The Corrente Review Of Games: Volume I, Number 12 (English Edition)
[I'm stickying this because it looks to me like EVE, the world that game designers and mainstream economists made, is a lot like Earth, another world that game designers and mainstream economists made. Of course, the penalties for "failure" differ, but the parallels are instructive. Do read on. -- lambert]
The Corrente Review Of Games is published on the first Saturday of the month.
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Aeryl, BDBlue and danps.
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EVE Online is a science fiction MMORPG by Crowd Control Productions (CCP) in Iceland. A Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game is a role-playing game -- you play a character that develops over time -- in a shared online environment with a large number of other players playing their own characters that you team up with, compete with, or play against. Most MMORPGs have multiple universes (called "shards") to separate players to make technical scalability problems manageable. EVE has no shards. There is one universe with as many as 40,000 or 50,000 players connected at once.
In EVE, your character is a "pod pilot", an immortal starship pilot. You control a starship from inside your pod, and if your ship is destroyed, your pod automatically ejects from the ship. If your pod is then destroyed, a clone of yourself will be quickened inside a station. In the game you have a headshot that you choose when you create your character, but when you're playing you see yourself as a starship, there's no bodies or walking or anything like that.
Most MMORPGs make your character advance by gaining experience points, and you get experience points by doing simple tasks over and over ("grinding") -- as they said in Penny Arcade, "hitting womp rats with a stick." EVE does this differently, advancement is based in training different skills, and you train skills all the time, whether you're logged in or not. New characters get a certain number of skill points to distribute so you're not starting with nothing. Learning skills lets you use better equipment, better ships, make all your ships work better, let you do different industrial tasks... there are a lot of them, you can find a chart here.
The EVE universe is an open cluster of about a thousand stars a couple of hundred light years across called "New Eden." A massive wormhole connected New Eden to our stellar neighborhood and humans came pouring through it. Then, one day, the wormhole closed. With no more access to Earth, New Eden society collapsed. Starflight was lost and many desperate wars were fought. From these ashes rose 4 great races: the Amarr, authoritarian religious zealots ruled by a royal family; the Gallente, a meddling, decadent, self-righteous democracy with a huge gap between rich and poor; the Caldari, a militarist corporate fascist state run by a few mega-corporations; and the Minmatar, who were colonized and enslaved by the Amarr until they rebelled and took control of their own affairs.
EVE space is divided into different "security levels." The higher the security level, the more the space is patrolled by CONCORD, the EVE police. In high sec (0.5-1.0), any act of aggression is rapidly punished by CONCORD ships and stationary guns (around stations and stargates) until the aggressor's ship is destroyed, and aggressors take a loss in standing. In low sec (0.1-0.4) there are no CONCORD ships, but stationary guns will attack an aggressor (usually without serious effect), and they still take a loss in standing. In nullsec (0.0), anything goes, and standing is not affected by any action. Standing is basically how lawful you are. If it gets low enough (-5 or less), you can be attacked by other players freely anywhere in space.
The EVE economy is pretty unique in games in that nearly everything on the market -- that is, things you need to buy to do your mining, manufacturing, mission running, fighting other players (pvp), invention, reverse engineering, etc are harvested or made by other players who set the prices for those things. CCP has a professional economist on staff who has helped them implement a nearly exclusively player driven economy. The economy dominates gameplay and forces players to make risk-benefit analyses.
So, enough introduction already. What happens in the game? It is often a wretched hive of scum and villainy:
EVE is a game in which the ruthless get rich, and the merciful get ass raped over and over again. All of you know it, and in spite of knowing, many of you still play the game like it's WoW. You post asking for CCP to do something about thievery and scams, you cry and whine about how lame those things are, but never do any of you stop to think about just how shitty this game would be if the "underhandedness" were to be removed.
Scams are common. In the main market hub system (Jita) the local chat channel is filled with scams for ISK (the game currency). This is neither punished nor discouraged by CCP, they like it that way. There are banks in EVE, but there is no such thing as TBTF or regulation. Sometimes they are straight Ponzi schemes and sometimes they overleverage and fail, and sometimes the CEO of the corporation just runs away with the money. Either way, they fail and depositors lose everything.
Embezzling (which is called "corp theft" by the players) of sometimes spectacular amounts is common. Again, CCP likes this stuff, they rarely get involved unless the embezzler uses a flaw in the game program ("exploit"). For instance, 200 billion ISK (~$10000 equiv) stolen from BoB, the Guiding Hand Social Club heist (30 billion ISK, ~$1500 now), and many more.
Piracy isn't a crime in EVE, it's a job description. Pirates will look for miners or haulers or other soft targets and will destroy them for their cargo or ransom them for ISK. You can bet that any lowsec pocket you go into will have groups of pirate raiders running around looking for opportunities. Highsec piracy is more rare except in the form of the suicide gank where a pirate sacrifices a ship by destroying a hauler while his friends scoop up the hauler's loot. Privateer Alliance used the empire war feature for highsec piracy to such effect that CCP changed the rules for empire war specifically against them.
Griefing (the MMO equivalent of trolling) isn't really a profession, and is officially banned by CCP. However, CCP's definition of griefing excludes anything that could actually make ISK for the griefer. So things like Goonswarm's Jihad Swarm campaign, where they flew around suicide ganking mining ships for fun, are okay.
Nullsec is largely controlled by huge alliances who will attack anyone who tries to enter their space who hasn't negotiated permission to do so ("blue standings"). This is called "NBSI" for "Not Blue Shoot It" and is the usual order that sovereign alliances give to their pilots. There is nearly constant war of different intensities going on between nullsec alliances, and NBSI policy is to keep spies out of their home space. Which leads us to spies and sabotage.
Any discussion of espionage in EVE needs to start with The Mittani. He's the creator and leader of GoonFleet Intelligence Agency and the GoonFleet sabotage ("black-ops") program:
Unique in EVE, the number of people on one server puts the players far beyond the threshold of intimate friendship; your average social unit, the corporation, involves hundreds of people, while alliances made up of these corporations include thousands of people. Thus, instead of micro-level 'guild drama' over who gets what epic item, EVE suffers from 'alliance politics' which in many ways have come to mirror real world politics; the threshold of 'enough monkeys in one place' is crossed, and you find yourself contending with alliances based on ethnic and nationalistic identities, many of which carry their cultural quirks and baggage into the realm of internet spaceships. EVE has French alliances, Russian alliances, Polish alliances, German alliances, you name it.
Because it becomes impossible for trust in EVE organizations to be based on direct friendship, there's a big opportunity for infiltration and sabotage. Stories abound of spies inside an alliance offlining starbases prior to an important battle (an offline starbase is easily killed) or using game mechanics to kill a enemy Titans or Supercarriers, but the all time award has to go to The Mittani for destroying Band of Brothers, a deeply evil alliance that once boasted they would conquer all of EVE, in a single night:
In a story that only EVE Online could spawn, Goonfleet Intelligence Agency (GSA) leader The Mittani and his league of spies managed to "encourage" a Band of Brothers director to turn coat, transferring trillions of BoB's in-game ISK currency to the Goons before nullifying BoB's control over all of its territory.
So with all this, well, evil, behavior being rewarded so lavishly by game design and mechanics, why would anyone be honest? Well, I think everyone is a little of both, but I've played the game honestly for years. If you can make it in EVE while maintaining your ethics, you really have accomplished something, and it's something to be proud of.
So why should anyone try this game? You shouldn't. You will be bored to tears or obsessed, and either way I don't want to be responsible.
For an example of why I'm still at it, I am going to end this with a reference to my favorite EVE user-created media creation, Clear Skies. A group of players bluescreened together two different games (Half Life 2 and EVE) and made a science fiction TV series similar to "Firefly" -- by far the most professional looking machinima I've ever seen.
"I can't get enough of this."
SPOILERS AHEAD! You've been warned. I make no attempt to preserve any surprises, so proceed at your own risk.
I finished RDR a month or so ago, and having completed it and had the chance to let it settle, here are some final thoughts.
The absolute best part of the game was the narrative. You play a character blackmailed into helping an unscrupulous federal law enforcement officer, and in a typical role playing game you would be done when you killed or captured the biggest, baddest guy. That doesn't happen here. You go back to your hardscrabble farm, herd some cattle, take your son hunting, try to reconcile with your wife (no gender choice for the main character, by the way. You're John Marsden, fella, and if you'd rather play as something other than a man married to a woman, too bad for you) and generally have an extended period of living the life of a rancher.
Then the crooked lawman sends his crew after Marsden, and he gets killed in a bloody standoff.
Flash forward several years and you are the son Jack Marsden visiting the graves of the father and the now-dead mother. There is a short denouement and that's it. I kept playing for awhile because the game has a completion percentage and you better believe I'm obsessive enough to want to get to 100% (PS3 trophy: Redeemed!) but basically the game is over at that point.
To put it mildly, this is an unusual arc for a video game. Lead characters don't die at the end, the narrative completes with the finish of the main quest, and in general everything gets tied up neatly and satisfactorily. Having the character that you've played with get offed after spending so much time developing his skills and building him up is jarring. (Happily, young Jack gets all his father's skills and equipment.) I like it. I like the break with convention and thought throwing that change at the end changed the tenor of the whole experience. Rock Star may do that in their other games as well, but since this was the first one I've played from them it was new to me.
On the negative side of the ledger, the game locks you in to too many things. I mentioned being forced into playing only John, which already seems a little archaic. More women are playing video games these days (amirite, ladies?) and they might find it a little alienating. Plus, what the hell - sometimes people like to play different kinds of characters. For a change of pace I made my character in Dragon Age female, for instance. Hell, a couple years ago Fable 2 was allowing characters to same-sex marry. RDR's creators may have felt the story was too defined to allow that kind of decision making, but it feels limiting.
Same thing with random encounters. I feel like I'm constantly going back to Oblivion (how about the next installment already, scumbags?) but you could find all kinds of interesting things by talking to random strangers in that game. RDR doesn't let you do that, and doesn't even give you too many options with the ones you can interact with. For instance, Marsden falls in with a scam artist, and early on a cut scene has John willingly helping him deceive people. It would have been nice for there to be an option, and for the main quest to at least branch a little based on the choice there. Instead, you help and the game goes merrily along.
Those are the major additional impressions at the end of the game. I don't plan on getting and DLC or a "game of the year" edition if it comes out. Like Dragon Age and Fable 2, it was fun but I don't care to spend any more time with it now that it's over. I'm sure in December it will get lots of accolades, and so far it really has been one of the best games of the year - but that's more an indictment of the game quality in 2010 than an endorsement of RDR.