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EVE FanFest 2016 - A Journey Through Citadels

Gareth Harmer Posted:
Interviews 0

Launching today, the Citadels expansion is a significant step for EVE Online. It’s the result of a journey that started with Rubicon, gradually handing more of the nuts and bolts of New Eden into the hands of players. What started as Ghost Sites and simple structures has grown into an artificial intelligence and full-blown Citadels. But this expansion is just a milestone on that journey, with much more to come in the years ahead.

In an interview at EVE FanFest last week, we managed to catch up with Senior Producer Andie Nordgren for a progress update on that journey. During that discussion, Nordgren shared why the team had moved back to yearly expansions, while still dropping in regular updates every month or so. And beyond Stargates, Nordgren revealed how she hopes the studio’s new artificial intelligence will provide new enemies – and potential allies – for players to encounter.

We also touched on aspects of the community, covering everything from the recent Council of Stellar Management elections to the current state of EVE as an eSport. Nordgren also touched on why the New Player Experience is one of her biggest concerns, and how the studio’s new approach is beginning to form.

MMORPG.com: Last time we caught up was two years ago, where you unveiled this big plan, with citadels and structures being the first step. How are you progressing against that plan?

Andie Nordgren: The Citadel expansion is very much the first big, big change that’s fully in line with that plan. We made a lot of smaller changes before that, but this really is a proper big step forward on that plan, and so I’m super excited to be shipping that next week. We’ve learned a lot from how we released in 2015, where it’s been fantastic to roll out quality of life changes, and to release all the time.

For smaller changes like that, it’s very suitable, but when it comes to bigger changes, it was our conclusion that we really need to do them together. It’s not just that there’s excitement and build-up, it’s not a marketing thing, it’s more that for the game balance, it’s better for us to take the big changes and actually put them all together so that everyone is dealing with the whole picture at the same time. Because then it’s an interesting challenge to figure out how everyone else is going to deal with the change.

If we take these bigger changes and break them up, and piecemeal them out, it creates confusing situations where our big picture plan makes sense, so if you look back on a whole year the changes make sense together, but you have long periods of time where we have only a half-baked change. That’s what we really wanted to change after 2015, and Citadel is the first really big result of that change in mindset. Trying to find the best of both worlds.

MMORPG.com: Do you have any idea what’s going to happen once the expansion goes in?

Nordgren: I think people are going to build a lot of citadels! This is us trying to make it more accessible in a sense for both individuals and smaller groups, but all the way up to the biggest groups to operate these structures. Some of the unsexy features are some of the most important, such as the access control system, where you can actually have structures that are not only for your own people, but you can also have them open to the public and charge a fee for using the services in them, so you can use your citadel to make money.

But you can also use it as a mission hub for your own corporation or alliance because, if you run a market, then you put up buy orders for things that you want to members to go and do, and that the corporation will then buy, and it works like your own little mission system almost, but for what you specifically need. This is a way for players to create their own content. We don’t know to what extent these things will happen, but they’re all enabled by these systems. So I am just really curious to see how many of these properties players really embrace.

MMORPG.com: And these can be built everywhere – it’s not just a nullsec thing?

Nordgren: No, all over space. There are some restrictions in the main trade hubs and around gates, so you can’t clog up the universe, and they also have to be a certain distance from each other. But yes, these can be all over the place, and I expect some people will build several of them closer to each other, so they can help each other with fuelling them and so on.

MMORPG.com: And of course, if they’re in high security, you can then wardec people to blow them up. So you’re still going to have the circle of life – people aren’t building things that can never be destroyed.

Nordgren: No, and they’re quite attractive in terms of there’s a lot of salvage in the wrecks, so if only for that, people should have some incentive to go and clean up inactive ones.

MMORPG.com: It sometimes seems like you’re at the helm of a giant oil tanker. Why did it take so long to get here? [laughs]

Nordgren: I think that we sometimes, but also the players, underestimate how much of a complex, adaptive system EVE Online is. Almost no game system is in isolation from everything else, because that’s how the sandbox is built, and that’s the point of the whole thing. Which means that someone can have an isolated view and say ‘Oh, but if you change this and this, it would totally make sense for my sliver of the game.’ But then there are twenty other perspectives where the same thing is used, and it means that every change we make has consequences and repercussions across the whole game. And then, if you imagine the technical layer – the code – is about the same, then you get to these things taking longer than expected.

But I think it’s also the fact that the big picture roadmap that we have, that’s the big picture vision. At any given time, I’d say we’re dedicating maybe half of our development capacity to forwarding the big plan, and about half to just responding to what we see is really needed in the here and now. We can’t be rigid. ‘No, we’re marching on to some big future, we’re going to ignore the stuff that’s in the game now.’ We always have to be able to respond to what’s going on right now, and that’s part of the reason why things feel like they’re taking a long time.

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Gareth Harmer

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.