Project Compass and the "box" in "sandbox"

In which I react to a micro-incident in Eve Online, eager to share and marvel at a creative endeavor by fellow players.

Worlds beyond the wormholes
In Eve Online, you find your fun in many ways, but the core gameplay is one of many-flavored combat. (Miners don't extract fun from the game; they extract ores.) Stellar systems, for example, are categorized primarily in function of the restrictions to combat. You can fight in known space (empire, low-sec and 0.0) and in something called wormhole space, a wondrous network of mysterious interconnected stellar systems which appeared later in the life of the game.

Combat is supported by other forms of gameplay which provide the elements necessary for a good fight. For example, players can have their characters engineer the production of industrial items, like guns, often using space structures called Control Towers.

And then there is emergent gameplay: methods to fun that CCP, the developers of the game, did not necessarily think about beforehand. Even though they do not directly encourage or condone each of these methods, they strive to provide a favorable context for players to come up with creative ways to enjoy the game, whose most vaunted feature is its focus on sandbox gameplay and player-influenced narrative.

1300 light years from the center of New Eden...
Back to wormhole space: a few roleplayers decided their characters would launch an in-game initiative to research its location using advanced mathematics. Poetic Stanziel explains: "Project Compass' mission statement was to determine the location of w-space (aka Anoikis) with respect to k-space (aka New Eden). And further down the line, to map Anoikis systems with respect to each other." If it still sounds a little bit cryptic, what about this: to simulate the wormhole systems in its software, CCP gave them coordinates somewhere in the same tridimensional virtual world already host to known space. Project Compass used a little-known function of Control Towers to calculate those locations, using those equations. They invested time and in-game money to build a network of Control Towers for this purpose.
Knowing where the wormhole systems are in the virtual world has no in-game consequence, as wormholes are the only way to travel there (you cannot travel directly to another stellar system, much to my chagrin). It does not help in any way to perform better in the game and its in-game acquisition takes a lot of hard work (out of game, the information can actually be found in the public data dump). Its relentless pursuit is thus of the foremost importance and extremely fun.

Well, was actually, because the Crucible 1.5 patch removed this possibility: "Control towers in wormhole space no longer reveal distance in the Control Tower Management window." This change kills Project Compass before it completes its virtual astronomy masterwork. Time to remember that the sandbox is a box!

Project Compass, because it is shared with the community, contributes much more to Eve Online than just the fun of the players involved. Why was this, admittedly extremely niche, method to fun patched out of the game?
I would guess a purely technical reason. CCP has no interest in punishing players finding unlikely fun with minor game mechanisms and playing around the enigmatic quality of wormhole space.
Chances are the developer(s) who championed this change of the rules never heard about Project Compass until the patch went live. If that is so, I hope that, in the future, they manage to squeeze some time in-between two daily scrums to watch the fragile mini-systems of fun that grow like lichens on the most unlikely parts of their game. And when those rare varieties of fun are roleplaying-based, CCP has one simple way to soothe their pain while changing a rule: just maintaining the coherence of the game narrative by providing a background explanation to the change.
Whatever the reason, when players explore the physics of the game, they tread the thin frontier between emergent, exploratory gameplay and the exploitation of game mechanics for combat or griefing. That is why the developers removed the methods to create deep space safes, used by some to park ships in space out of reach of all would-be probers (explorers), or why they prohibited the use of "grid fu" to manipulate the shape of the immediate viewable environment around the ships of player characters.

Someday, some capsuleer will stumble upon bits of code in-game and argue on the in-character forums about the possibility that New Eden is an artificial world.

The discussion is going on in this forum thread and on the Poetic Discourse: Thoughts from a graduate capsuleer blog post.


  1. Good post. I like what you wrote and how you wrote it, better than how I wrote what I wrote. ;)

  2. I have to second Poetic. Your article creates an eloquent picture. While I'm sad to see the Compass Project come to an end, I'm excited to see what Mark comes up with next.

  3. Thanks for your comments. This Compass Project reminds me of Cyrano de Bergerac in Edmond Rostand's play: "it's much more beautiful when it's useless".