Pod and PlanetDireNecessity
As a 13-year-old player-driven MMOG, EVE Online has developed its share of prestigious player-run competitions. For the battle-frenzied capsuleer there’s Theomachy. For the immortal poet there’s Telegram Sam’s Pod and Planet. Though I can’t recall how I ran across the first Pod & Planet in 2012, I have happily competed every year to middling success. Tossing numerous emails back and forth over nearly a week, Telegram Sam and I discussed the annual writing institution he has built. As you’ll see, his enthusiasm for science fiction and most especially EVE Online science fiction leaps off the screen. In a world chock-full of bitter EVE vets, it’s refreshing. (Interview edited and condensed for clarity.)
DireNecessity: Let’s begin with introduction. Tell us your origin story, Telegram Sam.
Telegram Sam: I started playing EVE in 2008 and got as far as journeyman newbie (Level 3 missions in a Stabber) before I had to quit because of disconnect problems. I joined again in 2011 when I moved to a new town with a better ISP and have been playing since.
DireNecessity: And Pod & Planet’s Origin?
Telegram Sam: Pod & Planet happened because, with my 2011 return, I grew interested in the New Eden backstory reading the chronicles, The Empyrean Age, The Burning Life and hanging out with fellow lore nerds in the EVE fiction forums. Somebody would write a story with, say, a Minmatar shaman character and need information about Minmatar shamanism. We would provide sources and hash out conclusions.
With no contest announced, I thought I’d just do one of my own
In late 2011 Silver Night announced a writing contest in the EVE Fiction forum but I saw it late and couldn’t finish my story before deadline. All fired up, I watched the forum waiting for the next contest announcement – for about a year. With no contest announced, I thought I’d just do one of my own for us EVE fiction otaku; one with decent prizes donated by big organizations with pockets deeper than my private citizen’s wallet.
Hoping to get about 2 bil ISK total for prizes, I asked some gambling sites if they’d like to donate. One site responded, “Who will judge the stories?” They suspected a scam. So to get donations, I needed reputable judges. The problem was, I didn’t know any famous people. It looked like the decent prize idea was dead. But Bob works in strange ways. At that moment CCP announced that three new Community Manager devs had joined: CCP Dolan, CCP Eterne, and CCP Falcon. (CCP D, E, and F. Random coincidence or prophetic sign?) And Falcon and Eterne were former Mercury writers and lore masters! I mailed them and Falcon and Eterne agreed to serve as contest judges. Not only that, CCP agreed to donate a $400 graphic card and publicize the contest as well. (To be honest, this turn of events horrified private citizen Telegram Sam as much it elated him.)
Brandishing a copy of Eterne’s EVEmail, I returned to the gambling sites who then not only donated the 2 bil asked for, but very graciously upped the total to 20 bil. What was hoped to be just a small contest for a handful of EVE Fiction junkies became an intense community-wide event with 101 stories entered. EVE Online is pretty amazing.
DireNecessity: With Pod & Planet’s fifth annual competition scheduled to begin this September 27th, what has led to the contest’s enduring popularity?
Telegram Sam: I’d say the amazingly high quality of the stories submitted each year is responsible. And I believe that can be indirectly attributed to CCP Falcon very kindly serving as a judge each year. His support as a CCP dev adds prestige to the event. It also assures prize donors that the contest is legit. The large prize pools help attract more story entries which raises the level of competition. So the writers know the standard of quality is pretty high and they produce some really sophisticated, high quality works to compete. Great stories and the suspense of competition makes it fun for everyone — readers, judges, sponsors, and the writers themselves.
DireNecessity: How has the contest evolved over the years?
Stories varied from hastily-thrown-together up to unbelievably brilliant
Telegram Sam: The first year was wild. CCP promoted it and all kinds of people entered stories. That year was more “EVE-like” in that people were gunning for prizes, asking for precise rules clarifications and generally treating the contest like in game PvP. Stories varied from hastily-thrown-together up to unbelievably brilliant.
In the following years things settled down. The contest became less a free for all and more a relaxed event. People knew what to expect and story quality moved from all over the board to mostly grouped at the high end of the quality spectrum. Some regular writers emerged whom we could expect to be consistent contenders for prizes. Generally the prize pool has increased as has the contest’s credit rating. Last year Chribba didn’t even have to be involved, people just transferred their donations directly to the contest. In recent years we’ve had more entries by writers whose native language isn’t English. That is really great, I salute those fearless and mighty writers.
MysteriousAlt, who helped out last year, has joined as permanent co-coordinator and treasurer for the event in addition to being a major prize donor. MysteriousAlt brings good knowledge of the people in the EVE meta community and the resources that might be available from that world which has already been a big benefit to the event. Running this contest requires a fair amount of admin work so it’s great to have MysteriousAlt sharing those duties too.
DireNecessity: Any changes planned for this year?
Telegram Sam: We have a number of small changes on the agenda.
introducing a Best Entry by a New Writer prize
This year we’re introducing a Best Entry by a New Writer prize. The goal, of course, is to encourage people who have never competed before to put their minds to it. Every year, at least one writer has said, “This is my first try at writing fiction. I hope it doesn’t suck too bad, but it was fun!” And you know, many of those first time stories are very well written and some of them earn top-level prizes. Offhand, I can think of one new writer’s tale about an in game event among corp/alliance members that the judges loved because it was just a great story, and because it was a true story, and because the way the player-writer told it put everybody directly into the shoes of a player doing things in the EVE Online world. So unleash your inner b.s. artist and tell a tale.
As always, CCP Falcon will be one of our stalwart judges. This year we’ve also swindled CCP Delegate Zero into judging. He wrote the “Inheritance” Chronicle that tied together Carolyn’s Star and Drifters cleaning up all kinds of dangling ingame and lore threads.
Like last year’s “critter packs” (Murder of Crows, Cry of Hounds), this year’s prizes will incorporate themed item packs including Blood Raider ships and skill injectors because, when it comes to writing, life experience – even somebody else’s – is wonderful asset. Although I am morally opposed to vampirism, I’m still claiming the Anthony Burgess and Arthur C. Clarke injectors.
DireNecessity: Last word always goes to the interviewee.
Telegram Sam: Brilliant! At Pod & Planet we follow a couple of guiding principles: a) Anyone who has a notion to write, regardless of native language or skill level, is encouraged to get off their arse and put fingers on keyboard. Win, lose, or draw, anyone who completes a work and shares it automatically joins the elect circle of braveheart brethren/sistren writers; b) The community has made this a fun good feelings party with much IQ, hard work, respect and goodwill for others. We never want to interrupt that.