Unifex: We’re going into a new world, a new time, a second decade of EVE. So, how should we be delivering the MASSIVE amount of features that we’ve already got on our plate as well as the all of the things we’d really love to see added to our science fiction universe. And that, gentlemen, is the question that I’m asking. I want your help. I want your input.
Very well, that is exactly the kind of questions I like to think about. I don’t know exactly what it is that Jon would like to hear, so I just give it a try, thinking along lines which make some sense to me.
[tl;dr Repeating Apocrypha won’t do it. Looking into the theory of storytelling I try to develop some alternatives and provide a framework to discuss expansion themes.]
I am going to approach this from a story telling perspective. People immediately relate to stories, that’s why an interesting narrative makes a good theme to tie together a set of features. EVE Apocrypha had a compelling story to it, namely the exploration of unknown reaches of space. This overarching story theme provided the backdrop for various new features from challenging PvE content across innovative PvP environments to a hole new industry branch. Also the Incursion expansion had a storyline theme: the invasion of empire space by a hostile force. I will come back to why I think an Apocrypha-like theme would not be the best choice. But first some theory.
Since Aristotle, storytellers have thought about the question, what makes a good story? What elements need to be there? And can we classify story plots in categories? Different systematics for such storytelling frameworks have been documented. An often cited example are George Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations, which can be applied to good effect in the design of classical roleplaying plots. In a sandbox game like EVE these story archetypes are filled with life by the actions of the players. It might be interesting to think about how this framework of drama on the interpersonal level could be made into a useful feature in EVE, but that is not what I will write about here. Instead I will try to extract a set of themes that can be well applied on an epic, overarching scope. A scope which provides the hooks for those dramatic situations to happen. Have a look at the following list:
Note how the Retribution expansion tries to enable dramatic situations following the Crime and the Vengeance patterns. By melting together combinations of these dramatic situations I can try to create Epic Story Archetypes
- The Fall of a Civilisation (Disaster + Revolt + Conflict with a God)
- The current world order is shaken to its bones by a series of disastrous events, possibly caused by the wrath of a higher power. Old empires crumble, social structures and entire cultures break apart. In these uncertain times, who will prevail? Note that the “heroes” in such a theme seldom can do anything to prevent the doom. It’s not about salvation but about who can hold out the longest.
- The Final Frontier (Enigma + Ambition + Daring Enterprise)
- A discovery opens the way into previously unknown spaces. Mysteries and the prospect of riches beyond imagining lure the people into those dangerous lands. For some the promise is just freedom from their current chains. Others already have big plans in place.
- Internal Revolution (Disaster + Revolt + Ambition)
- The foundations of society have always been shaky. It takes just a tiny stone to set the avalanche in motion. The ones who thought themselves in power will fall. The masses will rise. Justice will finally drag that blinding cloth from her eyes.
One of the best frameworks for narrative world creation I know of comes with the, now long dead, pen and paper RPG Aria. They have much to say about the topic on all levels of detail and if you like creating your own worlds and are able to get your hand on a copy of the book, I highly recommend it. In the section on campaign themes they present the following list, which I summarize here a bit:
- An environment, society or group has been damaged or displaced by a natural disaster or conflict. It needs to be rebuild.
- The campaign concentrates on the political maneuverings of a specific area or group. The campaign can follow the rise of a noble house or the development of a powerful sect.
- The campaign takes place amidst a large conflict or struggle of some kind. Refugees will abound and supplies and resources will by in short supply. On the surface everything might appear normal, yet the characters might discover an intensely violent war being waged just below.
- An imminent danger threatens an environment or society.
- The campaign hinges on an epic quest or search. Perhaps a certain artifact or piece of information is necessary for continued survival of a society or group.
- The campaign concentrates on environmental and social development. Such development includes all kinds of social, political and economic improvements and often takes on the form of a crusade.
- The campaign centers on the destruction of an environment, movement or faction. The motives of the parties involved might play a big role in determining the outcome.
- The campaign centers around a profound or fundamental mystery. It could represent the origins of a particular race or species or certain lost elements of a society. Perhaps an environment or group requires someone with courage and cunning to travel in search for answers.
Obviously, not all of these themes are equally well suited for implementation into a sandbox game. Many of those story archetypes actually unfold through the doings of the players on personal or intermediate scales. Some would require a lot of roleplaying and might at first glance seem to be unsuited for the neoliberal and capitalistic philosophy of EVE.
As a small excursus, think about a political or revolutionary theme for example. Intrigues abound in EVE. No need to theme that up. Revolutions come from the masses and there need to be leaders who’s heads can role for a nice revolution. Difficult, without a lot of roleplaying effort that many EVE players would simply ignore. But what if the political rules would be changed? For example, take taxes. In the four empires, why not let players be involved in the fiscal politics of their nations? Let them vote on taxes. The different political systems might even have different voting systems. Wait, everybody would just vote taxes down, wouldn’t they? Yes, but what if services in empire space (slots in stations, jumpgate capacity, the market place…) would depend on taxpayer money?? The framework for this could be written such, that it would be a welcome tool for alliance leaders and other instigators in nullsec…
So, I won’t prematurely dismiss such ideas.
What is the theme you think might be the best for a new (series of) EVE expansion(s)? Which the most straight forward one? Seriously, I’d like to know what you think about this! Drop a comment!
I would guess that many would pick the Final Frontier theme from above. Indeed proposals along the lines of a “Goldrush” have already been made in the current CSM forum thread. It may well be that this is how it will go. Open new space for capsuleers to go and look for new riches. Those new locations could be new celestials, like planetary rings, the stars themselves or comets. Or it could be entirely new star systems. Or even locations that are not bound to a star. (Speaking of stars… in our part of the universe most of them actually come in pairs 😉 ) Probably there would be new technology involved like new ships, modularized POSes or player built stargates. And there could be new challenges waiting in those places. You get the picture.
I am almost sure one can use such a theme to bundle all kinds of nice features together. Actually I am pretty sure that something along this lines will happen, because it is the easy way to go in a sandbox. Add more sand and shovels. There is one point, that bothers me, though. It is too familiar. It just sounds like Apocrypha over again. I think if such a theme would be chosen, then that would be a missed opportunity. As you can see from the lists above there are many interesting patterns that could serve as templates for a themed holistic expansion. Let’s not just strike for the obvious! The concept of Apocrypha to have an overarching theme that ties a holistic set of features together is great, but the theme of the Final Frontier has already been used in EVE and it is time for something new. Let’s add a stream of water running through the sandbox. It might tear down one or the other castle, though.
Let me end with my opinion on which of the plot archetypes I would like to see implemented. I like the gritty, dark feeling of EVE. What deems odd to me sometimes is that no real, game-wide catastrophes happen. I would really like to see the Fall of a Civilization or Revolution theme to be taken as a template. Possibly combined with a Rebuilding aspect. Such a thing would be hard to implement. It would be a long term project. But hey, CCP thinks about the next three, ten years! Let’s start this summer with the discovery that our poking around in wormholes and the outer reaches of space has woken something that truly threatens us all. It is important that whatever threat there is, it something completely different from another farmable NPC content! Jove being sick of the other empires? Sleepers awaken? Or does our tinkering with technology finally bite us in the backside? Mabye the newly discovered genetic modification methods are the first step in the abyss. Give people a reason to scramble from stations under siege. My modular POS shanty towns are refugee camps. New Eden is a dark place. The empires rotten at their hearts, fat purse capitalists getting richer and richer at the expense of the hard working laborer while the various nullsec dutchies, despite what they like to believe, are mere colonies, sucking at the tits of Jita, Rens and Amarr. Time for a breakdown!
Fly reckless. Chira.