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Interviews: Incursion Interview

By Garrett Fuller on January 27, 2011

Incursion Interview

Tell us some of the history behind Incursion. How did this idea get started?

CCP Dropbear:

In one sense the Incursion feature was inspired by the Live Events. The return of events was overwhelmingly welcomed by the EVE community. Interest and in-game participation were both encouraging as well. So in that sense, Incursions continue on where the live events left off, and serve as a really good way to continue the story of the Sansha invasion in a new paradigm.

On the other hand, we’ve wanted to improve substantively on the PvE in this area (co-operative group play) for years and years. With a storyline that suited it already rearing to go and some nice continuity to be built by following events up with a comprehensive in-game mechanic, it was a good time to dive into the project.


CCP Soundwave:

Incursion began with a push to create more tools for the mission designers that snowballed out of control. Every now and then at CCP, someone at CCP will suggest something small like painting a wall and then suddenly we’ve opened an office in another country. It’s not quite that bad, but when you get a load of creative minds together, ideas get developed with great enthusiasm. Team BFF were sitting in a room after we’d finished Tyrannis, talking about what we wanted to do next. Since we had some of the original members of the team that built Sleepers, it was suggested that we build more tools for our dungeon designers and expand on the AI. Coincidentally, CCP TomB was sitting in on the meeting and started talking about his old days in Ultima Online and started talking about a specific area of the map, called Orc Fort. Having a few other old UO addicts in the room, we picked the thread up and started talking about dynamic PVE content. I think we left the room with a highlevel concept for something called “invasion”, and after speaking to both CCP Hammer and T0rfi, we go the go-ahead to develop the product. Incursions are very much a product of teams collective creativity and passion, and I hope it’s received well.

For Incursion, what was the biggest challenge for the design team?

CCP Soundwave:

Rewards. Definitely rewards. Designing open world PVE across different security bands and rulesets is incredibly difficult. Imagine one of those boxes you had as a kid; It has x number of holes in different shapes, and x number of shapes that fit those holes. Designing the reward system for Incursions was pretty much like having to fit a square through all the different holes. On the positive side, it gave us a unique opportunity to experiment with a reward system that no one else has tried before. A close second was designing PVE content on a massive scale compared to anything we’ve done before. A lot of firsts for the design team in this expansion!

Tell us your favorite part about working with the character creation tool.

CCP Headfirst:

As I was explaining to the rest of Atlanta Content while re-creating the live event actors in the new character creator, “Every guy I create with this thing looks like a total bad-ass and every girl I create looks like a super model.”

CCP Manifest:

I’m actually amazed with the opposite. You can create characters with real emotion, particular during the character portrait phase where you can slightly adjust a frown or a smile or an eyebrow raise. Not everyone chooses to go the Hollywood road like Headfirst needed to with the live event actors, and the system allows for a matronly type, or the more wizened or vulnerable look as well. My favorite part is actually seeing what players come up with…. some are so amazingly lifelike with poses and lighting perfected. Others are hilarious.

What has the player response been to this new expansion?

CCP Manifest:

I can safely say that it’s going over quite well. We had a couple issues here and there, but the decision to roll it out “as ready” has proven to be quite sage. We saw great praise with the first portion, where lots of Council of Stellar Management led changes were introduced, including some cool UI stuff. The removal of learning skills was the next big and very popular thing we pushed out. The character creator speaks for itself, quite honestly. The Sansha incursions themselves, I guess we’ll see, but the test feedback has been tremendous.

How has Incursion impacted the game as a whole? Have you seen changes in the way people react or play?

CCP Manifest:

I wouldn’t say we’ve seen a change to how players have played quite yet (we will with the incursion feature), but definitely in how they’ve reacted. The process of redoing their character into something more, frankly beautiful and lifelike, I think, has actually rejuvenated a lot of players. Something about going in and molding a realistic looking face that’s peering back at you makes for a truly meaningful reconnection with your character and with the game itself.

EVE has done very well in the last decade, how do you see EVE shaping games in the next decade?

CCP Manifest:

It’s going to be really hard for other companies to mimic EVE, to be honest, from the gameplay design to the tech behind it. Most important is the years and years of community built around it. That’s a unique thing made more unique by the single shard—that’s really tough to duplicate.

For MMOs, I think what you will see is that it is absolutely imperative to deliver three things in the next decade.

One: content and a compelling end game. Woe be unto those that don’t or cannot ship with this in mind. In EVE, we’ve traditionally made it so players create the content for other players. This isn’t easy, but it has essentially extended our “endgame” ad infinitum and allowed for dynamic content that’s participatory and world-shaping. Other successful MMOs have done wonders for the pacing of their experiences and some REALLY open up once you reach the highest levels. They stand as true epics in modern storytelling.

Two: a feedback loop with the players themselves. We do it via Fanfest, the CSM, forums and a crazily open development process that have been huge priorities for us as a company since the very beginning and allowed us to adapt readily to the market. You see other very successful MMO companies doing the same thing and putting a focus on it from a company-wide perspective. Absolutely imperative whether you are subscription, free to play, a hybrid, as really the strength of your game is going to be in the design and in the community that enjoys that design and makes it their own.

Three: reinvestment and a commitment in your product. This doesn’t include just content, but also technology, graphics overhaul and people. If you start a game in thoughts of it being able to run on a smaller “maintenance” crew, I think you’re missing the point of the MMO genre and the responsibility to grow a community over time and the empowering nature of doing so as a developer.

For the non MMO industry, I hope that EVE inspires the industry to try new things that may not be “proven”, to pay attention to the value of human AI and turn away from a single player experience, to make sure lines of communication with the playerbase are wide open, to be more sci fi, and to remember how to HTFU and have fun.

Do you see the tools from Incursion being used in other CCP projects?

CCP Headfirst:

The incursion toolset has a staggeringly wide array of potential uses. Indeed, many applications of this powerful system could produce content that looks and feels nothing like the Sansha incursions. In the future you might be experiencing content created with these tools and not even know it.

CCP Dropbear:

It all depends on the project of course. The Incursion content tools could theoretically see some use in other features down the line, but as development progressed in this release, we scoped the tool down to just fit our immediate needs. It’s still capable, in its current state, of delivering some pretty awesome and fresh new content – it’s easy to imagine further development of this tool yielding even more awesome. At this stage though, we’ll want to see how the Incursion feature is met by the players first. We’ll likely learn a lot from the players about what works in this new system and what could yet be improved upon. Ideally, we’d get a chance to return to this feature itself and polish it further before transplanting this system (or parts of it) elsewhere.

CCP Soundwave:

I certainly hope so. We’ve built the foundation for a tool which has a massive potential. The way this story tool works means that it can be developed to support everything from single events to massive unfolding events on a scale that EVE has never seen before. We’ll see what’s next for the teams of CCP, but I’d be incredibly surprised if a team won’t pick this tool up in the future. It’s a lot more modular than the tools we had before, allowing us to string cool events together, a lot of kudos to software for building this.

What is something about Incursion that you have not talked about enough? Is there some aspect to the tool you are very proud of?

CCP Dropbear:

Personally I’m proud of the continuity we’ve had between events and the Incursion feature itself. EVE used to have major plotline developments happen outside of player reach (during downtime). It was a watershed moment years ago (during the Empyrean Age release) when we ran news stories to fill that downtime. Today, however, there is no such gap to fill. Large-scale events that used to happen behind the curtain can now unfold with live events. It’s a big step forward.

CCP Soundwave:

Honestly, I’m proud of all of it. I think this has the potential to be the best PVE feature we’ve ever shipped, and I honestly can’t think of another feature where the manpower available shipped as much as we did. It’s cool, it has a broad range of features and we got to apply more polish than we had initially hoped for. This is my favorite feature so far, and if I could cry (my tearducts have been replaced by biceps and assault rifles to underline my manliness) I’d probably shed a quiet tear on the opening day. Team BFF did an incredible job designing and programming the feature, Team Commie Pinkos did a wonderful job on the incursion sites and Team Tri Lambda provided the fantastic art assets that went into it. All three teams should be proud of the love that went into Incursions. It’s beautiful, it’s fun and if I could wrap the feature into a person I’d take it out to dinner, sleep with it AND call the next day.

CCP Headfirst:

Sansha Kuvakei has been portrayed as such a villain that most players might be surprised to hear that he has actually accumulated a dedicated following of capsuleers. Say what you will about the rag-tag band of players who call themselves the “Friends of Nation,” but after the Battle of Yulai escalated into the Promised Land star system, the pro-Sansha forces were eventually victorious. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, CONCORD.

Can you tell us any plans for EVE in 2011?

CCP Manifest:

EVE will continue to grow (we just broke our PCU record with 63, 170 pilots being in one non-instanced world space this past weekend), avatars will begin to stretch their legs and space will, undoubtedly, become a lot more dangerous to be in. And of course we will continue to upgrade our tech and work on quality of life things like the user interface. Those wanting a real peak behind the curtain should come to Fanfest 2011. We’ll also continue putting out volumes of info via our devblogs, social media, EVE Gate and even in person at major gaming conventions. Come say hello.