In this, the final part of my look back on five years of the Eve Online corporation, Statecorp, we see our plucky heroes wander Eve, struggle for survival, and ultimately burn out in the long search for a home. Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
With the changes in Fountain giving us ample reason to move on, we looked around for another similar locale. This was probably a mistake, but I was keen to persuade the gang to find actions elsewhere, and I would spend the following year trying to recreate the same scenarios we'd tasted in Fountain. The closest we were able to identify was a system called FDZ4-A in the region of Geminate. This seemed to be to provide similar opportunities: there were multiple alliance regions to be raided in the surrounding area, while FDZ itself was distant and obscure enough to be relatively quiet. We packed up our best toys - leaving a huge amount of assets in WY-9LL, which I believe remain there even now - and headed, once again, across the galaxy.
Initially Geminate was quiet, because the only people using FDZ were a small alliance called Fang. We began to engage them fairly regularly, and run missions out to the nearby alliance-owned outposts. Large conglomerations such as Roadkill and Hydra provided ample entertainment, not least when we piled straight into Roadkill's core system and killed the faction battleship they put out as bait.
However, it wasn't long before Fang had company in FDZ. Another alliance called Ground Zer0 turned up, providing us with regular (smack-talking) combatants in the same system. Now experts in this sort of warfare, we harassed them daily, culminating in the kill of a carrier which - for reasons unclear - had warped to an asteroid belt, and in a stand-up fight on one of the FDZ stations. This fight remains clear in my memory because it was such a beautiful turn of events. Fang and Ground Zer0 had brought together their largest gang in several weeks, causing StateCorp to dock at the station. The enemy gang surrounded the station at close range, hoping to kill one of our ships when we undocked. The hostiles outnumbered us at least two-to-one. Needless to say, we all jumped into very high damage ships and undocked all at once. I think we lost a battleship. They had nothing left on the field.
Once the locals were properly trounced we began to lose interest in Geminate. It was nothing like as rich or dynamic as Fountain, and the lack of sparring partners made things dull. We decided it might, after years of of independence, be a good idea to join up with old alliance friends and see how things would work out. The first foray in this direction was to return, for the final time, to Great Wildlands and to Veritas Immortalis.
The old names were still fun to fly with, but the -V- we found in Great Wildlands at that time were a shadow of their former selves, being harassed by the new Foundation, and battered by formidable Red Alliance and Tau Ceti fleets. We used the opportunity to raid old haunts in Scalding Pass, Wicked Creek and Curse, but it was clear the magic was gone. After a couple of months we moved back to Geminate, beating on some more transient locals, before looking north to what Celestial Apocalypse - the corporation who had enticed us to Fountain in the first place - were doing now. Again, what they were doing was a bold project.
Celestial Apocalypse, by then the lead in a larger alliance known as Insurgency, had moved into Venal, a neutral NPC region in the midst of the North. It was a giant version of what had been going on in Fountain. While Fountain's core provided a good place to attack alliance assets in the region, Venal provided a base to attack assets in the whole of the north. The north of Eve, or The Northern Coalition, is a huge power-bloc, where many different alliances are in a non-aggression pact with each other. Insurgency was hitting some of the weaker members of this coalition, Stella Polar and Phoenix Allianz, and the rest of the coalition was doing little to intervene. StateCorp decided the tales of 100-ship heavy assault gangs rampaging around were too good to miss out on, and we moved on up.
As we arrived, however, bigger things were in motion. Insurgency were in the process of attacking a small arm of a region called Branch. It was a dead end section of space which could easily be blockaded, cleared out, and captured. Insurgency was, unbeknownst to us, and even the rest of the North, going to use this backwater assault as a trial run for claiming the entire Branch region.
When the assault kicked off it was the biggest collection of capital ships we had ever seen. Insurgency had swollen to around 1500 pilots, which was easily enough to produce the kind of fleets needed for the attack. It was also the size needed to produce massive capital ship action. While StateCorp had been off skirmishing and raiding we had also been buying capital ships, which were seldom used outside of logistics. Of course we weren't alone: all the large PvP alliances of Eve had begun to amass gigantic capital ship assets, and Insurgency was no different. The sight of the massed capital ship fleet during the Branch assault was astonishing.
RoBurky made a video:
Insurgency crushed the far weaker alliances in a sudden blitzkrieg: they had taken Branch. This, however, woke the slumbering enormity of the rest of the North: a power-bloc that could field four or five fleets the size of Insurgency's own. They begun to circle for the kill.
Roburky made another video:
And soon Insurgency would be crushed, and the north was lost.
But so too was the regular high attendance of StateCorp. The long, arduous attrition of the war for Branch was simply not the StateCorp way. As thrilling as 100-ship capital jumps were, it was our small, tightly organised gangs that had really kept us interested in the game, and now we were waning. By the time Eve's northern powers rolled in to retake Branch, we were already making plans. We evacuated to a backwater system in Pure Blind, and spent a few weeks beating up a random Russian alliance who were picking on local mission runners. It was a brief flicker of the past, and of what StateCorp did best. Our numbers, however, were not enough to sustain interest on a regular basis. We were going to need to recruit, or to join up with larger, more active Eve entity.
We got in touch with the resurrected Huzzah Federation, which had been living in Syndicate since our own roadtrip out there. We would join up with them again and fight a few more campaigns with our old Huzzah friends. First we'd boot Red Skull, Thorn, and Controlled Chaos out of their pocket of Syndicate, and then we messed around in Cloud Ring, making of a nuisance of ourselves as the region's sovereignty changed hands. Fun escapades indeed, but a potent mixture of real life and Eve-fatigue was going to end my run, and that of most of our other pilots. StateCorp's run had been long, and glorious, but our most active players had begun to fizzle out. One by one we just weren't turning up for the ops.
Finally, last week, we realised it had come to an end.
Even without the fact that we were growing tired, and finding ourselves busy with other responsibilities, I think we had grown apart from Eve. We idealised small scale ship combat in 0.0 space. Neither the new generation of faction warfare nor the proliferation of capital ship combat really appealed, certainly to me, and possibly to other members of StateCorp. I think we existed during a sweet spot for both the game, and for the time our pilots could commit to it. Some of us will stay and play on - I'm certainly taking a break - but it's clear that the singular joy of StateCorp had run its course. Insurgency was our last taste of what it meant to play the alliance game at a high level, and once again we decided we didn't want it. We'd mastered small scale skirmishing, and so that no longer held challenge either. We'd done the lot.
Of course that should not diminish how incredible the journey had been up to this point, or how it could be for others in the future. All this stuff could only ever have happened in Eve. No other game or virtual world has the same vast potentials, or the intricate amalgam of sandbox freedom and ludic constraint. While StateCorp played out its many battles I wrote a book containing detailed ruminations on the subject of Eve, and many other essays and features besides. It's been the most fertile source of story-telling and game design discussion I've ever come across. And most of those stories don't belong to me, or to StateCorp. From the vast political intrigues, to the Great War, through the scams and the scandals, the pirates, the traders, the moon-miners, the explorers, the idiots, the savants: there are billions of stories within Eve. StateCorp has generated countless vignettes and takes of spacewar on its own, and there are hundreds if not thousands of corporations who have also lived through the past years of the game. Their stories, perhaps, can be told elsewhere, and will continue to unfold in the future.
Eve Online has been profoundly significant in the landscape of gaming. It saddens me still when I interview MMO developers who can't say why Eve is interesting or unique. It's so special that no other game can replace it. There will be another shooter, another RTS, another clever puzzle game, but it's not clear whether there will ever be another Eve. For that reason alone, I can't see myself ever stopping being interested in CCP's amazing project.
Nor, ultimately, will I want to lose contact with the friends I've made. Thanks to the lot of you - you all know who you are.
Finally, I'm thankful it turned out like it did. I know our adventures might not have gone that way. I might not have written that feature for PC Gamer. I might have genuinely lost interest in that patchy first year of the game. Hell, Eve might never have happened at all.
Way back, when I first saw screenshots of Eve in 2002, an editor of the time leaned over and looked at them: "Pff," he said, "an MMO by a little Icelandic studio? That'll never even get released."
I'm glad he was wrong. And how wrong he was.
Eve Online, StateCorp, I salute you.