Interviews

EVE Online's Jon Lander Discusses The Inferno Expansion (Part 1)

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Jon Lander is the new Senior Producer for EVE Online, which means that he is essentially in the driver seat when it comes to deciding what to do with the game. He was kind enough to sit down with us at Fanfest 2012 and discuss his upcoming keynote speech. In the process he gives us his thoughts on the general direction of EVE, war mechanics, factional warfare, new modules, and more.

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This is the first half of the interview. The second will be published later this week.

Are you having a good time at Fanfest?

I am. There is a real buzz about the place. I was a little nervous about this new venue. Were we going to all fit? Were we going to be a big enough presence for something as grand for this? And what was the mood of the players going to be like? These are interesting times, and all that.

I went to the Celtic Cross bar last night for the #tweetfleet thing. And as I walked in there, the great thing was that nobody knew my face yet. Nobody knows what I look like. I walked in there and didn't have a Dev shirt on or anything, and everybody was like, la la la. One of the guys had his Dev shirt on and everybody was like, "Why is he talking to that guy? Does he work for CCP?"

I was quietly standing in line for a beer and Mittens comes up and goes, "hey, Jon!" Then the Mittani gives me this big bear hug, and everybody is asking, "Who is he? Who is he?" It was very strange. Tomorrow I'm going to get up on stage, and everybody is going to be like "Oh, it's that boring English guy."

This is kind of rough for me as an interview, since I am interviewing you the day before the keynote. What can I ask you that will not immediately be obsolete twenty-four hours from now?

We're taking a little bit of time to recognize what happened last year. The key thing is that we are going back to our roots. We are planning sensible stuff for 2012. Let's not make any mad ideas or plans that we can't deliver on. Whatever we say we're going to do, we'll do this year. The spaceship game is what we're doing, not any of the grand, new, insane sort of ventures which we are to a certain extent known for. Let's go back to delivering things for the players that we have, the players who come in expecting something. Let's go back to making them happy by delivering the stuff they want.

Since I started as EVE's senior producer, we have been focused internally on making sure that we're in a better place with this nine year-old game. We've made it easier to deploy changes, so that we can deploy faster and we can deploy more. And we did some restructuring around making the company -or rather, the various parts of the EVE project- so that they really focus on a specific thing that they're delivering to a customer.

Before, we had an engineering department which didn't do engineering, as opposed to a group of people who were making a game, were making a web presence, engaging with non-English speaking people for localization, or doing customer support. We're going to focus back on the customers, and what's the easiest way to do that stuff.

After that, it's really about looking forward. We have a patch coming out in April. We're putting the Crucible expansion to bed, here. The way that we were scheduling things gave us a patch date that we knew we could hit with some really good content in April. So we're having a sort of escalation to Inferno. It won't be a massive content patch at first, but rather a date where we start releasing things. April is the escalation to Inferno, and then in May, we will be releasing the real Inferno patch.

What is going to blow our minds about Inferno?

It's really going back to the roots of what made EVE good for me, which is putting systems in place for people and then letting them find the best way to use them. It's not putting in a boring game system where you have to do this and that, then get stuff at the end of it.

One of the things that has always been a bit strange is the war dec system. There are so many loopholes to get out of it. People don't use it except for griefing. What we're doing is looking at fixing some of those loopholes. Then we're adding a whole load of things around it and giving tools to people so they can make mercenary corporations.

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If I get war-decced, it's a lot harder for me to get out of it. I can try and pay money to avoid the war dec and sort of out-bid the guy to get out of it. But if I end up having to take the war dec on, what I can try and do is sort of say, "Right, here's a mercenary marketplace. Who wants to take my war dec on with me?" So you can sort of say, "Here's a war dec, who wants it?" Or you can actually say, "We're a mercenary corporation, this is our rate to take on your war dec." And we're actually having it so that every war that you have been involved in, we will track all the kills and losses, and then put those up so you can go through and see how good these people are.

So we can tell good mercenaries from bad mercenaries?

Exactly. And so what we're doing is putting that in place and then seeing what happens. Let's see what people are going to do. And then keeping in with the theme of the year is big iteration on factional warfare.

Factional warfare kind of started off strong, and now is trailing off again. We're moving it into a kind of "sov-lite" so that it is a stepping stone for people thinking about the big 0.0 sovereignty game. By doing the missions, by taking the bunkers, by doing things in the systems, you can actually start taking control, where ultimately you get it to a place that you can take over the system and take occupancy. If you keep your influence high enough, you can get things like loyalty point bonuses.

We're looking at what to do with datacores. Do we keep getting datacores from research agents? That's a bit daft. Why don't we just tie them in and have players get sliding scales depending on how much you're doing in a system?

We've started working on that. Then, once you've got this slider where you actually have a point, like a "take bunker, get two points" kind of thing. Then it really opens it up to saying, "Well, how about if we've taken over this district down on this planet with a bunch of DUST mercenaries who are in our faction?" And as we start filtering that into it, we can do all kinds of stuff.

Another key bit is to make killing other people give you more influence and give you more loyalty points (if you will) than grinding missions with stealth bombers. If you take the system -well, TCUs and how you can upgrade them by dropping big modules into them. How about if you want to live in the system, if you donate your loyalty points into the TCU you can get additional benefits for your corporation or for your faction? So it will actually give you a reason to live in a system, farm it, and protect it. It's putting a whole load of things into place, and I just want to see what players do with it. The key to that is that we're keeping all the teams together and we're giving them the leeway so that as we go into the second half of the year they'll be able to continue iterating on it.

The other thing that will blow your mind is the introduction of... I think we've got around forty new module types. People have seen the microjumpdrive on SiSi. But there are a ton of other modules, too.

Will any of the modules relate to DUST?

There will be one or a couple. For the orbital bombardment thing, how do I access that? Who's broadcasting from the planet? We're still looking at the item progression and the balancing of what guns and what ships will be able to shoot down to planets. Is it a special gun that you can fit on a frigate which you can point at a single person at the DUST level? What happens when I get a dreadnought with a full rack of guns and just start carpet bombing the place? We're still looking at how we flesh all of that out, but the actual tie-in with DUST will happen after we release DUST. It's all set up to go, but it will wait until DUST goes onto Tranquility later in the year.

Buy yeah, there's a ton of new modules that will completely mix up how people are doing fighting right now. For example, can I switch my resistances on the fly? There's some amazing stuff there. Heat weapons, too. They're looking at a whole host of things and have some really good ideas.

From an aesthetics point of view, missiles won't just appear randomly around your ship. They will actually have proper launchers. We've completely remapped all the effects on missiles. Watching a swarm of drakes fire a salvo of missiles is an amazing spectacle.

For me, the success of Inferno won't be measured in the length of the patch notes, it will be measured in how players react and come up with things we never expected, using just this set of tools. We're throwing some seeds down on the ground and we'll see what happens with them.

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