Sins of a Solar Spymaster #60 - Deconstructing Fanfest

EVE Online fans that attended the 2011 Fanfest last week were treated to CCP's latest plans and a series of discussion panels about the future of the EVE universe. The newly elected Council of Stellar Management Chairman, The Mittani, was also in attendance and this week he reflects on what he learned at this year's Fanfest in Sins of a Solar Spymaster #60 - Deconstructing Fanfest.

Reykjavik is a surreal binge, drowned in alcohol, broken glass, and - during Fanfest - thousands of socially awkward spaceship nerds, shouldering through the narrow streets and bumping into the ubiquitous sleek blonde eurotrash. It’s been a year and a half since the last Fanfest, which was delayed until now ostensibly to enjoy ‘spring’ weather, and for our sins, the city was still blanketed in snow and mud. The sun hasn’t shined yet since I arrived last Wednesday.

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Fanfest 2011 was a bigger event than 2009 in terms of attendance and excitement outside of the context of the Eve-related tracks and panels, such as the wild bread-and-circuses of Chessboxing. Yet as an Eve player, this year’s grand convention was something of a damp squib. Within the official programming, little was revealed that wasn’t already known to the playerbase through dev blogs; there was no real ‘wow’ moment, like the Alpha Dust match at the keynote in 2009. This may have been a calculated decision by CCP in order to manage expectations, but it was disappointing nonetheless.

In between alcoholic binges, I managed to hit the major events that concern nullsec denizens: the Large Scale Warfare roundtable, the 0.0 roundtable, the EVE and CCP keynotes, and the denouement of the CSM drama. There were a number of other happenings, but panels like ‘Science and Industry’ and ‘Women in EVE’ were of less interest to me.

Large Scale Warfare Roundtable:
Imagine the sound of wheels spinning for an hour in a room packed to capacity with sweating, overheated Eve players, asked an impossible question from the outset by Greyscale and Chronotis: How can CCP change the game to prevent server-crashing blobs from a game mechanics perspective, rather than a technical perspective? The answer, of course, is that one cannot break the “N+1 = better than” equation, because large scale warfare is part of a social evolution in the player societies of nullsec, rather than the output of some rationalistic math equation.

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Despite the frankly alarming social naiveté of one of the developers, something worthwhile came from CCP Veritas, who revealed that a technical solution to large-scale lag might arrive in the form of a ‘time dilation’ mechanic, with the servers dynamically slowing massive battles in order to ensure that no packets/commands are lost. This was met with near-universal acclaim. 

Those of us who actually engage in large-scale warfare have been left stymied by the mixed messages from CCP; the Dominion expansion was advertised as a method of getting more players involved in nullsec, and now it appears that certain segments among the Dev community were somehow surprised that this would result in larger wars. 

0.0 Space Roundtable:
By contrast, the Nullsec roundtable with Hammerhead was far more productive. In the past, 0.0 discussions have revolved around a false conflict between larger empires and the ‘elite PvP’ entities which prey upon them. To everyone’s surprise, a consensus rapidly emerged:  there needs to be more industrialization in nullsec to create ‘farms, fields and crops’ for smaller entities to burn. In the modern era entities like Pandemic Legion or Rote Kapelle have no desire to displace the empires and take on all the responsibilities and ties that involves; they just want to burn stuff. Meanwhile, the empires find it ridiculous that they cannot be self-sufficient and independent from hisec; as it presently stands, nullsec empires import all their industry from hisec, exporting only moon goo back to Jita.

This roundtable envisioned an Eve where truly independent empires lived and produced in nullsec, exporting their riches to hisec, while being forced to defend their industrial base against small hostile gangs who burn their ‘crops’ as well as guarding against other empires who would invade and conquer them. 

Most disturbingly, one of the devs present didn’t appear to understand how strategic deployments work in nullsec. As anyone with nullsec experience knows, war is based on extended deployments in a staging area, with home defense provided by jump clones and secondary fleets. For example, the Northern Coalition is currently in an extended border war in Geminate; thousands of pilots from many regions have moved to live in one staging system, and will remain there until the campaign ends. Should their home region get attacked, they can simply use a jump clone home to defend, and then return to the forward staging area 24 hours later. The dev in question seemed to think that pilots use jump bridges to and from the war front every day, trapezing across regions and ‘projecting power’. This provoked widespread expressions of disbelief from the attendees.

EVE Keynote:
Underwhelming. CCP Zulu is a great public speaker and gave an excellent impression of his competence, and from what I hear he’s a solid hand on the wheel now that Oveur is off ensuring Dust 514 gets published on time. But the ‘big show’ about EVE didn’t show much. There was a list of iterations from Soundwave which was good, since EVE needs small fixes in depth (see: backlog) more than it does shiny new features. That said, I had expected something with a bit more oomph at the ‘Eve Keynote’. We did see the alpha build of the Captain’s Quarters which wasn’t bad. We saw a lot of obvious microtransaction products keyed to Incarna, such as ‘clothing sets’ and personalized tattoos and various ways to play with Space Barbies. Probably the most cringe-worthy moment was discussion of adding corp or alliance logos to ships, which was a feature first mooted at Fanfest 2007, five years previous.

CCP Keynote:
A shareholder presentation about co-branding with NVIDIA, if the first twenty minutes was any indication. This feature didn’t seem to aim directly at the audience, with a bunch of technobabble to begin with and a brief glimpse of an EVE client on handheld devices, without any details about that client.  This was supposed to be the last serious highlight of Fanfest, and it induced some in the crowd to heckle Hilmar about “Where’s the spaceships” which was a bit cringe-worthy.

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Spaceships did appear in a couple of cool videos, one of which featured the new turret animations, which pop in and out of ships and generally look badass. Torfi then gave a talk about how he sees the future of EVE expanding; as the big ‘ideas guy’ behind EVE, it was refreshing to see that his long-range vision for the franchise is awesome, even if it takes years to get there.

The flashiest part of the keynote was the ‘Eve Forever’ video, which demonstrated in an idealized form how the EVE/Dust link might play out. Most exciting was the prospect of using Dreadnaughts, which have been gathering dust since Dominion’s release, to unleash orbital bombardments on unsuspecting console gamers, something that made every proper dread jock rub his hands in anticipation.

CSM Results:
I won, making me the Comrade Chairman of the CSM, which promptly sent the more hysterical members of the community into delicious apoplectic rage. I received about 1700 votes from my own alliance and the rest came from the community as a whole, which grants me exactly the kind of mandate I was seeking as Chairman. In the broader race, nullsec candidates swept the Council in a massive get-out-the-vote drive, clearly motivated by the shameful ignorance displayed by CSM5 regarding the situations nullsec players encounter daily. Only Meissa and Trebor aren’t directly backed by a nullsec bloc, and the first three alternates - Elise (PL), Krutoj (DRF), and Prometheus (PL) are also bloc candidates.

With this kind of unity, I hope that we can quickly forge a consensus about the most critical priorities of the Council and begin lobbying actively to accomplish them.

Booka Shade is no 2ManyDJs. The Wifi in Reyk is horrible, and most ports are blocked, so one cannot access EVE at the EVE Fanfest. Restaurants by Fanfest’s venue are horrible, yet in Old Reykjavik you can eat whale, reindeer, puffin and foal. Whale steak is the most delicious and forbidden of meats; I hear the same about baby horses. Check your morals at the door, your stomach will thank you. This country is a carnivore’s paradise.

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