Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Why I Like EVE: The Continuing Saga

Our space, Deklein, is under transition. Tau Ceti Federation (TCF), our landlords for the time I've been with Skyforger, has had a change of leadership, and is moving from Deklein to the Venal region.

And so those of us who are pets, I mean renters-TNT, OWN, DEF1ANT-get to take over more control of the region? Wrong. TCF has arranged for a reconstituted Goonswarm to take over our space, and become our new landlords. Yes, after a near-complete self-annihilation, running to a single system in Deklein, and licking their wounds for a few months, Goonswarm will now become, once again, a regional power.

And our new landlords.

This has created some uneasiness among my corpmates and me. Arrangements have been made to tweak the jumpbridge network, and gain a little more control over it for our alliance, TNT.

The political structure of 0.0 is downright feudal. Members typically owe service to their corps, for the privilege of being able to rat and mine in 0.0. That service can take the form of pvp or mining, or perhaps logistical chores. In turn alliances owe not just rent payments, but their participation in Coalition fleets and in home defense fleets is noted and, one suspects, territory allocated based on it. I'm not in any leadership position, so I don't have any inside dope on what exactly goes on, but there is occasional drama and whining about carebearing from the pvp types.

As an aside, it seems to me that alliances and coalitions that can create better political structures than a feudal hierarchy will have the advantage in the long run.

This is all kind of irritating, since typical ratting in my Dominix does not seem to have all that much greater of a payoff than running a level 4 mission. Though it is logistically simpler.

So why do I put up with it? Because of EVE's open, sandbox nature, and large player populations allow for some really interesting stuff to happen. And a lot of the most interesting things happen in 0.0

A case in point: Last year, the director of a very important alliance in EVE - Band of Brothers (BoB)-tried to get an alt into a Goonswarm corp as a spy, but quickly decided that he liked Goons a lot better than BoB, and with some plotting, disbanded Bob entirely, stealing many capital ships and much isk in the process.

Ok, digest that a bit. Our new landlords, the famous ones with the pirate hats and the hearty "Arrrgh", were more friendly and helpful to an apparent noob miner that he completely torched his old alliance.

If there's more drama in EVE, I think its because in real life, if your boss is never in the office, and when he is, he uses the time to abuse you for not working hard enough, and if your coworkers are constantly telling him and each other what a nitwit you are, you can't conspire with the competition to hand over the keys to the building, steal the entire carpool, empty the corporate bank account and be sure you will never go to jail for it.

But in EVE, you can.

The developers in EVE refer to "emergent phenomena". But there's simpler language for it. Really, it's more along the lines of "Whoa, look at the cool things the players are doing, we never thought of that, isn't it great!?"

This is a big dichotomy in any kind of ongoing roleplay game. It comes up in tabletop games a lot, and it always has. Back when I started roleplaying, game masters would pretend the game was an open sandbox, but it wasn't. There were plenty of tales of parties that wandered off the decreed track only to find signs that stated "Here be demons".

Now, to be fair, the amount of time available to a dm to prepare things is limited. But many's the DM that grows angry and frustrated when the party finds some cool, creative way to short circuit a trap or to easily dispatch some unbeatable monster.

Video games split along this dichotomy too. I remember feeling that one of the cool things about the Super Mario 64 game was its open gameplay. Given the physics of the game, and the objects of the room, you could solve puzzles any way that seemed appropriate to you.

And what about MMO's? Here's a description of the Sleeper, a great dragon in EQ1, taken from a thread on Slashdot:

Killing the Sleeper was the EQ equivalent.

a) It was supposed to be impossible by design.

1) It killed a fully geared toon in 10 seconds.
2) It had 2 billion hit points
3) If you did some kind of quest, it woke up, kicked every one's ass in the world and then left the game forever unbeaten.

b) It was beaten on a PVP server-- every server in the game was getting updates as it progressed.
1) They had to have security to fend off any griefers who would try to stop it.
2) They had to prevent anyone from completing the quest
3) They had a lineup of 30 warriors whose job was to step up, get aggro, die.
4) They had a support group big enough to raise those warriors, rebuff them, and get them back in rotation within 300 seconds.
5) It took some ungodly number of *hours* to do this. Every server was getting updates. "7:37pm, Sleeper at 93%" "10:05pm, Sleeper at 52%"
6) A bug or direct intervention by the Developers prevented them from winning the first attempt-- so they had to do it all, then remotivate everyone and do it again after the Devs got jumped on by all of EQ to give them a fair shot.

There are two ideas here that are important. First, players will organize around an idea or an accomplishment just because it's so darn cool. They will think way outside the box. Second, game designers get really nervous and controlling about this sort of thing. The surprise factor is probably important. If they had thought about it, this event is huge, very strong publicity for their game, and generating huge interest. But the first reaction is, "that's not supposed to be possible!"

The EVE dev team, as a general rule, embraces this kind of thing. Big market fluctuations make the game interesting (coolant anyone?). Big political shifts are front-page news. Hacking is not welcome, but scamming is. And it's not just because it's a pvp game, but it's because they like the idea (and so do I) that game mechanics merely offer consequences, rather than restrictions. Anything that the rules allow, is legal. And its up to you to work out new ways of using them.

And that's a quality that I really like.



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