplay. As iteration progressed, further subdivisions to the Industry branches were fleshed out, allowing the development of modern science, the discovery of more chemical elements and the harnessing of electricity.

DUST 510: Combustion
To the confusion of many, the impact of the new version paradigm finally became apparent (re-read DUST 50 for an explanation). What fans of the more popular decimal system would call "sixty", was known to those who moved in higher circles as "five-one-oh".

This edition also heralded the great advancements of the internal combustion engine and the glorious total-hell-death that PvPing humans could inflict on each other as a result. Things now went faster, flew higher and exploded louder. It was hoped that the popular World War events, a product of emergent gameplay, might deal with a resource and balancing problem caused by over-subscription. But despite the ever-present threat of character permadeath, these brutal new environments made little impact on subscriber rates and DUST continued to see year-on-year growth of the playerbase.  Furthermore, the Developers started to see a flaw in their development plan, with the player-driven World War events highlighting how overpowered the Human class had become.

DUST 511: In Virtuum 
In Virtuum was to be the final iteration by the mysterious Developers, and was their last, desperate attempt to control the negative impact the over-powered and over-subscribed Human character population was having on the game environment. So effective had the Humans become at the game, they were close to destroying the entire gameworld. The proliferation of PvP and advancement of technology had become so destructive that the Developers realised they needed to find a way to restrain the population or even the Pandemic system might not be enough to contain the problem.

They seeded their final solution: THE INTERNET.

It was a stroke of genius. The spread of in-game knowledge went off the scale, whilst an explosion of pornography meant an entire generation of male Humans spent more time indoors masturbating and less time outside PvPing. They also found ways to simulate PvP in their new virtual environment, often one-handed. Relieved, the Developers saw their work was done and they retired to Another Place.

DUST 512: Hættuspil
A group of individuals who were descendants of the geographically embarrassed Viking roam from the time of DUST 50, discovered a seed of greater truth within an arcane invention they called "The Danger Game". This was a very modest DUST release and went almost unheard of, making no significant impact in the wider gameworld. However it did give those individuals the key to taking up the mantle of DUST development and continuing to push the advances of Human PvPers game-wide.

Identifying that the gameworld subscriber-base was approximately 7-billion strong, there was an ever-increasing resource and space issue in DUST's game environment (referred to as "reality" by hardcore roleplayers). The Sons of the Lost Vikings noted that the former level designers had covered most of the gameworld with water, but just as the oceans had presented their ancestors with a navigational challenge, it gave them a design headache. Without the world-building DIETY development tools the previous Developers had created, the Lost Viking group realised they needed to find another way to control the huge crowds of subscribers to prevent a further, almost certainly catastrophic, World War event. 

So they formed Crowd Control Productions, otherwise known as CCP.

DUST 513: EVE Online
This was CCP's first attempt at harnessing the new INTERNET technology to provide a virtual environment mini-game within the DUST gameworld. It was only an experiment, but if successful would serve as a repository of invention, violence, creativity and immorality. With these elements focused away from "reality" and into this new limitless virtual environment, the real DUST gameworld might still be saved.

Fortunately, the experiment was a modest success. CCP had proved that Humans would embrace the opportunity to replicate their destructive deeds in this new space. The experience gave the weak strength, and the timid voice. EVE Online captured imaginations and many Human players chose to devote their lives to this minigame, preferring it to "reality". Most Human players either didn't notice or didn't care about the satirical and subversive nature of their new favourite mini-game. For them, EVE Online became a very Serious Business.

DUST 514: One Universe // One War
As yet unreleased, CCP plans to expand on lessons learned from the previous DUST versions to captivate and ensnare a much larger Human player demographic. This will further immobilise and control the crowd and subvert them from "reality" whilst simultaneously saving the original DUST gameworld from certain destruction.

PvP will never be more meaningful. 

For more details see the following links:

DUST 514 official site
DUST 514.org

Monday, 23 July 2012

Alliance Tournament Titans

I am emotionally drained and a little drunk, so this blog post won't be one of my best. It may be one of my more honest though. 

Why am I in this condition? Because I've just run the EVE Online Alliance Tournament gauntlet. Not as a competitor, nor as an organiser, not really even as a commentator (other than some Twitter and chat channel randomness). However, as a spectator, I was fully invested. A month of weekends, almost* every match.

Given EVE Online's complex socio-entertainment strands and internet devilry, the Alliance Tournament is not really an easy experience to quantify, especially after a bottle of Riocha Rioja (edit: it turns out I can't spell "Rioja" after drinking Rioja) and some spiced rum. But, despite never having left my own home, I feel as if I've participated in a community experience as well as a sporting one. Over the last few weeks I've been entertained as much by the characters who have presented the exploding spaceship championships as the exploding spaceships themselves. Perhaps moreso.

Together with five impressively knowledgeable and articulate fellas whom I let dictate my weekends through my computer monitor, I've taken a rollercoaster ride to equal any football World Cup, Superbowl or Olympic Games. It's simply a matter of investment and - as much as it chagrins me that I may have picked the phrase up from doing too many Mittani impersonations - these are my people. I couldn't give a crap about football, that weird thing Americans have done with rugby or even the upcoming London Olympics. But I do respect the time, effort and dedication that my fellow internet spaceship nerds have put into organising and competing in the EVE Online Alliance Tournament.

The Alliance Tournament is the premiere internet sports event with something to appeal to everyone from chess enthusiasts, to psychologists, to sporting purists. There is no doubt in my mind that I have just witnessed excellence on many levels; the set design, the organisation and preparation, some frankly superb camera work with sub-par tools and some really entertaining brilliance from the competing alliances.

But if you're looking for a studious and learned breakdown of matches, go somewhere else, this is Freebooted, I'm no good at "serious". What I really want to do is honour the five excellent "experts" who have shared their wisdom with us for the past few weekends. And by honour, I mean ridicule in a warm and friendly manner.

Let's look at the guys who were sent out to Iceland to explain to us what the hell was going on.

Lazarus Telraven (@Laztel)

Lazarus Telraven clone, CCP TorfiFrans
Possibly constructed in CCP's secret cloning vats specifically for the purpose of Alliance Tournament commentary, Lazarus looks like he may have been grown from the DNA of Creative Director Torfi Frans Olafsson. The vagaries of whether they are legally brothers or father and son is still to be worked out, but his Goonswarm alliance affiliation gives him access to plenty of legal representation.

Special ATX Skill: "Knowledge" - he delivered the true pronunciation of "Sleipnir" - SLAYP-neer.  

Zastrow (@Zastr0w)

Zastrow clone, Peewee Herman

Erudite and affable, Zastrow is perhaps the most refined of the the EVE experts. His apparent humility and gentle humour set him poles apart from his evil Goon twin, The Mittani. Primary distributor of "Purple Dong" medals, Zastrow is apparently the soft centre of Goonswarm but a knowledgeable and articulate commentator.

Special ATX Skill: Power-drill juggling.

Michael Bolton III (@MichaelBoltonII)

Michael Bolton III clone, Rudyard Kipling
The Tournament funny man, MB3's presentation style is an acquired taste for some, but is refreshingly irreverent for those who do 'get him'. Bringing a unique zest to the team, MB3 is at his most entertaining when working alongside/annoying Kil2. Easy to underestimate, but when focused he clearly knows his spaceships.

Special ATX Skill: That moustache, especially with CCP Affinity's modifications in the final matches.

Kil2 (@Kil2eve)

Kil2 clone, actor Zachary Quinto
Kil2 is the PvPer's PvPer. Renowned for his solo combat prowess, his apparent reserved nature gives him almost superhuman powers of analysis. Very centred and intense, Kil2 gives the impression that he tolerates the rest of the human race only because he's expected to. However, his rugged loner persona both melts and is fortified by the presence of Michael Bolton III. The Mulder-Scully will-they/won't they dynamic between the two could go either way.

Special ATX Skill: Bringing the art of silent comedy into the 21st Century by saying nothing but telling everything in the presence of MBIII.

Raivi (@TheRaivi)

Raivi clone, Deep Blue
I suspect this man is not entirely human. His EVE knowledge and ability to compute team setup parameters is frightening. Cool and collected even when he insists he is excited, the walking Aryan supercomputer is apparently the reason for Pandemic Legion's previous tournament successes. PL have not won the tournament since Raivi became a commentator and it is easy to see what a loss his contribution would be.

Special ATX skill: EVE omniscience.

Thanks fellas, you all did a superb job of making the details entertaining and transparent to the layman. The community owes you beer (but I'm hoping CCP are picking up the tab).

And congratulations to the surprise winners and first-time ATX champions, Verge of Collapse - proving that the key to success is to punch harder than the other guy.

(*as a married man, compromises must be made)

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Watch EVE Online's SuperOlympicWorldCupBowl-in-Space Now!

The Alliance Tournament is EVE Online's World Cup/Superbowl/Olympic Games. It is an explosive e-Sports event which showcases the best of EVE Online's group PvP - each match is a brief, brutal space combat that is the culmination of months of planning, executed by human cunning and quick wits. Slickly presented by well-known CCP developers and commentated by prominent and knowledgeable players, this tenth Alliance Tournament is the jewel in EVE Online's entertainment crown.

Over the last three weekends, avid space combat fans have been watching the progress of their favourite teams as the initial 64 qualifying alliances battled to get to the group stage. Now, on the last weekend with the final matches in each group to be played today and only 16 places available in the final knock-out stage tomorrow, we are only hours away from finding out who is the tenth Aliiance Tournament champion.

Whether you're a neutral or you want to back your favourite alliance, make sure you watch the action from 1500 EVE Time (1600 UK time) Saturday and Sunday on the feed below or at CCP Games' own3D channel.

For superb analysis of the tournament so far and much more, I highly recommend checking out Eve Opportunist (he really helps banish the "WTF-is-going-on" syndrome).

For more information about Alliance Tournament X, check out the following

Thursday, 19 July 2012

EVE Rocks, EON Rolls

Hot off the press, the latest issue of the high-quality glossy EON magazine is now available in dead tree and digital formats. The must-read EVE Online quarterly has the inside scoop on everything from the latest machievellian plans brewing in CCP's think tank to The Mittani's hat size (insert ego joke here).

Issue 28 is especially important for you to purchase, own and cherish for a number of reasons. But mostly because the dark and twitching mind of Lead Designer Kristopher "CCP Soundwave" Touborg was squeezed for tasty drops of creative mind juice and a hint of future things. The resultant cover article written by this humble blogger contains information about the seeds of ideas which could fundamentally affect the development path of EVE forever. As well as his explanation for recent and ongoing design decisions and plans for the immediate future, the tantalisingly exciting long-game concepts make this issue a must-read experience.

If that wasn't enough, this issue also marks the end of an era, as Kirith Kodachi - Blog Pack founding father and community institution - steps down from his role as regular author of the EON Testflight series. That alone will double the value of this particular issue in years to come. Lord Moose Beaver gives an explanation for this decision at his blog; Inner Sanctum of the Ninveah, which thankfully will continue, along with his Broadcasts from the Ninveah podcast. I reckon we should start a collection to buy him a long-service medal. And maybe a pipe and some slippers.

There is much more spaceship-flavoured goodness within EON #28's pages, as can be seen from this official list of highlights:

EON Issue #028

Deep in the bowels of CCP's experimental gameplay lab, the future of mining is being discussed - and EVE's official magazine has been granted security clearance to join the conversation. Their final report forms the basis of this issue, looking at EVE's oldest profession, taking in the history of Hulkageddon and profiles of some of New Eden's biggest industrial corps.

Also in EON #028:

  • CSM7 Testflight - five members chose their favourite ships
  • Two great new Chronicles - Flesh and The Soulless Pilgrim
  • Guide to Stealth Bombing
  • Guide to Slay
  • How to find the Corp that's right for you
  • The new War Dec and Allies system
  • The Skyward Sphere story - how a Rifter took you into space
  • The future of the EVE API
  • The Rifter comes under the Hero Warship spotlight
  • Profiles of RPS Holdings, Enlightened Industries and Taggart Transdimensional
  • CSM7 reports on good early-season progress
  • Interviews with CCP Veritas and CCP Loki

...and lots, lots more

Also, EON is a proud supporter of the campaign to return the frill to the shorn Vagabond model, as evidenced by the Rixx Javix designed advert which adorns its pages.

So why are you still here? go buy the magazine (paper or pixel). Then go support the return of the frill.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Thukk you, Frill Me! - The Protest In Pictures

Given that Thukk You, Frill Me! was, at it's core, about aesthetics more than words, here's the event in pictures.

Test-running a protest "disco"-fit Stabber at New Eden's stress ball and punch-bag, the fractured monument at Jita 4-4.
Possibly two Vagabonds, a Stabber and variant X (nobody's really sure any more) warming up in Jita.
As the protest grows, so does the light show.
The busiest trade-hub in the cluster looks on perplexed (and possibly frustrated by the increase in traffic).
"Wait, where you going fellas? What do you mean there's a red on the undock, what about the protest?"
"No, don't take the sacrificial Vagabond over there too, it's meant to stay by the monument. ~sigh~ RvB: like a pack of dogs chasing a squirrel."
"Yes, yes, I'm sure the red is here somewhere. Just pop him then, so we can get back to the protest."
Squirrel chase over and finally back at the monument, the Sacrificial Vagabond starts taking heat. Pilot Combat Mink braces for the inevitable...
The explosion-hungry fleet makes short work of the Vagabond - the bittersweet slaughter of one of their own underlines the sense of disappointment at the removal of the "frill".
Point explosively made, the march is underway and the fleet make best speed for the null-sec HQ of Vagabond manufacturers Thukker Mix in the Great Wildlands.
Throughout the march, the protesters did their best to diplomatically raise awareness using a variety of communication techniques including sharing "ship schematics" in local.
Scouts reported a gate camp defending the target system, so the fleet cunningly employed a pincer maneouver to outsmart the would-be waylayers.
With the Thukk You, Frill Me! fleet bearing down on the enemy gatecamp from two directions, our victory was inevitable...
...Alas, on our our arrival, it appeared that the campers were in agreement and had chosen to withdraw.

Finally, with the path to the Thukker Mix HQ clear, the dissent of thousands of unhappy Vagabond afficionados would be voiced violently by 200 angry protesters.

"There's the den of hangar-invading, frill-stealing Thukkers! Frill-seekers... CHARGE!!!" 
"Don't worry lads, I'll draw their fire, you hit 'em where it hurts."

"Buggrit! You make take our Frills, but you'll never take our..."

"Oh....Ok, which of you jokers podded me? Was it because of the 'pack of dogs' comment?"

For more detail on the how the Thukk You, Frill Me! and RvB Ganked roam went check out the following links.

The protest march is over, but the battle rages on... show your support in this thread.