EVE Evolved: CCP Games on the future of EVE Online’s PvE
Things have begun to slowly change over the past year or so with the introduction of dynamic NPCs like the powerful Drifter menace with its advanced AI, Burner missions that in some ways almost mimic PvP, and new high-level capital ship NPCs. We’ve even had several seasonal events that can be completed in PvP-fit ships, turning the event dungeons into unexpected flashpoints for PvP. At EVE Fanfest 2016 we learned that CCP has begun stepping up these efforts to merge PvE with the rest of the game world and adding some unpredictability and engagement back into the game, and two new PvE dev teams have been formed to get the job done.
In this edition of EVE Evolved, I talk to game designer Linzi “CCP Affinity” Campbell and senior creative producer CCP Burger about two new PvE dev teams they’re part of, CCP’s plans to integrate PvE more closely with the rest of the game, and how the Drifters were developed behind the scenes.
Massively OP: Can you tell us a little about your roles at CCP?
CCP Burger: My name is CCP Burger, and my title is senior creative producer, and that means that I do a lot of senior creative production things [laugh]. I’ve actually been with CCP for six years and started out in Atlanta, and now I’m back here a couple of years ago. I’ve been working a lot with Linzi and the lore team, and working on the UI and Project Discovery, and all sorts of things. Now I’ve been asked to form a new team around tools to build lore. What we want to do is basically figure out ways to make more dynamic content that uses local parameters to react to the universe and what’s going on.
CCP Affinity: I’m CCP Affinity, I’m a game designer and I’ve been at CCP for nearly six years now. I’ve been working with PvE for that entire time, and I also work on the lore, and for the past 18 months I’ve been working on the AI. I also started working on ways to start bringing the lore alive through PvE, and we’re calling that live PvE now. That’s stuff like the Crimson Harvest, Operation Frostline, the Citadels event, and so on. It’s ways that players can engage in PvE that’s currently live and use it to shape both the landscape of the universe and the ongoing narrative.
Have those events (crimson harvest etc) been popular? I know they got me logging in more, but are there any internal stats that show their effect?
CCP Affinity: Yeah, they’ve been really popular. Crimson Harvest, for example, which was the one we did around Halloween about the blood raiders, 33,000 dungeons were completed per day. We’ve just started looking a bit more deeply into the data from these events, because what the team want to do is use the data from events to broaden our horizons a bit. We’ve just been focused on putting the sites into the game and getting players congregate around those.
They’ve been very successful because people want to do the PvE for the rewards, but also they bring PvP opportunities. We want to branch that out, so if you’re not interested in running sites or engaging in PvP around those sites maybe you’re interested in mining or manufacturing? There are so many different professions and I think live engagement and live events shouldn’t just stop at one site. We want to take what we’ve learned and turn the dial to 11.
So there are people who don’t really consider PvE and don’t have any active engagement right now in these events, and you’re looking for ways to involve them too?
CCP Affinity: That’s the plan! I’m not going to say, “Yes, we can definitely do this,” because we haven’t done it yet, but that’s the plan. I think that for so long PvE has been secluded to just missions or sites that are static in game, but we want to bring some new stuff every couple of months to give people something new to do. We also have to give new players a way to feel like as soon as they log into the game they’re valuable and they can interact with other people.
CCP Burger: It feels like in the last 18 months there has been a bit of a shift where we’re actually starting to focus more on PvE and the great things that can come from PvE. There’s even PvPvE or the PvP that kind of triggers from PvE.
CCP Burger: We’ve been looking a lot at how the players interact with the world. Mining is a PvE tool and oftentimes people will say “No! PvE is killing NPCs” but PvE should be so much more. EVE’s not only about blowing stuff up, so it’s about how we can use PvE to reinforce all these amazing aspects of the game.
So the new PvE teams that have formed around this, is this all very recent? Can you tell me more about the teams?
CCP Burger: It’s very recent, we actually just settled on a name on Tuesday. We’re Team Phenomenon.
CCP Affinity: While PvE for the past year or so has just been living solely on one team called Space Glitter, now there’s going to be the two teams. The team CCP Burger is working on will focus on how we create content, and the different ways that we can use the AI and take that to the next level.
CCP Burger: So using all the amazing parameters we have in the world to drive content and how we can with minimum effort create content and free the content creators to actually spend their time on epic, awesome content. We used to spend a lot of time on things we sometimes call wallpaper stuff, like the things that are all around you, but we have such amazing creatives at the company and we want to use them in creating amazing things.
We want to focus more on putting in stuff that matters to the narrative in the here and now, because EVE is a living work of science fiction and you can’t have that without the living part. We have to keep the narrative going and we don’t want to just sit in a room coming up with a long storyline for EVE and pushing it out via news articles. We want players to see it all happening in-game and we want them to be able to influence it, and if they can’t influence it then why are we doing it?
CCP Burger: Over the past 18 months, we’ve been experimenting with so many different things. For instance, having The Scope react to what’s going on in EVE and react to player hypes and propaganda, and to in-game events and lore. Around the whole Jamyl Sarum story arc, there was a good amount of people who attended the events but The Scope managed to really elevate it and it was getting a lot of coverage, which makes me excited.
I’ve been asking everyone this, but what is your take on the War in EVE right now?
CCP Affinity: I love the drama. I feel like in the past 12-18 months, EVE has just taken on a new lease of life, it’s so vibrant and busy and there’s so much stuff going on. Everywhere I look on the internet, there’s people talking about EVE and that’s really exciting for me. I think this is a great time to be a new player in EVE because there’s so much buzz and hype.
CCP Burger: I LOVE the propaganda! I hope /r/eve actually publishes a book on this, even if it’s just an e-book. Someone needs to pull this together; it’s crazy.
CCP Affinity: I can’t wait to see how citadels affect the war. I wonder will either side buy a palatine. I don’t think anyone’s going to do it.
I remember at the EVE Vegas roundtable you put forward ideas like procedural generation and roaming NPCs interacting like players. Have any of those moved forward in development?
CCP Affinity: The AI is continually worked on, and I know procedural generation is something we still have in our vision and we’ll get there/ The tools have come a long way in the last year.
It fits with the narrative as well, that the drifters are learning from us, doesn’t it?
CCP Burger: Yeah, definitely. When we changed stuff with the drifters following the feedback it was like “whaaaaaat?” And when the Circadian Seekers started flying around and scanning stuff.
CCP Affinity: Yeah, and I think people forget that the Circadian Seekers were the first step at AI. Then we thought “what else can we do?” and so we created the drifters and they evolved over time, and now there are new Drifters that Team 5-0 are working on and they’re completely different. It’s pretty exciting for me to see other teams and other developers taking on the work we’re doing.
From an EVE player’s perspective, all we saw was these weird NPCs and awesome storylines playing out in-game. So behind the scenes, this was incremental tool development?
CCP Burger: Yeah, and this is my favourite way of developing. It’s so easy to just lock yourself in a room and work work work for years and then roll something out and hope it works, but we’re developing by doing a little bit here and a little bit there and getting feedback. The best thing is if no-one notices, or people claim the new behaviour as a bug or people claim like “of course the Drifters have always behaved like this” then you know you’ve done something really good.
CCP Affinity: When we first put out Defense of the Thone Worlds, the Drifter Amarr incursions, we got loads of bug reports saying “The NPCs are attacking each other!” because it had never happened before.
I heard a very interesting story from someone earlier about how they’d managed to make Drifters blow up a starbase. Apparently they got the drifter to follow them and tried to use the starbase guns to kill it, but after a while it starts to fight back.
CCP Affinity: I think people don’t tell me these things! Sometimes when I hear people talking about the drifters like here at Fanfest and I walk up they go silent, like “shhh, she might change it.”
One last big question — What are you guys most excited for?
CCP Burger: So many things! New pirate titans!
CCP Affinity: Yeah, the Serpentis capital stuff. I think the next event my team will do will be around the Serpentis and Angels and it’ll feed into the capital ship stuff that they are doing. There’s this really nice sort of funnel within the teams at CCP at the minute, like we have the new player team coming up and then my team figure out what to keep people doing when they’re online, and then CCP Burger’s team are going to be doing tools in PvE, and then we have the sandbox team that are going to be dealing with all the veteran players. I feels like we’re going in the right direction.
CCP Burger: There’s a nice thread going through everything, like how they’re building new titans that fit into the storyline, and we’re all kind of aligned on the same stuff.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us!