In this, the second part of my series looking back on five years of Eve Online, I tell the tale of two lost Empires, and the solo-corporation that emerged far stronger from their ashes. Part one is here.
In truth, there was one thing that kept us hooked for five years: the thrill of combat.
While any number of games have exciting combat dynamics, only Eve's seem to induce genuine highs, due to its risks. People regularly reported adrenaline shakes after the most intense fights, and I'm fairly sure that the inherent risks of the game were the only reason I kept on pushing.
Eve, of course, is a time-sink of an MMO, and that effect is exacerbated because assets you create can be destroyed. PvP generally means that someone's ship is going to be exploded, possibly their pilot in his escape pod too. Replacing both of these can be costly. While you reappear in a clone vat and don't "die", the loss, thanks to the time it took to make the money, can be very real. Big losses hurt. The risks, therefore, are exciting in a way that a more traditional WoW clone can't match.
In some ways, I think the excess of money in Eve is one of the reasons why we lost interest by the end of the five years. It became too easy to make the millions and billions required to buy our ships, and the sense of risk began to diminish. At the time we joined Huzzah, however, making money was becoming a new challenge, because we were moving out of the cheap tech 1 era ships and into tech 2: better, faster, tougher, and radically more expensive. This wasn't just an issue for us, it also made our enemies more interesting: kill a pricey command ship or heavy assault cruiser and you knew you were hurting your enemy more than you were if he was in a cheap ship. Kill him with a cheap ship, when he was in an expensive one, well, that was just the sweetest thing.
Huzzah were living in Catch, a fairly wealthy region with a number of capturable stations. They were, along with their local allies, to go to war with FIX and capture the rest of Catch from them. Victory was to be short lived, as we'll see, but during that time StateCorp's attendance and commitment levels rocketed. We were really getting a kick out of this game: tearing around the local regions in small gangs, fighting in huge sovereignty contests, and intercepting raiders night after night.
The Catch stations sat at the end of a "pipe" of solar systems that led from the safety of Empire into various 0.0, player alliance regions. StateCorp had scouts stationed throughout the pipe whenever anyone was awake. When I was at my desk there was usually a cloaked scout ship sat watching an important junction system in the pipe. I left it on my laptop for hours on end, just watching, waiting for targets. If I wanted to play with my main account I could just potter about making money or doing logistical tasks, waiting for the fight. Others did the same, as well as keeping an eye on the intel channels into which Huzzah and their allies reported. When enemies were spotted nearby, we would move to engage them. Where the enemy gang was of a size that could be tackled by StateCorp alone, we mobilised quickly. We probably annoyed our allies. In the words of one of them: "Statecorp are like all Zoom Zoom Zoom and we're all like :("
In fact, I'd often already be floating quietly a couple of jumps up the pipe when an enemy gang was spotted. StateCorp would rally from the more distant station systems, or from our "POS" - a player owned structure, which is a rudimentary space station deployed by individual corporations.
The POS, as I shall discuss later, was something we had a difficult relationship with over the years, but as a home away from home, and a forward base in the obscurer corners of 0.0 space, it was perfect.
Blockading the pipe, quickly judging the situation and either barrelling headlong into a fight, or setting up a bait trap, we got a fight on a regular basis. We won a fair number of times, too. During the Huzzah period we earned respect from a number of enemies. The pirates of Mortis Angelus visited, and were obliterated, while numerous cruiser gangs from Lokta Volterra and the dubiously named Stain Empire (Stain is a region in Eve) made life interesting whenever things got too quiet. Our victories were almost always down to good intel and good equipment. We scouted the enemy and then quickly fitted to be optimal against them in a fight. Usually we'd appear at face value to be killable - a small gang, with small ships - but we'd often have tanked ourselves against their specific damage output, or fitted jamming ships with full racks of jammers designed to lock their damage dealers out of the fight.
We didn't always win, of course, and found our entire gang murdered by the famed solo-pirate Heikki, who used a high-spec battleship and a long range jamming ship with deadly effect at range. He was to become legend: able to kill multiple foe that fell, willingly into his trap. We also find ourselves wrongfooted by clever raiders with unusual loadouts: Muninn snipers, or "blasterthron" battleship gangs were particular problems.
Perhaps our favourite small skirmish at the time was with a Sleipnir command ship, the pilot of which had been a little aggressive in his smacktalk. On entering the fight I somehow disconnected, and my client went blank. I assumed I'd died, of course, but the mechanics of Eve meant that because he had scrambled me I stayed in the fight. Because I'd set my orbit and weapons cycling, he died under my disconnected guns. Logged back in, floating next to wreckage, with my friends laughing on voice comms. The ship was fitted with rare faction items, and once again filled our coffers with hundreds of millions of ISK.
One of our members, D'Jannek, began to specialise in humiliating such solo players. Many would often fly the Vagabond heavy assault ship, which was especially tough to catch. While fast and durable, the ship had to come in close to its target to really deal a killing blow. D'Jannek exploited this by coming up with builds for much weaker ships - clear targets for a roving vagabond - which would destroy them at close range. It was classic StateCorp: exploiting the overconfidence of enemies to send them tumbling into a trap. We watched it happen again and again, time after time.
Huzzah Federation were a brilliant crowd of friendly, fun pilots. It was the best of times. However, as a fleet force it relied on its allies in nearby regions. When bigger boys came Huzzah wasn't quite up to the job. First Band Of Brothers (at the time the most powerful entity in the game) came to capture our stations, just because they could, and then ferocious pirates Against All Authorities (AAA) made their move. Led by our local nemeses Rage & Terror, AAA had become a formidable force, and when the finally made a territorial assault on Catch, there was little we could do. The fight when on for several weeks, but when a dreadnought fleet intended to assault their starbases fell apart, leading to the handful that arrived being slaughtered by AAA, we were done for. We lobbied mercenaries to come and fight for us, but they would not. AAA was too tough a nut, even then. Huzzah splintered, and began to dissipate. StateCorp got in touch with friends in Great Wildlands, and began to talk to former enemies Veritas Immortalis. They had taken Scalding Pass, and were now pushing back the Russians of Red Alliance into a single system. It seemed like a golden opportunity.
Although we didn't quite realise it at the time, we arrived on the weekend where the tide turned. We logged into a war-machine of several thousand pilots, who had battered the Russians back into a single system, C-J6MT. We joined a teamspeak server with hundreds of people on it. There were other voice servers, all full to capacity, hosting entire alliances. All of them were being co-ordinated in one gigantic military operation. We watched giant fleets of capital ships undocking from V stations and jumping to the assault. Thousands of ships streamed through the region, each one controlled by a real player. It was a wondrous taste of the epic possibility of this kind of game.
But it was in vain. The lag from the battle was too much, and the capital ship losses against the fiercely combatant Russians were huge. Finally the coalition elected to call off its attack. They would concentrate on infrastructure and money. Lokta Volterra, Veritas Immortalis, and the other super-powers of the East let Red Alliance hold on to their bastion. The coalition would, consequently, lose everything.
Our time in -V- was hugely entertaining, but it was the tale of a steady decline. Having pushed back Red Alliance and built several outposts (the huge, player constructed "proper" space stations) the alliance was rich and potent. But it was to face an unrelenting assault from Red Alliance and GoonSwarm, whose alliance and tactics is meticulously detailed here. These strange allies would not relent, and night after night of fleet warfare collapsed into non-stop struggles for sovereignty. Those POS towers that made such convenient bases, became sources of ire as they had to be repeatedly attacked and defended at awkward times of day. The POS were fundamental to control of a region, and their long battles to destroy them were achingly dull. Despite the colossal power fielded by LV and V itself - often amount to hundreds of sniper battleships in a single fleet - there was nothing we could do against the sheer commitment of the Russians, and the manpower of the Goons. Our crucial POS were being torn down.
Oddly, this was also the point at which logistics were still relatively exciting. Nowadays, with the advent of jumpfreighters and the massive proliferation of other capital ships, it's remarkably safe and easy to move massive amounts of material around the galaxy. At the time when V was fighting we had to bring freighters in manually, making dozens of jumps to get to the places where fuel was needed. Using a 150-man battleship fleet to block enemy gangs trying to hit the freighters was a thrilling exercise that no longer really exists in Eve. Again, the risks were enormous, and the high was unforgettable.
The road with V was long, and we fought across a huge theatre - brawling with Imperium and Red Alliance in the Empire space lanes, and fighting epic running battles across Great Wildlands and Scalding Pass. I dread to think how many ships we lost, or how many we killed.
Ultimately, however, V was to be broken. StateCorp, frustrated and dismayed, wanted to leave Great Wildlands. We also wanted to make some of our own decisions. For now at least we'd be leaving the territory-claiming alliance game. We were going to strike our on our own and become an independent alliance. The time of The State was upon us.
Next: Fountain, Celestial Apocalypse, and the Golden Age of The State. Read part 3 here.