Tag Archives: Rambling Detected

Answering Gaming Questions with AI – Are You Just Stealing Stuff?

good artists copy; great artists steal

-Pablo Picasso, who very well may have stolen that quote

This week I wanted to do something a little different and maybe see if I could find something that AIs ought to be good at.  I’ve spent a few weeks throwing questions, some of which I cannot answer, at the three AIs I have chosen just to see how they handle them.  Results have varied, but a good number of the responses would at least get a few upvotes on Reddit.

AIs thinking about video game questions… drawn by an AI

For those interested, these are the past posts:

So my idea for this week was to lean into what I thought should be an AI strength, generating lists of names or ideas or concepts or whatever.  No deep thinking or analysis, just give me some things to, say, name some NPCs or make up some new crafting materials for me.  This is where being trained on a large corpus of data should allow the AIs to do well at.

I started with ChatGPT and asked the following:

Create a list of unique names for a warrior in a fantasy setting

And it gave me a list of 30 single word names, about a third of which I recognized from other sources.  “Stormbringer” has a bunch of past usage, including being the name of a Michael Moorcock novel.  Likewise things like “Thunderstrike,” “Runewalker,” or “Nightshade” hardly seemed unique.

Well, maybe I needed to tune up the question.  The joke is that creatives are safe from AI because AI requires the end user to ask for exactly what they want, and anybody who has done project work with people knows how infrequently that happens and how inarticulate customers can be about their real needs.

So I first added a gender to the request:

Create a list of unique names for a female warrior queen in a fantasy setting

That got me 30 responses that were even more heavily borrowed from literature.  Uniqueness didn’t seem to enter into it.  (And I am not going to clutter up this posts with most of these lists, you can go generate your own.)

I changed up again, going for something even more specific:

Create a list of unique names for a dwarf in the arduin grimoire universe

This gave me a decent list of dwarven names, though I didn’t go pull any of my Dave Hargrave rules or modules off the shelf to go check how many were borrowed.  And uniqueness didn’t seem to enter too much into it.  The last names were all of the classic “material+object” format, so gave up “Granitebeard” and “Ironaxe” and the like.

I tried a few more, but I was already a bit torn on how useful ChatGPT was really being here, as it just seemed to be regurgitating tropes of the genre.

That, in turn, brought me into current events.  Right now in the US the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is on strike.  They represent the writers who work on most of the movies and TV shows that come from the US, and one of the bones of contention is AIs like ChatGPT.

Studio execs, being more of the Wall Street business ilk, have been hungrily eyeing the advances in AI because they would like to have content auto-generated to feed the ceaseless demand from the public for something new to watch.  And, of course, they would like to spend less money doing it because, if burning down an orphanage would increase shareholder value by 0.25% they would at least argue that it was their fiduciary responsibility to grab some torches and hand wave about how they were helping encourage the orphans to find their path in life.

In case you have missed it, I am clearly not a fan of Wall Street obsession that everything must be sacrificed for immediate shareholder value.  People were complaining about the lack of long term vision of US companies back in the 80s and 90s, but compared to how things are now that time seems like an era of farseeing stewards of the economy.  But I digress.

So I support the WGA and their strike and am glad that their sibling unions like SAG are on their side.

But I am not 100% behind their AI stance, which has become “AI is theft,” at least from some of their membership.

This is not an uncommon opinion in the push back against AI, the idea that training AI with copyrighted material is unethical and should be unlawful, with the conclusion that it is the equivalent of theft.  The theory is that, while AI pretty much sucks now, at some point it may be good enough to convincingly produce artwork that is indistinguishable from that of the original artist that produced the content with which the AI was trained.

And, at that point, it will be too late.

The thing that always jumps into my head at that point is that this is the path that a human artists also takes to learn.

You start out looking at what other people do, experiment with imitation, and, if you are lucky, you find your own style/voice in which to express yourself that makes the art uniquely yours.  And 99% of those who aspire to the arts probably stop progressing somewhere during the imitation phase, somewhere between being unable to achieve even a passable imitation and being able to imitate another’s style in a different context.

With the way AI is currently being approached… which seems to be something along the lines of “if we throw enough data at it maybe it will be good or become sentient or something” … it is barely making it to the imitation phase, and even then it requires human input to set a context in which it might work.

Mark Twain in the style of Roy Lichtenstein

All of the best, or most interesting, bits of AI art are derived from the human input required to guide the AI towards some outcome.  And decent outcomes are pretty rare.

At this point you might be asking if I then support the idea of AI being used to run roughshod over artists, letting it appropriate their work.  No, I certainly do not support that.  I think it is incumbent on the humans guiding the AI to ensure that that does not happen or to compensate the artist if it does.  We have a whole legal mechanism already in place for that.

Granted, that mechanism has its own issues.  Did George Harrison really copy from He’s So Fine when he wrote My Sweet Lord?  Did that nut who wrote a series of orphan boy goes to wizard school stories before Harry Potter really have grounds to sue J.K. Rowling.  Is Digimon just a blatant rip-off of Pokemon?  We already lack clear guidelines for how much one is allowed to be influenced by other works… and any famous artist who says they had no such influences is a liar… so drawing a hard line that AIs may not copy or be influenced seems naive at best.

We are worried about AI doing what humans do all the time already.  And I get the concern that AIs can do this sort of thing at scale.  But the idea that somebody is going to create an AI and not train it on the works of humans is a non-starter as well.  It doesn’t work for humans… everybody I know repeats things they’ve simply heard all the time, and original thought is so rare… well, one of my college professors once yelled at our class that the chances of even one of us having an original thought in our lives was infinitesimal.  That certainly applies to me as I have spent more than 16 years mostly regurgitating things I’ve read or making simple, first level connections between established ideas.

So if you use AI for things, I feel it is on you to make sure it isn’t infringing in any substantial way.  And if an AI is infringing on your stuff, then I suppose you respond the way you would if a human did it.

All of which is kind of a ways from where I was headed when I started this.  Flow of consciousness posts can be like that.  So let me return home, back to the idea of AIs straight up stealing stuff.

One of the attempts to get to some useful ideation out of ChatGPT had me submit this prompt:

Generate a list of futuristic sounding fictional metals used in spaceship construction

I want to make a spaceship building game or something and I need some ideas.  So ChatGPT came back with:

1. Neutronium Steel: An ultra-dense, highly durable alloy made by fusing neutron star material with terrestrial metals, offering unparalleled resilience against extreme forces and temperatures.

2. Plasmanite: A lightweight, semi-transparent metal capable of manipulating plasma fields to enhance the efficiency of propulsion systems and generate advanced energy shields.

3. Flexilum: A highly adaptive, morphing metal that can self-repair and rearrange its molecular structure in real-time, allowing for customizable and rapidly changing spaceship designs.

4. Gravitite: A metal that actively manipulates gravitational fields, enabling advanced propulsion and artificial gravity generation, as well as improved maneuverability in deep space.

5. Starforged Tungtherium: An alloy crafted from tungsten and exotic, interstellar materials, resulting in a heat-resistant, incredibly strong metal able to withstand the rigors of FTL travel.

6. Cryonium: A metal with innate superconductive properties at room temperature, enabling high-efficiency power transmission and advanced energy storage for spacecraft systems.

7. Nanochrome: A self-assembling nanomaterial metal that can form intricate patterns and structures, providing dynamic and efficient weight distribution and hull reinforcement.

8. Spectralite: A metal capable of changing its properties according to the electromagnetic spectrum, allowing for advanced stealth capabilities and adaptive radiation shielding.

9. Etherium Crystal Alloy: An interdimensional metal that manipulates the fabric of spacetime, reducing the effective mass of a spaceship and enabling advanced FTL propulsion methods.

10. Quantum Resonance Mesh: A metal formed from quantum-entangled particles, granting improved communication and data transfer rates across all spaceship systems, as well as enhanced sensor capabilities.

And I was pretty happy with that.  I mean, some of that needs to be work shopped into something a little less ponderous, but some decent work.

Then I went and used Google to see what the AI had cribbed from the internet and found that “Tungtherium” was unique, but everything else had at least some precedent while a few of them were brand names of actual products, or close enough to such brand names that Google felt it ought to bring them up at the top of the first page of results.

Now, to be fair, none of them had the properties described, and I am sure that is a whole additional field of research to work on, to see if those concepts themselves were stolen.  So maybe useful as a starting spot for making up your own metals, but not something you could safely use straight out of the box.

Grade: B-

By that time I was ready to move on to Google Bard, which completely misinterpreted my intent and just rolled up a list of metals used in other stories:

  • Duranium is a fictional metal that is often used in starship construction in the Star Trek universe. It is said to be incredibly strong and durable, and it is also resistant to radiation. Duranium is often used in the hulls of starships, as well as in their weapons and other components.
  • Dureum is another fictional metal that is often used in starship construction. It is said to be even stronger than duranium, and it is also said to be lighter. Dureum is often used in the hulls of large starships, as well as in their engines and other critical components.
  • Dust is a fictional material that is found in the world of Remnant in the popular web series RWBY. Dust is a crystalline energy source that can be used to create a variety of effects, such as fire, ice, and wind. Dust is often used in weapons and other technology, and it is also used to power vehicles, such as airships.
  • Inerton is a fictional metal that is used in the construction of airships in the novel The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Inerton is said to be incredibly strong and lightweight, and it is also said to be resistant to gravity. Inerton is used to create the hulls of airships, as well as their engines and other components.
  • Kryptonite is a fictional mineral that is found on the planet Krypton. Kryptonite is said to be poisonous to Kryptonians, and it can also have a variety of other effects on them, such as weakening their powers and even killing them. Kryptonite is often used as a weapon against Kryptonians, and it is also used to create technology that can control them.
  • Orichalcum is a fictional metal that is often mentioned in Greek mythology. It is said to be incredibly strong and durable, and it is also said to be impenetrable by weapons. Orichalcum is often used to create weapons and armor, and it is also used to build ships and other structures.
  • Plasteel is a fictional metal that is often used in starship construction in the Star Wars universe. It is said to be incredibly strong and durable, and it is also said to be resistant to blaster fire. Plasteel is often used in the hulls of starships, as well as in their weapons and other components.
  • Radium is a fictional metal that is often used in power sources in the Fallout universe. Radium is said to be incredibly powerful, and it is also said to be radioactive. Radium is often used in power armor, as well as in other technology, and it can also be used to create weapons.
  • Unobtainium is a fictional metal that is often used in science fiction. It is said to be incredibly strong and durable, and it is also said to be incredibly rare. Unobtainium is often used in the construction of starships and other advanced technology.
  • Vibranium is a fictional metal that is often used in the Marvel Comics universe. It is said to be incredibly strong and durable, and it is also said to be able to absorb vibrations. Vibranium is often used to create weapons and armor, and it is also used to build vehicles, such as the Black Panther’s suit.

Google Bard has become the comedy relief of these posts, though I did get a note that it was getting a significant upgrade soon.  We’ll see how that plays out.  But for now…

Grade: INC

Meanwhile, BingAI… look, I’m going in the revers of my usual order… seemed to grasp what I wanted, though wasn’t going to generate too many options:

  • Nanosteel: A metal alloy composed of iron, carbon and nanobots that can self-repair and adapt to different environments.
  • Plasmite: A metal that can store and release plasma energy, making it ideal for weapons and propulsion systems.
  • Quantium: A metal that can manipulate quantum fields and create wormholes, allowing for faster-than-light travel and teleportation.
  • Xenonite: A metal that is resistant to extreme temperatures and radiation, making it suitable for exploring hostile planets and stars.
  • Zyrium: A metal that can change its shape and properties according to the user’s will, enabling versatile and customizable designs.


BingAI, like ChatGPT, pulled things it had read elsewhere to compile its list, adding some fancy attributes to the list.  It just made a shorter list and wasn’t as expansive on its options.

Grade: C-

Basically, to answer my question, all three basically stole their ideas.  Only ChatGPT came up with a new word, and even that was a mash up of other words.

But that is all you can get from AIs at this point.  We have given them a bunch of LEGOs and they can only assemble them in ways they have seen before… and only with human intervention.  An AI simply can’t assemble something in a way it hasn’t come across in its training because the whole thrust of the training is just to give the AI the maximum number of examples.  It cannot do anything new, and it certainly cannot conceive of a LEGO brick outside of the set it has been given, something an 8 year old can probably manage.

So it is all theft.  But so are most human efforts.  We just draw a line between what is allowable for AIs and what is not for humans I suppose.

Rambling About Project Awakening

Warning: The following post was written as a flow of thoughts and, thus, rambles and stumbles along from point to point looking for a conclusion it never quite reaches.  Seriously, the payoff at the end is pretty minor, though there is one.  I did manage that.

So you are excused from reading this.  But if you persist, here we go!

We had the Project Awakening announcement a few weeks back now and I was immediately against the idea.  Crypto has built itself a bad reputation that no amount of hand waving or claims that people just don’t understand the benefits can can erase that.  Proponents have to say “But look at Bitcoin!” because literally anything else in the domain is problematic… and even Bitcoin is mired in controversy as it burns huge amounts if energy to support a minuscule user base.

So, yes, take it as read that I am very much the crypto skeptic as it has had more than a decade to prove itself and so far it has been mostly a vehicle for scams, speculation, and making a very small group of rich people incrementally richer.

But I am also skeptical of any product that is all about the technology and not about the product, solution, or actual user facing side of things.  I do not work in video games, but in enterprise software, where I have been for 20 of the last 30 years of my career, you sell the solution, how your product is going to solve a problem or make the customer’s life better.  You might need to support something they have in place already… they want Oracle not Informix for their database or whatever… but the initial pitch shouldn’t be about tech.

That sales pitches are often generally about tech tends to prove this correct.  I went through the a number of technology transitions in my career where somebody wants to be the disruption with things like VXML and for a brief moment that was important to customers, right up until they found out that the end result when it comes to the solution is about the same.  Then it makes no difference unless the price is more.

Customers care about end results for their money, and for video games the desired end result is fun.  The tech doesn’t matter so much so long as fun is achieved in some way.

We even have some examples of selling the tech for a video game when it comes to blockchain, including Decentraland, which I first wrote about five years ago.  I was mildly skeptical back then and my main thought in looking back on it was that I should have been more skeptical. (But at least it has a Wikipedia page now.)

Decentraland wanted to be blockchain Second Life.  And now it is… well, there is a good video about Decentraland that dropped a week or so back.

I know, it is a two hour video, but if you are interested set aside some time and watch it… or listen to it.  The visuals are highlights that emphasize points, but the words are the power and it gets into not just the failed promise of the game and its pathetic nature, but the whole world of governance in a “the code is law” environment where, despite all the claims of things being decentralized, a few people actually run the show.

And fun really doesn’t seem to have entered into the equation at all, which is why it is a barren wasteland dotted with the occasional Super Mario house.

Okay, I am past the 400 word mark and I haven’t even started in on Project Awakening, so let’s fix that.  Another video went up this past week featuring CCP studio head Hilmar Petursson speaking with two a16z “partners” about CCP, EVE Online, and blockchain.  I pulled a screen grab out just for illustration and to have that be the featured image.

Hilmar speaks with his investors… lots of man spread going on there

But you can find the video on YouTube.  It is over an hour and is mostly worth the effort.

The first 47 minutes of the video are a light history of CCP and EVE Online.  There are some interesting tidbits in there.  Hilmar and I both had the same first computer.

Welcome to 1982

So at some point both of us were likely copying programs from computer magazines, typing them in on that membrane keyboard.

I am always a bit dubious when Hilmar speaks about the game.  He has a reputation for not being attached to the details.  We have some CSM stories about that detachment, if you care to dig those out.

So there is Hilmar who tells the stories of the early days and how there were only 30K copies of the game on store shelves for the first few months, the person who played MUDs back in the day and can see how that was the foundation for what we’re doing and also how hard it is to achieve the freedom of text in 3D rendered virtual worlds and really likes that whole study that showed EVE Online teaches players resilience and creates long lasting friendships.

And we also have Hilmar of the chaos era, who thought shaking up the game was a cool idea because he had read The Three Body Problem, who tells the same in-game story over and over like it was the only one he had, and who thinks a citadel is the size of a small US state.

Nobody’s perfect, but that tends to push him out of the realm of experts on EVE Online and into the “grain of salt” arena my book.  You can tell me I don’t really know what he knows or thinks and I will agree; I can only base my reactions on what he has shown us.

Anyway, at about the 47 minute mark the conversation turns to blockchain and what this new game might do with the technology and, I will admit, that he had one good idea on that front, which was honestly one more than I expected.

When it comes to the sale of game assets, which is now in the realm of illicit RMT in and against the TOS and EULA, it would be cool if the company could get a cut of those sales, which blockchain and smart contracts can totally do.

Winner.  Made the case for a feature.  Would it be cool if CCP didn’t have to spend so much time tracking down illicit ISK sellers?  Yes.  Does this introduce new problems?  Of course.  Will this exacerbate other issues, like botting?  Undoubtedly!  So does this, as a feature outweigh everything else? I don’t think so.  But it is something that would probably benefit the the company, at least in the absence of other considerations.

The other ideas I was less enthusiastic about, and there were only two more really.

First, he wants to tax API usage for third party apps.  He doesn’t say that directly, but what he says about APIs adds up to that, and I can think of no better way to inhibit third parties from developing apps that charging gas for transaction. (In crypto “gas” is the term of art for transaction fees to support the system, which are pretty stable for Bitcoin, but which are hilariously volatile for other currencies like Etherium.)

And, second, he wants to let players use smart contracts to interact with the game and other players in order to create content, which makes me wonder if he keeps an eye at all on the crypto news, because this is literally a big part of the problem with crypto, the reason the whole “the code is law” thing has come back to bite so many people in the ass.  This was also another “does he play EVE Online at all?” because we, as players always find all the ways to abuse such systems.

I know, somebody will say that all these New Eden hyper libertarian capsuleers should be eating this up.  And I am sure some will.  But being scammed doesn’t make anybody happy, and just wait until real world money value is involved.  Here comes the Bored Ape Victorieux Luxury Yacht Club of New Eden.

Because this is where Project Awakening makes the great leap from EVE Online.  While CCP and others love to value in-game losses in real world currency amounts, that is largely a polite fiction, a way to give scale that will have impact on readers when they see headlines about the game.  When Hilmar says that $300K was destroyed at the battle of B-R5RB, that is not true.

Largest USD battles

That dollar amount is how much it would take to buy PLEX then sell it in game for ISK to match the amount of ISK that was lost in the battle.  I am sure some people in that battle bought some ISK, but most of it was obtained by playing the game.  Technically, all of it was, some people just sold it to some other people.

Here are the ISK valuations for those same battles. (And these charts are skewed by spanning nearly a decade over which the value of items in the game had fallen.  A B-R5RB titan was a lot more expensive to a player than a M2-XFE titan.)

Largest Battles by ISK Destroyed

The thing is, ISK flows into the game through player activities.  Every month the MER shows that trillions of ISK arrive in the game.

Feb 2023 ISK Balance

None of this has any real world value.  Hilmar even makes the point, early on, that New Eden ISK and the Icelandic currency, also ISK, are both without value outside of their respective domains.  You can’t come to California and buy a burger with either.

Except, of course, he is wrong on that too.  Sure, I cannot spend either flavor of ISK here, but there is an exchange rate and I could go to a bank or that storefront at the international terminal at the airport and exchange the Icelandic ISK for US dollars and buy a burger.

And New Eden ISK can be converted into US dollars as well, though that path is irregular and has many pitfalls, so the conversion rate is nothing anywhere close to what those US dollar losses on the chart above.  Given the risk and current selling price for illicit ISK, I would be surprised if 29 trillion ISK would get you more than $25K.

Still a lot of money to an individual, but divided amongst the 5K+ players in that battle, it comes out to $5 per account.  I would have parted with $5 to be in that battle.  Actually, I parted with more than that for my subscription that month.

Am I going somewhere with this?  Yes I am!  This is, unfortunately for you, a bit of a free flow of consciousness sort of post, so I am wandering a bit, so let’s get back on topic!

The idea of adding blockchain to a game like Project Awakening is to make those dollar amounts lost in a battle true.  The goal is that if we have a big fight and many things are lost… we don’t know what this new game will be, but they keep talking about it like a new revision of EVE Online… and at the end somebody does a valuation analysis and announces in a headline that $25 or $500 or $10,000  was lost in the fight, players whose ships exploded will actually be out that much real world money.

That is the goal, isn’t it?  That is the point of all the talk about real ownership and the ability to buy into or cash out of in-game assets isn’t it?  That is the natural end result of those features once they are implemented, right?

I mean, I can see why the investors love this idea, why EVE Online gives them a money boner bigger than bored apes.  This reeks of money landing in their pockets.

But I am getting into another side alley here.  I am far enough into this with various bits of groundwork that I want to address one of the two questions I set out with in mind.

What will this game be?

I don’t know.  I am not convinced CCP and a16z know.  I am not convinced a16z cares, so long as it promotes their blockchain business goals.

What it will NOT be is a replacement or updated version of EVE Online.

Part of me feels like that sort of statement should get a “well, duh!” from anybody who has read this far.  But then I see people speculating about it being very much a new version of EVE Online.  Even Hilmar spends time in this video talking about how he would make EVE Online again with the knowledge he has today. (Though he fixates on resource distribution based on his chaos era ideas still.)  And, of course, the a16z guys on the show seem to be salivating at the idea of a crypto New Eden.  They see themselves becoming rich on gas fees alone, because I will bet you that running the exchange and keeping the fees is part of a16z’s price for its investment.

But this new title cannot be that.  In cannot be a new version of EVE Online.

For starters, $40 million doesn’t get you EVE Online 2.0.  It is a stretch to think that $40 million gets you an AAA title for any but the most open definitions of the undefinable status of being an AAA game.  AAA games are like porn.  You know one when you see one.

$40 million might get you a serious retrofit of current EVE Online, but that leads me to the second my second point.

If it is a remake of EVE Online, it will fail and probably take the original with it.

First, because you cannot even get there with $40 million, CCP would have to strip EVE of resources to get there.  We remember past eras of neglect.

Then there is the fact that MMO sequels are not a thing on which success is built.  The history of the genre bears this out.  People stick with their game and successful sequels need to be different enough from the original so as to attract a new audience.

Guild Wars 2 is a good example.  The core audience of the original Guild Wars still plays that.  If ArenaNet took GW down, they would just make a pirate server and continue to play.  MMO gamers are like that.

There is already a limited audience for EVE Online because it embraces open world PvP.  If CCP and a16z made a new version of EVE Online, something that competed directly with it on the PC platform, some current players would move to it.

I am not kidding myself.  Even though blockchain gets a strong reaction from a vocal subset of the EVE Online audience, there are no doubt many players who would like the idea and who would jump ship for crypto, along with many who came late to the game who would like to be there for the dawn of a new game where everybody was starting new and they were not eternally “behind” on skill points or ISK or whatever.

Pulling any significant amount of players from EVE Online would hurt the game substantially.  There is a minimum critical mass of players for many activities, open world or economic, before they cease to be fun or viable.  I don’t know what the threshold is and I bet CCP doesn’t either.  But it is there and testing that would but EVE at risk.

When you have one money making asset in your portfolio, you don’t fuck with that. (Except, of course, companies regularly do that, often to their detriment, based on unsubstantiated ideas.)

I hear time and again that CCP needs to make more games because they have to in case EVE declines.  There is an idea that a single product company isn’t a real business.  And that is, at its core, BS.

There are a lot of single product companies out there.  Facebook/Meta and Google are effectively such companies.  If you take away ad revenue they aren’t even worth mentioning as tech ventures.  Facebook without ad revenue is a bunch of buildings in Menlo Park with “For Lease” signs on the front.  Yeah, they are trying to make other products, but until you succeed it doesn’t mean anything but expenses.  And even if a company does succeed, and Google has some small project that are successful, is their revenue enough to be worth the distraction?

So there is no law of the capitalism that says companies have to have multiple successful products.

EVE Online is an online service game.  You could very easily structure CCP to devote itself to that and return a nice profit.  And that isn’t even a Gamigo maintenance mode scenario.  EVE makes enough money to support a dev team and do hardware upgrades, so long as it doesn’t do anything wrong and kill the product.

The problem is that CCP has been owned by outside investors and is now owned by Pearl Abyss, which is a public company.

That has implications.  If you are a public company you must adhere to the Wall Street rule: If you’re not growing, you’re dying.  That translates to a demand to constantly increase shareholder value.  Big companies can defer that with stock buy backs, spending all their earnings to please their investors one quarter at a time.

Small companies have two choices, expand or be acquired.  CCP has done both, but is still in the same boat.

The reason we’re even talking about all of this is because of this shareholder value requirement.  CCP, in its current situation has little choice.  If somebody came along and said they would invest $40 million if the company built a game that is powered by the clubbing of baby seals, CCP will convince themselves they have a fiduciary responsibility to take the money because they don’t have other options.  And if they didn’t, Pearl Abyss would convince them, or fire management and install somebody who did.

CCP has little choice on the matter.

Basically, I ran all this way to say it won’t be a modernized version of EVE Online, because if it is it will become an example of two games becoming less than the sum of their parts.  But maybe something I brought up along the way will spark further discussion or another post.

This all still leaves me room to speculate about what the game might be and what the potential audience for it is in another post.  Or two, if they’re anything like this one.


New Eden and China

One of the big aspects of EVE Online is that we all play together on one server.  The game needs a critical mass of players to keep the complex economy and the things that drive it going.  It enables play styles from the solo explorer to coalition level wars with battles that see thousands of people involved.

Except, of course, there isn’t ONE server, there are TWO servers.

There is Tranquility, or TQ, which serves most of the world’s population.

And then there is Serenity, the server in the People’s Republic of China.  It was kicked off in 2006 because China doesn’t like its citizens to be subjected to the corrosive influences of outside thought.  Words like “freedom” get the government ready to roll out the tanks.  As we have seen in Hong Kong over the last few years, political dissent is not allowed.

The two servers ran in parallel, though with very different stories.  That players craft the tales of New Eden was never so evident than when comparing the two servers.  On both servers, null sec saw titanic battles between factions.  While TQ saw wars that never led to total victory, that would just realign the traditional three pole structure of the balance of power where two groups might unite against the third, but they were never quite enough to win a total victory, things played out differently on Serenity.

On Serenity, one faction won.  The Pan-Intergalactic Business Community and its vassal alliances defeated their foes and established essentially single party rule over their version of New Eden.

Serenity null sec sovereignty – Jan 17, 2023

This turned a tide in the game.  At one point some groups, like the famous Rooks & Kings, had moved from TQ to Serenity… VPN and all that… because the two servers were not just separated by the Great Firewall of China, but had also diverged when it came to code and mechanics, with Serenity being behind.  Those who were not keen on the changes that had come to TQ moved to Serenity to relive the glory of the older mechanics.

But with the end of the war on Serenity, the tide of players flowed towards TQ, where new mechanics might vex, but the balance of the great powers had not devolved into a uni-polar situation.

I wrote about the last (as of this writing) Rooks & Kings video that documented the fall of Serenity and the movement of players to TQ, including Chinese players.  Once again, VPN comes to the rescue.

This came about at quite a fortuitous moment for TQ because online numbers were beginning to trend downward.  EVE Online reached its peak around 2013 with more than 500K subscribers world wide, including China, and had been trending downward since.

Players from China were not unknown on TQ up to that point.  And in late 2017 the sovereignty map for TQ shows Fraternity, an alliance made up of exiles on the losing side of the war for Serenity, already holding space in the southeast of null sec.

Null Sec Sovereignty – Sep 1, 2017

There are a lot of old and storied names on that map, scattered around in the configuration that they settled into once the dust from the Casino War died down.  If you click on that map to see it full size, you can find Fraternity at about 4:30, a violet patch just to the west of the purple of Triumvirate.

Compare that to a sovereignty map from this week.

Null Sec Sovereignty – Jan 17, 2023

On that map Fraternity now has a pretty big slice of the north of null sec and is a serious power.  Down in the southwest there is Dracarys, a member of the Imperium, who holds space in Querious and Catch.  And in the northeast there is the Pan-Intergalactic Business Community, a name which at least suggests Chinese influence, though its proximity to Fraternity, who should be its bitter enemy, suggest that it is using the name but otherwise is not affiliated with the Serenity version of that alliance.  My theory that it might be the remnants of the collapse of The Army of Mango Alliance and Ranger Regiment, two other Chinese null sec alliances, seems unfounded.

Anyway, the point is that Chinese alliances are a pretty big part of null sec, much more so than they were even five years ago, and that their arrival has probably helped forestall an even more drastic decline in the player count in the last few years.

So I felt that CCP announcing the addition of Simplified Chinese to the TQ client was at least a tacit admission as to the importance of our fellow capsuleers from mainland China.

Simplified Chinese went live with today’s update, along with the launch of Lunar New Year celebrations, including the usual round of login rewards.  More SKINs and skill points, I won’t say “no” to that.  From the Patch Notes.

Patch Notes For 2023-01-19.1

Features & Changes:


  • To Celebrate the Lunar New Year, a special set of login rewards are now available to players who login from now until the end of January.
    • Rewards include themed SKINs, skillpoints, Wightstorm Boosters and fireworks. 🎇


  • Simplified Chinese is now available as a language option on Tranquility.

Seems straightforward.

The odd bit was that the patch notes from the day before were just a single line item:

Patch Notes For 2023-01-18.1

Features & Changes:


  • Added access restrictions to Tranquility from mainland China.

On the face of it, that seems like an odd contradiction.  On the one hand, adding Simplified Chinese to TQ seems like a welcoming gesture to mainland China, with ~1.4 billion people, and our fellow capsuleers who share the server with us.  (Yes, Singapore and Malaysia also use Simplified Chinese, so CCP benefits there as well, but population wise they are a small fraction of mainland China.)

On the other hand, what does “Added access restrictions to Tranquility from mainland China” even mean?

The problem is that patch not is short and cryptic in a way that wants to announce something without really saying what it means.

The automatic assumption by many over in r/eve is that the Chinese government required these additional restrictions, and that would certainly align with the general outlook it has about the west and western video games.

The follow on assumption is that this won’t affect Chinese players who use VPNs to connect to TQ.  They already needed to do this, so this shouldn’t have much of an impact, if any.

Those are reasonable assumptions and I certainly don’t have any information that would prove them false.  Only CCP and NetEase likely know what is up on that front, which brings me to an alternative theory.

CCP didn’t just put together a Simplified Chinese language update in their offices in Iceland.  As with their Japanese translation, they most certainly needed external help with that, and who more appropriate to do that than NetEase, their partner in China who runs the Serenity server.

NetEase has been in the news of late mostly due to their aggressive and confrontational relationship with Blizzard over World of Warcraft in China, a relationship that has very publicly fallen apart, with NetEase heaping both blame and scorn on Blizzard in the news.  WoW in China is not currently a thing and WoW players there are likely to have to start fresh if Blizz can find another partner.

Given that context, it wouldn’t surprise me if, as part of the deal to get a Simplified Chinese UI from NetEase, that they might demand that CCP… essentially stop stealing their customers.  Certainly the way NetEase has behaved in public lately is also sending a message to beware of crossing them.

Again, whether or not this will have any real impact on mainland Chinese players on TQ is yet to be seen.  We will just wait and watch and hope.


Reflecting on Star Trek as a Film Series

In coming to the end of watching all of the Star Trek films I feel like I seriously have to ask myself if I even like Star Trek anymore, or what Star Trek has become, or if it has just shrunk in the context of so many other options, or if I have just outgrown it.

Does Khan look like Kirk summoned him like a genie here?

Seriously, as powerful of an influence as the original series had on me as a kid the way things have carried on since then has been one unfulfilled promise after another.

I guess, first of all, I have to try to describe how important Star Trek was between the cancellation of the original series and the launch of the first film.

I have mentioned, in reference to the Star Wars expanded universe, the great Star Wars drought, where between Return of the Jedi in 1983 and The Phantom Menace in 1999 there was this huge longing for more Star Wars stuff that was filled by books and models and toys and games of different styles.

It was like that, only more so because, for most of that stretch, there wasn’t another major space fantasy IP to distract. (Okay, maybe Doctor Who, but sharing cons with those weirdos…)  The original series wrapped up due to production cost concerns while still very popular.  The Spock’s Brain episode aside, it never jumped the shark, never tired people out by dragging on too long.

So the three seasons of the show were continuously available in syndication.  In the age of broadcast TV before VCRs, it was a show you could find on the TV schedule a few times a week if you lived in a metro area with more that a couple of broadcast stations.

But to fill the void, the feed the need for more, all the things you might expect from your Star Wars memories of its drought appeared.  Toys, posters, games, cosplay, conventions, and books… so many books.  There were books about the ships, books about the series, books about the toys, posters, games, and action figures, and its own expanded universe of novels, some good, though most were pretty bad.  But they sold because people wanted more so badly.

There was a store at the same open air mall where my beloved San Antonio Hobby Shop was located called Starbase One or some such, which basically sold Star Trek stuff.  Yes, there was some Doctor Who stuff in its own corner and the occasional Blake’s 7 item would appear on the shelf, but it was mostly Star Trek stuff… and the place survived for a few years in the mid-70s selling toy phasers and bad uniform tunics and plastic models of the Enterprise and whatever other tchotchkes were available.

So I am going down a rabbit hole here for a bit about a time 50 years in the past to set the stage for how I feel about Star Trek… and, honestly, Star Wars… today.

I grew up in an era where there was an almost desperate desire to have more Star Trek on TV or on the big screen.  This is absolutely parallel to the feeling many Star Wars had in the era between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace.  It was a deep seated desire to have MORE of these stories, and I just happen to be of exactly the right age to have a double dose that desire, and it never really goes away.

So despite having sat through thirteen mostly mediocre and occasionally regrettable Star Trek films and having seen how many seasons of whatever shows they are up to producing, I will always say I want more, because there is no way to sate that need for more that the initial lack brought about.

And it is the same for Star Wars.  I don’t really like more than half of the Star Wars movies and have felt the ups and downs of their television productions from the Holiday Special onward, but if you put me in a focus group and pitched a show about Bib Fortuna and his life on Tatooine before he went to work for Jabba, I would unhesitatingly be in favor of that show being produced.

This is the same me that bitches how everything has to happen on Tatooine and who doesn’t like half of the movies.

But something within me would rather have more crap than another drought… and, of course, there is always that sliver of me from the mid-70s who just wants to feel the way I did about Star Trek and Star Wars the way I did back then and maybe, just maybe, THIS TIME the

Anyway, enough rambling.  The sum of this is that I will always want more in search of the unlikely goal of making me feel the way the franchise did when it was new.  In this case, to feel about a film the way I felt about the original series back when I was… well… somewhere between very young and merely young.

Which means, for the final ranking of the Star Trek films, I am going to split them out by the degree to which they made me feel like I did when Star Trek was just a cancelled three season science fiction drama that was pretty much constantly available as re-runs in syndication.

Now, that is a pretty hard to quantify metric.  It is an emotion response, a gut check on the feels of hope, exploration, and *pew* *pew* that the original series instilled in me when I was a kid, the things that made Star Trek a future I wanted to live in.

And, just to clarify, this is how successful they were at that measure in this re-watch of the film.  Each is also linked to my post about that particular film.

Hit The Mark

Which of the films I think met that rather nebulous criteria?  And the ordering in these categories is irrelevant.  This is entirely an exercise of sorting them into buckets.  I ranked them previously by generation if you want that sort of scoring.

These are the three films that most closely got me there.  Star Trek II, of course, was a direct pull from the original series with the original cast still not too old relative to the series, with a script that aligned well to how those days felt.  It probably helps that the current remastered version also looks pretty good.

Then there are two of the three J.J. Abrams re-boot films.  What can I say?  Despite their obvious flaws in script, story, continuity, and lens flare, those two managed to evoke a sense of the original in me that I was not expecting.  As I noted in those reviews, there were a lot of powerful performances and effects and music that helped them along, but those are not things to be set aside, they are part of the whole of the picture.

Add in the fact that they also go to pains to link themselves to the original series, that what we are seeing isn’t another version of Star Trek, but a parallel universe version where events transpired differently… a possibility established in original series canon back with the Mirror, Mirror episode… and I am willing to embrace the whole thing.  I want to be in the original series Star Trek, but I would happily go to the J.J. version of Star Trek.

I would also turn around and re-watch any of those three again.

Came Close

These four have some emotional resonance that put them at least close to the target.  They are imperfect wessels of my fandom, but I still feel like they had something that was able to capture a bit of the elusive magic of Star Trek for me.

The third J.J. film is here.  It fell off the rails a bit for feelings for me largely based on script.  Performances were still powerful, but not enough to overcome the seeming obsession with the film series of blowing up the Enterprise.

The rest are original series films which, while goofy at times, did still sell the original cast pretty well without getting too deep into that.  Star Trek III was kind of a tough call, but Christopher Lloyd’s occasionally erratic Klingon commander performance kind of sold it.  I know, not original cast, but somehow an original feel.

Likewise, The Motion Picture is a very flawed tale, but it still manages, in its own way, to pull on the threads of desire I felt back then to have some Trek, any Trek.

Wide Misses

For reasons below, these just did not cross the emotional threshold.

I am not necessarily going to declare these bad movies or anything.  That is not my criteria.  It is more a matter of my own emotional attachment.

As you can see, all four The Next Generation films are here, not because they were of poor quality, but more because TNG has never really felt like *my* Star Trek.  By the time TNG came around we had not only had six Star Trek films, we had also had Battlestar Galactica, Aliens, Terminator, and the original three Star Wars films, including arguably the two best out of the entire bunch.

In that mix, TNG was kind of okay.  It had a rough first season for me.  I don’t think I have even seen the full first season.  And even when it settled down in season three and I was watching it every week, it still didn’t have that special feeling that the original series did.  And I have never really spent much time watching TNG in re-runs.  So Kirk, for all his flaws, will always be my Enterprise captain.

But even that can’t get past the last two films in the series.  I know I am bucking the even/odd good/bad legend of the original six Trek films, but those films feel tired.  The scripts are tired, the cast is tired, the Enterprise… whatever version it was… is tired, even the aliens seem tired.  And, to give TNG its due, there was better Star Trek available on television while those films were being made.  Neither connected with me, and I am going to claim to be to have been the core audience when they are released.

So there we go.  I have ridden the gauntlet of Trek films and come through on the other side.  It was certainly a more manageable task than trying to watch all the shows… or even all of one of the shows besides the animated series or Short Treks or one of the new shows that doesn’t have too many episodes.  But if I were to go watch something at the end of this, it would probably be some of the remastered originals.  But that probably says more about me and where I came from than what the best options are.

Finally, if there is one lesson I can draw from the entire series it is; when in doubt, put your goddam shields up.  Beyond blowing up the Enterprise, how often do they get caught with their shields down?  There should be a Star Fleet regulation about that!

The End of Twitter as we Know It?

Elon Musk… backed by some sort of consortium of financiers, because there wasn’t $44 million in quarters in that sink he hauled into Twitter HQ this past Wednesday… has purchased Twitter.

Tweet, tweet motherfuckers

The sink was an attempt at a visual gag because Twitter had to “let that sink in,” one of those quips that he loves to append random statements that he thinks lend substance to his ignorance.

So there goes the neighborhood.  His publicly stated plan is to restore free speech by firing 75% of the company employees.  Anybody who has worked in tech knows that most companies over a certain size can shed 10-20% of their workforce and likely see a dramatic rise in average productivity.  But 75%, that might kill the company, because the high performers who can get another job quickly will walk the moment things get too bad.

The starting point was the executive staff, which was probably to be expected, including Vijaya Gadde, who was in charge of the company’s legal policy and who probably did more for free speech on the platform than we will likely ever see during Elon Musk’s stewardship.

Basically, protecting their users personal information from litigious rich people and foreign governments by going to court rather than just handing over the data was far more important as a free speech concept than being able to harass people and use the n-word about anybody with a dark skin tone.

But now Elon owns the place and, as I said last time this threat seemed to be looming, he can’t just burn the place down.  He isn’t the sole owner.  He has financing from other sources, including loans, and his backers will be pissed if he takes this $44 billion boondoggle… probably double the price it was really worth… and devalues it through stupid egoistic blundering.

The problem is, that is kind of his brand in public.

I mean, he may actually be the technical genius his fanboys claim he is, but as this article over at The Verge points out, the problems with Twitter are not technical.

I mean, not that he doesn’t believe somehow there is a technical fix to perfect Twitter.  Leaked internal email says that he wanted to personally review code with all of the developers on the team, actually asking them to print out their last 30 to 60 days of code submissions so they could review it with him… only to have that order countermanded later in the day, with instructions to shred all those print outs.

The problem with content moderation is that it always seems like an easy problem to solve with code… right up until you start trying to actually do it.  And I speak as somebody who spent half a decade working with attempts to automate responses to support request email messages.  That was summed up nicely by a Stanford grad student who interned with us over a summer to do research on text analysis.  His grand summing up was to announce that the fewer sorting categories we had, the more likely we were to route messages to the right one.  He was not amused when I asked if that meant if we just had a single “miscellaneous” category we would achieve 100% accuracy.

But I digress.  There is no technical solution to what ails Twitter… though that won’t stop somebody suggesting blockchain to make everything worse.

There is no problem so bad that blockchain can’t simultaneously make it worse, dumber, and more expensive in one go.

No, the problem, as The Verge points out, is political, and even Elon knows that is the real truth.  While he may be yanking the collective chains of his developers, probably looking for people to fire as much as anything, his first outreach as head of the company was to advertisers promising them he wouldn’t be turning Twitter into a free-for-all hellscape.

Twitter is barely a break-even situation even on its best day, so driving away advertisers willing to spend money on promoted Tweet would only make things worse for the whole enterprise, no matter how many people he lays off.

Still, laying people off is every the tech company’s solution to budgetary problems.  He’ll do that, probably move the HQ to Austin, and freely hand over user information to any subpoena or  totalitarian regime that requests it.  That last will save a lot in legal fees.  Expect more people getting jail sentences in dictatorships.

Content moderation though… even he is backing off of his grandiose pronouncements.  Nothing is being changed today, Trump hasn’t been unbanned, and as much as the MAGA “own the libs crowd” has been crowing, it still looks more like Elon got taken to the cleaners his, chained as he is to this $44 million albatross.

But I am going on about the absurdity of the situation, which I find both funny and horrifying in various measures.

The question I should probably get to is what am I going to about it?

Probably very little right now.

To start with, as with every takeover or merger, not much is going to happen after the first few dramatic firings.  And it will be hard to look away from the train wreck, should it come to pass.  I don’t plan travel to totalitarian states, so I should be safe.

But mostly I am going to stick around because I don’t have a good replacement for Twitter.

Everything else is either too siloed up into little friend groups (Mastodon, Discord) or are worse hell holes than Twitter has ever managed to be (Facebook, NextDoor, Reddit).

Twitter is kind of a strange mix of people I know and follow, people who are interesting to follow, and random reactions to news and events, often before I hear about them elsewhere.  It works for me in ways other options do not.

So I will continue hanging out, at least until something really stupid happens.

What Will it Mean to have a Bunch of 20 Year Old MMORPGS?

I know we already have some MMORPGs that are over 20 years old.  EverQuest turned 23 earlier this year, Lineage hit 24 last week, and Ultima Online has its 25th anniversary celebrations coming up soon.  Even Anarchy Online has managed to shamble past its 21st birthday.

Welcome indeed… we’ve been here a quarter century

But we’re getting past the point where that first generation of financially successful MMORPGs have passed two decades and are rapidly coming up on the next generation, the successors that tried to learn and adapt what was learned from the first titles to cross the 100K player mark.

We are now about a half a year away from EVE Online turning 20.  This coming November World of Warcraft and EverQuest II will hit the 18 year mark.  And after that pair hits 20 we’ll see some long surviving title like Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online hitting 20.

I was just going on yesterday about 16 years being kind of a long time in the life of a person, a significant portion of their lifetime experience.  Hell, part of the reality of this blog is not so much that it has been around for 16 years, but that I have been writing about and playing the same half dozen games for most of the time I have been writing it.

What does 20 years mean in a genre that is only 25-50 years old, depending on where you want to mark the starting point?  If you subscribe to the notion that video games are for kids, what does it mean when you have a set of titles that are old enough to be considered adults?

MMORPGs kind of broke the mold when it came to video game development.  You used to make a game, ship it, maybe do a couple of patches and maybe an expansion if the game was a big freaking deal, then you moved on to the next title.  In the end, selling boxes was the goal.  You might rework the same game… how many annual Madden titles have we had after all, or Call of Duty, or even Wizardry if you want to go back to my youth… but you shipped the game and started on the next one.

MMORPGs though, they just keep going.  Or some of them do.  There are, of course, some bodies along the side of the road to 20.  Some less successful titles were thrown overboard to keep various companies afloat and their senior execs in lemon scented moist towelettes or whatever.

But for a set of titles, if they hit a certain critical mass of core players and establish just the right amount of social bonds, they seem to be able to go on forever.

Yeah, sure, they are past their peak.   There aren’t 250K players in Ultima Online anymore, or 400K in Dark Age of Camelot, or 500K in EVE Online, or 550K in EverQuest, or 12 million in World or Warcraft, or however many in whatever other aging titles you care to mention.  Their prime is in the past.  But they managed to hold onto enough players to remain viable, even profitable.  Very profitable, in some cases.  EG7 is never going to let go of EverQuest if it keeps up, nor will Blizzard ever abandon WoW, which still pays most of the bills even in its decline.  The only thing that will kill them is gross mismanagement… and even WoW seems to be able to handle that.  (EVE Online though, that remains a test case for management that wants a different game.)

Even if new content is out of the question, there are always events and special servers and a host of tricks and enticements to keep people playing and paying.

It used to be Mark Jacob’s gig to go on about how the market for MMORPGs was vast beyond anybody’s measure. (A quote of one of the many times he said something like that.)  But I do wonder what it means to have a market where the old competitors, rich in content, history, and memories, are hanging about as the occasional new entry shows up and tries to compete.

I’ve gone on about the peril of the market for new entries, and the thing isn’t unassailable if you’ve learned the right lessons from the past.  Go see how Lost Ark has been doing, a title that had its act together, versus New World, an entry in the genre that seemed determined to forget every lesson ever learned.

I do not have any deep insight or huge conclusion to wind up this post with.  It is just something that occurred to me as I was tidying up yesterday’s post about my blog turning 16 and how its fortunes have tracked along with some of the games I’ve written about.  I’m past my peak as a blogger as well, but enough of you show up and drop a comment now and then to keep me going… and enough comment spam bots land to load up ads to pay the bills.

Reflections on What Keeps You in New Eden for Sixteen Years

We are here again at the anniversary of my start in New Eden.  16 years ago today I created my account and logged into EVE Online for the very first time.

My New Eden birthday in the old character panel

It has become a tradition for me to write about some aspect of the game… because I can only recount my first day of play so many times.  My frustration helped prompt me to start this blog, its anniversary being less than two weeks distant.

Some of the topics I have covered in the past on my anniversary.

But here, at year sixteen, I am struggling a bit for a topic.

It has been a something of a bad year for the game, as I wrote about previously.  But bad times and bad decisions by the company are hardly unique, and they tend to bring out more opinions from me rather than less.

It isn’t like I couldn’t drag out a topic.  There are a multitude of things that I could potentially run on about related to sixteen years of playing EVE Online.  The problem is that post like this, opinions and remembrances and going on about what a strange and wonderful place New Eden can be, that comes from the emotional part of me.

And my feelings for the game are a little flat right now.

I know, I know, it has been a down year for the game, and that no doubt enters into it.  It is much easier to find some passion for writing when things are happening.  Even when things are not going your way.

Especially when things are not going your way.

I am sure I have said this before, but it bears repeating; being on the losing side isn’t all bad.  Being on the defense in Saranen during the Casino War or backed up into that last constellation in Delve during World War Bee, those were some of the most active times in the game.  It gave things an edge… and it is convenient when the enemy brings content to your front step on a daily basis.

There are a couple of reasons for that.

First, it is a video game, so the stakes aren’t really that high.  Nobody dies, everybody respawns in a fresh clone to undock and fight again another day.  Ships are expendable.  Losing them is what we do every day.  If you haven’t lost a ship, you aren’t really playing the game.

Second, the odds being against you can really heighten the experience.

You don’t want to be completely overwhelmed.  There is no fun in extremely long odds.  But when the chips are down and there seems like there is no way to win and a fleet gets pinged and you and a hundred or more other members of your space tribe log in, ship up, and undock all the same.

That comes as close to a “This is Sparta!” sort of moment as you can get with an internet spaceship simulator.

It is almost as though a certain amount of difficulty or adversity makes the game more interesting.

I am sure I have mentioned this before.  It is certainly more fulfilling to write about heavily contested battles, bloody clashes, and close run defeats than it is to try to spin a tale about an uncontested structure shoot.  Not that I haven’t done the latter, it just isn’t as interesting.

Of course, there is adversity and then there is adversity.  CCP having made it more difficult to earn ISK or harvest resources, putting a strangle hold on the economy of New Eden, that isn’t the good sort of adversity.  Making ships expensive to replace does not drive conflict.

I’d much rather have the assets to throw ships into a desperate defense, like the ones we had at FWST-8 almost two years ago, or betting some assets on a clever trap that goes bad, like the one at YZ9-F6, than to be wondering if my PI yield this month is going to keep me in enough ISK to invest in whatever the latest doctrine is.

But that is sort of the Tao of EVE Online.  The interesting bit can come upon us unexpectedly, and nobody is guaranteed a good time just for logging in.  But if you don’t log in you’ll never get that special high that arrives when things come together and events are suddenly swirling and you are in the moment in a fight and, while you want to win, the whole thing will still be memorable and worth talking about even if you don’t.

So, even in the face of the last year and then some, I am still subscribed.  I still log in.  Something interesting is bound to happen even as another year goes by.

Fruits of the Cultural Revolution

When I went out to null sec back in late 2011, it was not without some trepidation.  I was going to join a friend out there and be part of a small corporation.  In the social structure of New Eden, the corporation is often the most basic unit, a small group that identifies together, very much the guild analog in EVE Online.

But the game takes it beyond that, and above corporations there are alliances, which are groups of corporations that can band together under a unified banner in order to work together.  Alliances are a meta-guild of sorts.

The players, ever ingenious, have managed to create their own social structures beyond what the game provides.  I often speak of the Imperium and PanFam and PAPI and FI.RE.  These are coalitions, alliances of alliances, an idea that has no official structure within the game.  But CCP gave us enough tools through standings and such to make them possible.

And then there are informal groups, at least so far as the game is concerned, what we call SIGs and Squads in the Imperium, but which exist in other alliances and coalitions, which try to group up people with like interests so they can do things together.

This is somewhat relevant to my own tale in null sec, which started with my joining a small corporation, BSC Legion, back in December of 2011 and getting mixed up in the never ending tale of war and drama that is null sec space in New Eden.  It may also relevant to where this post will go, though I won’t really know until I get there.

Back then the organization now known as the Imperium, at the time called the CFC, was a very different place.  This was after the great war between Band of Brothers and Goons, and null sec was a mix of survivors of the war, successor organizations, and some new groups.  It was very much the age of suspicion and spies and getting into a null sec corp required some thorough vetting and a vouch from somebody already in the corp.

And life in null sec was like a lot of other PvP games at the time.  There was a lot of casual racism, sexism, homophobia, and all the usual bad tropes of “gamer” culture, with no real incentive to change and a lot of people set in their ways.  The CEO of my first alliance, TNT, told us quite bluntly at one point that he would ban and blacklist anybody who complained to CCP about people posting porn in fleet chat, which was incredibly common at the time.  An occasional FC would ask people to go make a porn channel to keep fleet chat clear, but that was a rare thing indeed.

It was the price of playing the game… because it wasn’t just null sec that was like that.

Then things changed.  Sometime after the Fountain War Goonswarm and the CFC started to clean itself up.  The cultural revolution was declared.  A huge push was made to normalize better behavior.  The name was change to the Imperium.  We were no longer going to tolerate casual racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, and other toxic behavior within our ranks.

This was not an easy lift.  There had been some efforts before to try to get people to tone down their behavior, at least in coalition level fleets, and it was met by a lot of push back.  There are a lot of fragile young men out there who feel less than whole if they can’t been abusive.  I recall many surly complaints about not being able to link porn in fleet chat or harass any female that showed up on voice chat.

But the cultural revolution, which was most loudly proclaimed by The Mittani, mostly succeeded.  It was directed primarily at Goonswarm and coalition operations, so other alliances in the coalition did what they pleased on their own time.  There had to be a second cultural revolution after the Casino War to stamp out corners of toxic behavior… a task made easier by the fact that the Imperium had shed some of the more toxic groups during the war… and some basic standard of behavior was created and enforced.  I have been on fleets where somebody slips into that old toxic behavior only to have the fleet commander firmly remind them that “we don’t do that here.”  It is always good to hear somebody in authority holding the line.

And I am sure somebody will point out that coalition member X said something toxic somewhere… in local, in the forums, on r/eve… and they are probably right.  There is no way to police this sort of standard outside of coalition sponsored operations.  But at least people could go on coalition operations and not be subject to that sort of thing.  Life was better.

As for why this happened, there are probably a few reasons, not the least of which is that unchecked toxic behavior tends to drive out your best players over time.

But this time frame was also a point of change in null sec.  Brave Newbies had showed up and, while not exactly a power house, demonstrated that an open recruitment policy and an eagerness to help new players could generate interest and put ships on grid.

In a game where “n+1” had long been the formula for victory, this simple method of recruiting people to fill fleets was a too good to pass up.  We were also entering the “farms and fields” era of null sec, where defense of sovereignty would depend on the Activity Defense Multiplier.  You would have to live in and use your space to make it defensible, and having more people made that easier.  Also, there would no longer be “bad” space in null sec, systems whose true security gave them little value.  Upgrades via infrastructure hubs would make any system viable for ratting, mining, and industry.

So the Imperium copied the Brave formula, grabbing some of their leadership along the way, and set about recreating it in the form of KarmaFleet.  Goonswarm already had a fairly strong training and informational program for new players, so this was expanded and evolved to handle new recruits that wanted to go to null sec.

All of this was a large set of changes to the organization, and it is hard to imagine that they could have occurred without somebody as driven and frankly ruthless as The Mittani championing them.  He had been out in front of this declaring that we shouldn’t be shitty to each other.  We were all in this together and should look out for and support each other.

This is the sort of thing that builds the bonds that gets people to hold out for more than a year against three to one odds, as happened in World War Bee.

So there has been a strong belief that, no matter what our foes say, that we’re the good guys, demonstrably better people than those who attack us.

Which isn’t to say that everything was perfect.  Individuals will be jerks of their own accord.

And so it was that somebody in the coalition was stalking and harassing one of their female corp mates.  The corporation diplomats asked the coalition to ban and blacklist that person, but the coalition wanted more information.  The victim of the harassment sent more information, however nothing happened for four months, so she began complaining in the alliance forum about it to get attention.

This got the attention desired and the harasser was banned.

But so was the victim.

That was obviously wrong and the victim was unbanned.

If that were it, and my summation here is grossly simplified, it would have been bad but something to be learned from.  Mistakes get made, but they are only wasted if we fail to use them to improve.  The first I heard about any of this was a ping went out about the coalition needing a harassment policy because part of the excuse was that people handling this were not sure what to do.

But then people who were calling for the victim to be unbanned then got banned.  The victim and their defenders were banned for drama.

And there was The Mittani, in the middle of this, banning people, blaming the victim, and generally being an ass.  Quotes from him, posted all over r/eve, were the first thing I saw that made me feel that something was really wrong.

The Mittani as imagined by CCP in a video from The Scope

As more leaks came out I really began to think it might be time to leave.  This wasn’t what we fought for in the past.  I started calculating in my head what I ought to do to get out… sell my caps, ship smaller stuff to Jita… and be done with it.  This was not where the cultural revolution was supposed to lead us… or rather, it seemed to be pointing out that being better only applied to line members, that those in power could continue to behave badly behind closed doors, something we see all to often in the real world where rules only apply to those down the food chain.

That was on Wednesday evening, and I mulled it over on Thursday as more leaks sprung revealing what was going on at the top.

Then, Friday morning, The Mittani resigned.  He put out a statement that was posted over at INN about his reasons for leaving, highlighting people dragging his personal life into the fray.  And that was no doubt so.  He has made a lot of enemies and there are a host of people on r/eve and Something Awful that will drag him at every opportunity.

But there isn’t anybody outside of the Imperium who can take credit for this, though they are trying to.

The call came from inside the house.

This was an internal revolt.  When leadership chats are leaking, it is because people are not happy inside and they can’t see being able to make any change without going public.

So The Mittani has stepped down, handed over the keys to the alliance, driven there, arguably, by the cultural revolution he championed years back.

What happens next?  That remains to be seen.  Internal dissent won’t be quelled by shuffling the deck chairs.  But there are also people who feel The Mittani did no wrong, some still in leadership positions.  Goon unity is an illusion, except when people bunch us into a collective group to take a swing at us.  Outside attacks bring us together.  But left to our own the Imperium is a large and diverse group and no stereotype fits.

And how does the Imperium and Goonswarm Federation move forward from this?

The Mittani has often openly declared the organization to be an autocracy, and like its real world counterparts, it had a strong and recognizable main leader and then a host of others doing the real work mostly behind the scenes.  That means that there is no immediate and obvious heir to the leadership role.  Some care takers have taken over the main roles, but there isn’t anybody at the top now whose voice I would recognize on coms, much less know what they really do in the Coalition.

All of this has happened not too long after the ten year anniversary of the notorious “wizard hat” incident when The Mittani encouraged people during his alliance panel presentation to harass a player who claimed to be suicidal.  The Mittani apologized the next day and attempted to make good with the player in question, but CCP revoked his election to CSM 7 and banned him from the game for 30 days.

Anyway, that was an unexpected turn at the end of a disappointing week.  And, as often happens with EVE Online, now I feel I have to stick around just to find out what happens next.  I do not expect that there will be much immediate impact.  The wheels of the coalition will continue to grind on, I will still log in and fly with the same people in the same time slots and the same SIGs that I usually do.

But this could lead to a dramatic change over time.  Leaders of Goonswarm have generally left their mark on the organization, and none have led as long as The Mittani, so what happens next remains to be seen.


Things Like Valheim in a Post MMORPG World

I watched a video the other day about how to save the MMORPG genre.  It was an hour reasonably well spent if the topic interests you.


The video brings up a lot of problems and contradictions that the community has long discussed and argued about, such as the importance of community, servers, end game content, and a whole package of other items that will no doubt sound familiar if you’ve been part of the discussion over the last decade and more.

And I will say that there isn’t anything critical that I disagree with when it comes to the discussion.  It is largely a quest to get back to the things that made the genre exciting and fun back in the early days without necessarily throwing out every single “accessibility” feature that has shown up since EverQuest was the booming vanguard of the genre.

The result, which is necessarily a bit vague, can charitably be called a tightrope walk over a pit of knives, suggesting as it does some sort of balance between contradictory goals.

In the end, it seems unlikely that anybody is going to come up with a perfect and sustainable mix of features that will bring back the early joys of the genre, if only because much of what we were willing to put up with nearly a quarter century ago will no longer fly now that we’ve experienced better, easier, or more relaxed versions of virtual worlds.

The novelty of the experience has passed for many of us and, while we want a lot of what virtual worlds bring us, the price we’re willing to pay in what can seem like sheer bloody minded inconvenience is nowhere as high as it used to be.

Yes, you can run a special server now and then catering to the nostalgia of the good old days.  But that is no more sustainable than it was the first time around.  People will clamor for the quality of life changes, only much more quickly as one of the quirks of redoing a game for nostalgia is that the experience runs in fast forward mode because the whole thing is already a solved problem.

I don’t think MMORPGs are dead, but they aren’t going to go back to the dawn of the 21st century in anything but indie niche form.  The mass market voted with their wallets for WoW in droves… and then asked for the rough edges to be smoothed down to the point we have arrived at today and the dichotomy of the whole fun vs effort thing.  In the end we do seem to favor low friction entertainment.

But I also wonder if the edge has been worn of the MMORPG experience by some of the alternatives.

Back in 1999 you couldn’t even run two EverQuest clients on a single machine.  Multi-boxing meant literally having two machines.   So the idea of being able to run your own personal persistent world was out of reach for most people.

That changed.  I think Minecraft gets some serious credit for popularizing running your own world for just you and your friends.  I am sure there are other games titles that pre-date it for that sort of thing, but Minecraft created an industry around hosting worlds, a big enough industry that Microsoft felt it was worthwhile to run part of it.

Minecraft isn’t the ideal replacement for MMORPGs.  It can lack that sense of purpose, which is why I have Valheim in the title of the post.  Sure, you could substitute in something else for it… there are other options… but it is the one that resonates most with me at the moment.

Setting sail

Having your own Valheim server with your friends gives you a lot of what MMORPGs offered back in the day.  A persistent server to share with friends, monsters to find, a major quest to follow in order to win Odin’s favor, a world to explore, bases to build… and you even get that holy grail of online adventures, the ability to change the world and have it persist.

Which leads me to wonder where the future of online gaming in the MMORPG sense ought to be heading.

Valheim is imperfect… and largely so right now because it is incomplete.  It is currently impossible to gain Odin’s favor and win or otherwise finish what you started.

But the promise of it?  Now there is something.  We have twice now spent three months and more going through the content of the game… and in a rapacious manner, throwing many hours into our efforts to explore and move ahead… when it isn’t even half done yet.

What happens when there is a year of content for an industrious group?  What happens when there are multiple titles such as that?

I don’t think the MMORPG is going away.  There is still something to be said for the big game with many people playing in parallel.  But the smaller world, the shared persistent space you and your friends can share… that feels like it has a long ways to go before it seems over populated as a genre.

Of course, that might be why Blizzard is looking into the idea.  Or maybe the devs there just liked Valheim as well.

EVE Online and the Return to Expansions

There is a joke about business consultants that says if they go to a company that has a diversified portfolio of products that they will say the company should focus on its core competencies, but if they go to a company that is focused on their core competencies they will say the company should diversify their portfolio.

Distilled down, consultants often get paid to tell you that the grass is measurable greener, complete with supporting data, case studies, and customer interviews, on the other side of the fence.

But some times we don’t need a consultant to make us change course.  Sometimes we run off in pursuit of that greener grass all on our own.

Which brings me, in a round about way, to CCP’s decision to return to the idea of expansions, which was something that CCP announced at Fanfest.  Expansions are back.

Those who have been around for a long time remember that twice annual expansions used to be part of the EVE Online experience, and many of us remember those expansion names with a mixture of fondness and dread. (I have a bunch of those splash screens here if you want a ride down memory lane.)

Incarna – June 2011 – That guy looks more skeptical every time I see him

But back in 2014 CCP decided that expansions were not the thing anymore.  The era of the Jesus feature was over. Instead they attempted to go to a ten release a year cadence.  Incredibly, in hindsight, they tried to give each of those ten update a name… and theme music.

A new musical theme used to be a feature of every expansion or update for a long stretch.  those were the days.  It was a time of many things.

That proved to be too much work… names fell away and music stopped being a thing… but at least we were getting timely updates.  One of the downsides of the expansion era was often large gaps between any fixes as the company preferred the expansion to be the release vehicle.  And once the expansion hit, updates were often focused on fixing things broken in the expansion as opposed to other areas of the game.  And not every expansion was a big splash feature event.  I think we ended up with Revelations II because it was mostly fixing what was shipped with Revelations.

Revelations II – June 2007

CCP eventually opted for the quadrants idea, where each quarter of the year would have a theme and would feature updates based on that theme.  That was a bit more reasonable, better suited a modern development cadence, and still delivered fixes and updates on a regular basis.

And it wasn’t like we didn’t have some expansion-like releases.  I called the Invasion update an expansion, as it introduced the Triglavians to New Eden.  Kind of a big deal.

The Invasion was May 2019

So, in my way, I get why CCP wants to go back to the twice annual big expansion format.  It hearkens back to the peak years of the game, when growth was continuing and it seemed like CCP had the potential to conquer the world.

And believe me, some part of me wants to relive that era.  Amazing things were happening.  Huge wars, new features, crazy new ships, new areas of space, it seemed an endless bounty if you just squint hard enough through those rose tinted lenses.

But there was a lot going wrong, a lot of dropping features and moving on, a lot of broken things left unfixed, and not a lot of focus on quality of life.  The end of the expansion era saw a team show up dedicated to just fixing things, and we liked that a lot too.

Finally, while I haven’t gone and done a study of the time between announcements and launches like I have done with WoW, even years later I am left with the distinct impression that the time frames there were short, that we got 6-8 weeks build up before an expansion.  That is almost nothing compared to a WoW expansion or a new Pokemon game release, which we might be fed tidbits and updates about for a year of more.

Which is pretty similar to the build up for big features we’ve had since the end of the expansion era, so I fail to see much of a difference… unless they plan to announce things much earlier.

Anyway, I don’t have a hard point to drive home here.  It is more of a question as to whether or not CCP can recapture player enthusiasm with expansions again.  If nothing else, an expansion implies the company is bringing something big to the game.  You can get away with tuning and adjustments with quadrants, but for an expansion to land it needs to bring something new.

We shall see.  It was another of the things at Fanfest about the future rather than the present.


  • The expansion era had its own set of issues.
  • CCP has been able to deliver expansion-like content with full fanfare since that era.
  • So what are we solving for by going back?