Iceland is aptly named. But I wasn't there simply to freeze to death in the November storms, I was there to drink pricey booze and, incidentally, attend the 2006 Eve Fanfest. This third annual celebration of getting over-involved in the all-encompassing space-MMO was held in the capital city of Reykjavik and hosted five hundred gamers and at least half a dozen bored-looking girlfriends in a splendid Eve-draped convention centre. The three-day event revealed who were the best PvP players in Iceland that weekend, as well as what the future will be for CCP, the Icelandic company that set the virtual stars in motion.
It was relatively easy to identify most of the Eve fans, thanks to the way they contrasted with beautiful Scandinavian women and the native Vikings. The European and American gamers arrived in their dozens, brandishing laptops and wearing t-shirts that spoke of in-game affiliations and overly-nerdy internet jokery. Some were dressed like Keanu's sidekicks in the Matrix, while others wandered around in monk's habits. I felt right at home.
The first day was mostly spent drinking beer and meandering from person to person, in a vague attempt to identify people who had previously killed me in the game. (I only found people that I had killed.) Later I also ate rotten shark (an Icelandic speciality) and spent some time working out whether anyone would still talk to me if I bought a game-faction t-shirt from the merchandising folk.
Friday was a little more action-packed, and began with a conversation with the game's senior producer, Nathan Richardsson. Richardsson revealed that a couple of the most contentious in-game issues (bookmarks for fast travel and the process of contesting sovereignty in a star system) would soon be changed. "I don't want to have to turn up at seven to start shooting something for eight hours, so why should anyone else?" said Richardsson, with good cause. CCP is a company that is well aware of how difficult many of its game mechanics have been and they regard their work as a collaboration with the gamers, an ongoing project to create a system that everyone will want to play in.
The new free expansion to Eve, codenamed Kali and recent redubbed 'Revelations', will (probably) be released on the 28th of November, according to Richardsson. The long-awaited fix to bookmarks will likely be in there, but it's the other systems, such as complex player-contracts and new ships, that really excite.
Revelations is part of a full-overhaul of the game, and includes everything from unseen background coding revamps to major new tools such as the new and mildly perplexing combat organisation tools. The world is also going to become far richer for players, especially since they can now salvage the wrecks of destroyed enemies. This is a process that, alongside various invention skills, will eventually redefine Eve's economy, and hopefully reduce the over-inflated cost of desirable hi-tech items.
Later that day the world's gaming press made a snowy exodus to a private event at an ultra-minimalist museum dedicated to the Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson. Sveinsson's pieces were interesting, and entirely unrelated to videogames. The sandwiches were unrelated too, but were nevertheless delicious. Later still: drinking.
Saturday was the day where it all took place at the Fanfest, with lectures filling the afternoon and covering such topics as new graphical tech, the voice-comms that are set to be built into an upcoming version of Eve (and provided by Vivox), and the next ten years of Eve.
The ten-year lecture was fairly speculative, but Richardsson expressed his wish to create 'walk-in' stations, allowing the Eve player to leave his ship and socialise on board a space station. This development will not, however, extend to combat and other familiar avatar-related activities. Other visions of the future included asteroid-based dungeons, terraforming and colonisation of planets, and something called 'TotalHellDeath', which seemed to articulate Richardsson's sadness at running out of Biblical-sounding names for Eve expansions.
Elsewhere the CCP visionary Reynir Hardarsson frightened gamers by discussing his "concept of evil", a subject which is very close to the heart of Eve's PvP-hungry creators, while founder member Kjartan Emilsson revealed the success of Eve's launch into China. The Chinese gold farmers, it seems, are using Eve as their personal playground and fighting wars that dwarf anything from the early stages of the Western server. This could well be because Chinese millionaires are paying many of their players actual money to get stuck in and fight. (When is someone going to do that in the UK, eh?)
But the major announcement of the Fanfest was left up to the CEO, Hilmar Petursson. Taking to the stage with an Eve-branded kilt and a large smile, Petursson announced that CCP is merging with Atlanta-based paper gaming White Wolf. The merger has come about as a result of collaboration over the Eve collectable card game, and White Wolf will now take care of the creation and distribution of all non-videogame related projects. This will include the Eve novels, the card game, a pen and paper RPG and perhaps even miniatures and graphic novels.
White Wolf have previously created a number of other videogame related projects, including the pen-and-paper role-playing game of World Of Warcraft... (for a moment there I thought I could make a joke about the only mention of "blizzard" at the fanfest being in conversations about the weather, but it just wasn't funny/true...) Anyway, the White Wolf pedigree comes from the (slightly emo) RPG system 'World Of Darkness', which includes Vampire, Werewolf and Mage. These games have already found videogame form in Vampire: The Masquerade and Vampire: Bloodlines, and this tradition is set to be continued by CCP. The new company has stated that they will be making a World Of Darkness MMO at some point, but there are no other details. There's no date yet been set, and it seems clear that CCP will need to set up a secondary development company (presumably in the US, or at the new Shanghai office) for this project to become a reality. The Icelandic studio will, for the foreseeable future, be concentrating on Eve.
Things could go wrong, of course, but CCP is quick to argue that their key focus is on Eve, and that they're working in the same independent, innovative vein that they have always done.
Finally I also discovered that CCP has a further unannounced and unrelated project in the works. The devs wouldn't say anything about this, but admitted that they've been brewing non Eve-related ideas for quite some time now. While their space MMO continues to develop at a steady pace it seems that the Icelandic creators are now intent on expanding their horizons and forging something fresh. Quite what CCP will be up to by the time of the fourth fanfest comes around is hard to say, but I expect we'll see confirmation of both the World Of Darkness MMO and their third project some time in 2007.
The event closed with a sprawling party and the on-stage antics of CCP covers band 'RoxoR'. Dancing and weird face-make up suddenly dominated the bar and convention hall. I've been to a few gaming conventions over the years, but none had been quite as deliberately joyous as that. For all the nerd-fu discussion of module nerfs and spaceship builds there was one very clear message: CCP are doing the thing they love, and they don't intend to stop.