Brendan 'Nyphur' Drain

Reporter

A long-time MMO-addict, northern-irish lad Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is Massively Overpowered's resident EVE Online expert and writer of the long-running EVE Evolved column, published Sunday evenings. The column covers everything from guides and opinion pieces to commentary on game design and hints on preparing for upcoming expansions.

In addition to the column, Brendan covers EVE Online news, community events, general interest stories, and other posts. When he finds the time in his hectic schedule, he can sometimes be found writing features on game design topics or other MMOs he's playing.

He is hard at work on his first video game, the indie space 4X game Predestination.

Twitter: @nyphur

EVE Evolved: Does EVE Online need more conflict-drivers?

Of all the terminology associated with EVE Online, the one thing that’s always made me a bit uncomfortable is to hear players describe PvP as “generating content.” It’s an oddly sterile euphemism that seemed to surface years ago during the era of the blue donut when large alliances organised faux wars for the entertainment of their restless troops, and it doesn’t sit right with me. PvP in EVE is supposed to be about real conflict for solid reasons, not generating content for its own sake. It’s about smashing a gang of battleships into a pirate blockade to get revenge, suicide ganking an idiot for transporting PLEX in a frigate, or forcibly dismantling another alliance’s station because you just hate them so much.

EVE PvP can be visceral and highly personal, not just something fun to do or a game of strategy but a way to settle old grudges and punish people for whatever the hell you want. World War Bee was a brutal mix of Machiavellian politics and massive fleets of highly motivated players coming together, not just for some fun gameplay but to try and completely annihilate the goons. So what the hell happened? Why are so many people sitting in nullsec fortresses and farming ISK, building huge capital fleets and complaining about the “lack of content” in PvP today? Does EVE‘s conflict engine need a tune-up?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at some of the factors limiting real conflict in EVE today and suggest three possibly controversial changes that would drive further conflict in New Eden.

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EVE Evolved: How much trust is too much in EVE Online?

Of all the headlines to come out of EVE Online over the years, the biggest and most far-reaching have been the stories of massive thefts and underhanded scams. The MMO community has grown up hearing these tales, from the embezzlement of EVE‘s first public bank in 2009 and the estimated $45,000 US Titans4U scam in 2011 to the trillion ISK Phaser Inc scandal and beyond. EVE has been embedded with this narrative of mistrust and betrayal for most of its life, the most famous example still being the Guiding Hand Social Club heist from all the way back in 2005.

Yet when a player recently stole three extremely rare ships using social engineering, the victims expressed only disappointment that they had lost a friendship they valued. The question for players and the wider MMO community today is simple: How much trust is too much to give someone in an MMO? To what degree should the game mechanics automatically protect your assets and privacy, and how much of that protection should you be able or expected to give up in order to make progress or join a group?

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EVE Evolved: The controversy over EVE Online’s capital ship nerfs

EVE Online players have been up in arms this week over sweeping nerfs that are about to hit to high-end farming gameplay styles in the player-owned nullsec territories. It started when CCP Games announced that the Excavator drones used by Rorqual capital industrial ships would be getting a sizeable mining yield reduction and that a respawn delay would be added to ore sites in nullsec. As players were still reeling from that unexpected news, developers then announced a surprise general nerf to fighter damage with the goal of making carriers and supercarriers less effective in PvE and PvP. This significant balance change was just announced on Friday 9th June and goes live on Tuesday 13th, prompting outcry from the community over the lack of feedback-gathering on such a significant change to capital ship balance.

These nerfs both seem to be reactions to the latest few Monthly Economic Reports, which showed that the total money supply in the game economy is over a quadrillion ISK and rising rapidly. The detailed breakdowns of economic activity in the reports tell a more complex story, with ISK supply from bounty prizes roughly doubling over the past year and mining in the Delve region shooting off the scale in the past few months. It seems that a large number of nullsec players are spending more time farming and building up resources, and it’s the scale and efficiency of the top-tier farming setups that has CCP worried.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I discuss the upcoming Rorqual and fighter nerfs, look at the economics of farming, and explain why this trend could be a more serious indicator than CCP realises.

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EVE Evolved: War declarations need revamped for the citadel era

It’s a universally accepted fact in EVE Online that you’re never truly safe from attack. Low-security space is littered with pirates looking for an easy kill, nullsec alliances respond to invasion of their territory with overwhelming force, and cloaked ships could lurk around every wormhole. Even in the friendliest parts of high-security space, you can still be blown up by a squad of suicide gankers or find yourself the target of a highsec war declaration. Wardecs are intended to allow player-run corporations to fight with each other in highsec without interference from the police, but over EVE‘s entire lifetime they’ve been almost exclusively used to grief and harass small corporations.

Some wardec alliances log literally thousands of wars per year, with almost all of them being against small industrial and social corporations whose members have no intention of fighting back. The aggressors typically just camp trade hub such as Jita 4-4 and declare war on any corp caught hauling valuables through the system, turning a potential sandbox content-generator into a boring pay-to-grief mechanic. With the landscape of EVE being transformed by player-owned citadels and a dynamic PvE revolution on the horizon, I think the time is right to revamp war declarations for the new citadel era. The current wardec system isn’t fit for purpose, and we deserve something more engaging.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I give some thoughts on the wardec problem, a suggestion on how they could be revamped to fit the new citadel era, and an idea for how they could even provide a more immersive PvE experience.

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EVE Evolved: Is EVE Online becoming too safe?

EVE Online is often painted as a harsh universe without rules where you could have your entire net worth destroyed or swiped right from under your nose, a reputation that has been well-earned over the past 14 years. Emerging in an early MMO industry that was rapidly becoming obsessed with keeping players safe and happy, EVE stood out with its harsh death penalty and anything-goes ruleset. Stories of high-profile heists and massive battles are still the main types of news that come out of EVE, a narrative that underpins much of the official marketing of EVE even today. It’s been something of a double-edged sword for the game’s popularity, attracting some players on the promise of emergent PvP-oriented gameplay and dissuading others with the threat of extraordinary loss.

Despite this outward appearance, the past few years have seen an odd shift in EVE‘s development direction with the apparent goal of making the game a lot safer. Small improvements such as the Weapon Safety system and warning popups help prevent players from making fatal mistakes, but it’s the citadel asset safety and reinforcement timer mechanics that have been most striking. Player-built citadels are completely invulnerable for all but a few hours per week, and even attacking them in that short period is a painful experience as you have to defeat it three separate times over the span of a week and none of the station’s contents even drop as loot. Highsec is now littered with hundreds of structures that simply aren’t worth attacking, and I’m forced to ask whether the citadel reinforcement mechanics are overkill.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I discuss gameplay being designed with loss-aversion in mind and lay out some of the problems with the citadel asset safety and reinforcement mechanics.

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Using FaceApp on EVE Online avatars is the best thing ever

If you’ve been on literally any social network recently, you’ve probably come across image manipulation app FaceApp. The app takes in any photo of a face and uses a neural-networking approach to automatically re-imagine the face as a different age or gender or adds a photo-realistic smile to an otherwise sullen expression. It wasn’t long before some EVE Online players discovered that the app works just as well on EVE avatars as real life photos.

Signal Cartel member @dorian_reu on twitter has been slapping smiles on loads of EVE players this week, and the results have been brilliant. Happy EVE avatars have been popping up all over EVE Twitter profiles, some of them pretty amazing transformations and others just down-right hilarious. Below are some of the highlights:

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EVE Evolved: Low-security space has lost its identity, but it can be fixed!

When I first discovered EVE Online back in 2004, it had been out in the wild for just under a year and was a much simpler and friendlier beast. There were fewer than 50,000 players in total and most of them were flying around in tech 1 frigates and cruisers, either mining, grinding their way up top level 3 mission agents, or PvPing. Most corporations lived in the relative safety of high-security space and warred with each other for all sorts of reasons, and some power-hungry corps tamed the lawless nullsec regions to hunt battleship NPCs and mine ores containing valuable Zydrine and Megacyte.

Low-security space offered a tempting middle-ground for players back then, a place you could go to reap better rewards than highsec but at the cost of a proportional increase in risk. Pirates faced much lower consequences for attacking another ship unprovoked there than in highsec, and the areas around stargates and stations were kept safer by automated sentry turrets. The delicate balance between risk and reward in low-security space began to fall apart as the sizes of player groups in EVE increased and ships got better at tanking the damage from sentries. Nearly a decade later and with very little done to revamp the area, today’s lowsec still suffers from this legacy and has lost much of its identity. But how can this problem be solved? Hints may come from recent rumblings at EVE Fanfest 2017 on the future direction of PvE.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the reasons I believe low-security space has lost its identity and a few of the ways CCP could inject some much-needed personality and speciality into this neglected area of the game.

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EVE Evolved: Video highlights from EVE Fanfest 2017

For a few days each year, hundreds of EVE Online players from across the world flock to a frozen volcanic rock at the top of the world for the annual EVE Fanfest. I was on the ground at EVE Fanfest 2017 last week in sunny Reykjavik to get the latest on what’s ahead for EVE and CCP’s other titles, and it was a thoroughly enlightening experience. We learned all about CCP’s amazing plans to roll out adaptive AI-driven PvE across the game world, talked to players and developers, and heard about the next stage of Project Discovery that will let players search for real exoplanets in space.

We also got hands-on with CCP’s immersive VR sport game Sparc, looked at Valkyrie‘s new Groundrush game mode that has players fighting inside huge structures on a planet’s surface, and confirmed that DUST 514 successor Project Nova is still in development. There were talks at Fanfest that we just didn’t get a chance to go to, and others that really have to be seen first-hand. Thankfully, CCP has recorded most of the event and has begun uploading talks to the EVE Online YouTube channel.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I’ll be running down some of the highlights of the official videos from EVE Fanfest 2017 for those who missed the event.

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EVE Fanfest 2017: EVE Online plans amazing new PvE gameplay

Today’s EVE Online is a far cry from the empty but hopeful sandbox released back in 2003, having constantly re-invented itself for over 14 years and put together some incredibly ambitious visions for the future. Executive Producer Andie “CCP Seagull” Nordgren shared one of these visions in her Fanfest keynote speech four years ago, laying out the long-term goal of having players build their own stargates, explore deep space and colonise previously undiscovered star systems. This trajectory has brought us Citadels, Engineering Complexes, and soon Upwell Refineries, but it isn’t the only plan for evolving EVE and it may not even be the most impressive one.

Last year we heard from CCP Burger and CCP Affinity on some amazing advances that had been made in NPC AI for the powerful roaming Drifter ships, and broad plans to integrate parts of that more widely into the game, possibly even creating something CCP Burger called “PvPvE.” We got our first taste of the end result after EVE Vegas 2016 when NPC mining operations began appearing in certain star systems and mimicking the activity of real player mining ops — They had mining barges hoovering up rocks in the belts, haulers picking up the ore, and even combat ships using PvP setups and strategies modelled on real players that would chase attackers around the star system. This first iteration of the feature was impressive, but at EVE Fanfest 2017 we discovered that an even more incredible future awaits EVE players.

Read on for a breakdown of the next stage in EVE‘s PvE gameplay and an interview with CCP Seagull on how this feature will be rolled out over high-security space and beyond.

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EVE Fanfest 2017: Hands-on with competitive VR sports game Sparc

At the end of February, CCP Games announced a new game that has nothing to do with EVE Online or even the EVE IP. Named Sparc, the new VR game is being pitched as a virtual sport environment with competitive online gameplay and an online social space. It has the aesthetic of the Tron-style cyberspace world that movies promised us throughout the 80s, and uses motion controls to deliver full-body VR gameplay. Even the social space will have a bit of an 80s arcade vibe, with players able to gather around and watch others compete and challenge the reigning champion to a match.

Anyone who’s been to EVE Fanfest in recent years will recognise Sparc immediately. The game made its public debut as Disc Arena in Fanfest 2015’s VR Labs demo section alongside three other VR experiments, and made a re-appearance the following year with motion controls as Project Arena. Just as Project Nemesis became the release title Gunjack, this game has now graduated into a full production title with its own development team and budget. Sparc is due for release at some point in 2017 on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, and we managed to get some hands-on time with an early version at this year’s Fanfest.

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EVE Fanfest 2017: DUST 514 successor Project Nova is still in development

Developer CCP Games made its first foray into the console FPS market back in 2013 with the incredibly ambitious DUST 514, and things didn’t exactly go to plan. The core FPS gameplay wasn’t exactly up to scratch, and the tenuous realtime link with the EVE Online universe didn’t hook enough people in the long-term. DUST shut its doors last year, but hope for a successor came in EVE Fanfest 2016 when devs hosted a live playtest of an early work-in-progress EVE FPS codenamed Project Nova that’s being built from the ground up.

The game was a huge hit with attendees last year and CCP’s Snorri Árnason confirmed that long-term plans for the game did potentially involve territorial warfare and some kind of economic link to EVE. No new information had been released on Nova since that test, but this week at EVE Fanfest 2017 it was confirmed that CCP is still working on the game. Development of Project Nova has now been moved to Reykjavik to be closer to the EVE Online dev team, which is a good sign that it may graduate from prototype status to a full-fledged production game. Check out our coverage of last year’s Nova playtest for more info on how the game plays.

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EVE Fanfest 2017: EVE Online joins the hunt for exoplanets through Project Discovery

The scientific community has been buzzing lately with the incredible news that a star system less than 40 lightyears away named TRAPPIST-1 was found to contain seven rocky planets of similar size to Earth. Three of the planets are in the star’s habitable zone, the narrow orbital band in which water should be found in a liquid state and so life may be possible. TRAPPIST-1 has fired the imaginations of the general public, who have been getting involved directly in the search for new exoplanets via crowdsourcing initiatives such as the Exoplanet Explorers project on Zooniverse.

At EVE Fanfest 2017, it was announced that that players of MMO EVE Online will soon be joining the great exoplanet hunt too through an interesting new mini-game that challenges players to find elusive planetary transits in data from telescopes around the world. Developed in collaboration with citizen science company MMOS, the University of Reykjavik, and the University of Geneva, the task will come to EVE as a Project Discovery mini-game with a variety of in-game rewards. It’s pretty exciting to think that players waging war over planets around other stars in a virtual universe will soon be finding them in the real world.

Read on to find out how exactly we find planets around other stars, and how this is going to be integrated with EVE Online.

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