The vastness of New Eden cannot be measured in distance alone but also time. The thousands of star systems that comprise known space are home to eons of history, some of it known, much of it just waiting to be discovered. Within the tombs and wreckage of civilizations long since passed, lies artifacts and materials that, for an enterprising pilot, can reap untold rewards. This is the life of an explorer: searching the voids of space like a futuristic Indiana Jones, always weary of the dangers both the locals and hidden traps possess.
In EVE Online, exploration is the art of finding hidden sites, either relic or data, and hacking their containers to loot the valuable artifacts hidden within. It is a lucrative career that can net a player hundreds of millions of ISK on a good night and requires relatively minimal risk and skill. I joined Wingspan TT, self-proclaimed fourth greatest commentator on YouTube and creator of some excellent videos on exploration, to talk more about the profession.
Wingspan has only been playing EVE Online for a short time, but his career has been no less epic. As CEO of WINGSPAN Delivery Services, he has cemented a reputation for fast and effective service to his customers. What do they deliver you ask? Torpedos. And their conviction for what they do would make an Fed Ex CEO blush. It’s snarky, and I kind of love it. Wingspan and his crew are constantly on the prowl for hapless targets, using stealth bombers to expedite their “packages”.
“I’ve always done—I guess like, cloaky, stealthy stuff in other video games,” he told me over Skype. “I was a big fan of the Spy in Team Fortress 2 and Assassin’s Creed and that kind of stuff. I was really drawn into doing covert ops in EVE.”
His rise in EVE was a bit surprising, even to him. Wingspan has been a notable member of many gaming communities, including fundraising events within Team Fortress 2, managing his own gaming strategy website, and his long running YouTube channel. But he told me that his time in EVE was a bit of a resurgence for him, as he quickly tapped into a new market and was met with warm reception.
“It’s been, I guess, a little crazy,” he told me. “I was getting like, constant EVEmails saying like, ‘thanks for getting me back into this game.’”
“For me it was nuts, I didn’t think I was doing anything special.”
Regardless, he quickly grew to become a fixture within the EVE Online community, and his corporation has no doubt spread that legacy. To him, EVE was a new challenge, another game to explore and learn, and he documented much of that process on his YouTube channel.
He told me how he started with exploration before eventually moving on to his main hobby of blowing stuff up, but being incredibly sneaky about it.
“Before I started playing EVE, right, I had read up about it for a really long time. I had read all the different blogs and news articles about it, and some very quick strategy guides just to get a sense of what it was like.”
“I definitely got this sense just from reading all those materials that there’s like the whole—there’s a lot of people who have stayed in hi-sec the whole time in the game, and they really never—even though there’s like thousands and thousands of star systems—they never really went anywhere.”
“And I thought to myself, If I’m going to play this game, I’m going to jump into the deep end and try to get into trouble.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Jumping into a cheap scanning frigate, Wingspan took off and quickly became acquainted with the most lawless sectors of New Eden.
“In a lot of other MMOs, things are very gated, where it’s like, oh, well your character has to be a certain level or have certain standings to get into certain areas.”
“That exists in EVE but it’s player enforced. You can sneak passed people or get under their radar and go wherever you want.”
If you’re looking to make a buck or two hundred million, null-sec is your destination. In EVE Online, different star systems are arranged by the level of security you can expect while in them. The heart of New Eden is known as hi-sec, an area of space strictly regulated by the four empires of EVE. These places are relatively safe for players, and complicated rules of engagement and swift military response to unlawful actions are usually enough to deter all but the most stubborn of foes. On the fringes of hi-sec, players will begin to find the vast swathe of space known as low-sec, something that would be equitable to being way out in the boonies, miles and miles from any civilization. There might be a sheriff station thirty minutes away, but you can’t really count on them to protect you. Finally, there is null-sec, the expanse of territory that is free to be claimed by player alliances, who enforce their own brand of justice.
It might not surprise you, but the farther you go from civilization, the more lucrative the various aspects of EVE’s play becomes. Valuable ores, bounties on NPC characters, moon minerals, and, for the adventurous sort, exploration all await those bold enough to claim them.
But navigating the treacherous territory to find such lucrative opportunities is something deserving a whole column on its own. But I’ll give you a brief overview of what you’ll need.
Players looking to try their hand at exploration will need to get themselves a ship capable of a few different tasks, most important of them being scanning. Exploration sites in EVE Online need to be scanned down before you can warp to them and hack their containers for that sweet treasure, which means you’ll want to equip a ship that benefits scanning.
For those just starting out, that means getting yourself a Tech 1 Frigate. These ships come cheap, and each race in New Eden has their own frigate and either one will do the job. The Imicus is my personal favorite, but I’ve always been a fan of Gallente ships.
You need to fit your new scanning ship. While everyone has their preference for what to fit, there are some modules that are mandatory.
- Core Probe Launcher – launches scanning probes to find new sites
- Prototype Cloaking Device – will allow you to cloak when not in warp
- Microwarp Drive – for getting around quickly
- Relic Analyzer – allows you to hack relic sites
- Data Analyzer – allows you to hack data sites
- Cargo Scanner – allows you to peek into the contents of a container before hacking it
The last two modules on the list aren’t mandatory, but for those starting out I’d highly recommend keeping the data analyzer on just for the extra income.
You’ll also need to train the requisite skills. For scanning, you’ll need to train Astrometrics, and Astrometric Rangefinding, Pinpointing, and Aquisition. You’ll also need Archaeology and Hacking to actually open the loot, not to mention the skills required just to fly the ship. It’s a process that could take you a week or more before you’re suitably ready, but you can spend that time acquainting yourself with navigating in null-sec safely.
From there, you simply head out. Plot a course into null-sec and then check the route for any potential dangers. Players will often camp the entrances and exits from hi-sec to low-sec or null-sec, so be sure to check on the map and see if there have been a startling amount of ship kills or pod kills in the last hour. Finally, check your route for star systems that have reported either a ton of docked and active players or players in space in the past 30 minutes, both will give you a clue about what systems to avoid.
Luckily, most relic and data sites in New Eden are unguarded. Some are, but you’ll run into those so few and far between and usually have ample warning time if things get hairy. This is good because your tech 1 frigate is about as sturdy as a wet paper bag.
Once you arrive in a system, you’ll want to check for any other players in the local chat. If you’re alone, check your scanning window to see if there are any signatures you can scan down. Fortunately, these signatures will also appear on screen as red diamonds. If some exist, you’re in luck. Time to scan.
Scanning is an art in and of itself, and something that I simply won’t have the time to cover in detail. For more information on how it’s done and coverage on some other topics as well, Wingspan himself has created an excellent guide.
Once you’ve scanned down some sites, you’ll warp to them and begin the process of hacking. Hacking itself is a game with a lot of nuance, and it’ll likely take some time before you’re 100% familiar with it. In the mean time, why don’t you watch Wingspan’s excellent video on the subject?
And that’s really all there is to it. Find a site, hack it, and move on to the next one. Of course, that isn’t always simple. Null-sec is a dangerous place for a lone pilot without any friends, and navigating it will prove your greatest challenge. Become acquainted with loss, it will become your best friend.
But for those of you who love an adrenaline rush, nothing beats flying a ship back to the safety of space loaded with a hundred times your value in cargo.
“It’s funny, because all the times I thought I was going to lose it was when I was fine,” Wingspan said. “I specifically remember this time where I bought a Stratios specifically to do ghost sites. And I found a ghost site and I was like, ‘I’ve done five of these already in an Imicus or an Astero, I know what I’m doing, it’s fine.’ And the rats (NPC enemy ships) appeared and I’m like, ‘whatever, come at me bros!’ And they just blapped me instantly.”
“I was devastated.”
For reference, a Stratios costs around 275 million ISK before spending even more just to fit the thing.
“It just goes to show you I was getting cocky from not dying from so long.”
Wingspan’s exploration shenanigans were forever immortalized when he was chosen to take part in CCP’s highly regarded “This is EVE” trailer which debuted last year. The moment was a surreal one for Wingspan, who told me how he was sitting in a Starbucks with his wife when his phone began to blow up with twitter notifications about his appearance in the video.
As our time runs to a close, I asked Wingspan if he had any advice for players looking to cut their teeth playing Indiana Jones for an evening.
“One is, just don’t even bother with hi-sec and low-sec—just don’t even bother because for two reasons. One is, you know, it’s called exploration! You wanna get out there? You gotta get your feet dirty. And the second, people are always concerned they’re going to die. The reality is if you go out there with some T1 exploration ship, it’s worth like 500 thousand ISK. If you clear one site in nullsec, it’ll be worth 10 times—if not 20 or 30 times that.”
“Definitely get good at scanning. It makes a big difference.”
Scanning is an important technique, something that Wingspan uses daily in his never ending hunt to give his customers just what they never expected. For him, much of his time is spent navigating the perils of wormhole space, getting the drop on unsuspecting players and delivering his brand of customer satisfaction, but it was the humble art of scanning that got him to where he is.
Since before we sat down to chat, I’ve been scanning fervently and I can honestly say it’s becoming one of my favorite pastimes in EVE Online. The thrill of the hunt is intoxicating, and that moment you open a can and find tens of millions of ISK is extraordinary. Last week I had my own dumb moment, as I warped to a stargate without checking, only to land and realize someone had placed warp bubbles on it. By sheer bad luck I was decloaked and immediately destroyed by a player waiting there, like a spider. My 200 million ISK worth of cargo gone with me. But even as my heart sank, I was already thirsty for my next hunt.Related: Column, EVE Online, Interview, The Final Frontier, YouTube