Wormholes—portals between the fabric of space and time—are a common trope in science fiction universes. This puts EVE Online in good company when it comes to the heavy presence of these phenomena. For 11 years, players in EVE have been able to discover wormholes and use them to travel around. For all the player efforts to map them and developer CCP’s own changes, wormholes still exist as a dangerous, mysterious frontier.
“Wormholes are constantly revolving doors that can be connected to a lot of different things,” a player called Exooki explained to Kotaku recently. Exooki is a member of the player-elected Council of Stellar Management who gained his seat by running on a platform of wormhole representation. “There are a lot of shortcuts that can be taken with them. From one end of the galaxy to the other… In the majority of EVE you have a static map [of star systems], so you know who your neighbours are. With wormholes being these constantly revolving doors that can be connected to a lot of different things, you never quite know who is going to come knocking.” Exooki said, “All the things you can do in EVE you can do in wormholes, but what they are ‘next door to’ changes constantly.”
Exooki told Kotaku that he has played EVE for almost 11 years, and has been involved in wormholes for all but roughly three months of his career, making him likely one of the most tenured wormhole pilots in all of EVE Online. He was joined via Skype conversation by several members of EVE Online’s development team, including Bergur Finnbogason, EVE’s Creative Director, and Scott Rhodes, a producer on Team Talos, the group responsible for the latest patch targeting wormholes. They discussed what makes wormholes compelling and how players are responding to recent changes in them through EVE’s From Wormholes With Love update.
There are many varieties of wormholes in EVE, but they can be broken down into a few simple types. Some wormholes connect one star system in “known space,” or “K-space,” to another K-space system. Others connect a K-space system to “J-space,” star systems whose locations are seemingly unknowable and can only be accessed via a wormhole. Finally, there are wormholes that connect one J-space system to another J-space system. The entrances to EVE’s wormholes aren’t fixed and exist only briefly; once they disappear, they reappear in a random area of space, and never the same place twice in a row. Entrances either decay over time and vanish, or destabilize and collapse after too many spaceships have passed through them. The number of ships required is based on variables associated with the specific wormhole, which players are able to calculate and predict.
“You can almost look at [wormholes] as a parallel space to what we call known space. The stargates that connect normal systems together are basically stabilised wormholes,” Finnbogason explained.
Wormholes are popular among players for many reasons. They offer a sense of the unexpected and mysterious in a game where most things have been explored. Wormholes are one of the most lucrative places for players to set up their home base and try to make money in the game, due to high-end resources that can only be found inside of them. They also tend to require a great deal of social engagement with other players, one of the most important parts of finding your way in EVE Online, due to the random and fickle nature the wormhole connections have. If a player gets lost in a wormhole alone, they can spend hours trying to find their way. Groups of players communicating and cooperating can navigate wormholes in a fraction of the time.
Finnbogason said, “Wormholes in many ways fulfil a lot of the scifi nostalgia people are looking for when coming into EVE. They really give a true sense of exploration. Even though wormholes are known today, it’s still sort of a wild frontier. Even though you know generally how they function, nothing beats the feeling of not knowing exactly where you are or who is there with you…. It’s sort of that ultimate promise of scifi.”
Rhodes said, “The social aspect of wormholes is completely different. It’s away from the giant nullsec politics. Slightly different tone because there’s no local chat—you’re set up to interact with people in a much different way.”
While wormholes are still popular for players looking for adventure, they’ve been around long enough that they’ve lost some of the edge that makes them a draw. EVE’s recent update, From Wormholes with Love, brought big changes to how wormholes work in the game. The amount of roaming wormhole entrances has been increased, and players are finding many more connections between J-space systems.
Exooki explained why this particular change was important. “Eleven years in, and we’ve run into the ‘problem’ that people know what wormholes are now, we have mapping software, we’ve mastered most of the challenges. It’s relatively safe now.” Many EVE players have made their own add-ons that automatically record the systems their ship travels through and places them on a virtual map. This enables players in wormholes to quickly map out a route as they travel and share the route with others, making it easier to quickly navigate and find the best path.
One of the changes to wormholes that came with the From Wormholes With Love update is, as Exooki explained, that wormholes now have “more branching systems rather than just ‘pipes.’ It is very unlikely that I’ll have enough intelligence to feel safe [in a system], because I just haven’t scanned [all of the possible connecting wormholes].”
Finnbogason said, “I don’t think wormholes should ever become something that you can just read off the back of your hand. At the same time, I think it’s fantastic we allow for a level of mastery, and for the great pathfinders of wormholes to be able to navigate through them with relative ease. If you put in the time and the effort there’s an opportunity for mastery here. We’ll never get that line perfect, but it’s nice to bounce back and forth on it.”
Exooki added, “Most people don’t seem to know, but you can tell a lot about where a wormhole goes by just looking at it!”
“I love these things! There should be a benefit of looking at space. Of listening to space,” Finnbogason agreed.
Two of the changes in the patch haven’t been so popular. Rhodes said, “One of the things we did change was some of the mechanics around how people open and close wormholes. We made the steps a little bit more complicated, and now it takes a little longer to roll the connections.”
“Rolling” a connection is the act of repeatedly travelling back and forth through a wormhole to intentionally destabilize it and cause it to collapse. When a wormhole inside of a J-space system collapses, another one generally spawns soon after. Players make use of this tactic to repeatedly collapse disadvantageous wormhole connections and force new ones to spawn, looking for a connection to an area they want access to.
“We thought we were fixing a bug, but it ended up being something that was central to the emergent gameplay [involving wormholes],” Rhodes said, referencing player reactions that “rolling” wormholes has become more difficult since the patch. “It’s a topic that we’re not leaving behind, and we should be addressing this this year.”
Another change involves a different kind of bug fix. For a while now, there has been an easily farmable source of income in the highest level of wormholes. An NPC carrying incredibly valuable loot has been easily tricked into attacking player-built citadels inside of wormholes. These citadels require entire fleets of player ships to destroy; while the NPC is very powerful and dangerous, it pales in comparison to the citadels’ defences. Citadels are easily able to destroy the NPC, earning some players vast amounts of wealth.
One of the issues that Exooki brought to the table as a CSM member was the need to fix this imbalanced source of income. The From Wormholes with Love patch resolved this issue by changing the NPC’s behaviour and by removing the ability for citadel weapons and defence systems to easily destroy it. This move has ended up costing some players quite a lot of in-game money.
After this interview, it came to light via Reddit that the wormhole that Exooki’s alliance calls home was under siege. A coalition of most of the major wormhole alliances came together in an effort to destroy Exooki’s alliance’s holdings and evict him and his allies from wormhole space. At the time of writing, Exooki’s alliance, Scary Wormhole People, have lost considerable amounts of assets inside of their home system, and the battle continues to rage. No one has said that the siege was in retribution to wormhole changes Exooki championed on the CSM, but many EVE players find the timing of the assault, with Exooki being in Iceland at the CSM summit, suspicious.
The attackers include the Hard Knocks group, which famously lost their stronghold in a year long surprise attack. The current assault on Scary Wormhole People could end up destroying years worth of built-up assets for Exooki and the players in his alliance. It has also left Hard Knocks in an especially vulnerable position: While their main fighting force was involved in the assault on Exooki’s alliance, The Initiative—the same group that destroyed their stronghold a little over a year ag0—has invaded the home system of Hard Knocks and once again begun to lay siege. All in all, a massive war isn’t a bad way to celebrate the 11th anniversary of wormholes.