The Humans Are The Real Monsters

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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 three discoveries since the original. 1) A response from CCP Eterne via Twitter, who reminded me that not all of these characters are Tony’s specifically. Bizzarely, he didn’t correct me at all on the other two items! 2) Morwen Lagann informed me that CCP Dropbear is still at CCP. I had heard he left, came back as a GM, and left again. Apparently he never “left again” and is still a GM of unknown name. 3) CCP Headfirst posted on a thread I’m on! This is how I learned he is still at CCP. When I screw up on facts, dear readers, please feel free to educate me and I will make edits!]

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 was shown the door. CCP Dropbear and CCP Headfirst were allowed to linger for a while, until Site One was at last launched in the Crucible expansion. But both fell off the radar shortly after, largely disappearing from the public eye was gone by the end of December, apparently assigned to other teams or other roles.

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 left the company, and Headfirst & Dropbear were in a position where they had no leverage.
  • 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 change of role.
  • 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
To: Rhavas

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.

AJ Deserves Facepalm

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.

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.

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21 Responses to The Humans Are The Real Monsters

  1. Neville Smit says:

    Very good analysis! Thanks for indulging my request – this is insightful and if your speculations are correct, it will be an exciting future for EVE players.

    • Rhavas says:

      While I’ve probably mis-called half of it here, A) It’s fun to speculate, and B) It’ll be nice to say “told you so” on the things I get right! 🙂

    • Rhavas says:

      Thanks for the prod. I’m just glad that the Illuminati are doing story again, even if it might not in all w ays be the story I wanted.

  2. Helena Khan says:

    I’ll be honest with you, while I didn’t think too much of the novels, I’ll miss the possibilities the old storyline(s) may have borne. The Empress Jamyl, the superweapon, and the possibility of the resurgence of a large, but largely stagnant empire for the greater good…. or not… was a tantalizing prospect. “.. that which you give to this empire, I shall give back unto you…”

    While I agree to a large extent that human driven story lines could potentially be hugely interesting… what happens when we go past the tipping point? I would hate to see a blue doughnut scenario extended across New Eden.

    • Rhavas says:

      I agree completely. I think Isogen 5 and Insorum are massive untouched story hooks and I hope Illuminati keep them and use them. I hope I’m right on the cool things and wrong about stuff like that.
      So here’s hoping some of them read this and maybe a conversation or two about proving Rhavas wrong happens in Iceland. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Thought provoked | #!/usr/bin/devshed

  4. Drackarn says:

    I agree on the Jove space idea and speculated on that myself last week. (http://sandciderandspaceships.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/winter-2013-into-jove-space.html).

    I think CCP need to keep a “Tony” style storyline in the background. Players can make some of the story of Eve, but not all of it.

  5. Space Noob says:

    Great write up. I’m in the first of the two main books at the moment which is a little depressing. Still haven’t got a handle on the Jove/Sleeper stuff. I’m going to do some reading around however pointless it might be.

    The big thing for me : the capsuleer led projects. Where do I start reading!?

  6. modex says:

    Good stuff. Certainly looks like the empire alliances are on their way to dissolving. Looking forward to being able to choose which empires I want to fight against. Kind of raises the question of possibly being aligned with a pirate faction in FW. Also really intrigued by the hints of the capsuleers gaining more control over the empires. Exciting to think about what that could add to the game (mechanics and story).

    • Rhavas says:

      Yeah this could lead directly to some very cool gameplay. In game elections, Dust for pirate factions, player tournaments to be the Emperor? O_O

  7. TurAmarth says:

    It will be such a shame if this is at all correct. The past lore BEFORE Empyreans is as needed as the lore we make. The current NPC lore, such as Templar 1, is the vehicle that CCP can use to move the story forward in order to give us more toys in the sandbox. I am a big fan of the lore, both SciFi and Emergent… neither should be killed off for the other and they CAN so-exist.

    • Rhavas says:

      I hope you’re right. It is also a strong possibility that they will reconnect to that story (much) later. CCP Eterne, at least, may be a fan of the older stuff.

  8. Faulx says:

    Actually, I’d say the heads of empires are on the same course as they always were. There’s been foreshadowing on Heth since at least 2008 with chronicles Wild Earth and Slow Disease. Jamyl’s clearly been headed for a bad fate ever since Templar One and the Other. Meanwhile, Mentas Blaque’s been taking the Gallente federation’s democracy towards despotic totalitarianism since before Roden was elected. A confrontation between these two has been in the words since at least 2009 (The Human Painting). Shakor’s been affiliated with the Jovians since Beta (2002), so whatever role he has to play, it can be expected to take a while. Midular’s “grand fate” was probably to bring the Nefantor and Stakmanir tribes back into the fold and reunite the tribes. A united Republic + a cure to vitoxin are the key ingredients for a war of liberation and retribution against the Amarrians that will span the cluster… which we’re clearly headed towards with the loss of her pacifying influence.

    New themes, though, are friction between the Minmatar and Gallente. Along with some hints by the empress at a state of disapproval about the Caldari and Amarrian financial situation. This is most-likely the destabilizing influence of the Other at work. My prediction is, rather than a new Min/Caldari and Gal/Amarr re-polarization, we’re probably going to see a state of total war erupt, with no alliances whatsoever, at least for a time. Ideally, from there, capsuleer/duster actions will have a strong influence in the relative strength of the empires and the extent of their territories. But, a feature such that has been a dream for a very long time indeed, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    After the coming conflagration, we can expect to see the Pirate factions begin to get some love, as the criminal elements of New Eden take advantage of the chaos (especially since the Illuminati have made mention of their desire to develop them after they’re done with their current plans).

  9. Faulx says:

    As for Arek’Jaalan and player driven stories, the devs have made a lot of chatter about supporting that kind of thing, and even the company mantra has shifted to “the players are the story”. So I find AJ’s abandonment to be very contradictory.

    Most likely, they are simply backing off the enormity of the project after having lost their in-house experts Headfirst and Dropbear. Alternatively, there may have been a perception that AJ was handing too big a “canon” to the players, and they didn’t like the direction it was pointed (pun intended). This notion is certainly supported with the “lore portal” on the wiki, where players were largely shoved to the background, only able to edit talk pages. I suspect only time will tell. If AJ is picked back up (or at least developed to a stopping point), then I suspect there will be a bright future for player driven lore. If not, then our next best point of entry for “canonical” contributions will probably be Falcon’s Project Clockwork.

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