EVE Online meets Half-Life 2 in machinima masterpiece

Clear Skies is a groundbreaking machinima produced by Ian Chisholm, which takes place entirely within the galactic setting of EVE Online, known as New Eden. Any attempt to lump Clear Skies in with your run-of-the-mill machinima would be a disservice to the scope of the work; the film clocks in at just under 40 minutes and was a labor of love for two years in the lives of its creators.

Clear Skies follows a trio of down-and-out misfits who've seen no end of bad luck. John Rourke is the obstinate captain of the Clear Skies, a Tempest class battleship manufactured by the downtrodden Minmatar race of New Eden. Rourke's attitude toward his hazardous chosen lifestyle is cavalier, although this does not sit well with his friends among the crew. Solomon Burke is the pessimistic ship's engineer, while Charlie Fodder -- a gunner with an ironic name -- does his best to keep the crew alive. Typical of life in New Eden, Fodder is doomed to remain a rather busy man.

These likeable dropouts from the entrenched corporate lifestyle of New Eden eke out a meager living on trade runs and the odd courier job here and there. Still, they manage to find humor in their grim lot as they narrowly avoid being blown out of the stars by pirates, hired thugs, or whatever threat awaits them on the other side of the next jump gate. This is life aboard the Clear Skies. It's not a comfortable lifestyle by any means, but the crew is free to live and die by their own terms. Of course, their exploits do make for some good stories.

Just back from their last job gone awry, Rourke and crew are faced with a gargantuan repair bill for what's left of the Clear Skies when they dock in the nearest space station they can reach. They have to choose between parting with the Clear Skies or going broke to fix her. They opt to spend all of their isk to resurrect their ship and home, going back to square one in the process, with no choice but to make more shady deals just to continue getting by. The latest of their exploits is to transport 'an idiot in a shiny suit' a few jumps to the Hek solar system. Their passenger, however, wishes to remain anonymous, is paying too much money, and insists upon being ferried in a battleship. These are all omens of a deathtrap, but the crew has little choice but to accept. And so begins the story -- epic by machinima standards -- that exposes the viewer to the seedier aspects of life on New Eden's fringe.

The execution of the film is brilliant; Clear Skies is a hybrid between Half-Life 2's character design and EVE Online's backstory. The ship that is the film's namesake serves as the primary setting for the story; and in some respects acts as another character in the film -- with its quirky malfunctioning systems, familiar EVE-style interfaces, and its Minmatar heritage of looking like 'an explosion in a girder factory'.

That's a running gag throughout Clear Skies. Many of the Minmatar race's ships resemble scrapheaps somehow imbued with great speed, but they look as if they could shake apart at any moment. The adage familiar to so many EVE players, that duct tape is standard issue on any Minmatar ship, is alive and well in Clear Skies.

The film is punctuated with humor from start to finish, much of which borders on inside jokes for fans of EVE Online -- little rewards for knowing and being part of the system that is the machinima's backdrop.

Clear Skies stands as a significant work in a number of ways. Looking beyond the intense time commitment involved with producing something of this caliber, the film has found nearly universal acceptance among EVE Online's often divisive community. If fact, there's been little but echoes of praise for Clear Skies on the game's forums by Chisholm's newfound fanbase.

This is surprising, since Clear Skies breaks from the established background in EVE by removing the concept of a capsuleer who controls the essential systems onboard the ship, instead turning the reigns over to the crew itself. Chisholm takes the more accessible angle of having the pilots man the bridge, engine room and gunnery station, but this is an altered perspective for anyone accustomed to EVE Online's gameplay. The battleship in Clear Skies is no longer an extension of one's self, which is a core idea in EVE Online. While this would threaten to be sacrilege to some of EVE Online's more dedicated fans of the backstory, the positive reception to Chisholm's project shows that he made the right choices. Even the developers at CCP Games have congratulated Chisholm and his friends on the achievement.

And those friends certainly deserve some mention as well. The character of Solomon Burke is voiced by Richie Powles, while Charlie Fodder's voice is provided by John Guthrie. What's interesting here is that they've now taken roleplay in EVE to new heights; the characters that Chisholm, Powles, and Guthrie portray are also their own characters in-game. The trio of characters are all members of Pure Alliance, and can be found in their respective corporations of The Wild Hunt (Rourke) and Dawn of a New Empire (Powles and Guthrie).

Ian Chisholm has stated that a sequel to Clear Skies is being planned, largely due to the fan response to his effort, which he found simply overwhelming. He never expected interest in his machinima to hit the levels it has so far, thus a website for Clear Skies wasn't in place for the film's release. But this hasn't prevented the film from being seen by thousands of viewers willing to track it down. In lieu of a dedicated website for the project, which Chisholm assures is already in the works, the film is being distributed through a loose network of fansites. The most comprehensive collection of links to date related to Clear Skies was put together by a fan on the EVE forums. The most popular place to download Clear Skies is at the fan-run site EVE Files, which is hosting the film's trailer as well as the full version.

Despite the fact that Clear Skies is set in the EVE Online universe, the film is accessible to virtually any fan of machinima or the sci-fi genre as a whole. Check out what all the hype is about; Clear Skies won't disappoint.
This article was originally published on Massively.