Let’s talk technobabble.
As a child, my primary science fiction of choice was Star Trek. I grew up in love with the various vessels and their sleek designs, not to mention the wonderful technology that made lives easier for everyone. That being said, I now look back on Star Trek and can see that, more often than not, technology was used as a crutch to solve problems. Why, by just reconfiguring the isolinear command processes and reversing polarity in the subspace flux coil, the Enterprise would be able to generate a warp field that just might block the alien of the week’s weapons systems long enough to get away and save the day again.
Eve certainly doesn’t have that problem. In fact, Eve lore does a remarkably good job of making it feel like the universe truly is in the future without getting bogged down in the technical details like Star Trek often does. That being said, we do have a certain amount of information on the technology of New Eden, and I thought it might be fun (disclaimer: your version of “fun” and mine may vary) to go over the various technologies Eve has to travel faster-than-light (or FTL for short), at least until we dig deep enough that I have to say that it just operates through spacemagic.
The Eve warp drive (not to be confused with Star Trek’s) is formally known as the Sotiyo-Urbaata Drive (a quick note on this particular link: early on in Eve development, it appears that what we now call warp drives were originally called jump drives. This can lead to some confusion when reading the early lore on FTL travel, since we now have, uhh, something else entirely that uses the term ‘jump drive). Developed in 22821 AD (roughly 530 years ago) by two Caldari scientists, it was created to solve the problem of slow transit times between Caldari Prime and Gallente Prime. This was, of course, while the two races were still playing nice with each other and actually wanted to see each other (and not just to lob bombs/fighters/city-destroying ships at each other). Unlike Star Trek’s propulsive subspace fields or even the actually-might-work-in-real-life space-folding Alcubierre drive, Eve’s particular brand of FTL spacemagic involves something called a depleted vacuum.
The idea behind Eve’s warp drive is that even empty space isn’t truly empty. You’ll have stray atoms rushing through most areas of space, and down on the quantum level you’ll see virtual particles flashing in and out of existence on a continual basis. The ship’s warp drive can create a depleted vacuum that is truly zero-energy by ‘compressing’ (no, I don’t have any idea how you compress nothingness either, but ~spacemagic~) vacuum repeatedly between two polar disks. This process drains all energy from the area of space. No stray atoms, no virtual particles, no nada. A laser-locked field (again, don’t ask me how lasers can hold nothingness (especially because lasers would, by default, be adding some kind of energy to an area) because I’ll only respond with ~spacemagic~) is then used to contain this growing field of depleted vacuum until the field envelops the ship. This area of depleted vacuum has a special property: because there’s even LESS energy than even normal empty space, objects in the field experience a sort of anti-friction. Things, including light, actually move faster in a depleted vacuum field, and it’s this field that lets a ship slip into FTL speeds in a system. And there’s something about the warp core that causes ‘four-dimensional drag’ on space-time which, conveniently, causes a perpetual drag on ships, which explains the submarines-in-space physics we see in the game.
While at FTL speeds, normal sensors can’t function properly, since signals can’t penetrate the depleted vacuum field. This means that ships normally would be flying completely blind. However, one thing that can be detected are perturbations in the fabric of space-time: aka, gravity. Gravity wells of massive objects, like stars, planets, and even stations, can be detected when in warp. As a safety feature, warp drives must be able to “lock on” to a particular gravity signature before activating the drive (which is technically why you can’t just warp off into the sunset, as it were, and go into deep space).
The last topic I want to touch on with warp drives is something almost any carebear is at least somewhat familiar with: deadspace. Little is known about the physics of deadspace, but that hasn’t stopped the lore community from speculating with its typical reckless abandon. What we do know is that, for whatever reason, warp drives don’t function well there. Warping from outside of the deadspace to any area within a deadspace will plop you out at the “entrance” of the deadspace, even if the entrance is hundreds of thousands of kilometers from where you wanted to warp. Similarly, the ship will refuse to form a warp field (or, rather, a depleted vacuum field) if you try to warp from one area of the deadspace pocket to another, although you can initiate a warp to an object outside of the deadspace area. My particular favorite theory on deadspace, which I only heard recently in the #lore channel on the tweetfleet Slack chat, is that gravity sensors don’t function properly, so the ship refuses to warp within the area since the drive can’t lock properly on to something within the field. Hey, it seems as good an explanation as any!
Like the Mass Effect universe, Eve has two methods for traveling FTL. The warp drive is used entirely for traveling within a star system. But if you want to travel between star systems, you’ll have to use a stargate or one of its cousin technologies. Stargates in Eve are ubiquitous, and each empire has their own distinctive architecture when it comes to stargate design. Despite the differences in appearance, however, they all operate on identical principles.
Unlike the warp drive, which the Caldari invented from scratch, the principles of stargate technology were reverse engineered by the Amarr. Wrecked gates are scattered across New Eden. The lore officially only states that the gates are left over from “a race capable of interstellar travel“, but from what else we know of the lore, it’s safe to assume that the ruined gates are leftover from the original Terran colonies in New Eden from the Eve Gate, especially given Amarr’s proximity to the Gate. So its little surprise that the Amarr eventually stumbled on a gate on the fringes of their home system in 21134 AD. What was lucky, on their end, was that the gate was almost perfectly preserved, allowing them to quickly reverse engineer the technology (the Gallente and Caldari were not nearly so lucky; the gates in their system were heavily damaged and required substantial repairs before they could easily figure out the gate’s technology. The Minmatar appeared to have no examples of stargate tech in their system, and instead developed acceleration gate technology, which I’ll discuss below).
There was a problem, however: even though the Amarr figured out how it worked, the stargate still didn’t actually function. Stargates require a partner gate to actually function (we’ll get to why in a minute), and while the Amarr had restored one side, the other was still inoperative. The Amarr, being their expansionist selves, they weren’t going to let a little thing like interstellar space stand in their way. So they sent an expedition to nearby Hedion, set up the other gate, and officially became a starfaring race in 21290, just over 150 years after the gate was first discovered. For most of the time since, gates were constructed by building a gate in one system, then sending either a cryo ship or a generational craft to the next star system over to build its partner. It wasn’t until fairly recently that jump drives allowed the process to speed up substantially. These are dangerous trips, with plenty of opportunities for things to go terribly wrong, but the risks were worth the benefits.
So how do stargates work? Essentially, they’re bottled up and closely controlled wormholes. However, the current level of technology in New Eden means that we can only create wormholes where conditions for them are particularly ripe. Generally, that means areas where we find gravitational resonances, or areas where the gravity from two large bodies, be they stars or even just planets, cancel each other out (As an aside, in the original Eve lore, gates were only possible in binary star systems (which makes sense, given that 2/3rds of stars in the galaxy are in a multiple star system of some kind), but given that we never see the binary stars and the gates are spread willy-nilly throughout a system, this was retconned in Eve: Source to remove the binary star requirement), but not every star system will have appropriate resonance nodes for stargate construction. Indeed, Eve lore states that there are numerous systems within the boundaries of the Cluster that don’t show up on our maps simply because they do not have the proper configurations to allow for stargate construction.
Here’s what happens when a ship approaches an active gate and requests jumping clearance: once clearance is granted, the wormhole creation process starts. This happens by both gates firing beams of graviton particles at each other, the source gate firing negatively charged ones, which creates a space-time ‘tentacle’ that, thanks to the fact that the streams are directed at the opposing gate, reach from the destination to the source gate, forming a momentarily stable wormhole between the two gates. As the ship begins to get pulled into the wormhole, it’s covered in a thin ‘mass boson’ space (or ‘spacemagic’ sphere) to help it more easily traverse the narrow wormhole. Although this mass boson sphere is primarily used to help ease transition through the wormhole, it also has the effect of helping maintain a ship’s structural integrity during passage. Once the ship is through the wormhole, the gates stop firing their graviton streams and the wormhole almost instantaneously collapses. Conveniently, the mass boson sphere takes about a minute or so to dissipate completely from a ship, and actually explains the gate cloak that is so familiar to pilots, as the mass bosons will bend light around a ship until the sphere has dissipated.
One of the questions I’ve come across a few times as well is why, if gates work as they do, we’ve stopped expanding the borders of New Eden. There’s not a lot of lore on this. All we know is that “no suitable destination node signatures have been found in dozens of years”, suggesting that the New Eden cluster is isolated somewhat from the rest of the galaxy at large.
Jump Drives and Cynosural Fields
Remarkably, there’s little lore on how jump drives on capital ships function. We can probably guess that they’re similar in function to a one-way stargate, perhaps with the cynosural field somehow attracting the other end of the wormhole, as the lore repeatedly states that the cyno acts as ‘pseudo-gravity well’, but details are very few on jump drive operations. In other words, I can realistically say that under Eve lore jump drives really are spacemagic!
EDIT: Samira Kernher points out that I missed certain aspects of jump drive operation (mostly due to a lack of reading on my part). I apologize for the error, and thanks Samira for getting me the additional info! Without further ado, I was correct that jump drives act similarly to jump gates. Using elemental isotopes to form the cynosural field, which in turn helps to form the high-frequency neutron rays necessary for wormhole creation, the jump drive acts as a one way receiver, acting similarly to the origin gate of a stargate, to help attract the aforementioned space-time tentacle that grows from the cynosural field. Once the connection is established, the ship jumps as normal, and the wormhole collapses as usual. We can thank those crafty Amarr for comingup with technology in 23058, almost 300 years ago now, as it helped them to start colonizing their local space much more quickly.
Acceleration gates are the last major form of propulsion found in New Eden, but probably the first to be developed. The Minmatar are the ones first credited with developing the technology; they used it to form the three-system Minmatar Empire, which is a remarkable feat given that the gates don’t actually accelerate ships to FTL speeds. Still, the Amarr put a stop to that before the technology got much further along.
We don’t know much about the technology behind acceleration gates. We know that they work in deadspace areas, which rules out a simplified version of the warp drive. There is some lore that suggests that they are primitive stargates, but there’s nothing to suggest that the acceleration utilize wormholes in any way. Most likely, based purely on the looks of the gate alone, acceleration gates are probably based on some form of mass driver technology, with the ship’s warp core (and its attendant four-dimensional drag) providing the stopping power on the other side.
As you can see, we have a variety of modes of transport around New Eden, and our fair share of technobabble to boot. It’s somewhat ironic that part of Eve’s allure is the vastness of space, and yet we have all this technology designed solely to make it feel smaller. Indeed, this is a game where we can cross 100 light-years in roughly an hour if we keep ourselves moving; that kind of speed is fast even in other sci-fi world, but it’s a necessary part of making space livable and, more importantly, fun for us internet spaceship pilots.
Tags: interstellar travel, lore, Mark726, technology