Citizen Zhang

This post is part of the EVE Blog Banter, a monthly EVE Online blogging extravaganza created by CrazyKinux. Any questions about the EVE Blog Banter should be directed to him. The third topic comes from Roc Wieler, who asks us to "write a story about a fellow EVE Blogger, or an EVE player whom has inspired you or affected you in some tangible way. After your story, describe why you chose them, and any Holiday wish you have specifically for them".

It was a dark and stormy night. Thunder, in the distance, was violating the air. On this distant planet, far from whatever homeworld they originated from, thousands of Gallente citizens were trying to find sleep in draught proof compounds stirring from the jungle. The skyline was nowhere to be seen, black clouds brawling over a moonless country. Once again, Gervais Zhang thoughtfully listened to the results of the psychological profile analysis. Something was wrong. He had had it too easy. Once again, he reluctantly decided to go back to the detention centre. There was only one way he could reach the decision point by now, and that would be by confronting the soldier.
The detention centre looked more like a very nice apartment. The prisoner was having dinner lonely, in a chair so comfortable that you could not feel uneasy in it. He was watching some holoreel. He stopped when Gervais politely coughed for him into the communication unit, prior to entering the place. He straightened and smiled.
"I see you have completely recovered from your wounds. Good."
A last echo of the storm, outside, died when the door shuttered back.
"Ensign Olmen, you are here for a reason. You have been captured in Akhragan in the wreckage of the Apocalypse-class battleship you were serving on. We are talking about a lawful action performed in the context of a CONCORD-sanctioned war and, as such, you are a legitimate prisoner of war that Strix Armaments and Defence can freely dispose of. We can actually execute you with little consequences, since nobody in your homeland knows you have survived the battle, and the courts in Villore have not been notified of your presence yet. It is not our usual policy, but your former Praetoria Imperialis Excubitoris masters, as befits Amarrians, are known for their ruthlessness with prisoners."
Ensign Olmen was a handsome True Amarrian, his blood thick-blue with countless generations of powermongering aristocracy. His profile mentioned brilliant studies at the Imperial Academy and, provided he was given the opportunity, he might manage in the future to become a capsuleer. For the time being, he had but one life to lose.
"I understand, sir.
- Do you, really? You do not seem worried.
- Whatever you may think about my people, and its undeniable flaws, we have not forgotten how to remain brave when the need arises. But, in this case, I have no fear. You will not hurt me because your culture and your laws are based upon the respect of life. That is one of the reasons why I have asked you the favour.
- You seem to assume that our democratic regime is inherently forgiving and weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. Democracy is a very old and very cold-hearted lady."
Gervais sat. The knot still needed to be untied, he decided, but he would have to take a back door.
"There is a legend people tell about Democracy. They say that, when it was but a child, before your people's God was even imagined, Democracy decided to punish a renegade ally by killing all its men and selling all its women and children as slaves. Slaves. Since the dawn of time, democracy has bitched its way to the domination of the world. Countless peoples have been destroyed by it. Tyrannies are overthrown; reigning families wither and die; democracy persists through the centuries. Now, I serve my immortal monster and you serve yours. If you want to swap masters, be aware of their nature."
Obviously, the young Amarrian did not expect this answer. His voice became cautious.
"You never were the politician type, were you? But I cannot agree with your vision of democracy. You try to disgust me, and I am not sure to understand why.
- That's the truth as I know it. Or, at least, part of it."
There was a tense pause.
"You have applied for asylum in the Gallente Federation. My duty is to pass along your application to the relevant commission, and to add a fair assessment about you."
Both men locked stares.
"As much as I would like to say yes, my prudence regarding your true allegiance and my foremost duty to not compromise the future return home of possible captured Strix crewmen compel me to deny you this opportunity.
- Are you sacrificing me to your future defeats?"
The young man was angry, now.
"This corporation's policy is to always facilitate in all instances the survival of its non-capsuleering crewmembers. We do believe there is a substantific doubt about your actual motives for applying. Provided you agree to sign the necessary documents, you will be released to a representative of PIE, Inc. within...
- Bullshit! You try to prevent me from staying with Hélène, don't you?
- My personal feelings for Hélène Meiev have nothing to do..."
Olmen threw away his remote and made a theatrical gesture.
"Do you think I care about all of that? I am a rich man, on Amarr Prime! My house is a place of light and wealth. If there was anything that could have redeemed me from my religion, it would not have been your Federation, but Hélène!"
Gervais's voice lowered to an almost inaudible level. After a few seconds, a holoscreen displayed a footage of explosions in space.
"Doctor Meiev's ship has been destroyed this morning while trying to intercept, on the behalf of a Federation Navy agent, a small Amarr Navy force operating illegally within Federation frontiers. None of the escape pods made it on time. The analysis indicates the medical bay was vapourised almost instantly by a direct hit."
Gervais Zhang, wall faced but shivering with pangs of emotion, closed the holofile with a whisper, turned his back and walked away. Behind him, the prisoner did not move until he left. The storm was over, by now. Once in the street, the champion of freedom stretched, then looked at the stars.
"Very nice job, Hélène. He is hooked. One day, this man will be ours."
There was concert hall music in the distance. The voice in the earplug was amused.
"De rien, Gervais. Hopefully, the FIO will decide to use him soon. I can't wait to be resurrected."
-- The Guardians of Luminaire, season 3, episod 6 --

The captain was one damn nice fellow, for sure, with a liver the like of which the most vicious alcohols ache to challenge. Can't wait to serve under his command again. Planetside duties are more boring than a Slaver church propaganda leaflet and the ladies around have all the intellectual brilliance of the average Caldari. Yeah, Zhang inspires loyalty, even more so than old Bigeard. Gimme drones, a Dominix, and a captain like him, and we will rape all the bad guys!
-- Strix drone controller, interviewed in Eglennaert --

The lady's demure pretense did not last long. She was dressed for sin and sin she did mean. Slowly, she began to entice him into disobeying the Scriptures.
"Handsome one, why don't you relax and tell me about your work on this big battleship?
- Do you really think you can corrupt one of my race so easily? I wish I had my slave whip in hand!"
A spit would do the trick.
"Young man, you don't mean to..."
Slapped, the bitch fell to the floor. The place was obviously bugged; a furious man stormed into the room.
"At last! I get to see your master, whore! Zhang, you, again!"
In a whirlwind, Casmeus Olmen dodged the vicious punch of Colonel Zhang. Exasperated, the devious Gallentean yelled over him.
"Do you think you are safe here? I could kill you right now."
He could smell the hatred, the garlic, the cheese and the wine. And a bit of frog, too.
Other Gallentean goons poured into the room.
"May our Lord have pity on you.
- Maybe he will, but only after I am done with you, and damned be Yulai's Convention."
The evil Colonel Zhang grabbed an oyster opener.
"This world is cold and it will not miss you. It's torture time!
- The Lord is my shepherd. I fear no harm!"
This holoreel is based on real events as described by Captain Olmen in Escaping from the Sinners. All rights reserved for all countries including the State.

Yes, I understand your question, Mr. Journalist. Don't you know when to spot a hint?... No, I am not a capsuleer. No, Strix captains are unavailable for comment. The very reason I was sent to deal with the press was because I am not a capsuleer. You are welcome to quote me, to talk about me, but I guess you will not extend your queries far for the puny reason that I am a space janitor - even though janitors have talked and talked about other people's issues for untold thousands of years. How many holoreels are published each year about capsuleers? I regret people like you forget that they are but a tiny minority among humankind. Pilots endowed with the capacity to interface with capsules to control ships with their thoughts wield enormous power over the lives of the multitudes. Their riches are staggering, and their lives are fraught with constant danger and adventure. It only seems natural that each and every capsuleer is admired or loathed. That thousands of entertainment programs, in every corner of the galaxy, are dedicated to these champions. But, read my lips. All of them, lies. Fantasy!
And, and, the technology that gave immortality to the capsuleers did not gift them the wisdom to properly handle the opportunities it afforded them.
Vieve Tisserand, Vieve DuNord? No, we have no comments whatsoever! Don't mention it again! Other questions, please!
You are exasperating. Gervais Zhang does not wish to be a public figure anymore, how can I make myself more explicit? The existence of your ilk, the tales he has to bear with would make anybody wary of meeting the public eye again, just for the entertainment of bored teenagers. He has higher purposes in life. Don't trust the holoreels! Trust the janitor!
-- The Scope, Review of 110: the worst interviews --

Gervais Zhang is one of the founders of Strix Armaments and Defence, a roleplaying corporation. Unfortunately, the man behind the character had to stop playing Eve some time ago. I can only hope he will be able to safely come back to the pod. I enjoyed the leadership he provided and the care he took to explain things to help people grow. He was also the one to recruit me.
Gervais, as Oscar Wilde would say, more or less, it looks like you can take care of the moral pain yourself, so I just wish you to be spared any of the physical sort. And, for myself, I hope you can come back so that we can discover the truth about Citizen Zhang before those soap holoreels authors completely destroy his reputation.

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Just gathering intel

This post is part of the EVE Blog Banter, a monthly EVE Online blogging extravaganza created by CrazyKinux. Any questions about the EVE Blog Banter should be directed to him. The second topic comes from Brinelan: What drew us into EVE, what keeps us playing the game and what brought us back if we've ever left?

What drew me into EVE
A long, long time ago, in a world called Azeroth, lived a benevolent night elf druidess called Orlantha. This sexy and wise champion of freedom, along with her supporting cast, threw herself in epic battles and defeated monsters such as Ragnaros, Vaelastrasz, Nefarian, the Twin Emperors, Kael'Thas, Archimonde and, finally, the demonic Illidan. When he fell, the Traitor uttered these words:
Illidan: You have won... Orlantha. But the huntress... is nothing without the hunt. You... are nothing... without me.
Orlantha: He's right. I feel nothing. ...
And then, everything had been said, and she felt a little bit tired. Days, weeks and months had been devoted to the pursuit of justice, the eradication of evildoers and the massacre of Silithus cultists. It was time to take the shape of a simple bear and to enter hibernation in a secret cave. So it happened that this proud warrioress began to withdraw more and more into the mists of legend (until the next episod).

Azeroth is the name of the world in World of Warcraft. When I stopped playing this game after Illidan's demise, in the beginning of 2008, I did not plan to dedicate myself specifically to any other one. Age of Conan, on the horizon, seemed to be a strong game but my computer would not be up to the task. The same applied for Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, and Warhammer: Age of Reckoning was still far from release at the time. First thing to consider: the aforementioned fantasy games demanded a lot from my hard drive (up to 30 Go or so), while the "Classic graphics" version of the Eve client's installation file did - and to this day still does - weigh less than 1 Go. It will certainly get much heavier in the future with the appearance of 3D avatars. But, for the time being, Eve is a handy little app that you can carry around in an USB stick.

I also knew I would not commit as much time to the game and that I would sometimes spend weeks without playing. Grinding, that is, repeatedly playing the same content over and over in order to earn advantages ingame and prove competitive in multiplayer gameplay, was not something I was looking forward to do. Two factors make Eve very friendly to casual, on-and-off, players. The first one is the mostly passive skill development system, which allows the players to improve the abilities of their characters even when they are not logged in game. The second one is the non-consensual and unfair nature of the player-versus-player battles that take place in space: even a pilot with modest skills and a very cheap frigate (the smallest combat ship) can prove useful to a gang or a fleet. There is no way to insulate oneself from the rest of the playerbase (no "instances") and experienced solo players are actually regularly overwhelmed by small gangs of young pilots. In this game, you can always make a difference.

Then there was the setting. Medieval-fantasy games are the norm. But science-fiction is my prime passion, thanks to Isaac Asimov and, after him, dozens of other authors. At first, I did not believe there was much background information to be found about the setting. A cursory glance at the chronicles on the official website proved me wrong. I was happy to discover that, from my perspective, while it is not the most interesting hard science setting I have ever read about, neither is it the worst. It is a robust one, with some gems and a wealth of lore available if you are looking for it.

I remembered being disappointed, in 2005, when I realised that I could actually not interact in World of Warcraft with people from around the world and that my actions had no permanent consequence over the setting. I could not even drop an item on the floor. Eve Online features a single shard with a sandbox approach, which means that all characters live in the same world and that the game is designed around the concept of freedom for the players to choose or invent the way they spend their time ingame. This toylike approach feels to me much more real and exciting than the entertainment park-like directed experience provided by the other games and their fractured player communities. The single shard is actually very appropriate for a science-fiction setting, inherently less individual-centered than fantasy ones. If we share the same world, we cannot all be the heroic saviours. But we can get in touch with those who make the headlines.

Group activities revolve around the lowest common denominators. In World of Warcraft, you would not find many players to engage in group roleplaying, for example, as the game was not designed with roleplaying in mind. Some players are in for the warm feeling of being at home in a guild where everybody knows your name. Some of them want to explore the content. Some of them just want the epic items. The same applies to Eve, except that many groups such as roleplayers can attract a numerically meaningful following, thanks to the single shard. A few days after I created a character, while I was still trying to grasp the most basic features of the game, I received, through the ingame mailing system, a letter from an experienced player who proposed me to join his corporation (group of players). This corporation was all about roleplaying defenders of the democratic Federation, accepted casual players in its midst and was, obviously, open to players new to the game. What is the percentage of players of the game, of any computer game, who really enjoy roleplaying? Low. And among them, how many different chapels? Many. How many would want to roleplay Federation stalwarts, in this instance? Very few. If Eve did not use its single shard, such a corporation would typically never have grown past a tiny handful of players. In space, the long tail of minorities can flourish: you can find game partners that fit very specific expectations (language, rules of behaviour, choice of activities) far more easily than in Azeroth or elsewhere.

What keeps me playing the game
In my case, reading about Eve Online is easily half the fun the game can provide. In a sandbox game, the players themselves provide a big part of the content to be experienced. The single shard allows many niche communities to thrive. In turn, these communities market themselves and produce content that make for some very fun reads. Here is a selection of the stories I had a great time reading:
- The classics. The first Eve-related story I ever read, some years ago, told the story of a con man and his spaceship: The great scam. Once I began playing Eve, I looked for the characters mentioned in the story. Some were still around, with warnings about the falsehood of the scam story in their ingame character bio. It served as an early warning about the high subjectivity of these tales. Another famous Eve story is the Guiding Hand Social Club heist, as related in PC Gamer UK. Then comes the 0.0 Experiment: the picaresque tale of a unexperienced solo player in the dark recesses of "null sec space", where the common laws are irrelevant and rule is decided by the bigger guns. The world described herein does not exist anymore, since the political landscape has changed so much. For an entirely different take on the 0.0 conflict, the thorough and anonymous war analysis is a must-read.
- The pirates. Lately, and for quite a few months, I have been reading pirates's blogs. It might look paradoxical since my ingame persona is an anti-pirate captain who will not hesitate to rabidly lose ships to any "blinky" (criminal) daring to engage him. But low-sec piracy (low-sec being this area of the world at the fringe of both mostly-safe space and player-ruled space) is a source of very entertaining stories and I can always masquerade my guilty reading pleasures by pretending to gather useful intel about known outlaws. The first blog I really read and began to follow was the one written by flashfresh, who appears to have pioneered the genre. Using the links, I explored a series of blogs unraveling many different aspects of the game (a good non-pirate blog is Ombeve's). Since I began playing, many newcomers like Spectre3353 and Mynxee began recording their tales about piracy in blogs both entertaining and shock full of tips.

What would make me leave the game
To sum up, I welcomed Eve Online as a refreshing science-fiction sandbox game with a world so huge and interesting that I would certainly have kept reading about it even if I had unsubscribed at some point. Regularly seeing in game players who have created their character in 2003 hints at fun on the long term. For Torfi Frans Olafsson, senior producer at CCP, there is "no end in sight" for Eve. But can any game last forever? As a matter of fact, successful roleplaying games have long life expectancies. People keep playing Dungeons & Dragons more than three decades after it was first released (1974). I do not live in the fear that factors ingame would make me quit playing, though the possibility does exist. Wisdespread cheating comes to mind. And there are, of course, many possible out of game reasons which would induce me to stop playing.
There is another question I can try to answer: what can I do to keep enjoying the game? First, I am in no hurry. I do not burn from the need to experience everything at once. I will take my time and better enjoy the trip this way. As a corollary, I have no second account and no intention to create one. My playtime is limited and I do not wish to manage alt characters. At the end of the day, Eve Online is just a game, albeit a great one. If it ever begins to become a chore, I will not hesitate to take holidays, my character abusing the prestige from his station as a battleship captain to fetch himself some dream job as a janitor in a female-only university on Gallente Prime.

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Clone monologues 11

Hello, me.
My girlfriends often ask me questions about the names of my ships: Smithwick's Revenge, Kilkenny's Wrath, Smoothie's Fury... I make sure to tell them the full story each and every time, because my ships have more soul in them than Jamyl Sarum and all her battalions of robed sycophants. These names have endured centuries to reach me. I am passing them along to future generations. When a ship is destroyed, the name survives.
So, what exactly do I know about Smithwick & Co? Just a few bare facts: that they were heroes, who defeated sadness in times long gone, with a spiritual dedication that allowed them to reach the state of craic, whatever it was. It is also said that they had the property to make any woman look beautiful. (The catchline is: you don't need it, honey, you are gorgeous from the very beginning.)
In the hangar, I sometimes watch Effret, the janitor, polishing the iridium-laced letters on the hulls of my ships with his usual meticulousness. I wonder what he thinks about the fact that this name will probably survive him.
But he might survive me.

Avatars in a spaceships game

This post is part of the EVE Blog Banter, a monthly EVE Online blogging extravaganza created by CrazyKinux. Any questions about the EVE Blog Banter should be directed to him. The first topic comes from PsycheDiver: Ambulation: What are your hopes for your avatar and new functionality of stations?

A spaceships game
Being a recent addition to the population of the Eve cluster, I have not yet had the time to become jaded and still consider this science-fiction MMO (massively multiplayer online game) as something of a novelty, even though it was first released in 2003. The game was quite different then from what it has become now. CCP, the developer and publisher of the game, added new features and game objects and improved upon the existing ones, year after year, little bit by little bit. When you buy this game on the CCP online store, and subscribe to it, you can do it safe with the knowledge that the developer has an overall record of long-term commitment to improving it.
Since one of the main strengths of Eve is its unique Tranquility shard (players of the game worldwide, except the Chinese ones, can all potentially interact with each other), it would be impractical to put barriers to the acquisition by the players of the new expansions. Thus, new content is delivered for no additional charge beyond the subscription price, by contrast with most other subscription-based MMOs. It means that you could leave the game for two years, come back, resubscribe, download the latest patches and play without buying an expansion upgrade. There would be new ships and new skills to learn, but the old content your character had mastered would not be discarded.
Thanks to the sandbox and pvp (player-versus-player) nature of the game, which might indefinitely extend its life cycle, CCP finds itself in the very uncommon position of having to manage a brand embodied by a single computer game on the long term.
Another company had to face similar challenges a few years ago. They used to publish pen-and-paper roleplaying games set in a horrific version of our own contemporary world. Year after year, they would publish books describing the secret societies of undead bloodsuckers, or mummies, or changelings, or angst-ridden spectres, or weresharks, up until the point when players of their games would jokingly display amazement and disbelief when their characters were to meet mere vanilla mortals in their adventures. It was a monumental World of Darkness, but with supposedly little room left for anything new. The name of the company was White Wolf Publishing, and they have since merged with CCP to become CCP North America.
White Wolf found a radical solution to save the World of Darkness from a sad descent into a decrepit one-superhero-per-city-block condition. They engineered the destruction of their beloved but bloated setting through a series of books depicting a demise worthy of its glorious history. After these Ragnarok-like battles, they delivered a new, shiny dark new, World of Darkness, paying homage to its predecessor but building itself over different premises, something to withstand years and years of gaming, something for the long term. Their new books put the focus on the strongest feature of pen-and-paper roleplaying games: the imagination of their practitioners. No more overbearing metaplot, no more heroes to reign from the shadows or, at least, no more names for them. The new World of Darkness is, a little bit like Eve Online, a sandbox where players are invited to tell their own stories.
To sum up, CCP's far future MMO and horror games exemplify the challenges met in building brands of persistent games. But brands have their boundaries, and pushing beyond those is a dangerous thing. If I had a company known for pickles and I wanted to also expand into the tomato ketchup business, I would need my name to keep meaning "good pickles" for those aficionados who could not care less about tomato ketchup.
Eve's last two expansions were a graphical update (end of 2007, Trinity) and a set of mechanisms to facilitate the introduction of new or pve-(player-versus-environment)-minded players to the pvp part of the game (first half of 2008, Empyrean Age). The next free expansion, Quantum Rise, is due for the end of 2008 and will improve the crafting and trading parts of the game. A bit later in 2009 or rather “soon”™ in CCP parlance, Ambulation will introduce human 3D avatars into the game. Player characters will be able to walk in stations.

Avatars in stations!
Having faced the same issue of building and managing a brand through a persistent gaming universe on the long term, CCP and White Wolf are now sharing their ideas to help both Eve Online and the upcoming World of Darkness MMO to face the test of time. So, their designers work for these communities of players, who are into internet spaceships or into contemporary horror, and they want to keep them as entertained and happy customers, but they are faced with the need to respect a few imperatives. First of all, the Eve Online game is, at its core, a space combat game. If new players cannot take part in or compete into space combat, they will see no reason to sign in. New content should not be disconnected from space combat altogether, but should not slow down access to the fray for beginners. Avatars and station features should indirectly influence the fights that happen in interplanetary space. As for the specifics...
One neat station-related feature whose future implementation I (among many) can foresee is the apparition of special crew members. They would be npc (non-playing-characters) which would function similarly to rigs (ships modifications): advantages balanced with disadvantages. Advantages could be as varied as security status gains increases (CONCORD police observer), improved weapon turret tracking (expert gunner), standings gains increases (Amarr nobility) or even increased cpu (artificial intelligence). The main drawback could be a salary or a share of any revenue. Frigates would have zero crew slot and battleships would have many. Each crew member would have an unique, random name and would have been recruited in a station, most of the time. One venue to recruit them from would be the loyalty point stores. But other ways would exist: missions, loot of wrecks. Appropriate skills would address the maximum number of special crew members and mitigate the drawback associated with each of them. After extended stays in space, special crew members would not provide bonuses anymore until they spend some time in station. There, they could interact with the player as advisors. Players could write some interactable dialogues to allow conversations between their retainers and passerbys. A new metagaming profession, writer of dialogues, could thus appear. Last but not least, some crew members could actually reside permanently in stations and provide bonuses to trading, industry or social skills... or just serve as plain bartenders. Players specialised in human resources could make a living finding and developing npc and trading them to other capsuleers.
There are additional concerns to address, like the fact that Eve's proposed gameplay does not always stray from the static and grinding model that is the easy and lazy answer by MMO designers to any question. Capsuleers mine or rat (eliminate npc pirates) in asteroid belts, or they read the same npc mission objective for the umpteenth time while making jokes about the inability of certain damsels to keep out of distress's way. Stations should be populated by dynamic npc who would serve as supporting cast (highlighting the importance of the capsuleer caste of player characters) and diversify gameplay. To begin with, I would like corporation agents (who provide missions to perform) to stop behaving like drones.
For example, to find an agent, you could need to go to a bar or some other meeting ground, and talk to a npc fixer, somebody who can introduce newcomers to agents looking for some freelance firepower. A new player character profession could also emerge here: mission broker (using a market-like interface) between npc agents and freelance capsuleers who do not wish to actually spend the time to interact with npc in their quest for an agent. (The optional aspect of the process is important to avoid excluding people who have no time or no inclination for station walking. Repairing, insuring, accessing medical facilities and many other station activities should not force characters into avatars.)
The process by which an agent first agrees to meet you could involve proving that you are somewhat reliable through a series of interactions – dialogues and/or minigames. For example, Blood Raiders may request you to assassinate one of their prisoners inside the station and to take part to their vile rituals. The Quafe agent could be a gaming addict that you have to beat in poker until he agrees to do business with you. Personalities of agents, and corresponding tasks to perform before they entrust you with assignments, would be determined randomly, though Gallente agents would be more prone to being pleasure addicts and Caldari agents to being straight-laced corporate sharks.
Actually meeting the agent could be the first task to manage. Agents would not be able to speak simultaneously to multiple players anymore, and they would have a bookable appointment schedule. Each current agent could even become a group of competing agents.
Missions would have to change also. For example, mission-related items could spawn in solar systems, only to be located by capsuleers through the inboard scanner, for low-level missions, or through probes for the important stuff. The player could then retrieve the information and sell it to the faction of his choice, as fast as possible before the value of the information decays to zero. Multiple players locating the same mission-related item could sell the information to multiple factions. One faction would transform it into a rescue mission, for example, while another would transform it into a search-and-destroy mission. The agents of the faction would be able to assign the relevant mission to capsuleers, until completion conditions are met. Pilots commissioned by different factions could meet at the mission location and compete or collaborate for the objective of the mission. Pilots could subcontract missions and hire help from other capsuleers in a structured fashion. A whole spy game could revolve around missions that escalate into very rewarding endeavours.
Eve has already a very strong text chat-based social component and 3D avatars might really enhance this aspect of the game, if done properly. It could well detract from it, too. Integrating seamlessly texts, Eve Voice and 3D characters is certainly an user interface designer's nightmare. I just hope that avatars will be able to convey certain moods and to mimick lifelike behaviours. The ability to decorate one's personal or corporate quarters is really something I look forward to, as a game such as, for example, Dark Age of Camelot, has proved that the results can be nice-looking and fill the players with pride for their cosy abode. Drinking, discussing around a tactical map, playing poker, are already announced features of the Ambulation upgrade.
CCP hired real life architects and stylists to design the stations and that is a good omen but, beyond the beautiful pillars and drapes of the meeting rooms of the stations, I hope to feel the pulsation of the dark heart of Eve Online. I would like stations to be a little bit like solar systems: places where you do not see everything at first glance, you do not know everybody, and a form of danger - non-physical, social - lurks. Places where you could lose all your money (playing poker in a gaming room for example), where your crew could get corrupted if you do not satisfy their specific urges, where spies could get quick peeks at your hangar.
I have also a specific issue with the design of the stations and the way it sometimes makes for boring pvp gameplay. The concept of "camping" outside a station, waiting for an enemy ship to undock in order to tackle it and to destroy it is not necessarily boring. However, its current implementation is too often a competition where the loser is the one who gets bored first, without any actual display of skill involved. The station features should allow the camped pilots to actually enjoy the time they spend in the game. Windows in stations could allow undocking ships to load the grid before actually leaving the station. Characters with high station-related standings might enjoy alternative undocking lanes, allowing them more escape routes from their headquarters. Conversely, there should be a delay to undocking for any character involved in station activities, as they should not be able to disappear in thin air.
So, there are my first Ambulation wishes for Santa CCP: the possibility to recruit station inhabitants in my crew, an overhaul of the agent and mission systems to make them somewhat challengingly dynamic and ever changing, plus windows and alternative undocking lanes. The way my avatar looks and the number of clothing options do somehow matter less than the gameplay experience as it relates to my fights in space. Oh, and I want to keep on my toes when I actually use the avatar to walk, because it is a ruthless universe. In your friendly neighbourhood station, "soon"?

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Make it personal

"The personal, as everyone's so fucking fond of saying, is political. So if some idiot politician, some power player, tries to execute policies that harm you or those you care about, take it personally. Get angry. The Machinery of Justice will not serve you here - it is slow and cold, and it is theirs. Only the little people suffer at the hands of Justice; the creatures of power slide out from under with a wink and a grin. If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them. Make it personal. Do as much damage as you can. Get your message across. That way you stand a far better chance of being taken seriously next time. Of being considered dangerous. And make no mistake about this: being taken seriously, being considered dangerous, marks the difference - the only difference in their eyes- between players and little people. Players they will make deals with. Little people they liquidate. And time and again they cream your liquidation, your displacement, your torture and brutal execution with the ultimate insult that it's just business, it's politics, it's the way of the world, it's a tough life, and that it's nothing personal. Well, fuck them. Make it personal."

(Quellcrist Falconer, Things You Should Have Learned by Now. Volume II- quoted in Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan)

Specialization is for insects

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

(Lazarus Long in Time Enough For Love by Robert A. Heinlein)

The Baron is back

I pre-ordered the new version of The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, brought to us with the help of James Wallis. I had to record my special instructions for the good people in Mongoose Publishing.

"Every bit of wisdom the Baron ever learned, he stole it from France and, since then, he has been hoping to grasp our unfathomable French brilliance. I now wish to check what kind of ill-mannered lies he delivers nowadays and I henceforth command you, inbred Englishmen, to send me one 'Gentleman's Edition' as soon as tea time is over."

Clone monologues 10

Hello, me.
The coat of stars was unfurling its pimply brilliance over the local sky. Once again, I took a deep, hard look at the overview. Asteroids all over the place, along with a few corpmates with the dedication to mine them into oblivion. All the while, somewhere else, the dark behemoth of the Pandemic Legion was on the prowl, hoping to strike fear in the heart of the mothers of Federation crewmen, more specifically the crewmen of Strix Armaments and Defence and The Dead Parrot Shoppe Inc. Sure, they outgank, outskill and outexperience us. Now, we are the ones hunted in Dodixie. But, they do not have parliamentarism on their side and that, comrades, will mean their doom.
In other news, I like the Osprey.
It looks like a mini-Raven.
Cheers, mate.

Clone monologues 9

Hello, me.
I take a few minutes to record my thoughts while the hunt is going on. Strix Armaments and Defence has declared war to a pirate corporation called Suddenly Ninjas. The Suddenly Ninja thieves did not attack directly our interests and were probably unaware of our existence before the declaration of war. The fact that they operate within the legal boundaries enforced by CONCORD does not make them less our enemies. Their way of making isk is simple: they scan the solar systems where they operate (mostly Dodixie, as far as we know) and look for Federation citizens or residents hunting pirates and terrorists. They then warp to the location of the battle, fly towards the existing wrecks and loot and salvage them while the brave enforcers are busy dodging missiles. Some pilots do that for a living, but they negociate an authorisation and share the profits. Stealing wrecks is a clear violation of spacefaring ethics, one that the directors of Strix would not tolerate in a Gallente system.
Now the Ninjas got a beating and suffered heavy losses. Hopefully they will have the good sense to move out of Federation space.
Go take a look at the jump clone when you awaken. Very strange sensation seeing yourself from outside.

Clone monologues 8

Hello, former me.
So this is it. At last I have found a new body, though not for long I think. Your first clone has a little brother, pal, a jump clone in fact. Allow me to teach you something. This memory assistant crap is just that: crap. I remember everything perfectly and the transfer has been flawlessly performed thanks to Poteque Pharmaceutical's very own braided brunette nurse from space. I think the main point of the thing was to alleviate one's atavic fears, in fact. And fear I do not!
Now the real news. First of all, I joined this corporation called Strix Armaments & Defence. These guys are hardcore Gallente patriots. So am I of course, but I would not let that prevent me from enjoying our very Gallente sins. Some of these capsuleers are, like, soldier monks! Anyway, the first war operation is tonight and that is the reason I took this body. No implants to lose, no regrets. I give this life to the war against the evil Amarrian slavers from Praetoria Imperialis Excubitoris. They will feel the wrath of Gallente sinners who will pierce new holes in their hulls!
Please don't forget to buy a new Incursus.

Clone monologues 7

Hello, me.
Now that my wealth does almost reach 3 million isk, it is time to think big business. With that kind of money, I can do many things. I can buy an industrial ship and try to make a living in trade. But I would then need to spend some time seriously studying the tutorial programs for this kind of operations. It could be fun but I guess I would begin with small margin trade and at the mercy of any seasoned pirate. Or I could use the Navitas and try to do some mining. I could also decide to focus on my Imicus and fine tune my Warrior I drones. But I have noticed that those little boys are doing fine on their own. In fact, my real problem when I fight pirates and mercenaries is how to deal with missiles when I am close enough to be fired at by the enemies. Hmmm, I could ask Jemeel what he thinks about that.
I forgot to introduce Jemeel. Well, he's kind of the guy in charge in the cargohold. The other militants are rather sullen but Jemeel is chattier than a politician on election day. It was Jemeel who helped me write my application to Strix Armaments & Defence. The speech makes me look just like a hero, it is quite neat. I hope the suckers will let me in.
And if it looks like I have failed at one career, maybe you could try another one.

Clone monologues 6

Hello, me.
We have a problem and I have yet to find a solution. It all began yesterday. I had proposed a visit of my wondrous spaceship to Nannia, a barmaid here at the Mies Chemal Tech station. I was making sure to show the full extent of Smithwick's Revenge's facilities to this wide-eyed Intaki elf, while regaling her of my stories about my fights against the rogue drones. The facilities, of course, include my personal cabin, and I obviously intended to practice some pod gym with my guest. But why did I have the stupid idea to give her a peek to my cargohold? Even on my good days, the place is a mess. And guess what we found inside, that scared Nannia out of my metallic love nest ?
People! It's right, there were people in my ship and I was not even aware of it. The ten men were aggressive and even bellicose. I trapped them back before they could overwhelm me and I began to communicate with them once they stopped screaming.
According to them, they have been captured by me ten days ago, and have survived all this time on a diet of raw meat (apparently a live cow had also been captured by me some time ago) and spiced wine. When I asked them to leave my ship and to accept my apologies, they refused. They defined themselves as militants and told me that I'd better not try to modify their way of life, but that recent events had confused them and that they needed time to think about it. They demanded some fresh lettuce and sparkling water. I was happy to oblige, as long as they would stop their recriminations about my evil ways. In such a situation, what would you do, I ask you?
Yes, I did try to sell them discretely on the market. I labelled them "experimental societies singularity thinkers". But I did not even managed to get them past the automatic regulation safeties of the market access software.
If you wake up and they were not destroyed with my ship, try to feed them some fruits and vegetables.

Clone monologues 5

Hello, me.
Ha, I have had hard times in space. But this is over. My trail of brilliant deeds (picketed with insignificant mistakes like forgetting my drones in deadspace after victory) has ended in fairytale-like wealth. I am rich, filthy rich. I now own more than ONE MILLION ISK. Many men have died in the coldest parts of space to allow me to get that rich. Some of them had families, I am aware of it. Their wives and children will never see them again. But they chose the wrong side, plain and simple, that is, the other side. I can now safely retire, buy an extravagant manor and spend my nights practicing Gallente kiss with foxy ladies.
That lets you out of the picture, pal. So sorry about that. I kind of begun to appreciate our little monologue. I thought about giving you the keys of the Smithwick's Revenge, allowing you to roam on my behalf while I would enjoy the fruits of my hard work. But apparently, it is impossible for you to be alive as long as I am not dead. So told me Louise, gorgeous Louise, who is lovingly checking your vat from time to time. I think I have my chances with her, even though she did not seem that much impressed by my million isk. Weird nurses for the win!
If you have seen her face while awakening, you know what I meant!

Clone monologues 4

Hello, me.
So much to say and so little time. First of all, mining is good. Because money is good, and mining brings lots of it. And then because I don't know about low-sec, but high-sec mining allowed me to regain some financial composure while reading old classics in the comfort of my cabin. I spent half the time away from cockpit (AFC) tuning the parameters of the automated onboard kitchen. Was the whole process eventless? The aggressive pilots of the Serpentis fighters that my warlike light scout drone had to bring down wouldn't say so. These podless thugs weren't even worth me to run away (though the first time I made sure to do so in a quick fashion, not realising their harmless nature).
After some time in the asteroid belts, I was thus able to buy and outfit a new vessel. The new Smithwick's Revenge is an Imicus. It means that this time, I am going to drone all these bloody pirates out of their mean existence.
Or I am not, and then you might be awarded the insurance.

Clone monologues 3

Hello, me.
Again, I have to thank my luck; my former messages to you were recorded for naught. So far, I survived in the lawless expanses of 0.9 deep space. But not unscathed. While my valiant Beta clone vat (talking about you here bud) still lays unused, my insurance company has been busy doing business lately. I lost Smithwick's Revenge not once, but two, thanks to outlaws ganging up on me when I tried to legitimately annihilate them. Each time, my demise was a close call and my ship was blown in pieces while warping away. I should better know when to abandon my drone.
Now I do not have enough isk left to fully outfit and insure an Incursus for military purposes, so I have decided to focus on mining to find some dough in asteroid belts! I have bought a new Navitas and will spend some time looking for the better deal for mining lasers.
I almost forgot. I was contacted by a high ranking official of Strix Armaments and Defence (SAD) for recruitment purposes. SAD is a patriotic Gallente corporation and I approve its official goals and general stance, so I am seriously considering the option. Maybe later. For now, let's focus on the dough.
Tell that to your clone, now!

Clone monologues 2

Hello, me.
The good news is that I never died so far. The bad news is I expect to do so soon. After my early successes against some opponents who were clearly no match for my Gallente-bred talent, I barely avoided destruction of my Velator class frigate to enemies with both numbers and firepower. I had to compute random warp routes to escape the scenes in a rush. I do not understand, I always thought that the Velator was a very sturdy vessel but the shields were blown away so quickly. Guess I should not have skipped all these courses in the academy.
I have not yet told our agents about my failure. I want to give it another try, but I think I should outfit my ship with better weapons and efficient drones. I lost two drones in deep space while I was warping away from the battle, but at least they looked like they were doing their job. I might have to train new skills too, in order to properly operate new equipement I might want to buy. And I definitely need to improve my warp-escaping skill. Any second saved is a chance for you to never have to exist.
But if you listen to me right now, I surmise I was not that quick. I wish you better luck!

Clone monologues

Hello, me.
So you just wake up and it's like you need to remember everything that another you has lived. And that another you, is me. My name, and yours, is Gabriel DiCozza. I'm fresh out of the academy and, if you are experiencing this memory assistant loader, it means that I am fresh out of the academy and plain dead. Ah, all my hopes shattered. But you are, here, to survive me! Take some time to think about it. I guess you owe me. This clone insurance was pretty hefty but I thought about you. I could have spent it all in booze and girls.
So, here I am, only a ghost in the machine, talking to my surviving me. Unless one of those nurses from the cloning centre just wants to get some kicks by taking a peek at this record. You should check them out, Gabriel! The brunette called Louise in particular, if you want my expert advice.
Whatever, to the point. The news. Well, you know me. I am pretty successful, as a rule. So I just succeeded in the last few missions. Blew up a dangerous repair station protected by powerful thugs. And, of course, put an end to the rampage of a wicked former bureaucrat who had been fired because he watched too much porn on company time. Ah, grand quests into space! Amazing adventures! Handsome salaries!
And then I'm dead. Your turn, bro!