Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Blog Banter Special Edition

We know the EVE Online Community is unique in so many ways, and that EVE Online is like no other MMORPG out there. But what makes the game special for you?

What is it that makes this particular virtual world so enticing, so mysterious and so alluring that we keep coming back for more. Why is EVE one of the very few MMOs to see a continuous growth in its subscriber.

While I have concerns about CK's use of the word "love" in this the quote from "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" goes, "It's ok to love your [game], just don't love your [game]."

I enjoy playing EvE.  It satisfies a lot of different 'itches' I have when looking for gameplay.
  1. Intellectual-regardless of the playstyle or activity, the return is always based on the amount of thought you put into it.  If you're looking for a bit of straight pew-pew, you can just hop in a T1 Frigate and head for lowsec looking for trouble.  It will find you.  Duke  it out.  Die (or live) and go fit out another.  Crank up the thought processes and make it an inty or cloaker and do some sniping..  Then there's gangs and fleets.  Being a competent FC requires a lot of forethought, 3-dimensional thinking and tactical skill.
  2. Artisitic-taking tours of New Eden simply to view the scenery can be enjoyable.  A lot of people knock the art as being too basic for a modern game, but some of the scenes, whether peaceful or mid-battle makes for great screenshots and wallpapers.
  3. Camaraderie- I've had acquaintances in other games...guildmates and the like...but there is a core group of players that I've been involved with since my first week in EvE.  We keep a channel up for discussions and keep most of our talk about in-game stuff, but occasionally discuss some out of game issues.  I would consider them my closest e-friends.
  4. Sworn Enemies-in contrast to the above, there are a few players that have made it to my 'poopy-list.'  They will always be KoS to me when possible.  The ability to generate that kind of passion in 'just a game' I find truly interesting.
  5. The meta-game-this includes the blogging community, tweetfleet as well as 3d party app development.  There are dozens of things you can do in  EvE without ever logging in.
Then there's mining, exploring, epic arcs....My current sub runs til December....I'm sure I'll re-up after that.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flash Fiction

I've never taken a stab at any sort of fan fiction...but decided after reading Casiella's blog that I'd take a stab at it.

Topic:: This week’s prompt:
New Eden has seen new craft take the field this week, with the deployment of fighter-bombers designed to threaten and destroy capital ships as part of Dominion 1.1. These craft have non-capsuleer pilots controlling them, much like the existing fighters. Your story should reference these fighter-bombers in some way. Maybe a FB pilot prepares for an engagement in which she’ll pilot such a craft, or pirates look to steal the technology and resell it, or maybe station crew observe a battle involving these ships. Or maybe you’ll even examine the origins behind their names.
Let’s see what you’ve got!
"All set Chief. Those new FBs are loaded and ready to go," Crewman D'Tar waved a wrench at the shiny row of death-dealers in the launch bay.

"I don't know what the big goddamn deal is with these things," the Chief muttered. "Like we weren't killing big enough ships fast enough?" Chief Tranden was an engineer....a builder...a creator. Enemy or not, he despised seeing man's creations destroyed. And for what? An empty portion of space? A system with maybe one inhabitable planet that would likely end up raped for it's resources anyway?

He had seen entire fleets of Hulks destroyed to fill the pockets of a few reckless capsuleers with ISK to be spent on implants and ships so that they can become even more effective at destruction. Wars of principle ended eons ago. The fight over slavery being the closest thing to a 'cause' in the galaxy. But who really cared if a few dirty, uneducated wretches spent their otherwise useless lives serving tea to wealthy, self-proclaimed (and equally worthless) nobles?

A man's hands and mind are what set him apart from the animals. The real sin is to waste those gifts and leave no physical creation behind to represent his life. These new ships were machined and crafted by an artisan. It was the Chief's shame that his greatest gift was the ability to create the most lethal machines in the galaxy. He took one last look at them and turned to walk away.

"At least I'm good at something."

The Singularity...counter arguements

Some arguements on why 'The Singularity' will likely never occur, in this universe or New Eden:

1. People tend to stretch a single idea too far. The idea that processing power is everything, that once we get the equivalent processing power as the brain then AI will be inevitable, seems like a part of this. Processing power is one thing. A modern off-the-shelf calculator has the same processing power as the Apollo spacecraft and yet doesn’t routinely fly to the moon and back. For that to happen you need lots of other things: a well engineered spaceship, a huge amount of money backing you, the political willpower and climate to make it feasible, trained astronauts, an idea of spaceflight set up in the culture, a scientific rationale for going, the blessing and dreams of millions of people who believe it to be necessary, an economic incentive, etc. All of these things (and more) were in place in the 1960s to make space travel possible. Similarly, there will have to be a convergence of more than just technology in order to make AI possible. There are many ways for it to come about. And people like Raymond Kurzweil and Vernon Vinge are engineers. They have a great deal of authority when it comes to technology and engineering. I trust that plenty of Kurzweil’s purely technological predictions can come true. But he downplays or forgets the importance of other factors and so I think his ultimate thesis is wrongheaded. Based purely on technology, we could have colonies on Mars right now. We probably have been able to for twenty or thirty years. And yet, it hasn’t come about. So might it be with AI.

2. The mind is like a computer but it is not a computer. Yes, it works on mechanical, physical principles. But that doesn’t make it identical to a computer. Giving estimates of the “processing power” of the brain is largely going to be guesswork. It’s an estimation based on a metaphor based on a particular view of the universe. Furthermore, the brain is an integrated whole that is integrated into a larger whole. It’s hard to figure out the levels that the brain operates on because everything inside of it is interconnected. It affects itself affecting itself. And it gets affected by the larger organism that it inhabits. I am not just my thoughts nor just my brain. I am me, every part of me, down from my wiggling toes to the split ends of my hair. And I am in constant flux. At any moment, I am taking molecules from my environment and incorporating them into my body. Every cell wall that is a part of me is a jiggling mass of continuous change. I am a standing wave of barely controlled chaos traveling through space and time. Recreating that is hard. In order to simulate a person, we will have to simulate both hardware and software and the fact that the two are really just one. You will have to account for the fact that I am just a collection of atoms borrowed from the universe for a span. I don’t know if perfectly simulating that is possible. Perhaps a different sort of mind is. I believe that we can get AI, it will just take a long time and it will come piecemeal.

3. Intelligence is not a “real” thing. We like to think that intelligence has to do with getting a high SAT score or being good at chess or being able to answer trivia questions. But those are all just views of intelligence. Smartness is more like beauty. We can largely agree on what is beautiful and we can even “enhance” our beauty with modern surgical techniques (but that doesn’t lead to a “beauty explosion” of ever more beautiful people). The best we can do is make human beings more beautiful based on some pre-existing idea of beauty. They start to match up closer to that idea but, ultimately, it’s just vanity. Maybe someday in the future we will discover techniques to “enhance” our intelligence in the same way that we do plastic surgery. But we will have to work with what we’ve got. There isn’t some switch or dial that you can flip to make a person more intelligent. And yes we are very intelligent, in some ways more intelligent than all other creatures on Earth. But all organisms are problem solvers. They model their external reality just as well as every other creature around them, regardless of whether or not they are bacteria, fungi, plants, or primates. If they couldn’t, they would be eliminated. We can design tests of intelligence but they have to match up with some pre-existing idea of intelligence. All they can ever do is show how one person or organism does better on that test than others.

4. Knowledge is wonderful. But in and of itself it can not accomplish the impossible. It can not make a perpetual motion machine. It can not stop entropy. It can not preclude the fact that a wrench will be thrown into even the best laid plans. The universe is not a series of stumbling blocks that we are in charge of solving. We are taught to think this way in our high school classes: find the hypotenuse, derive Kepler’s Laws from Newton’s, tell me how Coleridge and Wordsworth were similar, give me the causes of the Civil War. But we use those illustrations precisely because they have answers (some of them, at least). Life is not a question and answer session. Real problems, the kinds outside of textbooks, don’t have “real” solutions. Even those in physics and math. Answers always end up generating more questions. Usually three or four. Our knowledge can be great and amazing. But nonconscious and unconscious forces are often greater and more amazing. I still trust evolution to manage things much better than we can for the time being. We are still too stuck in linear thinking; that problems only have one cause and one solution. That DNA controls cells. That pills can target specific emotional states. That robots will either love us or hate us. Reality is made up of infinite shades of gray and just thinking about things will not generate a remedy for everything that ails us. The universe does a much better job of shepherding itself because it does not have to deal with questions and answers. Our way of thinking can accomplish many things. But a nonconscious entity does not have to couch itself in this “problem and solution” view. It has a different way of thinking. Perhaps, if we do eventually create AI, it would be smart to make it nonconscious.

5. We do not occupy a special place in time. We already know that the Copernican Principle says that we do not enjoy a special place in space. Why do we insist on thinking that our time is the most important time of all? For most of Western history, people have thought this. They said, “Now the Messiah will come. It will happen in my lifetime.” We don’t think like that anymore but we hold on to certain ways. There is not some special point in time when everything that comes after it will be different (or, to put it a different way, every point in time is such a time). We are not living at the height of civilization nor are we at the lowest point. We are at a point. To insist that things are inevitable, that there is some destiny in the universe, that things are not contingent, and that this is the only way that could be is, to me, an extremely old-fashioned way to think. I always thought the point of atheism was knowing that there isn’t some design or plan in the universe. To say something is inevitable contradicts this, in my opinion. There are patterns. There are interesting places and interesting times. But we are the ones that decide what is interesting. We are the ones who see the patterns. Destiny is in our heads entirely. We are the ones who shape it for ourselves. We have to deal with that.

In and of themselves, do I think these points are enough to say the Singularity won’t happen? No, of course not. These are my thoughts. But there are counter-arguments to nearly every argument. Raymond Kurzweil spent a chapter of "The Singularity is Near" attacking some of the points I just raised (though not well enough to dismiss them, in my opinion). Furthermore, the Singularity is a very powerful meme. I suspect that it will last longer than Kurzweil and Vinge, longer than 2045, longer than plenty of us. People will forget what we’ve already said and then say, “No, really, this time it’s just around the corner. We have better facts, we can prove it more fully now.” It’s what always happens.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Death by Bureaucracy

A recent twitter QOTD by CCPGames asked : "If you could add one thing to eveonline what would that be?"  My response was: "Ban devs from posting to forums. They should READ but never respond. That's what community manager is for."

I've played a few MMOs, not nearly as many as a lot of other EvE players, but enough to see what works and what doesn't.  As Alfred Griswold said,
" Could Hamlet have been written by a committee, or the Mona Lisa painted by a club?... Creative ideas do not spring from groups.  They spring from individuals.  The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam."
Some of the "best" works of programming come from small development houses.  Rarely do those companies go on to larger and better projects.  A first time developer probably has 10 or fewer employees.  A company really hits it's stride at 35-50 employees...some contract some full-time.  At that point a lot of the individual egos tend to splinter off and pursue projects of their own.  ID software ("Masters of Doom")is one of the prime examples of that fate.  A couple of good reads are "Postmortems from Game Developers" by Austin Grossman and "Dreaming in Code" by Scott Rosenberg--a narrative about the development of an open source application that dies from bureaucratic bloat.

There are games that do grow to large corporations of hundreds of employees (our beloved CCP is one example.)  As these companies grow, decision-making begins to slow down from the bureaucracy.  Rather than simply coding the resistances of the next Boss, a meeting is held to discuss "balance issues" or "deadline management."

The behemoth begins to slow down under it's own weight.  It loses it's agility.  It becomes a predictable "grind."  As Albert Einstein said, "Bureaucracy is the death of all sound work."

Now, back to the original topic...Dev involvement with it's player community.   Casiella Truza points out in the Ecliptic Rift blog that perhaps my meaning was that we keep the devs in a room with no windows, and players in another and never the two shall meet.  Twitter, IMO is not the greatest place to express thoughtful ideas.  Hence Casiella (who whipped out an amazingly well put-together blog in a shockingly short period of time) thought I meant that I'm of the mind that "The Devs make the game, and the players play what they get." Period.  That's not quite what I meant, and again I apologize for my lack of clarity.

EVERY successful product needs to know what it's consumers think of it.  It's not simply a matter of making changes based simply on numbers.  (I hope) our Icelandic friends don't simply say "Hmmm....300,000 subs....Let's build T3 shuttles next expansion and change the paint schemes."  They have staff that are payed to anticipate what the players are going to want in 6, 12 or even 24 months out.  I guarantee the execs have (at least) a 5-year plan for CCP and EvE.

They don't gain that prognostication by consulting tea leaves or interpreting the shapes of drunken, passed-out developers on bar floors throughout Reykjavik.  They listen to the players.  They listen to EvE players and they are reading blogs, listening to podcasts and having roundtable discussions at FanFest *.  I am also sure they monitor the discussions of other games on various platforms to see what people are looking for in order to draw them into the CCP fold.  I am 100% behind the concept of developers listening to the players.

What I disagree with is Devs engaging in discussions about potential changes in such an informal environment.  I believe SiSi presents the opportunity for the devs to demonstrate that they've been listening to the players....these are the ideas they are does the community react?  How does the game react?

I'm sure that a lot of that already goes on at CCP.  Many of the employees likely troll the various fan-based outlets ninja-like, or even covertly discussing topics.  But open discussion of gameplay changes with the community is essentially creating a 10,000 person committee to work on a simple idea.  Could you imagine how long it would take to determine how to "fix" the HUD if 10,000 forum members and 400 CCP employees had to come to agreement?  Oh...wait...bad example. :)

The CSM, I believe was supposed to fill a gap that CCP felt existed in terms of face-to-face contact with it's players.  Those players are expected to monitor the game and the forums and present a prioritized list of concerns and proposals for CCP to investigate.  It's a nice nod to the the players, and may one day prove to be more fruitful than it has.  I'm optimistic that the CSM sets a good precedent for future games and for CCP.

In conclusion I want to be clear that I think developers must listen to the players in order to anticipate the next 'big thing."  But I do not think that individual Devs should be debating whether a certain mod should give a 5% or 8% bonus.  I want them writing the code for the game they think we deserve.  If they see it doesn't work...they can change it.  One other important point: DevBlogs.  I LOVE DevBlogs.  It's amazing that CCP allows that kind of access to their internal development process.  Most of the time it comes as a report on what has happened or is about to happen.  And as we all witnessed recently....the CF that resulted in a certain DevBlog caused a lot of the angst that came at the release of Dominion....after players read it and railed against it.  Then changes occurred....then nobody knew WHAT to expect when release date finally arrived.  THAT's the sort of confusion I think should be avoided.

Final points:
  1. Play on SiSi if you care about what's coming out next on the game.  THATs where your opinion matters....that's where things can/should be changed.  Not enough people participate at that stage.
  2. Be constructive.  Don't waste time whining about how a certain change has made your last year of training worthless...a resourceful pilot is flexible.  "Semper Gumby"
  3. If you are lucky enough to be on the CSM, don't squander that opportunity bickering about minor issues.  80% of what was discussed in the published minutes could have been handed to CCP in a one-page bulletized list.  
Sorry it got long-winded.  I promise to keep them short from now on.

To Casiella: I hope that clears up my opinion.
To a Certain Pirate: My longwindedness allows you another day to live.  But I am close.

*I attended 5 of the roundtable discussions at FanFest '09.  Only one seemed to be really beneficial to CCP and the players.  The others seemed to consist of either player bitch sessions about how they "lost a ship this one time" or complaining about how long the petition queue is (I think they get it by now.)  I did see true, constructive interaction in the meeting with the API guys with the 3d party app developers.  Everyone seemed to be on-board with the coming changes...players and devs.  I look forward to New Eden/COSMOS.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blog Banter #14: What Now?

Welcome to the fourteenth installment of the EVE Blog Banter, the monthly EVE Online blogging extravaganza created by CrazyKinux. The EVE Blog Banter involves an enthusiastic group of gaming bloggers, a common topic within the realm of EVE Online, and a week to post articles pertaining to the said topic. The resulting articles can either be short or quite extensive, either funny or dead serious, but are always a great fun to read! Any questions about the EVE Blog Banter should be directed to Check out other EVE Blog Banter articles at the bottom of this post!

The first banter of 2010 comes to us from the EVE Blog Father, CrazyKinux himself, who asks the following: As we begin another year in New Eden, ask yourselves “What Now?” What will I attempt next? What haven’t I done so far in EVE? Was it out fear, funds, or knowledge? Have I always wanted to start my own corporation, but have never dared doing so? Is there a fledgling mercenary waiting to come out of its shell? Or maybe an Industrialist? What steps and objectives will I set myself to accomplish in order to reach my ultimate goal for this year? EVE is what you make of it. So, what is it going to be for you?
 My first contribution to the "Blog Banter."  Rather timely topic as I find myself in a transition in EvE right now.  Trying to make the move to Lowsec and generally dissatisfied with what I'm finding.  Previously I talked about the corp I'm currently a member of.  It has all of the infrastructure necessary to be successful, but I feel that it's either under-utilized or I'm not 'in the club' with the existing corp.

That said, am I ready to organize my own corp?  I don't think so.  I don't think I can put together the core group necessary to start.  But I'm thinking about putting myself out there with my current corp and trying to take a leadership position.  And by 'leadership position' I mean more of a manager/organizer.  I still don't have the PvP skillset necessary to FC a gang, so battlefield leadership is out.  But I think that someone is needed to take care of planning and organizing activities.  For those with a military background, I'm looking to be more of an Executive Officer (XO) rather than Commander.

Personally, I'm hoping to get my PvP skillset this year.  I've been dabbling here and there and have not really gotten into it.  I've got that Carebear fear of loss that keeps transitioning players from jumping in with both feet.  I need to set a goal, to include acceptable losses for a weekly or monthly basis.  And I think I need to cut more severely my connections to Highsec space.  Sell off the Paladin and even the PvE battleships, and focus on BC and below for a while.  Having those in the stable makes it too easy to go back to my Carebear ways.

I'd like to actually get a comment on my blog this year :o)  I need to work on my battle report skills.   I recently read Ombeve's recent posting and I would like to be able to have enough situational awareness to write something like that.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Treatise on E-Trust

I just read  Hallan Turrek's "A Merry Life and a Short One" blog posting called "Trust Me."

There have been myriad blogs and forum postings on the concept of "trust, honor and reputation" in EvE.  Let's add mine one to the list.

I have heard various descriptions of how much one should trust another pilot: Some only trust themselves.  Some only trust people they know IRL (or as eloquently put--people whose throat they can wrap their hands around.)  Others will allow pilots into their 'trust bubble' based on reputation and in-game interactions.  And some trust no one.

Regardless how much players trust one another, there IS trust in the game.  I would go so far as to say that the game would not function if everyone followed the Fox Mulder theory of "Trust No One."  Too many of the game mechanics require various levels of trust.
In a gang/fleet you trust the FC is competent enough to at least give you a chance at a win.  You trust that the scouts know what they're doing and that they're not traitors leading the fleet into a trap.  You trust your fleetmates know how to employ their ships/weapons to maximize success.
In order for a corporation to grow, the leadership authority and responsibility eventually has to be delegated to trusted individuals.  A single Chairman Mao cannot retain complete and sole control over corporation assets and organization once the corp reaches a certain size (25?)  This is where we start to see the potential for misplaced trust.  There are many tales of corporate theft and traitorism.  But that is the trade-off for the ability to have a large corp.  The dissemination of trust becomes a necessary skill for successful leadership.
Banking and other isk investments in EvE have seen their ups and downs.  The reason for a 'secondary market' is a separate issue (too much isk in-game, etc)  Players view the Market Discussion forums for investments and to seek financing for various projects.  Others go in with the intention of scamming one of those groups.  And some start out with good intentions, but either fail or fall victim to greed.  Regardless, the number of successful operations that are made possible through the investment of the more wealthy players in budding entrepreneurs helps sustain the economy and keep the game interesting for an entire faction of players. 
CCP grants unprecedented access to player data through the API servers give access to a  plethora of data that 3d party applications use to enhance a players experience.  The API is a read-only process that gives these apps access to player data so that it can be formatted and used by the players.  Many players are concerned with others having access to this data.  They wonder what else these applications may be doing with the pilot's info.  Interestingly, this causes a majority of those applications to be coded under Open Source licenses (for better or for worse.)  I have never heard of a 3d party application harvesting API data for nefarious use.  Ever.  Even those that request full API access.  Many players grant such access and trust that the application is performing only what it claims.  Certain high-level corp/alliance CEOs/Directors may have reason to be squeamish, but generally there are few bad things that can happen by granting access.  Conversely, the benefit to the player (and the community) is profound.  If players were unwilling to give up API data to evemon, EFT, EvEHQ, EVEcommander, EMMA, MEEP, eveMetrics and eve-central, those applications would have no reason to exist.  EvE without those applications would likely be a sparsely populated place indeed.
These two projects have a special place in the API trust realm.  Both of them have applications that allow the upload of market data (eve-central eve-metrics).  This data is then used by other applications to compute NAVs, determine profitable trade routes among many other purposes.  Without players trusting those applications with their APIs, this would not be possible and would by domino effect, bring down many other applications.
"Trust" is a necessary part of the game.  While a certain amount of paranoia is good for one's survival in-game: "Invite me to your fleet and I'll show you where there's a wormhole with much isk" or any non-contracted CNR sold in Jita.  Getting a little deep--Trust is similar to Love.  True Love requires a level of trust that, if betrayed can be devastating.  But if not betrayed can lead to the most fruitful and beneficial elements of life.