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Sins of a Solar Spymaster #11 - EVE and Loathing in Las Vegas

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I first realized that my trip to the EVE Vegas was going to be light on EVE and heavy on Vegas when, while seated at the Baccarat Bar in the Bellagio, my newly-minted CEO Zapawork began instructing me in the fine art of whorespotting - how to distinguish the seemingly ubiquitous call girls from the merely tarted-up. It was a Thursday night. By this point we'd already discussed potential business ventures, downed a dizzying array of frighteningly expensive drinks, and stayed up until 3 AM waiting for our favorite Russian space-oligarch, UAxDeath - leader of Legion of xXDeathXx - to arrive on his red-eye flight from New York. Yet not a word had been breathed by either of us about spaceships, and I dimly realized through the alcoholic haze that I was committed to bashing out a column full of 'spaceship words' - preferably exciting, feature-laden ones - about an event that seemed to be devoid of anything of the spaceship variety.

Imperial Palace

Friday was no better. The first official event of EVE Vegas saw fifty people or so jammed into a dingy upstairs conference room in that dingiest of Strip casinos, the Imperial Palace. Its claim to fame was that it had the least expensive rooms on the walk, and it showed. Having wallowed in the splendor of the Bellagio all Thursday, the Imperial Palace added a dose of architectural whiplash to the mix of things already clouding my brain  - alcohol, column dread and the crepes we had for lunch. This three-hour 'meet and greet' had a cash bar that was substantially more expensive than the downstairs casino bars, resulting in frequent expeditions back and forth. This did not augur well.

Attempting to break out of the clique I had arrived with, I noticed a table full of goons hanging out with Avalloc. I approached, announced something like "And who do we have here?" only to discover that I'd blundered into the developers - Oveur, Alli, Soundwave, Navigator and the 'Mystery Dev', an as-yet-unrevealed CCP employee on the game design team. As my jaw dropped, I recognized the Mystery Dev as my old bete noir Seleene, infamous former leader of the Mercenary Coalition and for many years a staunch foe of the Swarm. I had staggered onto my first source of spaceship words, and found it extremely awkward.

However, through the magic of me drinking a lot, Seleene and I managed to hit it off famously. I have no idea what his incomprehensible "Dev Name" is, but I did learn that he had a significant hand in the design and conception of the wormhole space which has revolutionized PvE in EVE. Better still, he's working on a major reform of supercapital ships, coming up with multiple new superweapons in an attempt to deemphasize doomsdays on Titans and give motherships a purpose besides being just a bigger carrier.

After the meet and greet, we headed to dinner en masse. I sat down across from the devs, but rather than extracting spaceship secrets from them like a proper gaming journalist would, I joined in the group as we occupied our time shouting imprecations about Darius Johnson's peeling face down to the other end of the long table. We also speculated about the extent of Navigator's poker winnings and kvetched about seven-dollar macaroni and cheese. Navigator eventually joined the group, $500 dollar richer from winning his tournament. We moved on.

After 10 PM on Friday - time for some serious drinking. The party moved to the Rockhouse bar in front of the Imperial Palace. Expectations were in the gutter - this place was lame, the crowd listless, the space cramped. Then the organizer of EVE Vegas put our ticket money to good use, acquiring bottle service in a private booth for the group, service provided by a cage dancer - in a booth directly behind said cage. As soon as the Grey Goose was poured, a go-go dancer began swinging on a tire chained to the ceiling. I don't remember many more details besides the drinks being excellent and a significant amount of speculation about the exact wording of our server's partially obscured crotch tattoo - was it 'The High Life'? 'The Good Life'? 'Restricted Access'? Reports varied wildly. It probably didn't involve spaceships.

Saturday, the main event of EVE Vegas begins at 10 AM. I show up an hour late and stare at the iced coffee I snagged from Starbucks with bleary certitude, head pounding. We're back in the dingy conference room at the Imperial Palace, but the crowd is much larger than Friday and Oveur and the other devs have a projector; Oveur was giving a presentation about the various development ideas that were mocked up and then discarded over the years. It was probably fascinating for people who do not have sharp stabbing pain behind their eyes.

EVE 01

During the lunch break I desperately tried to clear my head with greasy hashbrowns from a stereotypical Vegas buffet. Oveur mentioned something about a game design workshop we'd be participating in, some sort of group brainstorming session. I informed him that I'll be terrible at this because the only game design advice I can think of is "remove doomsdays," then I went back to shoveling overpriced breakfast food down my throat.

The idea of the game design workshop was to teach us something of what the devs themselves do when thinking of an expansion. If we didn't come up with something good, Oveur warned us, the devs will inflict the dreaded 'Space Monster' expansion on the playerbase. The participants were given a number and separated into groups to prevent friends clustering together; we are told to appoint a spokesman for each group. Despite my raging hangover and exceedingly cranky demeanor, I ended up as spokesman. Then they tell me that at the end of the process there will be a presentation that I'll have to give, and - even better - a vote as to which group designed the best expansion.

At first, our methods of brainstorming were halting. We began from the premise of 'what sucks about EVE', from the perspective of a table full of PvP addicts and one erstwhile spy. PvE sucks. Missions suck. Maybe we should do something about that. No one has any idea. Lowsec sucks. It's full of pirates but they're only ganking people passing through to 0.0 or Empire; the space has no purpose. There's no reason at all to go to lowsec for its own merits. Wouldn't it be cool if it was actually kind of criminal? Sort of a Han Solo thing, a place for smugglers? Star Wars Galaxies got everyone all excited about smuggling but Sony Online never did anything with the class and it was a disaster. EVE has pirates and 'anti-pirates' but they don't really have anything to fight over, or do. Why don't we try to make Lowsec unique? Give it a reason to be there, turn it into a hive of scum and villany, a focus for criminality. A unique resource for it, some items that can only be used there?

Within minutes, our table - full of players who had nothing but contempt for lowsec - was in a frenzy of creativity. "If this ever actually gets made, I would live in lowsec and never leave," several of us vowed. The Corruption expansion was sketched out - and proceeded to easily win the competition as a crowd favorite.

The core mechanic of the Corruption expansion is the 'system corruption level' that the forces of good and evil fight over - except that the forces of 'good' are vigilantes and privateers, not easily distinguished from the corrupters who they combat. Players enlist as either Corrupters or Vigilantes and slaughter each other to adjust the system corruption level. Criminal-themed missions can also be run, but PvE impacts corruption level at a much slower rate than PvP. As the corruption level of a system changes, Corrupter or Vigilante-themed abilities are unlocked. For example, Corrupters are able to bribe station managers into secretly increasing the docking timer on another player, adding an abrupt and panicked end to anyone trying to play the undock-redock game. Bombings and sabotage are also an option. Vigilantes unlock Concord payouts from destroying Corruptor ships, allowing them to truly be bounty hunters, since podkilling someone in lowsec without a dictor bubble is nearly impossible. Either side can pervert a system's sentry guns to shoot the opposing group, assuming a system has swung to them.

EVE 02

But this isn't enough to make lowsec unique; the winning group decided that lowsec needed a defining resource, something that would attract a black market separate from hisec hubs. The answer was drugs, lots and lots of drugs. Fill lowsec with harvestable gas and give boosters - currently a virtually ignored part of the economy - a huge buff, but limit the use of the 'enhanced' boosters to lowsec only. To make drug production less arduous and give corrupters and vigilantes something to fight over, introduce a capital industrial ship like a jury-rigged Rorqual that flies into a gas cloud, enters siege mode, and produces boosters, putting itself at risk of attack for ten minutes at a time. "Like a capital meth lab?" asked one of the crowd, and the "Methnaught" was born. Meanwhile, the rest of the lowsec economy could be made unique through the use of lowsec-only items, banned in highsec, such as 'Smuggler's Cloaks' which temporarily remove a ship from the local channel. Kill rights - currently of not much use - could be commoditized and sold to other players, creating a market for bounty hunting that leaks into hisec.

To add interest in the PvE side of Corruption, missions specific to Vigilantes and Corrupters could be created. LP and rat drops could offer lowsec-only items. One particularly unique idea was that - with the proper Bribery or Extortion skills - belt rats could be bribed by players, paying them off to not attack a mining op, or to immediately gang up on anyone newly entering the area. Taking the criminal theme further, stations could offer a variety of in-game gambling and casinos against the house - creating a much-needed isk sink.

Drugs, gambling, crime - Corruption was a vision of Vegas itself. Better yet, I had my spaceship words at last. Oveur turned the 'Dev Q&A' on its head and spent the first fifteen minutes personally interrogating our group about Corruption, rather than answering questions from players. One can only hope that this is a sign that, at some point in the future, the Methnaught may stalk the skies of EVE, crapping out endless supplies of high-grade smack for the playerbase.

The real Dev Q&A had a number of enlightening moments. The reason behind the refusal to add another turret to the Naglfar? Apparently the art department pointed out how many thousands and thousands of polygons this would muck up, making a ship model change resulting in a  nightmarish amount of man-hours. Freespace 2-esque 'mega beam' lasers were offered as a possible supercapital weapon, and it was hinted that something similar might be in consideration as part of the new superweapons. The lack of proliferation of T3 ships was registered as a disappointment among the dev team, and something might be looked into to increase their spread.

After the Q&A, the event finished up with three hours of open bar, swiftly degenerating into drunken Vegas-style chaos. It seemed like the vast majority of our ticket money had gone to providing booze and an excuse to party; I dived right back in, and events became pleasantly unclear. I'll be back next year, and perhaps by then - if we're lucky - we'll begin to see hints of Corruption taking hold in New Eden.
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