Space. The final frontier. It has been tackled in gaming since the birth of video games. You've been able to fly spacecraft and shoot down your enemies in dogfights for decades. You've even been able to take a much more peaceful route through the galaxy, trading to and from resource-rich planets to further your galactic goals.
Elite was released in the mid-1980s and allowed players to do what they wanted in their galaxy. Twenty years later, EVE Online expanded the horizon quite a bit, allowing players to utterly destroy hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of ships in battles so significant that the entire in-game economy, and perhaps even the political landscape of the user-created factions, is forever altered as a result.
There are single-player games, there are massively multiplayer online games, and then there is EVE Online, and I am most definitely in awe of what I'm seeing.
Once a year or so, video game news outlets will mention that something insane and insanely significant has happened in the EVE Online universe, and the vast majority of readers will say words to the effect of 'That's mad! I have to check this out! Oh, I have to put how many hours in before there's even a slight chance of something this mad happening again? Maybe not then...'
I am no different. I've read stories from EVE that no other game can offer players, and I've always thought how cool it'd be to take part in such stories and have always then been hit with the reality: that, like our own Universe, there's an awful lot of stuff out there, but it takes an awful lot more work and dedication to get there.
One key stumbling block, other than spending most of my time on consoles, was that this is an MMORPG with a subscription model. I'd not only have to invest time but money, into something that probably wouldn't happen for me. I would never be a part of those massive battles because as interested as I was in EVE, and of flying through space doing my own thing, I was more interested in all kinds of other enjoyable outlets. I wouldn't have what it takes to survive in space.
But, some thirteen years on from release, EVE Online offered a Free to Play entry point into the universe. Now that's something I might be able to get on board with... and would have to, thanks to the 1001 list.
This is the earliest screenshot I have from my time in EVE Online. Like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, these come from my run through the game a few years ago now, and I'll have to try and work out what's going on from what I can see here.
You'll note that it doesn't look like a game released in 2003. I don't know how the graphics have changed over the decade and a half of continual improvements and additions to the game, but for someone approaching this game in 2017, or even now a few years later, EVE Online looks incredible.
It doesn't start you in the vast emptiness of space, or in Low Earth orbit, or in a futuristic space hanger, no. It starts you in the wreckage of a ship of unimaginable scale, next to a star that seems to illuminate every single dust particle between you and it. EVE Online is an astrophotographer's dream.
But we're not here to dream or take photos. We're here to fly and orbit, and the tutorial takes us through the steps to do so, which is a lot of right-clicking and menu navigation if memory serves. This isn't an impression of the vastness of space, this is the vastness of space. Things are thousands of kilometres away from you, and picking a target to visit and locking onto it, letting your autopilot plot a course and speed through space towards it, you feel every kilometre.
Scrolling your mouse wheel zooms you in and out of whatever your camera is locked onto, and your ship will be rendered with exquisite detail on one end, and a mere pixel at the other. It's not as small and lonely as it might feel when you've got a grand overview of the situation from your Godly perch.
I don't know what's going on in any of these screenshots, but we're still learning, probably about navigating the stars and dealing with troublemakers. The last image depicts the type of grid you see in something like Homeworld, where you need to keep tabs on multiple ships at once.
While EVE is a single-player adventure of your own making, the fact that it is an MMO means that at some point, you'll need to think about the game a little differently. For as much time as you spend zoomed into your craft, admiring the sunbeams gleaming off the hull, you may be zoomed out, trying to find the best way to approach a formation of ships that intend to do ill towards you.
You might want to just mine an asteroid on your lonesome, but at the back of your mind, you'll need to be some kind of space admiral, else just very good at running away.
There's no choice to run away in the tutorial, as it culminates in a battle that we all really want to see, with huge ships and bases of some group or other getting absolutely wrecked by large formations of fighters.
It looks thoroughly manic, but from what I remember, it was often a case of selecting a target to orbit, and unleashing attacks upon it from whatever weapon systems I had. I must admit I remember next to nothing about how to do things manually, as a lot of the inputs here seemed to default to letting the autopilot and whatnot run itself. It's certainly easier to just click on something and select 'do the thing' than it is to find your way through the situation yourself, and with the amount of action taking place, every little bit of help is most welcome.
After the tutorial, I was able to pick some further in-depth tutorial missions from various contracts on offer in the space station. The simple life appeals to me, so I opted for a bit of mining. I don't know how I got hold of a mining ship, but here it is, and it looks incredible. I could leave this game happy already, and I haven't even mined yet.
Oh, good heavens, how is EVE able to wow me so easily? This is the life! Drifting around and around an asteroid, zapping it with mining lasers, magically transporting resources to my ship, ready to be delivered to some other place later down the line.
While it's quite unlikely a tutorial mission will impact the economy dramatically, I am at least doing my part for the EVE universe. I don't know my place in it yet, but that's the same situation the real me is in too, so let's just roll with it. Let's bask in the sunlight and watch the time drift by.
That was, as I say, back in 2017. Yesterday, I fired EVE Online up for the first time in years. What had I remembered about it? What had I forgotten?
So I find myself in a different ship now. Clearly, I had played a little longer after mining, but I've no idea what I did. I skim the many windows looking for something to help me out. There are inventories and chat groups and marketplaces and mission hubs and upgrade and refitting options and a complete banking history for your character... EVE Online is overwhelming.
I wanted to try and play it again without going through the main tutorial once more, so I was trying to work out what to do based only on what I could see and interact with.
I had worked out that I was on a tutorial mission to hack something and retrieve some data. While undocking from the space station was as easy as an option in the right-click menu, finding anything about this mission was an absolute nightmare.
While the blurb told me what I needed to have attached to my ship, it didn't tell me how to use it, or where. I didn't even know if I was in the right star system, but as there were no hints to go anywhere else, I had to assume I was. Out into space I flew, looking around for anything that might look like where I need to be.
I strayed straight into the middle of a rather rough neighbourhood and got shot at by multiple groups of ruffian space pirates or something. This was definitely not where a tutorial about hacking data should be.
After looking through more windows, I flew somewhere else and was greeted with a positive looking message about scanning things. Somewhere nearby was a crate with some data in. Excellent. Is it this one?
No. No? No. I can't use my hacker tools on this crate. Hmm. What do I do with it?
I stumble into a 'loot' action, and literally open the crate and find the proof I need. This one document is all the contract was after and serves as proof that I can find things. Great. Back to base to cash this quest in.
What do you mean that's not good enough? It's proof. What proof do you need?
It turns out that if you squint and manage to read the entire title of the document, I have acquired proof that I have discovered an anomaly, not proof that I have found data. They're different quest items, and this quest wants the right one. But I don't know where it is. I don't even know with absolute certainty where I am.
I manage to find the marketplace and see some of these proofs going for...
... 30 million ISK. Do I have that much? Do I want this proof of discovery that much? Do I want to play EVE Online any more?
The answer is, sadly, simply, 'No, I don't'.
EVE Online is thick with content, mechanics, systems, and now a decade and a half of ongoing power struggles between massive, dedicated player groups. It is an undeniably fascinating universe but appears to require a university degree to get into.
Failing to grasp a tutorial is always a sad thing to see, especially in something you admire and want to engage in. From what I've seen of EVE Online - and I've been watching some streams on the side typing this up - the player base is welcoming to newcomers, providing a wealth of content to get you up and running as whatever character you want to be, and giving you entry points to the factions that hold sway over this corner or that corner of the cosmos.
But those groups, if they're serious, require you to be serious too. To sail the stars as part of an armada requires you to have a particular ship, a specific loadout, and you'll need a certain amount of experience to use that ship and loadout effectively. Heck, you'll need experience just to have the right skills to get the ship you need in the first place, and those skills can take days of playtime to level up.
EVE Online isn't a game, it's a job. It's certainly a lifestyle. If you can't commit to group endeavours, you're not going to make it in a group. If you're not in a group, you're going to have a hard time going it alone. And yet groups want you to have fun, roll with a group, and make EVE Online what it is.
It's difficult to explain, and yet it isn't. Out there, in the night sky, are endless possibilities. There are star systems that will amaze you, there are tyrants that will oppose you, there are daring raids by rebels, and there are plenty of ways to make an honest living. Out there, in the night sky, thousands of EVE Online players are having a great time. Meanwhile, you're on terra firma, looking up, dreaming of what could be.
Sometimes, I wish I had as much focus, drive and desire to invest in just one thing as I have in dipping my toes into many things. Instead of exploring the unknown oceans, I'm happy to look at the rock pools on the beach.
If you're the type of person who can go for the deep-dive, I envy you and wish you the best of times in EVE Online. I'll just be here, on the shore, reading about your adventures instead.
As the state of EVE is mostly in the players' hands, an actual economist was employed by the development team to oversee the flow of the in-game economy, somehow making sure it worked year after year.
EVE Online, developed by CCP Games, first released in 2003.
Version played: PC, 2003.