If Crucible was an apology to legions of disgruntled space-adventurers, then CCP's latest addition to Eve Online, Inferno, is a love letter. Following a traumatic 2011, the Icelandic developer is like a husband shamed by infidelity - it had a brief flirtation with micro transactions, but now they are back, flowers in hand, head hung, and ready to call the couch a bed until the players are ready to allow them back into their affections.
Despite MMORPGs still being an infantile genre, fans have had their fair share of heartaches in relatively few years. From Star Wars Galaxies to RuneScape, developers have unrelentingly imposed their changes and refinements, seemingly nonplussed by the massive player reactions: it is a rare case then that CCP have u-turned on their own "NGE" moment.
During last year's Incarna expansion, vanity items and micro-transactions made an all mighty stir in New Eden - putting it mildly the player base were ready to go space-ape-sh*t and make their way to Iceland in their model Catalysts.
The resulting fallout caused Eve Online masses of in-game riots, an 8% subscription drop, and in some cases employee layoffs - in short it was a bad time. Over the last 12 months, the developer has been licking their wounds, Crucible has restored the pieces of the universe soured by player-unrest, and with Inferno they are ready to press on.
"Eve is one unique MMO in that it's subscription is constantly rising - we are obviously doing something right and we don't want to spoil that" states CMO David Reid. "2011 was a year of intense drama for CCP and that's not a mystery to anybody, and yet all of the problems, all of controversy and all of the trouble that happened it was a brief 8% dip in subscribers and we're back on growth. But sure we reflect, learn from mistakes, move on, and most importantly don't lose sight of the big picture."
With almost a year on the clock since the fateful Incarna patch, CCP aren't keen on incurring the player's wrath once more. Every detail of Inferno has been meticulously slaved over; is this pushing too different? Does it improve the experience? These are the types of questions the developers have been asking internally.
CEO Hilmar Péturssonannounced in his Eve keynote speech that "[With Incarna] we pushed too hard, too fast, and lost sight of the present." And this is a mistake that has been learned from, tattooed to the forearm, and worshiped as a god. The point of Inferno isn't to add in that "Jesus feature" neither is it to deliver a startling new adventure to New Eden - it's about taking that core game, adding to it, and essentially not "f**cking it up."
The resulting commitment to the lessons learned from Monocle-Gate is the latest expansion Inferno. It isn't particularly exciting, nor is it crammed full with new tastes and sights, but it delivers fully on CCP's remit: it updates the universe that everybody loves.
What to Expect from Inferno
Outlined by executive producer John Lander, Inferno will primarily focus on "improving that core spaceship game" and would you believe that that includes adding in more floating Goliaths?
Lead designer Kristoffer Tourborg continues the point "players like spaceships, we like making spaceships, so that's exactly what we'll do" before introducing a tongue-in-cheek photo detailing "players + spaceships = profit."
So with 80+ new ships to add to the already bustling roster, the Icelandic developer isn't doing anything by half measures. Other additions such as new missile launchers and effects promise to bring action-packed, space operatic explosions, with special mention of the Caldari being caught up with other races.
The other major additions in Inferno aren't single standalone features, but instead a roadmap of bug fixes, refinements, and optimisation. Given that Eve Online is now 9 years old, parts of the code are starting to creak under the hulking weight of it all - CCP have vowed to retread old ground, update some of the jarring data, and make the good ship New Eden as good as new once again.
What this means is that a lot of the more "iffy" bits of the MMO will be refined, causing less friction between the newer bits and old bits, as well as making everything more stable. The new launcher that is also part and parcel of this new design drive will allow the developers to add in single fixes, rather than hulking patches all at once.
Other changes come in the form of a new War Declaration system. Washing away the tired warring device, which will calculate costs, put a time cap on conflicts, as well as offer in-depth reports about your past and present skirmishes.
Looking beyond Inferno, and the latest DirectX technology promises to bring truly speculate visuals toEve Online. Using tessellation the Carbon engine will be able to render meshes geographically, meaning that instead of having a texture that creates depth, the models themselves will recede and bevel in rendered form.
Utilising more nVidia tech, there are also plans to add in better physics, with meteors bouncing off mining spacecrafts; as well as some truly spectacular ship damage "But only if that's alright right with you" says John Lander.
Inferno won't blow you away, it won't add in a new mystical realm, Kung-fu pandas, Riders of Rohan, or even a Second Age, but it will do one thing: make Eve OnlIne a more enjoyable experience. It's more of the same, but that's what makes it such a special MMORPG: don't mess with the formula - just make it work better; and that's just what CCP are doing.
Eve Online will expand once again starting with Escalation on the 22nd of April, and Inferno incoming the following month.