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Dev Journals: Sleepers and You

By Guest Writer on March 11, 2009

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Hi there! This is the third and final pre-Apocrypha blog from Team Epic, not to be confused with the epic mission arc teams (we blame Zulupark, he picked our team name). We're the guys and gals responsible for making that spiffy new controlling algorithm being used by the Sleeper NPC entities. There have been a lot of posts on these forums regarding our work, and that prompted us to create this blog aimed at clearing up some of the confusion that exists about the Sleeper NPCs.

Here is what the NPC controllers in EVE were already capable of:

  • Spawning an entity in an asteroid belt you warp to, or when triggered by a deadspace complex mechanic.
  • Picking a random target as a group or in response to a deadspace complex trigger.
  • Using whatever effects available to them on the chosen target.
  • Fleeing by 'warping' out of the encounter area (does not apply to missions).

And this is what we implemented in the upgraded version*:

  • Picking an optimal target based on dynamic criteria.
  • Picking a secondary target for effects, based on dynamic criteria (applies to both friendly and hostile targets).
  • Using remote assistance on each other.
  • Using evasive maneuvering when approaching their chosen target from a large distance.

Here is what we have not changed:

  • NPC to Player E-war effect mechanics.
  • Player to NPC E-war effect mechanics.

The two entries above include: Propulsion, warp and sensor jamming as well as target painting, tracking disrupting, sensor dampening and neut/nos.

*When we say 'upgraded version' we mean the elevated controller functions created by Team Epic. This new and improved version of NPC controller is only being used on the Sleeper NPC entities you will find in wormhole encounters.

Sleepers and you

This AI does not cheat in any way, it only takes data that would be available to players and uses it to determine group level behavior. It also does not store data of previous encounters and tactics to improve its response in future encounters. It is an attempt at creating "a system that perceives its environment and takes actions which maximize its chances of success" (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_intelligence) and as such it is not too shabby, but far from perfect.

We set out with the goal of bringing PvE closer to the PvP experience. Our system approaches that goal by having the NPC group behave more coherently. They pick targets that suit them individually, instead of blindly hammering away at one tanked target while they are themselves mowed down by paper thin DPS-mobiles. This is what we found to be the most important change we could make to reach our goal. There were other things up there, such as changing all the E-war effects so that they mimicked PvP, but we felt that making such a change would be worthless if we didn't first improve the target picking heuristic, and we stick by that choice.

For years, we have been asked to come up with more difficult, challenging PvE situations where NPCs would behave more like real players rather than floating bounties waiting to be collected. Some wondered what the point of facing dozens of NPC ships solo and destroying them over and over again really was. We are now bringing you proper PvE battles where you will struggle for survival. Managing to get through this will not only bring proper rewards, but also a feeling of achievement in Player Versus Environment situations, which has been lacking for too long. And all of this is coming with Apocrypha.

Quite a bit of the feedback on this new type of NPC has focused on solo players and what it means for them. When we were coming up with our initial designs for behavior patterns we really couldn't come up with anything that would have been interesting to play against solo. It's hard to show intelligent tactical behavior in an encounter with only one opponent. Sure we could have made the Sleepers perform meticulously choreographed dance routines in 3D but we surmised that kind of feature would not have been very popular with our customers.

So that leaves us one thing to balance solo encounters, the difficulty of the NPC entities themselves. Their damage output and tanking abilities, the type of E-war they use and so on. Under the mandate of 'closer to PvP' we modeled most of the stats for the Sleepers on the equivalent player setup, so an easy battleship will be a tough encounter for a single low skill player in a battleship, while a hard battleship Sleeper is somewhere in the league of a well fit BS flown by an experienced pilot. A player in a battlecruiser should be able to take on a small group of cruisers and frigates, by using tactics and sound judgment the encounter may end favorably for them. Not every setup will be able to take on every encounter, but that is a part of the game. You must pick your fights according to your abilities as a pilot.

But what about the ultra cool warping and the low sec rats?

Changes made to the normal everyday NPC you see in asteroid belts are limited to these two things:

1. We balanced low sec bounty output by adding some BS spawns in 0.1-0.4 security level systems
2. We made all asteroid NPC entities 'warp' to and from encounters instead of merely popping in and out of existence as they used to

Although it looks awesome and increases immersion by a factor of over nine thousand, the warping didn't change anything in the NPC behavior or spawning mechanics. It is a purely visual change designed to make the encounter feel more real and look good, which it definitely does. It also serves as a painful reminder of the fact that warp scramblers have no effect on NPC targets, but we'll get to that one day Soontm

And now for some Q&A

Q: Is there any solo content in wormhole space?

A: Yes, there is solo content, but you still need a good ship and fittings. Encounters in wormhole space remain significantly different from current PvE. We advise you to exercise extreme caution before venturing into wormholes.

Q: Why are some player E-War capabilities useless against Sleepers?

A: As explained above, one of the features suggested in this round of PvE revamp was to change E-war so that it mimicked the PvP effects, this was however deemed less valuable than other features and therefore didn't make it into this release.

Q: Will capitals be usable in Sleeper encounters?

A: Only the largest wormholes allow enough mass for capitals to enter. We would however like to take this opportunity to caution capital pilots that enter wormhole space - Bring some support, or else.

Q: Will a few hard Sleeper battleships destroy a carrier?

A: Definitely, because bringing a solo carrier against a few player battleships would have the same exact result. The hardest Sleeper sites are meant to be extremely challenging, and require a very well coordinated and versatile fleet to achieve a positive end to the encounter.

Q: Why are the Sleepers targeting my drones in combat?

A: What would another player do in a PvP encounter upon noticing that most of your damage output is coming through drones? As a drone user, try to distance yourself from the 'I'm soloing a lvl4 mission' mindset. You need to get creative, we have done extensive playtesting on this and found this to be reasonably balanced.

We do hope this Blog covers most of the concerns you had regarding the new NPC features being introduced in Apocrypha.

- Team Epic

 

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