EVE Evolved: Making stories with friends in EVE Online
It's one of the more peculiar laws of the universe that when enough EVE Online players meet in the real world, they absolutely must swap stories. You can see it in action at meetups and events like EVE Fanfest and EVE Vegas, where players take a trip down memory lane with corpmates over a beer and regale whole groups of strangers with tales of wars, clever schemes, and treachery. It's like some tribal instinct takes over and we feel the need to pass on our virtual history or bask in glory days gone by like a couple of Klingons in a Ferengi bar.
We're all familiar with the biggest and most impactful stories that go down in the sandbox of New Eden because they tend to hit the gaming media like a brick in the face. When the largest war in gaming history goes down or hundreds of thousand of dollars worth of ships goes up in smoke, you're bound to hear about it. What you don't hear about is the hundreds of compelling little stories that take place every day within EVE, most of which are left untold. Several interesting stories are shared each day on the EVE subreddit and official forums, a few make their way into works of cinematography, and some have been immortalised in song or shoehorned into propaganda posters. These little stories are the everyday reality of what can happen in EVE, and part of the reason so many of us are hooked on the game.
In this edition of EVE Evolved, I suggest that the true draw of EVE is in its capacity for making stories with friends, and share a few of my own little histories from days gone by.
Back in 2012, I argued that sandboxes produce the best stories because they're designed to promote real emergent gameplay, while much of the story in themepark MMOs is just window dressing on the long grind to endgame. Nowhere has that been more conclusively demonstrated over such a long span of time than in EVE Online, a game now perched atop nearly 14 years of player-defined history.
Chronicled in videos and news articles across the web, the major events that have shaped EVE Online's living history have achieved a measure of persistence beyond their effect on the game world and its players. Assuming humanity doesn't blow itself up in the near future (which is looking increasingly likely), that history could happily live in a quiet corner of the internet til the sun grows cold.
I play EVE mostly solo these days on a handful of characters, but playing solo isn't all that exciting. It's only when I meet up with people I used to play EVE with that I fully realise all the best stories of EVE are of times spent with friends. I'd like to recount just two of those stories for you now, both to record a few of my favourite memories for posterity and to highlight that I think the real magic of EVE is its capacity for making stories with friends.
In EVE's early years, low-security space was much less of a death trap due to both the lower player density and also the fact that the sentry turrets at stargates posed more of a threat to pirates. Roaming pirates hunted in asteroid belts and a few star key systems were almost permanently gatecamped. Rancer in the Sinq Liason region was such a system due to an odd quirk of EVE's map topology that made a lot of autopilot routes from trade hub system Jita go through it to reach other regions of the map. I chose to make my home in the nearby Thelan system, and it made for some very interesting times.
The gate in Rancer was camped heavily in 2007 by Ginger Magician and comrades from the Octobersnow corporation. Ginger frequently flew expensive capital ships, but that was just a big bullseye to the citizens of the Aeman constellation and we occasionally raided the gatecamp. One of my favourite memories from that time was when Ginger Magician parked his massive Moros dreadnought outside the space station in Thelan and began taking pot shots at everyone who undocked. We goaded him into activating his siege module, which prevents docking for 5 minutes, and then brought out enough firepower to take him down. It was a great moral victory for the antipirates of the Aeman constellation, but he was back that same night in a new Moros with no siege module fitted.
As long as he never entered siege mode, Ginger Magician could simply wait out the 30 second aggression timer and dock if we brought any serious force against him. What followed next is something that I'll remember for a long time, and I often describe it as more like a ballet than a battle. We fitted up battleships with microwarpdrives and shield extenders and began undocking one after another in sequence, speeding toward Ginger's Moros and slamming into it to bump it slightly. Each of us undocked, bumped him, and docked again before he could destroy us. We managed to physically push his ship off the massive 30km docking ring and prevent him from docking, and then brought out the big guns to take him down. Ginger was banned not long after that for an unrelated reason, but I can't help but be nostalgic for the old days of Octobersnow in Rancer.
Delving into the unknown with friends
I think most MMOs are at their best when played with a small core group of friends, whether it's the hilarious banter of your regular 10 main raiding group in World of Warcraft or the thrill of small gang warfare in EVE Online. There are plenty of massive monolothic organisations out there in New Eden with thousands of members, but the most memorable things I've ever done have been with just a handful of close friends. Sometimes it all goes tits-up and everyone gets smashed into tiny bits by a fleet of professionals, but it's in that spirit of risk that you forge friendships and make some interesting stories together. And never were the risks and uncertainties as high for me as at the release of 2009's Apocrypha expansion.
Apocrypha added 2,500 new star systems accessible only by random unstable wormholes, and I had gathered a small group of trusted friends to launch into the void with. Nobody had any idea how wormholes worked or what to expect on the other side, so we packed a small starbase and a handful of ships into a Thanatos class carrier and everyone else flew heavily tanked battleships. We eventually found a wormhole in the Querious region of nullsec, and went through to the system we later dubbed New Thelan. That's when disaster struck, as the carrier was too big to get through the wormhole and was now sitting unprotected in nullsec with hostiles searching for the fleet. We cloaked the carrier at a safespot and decided to forcibly collapse the wormhole by flying battleships back and forth through it.
Collapsing the wormhole caused a new one to appear in New Thelan. We collapsed 12 wormholes in a row hoping for one that would be big enough for the carrier, but every time we got the same class and size of wormhole: C247 leading to unknown space. We didn't realise it at the time but we'd just discovered static wormholes, a normal thing that every Sleeper star system has. We thought we'd found some kind of special wormhole hub system, and people were so secretive about wormholes in those inital months that we were even able to sell the system and our intel on how to farm it for 10 billion ISK. We went on a few expeditions and I've written before about some of the adventures we had, but I'll never forget that night spent cloaked in a Thanatos and searching for a way into our first new home.
We so often get caught up in discussions of gameplay and new developments on the horizon that it's easy to forget that the real driving force behind EVE Online is the players and the most compelling content is the stories we create together. The biggest stories frequently reach out from the sandbox and scrawl themselves across the news, but it's the little everyday stories that really make EVE what it is. When I think back over everything that's happened to me in EVE over the past 13 years, it's the little things done with friends that stand out.
I think about the time Elijah Ghost's ship was webbed to one meter per second by an entire fleet and I managed to bump him into docking range of a station with seconds to spare. We still laugh about "The ToG Manouver," where my little brother managed to get us through a pirate gatecamp by ejecting shuttles everywhere out of a Bestower to confuse them. So many of these little stories go untold and forgotten, and I think that's a shame. If you have any memorable stories of your own from your time in EVE with friends, I'd love it if you could share them in the comments.