Noah Ward is Lead Designer at CCP games, the makers of EVE Online. He took some time out of his schedule at PAX 2010 to tell Ten Ton Hammer about the upcoming Incursion expansion, planetary economics, and .
Ten Ton Hammer: Can we talk about the upcoming Incursion feature? Correct me if I'm wrong, but the idea is that rampaging hoards of NPCs take over high-security space?
Noah: They will be everywhere, actually. It will involve Sansha's Nation, and it plays off the live events that we have been doing.
The Sansha are attempting to take over. The way the design is, currently, it will be a specific constellation and there will be a headquarters system. That system is too well fortified to take it out in one go. So you have to take out all sorts of complexes and encounters in surrounding systems.
TTH: So are things going to be happening in deadspace?
In the Incursion expansion for EVE Online, Sansha pirates will be invading entire regions of space at once.
TTH: Is the design intent to make things a little more interesting in high-security space?
Noah: The major design intent is to create more group based cooperative content. We have a lot of stuff that pits people against each other but not so much where people are cooperating. Also, there are adverse effects that happen in your systems that are being invaded. So you are sort of incentivized to get these Sanshas out of your system.
TTH: Are they going to be going after anything specifically, like asteroid belts? Is it going to become more dangerous for miners?
Noah: It's hard to say how it is going to be when stuff is finally done, but we want to put stuff around gates and stations, as well as asteroid belts.
TTH: This question kind of comes from the EVE Online player community, and it is about lag. Is there anything you guys are considering from a design standpoint that would try and break up concentrations of players?
Noah: We have a whole team working on fixing the lag from a programming standpoint. They have a lot of leads, and we are going to be putting stuff out there to see what the results of that are, before we try to break up big groups of players.
Part of the value proposition of EVE is having thousands of players. And there is some stuff that is definitely broken in there, like the way missiles are calculated. So we are going to see how fixing that goes, and then we will start thinking about breaking people up.
The thing is that with the Dominion expansion, our goal was to get players together and fighting each other more. We changed the sovereignty system [by which players control space]. It used to be that you would have fleets shooting at inanimate objects, and you never really had big fights. We changed the mechanics to get people fighting together, and that is where we saw all this lag. Achieving one goal hurt the other.
TTH: In the past you guys have referred to a "landscape effect" where different regions of space are different from each other, with each having a different feel and type of player that is attracted to it. In terms of the upgrade expansions in the Dominion expansion, all space can potentially be upgraded to the same level. The question is, how are you differentiating regions of space?
Noah: In terms of the infrastructure upgrade stuff, we want people to be able to invest in their space and upgrade it. But you are always going to have certain things that give places flavor, like certain types of asteroids spawning there, NPCs of a particular type, and NPCs with their specific types of loot.
We always want to keep a landscape in mind with the flavor. We do not want to have the whole universe homogenized. That is always one of our design goals.
TTH: Supercarrier ships are sort of the flavor of the day. A lot of people in the community feel that they are overpowered. Do you agree?
Noah: I know a lot of people are switching their titan fleets over to supercarrier fleets. Probably because they are a little bit more economical and they kick ass just as much. I don't know if I would say that they are necessarily overpowered, but we are always looking at balance, including whether the fighter bombers are overpowered or not. I am not going to say, right now, that I think they are.
Also, as part of our lag-fighting efforts, we noticed that having the fighter-bombers shoot missiles seemed to generate lag. As more and more people are using these ships, it compounds the problem. So we are probably going to look at ways to make them, not less effective, but rather change the missiles from being an actual physical objects in space to just being an effect, and then we might look at balancing them some, too. When we do that, it should clear up a lot of lag.
TTH: One of the stated goals of Tyrannis was to shift NPC-produced goods into player hands. As a consequence, a lot of goods have become much more common in the game. Is that kind of stability good for the game? Obviously, it is good for the economy, but don't you want a certain level of rarity for items?
Noah: One of the most popular things to produce is starbase fuel. Nowadays, people will set up their planetary colony and then start making fuel for their starbases that are located in the same system. Whereas before you had to go buy the stuff, often involving a trip to empire for it. While we did want to create some trade mechanics there, there were plenty of people who did not like that system. So I think it is kind of cool that now you can set up your colony and have a little ecosystem of your own, in your home system.
We are constantly monitoring the whole economy and tweaking things when we feel it is necessary. We are going to do more balancing on the planetary interaction stuff as we get closer to DUST launching and people fighting on the planets.
Changes to planetary interaction will include the ability to move extractors around, as well as upgrading command centers.
Noah: What we have been focusing on lately with planetary interaction is making it a more fun gameplay experience. We have been looking at taking out some of the repetitive-stress inducing "clickiness" that it can have. Like when you need to select ten extractors and have each one survey the planet, and then it is like five clicks each. We are looking at how we can improve that mechanic and make it less clicking and more of the initial gameplay where you are setting up your colony and finding out where you want to put your extractors. That is the more fun part, anyway.
So you will be able to move around your extractors. There will be a thing called an Extractor Control Unit that will have its own UI that controls all of your extractors at once, so that you do not have to do all this clicking. The other thing is that you can now upgrade your command centers without having to destroy your entire colony, which was pretty boring.
TTH: You mentioned POS fuel. It seems like the non-fuel planetary materials have become a breeding ground for market speculation and secondary market activity. Is that by design?
Noah: Yes, it was. When we moved everything onto the planets we wanted it to be more dynamic and run by the players. That is a lot more interesting than having some sort of mechanic that has the prices fluctuate in an unrealistic or unnatural way.
TTH: Have you had to adjust NPC prices at all since the Tyrannis expansion or otherwise compensate for the increased availability of some goods?
Noah: In general, most of the stuff has gotten cheaper. So I think it may be better for most players. So things may actually be better for most players. We are going to look at putting more things into planetary interaction. We have been talking about what are the things that you could maybe get from planets. Some of the things that are left as sold by NPCs are like blueprints and skill books.
We haven't started any kind of work on it, but that is what we talk about around the office. It will be a pretty big balancing task, most likely, to do those. So that is sort of where we want to go, but that is not quite what we are working on. But at the coffee machine we're like "wouldn't it be cool if everything was in there?" And we are talking about how can we start off small, like by having all the science skills produced on planets or whatever, to build up to it or only have certain types of blueprints made there. We want to eventually move toward having everything be player produced because that is just so much more fun.
TTH: We haven't heard any specifics about the next big thing in store for EVE Online. What's on the horizon?
Noah: Well, Incarna is the next thing that we are going to be working on for a while. For the next two years or so, we will be rolling out different bits of Incarna. The next expansion will see revamped character creation with new super-high resolution characters. Then next year we will see more aspects of that coming in. Then there is DUST linking up with EVE, so that will be a big thing. EVE Gate will constantly get more improvements. Then there's the part of EVE that we call "flying in space" which is the normal part of EVE, as opposed to "walking in stations". We are still working on that stuff, too.
TTH: Are you going to be upping the stats on new characters or give them some other bonus?
Noah: We aren't really going to change the stats. We are just going to update the graphics. They are almost photo-realistic. It's even a little bit creepy.
TTH: Are you going to roll out specific things to segue into DUST?
Noah: The improvements that we are making to planetary interaction are a part of that process. We are going to continue to expand on planetary interaction until eventually DUST hits and the two games sync up.
TTH: Can we talk about tech three ships? Have they succeeded as much as you would like?
Noah: Yes, they have, but they remain pretty expensive. Like I said at Fanfest, I want to do smaller T3 ships so that more people can use them. It was a lot of work building these modular ships and getting a system where they could all be attached. It is kind of a bummer than only really rich players can get these ships. I would love it if this was something that newer players could strive for, in the shorter term.
TTH: Thanks so much for the interview.
Noah: You're very welcome.