WARNING: This entire post is speculation and a good portion may be tinfoil hattery. But take a read. Maybe you’ll find it plausible.
“[Crowley] rather liked people. It was major failing in a demon. Oh, he did his best to make their short lives miserable, because that was his job, but nothing he could think up was half as bad as the stuff they thought up themselves. They seemed to have a talent for it. It was built into the design, somehow. They were born into a world that was against them in a thousand little ways, and then devoted most of their energies to making it worse. Over the years Crowley had found it increasingly difficult to find anything demonic to do which showed up against the natural background of generalized nastiness. There had been times, over the past millennium, when he’d felt like sending a message back Below saying, Look we may as well give up right now, we might as well shut down Dis and Pandemonium and everywhere and move up here, there’s nothing we can do to them that they don’t do to themselves and they do things we’ve never even thought of, often involving electrodes. They’ve got what we lack. They’ve got imagination. And electricity, of course. One of them had written it, hadn’t he… “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.””
-Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett, Good Omens
Neville Smit, Teaching Manager and former Director at EVE University, has me, Mark726 of EVE Travel and Morwen Lagann of Backstage Forums scheduled for a Lore Panel. He is hoping we can speculate a bit on the new Live Events and story. And a couple days ago on Twitter he suggested:
Neville Smit @NevilleSmit 9:39 AM – 7 May 13
@EVE_Rhavas You need to explain why the latest EVE lore news is so significant on your blog, please!
OK, Neville, here goes.
TLDR: The story of Tony Gonzales, assisted by CCP Dropbear and CCP Headfirst, has been taken out back and shot. It was full of “monsters” – but the real monsters are us.
[EDIT: I have made a handful of edits below due to a Twitter response from CCP Eterne, who reminded me that not all of these characters are Tony's specifically; but clarifying that ownership is the only change.]
Somewhere along the line, CCP decided that they had just gone “too story”. Too scripted. It’s a sandbox, someone said. Not a sci-fi novel. We don’t need crazy aliens, or mystery races. Our players are the content, right?
In the summer of 2011, as the Jita monument burned in the Summer of Rage, Tony Gonzales, the creator of the Empyrean storyline as we know it, was anxiously awaiting the release of his book, Templar One. Templar One explains Dust514. It explains wormholes. It doubles down on the mythology behind the Sleepers and the Jove. At the same time, folk hero CCP Dropbear was driving the Arek’Jaalan Project, an unprecedented (and unattempted since) collaboration between players and the content team to discover wormhole, drone and ancient race lore. Masses of in-game materials were gathered and removed from the game in order to create Antiquus (Site One) in the Eram system (shown above). With a name like that, everyone was looking forward to Site Two. There was even an acceleration gate pointing to its future location. CCP Headfirst was running live Sansha events.
But the Summer of Rage took many victims. In October 2011, someone at CCP decided that story was no longer important, and live events were a luxury. We don’t know if this decision was largely budgetary or simply a change in direction. What we do know is that in the October layoffs, both Tony Gonzales and CCP Headfirst were shown the door. CCP Dropbear was allowed to linger for a while, until Site One was at last launched in the Crucible expansion – but he fell silent immediately after was gone by the end of December.
CCP Unifex spent his first months as Executive Producer heads-down on spaceships. He had been handed a budget, likely significantly reduced from the days before Incarna. Story was not a priority. But eventually, the calls for content began to return. Rumblings began in the community that CCP had abandoned its roots; they were not thinking far enough forward; they were not the “HTFU” company of old. And so Unifex was left with a conundrum of what the hell to do with the story.
What he couldn’t do was reinvigorate the secret-filled, and thus labor-intensive, Empyrean lore championed by Tony and Dropbear. And that’s probably about the time he gave an interview to Gamasutra.
Lander has a clever way of putting it: If creating EVE is at its core, “about player-created stories,” as he says, then working on it is “about us being relatively hands-off janitors of the virtual world.”
Notes Lander, while most MMOs have teams churning out handcrafted content for players to consume — increasingly more quickly, these days — EVE only has four content developers.
“But at the same time, we’ve got a lot of game designers,” says Lander. “We’ve got a lot of programmers. We’ve got a lot of engineers who are building tools so that players can make the content, and that content is firmly rooted in interactions with each other,” says Lander.
But when bringing together the requests of players, the recommendations of the CSM, and the thoughts and desires of the ground-level design team, and focus on building a robust social system rather than content, the rewards are great, says Lander.
“I think this is why you see a steady growth on EVE. Because the more people who are doing it, the more popular and actually the more fun it becomes. It’s proven a good model for us.”
“We build a social engine that people actually love, hate, despise each other, love each other, backstab each other, and play the good Samaritan. People know each other, and there is this history. They feel a big emotional attachment to that, and that keeps them coming,” he says.
- The secret to EVE Online‘s success: It’s all bottom-up, Gamasutra, July 27, 2012
It is revealing in hindsight. Maybe, around this time, he decided that it was time to rewrite that story. The old story needed to be killed, and replaced with a new one. One where the players were the content. One where the humans (read: capsuleers) were the monsters. Where Goonswarm were the terrifying bad guys, not the Enheduanni. Where wormhole dwellers, not Sleepers, were the mysterious threat. One where players, not CONCORD, were the policemen. And a world where capsuleer science advances, not the deus ex machina of the Jove, were responsible for technology moving forward the next great leap.
And so, CCP Unifex created (or blessed) Team Illuminati, a team of erstwhile volunteers destined to rewrite the Empyrean story championed by the ousted Tony and Dropbear in a wholly different image.
An image of capsuleers, the creators of content.
The transformation of the story would have to start with the excision of the Empyrean story, its owners now no longer able to object as employees or stakeholders. For a while, I doubted that story was truly dead. But too many things began to stack up.
- Tony & Dropbear left the company.
- Project Compass, a massive player-driven effort led by Mark726 and Faulx, was twice gutted by CCP, who apparently determined that their clever use of in-game reality was not intended, and pulled the statistical capability from the game that drove their conclusions.
- No other Arek’Jaalan research projects ever received a response except for one, which was responded to prior to Dropbear’s departure.
- No answers were forthcoming on Sansha Kuvakei’s incursions
- All story work since January 2012 has been laser-focused on the four main factions and peripherally on the pirates harassing them.
- The latest contest for stories, True Stories, is explicitly about things that have happened in-game, not fan fiction.
Team Illuminati, to their credit, late in 2012 began to spin up lots of new live events. And once reinvigorated in January 2013, began to actively, visibly push the story forward again for the first time in 13 months. This time, however, it was all about the humans – the empires and capsuleers. But now that the story is moving again, the disparity compared to the Empyrean story has become more obvious, at least to me.
Huge credit to CCP Falcon, character contacts have been set up for each in-game major faction. Rhavas reached out to the Sisters of EVE contact in an attempt to renew Project Tesseract, which at one time should have been very interesting to them. Here’s the in-character reply.
Re: Collaborative Ventures
From: Anza Sagera
Sent: 2013.04.15 14:48
The Sisters of EVE are always interested in sharing information. However, we are a bit wary of data collected by the Arek’Jaalan project. Though Hilen Tukoss is a respected scientist, in his zeal for information, he allowed some others involved with his project to utilize less-than-reputable methods to collect data. Despite this, we are of course interested in anything that might further scientific progress.
Even in character they “are a bit wary of data collected by the Arek’Jaalan project. Though Hilen Tukoss is a respected scientist, in his zeal for information, he allowed some others involved with his project to utilize less-than-reputable methods to collect data.” Instantly, anything Arek’Jaalan is now discredited.
This discredit apparently was thrown on the table at the Fanfest story panel as well.
The new theme is The Fall of the Empyrean World. In this world, the old story, the Sleepers and the Jove, and maybe even Sansha Kuvakei, are at best “not interesting to the current story direction”.
My speculation: the current story direction is: The empires fall to bickering, key Empyrean Age and prior characters are killed off, and all blues in Faction Warfare are reset for all four to battle indiscriminately (or the allegiances switch to Amarr-Gallente/Minmatar-Caldari) to maximize play choices both in FW and in Dust514.
What evidence do I have of that? Why, the actions of Team Illuminati itself, and the live events that have occurred.
- Sauro Foritan, the Empyrean Gallente leader, resigned.
- Karin Midular, Empyrean Minmatar leader, died this week.
- Tibus Heth, Tony’s creation and rebel-turned-leader of the Caldari, was shot once already, and has been reduced by his own people to a sniveling whiner, the loser of Caldari Prime, the failure of Burn Jita and Asakai and the no-show at the diplomacy table who has no power left other than to suck up to the Minmatar. It is only a question of time before he is eliminated from office or assassinated.
- Jamyl Sarum, Tony’s Amarr leader, long troubled with split personality (she has a Deus Ex Machina Enheduanni in her head) is apparently going downhill fast. Once Heth is out of the way, expect her fall to come next.
With these four removed, only Jacus Roden (current Gallente leader), Maleatu Shakor (current Minmatar leader), Mens Reppola (Caldari opposition leader of sorts in Ishukone) and Mentas Blaque (Gallente leader of the FIO “secret police”) remain from Tony’s core stories. Blaque is too visible, iconic and content-thirsty; I expect him to be killed off, probably at Roden’s order, for one of any number of reasons – as a conspirator, competition, threat to the federation, or by being revealed as the hand behind Midular’s murder and/or Heth’s assassination. Reppola is the most fleshed-out of the group – and so I expect him to be killed off, probably taking the knowledge of the Amarr slave control drug antidote with him in order to cement that part of the lore and close that story fork. Shakor is difficult to call but will likely live – effectively a folk hero and able to make a good foil for Illuminati’s future uses (he is also the avowed favorite of one of the Illuminati devs). Roden is still a bit of a blank slate that the Illuminati can mold as they see fit.
What next after that? CCP Seagull, now in charge of the EVE Online direction, hit all the high points during her Fanfest presentations. The Terrans, of all ancient races, shrouded in mystery and all but disavowed as myth, have been brought to the fore. The humans are the content, right? No reason to spend time on Sleepers, Yan Jung or Talocan of the Tony & Dropbear era ancients that live on the timeline between the Terrans and the Capsuleers. This is an undeniably cool turn of events, and one to get excited about, but it is also undeniably another layer of marginalization of the old story.
But here’s why: The Terrans are us, the players, in an imaginable if distant future. They are accessible. New and casual players will “get it” immediately. The Jove-fork Ancient Races are cryptic and all but unknown outside the Lore and RP communities.
So where is this leading? The Jove, my friends, are dead. Tony and Headfirst did the Illuminati a favor when Mouse Nell found Sansha Kuvakei occupying Jove space. Unopposed. But if we had, as CCP Seagull said at Fanfest, “The right kind of stargate”, we might be able to reach … somewhere. There is only one logical place: Jove space. Two full regions of unused space, where CCP can set up entirely new, unique mechanics based on this “new technology”. Blob-resistant, blue-donut-resistant, maybe even dynamically floating security space. And it’s already there waiting. CCP could keep its three disconnected systems in the UUA-F4 region for testing.
And after that, who knows. Maybe as the developers intimated multiple times at Fanfest, the Capsuleers will be given the option to truly run the empires themselves in a player-directed manner. You be the Empress. Or the Executor. Or the President. Or lead a Tribe. This, honestly, would be an amazing turn of events.
I’ve always wanted to visit PE1-R1. It is home to the only Shattered planet I haven’t visited. Maybe when I get there I’ll at last find some Isogen-5. Maybe Sansha and his wormhole-generating supercarrier are waiting for us there. And maybe the mysteries of the Superweapon, Sleepers, Talocan, and wormholes that have held my interest for more than three years will be interesting to the story again.
Oh, one more thing. I’m giving Tony & Dropbear a last hurrah, for the memories with a True Story about the Shattered Planets and Project Tesseract. Upvotes appreciated.