The Five Year Spree, Part 1: Nova

By Jim Rossignol on August 31st, 2009 at 9:00 am.


This summer has seen the end of the lengthiest and most fulfilling gaming experience of my life: five years helping to run the Eve Online corporation, StateCorp. A five year plan? More like five years with no plan, but with endless drama. The corporation is currently in the process of moth-balling and disbanding, and so we took the opportunity to look back at what made those sixty months of Eve so fascinating, why we became so involved, and why it had to come to end. This retrospective comes to your courtesy of everyone who has been a member of StateCorp over the years.

In this first episode I want to set the scene and to touch on the most important themes. We’ll move onto some specifics about the game mechanics and how the influenced our play in the next episode. For now though, a beginning…

By mid 2004 I had been playing Eve Online on and off for a year. The game had been largely ignored by the PC gaming world up to that time, and yet the ideas it embodied were fascinating. The dynamic nature of player interaction, the intricacy of economics and combat, the emergent politics: it was heady stuff. I decided to write an eight page feature about my experiences for PC Gamer UK, assuming that this would be my final word on the subject. Needless to say, it was just the beginning. Members of the now defunct State gaming forum read the piece and raised the idea of starting up a corporation for its members. A handful of the forumites had already been playing the game, and were keen to team-up. Others would create characters from scratch and join in with the project. I would take the lead.

Our early days saw us undertaking typical beginner behaviour: messing about in the friendly areas of Caldari space, running the game’s very basic missions, and practising PvP combat in frigates. We had about a dozen people, and the corporation would never get beyond around twenty five active members in its history. A handful of those who were there at the start are still playing today. In these early days StateCorp trolled the nearby low-security systems for pirates, without much success. It was only when three of the beginners were out and about in their new cruisers that we were to encounter our first real enemy: a battleship pirate called Nekrosis. Having spotted the miscreant in space our newbies pootled about as bait. Myself and another older player, meanwhile, raced to the scene in our battleships, from our bases several systems distant. It was to be a process that we would repeat thousands of times in the following five years: finding a target, offering him a reason to engage, then lasering the crap out of him. He wasn’t happy.

Of course the only reason we had any firepower at all was that we’d begin to grasp how to fit ships to do proper damage. Knowing what types of modules to fit, how to fit them, and then what ranges to engage at once we had fitted them, was an arcane art, and one that even I was only beginning to get the hang of. My year headstart had given me money and skills, but my theorycraft was still weak. Early fights such as those against Nekrosis gave us a taste for blood and the confidence to leave the safety of Empire space.

Boosted by humble victories we explored nearby regions, rapidly losing our battleships to smarter, more experienced players. At this point the corporation was aimless, with little more to its ambition than allowing the members to have someone friendly to chat to. It was clear that Statecorp needed more of a challenge than this low-profile existence could provide. After a few weeks we migrated into the 0.0 (nullsec) space of Great Wildlands, where I had previously made friends via my player corporations from the from first year of the game. That first year would prove to be extremely useful to us in the five that followed, because success in Eve so often relies on contacts and personal relationships. Again and again the people I’d flown with in the first few months of the game would pop up to help with StateCorp’s evolution.

We spent several formative months in the Great Wildlands region, to which we would subsequently return many times. This was our first taste of the alliance game, in which large groups of corporations combined their powers to control, police, and exploit a region of space. Our alliance, the first Foundation, and soon found itself at war with a hostile alliance called Keiretsu. I spent weeks learning about long range battleship combat – one of the staples of Eve’s multi-layered PvP over the years – sniping enemy ships from a hundred kilometres or more distance. Many of the Foundation veterans had been fighting out here for months, and they took the lead in teaching us how it was done.

StateCorp found itself dragged into huge fleet fights featuring scores, sometimes hundreds, of ships. We learned the value of speed, and the thrill of interceptor duels. We learned how to take losses gracefully, and how to make money quickly and safely. All good lessons for the future, but we remained inexpert fighters. Months would pass before we would begin to feel confident as a collective.

Soon another alliance made a play for the region. As the war unfolded over the course of several weeks, it became clear that Foundation was to be defeated. The fleets began to diminish in size as support ebbed away. Eventually the conflict compelled us to move on from this starter home, and it was the first step in a tour of the galaxy that would last another five years.

We used our Foundation connections to find a second home. This time it was The Forsaken Empire, a couple of regions away in an area known as Tribute. The first few weeks were incredibly exciting. The new owners of Great Wildlands, Veritas Immortalis (-V-) Alliance, attacked, along with a series of pirate gangs, and the Forsaken Empire fleets found themselves embroiled in constant – although not serious – conflict. That was okay by us, because we got to make huge amounts of money from Tribute’s rich assets. Anything that was destroyed could easily be replaced. We began to learn how to scout out our enemies, configure to engage them, and to win fights against formidable foes. The trademark of StateCorp: a specific plan for small-scale combat, rapidly conceived and executed, began to germinate around this time, with some spectacular small engagements taking place – the height of which was probably my rescue from an enemy system by a small team of State pilots. At this point I also began to learn how to command fleets of dozens of players, swallowing intense humiliation as I lead a sixty-man gang to its death at the hands of a disciplined -V- fleet. Everyone knew I had fucked up. I swore not to let it happen again. Understanding how Eve’s solar-systems could be exploited for tactical advantage was something I would spend the coming years mastering.

Soon, however, The Forsaken Empire’s leadership was to make the misstep that would define the future of StateCorp. The alliance was dragged into a wider galactic conflict against a fierce PvP alliance known as The Five. Our excitement at being involved in a huge coalition of alliances soon faded into concern as The Five’s most militant corporations moved into stations close to our region. This concern became panic as these new, potent enemies began routine attacks on our systems, decimating the alliance’s less experienced members. By this time The Forsaken Empire was a populous, flabby target, and our enemies revelled in racking up hundreds of kills each day. The leadership was so desperate that they even implemented a “stupid tax” on those players who got killed because they had not paid attention to warnings. Morale was slipping, and our grip on the region was going with it.

Eventually the Forsaken Empire commanders pulled together the entire alliance, as well as their local allies, to besiege the enemy corporation in their main base of operations. The “siege of HPA” – a long, painful, series of sniper battles – probably only lasted a couple of weeks, but it seemed like a lifetime. It went on and on, with neither side able to win a convincing victory. Eventually a backroom deal was cut, and The Forsaken Empire’s bosses decided on an armistice with The Five, the terms of which meant we had to attack our former allies. It was a backstab that StateCorp could not stomach, and we decided, again, to move on. Politics was going to be something that we would generally avoid meddling in, but would always feel the influence of. In the years to come it would often be the political decisions of larger powers that often decided how our game played, and where we ended up residing.

For now though we wanted to avoid extended conflict with large powers, and had to look for something a little more downbeat. Options at the time were numerous, thanks to the large number of smaller alliances that the game supported. We read up on their agendas and manifestos, and decided that the tiny Frege Alliance sounded like it was aligned with our values. However, we were now ferociously independent, having flown and fought together for months. We elected not to throw our lot in entirely with this new alliance, and based ourselves at the nearby ISS Borealis.

This was one of the most fascinating projects of early Eve – a publicly funded space station – for which anyone could purchase shares. ISS had, in what was a huge logistical and security exercise – built their second station near Frege space, and was looking for tenants. As a neutral entity to all ISS allowed us to base there for a fee, and it meant that we were set apart, physically, from the rest of the Frege pilots. This decision had a social effect that would bond the corporation closer together than ever: when we left the surrounds of the station, we did so as a group. Even though we were part of another alliance, the most important thing was the cohesion of StateCorp itself. We became totally self-reliant, within the larger whole.

Possibly our finest moment in this theatre was in combating war targets in high-security space – pirates who had formally declared corporate war on Frege – when we once again baited and destroyed a high value target. This time, however, it was a faction battleship, called a machariel, which was equipped with the most expensive items the game had to offer. We could not believe our luck, and the outraged pirate took his rant to the official forums – understandably livid that his prize ship could be destroyed by a small fleet of a fraction of the value. As the years unfolded, the loot dropped by overconfident foes were to come to fund an astonishingly large amount of our activities, and cause bitter enmities.

Frege’s time was troubled. They attempted to merge with another alliance, with unhappy outcomes. Soon there was in-fighting, and then a civil war. We took the lead at this point, stomping the dissenters and earning a reputation as some of the most confident members of the small alliance. (One brutal stand-up fight against raiders from far away industrial megaplex Ascendant Frontier sticks in the memory of our pilots to this day, and the battle cry of Frege’s alliance leader was adopted as our own tongue-in-cheek response to ill-considered calls to combat: “Rapid Deployment!”) It was a formative time, although little more than skirmishing next to what the coming years would hold. StateCorp learned the kind of routines that would keep us alive in thousands of battles to come. We also learned to be distrustful of pilots we’d not got the measure of, no matter how friendly they might be: strangers didn’t always follow orders, and that could get you killed.

As the civil war sputtered out, and the region lapsed into nothing more than occasional pirate raids, we began to realise that we were rather more experienced than we’d thought. The months of war the Forsaken Empire had hardened and focused us. We decided we wanted another, wealthier region to operate in, while at the same time still working within an alliance that shared our values of fairness and anti-piracy. It turned out that this alliance was The Huzzah Federation, which was occupying a region on the far side of the galaxy. The move to Huzzah was to be the making of StateCorp, and set us on the road to the height of our powers.

Next: The “Zoom Zoom” Years, the joy of logistics, and the largest war machine ever assembled. Read part 2 here.

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84 Comments »

  1. Vinraith says:

    EVE is that rare game that is fascinating to read about, despite the fact that I’d never actually want to play it. I look forward to the rest of this series.

  2. Junch says:

    Best gaming diary I’ve read. Ever. Even better than Alice & Kev.

  3. Junch says:

    Best gaming diary I’ve read. Ever. Epic and space operatic.

  4. Lack_26 says:

    I always wanted to play Eve and never quite got around to it, I was probably scared of the seeming commitment it required, anyway I can tell these articles will be an interesting read indeed.

  5. Wookie_Wookstar (Big D) says:

    Played EVE for a about 3 years myself, fond memories indeed! Looking forward to reading the rest Jim!

  6. Wacky says:

    Nice read,looking forward to the next part.I wish i was a part of some large scale Eve ownage myself but hey i’ll get there in a few years :P

  7. JamesOf83 says:

    I’ve played EVE on and off since release. It’s usually articles like this (or expansions) that make me go back. However I fall into the same routine, I have little time to play so I play it save, PvE, afraid to take risks which I know is where the fun is.

    Were I not married with a baby I’d love to sink time into EVE. I’d sign up to a Corp and have loads of fun. But between work, family and doing a degree part time, EVE is too time-heavy for me. This is where WoW wins, it’s quite pick up and play and there is little consequence for dying. A quick corpse run vs grinding missions/mining to replace what I’ve lost, and it’s a clear winner.

    Still, lovely to read about EVE. I hope something like it exists in the distant future when I retire :)

  8. Vasagi says:

    All corps, guild and whatevers will always fall short of being in StateCorp now.

    “Jump,Jump”

  9. pimorte says:

    Moar!

    I don’t think I’ll ever play EVE, but I’m happy that there are other talented writers who do. :)

  10. Stoffig says:

    I find EVE intruiging. The depth of the game is stagering.
    Just wondering.. On average, how many hours a week did you spend on this game Jim?

  11. Jim Rossignol says:

    Stoffig: it varied enormously, and tied into real life, as I’ll explain in the next piece.

  12. Cooper says:

    I’m currently trying EVE for my second time.

    This time around, I’m getting into it. EVE has the most awful of hurdles to get over at the start. It’s also about networking. Make some good friends and connections, and you’ll be sorted. Thing is, I don’t have too much time to give to it, and so am progressing very slowly.

  13. The Pink Ninja says:

    Jim has a real talent for making games sound exciting. Quit being a writer and become a games Dev because I imagine your perfect game looks pretty similar to mine.

  14. Jim Rossignol says:

    The Pink Ninja: Early on in my career I used to think that’s where I’d end up (and I made a couple of Amiga games as a youth), but the more I see of real game development, the less likely it seems that I’d ever be able to make anything I’d really want to play.

    Plus, I really like writing for a living. Of course I’d still be okay with a developer giving me ultrabucks to create a perfect game spec ;)

  15. futage says:

    What Vinraith said. Love reading these things. Real war and politics in a non-existent place.

  16. Ben Abraham says:

    I would play The Jim Rossignol game. I would also play this so called “Eve Online” if I had time, etc.

  17. Fashigady says:

    I always love reading accounts of the doings of Eve, it always sounds incredibly epic

  18. Kommissar Nicko says:

    Jim, while I’m sure it will be addressed, just tell me this: you aren’t leaving due to sad times with the game itself, are you?

    I don’t pay any attention to EVE at all (beyond wistful thoughts of maybe-someday-I’ll-feel-like-giving-it-another-go, which quickly get crushed by the fact that I hate other people), but I am interested in seeing it evolve and hopefully stand the test of time. Or something.

  19. morte says:

    Had a love/hate relationship with Eve since release. Love; because it’s the most important and amazing game I’ve played in some 30 years now. Hate; because I don’t have the time to dedicate to it anymore and so I wish it would just go away and stop taunting me.
    Something about it just prevents me from putting it all behind me as ‘just another great gaming experience’. I always keep the client installed, just incase I break a leg or something.
    Nice write-up, strange how, so far, it echoes my own experiences!

  20. Don says:

    Great read, although for myself EVE is one of those games that’s better in theory than practice. Steam had a free trial and I gave it a go but as a way to draw people into the game it didn’t really work for, hours of asteroid mining having little appeal.

    It’s a pity they haven’t got a casual game type option such as being a mercenary (for a small flat fee) with no ship or other presence in the game until some corporation needs some cannon fodder and kits you out with the EVE equivalent of a TIE fighter and shoves you out the launch tube into whatever battle they’re fighting.

  21. Lambchops says:

    Like a couple of others said I find reading about EVE quite entertaining but don’t have the slightest inclination to ever play it.

  22. Heliosicle says:

    As Vinraith said, reading about it it sounds awesome and I’d love to play it, but I know what its really like…

    I wish to hear more about StateCorp anyway

  23. Alex Bakke says:

    John: Hi there, my name’s Alex, and I’m fairly new in EVE. I started out as a Caldari, and learnt the basics pretty quickly. However, when it came for me to move into the realms of PVP, I didn’t know where to start. Every corporation I found was a waste of time, and even though I followed a PVP guide to the letter, I could never destroy that thorax in my merlin.

    So, if you ever find yourself in EVE Online again, in a new corp, is it ok if I tag along?

    Astonishing read as always, by the way.

  24. Eben says:

    Oh god .5 trounced us and in the FE leaderships defence its not like PA and NBSI were doing anything when they were sieging D7 etc…

  25. Alex Bakke says:

    Damn, I meant Jim.

  26. teo says:

    I like Great Wildlands
    The systems there are all really pretty and feel very peaceful for some reason

    Looking forward to the next part

    Also, I think lots of people could enjoy EVE it’s just that the game doesn’t do anything to help you find the fun. You need to try really hard to find it

  27. arqueturus says:

    A lump Jim, in my throat.

    Amazing that recollections of a game could cause that…

  28. Gurrah says:

    Fantastic read, but does that mean you quit EVE? After reading your book and your other pieces on the game, including articles in EON, it’s something I could hardly believe. Your experiences sound like what I would love to get out of EVE, but since I’m a chicken I’ll probably be stuck in high sec forever, with the occasional poke into low sec. Looking forward to the next installment of your diary.

  29. Captain Haplo says:

    I always seem to enjoy EVE diaries for some reason. There’s always this edge of epicness to them.

    Good job, Jim.

  30. arqueturus says:

    @Eben

    I’m fairly sure that the backstabbing of NBSI upset us too.

  31. zombiehunter says:

    can i haz your stuff? ;)

    nice story! good to read. keep it comin…

    see ya in those shiny little internet spaceship thingys! pewpew baby! ^^

  32. Psychopomp says:

    There it is.

    The urge to resub, again.

    I miss my Ishtar. I’m all trained up to fly battleships, but give me a choice between a BS, and an Ishtar, and I’ll take the Ishtar any day. I *adore* that ship on so many levels. The model alone has so many memories attached.

    Those long nights of nervously mining in low sec space, with naught but an my precious drones to protect me, when I was still flying the T1 equivalent of my Ishtar.

    My first fleet, to drive some dirty pirates out of our little corner of space.

    Being the only one in the corp up, late at night, when a series of Cyno fields starting going off, and darting back and forth to stop them, confused, and scared…then finding out the next morning that was a corp we had a mutual defense agreement with.

    BTW, if you ever have to pass through a system named Sagain:The gate is camped. The gate is *always* camped. No matter how many times we tried to drive them off, someone else always came in and filled the hole.

    WoW PvP just doesn’t fill the hole.

  33. Janek says:

    Eben: Yeah, we understood Persh’s reasoning, but it still didn’t sit right. Admittedly PA were deadweight, but NBSI were mostly okay dudes. Hence moving onto something new.

  34. Psychopomp says:

    On the other hand, there’s the unbearable grind. Just before I quit, I was running WoW and EVE at the same time, in windowed mode, so that I would have something to do while I AFK mined, and AFK grinded missions.

    The latter is what finally drove me away, getting anything above Level 1 missions takes absolute *ages.*

  35. Shadow says:

    This article reminds me of the things in EVE that I loved when I played it, and that eventually turned sour as the game grew and the focus moved ever closer to the support of content for mega-corps and alliances (also not helped by the fact I was losing a full-fitted raven every 7 days in lvl 4 missions during the last month of my last true subscription period a little over 2 years ago, when they ‘tweaked’ the missions to increase difficulty).

  36. jalf says:

    @Psychopomp: You do know that you don’t have to mine *or* do missions in Eve, right?

  37. DMJ says:

    I love EvE, but it’s getting TOO hardcore. No corp wants a pilot who is only on for a couple of hours every other day. If you’re not flying the cookie-cutter ships and setups the Alliances dictate, you’re not welcome in fleets.

    EvE is the scene of my proudest gaming moments (slipping through a system bubble-camped at both ends by 300 BoB pilots in a two-hour game of cat-and-mouse with enemy Interceptors springs to mind), but I can’t compete any more, and if you’re not competitive you’re just another statistic on some corp’s killboard.

  38. mpk says:

    StateCorp: I was there.

    Still am actually. I’m intensely proud of our little group of space heroes and I think there’s a bond between us that’ll last long after the doors close on the corporation.

  39. mpk says:

    @Eben: early StateCorp battlecry – “Persh is a cock”

    I think that was in someones bio for a while actually…

  40. Andy says:

    Emotive stuff Jim. Really enjoyed that and I’m looking forward to the rest.
    Found myself really caring about the exploits of your intrepid band despite the fact that I’ve never quite managed to get into Eve even after a few attempts. That your exploits were even possible though makes me want to give it another try.

  41. Kommissar Nicko says:

    @jalf: What else is there? I’m not baiting you, I really want to know, because the last time I played, that was about it.

  42. Blackberries says:

    Never played Eve, but I love reading about it. I know this’ll be a great feature.

  43. roBurky says:

    Hoorah for StateCorp!

    I have a few articles on always_black’s site from the early steps period mentioned in this piece.

    My first alliance pvp encounter:
    http://www.alwaysblack.com/?p=70

    My first steps flying an interceptor:
    http://www.alwaysblack.com/?p=84
    http://www.alwaysblack.com/?p=85
    http://www.alwaysblack.com/?p=86
    http://www.alwaysblack.com/?p=216

  44. simonkaye says:

    Thanks so much for this, Jim. I think it’s symptomatic of some of Eve’s failings that I invariably find reading about it more interesting than actually trying to play it. I look forward to the next part.

  45. iamseb says:

    Zoom zoom zoom!

    I left Eve (and the truly amazing Statecorp) about a year ago as real life began to get in the way, but I still feel the urge to jump back in and go pew-pewing with the gang whenever I read about Eve.

    Jim does a wonderful job of transcribing the raw emotional experience of playing Eve; if you’re willing to commit to it, I don’t know of any other game that gives so much back.

    Runs off to download installer…

  46. Janek says:

    Nicko: I think in terms of the new player’s experience, that is pretty much it. I mean yeah there is trading, but to really turn a profit you need a decent chunk of capital to start off with. And you’re right, missions and mining are boring as hell – I don’t know how some players seem content to live in empire doing level 4 missions for years on end.

    The real meat and veg of the game, for me, was always the PVP. Not just the huge fleet fights (for the most part I hated those) but the small-medium gang stuff could be exquisite.

    Of course for that you need a skillbase and some way to replace losses – not actually difficult for disposable tackling frigates, but there does seem to be a big psychological barrier which stops a lot of newer players getting into the right mindset for that. And of course you need to find a group of players that you fit in with.

    Statecorp were lucky in that respect, in that most of us knew eachother from before the game, and all sort of grew up and learned together.

  47. cyrenic says:

    I recently checked EVE out for a several weeks with the free trial + a sale on steam (51 days for $5 is nice).

    I’m amazed at the complexity of the player interactions that take place (you can hire somebody just to haul items around? ha), but the barrier to entry in both time and money turned me off to the game.

    Playing it certainly has made me more anti-monthly fee, because I wonder if the game mechanics would be different without one. In EVE’s defense, they do the monthly fee thing properly, where you just pay monthly and expansions are free. It’s a lot better than the WoW model of “buy the retail box + pay the monthly fee + buy a retail box for every expansion”.

  48. Noc says:

    The new player experience IS helped a bit by doing things a little counterintuitively and using the cheapest gear available, so you’re flying a ship that costs pocket change to replace and that you can afford to take risks with instead of spending millions of ISK on expensive named equipment and ever larger ships that’ll get blown up and set you back just that much.

    And ratting in lowsec with a frigate, as far as solo grinds go, is far more interesting (and about as lucrative, I think, with salvage) than mining. More pirates to dodge, etc.

    . . .

    What troubled me after I ditched the solo grind and started heading off to PvP, though, was the skill gap, and just how long it would take until I’d be able to feel that I’d be evenly matched against someone in a similar ship. Especially after spending all that time pouring over my fittings screen with a calculator trying to figure out how to build something vaguely effective.

    The last blow came when, after finally resigning myself to months of training before I’d achieve basic PvP competence, and feeling a little better because I could plot things out so I could take weeks-long breaks while those pesky Level Vs were training . . . CCP disabled ghost-training.

    I can see the logic behind it, but like . . . apparently, they decided to disable ghost-training because tons>/i> of people were doing it, and they saw it as people abusing the system, and gaining the benefits of playing without actually paying their subscription.

    But then . . . if people were essentially quitting the game in droves because they had nothing to do while a skill trained, this would seem to point to a different problem. And that’s why I quit: because beyond lowsec ratting, which as fun but which I’d had more than my fill of, I felt like there wasn’t much I was actually capable of doing until my skills reached an acceptable point, and I was not going to pay a monthly fee to kill time until I was able to actually play the game.

    And that’s why I don’t play EVE anymore. I’ve been looking for a cool alternative ever since, but I haven’t yet found anything quite as cool. Which is a damn shame, really.

  49. paddytehpyro says:

    I cant really see EVE working without a mothly fee. Its just so much… work to keep it up. The single server supporting tens of thousands of players 23/7, cant be too cheap.

  50. Cunk says:

    Almost anyone who spent any serious length of time with a dynamic corp will have stories similar to this. That’s what’s so cool about EVE. I played for a few years with Goonfleet, from the time when we were oooing and aaaing over our very first carrier in Syndicate to about the time they started making a serious attempt at BoB. It was an amazing journey and hearing stories like Jim’s reminds me just how huge the game is. Other than some of the alliance names, none of what he recounted is familiar to me. The EVE universe is a busy place and events that may have felt significant to you never register on most of the players’ radars (well, other than when they happen to look at the “Ships destroyed in the last hour” map and see that huge red bloom on some obscure system on the other side of the map). While it may seem disappointing that the majority of the players are oblivious to your exploits it really enhances the immersion of the game I think.

    And to the people who complain about the grind and the endless mining and missioning: you’re doing it wrong.

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