Wednesday, 23 July 2014

'The players are the salad.'

As the latest revision of EVE Online's labyrinthine game mechanics sees the complexities of industry and production given a facelift in the latest release, Crius, PR guy Ned 'CCP Manifest' Coker flexes his social media arm on Reddit to provide a selection of industry-flavoured fiction from the pen of Hjalti 'CCP Abraxus' Danielsson and his fellow scribes.

Unsurprisingly, the response to his Facebook link prompted a predictable challenge to the relevance of EVE's lore, with claims that it is unnecessary to EVE because 'the players are the plot'. The official EVE Online response (presumably also CCP Manifest) was as amusing as it was cryptic:


Whether those of us who enjoy EVE's lore have just been officially labeled as the vegetarians to the carnivorous PvPers, I'm not sure, but I'd like to think of myself as more of an omnivore with the hunting instincts of an angry daffodil.

Besides, if EVE stripped out all the fiction, you couldn't even have spaceships, warp drives, clones and so on. So like it or not, everyone has to accept the lore to some degree. It certainly doesn't do any harm to flesh out the universe with inspiring and thought-provoking stories for those who enjoy that sort of thing. The recent Dark Horse comic series proved that the player-driven stuff doesn't necessarily make for an engaging or coherent narrative anyway (although I think that was just a matter of presentation). The idea of weaving player actions into the background story is certainly a good one and New Eden has the best possible platform to do it.

In any case, the industrial overhaul is live and I'm very tempted to see if the manufacturing experience has been made any more accessible to mathematically-challenged casual players like me. That may or may not be the case after spending an evening reading the discussions on the EVE-O forums. It has certainly been an education (at least those parts I understood), with a lot of veteran (vegetarian?) industrialists raging about the loss of 'BPO plumage' (bragging rights derived from the negligible benefit of researching blueprints to a ridiculously high level, a process which takes months).

I note that EVE's cleverest blogger, Noizygamer, plans to defiantly hold his industrial ground in low-sec despite his claims that all evidence says that's a silly idea. What's he not telling us, eh? Maybe he's sitting on a secret recipe for Caesar salad down there? Is that what Rubicon was all about?

I suppose I'd better go mine some croutons.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Behind the Scenes of A Tale of Internet Spaceships


The indie documentary examining the MMO EVE Online that began in early 2013 as an ambitious but underfunded Indiegogo crowdfunded project was finally released over the weekend. The team of Swedish media students behind it are still reeling with surprise at gaining over 30,000 views in its first 48 hours.

Petter Mårtensson, Philip Raivander and Elin Thedin wanted to find an interesting take on the unique relationship between CCP and and the EVE playerbase during a visit to the 10th anniversary celebrations at Fanfest in Iceland last year. When the team interviewed folk about the so-called 'Summer of Rage', the topic invariably drew impassioned responses and opinion, moreso than any other subject - in no small part because events surrounding it had a more significant impact on CCP employees and players than any other event in EVE's history.

It was evident that it was a story that wanted to be told and, despite some recent negative comments regarding the the decision to focus on the events surrounding the Incarna release, I think it was entirely the right choice as The Tale to reflect the highs and lows of CCP's relationship with their Internet Spaceship community.

Supporting the ATOIS Team

Interview in progress (L-R): Elin Thedin, Mat Westhorpe, Petter Mårtensson, curious journalist, Hilmar Petursson.
Of course, I'm a bit biased given that I've been a quasi-team member throughout much of the production, although I've been clear in my mind that it was entirely their project. I was just grateful for the opportunity to help out.

My involvement has been an enjoyable, slow-burning experience which started some time before Fanfest 2013. It was an exciting and ambitious concept led by the three Swedes including my sometime fellow EVE player and journalist friend Petter Mårtensson.

Somehow, I became charged with bugging various Fanfest-bound EVE personalities until they agreed to be interviewed by the team and I recall Fanfest 2013 being an exhausting experience. The entire time in Reykjavik I rushed around like a man possessed trying to make things happen, not only for the ATOIS team, but also for another documentary team lead by Keza MacDonald (then of IGN, now Editor-in-Chief of Kotaku UK) and also fulfilling my obligations as a correspondent for GameSkinny. Somewhere in all that I was trying to be an enthusiastic EVE player and catch up with friends too.

ATOIS narrator Breki Tomasson.
With the prerequisite Fanfest hangover and 36 hours of footage in the can, I parted ways with the ATOIS team. I returned to the UK and they headed back to Sweden to embark on their mammoth task of reviewing footage and moulding a coherent story from the endless talking heads. From afar, I provided moral support and rough copy reviews as well as research and writing services as required. I wrote the narration ably delivered by CSICON podcasting mogul Breki Tomasson (who previously starred in an EVE audio drama I wrote a few years ago) and am particularly proud of the (admittedly slightly cheesy) ‘...like Wall Street, when Jita sneezes, all of New Eden catches a cold and when Jita burns, everyone feels the heat.’

An Ambitious Challenge

Philip and Elin interviewing in the Harpa Centre.
The original hope was to have the finalised film ready for an exclusive premiere at Fanfest 2014, however the team's ambition proved to be one that required countless man-hours which needed to be squeezed in around their study and work duties. It became clear that to do an hour-long film justice, the Fanfest deadline was going to have to slip.

Further challenges arose from the fact that the $3000 raised had meant that equipment sacrifices had to be made, especially with the echoing background acoustics of a space-nerd filled Harpa centre often polluting the interview audio.

Alex 'look into my eyes' Gianturco.
But there were some great moments and it’s been killing me not being able to reveal them for so long; Mark ‘Seleene’ Heard’s tone-changing ‘giant mistake’ line, ‘Crazy Uncle Unifex’ Jon Lander’s stage dive, Alex ‘The Mittani’ Gianturco’s unsettling habit of looking down the barrel of the camera, the hilariously 80s A-Team CSM montage and many more.

Sweden Bound

However, the team persevered and on the 11th July 2014, they held their premiere in their home city of Malmö. I was fortunate enough to attend and unfortunate enough to have been press-ganged into their last-minute frantic preparations.

On the morning of the premiere, final touches were still being added to the film. I joined my host Petter on a cross-town trek to Philip's apartment where the glassy-eyed video editor had been working on the film through most of the night.

Brendan Drain's technically challenging beard. ;)
As Petter and Philip reviewed his latest amendments, it was amusing to note the familiarity and fondness with which they discussed their interviewees. 'Brendan [Drain of Massively] is a lovely guy, but his beard is a bitch to colour-balance,' he told me. Philip explained that he had spent so much time working with images of the featured individuals that he feels as if he knows them and he's worried that if he ever met them again he'd freak them out by being over-familiar whilst they wouldn't have a clue who he was.

The final cut seemed to take an age to render and compress, with hours of progress-bar watching leading me to make the unkind remark that it was starting to feel like EVE gameplay. Eventually we headed out to the venue of the premiere to set up.

The Premiere

The crowd files into the STPLN premiere venue.
Things were going so well, all the technical hurdles seemed to have been anticipated and we were merrily decorating the STPLN auditorium as A Tale of Internet Spaceships played in the background in all its dress-rehearsal glory.

No you fool,  it's 'break a leg'.
Suddenly, a minor technical hiccup interrupted our preparations and Petter rushed to the stage wing where the business end of the tech was set up and he leapt up to address the issue. Well he tried. With all the athleticism of a crooked coathanger, he caught his shin on the stage and went down with a crash, rendering his right arm unusable. The venue's first-aid box was appallingly under-equipped, so a quick trip to the local pharmacy later and we filled Petter with pain-killers and strapped the arm up (a trip to hospital later that weekend revealed a fracture just below the elbow).

But the show must go on.

As the clock ticked down, the audience started to arrive. Petter was distracted by pain and Philip was resolving the last-minute technical issues. With minutes to go and no film to play, further pressure was applied when we discovered the father of CCP's Senior Producer, Andie Nordgren, was in the gathering crowd, who were now taking their seats expectantly. Nerves mounted.

In hindsight, I wish we'd decorated the place like a launch tube.
At 2 minutes past 8, just as I was considering jumping on the stage to perform some kind of impromptu comedy routine, things suddenly came together. Petter and Philip took to the stage for a brief introduction, then the lights were dimmed and the go button was pressed. We watched with bated breath to how the film would be received.

When the film was over and the audience launched into unprompted applause, we breathed a sigh of relief. Many had even laughed aloud at one interviewee's quip about French monarchs. They had enjoyed the fruits of our labour (or were being terribly polite) and there was cause for celebration. There was of course an after party, sadly CCP Seagull's Dad didn't stick around, but she has since assured me on Twitter that he and her brother enjoyed the film.

Epilogue

The next day, as I was flying home to the UK, Philip was working feverishly to release the film online while Petter was presumably laying around in pain.

Philip's humble expectations had been to get a some thumbs-up on YouTube and a few hundred views, but only two days later more than 30,000 people had seen and (mostly) enjoyed A Tale of Internet Spaceships. Comments across many sites have been fascinating to read, invoking a broad spectrum of opinion.

You can't please all the people all the time, but I genuinely think the ATOIS team have every reason to be proud of their achievement in capturing a story which can serve as a cautionary tale and an industry fable for a long time to come. I'm personally very proud to have had the opportunity to assist three talented media students manage to make a pretty professional first-time documentary on a shoestring budget.

Now we just need to teach Petter how to use stairs.