Eve Online

Eve’s been around for a while, but I’ve been doing something else (i.e. playing World of Warcraft) so I didn’t try it. I generally prefer “science fiction” flavored stuff over fantasy, but MMOs are in large part about sunken cost.

Eve Online is essentially multiplayer Elite (or, if you’re a Mac gamer, multiplayer Escape Velocity in 3D; if you’re under 30 it’s multiplayer Privateer), only with the fun part (dogfighting) removed and the other fun part (trading in slaves and illegal drugs) replaced with something resembling E-Trade. Actually, E-Trade is a lot more fun.

I won’t bother criticizing the back story (apparently some people are just genetically predisposed to liberal democracy) because EverQuest and World of Warcraft prove that a back story can be an uninspired kitchen sink of stolen cliches and the game can still be great. I will say that Eve Online’s back story is essentially fantasy (i.e. the past was great the present sucks) and not science fiction, and that it can only aspire to be an uninspired kitchen sink of stolen cliches.

When you start the game (about 1h after installing it and waiting for it to patch) you have two sets of choices to make: one is your character’s appearance, which can be customized by a pretty amazing set of options (e.g. you can narrow your gaze by increments, give your character a smile, snarl, or twisted leer), and some other stuff (e.g. professional background) that is — I’m told* — very important but for which you have no useful information. So basically, think of this as 200 questions of no consequence determining what your character’s icon will look like (all the 3d character stuff just generates an icon) mixed in with three questions of deep import written in a foreign language (“would you like your character to be a Mixlplk, a Jewwawwa, or a Flnobstrog?”). Good start.

Next, here’s a game with an in game tutorial that takes over three hours to complete. (It took me two sessions.) The user interface (including the interface for the tutorial) is terrible. As a simple example, the tutorial knows when you have completed a step but requires you to click “Done”. If you click “Done” too soon, it tells you to complete the step. D’uh. I haven’t seen this level of bad UI design since I stopped having to use Lotus Notes.

Oh and don’t get me started on left- vs. right- clicking. The tutorial constantly tells you that “when in doubt, right-click”. Guess what? Many crucial game objects only respond to “left-click and hold”. In general, the game uses three “noun verb” conventions: right-click and select from text context menu, left-click and hold (graphical content menu), left-click and click on some palette somewhere. These are all different and mutually incompatible, e.g. you can’t “open” a cargo pod by right-clicking it. You can’t “activate” a stargate by right-clicking it. Or maybe you can. Who knows?

The developers call the gameplay “open-ended”. No it’s not, it’s non-existent. Everything is automatic enough to be no fun, but manual enough to be tedious. E.g. to fly from point A to point B you need to click on point B (almost anywhere, e.g. even on a mission briefing) and then (in one of maybe twenty different ways) select “Set Destination” and engage autopilot. Your ship will then slowly head over there … unless it’s docked. You can’t start on a flight while docked. You need to click Undock and wait 30s first. (This is apparently too much for the Autopilots of the 53rd century.) Once your ship arrives, guess what? Your autopilot disengages somewhere inside the star system (not inside docking range), you need to click on your actual destination again and select “Dock”, and wait a few minutes. Congratulations, you’re Han Solo.

Combat is similarly thrilling. You see a red dot somewhere (e.g. in your “things in the vicinity list” or somewhere in space) and you click on it, then select “approach” or “orbit” and then click on a weapon. Then you wait and you either live or die. You can turn some stuff on and off if you get bored (e.g. your “shield booster” might slow your demise). Eventually, if you win, some cargo pods will appear. Click on one. Click Approach. Wait. Click on it again. Click Open. Open your ship (that’s manual of course). Drag loot into cargo hold. Woohoo, now that’s some flying!

Other folks have remarked on the thrills of space mining. Yes, you click on a rock, click approach, click your mining laser, open your cargo hold, and wait. Maybe your cargo hold fills, maybe you have to click another rock. Will you survive the excitement?

Oh and just so there’s no doubt about how not open-ended the gameplay is. You can play “we got fired from E-trade because we can’t design a GUI to save our lives” in space stations, and you can fly around in quasi-control of your ship in space. That’s the game play. You can’t walk to a cafe. You can’t land on a planet. You can’t board an enemy ship. You can’t get on someone else’s ship and man the guns while they fly. You can’t negotiate loan refinancing with a blaster in the cantina. Heck you can’t even book passage on someone else’s ship to go visit another star system.

You can gain skills while away from the game. In fact, you pretty much can play the game while AFK. Most of the things you do are so time-consuming, you probably want to buy a GameBoy DS or something to pass the time. My newbie character has 13,000 skill points (xp) and 120,000 ISK (gold pieces). So I want a new spaceship. I find one (selling several star systems away) for 30,000 ISK. Now, can I get this sucker … delivered? Nope, that wouldn’t be tedious enough. Instead I need to fly over there (see two paragraphs back for the roller-coaster thrill ride that will ensue) and pick up my ship. (I can assemble and disassemble it with a single mouse click… new interstellar frigate 24,000 ISK. Fedex… priceless.) When I get there I discover I need a new skill to pilot it. No problem it’s 4000 skill points. So I select the skill and click “Learn” or something and … well I logged off when I had absorbed 500 of the 4000 skill points. And then I uninstalled won the game!

Again, let me put this in context. If my level 10 warrior in WoW buys a new axe he may not be able to use it, but he can get it delivered. If the seller is in another town he might travel there, avoiding monsters (or killing them) on the way. He can go to the trainer and learn the basics of how to use the axe. If he doesn’t have enough money, he can go kill bandits and get some money. So he can use the axe but he sucks at it? He can go “practice” with it on rabbits, cows, and giant spiders. All of this is to some extent “fun”. Under no definition of “fun” will you find “wait six hours for a number to increment”. The “benefit” of being able to learn “Gollante Frigate 2” skill while not logged on pales beside the benefit of being able to win Eve Online while not having it installed on your hard disk.

It’s not surprising they can run 30,000 players on one server. This game is about as fast-paced and compelling as tic-tac-toe by email with a REALLY bad user interface.

Much has been said of the “gorgeous” graphics. Sure, like most MMOs, you can take some nice screenshots. I think the 3d artists have done a great job of creating 3d assets, and one day the programmers may get around to using them properly. E.g. when your ship accelerates, beams of light appear kind of where your engines are, maybe in front, maybe behind. Looks … stupid. Space is full of really neat mist. Stargates look like giant guns that “fire” stuff to distant star systems, but the problem is your ship doesn’t actually go into them. You go somewhere “near” them and then the stargate “fires” and your ship sits there for a bit and then fades away. The docking sequence is similarly brilliant … e.g. you dock with one of the pretty spiffy looking space stations by flying up to it (or through it — there’s no collision detection worth a damn) and then … the game seizes up and you reappear in space dock.

All of this for $20/month. Golly.

* You can win the game without knowing what the professions are. Just select “Unintall Eve Online” from Eve’s main menu… no wait that’s the Windows XP Start Menu. I get confused sometimes, but I should have realised it wasn’t Eve’s menu because it appeared instantly.

  • CrazyKinux

    Guess EVE isn’t for you buddy! That still doesn’t make it a poor game.

  • Tonio

    Of course. Certainly the gameplay may appeal to some (it’s a trading game with extra bells and whistles) and the graphics are very pretty (although, as I noted, not properly implemented in some cases). Definitely not to my taste though.

  • LordCarter

    Thats fine with me buddy, keep playing your 13 year old inspired cartoonie WOW, and I will play EVE, a game for adults.

    I will agree WAITING for skils to train is sometimes annoying, but you can speed up the process. Obviously, you didn’t bother to investigate that.

    On the other hand, some people think griding (i.e., Go Kill 1 million of Creature A, for X Gold Pieces, and X Number of Experience points. And do I need to mention sometimes you don’t get any gold pieces, and if you kill creatures equal to your level, you get very few Experience Points) is boring.

    No thanks, I’ll pass on WOW (World of Wetards).

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I just left mine.

  • Tonio

    I’d say that both Eve and WoW are a heck of a lot older (conceptually) than 13 years. WoW is just a D&D ripoff — so that’s 33 years. Eve is essentially massive Elite, so that’s 25 years.

    I’m long gone from WoW (which I’ve criticized quite extensively).

    I’d have to say that coining phrases like “World of Wetards” doesn’t do much to buttress your case for Eve being “adult”.

    Cheerio!

  • Dom

    EVE is indeed a strange mix.

    Something to know is that it’s a sandbox game where there is no real story but those created by the players – especially the conflicts on alliance-level.

    The PvP is also very thrilling because you can actually loose your ship and it’s modules. Which means you need to do the “unpleasant” stuff to get back into “the game”.

    I agree the fun/hours ratio is not so good. I I also find most stuff but PvP boring. Player interaction though is very interesting – and that’s probably the key element!

  • admin

    I used to find IRC addictive, so an MMORPG is going to have at minimum that level of addictiveness (unless its chat interface is terrible). One thing in Eve’s favor is that the pace is slow enough to encourage chat (WoW is so fast paced no-one has time to talk much).

  • Eve Online review on Zero Punctuation:

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/208-Eve-Online

    So similar to my reaction it’s eerie.

  • axler

    ok. all you did in eve is learn the WASD controls of WoW. you didn’t actually do anything else…

    game is slow paced?!? have you tried to pvp? eve is all about pvp. and if you didn’t try to pvp, then you cant honestly write a game review for eve.

    no other game will get you the adrenaline rush you can get by pvping in eve.

    slow paced? do you realize that in the “end game” there are battles with 1000 players on each side? have you even the slightest idea on how to organize a 1000man pvp group?

    luckily a lot of eve players are programmers and have some crazy vent servers…even then…coordinating that many people is quite facinating. not to mention they all need to do theyr part, because the tactics in eve can get preatty crazy…

    but why would i bother you with this. there are far better stories which will give you a true insight into what eve really is.

    here is something about the politics in eve (what eve is really famous about):
    http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/65475

    here is a video showing 2 two-day old characters killing much older players in far bigger ships:
    http://www.eveonline.com/ingameboard.asp?a=topic&threadID=1025677

    and here is a general overview of eve for new players:
    http://www.destructoid.com/eve-the-unforgiving-a-basic-understanding-of-ccp-s-masterpiece-127961.phtml

    go through these three links, and i assure you…eve will not seem as bad 🙂

  • I went through the tutorial and played a bit beyond that. If the tutorial doesn’t show me what Eve’s about, then whose fault is that? I don’t doubt PvP is exciting — it’s exciting in any number of games. As to 1000 v. 1000 battles — Eve’s scaling is definitely pretty neat, but once you’re dealing with more than ten or twenty people you need to form a hierarchy of smaller functional groups (much as when I used to be involved in 3000+ person actual live gaming conventions we would break things down logically until no-one had to deal with more than ten or twenty things at a time). I imagine that life is far easier today than in the early days of UO or EverQuest when text chat in open channels was pretty much the only option available to anyone.

    “How many games do you know of where someone spends over $100,000 on spaceships and brags about it?” You’re right, there are definitely people out there who take EVE way too seriously, but I’m not sure that’s a positive.

    It’s cool that in EVE a newish character (played by a veteran player) can take on more experienced players. (Of course, a veteran WoW player can get to level 80 in less than two weeks and PvP against absolutely anybody (for what that’s worth). Then again, a brand new Halo/Quake/Unreal/Gears player can PvP against absolutely everyone.) Anyway, here’s what an EVE player said in response to this video (same thread):

    “Don’t think it’s testing CCP’s claim though as you obviously have a decent amount of (RL, not SP) experience. Would have to both be a new player and have little SP to really have a solid claim there.”

    Don’t get me wrong — I like the idea of EVE. I want player-generated content. I want a game that rewards skill and creativity over time wasted. I’m not just an old school computer gamer, I’m an old school board and tabletop wargamer. My idea of “complex” isn’t D&D, it’s Advanced Squad Leader. My problem with EVE is it has a bad UI, simple things that should be fun aren’t, and the scope of action is artificially restricted (i.e. you are a spaceship, not a person).

    That said, I may give it another shot and see if I can’t eat my own words.

  • axler

    I agree on the UI. most horrible thing ever designed by man.

    also, i hate the not being able to get out of the spaceship part. thats just dumb. but supposedly the company started really small and did not have the resources to develop it. they did promise however that it is coming in a future expansion called ambulation. here is the first generation video:
    http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=24678794111

    here you can find newer versions of “walking in stations”:
    http://www.eveonline.com/download/videos/?type=7

    another common problem is that people see these trailers (the ones for eve, not ambulation)and expect a first person kind of thing. cockpit flying and so on. thing is the smallest ship in eve, a frigate, is as big as a boening.
    there are however small ships called “fighters” which are flown by one person. however you fly a huge carrier or mothership and then deploy these fighters which are NPCs who fight for you.

    so eve was meant as a slow paced mmo where you would fly a huge ship and through the use of tactics defeat your opponent. so its not a “twitch” based game like FPS games. the idea is that the one with more skill and a better tactic will win. though once you are in a fight things seem to go awfully fast 🙂

    if you do decide to give it another try, join a player corporation. i would suggest eve university. a corp for new players. they can answer all your questions.

    but most importantly, try to pvp.
    that really is the sole purpose of this game.

  • axler
  • axler
  • I certainly appreciate your response to my post — you’ve actually addressed my criticisms intelligently rather than the “WoW is for idiots, Eve is for smart people like me” response one usually sees from Eve-philes. As I think I’ve said too many times now, I actually wanted very much to like Eve, but the initial experience of tediously traveling from place to place, clicking, and waiting hours for a skill to tick over were very off-putting.

  • Reva Dantenov

    [start wall of text]

    1. The backstory:

    I’m a little puzzled by your description of the backstory in the game, which I would describe as ‘nonexistant’ rather than ‘fantasy’. The story that you run into inside the game in the form of mission descriptions is pure crap, there’s no two ways about that; missions exist only for making money (or for people who really get off on grinding). If you’d like some backstory that doesn’t suck, there’s a section on the website for it.

    2. The background options you chose at the start are basically irrelevant as of recent patches, so what you don’t know won’t hurt you.

    3. I never did the tutorial. I hear it’s been revamped recently but I’ll give good odds it’s still terrible, and there is absolutely, positively no way that is can give a good overview of what the game offers. See #5 below.

    4. Re: tedious travel, waiting for skills:

    Traveling long distances sucks. You get used to it, but it never really goes away. However, this also insulates regions based on distance — which I for one am thankful for.

    Waiting for skills — yes, eve does skills very differently from practically every other game, and there are good arguments both for and against it. I would support a hybrid system where one could earn a few bonus skill points in-game, though this would be easy to abuse. Having a system like diablo 2 (and I assume something similar exists in wow) where one can get power-leveled by friends would mess with many aspects of the game.

    The waiting gets a lot easier once you have a ship setup trained that you use most of the time; a hulk fit, fleet battleship, missioning ship, that sort of thing. Also, a recent update changed it so that new players start with somewhat fewer skill points, but learn at double the rate for approximately the first million; this makes reaching one’s first skill goal much faster.

    5. My understanding of the term ‘open ended gameplay’ is that it means that the game is nonlinear, and possibly doesn’t have a particular endgame. Eve is the epitome of this, almost a perfect sandbox game; there is no plot what you make, no purpose but that you set for yourself. If you stay in high-sec and grind missions, that’s a pretty boring life to live.

    So figure out something awesome to do. The game won’t just hand you these things, because they’re all based on player interactions; you have to go out and find them. Join a 0.0 alliance and take part in massive wars where your very existance as a space-holding alliance is at stake. Figure out how to make billions of credits trading on the market in a few hours a week. Train a stealth bomber and visit sudden death upon the incautious. Find something that you think is fun and do it.

    There are a lot of criticisms which can be made about eve, many of which have some legitimacy. It’s a niche game, targeted at a fairly specific audience, and just plain isn’t for a lot of people. But because the devs outright rejected the idea that it should be a game everybody will enjoy, this freed it to be in some ways one of the greatest games ever made — in terms of player cooperation (especially large scale), meaningful PvP with wars that can change the face of the galaxy, economics with an honest-to-god player run economy and manufacturing (crafting) where players build essentually every item you use.

    Anyway. I don’t particularly imagine you’ll think much differently of it a second time around, but if you do decide to try it again drop me a line in-game and I’ll help out if I can.

  • Eve is similar in conceptually to a very cool play-by-mail game a bunch of my university buddies used to play. The game was called Cluster II (there had been a Cluster I) and it was loosely based on Traveler’s High Guard and Trillion Credit Squadron addons. For those not quite so old-school, it was essentially a very slow paced multi-player Master of Orion. Anyway, I digress.

    I think it’s pretty silly to argue (and I’m not saying you’ve done this) that World of Warcraft, say, is a “dumber” game than Eve because there’s a well-defined endgame (well, two well-defined endgames — one for PvPers and the other for PvEers). There’s nothing to stop folks from going off and doing their own thing and ignore the defined end-game. In that sense WoW is just as open-ended and player-driven as players want it to be. The problem is most players are happy to follow the trail of bread crumbs, and its hard for those that aren’t to find like-minded players. I’d be more impressed by Eve if there were politics and construction not limited to spaceships. In “Cluster II” some players worked in the game entirely as ship architects, while others ran corporations with no territory.

    One major advantage that Eve potentially has over any current competitor is the lack of “shards”. Every other MMORPG has to run multiple instances, and it’s important for one instance not to acquire too much unique state lest it become a maintenance issue. The nice thing for Eve is that the server can change over time without making players on the server or not on the server feeling left out or persecuted. It would be cool if you could explore planets (even if only from orbit), flag them for colonization, and the geopolitical landscape actually evolved dynamically based on player action. (Does it?)

    Anyway, when and if I get some spare time I’ll give it another shot.

  • Reva Dantenov

    Well, I would hesitate to say that players don’t feel persecuted when things change — the way the second great war went down for the losers, we haven’t made a concurrent-players-online record since february. 🙂

    Planets are definitely due for a revamp. The devs haven’t touched them since the game began, and believe you me the circa-2002 texture maps are starting to get old.

    Eve was originally concieved – for expediency’s sake, I’m certain – as a game with an entirely space-based economy; and with 10+ major patches/expansions since then it is at this point an extremely mature game in terms of development, so one of the problems with implementing planet colonisation at this late stage is finding something useful for colonized planets to do. I can think of a few options, but the only one that would make exploring a terrain map very useful is kind of sketchy. I do know that devs are working on atmospheric flight, so I suspect they’re working on doing /something/ with them. I don’t expect this to be implemented in the immediate future though.

    Re: Geopolitics, I’m interpreting the question as whether players can affect who owns what system. If that is the case, the answer is a resounding yes — check the sov map (http://dl.eve-files.com/media/corp/Verite/influence.png). Colored areas are owned by players (uncolored by NPCs) and I believe all of them have changed hands multiple times since soverignty was implemented.

  • Reva Dantenov

    EDIT: It blocks that link if I open in tab, so copy-paste might work if it’s about referrers or to go to eve-files.com and search for influence.png

  • Reva Dantenov

    Double fake edit: Just copy paste without the parenthesis on the end :p

  • Reva Dantenov

    Update: Since you mentioned planet exploration I thought I’d mention that the next update, scheduled for release in December, introduces planet-based industry where eve players control and develop sectors of the planet surface, planet-surface warfare mediated via Dust (an FPS) and unique, procedurally generated textures, and moving cloud patterns when appropriate, for every planet in the galaxy.

    (I’m not stalking you, I just have a lot of tabs I never got around to closing…)