Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Friday, December 16, 2011

The land and the people are one

Despite being an occasional and closet role-player (I was raised on old-school D&D, like I suspect many of you were), I've never really been able to get into EVE's setting.  Sure, I know the basic histories of all the races, and I know most of the recent political "history" and even some of the more distant history.  I know the difference between a Guristas pirate and a Sanshas pirate, I know why the Genesis region is called that, and I know why drones sometimes go rogue.  I have a copy of, and have read most of "The Book" that turnschuh produced.

But I've still never really cared much about EVE's setting, and I've never once been tempted to role-play as one of my characters.  I think I can safely guarantee right now that you'll never read a IC story here written from Ripard Teg's perspective.  ;-)

Building a historical under-carriage of a created world has always been a weakness in sci-fi and fantasy settings.  J.R.R. Tolkien is credited with supposedly doing a lot of background work for The Lord of the Rings, but if you dig more than two inches beneath the top-soil, you'll find there isn't much there for a budding archaeologist, much less a paleontologist.  Compare and contrast created sci-fi and fantasy with even the most basic historical novel such as Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth or Edward Rutherfurd's Sarum and you'll quickly discover how pale and shallow the historical under-carriage of all of our much-loved classics are.

And The Lord of the Rings is a master-work of historical pre-work compared to most modern sci-fi and fantasy.  I laugh and laugh every time I think about all the pre-work David and Leigh Eddings supposedly put into The Belgariad series of books.  Don't get me wrong: these are lovely books, and a terrific way to introduce your kids to the broader works of fantasy after they outgrow Harry Potter.  But to imply that they are somehow connected to thousands of years of recorded history is laughable, and this is drawn in sharp relief when you try to slog through the painful, wretched experiences of the two "prequel" novels that take place fully within the pre-work history.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the maps included with the original books, a tiny continent bordered on one side by The Great Western Sea and on the other by The Sea of the East (natch).  In what was supposedly the southwestern corner of this continent lay the nation of Nyissa, a place of jungles, drug addicts, and snake worshipers.  Why were they drug-addicted snake worshipers?  Because they lived in a jungle filled with snakes and narcotic plants, of course.  Circular logic much?  The border of this jungle was a river set on the north border of the Wood of the Dryads (guess why it's called that), and this forest was bordered by the river.

Because trees only like the south sides of rivers, not the north side, that's why.

Needless to say, this map was the subject of much retro-continuity both while the book series and the ones that followed it was being written, and in the years since.  Later maps made it clear that the actual world was much bigger than the one originally shown (and that trees usually like both sides of rivers, too).  But that didn't stop the people of Nyissa from being drug-addicted snake worshipers for thousands of years, from the first pages of the first prequel novel to the last pages of the 12th novel in the eventual series.

Some properties are better at building and developing their back-stories over time.  The Belgariad?  Not so much.  Compare and contrast here with The Elder Scrolls series of video games.  I might not agree with all of the cultural changes the ES games throw into the mix, but you can't deny that they've done a pretty good job of building and then developing their back-story and culture over the hundreds of years the games span.  The first time I heard an NPC in Skyrim swear "By the Eight", I literally stopped, turned around to look at him, and said at the screen "What did you just say?"  (The ES games have had nine major gods since the beginning.)  I then stopped what I was doing and went out of my way to find out why, exactly, that NPC had said that.  ;-)  And yes, there was an answer to that question, and yes, that answer turned out to be a good one, and satisfying.

But even the ES games still trip over this problem, in the way that all Nords come from Skyrim and all Dark Elves come from Morrowind and all Bretons come from High Rock, yadda yadda yadda.  The ES games at least attempt to justify this by isolating the homelands of the races by way of broad oceans and high mountains, but it doesn't help you escape the conclusion that all Nyissans are drug-addicted snake worshipers, and have been so for thousands of years.  The land and the people are one.

Which brings us back to EVE Online.

Not long after the new nebulae became public on SiSi, The Interstellar Privateer blog did an absolutely marvelous piece showing off the new nebulae, with screen shots of virtually every region.  He even managed to snap a picture of a Jove region nebula.  And just the fact that there were "Jove region" nebulae got me thinking about this topic.  I'm a Falcon and Rook pilot from way back, and it's always been a point of order that you use red jammers against Minmatar ships with their red backgrounds, and yellow jammers against Amarr ships with their yellow backgrounds.

Still, space has never matched up with these ship image backgrounds until these new nebulae.  The Minmatar now live in space with red background nebulae, and the Amarr now live in space with yellow background nebulae, et cetera.  The in-game graphics have caught up with the UI depictions of the ships.

And isn't it great that the galaxy knew that, and made allowances for it when the galaxy was created?  ;-)

After all, when all of these nebulae were presumably created millions of years ago, there were no humans living in these regions yet.  The New Eden Gate had not yet been opened.  So isn't it convenient that Minmatar space had red nebulae, as if the galaxy knew that there would be a people living there someday that would be oppressed, and then would eventually as a race escape their captivity and develop their own culture, and would all end up living under these red nebulae.  And isn't it equally nice that the galaxy knew that one day, the Caldari people would break away from the Gallente Federation, taking for themselves only those systems that had friendly-looking blue-grey nebulae and leaving behind all those systems where the nebulae were green?

Quite convenient, don't you think?  ;-)  The land and the people are one.

Of course if there's something else going on, for instance that New Eden is somehow alive and the nebula change based on the actions of the people, I withdraw my objection.  Maybe.

22 comments:

  1. Isn't the more obvious interpretation that the culture in question adopted a preference for the predominant color of the space they inhabited? Granted, this is a retcon in the history of the game, but if we take for granted that the nebulae were "always supposed to be this way," then it doesn't seem outlandish to speculate that each culture would gravitate toward these colors and self-identify with them.

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  2. My own thoughts on this subject are this, does it make for a good story? If it does, then who cares how deeply the history behind the story goes? If it doesn't, then obviously no amount of deep background information would have made a difference.

    I find the general tone of this post a tad condescending to be frank. While trees on only one side of the river is obviously silly, what impact does that have on the story being told? Plenty of real world maps were badly drawn and those were based on a real, tangible world.

    I'm not looking to be overly negative here, you make several valid points, but I think the overall argument is invalid. All that really exists in works of fiction is what is actually written. The rest might be of interest to serious fans or completists, but for those reading for the sake of entertainment, enlightenment or other reasons, the written word - the actual story, is paramount.

    If an author needs a tremendous amount of back-story to accomplish writing a great tale, then so much the better for them. But not all writers need that. Not all stories need it. You should rail against bad writing, lazy composition, incomplete thoughts, those are the things that kill a good story.

    As for Eve, the Nebula have been there as long as anyone can remember. It is a chicken and egg situation. The Minmatar developed the way they did because they developed under a red nebula, not the other way around. My two cents worth.

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  3. Interesting post. Not sure I need a fully comprehensive and logical backstory that answers all possible questions in context across the entire timeline. The beauty of this genre is that it allows the reader / player to be a participant rather than a consumer. And the less complete the story is, the easier it is to find your own narrative. I like my universe to be inconsistent, illogical and open to my own ideas. Give me red sky and I find some weird way to explain it (I blame the Sleepers for everything since I live in a WH..)

    Adam Savage:" I reject your reality and substitute my own".

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  4. Aslan is real!

    I never liked EVE's 'story' or much EVE fiction. The players should drive the content AND the story. This whole hundreds or thousands of crewmembers thing is dumb too. EVE should have been the 'wild west' with maybe a few hundred thousand people settling the great unknown.

    I don't like the nebulae either.

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  5. Yes, it's not "realistic", but damn if they aren't cool as all get out. I LOVE the new nebula's not only for their awesome look, but for the fact they they bring a sense of place to Eve and make it more "real". Good job CCP!

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  6. "The Galaxy" isn't what set the backgrounds of the various icons particular colours. Your argument is putting the cart before the horse.

    From the character's point of view, Minmatar space has always been in or near that red nebula, Gallente space has always been in the region of that green & blue nebula, etc.

    The fact that the rendition of the universe has changed means we no longer need to "explain" why two systems a mere light year apart will have strikingly different skies.

    Our current maps (i.e.: in-game presentation) of the universe make sense, the old ones were wrong.

    Though strictly speaking, I'm holding out for the next iteration where every system gets its own skybox based on where the system is supposed to be in 3D space relative to all these wonderful nebulas.

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  7. I'm not a 100% sure on this, but didnt the 4(5) races as we know them today only came to be in New Eden? Werent their ancestors unified when they came arrived in New Eden for the first time until the wormhole collapsed and their civilization at that time with them?

    If that is true and the 4(5) races created their new identity from that point on forward independently - then the different backgrounds make sense.

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  8. hi there,

    agreeing with Mara on this. Which is looking at the situation from the current point in time. Forget what you saw in Eve, but look at it now. Red nebulas... Minmatar...red color theme.

    and the few Eve fiction that I read were pretty alright in fleshing out the backstory on Eve.

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  9. Yes, sci-fi generally has horrible backstory. Hence Dune. ;-)

    Also, on a more "realistic" note, take a look round next time Jester m'boy... I gather you're from the Great Brushlands of SoCal, not many trees to be had there but if you perhance end up in an area with trees, note that in the Northern hemisphere, trees tend to grow on the north and east aspects (sides) of hills (naturally that is, not account for planting/irrigation). Those areas generally receive less direct sun and heat, and have higher moistures, both fuel and RH. ;-)
    Therefore, if you have an east-west flowing river, you'll notice that while there ARE trees on the south-facing bank, there generally won't be as many or as healthy as those on a north-facing bank.
    And they say Fire never taught me nothin'!

    Overall, though, I see your point. EVE's story is pretty much weak as fuck, and because it IS so "player-driven", and any ol RP-type can start hammering a story for the forums/"chronicles", there's no definitive "canon" besides the most basic lines that CCP set out in the beginning.

    Then again CCP doesn't really seem to give a shit about the story for their game, they just randomly arbitrarily change things: mechanics, ship features, etc, "because we said so", basically. Not even an attempt at a slight nod to any sort of story or explanation.

    For example, take the recent "hybrid fix". We know how CCP did that.
    Here's how, using a lil story-sense, they could've made blasters NEVER require fixing in the first place:
    Blasters spin the core into plasma, which goes hard, goes fast, but doesn't go far before completely dispersing. Therefore, blasters have virtually ZERO falloff. Either the charge hits within its "optimal", or it disperses almost immediately. Blasters should basically be the exact opposite of ACs. ACs fight in falloff with virtually no optimal....blasters have reasonable optimal (current base optimals + falloffs x maybe 1.25), in which range you will be brutally prisonfucked, but step 500m (base falloff) outside that range and they can scratch your paint a bit. Maybe. If the solar winds are favorable.

    I try not to think about how terrible the story and how very, very little thought goes into the mechanics of EVE... thanks for reminding me, ass. ;-) lol

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  10. I used to be quite into fantasy literature when I was younger ... until I encountered David Eddings. The Belgariad seems okay. The Mallorean, a copy of The Belgariad ... and his new milieu after that, a retelling of The Belgariad, yet again.

    The only fantasy series I will ever recommend to anyone now is Glen Cook's The Black Company. Which marks itself differently enough from most fantasy.

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  11. The malazan book of the fallen series has backstory. Then,again, youd expect that from a series written by an archaeologist.

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  12. Minmatar space actually has no nebulae. Those are clouds of rust.

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  13. Didn't you, just a few posts back, object to meta-module naming because it was confusing to new players, nevermind the "role-play" explanation? Aren't you now taking the opposite stance, demanding more a more immersive and believable game-world at the cost of convenience? If the red-background ships, with the red-tagged sensor types against which you use red-tagged jammers, came from the blue area of space, wouldn't that just be pointlessly confusing for new players?

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  14. @Anon2041: You're reading far too much into this post. ;-)

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  15. Stan: Chronicles of the Black Company, fuck yes! Highly recommended to anyone who likes...anything.
    lol "It's like Vietnam War fiction hyped up on peyote," one reviewer said. I'd say a more modern take would be: "We Were Soldiers" while on a baaad acid trip.
    Not that I've ever taken acid.lol

    I had another thought, more related to the blog than Stan's comment... I forgot what it was though. herpaderp.

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  16. "Minmatar space actually has no nebulae. Those are clouds of rust."

    this is why they are all so angry, all the time.tetanus.

    if the EVE lore made any sense, then the amarr empire should be at this moment conquering wide swaths of null sec for the new reclaiming.
    And those angel rats we all keep farming should have run out ages ago, machs dont grow on trees.

    as is the eve lore is good for making jokes about why minmatar are slaves and how all amarr have deep unconscious kinky fetishes

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  17. @Hong So few people have heard of The Black Company series. (I blame it on the crappy cover art for the first three books.) I should have known you'd be familiar with the series.

    I forgot to mention ... it was David Eddings who turned me right off fantasy. Eddings is a complete hack. The series after The Mallorean, I never bothered with a new fantasy series again (except The Black Company and Cook's P.I. Garrett series.)

    (I'm so glad I never bothered with The Wheel of Time. Back when it was only two or three books old, people were telling me that was the series I should read to get back into fantasy again. Haha. I never did. And apparently the series turned into shit.)

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  18. @Serpentine: Hell Yes, The Malazan Books of the Fallen have so much backstory, even after reading 13 books on the series, you still know so very little. It works so well because the actual series is a great story. Recommend the series to any fantasy lover who wants some back story ;)

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  19. @Jester. Man, if you need to reach this far just to find something to complain about, you're slipping :) The new nebulae are damn fine and really help the immersion, not take away from it.

    @Poetic If you want to give fantasy one more shot, try looking at the work of Guy Gavriel Kay.

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  20. Thanks for the link, shout-out and compliment. As I noted in my notes in the nebula post, "...it would be great to see the “you can see three/four nebulae from here” systems – mostly Lowsec, tweaked a bit. Let’s see the overlap, maybe more objects even further in the distance ... Right now it feels a little like a “pick a nebula” menu out there. Which is OK because it’s pretty."

    Long story short, it's a move in the right direction, IMHO. The Empire nebulae are a bit of a reverse-kludge, but one that works right for the game world. Where the nebulae really come into their own are further out. The "galactic arm" line in null. The surprise finds of Aridia and Scalding Pass. Cloud Ring really is the best one story-wise - it's clear that the space is named after the nebula rather than being reversed in. Amarr space does pretty well too with the marked variances between Domain, Kor-Azor and Aridia.

    The piece I really struggle with visually is that there are so many nebulae so close together. Possible? Sure. But unlikely equidistant and evenly spaced around the sky.

    That said, still a huge improvement over the previous.

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  21. Oh, Ripard...

    I find myself agreeing with and defending you on most of the things you say, but your comment on Tolkien makes me curious.

    How much have you read? If I understand your metaphor, I think you're completely wrong. You do realize that there's about 12000 years of history presented...ah screw it. Let's talk Tolkien some day; we need to fight this out, so I can sleep at night without a weird gnawing feeling.

    -PK

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    1. I've read it all. Yes, there's theoretically thousands of years of history, but the vast bulk of it is unpopulated. People in past ages spring up out of nowhere, perform those few duties they are historically obligated to perform, and then disappear into nothingness leaving little trace of their activities except a statue or two or maybe a single building for the "present day" characters to come upon in a ruined state.

      I'll cite the simplest example. In the 3000 years from BCE 2000 to AD 1000, the population of Earth is estimated to have risen from 5 million to 50 million. If Middle-Earth has three or four times that much recorded history... where are all the people? I'd be hard-pressed to believe there are 5 million souls on the entire continent.

      It isn't Tolkien's fault, and this in no way diminishes the books, which are -- after all -- fantasy and not historical fiction. As I said, it's just that all fantasy novels with a historical back-story share this flaw.

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