Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space

Dear outside world,

I have started playing Eve Online. If you do not hear from me in weeks, please save me, and come prepared to hose the Cheez-Its off my bloated form and pry my eyeballs off the screen and my hands from the keyboard.

Eve has been described as a spreadsheet simulator with a near-vertical learning curve. It is true that if you get right down to it, the game could be played in Excel with a timer.

But it's real purty. And it's soothing. Much of the game involves doing absolutely nothing at all, a skill at which I excel. Figuring out a 7-jump trade route and then sitting back, clicking auto-pilot, and watching the scenery roll by is immensely satisfying. It's also convenient for me, as I'm simultaneously playing the game and keeping an eye on Mom. She likes looking at the planets going by, and I can park my ship in station and fix her lunch, take her for a walk, and get her cozy for an afternoon nap while I train a skill and my market orders tick down.

Did I mention there's a market? Yeah, and not just a go-repair-your-armor-and-buy- more-arrows-and-healing-potions market. The market is the heart of the game. Want to use rocket launchers? Go to the market and buy the skill, the launcher, and the rockets. Could be that a player made the launcher and the rockets. Could be that you notice that four jumps away, rockets are selling for a lot cheaper, so you go there, equip, fill your cargo hold, jump back, and sell the surplus at a profit. There's an escrow market, too, and an ersatz futures market. (NB: I don't really know what I'm talking about.) But some of the fun of the game is logistical. Buying low and selling high pleases the Scotsman/Jew/Chinese capitalist in me.

Of course, to get your goods to market, you might hafta jump through some pretty unpleasant places. Space in Eve is a) completely fucking huge and b) mostly dangerous. Security ranges from 1.0 to 0.0, with 1.0 being safe as houses and 0.0 the Wild Wild West.

Doesn't matter, right? I'm playing an MMO, where death is a minor hiccup, a matter of "resting" and repairing, right? Wrong. Eve ain't like that. In Eve, "you" are basically whichever ship you're in at the time. You can own as many as you please, and you can leave them scattered all over the universe. You get ganked, you lose your ship, your cargo, whatever modules were on the ship, and the respect of your friends. "You" float away in a tiny little escape pod.

That other players can target. And kill you dead.

Or not. Because they may be merciful, or you may (you should) have a clone. You hafta buy clones as you age in Eve, because they'll only hold so many skill points and skills=time. So death, which can come at ANY MOMENT, has grave consequnces. It's expensive, inconvenient, and embarrassing.

And it's clever, with all the good and bad connotations of that word. For instance, there are no levels or classes in Eve. There's just a skill-tree that's beyond complicated, that's interwoven with every single useable item and which (get this) you train ONE SKILL at a time. On a real-life tick-tick-tick TIMER. Like, to train Gunnery I may take fifteen minutes. To train Gunnery V? That may take a WEEK. Not an in-game, time-flashes-by week, a real 7-day, 168-hour week.

Well, that sounds stupid, doesn't it?

It isn't. It works, in several ways. It means you can be God of Rocket Launchers without spending six months getting to Level 40. But you won't be able to do much else. So it encourages cooperative play. Corps ("guilds" elsewhere) are a huge part of Eve, and struggle titanically for control of unclaimed star systems. Fleet actions involving 200 ships have happened.

And that's another cool thing. Eve Online is one world, there are no "shards". Every person in the world (excluding China, who get their own server for undoubtedly odious political reasons) plays in the same game space. You may log in one day and find that your normal gravy-train trade route is borked due to internecine corp warfare. It's not uncommon to flit through system, check the local channel, and see Cyrillic characters fillng the chat window. So because it's one world, what you do MATTERS. You could, theoretically, corner the market on livestock or narcotics. You could band with your corp buddies and go on a region-wide bloodbath. You could never leave the noob system you start in, do nothing but mine the asteroid belts, and grow extremely rich (and bored).

I'm reporting this like the game was released today; I know it's like five years old. But, I'm new to the party, so it all seems new to me.

Expect a bitchy mournful update when I lose my first battlecruiser to some 14-year-old.

No comments: