It seems like a simple question, but one that provokes a surprising variety of responses.
It has long been a contentious subject and has been the focus of many forum threads and blog posts over the years. However, I’ve never really been entirely satisfied with the conclusions. Forum threads and blog comments have been known to get surprisingly vociferous, with some posters claiming that they control their vessel alone, whilst others state that it is impossible or that the lore doesn’t allow for it.
In the Beginning
I felt it prudent to do some research to see what evidence there is available that might help to clarify the matter. It made sense to go back to the beginning, so I began by reading through the original documentation that came packaged with the 2003 CD-ROM release. The backstory material originally published wasn’t very helpful, there was some broad history about the discovery of New Eden and the rise of the five races but very little about the ships and technology beyond a brief description of each playable ship (and there weren’t many of those back then). There was no real reference to the presence or absence of a crew.
In fact, the information included on capsules and clones leads me to believe that the canon that we are now familiar with may not have been fully realised at the time of release. The entry entitled ‘Capsules’ reads as as follows;
“If your character chooses to eject from a ship, or the ship was blown up, he or she will reappear adrift in space in an escape capsule. You will need to make your way to the nearest space station to pick up another ship. Your capsule has the same steering and warping functions as your ship. You may use these to get out of the line of fire. The capsule lacks weapon capabilities, and can be fired on and destroyed. If this happens, your character dies and becomes a frozen corpse in space before your clone is activated.”
I remember having numerous capsules littering hangars as they would be left behind to board new vessels. I suspect that this is an example of how the lore has evolved and expanded to provide explanations as questions were asked, with some information being ignored or revised as was convenient. In any case, the removal of redundant capsules certainly made hangars a little tidier.
So this seems to suggest that the original backstory featured more a more conventional means of ship control, with the capsule serving only as an escape mechanism. The rediscovery of old ship schematics including data on crew numbers further supports this. It is unclear at time of writing whether these schematics originate from CCP and are therefore canon or whether they are the work of a creative third party.
It is also interesting to note that in the 3rd-party skill monitor EveMon, buried amongst the ship information is a ‘Max. Passengers’ statistic. I am assuming that information used by EveMon is taken from source provided by CCP. The following table shows the crew compliments according to the old schematics along with EveMon’s maximum passenger stat. I have only included those ships for which I have found schematics, although EveMon seems to have passenger statistics for more recent ships, including strategic cruisers.
Badger (Caldari Industrial) Crew:150 Passengers:100
Condor (Caldari Frigate) Crew:1 Passengers:8
Iteron* (Gallente Industrial) Crew:90 Passengers:120
Maller (Amarr Cruiser) Crew:800 Passengers:500
Megathron (Gallente Battleship) Crew:6900 Passengers:1000
Moa (Caldari Cruiser) Crew:650 Passengers:500
Probe (Minmatar Frigate) Crew:3 Passengers:10
Punisher (Amarr Frigate) Crew:3 Passengers:12
Raven (Caldari Battleship) Crew:7400 Passengers:1000
Rifter (Minmatar Frigate) Crew:1 Passengers:2
Rupture (Minmatar Cruiser) Crew:620 Passengers:690
Tempest (Minmatar Battleship) Crew:6500 Passengers:1000
Thorax (Gallente Cruiser) Crew:660 Passengers: 760
Vexor (Gallente Cruiser) Crew:580 Passengers:670
(*The Iteron displayed in the schematic does not appear to be an exact match for any of the 5 known variants, but it’s length is listed as 300 metres, making it closest in size to the mark IV.)
Expanding and Changing Lore
As EVE grew from strength to strength, so did the depth of its supporting literature. The EVE fiction portal now contains a wealth of backstory and although it is difficult to determine quite when and how things evolved to the current understanding, they have indeed changed. In the summer of 2009 CCP Gnauton undertook a project to revise and correct the existing fiction, stating “”The aim is to solidify the backstory, patching up the cracks in the plaster so we have a stronger foundation to build future fiction on.” So it is important to bear in mind what was early canon may no longer be.
However, a 2007 quote from CCP Ginger on this thread discussing ships crews seems fairly definitive, as he states “Ships have crews, most pod controlled frigates do not, above that they have crews of varying sizes.”
Furthermore, approved pages from Evelopedia’s ship database shed some more current light on crew numbers, stating that battleships are “…crewed by many as 10,000-15,000 lives, the combat efficiency increases greatly with the use of the pod reducing minimal crew needed to the hundreds.” A similar entry for cruisers says “…400-500 personnel to a small handful of 50.” and frigates “…are the smallest combat capable craft that is able to accept pod technology easily reducing crew needs of 5-20 personnel to virtually nothing.”
So there you have it, some fairly ball-park figures, but definitely solid proof that your ship has a crew. But that was never really in any doubt, was it. What I also wanted to find out was whether a capsuleer is required to have a crew. Is the technology available within the canon to allow for entirely capsuleer controlled vessels of cruiser size or larger? This was going to involve a certain amount of research into the official fiction.
According to the current timeline, the year is YC112. The Amarr built the first modern stargate 2,058 years prior to YC112 (21,290 A.D. in old money) and the four major races have been flying around in spaceships thumping chunks out of each other ever since.
As an aside, given that the crew statistics gleaned from the schematics may well pre-date the modern capsuleer demi-god concept, I thought those figures might still be accurate for older, non-pod upgraded vessels (read: NPCs). Out of curiosity, I looked through the ship descriptions for any references that might age the hull designs. The descriptions of both the Augoror cruiser and the Rifter frigate make mention of service in the Minmatar Rebellion, which took place in 132 years ago. The Minmatar Wreathe and Scythe both state they are “one of the oldest” and “the oldest” Minmatar ships respectively, making them presumably at least as old as the Rifter. But the Grandfather of the EVE fleet is the Gallente Dominix, which dates “…back to the Gallente-Caldari War” 193 years ago.
The introduction of the current cloned capsuleer demi-god concept is well described in the Chronicle: Jovian Wetgrave, which details the Caldari acquisition of capsule technology from the Jovians 124 years ago. So this was the earliest possible time that a (non-Jove) ship could have been controlled from a pod. However, the age of the Capsuleer did not come about until YC105 (seven real and game years ago – neatly coinciding with EVE’s release and meaning every subsequent event has happened in real-time) when cloning technology was combined with capsules to create the modern immortal starship captain.
The idea that the modern capsuleer still uses a human crew is further supported by the chronicles Hands of a Killer and All These Lives Are Fit to Ruin. The first detailing the recruitment of a crew member and the second outlining a possible career exit for the disgruntled mortal. Incidentally, both stories allude to crew numbers of approximately 6000, in line with our earlier schematics’ figures rather than the more generous amount mentioned in Evelopedia.
So far, still not much evidence to support the idea that a capsuleer could single-handedly manage to control every aspect of a vessel any larger than a frigate. However, anyone who has had any dealings with rogue drones or sleepers will tell you that they are fully-autonomous mechanical space-vessels that can be battleship-sized. So if battleship-sized rogue drones can exist and smaller drones can commandeer vessels to effect an escape as detailed in this chronicle, then the technology is surely available to automate a starship. Humanity did build these same drones, after all.
Furthermore, the solo-piloting of a starships has actually been done according to the official lore and is, in fact, the entire reason why drones exist:
101 years ago, a scientist named Ceul Darieux became stranded alone in a wrecked construction ship, adrift in a system without a stargate following an asteroid strike which killed the rest of the crew. Decades later he managed to jump back to civilised space having invented drones to aid his ship’s return. Darieux, now an old man, subsequently founded CreoDron, New Eden’s premier drone construction corporation. The system that he had been stranded in for decades used to be called Ouperia, but was renamed in memory of his feats. It is also the name of the chronicle detailing his story; Old Man Star.
So in conclusion, if an ordinary man nearly a century previously could have devised the means to pilot a ship alone without the aid of capsuleer technology and subsequent advancements have been made with the introduction of Jovian technology, Crielere Project-initiated Tech II and Sleeper-derived Tech III, I really don’t think it’s much of a stretch to imagine that a Capsuleer could, if he so chose, pilot a battleship alone. The know-how is certainly out there.
But it might be wiser to have a crew, unless it’s the fellas at the top of this page.
[Thanks to Pian Shu/Parity Bit of EVE’s Parity Bit for the research and the inspiration for this post.]