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: 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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EVE Fanfest 2017: EVE Valkyrie adds atmospheric flight in Groundrush, coming April 11th

Virtual reality dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie has taken centre stage in the emerging VR landscape, growing from a tech demo developed by some devs at CCP Games in their spare time to become a bundled launch title on the Oculus Rift and launch on several other VR platforms. The game has received several major updates since its launch just over a year ago, adding a new Carrier Assault game mode, weekend Wormhole events, a competitive league system, and more.

Today at EVE Fanfest 2017 and as just announced by the official PlayStation blog, CCP Games revealed the next step for Valkyrie — and it’s a pretty big one! The Groundrush update will add a radically different way of playing the game with the first ever ground-based map, “Solitude,” which will see you dogfighting within the atmosphere of a planet and dodging through pirate structures. The update also expands co-op play to the Control and Carrier Assault game modes, adds some new Wormhole events, and adds official support for the Steam Controller. The Groundrush update officially launches on April 11th, and you can check out the trailer below.

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EVE Evolved: EVE Online’s moon mining overhaul and the future of conflict

Just under four years ago at EVE Fanfest 2013EVE Online‘s Executive Producer Andie Nordgren took the stage and delivered an epic long-term vision for the game’s future in which players will one day explore deep space and colonise previously undiscovered star systems. Developers have been tackling this enormous vision one step at a time ever since, and today we have a versatile set of player-built Citadels and Engineering Complexes for corporations and alliances of all sizes. As we approach the four year mark, we’re now about to hit another major milestone in Nordgren’s plan with the release of Upwell Refinery structures and a total overhaul of EVE‘s resource-gathering gameplay.

CCP released a devblog last week revealing details of the new Upwell Refinery structures and a whole new gameplay system for moon mining that sounds pretty damn impressive. Rather than simply deploying a static structure that provides a permanent stream of moon minerals, new moon mining structures will physically rip a huge chunk of the moon’s surface away and drag it through space to a refinery for players to mine. The new mechanic will transform moon mining from a relatively secure source of passive income into entirely active gameplay, with far-reaching consequences for alliance warfare. This forms one part of the promised resource-gathering revolution, which we’re sure to hear more about at EVE Fanfest 2017 this week.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I drill down into the details of the new Upwell Refineries and moon mining mechanics, and ask what effect this will have on the rest of the game.

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EVE Online plans Blood Raider capital ships with dedicated bays for player corpses

Perhaps the most disturbing of the pirate factions in EVE Online‘s dystopian universe is the Blood Raider Covenant, a radical Amarrian cult who drain the blood of captured citizens and literally paint their ships with it. Players can occasionally loot the blueprints for rare Blood Raider ships from PvE sites and build their own blood-splattered vessels, and this week CCP revealed details of powerful new Blood Raider capital ships that will be added to the game in an upcoming patch this May.

The new capital ships are the “Dagon” Force Auxiliary, the “Chemosh” Dreadnought, and the colossal “Molok” Titan. All three ships have special bonuses to Nosferatu modules that will let them rapidly drain the capacitor of enemy ships, and another macabre twist: Massive corpse bays that can only store the frozen corpses of your enemies (or your friends, because … well, it’s EVE). Some ships in EVE have useful specialised cargo compartments for items such as ore or fuel, but the corpse bay is just a bit of fun as corpses don’t actually serve a purpose in-game at the moment.

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EVE Evolved: What’s the deal with EVE’s PLEX changes?

This week CCP Games announced that some big changes are on the way for PLEX in EVE Online. The PLEX or “30-day Pilot’s License EXtension” is a virtual item that represents 30 days of subscription time and can be bought for cash and then sold to other players for in-game ISK. This simple mechanic has proven to be one of the most important innovations in the subscription MMO business model over the years, allowing players with lots of in-game wealth to effectively play for free while permitting cash-rich players to buy in-game currency without funding dodgy farming operations that can disrupt the game world. Dozens of games now support some kind of player-mediated currency roughly like PLEX.

The proposed changes are intended to simplify EVE‘s business model by merging PLEX with the microtransaction currency Aurum. Players will also be able to put their PLEX into invulnerable account-wide PLEX Vaults that are accessible at all times rather than having to move the valuable items manually by ship. There’s been significant backlash from the EVE community over the newfound invulnerability of PLEX, plans to delete some microtransaction currency from the game without compensation, and the possibility that someone leaked the announcement to friends early in order to make a profit. So what’s the deal with these PLEX changes, and why are some EVE players going nuts over them?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the upcoming changes to the safety of PLEX, the opportunities that more granular PLEX could have for EVE, and why players are up in arms over plans to delete Aurum from thousands of accounts.

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EVE Online players lead $14,000 massacre in a busy trade hub

It’s said that you’re never truly safe in EVE Online unless you’re docked or logged off, and sometimes not even then. If someone wants you dead badly enough, he can get to you even in the heart of high-security space surrounded by legions of CONCORD police ships. The police in EVE will get revenge on anyone who attacks another player in high-security space, but they aren’t very big on crime prevention and take a few seconds to kick in. If you can get enough players together in high-damage ships, you have enough time to take out some pretty big prey before CONCORD comes to promptly turn your attack fleet into floating scrap.

That’s the premise behind suicide ganking, and it wouldn’t be EVE if someone didn’t turn this most heinous of crimes into a huge player-run event or even an annual tradition. Starting in 2012, the Burn Jita event sees hundreds of players in the Goonswarm Federation alliance flock to EVE‘s main trade hub system of Jita for a weekend to suicide gank as many industrial ships, freighters, and random passers-by as possible. Burn Jita 4 took place recently, and killboard records estimate the final damage total to be over 750 billion ISK (worth roughly $10,000 to $14,000 via PLEX conversion at current rates). According to the latest economic report, this impressive figure is actually only around 2% of the total ship value destroyed game-wide throughout February.

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