Sections

EVE Retribution and beyond: CCP talks vengeance

Monday, 10th December 2012 08:36 GMT By Dave Cook

EVE Online: Retribution gives players the tools to exact sweet revenge. VG247′s Dave Cook speaks with CCP Games to discuss the expansion, and what the team has planned for 2013.

CCP Games

Founded in 1997, based in Reykjavík, Iceland.

EVE Online launched in May 2003, and is not approaching its tenth year.

EVE Online: Retribution is the game’s 18th free expansion pack, and it focuses on the theme of revenge.

Check out the studio’s website for more information.

Game critics often talk about evolution whenever genres advance or new technology gives studios greater ability to explore new mechanics or themes. We use it like it’s going out of style, but can simple paradigm shifts really be considered evolutionary? I’m not so sure any more.

After all, evolution is a natural process, not a carefully considered, pre-planned design spurted out by focus-test groups or engineered through costly R&D trials. No, it’s something that just happens and it never stops for a second. You can’t pause nature or tell the tide to stop rolling in and out. That’d be akin to playing god.

These things are inevitable, and as residents on this planet, we simply have to adapt to whatever the natural order throws at us. EVE Online is evolutionary. I say this because even as the MMO reaches its tenth year, the team at CCP Games are still taking a hands-off approach, letting the world of Tranquility evolve at a distance.

They’re not overlords who rigidly dictate the natural order of its play-space, instead, they merely give players the tools to advance the world’s evolution themselves. Empires rise, they burn to the ground, and thousands of personal – often incredible – tales seep through the server, all without any as much as a single push from the developer.

That is true evolution, and in EVE Online: Retribution – the game’s 18th free expansion pack – CCP Games isn’t just giving players tools to work with, it’s giving them sharp, blood-thirsty swords with which to wage war and shank each other in the back with. Revenge its the theme, and you can bet that the world is going to get particularly heated as a result.

I asked lead game designer Kristoffer Touborg why his team decided to prod the EVE universe so profoundly, and to get an idea of how the games populace might push back – be it through war on a mass scale, or the settling of small, personal vendettas. Either way it generates bespoke missions and potential for new stories to tell.

“I think there’s two things for me,” he explained, “One is that – at the moment – I’m really interested in finding ways to create content for other players. We have all these old systems that have been around for quite a long time, but I don’t think we’ve done anything lately that’s too sandbox, or lets people poke at each other with a stick. We’ve been looking at this for a while.

“Bounty hunting is one of these things, and we’re looking at more features for next summer and winter. In general I’m just trying to see if we can do some kind of test
case for a system where we basically have profitable content created by players.

“Should we hide small bounties? Should we up the limit on how much you have to put on? Should we just leave it? Right now, I just want to leave it. I kind of want to see what happens.”

“So I could go in and say, ‘Every time you kill someone, we’re going to generate a bounty of 1 million ISK on someone, but I really dislike that kind of stale system, Instead this is a test to ask, ‘Would players pay to create content for each other?’

“We’re looking at a ton of features that allows us to do this – bounties, structures and other things – but in general, it just follows our design principals of making tools for players to create content and stories, rather than us just writing the stories for them.”

When Touborg spoke about players paying for content, he isn’t talking about microtransactions, but the ISK bounties they can place on each other’s heads. If someone wrongs you, you can pay to open up the game’s PvP rule-set for 15 minutes, giving aspiring bounty hunters a window to make some fast cash and gain notoriety among the stars.

That is also evolution. These aren’t pre-planned bounty hunter quests you get in other sandbox games, but the result of real grievances, petty squabbles or carefully planned plots to overthrow an entire corporation. It’s content made by the player, not by the developer.

It’s a system that Touborg felt was in need of improvement, and so it’s the biggest change running throughout the Retribution expansion. He’s been monitoring it since it launched last week and it’s already throwing back some interesting results.

“There are also unexpected consequences. I’ve been monitoring the bounty system really heavily, just because I’m interesting in it, I want to see where it’s going and what people are doing with it. It’s kind of like a really awesome social experiment.

“We don’t just get happy people as a result of this. We had a guy who was just basically sitting in a help channel, just posting bounties on everyone asking questions. It was kind of a douche move, and so then we had an issue where people had small bounties on them, and they wanted to get rid of the ‘wanted’ sign.

“If you live in Empire Space that ‘wanted’ sign doesn’t really do anything, but the aesthetic existence of the ‘wanted’ sign on their portrait really offended players. There’s a group, and we’ve allowed them to not get touched by others.

“I try to kind of envision what players will do with our tools. I’ll sit down and think, ‘How are they going to use this?’ and I typically think of 10% of their usage and the other 90% is stuff players come up with that I learn of afterwards.”

“There are people who live these lonely, isolated existences where they’re interacting with parts of EVE that don’t contain other players, and suddenly some guy has rolled along and put a sticker on them. It’s not something that will impact their gameplay, but there are some people who are up in arms about this.

“We’ve been talking about it. Should we hide small bounties? Should we up the limit on how much you have to put on? Should we just leave it? Right now, I just want to leave it. I kind of want to see what happens.

“If anything, I’d put in a system where you could buy your bounty out for twice the amount. So if someone puts an 100k bounty on you, you could pay 200k to Concord or the system to make it go away.

“That’s how my mind works at least. I want to see how offended people will be by this ‘wanted’ tag. Are people so offended that they’d pay twice the amount to essentially have their character portrait cleaned up?”

There’s also a new ‘safety’ feature that forewarns players of actions that may get them hounded by concord forces, or penalised to the point that they can no longer dock until alarms cool off. It’s similar to the alarm countdown in Metal Gear Solid, showing you how long you have until the heat dies down.

It’s a simple icon system on the HUD that denotes certain actions and reactions, yet it distils down EVE’s sprawling aggression system – which was once collated as a 38-page document by one of CCP’s third-party QA teams – into three handy icons and some simple text feedback. It’s quite a feat.

So if your safety warning is set to green then the game prohibits you from doing silly things that will result in penalties, medium level lets you dabble in mayhem a little and red means it’s open season on you if you break one of the game’s many rules.

“We used to have a warning system so if you tried to do something bad it’d tell you, ‘You’re about to do something bad, do you want to go ahead?’ That never really worked out because people were never sure when they should be clicking ‘yes’, or when they should be clicking ‘no’, and they were mis-clicking.

“Now the system refuses to do the action but it tells you why. So it says, ‘You can’t do this action because your safety is at level one’, then you could go to the safety and correct it.

“That is better content than anything I could sit down and script. The fact that these people keep posting money into this, which will continually give them targets, is better than any dungeon or event that I could ever make.”

“But instead of a dialogue pop-up – which is an easy way to circumvent thinking – this basically says, ‘Your module is red because your safety level is on. If you want to change it, you must make the conscious choice of adjustin your safety level.’

“It’s very much like a gun safety. It’s either either on or off, and there’s also a medium setting. If you get pursued by Concord we have a UI that tells you all the timers. So the safety is to restrict your own actions, and the timers explain the stuff that you’ve done.”

“All your current states are shown. Your safety level will determine what stations you can get into. If your safety level is green, you won’t be able to get one of the flags that can’t make you jump. If safety is at medium you can get some of them, but if your safety is at red then of course you can get all of them.”

It’s a system that was engineered to spark conflict, rather than control players, as freedom is still at the forefront of CCP’s thinking. Touborg admits that creating tools in order to provoke a reaction within the community is a tricky process, and that he can only ever predict a small percentage of ways people will react once they’re introduced into the wild.

“I try to kind of envision what players will do with our tools. I’ll sit down and think, ‘How are they going to use this?’ and I typically think of 10% of their usage and the other 90% is stuff players come up with that I learn of afterwards.

“One of my hopes for this one was that personal bounties would kind of go into the background in favour of corporation or alliance bounties, because I’m not the biggest fan of ‘needle in a haystack’ play – finding one guy in the whole universe.

“If I had the choice between people putting bounties on individual players and desperately trying to hunt them down in space, or somebody putting gigantic piles of money on a corporation or alliance, and then someone saying to their own corporation ‘these guys have 10 million on them, let’s spend a month hunting them down in their space’, then that would be my ideal scenario.

“We’ve seen some superstar, individual bounties – one guy has 5 billion ISK on his head already – and we’ve seen a ton of corp and alliance bounties and that makes me super-happy. If you want to PvP for money you can look at the alliance board and go, ‘Alright, there’s 10 billion ISK at stake here, I can go here, hunt these guys and make money.’

“That is better content than anything I could sit down and script. The fact that these people keep posting money into this, which will continually give them targets, is better than any dungeon or event that I could ever make.”

”I think there are other products that have suffered greatly from not taking our approach. I think for example – my first love, and perhaps the game I looked to as my single most important source as a game designer – was Ultima Online.”

I ask if this new system of bounties and mass vendettas could spark wars once day, and the expectation is that yes, it will. The approach here is to really shake up the hornet’s nest in a significant way.

“I really hope it does,” he admitted, “and if it doesn’t then something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. This is a mechanic that should spark conflict. The intent of this is for people to get upset with each other.”

The reason Touborg and his team chose to focus on one area in Retribution – the concept of vengeance – is that the game’s thousands of mechanics are threaded together so tightly that altering one aspect will unquestionably have an effect on another.

“Yeah, but that’s good,” he explained “because that’s basically like patch notes. If I change something in this patch, I have to revisit something in the next patch, and well, that’s kind of good because the entire reason we’re doing this expansion was that our bounty system didn’t work well any more.

“Now we have a really exciting bounty system, so maybe next expansion we’ll touch on something else that didn’t work. We’ll fix something and introduce something at the same time, and that kind of excites me.”

Along the years the concept of EVE’s approach to freedom has been debated in the CCP boardroom as it’s the main reason that such knock-on effects occur, but while it’s challenging, Touborg stressed that he wouldn’t have it any other way, and that it’s not a system that other games can employ.

I asked Touborg about the complaints of griefers and scammers putting potential EVE Online players off the title, and we both agreed that keeping the freedom to be a nuisance or a saint must always remain at the forefront.

However, other titles like League of Legends have seen its developers Riot Games deploy a new task force to crack down on trolls and other toxic elements, so I asked him for his opinion.

“I’m happy we’re in the niche where we have this approach. I don’t think our approach would work in League of Legends and I don’t think their approach would work in EVE Online.

“I don’t think League of Legends should do it, because with EVE, letting people do what they want is the product, while in League of Legends the arena play is their product. Their approach to getting rid of toxicity is a great one, and I think they’re doing the exact right thing.

“But I think there are other products that have suffered greatly from not taking our approach. I think for example – my first love, and perhaps the game I looked to as my single most important source as a game designer – was Ultima Online.

“EVE is basically a universe that is connected by a thousand features. There’s not one core gameplay mechanic that we’re constantly working on, and the fact that you have to gather threads together, and prioritise in order to figure out where to go next is just crazy.”

“I think Ultima Online had the cross-rods that we’ve had a few times where the developers have gone, ‘OK, this is getting out of hand, should we stay the course in the hope that our approach is right, or should we fundamentally change the way the game works to make it safer.

“I think they went in the wrong way. I remember – through the years – many situations where we sat in the meeting room and said, ‘OK this is getting out of hand, and we should change how EVE Online works’, but luckily there have been enough people with cold water in their blood who said, ‘No, this is our product, this is how it is.’

“I’m happy about that because it’s certainly gone wrong for other games that haven’t stayed the course.”

I ask Touborg how CCP looks to change EVE Online beyond Retribution, in the run up to its tenth anniversary, and beyond. He revealed that the planning process – even after a decade – still isn’t set in stone, and that there is still work to be done in perfecting the universe as it exists now before significant expansion can be achieved.

“I don’t know exactly how to distil it,” he said, “but I guess it’s a mix of a Rubik’s cube, a bottle of vodka and something else. I don’t know, but we’re constantly trying to plan several years ahead, but it’s so difficult with such a big game.

“I think this is a blessing and a curse, but EVE is basically a universe that is connected by a thousand features. There’s not one core gameplay mechanic that we’re constantly working on, and the fact that you have to gather threads together, and prioritise in order to figure out where to go next is just crazy.

“We talk about adding more space to EVE every year, and I usually tell people no because that is such a big new can of worms when I think about getting our current universe under control – which is what we’ve been trying to do over the past year or two.

“I’ll be happy with where EVE is in another year or two, but right now there’s just so much that we’ve build up over the years that we’re working on now.”

Latest

3 Comments

  1. roadkill

    :thumbs up:

    #1 2 years ago
  2. DarkElfa

    They need to refresh the old designs somewhat. The new designs are much more fresh and in tune with modern design thinking then say, the Nyx.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. CCPcantMakeGames

    CCP delete the new AI or at least get off your sheep humping asses fix the fucking AI! You guys are horrible at developing your own game! Fix this shit assholes!

    #3 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.