EVE Online: Exclusive Post-Dominion Interview

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Earlier this month, EVE Online players were given an early holiday gift in the form of Dominion, the game’s twelfth expansion overall and second in 2009. Recently, Ten Ton Hammer caught up with Senior Producer Torfi Frans Olafsson to talk about the impact of Dominion on player-controlled areas of space, player reactions to the expansion and whether or not CCP has any other plans for the title that we might see make it in-game prior to the release of DUST 514.

Ten Ton Hammer: One of the goals for Dominion was to keep the player-controlled areas of space dynamic and more accessible to smaller alliances. Are we seeing signs of this happening?

Torfi Frans Olafsson, Senior Producer of EVE Online: It’s too soon to tell if that has happened yet. The real fighting and changing of hands of sovereignty won’t start until December 15th, when we unlift the grace period we gave to the alliances so that they could make the proper upgrades and arrangements to their already pre-Dominion claimed systems. On or around that date we expect the alliances to act on their safe-guarded strategies, insuring a large degree of destruction.

Ten Ton Hammer: The new sovereignty system is already being taken advantage by existing alliances that wish to fortify and enhance their space. Are new groups of players trying to conquer space? Is CCP happy with the level of difficulty experienced when a new alliance tries to find a home in conquerable space?

Olafsson: Again, too soon to tell. We designed the system so that current “AFK-empires”, that held on to large swathes of space they don’t use would be more inclined to consolidate their forces in smaller areas that they then upgrade and make more valuable. This does make room for the new kids on the block, so to speak. The coming weeks and months will tell us if that goal will be achieved. For better transparency, we put in a slick sovereignty dashboard that allows players to review the status, recent conflicts, and victories and defeats. It helps communicate to all of the players in EVE, not just the ones deep in zerosec warfare, just how vibrant and alive with conflict the solar systems of EVE Online are. Watching the progress is like watching a beautiful flower grow, or a beautiful building being torn apart, depending on your point of view.

Ten Ton Hammer: You have previously stated that you do not anticipate players migrating to conquerable space because it is not lucrative enough. Has that changed significantly with the Dominion expansion?

Olafsson: We are seeing evidence of large numbers of people upgrading their clones and taking the jump into the lawless, player-controlled zero-security part of space, finding riches in fat bounty NPCs and mining, and upgrading the development indices of their systems by doing so. So whatever is causing it, more people are waking up to the fact that zerosec is fun and the risks are worth it. Remote systems, deep in zerosec, are now teeming with life, there’s chatter in the local chat channels, money is being made and people are having fun. It’s very exciting for the developers to see this unfold.

Ten Ton Hammer: The changes to the Super Carrier ship class were completely scrapped only a few weeks before the Dominion release. What was the reason for this move?

Olafsson: The Super Carrier / Mothership balancing began as a mission for us to find a better defined purpose for these red dragons of fleet warfare, to make them more tactically distinct for more engaging capital ship gameplay. We had great discussions with members of our community at Fanfest, through the Council of Stellar Management and various other channels and had the repurposed Motherships / Super Carriers up on our test server well in advance for the expansion. During testing, it became clear to us that the ships, with their new deployable Fighter Bombers, were too powerful and we saw several scenarios that would result in heavy griefing, providing hours of fun gameplay for the people that owned such ships (which are less than 500) at the cost of multiple thousands that would be slaughtered in the carnage that would follow. They were too powerful. We put our balancers then on the task of re-balancing them, which in retrospect was being done too close to comfort to the upcoming release.

At that point, we didn’t feel that enough time had gone into the re-balancing. Despite there being so few ships in the game, they are hugely expensive and some of the most powerful and talented players of EVE have worked incredibly hard to obtain them. We chose to cancel all the changes and come up with a better strategy of balancing the ships after the new year, working with the community, doing proper testing, essentially doing something we can all be happy with.

It was difficult to see the amount of rage directed at one particular game designer that had picked the short straw to be the one behind the blog outlining our re-balancing. We look at ourselves as a team - there’s never just one rogue developer “ruining the game” or a hero “saving the game”. Projects of this complexity are always a team effort. Any change we make that goes out to the test server has undergone reviews, discussions and iteration with a number of people before they are deployed. We’re a team of people committed to making the game better, and take praise and criticism as such.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you tell us more about the new "speedboat" pirate missions? How are they being received by players? Are there more or less players trying them out than expected?

Olafsson: We are seeing lots of positive feedback on both our own and player run forums. People celebrate the new challenge in tactics while following a rich unfolding plot that touches upon the darker and more sinister regions of the backstory.

Ten Ton Hammer: Dominion is an impressive expansion that touches on nearly every aspect of EVE life. Will DUST 514 be the next big thing in the EVE universe, or can we expect something big in between?

Olafsson: There are several interesting things lined up in EVE before Dust 514 for sure. Our goal is to build the ultimate science fiction simulator. We’re slowly working towards that, one feature at a time. At Fanfest we talked about planetary interaction - being able to build, develop and own installations on planets. We are also developing a powerful web front-end to the game which will help you communicate, organize and collaborate with other players, even when you are not at your gaming rig. Meanwhile, ingame, there will be several features which are focused on combat, tactical awareness, better fleet battles and such. Basically seeing expensive stuff destroyed in a beautiful organized manner. We will be making more announcements in the new year about our upcoming plans, but I’d like to point to our Fanfest 2009 coverage on YouTube for those that are interested in our vision for EVE for the future.

We’re not making any announcements yet about what’s in the next expansion, but at least internally at CCP, developers are pretty pumped up and getting into gear, now that Dominion is close to being stabilized. The recent PCU record of 54,181 pilots online at once sets the stage for 2010 being an awesome year in EVE. I can’t wait for it to begin, frankly.

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