Clone monologues 14

Hello, me.
I have spent one good month fighting the State Protectorate and the 24th Imperial Crusade by raiding enemy high-sec space, and I feel happy about the number of ships I have destroyed. Those ships will not be used against the interests of the Gallente Federation. Destroyers are very efficient vessels to use against miners, haulers or young pilots who forget they have enlisted in a CONCORD-sanctioned war effort. Overconfident interceptor pilots are also fair game. The difficult part is escaping the enemy Navy.
I must say I felt a strange sensation the first few times I podkilled capsuleers with one or two days of pod experience. I got in touch with a handful of them with advices to leave this war or, failing that, to be more careful for the sake of their crews. However, after encountering this type of prey day after day for weeks, I began to lose my qualms. I don't see myself in them anymore. Their corp left the Amarr militia. I would have killed again. Have I become a monster?
If I am, and if you read these lines, I am a dead monster.

Confidential report

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 thirteenth topic comes from Zargyl, the Sebiestor Scholar, who asks us: "On the EVE Fanfest 2009 page are pictures of prizes for the Silent Auction that was held during the event. One of these photos was entitled “Design your own EVE mission”. What kind of mission would you write if you got that prize? What would the mission be about? Would it be one using the new system of epic mission arcs? What would be the story told by it?"

Let us imagine what could be a epic mission arc using the Incarna 3D station environment. The idea here is to have the PC (player characters) meet shady fellows and work off the book. I describe only the first mission, then I summarize the rest of the arc.

1st mission - People die (Level Two)
Everything begins in a bar, on a space station. One of the NPC (non player character patrons) is a "fixer", an underworld agent operating outside CONCORD's laws. The capsuleer can discuss with the fixer. The conversation begins with innocent chit-chat:
- Howdy my friend. Care to join me for a brandy and an honest conversation?
- Cheers mate. [/drink] I have some business opportunity you might want to hear about. I am currently looking to hire a captain on a temporary basis. Good pay.
- Hey pluggy boy... Death in space means nothing to you. As for taxes, no need to pay any. For the record, this conversation is between you and me. That is how I operate, and if you want in on the payroll, please make sure to play my way.
The player can choose to make himself available for missions with this fixer.

If he does so, other npcs get new dialogue lines. For example, the barman adds a new rumor to its list:
[take tip] Have you heard about this convoy who arrived from [one solar system, randomly selected and located close to the current location of the player]?
[take tip] They got attacked just after they jumped here. No [local pirate type, e.g. Serpentis], but unmarked ships is what I heard about.
[take tip] How do I know all of that? Well, a ship managed to escape and bring the news back here. I spoke to the pilot. He is around and hiding. He just won't undock.
[take tip] Thanks mate. I'll stay on the lookout for you.

Back to the fixer:
- Look, let's be honest, I know you are the shit and everything, but I do not have a casino to rob tonight. I have this guy, though, a bit desperate, and he's looking for safe passage to [one solar system, randomly selected and located close to the current location of the player] with the requirement that he does not appear on the passenger list. This captain recently ran into some kind of trouble with unspecified characters of dubious morality who might still be around and he won't take chances and undock with his own ship. I would suggest you use a ship big enough to take an extra passenger in comfortable conditions. My cut is 30% of the one mil reward and I will ask you to kindly deposit a 100,000 isk guarantee, which will be refunded to you if you don't mess this. Are you in?

If the PC agrees, he loses 100,000 isk and the fixer says:
- Good choice. I'll send the man your way.

If the PC does not accept:
- My disappointment, your loss.

The next time the PC accesses his personal quarters on the station, a man rings at the door. He is a big guy with shifty eyes and a strong Gallente accent.
- I am Captain Cabroc, but please call me Marcel. Our mutual acquaintance told me that you had room for an extra passenger on your ship, no questions asked. The sooner we leave, the better. I can upload our destination in your nav system.

A deadspace mission beacon appears in the system in question (not publically). Its acceleration gate allows all ships.
Cabroc, when the PC's ship lands on the gate: This is a safe place. Just activate the old acceleration gate and fly ourselves to the dock.
A dock with a Thorax is located 15km away from the warp-in point. When the PC's ship gets within 3km, the mission is listed as completed. Captain Cabroc enters the Thorax, which begins to power its engines, without moving. A few seconds later, the dock is shaken by a violent explosion. The Thorax is instantly destroyed. The player's ship takes 500 EM damage. The exact amount can change; it is designed to kill frigates in case the player did not get the hint in the fixer's speech.
Cabroc: A bomb! I'm dying... Could have been rich beyond... Remember these names: Grygore Dan Riak and [static]!

Three unmarked ships with Gallente hulls arrive then 20km away from the warp-in point and begin to attack any ship present into the deadspace pocket. One of them warp scrambles, another one webs and the last one uses remote sensor dampers. If there are multiple ships, the unknown enemies select the closest one and try to dispatch it before attacking another. When no PC ship remains in the pocket, the hostiles pop Marcel Cabroc's Thorax's wreck.

If the capsuleer's ship is destroyed before it reaches the dock in the pocket, the dying passenger still drops his line about Grygore Dan Riak, and the mission is listed as failed, which does prevent the player from recovering the guarantee or getting paid.

If the PC loots the wreck of Marcel Cabroc's Thorax, he finds an item called Cabroc's damaged logs. The description reads:
The data seems irretrievable. A specialist of data recovery might get something out of it, but it is far from certain.

Getting back in touch with the fixer allows the PC to get its guarantee back, plus 700k as promised.

Marcel Cabroc's lost words (not a mission)
In which the PC manages to locate a good data recovery specialist in a station, and gets him to recover some data from Cabroc's damaged logs. The data includes a fragmented record of the second name Marcel Cabroc screamed before dying: Sophie.

Approaching Mr. Dan Riak: Naira (not a mission)
In which the PC tries to get in touch with Mr. Dan Riak, an extremely rich individual with properties in both Amarr and Gallente space. Nobody knows much about his past. Mr. Dan Riak does not accept calls from people he does not know. His bio lists Naira Dan Riak as his sole heiress.
The PC can get to meet Mr. Dan Riak's daughter, the beautiful Naira, in a station, after reading her bio. Naira shares her time between three stations, one in Amarr high-sec space, one in Gallente high-sec space and the last one in low-sec space. The PC may need to check one or two stations before finding her.
Naira lives a life of entertainment and luxury. She likes both men and women and has many pretenders she occasionally shares a bed with. The PC can date her provided he or she can wear clothes flamboyant enough to get past her bodyguards, "Mr Dan Riak's secretaries". Naira can talk endlessly about her overprotective father, nicknamed the "Ogre". She's a good-natured foxy lady and will not be dragged into talking about serious business.
If the PC presents her with a rare gift (such as an Exotic Dancer), she will invite her to a party held by her father.

The party (not a mission)
The private party is held in a station. The entry fee for the uninvited is 1 million isk. It is a masquerade and masks are distributed at the entrance. The PC will want to talk with Mr. Dan Riak, but the magnate will speak with only one person during the party. He is disguised like every other guest so the PC needs to interact with NPCs to find out which one is Dan Riak. If another PC gets to talk with him, he will have the option to receive a very lucrative mission. It is thus important for the PC to be present at the party as soon as possible; his advantage is the fact that he knows exactly when the party will begin. Mr. Dan Riak continually organizes new parties and lists the location of the stations where he holds them in his bio. The party lasts until next downtime or until Mr. Dan Riak has finished conversing with a PC.
If the PC manages to speak with Grygore Dan Riak, he can choose to accept a mission.

2nd, 3rd, 4th mission - A dead past dying
Grygore Dan Riak begins by showing a document to the PC: a complete record of his past activities and current assets. He wants the PC to know that his private spy network did their homework and that he could crush him whenever he wants.
"You're a fool, but not a silly fool, and I'm not un-generous."
He worries about his daughter and suggests that the PC stays clear of her from now on. He says he does not know Marcel Cabroc but that he recognizes a bold adventurer when he sees one and he would thus like to hire the PC for a mission off the book. He wants to know his past, because he lost his memories of everything which happened in his youth.
Dan Riak asks the PC to investigate and ask people about his own past. The people that the PC can meet are mostly retired criminals and smugglers living in deadspace strongholds. The PC will fly to their resting place, fight off random pirates trying to hassle these criminals, and get to speak with the grateful retired thieves. These people will each time provide the PC with a document that he will need to give to Dan Riak, and which will lead to the next step in the arc, the next witness of Dan Riak's past.
But when another PC, uninvolved in the epic arc, manages to speak with Dan Riak at the masquerade, the billionaire will ask him to go and kill the witness involved in the first PC's, former mission. That is because Dan Riak is not amnesiac; he is just trying to locate and eliminate everyone who knows about his nefarious past as a smuggler in Caldari space.
If the PC bookmarks the location of his former mission and comes back there, he can potentially intercept the other PC bent on killing the witness. Doing so allows the PC to loot documents that can be used to one-time blackmail Dan Riak.
If the PC does not go back to the deadspace pockets where he met the witnesses, he stays in the dark and keeps providing Mr. Dan Riak with the information he needs to clean his past by removing any witness of it.

Rich men's fate
The story arc can conclude one of multiple ways.
- The PC and Dan Riak can part in good terms.
- The PC can gather proof against Dan Riak, by recovering items in other PC's witness kill missions and by deciphering the logs of Marcel Cobrac; he can use these items to
(Bad) blackmail Dan Riak for a good amount of isk or
(Good) give them away to a police corporation for some big one-time standing gain.
In every case, Mr. Dan Riak's status will not be damaged; it is assumed that the billionaire will buy off every corporation agent blackmailing him.

I would like to thank Mr. Orson Welles who helped with the plot. Which, if you have not guessed by now, is a complete rip-off from Mr. Arkadin -very simplified but this post is wall-of-texty enough.

I would like to conclude with a "Georgian toast" straight out of the movie:
"I had a dream. I found myself in a graveyard where all the tombstones were marked in a curious way - '1822 - 1826', '1930-1934', always like that, always a short time between birth and death. In the graveyard was an old man. I asked him how it was he had lived so long when everyone else in his village had died so young. But no, he told me this: 'It's not that we die early, it is just that here our tombstones do not count the years of a man's life, but rather the length of time he has kept a friend.' Let's drink to friendship."

Check other Eve Blog Banter articles on the same topic.

  1. CrazyKinux's Musing - Your Mission, should you decide to accept it...
  2. Zen and the Art of Internet Spaceship Maintenance - First Blood
  3. The Elitist - Guristas Invasion
  4. The Wandering Druid of Tranquility - ...It's another episode of Design Star: EVE Style...
  5. Level Cap -Epic Battles
  6. Roc's Ramblings - The Cave of Time
  7. Aether - Teach a man to fish...
  8. Inner Sanctum of the Ninveah - Mission: Tangled Webs
  9. Adventures in Mission Running - I can haz spaceship?
  10. Nuke Thoughts - EVE Blog Banter 13
  11. Diary of a Pod Pilot - Distressing The Damsel
  12. Guns Ablaze - Dynamic Missions
  13. More to come...

Reporting about Eve for outsiders

I like reading about games I do not play or intend to play, especially after action reports.
I think massively multiplayer online games (MMO) are under-reported to the general gaming public after the initial release. Reviews and articles about these games should deal not only with the gameplay features but also with the community of players: the added value of any game which gives it room to express itself. If two MMO with identical features were released, they would provide different experiences to their players depending on the state of their community.

Hence this article. Its purpose is to provide time-starved journalists or bloggers with a peek at the many sources of information they can rely upon when
- trying to decide if there are news about Eve Online fit to print and, if there are,
- writing the articles.



Eve Online is event-rich due to...
- its features and philosophy (sandbox approach in a single shard),
- its free expansions policy (regularly expanding its scope and depth) and
- the sheer size of its community (500,000+ accounts).



How it does concern non-Eve-playing readers:
Landscape-altering events happen every few months, be they developer-driven (introduction of new mechanics and objects, such as the wormholes), player-driven (space wars, financial news) or a mix of both (the Fanfest convention, player-versus-player tournaments). Newsworthiness is subjective but...

- the stories are exciting on their own
For example, 2009's most significant event in the world of New Eden, in my opinion, was the destruction of the Band of Brothers player alliance after one of its directors turned coat and joined their nemesis, the Goonswarm alliance. The ensuing invasion of "Fortress Delve" by a coalition of thousands of players and the end of this war made for an interesting epic to tell to outsiders, a story of conquest and revenge, loyalty and betrayal, cunning strategies and stupid moves. By 2014, Goons and their allies control half of the world and are set in a standoff with the N3 power bloc.

- science-fiction talks about us
Science-fiction as a genre allows the exploration of themes and philosophies by addressing the limits of the concepts which define our existence. When the virtual bank Ebank encountered dire straits due to the betrayal of one of its directors, a NY Times article did draw parallels with the real world's bailouts.
In his 2007 book Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun Is Changing Reality, Edward Castronova postulates that gaming design is going to affect public policy to some degree in the future. Whether this prediction comes true or not, an environment like New Eden (the game setting) can provide a basis for stimulating reflexions about the real world.

List of sources
official - First of all, when trying to report about Eve Online, begin the tour with an obvious but mandatory look at the game's homepage and/or Facebook.
A few years back, the ebbs and flows of the "null sec wars" were summarized in very readable "CORPS" reports on the official forum. These reports were redacted by CCP and aimed to be objective. Unfortunately, they were published with as much regularity (that is, not that much) as the Quarterly Economic Newsletter, also compiled by CCP and which used to reveal some economic data to the playerbase.
For more in-depth information about new features and projects, take a look at the Dev Blogs. Those are used by the developers to communicate their plans and ideas to the players. They can get quite technical for the non players though, so I suggest turning to the players' media for information.

blogs and forums - For a start, EveNews24 and The Mittani, two competing information blogs, will help you get an idea of the current vibe in the community. They publish pieces about in-game events, interviews with developers and prominent players, investigations, etc. Useful to keep track of null sec politics and battles. EveNews24 is older while The Mittani is headed by the eponymous leader of the biggest power bloc in the game, who previously authored Sins of a Solar Spymaster, a series of 88 articles written for the general gaming public about Eve. Just remember to take everything with a grain of salt. Everybody is trying to sell something.
And how do you know they are lying? Easy, they are posting. For some "forum porn" or the latest dirt - or some archive-digged jewels, direct yourself to unofficial forums: The Chatsubo (roleplayers), Failheap Challenge -formerly known as Scrapheap Challenge- (griefers and gankers) and Kugutsumen (hackers and spies). Sadly, Chatsubo (and roleplay) peeked in 2007 and is now quite desert. Kugutsumen is no longer a place about Eve but they advertise Zulu Squad 'Eve Uncensored' forum. For archives also, take a look at the Eve Tribune, which published weekly rants for quite a long time back then. Massively, a professional MMO blog, keeps covering Eve news.
In gaming communities you frequently find organiser types who give a voice and a link to  many smaller voices. For a long time, CrazyKinux's Musing blog was the "Grand Blog Central" of Eve Online. CK (CrazyKinux) maintained the Blog Roll, a list of Eve-related blogs you might find useful to understand the range of activities available to the players in the game, from pirate or industrialist to "salvage thief" or explorer. CK stopped attending his site and other players (such as Bill Dullemond for the Blog Banter and Eve Bloggers, aka the Eve Online Portal) stepped up to assume blog-aggregating activities.

other languages - If you happen to be French-speaking: les forums sont JeuxVidéo.com (le moins intéressant), Mondes persistants, Jeux Online (les deux historiques) et Frugu (sans oublier le forum officiel en français).
If you speak other languages and would like to point me at the relevant sources, please feel free to comment.


video - The CCP Youtube channel is another place to go to. The videos they make display very little user interface and are generally short and to the point. CCP are very happy with the Butterfly Effect video they released and you can bet they will release other such videos, designed to explain the game to people who do not play it (and entice them into giving it a try).
Some player-made videos are remarkable. Take a look at Clear Skies, for example; old video but good reference.

twitter - If you want to get an instant feel of the community, try the Tweet Fleet and, of course, the tags #tweetfleet or #eveonline.

Edited 2011/02/19: Eve News24.
Edited 2011/06/23: Scrapheap Challenge is gone and replaced by Failheap Challenge
Edited 2014/10/17: general update, removed dead links (CK's, etc.) and put some new media in

Worlds of Darkness 7: communication

"Our tweets will blot out the sun
- We will chat in the dark
"

Contemporary horror takes place in the future, because the future is now
The future World of Darkness (WoD) might well have a stronger cyberpunk flavor, if only because Earth 2009 is already a cyberpunk setting.
It also meets a design constraint in this game rooted in storytelling and roleplaying: communication and information need much more emphasis in a MMO than in a pen-and-paper game. If the game does not deliver communication and information tools on a level worthy of a cyberpunk-themed Matrix, the impracticality will hurt the community and the game, and the tools will be used all the same, only not through the game client and exclusively so -out of game communication will occur, there is no way around that.
The community is the added value and a fundamental feature of any MMO; you want to make sure that the players have all the means at their disposal to communicate between each other, to reach out to strangers and to feel connected to the community. The tools need to be able to cope with the numbers involved in any group gameplay the players want to take part in.

The Internet of Darkness
: ubiquitous, safe
In Eve Online, every player can access multiple chat channels (local, corp, fleet, etc.) which, along with all other communication tools, can be deemed to be in-character. Instant communication throughout a whole star cluster does not seem out of place in a science-fiction setting featuring extremely advanced technology. But do we picture the vampires and werewolves of the 21st century communicating this way? We have to, as outlined above. The communication tools we use every day online are bound to be used more and more to help MMO players interact. This is one instance where function is all that matters.
The genre of the setting does not matter, in the end. World of Warcraft, a fantasy game, already offers chat and mail capabilities to the players. It does not break immersion (with genre in mind) too much, by integrating the mailing system into the game world (a post office service using physical mail boxes) and by dissociating the chat tool from the game world. WoD might use this method: 'wodmails', like evemails, would be part of the game world and considered to be encrypted emails, while chat would not and would not materialize in the game universe. On the other hand, it is possible that user interface designers manage to find a way to make chat channels look part of the game world in a plausible way. Mobile phones are ubiquitous nowadays, and their capabilities, which include discrete ear plugs and mics, can expand into the realms of face recognition and subvocalized conferencing.

You also cannot offer the possibility to hack into channels through in-game actions, besides social engineering. In-game instant messaging and emailing needs to be 100% safe and efficient, otherwise it will not be used for any serious business (as, of course, Internet vampires are to be regarded). Plotting will be so much easier than on the tabletop version when you had to physically move to the kitchen or the corridor to whisper secrets to your fellow conspirator without risking your other half-friends half-enemies learning about them.

Speaking? Over my dead keyboard!
The most basic communication takes place in the immediate surroundings of a character: let's say another character enters the street where mine lurks. I wish to greet him. Do I type a greeting or do I actually speak in my microphone? Software can alter any voice in real time (because, doh, the disturbance in the Force caused by all those baritone chicks) -"voice fonts" are announced for Incarna. Technology could also allow the characters to pronounce text typed by the players. But all this fancy stuff is probably not in the works, as it looks cool but not necessary. Plus it had better stay optional. If speaking becomes necessary to communicate, some people will have a hard time socializing: for example, disabled players, players who need to keep quiet to respect their non-gaming entourage and players with a strong accent (besides the wonderful French accent of course).

Vampire TV is on the way
In a typical World of Darkness roleplaying game, characters feel isolated. They can work with small group of like-minded individuals but stay mostly oblivious of the earth-shattering occult events taking place in the country next door. The very definition of 'occult' precludes any concept of 'public'. Isolation and fear are rampant. For most of the characters, there is no secret TV channel broadcasting news about the occult world. Now, I bet there will be one such outlet, albeit primarily player-supported, in the MMO. Eve Online has its TV, its radios, its podcasts. "Hidden media" will become an integral part of the user-generated half of World of Darkness, making it much more different from the tabletop version we experienced.
The upcoming delivery of the New Eden communication platform for Eve Online and DUST 514 will certainly give us a first taste of what could be in store for WoD.

The fourth power
Players communicate, but what about the peculiar relationship between supernatural denizens of the World of Darkness and the media? Their continuing existence depends upon their hidden societies being kept away from the spotlights. Getting some kind of control over media outlets seems like a good if risky way to ensure secrecy.
The game might provide us with mechanics to try and become the media mafia or buy its services, something that would allow the mastermind to bend the rules of aggression to his or her advantage (ignoring transgressions of the Masquerade for example), but could also backfire in a very bloody way (some creatures frown upon the media being toyed with; other creatures could infiltrate the media organization and plot against the mastermind). The equivalent of Eve Online's high sec wars, perhaps.
In any case, in the World of Darkness, you hide from the media or you make it your weapon, but you do not ignore its baleful eyes.

Reykjavik

Wednesday, 30th of September
The hotel where I am does actually sell access to Internet. In Iceland, in 2009. I got pretty disappointed about that. (Tap water was free.) Moreover, it's the kind of access where you can basically just surf the web and not do anything remotely exciting like, you know, plugging a cable to upload photos -I might edit this post later. [edited!]

That was the compulsory rant, now let us speak about the city itself. Cold, but not that much, sunny and full of interesting things. In no particular order:

The National Museum of Iceland. Entry is free on Wednesday. Where we learn that there were Vikings, then the Sterlung Age (time of strife), then the Old Covenant bringing the island under the domination of the king of Norway, then the plague, the execution of the last Catholic bishop, the Icelandic Bible, fishing, more bibles and more fishes, nowadays. Ok, I may have taken a few shortcuts, but the point is that the question I had when I entered (what happened between Egill Skallagrimsson and the Fanfest?) was answered by, basically: nothing but fishing and praying.

The Reykjavik Cathedral. I like churches and temples. Europe can be proud of what its builders managed to erect in the Middle Ages and ever since. I also like size in a church. I do not think it is gross: bigger is not necessarily better, but I believe it helps the mind leave the human world behind and reach at the sky. Saying I was disappointed by the Reykjavik Cathedral would be an understatement. Though its age is quite impressive, it looks smaller than any of the churches of the suburb where I was raised. The Ausurvöllur Square in front of the Cathedral is also quite small. Places of historical significance can sometimes fail to impress the hurried passersby.

The Hallgrimskirkja Church. I was looking forward to bask in the huge shadow of the church built between 1945 and 1986. Unfortunately, Reykjavik's iconic building was wrapped in scaffoldings. Inside, I was happy to discover a very impressive organ.

The Reykjavik Art Museum.
There were wall-sized paintings of frames from films by Lars von Trier and Fridrik Thor Fridriksson -the Chinese artists who draw the frames seem to have been forgotten in the process and that is a shame; even craftsmen deserve recognition; I enjoyed the interesting video installation that was part of the package.
On the ground floor, kind of hidden among shipping crates, there was a series of crude drawings by an artist named Yoshitomo Nara and one member of the graf collaborative. I actually enjoyed the installation, which reminded me of underground comics.
There were other parts in the Museum but I am pressed by time so there is my best memory of Reykjavik so far:

Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden. This Einar Jónsson was a great Christian sculptor and I enjoyed his sculptures more than anything else in the city. I highly recommend anyone visiting Reykjavik to pay a visit to the garden which is located near Hallgrims Church. I came back to the garden and visited the museum on Sunday (bonus: entrance was free on this day). Here is a picture of one of my favorite sculptures, The Crucible. The message it conveys seduces and inspires me. In the background you can see the museum and even the top of Hallgrims Church.

Sunday, 4th of October: evening at the Blue Lagoon
Along with a few other French-speaking gamers, I spent my last evening in Iceland in the hot (40° Celsius) waters of the Blue Lagoon. I took no pictures but eery is the word which springs to my mind when I try to describe the experience. I remember seeing naked heads emerge from some milky pool, surrounded by clouds of vapor, powerful spotlights checking on people from time to time, the starry night above and the frozen volcanic desert a few meters away. You would have believed yourself in some science-fiction movie, in a soup of clones waiting to escape or be reborn. It was physically enjoyable and the lagoon proved to be a fun place to socialize. I definitely recommend giving it a try.

Icelandic food
I had two or three good meals in Reykjavik. One of them was a catfish plus chocolate cake for dinner on Friday in an Icelandic restaurant (I unfortunately do not remember the name). The other one I keep in mind was my Sunday lunch at Café Loki, in front of Hallgrims Church. The Icelandic meat soup was good and so was the combo flatbread plus some local ham if I remember correctly.
Later on Friday, I also had had some horrific experiences related to rotten shark, the typical Icelandic dish. Just know that when you see this, you need to run!

Who am I kidding? I enjoyed every bit of rotten shark, like a Darsh in The Face, thanks to the local Güll beer!