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.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Blog Banter 44: Is There Anybody Out There?

A conversation, led by the literary pugilist Poetic Stanziel and fiction champion Rhavas, has been rumbling in the bowels of the blogosphere for a few days now. Due to popular demand, for posterity and for the attentions of CCP Sisyphus of Team Pulmonary Embolism Player Experience, I have been asked to envelop this discussion into a Blog Banter. The community has spoken and Drackarn has provided the following question:

"The local chat channel provides EVE players with an instant source of intel of who is in the system. With a quick glance you can tell who is in system and what your standings are to them. War targets, hated enemies, friends and corp mates all stand out clearly. Is this right? Should we have access to this intel for free with no work or effort? Should the Local chat channel even exist? Should normal space be more like wormhole space where the Local channel appears empty until someone speaks?"

So there you have it. Banter On.

Voices in the Darkness

Points of Origin
Unbreaking Local - An EVE Intel System Proposal by Rhavas @ Interstellar Privateer
Getting Rid of Local & More Local by Poetic Stanziel @ Poetic Discourse

Found on D-Scan
Local Banter

Deconstructing Clouded Judgement

Writing Clouded Judgement for the Pod and Planet fiction contest was a real labour of love, based on some ideas I'd been kicking around for a while. I wanted to make something of my notes and record what I'd learned from the researching and writing process. This slightly indulgent post is as much for my posterity as anything else, but perhaps it might be of interest to some. There are spoilers though, so maybe you'd like to go read the story first and draw your own conclusions before we peak behind the curtain.


The central conceit of my planned story was the possibility of life on other planets, of a kind that wouldn't fit comfortably into our current understanding. I knew with regard to EVE canon (and the competition for which I was writing), I would be on thin ice – we don't like aliens in our New Eden - but I really wanted to explore the themes of evolution and Mankind's influence on it and as is often the case for me, once an creative idea has taken root, there was no ignoring it to write something safer.

In any case, I took comfort in that it seemed inconceivable to me (not to mention mathematically improbable) that mankind could have spread so virulently through the cluster over the twenty-odd millenia since they arrived in New Eden, without discovering (or creating – inadvertently or otherwise) any sentient life. Existing canon is scattered with occasional references - slaver hounds, souvicou cave snakes, fedo - so there was precedent.  Indeed, the existence of many Earth-like green-blue temperate planets throughout the cluster made the existence of flora evident and no natural ecosystem based on the earth model can develop and spread without a degree of assistance from animals. Insects distribute pollen, birds and grazing animals digesting and spreading seeds, fertilising the earth and so on.

Even if such life had been introduced by early human colonists, It's exciting to imagine how such life would have evolved on Earth-like planets with subtle environmental differences. Varied gravity, different light levels or atmospheric composition, periodic table variations, unusual magnetic properties - the environmental factors which steered our evolution might have vastly different results if the parameters are tweaked even just a fraction.

But these exciting possibilities were just on temperate planets; why not apply the same thinking to environments even more alien to us? Gas planets seem like a perfect kind of boiling pot environment to create life - if Earth-borne life evolved from primordial soup, why not also primordial vapour? How can we be so certain that our kind of life is the only kind possible?

As I said before, this was an idea I had been chewing over for a while, but the EVE Online Pod and Planet fiction contest gave me the motivation to flesh it out. Naively convinced I had a completely original concept, I started doing some research. in recent years I'd read articles on the viability of ammonia-based life, rather than our carbon-based biology. Knowing that ammonia was also thought to be present on gas planets like Neptune and Uranus, it was the combination of these two facts that had teased the idea of gaseous evolution into my thoughts.

Then, I discovered that Carl Sagan, astrophysicist, astronomer and all-round scientific scion, had thought of all of this before, back in seventies. He'd written papers on the concept of an ecosystem on Jupiter, complete with fast predators, huge balloon-like grazers and smaller flocking herd swarms. He'd even inspired artists to give form to his concepts. In part, I was a bit miffed that my idea wasn't quite as ground-breaking as I'd led myself to believe, but also I was buoyed - this gave the concept far more scientific credibility.

Although I had in mind life which was a little more ethereal, more wisp-like with gaseous tendrils and a flexible concept of physical composition. I liked to think of an electrical charge moving through a stormcloud, more a complex reaction of chemicals with a central essence which could manipulate the atmosphere around it, borrowing appropriate gases as it required. I wasn't so keen on the more mundane physical concepts Mr Sagan had envisioned. Although the two could co-exist in the same environment. I kicked around the idea of the Sagan-esque physical ecosystem with a more willful, elemental and possibly conscious gaseous symbiote which may have developed to the point of having a defined social structure, but more in the sense of cells within a body, where the body was the planet's atmosphere. It could be shepherd and protector for the other creatures.

It was certainly enough of a concept to support my planned narrative and I never intended to set the planetary ecosystem in stone – I was a storyteller, not a theoretical ecologist. Besides, I wanted to leave plenty of ambiguity to allow the reader to make his own mind up and draw his own interpretation on the cause and significance of events.

Planetology and Technology

Given that I'd decided to set my story on a gas extraction colony as found in EVE Online's planetary interaction gameplay, I needed to have a better understanding of the science of planetary atmospheres, gas planets and the EVE lore behind the technology used to make these floating installations work.

I found this a fascinating journey of discovery which resulted in me getting lost in assorted websites and books on the layers of a planetary atmosphere from the lowest troposphere, through the stratosphere, into the three ionosphere layers; the mesosphere, thermosphere and exosphere, then you start getting into the magnetosphere which is a whole different kind of space gravy.

This was all hard enough to grasp in relation to our own planet, but then I had to transpose this knowledge onto the concept of a much larger, more gaseous planetary body.

Basing knowledge largely on information about the four gas giants in our solar system, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus, I was particularly interested in the last two as they seemed to have more in common with the gas planets found in EVE.  Learning to understand the pressure and temperature variations and the chemical compositions and violent interactions really did help to envisage a harsh, alien environment.

One factoid that particularly excited me was from the Wikipedia page on Neptune, which read, “Since Neptune's atmospheric methane content is similar to that of Uranus, some unknown atmospheric constituent is thought to contribute to Neptune's colour.” I love that today's scientists don't know stuff – although to be fair, the more I read the more I got the impression that there's a hell of a lot of guesswork woven into some accepted cosmological “facts”.

The important facts were that the cloud-deck above which we see the orbital facilities hovering in-game indicate that these float above the tropospheric layer in or around the stratosphere. This seems sensible as it would afford the colonies relative safety from the storms which would rage beneath, whilst allowing them to be close enough to access the varying bands of denser gases in the upper troposphere.

The biggest hazards which the colony would face would be gravity (obviously) and temperature – despite some surprisingly balmy temperatures in the storms below, the lower pressure above the tropopause (the altitude where the troposphere and stratosphere meet) meant temperatures below -200C. Pressure wasn't really an issue until extending deep into the troposphere.

None of this was a huge concern from a narrative perspective – if New Eden's mankind can harness wormholes and transfer human consciousness across space, I didn't need to worry about their ability to overcome simple problems like making a city hover indefinitely above an incredibly hostile environment. I just needed to understand enough to deliver a story with authenticity.

I also needed to ensure that everything tied in with the information already available in-game. It was by going through the descriptions of the various gas colony structures that I was impressed by the sheer thought and depth that was going largely unnoticed by the EVE-playing masses. Really, stop once in a while and check out the details...

Whilst not enough to really deliver a scientific explanation, these descriptions contained a wealth of lore touchstones I could weave into the story; the “equilibrium technology”, the “Hohmann Mass Driver” and the indication of the strict controls necessary “to maintain proper weight and balance” of the colony structures painted a picture of an austere, almost barren living environment.

The description of the gas extractor itself as a kind of unconventional organism was delicious;  “The extractor itself is much like a living organism, breathing in what it needs and expelling that which becomes cumbersome.” This serendipitously tied into the unconventional life theme I wanted to explore.

Character and Story

In EVE choice and consequence are always central themes. I wanted to tell a story of these frontiersmen on their isolated colony being forced to cross boundaries with which they weren't comfortable. I didn't want any good guys and bad guys, I wanted each character to have clear motives and reasons for their decisions.

On the first draft I didn't have any names in mind, just placeholders, but I had a strong idea of how I wanted the three central characters to interact. There would be the driven, focused alpha-female who became Director Valta, the morally-flexible displaced leader in Administrator Toukka and the most sympathetic character, the tragedy-tinged Dr. Yuskollin.

I deliberately avoided describing their race of origin in the story as I personally find the idea of New Eden only being populated by a few distinct races a little preposterous. Over the millenia that these sub-sets of humanity have been interacting, they would have been interbreeding to the point where very few would be purebred and I'm not a fan of relying on racial stereotypes to describe characters. That said, I opted for Caldari names as I thought the Caldari aesthetic suited the austere vibe of the colony. However, I also like to think of Dr. Yuskollin as having some Amarrian heritage and his wife even moreso, which was why as a family of doctors, they're all Hedion University graduates. I developed each character in some detail, particularly the Yuskollins, their lives, beliefs and working relationships. I particularly took time to realise the events leading up to the story opening. Like the technology and science research, it was all about having depth and authenticity.

It was the interplay between these three characters that I wanted to describe as the events their choices set in motion spiral out of their control. I also wanted the challenge of bringing some excitement to an aspect of the EVE universe which is very sedate and unengaging. The pacing of the story was a challenge, I wanted to draw the reader in quickly, hence the immediate conflict in the board room scene, but I also wanted to deliver at least some of the historical and scientific depth I'd researched. Sadly, for the sake of brevity, a lot of this got stripped out again to fit the 5000 word competition limit.

I think this was a good thing. Nothing was really lost from the story and it is a lot less flabby for it. In some ways, it was a gain; I wanted to get the reader thinking, and in many ways sacrificing some of the exposition meant that the reader had to fill in the blanks and draw his own conclusions.

With the set up delivered, I enjoyed the writing the more energetic and physically descriptive final act. The technical and scientific research I did really paid off in the extractor head scene – I felt I could write the descriptions of the environment with some authority and had a clear visualisation in my mind.  Again, I left the hows and whys of events deliberately vague, instead focusing on the events themselves to allow the reader to interpret the cause of the changing atmospheric conditions and the inexplicable sighting of a supposedly bed-ridden casualty somewhere she ought not to be.

Critical Reception

In terms of the Pod and Planet competition, it was this ambiguous quality that was probably my undoing, the story failed to place amongst the 16 prize recipients. So I took up the judges' kind offer of some feedback. There were some suggestions of pacing, predictable plots and obvious characters, which I'll just have to take on the chin (although I think, in part, these concerns were more a matter of taste). But the main issue was that one of the key elements was the “supernatural” nature of the story was considered to be not in keeping with EVE canon. I was surprised by this as I didn't write in any supernatural activity.  Hoisted by my own petard of ambiguity, it seems. Maybe the lesson for me to learn is to keep it simple and not try to cram too much in to a short story.

Perhaps I could have taken the time to include explanation of the scientific principles I had in mind that would have caused the unseen gaseous ecosystem to register human intervention as a threat and do everything necessary to expel it. I could have given more attention to the infestation in the stricken Mrs.Yuskollin that allowed the intelligent forces to investigate and sabotage the humans means of escape via the Hohmann mass driver escape capsule. In my mind this gaseous eco-intelligence was harnessing its environment, its “technology” to defend itself from a perceived attack.

Arthur wasn't wearing any trousers.
Other clues existed in the text, but were removed for brevity and I could certainly have been more transparent with my narrative. But I think I prefer it this way, EVE theme be damned. The fact that some interpreted this to be in some way religious, with ghosts and divine intervention is amazing. I love that words I wrote could be interpreted so differently. And who's to say that they're wrong. Certainly not me, I wanted ambiguity and interpretation and that's what I got.

After all, it was the great Arthur C. Clarke, giant of the science fiction genre who said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It seems the same can be said for forms of biological and meteorological science that are not conventional sci-fi fare.

And what is more important was that others enjoyed it. I received number of positive and generous comments both on the original blogpost and from elsewhere. This was my favourite:

So I am content. The quality of the competition was very high and I have enjoyed reading several of the other entries. There was no shame in losing to them. Go check some out for yourself, there's an amazing body of player-generated EVE fiction right there. In the end, it was the community who won.

And I am writing that novel.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Summary of Blog Banter 41: Director's Cut

Way back in November,  Blog Banter 41: Director's Cut squeezed the creative juices of the EVE Bloggeratti for ideas on how to tell the story of EVE Online to a new audience. This gave us many diverse and colourful approaches to giving internet spaceships the Hollywood (or in some cases, reality TV) treatment.

Once all 16 submissions were in the can, all that remained was to find a suitably erudite and knowledge EVE-ophile to cast his eye over each synopsis. We needed someone with depth of knowledge, a taste for fiction and an eye for flare. Step forward one of the very first Lords of the Blog, the Canadian Capsuleer, Lord Moose Beaver himself, Kirith "I'll summarise this one cos there's less entries than usual" Kodachi. ;)

The crafty Canuck took time out from stalking other bloggers in space to approach this final review of the Banter with the eyes of a movie reviewer and scheduler.

Look no further to discover the potential sci-fi blockbusters and sleeper hits of 2013 than Kirith's...

Cheers for your efforts Kirith and with that, Blog Banter 41 is finally a wrap.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Plancks, Cloaks and Techno-Zombies

I've woken up with a bit of a spring in my step. I didn't even mind so much that I was in the same glossy prison cell as always. I stand at the bottom of the walkway leading up to the hangar balcony and take the time to remind myself that there was always one escape route to the stars.

I feel good today, I might even do something constructive. What was on the slate?

Oh yeah, Airlock-Face and his insulting errand. With a reluctant sigh, I slump onto the couch and idly bring up my NEOCOM mission journal. So this Ni-Kunni dipshit, who somehow holds a high position in the Amarr Ministry of Internal Order, has lost one of his agents and wants me to go find him, or more importantly, find some reports. Oh well, it passes the time.

I attempt to call Airlock-Face up for a conversation, but once again he snubs me, instead choosing to repeat his banal pre-written message from earlier. I swallow my pride and accept his offer – the destination system of Annad is only a couple of jumps away and there's over 2 million ISK on the table, so what the hell.

As I prepare myself for the reality-jarring experience of touching those undock chevrons, I wonder if I should grab some breakfast first. I shrug and accept that the hydrostatic capsule might not be a top chef, but it must sort out my nutritional needs. After all, I can't remember the last time I ate, but I've not starved to death yet. I wonder if I can reprogramme my pod to mainline some stims to wake me up a bit too. Mental note: add boosters to the shopping list.

One more thing occurs to me as the pre-launch darkness invades my brain – the station hangar in which my docked ship floats is gargantuan. Yet I've never see another docked ship or even another pilot standing on his own hangar balcony. I'm pretty certain there can't be too many chambers that size inside a station and it ain't that space-contorting planck technology shenanigans at work; as we're constantly reminded by the smart-arsed NEOCOM, you can't put a planck container inside another one or the universe ends. So ships carrying planck containers wouldn't be able to dock if that was the explanation. Even weirder, if I switch to my camera drone hangar bay view, there's no evidence at all of my balcony (which should be right next to my ship) or any part of that station superstructure. Perhaps they cloak parts of the station interior to protect capsuleer interests.

Taking a quick spin around the massive station makes me realise it might be possible to fit a fair few frigates and cruisers in. My ship's overview records the impressive structure at 96 kilometres in size, but I still can't figure out where all the ships might go at busy trade hubs, especially the hulking great freighters. There must be some clever wormhole trickery going on somewhere. Either that, or our NEOCOMs are lying to us. Maybe they're messing with my head using that Neural Inhibitor Matrix business I've read about. Bloody mind-shroud conspiracy theories.

I arrive in the Annad system. It's a 0.8 high-security system, the jump gates are all crawling with local customs enforcement and I know the long arm of CONCORD can easily reach my location, but even so, I activate my cloak. I know how these things can go...

As I make the short jump across system to the last known location of the missing agent, I'm not surprised that my NEOCOM presents me with some ominous and mysteriously unattributed (and clumsily written) information. How many millennia of software development are needed to make an effective word processor?

“As you come upon the battle sight [sic], you immediately see why the previous investigator was so late. His ship has been reduced to wreckage. The Sansha's Nation ships responsible are picking it over. 
Eliminate the Sansha ships and retrieve the investigator's reports they surely salvaged.”

Wouldn't you know it, the ever intimidating sight of a Sansha's Nation fleet drifts idly through the battle site littered with shattered fragments of their prey, including a wrecked Archon carrier. If I'd come in one of my appropriately fitted battleships, these spike-loving perversions of human nature wouldn't be a problem, but the Manticore stealth bomber I'd chosen for the trip would likely not withstand a single direct hit from one of those Nightmare battleships, and there were four of them. Arguably even more of a problem were the four supporting Succubus frigates, whose speed and small weaponry would be a more immediate threat.

I wondered if I might be able to lure the frigates away to deal with them first. It was worth a try and still safely cloaked, I drifted lazily away from their position to a distance close to the edge of my maximum targeting range.

I locked and target-painted the closest of the frigates and let loose my first salvo of torpedoes. The Nightmares quickly returned fire and the sky was streaked with violet laser fury. Fortunately, their huge laser arrays and inept gunners were barely able to register a hit. However, my ship rocked as electromagnetic fury crackled across the shields - one of the frigates was already close enough to be hitting me with light missiles.

By sheer luck, it was my current target, but both he and his high-velocity wingmates were already bearing down on me. Even with a target painter, the damage from my torpedoes was woeful as they were designed to inflict damage on much larger vessels. As one of them closed to almost tackling range, I was left with little choice but to active my microwarpdrive and pray the resultant signature bloom didn't make me an instant victim of the incoming heavy fire from multiple battleship laser batteries.

I burned away from the encroaching frigates, waiting for the sudden wrenching feeling of massive ship damage. It never came. My shields held and my first target fell under the continual torpedo barrage. This might actually work.

I patiently skimmed the perimeter of the battle site, picking off the frigates and staying well clear of the slow-moving battleships. When only one Succubus remained, he started behaving oddly. It was understandable that the Centii Loyal Scavenger pilot had realised that he was outmatched, but some strange Sansha technology seemed to suddenly empower him to break my lock and reposition himself back with his battleship associates. Microjump drive? I didn't think so. He did this more than once and the cooldown period didn't stack up. Maybe he'd just warped.

Nonetheless, eventually I pinned him down and a breathed a sigh of relief as his ship exploded. All that remained was to take on the Nightmares. Stealth bombers were perfect against this kind of prey, I steered by vessel back toward the battleships, still ineffectively firing in my general direction, but I'd strayed much closer than I'd planned, having been lured by that last Succubus.

Suddenly an alarm sounded. My shields had been all but stripped away by a lucky hit. Dammit, I'd grown complacent and allowed my transversal to drop, making me a viable target for battleship-sized weapons. I adjusted my orbit angle but a second shot left my Manticore shattered and belching flame. Mentally wounded, I attempted to align to escape, but the third shot seared my synapses and I felt the nerve-searing pain as every connection I had with the ship was torn forcibly from my mind.

Momentarily stunned, I couldn't help but notice that the Secure Commerce Commission notification had blinked onto my NEOCOM before my ship's hull had even been completely breached. Suspiciously efficient, it's like they knew what was happening before my eyes did. I warp away to safety before those Centus Savage Lords could move close enough to have their kinky way with me.

Well. That was embarrassing. I hope whoever the crewmen are that handle the torpedo itinerary in the cargo bay and the fellas who polish the modules got out okay. There's never been any way I can tell. They tell us folk are running the canteen and stoking the furnaces, but I never see or hear from them. How can I be sure they're even there?

Docking my capsule at the only station in system - a Hedion University facility - I'm grateful for the SCC regulation issue Reaper. I wonder if I might be able to go recover whatever survived the explosion. A quick check of my nearby assets show that my nearest fitted ship is a humble Kestrel frigate six jumps away. I'd have to go a lot further to grab something suited to taking these Nightmares on. I suppose I could buy something quick and dirty on the market, but I'm impatient. I want to grab my equipment before some opportunist looter swoops in.

Returning to the site of my Manticore's demise, I attempt to give the loitering battleships a wide berth, but they spot me nonetheless and predictably don't take kindly to my return. The laser crossfire begins again, but proves ineffective. Far more effective however, is the occasional scourge missile that streaks across the battlefield, significantly depleting my shields. I bullheadedly continue, praying that somehow I might survive even though my subconscious had already done the maths. The fourth missile strike was the one that saw me explode.

I limp back to station in my pod again. Determined not to be made to find another ship tonight, I resolve to try once more. I take my SCC-approved suicide Reaper and undock again. On arrival at the Sansha fleet, this time I take more care to circumnavigate them. This was a slow and uninteresting task and I begin to realise the time it was taking me would probably have been better spent acquiring a suitable ship. Nonetheless, I persevere.

Thankfully, the Nation ships manage to out-stupid me by ignoring the same target that they had shot at twice previously and who had killed their frigate support. Perhaps they'd realised I'm not really worth assimilating and are concerned I might infect their implants with a virus of uncontrollable mega-stupid.

I take the time to check the kill log on my NEOCOM and realise almost nothing survived the explosion. I was wasting my time for a single Torpedo Launcher, a Target Painter and some ammunition. Why bother? Then I remember, there are some theories that surviving crew occupy a lifeboat section of the emergency wreck container, so I'd best make the effort just in case.

I try not to think about the 45 million ISK of Tech II ship and equipment that has been reduced to scrap and left floating in the void. See, this is what happens when you wake up with a spring in your step. Its an over-rated state of mind which gets you into trouble.

I dock up at Hedion University for some sulky reflection of my ineptitude. I'd go find the student bar and get drunk on cheap booze, but I still can't get this damn door to open.

Irritating. I can't even pin Airlock-Face's picture on a dartboard and then play spin the Khumaak with a bunch of clueless students. Sometimes I think I'm not cut out for this life.

Stupid door.


Monday, 7 January 2013

Blog Banter 43: Celebrating the Nation of EVE

...Applaud Your Peers, Embarrass Your Enemies...

At the turn of the year in meatspace, award season starts to spin up. Across the general media, folk are encouraged to look to their peers and recognise excellence and inspiration from the previous year.

For the past two years I have attempted to do the same for EVE by distributing imaginary Free Boot Awards to an eclectic assortment of community luminaries. This year I thought it might be nice to expand the concept.

For Blog Banter 43 I would like to invite every participant to nominate their peers for whatever awards you think they deserve. Let's start the year with some EVE-flavoured altruism and celebrate the best and the worst of us, the funniest or the most bizarre, the most heroic of the most tragic of the past year. They could be corpmates, adversaries, bloggers, podcasters, developers, journalists or inanimate objects. Go nuts.

There's only one rule: no narcissism allowed (so step away from that mirror and resist the urge to nominate yourself).

Other than that, if it's great, let's celebrate.

Banter On.

And The Winners Are...

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A Turning of the EVE Fiction Tide?

In the past, I've made no secret of the fact that I think CCP undervalues the lore of EVE Online. I've seen what I perceive to be a cultural shift away from the interwoven backstories that make sense of our science-fiction sandbox.

It was almost as if CCP were embarrassed by it and, in part, I can understand why. Due to the failure of Incarna, the marketing value of immersive content in New Eden fell through the floor. Not because EVE fiction wasn't great – it was and still is - but because the avatar-led gameplay element which would have been a doorway to a more connected experience was so horribly mismanaged.

Has the Summer of Incarnage forever set EVE development on a path to become an anodyne eSports engine with the science-fiction increasingly marginalised? Or is there still room for in-game content befitting of an epic space opera?

A Pavlovian Development Arc

Incarna was a good idea, badly implemented. Let's not forget that the expansion immediately prior to Incarna was the a heavily storyline-led and content heavy Incursion. One of the most successful and fondly remembered expansions was 2008's Apocrypha, which was steeped in the lore and mystery of wormhole space and the ominous Sleepers. So when Walking in Stations went down in flames, it took EVE lore's credibility with it.

As a reaction to this, CCP seemed to walk away whistling nonchalantly, claiming that they didn't want that lore anyway and that EVE was about the players' stories. Jon “CCP Unifex” Lander took over from CCP Zulu as Senior Producer in December 2011 and a new era of EVE development dawned. CCP Unifex's strategy for the last eighteen months has seen CCP maintain a laser-like focus on iteration and improvement of internet spaceships.

It has been a great success.

But EVE Online development is now governed by an Incarna-induced cultural aversion to lore which has been evident throughout this development cycle. The focused desire to pump subscribers through the initial stages of the game into the community quagmire that would ensure their retention has seen character and depth stripped away. A host of in-game items were renamed “for clarity”, all attempt at immersion was removed from the tutorials and Team Avatar was disbanded.

CCP Unifex has publicly stated that introducing new content was pointless as some players would complete it within days, implying that there is little point catering for any but the most hardcore of gamers. That many gamers with an interest in epic sci-fi might not have 20+ hours a week to devote to grinding content doesn't seem to be a concern – those less valuable customers can make do with content that is nearly a decade old, as CCP almost exclusively courts the hardcore technical PvP demographic.

All this seemed to be further evidence that EVE Online's former goal as the “ultimate sci-fi simulator” was being deliberately narrowed to become a niche PvP society. Such was the legacy of the Incarna debacle.

The Playstyle Pendulum

As someone who specifically returned to EVE Online some years ago on the promise of what was then called “ambulation” (and often ask myself why I'm still here), I have always felt that immersion into the storyline was vital to my enjoyment EVE Online, if only at a background level.

In the last year or so, I have come to terms with the mortal blow that any such aspirations have been dealt and I've learned to accept the status quo. I have come to accept the oft-repeated mantra of “the players are the content”.

There is still enough fiction inspiration in New Eden from which I can continue to draw, but I remain disappointed that CCP want to develop a low-maintenance gaming environment which they seem happy to practically abandon to the lowest common denominator. Surely that is evidence that the playstyle pendulum has swung too far?

However, I now find myself wondering if there is a turning of the tide. Is the pendulum starting to swing back to a place where CCP sees value in embracing the fictional heart of EVE again?

A few CCP fifth-columnists have been keeping the flame alive, the recent release of new material on the EVE fiction portal shows that the backstory of EVE at least still has a pulse and the return of CCP-led live events creates some storyline integration into the game itself. However, I'm cautious about seeing this as more than just lip-service to keep people like me quiet and I await the CSM summit minutes with interest as I know that the lore and content topic was discussed to some degree.

The Quiet Horde

The phenomenal success of the Pod and Planet fiction contest, run by Telegram Sam with support from CCP, saw over 100 entries of some pretty solid EVE sci-fi. There really is a wealth of incredible writing talent across the EVE player base and deserved congratulations to the 16 selected prize winners.

I don't think Telegram Sam and his co-judges were expecting such a huge volume of submissions, but this is clear proof that there is player enthusiasm for elements of EVE Online beyond optimal ship fittings and e-peen bragging rights. CCP have let this demographic wither on the vine for the last two years, yet they still exist in enough numbers to generate several novels-worth of material for a single competition. This gives me hope and should send a clear message to CCP.

Imagine how many more lore-hounds there might be if CCP actually put any effort into courting this demographic with more than just the occasional live event and some new webpages on the EVElopedia. CCP should see EVE's backstory as more than just marketing material and a lure for new players, it could be part of EVE's raison d'ĂȘtre again.

There are signs that even CCP Unifex seems to be swinging around to the idea of moving some of his eggs out of his single development basket. In a recent interview published on ZAM, he said,

“I think you need a certain amount of single player leading people in, so they actually want to go and make these social connections. It’s certainly one of the things that we’re beginning to look at within EVE now, which is how do we smooth out that learning cliff, how do we make it less threatening, how do we make it easier for a new person to get into the game, and that will involve a certain amount of single player content.”

There is also a vague reference in the article to “updating the Mission system”, although it was in the past tense, so I think that was just a reference to the Retribution NPC AI update. If so, I think considering that an update to the mission system is overselling it a tad.

Learning to EVE Versus Choosing a Path

All in all though, this is a very encouraging change of perspective and one that buys into the argument I have been making for some time. The majority of newcomers to EVE will have experienced other, gentler MMOs and certainly need to be eased into the murky gameplay oceans of EVE. Just dropping rookies into ice cold water is unlikely to get many to stay for a swim.

But I hope that CCP Unifex can see more value than just using content and immersion as a method of indoctrination. If he values EVE Online's reputation as an open-world sandbox, I believe he should be encouraging the expansion of choices available to players, not rail-roading them.  It should not be compulsory for every new player to be forced down the path toward becoming a PVP junkie in a large organisation. Lore-based content should not just be seen as entry-level material, it can sustain a playstyle which can keep a player's interest indefinitely and broaden the appeal of EVE beyond the eSports demographic.

Let us choose the depth at which we swim. Or are those who want to stay in the shallows not welcome? I'm not for a minute asking for EVE to be made into a theme park or made safer, I certainly don't want to be protected and I enjoy the ever-present threat of player intervention, but I do want to be entertained by my environment too.

Let the sandbox thrive, encourage playstyle diversity. Don't ignore the PvE and please, let slip the dogs of lore.

Dare to be bold CCP, dare to be bold.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

BB42: Final Result of the EVE Online Community Review

Like of jury of one's peers, some of the EVE blogosphere's finest scribes have passed judgement on the world's premier game of internet spaceships.

The Impossible Challenge

No single games journalist could reasonably provide an accurate and up-to-date review of any MMO - they are simply too broad in scope and content-rich for a complete appraisal to be made in the timeframe available to your average journo.

Moreover, amongst the entire MMO genre, EVE Online is probably the greatest challenge of all to review. Any sandbox gaming environment would be a nebulous concept to pin down, but the sheer variety of playstyle options and gameplay features that have grown throughout EVE's development cycle of well over ten years makes an all-encompassing review a seemingly impossible task.

The Dauntless Few

However, who better to take on the impossible challenge than a vibrant community of avid bloggers who are never shy of ripping into aspects of EVE Online when the mood takes them. By combining the knowledge and experience of a broad section of players, we have a pool of eclectic opinion from which to draw. Some have invested years in playing, others are relatively fresh to the universe of New Eden. Each plays the game their own way, mingling with the in-game communities of their choice.

This is the second such community review, with last year's effort soliciting 21 opinions which were distilled down through the Review-o-matic Bantertron supercomputer to produce a final score of 82% for the Crucible release period. Of course a single number is a gross and offensive simplification of the carefully weighed opinions of our reviewers, but sadly this is the internet and people like brevity. And numbers. Coz numbers are cool.

Before we commit the same numerical atrocity so we can compare and contrast to last year, let us first get an overview of the fine minds behind this year's carnival of opinion.

Jacabon Mere
Capital Storm Corporation
EVE Experience: 5+ years
Review Focus: General
Key Quotes:
   "...many aspects are still hampered by a clunky interface, unintuitive clickfests and many illogical processes that are simply annoying without adding any depth to the game."

   "Eve is one of the great pillars in the MMO genre and to date nothing comes close to the depth that it offers."

Full Article: The Five Year Re-Review

 Aesthetics 9.5/10
 Gameplay 8/10
 Innovation: 10/10
 Polish: 6/10
 Longevity: 9.5/10
 Social: 9/10
 Value: 8/10
 Conclusion: 8.6/10
86% (based on score average)

EVE Experience: 4 years
Review Focus: Nullsec combat
Key Quotes:
   "Waiting for combat... It's kinda boring but also at the same time a good build up to fights... It's a bit like Corporate espionage mixed with cowboys and naval combat, but in space."

   "I am going to tell you now that I have done top level raids in WoW, and nothing, nothing compares to the thrill of PvP in eve."

Full Article: Harkconnan's Eve Online Review

 Starting assumption of mediocrity: 50
 Interface & Controls: +5
 Early game: +7
 Entry to 0.0: +5
 0.0 Life: +20
 Combat: +29
 Community: +10
 Average play session: +9.55
 Final Score: 130.55 out of 100
100% (Um, since Harkconnen's scoring system seems to have broken itself, we'll call that the maximum then, eh?)

EVE Experience: 6 years
Review Focus: Various solo - "Backwater Trading, PI, T2 invention and Manufacturing, Exploration"
Key Quotes:
   "While a steady stream of patches saw [client performance] improve somewhat... there didn’t seem to be anything new in game that was interesting, and overall it just lacked cohesiveness." [On the Inferno Summer expansion]

   "The sounds, appearance and effects look markedly better... the aggression system... is now more visible and easier to understand...Much shorter down times, much shorter session change timers, market order highlighting – just change after change that really seemed to add up by the end of the year"

Full Article: An EVE Year in Review

Scoring: "At the start of the year I would have rated EVE at around 68%.  By mid-year it was down to 45%.  But over the last 5 months CCP has managed to turn that around to finish 2012 on a high. So as of now, I would rate EVE at 85%."

Mad Haberdashers
EVE Experience: 5+ years
Review Focus: Multiplayer
Key Quotes:
   "If you haven’t played EvE let me tell you the multiplayer is completely pervasive.  You nearly cannot play the game in any way without affecting the experience of another player, or having another player change your experience."

  "Many things draw people into the game.  The story of it, the graphics, the hard-edged sci-fi element, the list goes on.  What makes EvE different is the community."

Full Article: Multiplayer

Scoring: None given.

Sand, Cider and Spaceships
EVE Experience: 4+ years
Review Focus: Factional Warfare and Piracy (PvP)
Key Quotes: 
   "Eve is still not an easy game to get into, especially with PvP. Don't believe me? Take a week old toon in the best ship they can fly and go looking for a fight in low-sec."

   "An amazing sandbox set in a stunning sci-fi universe where your actions can resonate through the universe."

Full Article: 2012 Community Review of Eve Online

 Gameplay - 9/10
 Graphics - 8/10
 Longevity - 10/10
 Ease of Getting Into - 4/10
 Sound - 7/10
 Overall - 38/50
76% (based on score average)

Mike Azariah
A Missioneer in EVE
EVE Experience: 4+ years
Review Focus: General (esp. PvE)
Key Quotes:
   "To review Eve without including its people is just plain wrong.  The PvE side of Eve has a few highlights but only when other folks are involved."
  "Eve is the toy drummer and we, the players, have drooled all over it and are now pushing the envelope and playing inside the box, outside the box, head in bag, stumbling about.  And laughing the whole time."

Full Article: OOC Soylent Green review of Eve

 Graphics - 9/10
 Sound - 7/10
 PvE Content - 5/10
 PvP Content - 10/10
 Support - 9/10
 Player Base - 9/10
 Future - 8/10
 Conclusion - 57/70
81% (based on score average)

Roc Wieler
Roc's Ramblings
EVE Experience: 6+ years
Review Focus: Graphical/Creative and General
Key Quotes: 
   "Small UI improvements to provide better interface efficiency, but overall it’s been a forgotten piece of architecture in 2012." [On Planetary Interaction]

  "Despite players always complaining how CCP goes from shiny to shiny, I have to admit, EVE Online is still the most damn sexy game I’ve ever laid eyes on."

Full Article: Eve Online 2012 Review

 Ship Spinning - 8/10
 Captain's Quarters - 2/10
 Noble Exchange - 2/10
 Planetary Interaction - 3/10
 Working in 3D: - 7/10
 Market: - 9/10
 Roleplay: - 3/10
 Music - 9/10
 API - 6/10
 Shiny - 10/10
59% (based on score average)

Kuan Yida
Random Posts from Auga
EVE Experience: 6+ years
Review Focus: Factional Warfare
Key Quotes: 
   "My corporation joined Factional Warfare back in June of 2008... Nearly four years later, the FW was unchanged and growing stagnant."
  "Honestly, I think of 2012 as the year Faction War was reborn. In fact, I think it’s improved to the point it may outgrow it’s britches again...  we are small-squad PvP elite."

Full Article: 2012: The Rebirth of Faction War

Scoring: None given

Kody Gloval
Electronics Evangelist
EVE Experience: 9+ years
Review Focus: General
Key Quotes: 
  "Missioning in Eve could be so much more. But instead we are left with a shell of any other PvE game. Yes, yes, I’ve heard it all before. The content is the players, it’s more than PvE, blah blah blah. My question for those (like myself) that love the sandbox…why can’t it be more?"
  "The community that has resulted from a unique sandbox that has evolved over a decade is…well…a unique community. There are a myriad of supporting activities with blogs, wiki’s, podcasts and all manner of ‘real world’ meet ups and of course the annual Fan Fest."

Full Article: The Capsuleer Experience

 Graphics - 8.5/10
 Sound - 7/10
 PvE Content - 3/10
 PvP Content - 9/10
 Support - 7/10
 Player Base - 9/10
 Conclusion - 43.5/60
73% (based on score average)

Mabrick's Mumblings
EVE Experience: 4+ years
Review Focus: Metaphorical
Key Quotes: 
   "As fundamentals atrophied, unforced errors eliminated any chance of a playoff berth in 2011. For the first time in eight seasons EVE Online had a losing record... It was time to rebuild."
  "Many long time fans had become disillusioned and left for other teams in other stadiums. Now they are back but fickle as ever. Furthermore, many seats are still empty. Even the best of the old seasons had only ever filled half the stadium. Attendance continues to be a problem for this team."

Full Article: It was a Rebuilding Year

Scoring: None given

Helena Khan
Aggressive Logistics
EVE Experience: 4+ years
Review Focus: General
Key Quotes:
   "My one concern at present is the potential for real homogeneity if all the hulls end up having exactly the same fits in game... There is a potential for a loss of individuality between the factions if the ships are almost identical." [On CCP's recent 'tiericide' efforts]

   "One tick in CCPs favor however, is the overall move towards lessening the differences between hardcore PvE and PvP ship fits. Anything where the game itself encourages players to learn about the harder end of the spectrum so they don’t pop like an overgrown soap bubble the first time they hit low sec is a good thing."

Full Article: Is Eve the answer?

 Interface Use 8/10
 Interface Complexity 2/10
 Ships 9/10
 Flight Dynamics 7/10
 Graphics 9/10
 Audio 6/10
 Complexity 3/10
 Missions 6/10
 Scanning/Exploration 7/10
 Social/Collaboration 9/10
 Overall: 8/10
66% (based on score average)

Sugar Kyle
Low Sec Lifestyle
EVE Experience: 1+ years
Review Focus: Low sec
Key Quotes:
  "A year ago I was in a badly fit Myrm, in tears of frustration as I struggled through Level 3 missions.  A frustration so intense that it has created a loathing for mission running that I cannot shake."

  "For me, it was a good year full of good things.  Highlights and low lights and small things and large.  All of them have been worth the time and effort and I've enjoyed it all tremendously."

Full Article: My Year in Review

Scoring: None given

Rixx Javix
EVE Experience:  4+ years
Review Focus: Low Sec Combat Pilot
Key Quotes:
   "Those people in the picture ain't crazy, they are just insanely happy about Eve Online: Retribution. And those other recent expansions that didn't have the name Incarna attached to them!"

   "Retribution has fit into my play-style perfectly. I am having my best month EVER in Eve simply because of the changes made in Retribution. So yes, I am proudly biased."

Full Article: Eve is 1000% Better Now

 Ships 350% better
 Environment 450% better
 Everything 200% else
100% (because that's as high as percentage scores should go, even if you try to break the system with outrageous scoring mechanisms. Into the Naughty Maths corner you go Mr. Javix.)

Ardent Defender
Ardent Defender
EVE Experience: 2+ years
Review Focus: High Sec/PvE/Trading & Industry
Key Quotes:
   "I believe here is an area that CCP has failed to greatly improve though neglect over the years. Overall R&D is a knowledge Intensive sector of EVE, often tedious and time-consuming." [On Research & Development gameplay]

  "To me the Market place in EVE Online is the real backbone of EVE which covers all regions of EVE as well Sub-Regional Markets via all its Station System Markets across an entire region."

Full Article: Trying to Review EVE Online, Are you Kidding Me?

 Early career - 8/10
 Missions - 6/10
 Making Friends - 3/10
 Graphics - 9/10
 Celestial Environment - 5/10
 Spaceship Design - 7/10
 Avatars - 10/10
 Avatar Environment - 1/10
 Trading - 9/10
 Manufacturing - 8/10
 Research & Development - 8/10
 Invention - 9/10
 Social - 8/10
 Overall - 8/10
70% (based on score average)

Aiden Mourn
Finders & Keepers
EVE Experience: 4+ years
Review Focus: The HTFU attitude
Key Quotes: 
   "I fell in love with the dark of Eve; that cold, brutal, backstabbing, immeasurably complex and viciously unforgiving game that back in 2008 told new players to quite literally “harden the fuck up” or get out. That mindset has regrettably, and yet not so unexpectedly, taken its final bows in favor of expanding the reach of the game as a whole to a larger audience."

   "...part of the “avoiding Bitter Vet Syndrome” routine my therapist has me on... Eve is a game, and if you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong. CCP, you’re doing it right; so so right. Thanks for that."

Full Article: The Road More Traveled

Scoring: None given

Morphisat's Blog
EVE Experience: 6+ years
Review Focus: Exploration
Key Quotes:
   "As with most things in Eve, it takes a while to get things done... it can be frustrating on some of the harder sites that just don’t want to be found and you’re stuck at 93%"

   "Exploring and finding sites can be very rewarding. With some luck quite a few isk can be made, once you leave hisec."

Full Article: Eve in Review - Exploration

Learning Curve 3/5
User Interface 3/5
Longevity 5/5
Overall 4/5
75% (based on score average)

Urziel's EVE Chronicle
EVE Experience: 2 years
Review Focus: General
Key Quotes: 
   "The new player experience has received a great many facelifts in the last year including buffed rookie ships, a more interactive tutorial as well as an improved mission interface."

  "Most people scoff when they hear eve is almost 10 years old now, but then you tell them about the 18 free expansions since launch and show them videos. Eve looks great for it's age, something that other games should take notice of."

Full Article: Reviewing Eve, again.

 Challenge: 10/10
 Graphics: 9.5/10
 Community: 12/10
 Complexity: 8/10
 Overall 9.75
99% (based on score average)

Harrigan Vonstudly
Gun Turret Diplomacy
EVE Experience: 4+ years
Review Focus: Low sec/null sec combat in Retribution
Key Quotes: 
  "I give my game play for the first 9 to 10 months of 2012 a 2 of 10. I give Eve a 5 of 10. That's 50% for Eve. I just lost interest. Low sec was still just shitty old low sec."

   "It wasn't Retribution that brought me back full bore to Eve. It was winter. But, with winter came Retribution. And with Retribution came glory."

Full Article: 2012 EVE Online Review; Harri Style

 Tiericide - 10/10
 Destroyers - 8/10
 Crimewatch - 10/10
 Tracking Camera - 7/10
 Safety feature - 0/10
 CCP - 9/10
73% (based on score average)

2nd Anomaly From the Left
EVE Experience: 7+ years
Review Focus: Lore and Retribution
Key Quotes: 
   "Of any game, Eve Online has the most potential.  But it also has disappointed and has done things the hard way."

   "Retribution was another significant step in making all of Eve Online better. Eve Online overall has stepped up its game and it is more than just a simple Indie title now, it is a major contendor in the MMO world for the title few developers even dream about… longevity."

Full Article: Eve Online Review - Retribution.. or Deliverance

 Game Lore - 5
 Meta Lore - 10+
 Gameplay - 8
 Graphics - 11/10
 Community - 9/10
86% (based on score average)

Lukas Rox
Torchwood Archives
EVE Experience: 7+ years
Review Focus: Crafting (Industry)
Key Quotes:
   "Crafting in EVE Online is great, but at times seems a bit overcomplicated, especially when looking at Tech II and III production chains, which are quite long and require several stages."

   "Large scale operations in corporations like Aideron Technologies is basically a clickfest... Science and Industry GUI requires a serious rework to reduce the amount of clicks substantially."

Full Article: Review of Crafting (industry) in EVE Online

Crafting system design - 90/100
Crafting system implementation - 65/100
Total - 77.5

The Final Result...

Of the 20 submitted reviews, 15 of them included some numbers for us to feed into the Bantertron Megacruncher.

In order to arrive at a single result (as shown beneath each entry above), each reviewer's scores were distilled down into a single percentage so an overall average could be calculated. In the case of those hyperbolic enthusiasts who broke the 100% maximum, their scores were taken as 100% in order to keep things within the realms of sense and away from some kind of quantum scoring paradox.

Before we divulge the final result, some factoids for you:

The highest scores given were by Harkconnen and Rixx Javix, each with 100% (or pre-adjusted: 130.55 out of 100 and 1000% respectively). The lowest average score was from Roc Wieler with 59%, with his review focused on the more esoteric elements of EVE.

We had 7 returning reviewers from last year and 13 entirely fresh opinions, who between them brought over 93 years of EVE experience.

And the final result vomited forth by the arcane number-butchery of a group of mathematically unqualified wordsmiths?

>>> 80% <<<
[Highlight above]

The Inevitable Conclusion

So despite all of the improvements from the Inferno and Retribution expansions, the total average score came out at two percent less than last year. After reading through the reviews, I was honestly expecting something a little higher. To be fair, the idiosyncrasies of the individual scoring systems chosen by the banter contributors may have muddied the waters. I suppose it's all part of the charming nonsense that are the Blog Banters.

On reflection, rather than a jury of one's peers, I think this process has been more like asking mental asylum residents to be food critics for a day; "It tastes of hedgehog!", "My shoes hurt!", "Flibbedy-bobbedy-boo!", "Look, I'm a hairy fairy princess!"

Blogger sanity debates aside, in general there seemed to be a significant amount of good will toward the changes brought about by Retribution and the broad focus on iteration and refinement that has occurred over the last three expansions. That said, scattered amongst the largely positive comments about the post-Incarna improvements, there were the occasional grumbled words and phrases like "stagnation", "no new features", "complex UI",  "lack of content", "repetitive" and "null-sec mechanics" which perhaps might give a clue as to why the numbers didn't reflect a more positive leaning.

There is a general consensus that things are moving in the right direction, with the streamlining and modernisation of some archaic UI elements working well with wholesale revisions of existing gameplay systems. Factional Warfare and the Bounty System are both highly regarded as triumphant and central to the revitalisation of associated playstyles. Graphics were universally identified as being exceptional and sound was widely accepted as having seen improvement, but with room for more.

But with a singular focus on iteration, rumbles of dissent can be heard from quarters not well-serviced by CCP's current development choices; those who have to wrestle with the clumsier UI elements like the overview, corporation interface and R&D windows, those who held hopes for avatar-related gameplay and those who desire new PvE content.

80% may be the key number, but as with all things EVE, the reality is far more complex. In any case there you have it, the final results of Blog Banter 42: The 2012 Community Review of EVE Online. I hope you enjoyed it.  Thanks you very much to all contributors and I hope to see you all again next year.