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EVE Fanfest 2016 - Understanding the Purpose of Project Nova

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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At EVE FanFest, CCP Games made a brave decision: to share some of their latest projects with players, and let them go hands-on with the work-in-progress. For experiences that cut new ground, such as EVE: Valkyrie and Project Arena, there’s a certain wow-factor. But, as a first-person shooter, Project Nova has a much tougher crowd to please.

Reassuringly, Senior Director Snorri Arnason shared that most of the early feedback was positive, based on debrief discussions with players after each session. Over the the 3-day event, nearly 90% of those who played the demo rated their overall experience with Project Nova as ‘good’ or better. Tightening in on the core mechanics of shooting, aiming and moving around, just under 80% responded positively in the same way. It’s this type of data, coupled with detailed feedback and comments, that will help steer this early version through to the next stage of development.

In an interview with us at EVE FanFest, Arnason also wanted to clear up some misconceptions that had emerged. Project Nova isn’t a continuation of Dust 514 or Project Legion, but instead represents a fresh look at the idea of a competitive shooter in the EVE Universe. The demo at FanFest is incredibly young, representing 6 months of work from an initially very small team. And although that demo pitted two teams of 6 players against each other, the internal focus is on much larger 16v16 play.

During the interview, Arnason also shared further details on why Project Legion didn’t work out for the studio, and how it freed up staff to work on what became Gunjack. He additionally elaborated on what the purpose of the demo was, and why the Shanghai-based studio decided to bring it to EVE FanFest. We also explored what a final version might look like, If Project Nova passes through to the next stage of development.

MMORPG.com: How long have you been working on this?

Snorri Arnason: We don’t want to be too exact, but let’s say half a year. And a differing size of team, so very small in the beginning.

MMORPG.com: What made you decide to start Project Nova rather than continue Project Legion?

Arnason: Project Legion was Unreal Engine 3 based. The pitch of that project was ‘let’s take the Dust 514 experience, and put it on the PC, and then build on top of that a cooler economy, player trading, a salvage-based economy, better matchmaking.’ Basically, everything that people wanted to fix. Take the core, move it, add things.

After we tried that, the technology that we had didn’t support high performance play. We had already made a lot of customisations to the engine itself, and it just became unsustainable development to keep doing that. We had already branched out of the UE3 regular update schedules, so we couldn’t branch back into whatever they had. We were basically alone with our custom UE3 engine, and we would have to keep doing that forever.

At that point, we basically said ‘we are at an impasse here. We’re not going to be able to continue with this pitch of the project.’ So it was shelved indefinitely, in a joint decision by the studio in Shanghai and the Executives. People went back to Dust 514, people went into EVE China, and a couple – very few in the beginning – went to do something with Unreal Engine 4. Let’s maybe create something, let’s experiment a bit. Basically prototyping.

That eventually became Gunjack, which had a very short development time; one year from pitch to product. And that set the tone for a new pitch: something that CCP Rouge [Jean-Charles Gaudechon] and I went to the executives and said ‘We have a different idea. We’re going to take these assets, all that we’ve learned from Gunjack and Unreal Engine 4, and we’re going to make a compact shooter that has very little overhead, very little of the complex systems that we talked about before. Let’s start with that. Make a great shooter, see what happens.’

We went through concept, prototype, and vertical slice, and now we’re in the pre-production gate review stage. Getting feedback from a bigger source – external playtesting – is something that we need to tell us that we’re on the right track. This is an important part of it, but any future decisions are based on ‘is there a market for this product? Do we have a team to create the full product based on this prototype?’ Now it’s feedback and logistics that are going to help us make the next decision.

MMORPG.com: It’s been on the floor for a day. What’s the strongest piece of feedback that you’ve had so far?

Arnason: It’s really fun. That’s all we want. We want you to play this game because it’s engaging, it’s something exciting. We don’t want you to endure the game for the premise of the game. If people are saying ‘great performance, I love it, I wish the sentinel was moving a little bit faster,’ that’s the best feedback we could get, because that’s balancing.

You can sort feedback by priority. If they’re not complaining about performance, they’re going to complain or give you feedback on something. If they’re not complaining about the key features that you think you’ve nailed, then they’re going to find something deeper in the game to talk about. So if they’re not talking about performance, and they say it’s fun, then we’ve hit our milestone for this.

MMORPG.com: How indicative is this demo of the final result?

Arnason: This indicative of a firefight on-board ship. That’s really all it is. It doesn’t tell you what kind of different game modes could be on a ship, and it doesn’t tell you that we wouldn’t be fighting on land or asteroids, or anywhere else in the EVE universe. It’s just a snapshot of what we think fighting on-board ship would be.

There’s no progression in the system, but that’s all planned and designed – I’m getting feedback on the designs. When I get people interested and talking about it, I float some ideas that we’ve been talking about. But the next step is a progression system: rewards, unlocks, upgrades etc. We have a lot of things planned for customisation – both weapon and dropsuit – and we have a lot of things on the long term roadmap, when we’ve successfully checked the box on each of the additional layers.

MMORPG.com: Things like team size and level design – how indicative are they?

Arnason: It’s 16v16, for sure. It would play better at that size – it’s a little bit sparse right now at 6v6. This is just a FanFest demo purpose; the map size is intended for 16v16. And we’re not really not talking about changing that at this time.

I’ve played a lot of shooters, I’ve played a lot of Battlefield, and I’m not convinced that bigger is better after a certain point. 64v64 is simply not more fun than 16v16. There’s a curve somewhere that’s the best case, and I find that the 16v16 is pretty good. 24v24 maybe, but it’s around there.

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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.