Thank you very much everyone for placing me on CSM 6 and now on CSM 7 where I am currently serving as the Chairman! If you would like to contact me directly, do not hesitate to just send me an eve mail in game. Keep your eyes here and watch for new posts.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

CSM 7 Spring Summit Review - Part I

CCP spares no expense in its greeting signs at the airport.
Hello, spaceship fans. So after a week in Iceland, I am back home for a day before I get on more planes to fly away again to visit the capitol of Freedomland for a week. My twitter location reads 'always on the move' and that is holding very true right now. So before I fly away again, I wanted to do a brain dump about the past week while the memories are still fresh. This blog is not intended in any way to replace the official meeting minutes, which we are hoping to get out in the next few weeks (more on that later). I simply want to give everyone my impressions of what took place in and out of the office so you can gauge the overall feel of how things went and get a glimpse into the doings of your elected representatives.

Yes, this is long so TLDR - People talked about EVE; things will change. Not all at once. We had drinks.

Pre-Summit Preparations

CSM 7 was determined to have our collective shit together for this first summit. To that end we put a lot of work into deciding what we wanted to discuss with CCP and documenting the important points of those discussions early on. From the beginning we have been using the online cloud-based Titanpad tool to collectively brainstorm and reference issues on the fly. This has proved to be an invaluable initiative and is certain to become one of the new mainstays of the CSM process along with using Skype for real time communications.

For the first time, we posted the summit schedule early so that the community could get a sense of what we would be covering at the summit and offer feedback.

Another important step forward was our insistence on record keeping and transparency during the summit sessions. During past summits, the only visual or audio record we had was that from a single Flip camera set at one end of the conference table. This made writing meeting minutes a pain to start with, to say nothing of accurately following who was saying what. To say that CSM 7 raised a bit of hell about this would be a vast understatement. These issues were finally resolved with the introduction of a Microsoft Lync camera and software system:
Microsoft Lync camera
What the finished recordings looks like.
The camera system uses a series of mirrors to generate a 360 degree panoramic view (as seen along the bottom of the above pic) while an audio sensor focuses the main view on the sound of the loudest speaker. Along with that, the shared space to the left allows for chatting or file sharing. The system also allows for desktop sharing so the CSM members not physically present in Iceland can also see any presentations we are seeing onsite as well. Offsite members could also call in with audio and video to participate as well.  Basically, even if you are not there, you are pretty much there. As you can see, it's pretty fantastic and as both a participation and record keeping tool will allow CSM 7 an unparalleled level of efficiency during summits.

DAY ZERO (Tuesday)

This year there are seven CSM reps being flown to Iceland instead of the previous nine. This includes the majority of the four 'officer' positions which consist of the Chairman (myself) and the Secretary (Two Step) along with 'Vice' / back-ups for each, Trebor and Hans respectively. We all arrived within a few hours of each other, with the exception of Green Lee who arrived later in the day from Russia and Keldumm who had arrived a day earlier. After landing at the airport in Keflavik, we got picked up and driven to our hotel where everyone promptly crashed for a nap to try adjust for jet lag.  Upon waking around noon and grabbing a shower, everyone met up at Cafe Paris in downtown Reykjavik:
Cafe Paris
Cafe Paris is a popular place due to its central location, free wifi and decent / not overpriced food. The location has also become kind of a traditional pre-summit meeting place for past CSM's so we can break the ice, make introductions and discuss how we plan to approach different issues with CCP. As always, in person talks are far superior to anything else and allow everyone a chance to shift gears in preparation for serious talk the next day. Toward the evening, dinner and bars were sought out and everyone got to experience the absolute strangeness of 1am sunshine in Iceland.

DAY ONE (Wednesday)
Upon waking to find out that our arrival had somehow used up all the internet bandwidth of the hotel (wtf?), I set out to begin the day.  Summit day mornings also have a tradition - breakfast at The Laundromat Cafe. Along with FREE WIFI, you can also get everything from American pancakes to a proper English 'Dirty Breakfast' or even just a massive bowl of bacon.

The way a normal day of a CSM summit works is that we are basically in meetings from about 0900 until 1800 local time with a few short breaks for lunch or to go to the bathroom. This goes on for three days straight. We then all head out to dinner for some ~real talk~ chill time with the devs where a lot of the stuff discussed during the day that we ran out of time for gets delved into more deeply.

This particular summit was probably the most jam-packed of any I've ever attended as either a Dev or CSM member. Unlike in the past, different CCP teams actually wanted to spend time with us and we ended up shuffling the schedule around a bit to accommodate them. It felt pretty good. :)

What didn't feel good was my head, which decided to make me spend the first two days of the summit in near eye-blinding agony. Luckily, Trebor had brought along a small pharmacy of help which allowed me to be effective and fake being painless.

From the Laundromat, we set off in order to make our way to the office. Along the way we saw a couple things that I simply must share because I'm not sure you would see them anywhere else:
What the hell is the Bank of Concrete REALITY?

The Lazy Town Kidnap Van
The Van, which was already kinda weird (get your own victim!), was also parked across the street from the construction site... It was pretty creepy.

Once we arrived at the CCP offices we went up to the fourth floor, received our guest passes, grabbed our seats and got to work.

CSM Intro & White Paper Discussion
CCP Xhagen, CCP Diagoras and myself.
This was actually two sessions that got combined into one. The major points of discussion over these two hours were primarily about how the CSM has evolved over the past few years, our day to day procedures and the 'White Paper', which is basically the CSM Bible. I would term the end result of this meeting to be 'a good start'. There are a lot of issues to tackle and the general agreement was that it is still early in the term and we shouldn't rush in trying to slap duct tape on perceived problems.

CCP reiterated that it is up to the CSM to set our internal operational policies and CSM 7 intends to visit all aspects of that in the near future. Many of the questions we are asking have not been re-visited since the creation of the CSM, which has seen a radical evolution over the past few years in how we operate on a day to day basis.

Due to the ongoing nature of these discussions, I'm going to wait until the official minutes to come out before I delve into this topic more deeply.

What is a Stakeholder?
Jon Lander - This man is a 'Stakeholder'
Stakeholders are people that have a direct say so or are part of the early decision making in the development process of EVE Online. This originally came up as a ~thing~ back in CSM 4 who laid the groundwork for it. Supposedly CSM 5 was the first to have 'Stakeholder' status. Obviously that didn't do much good and it was never properly defined. CSM 6 did not properly press the issue and was also a bit distracted by CCP's near meltdown last year. CSM 7 decided early on that this was something we wanted nailed down, defined, detailed and implemented.

EVE Senior Producer Jon Lander spent an hour and a half with us going into detail about how CCP is organized internally, breaking down how that structure makes decisions and making sure we understood it all. From there we had to work on, "Where do we fit in?"

While the final decision points of this will have to wait until the official minutes I can say that the discussion was extremely blunt and open, from both sides. We managed to secure new commitments from CCP in terms of information sharing and eyes were opened on both sides in terms of where the CSM can be of a real benefit in the development process.

TLDR - the results of this session should see the CSM's ~influence~ grow quite a bit.

Winter 2012 / EVE Future

This was another two sessions combined into one. We spent two hours talking to CCP Unifex (Jon Lander), Kristopher Touborg (CCP Soundwave / Lead Designer) and Craig Scott (Design Director) about CCP's plans for roughly the next six, twelve and eighteen months. The fact that they actually seem to have a coherent plan for those time frames was not lost on us.

It was also during this session where we got our first look at CCP's new data logging system which informs a lot of their decisions. It was simply astounding the depth which they can drill down and see player activity.

At the beginning Jon Lander set the tone by reminding us that CCP is still committed to not working on 'Jesus Features'. While there will be new stuff coming into the game, the focus remains on improving and iterating on EVE's core game play while introducing new elements that enhance the same.

All three CCPers present did a great job of presenting their information and played off of each other very well when needed. Soundwave walked us through the work his three primary teams were doing while also giving us an overview of where the company's overall efforts are headed. The amount of information covered was gargantuan (love that word) and scaled from simple improvements to major mechanic changes. Burning questions:

Does CCP have a plan for POSs? Yes
Does CCP have a plan for Tech Moons? Yes
Does CCP have a plan for Industry / Mining? Yes
Does CCP have a plan for null sec Sov? Yes, BUT...

The overriding theme of these discussions was that CCP does not want to half-ass anything. They very much want to take each problem and solve it properly and completely. That does not mean they are going to let 'broken' things sit completely untouched but they do want to make sure any large scale changes are done properly and with plenty of community feedback beforehand.

The State of Incarna
I'm sure this would NEVER happen. Right??
First of all, the above is an old promotional picture released long before Incarna was last year. With that out of the way, this was an important session because CCP put a LOT of resources into the train wreck that happened last year and the CSM wanted to know what has happened with this aspect of the game since then and what the future of it might be. We wanted to make clear that there is still part of the community that is interested in what resources are being spent on this feature and to what end.

Once again, Jon Lander set the initial tone of the meeting by reiterating that 'game play' has been made part of the mandate of the people still working on Incarna. At the same time we were made aware of a few things that are in the pipe which would require only a little effort to add into the game. We saw some very interesting ideas and concepts which I can't really talk about but helped me believe that CCP 'gets it'. The best part was that the presenters were eager to show off their work and surprised us with their progress.

Overall though, one of the reasons I wanted to have this session was to address the many simple questions the community has about where Incarna is right now. Things like why the shirts still cost $20 and if there is anything new in the pipeline in terms of fashion, etc..? The responses we got were far, far different than the mumbled non-answers we received pre-Incarna last year and proved that we were absolutely right to ask for this session. Some of the decision points made in this session will have a lot of ramifications down the line and CCP committed again to making sure the CSM was part of any future Incarna-related discussions.

Live Events

This session was led by CCP Goliath, who also happens to be the Quality Assurance Director. It's important to note that he is leading this team which really isn't a 'team' at the moment on his own time (which is pretty boss). This meeting was requested of us because Goliath and many others wanted to get the CSM's thoughts on, "Do you like these sort of things?" and how past events had gone.

To clarify, there are currently three kind of Events that take place on Tranquility:

CCP run events (Dev caravan, etc...)
RP / Lore events (Sansha / live-Incursion events)
Player run events

How often should they run them, what scope should they have, etc... Some of the ideas that CCP has for the future of this kind of thing are simply epic. As a player that remembers things like the Serpentis titan theft and the Jovian Ambassador visit, I personally loved this session and would love to see things like that taking place again. There was also a lot of discussion about how CCP could possibly help support player run events.

Despite this being labeled as a bit of a 'Role Playing' session, once things got going it was pretty awesome to see that basically every member of CSM 7 (that was present) really loves the potential idea of CCP putting effort and resources into an area that has been neglected for years.

Wednesday Night

It is impossible to describe just how much gets done outside of the official CSM sessions at the dinners and in the bars of Reykjavik. I've seen lot of people say that the CSM isn't there to 'make friends' and that our ~job~ is to tell CCP how they are or are not screwing up. Those people seem to forget that the devs working on EVE are real people and have real people feelings. You don't get them to listen to you or solicit your opinions by being a dick.

Two out of the three 'official' nights that the CSM is in Iceland, CCP takes everyone out to dinner. Typically, including CSM members, there are about 18-20 of us. The devs that attend are typically either people we've spoke to during the sessions or that wanted a session and couldn't get one. It's an opportunity to continue the face to face dialogue about important issues, brainstorm crazy stuff and also to just chill out and develop the personal side of the relationships.
When Punkturis is happy, EVE is a better place.
Wednesday evening started with dinner at a very popular Indian restaurant. I often wonder at how the other patrons feel when their relatively normal evening out is shattered by the arrival of twenty very enthusiastic and loud spaceship nerds. We spent about two hours at the  restaurant before heading downtown to Islenski Barinn which has been the traditional 'CCP Bar' for several years. This is where serious Game Design takes place and has seen the birth of some of EVE's most awesome (Wormholes) and terrible ideas (AoE DD was super awesome, amirite?).
Jon Lander and 'Grenades'
Currently at this time of year in Iceland, it never really gets dark; around 0200 or so it is kind of grey outside and then the sun starts coming back up again. It completely fucks with your brain and you have zero sense of time. Even in the middle of the week, Islendki was packed with people. Knowing that the CSM was in town and that one of their great leaders was with us guaranteed a continual torrent of CCP folks coming by for a few drinks or just to talk. I'm pretty sure anyone that works for CCP has at least a seven pound liver...

The picture above depicts Jon Lander about to down what is called a Hand Grenade. Watching someone drink of of these is pretty damn funny because it's much larger than a regular shot and you can see people about halfway done wishing they had never started... which makes it even funnier when they are on their fourth or fifth one!

The highlight of the evening was shortly after Islenski Barinn closed (after 0100) we were all standing outside talking about something very important when a nicely dressed hobo broke into our conversation circle and let Jon Lander know that, "You are not an intelligent man! You have no integrity!"  Far from being insulted, Jon responded in true British fashion by informing the man that he was wearing a horrible suede jacket that didn't match his too short pants. It was a fascinating exchange that none of us with video capability on our phones managed to capture. :(

Wednesday night ended around 0230 Thursday morning with Two-Step, Keldumm, Elise Randolph and myself giving up and leaving Jon Lander in the hands of UaXDeath. This was probably the worst idea ever considering the state they were in but the Russian won the night's stamina contest. Apparently they both got kicked out of Nonni's shortly thereafter capping off a very successful night.

Day Two (Thursday)

No plan survives first contact with the enemy and our summit schedule was no exception. Due to several requests from CCP teams, new information that was revealed the previous day and a couple of conflicts we ended up doing a few things we didn't expect in a different order to boot. Having promised to be in every session possible, a new Jon Lander clone arrived bright eyed and ready to go in the conference room at 0900 sharp.

Industry & Mining

A while back I wrote a couple of blogs about this subject so to say I was looking forward to it is a bit of an understatement. I was very happy to see CCP Greyscale show up to lead this session in an appropriate shirt:
Yes, he is always this happy!!
Also attending were CCP Soundwave and CCP Arrow (of United Inventory infamy) who introduced himself by saying, "Hi, I'm CCP Arrow, I screwed up the.. ummm..." which caused the room to literally explode into laughter for the next minute or so.

Arrow started out the session by explaining some of the concepts that his team has been working on for Industry which tie into new mechanics Greyscale explained  as the meeting continued. To say what we saw was met with unanimous squeals of delight would be an understatement. Most of what we were presented with was focused on taking mechanics that have limped along forever and updating them to meet common sense rules.

I was impressed by the fact that CCP was very intent on making sure things were both intuitive and informative. They've taken some lessons from the United Inventory debacle (which is covered later) and I'm confident they are on the right track here.

We also discussed mining which was opened by Soundwave using some of the new tracking tools (EVE Metrics they call it) to show us exactly what was going on in EVE the past couple of months in response to things like the drone region changes and Hulkageddon. In terms of actual changes, they have a lot of ideas on how to make current mining more visually rewarding and mechanically interesting. Adding new types of mining in the future that scales from solo play to large group-level activities was also covered.

Soundwave also started talking about League of Legends at one point and it somehow made perfect sense for the first ten seconds before I verbally abused him for bringing up League of Legends.

Starbase (POS) Re-Work
The 'Dead Horse' POS concept from several years ago.
This is something that CSM 7 has made a major priority. The time for this is NOW and CSM 7 has made no secret that this feature is one of our, if not THE, top priority. There have been so many opinions and thoughts on this but it all boils one to one common theme - modular structures. LEGO houses in space.

CCP Greyscale led this discussion with CCP Ytterbium, Soundwave and Jon Lander sitting in. I'm honestly not sure what all I can or should say about this before the minutes come out so I will summarize it like this.

This is going to happen.
The stated goals of the new system by CCP are perfect.
The proposed scale of the new system is what it should be.
The proposed mechanics of the new system are sensible.
The proposed capabilities of the new system exceed what I expected.

There is a lot of what Greyscale terms 'funky stuff', including one or two hero-level ideas that literally blew our collective brains out the back of our heads. Granted, it may not all happen initially or at once, but there was nothing mentioned in the session that is not possible or unreasonable. In the course of the hour that we spent talking about this, we hit Greyscale with a massive barrage of questions and his answers showed that he had put no small amount of thought into where CCP wants to take this.

Timeline? It's not for me to say, plus CCP still has a lot of estimation work to do when it comes to everything from art to coding. We've always known that this is going to take a LOT of artwork and a LOT of brand new code (they aren't going to use the old shit). Suffice to say that I walked away from this session satisfied that CCP is on the right path for a long overdue feature and I BELIEVE.

At the end of the session, Greyscale coined a phrase that we all came to abuse for the rest of the summit: "Done! Ship it!"

DUST 514 and EVE
Actual totally real DUST soldier with a Pandemic Legion drinking mug!
Let me preface this recap with another recap - on the first day of EVE FanFest 2012 the members of CSM 6 were invited to CCP Headquarters to speak in person with CCP Jian (DUST 514 Executive Producer Brandon Laurino) and CCP Praetorian (DUST 514 Creative Director Atli Mar Sveinsson). This meeting was essentially a make-up session from the DUST meeting that was supposed to take place during the CSM 6 December summit but did not. It was worth the wait however as we got face time with the two leaders of the DUST team who came well prepared to answer a virtual artillery barrage of questions. Most of what took place in this meeting was made public during FanFest with the exception of some of the more specific proposed EVE / DUST link mechanics.
CCP Jian live from Shanghai!
From doing a bit of math, apparently CCP Jian didn't bother with sleep in order to be available for his meeting with us from Shanghai. Jian did a great job of making up nicknames for those of us who he could not remember the name of. He's a very easy going but serious man that firmly believes in the project he is working on and isn't afraid to speak openly or answer blunt questions about it.

Personally, I've not had a chance to play the DUST beta yet as my PS3 is in another country. I'm also a mouse and keyboard purist and will most likely not be playing much until / unless the game is released on PC. I'll give it a spin when I get a chance though as I've very curious to form a first hand opinion of how it plays.

Basically this session was full of NDA stuff about a game that isn't even out yet. We covered DUST game play, the link to EVE game play, the linking of the two communities and everything in between.

EVE User Interface
CSM 7 is not above bribes to ensure our concerns are addressed.
So, yeah, did you know that there were some problems with the new inventory system that was released with Inferno? Well, if you don't then you probably haven't logged into EVE in the past couple weeks. I'm well aware that there was a lot of anger over what happened with the Unified Inventory. One person on the forums even referred to it as an "Incarna-level event".

If this session had been held a week earlier it's very likely not much would have been discussed other than the mess which was the 'Unified Inventory' feature. Luckily for us, CCP Arrow, his team and a few other people have been working hard since the release to get things to a state which will hopefully make everyone happy.

Did we bitch about the Unified Inventory mess? Yes. Did we mercilessly tease and abuse CCP Arrow continually over three days for his role in it all? Yes. Did we thank him and his team for not letting the feature sit still and continuing to improve it? Yes. Are we pleased with CCP's efforts (including three dev blogs since release) to keep the community informed? Yes.

A few specific points I mentioned were:

WTF is up with the 'Unrent Office' button? Can you please move that?!
Shift-click ALL the things, please!
"We learned a lot from this."  "Yeah, I bet you did!" :)

CCPs communication efforts regarding all of this have been stellar compared to what might have happened had this taken place a year ago. Interestingly enough, because they are continually working to fix this mess, the feature is probably going to end up with more functionality than the original design. Both Arrow and Soundwave owned their respective roles in all of this and committed again to making sure it keeps getting the attention it needs. As an added incentive, CSM 7 gave the above Crystal Skull of vodka to CCP Xhagen to hold in trust, to be presented to CCP Arrow at such time when we feel the new inventory system is in a good state.

Moving on, the discussion ranged far and wide, covering all aspects of the UI. CCP Punktuirs and CCP Karkur were present and we saw where CCP wants to take things in the near and far future and it was very good. Personally, it looks like CCP is aiming to make their sci-fi game look a lot more sci fi. This means improving all aspects of how the game looks and trying to move away from 'Spreadsheets Online'.

To Be Continued...

It is now 0100 Monday morning and I have to head out of town in about six hours. Unfortunately this means that I will have to stop here and finish the rest of the review later this week. I've gotten as far as I could and fully intend to outline the rest of the sessions and the evenings in a similar manner as soon as possible. Until then, I hope that what I've done so far sheds some light on things.

14 comments:

  1. Good read Mark <3

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  2. Head-shots, head-aches and head-room
    Thank you for your wit, clarity, insight and will to share.

    g+ 'ed for posterity and exposure.

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  3. CSM7 didn't supply the Crystal Skull of Hangovers. *I* did. Don't take credit for my bribery, Seleene!

    Unless you're willing to pony up a share of the cost, of course...

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    1. Lol! I wasn't actually sure where that thing came from. Shoulda known it was you or xDeath. :)

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    2. To be fair, I did help Trebor pick it out, so I should totally get some of the credit!

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  4. Thanks for the writeup :D Very informative... is that Dust soldier an actual person in mockup armor and a prop weapon or just a statue? Because that was pretty fucking awesome.

    I'm also glad that CCP Arrow can joke about the Unified Inventory fuckup... at least he broke every single bot known to EVEkind with it.

    I hope to god they implement something like the "dead horse" model of modular POS's, I remember first reading that thread and thinking "why wasn't this the first thing they thought of for POS's?" The artwork provided might've helped.

    Anyways, I suppose I should just wait for the official minutes to see what'll be going on...

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  5. From an anonymous eve player, thanks for this interesting piece! Very curious about the minutes now....

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  6. So um.. what's in a "Grenade"? Care to pass that along to us who don't want to travel to iceland for the potentially fun conconction?

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  7. Great job. Thanks for all the hard work and the hard work to come. CSM rocks.

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  8. Nice. Helped me waste an hour at work reading it.

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  9. Excellent stuff, Seleene. Can't wait for part two!

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  10. As always, thanks Seleene. I'm looking forward to Part 2 as well as the release of the actual minutes.
    Hopefully one of these years I can personally make as important a contribution to this silly game as you and your fellow CSM members have.
    Despite forum trolls to the contrary, your efforts ARE appreciated.

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  11. Great report, thanks! Looking very much forward to the new POSes. I also fully trust Punk & Karkur to come up with new awesome UI things, the quality of the mass of small things they've done is top notch.

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