I attended Fanfest in Reykjavik, Iceland on April 25-27, along with over 1,500 other hard-core EVE Online players. If you are an EVE devotee, and you've never attended Fanfest, you're missing out on one of the most fun experiences of your life. Every serious EVE player should make at least one pilgrimage to the land of fire and ice to commune with fellow space captains and the CCP caretakers of the New Eden universe.
At my stopover in New York, I met up with Croixant, also known as the "Most Interesting Pilot in EVE" because he sounds just like the guy in the Dos Equis commercials. One of the most gratifying parts of journeying to Fanfest is the opportunity to finally associate real people with the disembodied voices you hear on Mumble. And without exception, I have found meeting UNIs in "Real Life" to be both interesting and pleasant - they always turn out to be very nice human beings. As a rule, they also seem to be highly intelligent - in some cases, intimidatingly so, but more on that another time.
After the 6-hour Icelandair flight, we arrived early in the morning to discover three inches of snow on the ground, with more coming down. That made the bus ride into Reykjavik particularly slow going, but there was wi-fi available, so we tweeted about our travails on the two-hour trip into town. Icelandic weather is fickle, however, and by the afternoon, the snow had stopped and melted, leaving no trace. "If you don't like the weather here," one Icelander told me, "just wait five minutes."
I'd booked a room at the Arnahrvoll, which is the nearest hotel to the Harpa convention center, the Fanfest venue. It's typically spartan Scandinavian decor, but it is clean and efficiently run, and you can't beat the convenient location. And the free breakfast buffet on the top floor is wonderful, both for the food quality and for the beautiful view of the Icelandic panorama.
We checked in at our hotel early, then wandered across the street to the Harpa, which looks Caldari and therefore provides the perfect atmosphere for Fanfest. There, we boarded buses to go on the Golden Circle tour - highly recommended, not only for seeing some of the island's unique landscape and geology, but also to get some insight on Icelandic culture from the tour guide.
Icelandic culture is different - and I like it. The women are generally beautiful, all redheads and blondes, and definitely Nordic, and the men all think they are Vikings - which makes sense, since they are all their descendants. I didn't meet an Icelander there who wasn't happy and delighted to have all these crazy space game nerds invading their country. Their English is excellent, as a rule, and I felt very welcome during my entire stay. The only odd custom I found is that the natives rarely look you in the eye when they speak to you, but that is just their way, and you get used to it after a while.
When we returned, we grabbed some dinner at one of the local pubs - which then became our default UNI dining hall for the week. The lamb meat soup, an Iceland staple, is excellent if you like hearty fare. Avoid the "rotted shark", however - it is as horrid as it sounds.
That night, we went back to the Harpa to listen to a symphony performance of EVE Online music. Awe inspiring, it definitely was. Even though I've heard the EVE soundtrack a gazillion times, it sounds amazing when played by a full orchestra.
We ventured over to the lobby bar at the Thingholt hotel, just a couple blocks away from the Arnahrvoll, to rendezvous with some other UNIs. There we met up with some guys from Razor Alliance and RvB. This is one of the best parts of Fanfest - people who you shoot to kill in game become fast friends in person, and many beers were consumed to celebrate our newly forged bonds.
And speaking of drinking and celebrating, it's generally a party during the entirety of Fanfest. Pacing yourself is crucial - something a well-practiced middle-aged man like me could do, but this was more challenging for some of our younger members. For example, the EVE pub crawl event, which I did not attend, drew over 1,000 people - you could recognize them from their pained expressions the next morning. I let my own hair down a bit during the "Party at the Top of the World" on Saturday night - making Sunday morning a bit slow - but it was incredibly fun partying hard with my fellow EVEophiles.
The Fanfest conference agenda provided a host of concurrent roundtable discussions and larger keynote addresses. I won't recap them all here, as that has been done more completely elsewhere. Suffice it to say that they were all interesting, though there was too much emphasis on DUST514 for my tastes, as I do not play that game. Our UNI comrade Dennie Fleetfoot, however, who is now CEO of our affiliated DUST University, loved all the DUST-related content - and he demonstrated his devotion by donning a custom DUST-inspired uniform, which I must admit looked fantastic.
There was a demo of an EVE-inspired fighter simulation that you could try, which was very cool - because it was built for virtual reality goggles. When you move your head, the picture of the fighter cockpit and enemies flying around you moves with it - providing an intensely immersive experience. I hope CCP decides to fully develop this game - it was unlike anything I've played before, and I'd like to play it again.
The only downside of the roundtables is that some of the rooms are simply too small to accommodate everyone who wants to attend. And some of the sessions drawing broad interest were packed - why CCP doesn't put the more popular sessions in the larger rooms perplexes me. Bad planning, clearly.
One other peeve - some of the CCP devs need to learn how to pretend that they are really listening. If the intent is to get player feedback and ideas, you'd think they would at least sit up and take some notes. But a few of them just fiddle with their name tag during the discussions, and act hung over - which perhaps they were.
We UNIs staked out a corner of the Harpa as our "base of operations", and put up a small table banner with a TCU showing the UNI logo - a place for the four dozen UNI attendees to rally. I think it would be nice if CCP allowed alliance groups to reserve small areas of the Harpa for these kinds of meet-up spaces - I think I'll suggest that for consideration next year.
Overall, however, I was very pleased with the content - Odyssey looks like a good expansion, and I really like the more visual and automatic anomaly scanner. It will be interesting to see whether this makes high sec ganking more or less common - I heard arguments either way, but until we see how the mechanic actually works in practice, there's no sure way to tell.
I had a chance to meet some "EVE famous" people - Shadoo, Chribba, Azual Skoll, Reiisha, Ripard Teg and a few other friends of the UNI. Most of them agreed to be a guest lecturer or guest fleet commander, so I'll be busy organizing those events for the next couple of months. In addition, I think just about every CCP dev dropped by our reserved corner - all with extremely complimentary things to say about the UNI. It was both flattering and humbling.
So, will I be going back to Fanfest next year, May 1-3, 2014? Oh, yeah, I'll be there - definitely. It was such a great time and in such an interesting place that I am eager to go back again. I've already marked my calendar.