Eve Fanfest: inside PC gaming's most hardcore celebration
Eve Fanfest 2015
Crouched on the edge of Reykjavik, Iceland's old harbour, the Harpa Concert Hall could almost be a forgotten spaceship, a breathtaking melange of otherworldly geometry and tessellating crystal panels. Most of the time, it functions as a concert hall and a conference center, but once a year Harpa transforms into a waypoint for spacefarers from a universe that doesn't exist. This is Eve Fanfest, a three-day affair where over a thousand attendees gather for the usual - and not so usual - conference happenings.
Developed by Icelandic firm CCP Games, Eve Online is a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that has players take on the role of "capsuleers," immortal pilots who roam the solar systems in endless pursuit of power and profit.
More than 500,000 people worldwide play Eve Online, and though it's a game associated with the most hardcore PC gamers, it continues to fascinate the general masses with its tales of political drama and epic space battles, some of which would cost more than $300,000 (about £202,058, AU$380,908 ) if in-game currency were converted.
Over the years, the seminal sci-fi title has become infamous for the hijinks of its community, a conglomeration of interstellar warlords, industrial magnates and back-stabbing corporations. So outlandish are their exploits that even major media outlets like Bloomberg, The New York Times and BBC have reported on happenings in the game.
The annual Eve Fanfest is crammed with panels, round-table discussions and more unorthodox events such as football matches and cage fights with Icelandic MMA champions. Compared to Gamescom or even Minecon, Fanfest is an intimate congregation with a modest audience dwarfed by the six-figure attendance numbers of other conventions.
Fanfest may not be the biggest gathering of gamers, but it's teeming with passion. Conversations in Harpa run halfway between reality and fiction. Walk through the building's levels, and you'll hear discussions about recruitments and political alliances, bickering about the recent elections in the Council of Stellar Management. People aren't just here to listen to CCP: they are here to parlay and barter, emissaries and businessmen of a virtual world.
Eve Online tattoos
The merchandising area is not only thronged with branded apparel but also people getting tattoos to signify their allegiances and make-up artists patiently waiting to transform onlookers into their online personas.
Tranquility cluster shards
There's also the option to participate in a silent auction for signed pieces from the Tranquility cluster, the mega-server which powers the entirety of Eve Online. It might seem frivolous to some, but these shards represent an integral part of the game's 10-year history.
The Eve Online congress assembles
The smaller sessions, which take place in rooms beading the ground floor, are arguably where the fanaticism that Eve Online inspires is most evident. These talks range from discussions about wormholes - a mercurial sub-section of space - to live concept art sessions to ask-me-anything encounters with the community management team.
Here, questions come lightning-fast and wired with jargon, nearly incomprehensible to anyone who has not lived, breathed and dreamed of New Eden (the universe of Eve Online). It's akin to sitting through a school reunion for an educational institute you never attended.
Nonetheless, there are things even for the layman who doesn't play Eve Online to appreciate. Last year, 10 CCP developers took on MMA fighter Gunnar "Gunni" Nelson in one-to-one combat.
Here comes the crowd
This year, there was a solar eclipse. According to CCP CEO Hilmar Pétursson, a player suggested scheduling Fanfest around the astronomical event half a decade ago, an idea that he immediately took to. Harpa was then booked for the celestial phenomenon - a year before the building was even completed. When the eclipse finally took place on the Friday of Fanfest, attendees were supplied with protective glasses and given ample time to return inside before the onslaught of the day's schedule resumed.
Project Valkyrie in VR
This year saw an enormous focus on virtual reality. The frontliner here was, obviously, Project Valkyrie. What began as an experiment in 2013 has rapidly transitioned into a full-fledged project.
The trailer for the upcoming team-based space flight simulator was revealed during one of the keynotes, along with details about its main character, a new map and some exposition on the narrative elements. Unsurprisingly, CCP allowed Fanfest goers to sample one of the levels, a moody landscape dotted with the carcasses of old ships.
Oculus Rifts everywhere
But Project Valkyrie wasn't the only virtual reality game on display. Visitors also had the opportunity to peruse Project Nemesis, a shoot-em-up that uses the new Samsung Gear VR headgear.
O Captain! My Captain!
Less "polished" projects from the recently announced VR Labs were similarly available for testing, including the Ship Simulator, a virtual showroom that could be manipulated with your hands, and a buggy Tron-like disc arena.
Eye on you
CCP's relationship with its players is a unique one. Where other developers might only occasionally solicit opinions, the Icelandic company goes all the way. It summons its parliament of community-voted player liaisons to Iceland for regular discussions on the state of the game. It turns player interaction into in-character news, and it schedules talks with NASA scientists.
Eve Fanfest lives on
CCP might have suffered drastically in recent years - the death of the long-anticipated World of Darkness springs immediately to mind - but with the attention they've poured into Fanfest, one thing's clear: it knows that its players are their port of home.
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