82. 39 jumps to Postouvin – a backstage tale

Last weekend I was at EVE Fanfest 2017. It was amazing. I wrote a blog post about it, if you’re interested in learning more.

During that weekend, I had many great moments, but no story which matches the ridiculous, yet dramatic nature of the one I’m going to tell now.

Together with The Company P, we ran an interactive larp-like event inside the Fanfest event, and as part of that we had a hall that was decorated to be the meeting hall onboard a space station. In the room were four huge projectors; one (pointing downwards) created the illusion of a table with a huge built-in screen, two others showing videos on walls.

In the center was a giant screen. As the game we were running neared its end, we wanted to bring the digital world into the physical one. The plan was simple. We’d take a laptop, log on to EVE Online and then show the view on the screen. Since the space station the participants were on (physically represented by the Harpa conference center we were inside) had been created in the online game as well, it would be pretty cool.

Starship captains from an online game playing their characters physically, watching a screen which showed an outside view of the space station they were inside. It was mostly a gimmick, since we didn’t expect anything crazy to go down (in space) during the event, but it was a cool idea nonetheless.

Technically, it would be simple. Find an EVE developer, get that person to log on to a dev account on a laptop, plug the laptop into the central projector, and bam, space on screen. The reason we wanted a dev was because they can use cloaked, invulnerable ships so they can observe any area in space. Perfect for our plan.

It started out well enough. We took a laptop, which had EVE installed, and I found a dev. Most of them were busy with other stuff (panels, interviews, etc), but after poking four different ones, I found one who could help.

Then the first problem hit.

He couldn’t log on to his dev account, since he wasn’t in the company offices. A reasonable security measure (having a dev account in the hands of a player of low morals would be quite bad), but an unexpected snag for our plan.

What if we didn’t use a dev account, but just got someone to log on, and manually jump into the system in the game? There were plenty of players out there, some of whom already had allies who had ships in the Postouvin system (where the space station was located).

Ah, but of course, we couldn’t have players backstage, tempting as it was.

So much for that idea.

Wait a minute! Stefan (whose laptop we were using) had an account, and we could use that. Our friendly dev – who was still in the control room – set the course, and off we were.

Naturally, Stefan’s spaceship was nowhere near where we wanted to go. In fact it was – as you probably have guessed already – exactly 39 jumps away.

And unlike the planned cloaked and invulnerable ship, Stefan’s ship was anything but. He’d started playing less than two weeks before, as part of research for our event, but was still very much a noob in the power hierarchy of EVE Online. His small ship suddenly seemed flimsy and very vulnerable, as it plodded along on its course toward the distant star system.

Meanwhile, in the control room, excitement grew. As we left the safety of hi-sec (secure systems, where you usually don’t get blown apart) behind and ventured into the more dangerous regions of space, we got more and more engaged. Would we make it? Would someone kill us on the way?

No one knew that we were on an important mission, and if we’d tried to tell someone, the player-vs-player nature of the game would have meant that the odds of anyone listening would have been small indeed!

Grinning foolishly, the dev renamed the ship “Do not see me” (or something like that), and we got one of our documentary crew to film the backstage adventure in real time. We were getting closer, and we were having a lot of fun.

Outside the room, I enlisted the assistance of the Arataka Corporation, several of whom were very active players in the larp game. They would try to gather a small fleet and screen the ship from harm, when it got close to them.

As jump after jump progressed smoothly, we began getting exuberant. Some systems held other (potentially lethal) players, but no one interrupted our long, slow journey.

And suddenly we were there.

The final jump

Naturally, this is where we got killed. I don’t know by who or why. Was it by players guarding the Stargate? NPC pirates intercepting us? I don’t know. I just know that out of nowhere, things went bad. Laser flashed in the dark. Frustration (mixed with laughter) took over the control room.

For a short moment, our pod (holding the pilot) lived on. Then that too, was ruthlessly blown up.

So close, and yet so far.

The dev who’d helped had to leave us then, since he was needed elsewhere, and we looked at each other ruefully. That obviously didn’t work, and there was no reason to believe that a second try would work better. Still, we’d had fun, and since none of the players knew of the plan (it was a surprise to them), it wasn’t a big problem.

Ben was a dev I’d talked to earlier, who promised to help, but who had to do other things first. He arrived soon after the death of our hopes. We told him about the situation, still grinning like fools. The grins widened when Ben presented a solution.

“No problem, I’ll just use a VPN, and then I can log on that way.”

Of course! A Virtual Private Network. Great.

A VPN client was installed on Stefan’s computer, Ben logged in, and brought in the cloaked ship. It was going to work after all!

But nothing is ever simple.

The HDMI/Macbook adapter didn’t work. A tech from the conference center was called, and after much huff and puff it was discovered – now by a technical person – that yes, it was indeed the adapter that wasn’t working.

It was then that we found out that the desktop computer currently plugged into the projector was in fact NOT a computer owned by the conference center, but one owned by CCP, the company behind the game. It even had EVE installed.

We were back in business.

But no, we weren’t. That computer wasn’t online, and had no wifi receiver installed. It had EVE. It was plugged into the projector. But it had no internet access.

Here, Ben had to leave us. He bid his farewells, smiled a “Don’t-give-up-yet!” smile and was off. Then someone got the internet working on the machine. Whether by cable or sorcery, I don’t know, but it was suddenly online.

But now Ben was gone. What to do?

Back to the old plan. Plan Stefan. It was worth a try, at least. Except that now Stefan’s character showed up in a space station without a ship. In EVE, when ships are destroyed, they are GONE. The pilots (immortal superbeings called Capsuleers) survive by downloading their consciousness into a clone. So on the screen, was a tiny pod inside a huge space station, representing Stefan’s character with no ship.

Getting hold of a new ship via space capitalist methods was easy. We were off to the races once again!

It turned out that none of us knew how to get the pilot into the ship. It was hilarious in its ridiculousness. We had the ship. It was just a matter of knowing which button to push. EVE has many buttons, though, and drop-down menus from here to the moon.

Here we were, stuck at a basic gameplay element, because Stefan hadn’t died before in the game! And I, who had played EVE before? Well, the last time I’d died (and played!) was in 2003, and the interface didn’t exactly look familiar to me.

Ah, but we had Fred with us! He was currently down in the hall, playing the role of a Caldari Military Officer, so he was easy to collect for a short task. And Fred had played EVE before.

Naturally, he’d played many years before as well, and was just as useless as I was. So I left the control room to find us a fresh dev. Our third, at this point.

I found two of them, lounging by the merchandise store, having time enough for an odd request.

I started out by saying that I needed their help with a basic gameplay thing. And being polite (and probably having heard this sort of thing before) they started on a two-man ramble about how I shouldn’t think I was worse at the game just because they were developers and I was a player.

It was heartwarming, but it did mean that it took me a couple of minutes to get them to understand the actual problem. There was luch laughing. One of them did promise to help, though, so I sent him to the control room, while I went on other business.

When I came back there, elation was in the air. This time, things had been fixed. The others from our team had apparently gotten hold of a fourth dev, who had used the VPN trick, and everything was working exactly like it should.

We were online. We were in a cloaked and invulnerable ship. We were ready to throw it on the big screen. We were in Postouvin, and the H4RP4 space station (the Harpa center!) was visible on the screen. We were good to go.

Now, I know that by now you’re probably thinking “Ok, so what went wrong!? Tell us!”. I can’t blame you. But nothing did. It worked in the end, and some players who saw it remarked that it was a pretty cool experience to see the station on a screen inside the station. Just as we’d hoped.

And the only people who knew of our troubles were our team, four CCP devs and the uncaring electronics beeping happily away in the control room.

In the end, it’s not wrong to call it one significant leap for transmedia storytelling, carried out through many small steps we took.

And I now have a new expression when someone asks me about something that seems simple, but I fear will end up complicated.

“That? Damn. It looks like 39 jumps to Postouvin to me.”

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Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

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