Another year’s FanFest has come and gone. With it came new features, new gameplay, new ship balancing, and the slow, inorexable promise of ‘we’re getting rid of Starbases, Soon™’. We see this every year, and every year, CCP continues to live up to some promises, fall a bit short on others, and generally muddle on through, just like the rest of us.
This year, though, we saw something new: the H4-RP4 Kyonoke Inquest. The Inquest was a Live-Action Role-Playing game, centering on the activities of capsuleers and scientists trying to produce a cure for a deadly disease. Run by Emmy Award-winning masters of interactive fiction The company P, the Inquest tied directly into unfolding events in New Eden.
Convention LARPs are a pretty well-established fixture of the RPG industry. GenCon, Origin, DragonCon, and pretty much every other convention of any size that caters to the tabletop RPG crowd feature them. And of course, The Grand Masquerade and other conventions grew out of the large international community of World of Darkness LARPs. Cosplay and costume contests are also common at MMO gatherings like BlizzCon and yes, even EVE FanFest. Just ask Max Singularity!
Actual Live-Action events intended to tie into and affect the course of the MMO, however, are not. The Kyonoke Inquest broke new ground in the art of interactive/online storytelling. Not only did events in the LARP steer the course of the game’s unfolding lore, the entire event took place at the H4-RP4 Keepstar, a structure put in position in the Postouvin system specifically to tie into the event. Players in-game, while unable to dock because of security (and later, contamination) concerns, were nonetheless able to keep an eye on the location, and able to be observed by those inside, at the real-world Harpa concert hall and conference center.
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, the secret identity of the H4-RP4 Keepstar (see? It’s wearing glass(es)!). It kinda looks like half a Keepstar, almost.
By all accounts, the LARP itself was a rousing success. The players’ reviews have been very positive, as should be expected of a story produced by The company P. The actors, including Claus Raasted, who played reporter Ret Gloriaxx, are reported to be champing at the bit to get a chance to come back next year. CCP Seagull, herself a veteran of the Nordic LARP community and the person who brought the Inquest LARP to FanFest, and veterans of the CCP Lore/Live Events team like CCP Falcon and CCP Delegate Zero, should all be extremely proud of what they’ve accomplished.
As impressive an achievement as this was, as the Inquest recedes behind us, everyone in the EVE community should turn our eyes to the future. We live in a world where the lines between different forms of media get blurrier every day. As Mr. Raasted says in his blog, the potential for this kind of storytelling is staggering:
“Imagine playing a larp on a huge fleet carrier, hurtling through space. The carrier exist as a ship in EVE Online, and is piloted by a player in the game. On that carrier are fighters, and each fighter has a pilot. Whenever a pilot goes on a mission, the player sits down in an arcade style cockpit and puts on VR goggles, flying that mission inside EVE: Valkyrie. When the ship reaches a suspicious asteroid and explores it, the scouting party are taken to a room, where movie-level scenography has been used to create the asteroid surface. The exploits of the asteroid mission are filmed by an ingame camera crew, and their footage is used not only for SCOPE reports, but also as part of an EVE TV series. A book is written about the carrier’s mission (which might fail!) and while the crew of the ship is relaxing in the game, they read the newest New Eden short story anthology created by fans. The pins the carrier crew receive at the end of the mission give them access to a closed one-hour party at Fanfest, and the players who were part of the fleet that protected the carrier in its online form get to vote on the title of the next Permaband song to be recorded.”
While some EVE players will be rightly skeptical of the potential for ‘EVE TV’ or the prospects for EVE novelizations, the general thrust of his sentiment is undeniable: We live in a time when we carry computers in our pockets vastly more powerful than those used to put men on the moon. The Apollo 11 Guidance Computer used a staggering 64kb of memory, and ran at a blistering 0.004Mhz. For those of you too young to remember computer speeds in Mhz, that’s 0.000004Ghz—literally two one-millionths the speed and memory of the 2.23Ghz/32gb basic iPhone 7, with a lot fewer transistors. Today, the ability to move seamlessly between online and offline interactions is a given. We do it all the time via text/messaging clients, streaming video, and mobile gaming. The ‘Tell-Tale’ series of games on Steam weave stories around and through television shows like Game of Thrones, and newer projects will almost certainly be more and more integrated, with the consensus events in the games able to influence the direction of subsequent seasons of shows.
Seriously. That got people to the moon. And back. Your watch has more computing power. The analog one. That you wind up.
The lines have blurred, and will almost certainly continue to blur. CCP has a long history of involvement in other media, from EVE novels and comics, to their continuing efforts to bring EVE Online to television. This, combined with their strong leadership in the VR gaming field, and Seagull’s ties to the interactive live-action storytelling community, makes them uniquely qualified to be a leader in this new age of storytelling.
That positioning doesn’t mean that leadership is going to be easy, or that the Inquest itself can’t be improved upon. In looking to the future, we should be mindful of what’s come before, and what lessons can be taken from the events of this year. As an outside observer—someone who was not at FanFest—I’ve heard some critical voices, and have seen a few points of concern, myself. None of these things are insurmountable, and none of these things should in any way detract from what CCP has already achieved. Perfection, after all, is a process, not a thing that can ever be truly achieved.
1. Participation was limited to the ‘lucky few’ who could afford to travel to FanFest and had the time to do so, effectively putting these events behind a paywall.
While it’s certainly true that only the people who were able to be at FanFest were able to participate in the LARP and the events within the Keepstar itself, it’s hardly fair to blame CCP for our inability to physically occupy multiple places at once, or the need to use ticket sales to control physical access to the convention. That said, telepresence via the EVE Online client certainly could be employed in some manner to allow for greater direct interactivity between players in the physical event and players within EVE. It’s odd to think that the players least able to talk to most of the game are the ones playing in an EVE event in Reykjavik itself, but barring time taken to step out of the LARP, set up a laptop, and fire up the EVE client, that’s exactly what the situation was.
The lack of telepresence at this event, though, shouldn’t be seen as some kind of huge failure on CCP’s part. Nobody’s ever done this before. Who thinks of everything the first time out?
If CCP wants to develop this style of EVE storytelling, it may be useful to set up ‘communications pods’ in the LARP area. These pods would essentially be workstations configured to run the EVE client, exclusively as a shell environment. A slightly-tweaked launcher could allow the player to bypass the email-validation for first login from a new location. Alternately, as the EVE chat system is essentially an IRC system, the workstations could simply allow login to the chat system, without access to things like the wallet or assets.
2. The majority of EVE players had no idea these events were even going on.
Similarly, it’s unfair to blame CCP for the fact that probably 70-90% of their players either don’t care about RP, or don’t care about lore events until and unless those events directly impact their current in-game activities. Most players didn’t care about the events of what would be dubbed ‘Caroline’s Star’ until Thera was unveiled, and didn’t pay much, if any, attention to the lore behind DUST Templars and the Jove observatories, even after the Drifters appeared. It’s safe to say there are currently nullsec supercapital and titan pilots with no idea that their relatively new tank modules and the very existence of Force Auxiliaries, are all tied into events that began in both the lead-up to DUST, and in the Elder Fleet invasion that preceded and presaged the introduction of low-sec Faction Warfare.
That kind of player apathy—and in a lot of cases, that’s exactly what it is—isn’t CCP’s fault. For a lot of the players, EVE is a PvP game, and the only ‘story’ they care about is the story of blowing up the other guy. And that’s fine. In fact, in some ways, that’s the key to the whole thing, to bringing in more and more player interest. CCP can’t be, and shouldn’t be, faulted for creating a game where players are more interested in playing than in history lessons.
At the same time, CCP is in charge of promoting their product, including internally. And there are ways they can get better penetration within their own client.
In the last year, we’ve seen an overhaul of structures, taking most players out of the environment of the Captain’s Quarters, and more firmly setting idle times as the province of ship spinning. It’s understandable that CCP wouldn’t want to waste time or resources creating a new Captain’s Quarters area for the Upwell structures, especially as the UI space used for accessing the CQ is now used for looking around in space, and CCP has likely given up completely on ambulation, or Walking in Stations.
The move away from the Captain’s Quarters, though, means that the news feed available in station CQs is no longer immediately accessible to players living out of Citadels, Engineering Complexes, and other Upwell structures. However, the same structure revamp that moved so many people away from that news feed provided a new one: the billboard recording that allows player-made advertizements to reach people across the cluster—even in facilities owned by their enemies!
Which would you prefer? Xenuria, or Kyonoke? On the billboard, I mean.
The billboard system, or something similar, could be used to allow players access to the Scope and other in-game news feeds while ship-spinning. Since the news videos are made by CCP, there’s no reason they can’t be converted into a format that can be played through the game client, without the need for re-introducing something akin to an in-game web browser. And while I can already hear the cries of ‘wait, wouldn’t that mean EVE needs sound?’ by making it a system that’s only available while docked means that CCP could add another toggle to the UI menu, separating out sound in space and sound in-station. After all, most of the reason sound processing gets turned off in EVE is that rendering the sounds of ships, weapons fire, and other effects in large-scale actions creates an incredible amount of additional lag.
Besides, we all know there’s no sound in space. Which brings us to…
3. Some of the stuff that happened here was seriously immersion-breaking.
The Kyonoke Plague is the deadliest pathogen known to human history. It has a fatality rate of somewhere above 99.999% (I think you can guess how far above), has historically been all but impossible to detect before the patient reaches the ‘turn black and die’ stage, with a documented tendency to break through incredibly rigorous containment systems. It survives on inanimate surfaces outside the body, and the decontamination procedure used on the original discovery site in Taisy was basically ‘nuke the site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure’ and the little bastard STILL persists. Until this week’s news announcements, it was generally accepted that this critter survives hard vacuum. Put simply, this thing’s a superbug in the sense of a virus in blue spandex pajamas and a cape, not just something that laughs at penicilin. The Kyonoke Speck is the pathogen Pandemic Legion’s logo wants to be when it grows up.
So this is not something you cut corners with. The Empires have been trying to understand the Kyonoke Speck for years. And in all those years, they haven’t even been able to decide if it’s a virus or a prion—and these things are significantly different. That’s how hard to pin down this thing is.
A virus is basically a string of RNA (one-half of DNA, to oversimplify) in a protein shell. It attaches to a cell, fires its RNA into the cell, and uses the cell’s own bio-mechanics to turn the cell into a virus-RNA factory. When there’s no room left in the cell for more virus RNA, the cell lining ruptures, and the virii go merrily looking for new cells to infect.
A prion, by comparison, has no RNA, no genetic material at all. It’s basically a misfolded protein. It gets into an organism, and via the transitive property of Medical Shit We’re Still Working On Figuring Out™, transmits its misfolded configuration to other proteins, making more prions. And yes, that’s a technical term, cuz technically, I just made it up. Prions don’t use cell mechanics. They just build up, like a clump, in tissue—specifically, brain tissue—until the cells basically get crushed by them.
So they’re very different things. They behave in different ways. And they get treated in different ways. Actually, we’re still working on a consistent way to deal with prions, but it’s not through vaccination. Unfortunately, it’s not a quick or easy process.
Part of the reason for that is that medical research itself isn’t a quick or easy process. Treatments get tested for years on animal subjects before ever getting to the point where we test them on humans. Most of these tests are on rodents, because as it turns out, mice and men are pretty damned similar. I’m sure somewhere, John Steinbeck is laughing himself silly.
Once things get to the human testing phase, it’s more years. The reason for this is pretty simple: you have to make sure the treatment’s going to be effective, and also isn’t going to be worse than the disease. Patients in the early testing regimens have to be kept in strictly controlled environments, under constant observation and monitoring, so that interactions with things like diet, age, gender, and general health can be observed and understood. What works on an adult can be incredibly dangerous on a child, and may even kill children under the ages of 2-6 outright.
Remember, we’re born with a brain that’s only about a quarter-developed, and takes two decades of marinating in different chemical hormone baths to fully mature. That range of developmental difference is a tall order for any treatment trying to be one-size-fits-all. And every treatment has side effects. They may be tiny, not even noticeable in a healthy adult, but they’re there. Aspirin, the wonder drug of modern medicine, actually works because of its side-effects. It’s a pain-killer, and works by reducing inflammation. It reduces inflammation because it’s a blood-thinner, which is also why it’s useful for people at risk of heart attack or stroke. However, because it’s a blood-thinner, that means it slows down clotting. It can actually cause people (especially those on a long-term aspirin regimen) to bleed out from injuries that would quickly clot and begin scabbing over in other patients.
The more dire the disease, the more the pressure is on to get it right. Late last year, a vaccine was announced for Ebola. The final study had been done in 2015, and then researches took almost two years to confirm the veracity of all of the data. Meanwhile, an Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed thousands. The delay wasn’t brought on by apathy or callousness, but by the desire to ensure that the results were right, that the treatment was safe, and that any side-effects were understood. So medical testing takes time.
The ‘0410’ treatment for Kyonoke was tested for two days before massive shipments were en route to quarantine zones, and the afflicted were due to be evacuated from quarantine. There’s been no indications of any actual quarantine for the capsuleers who were aboard the H4-RP4 Keepstar, all of whom were exposed to Kyonoke.
EVE is a game where spaceships move like submarines, where projectiles with a width of 1400mm and a volume of 0.025 m3 travel 150km in the exact same amount of time as laser weapons. It’s a game where lasers with computerized tracking miss at under 2km. It’s a game where, as mentioned before, you can hear the sounds of things near you in space.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the years of the humor inherent in battleship artillery firing relativistic death salami. It’s funny: a projectile 1400mm across and 1.7mm thick, blasting across 150km at light-speed is hilarious. But it’s a game mechanic, and we all know game mechanics aren’t the place to go looking for immersion. They can’t be. The sheer amount of computing power needed to simulate the real physics of any kind of large-scale fight in EVE would be enough to make Watson break down and cry to be allowed to go back on Jeopardy! instead. So we accept that game mechanics aren’t immersive. We expect it. We even chuckle sometimes at the things that wind up developing because of them.
Story is another thing entirely.
Stories are where we go for immersion. Stories are the places where immersion, suspension of disbelief, and verisimilitude aren’t just words, or ways to annoy your spellchecker. They’re the point. They’re the goal. And it’s my firm belief that CCP’s lore team knows this. More, that they strive for it.
In the Chronicle “Sunset“, where we see the ritual deaths of the unsuccessful Heirs to the Amarr throne, we’re not told until the very last moment how they’re going to die, or that basically, they got marched up onto the Standard XL crystal of a Revelation’s beam turret, converted over into a ground emplacement. There’s no explanation of the process of setting up a dreadnought cannon on a planetary body, no discussion of whether or not a focusing crystal that big is hard to position and align while in a gravity well. Nothing like that. But it doesn’t need it. It works. It works, and when that Tachyon Siege Beam Laser fires off, it makes sense. The biggest laser in the Amarr arsenal becomes a literal express ride to Heaven (or Hell) in a massive pillar of white fire, reaching out to the skies.
It is perfectly appropriate for the Amarr. It fits absolutely everything we know about them, and it’s well within their capabilities. That’s verisimilitude: the story hangs together. It works.
There’s piles of evidence in all of the lore that CCP’s lore team cares deeply about immersion and verisimilitude. But nobody’s perfect, and when you’re working with limited time and limited manpower, things happen. In this case, the post-event news reports are crafting a wall of almost pure Handwavium™ around the Inquest itself, and the development of the cure. Maybe they’re planning for something to go catastrophically wrong because of the rushed production. Maybe not. Right now, though, we don’t know.
There’s a number of objections to this line of criticism that I’ve heard. For example, ‘CCP devs aren’t medical experts’. That’s true, and I don’t think anyone expects them to be. I’m certainly not expecting it. I’m also not a medical expert. My description of prions, for example, was the result of hitting up wikipedia.
Another objection is that other media aren’t held to this level of scrutiny. After all, on a certain level, the Kyonoke storyline is basically the same plot as the movie Contagion, only without Dustin Hoffman. And that’s true—both the fact that Dustin Hoffman wasn’t at FanFest, and that a two-hour movie isn’t being held to the same standard.
The critical difference there is duration: Contagion ends, after only 106 minutes. The need for immersion, for suspension of disbelief, ends. EVE continues, and so for those interested and invested in the story of EVE, the need for verisimilitude continues.
Weren’t We Looking to the Future?
It would be easy—far, far too easy—to offer this criticism in a vein of ‘dammit, CCP, look what you did’. It’s easy to read that into what’s being said, as well. But that’s not the case here. If anything, the intention behind this is ‘damn, CCP, look what an amazing job you did… now let us help you blow that completely out of the water, going forward’.
CCP has, at its fingertips, incredible resources for storytelling. They also have a storytelling team that has incredible talent. But for a long time now, the storytelling aspects of EVE Online have been restrained by the need to focus on the mechanical aspects of EVE Online—server performance, ship balance, user experience. Those mechanical aspects are now firmly into a cycle of continuous, iterative improvement, and with the introduction of alpha clones, EVE’s player numbers have begun pulling out of the slow decline that had previously gripped them. But mechanics alone won’t lock that in.
Last year, I wrote a pair of articles about player retention. The core message of those articles remains as true today as it was then: what keeps people playing is stories. For the first fifteen years of EVE Online, the biggest, best, most memorable stories of EVE have all been the players’ stories. That’s not likely to change. That’s not something that should change. But the central story of EVE Online… hasn’t been those stories.
CCP’s lore and live events team, their storytellers, have been working to fix that, to keep including the actions of the players in the ongoing story of New Eden. From the location of Hilen Tukoss’ corpse to the Amarr Succession Trials to now the Kyonoke Inquest, they’ve been working hard to not just let us be part of New Eden, but to make New Eden a place where what we do matters. But there’s something like three people actually on the Lore and Live Events team, and that’s not even their only jobs on EVE’s staff.
This year at FanFest, CCP unveiled the new Blood Raider shipyards PvE scenario that will be coming to EVE next month. This features a massive new iteration on the ever-improving NPC AI, one which should mimic to a large degree the way players fly in fleets. At the presentation, CCP Larrikin’s team said that one of the goals the company was committed to this year is improving the PvE experience. The combat AI is a big step toward that. Dynamic, challenging, unpredictable combat is one of the draws of PvP. It’s one of the things that makes the things we do flying against one another worth being stories that get told again and again.
If CCP really wants to make the PvE experience, the experience of being a part of the central story of New Eden, as much of a jewel in EVE’s crown as the PvP fleet battles are at their absolute best, expanding the lore team is one of the essential moves to make. Don’t expand it because the current team is bad; expand it because the current team is great—but they’re only a very small number of brains. They can’t catch every contingency, the can’t spot every potential derp and breach of immersion. It’s too big a job, especially while they’re juggling other jobs. The people CCP have on this now are good, and they work hard at it. So please, CCP, give them more help.
That doesn’t just happen on the staffing end, either.
In many ways, the fact that CCP brought a LARP to Harpa this year is rather ironic. This has been the first full year (FanFest to FanFest) since CCP sold White Wolf Game Studio’s assets, trademarks and intellectual properties off to Paradox Entertainment, paving the way for the rebirth of White Wolf Publishing. Don’t think for an instant that that’s a coincidence. A number of CCP’s current staffers came over from the old White Wolf offices, and CCP Seagull herself, as a veteran of the Nordic LARP scene, is almost certainly extremely familiar with both the classic World of Darkness crew, and the new team that’s taken over since the company’s reformation.
EVE and the World of Darkness share a lot of aspects. I’m not talking about blood-drinking nutjobs, either. They’re both dark, intense settings where actions have consequences, where a lot of the time, it seems like the world is on the brink of complete collapse. But more than that: they’re both settings where year after year, convention after convention, meet-up after meet-up, players come together in a way you don’t see in games like Call of Duty, or Grand Turismo. WoD gamers meeting one another for the first time are like EVE players meeting up: there’s a sense of ‘oh, hey… I get it’. They share what amount to old war stories, and those stories get shared year after year. They’re settings where the players are deeply, passionately invested, and they want to see the game do well.
Early on, White Wolf showed they had a clue, in that regard. From the first days of the Mind’s Eye Theater system for LARPs, the Camarilla organization existed as a way to coordinate player activities, to keep local groups in touch with one another, and with White Wolf. In the years after the ‘end’ of the Classic World of Darkness, and the introduction of the New WoD (now Chronicles of Darkness), Onyx Path continued that tradition of heavy community investment, of talking to the players, and listening to the players. CCP hasn’t been slacking off themselves, either: the CSM is unique among MMOs as an avenue for direct, immediate player reaction and advice. Because where mechanics are concerned, CCP’s figured out the same truth White Wolf knew, the same truth every single Storyteller or Gamemaster in tabletop gaming knows:
Each person gets 1 brain. There are more player brains attacking any challenge than there are GM brains making it. The bigger group of brains will always come up with more ideas and solutions than the smaller group of brains. Some of those ideas might even be better. Don’t fight it. Use it. Make their strength your own.
It’s like Gamemaster Judo: you use the very strength the players will be using to attack your problem as the means to make it challenging. Use their brains.
The new White Wolf has embraced this philosophy even more deeply and intensely, and it may well position them for a return to dominating the RPG market. Because yes, they did knock D&D off its throne for a few years in the mid-late 1990s. White Wolf’s philosophy is pretty simple. As Martin Ericsson, their new Lead Storyteller, told last year’s Grand Masquerade, the new metaplot, the core plot and storyline for the 5th Edition of Classic World of Darkness… will come from the players. The big, epic, sweeping arc of the game will be built on what real people decide to do with their characters, the challenges they choose to face, and the solutions they find. They’ll be the players’ stories.
This is the direction of gaming. This is the direction of interactive storytelling. Player-driven stories, player involvement, players as equal parties to craft something together with the developers, whose job, more and more, will be as a clearinghouse and aggregator of those player’s stories, a kind of final sanity check on what gets allowed to be canon, and a voice of authority to say ‘ok, everyone, here’s what you’ve wrought’.
Please, please take the lead on this. Right now, there are avenues for back-and-forth between the lore team and the players, but there are problems with them, and those problems are 100% not CCP’s fault. Nobody should think for a moment that CCP can force a higher signal-to-noise ratio on reddit. The very nature of reddit prevents it. Likewise, Tweetfleet Slack is useful, but it remains invite-only, meaning you have to essentially have a friend already in the club to get to where your voice can be heard (and as someone in there, there’s a fair amount of noise in there, too).
There are new forums coming soon. If CCP were to expand the lore team, those forums could be used as a consistent, curated avenue for player/storyteller interaction, exchange of ideas, and involvement, without drowning out the real conversation in nonsense, and without making it invitation-only. Every player should have the chance to be heard. Every player should want to be heard.
EVE Online’s player base is not dumb. As much as we call one another idiots daily, we are very much not dumb. We have everything from biologists and lawyers to exoplanetary specialists and legitimate rocket scientists, and that’s just at INN. The greater EVE community includes specialists and experts in every single field of human endeavor… except maybe sobriety. We have brains. CCP, please, use them.
Collaborative interactive storytelling that crosses the boundaries between online and live-action, between multiple game interfaces and real-world locations. Like Claus Raasted said, “The transmedia opportunities are vast. No, seriously. REALLY vast.”
Those opportunities are out there. Someone is going to bring them to life. Maybe not this year, maybe not next, but it will happen. Every time people have written something new and innovative off as ‘not worth it’, their grandkids have grown up thinking it was the most obvious thing in the world, and wasn’t it always like this? We want to help CCP make those opportunities happen. Together. CCP, please: let us.
This year was an amazing job. Next year, together, we can raise the bar on what an interactive gaming experience can be.