Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Wanton Gods

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport. - King Lear
Capsuleers are the wanton gods of New Eden; the baseliners who serve them, as far beneath their masters as the ants beneath our feet. The mortals may be cherished as pets, disdained as automata, or tormented as playthings at the Empyreans' deranged whim, but all can be cast on the flames in a heartbeat when it serves the goals of the capsuleer. The power of capsule pilots over their terrified crew, their sweating technicians, their serried ranks of administrators and the teeming populations of the stations and planets they rule is complete, unassailable and tyrannical. This is the Empyrean Age.

The game of EVE Online shows us nothing of this; the countless mortals that serve the needs of capsuleers, living cheek-by-jowl alongside them on ships and in stations, are largely invisible in the client. There are whispers of their presence - Exotic Dancers and Militia retrieved from destroyed structures in an idle moment, glinting lights on the night-side of temperate planets - but none are functional, none are relevant, none impinge in any way on the grim game we play among the stars.

EVE is a game of scale. The moments of "wow" come from a sense of hugeness - the scale of the ships, the size of New Eden - and too often, both client and gameplay struggle to convey that sense of awe at these vast machines in the pitiless depths of space. The mortals who serve our capsuleer characters offer a new way to convey that sense of scale, to create "wow" moments, a shiver of horror as hundreds or thousands of lives are tossed into the void, the moment of chill as we see what we are doing to the populations and workers on the planets we dominate. Actually interacting with mortals - "as flies to wanton boys" - has the potential to make EVE Online a darker, more compelling experience, to inspire, as we watch our characters' deeds, that elusive shudder of pity, and of terror.

Two years ago, this would have been pie-in-the-sky thinking. The game was broken in a dozen ways, and addressing those basic flaws was such an overwhelming priority that talk of expanding the game in new directions was quiite sensibly shot down in flames. Now, everything has changed; the last of the glaring problems with the game are being fixed at last, CCP has become far more serious and methodical about strategic development, Incarna is a distant memory; player-built stargates are months, not years away, and thoughts are turning to the long-term future. How might the game grow beyond the roadmap presented by CCP Seagull? How could EVE Online interact with Valkyrie, and (whisper it) Legion? Is it time to decontaminate, at last, the station environment for capsuleer consumption? And where, Otherdamnit, are the baseliners?

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