How the Battle of Asakai Became One of the Largest Space Battles in Video Game History

Illustration for article titled How the Battle of Asakai Became One of the Largest Space Battles in Video Game History

It was pilot error that sent the Titan-class ship into enemy territory. But it was a cascade of alliances and grudges that turned the incident into a space battle involving almost 3,000 ships, one of EVE Online's largest conflicts ever.

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There are several large player alliances in EVE Online, and they gather into larger alliances that can assert control over the game's economy. Such was the case with the TEST Alliance and Goonswarm, two groups that collaborated to control the flow of one of EVE's most valuable resources. They became rich like drug lords. And like drug lords, they had a falling out.

Illustration for article titled How the Battle of Asakai Became One of the Largest Space Battles in Video Game History
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A tenuous peace was in place, with the groups occasionally raiding each other's ships, but agreeing not to make any large-scale attacks on the mining infrastructure that underpins both alliances' wealth. So it was not out of the ordinary for Goonswarm to be planning a military incursion using one of their Titans in a purely logistical role -– it has the ability to act as a warp bridge, sending other ships to the battlefront. What was unusual was the pilot accidentally warping the Titan itself into a TEST formation. Loose clicks sink ships.

Goonswarm's activities had not gone unnoticed, and nearby groups had called upon one another to offer support if and when the attack came. The following explanation from an EVE blog may be incomprehensible, yet it's awesome in that it sounds exactly like a news clipping from the future:

A Gallente Militia that was attacking said moon reached out to Pandemic Legion. DnD asked PL if they would be on standby if the CFC dropped capitals or supercapitals, offering to have a large number of heavy interdictors (HIC), the only ships that can warp scramble a supercapital in lowsec, on standby. PL agreed.

When the Goonswarm ship fell under attack, they called for reinforcements. So did everyone else. Goonswarm is part of a larger umbrella group called the Cluster Fuck Coalition (the only drawback to the coolness of this story is the juvenile names some of the groups have), and the battle soon became CFC against pretty much everyone else. Soon, the battle was so enormous it actually caused time to slow down.

Illustration for article titled How the Battle of Asakai Became One of the Largest Space Battles in Video Game History
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EVE Online has had trouble with large battles in the past (in fact, one slightly larger than the Battle of Asakai happened in October 2012) – server lag can destroy the experience. To help, they use something called Time Dilation. When the server load gets too high, the star system where the battle is occurring is slowed down to as little as 10 percent of real-time. It's basically intentional lag. Battle slows down, but all commands and events are processed properly and in order, unlike the chaos of true lag. Because systems outside the battle are not affected by Time Dilation, it allowed lots of time for reinforcements to arrive in-system and join the fight.

This video of part of the battle is pretty amazing — it feels like you're listening in on military radio transmissions (it does contain strong language).

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In the end, the CFC was soundly defeated, losing 44 Dreadnoughts, 29 Carriers, five Supercarriers, and three Titans to TEST's six Dreadnoughts, 11 Carriers, and one Supercarrier. The Titan that started it all survived. Total losses are estimated at 700 billion ISK (EVE's in-game currency). What's really interesting is that EVE allows ISK to be bought and sold freely, so those losses can be translated into real-world amounts. In this case, estimates suggest losses of about $15,000.

What's even more interesting is the capacity for open-ended games like EVE Online to create emergent stories. Nothing was prescripted about the storylines that lead to the battle -– not the alliances, the mining conglomerate, the bad blood between the groups, or the events of the battle itself. EVE creates a set of economic and military factors and lets the players run loose. The stories (and battles) occur organically. Similar things have happened with other sandbox style games, such as Day Z, where your struggles to survive among ravenous zombies and hostile players can lead to bizarre, thrilling or even emotionally resonant stories.

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DISCUSSION

I was there. I was there and it was horrible. The game's developers have taken this unholy, all consuming black nightmare and turned it into a PR triumph, but let me tell you my perspective on Asakai.

By the time my fleet, a Goonswarm subcapital reinforcement fleet, arrived, maximum time dilation was already occurring; time was technically being made to pass in this solar system at one tenth the speed of normal time outside the system. Except all that was doing was alleviating the effect of the soul crushing lag enough to let us experience it fully in all its hellish detail instead of, for example, dumping people out of game or bringing everything to a halt. Time was actually passing hundreds of times slower. Actions that would normally take 5 seconds were taking ten minutes. Responses to control input that should be instant were taking 5 minutes. At one point an action that should have taken less than ten seconds to complete took 20 minutes.

Over the span of 5 hours, the actual fighting that took place would under normal circumstances have happened in about 10 minutes.

Then, because it was only happening in that system, the entire rest of Eve still running at normal speed had hours to speed across the universe, jumping system to system hundreds of times faster, to participate in or just to see this fight the likes of which have never been seen and had hours for breaking news of it happening to spread. So from the perspective of the fight in Asakai, endless waves of escalating reinforcements were joining a fight from the word go from across the universe, and from the Goonswarm perspective what had started as a reasonable looking fight with even numbers got vastly out of hand, only after our people were committed to the inescapable black hole of time dilated lag. They technically managed to escape after around 10 minutes of realtime fighting. Ten minutes stretched across 5 hours where we sat and watched everyone with a grudge against Goonswarm (many, many very stupid dull people) fill the system.

The game developers are full of excuses about it, such as that we should have told them this accidental monumental fuckup by the original titan pilot - DBRB, we still love you, don't ever change - was going to happen or that we should be grateful they've improved things to where their servers didn't just explode in flames, which would and has happened in the past. But personally I'm pretty annoyed they've turned it into a promotional event when they really dropped the ball.

Time dilation as we here on io9 know should technically mean everyone there aged slightly less than the rest of Eve, but I felt pretty old by the time I managed to heave my ship out of that disaster in the early hours of the morning.