Monday, 14 October 2013

The Siren Call of a Crack Whore (BB50)

Blog Banter #50 - Changes

Welcome to the continuing monthly EVE Blog Banters and our 50th edition! For more details about what the blog banters are visit the Blog Banter page.

* * * * *

With the Rubicon expansion being announced and the SOMER Blink scandals (or non-scandals depending on your point of view) that have erupted on the community at the same time, it truly feels like an age of EVE has passed and a new one is dawning.

But which direction is it going? 

This blog banter can be about several different topics: 
- where do you think EVE is going? Is it a good or bad vision ahead?
- if you were EVE's new Executive Producer, where would you take the game?
- What comes (or should come) after Rubicon in terms of the mechanics and ship balancing we've seen? (CSM8 not allowed to answer this one!)
- Is there anything in EVE's ten year past that should be resurrected? Or buried and forgotten?
- What is the future of the community? What should or should not change?

The Siren Call of a Crack Whore

Everyone's EVE experience is a journey.

Those first few steps often made by a wide-eyed, naive debutant full of vim and wonder. The many opportunities laid before them by the grand concept of the EVE Universe will test and tempt them. User experience WILL vary.

Some will adapt and thrive, some will struggle and quit, others will fade and drift. Many will do all of the above. Repeatedly. It is the accepted dogma of New Eden and for some, an endless cycle.

It is this player churn that burns at the heart of EVE Online like a sun, capsuleer interactions and reactions generating content, drama and casting light on the dark universe that CCP developers have painstakingly created over the last decade.

The balance is so delicate and CCP's task as curators so perilous; without some nurturing, the light from the player-Sun will eventually dim, leaving a previously vibrant universe devoid of life. However, too much interference and CCP has learned to its cost that the reaction can be destructive.

What future can there be for such a strange and unique creation?

The First [Twenty-] One is Always Free

The single, most powerful lure which beckons EVE players into its dark celestial embrace is the vast potential and audacious scope of its vision. To the outsider, there is so much wonder and majesty to the EVE Online concept; tumultuous player conflicts, a constantly expanding history, endless explorable space, a labyrinthine backstory, beautiful visuals and ten years of polish.

Compounding this is the fact that EVE Online - and the broader EVE Universe - has organically evolved beyond its original design goals and has become something far more than a mere online game; it is a masterful work of social engineering which holds a mirror up to human nature, blurring the lines between traditional entertainment, vocational activity and lifestyle choice.

It is also a technological feat, with its single-shard universe creating a depth of continuity found nowhere else, especially now its doors are open to multiple methods of entry as pioneered by DUST 514. It is easy to see how the EVE Universe can be over-sold - there is so much ludicrous, bombastic potential energy about the thing.

The Promise

Yet for the insider, the veteran capsuleer, the invested player, it feels like something is missing, just out of sight in the mind's eye.

It's like we're waiting for the promise we saw in those early days to be fulfilled. We're eager to see if that half-formed feature will be moulded to completion, we're watching for that game-changing element that will make it all click (while perversely hoping they won't change too much and break stuff).  We're hoping that the next expansion will fulfil the promise we think EVE made us when we first started out, that EVE will become that thing we knew it had the potential to be. Waiting, watching, hoping.

In the meantime, we'll just go roam, chat, mine, ship spin, write a thing, etcetera. With apologies to John Lennon: EVE is what happens while you're busy making other plans. A culture of “making do” has developed.

What started as an inspiring relationship with a thing of depth and beauty becomes a desperate chase for a fix you can rarely satisfy. As the title said, EVE's siren call is the teasing beckon of an unpredictable, cruel, and frankly psychotic creature who makes victims and kings of us all.

With this realisation comes the ability to see behind the curtain at the naked reality of a game universe far less complete than we first believed. Like many of its players, it's still searching for something to fill the emptiness.

The potential we initially saw may still be there, but even after nearly 15 years of development, that potential has still not been fulfilled. You have to start wondering if it ever will be. Has EVE lost its purpose and simply become a gaming retirement home for embittered veterans, hapless dreamers and professional victims?

Something IS missing. But what?

The Conveyor Belt of Wish Fulfilment

The sheer scope of EVE Online is a developmental rod for CCP's own back.

Every EVE player has a different vision for EVE's future - such is the nature of an open and limitless game world which encourages - nay, requires - lateral thinking and some imagination. As a result, there is an endless list of of wishes and demands which cannot possibly all be met in the short-term. There are so many directions in which  EVE could be developed, demographics to which the game could and should appeal, that CCP's resources must either be stretched or focused.

Every direction chosen is a risk; too few resources will prompt a fumbled delivery, too many will leave fewer resources elsewhere.

Every direction ignored could be a missed opportunity or even lead to player disappointment and anger.

So it is that every CCP developer labours to appease the unpredictable demands of a multi-polar community, negotiate the shifting sands of the competitive MMO market, and soak up the pressure of being a gear in the wheel of the machine purposed to deliver CCP Seagull's “five year vision, a three year road map and a 12-month plan.”

Whether EVE's 20th expansion, Rubicon, really is the point of no return the name implies remains to be seen. EVE's journey has reached a point where things need to be mixed up. I want to see the old guard kept happy as new blood floods in. I want to see fresh content and new frameworks for gameplay, not just a few tweaks to existing mechanics (but we need those too).

Bottling Stardust or Just Selling us Glitter?

Since the end of the ship-steadying post-Incarna development phase ably led by the then Executive Producer  Jon 'CCP Unifex' Lander (now re-purposed to oversee CCP's mobile strategy), the senior officers remaining on deck are Senior Producer Andie 'CCP Seagull' Nordgren and Development Director Stefanía 'CCP Ripley' G. Halldórsdóttir.

Under their direction, CCP has certainly been making some of the right noises, but thus far nothing more significant than iterations and allusions have made it out of the workshop. It seems even after ten years, that awe-inspiring promise that EVE showed is delivering only more promises.

For EVE to thrive, it needs to embrace change; it cannot rely solely on the rheumy-eyed veteran players (as vital a component as they may be). The way must be paved to create future veteran players, but to do so modern gaming values must be embraced.

It must capitalise on the IP which is not only the market leader in mass-population emergent gameplay, but also has found significant purchase in fields as diametrically opposed as eSports and roleplaying.

It needs to find ways to share New Eden with those seeking immediate short-term fulfilment, to become accessible to a more casual market, to integrate modern gaming trends, but (and it's a big but) without compromising the great legacy which CCP has built. Having DUST 514, EVE: Valkyrie and an eye on mobile applications shows they have the materials, the tools and the ideology. So half the fight is already won.

But whether CCP are truly prepared – or even capable – of fulfilling EVE Online's true potential remains to be seen, or if they'll just flail in the general direction of success as they face-plant into the muddy puddle of untempered ambition. But I hope they try rather than try to milk the status quo and keep stringing us along with clever marketing and “just one more free expansion” crack.

They should throw stuff at the player-Sun - it'll either have no effect, burn brighter or explode. Do nothing and it'll just fade away - and that's no way for such an epic journey to end.

Dare to be bold, CCP. Dare to be bold.

[This is one of many community responses to the discussion topic posed for Blog Banter 50. See the officially curated list at Inner Sanctum of the Ninveah for views from around the EVE blogosphere.] 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Captain's Quarters Treasure Hunt “Live Event” With Prizes

"What if I told you they'd been lying to you?
"What if I told you there is more to see in your Captain's Quarters than they want you to see?
"What if I told you...
…The Door opens.”
  - The sleeping engineer.
Your captain's quarters: that strange, lifeless tomb you rarely visit. Why would you? There's nothing to do there that you can't do more efficiently another way.

Until now.

Texty Beast

Incarna: The Text Adventure, my coffee-fuelled satirical creation built on the Schadenfreude Game Engine in response to the Fearless Monoclegate Summer of Incarnage of two years ago, has evolved.

It has grown beyond a mere 7,000 words, to a feature-complete 15,000. In EVE Online: The Text Adventure – Chapter One: The Broken Capsule, there is now actual gameplay – with mysteries to uncover, puzzles to solve and Easter eggs to reveal. There are even some new jokes.

Not only that, there's actual graphics. Don't get too excited, it's still an interactive story text adventure (the Schadenfreude engine has its limits, even with the Twine plug-in), but aesthetically it is far more pleasing than its predecessor and has a lot more content than the avatar engine we all politely ignore.

[Note: There is a bit of a bug regarding visual effects and the browser BACK button. I'll fix it as soon as I can, but a workaround to stop unwanted video playing is pressing your browser REFRESH button. Text shake can be resolved by choosing another option. Sorry for the inconvenience.]

So what can you do in The Broken Capsule? Well I can't give too much away without ruining the experience, but with the right kind of lateral thinking, that door really does open and you really can see what's on the other side. You can even step beyond the threshold and sample that bold texty frontier.

But there's more.

The Titular Treasure Hunt

When the chapter has been solved and you have successfully escaped your Captain's Quarters, a link will be provided on the winning page. Following that link will take you to a location where being the first to submit any of the following information will net you a prize.

I will pay 50 million ISK to the first to achieve each of the following:

  • Earn 10 Titles
As you explore your quarters and the surrounding environs, you will encounter various situations and conditions which will grant you titles. These can be monitored on the SCORE page in the sidebar of the Broken Capsule “UI”. A full list must be provided.

  • Find the Regions
List all of the New Eden Regions which occur in the text.

  • Devious Devs
Name all the devs who have been secreted in and around the Captain's Quarters in text or visual form.

  • Race to the Line
List every Race and Bloodline mentioned in the text.

  • Systemic Gameplay
List every New Eden star system which occurs in the text.

  • The Poetry of Combat
Hidden somewhere is a dreamy haiku. What is it?

  • The relevant information needs to be posted at the location provided on successful completion of Chapter One. Delivering the answers by any other means will not be accepted. 
  • Winners may claim any one or all of the prizes (Total :300m ISK).
  • Only entirely correct lists will be accepted. Missing answers or additional guesses will render the claim forfeit (and possibly give answers away to other potential claimants.)
  • Claimants should also post the name of the character they wish to receive the ISK.
  • Competition begins at 0600 EVE time today (4th July) to allow the hosting server to catch up with the latest update.
I hope you enjoy your Captain's Quarters experience.

"I am no longer able to launch a volley of missile with a single thought...
"I am no longer protected by shields, armor, drones, anything. I am just a body...
"Easily replaceable, carbon based, piece of meat.
"It makes me sick. But its what I have to do to get what I need.
"Sometimes you need to get offline, to get things done.” -
A capsuleer busting for a piss, 2011.

Two years ago, CCP dropped a bollock with Captain's Quarters implementation, shattering the dreams of some and royally pissing off almost everyone else.

I just picked that bollock up.

Thank me later, after I've cleaned my hands. ;)

Further reading:

I will be writing about my nascent game development experiences with Twine on GameSkinny. The introductory article is already up.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Kirith Kodachi: Venerable Blogging Elder and New Steward of the Blog Banters

Kirith Kodachi was old in blog years when I first took up the mantle of EVE blogger in 2009.

The then nascent EVE Blog Pack comprised a significant percentage of EVE's blogdom at the time and they were an inspiration to the next generation of bloggers to come, myself included.

An Ancient Blogging Titan

There were those whose words I had been reading for some time, Kirith's peers such as Crazy Kinux (Crazy Kinux's Musings), Roc Wieler (Roc's Ramblings), Mandrill (I am Keith Neilson), Rettic (The Chronofile), Manasi (A Mule in EVE), Shae Tiann (Sweet Little Bad Girl), Casiella Trusa (Ecliptic Rift), Hallan Turrek (A Merry Life and a Short One), Wensley (Rifter Drifter) and others.

Sadly, many have fallen silent as others have risen in their stead. It's the Circle of Blogs (©The Line King), -cough- sorry.

A few tenacious buggers just keep blogging on to their own iambic beat, most notably Kirith and Roc. I paid homage to these "ancient blogging titans" late last year in my Blog Banter analysis, Knights of the Banter.

Although having been around forever isn't a prerequisite of running the Blog Banters, a long, unbroken blogging run says a lot for consistency and reliability, which such a role does need (and ultimately, the reason why I fired myself).

The New Breed

That said, the same qualities are evident in many of the subsequent generations of bloggers and that is a healthy sign. For those of you who approached me with regard to taking over the Blog Banters, I am grateful that there is such an interest and a rich pool of enthusiasm and writing talent within the community. That tells me that the Blog Banters have been doing their job.

I'm just sorry I couldn't hand it off to everyone. In the past, I had considered some kind of round table system to democratise the Blog Banter process, but that way lies pain and unnecessary complexity. It works well as it is, with one guy in the engine room responding to the voices of the community, monitoring the ebb and flow on a monthly basis.

This is also the reason why I don't think anything would be gained by uniting the Blog Banters with The Blog Pack. Blog Banters are inclusive, the Blog Pack is exclusive. They represent different ideals - both valid, but not easy bedfellows.

The Blog Banters should continue to be for everyone and anyone who wants to participate. I think it would be unhealthy if the BBs were relegated to functioning as some kind of qualification pool for the Blog Pack, which I believe they would, by association if not design. Although ultimately, this will no longer be my decision.

All Hail Lord Moose-Beaver

In Kirith I see a man who has been consistent for an EVE eternity, both as a blogger and a well-rounded community figure. As well as delivering consistently incisive blogging, he has an excellent grasp of the entire EVE spectrum; from the technical aspects (he used to write the Test Pilot series for EON magazine), to the lore (he's a frequent writer of EVE fan fiction). He can even combine the two (Project ATHENA - 'nuff said!).

Kirith isn't afraid to get stuck into the heavy political and strategic morass which is null-sec (this always went over my head) as well as analysing CCP's moves. He fights in Factional Warfare and he's also a champion of the underdog, fighting the now silent EVE Tribune's corner for so long as it laboured in the shadow of EVE media heavyweights TMC and EN24.

Kirith also finds the time to produce a podcast, Broadcasts from the Ninveah, where he provides a handy overview of interesting blogs and community events. You can heckle him from the in-game "Ninveah" channel.

Handing over to Kirith also makes me feel a little better as I pretty much snatched the then dormant Blog Banter out from under his nose by relaunching with BB27 in August 2011 off the back of his blogpost comparing and contrasting EVE Online with World of Tanks. This feels like the right decision to me.

I think Kirith's broad experience and maturity makes him the perfect man for the job.  It is important that the Blog Banter tradition remains a grassroots community service and I think Kirith's experience and conduct shows he would continue to steer the good ship BB in the right direction.

Put simply, the guy is EVE royalty and an all-round solid fellow - leaving the Blog Banters in his hands takes much of the sting out of the decision for me.

"I don't want to go."

On a personal note, I write all of this with a twinge of sadness. I joked to my wife that I feel like David Tennant must have when he filmed his last episode of Doctor Who.

I really didn't want to let go of the BBs for what are probably selfish reasons, but that's not very community spirited.

Passing the responsibility on is.

I will do my best to make it a smooth transition (regeneration?) and I'll still be around to help promote and support the initiative.  I'll even try to participate from time to time.

I wish Kirith all the best and hope that the EVE blogging (and podcasting) community get behind him as he kickstarts the third era of Blog Banters.

Useful Links:

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

An Open Letter to the Blog Banter Community

Dear Banteratti

as you may have noticed, I've been a bit slack with my Blog Banter administration duties of late.

For that, I owe the community a heartfelt apology. I dropped the ball (it was either that or the baby).

Why Blog Banters are important to the EVE community 

Blog Banters are a community tradition dating back years and I feel they play an important part in creating a common ground on which all EVE bloggers can touch base. Originally they provided a way of forming the "blogosphere", but they still play a role in maintaining its structural integrity. Blog Banters may not be a necessity, but they add colour and unity to the EVE blogging landscape.

The Blog Banter is an inclusive grassroots community initiative which has seen over 150 participants and enables budding writers and established institutions alike to connect, share ideas and butt heads. It underpins a significant segment of the EVE community and provides interesting snapshots of moments in EVE's history.

Blog Banters deserve better than to be left gather dust for weeks. I have always been very proud of having the opportunity to run the Blog Banters and would like to see them continue.

However, I'm no longer confident I can do them justice.

Why I'm No Longer the Man for the Job

Over the last few years, I was able to devote plenty of my time to EVE community projects and duties as I was able to balance my professional career with my hobby of writing (mostly about EVE).

However, in a strange twist of fates, as injury scotched my healthcare career, my hobby evolved into an income opportunity, which has been a bit of a life-saver now I'm no longer on the NHS payroll.

However, things are much tighter now. The arrival of my baby daughter and the end of my paramedic career have polarised my need to prioritise on things that pay the bills. Now I'm self-employed, I never clock off and I can no longer afford to devote 10-20 hours per week to voluntary EVE community duties when that time is better spent elsewhere.

With writing now being my only source of income, hours spent writing for free (or for ISK) feels like a frivolous indulgence when I need to be building a new future. This may also explain the lack of content on Freebooted, although I intend to maintain that in some regard.

In truth, I would love to have continued running the Banters and posting more. Essentially, they became how I played EVE. Letting the Banters go is genuinely quite a heart-rending proposition and feels like an end I wouldn't choose.

But time and tide and all that, the community marches on regardless. I will certainly be continuing as an EVE writer, observer and occasional player/ship-spinner too.

I hope we can find a new Blog Banter custodian who can keep the tradition alive. I'll be consulting the Banter mailing list members, but please contact me via email (seismic[dot]stan[at]gmail[dot]com) or Twitter or any of the other comms channels we have available if you have any thoughts. Hell, write a blog post and link it in the comments below if you like - that would be fitting after all.

Whatever way the wind blows, it's been an absolute privilege.


Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Fanfest Mindhack

Ah, CCP. They do it to me every year.

Lately, I've quite happily been bumbling along enjoying EVE Online from the sidelines, having finally grown comfortable with my lot as an observer, commentator, volunteer community manager and casual participator. In my reinvented life as a sleep-deprived new father and nascent professional writer, I simply do not have the time to invest in an active and meaningful EVE career in the way we know it should be done.

But I'm content. I still get to take part in fits and starts and lately I've been getting a contented glow as the things I've championed in the past start to manifest; a greater respect for EVE's lore, live events, a broader development strategy, better camera tools, Vagabond frills, picture-in-picture targeting (we're still waiting Torfi). Whether or not I played a part in planting some of those seeds, I feel almost like my work here is done. I've been around since 2003, after all, there's a new generation in town these days, who seem to have plenty so say for themselves.

Leaving Orbit?

Then, like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the community, Fanfest happens. The conversational pulse quickens, rumours circulate of fantastic new concepts, game-changing revelations, bold new strategies. I go down with a bad case of enthusiasm and desperately need to know more. On reflection, I'm starting to think of my relationship with EVE Online as less of an addiction and more of a blood-borne pathogen which is generally symptomless aside from the occasional flare-up.

In any case, I'm pretty sure there are dark arts at work. They're not called Crowd Control Productions for nothing y'know.

The Voice of the Mysterons

Today saw the release of the official Fanfest 2013 programme, which has further inflamed my symptoms. In it, just beyond a picture of Hilmar looking like a cherubic flame-haired Obi-Wan Kenobi (or a ginger Father Christmas) lays the Fanfest schedule. It is a packed schedule to whose frustrating tune I will dance for three days next week as I try to attend as many of the overlapping and conflicting events and roundtables as I can.

My itinerary is further compounded this year by the fact I'll be working. My Fanfest experiences seem to be getting more frenetic with each visit. In 2011, I attended as a fansite operator and was able to bump along with the general pace. In 2012, my attendance was as a prize for winning the Guild Launch EVE Correspondent contest, which included some press duties in providing coverage and retrospective material. That opportunity evolved and this year it's all hands on deck as I attend in my official capacity as a correspondent for GameSkinny. I'll also be helping out the A Tale of Internet Spaceships documentary team whenever I am able.

Getting Under the Skin

I've been preparing as best I can with daily examinations of key aspects of the EVE Universe, which as well as ensuring I am as informed as possible, I hope will be an entertaining primer for other attendees or those interested in EVE Online's odyssey so far.

Here's the list of my Countdown to Fanfest articles to date:

Countdown to EVE Online Fanfest

Ten years of internet spaceships, half a million subscribers, a history of industry firsts. There's a whole lot to celebrate at the Party on Top of the World.

Is CCP Still Ahead of the Game?

In the first of our 'Countdown to Fanfest' features, we examine elements which carried EVE Online through its first ten years and whether CCP Games has the stomach for another decade.

CCP's Mobile Lander

In the wake of the revelation the Executive Producer is changing roles, a look at the legacy of "the man who saved EVE" and the likelihood of him putting Planetary Interaction on an iPad.

Laying Down the Lore & The Fiction Renaissance

A two-part examination of CCP's treatment of their prime fiction, the recent change in strategy and the future of live events.

Player Power

For some, the most hotly anticipated announcement at EVE Fanfest is the election results of the Council of Stellar Management. In space, everyone can hear your propaganda.

Tiericidal Maniacs

Hundreds of ships, thousands of statistics, millions of combinations. Can anyone who works in these conditions hope to cling to sanity?

Second Star to the Right and Straight on 'til Morning

The growth of EVE Online's game universe continues after ten years. In the Countdown to Fanfest, we take the meandering path of the explorer through the history of New Eden's hidden secrets.

A Tale of Internet Spaceships

For most Fanfest attendees, it is the opportunity to celebrate their beloved internet spaceship MMO. But for three brave Swedish film-makers, it is an odyssey into the unknown.

Questions for the Spaceship Althing

Frantic last minute preparations, scribbled notes and many, many questions. What secrets will be revealed at EVE Fanfest...?

Personal Odyssey

Despite the workload, I'm looking forward to this Fanfest. There are many things that intrigue me about EVE's future and I want to play my part. However, I will do my best to resist the occult mind control – after Hilmar's 2011 Jedi mind trick where he claimed we were all his evangelists and I somehow complied by writing and podcasting my arse off for a year, I think (hope) I've developed a degree of immunity.

I will, however, enjoy watching the first timers and the zealots fall under the spell.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Blog Banter 46: The Main Event

Welcome to the 46th EVE Blog Banter, the community tradition that shares a single discussion topic across the blogosphere and beyond. For further information, check out the Blog Banter section above. For this edition's topic, read on...

The Main Event

"EVE Online is a unique piece of science fiction that is ‘participatory’." - CCP Seagull, December 2012

EVE Online is heading into its Second Decade with renewed vigour and a new development strategy. At the CSM Summit in December, Executive Producer CCP Unifex and Development Director CCP Seagull explained how future development and expansions will be broader in scope than recent "collections of features" stating that CCP "want to create something more inspirational, that players aspire to play." 

With the return of Live Events such as the Battle for Caldari Prime, clearly the prime fiction of EVE is back in favour as part of this new thematic approach to expansions. However, EVE's story is very much a tale of two playstyles, with an entirely player-driven narrative unfolding daily in parallel to the reinvigorated backstory. Often, they do not mix well. How can these two disparate elements be united or at least comfortably co-exist in a single sandbox universe?

Banter On.

Thoughts From the Bantersphere:

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Coverage of CCP Games at PAX East... and the 'O' Word

It's hard to miss the single word echoing around the EVE-flavoured interwebs at the moment. Odyssey has just been announced as the 19th EVE expansion due to be released in June 2013. A contingent of devs have been camped out in a booth at games convention PAX East in Boston, MA, led by CCP Unifex who made a short announcement in which I half expected him to sell three steaks and a pound of spuds to the nearest bargain hunter (if you've not been to a London market, that joke was probably lost on you).

Although those who are browsing for EVE material to read will probably already be sick of the column inches to actual information ratio that currently exists in all Odyssey related media, I'm going to briefly add to it by directing you to the three posts I've published over on GameSkinny.

A Brief Analysis of EVE Online's 19th Free Expansion: Odyssey takes a look at the few key details to be found on the official expansion page. Taking what we already knew from CSM minutes and previous devblogs, I have a stab at trying to figure out what exeactly we might expect from Odyssey.

EVE Online: Odyssey Image Analysis - Minigame Speculation is a bit of a flight of fantasy, but I got all excited when I stumbled upon some photos of the presentation and saw some screenshots showing some of the upcoming features. I'd be interested to know what you can make of the images. Minigames? Sub-system targeting? Or just more visual polish on the scanning system?

EVE Online Odyssey Community Response: MOAR INFO PLZ! was to sate my curiosity to see what the community response has been thus far. As expected there has been a wide range of opinions based on scant information, but less fury than I expected. Maybe the usual suspects are just warming up.

Content has been a bit light on Freebooted lately, but I'm currently on high alert for the imminent birth of my first child, so I'm just hanging around the undock whilst the little one plays station games. Normal service will resume... at some point. Maybe.

Monday, 4 March 2013

CCP Soundwave and the Nerd Boner of Nordic Cool

It seems a certain Mr Touborg is doing a few warm-up gigs to get his eye in for the big stage at Fanfest in April.

As part of a month long Nordic Cool festival at the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C., Kristoffer 'CCP Soundwave' Touborg delighted the audience with his sharp wit in a discussion about the influence of Scandinavian game design in a presentation entitled Game Design: Behind the Screen.

Along with Saku Lehtinen, developer of Alan Wake and Max Payne, the hour long presentation had hints of Inside the Actor's Studio, but with Mike Snider, Tech Reporter for USA Today instead of James Lipton.

Hey Finnish guy, just press play.
What could have been quite a dry presentation was saved by a liberal spread of Stoffles charm as the silver-tongued Swedish Dane opening with the announcement that he works in Iceland, “where spaceships come from.”

After delighting the audience with the adventures of Vic 'Keith Neilson' Lacuna in the Retribution trailer, Kristoffer gleefully admitted that linking a PC game to a console game was a “bad idea” but added the caveat that “now it's working for us it seems like a good idea.”

"So a geek and a Viking walked into a bar..."
The stand-out comedy moment was after showing the DUST 514 – Gathering Forces trailer. Earlier in the presentation, after identifying that there were some children in the audience, the more reserved Saku Lehtinen had apologetically explained that the Alan Wake trailer he was about to show contained some violent scenes, but it was all just a dream and no one really gets hurt.

After the DUST trailer had finished, Soundwave painted a picture of the joy of the EVE/DUST link thus:

“When you sit in a spaceship and someone in another game calls in an airstrike and you bomb that from a totally different game, you will get the biggest nerd boner you've ever had.”

Like me, the crowd laughed openly, but I can imagine there would have been some difficult parent-child conversations on the way home in the car.

What's happened to the other one?
Shortly after, KT played the World of Darkness trailer as shown at Fanfest 2012, complete with animated disembowelments and boobs in baths. That car conversation isn't getting any easier.

With the presentation segment over, the conversation between Touborg, Lehtinen and moderator Snider commenced, some of which I've covered over on GameSkinny, but I transcribed much more of the dialogue and I thought I'd reproduce my more EVE-specific unused notes here.

Kristoffer Touborg on the Nordic approach to game design:

“I'm not terribly surprised that games like Minecraft and other games of that type come from Nordic countries. There is an appetite to make games to challenge people and that take some getting into.”

KT on how the Nordic influence is evident in EVE Online:

“EVE Online is not a simple game to get into, it's a fairly complex game and we're pretty cognizant that we maybe won't have everyone stay in our game that tries it out. We're perfectly all right with that. EVE isn't for everyone, it's for people who want something challenging, something that they're invested in. That fits all our games, DUST 514 - the shooter - has a level of depth that no other shooters have and for some people that might not be what they want, but hopefully we'll catch a crowd that want a little bit more out of their shooters.”

"CCP has been really, really good at doing new things. Sometimes it's gone not so well, but a lot of the time it's gone really well."

KT on why the Nordic approach to game design might be different to that of developers from other regions:

"I think that's part of being in part of an isolated game culture."

"If you're in a game studio in LA, there's tons of other game studios around, you'll go out, you'll meet other people. In Iceland, there's just water. Thousands and thousands of miles of water. There's no one I can talk to about games in another studio there. Of course that has its disadvantages because you're not part of this big community that gets together, but it also has the plus side of us having to come up with something on our own and not having a culture that homogenises what we do.

"I think that also, it doesn't surprise me that the only single server MMO, the only game connected to another machine like the PS3 comes out of that."

On video games as part of pop culture:

"Videogames are the new movies."

“Super-flexible medium. Movies haven't really changed that much in the sense hour and half long - you can watch them at home or at the movies. Games are a completely different beast. You can sit on the bus and play an iOS game, you can go home and spend 15 hours on World of Warcraft - don't do that, I think that might be overdoing it a little bit. Pace yourselves.”

“It's so flexible; you can do it multiplayer, you can do it alone, it's justa medium that I feel has done very well in reaching all kinds of different people in all kinds of different situations. That alone is a gigantic advantage.”

“We've been seeing the free-to-play games come out of the past few years, I think that's an even more interesting step in the direction that you're basically getting entertainment for free until you choose for it not to be free.”

Response to audience question on the future of the games industry [notes]:

Not just mobile. Device integration. Defiance tying into a console game. A PC game that ties into a PS game.

Social revolution. On a much bigger stage. Riot games - eSports. Walked into a sports bar and was annoyed they were watching baseball during a League of Legends final.

In response to an audience question on CCP's philosophy on intervening in player activity in EVE Online:

“It's a sandbox, we try to stay as hands-off as humanly possible. Sometimes it can be painful. It can be a bit like a car crash - you're standing there and it's like: 'this is a little bit awkward for us'. But we have a principle and I think us staying hands-off for ten years is why the game is doing so well.”

“Every now and then I'll be sit in a meeting room and I'll be like: 'all right we have to do something about this'. But we've kept our heads cool and not really interfered and I think that's why the game is so much fun. [It's] the reason why I don't think kids should be playing EVE Online - we have an age restriction on it - and I think that's fully justified is that people can do things in EVE Online that might not be morally right. We don't have a lot of blood spatter and murder in our game, but we do have people that are allowed to behave how they morally feel. Some people will be morally outrageous in the game.”

“We let people build these gigantic communities and when you have alliance that has 10,000 people in it and [they're] trying to take space from other people, those ambitions might step on some people on the way - I think that's what makes EVE Online great - but sometimes it can be a little bit scary to watch.”

On making a Viking-themed video game:

"If we ever make Viking game I'll die from shame." [Goes on to explain that some DUST 514 maps are based on Iceland's terrain.]

On CCP's plans to port EVE Online and DUST 514 to other platforms:

"I cant really tell what the long term plans are. Initial launch on PS3 and everything else that comes after that for me is like some business voodoo magic that takes place completely outside of my realm. I'd hope some day - but we're launching on Playstation."

Although Mister Touborg was very entertaining and brought a bit of sparkle to the presentation, I'm still hoping he'll up his game at Fanfest and sing Rocket Man in the style of William Shatner, like he promised last year.

[For more coverage, check out Nordic Cool: EVE Online and Alan Wake Developers Discuss the Game Design Superpower of Scandinavia on GameSkinny]

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Blog Banter 45: Propaganda

Welcome to the 45th Blog Banter, the EVE Online community discussion which stumbles from topic to topic like a drunk looking for an empty cubicle.

If you're new to the Blog Banters, don't be afraid to get stuck in with your opinion. If you're unsure how it all works, check out previously completed discussions in the Blog Banter archive or read this post for a brief explanation.

Bad UIs Cost Lives

This edition of the Blog Banter is forged from suggestions by #tweetfleet members @KaedaMaxwell, @RocWieler and @TigerlilyFenix.

In a socially-driven game environment such as EVE Online's, everyone has an agenda. CCP promotes its products and has an army of volunteers to do the same; corporations and alliances deliver entertaining recruitment drives, CSM election candidates solicit for voter favour, bloggers and podcasters opine to their audiences.

In this intricate web of communication, influence and control, what part does propaganda play in your game?

Banter on.

The Ministry of Opinion Prestidigitation

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Capturing EVE History: A Tale of Internet Spaceships

At Fanfest 2011, I had the good fortune to meet Swedish journalist Petter Mårtensson, whose relaxed, erudite manner and keen instincts meant he had a good ear for a dynamite quote. He subsequently wrote this piece about his beer-fuelled Icelandic spaceship experience for GameReactor.

The following year, we met up again and I did my best to ruin/enhance Petter's in-the-field podcasting attempts for The Three MMOsketeers on CSICON network. It was also a great opportunity for me to copy his homework as he swotted up in the press pit for various Swedish gaming news outlets.

Nobody Expects the Swedish Inquisition

Now this year, with for the big ten-year celebration of EVE Online upon us, Petter is bring out the big guns. He's planning something suitably ambitious for such a milestone; a documentary aimed at capturing the essence of Fanfest 2013, of EVE Online and the relationship between the players and the osmotic community membrane beyond which the devs can be found.

Along with his able technician, Philip Raivander, he plans to be stalking the halls and bars to capture the Fanfest ambience and will be sitting down with players and devs to get beards-and-all coverage of the occasion.

What will result will be a documentary which will forever be a record of the time hundreds of internet spaceship nerds got together to celebrate the world's greatest, most controversial, gloriously divisive yet fiercely inclusive game of interstellar treachery and destruction as it entered into its second decade.

You Rang, Marshter?

Of course, as history has shown, Petter's Fanfest coverage would be incomplete without his best laid plans being “assisted” by me. I'll be there somewhere, shambling around in the background, playing the part of skivvy, gopher and “researcher”, like some cockney Igor. I'll be doing my best to ensure that things run smoothly and interview appointments are kept. “Mishter Shoundwave, the Marshter will shee you now.”

I'll also probably be the one who has to go get you a drink if your throat is a bit dry, but don't push it. ;)

In truth, things are relatively fluid at present. We have a few big names to occupy the bar stool of doom, but there will always be room for more. The idea is that the team captures the essence of Fanfest, with screentime for every aspect of the Reykjavik-based shenanigans. Petter will be keen to chat with you about your thoughts on EVE, it's history and its future, or on your experiences; whether your Corp CEO is any good, what that battle was like, why you like rotten shark or what we should blame the Goons for today.

If you're interested, contact myself or Petter, either via the comments box below, or by email at seismic[dot]stan[at]gmail[dot]com or via Twitter.

Just One More Thing

Of course, this grand plan will only come to fruition if the project gets enough backing. Petter has set up an IndieGoGo page to get the ball rolling, and your sponsorship would be greatly appreciated. For just $10 your name will be emblazoned across the credit roll, for $50 you'll be immortalised in photographic form and for a greater sum, well, other magical things could happen.

Go check out the 'A Tale of Internet Spaceships' IndieGoGo page for up-to-date details.

We'll see you in the City in the Smoky Bay in April at beer o'clock.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

An Oscar-Winning Summary of Blog Banter 43: Celebrating the Nation of EVE

Gathering together the disparate thoughts of tens of bloggers is no simple task in any case, but to deliver one by distilling multiple awards into a single cohesive showcase of peer appreciation was an immensely tall order.

However, Drackarn at Sand, Cider and Spaceships took time out from his usual bloggery of fiction, faction and spaceship action to bring some glitz and humour to the most ambitious community celebration to ever grace the spaceship interwebs. Maybe.

In any case he does a fantastic job and thoroughly deserves comments, acceptance speeches and heckles from you the peers, nominees, winners and audience of The Podars.

Go now and take a stroll down the red (it really should be blue) carpet.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Come Join the Writing Revolution

When I started writing an EVE blog in 2009, I had no idea where it would lead. I didn't really have a goal, it was just for fun and an outlet for creativity.

But writing Freebooted also proved to be my gateway to the wider EVE community and changed my game experience from the more solitary journey I had begun in 2003 to a far more communal one.

That journey has resulted in me having the privilege of helping to maintain and encourage a blogging community at a grassroots level, working with other community enthusiasts on a variety of projects from podcasts to Blog Banters and swimming amongst this tide pool of amazing literary and oratory creative talent. It is genuinely rewarding to play a role within such an amazing online ecosystem.

More recently, concurrent to my EVE blogging community duties, I've had the opportunity to write elsewhere. I won the chance to maintain a regular EVE column with community hosting providers Guild Launch, I've written a number of articles for EON magazine and I've even been addressing issues in the real world, leading to my publication in a national newspaper which had real world impact.

This all ended up being a blessed safety net after my paramedic career ended due to injury.

All because I started a blog about my favourite computer game.

Turning Up the Volume

But the next exciting stage of my journey has just begun and it's something I can share with you.

Folk who follow me on Twitter may have noticed I've been writing the occasional article for a new site called GameSkinny. It's essentially a gaming news and culture site, but with a difference; we - the communities of the internet - provide the content.

Amy White, the GameSkinny Senior Editor, explains it far more succinctly than I could in her intro article, Public Beta: Go Time for GameSkinny”:


Here's what we know:

  • No one knows games as well as the players who love them;
  • Lots of gamers start blogs and video channels to share their interests and know-how;
  • Without marketing, SEO and PR most of those blogs and videos never reach the audience that would love them;
  • Lacking an engaged audience, people just stop making things!
How depressing is that? I've been through it myself, and can tell you there's nothing to encourage a person quite like an audience, and that nothing discourages quite like the absence of one.

On the surface GameSkinny is a bright, fresh news site, with a sleek, responsive design. (Have you seen it on your mobile phone or tablet yet? Sometimes I just hug my iPad when the site loads.)


Under that shiny exterior lies the beating heart of GameSkinny: You.

Why publish on GameSkinny? Because you want to spend time creating cool content, not finding an audience.  Let us worry about marketing, traffic and all that other stuff. You just do the part you care about: Making something great and interacting with the people who check out your posts.


An Invitation

So far, writing for GameSkinny has been an amazing experience for me, a real eye-opener. In part because it's really broadened my opinion and experience of games. For years, I almost exclusively played EVE and started suffering from a very narrow gaming viewpoint, perhaps even exhibiting a degree of Stockholm Syndrome.

But after reading about and -gasp- playing other games, I now have a much more accurate yardstick with which to measure EVE. I can appreciate far better what EVE does well – it is the undisputed champion of certain gameplay aspects – and what it does badly. It is my hope that this will make me a better EVE blogger.

The purpose of this post is to invite my fellow bloggers, and readers who have often had the itch but don't want to set up their own blog, to come try out GameSkinny. Broaden your horizons, throw up some content and give the GameSkinny marketing droids a short-circuit.

On a personal note and for clarity, this venture will not affect my EVE community duties in any way and I will continue to maintain Freebooted and the Blog Banters to the best of my ability. I do also provide GameSkinny with EVE-related content, but I have a very clear view of which content goes where.

How you use GameSkinny is entirely up to you, but I see it as a fantastic platform to reach an audience, build up a body of work for portfolio purposes and just have fun interacting with the wider gaming community.

I'm really excited to see where this road leads. Why not come along?

Friday, 18 January 2013

Searching for Omens of the Future in the CSM Summit Minutes


Following the release of the 113 page monster that is the minutes of the CSM 7 summit that took place in December, there will no doubt be broad discussion across the community as folk pick through the segments relevant to their interests.

Although I may well do the same for the elements that interest me, I was mostly interested in the general direction and development culture that CCP would be adopting following their recent Crucible/Inferno/Retribution cycle which, for all its impressive iteration and refinement, left me cold. I felt that CCP had drifted from what I consider to be the heart of EVE Online; the majestic yet bleak science fiction universe which envelopes the game mechanics.

In more recent months, CCP have certainly been paying lip service to these tropes, however I wanted to find evidence that they were prepared to do more than just rely on a few dedicated devs to spend their own time running live events whilst expecting players to do all the heavy lifting.

Having reviewed the opening session which saw Executive Producer Jon 'CCP Unifex' Lander and Senior Producer (product development) Andie 'CCP Seagull' Nordgren discussing high-level strategy with the CSM, there is certainly evidence that they see value in the intellectual property of New Eden, which is encouraging.

I explored this discussion in more detail over on GameSkinny in my three-part series examining the omens for the future of EVE Online (click title for the full article).

Part 1: The Ten Year Legacy

Aimed at those who may be unfamiliar with EVE Online's recent history, this is an explanation of the relationship between CCP and its customers and a brief overview of the highs and lows of the development path that brings us up to date.

Part 2: The Devil is in the Details...

Key information delivered by development playmakers CCP Unifex and CCP Seagull indicating their thoughts and strategies for the coming months and years.

Part 3: Making Players Content

What part the CSM (and players in general) will continue to play in the future of EVE Online and how the strategy will play out in the immediate future. Indicators of what to expect over the coming year.

As I said, this is not a deep dive, it was simply a testing of the water for those who want to get a feel for CCP's direction without wading through the Summit document. I hope it might serve as an overview for the interested wider non-EVE audience at GameSkinny.

I might even maintain a link list here, if my archiving OCD kicks in again.