"Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you po-hodd-ed me..."
Back in December 2010 I wrote a dev blog about why we were putting the chronicles on hold and what was going to be one of my new projects from then on. We called it the Immersion Project, and now we're launching its first iteration. I want to tell you a bit more about what we're trying to do, how we've done it, and where we're going from here.
This is a long-ass blog, so the gist of it is that as an early Christmas present we've launched a new Fiction section of the EVElopedia, with a ton of content, and you may eventually see in-game links to those pages.
Don't ask about the pig. We don't talk about the pig
The Immersion Project started when TorfiFrans, our Creative Director, called me into a room, pointed to a whiteboard and proceeded to draw a sprawling green web on its surface. He explained that we needed to refocus our fiction efforts so that they'd be more accessible to our playerbase, better able to capture and keep their attention, and capable of directing people back toward the game world; more immersive, all in all. At that time we had the chronicles being published on one part of our web site, in-game news published on another part, a bunch of articles up on the EVElopedia, a smattering of background lore elsewhere on our official site, and no way for anyone to familiarize themselves with our ever-growing lore other than reading through several years' worth of text.
It took a while to get this project going, and it involved a lot of brainstorming. Incorporating the EVElopedia, our wiki site, in the way we eventually did was not a foregone conclusion; in fact, it wasn't obvious that we should use the EVElopedia at all. We knew we wanted an in-game aspect to the project, and initially we investigated whether it'd be viable to store, present and operate the entire Immersion Project in-game. But the more we worked on that aspect, the more we realized that the in-game connection was just that: Not the project itself, simply an enhanced gateway to it. What we needed to do first, before adding bells and whistles, was to make sure we had something of measure to deliver.
This meant we needed to consolidate our fiction: To parse, organize, edit and sometimes rewrite the vast amounts of lore we've accrued over the years, while avoiding all the overhead of programming, design and other support that'd be required of an in-game connection - but, at the same time, keep open all options for that in-game connection, all those bells and whistles, so that we could implement it later with a minimum of fuss.
The EVElopedia has something called the Fiction Portal, where a lot of our fiction is currently stored. We eventually started work on a closed server that housed a copy of the entire EVElopedia, and bit by bit we moulded and expanded its fiction storage into something expressly designed for usability, completeness, and stability against future updates. The outcome, I want to emphasize, is not a roleplaying tool, though it's well-suited for that purpose, too; it's an accessibility and information tool. The stories and the newspieces and all the rest are still there, for those of you who want to read them.
The result is what we're giving you now, with the coming of Christmas: The new Fiction Portal on the EVElopedia.
First off, the Fiction Portal is organized. Not only do we have a lot more content now - more on that in a bit - but we've also tried very hard to present it in such a way that you always know where you are, what you'll find there and where you can go next.
You might think we're stating the obvious with this - it's a wiki, it's got tags and wikilinks and whatnot, of course it's going to be organized - but in fact, one of the major tasks in implementing the Fiction Portal was to come up with an organization scheme that could cover as many parts of EVE lore as possible in a readable, comprehensible, logically consistent manner, while also retaining the option of an in-game connection later on. It isn't something that happens by itself, and in fact it's far too easy to lose control of a wiki's organization. You ever get lost on Wikipedia and have no idea how you got from the American Civil War to Nipple Stimulation? Me too! Maybe you like the article you're reading at the moment (who wouldn't?) and want to read others on the same subject; or maybe you want to check out some of the other subjects you went through earlier, but it's simply not possible unless you're willing to click through a ton of likely-looking links.
(The official Wikipedia is actually pretty good about this in some areas, particarly any kind of science, where it will systematically lay out an overview of the field - though when it does this, it's usually pulling from a preexisting categorization scheme.)
What we've got now is about halfway between Wikipedia, which, despite having no top-down organization, has very good interconnection between articles and an excellent narrative style - basically, what you find is worth reading - and TVTropes, which is not as well interconnected but does have have a comprehensive, robust overview scheme - where basically, you can find things in the first place, without a hundred clicks.
Until now, fiction readers haven't had that option. What we had in the old fiction wiki were long alphabetized lists of semirelated articles - some of which had been exported directly from in-game data - with no way to easily cross back and forther between categories. If you wanted to check out our lore on, say, NPC characters, you had to open the page on allof them and pick one whose name sounded interesting.
(To be clear: This is not me dumping on CCP Ginger and all those people who had a hand in the entire EVElopedia. They built the damn thing from scratch and poured in endless hours of work in creating, editing and organizing all the content on that site. Their hard work meant I could come in, take one section of an existing system and spend my time figuring out how to improve it, rather than having to deal with the immense task of making something out of nothing but a blank page.)
What we have now is a set of categories that together encompass everything you could encounter in game lore, and present it in a way that is immediately comprehensible. You want to find out about the NPC heirs to the Amarr throne? Click on NPCs - Amarr - Royalty and Heirs - Current Amarr Heirs, and you'll not only get a list of them, but at every stage of the process you can see similar entries. You want to get to know more about that Isogen-5 material, the stuff that blew up a planet and basically launched Apocrypha? We created a brand new section called Science & Technology, and from there you can go Sci & Tech - Items - Engineering & Industrial, where you'll also find a couple dozen other entries.
A Thousand Points of Liiiiight
So you can find what you want to read. Good. But there'd be precious little point to this if there wasn't enough to read.
Our volunteer lore team, Mercury, have been busting ass going over all our published fiction, extracting all kinds of lore nuggets and rewriting them in a wiki-friendly form. This has been a huge task, since it often meant basically writing the stuff up from scratch, not to mention relating it to other pieces of fiction and resolving any inconsistencies we bumped into along the way. At this stage, what we've covered is almost all the chronicles (save the Black Mountain series), a few of our our newsposts and some in-game data. We've also copied over a bunch of data from the old EVElopedia, gone over all of it and rewritten various portions. We haven't yet gotten to the novels, nor the newspost archive proper. And yet we've got over one thousand articles in the wiki already.
Let me repeat that: We have more than a thousand articles on EVE lore. All of them categorized, edited, and in many cases fleshed out from the source.
That's another important point: We didn't just take our published fiction, rewrite it and put it up on the wiki. We also set ourselves the goal of taking any piece that wasn't substantial enough and expanding it. What you'll find in the Fiction Portal, mixed in with existing material, is fresh fiction, not available anywhere else in the game world. In fact, when the Mercury vols were given permission to add new lore to our fiction, they truly rose to the challenge, and the volume of their output - which I've experienced firsthand, having proofed and edited nearly all their articles - is frankly astonishing. If you want a chance to contribute to our lore and our fiction, Mercury is a really good place to be. (You can apply through http://www.eveonline.com/isd.asp)
Sorry, I've got to say it again. A thousand articles, and more coming.
You Can Trust Us
Speaking of giving people a shot at the lore, or not: While you'll be able to notify us of errors, we're not letting any player-created content into the Fiction Portal for the foreseeable future. Yeah, I know. There are several valid and unavoidable reasons for doing it this way.
First off, this is Official Canon, with the CCP stamp of approval. As such, it's not open to guesswork, expansion, or original fiction from you guys. There are several other venues for that - the Fiction section of our forums, E-ON Magazine, CCP Dropbear's Arek'Jaalan project, and any number of fiction competitions and showcases being run by players themselves, not to mention your own websites, blogs and so on - and we need the Fiction Portal to be the one place where things only get published if they've been approved, edited and related to other lore by CCP staff. If it's there, it's canon.
(And that's not to mention the risk of sabotage: I don't want someone clicking on an in-game link that takes them to an EVElopedia page which used to hold lots of juicy info on the Caldari and now suddenly holds a juicy, high-res Goatse pic. If you don't know what Goatse is, and you're at work, go ahead and Google it now. No, we'll wait. You can trust us; we're from EVE.)
Second, yes, we could keep the Fiction Portal open for moderation and just vet all the changes that come in from players. In theory, we could do that. In practice? Not an option. We're working really hard on a number of things over here - particularly these days, when we've refocused our efforts on what really matters - and having an extra source of work is just not doable at this point in time. However, we're planning to set up a transition process wherein Cool Stuff from places like Arek'Jaalan gets pulled out, polished, approved with a Big Rubber Stamp, and published on the Fiction Portal as official canon. You will always have a way of letting us know about errors or inconsistencies; just use the Discussion tab associated with every page on the EVElopedia.
Third, and tangential to that last bit: It isn't just that it would be too much work to vet the stuff, but it would risk a loss of focus. For example, we're starting to tie Content work much more into Game Design work, and as part of that we want to try and build on each other's projects. Say that Game Design decides the next expansion is themed around ... I dunno, Guristas.* A bunch of new ships, features, missions, and other content get implemented. What we'd want to do, EVElopedia-wise, is focus on writing a bunch of Gurista-related stuff, to really expand on that area of our fiction and tie it in with the rest of expansion package. What we would not want to be doing is vetting a ton of new or changed articles all over the place.
(Again: You really want to work on new stuff for the game's lore? Join Mercury!)
* It isn't.
So, aside from new content packages, where do we go from here? Well, various areas of the Fiction Portal are still in need of a spit and polish. There'll be misfiled articles, mistyped categories, redlinks to nonexistent articles here and there, spelling and grammar errors that slipped through, and so on. It's an ongoing thing, with ongoing bumps, and getting it just right is a much bigger task than one might imagine. We may well accidentally overwrite some of the more recent changes to certain pages; so if you believe that something got left out, add a note on the Discussion tab of that page and we'll take a look.
A more sizable project is the Timeline. It's going to be given a total overhaul, where we change its navigation scheme from being strictly date-based ("in year xxxxx AD this happened"), to being event-based. This means we'll need to rewrite basically all of its content, and add lots of new fiction to it in order to tie all the pieces together.
The Non-technical section is currently a catch-all for anything that didn't fit in any other category, and I haven't yet decided how it's going to be categorized. All the other categories are more or less fixed by now, though they might still change if there is reason to. This is a constantly evolving site, and we'll move things around whenever we feel the need.
Lastly, there's the in-game connection. It's only theoretical at this point - as I said at the start, we wanted the Fiction Portal to be independent and self-sufficient, as it were - but it's moving a lot more rapidly than I expected toward actual reality, and we've been brainstorming any number of new features that might better highlight the Fiction Portal's existence to our players.
For instance, the reason we laid out the content in bulletpointed form wasn't just so we could have a better top-down presentation; it was also because we need a transitional level of the EVElopedia, one that always works the same across all of its categories, so that if we link to the EVElopedia from in-game, the links always bring you in at the same level. What we're working on now is how to implement those links in-game. Should they be in item descriptions? Mission texts? Should we write (or autogenerate) agent bios, planetary factsheets and station schemas, and link from all of those? Should we implement an entirely new content conveyance system? We've looked at all of these, and some are closer to actual reality than others.
In the meantime, please take a look at it, tell us what you think in the comments thread for this dev blog or on the EVE Fiction forum section, and thank you, as always, for reading.