In last month’s edition of Exploring EVE Online, I pledged to spend the next year reporting on the different communities and play-styles available to the EVE player. My goals were simple; to investigate the many game-play options offered whilst exploring the myriad of communities that make up EVE society.
In the wider gaming world, there is a general pre-conception that the EVE Online experience is brutal, ruthless and cut-throat. Whilst these elements of EVE culture certainly exist, is the EVE player-base made entirely of amoral griefers whose only joy is to ruin your day? Is New Eden truly just a “playground for sociopaths”*? Or is there trust and candour to be found somewhere? Surely such well-developed communities cannot exist without some degree of community spirit? So my mission for the duration of this column will be to get a better measure of the true face of “The Nation of EVE”.
*Adam Rosser, BBC Radio 4 (Up All Night, 02/05/12)
Going Back to the Start
I have been playing EVE Online since its release in 2003, so I’ve had the opportunity to see the in-game and meta-game cultures developing along with the ever-expanding game universe. Armed with the knowledge of a veteran player, it made sense to go back to the beginning to walk the path a new player might take today. Having played several, more traditional MMOs over the years, I am keenly aware that some of EVE Online‘s differences may be a cause of gaming culture shock and thus a deterrent for some potential subscribers. I hope that this article will serve to forewarn future rookies of some of those differences and better enable them to embrace the unique culture of EVE Online.
EVE Online has been providing a unique virtual science fiction experience to online gamers for nearly nine years. As such, I expected things to be a little creaky back in the new player “lobby” – it wouldn’t have been surprising to find the character creation equivalent of an embarrassing disco-dancing Dad. But I needn’t have been concerned, things have changed since my day. I was pleased to find my re-entry into the universe of New Eden was slick and polished, with a suitably atmospheric introduction to the dystopian future of the human race and my character creation choices. The impressive avatar customisation process is as close to photo-realistic as any newly-developed title. It was already clear that frequent engine updates have done much to banish any signs of the game’s decade-old code.
Prior to last year’s introduction of pilot avatars in the Incarna expansion, EVE players would only be represented in-game by the ship they were flying (and a small portrait photograph). I can well imagine that this would have been a jarring and disconnected experience for players coming from more traditional MMOs. Fortunately, that was identified and the new Captain’s Quarters environments and the customisable characters do much to soften the landing and orientate the former Elf Lord. Some sections of the EVE community wait with anticipation for iteration on this aspect of gameplay. Others, not so much.
Walk Before You Warp
The tutorial further contributes to the immersion, with the pleasant metallic tones of the disembodied digital assistant Aura guiding you through the initial process of grappling the diabolically complex user interface. It is worth noting that the UI, whilst probably the most tell-tale sign of EVE Online‘s age, has recently undergone vast improvements. Although still a little archaic, a degree of complexity is unavoidable as it is the player’s complete tool-set for interacting with every aspect of EVE‘s sandbox environment.
Although the avatar controls are standard WASD fare, the ship control tutorial is vital as the initial in-space experience can be disorienting and alien to many rookie capsuleers. In the past I’ve seen several new pilots struggle with the 360-degree third-person “camera drone” concept, but Aura does a good job of explaining things, supported by the (somewhat less engaging) tutorial text window.
Aura leads the rookie through the basics of ship navigation and onto the introduction of “career agents”. These new personalities provide guidance in a variety of specific aspects of gameplay from trading and industry to exploration and combat, although sadly they all seem a little vocally shy and only interact via text.
At this point, the visually breathtaking and bewildering initial experience begins to give way to a sense of isolation. Personally, I quite enjoy this sensation as the sheer sense of scale of the game environment begins to become evident.
But so far, so single player.
Granted, there will have been some evidence of other players – the blinking of various chat windows and an assortment of distant coloured squares on the HUD – but these are easily dismissed or overlooked. Besides, the undercurrent of mistrust and paranoia that has been fuelled by out-of-game mythology would probably have our average rookie pilot in a state of self-imposed neurotic isolation. Yet EVE Online‘s game design is fundamentally built around community. Once the career tutorial mission arcs are complete, the pilot will find himself essentially adrift, being left to find his own way in the universe. It is at this point (if not before) that finding an appropriate player-run corporation (the EVE equivalent of a guild) is imperative for continued long-term enjoyment for all but the most solitary of gamers.
This is a pivotal moment in the fledgling capsuleer’s career. Having learned just enough to be a danger to themselves, the vast universe opening out before them must look enticing. They will have outgrown the most protective of rookie-friendly systems and despite having much, much more to learn, the independently-minded may be inclined to attempt it alone. They are free to do so of course, but engaging the right community will provide a much richer experience. Being a member of a proficient corporation will not prevent the occasional ship loss, but at least there will (hopefully) be someone available to explain why and how it happened and maybe even supply a new ship.