Burn baby, burn!

Posted in EVE Online on February 23, 2012 by cailais

Its official. EVE Online’s forthcoming expansion is going back to the era of platform shoes, afros and wide flares with Disco Inferno!

Oh ok, it’s just “Inferno” but I couldn’t help myself.

Not only will this no doubt resurrect (phoenix like) the well worn meme of ‘die in a fire -in game’ it will also apparently rekindle (I imagine you’re loving the incendiary puns I’m dropping here)  warfare across EVE.

To be honest CCP Unifex’s dev blog doesnt actually say anything of any detail: its very much the usual “in the next few months…as we continue to develop…I’m keeping details light..we will be revealing” etc etc without actually saying what CCP are planning.  That’s always frustrated me about CCPs dev blogs – lots of hype not so much substance; and when the substance does arrive it often falls short of well, pretty much everyone’s expectations.  Not only that but if CCP reveal a absolute stinker of an idea its usually too late to avert the forum rage that follows.

So the question in my mind right now is if we will see a departure from CCP throwing themselves from the proverbial frying pan and deliver more than forum flames.  Crucible was good, not spectacular but warming – but will Inferno be too hot to handle?

Flame on.



Posted in EVE Online on February 15, 2012 by cailais

D&D, Dungeons & Dragons, that historic pen and paper RPG has got a lot to answer for.  Whilst it set the standard for RPGs it also forged a template – a template predicated on linear advancement: go kill ‘stuff’ and by doing so got more powerful allowing you to kill bigger ‘stuff’ and so on and so forth for all eternity.

And thus the grind was born.

EVE Online, however broke the mould of this template when CCP introduced its unique skill system, one based upon training over time – not through the unfortunate death of rats and kobolds.   The reason why the skill training system is so important to EVE is that, in theory, it allows players to quickly reach equivalent levels of skill.  It is (given the same amount of training time) possible that a new player can be as proficient in flying a Frigate as say a veteran player. In short there are skill ceilings.

Where CCP diverged from this concept we can readily see some problems.  Powerful vessels such as capital and super capital class vessels really do require a large investment in time spent with EVE.  We can readily see this as a valid reward for those veterans who have remained with EVE for so long – a clear degree of superiority over newer players.  But even these leviathans of space have theoretical ceilings and (increasingly as EVEs population ages) more and more players are coming into the stage where the capital/super capital is well within their capability to use.

The next ‘speed bump’ for player progression (in the traditional sense) is ISK, or rather the availability of it.  In theory I can pilot a dreadnought – I cannot however afford one. Herein lies the grind for ISK, and the source of whatever angst exists about whether game play X gets more ISK than gameplay Y. The implication being of course that if you want to progress in EVE you need to be rich.

This situation is not, however, unrecoverable. What is needed is a broadening of EVEs skills – essentially more areas of specialisation that the typical pilot can sink their teeth into.  Critically these specialisations need to feel as rewarding and on a par with the traditional reward of ‘bigger ship = more powerful’.  Planetary Interaction I had hoped would offer such a system – the capacity to sink skill training time and investment into the management of whole world economies and societies; a symbol of status ‘you may own a Titan but I rule over these planets’.  Even the much maligned WiS proffered the chance that again the veteran of EVE could turn their machinations towards the conquest of inner space – the station environment; corporate barons who managed the stores, bars and facilities of an entire star base.  Again it looks as if this opportunity has been squandered.

Perhaps DUST, and its intended links through EVEs wider economy will provide an outlet for the veteran players – a bauble to distract those from the currently inevitable march towards the mundaneness of capital vessels – it is theoretically possible that EVEs players will sink ISK into the prosecution of war on land whilst remaining removed themselves from the squalid business of ‘running and shooting’.  Whilst I will watch the forthcoming FanFest preview of DUST and no doubt be interested in the FPS aspects for me it is the wider question of what DUST means to the New Eden cluster, its politics and economics that will really draw my attention.


Enders Game

Posted in EVE Online on February 1, 2012 by cailais

In another universe and in another forum a discussion has been quietly bubbling away like a stew left on the heat too long about the “End Game”. The discussion, if one can call it that, is predictable enough – arguments resolving around if this particular “MMO has enough content” and what players can expect (or not) to be doing ‘at the end’.

It is, interestingly, not a subject that occurs with EVE Online – an MMO that curiously (considering its relative age) has no definable ‘end game’.  EVE after all is a game without proscribed goals.  There is no deus ex machina of Developers pulling strings and lining up content for players to knock down like so many bowling balls.  EVE just goes on.

I often struggle with the idea of ‘what’ content EVE can be described to have – and this isn’t a trivial question, with CCP updating the old EVE Online website to produce something both more appealing and more relevant to todays modern MMO gamer.  Pitching a MMO like EVE to the uninitiated has perculia challenges foremost of which is that it has no defined objectives, no proscribed goals.  Simply put: no one is there to hold your hand, and the universe is what you make of it.

Obviously to those already playing EVE Online this is a ‘good thing’, an open world of opportunities where you can be anything from a pirate to a scammer, an alliance leader to a lone wolf and everything in between.  That’s a harder idea to get across to a prospective player, especially those that have become accustomed to the high degree of sign posting given in other MMO titles.

Something which I would like to see exploited a bit more by CCP through the website are those classic archetypes (pirates, mercenaries, traders, industrialist and so forth) – ideally using descriptions from EVEs players themselves who are, after all, the experts in those particular fields.  That’s not to ‘dumb down’ EVE into some weird profession or class based MMO – which clearly it isn’t – but examples of the paths that can be followed might help to provide that all important compass to help orientate the new comer to EVE online.  Support this with an NPC/agent orientated New Player Experience full of the requisite flavour could help grow and expand the universe, and all its myriad potential, of EVE.


Module Madness

Posted in EVE Online on January 28, 2012 by cailais

Buried away on the Features and Ideas sub forum CCPs developer SoniClover has asked what type of new modules we would like to see introduced into EVE.  A multitudonous host of suggestions have followed but for todays blog post Id like to put my own subtle spin on how to approach this subject…

As a ground rule we probably want new modules to add fun to EVE, something new which, whilst not upsetting the natural order of things too dramatically, gives players new and old pause for thought in how they set up and utilise their ships.  Rather then give specific examples of some ‘technetium ion lance cannon’ and a bunch of stats I would suggest some broad themes.  Why “theme” new modules?

I say theme’s because if you have a group of modules based around a core idea of form and function  it streamlines the design process.  New card sets for traditional games such as Magic the Gathering do this well – new mechanics which serve a purpose and guide the next iteration.  Onwards then to those theme’d modules:

1. Cerebus – two heads are better than one.  This class of module is a ‘heads / tails’ concept: the module can exist in one of 2 states. Usually these states are diameticraly opposed for example a module that in state 1 is a weapon system, in state 2 is a defensive module. In either state the module is typically sub par compared to a vanilla module, trading performance for flexibility.

2. Flawed Masterpiece.  This class of module takes a vanillla module and markedly increases a specific attribute but with a significant disadvantage (a rapid rof hybrid turret, which is prone to extreme overheating for example). Here the trade off is between one extreme of performance against a major flaw.

3. The Sacrifical Lamb.  This class of module is a ‘one shot’ wonder which, rather like a lizard detaching its tail, gets you out of a particular problem.  An example might be a turret that you can ‘jettison’ to expunge all heat attributed so far.

4. Oddball. This class of module defies existing norms by matching the function of an existing module but in an unexpected fashion.  An example of this type of ‘oddball’ design would be a low slot turret, or a high slot armour plate.

5. World Shaper. This class of module quite litterally allows players to act in ways that aren’t currently possible, changing how a ship flies and fights.  An example might be a module that generates wormwholes in close proximity to the activating ship.

Once we have these broad themes creating hybrids of them (and thus spawning new ideas) is relatively straight forward.  To give an idea of what I mean by this would be a Sacrifical Lamb/Cerebus/World Shaper combo: In state 1 our module is a vanilla turret, in state 2 it becomes a 1 shot wormhole generator.

Whilst there are some valid concerns that new modules could, if not designed carefully, make existing modules redundant or ignore the plight of existing modules that are rarely used (hi there FoF missiles) expanding the selection of modules to me seems a worthwhile aspiration and Im looking forward to seeing what CCP are able to develop.



Posted in EVE Online on December 28, 2011 by cailais

The timeline of 2011 is receding away from us, shifting into the red as the memories of New Eden’s past year fade into the mulch of half remembered battles amongst the star-scape.  The future of New Eden it transpires is one already foretold by those prophetic Mayans and their fiendishly clever calenders – one of TOTALHELDEATH.  2012 looks to be the year when EVE Online morphs into something else entirely with the coming of DUST514.

I say ‘something else‘ because DUST514 defies easy categorisation. I’ve looked for a convenient box to put it into, somewhere on the shelf between MMO and FPS but it doesn’t seem to fit.  I also say ‘something else‘ because quite what DUST514 means for EVE itself is still an amorphous gelatinous goop of an idea – not fully formed its edges bleeding off into dimensions we cannot see.

How will DUST514 link with EVE? Will its coming signify a radical and fundamental shift in the nature of War, Trade and Diplomacy? Will the denizens of DUST514 be welcomed with open arms by New Edens cheery and huggable forumites? Will planetary warfare be relevant or an irrelevance?

Few of these questions can even be approached with an answer.

It is with not a little concern that we read that closed Beta trials of DUST514 are starting, yet with no word of how DUST514 will link to the complexities of EVE.  The cynic within me nods firmly in the direction of  the sign post marked ‘irrelevance’ – how can something so fundamental to DUST514s success (namely an FPS within a MMO sandbox universe) be left undisclosed?

Herein lies the Great Dilemma.  If DUST514 and the conquest of Planets determines how the socio-political map of New Eden is drawn then EVEs F’iS depends rather greatly on the success of DUST514.  Alternatively if those battles fought down on the rocky surface of EVEs planets are little more than a side show, largely ignored by Capsuleers, then DUST514 could fade into the memory abyss of 2012 as 2013 dawns.  A passing footnote in the history of console games.

Not a few have predicted (perhaps with Mayan calendar at hand) that DUST514 will be a “failure!”.  It can’t compete with the console behemoths of COD / MOH / HALO they cry.  Consoles are dead! Wail others arms flailing in the general direction of sales figures, mobile gaming et al.

Of course it would be a foolish thing to do to judge DUST514 on release sales alone: even if this is the accepted ‘norm’ for the FPS genre. DUST514 – at least in its fuzzy quantum potential state – isn’t truly like other FPS games.  DUST514, like EVE, has the potential to be a “slow burner”, adapting, morphing and shifting as it develops alongside EVE.  One cannot escape however that symbiotic relationship where once EVE and DUST are conjoined into a singular MMORPGFPSTHINGY it will be difficult (and therefore costly) to dis-conjoin them.

Our first taste of what DUST514 means to the pantheon of EVEs experience will come not from the flicker of electrons but from the pen of author Tony Gonzales with his forthcoming novel Templar One.  Having cut his proverbial teeth on his first work (The Empyrean Age) it will be interesting to see how TonyG has evolved as a writer albeit with the bitter after taste that his talents have been scythed down in the recent cull of CCP employees.  Sacking your lead IP writer for your forthcoming new gaming title is indicative of CCPs unhinged approach to, well almost anything. I have it on good authority that one segment of the Mayan Calender translates as follows:

Gaming Hack “So Tony! Great to see your latest book “Templar One” has hit the shelves you must be very excited! Tell me what are you doing now with CCP Games? What new project are you working on?!”

TonyG “Er…actually I just got sacked. I’m looking for a job”.

Gaming Hack “……..”

2012 for New Eden and DUST514 – relevance or irrelevance? Only the Mayans know.


Post Crucible

Posted in EVE Online on December 2, 2011 by cailais

As the dawn of the Crucible expansion arrives capsuleers across New Eden will raise their eyes to the heavens to gaze upon the splendour of universe with its swirling nebulae and glittering stars.  Whilst Crucible hovers on the margins of a true expansion (a buffed glaze might be a better description) it does at the very least herald an exciting vision of EVE.

Orbiting those nuclear spheres of fire however are the Planets of New Eden.  Here also we can see increasing details of what the future holds in the form of DUST 514…

For those who can happily sit tweaking ship set ups well into the early hours of the morning – and would like to do the same in a FPS then DUST514 looks ready to deliver.  I think we can also assume that industrialists will raise an enquiring eye brow at the potential to produce and bring to market those items.

For those that are wondering ‘what next?’ post Crucibles release then DUST514 must surely feature heavily in CCPs plans.  The integration of the existing EVE Universe with DUST514 will pose not only technical challenges but game play obstacles also.  Take the image above as just one example: will EVEs ‘in space’ pilots be able to manufacture and trade those modules?  Its a well trodden path but with DUST514s reliance on a micro transaction model how will items manufactured ‘in space’ be realised as items owned and used by the ‘grunts on the ground’.

What will be equally fascinating is how an EVE Online ‘FiS’ player determines the relative value of a given DUST514 module, if (as well may be the case) they don’t play DUST514.  Just how useful / valuable is a Fusion Accelerator any way? Over a protracted period of time the relative popularity of any given DUST514 item (factoring in the time and resources to manufacture) will be become apparent through market trades – but at least initially the ‘value’ of DUSTs products will be something of a guessing game.

The other aspect of EVE post Crucible is that of the mechanics of conflict – and here I mean conflict to include the mechanics around Sovereignty, Faction Warfare and the classic ‘war dec’.  Into this mess of various mechanics and ‘rules’ will sit the idea of DUST514 as a mew dimension of war fare.  Will Empire ‘war decs’ translate into DUST514 battles? What of Faction Warfare? Or Null Sec Sov?

DUST514 offers CCP an opportunity to re work those conflict mechanics – hopefully into some sort of homogenised system – to the benefit of both those battles on the ground, and those in space and on the markets.


Seeing through the DUST.

Posted in EVE Online on November 9, 2011 by cailais

Whilst EVE Online’s players chew on every morsel of information about the Winter Expansion little drops of detail are also falling from the DUST514 table.  Most recently regarding the Mobile Command Centres – essentially floating command and control platforms for the aspiring DUST General.

What this blog really got me thinking about is how EVE capsuleers will perceive DUST514s battles.  At first glance this might seem a trivial question but if we remember that EVE and DUST are supposed to intertwine really rather closely then this question becomes quite fundamental.  For example we already know that it will be possible, encouraged even, that DUST and EVE players will share the same corporations and presumably the same goals.

With this in mind it seems quite likely that EVE players will be ‘spectators’ to an extent to what is happening planet side.  But will this actually be realised?  To date all we know in general terms is that EVE players will be able to issue contracts to DUST Mercs to conduct certain operations.  This naturally suggests that the contracts system (or one very much like it) will be used to enable these contracts, open them for auction or exchange much like current items or courier tasks.  Is this it though?

If that all it is then I would suggest that EVEs players are going to find it quite hard to relate to their DUST colleagues or really get all that excited about DUST at all.  Its one thing to review the results of a sports match: its quite another to be a spectator and see it happen.

Should EVE players be able to view an on going DUST battle and to what level of granulation? Live or semi live feed from DUST Mercs themselves ‘helmet cam’ style? Or a super high level satellite view – little green and red dots moving across a map? Or – as the MCC suggests – will their be an intermediate view point like that of the MCC commanders?

My preference would be for something akin to a satellite perspective (top down with limited detail) – to do otherwise might make a MCC commander rather irrelevant. Anything less than such a view will make the entire experience of DUST – at least for the EVE player – an extremely dull affair. CCP need to give this some decent thought if they hope to see the actual interaction between the two platforms communities as they hope – recognising that the majority of EVE players will never have experienced DUST and vice versa. With no shared experiences, and no shared understanding the meshing of two radically different genres could ultimately fail.