Chronicles: With Acknowledgments to Mad Dogs | EVE Online

Chronicles: With Acknowledgments to Mad Dogs

2010-12-08 - By CCP Abraxas

So this was how it started off, somewhat dramatically, back somewhere in the murky pre-recession depths of 2006:

"I don't know what you saw," she says, "because it's different for everyone. I see snowflakes, gently drifting about inside the boxes. Other people see colors, and others can only tell by feel. Your mind picks whatever you can handle.

"I want you to leave your life," she says. "Come with us. Help put things right. There aren't many people who can do what we're asking you to do."

He's still not sure. Then again, he thinks, what does he have to lose?

And this is how it's going to end, right around Christmas 2010:

The box contained another box, this one made of marble and decorated with impossibly ornate carvings. Skar looked at them for a few moments and felt something in his mind begin to drain away, but the gale of the wind and the patter of the rain brought him back to normal. The marble box also had a faultline in the center but was not sealed, and Skar felt his eyes drawn to one of its corners, where a brownish piece of scroll poked out. A small, tattered piece of the Book of Emptiness, poking its edges into this world.

Skar walked out swiftly, marched a few steps behind the tent, vomited quietly, and walked back into the tent. Akran didn't seem to notice.

That one, I should add, is a story about faith, about the need for faith and the need for some semblance of stability in daily life. The vomiting bit, I assure you, is artistically justified.

The EVE Chronicles are going on hiatus for a bit, after which we'll be publishing them less regularly, but more strategically. I want to tell you a bit about how we got to where we are and where we're going from here.

I've been CCP's primary chronicle writer for four years now. I started off as an outsourced GM (as they all were) back in 2003, working in the trenches for a bit over three years while finishing up a Comp. Sci. degree. For fun and relaxation, I wrote stories about EVE, and because I am the kind of well-adjusted, genial person whose hobbies are entirely legal and don't at all require rolls of plastic tarp and duct tape, I naturally wrote stories about people being tortured to death in various inventive ways. I shared those stories with some people I knew, and eventually, this being CCP, I was emailed not a restraining order but a job offer.

It's been amazing. It truly has. The chronicles already existed, nearly a hundred of them, but they'd been published piecemeal over a period of several years and had been written in good part to flesh out a world not yet fully alive and breathing. I wanted to focus more on stories and narrative, to cast a light on the people you didn't see, or only just saw out the corner of your eye. Spaceship crews. Station inhabitants, anything from agents and mechanics to drunkards, artists, and other no-good wastrels. Colony workers, doing their best in terrible conditions. I wanted not to tell us our own stories of capsuleer life in EVE, nor compete with them - how could I? - but to fill in the cracks, make it feel like the world we were playing in also existed outside our own field of vision.

So for the next four years, that's what we went for, in chronicles published every two weeks without fail. I've now published over eighty of my own stories and a good two dozen of other people's. I also wrote two EVE plays, performed by our own amazing thespian devs at the last two FanFests: "Speakeasy", about what agents do in their meager time off and why you wouldn't necessarily want their job, and "The Silver Twin", which is about lies and criminals, dangerous journeys into deep space, and why you don't ever want to fall asleep at a drug-fuelled Gallentean party that's also being attended by bodymodders.

And at some point I wrote an EVE novel, too. It's good. You should totally buy it.

It hasn't just been me, either. Writing a novel takes a lot of time and effort and caffeine, and while I was working on it I wrangled some of our other Content people into writing chronicles of their own. All of them are amazing writers in their own right and I wish we'd had the opportunity to spotlight their talents more. Only recently, Headfirst came up with "Ante" and "Xenocracy", which respectively showed just as much talent for sneaky backstabbing and outright evil as any CCPer is expected to exhibit; Ginger continued his big burly Minmatar obsession with "Valklears" and "Tattoos"; Gnauton and Greyscale covered the clandestine, paranoiac worlds of the Caldari and Amarr with "Chasing Shadows" and "Signs of Faith"; Big Dumb Object had a spaceship crew do a Running Man in "The Rite" (and I hate him for it because I wanted that idea); Jasonitas did horrible things to people in "Lost Stars" and then managed to outdo himself in "Innocent Faces" by bringing in a clown; and Dropbear hit the damn thing out of the park with "Jita 4-4", one of the best-received stories we've had in ages. These guys outdid themselves time and again, and I was incredibly happy to have them join in at last. Except for Dropbear, whom I intend to murder.

What has been lacking, however, is what I'll call meshing. There are the chronicles, and there are missions, and item descriptions and all the rest, and then there are events - Sansha's been up to some dark little tricks and Incursion now looms large - and behind all of this is a world that's very much alive and breathing, and whose various corners really could do with some inspection.

Pop quiz: What's the Gallentean religion like? On average, how many people live on stations, and how are those societies segmented? How do blueprints really work? There are hints here and there, but none of these things have ever been conclusively laid out. Considering the wealth of EVE fiction we possess, there really is a myriad of worldbuilding opportunities. We've wanted to take advantage of this for a while but always ran into the same old familiar problem: Our current way of doing things didn't easily allow for new types of content - we didn't have a way to integrate it with preexisting work, nor a way to satisfactorily deliver it to the players - and besides, we were all way too busy on our current projects to fit in something as sizable as this.

At the same time, it's obvious that while the chronicles enjoy their fair share of readers, they are probably the least-integrated part of the content we deliver on a regular basis. Note that this does not mean they need to be stuffed with more background information - I've been a proponent of "story over infodump" for years, and I'll happily argue the point over any number of beers at Fanfest - but it does mean that when you read something we've written, it should be much more related to other pieces of content.

If you read a chronicle about some person working in a hisec space station, you should be able to meet him at some point in Incarna. If he comes from a planet nearby, it should be a habitable one whose fictional infrastructure and institutions really could have created someone like him, and which are accessible for you to read about when you're in the vicinity. If an agent then hands you a mission that references that planet, it should also reference that same infrastructure, and possibly even the person you read about in a chronicle. And if you want to find out more about any of these, you should be able to do so right away, in depth, and without any necessary foreknowledge. The lore should be deep enough to be interesting to everyone, but also accessible enough - both in how it's organized and how we present it - that anyone, new and old, can find his or her way around it without first having to memorize years' worth of details.

This is what we've wanted for a while, and under TorfiFran's aegis as Creative Director, this is what we're going to do. The first steps involve taking the lore as it exists today and organizing it in such a manner that it'll be readable and comprehensive, fleshing it out where needed (which will be a fairly sizable undertaking), finding the best ways to deliver it to you in-game, and keeping it updated. We're still hashing out the specifics, so I can't tell you exactly how it's going to play out, but thus far we're planning to add small snippets of in-game texts to various parts of New Eden, add links at strategic places to those texts, and have those links bring you over - through the in-game browser - to our very own EVElopedia. Where, if we get it right, something like this will happen:


So while everyone else is doing their thing - Jasonitas has moved to DUST, Headfirst's over in Incarna, Dropbear is plowing through Incursion material, and Gnauton just finished hammering a positively gargantuan piece of backstory into shape - I'll be working on this from now on.

We want to give you what TorfiFrans calls "The Wikipedia Experience," which he describes as a "captivating immersion in a vast, thoroughly interconnected web of information, lore, and trivia that reaches out into space and far beyond," and which I think of as "having you sit by your computer, launching EVE, clicking some in-game link and start to read, only to finally drift back to coherent function hours and hours later, still docked, the fleet battle long since over, the sun risen hours ago, everyone having left the house for work and school except for you, unshaven and crazy-eyed, because you started out reading about some planet in some solar system and suddenly now you're on some page that's describing in excruciating detail what boosters do your innards after you've been using them for three weeks, and you've got another tab open about commercial services on Gallentean stations and the kinds of freeze-dried things they'll send to you if you're not on an offenders' list, and another tab covering religious rites and occult practices with the Caldari Deteis, and half a dozen tabs waiting after that AND oh god IT NEVER SEEMS TO END."

This is a big project and it's going to take us some time to implement. It's effectively split in two: sorting out the out-of-game content for the wiki, and implementing effective bridges to that content from within the game. The former task involves not only extracting tons and tons of data and factoids from our previously published material, but also organizing it for maximum readability and, later on, expanding it with new content. A single Content person could happily do this stuff for years. Aside from dev support we've made the decision to take Mercury (our volunteer fiction corp) off roleplayed news for the meantime, and they are now supporting this effort as well.

The latter task involves a lot of small-scale logistical challenges and a wealth of content unto itself, and while I won't tell you right now how exactly we're planning to implement it, it does involve taking those parts of the in-game UI where you might be expected to come into contact with backstory, and rigging them up to support quite a bit more of it. Our plans for connecting this to actual gameplay, both in EVE and Incarna, are much longer-term, so you'll hear about them some other day.

For now, thanks for reading, and tons of thanks to those of you who've been regular readers over the past few years. Remember, the Chronicles are still available on our web site, and whenever anything new comes out, now or later, we'll keep you updated through newsposts or on my dev twitter at @cloisterphobe. We'll publish the last one (not the last one forever, but the last one for a little while) just after Xmas, and at some point I plan to release a compendium in various e-readable formats.