All art by Redline XIII.
For the better part of a decade since I last played EVE Online, one of my pilots lay in cryosleep aboard a Hel supercarrier where she had logged off at a POS in a northern region of space called Deklein. I would occasionally read an article about EVE and remember that I had significant assets in the game. A couple times I even tried to pick it up again, but found that my alliance was in another region and if the learning curve of EVE is steep, the re-learning curve is almost as steep. I never dared to log into that Hel, which was now in enemy occupied space.
Then Eve Echos was released and I tried it out. “Wow, this is essentially the same game on a mobile device.” This got me interested in reaching out to my old corp in EVE Online and I learned that the alliance was under siege and they encouraged me to come back. I was between games; further, it is Covid-times and, looking for more social interaction, I decided, “What the Hell!”
My strategy for returning was to try to relearn the game while flying subcaps and not worry about all the capitals I had strewn about the map in asset safety or out in space. I invested a few bucks in PLEX and settled into my besieged home in Delve. Soon I encountered a bunch of problems.
The Horn Sounds
The first problem was the interface. I was so disappointed. It hadn’t changed much in a decade. By 2020 it was an extremely dated, eclectic and non-intuitive text-based nightmare compared to the modern games I have played in recent years. Also, since I am nearly 50, my eyes just couldn’t make out the tiny text even on my large high res display.
I quickly got lost on the first few fleets I joined. “What the hell is an Ansiblex?” But slowly things came back to me as my alliance conducted 101 training classes for bitter retvets answering the Horn of Goondor.
The second problem was my pilot skills. Back in 2012 it was a fairly normal thing to train straight racial skills. In fact, it was considered more efficient. Doctrine fleets (did we have doctrines back then?) allowed you to fly pretty much whatever ship matched your race. But now the doctrines were a mishmash for me. I had to be able to fly ships of one race with weapons of another. Each doctrine had something different and there were so many doctrines being flown. I was looking at months to get up to speed so I could even participate with subcaps. So I analyzed the fleet doctrines, ordered them by frequency of use, and developed a skill plan that would let me participate as quickly as possible. I popped a few more PLEX and skill injectors. This was starting to get expensive. But at least I was able to participate in fleets and I wasn’t getting lost as much. Things were coming back and it was fun!
The third problem for the first few weeks was my fellow pilots. If I got lost in fleet and asked for help they would make some comment about “spais” or “Go read the doctrine,” or something equally unhelpful. A couple times I nearly said “Fuck it – let these kids lose their space in this dated game.” But Mittens had sounded the horn of Goondor and along with that he made it very clear that retvets would have a lot of questions and that those current alliance members who were unhelpful should fuck off. It actually worked. I wasn’t the only one asking questions anymore and the snide comments stopped for the most part. The FCs started becoming really helpful and responsive to questions. Things were looking up and I was able to start answering other retvets’ questions myself.
After about a month back into the game, I got myself a trusty new dreadnought so I could join capital fleets. Learning and relearning the jump drive mechanics, I started thinking more about that Hel in Deklein. I asked around about getting extraction help. A few corp mates offered cynos, but looking at the map it was at least 13 jumps across vast regions of New Eden. I felt uncomfortable asking them to do this and felt for sure I would fuck it up and be an embarrassment. CCP was unwilling to move the ship for me because it “sports a jumpdrive.” Never mind that players had been able to dock their supers at Upwell structures for years. Never mind that CCP had changed the bay configurations and skills for the ship and fighters and I could no longer even launch the fighters I could before. Also, there was a good chance my ship would blow up if I got out of it to rejoin my corp. I tried to explain these things to the GMs who responded to my requests, but they clearly had no knowledge of how the changes over the preceding years affected my situation. Nor did they care. Mostly I wanted the pilot back so perhaps I could buy a new super at home; I considered logging in and self-destructing.
But then I read a story about a Titan pilot who successfully got his titan home from Deklein and I said “fuck it.” The loss mail would be out of alliance and you only live once. I knew I had logged off at a friendly POS, and figured that spot in space would likely now be near an enemy POS. My first step was to log on to Singularity and see what structures were at the moon where I was logged off. There was nothing. “Wow, this might be possible,” I thought and it gave me the motivation to take the next steps.
CCP had also changed the jump cyno skills and requirements, so my next step was to inject one of my characters with the skills to fly a force recon. I also enlisted yet another character to act as eyes. This meant triple boxing a game with a UI I had felt lost in just a few weeks before. But, once I got eyes in the system, I found that there were certain times at night when it was empty. I logged in my Hel pilot and analyzed the fit and fuel supply. I blessed my former self of years ago for having 100K isotopes and lots of liquid ozone onboard. There was even a hauler there. On the other hand, drones could not be launched and I no longer had the skills for the fighters onboard. My only weapons would be a smartbomb, ECM, and neuts. My tank would be only a third of the current doctrine fits.
Planning the Route
Over the next couple days I watched the system, and planned my route. I got my recon ship with cyno into position in Pure Blind. I had never solo travelled in a capital before and I made a checklist of what to do and in what order:
- “Form fleet
- wait for both systems to empty
- log into the Hel
- double check local
- light cyno
- jump; warp fleet to bookmark
My hands shook so that I could barely right click and select the cyno beacon! I wiped them on my trousers. Just do it! And I did it. My super made it into warp and cloaked. I watched with relief, but some trepidation, as my cyno finally reached 5 minutes . . . and then cycled again. I almost laughed. If this was the worst mistake of the day, I would call it good.
A night or two later I prepared to make my second jump into Black Rise. I had changed my cloaky ship name to a Russian phrase which means “Minding my own business.” It didn’t stop lots of conversation and complaints, in Russian, about how I was preventing them from doing their own business as I extracted from Deklein. I wanted to fit webs on my recon to help the Hel get into warp faster and I ended up getting camped into an NPC station. I had waited eight years to make this flight, so these campers had no idea the depths of my patience.
I made the second jump and webbed the Hel into warp. Just as I did so a neutral jumped into system and posted “?” into local and warped to my cyno. He engaged with drones and I watched with amazement how I was nearly tanking him. It would take a long time for me to die. I waited until my cyno was a few seconds from ending and then target locked the hostile and tried to launch my ECM drones, only to see the message “You do not have the required skills for this item.” I had fitted the ship according to doctrine but had forgotten about the drone skills when I injected the pilot. Amazingly, the hostile pilot unlocked me and warped off with a “Cya” in local. I was so relieved that I would not have to fly god knows where to sort out a new recon that I sent the pilot probably way too much ISK and logged off happy.
I was carrying 102% of the fuel required to make it home, if I made every optimal jump laid out in GARPA, I knew that wasn’t going to happen, so on my next jump I decided to sort out refueling. I was glad I had scouted the route to a lowsec station with overpriced isotopes, because the route was blocked by a Triglavian invasion. I found another station that wasn’t blocked and scouted my hauler, now filled with fuel, without incident. I also picked up a few skill books so my Hel pilot could start learning the new skills. I relearned the mechanics of accessing the various bays and transferring items while trying to stay cloaked whenever a local came into the system. They now had Chinese names, so I changed my ship names to Chinese characters meaning “Explorer” and “Peaceful Night.”
For my third jump I got eyes in the system but it never seemed to empty out. Low sec people are strange. They just stay in the belts in mining ships, eve with neutrals in the system. By this time I was getting really good at scanning people down. This one guy seemed unthreatening, but you never know what friends they might have. He was in a corporation with almost a hundred members. Finally, he complained about me being in his system. I told him that I was working on a data collection project for a new utility application. He asked why I didn’t just use the API and I told him some things weren’t available on the API, for example storms, and that I needed to scan for data when there were no “player ships” on scan. I apologized for the inconvenience and told him I would not resort to violence to clear the system for at least a couple days. At this point he left the system and when he didn’t return for an hour or two I made my next jump. And the next.
Soon I was in Syndicate and the war had taken a turn. Querious was increasingly hostile and it looked like I had chosen an unfortunate route. Also, a fellow retvet was extracting a super from the north and he was going through Fountain. I plotted a new course and found that I could make the jump from Solitude to Fountain and join up with him. More eyes, more cynos, better chance of success.
“I think I’m being hunted,” my friend said as I jumped to him, abandoning my neutral support pilots in Solitude. I brought my main pilot up from Delve to provide another set of eyes. Sure enough, we were being trailed. While my friend plotted an alternate route, I flew my main pilot in a circuitous route in southern Fountain to confuse the scouts. Around and around I flew, while my friend suggested my Hel risk a couple gates to avoid an extra jump. It was friendly territory, but my super pilot was neutral. I felt my scrotum shrivel, confronted with this prospect, and I shamefully decline. My friend is a skymarshal and I am inadequate. We spent the extra hour and made it to our destination. Our alliance had supposedly added our pilots to the access list. My friend warped to a structure which was too small for us to dock, but we hoped to get a tether. “Let me go first; if I live you can follow,” he said. Sure enough, we made tether and safely logged off. We would have to take a jump gate to make it back to Delve, but that could wait for another day.
That night I dreamed of warp tunnels and dictor bubbles. After work the next day my friend posted, “Log in to character screen.” I have never taken a capital, let alone a supercarrier, through a stargate. I replied, “Comms?” “Just chill; join the ops channel; I have a fleet.” I listened as the fleet headed home from their mission and the FC called out,
“Whoever wants to help out a retvet hero, stay in fleet.”
They couldn’t be talking about me, could they? But I did remember the cap fleets I led to bash structures a decade ago. “Log in to character screen” came the command. “Login, align, warp, jump, jump, dock!” My hands didn’t shake as badly as they did that first jump on the other side of New Eden. For the first time since leaving this game in 2008 I saw my Hel docked in a Keepstar.