eve evolved

EVE Evolved is an EVE Online column by Brendan Drain. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]

EVE Evolved: What to expect from EVE Fanfest 2016

Ask the average gamer what he knows about EVE Online and after the word “boring” and a spreadsheet joke or two, he’ll probably talk about stories of massive scams, colossal space wars and savage politics. Though EVE is well known for its cut-throat in-game universe, the shared struggles of players have created some very close-knit communities and enduring friendships over the years. Those online communities and friendships bleed into the real world for a few special days each year when the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik plays host to the annual EVE Fanfest. In-game rivalries are set aside, mortal enemies buy each other beers, and everyone celebrates their shared love of internet spaceships.

Fanfest is an opportunity for CCP Games to interact directly with the game’s most dedicated fans, and is usually packed full of reveals, roundtable discussions, and player-run talks. EVE Fanfest 2016 kicks off in just a few days on Thursday 21st April and runs until Saturday 23rd, and Massively OP will be on the ground again this year to get the latest information on EVE Online, Valkyrie, and even some brand-new projects. The event schedule has been released, and it looks like there are also some fantastic player talks, panels on recent and future changes, and feedback-gathering roundtables. As usual, there will also be plenty of opportunity for interviews and posing questions to CCP and players.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I dig into the EVE Fanfest 2016 schedule and see what there is to look forward to this year. If you have any questions you’d like to be posed to CCP or even other players, let me know in the comments!

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EVE Evolved: How did World War Bee start and where is it going?

Throughout the almost nine years I’ve been covering EVE Online in the gaming media, I’ve been continually amazed at the sheer scale and impact of events that happen in the sandbox. The fact that everything happens in one massive shardless universe lends events in EVE a kind of tangibility that is rarely felt in an MMO, with the effects of huge battles and record-breaking heists rippling throughout the game world and potentially affecting every player. Right now the whole New Eden cluster is ablaze with talk of the largest war ever to kick off in EVE Online or indeed gaming in general, a war that has come to be known as World War Bee.

We’ve been covering this ongoing war between EVE‘s largest military coalition (called CFC or The Imperium) and its collective enemies (known as The Allies or the Moneybadger Coalition), and so far it’s had some pretty epic twists and fights. But what actually caused World War Bee, what are the events that led to the Moneybadger Coalition coming together, and how does The Imperium plan to fight this war in the long term? With the wider gaming world peering on as EVE alliances smash huge fleets together in deep space over ideals and past grudges, now is a good opportunity to explore those questions.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I delve into the events that many in the EVE community believe are responsible for World War Bee and get an update on its progress and The Imperium’s plans.

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EVE Evolved: Why you should participate in EVE’s Project Discovery

Back at EVE Vegas 2015, CCP Games unveiled an ambitious project that aimed to involve EVE Online players in some really exciting scientific research that could make a big difference in the real world. CCP has been working with researchers from the Human Protein Atlas project on a way to gamify their research and integrate it directly into EVE in a way that respects the game lore. The Project Discovery minigame went live this week, and it’s been a big hit with the playerbase so far, with almost half a million submissions from over 23,000 players in the first day alone.

The minigame tasks players with identifying highlighted cell structures from fluorescent images in exchange for ISK and Analysis Kredits that can be used to buy some shiny new Sisters of EVE items. Project Discovery can be opened from the side bar whether you’re docked or in space, making it a good way to kill some time while you’re waiting for something to happen. The task can be a bit tricky at first, but some players have already become expert classifiers with hundreds of submissions and accuracy ratings of over 90%.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I delve into Project Discovery, link a few great community guides, and highlight some serious problems with it that have unfortunately appeared.

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EVE Evolved: Analysing EVE’s new Economic Reports

EVE Online‘s massive and largely player-run economy has been a frequent topic of discussion on MMO blogs and gaming news sites over the years. The unregulated nature of EVE‘s sandbox and the fact that all players interact together in a single server has made it the target of high-level studies in free-market economics, and CCP Games even had a full-time economist on staff from 2007 to 2014 to analyse it. Dr Eyjólfur Gudmundsson and his team delivered the in-depth Quarterly Economic Newsletter (QEN) on the state of the game until the reports were cancelled in 2011 due to being time-consuming and costly to produce.

While the majority of EVE players are content to run missions or smash spaceships together for fun and profit, for some it’s the complex markets and industrial gameplay that hold their interest. They fill the Market Discussion forum with speculation and pack the room during the economy talks at events like EVE Fanfest, and they’ve been asking CCP for more economic data since the QENs were cancelled. This week they got their wish as CCP Quant released the first of a new series of monthly economic updates packed full of graphs and statistics from all corners of the EVE universe.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the new monthly economic reports and glean some useful information from February’s stats. Where is the safest place to mine? What effect did Skill Trading have? And which nullsec alliances are moving their assets?

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EVE Evolved: Citadel stats revealed, theorycrafting begins

EVE Online‘s Citadel expansion is due to launch this spring, transforming the way many of us play the game through the introduction of player-owned citadels. Building and running your own space stations seems like a no-brainer for a space sandbox MMO, but until now it’s been a very complicated and costly affair that usually appealed to only the most hardcore of players and corporations. Citadels promise to open that gameplay to everyone and make it a hell of a lot more compelling, with easy-to-use stations that can be built almost anywhere in space for as little as a few hundred million ISK.

This expansion will be the biggest step yet toward CCP’s grand sandbox vision for accessible space colonisation revealed at Fanfest 2013, with future steps including things like industrial structures and player-built stargates. Developers have now released the preliminary stats for the new structures and all of the modules and rigs that can be fitted to them, in addition to the proposed component lists and fuel costs. This information has sparked fresh speculation on how each of the three sizes of citadel will be used when the expansion goes live in just a few months, and many are already buying up materials and making plans.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I summarise all of the recently released information on player-owned citadels and draw some conclusions on how each of the three citadels will be used.

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EVE Evolved: The right way to reboot DUST 514

This week we heard the news that CCP Games will be officially shutting down PS3 online shooter DUST 514 in May to start work on a PC reboot. While this is obviously disappointing for the small but dedicated community that has stuck with the game over the years, it’s a predictable end that we always knew was coming and the prospect of a PC reboot is interesting. DUST 514 was an incredibly ambitious game that aimed to merge EVE Online‘s spaceship warfare with planetary conquest on the ground in realtime, but it never managed to harness that potential. We got very limited forms of cross-game communication and a barely useful orbital bombardment mechanic, and the core FPS gameplay wasn’t compelling enough on its own.

The new reboot is in the very early development stages and is being built from the ground up on Unreal Engine 4, so we probably won’t be getting our hands on it any time soon. By the time it does arrive, there’ll be several more first person shooters on the market and it may be competing with games like Destiny and Star Citizen on first-person gameplay. CCP will have to do something unique and compelling with the new FPS to make an impact, and that means playing on EVE‘s main strengths as a single-shard sandbox MMO with intense wars and community politics. For the new FPS to be a success, it will have to be much more tightly integrated with EVE.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at why DUST failed in its execution on PS3 and what kind of gameplay and features I think the reboot needs to be a success.

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EVE Evolved: Should CCP start developing Walking in Stations again?

In all the time that I’ve been writing about EVE Online, one of the most common recurring comments is that the game badly needs some compelling avatar-based gameplay. Many people have been compelled to try EVE over the years after hearing some crazy story of a record-breaking heist or massive ship battle only to be put off that you spend all of your time trapped inside a spaceship (or an escape pod if you run into trouble). CCP has even been teasing us with the idea of getting out of our ships and walking around inside stations since as far back as Fanfest 2006, but the feature never fully materialised.

Originally called Ambulation and later renamed to Walking in Stations, EVE‘s avatar gameplay represented a massive technical challenge of a scale that the studio had never tackled before. The feature was reportedly partially developed and then scrapped several times over the years, with grand plans periodically emerging for things like player-owned social bars, gambling minigames, and holographic war rooms. When the feature finally landed in 2011’s Incarna expansion, it didn’t live up to expectations, and the backlash from its ludicrous microtransaction prices and the perception of wasted developer time had serious repercussions for CCP’s bottom line. Development on avatar-based gameplay ceased at that point, but nearly five years on I’m beginning to think that now would be the perfect time to revisit it.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the reasons that avatar gameplay failed in EVE the first time and why I think now may be a good time to pick it back up again.

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EVE Evolved: Three things you don’t want to miss in 2016

In the previous edition of EVE Evolved, I looked back at some of the big highlights EVE Online throughout 2015. It was a year that revolutionised practically every aspect of EVE‘s day-to-day gameplay with a flood of updates, that broke the stranglehold the game’s largest alliances had on territory, and that seriously advanced the in-game storyline in an awesome direction. It was also a year of new beginnings for developer CCP Games, with the studio releasing the rights to World of Darkness, securing a $30 million investment in its VR labs, and making a deal to bundle its upcoming VR dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie with the retail model of the Oculus Rift.

As we close the book on 2015 and begin writing the first chapter of a new year, it’s an appropriate time to the look forward at what’s to come for EVE Online in 2016 and speculate on what awesome stuff might be just over the horizon. The Citadel expansion is just months away and will let corporations of any size carve out their own little corners of the galaxy. The Drifter invasion of known space and the recent Upwell Consortium storylines will continue to play out in live in-game events that you won’t want to miss. New server hardware will be a welcome improvement as the game may finally be growing again, corp changes will help newbies get into the game, and new PvE features will encourage activity again.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at three big things happening in EVE Online in 2016 that you definitely don’t want to miss out on.

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EVE Evolved: 2015 EVE Online year in review

It’s been a busy year for sci-fi MMO EVE Online and developer CCP GamesEVE received more updates throughout 2015 than in any previous year, though it came in many small releases rather than a few big expansions. We got a whole new sovereignty system and new territorial warfare mechanics that have started to break apart many large alliances. We got new ships with the tech 3 tactical destroyers, tech 2 command destroyers, tech 2 logistics frigates, and more. Practically every module was also rebalanced, the graphics have seen a number of serious upgrades, and the NPC storyline began to seriously heat up with the appearance of a new Drifter faction emerging from wormhole space with insanely advanced technology.

We got a good look at the future for EVE‘s gameplay at EVE Fanfest 2015 and again at EVE Vegas 2015, with plans to return to big blockbuster expansions with the Citadels expansion in spring 2016. EVE‘s player activity also showed a slow decline in tandem with global MMO subscriptions in 2015 but appears to have finally stabilised toward the end of the year. As a company, CCP continued to position itself as a leading player in the upcoming VR games market with its immersive dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie and the recently released mobile VR game EVE: Gunjack. We also heard very little from PS3 shooter DUST 514, and the rights to the World of Darkness franchise were sold off to another developer.

In this year-in-review edition of EVE Evolved, I look back at the past year of gameplay updates, lore and news coverage for EVE and CCP.

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EVE Evolved: Operation Frostline patch and event guide

Practically every MMO does some kind of event for the holidays, but how do you bring the holiday cheer to a dystopian sci-fi universe set in the far-future of a warring galaxy? EVE Online usually just gives us gifts and snowball launchers, but this year CCP Games has gone all-out with its new Operation Frostline holiday event that ties in with the game’s core storyline and offers a whole series of prizes to be found. Players have reported finding lots of avatar clothing, Quafe Ultra speed-boosters, ship skins, and synth boosters as loot. If you’re lucky, you can also find limited run copies of the new Endurance tech 2 ice mining frigate, valuable impants, and even PLEX or multiple character training certificates. The patch also adds a heap of new stuff to the game, including new battle damage and thruster graphics and new logistics frigates.

The Operation Frostline sites themselves can be easily completed by a new player in a cruiser and spawn throughout the game, even in highsec and wormhole space. The storyline surrounding the site’s appearance all over EVE revolves around the ongoing arms race between the various pirate factions in EVE Online. Over the past year we’ve seen covert research labs belonging to several major pirate factions being uncovered, each one introducing some new piece of tech into the game and kicking off a mini gold rush. This time it’s the Serpentis pirate faction that has been caught with its pants down, as Mordu’s Legion has begun revealing the locations of their secret research facilities across the universe.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the lore behind the Operation Frostline sites, give some tips on completing them, and highlight some other major changes that landed with this week’s patch.

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EVE Evolved: Three EVE mechanics that need an update

With over 12 years of development under its belt, EVE Online has now revamped, rebalanced or replaced practically every part of its gameplay at least once. Almost every ship and module has now undergone extensive rebalancing in the past few years, for example, and the entire research and industrial side of the game was completely re-imagined last year. Just recently territorial warfare got a massive revamp, and player-owned structures are about to get an overhaul with the Citadels expansion next year. So many parts of the game have been iterated on and improved since their introduction, but there are still a few things that are badly in need of an update.

The most cited example of dated gameplay in EVE is its probably agent mission system, which sends the player on an endless stream of odd-jobs to ferry items from A to B or blow up a pack of bad guys. We’ve seen some good movement on this front with things like the burner missions and CCP’s long-term vision for PvE is pretty epic, but agents aren’t the only feature badly in need of a redesign. Low-security space has been badly neglectled over the years, off-grid warfare link boosting alts continue to plague small-scale PvP, and the temporary Sansha incursions that kicked off in 2010 have been running for five years.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I tackle three EVE features that are desperately in need of an overhaul and describe potential solutions for each of them.

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EVE Evolved: Huge PvP battles and corp wars in Citadel

Huge PvP battles have always been a core part of EVE Online‘s territorial warfare gameplay, with fleets of hundreds or even sometimes thousands of players slamming into each other in the depths of space. Battles usually erupt at points of interest such as stargates, space stations, sovereignty command nodes or individual player-owned structures. There might even be multiple fights going on simultaneously at different points of interest all across the same star system, each of them happening within its own little bubble of space just a few hundred kilometers across. Now it looks like CCP may be planning to increase the size and complexity of those battlefields by a huge factor in preparation for the Citadel expansion in spring.

We’ll be able to build citadels close enough together that they’re only a few seconds warp from each other, but due to a quirk of how EVE divides its space up into small bubbles, structures and players more than 500km or so apart usually can’t even see each other. That’s the problem CCP is experimenting with right now, with grid sizes on the test server currently increased from around 500km in diameter to 8,000km or more. This would allow players to build communities of citadels in order to work together or to use them as huge battlefields where warring corporations can have staging citadels within visual range of each other. The change could have wide consequences for everything from territorial warfare to piracy and even industry, and it could be the first big step toward finally fixing corporation wars in high security space.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I examine what increasing grid sizes would mean for EVE and propose some much-needed changes for the war declaration system that could soon be possible thanks to the Citadel expansion.

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EVE Evolved: Could achievements save EVE’s new player experience?

EVE Online has always been a very long-term game, with players setting goals that often take months to achieve and forming friendships over the course of years. This poses a real problem for new players, most of whom find the game slow and don’t stick with it long enough to become part of the community. People often hear about some awesome battle or read an interesting article on EVE and finally decide to give it a shot, only to discover that it plays very differently to other MMOs and doesn’t give them any direction. Even players who have been around for years will often admit that it took them two or three trial attempts to finally get into in the game and finding their place in the community. Faced with this problem, CCP has tried to revamp the new player experience several times over the years with limited success.

After the recent announcement that CCP will be letting players buy and sell skillpoints on the open market, I got into a debate with some friends on whether skillpoints represent a real barrier to new players and what CCP could potentially do about it. Practically everything you want to do in the game is locked behind a skillpoint barrier, and that’s assuming you can figure out what you want to do. There are career agents to introduce players to the various parts of the game if you know where to find them, but the majority of the new player experience occurs through an Opportunities system that guides the player through a series of achievement-like popups. I’ve begun to wonder whether these systems could be modified to produce something better: A Life Goals achievement system that rewards players with skillpoints for hitting major milestones.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I pitch an idea for a change to the new player experience that would help players invest in their characters and encourage them to settle in the community long-term.

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