Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Accidental Podcaster Part II: Making EVE Sound Real

A continuation of my EVE podcasting journey. Part one can be found here.

The idea was simple:

CCP's content team already provided live events and ongoing storylines which gave movement to the tectonic plates of New Eden's majestic narrative plateaux. Those of keen interest who knew where to look could mine further into the lore to unearth the chronicles and novels. But after talking to CCP Dropbear in Las Vegas, it seemed a shame if all his grand Machievellian plans were to remain buried and go unnoticed by the majority of pilots. Although there is a segment of the player-base who diligently investigated these stories, discovering clues within the lore and in New Eden itself, they were either keeping their nuggets of knowledge to themselves or had no means to share the dirt.

EVE's content needed a light shone upon it and a voice to spread the word.

A Sound Idea

Amongst the many podcasts that support EVE's myriad of playstyles, I'd never come across one that focused specifically on the lore and the content. I would soon come to learn that part of the reason for that is the sheer amount of research required to ensure that the canon police didn't come calling. But if necessity is the mother of invention, naivety is the father of motivation. With a vague concept in mind and two of EVE podcasting's brightest talents in Angus McDecoy and Arydanika interested in getting involved, I had the kernel of a workable project.

Previously, I had only ever produced five-minute audio skits, but their popularity on EVE Commune had taught me that they worked well as bite-sized chunks of entertainment. I decided that my fiction podcast would take the form of a series of skits woven together with some kind of narrative. It made sense for it to be some kind of news or magazine show with a main host who could link the segments together.

I also wanted the podcast to appeal to a wider audience than just the hardcore roleplay crowd. I wanted it to draw new people into the lore as much as support those who were already enjoying it. I wanted to show players that there was more to EVE than huge fleet fights and mission-running. If I could get the balance right, it might even appeal to folk who don't play EVE but like science-fiction.

Carving the Concept

I sketched out the format:
  • Introduction and Headline News
  • Keynote Interview (player/character)
  • Studio Discussion/Featurette (informational)
  • Technology Focus (humorous)
  • Wormhole Explorers (dramatic)
  • Close/Outro
Over the following week I wrote a thirty-page draft script which was ridiculously ambitious for a podcast. Not only was every line scripted, the cast had rocketed from the initial four characters up to ten assorted main and supporting roles. An assortment of music and sound effects would have to be found or created.

As soon as I was able, I uploaded the script to GoogleDocs and let the canon-hound (that's Angus) get to work on it. Although I'd come up with a reason for avoiding excessive lore research; the whole show would be run by non-capsuleers. They are unlikely to be as well-informed as the capsuleer community and may be liable to misinformation.

We knocked about ideas, chopped the script about and developed the characters. Angus was the obvious choice for the larger-than-life sensationalist anchor with his rich, bassy voice and his theatre degree (he's actually very modest about this). I'd written the role of the field reporter for the velvet-voiced Dani and I'd typecast myself as the socially-awkward Amarr scientist. There was an uncast laconic Minmatar engineer character written to act as a foil for the scientist. Erin Anwwn of Notalotofnews Newshour's dry laid-back style was a perfect fit and he foolishly accepted our advances.

With the key players all in place, it seemed like a simple task to arrange script read-throughs and Skype recording sessions with the relevant people. But no, there must have been Goon hackers secretly injecting lines of Macbeth dialogue into the script, because anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Dialogue would fail to record or be of unusable quality, files would go missing, my internet failed altogether for three days and so on. To compound this, given that the project had contributors from both sides of the pond, arranging mutually convenient recording times was not easy. Frustration, insomnia and misdirected creativity can lead to odd results.  But, with a combination of patience, perseverance and workarounds, we eventually got it recorded.

I then lost several days of my life to Audacity. But it got the job done.

Credit to the Community

It still amazes me that so many people bought into this lunacy and I appreciate the input from them all. The whole project really has been a collaborative effort. Garheade “just threw together” some amazing musical compositions which have become the show's theme tune. Hallan Turrek won the "Best Know-It-All in a Supporting Role" award and also provided some useful insights throughout the process. Max Torps and Noise quite willingly recorded some very random lines for their cameos on short notice without really knowing what the project was about (some of their outtakes are hilarious – they are EVE's answer to Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer). Penelope Star of Starfleet Comms and Breki Tomasson and Arkenor of Claims of the Normal were unceremoniously plucked from my Skype contact list to give voice the the crew of a Minmatar frigate and make the word “bubble” comedy gold (in the outtakes).

Dani used her Bene Gesserit Witch skills to convince Scitor Nantom to save me from my technological inadequacies and set up a supporting website and hosting with his Tilt 180 service. She also secured some CCP exclusives, who provided the voice-overs in the title sequences of the teaser trailers. Top fellas.

The Final Product

What we have produced is a piece of EVE Online-flavoured audio fiction which is hopefully entertaining and informative. That is not for us to decide. With our limited resources it was always an ambitious undertaking, I am proud of what we have started and now we've trodden the path once, the going will be easier and our craft will improve.

It is our intention to produce an episode a month, exploring the stories that drive New Eden and opening up the mysteries of EVE lore to a wider audience in an immersive and accessible way.

Tune into Tech Four News for unscrambled news from across the cluster.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Incarna Revised to Run On Low-End Machines

Having been bothered by the discontent of many EVE players in recent months, I gave some thought to how I might ease their strife. One of the key issues that was causing upset was the high graphical demands of the Captain's Quarters allegedly melting graphics cards and bringing lesser machines to a shuddering halt.

It seemed unfair to me that those with low-end machines could not enjoy the immersive intrigue and subtleties of the Captain's Quarters and were simply forced to switch Incarna off and contemplate a dull static screen.

But no longer.

Now all EVE players can join the Incarna generation and cavort with wild abandon around their Captain's Quarters. Ladies and gentlemen, Freebooted Entertainment Studios presents...

Incarna: The Text Adventure

It might not be as pretty, but it's got features that the fancy-pants version hasn't. And I'm pretty certain I'll have that door open before CCP.

The Accidental Podcaster

If my trip to Fanfest in March 2011 was my first contact with the passionate core of the EVE Online community I dubbed 'The Cult of EVE', then my summer visit to EVE Vegas was a pilgrimage to rediscover that passionate community and re-energise my love affair with New Eden.

My personal journey from Iceland to Nevada had been a strange and wonderful ride. From becoming an accidental podcaster to my continued and ever deeper involvement in EVE's meta-community through bloggery and tweetification, it was clear that I had fallen deep into the rabbit hole despite my intentions to do otherwise.

Generation Pod

Prior to my Iceland attendance, I had occasionally listened to a number of EVE podcasts, with the anarchic The Planet Risk Show amongst my favourites. So I was quite excited to have met the entertaining Planet Risk hosts, Quivering Palm and Luminus Aardokay. Lumi, a talented musician who runs the internet radio station SI Radio, was an inspiring source of hints and tips about the dark art of audio entertainment.

Over the course of Fanfest, I enjoyed rubbing shoulders with a number of other podcasting luminaries; Song Li of Missions Collide, Alekseyev Karrde of Declarations of War and Crazy Kinux of The Drone Bay. There was even a drunken attempt at a collaborative podcast in my hotel room, but this sadly never saw the light of day due to technical issues (apparently, Song Li forgot to press 'record').

Finding Voice

On returning from Fanfest, I settled back into to the comfortably familiar surroundings of the blogosphere and gave podcasting nary another thought. That is, until Garheade of the EVE Commune podcast contacted me to ask if he could read out an article I had written. Armed with knowledge gained at Fanfest, I offered to record it myself. The result was a little dry and my wife's critique was that I "should probably just stick to blogging". It had been the first time I had been let loose on a mic and an audio editing suite and it showed.

However, after my recording aired on EVE Commune Episode 21, feedback was generally positive and I was hooked. I started looking through my previous blog posts to see what other articles could be given the audio treatment. Before I knew it, I was providing regular material for EVE Commune in the form of audio fiction, parodies and comical interviews and I was having a great time doing it. These skits have subsequently been made available on iTunes (although I note some have now disappeared).

Casting a Net

Up to this point I was pretty much doing all the writing, voice work and editing by myself (although I did conscript my best mate and my Mum for some dialogue). But it occurred to me that there was huge potential for so much more from EVE's vibrant podcasting community.

I approached several leading podcasters and EVEcast was formed. Angus McDecoy (Fly Reckless), Arydanika (Voices From the Void), Garheade and myself starting promoting this central resource for EVE-related audio projects. Sadly, with the later demise of EVE Commune, EVEcast was effectively shut down as well. The only project that made it off the drawing board was Max Torps' The ISK Bucket, a comical audio drama that airs with each episode of Starfleet Comms podcast. Although I do have a script ready to record my Docking Games project at some point in the future.

Fighting the Cannons with Canon

It was around this time that the vocal segment of EVE society started to unite in dissent at various issues. With CCP's Cannons of Controversy firing regularly, there was a rising tide of negativity as many players became increasingly hung up on complaining about what they perceived to be wrong with EVE, whilst forgetting to celebrate what was right about it.

The depressing and negative atmosphere pervading the EVE community gave purpose to my EVE Vegas trip - I desperately wanted inspiration, something positive that would fuel my passion for EVE and see me through to Fanfest 2012. On the last day I found it.

Enter CCP Dropbear and the Arek'Jaalan storyline.

Amidst the insanity and inanity that was the EVE Vegas Goonfest, CCP Dropbear told of his grand plans for driving forward engaging and interesting storylines with player-focused initiatives and live events. I rejoiced. Here was a concept that couldn't be shackled by unfinished features or cut down by unbalanced mechanics; the telling of a good story needed only the imagination. CCP Dropbear and his team (aka CCP Headfirst) held the reigns on one of the most inspiring and positive aspects of EVE, it's endlessly immersive and engaging canon.

After listening to CCP Dropbear's presentation and spending the following afternoon with him in a very exciting impromptu brainstorm, the seed of a new writing/podcasting project was planted: A fully in-character broadcast set within the lore of New Eden aimed at supporting the ongoing storylines provided by the CCP content team.

Later, I rushed back to my hotel room with a head full of half-formed ideas and hyperbole. I needed to see who else wanted in on this and managed to contact Arydanika via Skype. She loved the idea and suggested Angus McDecoy might also be interested. Emails were sent, ideas batted around and the wheels of creativity were set in motion.

With two of the most distinctive voices on the EVE podcasting circuit involved in the project and more to come, the next few weeks would give me some incredibly funny, rewarding and frustrating moments as we worked toward the completion of the first episode of Tech 4.

(to be continued... in part two.)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Null-Sec: There and Back Again

May 2011: Split Infinity is the tiny blue blob above the 'r' in Authorities. Note the vast swathes of green and the lack of red.

Six months ago I resolved to lead my corporation into null-sec for the experience, as described in the earlier post Null-Sec: The Final Frontier. That experience, for some at least, is now over.

After years of playing EVE it was one of the few gameplay aspects I had yet to truly take part in. It is the portion of EVE's social and design dynamic that sets it apart from all other MMOs, with organisations of thousands of players working with shared purpose, the opportunity to participate in organised fleet combat comprising hundreds of players and the chance to be part of New Eden's player-made history.

Casual Players LFG

Our odyssey was to be a grand experiment, with our merry band of six or so casual players naively heading into the lawless void. The first barrier for entry was our small size. Due to the need for organisational efficiency, most null-sec alliances demand all pilots be part of a large corporations with membership in the hundreds. Fortunately, I had met some great folk at FanFest who had recently started a null-sec alliance based on much more casual ideals and Split Infinity accepted Greenbeard's Freebooters into their ranks.

So our adventure began with the daunting task of trying to get ourselves and our useful assets down into deep null-sec whilst trying to understand the mechanics, the politics and the language of null-sec. For example, in null-sec “blue” does not mean “sad” or “filthy”. Except when it does. I'll try to relate some of those lessons here, hopefully avoiding confusing any not versed with null-sec jargon. Anyway, with the help of our new alliance compatriots we managed to get everything moved, but not without some hiccups, as detailed in Null-Sec: Getting There, a Cautionary Tale.

Understanding the Environment

Split Infinity [SI.] had been formed by Quivering Palm and Luminous Aardokay of The Planet Risk Show fame and, with the sponsorship of Alexseyev Kardde's infamous Noir Mercenary Group, were sovereignty holders of a single station system deep in Against All Authorities [-A-] territory. The null-sec environment that Split Infinity enjoyed was relatively peaceful, with hostile fleets rarely roaming that deep into -A- territory. The nearest hostile neighbours were apparently some Russian alliance called White Noise, but they'd popped up north to get some milk or something and were rarely home.

I'd managed to organise our corporation enough to establish a base of operations in the form of a moon-orbiting Starbase [POS] with storage and manufacturing facilities to make us relatively self-sufficient. There was no office space available at the station and our landlords, Noir, wanted 60million ISK per month which, at the time seemed extortionate. Most of our active members had each managed to get a clone set up in the local station and we soon began to participate in alliance activities. There were regular roams, constant anomaly PvE gangs and assorted other organised events to participate in.

Excuse Me Boris, Is Anyone Sitting Here?

Just as soon as we'd settled in, we discovered our protective mother alliance, Against All Authorities, had decided that as White Noise and friends had been so long getting the milk maybe they'd moved out and no longer wanted their systems. Suddenly we were on a war footing and our alliance was being called upon to provide numbers for various offensive operations as we assisted -A- in an opportunistic land-grab. Exciting stuff, now we would finally get to see some of those legendary huge fleet clashes. If only I could fight off the threat of burn-out from my immigration efforts. More detail on this period can be found in Null-Sec: Chasing Goalposts and Dodging Burnout.

I was disappointed to discover that these much-vaunted fleet fights mostly involved fleets of hundreds of battleships hammering stationary structures whilst waiting for the owners to turn up to defend, which they never did. If enemy scouts reported our fleet had numbers greater than they could handle, nothing happened. This was invariably the case as White Noise's military might, along with all the other Russian alliances, were busy invading more valuable territory on the far side of the cluster.

On one occasion, I received an email detailing a very secretive Call to Arms [CTA] at 2am promised to deliver exactly the kind of legendary battle that I had been hoping for. Knowing that a 2am muster meant that nothing was likely to happen for at least an hour and then would go on for several hours after, I decided against my better judgement to sacrifice a night's sleep just this once. After much 'mustering' we eagerly obeyed instructions that led us to the system where... we proceeded to shoot at iHubs and other sovereignty structures. The whole operation had been pimped up to ensure high attendance! I was not pleased.

The Pot of Gold at the End of the Jump-Bridge

However, aside from ridiculous demands from distant organisations, null-sec life was good, both socially and in terms of gameplay. Logging onto the alliance Teamspeak server would always result in finding some interesting characters to chat with and it was as comfortable as popping into your local pub for a pint. The PvE gameplay content in null-sec was challenging, with tough-as-nails exploration sites, sanctum anomalies and 'escalations' (expeditions in your journal). There was a sense of total freedom and a much truer sandbox feel. Every time I logged in I could spend my time any way I chose, I had access to it all (except agent missions, but even they were only a clone jump away).

It was just as rewarding to see some of the Freebooters becoming increasingly involved in alliance activities, particularly my own sister Lozyjoe and her husband Caveat. Both being relatively new to EVE, they had initially been very reluctant to take the plunge into null-sec as they were still getting to grips with the gameplay basics. However, as time went on, they became more and more comfortable and it wasn't long before I was asking them for hints and tips on null-sec survival. As EVE players they truly came of age.

Our antics even managed to attract a few new recruits, although most of them soon realised that we didn't really know what we were doing and cleared off to more organised outfits. It was unfortunate then, what those who stayed had to endure next.

The Bitter End

In truth, I missed most of the collapse of Split Infinity due to being variously attending EVE Vegas, chilling out on the banks of the Dordogne or finding other domestic pursuits (read: playing World of Tanks). But on reflection, the signs had been there for a while.

Prior to my departure for my summer holidays, I was privy to some awkward and distasteful alliance leadership meetings that resulted in one of Split Infinity's cornerstone corporations being asked to leave. Let's say it was due to creative differences, because I never really did understand what it was all about. I should probably have read the alliance forums more thoroughly. This left the remaining members to take over the significant contributions that the departing corporation used to make, which put increasing demands on fewer individuals who nonetheless stoically toiled on.

It was whilst I was in France I had a brief Jabber conversation with one of the other alliance CEOs who warned me of the possible need to evacuate null-sec. White Noise and co. had returned, found -A- and friends sleeping in their beds and they weren't taking it well. As a result, -A- were making increasing demands of their vassal alliances in order to mount a defence. Split Infinity was already weakened by the loss of it's industrial spine and on top of that, our alliance top-man had taken his leave for a month and left subordinates in charge.

It soon became very apparent to our hosts, Noir, that all was not well at Chez Split Infinity. There was a brief period where Alexseyev Kardde and co. moved into our home system and attempted to rally the despondent SI denizens with some rousing/demanding emails and operations. But presumably the response was not enough and it was not long before Split Infinity was invited to leave, allowing more capable defenders to man what was fast becoming the front line as the Russian steamroller trundled ever closer.

I was still largely absent during the evacuation and I owe a great deal of thanks to members of the BSC Legion who ensured that all of the Freebooters assets found their way back to high-sec. They, more than any, carry the spirit of all that was good about Split Infinity with them. I say this not just because they are a good bunch, but also because they managed to absorb many of the active pilots from other SI corporations into their ranks, including the Freebooters. For their information, I'm considering their recruitment of the two most active Freebooters as payment and thanks in full. ;) In truth, I'm glad that Lozyjoe and Caveat have found a home with BSCL, they are an organised and active outfit who are a fine example of what EVE is really about. I'm hoping to acquire an alt character myself so I can participate in their ongoing activities.

What remains of the Freebooters is now scattered across high-sec and the Old Pond Pub has become the last refuge of the unwanted few. Whilst I contemplate my next move in New Eden, I will reflect on my null-sec experience.


Null-sec can be rewarding, but it makes you work for it. For me, the most frustrating aspect of EVE's gameplay is the amount of preparation and work required to experience anything fun. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in null-sec. This is not a problem for those that enjoy the “reward over fun” gameplay elements (ie. elements that involve lots of repetition and waiting), but for the casual player looking for a quick bit a space action, null-sec is a headache. That is unless you're prepared to be a total freeloader, which won't ingratiate you with your new alliance-mates.

I admire the dedication of those players prepared to make null-sec work, but for me the cost is too high. I don't want to dance to the tune of some faceless power-player who expects 3am CTAs to be taken seriously and I don't want to feel guilty that I'm letting my alliance down by not pulling my weight.

I like that null-sec Sov wars take place, but I'm happier reading about them than I am taking part in them. It's not what the best of EVE is to me.

So why do I miss it?

September 2011: Oh dear. Split Infinity is over-extended and -A-'s green belt is looking awfully red.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Blog Banter 28 Review: The Future of EVE Online, CCP and the CSM

The long history of EVE Online is punctuated by controversy.

The Council of Stellar Management was conceived in the wake of the so-called T20 scandal in 2007, wherein a CCP employee was exposed to be unfairly supplying in-game items to players. The CSM was formed from the player community to promote transparency and increase communication between CCP and it's customers. The second term of the CSM was itself embroiled in controversy when a member abused his position to gain advantage in-game.

However, the CSM has also provided many benefits to the world of EVE. Over the past four years, the six elected player councils have provided a platform with which to take their ideas and concerns to CCP, having the opportunity to influence and improve the game that unites and divides us all. The previous CSM incumbents dealt with difficult issues during 2010's Summer of Rage at the “18 months” scandal.

The last few months have been not been short of controversies in the world's premier spaceship MMO, with a passionate player-base responding vociferously to underwhelming expansions, controversial 'microtransaction' marketing and inflammatory leaked internal documents. In response to the outcry, CCP called a 'Special CSM Summit' as a damage limitation measure. Initially, this emergency meeting seemed to pour oil on troubled waters, with the CSM members working with CCP staff to send more positive messaging out to the player base.

Sadly, several weeks later, the much anticipated minutes to this irregular meeting were still unreleased. The CSM began to voice their frustration at CCP's delay and their apparent attempts to change the wording of CSM statements. A “miscalculation” by the CSM led to unprecedented media coverage of CSM Chairman The Mittani's statements, with numerous articles in the gaming media discussing the CSM's displeasure.

With CCP and it's customer base at loggerheads, it was at this point that the EVE blogging community was asked;

"In recent months, the relationship between CCP and it's customers has been the subject of some controversy. The player-elected Council of Stellar Management has played a key role in these events, but not for the first time they are finding CCP difficult to deal with. What effect will CCP's recent strategies have on the future of EVE Online and it's player-base? What part can and should the CSM play in shaping that future? How best can EVE Online's continued health and growth be assured?"

Over thirty bloggers took up their quills to pen their thoughts on this subject and, although opinions varied, there were some themes that were overwhelmingly prevalent. An almost universal view was one of perceived neglect, with CCP's development of EVE Online coming under fire.

Fizz, not Whizz!

The catalyst for much of the recent angst was statistical revelations made by Ripard Teg, which appears to show a plateau in the growth that EVE Online has enjoyed since it's inception in 2003. Corelin ominously suggests that “In this industry you are either growing or sinking. EVE is no longer growing.” MarcScaurus identifies the avatar engine alpha-test backfired and that CCP should “...stick to what has been proved to work – iterating solid gameplay additions.”

S.W. points out how two of the three previous expansions haven't been about spaceships and the introduction of Incarna features is proving to be “slower than maple sap in December”. Cozmik R5 covers similar ground, disappointed that Tyrannis and Incarna were simply laying groundwork for other CCP projects. A Scientist's Life in EVE posits that CCP's resources are spread too thin because of these projects, causing development of EVE Online to suffer. Sessym supports this view, calling for CCP to find a better balance in developing 'Flying in Space' alongside 'Walking in Stations', fearing the bias toward Incarna and stating “The prospect of our favorite game losing its soul is unnerving”. Tgl3 wants 'WiS', but not at the expense of 'FiS'. Drackarn identifies the potential of Incarna but says they've "done a proper Gerald Ratner in deploying it.” Baa concludes EVE isn't dying, it's in transition, evolving into something more than just flying spaceships.

Incarna Content and Discontent

Some banters invoked the spectre of Star Wars: Galaxies, where poor development decisions led to it's demise. However, post-Incarna deployment, Pyrotech03 logged in fearing he would find EVE “on the expressway to SWG” only to find business as usual, stating “ spaceships still fly, my guns and bays still shoot, my wallet still bleeds me dry…” Akenisis was impressed with the Incarna experience but wants to see the return of ship spinning. He shares Druur Monakh's view that EVE is still engaging but there is not enough focus on player retention. Druur also cleverly glides his way around the limitations of Captain's Quarters with a roleplay solution. Blastradius1 wrote some amusing fiction on the subject; “What the hell did I care about trotting around in a space station? I was a pilot, not a jogger.”

Lex Starwalker criticises the lack of new content and suggests CCP could learn from SW:G's successor, Star Wars: The Old Republic and from Rift, citing them as healthy competition to bring out the best in CCP. Conversely, Suicidal Pancake is concerned that other Sci-Fi MMOs will benefit from the mishandling of EVE's current fortunes with attractive alternatives due to enter the market. He goes on to suggest that the upcoming winter expansion will be critical for EVE's future. Jacabon Mere underlines this thought stating “The next expansion will be the last straw for many players if it is underwhelming”.

The Divisive CSM

Whilst CCP almost universally came under a degree of criticism, discussion of the Council of Stellar Management led to a more diverse spread of opinion. Along with many others, Orakkus believes that the CSM is behaving appropriately to minimise player alienation in the face of CCP's poor PR and failure to listen to their customers. Kuan Yida recognises the value of the CSM, but raises concerns about the lack of balanced representation of the playerbase. EveHermit claims the CSM cannot to be taken seriously due to influence from alliance-sized interest groups. Drackarn proposes some organisational changes to address representation concerns.

Poetic Stanziel questions the barrier presented by Non-Disclosure Agreements and echoes concerns about the CSM's apparent lack of appreciation for wormhole-related issues. Shadai also discusses NDAs and questions whether CCP should control the minutes of meetings with the CSM. He also identifies hypocrisy in The Mittani's criticism of CSM5's open letter to CCP whilst subsequently releasing a similar document. Ripard Teg also compares and contrasts the present CSM with the previous one. Helena Khan is optimistic about EVE's future but is disillusioned with the current CSM compared to it's predecessor.

Collapsing Support Mechanism?

Mike Azariah suggests that The Mittani's recent confrontational stance has merely been self-aggrandising posturing. Rixx Javix's student council analogy supports this viewpoint, suggesting that his behaviour is to be expected; “The institution of the CSM will continue to harm EVE. It is only natural. It must turn on itself. It must attack the institution that created it, it must feed. It will destroy.” Keyanu agrees and calls for action, "The CSM seriously needs looking at and action taken as I feel they are a destructive force."

Gilbert Hamilton's view is that the CSM is “crap wrapped in a different way by people who need to invent things to make themselves feel like they've accomplished something, instead of getting actual work done.” Lex Starwalker agrees with this sentiment.

Parity Bit decries the CSM, believing that it is failing to meet the criteria set out in The Council of Stellar Management: Implementation of Deliberative, Democratically Elected Council in EVE, highlighting that some CSM members have publicly stated that they represent their constituents rather than the EVE society as a whole. He also criticises their attempts to “blackmail CCP with threats of bad publicity”.

State of the Society

The impact of recent events on some of the communities within EVE society was a recurring topic. Evehermit feels that CCP are out-of-touch with the player-base and this has upset an important minority of players. Rixx Javix views this minority differently, stating the few vocal forum whiners, bloggers etc. are just “...the tip of the iceberg. If we melt the iceberg will just readjust and float on.”

MarcScaurus and Lex Starwalker have opposing views; with Marc impressed by a community with enough allure for ex-players to continue contributing, whilst Lex feels that the largely negative community is not attractive to new players. A more fatalistic and philosophical view looking at the 'bigger picture' is offered by Roc Wieler, whilst Seismic Stan compares MMO development to British pub culture. Both recognise the necessity for growth and change.

Myrhial Arkenath, as the CEO of an alliance, has notice a decline in player activity. “while a company owns a game and is thus entitled to do with it as it pleases, it is still a good idea to develop what players really want.” Kirith Kodachi supports this perspective and as a long-time player is proud to say he was there for the many FiS developments. He said, “I care about spaceships. Give me more reasons to say I was there, or I might end up saying "I used to be there."”

In Conclusion

The minutes were finally released on 9th September 2011 and the CSM's media assault was called off. In response to the barrage of dissatisfaction, a conference call between the CSM and Senior Producer CCP Zulu took place, resulting in the following statement from CSM Meissa Anunthiel;

"Amidst the recent forum activity about reports of decreased subscriber count, discontent about lack of resources allocated to "Flying In Space" (or, as we know it, Eve Online) and, despite Gridlock and Team BFF's efforts, general stagnation when it comes to fixes and improvements, the CSM just met with CCP's Senior Producer for Eve Online: CCP Zulu.

During that meeting, we discussed the players' concerns with the man who has the ability to resolve them. We cannot share the details of the meeting itself because it is heavily NDA'd, but ways to resolve your concerns have been discussed and a follow-up meeting is planned."

On 19th September CCP t0rfifrans, Creative Director, released a devblog announcing the return of ship-spinning. He also provided details on some other 'quality of life' fixes and featured a screenshot of a Caldari station interior. There were hints at other things but he ended with “All in all, we‘re moving forward. It's too soon to make announcements about what expansions and features we are developing, that will be announced in due time.”

Whether this is enough to quell the fiery hearts of the maddening crowds, only time will tell, but it's a start.

“EVE has grown stronger every year since its inception; these bumps in the road are an inevitable part of the journey we must endure as a growing company; and we would not be here today if we opted to isolate ourselves from the player experience of EVE Online.” - CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Petursson, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different

So endeth the 28th Blog Banter. I've made a note to myself to be wary of such heavy topics in future, they make summarising a mountainous task.

I'd like to end on a light note. Although the blog banter is a conversation not a competition, if this banter were to have a winner I think few would disagree with it being Mord Fiddle's genius medieval parody, Fever Dream, featuring The Mittani summoned to King Hilmar's court. That he never said it was a BB entry is not important. He doth winneth.

Truly EVE hath the best bloggers in the whole of webdom.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

BB28: Fighting Establishments

"In recent months, the relationship between CCP and it's customers has been the subject of some controversy. The player-elected Council of Stellar Management has played a key role in these events, but not for the first time they are finding CCP difficult to deal with. What effect will CCP's recent strategies have on the future of EVE Online and it's player-base? What part can and should the CSM play in shaping that future? How best can EVE Online's continued health and growth be assured?"

I can't presume to understand much about the development process that goes on behind video games or how even begin to go about planning and co-ordinating the continued expansion of a successful title like EVE Online. I'm not a games developer.

However, I am a keen and experienced games player who has been playing video games ever since I could reach the fascinatingly tactile control ball of the Missile Command machine at the back of my Nan's Bingo club in 1981. I loved that ball, it made the game entertaining even if my Nan wouldn't give me money to play. I was sad when it was replaced by Tron which, although more varied and impressive in almost every way, didn't have a spinny ball thing.

Anyway, I digress. My point is this: in order to attempt to understand CCP's baffling EVE Online development strategy I'm going to further muddy the waters by transplanting the concepts wholesale into an industry in which I have been on both sides. This will undoubtedly only serve to completely befuddle myself to a standstill as I stretch the analogy to ridiculous lengths. But stick with me, I think I have a point. Here goes...

The Great British Pub

I used to work in the British pub trade. It all started in 1996 when I drank so much beer during the Euro '96 Football Tournament that I ran out of money before the end of the competition. In order to see it out with my friends, I got a job on the other side of the bar. Next thing I knew I was the Assistant Manager, which was essentially still just a barman, but the Landlord trusted me enough to cash up too. Over the years I helped to run a number of pubs, each with it's own character and clientele. Some were quiet suburban pubs, others were of the louder and more colourful persuasion. But each venue had it's own distinct theme and vibe.

You could think of a given pub environment as an MMO. Like an online game, every pub would have it's core regulars; the old fella who would come in with his dog at opening every morning to drink a pint of mild and do a crossword, the aging alcoholic punk who would drink his way through his Giro in a day, the mob of football fans that would take over on match-day and the gaggle of divorced man-eaters who stalked the music nights. They might not have been the management's idea of the perfect clientele, but they were loyal and they put money across the bar.

Most importantly they were the ones that enabled the pub to stay open. It was up to us to 'add more content' to bring in more customers, but we needed to make sure these folks stuck around too.

The important thing that I quickly learned was to understand the customers and make them feel welcome. If I greeted them with a smile, made the effort to remember their names and favourite drinks they would feel valued and would be increasingly likely to return. In quieter periods, if they sat at the bar and wanted a conversation, I would engage them, but if they sat in a corner reading a newspaper, I would leave them alone. On busy nights and weekends, compromises had to be made in order to keep the drinks flowing, but a well-meaning smile and some eye-contact would work wonders. People would be forgiving of a delay in service as long as they had been acknowledged.

In this way, I collected people. Folk may come for the theme and the entertainment, but they'd stay for the service.

As the pub grew in popularity, we would look at ways to improve and tweak the experience, spending more money on better and more frequent live music, getting the pool table re-felted, having a bit of a redecorate, organising interesting events. I treated new customers with the same high standard as the regulars and they too often became regulars. In this way, I believe I contributed to the improvement of the fortunes of at least three ailing pubs. But that's not to say that our successes weren't without their problems.

Lost Respect and Misplaced Entitlement

Having built up a successful base of customers and worked hard to ensure that they felt comfortable and at home, this had an occasional unfortunate side effect. Sometimes, the regulars would cross the line in some way. They would drink well past drinking-up time or might wander behind the bar to 'get a cloth'. Generally these indiscretions could be handled amicably, but my requests to drink up have met with the bar equivalent of being told to 'DIAF'. With added fists.

These rare problems would arise from an inflated sense of entitlement that the regulars got as a result of being treated with the respect due them as an important part of the pub community. Sadly, some customers failed to reciprocate that respect. Generally, they were given the option to behave or find somewhere else to drink. Our pub would not be improved by their continued negative presence. In an amusingly poetic symmetry, many such confrontations were caused by a “dust” problem somewhere in the background. But on this occasion, it wasn't being produced by the staff.

Similarly, as the pub grew more popular and busy, some regulars who were originally attracted to the quietness of the pub found that they could no longer enjoy the solace the place once offered and they would move on to a new pub. Some folk would just outgrow the pub scene or move away. Faces and regulars changed.

But Stan, EVE is Not a Pub

I never said it was, but I hope you can see some similarities. I have some sympathy for CCP as they have spent a decade developing a successful niche MMO which they quite rightly want to broaden in appeal. I certainly love their vision of “the ultimate Sci-Fi simulator”, but I think they are failing to keep up the required level of service to many of their regulars. Fortunately, said regulars are not backward in coming forward and have made their feelings known. That CCP had the good sense to establish the CSM is now proving to be a major boon and the system is working as intended. Had the CSM not existed, I believe CCP would have blundered on and stubbornly stuck to their chosen path. They may still do that, but at least now they are aware of the potential consequences.

On the flip side, I believe there is a section of the community that just want to complain and will find something no matter what. I have no time for those people, many of whom can be found expounding their nonsense on the forums. They'll attack the CSM, CCP, the game design, and even other players without ever offering something positive. These people should go find another pub to drink in.

The Moral of the Story

The pub to which I referred in most of this post was the Fish & Firkin in Southend, Essex, England. The building was a converted three-storey Victorian construction and I actually lived in one of the rooms for the duration of my employment, which came to an abrupt end when the owning Brewery decided upon a drastic change of direction. Despite our resistance, they scrapped the spit-and-sawdust Firkin brand and adopting a fancier All Bar One wine-bar concept. The change in policy also meant no live-in staff, so I left to pursue a career in the Ambulance Service. I have no idea what became of that particular pub, but thirteen years later, All Bar One is a very popular chain throughout the UK.

So the upper management got their way, the regulars adapted or moved on and I found an alternative career. You can fight the Establishment, but you're unlikely to win. No-one lost, but things certainly changed and it turned out All Bar One was a good idea.

Draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Blog Banter 28: "The Future of EVE Online, CCP and the CSM"

Recent events with the CSM Emergency Summit minutes (or lack thereof) and the subsequent dissenting CSM voices on EVE Radio, assorted blogs and various other gaming media have brought the relationship between CCP and the CSM (and therefore the players) to the fore once again.

Tweetfleet conversations later discussing the situation led to calls for a Blog Banter to facilitate a broader dialogue across the blogging community. As a result, the following questions have been asked:

"In recent months, the relationship between CCP and it's customers has been the subject of some controversy. The player-elected Council of Stellar Management has played a key role in these events, but not for the first time they are finding CCP difficult to deal with. What effect will CCP's recent strategies have on the future of EVE Online and it's player-base? What part can and should the CSM play in shaping that future? How best can EVE Online's continued health and growth be assured?"

Please feel free to take part in the Blog Banter, for more details, see here.

The following are some useful links to resources relevant to this discussion.
It seems that The Mittani's promised media assault is underway:
A statement by The Mittani as a result of the above articles can be found on the new EvE Forums here.

A good account of the developments so far (Sep 8th 2011) has been written by Orrakus and published on EVE Stratics: CCP Faces Longevity Concerns from its Playerbase.

14:22gmt on 9th September 2011, CCP publishes the controversial CSM Emergency Summit Minutes.

A refreshingly positive spin on the future of EVE from MMORPG's coverage of CCP's recent PAX Prime appearance.

18:26gmt on 9th September, an announcement by CSM member Meissa Anunthiel on the EVE Online forums read as follows:

"Amidst the recent forum activity about reports of decreased subscriber count, discontent about lack of resources allocated to "Flying In Space" (or, as we know it, Eve Online) and, despite Gridlock and Team BFF's efforts, general stagnation when it comes to fixes and improvements, the CSM just met with CCP's Senor Producer for Eve Online: CCP Zulu.

During that meeting, we discussed the players' concerns with the man who has the ability to resolve them. We cannot share the details of the meeting itself because it is heavily NDA'd, but ways to resolve your concerns have been discussed and a follow-up meeting is planned."

To which The Mittani added:

"I thought it was a useful conversation and I look forward to the next meeting - useful enough that we'll be relaxing the media pressure for now. Take that for what you will."

The Banters

As they are written, I will link the community responses below.

* Whilst not actually claiming to be a BB entry, this excellent post by a CSM representative was perfectly timed and addresses the banter topic superbly.
** Again, not cited as a Banter, but relevant discourse from a CSM member.

Blog Banters Reborn, Now With Added Troll

The Blog Banter has been a long-standing tradition within the EVE blogging community, providing a fantastic platform for the sharing of ideas and the cross-pollenation of readership. And now it's back.

Following the recent success of our 'unofficial' Blog Banter discussing the idea of quick matches in EVE, it was clear that the blogging community still had an appetite for kicking around the big issues. Following some thought and discussion, with some trepidation I volunteered myself to take on the role of Blog Banter co-ordinator. I'm not entirely sure how much work this will involve, but I have already obtained and updated Crazy Kinux's old mailing list.

To begin with, I thought I would trim things down in an effort to keep things fluid and dynamic. But first things first; for the new arrivals to the blogging community I'd better start from the top.

What is a Blog Banter?

Put simply, it is a conversation conducted within a blogging community. A single topic is chosen, then all those who have an interest in the subject matter offer their opinion in an article published on their own blog whilst reading and commenting on the articles of others. The articles can be in whatever form the author chooses and can be in response to the original topic or addressing issues brought up in the response of another.

For an example, check out this summary of a previous banter.

How does it work?

As before, I will send out an email to everyone on the mailing list, detailing the topic for discussion.

Under Crazy Kinux's care, Blog Banters were a monthly affair conducted in an orderly fashion with regular question submissions from the community. I'm sure his experience led him to executing Blog Banters in this manner, however I'd like to keep things a little more fluid. Whilst I wouldn't want to be churning out multiple banters in any given month, I think within reason it is worth being able to respond and mobilise a Banter as the "hot topics" present themselves.

I see no advantage in having a specific "do not publish before" deadline, so if you've written something, get it out there. The advantage of this will be that the later banters may take the form of a reply to the earlier ones, creating a true conversation. Additionally, there will be no onus on the banterer to present his or her banter in any particular way. Whilst an email providing the topic will be sent to everyone on the mailing list, it is more important that the spirit of the discussion be entered into than the inclusion of a big chunk of text that everyone will only skim over anyway.

By no means a rule, but a couple of suggestions: including links to relevant articles and sources is always helpful for those who want to read further and although I will do my best to maintain a list of all entries, it is common practice to include a list of other banter posts at the bottom of each banter.

What Will Be Discussed?

Any topic is fair game, with EVE Online being the inspiration. I will endeavour to seek out themes that will give rise to engaging and varied discussion. In other words, I want divisive, controversial and emotive topics that'll get heckles rising. Hell if we can't troll each other, we probably shouldn't be playing EVE.

Once all entries are in, a round-up/review article will be produced summarising the banter. Previous banter summary examples can be read here.

Banter On Dudes!

Battle of the Frigates: Round of Sixteen

For readers confused by what lies ahead, know that thirty-two tech-one and faction frigate names were researched online and their namesakes entered into a knockout competition to determine, albeit unconventionally, which EVE Online frigate is the undisputed champion. It is advisable to begin this journey from the very start by following these links (believe me, it'll make absolutely no sense otherwise):

With only sixteen competitors remaining, read on to find out who makes it into the quarter-finals.

Breacher vs. Dramiel

Confident from his early victory, once again Dr. Amiel relaxes on his porch. He watches the treeline for the approach of his next opponent, stroking his lovingly preserved antique shotgun. But his confidence dissolves instantly as the woodland erupts with a splintering crash and the 72-ton M1A1 Breacher lumbers forth. Dr. Amiel fires off a desperate shot which impacts harmlessly on the tank's thick armour. The Breacher returns fire, eviscerating the hapless brain surgeon and most of his house.

Winner: Breacher

Probe vs. Vigil

With the evil Galactic Empire searching for Rebel outposts across the galaxy, by pure improbable chance one Imperial Probe locks onto a strange world carried on the back of a giant turtle. Crashing to the ground on the outskirts of Ankh-Morpork, the Probe begins to document it's findings as the undetected Commander Vimes moves stealthily to investigate.

Realising that the strange mechanical device is clearly above his pay-grade, he retreats to an area that might even the odds, allowing the Probe to detect his departure as he did so. With the Probe in pursuit, a short jog later and his arrival in the Ankh-Morpork palace gardens, designed by the infamous Bloody Stupid Johnson, meant it was simply a matter of luring the hovering Probe over an innocent-looking sundial. Fortunately for Vimes, it was exactly noon and, as expected, the unexpected happens. The sun-dial explodes, destroying the Probe and allowing Vimes to continue his Vigil. Ankh-Morpork was safe (relatively speaking) once more and Vimes progresses through to the next round.

Winner: Vigil

Executioner vs. Comet

This cataclysmic clash of metaphysical entities was over before it began. With The Grim Reaper's command over all things living, no amount of Santa Claus' faerie dust was going to protect poor Comet the reindeer from the finality of that swinging scythe. Standing in spirit form beside his ExecutionerComet looks forlornly down at his dismembered corpse and realises the irony of the fact that he had been 'sleighed'. Ho ho ho.

Winner: Executioner

Merlin vs. Punisher

In a gentlemanly and sportsmanlike endeavour, Merlin invited your Mum out for some pre-bout tea and biscuits. After a pleasant chat about the weather, her role as your childhood Punisher and the woes of getting older, gathering stormclouds cause Mum some concern as she's left washing on the line. Worried about her undies, she makes her excuses and rushes off before the heavens open, forfeiting the match. Merlin saunters off whistling, with his staff of weather control tucked under his arm.

Winner: Merlin

Slicer vs. Inquisitor

Suspicious of mind and familiar with instruments of torture, the Inquisitor enters the abandoned Butcher's shop and immediately sees the sentient meat Slicer For what it is; an instrument of Chaos. The Slicer pays the price for being an inanimate object and is helplessly rent asunder by several well-placed bolter rounds.

Winner: Inquisitor

Cruor vs. Kestrel

The Kestrel, soaring high and surveying the ground with it's keen vision, spies the puddle of Cruor waiting patiently in a dark alley. Sensing the potential threat, but lacking the means to combat it directly, the Kestrel banks toward a nearby hedgerow. There the Kestrel terrifies several rodents into breaking cover and fleeing toward the alleyway. Once the panicked vermin are within sniffing distance of the Cruor, the Kestrel finds a perch out of sight where it confidently preens itself, safe in the knowledge that his herded but hungry quarry would make short work of the pool of organic waste that was it's opponent. Kestrel wins.

Winner: Kestrel

Condor vs. Succubus

The Succubus monitors her next victim from her ethereal world of dreams, waiting for the Condor to sleep, perchance to die. Her patience is rewarded when the Condor, tired from a day scavenging on the wing, returns home to roost. As the giant bird-of-prey drifts of into slumber, the Succubus invades it's mind to crush it's soul with her dark arts. But in the swirling clouds of the dreamscape, the Succubus is stunned to find the Condor is far more powerful than she expected. In myth, legend and dream, the Condor is known as the Thunderbird. With complete power over storms and with a vengeful demeanour, the Succubus is blasted into submission by thunder and lightning and then torn apart by the Thunderbird's serrated beak.

Winner: Condor

Atron vs. Slasher

Evil child-killer cum dream-stalking slasher Freddy Krueger enters the sci-fi laboratory and makes his way straight to the Orgasmatron. Leering with confident glee, he lays down on the device and closes his eyes as he allows the Excessive Machine to do it's worst. Within in seconds Freddy is cackling with orgasmic fury and, on the stroke of vinegar, thrusts his bladed hand through his own groin and into the heart of the Orgasmatron, ending it's existence and giving himself a slightly higher voice.

Winner: Slasher

And so the last eight combatants are decided. Watch out for the final rounds soon.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Blog Banter Review: EVE Quick Matches

Just over a week ago, I posed the following to the EVE blogging community:

Kirith Kodachi recently discussed the idea of what a World of Tanks style quick-match element would bring to EVE Online. Would the opportunity for a quick combat interest you? How could it be implemented? Could it be done without having a negative impact on existing gameplay elements? Or does such a concept have no place in EVE?

Kirith Kodachi got the whole ball rolling by comparing the easy-access game-play of World of Tanks with the much higher maintenance PvP of EVE Online. He posited that EVE might benefit from some kind of quick-match system.

I was ecstatic that so many fellow bloggers took up the Blog Banter challenge and sank their teeth into the subject. It was a topic that interested me and I had naive dreams of a Tron-like mini-game for Incarna. I felt that it was an assailably brilliant idea. However, the collective wisdom of the Blogosphere has managed to shift my views and I am now more ambivalent about the concept.

It surprised me that the field of opinion that sprang from this Banter was so varied. Arydanika quickly weighed in with an alternative concept of keeping the PvP in the 'real' world, but in 'instances' supported by a gladiatorial industry centred around a low-sec revival. Harrigan Vonstudly, whilst initially opposed to the idea in principle, went on to suggest an 'Eveharmony' compatibility interface allowing pilots to find their perfect PvP match. Drackarn was also in opposition but warmed to the idea of building on Arydanika's gladiatorial theme and including features like gambling and a spectator interface. Rhavas further developed this concept by suggesting organised leagues and Alliance Tournament-like competitions. Ripard Teg came out in strong support of the Incarna-based virtual concept, going into detail about how player-built "combat consoles"' could be used in the forthcoming establishments.

The tide then turned as Ender Black led the charge with a strongly-argued case that "meaningless, inconsequential PvP" had no place in EVE. Gul'gotha's account of the impact Battlegrounds introduction had on World of Warcraft's open-world PvP added weight to this argument. Although these were the only two blogs that openly stood in direct opposition the concept of quick PvP, they make a case that cannot be ignored.

Other bloggers enjoyed playing with the idea, with many also expressing concerns and reservations. Noise offered his cautionary approval whilst expressing concerns that it may impact on existing aspects of EVE's PvP. Mike Azariah used his unique fiction style to paint a picture of meta-gaming behind the scenes of organised leagues. KuroMayuri decried the virtual concepts, fearing the mind-bending effects of getting hooked on a game within a game, but he favoured the lowsec-reviving gladiatorial arenas. Rixx Javix, who had already kicked the idea around in previous posts, argued against himself and remained unconvinced. PyroTech03 set out to prove that arenas would destroy EVE's uniqueness, only to almost convince himself otherwise.

Orakkus melded several ideas and proposed low-sec station-bound arenas with interactive internal environments. SuicidalPancake preferred to see existing combat mechanics developed to promote combat, identifying that casual PvP would appeal to some but also felt that it did not fit the universe. Mabrick discussed a standings-driven 'fight-club' guild with a code of honour. Toterra liked the idea but was concerned that implementation could be mishandled.

All-in-all, I would say this Blog Banter was a resounding success. I don't know about you, but it has left me with a hundred conflicting ideas that are all vying for favour in my brain. There is no right answer and that is the beauty of it. The cacophony of clashing opinions is a wonder to behold, so lets do it again.

Same Time Next Month?

I've contacted Crazy Kinux and obtained his old Blog Banter email list. A message has been sent to all those on it to determine if they would still be interested in being notified of future Blog Banters. However, if you haven't received one and would like advanced notice of the topic for discussion, contact me at so I can add you to the list. I'll detail the process for those unfamiliar with it in a separate blogpost soon.

Coming Soon: Blog Banters Reborn, Now With Added Troll!