EVE Evolved: The great wormhole heist, part 1

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EVE Evolved: The great wormhole heist, part 1
Several years ago, EVE Online's Community Manager CCP Wrangler made a statement that I felt really crystalised the sentiment behind the game. He said that "EVE isn't designed to just look like a cold, dark and harsh world; it's designed to be a cold, dark and harsh world." Although most of us are content to indulge ourselves in PvP, market games and other traditional modes of gameplay, a criminal underworld runs beneath that innocuous surface. A significant few carve their own illicit destinies from the void, stealing and cheating their way to the top.

Whether these space-faring cyber-criminals are in it for fame and riches, political influence, or their own personal goals, the stories of their actions in EVE's colossal sandbox never fail to grip us. High-profile thefts like the Guiding Hand Social Club heist of 2005, the closure of EBank, and last year's Titans4U scandal have been made very public, and smaller-scale crimes occur every day in New Eden. Last year, we brought you the true tale of one player's revenge taken too far -- a story of corporate infiltration, social deception and utter destruction. Although this was Scott's first foray into criminality, it was most certainly not his last. The events in this week's story are true, but the names of the players and corporations involved have been changed.

In this week's EVE Evolved, Scott returns as I begin to tell the true story of his huge wormhole heist.

Creating a criminal

Several years ago, a player wishing to be identified only as Scott made a simple market error. Enraged by his own carelessness, Scott pursued the beneficiary of his mishap -- an industrialist by the name of Zeeqo. In his quest to retrieve his lost property, Scott was overcome with greed and became lost in the criminal underworld of EVE. For the sake of a few hundred million ISK, he lost the loyalty of two close corpmates and his ability to trust other players. Normal gameplay and cooperation were lost to Scott, who saw spies and thieves in every new corporate recruit.

Enamoured with the success of his first theft and obsessed with repeating his moment of untamed malevolence, Scott searched the skies for targets of opportunity. His days were filled with tracking autopiloting freighters, scanning down mission-runners, and planning phony investment schemes. With the release of the Apocrypha expansion, corporations began sending expeditions into mysterious and dangerous Sleeper systems. It was here in the depths of wormhole space that Scott spied a huge opportunity for theft.

Spotting targets

The Apocrypha expansion was relatively new, and most wormhole systems were devoid of life. Scott spent days clawing his way from system to system, scanning for wormholes and signs of settlement. He came across the occasional starbase, but most were either small skeleton operations with a single ship hangar or massive operations by well-established corps that were sure to have adequate security in place. After a few days of intensive searching, Scott struck potential gold. In a class four Sleeper system, he spotted four starbases of varying types and sizes, all belonging to small corps from the same alliance.

A medium Minmatar starbase belonging to the Xavier Eclipse corporation was clean and bare, with a single ship maintenance array and one item hangar -- an unappealing target. Two large Caldari towers owned by Yeomen First Guard corp proved to be much more enticing, with several ship hangars anchored next to each tower and Giant Secure Containers with players' names on them haphazardly strewn about inside the force-fields. There was no way to know what was inside the ship hangars, but with so many of them, Scott assumed that at least one must have been packed to the brim.

A large Zephyr Brigade corp Gallente tower appeared to serve as a military base, with three massive capital ships floating inside the shield and a huge row of shield hardening arrays. Although the intent was probably to scare away potential attackers, the Moros, Revelation and Archon served only as the icing on what looked like a very lucrative cake. Immediately, a plan began to form.

Entry point

The wormhole route back to normal space from the class 4 Sleeper system was between two and three jumps long, shifting exits randomly every day. For those on the outside, finding the entry point in normal space would be practically impossible. Someone inside the system would need to scan out the current exit and direct those in normal space to the current wormhole's exit location.

Scott knew that corps running wormhole expeditions tended to use this as a security measure by telling only certain players the location of the current exit. With that in mind, he hinged his plan on one key misdirection -- they no idea that he already had a character inside the system. As far as they would be aware, he couldn't possibly have access to the system.

Scott watched the system intently over the course of the next week as he prepared one of his spy characters for insertion. From the vantage point of his cloaked Buzzard, he watched pilots coming and going from the system and kept note of the times when the corp's directors were around. If he was to pull off any kind of successful heist, Scott would need several hours with no directors online to stop him. When the spy was ready, Scott started a conversation with Yeomen First Guard's recruitment officer. He asked all the typical newbie questions about what the corp does and fed them his usual backstory. He was Richard from Milton Keynes, a relatively new player interested in industry, looking for an experienced corp to show him the ropes.

Gathering intel

Midway through the conversation, the topic of wormholes came up. "We run wormhole operations," the recruitment officer told Scott excitedly, "but we can't let you in for the first few months. It's a security thing." Knowing that he already had a way into the system any time he wanted, Scott kept up his misdirection. "That's OK," he replied, "wormholes are really scary. I'd probably need a battleship to do them I guess?"

After a little friendly chatting with the recruitment officer, Scott was accepted into the corp on probationary terms. He spent the rest of the day chatting idly with his new hosts, occasionally injecting a question about corp activities and peak play times into the conversation in the hopes of procuring information vital to the heist.

When everyone had left for the night and he was finally alone, Scott logged into his main character stationed inside the wormhole system and scanned down the exit wormhole to get his spy character in. Once his spy was inside the system, he warped to each of the starbases and began sorting through the hangars. As expected, the Xavier and Zephyr starbases were set up with correct permissions, denying hangar access to alliance members. The messy Yeomen First Guard Caldari towers, however, were wide open and ripe for pilfering. As he sorted through the mass of containers and ship hangars, Scott slowly began to realise that he was in way over his head.

Striking gold

The hangars were packed with dozens of battleships and battlecruisers from all races, several expensive heavy assault and command ships, and countless lesser treats. Billions of ISK worth of ships were sitting right in front of Scott, but his month-old spy character could fly only a few of them. Zephyr Brigade's capital ships posed an additional challenge, as they had to be somehow ejected from the starbase and characters able to fly them would be required. Scott quickly took screenshots of everything available to steal and made his way back to normal space to plan his next move. If he was to make the most of this opportunity, he was going to need help.

In next week's second part of this two-part story, Scott enlists the help of a few old friends and finds out whether there really is no honour amongst thieves.

UPDATE: Part 2 is now live:

Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to brendan@massively.com. Special thanks go to Scott the anonymous thief for letting me tell another of his stories.
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