My favorite moment of EVE Vegas 2015 was the swell of the crowd when the first new doomsday weapon was shown to the audience that had travelled around the world to pack themselves into the Planet Hollywood conference center. As the laser beam charged, you could sense a spike in tension that, as the beam finally exploded forward and began cleaving a path across the sky, erupted into applause and excitement as fans cheered and screamed. It might take you a good part of a year to ever fire that doomsday weapon, but capital ships in EVE Online just got of a hell of a lot more interesting.
"It's classic sci-fi: Big lasers cutting through spaceships is so classic from so many sources and incredibly cool and we want it in the game," said Brenton Hooper (better known as CCP Larrikin), a game designer for EVE Online.
"One of the things that is really exciting about this, one of the things that tells us we are on the right track is that, for some of these, we don't know what is going to happen," said Cameron Royal (known as CCP Nullarbor), a senior engineer for EVE Online. "Once you give them to players, they'll come up with some crazy, insane maneuvers."
I believe it. Earlier this year, EVE Online was subject to some rather unpopular changes that severely limited the capacity in which its awe inspiring capital ships were of use. For the past few months, many players have been questioning these ships' place in the universe of EVE Online. Following the keynote presentation at EVE Vegas this past weekend and subsequent panels and roundtables, the future of capital ships is looking healthy.
While the dramatic new doomsdays were an instant win among fans at the show, the more interesting changes have to do with how the roles of capital ships are being changed to better fit into the already existing spaces of EVE Online. One of the biggest changes has to do with that, come this spring, carriers will no longer be the mobile repair platforms of fleets within EVE Online. That job is instead being delegating to a whole new class of capital known as Force Auxiliary, which, despite not packing much of a punch against enemy ships, will now handle all logistics on the battlefield.
These newly redefined roles also come with some changes to help make capitals more vulnerable when not supported by sub-capital fleets, including a nerf to remote repair modules on non-logistical capitals and the inability to refit your ship in space when you've recently fired your weapons. It's a move that has proven unpopular with those who stand to lose from it the most, while others are optimistic that the changes will bring a more interesting and even handed approach to ship combat.
"Where [capitals] are now is just not in a good state," CCP Larrikin said. "They are this interesting mix of overpowered, because in many cases they can become un-killable, and underpowered, because while they are un-killable they often can't kill many things."
"Some of the first steps of this is just fleshing all of this stuff out. When capitals were first introduced they only had a single armor repairer while sub-capitals have full ranges of them. It made sense to go back and give some flavor to the different options that capital pilots have."
Aside from exciting new doomsdays, including one known as the Hand of God which can teleport players (including allies) caught within a certain area to a randomly selected point within the solar system and leave them disabled there, capital ships will also be receiving a wide range of new modules to give pilots even more options for using them. While current modules will be expanded to create new tiers for more interesting fittings, players can also expect to find wholly new options like propulsion modules which will hopefully help add some maneuverability to the hulking ships. While there are a ton of small changes to account for, the overall theme is to transform capitals into structure bashing powerhouses, but also creating a need for these ships to require support from a diverse fleet.
To better help carriers and supercarriers adapt to their new roles in the field, their drone systems are being reworked to be more intuitive. Instead of fielding a flight of remote controlled drones, carriers will now fly squadrons of fighters that they can command around the battlefield. Like the modules, these fighters are receiving a big overhaul to make them more diverse and better equipped to handle specific threats, including the addition of special abilities like a short window where they are able to evade all incoming fire.
These new drones are also the catalyst for some new changes to how the targeting interface works, allowing players a better degree of accuracy in 3D space. A new camera mode will also complement the changes, and players are finally free to detach their camera from their ship and move it freely around in a way that more closely resembles a strategy game (though I expect there will be a limit to how far you can move from your own vessel).
While there was more information to cover, more concrete details on the capital ships was scarce, and it was evident that many of these changes are still rough rather than finalized concepts. Even during the question and answer sessions at the end of the capitals presentation, it wasn't uncommon to hear members of CCP openly admit that they hadn't figured out various details. In one instance, I even heard one of the team suggest that an idea posited by an audience member was something they hadn't considered but would be looking into.
That kind of open and honest development philosophy is, quite frankly, rather refreshing. After spending time with developers who are more intent on selling a vision rather than building one together with their audience, I was intrigued about this philosophy that guided how CCP interacts with their players.
"We actually talk about the fact that EVE is so fascinating because it's emerging gameplay where people do unexpected things with the systems that we build," CCP Nullabor said. "If we design something and we can imagine the solution to it, and that's the only possible outcome when we put that in the game, then that's the same experience that everyone else is going to have and that's pretty boring. What we want to do is design something and then we're not even able to imagine all the possible outcomes."
"It doesn't always feel great saying 'I don't know,' but being honest with people and just exploring it like, 'ah, I don't know about this, tell me about how you play EVE Online.'" CCP Larrikin added. "There is some dangers in there, but I think the benefits outweigh it tenfold."
If I took away one thing from this past weekend at EVE Vegas, it is that CCP's space-faring MMORPG has plenty of room for optimism toward the future. Where its contemporaries in this genre seem to be slowing down, EVE Online is working to become even more and more interesting. Talking with the fans who came to attend the show, and hearing the excited chatter at the bar after the day's events, I think many would agree.
But as someone who has spent the past several months writing about the stories of EVE players, this new expansion has me excited for just how dynamic those stories will become. While something like the Bloodbath of B-R5RB, the biggest battle to ever happen in EVE Online, makes for some great screenshots, the new doomsday weapons and more choices on the battlefield will hopefully open up more and more options and make EVE a more engaging experience for both those who play and those who don't.
In many ways capitals aren't only the flagships of fleets within the game, but they are the flagships of EVE Online itself, and with the Citadels expansion arriving this spring, hopefully pilots will be more encouraged than ever to bring them to bear against their enemies.
EVE Vegas was a massive dump of information regarding the future of EVE Online, and capitals are only one other piece of the puzzle. Be sure to check out the rest of our coverage of the event as it rolls out, or watch the keynote presentation for yourself to get a great overview of what pilots can look forward to this winter and spring.
Disclaimer: Travel, accommodations, dinner, and a ticket to EVE Vegas 2015 were provided by CCP Games. They have not requested, nor were granted any oversight on the topics or opinions expressed in the coverage of this event.