Saturday, January 5, 2013

Contest Entries - 101 Nights

OK, after over two months and a lot of work by many writers, the Pod and Planet Fiction Contest is finally done.  I thought I'd post some observations, and maybe try tie up any loose ends.  It seems kind of odd to just announce a group of winners and give no feedback to the entrants as a whole.  So here goes a long one.

Mass Mobilization - You've heard this before, but the response from writers was much bigger than expected.  I was guessing we'd get maybe 30-40 entries in the lore-based category and 15-20 in the free-form category.  We got about double that.  From people who write regularly, from first-time writers, and from people writing in English as their non-native language.  Pretty excellent, I'd say.  It looks like there are more writers out there in EVE than anybody ever guessed.  I've always thought that EVE had the smartest and most sophisticated player base of any MMO, and I think this kind of supports that theory. 

This is Fan Fiction? - You've also heard this before, but the quality of the entries was really high.  Surprisingly high.  I heard that from the other judges, from a published SF writer friend of mine who reviewed the stories, and from several of the writers.  Many people wrote like old pros, with smooth, quiet confidence.  Others weren't quite as polished, but they still put together a good, flowing narrative-- in other words, a well-constructed story that followed a plot arc from intro to conclusive end.  And whatever the writer's skill at using the tools, the ideas were first-rate.  A lot of the stories showed the classic sci-fi writer mentality of investigating a "what if?," taking it to the next step to reveal a possible eventuality, and making that eventuality the basis for a mentally intriguing story.  Other writers just took good characters, placed in the possibilities of the New Eden setting, and wrote character-driven stories with drama and impact.  

The bottom line is, this stuff was not just fan fiction dabbling.  It didn't just take things from the game and express them in verbal format (possibly with some heroic fantasizing or bombasticizing).  They were original and unique stories, well-told, that happened to be set in an EVE setting.

Prizes Angst
After we'd received about 40 stories, many, many all of which were first-rate and deserving of award, I started regretting the way the prize distribution was set up. When we started getting close to 100 stories, I was really regretting it. There were just too many excellent stories for the only 12 prizes we had to give out. I considered-- more than once-- changing the distribution of the available prize funds, so that we could have more prizes to share among many good entries. But in the end, I decided against it. Once people's expectations are set and people have set to work, you just can't change the deal. It wouldn't be fair to the people who eventually did win, and created their work based on a certain expectation for a certain prize. 
So, I stayed with the original prize distribution plan. But I do really wish we'd had more prizes to give out. More stories deserved recognition than got it. So if you liked somebody's story, why not take a minute and let him/her know? An isk prize or whatever is great. But knowing somebody listened to your tale and found it interesting is what a writer is really aiming for, right?

The Interconnected Lattice of Cosmic Unconsciousness
Among the 101 entries, there seem to be a few things that the writers shared as having on their minds.  Some themes from the New Eden world the writers seemed to like, or want to  investigate and flesh out more fully.

The Final Frontier – Most stories were set on ships or in space stations. Offhand, I count up only 11 stories that took place down in the on the planets. Of those, five featured combat and and six were about more ordinary civil life. So the mentality of the EVE community seems to be about 90% in space and 95% violent. How's that for pseudo statistical science?
One Second, I Need a Shower - Pod goo figured pretty prominently in the body of entries as a whole.  Writers explored entering a tank of pod goo (fresh or not so fresh goo), inhaling it,  doing boosters in it, having a Quafe in it, and glurping out of it onto the station floor.  Being an immortal, all-powerful capsuleer is truly glorious-- except for the goo.

They Were Expendable - It seems that the writers had been contemplating the vagueries of how ships' crews really work, because non-capsuleer crew members made quite a few appearances.  Generally they were decent sorts, somewhat fatalistic and resigned to the fact that they were hardly crossed the minds of the arrogant, capricious, godlike capsuleer ship owner-captains.  To me at least, the stories did a great job of working out the mechanics of how ship crews really operate, and giving crew members bodies, faces, souls and voices.  I'll have a hard time remembering that the defined concepts I now have in my mind are not officially canon.  But who knows, maybe the concepts from the contest entries will work into the EVE collective consciousness, and from there into the official lore.  

Feet Don't Fail Me Now - Along the same lines, crew escape pods appeared in several stories.  Personally I think the writers had to somewhat take a blind stab and leave the details of how escape pods work pretty vague.  Where are the pods located?  How far from the crew members' duty station?  Are they for just one crew member, or several?  When a ship is in a closely-fought battle with another ship, and milliseconds count, and either might finish off the other one at any second, when does the ship commander give the order to abandon stations and board pods?  It seems that doing that irrevocably commits his ship to defeat and destruction; he has to forego the chance that the DPS vs. tank balance between his ship and the foe might come out in his favor in the last millisecond, and they might all survive.  

As far as I know, this is a quandary that hasn't been addressed or worked out in official lore.  For example, in Templar One, a certain politician's wife and daughter get caught completely off-guard in their shuttle, seated in lounge chairs and drinking champagne.  The ship's hull is breached within seconds, with no time to prepare, but these passengers somehow end up ejecting in escape pods.  Any thoughts or comments on this, writers and readers? 

The Mods, not the Trads - Gallente and Caldari dominated as story protagonists. Minmatar was a pretty distant third, which I found a little suprising. It would seem that a tattooed, semi-civilized, macho culture Minmatar would be easy fodder for a use as a protagonist. But the writers weren't that simplistic. They went with the the Caldari and the more subtle, refined, and not-easily-pigeon-holed Gallente. 

Amarr didn't appear as capsuleer protagonists, but they were in a few very refined stories set in planetside settings. In capsuleer stories, they tended to be on the more villainous side.

What Won't Doesn't Kill Me Can Only Make Me Stronger - The citizens of New Eden seem to be very fond of alcohol and tobacco. Especially alcohol, and in copious amounts. Station bars were prominent settings, and they ranged from ultra-posh and glitzy to grungy and sleazy. Capsuleers and other protagonists tend to prefer the sleazier ones.  Dark station bars full of sullen capsuleers, ruthless pirates, impudent bartenders, and greedy fake-friendly waitresses-- I wish we had one of those in my town.

Runtime Error--File is Corrupted – Several stories considered the ramifications of transneural burning-- what can go wrong, how neural maps could be manipulated by third parties, and the psychological effects of multiple deaths and reclonings. Some very clever ideas there, and some pretty scary ones. Well done, you fiendish tellers of twisted, unholy tales. :]

Cruor ex Machina – The favored villains seemed to be the Blood Raiders and the Sansha 'borgs. The stories got some good horror effects out of those nasties. Guristas appeared once, but not a very integral part of the plot. Angels, Serpentis, and other antagonist faction types appeared not at all.

Well, those are some of my personal impressions after reading the 101 stories from the minds of EVE. Ideally I'd cite the stories that have the themes mentioned here, but... I'm just not that thorough today.  : ]  If something mentioned comes from your story, let us know and feel free to refute everything I said.  And if you've read the stories, let's hear your comments and impressions as well. 
Last things and going forward
Zapatero at EON has the links to all the stories, for consideration for publication. That's really all I know, other than Zapatero is a good guy and that his initial support set the ball rolling for this contest. As you're writing your next stories, remember that EON is open to submissions from the community. (I'm guessing the offer is still open, but that's just a guess). Maybe check out Zapatero's forum post about that before sharing your story with the world.

There have been some calls for another contest.  Sounds like a great idea to me.  I don't know if/when we'll be able to do one with prizes this big again, though.  We were able to get big sponsor support because CCP Eterne and CCP Falcon agreed to serve as judges.  That eliminated the possibility of fraud/scamming in the judging and awarding of prizes.  So the big sponsors were willing to make large donations.  For a next contest, we'd need some trustworthy judges like Eterne and Falcon to get the same level of prizes.  I know for a fact that Eterne and Falcon are extremely busy with their regular duties with live events, forums moderation, etc.  So I'm guessing it will be a while before they can undertake judging duties again.  If we wanted to do another contest with prizes sponsored by big corps, we'd need to find some other very reputable people to serve as judges.  But who knows, at some point the Community Relations devs may just launch an official CCP-sponsored fiction contest.

In the meantime, an alternative might be to just start your own contest.  Unless you're ridiculously space-rich, the prizes would probably have to be much smaller.  But that's not such a bad thing, I don't think.  I myself wouldn't need anything near 4 bil isk and a graphics card dangling before me as bait.  But, some ideas for raising funds for prizes:

-Donations from big alliances.  OK, the big alliances aren't really known for being patrons of the arts.  But who knows, they might be bored enough or flush-with-cash enough to do it.  It could be good for getting their name out there:  "We don't just another sov alliance blowing up ships.  We're big enough to share the wealth all around EVE."  The trick would be, again, finding judges that people would trust.  You could let the alliance donor provide its own judges.  But that would be at your own risk, of course....  ; )

-Donations from corps.  One of 4,000 or so unknown corps gets its name out there for a while.  Could be good for recruiting, or at least intra-corp prestige.

-Charge an entry fee.  Writers have to pay, I don't know, 10 mil or so to enter.  Some affordable amount.  Winners get the pool.

-Self-fund from your own wallet.  There's a long history of this method among EVE writing contests.  It's quick, and it's easy.  And for better or for worse, you are the one almighty judge!

-Combinations of all of the above.

In any event, I myself will be watching for a chance to put together another contest.  As I keep repetitively saying, I hope we can keep the momentum going and have frequent venues for people to display their writing.  



  1. Thanks for competition Sam and for the interesting analysis of storyline trends. It's interesting that certain factions get pigeon-holed as archetypical heroes or villains and that some get all but overlooking entirely by the collective consciousness.

    I'm kicking around an idea for a competition, but it will likely be post-Fanfest as my pattern is pretty full prior to that.

    Great work on a very successful competition though. You've struck a blow for the lore-hounds and hopefully this will go some way to showing CCP the value of their fiction IP.

  2. Good summary and some interesting observations. Great contest, thanks for getting the ball rolling on this. I enjoyed reading the fiction written by others and like you I didn't think there would be this much competition. I'm pretty sure nobody did. I'm certainly glad there was, it was great to read all the stories and know that a lot of others out there share some of the same ideas and views about the lore. I hope more competitions are forthcoming now. Good job Sam. You may be able to take credit for a fan fiction explosion in EVE. :)


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