Space (I believe in)

Yesterday a BOB Titan was downed by Goonswarm and allies. It’s the first time that a fully complete and piloted Titan (the largest ship in the EVE universe) has been downed while in active service. It is a surprising twist in a saga of online and offline conflict that has embroiled CCP, the developers of EVE, in a maelstrom of metagaming machinations – allegations of developer malfeasance and bias, cover-ups and conspiracies exposed by individuals of dubious reputation and siezed upon as useful propaganda by characters with obscure and highly questionable motivations. It is an epic story that has made headlines and the destruction of this ship is just another paragraph in that story.

I don’t even play EVE – why do I care?

I first signed up to EVE nearly 3 years ago, around the time that CCP were celebrating having 10000 concurrent users in the game at one time. I was impressed by the game more or less straightaway. It was (and still is) a beautiful game to look at but above all else, it was a space based MMO, an Elite for the 21st century.

I don’t really remember too much about those first couple of weeks. I managed to get hold of a full copy of the game for less than $10 from the bargain bin of my local games store, loaded it up and started playing. The only thing I recall was having to set the autopilot to make jumps across 10 or 15 systems on FedEx missions. To pass the time during these jumps, I’d go pour myself a Whiskey Mac (1 part Tesco’s Own Brand Whiskey, 2 parts Stone’s Green Ginger Wine. You don’t want to use good whiskey – it’s a waste). After a while I was far too drunk to fly and couldn’t actually remember what I was doing so I ended up logging out. When I got around to logging back in, I had no idea where I was, what I was doing and where I was going next.

I had quite a few nights like that. Eventually I logged out and didn’t log back in.

Cut forward a to a couple of months ago. I signed up again after reading a friends blog about the ongoing conflict in 0.0 space. It sounded intriguing and I needed a change from the fantasy settings of EQ2 and WoW that had dominated my last years worth of gaming. I knew there had been a lot of significant changes (I had resubbed for a week or two shortly after the Exodus: Cold War release but don’t remember a thing about it) and knowing one or two people who were in game might also help. So once again, I resubbed and created a new character. This time I did some research and took some advice about what options to select and what skills to train. There was much more information available about setting up characters now than there had been in 2004 when that same info had been scarce and hard to glean.

I decided that I’d eschew mining in favour of combat as again, it seemed like a viable option now whereas the general advice previously had been to mine, mine again and mine some more and don’t even think about combat until much later. I transferred some gear over from the previous character I had created and my friend kindly donated enough ISK to me to set myself up with a frigate and weapons that would improve my survivability.

A-questin’ I did go.

I stuck it out longer this time. I think I managed a month or so and trained further than I had done before, earning the right to fly cruisers, control drones, salvage and armour tank effectively. I understood the game better than I had done before and I took time out to find people who would help me learn. I got to the point where I could easily earn a million or so ISK from one sortie – peanuts compared to the big boys in non-Empire space but a step in the right direction for me. But it wasn’t enough – the game just wasn’t “doing it” for me.

A digression: I love space sim games. As a young broodling, I spent an inordinate amount of time playing the original Elite on the BBC ‘B’ and other 64k machines. I spent more time playing Elite 2: Frontier on my Amiga than most other games I ever owned. After that I moved onto the space combat games – the reason I first bought a PC was because of X-Wing. I played through that, then TIE Fighter follwed by X-Wing Alliance before taking on Freespace 2. Things slowed down for a bit after that – I messed around with Tachyon: The Fringe and dabbled with Freelancer. I avoided the original X because I didn’t enjoy the demo but I recently had a crack at the X3 demo and may well be downloading it from Steam soon. It wasn’t until the release of the SWG space expansion, “Jump To Lightspeed”, that I returned to the Black. And boy, did I ever.

I loved JTL. Most of the time I was in SWG I spent in space and if I wasn’t in space, I was Reverse Engineering ship components. It wasn’t fantastic and it paled into nothing compared to something like X-Wing Alliance but it was fun.

EVE, however, could offer me so much more – a hugely intricate and successful player economy, meaningful PvP, a versatile and open-ended skill system and a vast universe to explore. I so wanted to like EVE. More than that, I wanted to really enjoy it. So what was the problem?

The answer is actually pretty straightforward. The first thing that got to me was that every system seemed identical. I’m not sure how you could make things seem different, with it being essentially a game about flying around in the big nothingness. Nothing tends to look pretty much like nothing whereever you go. The second thing was when I came to the realization that the agent missions were pretty mundane and not part of a greater story. Not only that, but the missions were repeated – not just in content or type but the entire mission text itself was repeated. I asked around to check I wasn’t doing something wrong but apparently no, the missions are actually tediously dull and repetitive. However, the truth of it is that none of these are that important. I could have overlooked all of these and got more involved directly with a corporation and engaged in PvP and just gone ratting in gangs or running ‘plexes. But there was one major issue I had with the game and one that wasn’t about to go away.

The realisation of this issue came when I was helping another noob mine in an area where there were likely to be NPC pirates. He would mine while I took on any trouble. We sat in an asteroid field and he mined away while we chatted. All of a sudden, a couple of red blips appear on my scanner and a smile appeared on my face. A fight in an asteroid field – my favourite location. Dodging and weaving between rocks, juking and jinking to avoid laser bolts, trying to get a bead on my target and vapourise them with the pew pew of my wing mounted ray guns.

Except. Except. This was EVE. I couldn’t just grab my joystick, throttle up, loop an asteroid and go head to head with the fighters. This was EVE. There wasn’t going to the thrill and excitement of the chase nor the perfect moment when the lead indicator lights up, you squeeze the trigger and the ship disappears in a graphical cloud of pixellated laser fire. This was EVE. At the end of the day, it’s a turn based combat system. But for me, when it comes to space combat, I’m all about the twitch.

That for me would part and parcel of my ideal, space based MMO. It would have to have a twitch based combat system. It can be done – it already has been with JtL but there are probably technical limitations to the full-on type of space sim MMO that can be made at the moment. I don’t know. Perhaps if Egosoft ever get their X-Universe Online project funded and underway, that’ll provide the alternative to EVE that twitch junkies like me are looking for. Until then, I’ll still be interested in the comings and goings, gossip and scandals of the EVE universe but as a game, it’s just not for me.

17 thoughts on “Space (I believe in)”

  1. The scandals just make me want to try this game more. How many games have made their players and developers more attached and involved than EVE has? Granted its wrong, unprofessional and unfair, but at least you know they like the game, and care about it.

  2. “’m not sure how you could make things seem different, with it being essentially a game about flying around in the big nothingness.”

    You mentioned Freelancer, and that’s what it did very good. The very distinctive backgrounds are part of it, but the main reason IMO is the sheer abundance of objects in space. Every sector is crowded with asteroid fields, space stations, planets, you name it. There are many NPC patrols as well, and you can hear them chat on the radio where they are going, what they are doing etc. And as a final touch, for every station and planet, there is a short explanatory text with background information. Of course, not everyone’s going to bother, but i really enjoyed it: Freelancer really makes you feel ‘there’. (Btw, funny someone should mention it… just playing the single player campaign for the n-th time)

    As you wrote, most systems in EVE are pretty much interchangeable. Since most of the universe has been randomly generated, that is probably not a surprise. I kinda get EVE: It’s an epic sandbox. Sadly, this fact alone doesn’t make it an epic game.

  3. Cyndre – totally agree. A colleague I’m currently working with plays it and every time I talk to him I think I should give it another go. Then I remind myself why I don’t.

    xwn – I was thinking about that after I wrote the post (which, if hadn’t been so long, I might have also added). In single player space sims there are some very memorable moments. I didn’t play a lot of Freelancer because it annoyed me that I couldn’t use a joystick off the bat – now I’ve got a configurable joystick, I just haven’t gone back to it. But the little I did play was impressive – floating junkyards, big orbital stations and unique locations. The same as in Tachyon: The Fringe – areas feel distinct. It can be done.

  4. If you want a space MMO with the twitch style of gameplay, then you should try out Vendetta Online (

    Sadly, it isn’t perfect. The community is still small, and it suffers from the same problems as EVE (same nothingness, no overall story,). On the plus side though, you are only limited by your own skills, and combat, mining, and trading are all viable career paths.

  5. A very well-written article and some very good and very valid points. As a player of Eve I experience a love-hate relationship with the game. But I tend to be very hands-off with it. I train my skills and play other games. Then every once in a while (once or twice a week usually) I spend an evening in-game playing (mining or combat).

    The one thing I have found that helps is playing with friends. You mentioned yours, but you never mentioned if you did anything with them. Eve is not much of a solo game. You can solo and do a lot of things that way (market trading, etc), but its far more fun with friends.

    My corporation (all 6 of us) make a point to get together and mine together (its amazing how much you can mine in a few hours with 5 or 6 people) or fight battles together (level 4 missions are great for this).

  6. John – thanks for that link. I’ve also been meaning to try Jumpgate too. And there’s another game that’s being developed as an Indie game but I don’t have the link at the moment.

  7. […A very well-written article and some very good and very valid points. As a player of Eve I experience a love-hate relationship with the game. But I tend to be very hands-off with it. I train my skills and play other games. Then every once in a while (once or twice a week usually) I spend an evening in-game playing (mining or combat)…]

    This statement sums up my impression of how I would end up approaching EVE which is the primary reason why I have never given it a go.. I know I’ll be hokked but on a time time investment scenario, and I just dont want to lay out the sub fee every month for a game I put so little time into.

  8. You just had to go ahead and mention Elite and Frontier, right?

    *sighs and goes to find his emus*

  9. hey, thanks for this story I realy like space sims such as X3 etc. (
    I was really wondering for a long time if X3 is something form me but how can a spacesim like that use turn based combat???

    that just isn’t for me.

    i really recommend you checkout X3 at least the missions are original) if you don’t get bored waiting for your ship to get wherever you’re going (you can speed up the clock times 10 and you have a jumpdrive (you’ll have to buy that one though and it costs energy cells each time you use it)

    the fights are good, the fleet control and wingmen support i find somewhat lacking but it’s still probably still one of the best.

    the trade your way around the universe is great but i find it becomes tedious so i have to admit that after my 3rd sip i cheated in that area.

  10. “Turn based” isn’t really a fair description; it’s realtime combat at one remove. You order guns to fire, and your ship to head in a direction or orbit or chase, then those things happen. In a PvP situation it gets pretty frantic managing all your stuff, even without having to steer manually.

    Really, it’s a multiplayer PvP game, and much of the rest of it is a backdrop for that.

    Give it a go, sign up with EVE University or Agony and see how you like it.

  11. Pete: I struggled to know how to describe the combat and decided on ‘turn based’ because of the messages you get when you shoot – “Your Weak-arse Gatling Gun scraps the hull for 11 damage” and so on. My issue with EVE is not that it’s not frantic nor that it’s not quick paced because it is both those things. I’m not even going to say that it doesn’t need a lot of skill to play well because it does.

    My issue with it is a personal thing and that is one of wanting to have more control over flying the ship which, in EVEs case is a case of point and click and there’s no getting away from that.

    You say “Give it a go” and the truth is, I have. The ironic thing is that if I’d stuck with it from the first time I’d started playing, I’d probably be piloting a Titan right about now.

  12. I consider a titan-kill a – lot – more interesting than some end-boss world first kill in WoW. Anyway, this doesn’t seem to be the topic. I’m playing Eve for a couple of months now and I love it, but I do know what you mean. From the beginning I loved the way of the game, an huge sandbox, most dynamic with most realistic consequences MMO around, detailed on-going storyline. It’s what I want in a MMO, but after a month of playing I just didn’t really know what to do aswell. This sandbox game really is what you make of it yourself, but when you don’t really know what to make of it, you can end up being bored quickly. I was wondering if it was the sci-fi theme I didn’t like or the battles. I stopped playing and for a week or so I didn’t play any games at all.

    Then I came back. I suddenly started to love the game again, I played more with my corpmates, pretty much every time I logged in. Got into some very fun operations and I even fell in love with the combat itself. It’s so very tactical and there’s a lot to do to perfect yourself and it gives me a huge kick to kill some npc ships while you’re barely able to save the structure of your ship, it gives an even bigger adrenaline-boost to do the same against other player-ships.

    Anyway. I could really suggest all of you to give it another try, it might take a while until you really start to love it.

  13. “I signed up again after reading a friends blog about the ongoing conflict in 0.0 space.”

    Please Please tell me that blog is still going and linky for me. EvE blogs are so hard to find and even harder to find alive.

    Good read btw

  14. Almost everyone I know who “plays” EVE doesn’t really play it, they do the typical log in, change skill, log out. Play once in a blue moon for an hour or so. Props have to be given to CCP for making a game that gets people to do that. ( I like CCP, even if I think their community relations are a shambles. ) Though people who play EVE really do so for the communities they’ve built, it’s all about the corps.

    I stopped playing EVE pretty quick for the reasons mentioned in the article. It was boring, turn-based like combat. It was pretty, it was exciting to fly around in space, but when I wanted to blow up people, it was nothing more than dice rolls and waiting.

  15. I’m starting to get the yearning for EVE once more. Good thing I have LotRO and two betas to keep me busy already.

Comments are closed.