Friday, February 19, 2016

Eve is hard

Earlier today, a link to a list of 10 obnoxiously hard games popped up in my twitter feed. Now, I've been a gamer my whole life, ever since little five year old me got a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. Fun fact: I played Duck Hunt first because the gun looked cooler than a game about a guy in overalls. Ever since then I've feasted on games as the industry grew, and I developed a great enjoyment of finding games that other people would insist were too hard. This probably started with Battletoads, and grew from there (side note: fuck the Turbo Tunnel).

Anywho, so given my enjoyment of finding impossible games, I of course hit the link to see which ones I hadn't tried and which ones I had. I was happy to see roughly half of them were games I had played. Happier still because that meant I had some new games to look into. Because the list doesn't actually link any of the mentioned games, I'll do so here.

10. Kerbal Space Program - Not played
9. Discworld - Played
8. The Talos Principle - Played
7. Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes - Not played
6. Digital Combat Simulator - Not Played
5. Hacknet - Played
4. Spacechem - Not played
3. Victoria II - Not played
2. EvE Online - Ofc
1. Dwarf Fortress - Played

It definitely warmed my heart to see Eve close to the top of that list. I've mentioned before that the main reason I play is because I was told that a new player couldn't come into the game and survive at this point. And I'll agree that the writer has a point that the "spreadsheets in space" moniker and the extrodinarily complex user interface can seem insanely overwhelming at first. But, considering the amount of information and access that UI needs to offer to players, its little wonder that it seems complicated to fresh eyes. At least, until you figure out that you don't need to know every single detail of it immediately. You learn it over time as needed. Likewise, the idea of maintaining out of game spreadsheets in order to keep track of in game information seems like an impossible mountain to climb until you again realize that its something done over time, not immediately. The famously steep learning curve for Eve, in hindsight, is more of a slow walk uphill. Incidentally, I feel like an explanation of this is still missing from the "new player experience" and starting the game still seems too "learn everything NOW!" for my liking.

While the author of the list misses what makes Eve a difficult game, he's not wrong in labeling it a difficult game. As Dirk pointed out on Twitter, the reason Eve is hard is because of the players and their decisions. While other games have their forms of PvP and sense of competition, no other game can present itself as the sum total of the actions of its player base. From the politics of null sec to the movement of the markets in Jita, from the warzones of lowsec to the terrifying unknowns of wormhole space, from the wardecers, gankers, and PvE'ers in high sec to a simple little group of explorers living by the mantra of "we won't shoot first", its all meaningful because its all the result of player actions. And the consequences of those actions. Sure, the sci fi fan in me loves that it all comes packaged as a spaceship game, but the actual game consists of what everyone else is doing and how it affects you (and vice versa). Its not a scripted mechanic that can simply be learned. It is a persistent, evolving existence that requires constant learning, attention, re-evaluation, and adaptation. Its why those who play the game joke about being "bad at Eve". What made you good today is what someone else is going to figure out how to beat tomorrow.

Is that a perfect representation of the "challenge" of Eve? No. But its the philosophy I see in the game and its how I judge the actions of the developers.  Its why I will continuously say that CCP needs to embrace the idea of Eve being "the hard game" because what makes it hard isn't something written in the lines of code and ideally something they'll never have control over. And its a central reason why I remain optimistic that Eve can survive the decline of MMO's overall (a subject that probably deserves its own post altogether). Unlike the feeling of "a bunch of people playing a similar game simultaneously", the feel of Eve is genuinely "a bunch of people playing each other", and therein lies the difficulty inherent to the game. You can learn game mechanics and you can learn to optimize the ways you deal with those mechanics.

People, on the other hand, are hard to learn.


  1. Heh, I disagree a bit with Dirk. The UI and figuring out how to actually do anything in the game is notoriously unintuitive. CCP sells a "How do I warp to something?" T-shirt for a reason. The game practically dares you to like it. Learning to do stuff is an actual accomplishment and you cannot take for granted how much time it will take to pick up any particular skill. To this day I still cannot scan stuff down. Finding things with probes eludes me.

    But as you note, a UI can be mastered eventually. What makes EVE interesting and unpredictable over the long term, difficulty of another sort, is the other players. As with the UI, it is both a strength and a weakness. Players are unpredictable, so you can spend a lot of time trying to make something happen and feel frustrated. And then, suddenly, something amazing will happen and your heart will race and it will be a moment you'll remember... and then you'll go back to trying to make something like that happen again, incented by the fact that the wait can be worth it.

    1. You're right here. The initial learning of the game mechanics are worth mentioning when talking about the difficulty of Eve. But I really think that's just a product of the scope of the game. It could be more intuitive upfront, but it suffers due to the amount of work the UI has to do.