Community Spotlight - Verite Rendition Influence Maps
Ever since alliances first started conquering space, players have wanted a way to visualize it. Today, one of the most popular resources for seeing who owns what are the Verite Rendition Influence Maps, created by Verite Rendition.
The Verite Rendition Influence Maps, which have been published since August 19, 2007, are territorial maps of New Eden, showing the expanding and contracting power and influence that alliances hold over space. Not merely just an indication of who holds sovereignty in specific systems, the Verite Rendition Influence Maps use a complex formula to determine which vast swaths of territory are actually under dominion of alliances. Different systems generate different amount of “influence” which are then transmitted to nearby systems. Whichever alliance is credited with the most influence on a system is then determined to be the owner on the map.
The map is published daily at 16:00 (with some exceptions for extended downtimes) and hosted on EVE Files. The latest version can always be found here, while historians wishing to explore the evolving face of sovereignty over the years can find the daily archive here.
He has also been able to expand into mapping other aspects of the game. The recent activation of API services on the EVE China server (Serenity) means that he now does an influence map for Serenity – it ended up being quite a different beast due to the small number of massive alliances, and the much slower turnover in sovereignty as a result. He was also able to expand into doing an influence map for Factional Warfare, which gives a basic overview of how much control the various factions have taken over their respective FW regions.
Since the map launched, it has far surpassed the expectations of its creator. He never expected his map to become as popular as it has become. It has grown to be far more important and more widely referenced than he ever thought it would be. In part, he attributes this popularity to the apolitical nature of the map. As it is automatically generated, it cannot be accused of bias, which in the highly charged world of EVE politics makes it possible to create something everyone on all sides can agree is roughly accurate.
The nature of sovereignty means alliances and power blocs can hold large chunks of space. For players, it’s extremely helpful to get a high-level overview of space ownership and to track it on a regular basis to see who is gaining space and who is losing space. So an influence map was always something that simply made sense to have in one form or another.
The first maps (like Joshua Foiritain’s influence map) were done by hand. This worked fairly well as it allowed for cleanly drawn maps complete with footnotes about what was going on in the EVE universe. But being hand drawn meant that it was done irregularly at best. Plus, there was a human factor in deciding which alliance owned what chunks of space, which didn’t always sit well with EVE’s player base. So there was some clear room for improvement by moving to automation, which would allow for regular map updates while removing the human factor in deciding space allocation.
Early in 2007, Paladin Vent created what would be the ancestor to the current influence map. This automated map was generally well received, but unfortunately he vanished a few months after starting the project, and with it his map stopped updating.
Enter Verite Rendition. Since Paladin had published an early version of the map code, it was possible for Verite to start putting the pieces back together. Mostly on a lark, since Verite was familiar with the various technologies Paladin used, he took a stab at rebuilding the map, intending to just temporarily do it until he returned. But as he never did return, Verite has become the permanent author of the map since August 19, 2007.
But Verite has not been content with the code he inherited. Though the fundamentals of the map have not changed, he significantly rewrote the code to make it faster, easier to follow, and more flexible for other uses. From the perspective of the players there have been a number of changes as well, as Verite updated the map over the years to keep pace with changes in EVE’s sovereignty rules, changed the coloring system to make it easier to read, and modified how influence is spread to better match how today’s power blocs allocate their holdings.
Player feedback has been instrumental in further improving the map, as throughout the years Verite's made numerous small changes based on player feedback. The important part is that automation means the map is apolitical, which in the highly charged world of EVE politics makes it possible to create something everyone on all sides can agree is roughly accurate.
Because it’s fully automated, it takes very little work on a day-to-day basis to maintain the map. Other than keeping up with extended downtimes (where the API server is unavailable), the biggest maintenance job is actually coloring the map. The code takes a best-guess effort at picking colors for an alliance that will be easy to read and not clash with an alliance’s neighbors, but as alliances expand, contract, and move, Verite still has to periodically re-color the map to ensure it remains readable and easy to tell apart neighboring alliances.
On a larger time scale, he sometimes has to make adjustments to keep up with changes to the sovereignty mechanics or the API. Luckily, those have not changed recently, so Verite hasn't had to make many updates to this part of the code for the past few expansions.
Ultimately the map was designed to be automated so that it would be practical to update it on a daily basis even if something should happen to him, which has meant it has needed little maintenance outside of catching up to gameplay changes.
As mentioned before, the maps are generated entirely automatically in order to remove accusations of human bias. The influence map is made through a combination of tools. The map renderer itself is a custom program written in Java over about 2100 lines of code, with the associated data stored in a MySQL database. There are some other data processing tools written in C++ simplicity, and then a few 3rd party programs such as cURL are used to glue it all together and handle moving the map around.
While the number of viewers vary day-to-day, the average map is looked at roughly 5000 times. The maximum number of views for any given map is 52K, from the day Band of Brothers fell in 2009. All together, the Influence Maps have been viewed 26 million times.
And we must look at the man behind the Influence Maps, Verite Rendition himself. He has played the game for nearly 8 years and has touched on many different activities within EVE Online. He's run the gamut from mining to manufacturing to investing to technetium carteling to logistics to diplomacy to, of course, ratting and PvP. These days he mostly spends his time PvPing in null-sec (small gang and fleet), exploring, and doing some of the logistics that enables his corp to live out there.
In the future, Verite hopes to add additional functionality and features to the map. In particular, he hopes for a day when he will be able to take into account the EVE development indices, so that systems with high levels of activity (lots of ratting and mining) count for more than barren station systems that have been slowly accumulating over the years. While that data currently isn't available in the API, that would be the single biggest change to the map since its inception, and Verite believes it would much better reflect where an alliance’s real influence resides.
The other concept he's been toying with is a power bloc map. The code makes it easy; the problem is that defining power blocs reintroduces a human factor. He believes it would be best if the person responsible for that was not himself, so that there’s a clear separation between the person creating the maps (apolitical), and the person defining the power blocs (political).
Finally, Verite wants to let the community know that it's outpouring of support for his work and the map have been instrumental in its continued development. None of this would be possible without the help and support of the player base. He's been doing this for over 5 years now, so the continued outpouring of support means the world to him. And he's happy to see that so many players still find the influence map so useful in their day-to-day business.