At this week’s EVE Fanfest 2016, CCP Games revealed its new PC first person shooter Project Nova that has risen from the ashes of console FPS DUST 514. Rather than being a direct PC reboot of DUST 514 with huge planetary battlefields and a direct link with PC MMO EVE Online, Nova aims to be its own game set in the EVE universe. In my hands-on time with Nova, I found it to be a perfectly competent if somewhat generic squad-based shooter but was left with burning questions about the future plans for the game. Would there be any unique gameplay elements to hook people in? What will progression look like in the finished game? Will there be territorial warfare, and what about a link to EVE Online?
Today I posed those questions and more to CCP’s Snorri Árnason, and the answers shined a light not only on Nova but also the development process for new games at CCP. Nova is still in an early pre-alpha development stage and I was surprised to learn that it’s been in development for only a few months. It also turns out that the game is set in the current EVE lore and not in the future as we had previously been informed, and the team’s long-term ambitions do include sandbox territorial warfare and eventually a real economic link with EVE Online. The difference is that while DUST 514 sold us on huge promises and tried to do everything at once, Nova will be built slowly from the ground up.
Read on for a brief overview of the long term goals for Project Nova and detailed interview responses from Snorri Árnason.
What’s in the cards for Nova?
Nova is being referred to as a “Project,” a term CCP uses to indicate that it’s past the protoype stage but hasn’t yet been officially greenlit for full production into a release title. These games now regularly get shown off at Fanfest to gather feedback and gauge interest levels, a strategy that has proven very effective recently for CCP. Valkyrie started life as a project named EVR at Fanfest 2013, and Gunjack was originally Project Nemesis at Fanfest 2015. Once it’s given the go-ahead, Project Nova will get a new name and branding and new versions will be brought to events like Fanfest for feedback.
Full development will start with a focus on creating a solid sci-fi lobby shooter set in the EVE IP that is popular in its own right, with much of the deep customisation gameplay being similar to dropsuit fitting in DUST 514. Once that has been achieved, the next long-term goal will be to include territorial warfare between corporations in a similar manner to DUST 514 and thematically set on the planets of New Eden. Next, the two games could be merged socially by allowing Nova players to join EVE corporations, which is something that we could do in DUST 514. Finally, if the game is still going strong, then an economic link could be opened up between EVE and Nova in the form of some items that can be produced in one game but used only in the other.
It’s important to note that none of this is promised or guaranteed, and that at each stage the game will need to stand on its own two feet without relying on big promises. DUST 514 was big on promises and poor on delivery, launching to high anticipation but ending up as a mediocre shooter sold on the premise of a realtime link with EVE that never fully materialised. This time around the game will be built piece by piece from the ground up with big long term ideas but no promises, and perhaps that will be enough to truly call it a spiritual successor of DUST 514. Video capture of the demo below by EVE player Dannie Fleetfoot:
An interview with Snorri Árnason
MassivelyOP: The Nova demo seemed very polished and bug free; how long has it been under development?
Snorri Árnason: A few months, maybe half a year.
Did having assets from DUST 514 and unreal engine 4 help?
It’s having assets, it’s having people from the DUST 514 team, and it’s having a super dedicated DUST player — that’s me, I knew the game inside and out and I knew every playstyle and weapon. That all helped, so we got a running start and a lot of excitement and enthusiasm to do it; with all that coming together you can get a really good results quickly. It does help to have a live ops guy that has been here for 10 years in the Shanghai office who is a real tyrant on stability and stuff like that. He’s been here day and night in Harpa with his team to make sure it’s all running smoothly.
Nova isn’t a fully committed game yet, is it?
We call our products Projects until they’ve passed a certain threshold. At that point, the game becomes a product, and then you go out with key art and a brand and logo and say, “We’re committed, this is the game we’re making, and this is the plan we have.” That’s the thing that happened to Project Nemesis: It came to Fanfest as Project Nemesis and got great feedback, people loved it, and we saw a partnership. At the end of that project status, we created the Gunjack brand and key art, and then it became a product. Nova is a working title.
I understand that right now you’re focusing on the core minute-to-minute shooter gameplay, so what’s the next big step?
That’s to nail progression, the reward structure, unlocks, and customisation. We already have strong ideas about it that I’ve been kind of floating with a couple of people here at Fanfest. That’s something that we can start talking to the community about soon now that we’re officially a Project coming out of the woods. Nailing that core gameplay loop is the next big thing, and then we go into what changes it from a lobby shooter into something else.
So is the plan for Nova to have its own persistent elements such as territorial warfare?
Is the plan to have its own planetary conquest that isn’t connected to EVE then?
So planetary conquest in DUST actually took place on the planets that are in EVE, but it was really more of a thematic leap than anything else. Its like the battle of Hoth in Star Wars, Hoth is a recognisable planet, and it’s all a part of the Star Wars universe. These planets were all a part of the EVE universe and these battles were taking place there, but there was no additional gameplay link apart from the orbital bombardment. The orbital bombardment itself was really difficult to use, and it was logistically difficult to align the people on both sides of the game, so it wasn’t a feature that a new player or an intermediate player could get enthusiastic or excited about. I’d like to put something in their hands earlier than that.
We’ve been proposing the following connection stages: thematic, followed by social (being in the same corporations), supplemented by planetary conquest so we have the corporations owning land. The next link for me would be an economic link, so there is the idea that if you own a planetary district, you can farm something, but that unit would be useless to you as a Nova player; it would only be useful to you as an EVE player and vice versa. So you could force an interaction between the two games that would be helpful to both sides if they trade and work together. Ultimately, whatever you could create with that Nova unit in EVE and EVE unit in Nova wouldn’t need to be anything magnificent; it could be just a cosmetic item or a side-grade or something cool. It could be anything, but just the fact that it can exist is more important to me than a gameplay link that is obscure.
Is this a case of you want Nova to stand on its own two feet and then build it up a bit at a time?
And then maybe when it’s viable, then talk about connecting it to EVE in a way that is mutually beneficial to both games?
Yes, exactly. The thing is that now that people have seen Nova, they are saying, “Well that’s nothing unique; why are you showing this to us because there’s no EVE connection!” But the exact opposite is what they said in the last six months. They said, “Why would I even want to play connected to EVE when I can barely get 20 frames per second and I’m lagging and the shooter gameplay isn’t great?”
We’re targeting the feedback we’ve got during DUST 514, which is basically performance first, gameplay second, and making sure the minute-to-minute gameplay is great, tactical, and fun. That will retain people on its own merit, not on the premise that its going to be great some day, so we are twisting the vision of DUST 514 and inverting it. We make sure people stick because of the game they’re playing, and then we can augment it.
Another thing that’s different about an FPS is that first-person shooters are way more about mastery, and if you take the mastery away from an FPS player, he becomes way more frustrated than an average gamer. I rely on my mouse, keyboard, and situational awareness, and if I’m being let down by lag spikes and killed over and over because of the game and not because of my own performance, I think that frustrates FPS players more than other games.
What’s the unique twist that will make Nova more than every other shooter?
That’s where we are refining the message both at Fanfest and during development. To me — and this may be controversial — I really just want to make a great shooter as I’ve been lacking a great shooter for a long time that I want to play in this setting. For me, the current marketplace doesn’t have a realistic sci-fi FPS that I want to play, and I think that there are people like me who would want that offering. So it’s a tactical, squad-based, realistic game that has its own laws and its own rules and its own lore setting and feels real, and that’s something I’ve always kind of yearned for in games.
We were told that Nova is set in the future of the EVE universe, but if you’re considering a link, is it actually set in the current universe?
Nova is basically set in whatever time is happening in EVE now. We actually talked to the EVE lore team as it’s very important to me not to say anything wrong in the setting. We had a sit down with Paul Elsy and the lore guys Linzi Campbell and Nick Bardsley to really nail that, and we talked about how the cloning tech works with the DUST clones and Valkyrie clones. It’s incredible to be able to ask that question like you would ask the doctor or a real-life person to explain something because someone has already defined it — it’s an amazing asset.
The current demo doesn’t feel very EVE-like; it doesnt have any recognisable environments or items. What are the plans to make it look iconically EVE?
This is a prototype map really to explore what we can do with the engine, and that’s something we already identified before to make it audio and visually more iconically set in New Eden. The ship interiors themselves are something that we met with the art team about last week. They have a lot of source material and were very happy to help us out. We asked what kind of decals could we see and what kind of iconic rooms would be in an Amarr ship that are different from a Gallente ship.
So are there any assets being taken from inside EVE such as the station interiors, etc.?
I’m not sure that those are compatible, but we have the concept art and the spec sheets defined by the EVE artists defining all the colours and material settings for an incredible amount of things inside and outside of EVE ships. Even if you don’t recognise any decals or an Amarr statue or anything, you should be able to feel it through the visual language where you are. You should be able to tell from the mood and the lighting and the colours used where you are, and then we can top it off with some iconic imagery.
I played two matches in a row, and in the second I started noticing ad hoc strategies emerging. Is that the goal of the squad-based gameplay?
I was incredibly happy to see that started organically, I was monitoring the room every time I could, and you could see that some of the people who are used to these strats from CS:GO or something were immediately setting up their lines and barking orders and finding out alternate routes to get to hack the CRUs. It started happening with complete strangers, but honestly I would like that to start in the first battle. I’d like that to be something you don’t have to learn at all, but we were seeing people confused by objectives like hacking the CRU, so we’ll take those lessons in.
Given the fact that its coming up as a very tactical squad based shooter, do you see any potential for Nova as an e-sport?
I haven’t seen a 16v16 game become a truly successful e-sports game. You lose a lot of the detail, and there’s a lot of chaos and a lot of deaths, so it’s very hard to follow, and we don’t have the round system like CS:GO. We’re not thinking about it as an e-sports game, but there should be rudimentary things like spectator modes and streaming in-game. We have strongly thought about a unique game mode for veterans that’s a free for all last-man-standing thing, and in the EVE spirit I’d like for you to place a bet on yourself. We could have an entry fee to join to keep out the new players who shouldn’t be there and winner takes all — that could be very cool.
Are there plans to add big open maps like DUST 514 and vehicles?
Is there any feedback in particular you’d like to respond to, or are there any common threads you’d like to address?
There’s two things we’ve seen. People think the 6v6 is here to stay, but it’s really just to make a great experience at Fanfest. It’d be difficult to wait for 16v16 in a queue, but the game is definitely 16v16, which is also why the map may feel a little bit empty at times. The second thing is that people are perceiving the loadouts that they start with to be the definitive loadouts. They’re there to help you start the game, and afterwards we’re definitely aiming freedom that you have in DUST 514. We’re trying to learn the lessons of DUST and not just give you all these choices in the beginning.
What we wanted to show was performance and that people had fun; those are the only things we wanted to get from Fanfest. We knew all these questions would come, but every time we see, “It’s a great shooter; let’s build on it” — that’s the thing we want to hear.
We’d like to thank Snorri Árnason for speaking with us!
Massively Overpowered is on the ground in Reykjavik, Iceland, for EVE Fanfest 2016, bringing you expert coverage from EVE, Valkyrie, Gunjack, and everything else CCP has up its sleeve!