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.
While NPC mining operations were a relatively small-scale example of the new advanced AI, CCP announced at EVE Fanfest 2017 that the next step is going to be as big as it gets. Starting this summer, the Blood Raider Covenant pirate faction is going to deploy a massive engineering complex somewhere deep in its null-security territory and start actually building capital ships. The structure itself will be initially hidden and the only hints that it exists will be the blood raider mining ships it sends out to gather resources for ship construction. Players will have to use combat probes to scan down the blood raider ships once they return to base just like you would probe down a player, and that’s when the fun begins.
The shipyard will launch defence fleets of blood raider ships using the new advanced AI to repel invaders who find it, and we’re talking about real simulated player ships rather than the wimpy NPCs found elsewhere in the game. They’ll even detect when more players join the field and escalate accordingly, scaling up to hundreds of AI ships including remote-repairing logistics ships, energy-neutralising Bhaalgorns and Ashimmus, tacklers, and damage dealers. They’ll act just like the huge fleets players bring to alliance warfare, calling primary targets and adjusting strategies as the fight goes on, the only thing they won’t do is trash talk at you in local.
This new shipyard is the first truly alliance-level PvE challenge, and destroying the Blood Raider shipyard will take the same effort and use the same mechanics as destroying a player-built citadel. The shipyard will even become visible to all players after the first reinforcement timer, so multiple alliances may show up to fight over it and third parties such as stealth bomber experts Wingspan may take the opportunity to cause some chaos. If any alliance manages to successfully kill the shipyard, it will ultra-drop rare blueprints for the recently revealed Blood Raider capital and supercapital ships that are sure to be valued at hundreds of billions of ISK. The shipyard will then be rebuilt somewhere else in Blood Raider territory and the cycle begins anew.
What excites me most about this isn’t the massive alliance-scale opportunities like the Blood Raider shipyard but how CCP intends to roll this feature out across the game universe. The next step for this massive feature is to scale it back and roll out similar experiences in high-security space for smaller groups and corporations to engage with. Highsec has been badly neglected over the years as the rewards for highsec content other than Incursions are pretty low and the most engaging dynamic gameplay typically involves PvP and is relegated to lowsec, nullsec, and wormhole space.
The addition of new dynamic PvE gameplay gives highsec corps some of the same engaging gameplay without the need to expose themselves to the full rigors of piracy and territorial conflict. CCP’s Andie Nordgren took this one step further in the interview below, explaining that the vision for the future is to weave this type of gameplay into every area of EVE. She describes EVE as being like a giant asynchronous board game with industrial infrastructure such as Citadel structures being the players’ pieces on that board, and the NPCs will soon finally be putting their pieces on that board.
Revolutionising the sandbox
I imagine it much like the independent nation states in a huge multiplayer game of Civilization, with the NPCs interacting on the same level as players but also being manipulated by them for their own ends. “We want the world to be a player as well” is the way Andie Nordgren puts it, explaining that “the job of the world is to stage interesting situations, and I think that today it is too static”.
Another positive aspect of this new AI-driven approach is that the NPCs will be interacting with us in the same kinds of ways that players and player corporations naturally interact with each other, which should help to prepare newer players for the gameplay and choices involved in PvP. This new dynamic PvE or PvPvE type gameplay may never fully replace the grindable mission-based PvE we have today, but I strongly suspect it will become a new yard stick to which any new sandbox MMO’s PvE will be compared in the coming years.
MassivelyOP: We’ve heard about the Blood Raider shipyard, this alliance-scale PvE that mimics PvP. So obviously the next stage for this is to scale this down and roll out more of this type of PvE. Is there any kind of time scale for that?
Andie Nordgren: That’s going to be, in some form or another, a big part of the winter expansion. We want to bring this type of content to highsec in a distinct way where we want to make something for highsec first, which is something we haven’t done in a long time. We have a bit of a history now of many developers’ hearts kind of living in nullsec or lowsec, and of course we get a lot of community feedback from there, and I think it’s time for us to make something for highsec first. Of course that’s also a way for us to engage with all those new players out there, by bringing the content to them rather than waiting for them to find their way to the content on the fringes.
Are there any concerns that making PvE too much like PvP will make it too difficult for people to get into? There are also some EVE players who just like to run missions and like the predictability of PvE.
What I want at least is a sort of scale that goes almost seamlessly from harvesting to combat, and that there’s some content which is just simply harvesting and there can be some threats in that but that should have more predictability and more farmability, if you will. Then as you increase the dynamic response or the combat aspects of it, you might have some stuff in between where you maybe go to harvest in a more dangerous area or you go to harvest some resource that there’s more risk involved in, but that it’s thematically inherent in the activity as well which one it is.
Something like you’re harvesting resources that are obviously claimed by someone?
Yeah, exactly, so that you have more of an understanding of it. And you might build interesting combo fleets like “OK we’re going to steal gas from some empire outpost, and we’re bringing both a harvesting fleet and a combat fleet because we have to be quick.”
There weren’t many big announcements this year at Fanfest, so what would be your biggest take-away from Fanfest that you’d like to get across to people?
What I hope translates for people is that I wanted to come back and talk about the vision again and say that we have achieved so much. If I look back at the vision, we almost forget now that we did overhaul industry for example, and actually a lot of it is there now. As we’re nearing the phasing out of Outposts and adding moon mining and reactions, these are some of the final pieces that are in Starbases and we’re actually coming to a close on this now multi-year investment in what pieces players can put on the board.
I’ve spent half the day likening EVE to this online, distributed, asynchronous board game. We’re working on what pieces players can put on the board, what they mean and how they work, really revamping that and making it awesome and adding new capabilities to it. We have actually been building up tools during that time, which was the intention, and now we’re finally in the place where we have some of these capabilities actually ready to go in our hands.
I wanted to bring that part of the vision to the forefront and say that we want the world to be a player as well, and that this board we’re all kind of standing around can also push more decisions and situations into action, like “Oh now the blood raiders have built their station here!”
So the game world itself being more dynamic?
Yeah. For me, the job of the world is to stage interesting situations, and I think that today it is too static and I want the world to push things into action in a way that feels realistic and exciting. In a way that doesn’t feel like just CCP sitting behind the curtain shaking the sandbox.
So if you build a station in a certain pirate faction’s territory, for example, you may expect that they would start pushing back against you? They may build structures, use advanced AI fleets etc?
You might have stuff like “OK, our neighbours chased some faction out of their space and — ah shit — now they’re in my space and I have to do something about it!” Stuff like this, where there are some pieces on the board that are part controlled by the world but they’re also possible to affect like players. I think that’s going to make the whole board much more interesting for everyone, and that’s really the kind of vision from the small scale to the large for where I think we should go with content in EVE — rather than us making custom story content or stuff like that.
And I think that because of the openness of EVE, we can do it in a much more interesting way than many other games. It’s putting pieces on the board, and because everyone cares about what happens on the board, that becomes something completely different from procedural content that’s designed for an individual to discover. It has a shared relevance and the possibility of influencing it from many different angles and in strategic ways, so you have to figure out how other people are going to respond to it. When you don’t have that with procedural stuff, it just becomes “Okay, the computer has come up with something, it’s a bear with flying ears.”
Hah! This is something that annoyed me with No Man’s Sky, most of the procedural stuff never really interacts so you get no emergence. Whereas in EVE, player interactions are highly emergent. It would be amazing to see some of that emergence being pushed by the game world and available even in highsec.
Yeah, and like I said, I think that is truly a different thing to do in EVE Online with this one shared board. It’s the persistence and the single-shard universe, and the fact that players have so much agency that makes this kind of procedural AI-driven approach something completely different in EVE as a game. So that’s where we’re going, and I don’t know if that translated fully to people but that’s what I was trying to say.
The original vision involved player-built stargates and had players exploring and colonising uncharted space. Is that still the long-term vision?
I want to bring people to new parts of space, but I also will only bring it to people when it’s going to be truly spectacular. There’s still a fair amount of work left on all the pieces for players on the board and pieces that CCP brings to the board before we’re ready to add more board. But when we do, you can damn well build your own stargates to get there!