Saturday, 28 June 2014

'Something, Something, Spaceships' Flash Fiction Audio Competition Winners Announced

In the first episode of my new Something, Something, Spaceships podcast, I announced an EVE flash fiction competition, the main prize being the production of an audio short based on the best entry. The top three entries would also get 100m ISK each.

Only two entries were received by the closing date, fortunately they were both excellent and will be published on this blog shortly. As a result, I'll be dividing the prize money equally between the two authors and working with both to bring their words to life as 'radio plays'.

I'm aiming to produce the second episode of Something, Something, Spaceships in the next week or so and hope to include at least one of the audio pieces with the episode.

Thanks to both authors for sharing their fine work and I look forward to producing the audio material.

The links below will take you to the two written entries in all their glory. Enjoy.

'What We Are' by Laria Raven

'With Our Compliments' by Adam Reed

Flash Fiction: 'With Our Compliments' by Adam Reed

Jefferson rubbed his brow wearily. This conversation was doing nothing for his headache.

“Look, there’s nothing wrong with the ship. It’s a very nice ship. Shiny, made of metal, a decent size. If I accidentally find myself in a belt in Molden Heath, I can well imagine the Angels who ambush me are going to be regretting that day’s choices as they run their own corpses through the refinery to try and clean the Pyerite off their bones.”

Jefferson could sense the woman at the other end of the line nodding absent-mindedly as she replied: “We’re glad you’re happy with your purchase, Mr Trent. The Brutor Tribe Treasury are proud of our customer satisfaction record. So I can close the ticket?”

“I would be delighted with your service, and in particular with the three complimentary 280mm Howitzers that have arrived in a crate marked ‘Amarrian Wheat’, if what I’d got was what I’d ordered. This would all be wonderful if what I’d ordered was a Bellicose with an odd selection of pop guns, target painters and one single, lonely Hobgoblin I. That, however, is not what I bloody well ordered.”

Jefferson heard a sigh. He could picture the Treasury employee filing her nails, half listening to his complaint and half listening to a joke being cracked by the office sex pest in her call centre in Rens.

“Mr Trent, I have the order in front of me. It very clearly says you ordered a standard Bellicose with three-“

“If I might stop you there.” The blood was pumping fiercely through Jefferson’s temples as he attempted to keep his anger in check. “If you look at my profile you’ll see I’m a freelance Civire front-line war journalist, specialising in reporting from the space around the Pool of Radiance. What I ordered was a stabbed-up Cheetah with neutral markings, to give me a half-decent chance of catching stories before those lucky bastards at Interstellar Correspondents.” The headache was getting worse.

“What I plainly didn’t order was a massive two-wheeled clown car which may as well have come painted with “Your mum” on the side. I have a hard enough time trying to avoid getting my limbs handed to me by members of the Stain Empire without flying about in a ship so laughable it’d make a Badger look like a bloody speed-fit Claw.”

“Obviously I didn’t order a sodding Bellicose. It’s quite simple: I want a Cheetah or a refund. And no more excuses, please. The only thing that hurts me more than this conversation is my head after that bloody Hobgoblin fell out of the drone bay just as I walked under it.”

The line was silent for a moment, but for the overenthusiastic laughter in the background as the office monster reached his punchline. Finally, the Treasury employee broke the deadlock.

“OK Mr Trent, I’m happy to say that on behalf of the Brutor Tribe Treasury I’m authorised to release an exceptional vessel for your use, free of charge, while we investigate what’s happened: a superb special edition ship that puts a great many Empire vehicles to shame.”

Jefferson exhaled slowly.

“It’s an Echelon isn’t it?”

 “Yes, Mr Trent, with our compliments.”

Jefferson’s skull throbbed. His week stretched out endlessly ahead of him like a courier mission pointlessly carting a thousand crates of Scordite from deepest Lonetrek to Khanid Prime. He closed his eyes, searching for his happy place.

“What holoreels does it come with?”

Written by Adam Reed

Flash Fiction: 'What We Are' by Laria Raven

"A vodka, if you'd be so kind. And some... some of those little sausage things. On sticks."

"Coming right up, ma'am. How was your day?"

"Oh. Was it a day? I know we keep day and night on the station, but when you're out in the belts... the light never changes. It's as bright when you warp in as when you warp out."

"As you say, ma'am. How was your period of time in the belts?"

"Same as always. Mostly dull, with occasional moments of terror, and the constant beauty of my lasers playing over the surface of the rocks. I did choose to be a miner, I suppose. Do... do you ever wonder why you exist? What purpose you serve?"

"Rarely. ma'am. Here is your drink, and your cocktail sausages."

"I do. Thank you. I wonder. I wonder what became of the little girl who just wanted to get off the surface of Mies IV and out into space."

"She is a capsuleer, I observe, ma'am. Fabulously wealthy, envied by the masses."

"That's true, I suppose. But what did I give up to get it? Do you know what it means to be a capsuleer?"

"Not exactly, ma'am."

"The training changes you. Physically and mentally. They put implants into you, interfacing with your neural system. So that you communicate with the ship. No... so that you are the ship. When I'm in pod, I forget about arms and legs and eyes. I just have engines and a tritanium skin. I reach out with my lasers and my tractor beams, and I never blink. And there's the implants in your brain. The ones that help you learn, that help you think. There's even one that makes you more likeable. And then... then there's
the remaps."

"The remaps, ma'am?"

"They... change your brain. Make you more intelligent, or less. Improve your ability to process sensory information... or make it worse. Another vodka, please."

"Of course, ma'am."

"The remaps change your personality. They change who you are. Only you don't notice it. Don't really believe it. But I've watched holos I recorded before the last remap, and I don't recognise myself. Oh, I don't mean physically. It's my face. But it's a different person behind it."

"I can't imagine what that's like, ma'am. Your vodka."

"Thank you.  I... I don't know who I am. I've lost the story of my life. It doesn't make sense to me. Most people can construct some kind of tale, where they grow up and have experiences that change them, and that results in the person they are now. Mine is just shattered into incoherent shards. With all the changes, all the implants and remaps, I'm not sure I'm even a real human anymore."

"That must be hard, ma'am. Another vodka?"

"No, I think I'll go get some sleep. I guess you don't understand what I'm saying, do you?"

"Not really, ma'am. Sleep well."

"System, shut down."

"Shutting down. Good night, ma'am."

Written by Laria Raven. Check out her blog, All Alone in the Night.
Title image courtesy of The Jester's Corner.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Coming Next Month: A Tale of Internet Spaceships - A Parable for the MMO Age

Elin films Petter's interview of Hilmar whilst the power of my frown forces another journalist to his knees.

It's been an exciting year (and a bit) for Swedish media students Petter Martensson, Philip Raivander and Elin Thedin. Since attending EVE Online's 10th anniversary celebration at the 2013 Fanfest convention in Reykjavik, Iceland, they've been hard at work reviewing and editing footage, capturing supporting material and adding polish in order to make their documentary, A Tale of Internet Spaceships.

Now they've announced they're almost ready to go public with their finished film, with an exclusive premiere on July 11 in Malmö, Sweden and subsequent general release on YouTube, Vimeo and other sources.

EVE Online is famous for its deep and involving virtual society and its record-shattering epic spaceship combat. The gaming media often reports on such occurrences. But what makes such phenomena occur and how has this community thrived for over a decade? What kind of people invest so much of their lives into 'internet spaceships' and why?

Petter, Philip and Elin, only one of whom has had any experience of EVE Online in the past, hoped to find out.

A Tale of Internet Spaceships was crowdfunded and independently made with no guidance from CCP, giving the film-makers the freedom to present the stories as they found them - and they found plenty.

The result is refreshing, honest and surprisingly powerful. It will almost certainly rattle a few cages and I hope it becomes a parable for the development of EVE (and indeed other MMOs) and community management in the future.

The documentary comprises an hour of passionate, entertaining and candid interviews and discussion with key CCP developers and leading players from the community. When I interviewed Petter on my podcast, Something, Something, Spaceships, we joked that most of the 36 hours of footage was of former CSM representative Hans Jagerblitzen, whose ability to talk without ever taking a breath or finishing a sentence is a thing to behold. But don't worry, there's also plenty of great material from CEO Hilmar Petursson and former CCP devs Kris 'CCP Soundwave' Touborg, Arnar 'CCP Zulu' Gylfason amongst others, as well as a number of leading journalists and EVE celebrities.

As a long-time member of the EVE community and someone who has had the opportunity to help the AToIS team throughout their investigative journey, I can say I am very proud to have played a part in this production and am glad that those Indiegogo backers saw value in the project. I'm certain they won't be disappointed, Petter and co. have done a fantastic job.

I can't wait for A Tale of Internet Spaceships to hit the interwebs next month.

[For further info, check out the press release or listen to Petter discuss AToIS on the Something, Something Spaceships podcast.]

Monday, 9 June 2014

Introducing 'Something, Something, Spaceships!' - A New Podcast

I've long had a hankering to return to podcasting after my overly ambitious attempt at a lore-based audio drama faded into antiquity in 2012. After some procrastination, technical issues and - to be quite honest, nerves - I finally managed to get my spaceships in a row to produce episode one of Something, Something, Spaceships.

At 1 hour and 20 minutes, the debut episode came out a little longer than I'd planned, but I'm relatively pleased with the result and hope to keep things a little tighter for future episodes. All constructive feedback would be gratefully received. I hope you enjoy it.

I hope to be able to deliver a series of episodes looking at the broader aspects of EVE and other sci-fi games from the past, present and future. I'll be looking to ensnare an eclectic mix of individuals to co-host an episode with me as I did with this episode's victim, freelance journalist Petter Martensson of CSICON podcasting network and A Tale of Internet Spaceships documentary fame.

Here's a breakdown of what's in this episode.

Episode #1: Communities, Documentaries & Spaceships

  • Introductions (00:38)
Mat introduces the Something, Something, Spaceships podcast and his guest co-host Petter Martensson.

  • All About EVE (02:06)
Mat and Petter try to give a broad overview of what kind of game EVE Online is, discussing its idiosyncrasies, appeal and what sets it apart from other MMOs.

  • EVE Headlines (13:04)
The hosts chew over two of the recent EVE-related events; the new 'release', Kronos: The Rise of Pirates and the sad news of the 49 layoffs recently made by CCP Games. They ponder what portent this might hold for the future of New Eden.

  • Webbed (29:15)
Mat gets Petter to spill the beans on the progress and content of his soon-to-be released documentary, A Tale of Internet Spaceships, which gets under the skin of EVE's community, the player-dev relationship and lifts the lid on Incarna and the 'Summer of Rage' with exclusive interviews with lots of important folk.

  • Transneural Burning Quiz (38:50)
Not content with Petter's interview answers, Mat decides to subject him to 10 questions on an array of related topics. The results are interesting. David who? Richard what?

  • Flash Fiction Competition (51:50)
Mat announces a competition, inviting submissions of 500 words or less of EVE-related fiction. One selected submission will be made into an audio piece to be played on the next episode of Something, Something, Spaceships. The top three will win 100m ISK. Submissions should be sent to seismic[dot]stan[at]gmail[dot]com. All submissions will be published on Freebooted (no exclusivity required for those with their own blogs, authors retain all rights). Closing date: Sunday 22nd June.

  • Beyond New Eden (55:01)
Mat gives Petter the floor to wax lyrical about his favourite MMO, Star Wars Galaxies. Petter explains what was so great about it, why it's a tragedy it's no longer around and what other MMO developers - especially CCP Games - might learn from it.

Monday, 2 June 2014

EVE Community Media Power

Art imitates life they say. In many ways, EVE too imitates life with its long history of virtual cultures evolving to compete, collude and conquer. It strikes me that New Eden's accelerated process of simulating reality's rise and fall of dynasties and cultural trends seems to be coming full circle and spilling back into the real world.

I speak mainly of the nascent media empires that are charging out from the folds of New Eden's digital space and gaining purchase on the very real interwebs that ordinary, non-EVE folk might frequent. Staffed by capsuleers who are fuelled by ISK and a desire to be part of something greater than the sum of their individual contributions, EVE players are spoilt for choice when it comes to EVE webzines/news sites/consolidated blogs, or whatever you want to call them.

Just as early EVE social structures aped civilisation by banding together in ever larger groups for protection, power and community, we are seeing a growing trend of EVE's vociferous but disparate wordsmiths finding new ways to unionise. Early writing groups and communities saw enduring forum tribes develop such as Scrapheap Challenge (now Failheap), Kugutsumen, Reddit's /r/Eve, EVE-Inspiracy and others.

If they represent the developing world, then surely the rise of the EVE blogosphere reflects the more communist all-are-equal Second World. Initially disparate bloggers became woven together by a network of web-links and lists, occasionally uniting in shared Blog Banter discussions now ably run by Kirith Kodachi of Inner Sanctum of the Ninveah. It's notable that of the hundreds of bloggers who have come, gone, or stayed; some burning short and bright, others still standing like lighthouses on an ever-changing coastline, perhaps the most successful, Ripard Teg of Jester's Trek, has just switched the lights off. Whether to you he was Lenin or Stalin, his community presence and contribution has left an indelible mark on the EVE blogosphere. But there are many more who will take his place (and, let's be honest, it'll probably take more than one, unless another cybernetically-altered robo-blogger drops out of a time vortex from the future).

Then came the more focused, editorially-led conglomerates of EVE's media First World, literary powerhouses marshalling the talents of of multitude of writers under a single banner. It's magnificent to watch as the rich community-sourced EVE content continues to adapt and evolve. Little wonder the likes of EON Magazine eventually fell on hard times and sadly faded.

Of course, the EVE webzine format is not a new phenomenon. Riverini laid down the template years ago with EVE News 24, delivering an independent source of EVE-centric news, gossip and controversy. His template saw little competition (we can't really count the well-meaning but under-served EVE Tribune) until the more recent exploded onto the scene and shook up the status quo. It was a shot in the arm the EVE News 24, which has certainly upped its game since TMC's arrival. In recent months we now see the Crossing Zebras brand growing from a well-regarded podcast into a third player in the EVE media mogul arena.

The future of internet spaceship discussion is bright.

The Internet Spaceship Echo Chamber

Out of curiosity, I wondered how each of these sites was doing in terms of impact, reach and audience. I fed them into Alexa, a website analytics service, to see how they were getting along. Here's a brief overview of an assortment of EVE sites arranged in order of the global rank of all webpages in existence (with interesting factoids where applicable): [/r/Eve*]
Global Rank: 58
Interesting factoid: *Alexa wouldn't accept a sub-Reddit as a valid URL, which is a shame, so this is fairly meaningless and just included for completeness (but somebody should tell Reddit they're not the front page of the internet any more, just page 58 apparently).
Global Rank: 10,318
Interesting factoids: Unsurprisingly, according to Alexa, '[r]elative to the general internet population, Females are under-represented at this site', US, Russia, Norway, Germany and UK are the top 5 visiting nations, most visitors head to the forums from here.
Global Rank: 82,610
Interesting factoids: Significant graduate school level readership, 2nd highest referring site is EN24, 3rd most popular search keyword is 'derptron'.
Global Rank: 115,152
Interesting factoid: More popular in Russia (43.7%) than US (13.0%).
Global Rank: 133,537
Interesting factoids: Popular with college-level readers, EN24 is more popular in Germany than the US, lowest bounce rate of the EVE media empires (33%).
Global Rank: 290,823
Interesting factoids: No data showing for anyone outside the US, top search keyword is 'noobmeter'.
Global Rank: 500,443
Interesting factoids: 4th most popular keyword search term is 'eve valkyrie release date'.
Global Rank: 1,426,524
Interesting factoids: Average reader time on site is 34 seconds, popular in Serbia.
Global Rank: 1,688,410
Interesting factoids: 3 of the 5 top keywords are looking for podcasts (and one is looking for zebras), search visits are up 879%, Alexa is a bit shy on data for such a young enterprise so there's not much more to tell.
Global Rank: 1,867,802
Global Rank: 4,850,298
Global Rank: 7,499,266
Global Rank: 8,681,399
Global Rank: 9,162,627
Global Rank: 12,672,781
Global Rank: 18,435,356

[Edit: Due to a request, I looked into including a couple of prominent Twitch streamers for comparison. However, like sub-Reddits, Twitch subdomains aren't accepted by Alexa, which instead simply outputs the data for Twitch as a whole. Sorry, video dudes. If you were wondering, Twitch has a global ranking of 252.]