Warping across a single star map shared by tens of thousands of fellow ‘capsuleers’ isn’t all that draws people to Eve Online. Ironically, it’s the supreme hostility of that experience, felt in every aspect of CCP’s art design, that’s made the MMOG so intriguing to outsiders and valued to its players. The candy-coated socialism of most MMOGs is nowhere to be found in this space, where everything – freedom, fame, loyalty and survival – has its price. Nothing is certain but death and taxes – the cloning and insurance companies see to that.
“Eve is very dark,” confirms creative director Torfi Frans Ólafsson. “It’s harsh. It is supposed to be unforgiving. The original designers played a lot of Ultima Online, which was a fantastic sandbox game, and it allowed you to be very devious and very immoral in the way that you played. What they loved about it is that player killers, the griefers – people who just went around and killed other people – became so unpopular that other people banded together. Good started fighting evil, and without true evil you can’t have true good. So you had these bands of righteous people chasing player killers, and those player killers were the original Eve designers; they created a game about that mechanic.”
In finding a look for it, he explains, they didn’t have to look very far. Underlying the Dune-esque tumult of its fiction, Eve is a game about CCP’s native Iceland, the Vikings, and “the unforgiving harshness. The darkness. The way that nature just simply kills you if you choose to ignore it,” says Ólafsson flatly.
Further inspiration came from movies and magazines. A surprisingly obvious list, really, for such a uniquely toned universe. “I think most modern sci-fi is heavily influenced by the wave of sci-fi films of the 80s. The films of Ridley Scott and James Cameron were… I mean, they established a genre, almost, of what sci-fi should look like. And also comics like Heavy Metal. Those were our inspirations.”
A lot’s happened since, of course. Eve turned nine years old in May, and wouldn’t have got there without constant organic change. Seeded in its faction archetypes are the beliefs and backgrounds that have blossomed over time, characterising its ships and avatars.
“The way we did it was to have each race built by an individual artist,” says Ólafsson. “One concept artist was concepting all of them, but the people building them added a lot of flavour which made it very personal. One artist would go really deep into Amarr, others would go deep into Gallente, Minmatar and Caldari. The Caldari being militaristic, functional, cold; Gallente being more aerodynamic, smooth… art nouveau, almost; and the Amarr were heavily influenced by Roman Catholicism and the Ottoman Empire. We sometimes snuck in some oriental influences, too, but always from theocracies like Constantinople, what the Amarr represent. So, when designing the ships we were often studying Gothic architecture and all kinds of religious objects, like goblets or sceptres and stuff like that.
“And then, for Minmatar, there was an obvious choice. They don’t have a lot of resources and they are the freed slaves, and what we were thinking there is basically Mad Max: retrofitting engines and fitting stuff that wasn’t designed to be used in a particular way on top of things, layer upon layer upon layer. So you see a lot of rust there and solar panels, a lot of makeshift things. And finally the Jove – I think originally we expected to have a Jove expansion coming out in 2005 but we just haven’t got around to it yet. The Jove’s designs are organic. Later we discovered they have very much in common with the Vorlon from Babylon 5; the ships are kind of grown and are living organisms, but hardened and very complex. And we’re inspired by deep sea creatures, those little critters you find eight kilometres down with glowing antennae and so on.”
These designs would “reverberate” through all the hangars and artefacts that decorate the Eve Online universe. The second you exit a jumpgate into a faction-held sector of space, the design of the jumpgate itself tells you which faction it is. Responding to player feedback and watching how they personify these tribes, Ólafsson believes the archetypes can never be extreme enough. “I’m trying to play them up even more,” he promises. “It’s a game, after all.
“The Amarr are just hardline, theocratic fanatics with a very twisted view of the world. And of course a lot of this is mirroring things that go on in the world, things we see with other nations or groups. In the same way the Caldari has a sort of brutal, spartan view of the world – militaristic; it’s probably not a very happy place to live in. Even the Gallente are incredibly vain and their hedonistic lifestyle is taken to extremes. And the fragmentation of the Minmatar, their inability to organise or put up a proper fight… At some point we were influenced by Fatah and Hamas, and Palestine – the way they couldn’t work together; they were so fragmented internally that they couldn’t really form a coalition. So yeah, we try to push that. Mostly in our fiction, of course.”
The signatures of Eve’s spaceships are now so distinct that they’re even being considered for Lego adaptations. The finishing touch, says Ólafsson, was to banish something integral to both the natural world and ’80s sci-fi: symmetry. “Symmetry was evil, asymmetry was the new black.
“We wanted to go beyond the typical fighter jet spaceship. We found that a large number of spaceship designs historically were kind of just variations of F-16s or F-15s – symmetrical fighter jets, basically. And we thought that in space, because there’s no air, a ship doesn’t have to be aerodynamic. You can see that in a lot of our designs. Now, we’ve moved a bit towards symmetry in our later designs, in areas where it was just a bit silly how asymmetrical the ships were.”