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Foundations of a Galactic Future

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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CCP Games is changing. During a keynote at this year’s EVE FanFest, CEO Hilmar Veigar described how the firm will be focusing purely on games in the EVE Universe. Currently, that vision includes strategic combat and industry in EVE Online, dogfighting in EVE: Valkyrie and having boots on the ground in Dust 514 (and possibly Project Legion). 

Each of these windows will provide a different view on the universe of New Eden, but there’s much more work to be done before the games can exist alongside each other. Foundations need to be built, so that players can build and destroy much more of the sandbox than before, and so that other games can play with the same sand as well. To help me understand just what’s involved, I sat down with Senior Producer Andie Nordgren about some of the upcoming changes to EVE Online, and talked with Architect Kjartan Emilsson about establishing the EVE Universe.

The Path of Gods

For over a year, EVE Online’s development has been on the same plan. When it was announced, Rubicon (last year’s winter expansion) offered the tantalizing vision of player-built stargates opening up uncharted space. It laid some of the groundwork, ushering in mobile deployable structures and handing control of some high-security facilities to the players. That’s being built on with Kronos, which arrives in June 2014, where substantial changes will be made to how industry operates.  And yet, in a joking way, Nordgren tells me that she’s worried.

photo credit: Arnaldur Halldorsson and CCP Games

“There’s this kind of interesting balance between ‘will people be bored because it’s the same story as last year, or will they be excited because it’s the same story as last year?’ As a company, we’ve presented a lot of plans, and I think this the first time in the history of EVE Online where the plan is the same between two FanFests.

“We’re still on the journey towards the player-built stargate as a beacon of something that represents where we’re trying to go, both in terms of player control of the universe that we already know, and as the idea of us adding something to EVE where we can break some of the rules. That’s a new frontier, where everyone has to figure things out again. Where, in some ways, we can reset not the whole thing – we like EVE, we don’t want to throw it out, we don’t want to make EVE II – but we’re looking for a way to bring some of the paradigms with us, and some of them not.”

While Rubicon might have been the thematic start to this journey, it’s Kronos that will mark a change of pace for the studio. Instead of providing two major expansions, updates will arrive ten times a year. “Ten years ago, having two expansion release cadence - that was frikkin’ fast. We always wanted to operate like that, to respond to what was happening in the game. Now it’s ten years later and two expansions per year just isn’t very fast any more.”

It means that, instead of sitting on small or medium-sized updates until the next expansion rolls around, Nordgren can get the changes out to players much sooner. It’s something that’s already been happening for some time, with point-releases containing beefier content than balance tweaks and bug fixes. “We’re working like this already, but now we’re just formalizing it and ripping the Band-Aid off. This is it now.”

Foundations to Features

When Rubicon first introduced those new mobile deployable units, systems across New Eden were awash with them as capsuleers raced to play with the new todys. Now that things have settled down, Nordgren is much happier with how they’re being used. Even so, these basic structures were just a precursor of grander things to come. “For me, it’s a way for us to introduce a new kind of agency in the game. Your ship is the starting point of almost everything you can do in the game, and this is now a new type of thing that you can use to act and achieve things.

“I’m thinking a lot of how to talk about this, because building foundations can sound so boring, it sounds like you’re making something that’s not the real thing, and you’re going to wait and put the real thing in later. But, for a game like EVE, the foundations are the things. The structures we provide for players – and I mean structures in a broad sense, not just the mobile structures – to get agency in the world, that’s where all the emergent gameplay comes from. It’s so different from putting in more content for people to consume and then be done with it, so I almost want to come up with some kind of slogan.”

For some players, building the road with stargates at the end is motivation enough. New frontiers mean new areas to explore, and new territory to control. Others might need a little motivation: new resources, technology, and other things to discover. It’s something that Nordgren is already factoring in to her plan. “There’re two parts to the colonization vision. One is the player should get their hands on more and more stuff. The other part is that I really see the game as this universe, and we need to make the universe better – it needs to be more interesting to be in. We’re at a point where we need to build some engine capabilities, make some new tools for ourselves, and so on.

“If we want to build a new type of complex, for example, which has more interesting behavior, more new things that you can do, we have a little bit of build-up that we need to do to get there. And also, with the new release cadence, we can do a little work, put something out there, and try it out. That was a huge part of the system scan that we shipped in Odyssey to make the discoverability of these things better, so it’s ‘hey, there’s actually a lot of stuff out there, no-one knows about it.’”

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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.