Into the Abyss: Planetary Interactions Changes

JuriusDoctor 2018-04-22

There have been a lot of changes in EVE in the last year. It is very exciting.

Planetary Interaction (PI) was introduced to EVE Online in Tyrannis, released May 26, 2010. This, the thirteenth expansion of EVE, gave players the ability to set planetary infrastructure and begin the process of collecting deposits of minerals and other raw materials from the planets of New Eden. This was a pretty significant feature addition to the game, and increased the number of ways that capsuleers could interact with New Eden – and make money doing so.

One of the earlier EVE Chronicles, Xenocracy (audio), was released in February 2011 in advance of the release of Incursion, which saw the refinement of PI, and included changes that reduced the complexity of the process for harvesting materials on planets. A change which, at the time, was declared as involving “significantly less clicking for a similar or better benefit” (TenTonHammer.com, 2011). We’ll circle back to this point.

Between Incursion and today, very little has changed. There have been (very) small changes and tweaks to the appearance, UI, and polish of PI, but it would suffice to say that it’s been most of a decade without a significant pass. For context, thirteen Assassin’s Creed games have been released, Electronic Arts (EA) has killed four game studios, and Twitch launched during the time in which PI has been waiting for some much-needed love.

This week CCP has released a Dev Blog outlining the pending updates to PI announced at Fanfest. We’ll take a look at the current problems facing PI are, what this update means for the venerable game mechanic, how these changes benefit players, and what further changes we hope to see coming down the pipe.

A Problem with Complexity

EVE Online has a problem with complexity. This is the reason why I will, time and again, reiterate the fact that there are no stupid people playing in New Eden. The learning curve is just too steep for any but the most persistent, precocious, or process-minded to thrive within. I would not be stretching to say that only a very small percentage of people are what I would call good at this game.

The game is so famously complex that I’ve used it in my resume to great effect (I work in IT) with current and past employers remarking that their systems must seem childlike in comparison. I asked a friend if he wanted to learn to play the game and he quipped, “I already have a job.”

The game’s UI (user interface) is acknowledged as being well-known as complex even within CCP. Former lead game designer Kristoffer Touborg, now at Riot games, is alleged as having once said of the UI, “”Welcome to Eve Online. Here’s a Rubik’s cube, go fuck yourself.”

Planetary Interaction is perhaps one of the best examples of the complexity of the game. PI has been pretty ungainly since its inception, and while the early pass at reducing that complexity certainly made things more functionally bearable, the overall system suffers from a low threshold for skills-based entry, but a high requirement for attention, energy, focus, and upkeep on the part of the player respective to initial setup and ongoing changes.

The EVE University wiki (Uniwiki) page for Planetary Interaction lands at almost seven thousand words – all by itself – without counting the jump-offs to specific wiki subpages and resources such as guides, skill reviews, schemas, and YouTube tutorials. I myself have released a couple of tutorial videos for PI, and used to teach it during my short tenure with EVE University. I have made everything from Nanite Repair Paste to Wetware Mainframes to Fuel Blocks.

The benefit from PI comes from the fact that its products are required elements for consummables (such as the aforementioned fuel blocks and nanite paste), deployables such as MTUs and Mobile Depots, and components for T2 ship and module production. With the addition and proliferation of Upwell Structures the demand for PI has gone through the roof; which in turn means that PI is a very lucrative pursuit if you can find steady buyers at market and can stomach the setup.

The good news is, if you learn how to do PI and you maintain it with even passing interest you will make money. You can make very, very large sums of ISK doing PI. I know several people who PLEX their accounts strictly from the proceeds of their PI arrays. Though, that said, the pursuit of PI as a career falls squarely into the category of, “TL;DR” for a lot of players and the number of players who’ve tried PI and given up on it probably shares a strong correlation with the retention rates of multi-level marketing organizations.

The Cost of Doing Business

Therein lies the rub. The PI system is a foundation industry in EVE Online; it is the cost of doing business. Because it’s required there will always be a need for the products of PI. Though as it is overly complex and it can be a struggle for some (or many) to maintain the endurance to become truly profitable and efficient, supply tends to remain moderate or low enough to keep prices high.

There’s the argument to be made that lower-tier and small-scale corporations (10-30 person) are going to find the barrier to entry is going to be one of:

  • making enough to satisfy their ability to operate (fuel production, etc).
  • having enough to build (production for Upwell construction).
  • having enough surplus to economically compete (via sales to market).

So it cuts out a significant slice of the pie when it comes to economic potential at the small scale, and where those goods aren’t – if not easily – reasonably produceable at a small-scale, then those small-scale entities need to find a way to pay for those goods that the larger groups are producing… something which remains untenable if the complexity of producing those goods dissuades engagement and keeps the costs high.

I recognize the value of these quality-of-life changes, and I am eminently grateful to the developers and designers whom have worked on this because I know it is entirely likely that this was worked on by the side of their desk, probably for a very long time, while having to balance a lot of other priorities and projects which have higher pecking order and greater impact on their performance reviews. Believe me, I’m grateful.

Let’s take a look at the changes.

The Changing Road to Rome

CCP acknowledge it’s been a long time since PI was given a good massage, and they’ve certainly given it some good loving. The seminal statement from the Dev Blog is that a rough count for setting up a single planet rounded out near to 300 clicks, but that post-changes they were able to get that number own to under 190.

This is a pretty significant reduction, and if you’re interested in engaging in PI, or are currently running your own planets, I encourage you to read the full-text of the Dev Blog.

For those who want the skinny on the changes, I’ve provided the following short-form breakout of the pending improvements:

  • Visual
    • Gone are the accordion menus, the maddening on-hover scale images (which often interfered with placement), and the some of the other minor quirks.
    • Improved presentation of scan resolution, power grid, resource density, and other metrics such as time remaining on a run.
    • Visual cues when resources are queued or you’ve missed a critical resource route.
  • Functional
    • Easy repetition of like tasks – you used to have to click the item you wanted to place (structures and links) many times. Now, you just choose what you want and place as many as you need.
    • The decommission button – want to get rid of some things you placed without having to confirm each and every one? Now you can.
    • Caching of last pin placement – dropping a new processor will carry over the config from the last one you touched, reducing the number of extra clicks by a huge margin to set your production type.
  • Informational
    • Better schematic views, displayed in the show info panel.
    • A simpler build menu, with better placement regardless of camera angle and zoom level. (It’s beautiful.)
    • Holograms are hidden when creating routes, and windows no longer hide when you don’t want them to – behaving more like other windows in the game. (Shut up, I’m not crying. You’re crying.)
  • Accessibility 
    • An improved planetary colonies window with icons indicating the goods being produced and the number of open planetary slots which can be filled, based on your current skills.
    • Warp-to now takes you to the Customs Office instead of the planet. If you’re not in the system with the POCO it’ll set a destination-to route for you.

On a whole these are excellent steps in the right direction and it’s really nice to see PI finally get some of these changes – many which players and CSM members have been pushing for years.

Now that they’re here, we can talk about the benefits.

The Three Great Commodities

ISK, Morale, and Time. These are the three great commodities of EVE. Provide anyone with a gain or surplus of any of these and you will make a new best friend. Cause anyone to lose any of these and you’ve gained a new enemy.

These new features and changes in the PI mechanic mean that – by and large – players are better able to set themselves up to make ISK, save themselves time in the process, and the reduction in complexity certainly can’t hurt morale. Particularly where the demand for PI good shows no hopes of slowing down. This perhaps makes corporation and alliance leadership asking of their members to engage in PI for the good of the organization a slightly less painful pill to swallow, and I think that CCP knows this.

In fact, to a great extent I believe that this was an opportune time for these changes and that having completed so many other outstanding projects and priorities (in terms of parity and code cleanup, the excising of walking in stations, etc) has opened the door for improvements to systems long forgotten or left untended; fixing PI was just good business sense because it’s a move that fosters good will with the players.

However, in the future state, setting up a single planet takes about 185 clicks if you go by CCP’s assertions. Creating PI goods for fuel blocks takes 8-9 planets. Creating Wetware Mainframes takes upwards of 12, operating at scale. In the latter example that’s a potential 2,220 clicks or more for a three-character setup, given that a single player can manage a maximum of six planets. It’s still a hellish slog, though it’s not quite as much of a hellish slog as it was before. Small graces.

The area where this will most benefit players is the tear-down and re-establishment (or streamlining) of planetary infrastructure should be much quicker. Improved pinning of structures, links, and the ability to destructively remove them in a single pass are perhaps the most powerful additions. For those who are adepts or masters of PI will likely find these of enormous benefit. There are also implicit benefits in the fact that these changes should make teaching PI easier, to a degree.

Who will benefit most from these changes? The large blocs, of course, as they are the ones who are operating the bulk of the PI market machine. Most specifically, I believe the Imperium has the most to gain as they are by far the largest and best organized. It will also aid and assist those who are refreshing themselves on PI and those just getting started. It should be easier now to get your feet wet in a lot of ways.

If the changes made in Incursion reduced the complexity to only 300 clicks, and Into the Abyss leaves us with 185, how much better can our dream machines be?

Dream Machines and Deus Ex Machina

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

There are more than a few suggestions which have been floated by CCP devs at Fanfest, at EVE Vegas, at meetups, in the forums, via evemail, and in the Tweetfleet Slack. Truly, if CCP devs and designers took the time to field all of the questions they receive, they’d never get anything done. Thank goodness, then, for the CSM who share in big part that load and in large act as a filter to the designers and devs, feeding the cohesive, congealed ideas and hopes of the player base to the teams at CCP.

But ideas don’t just float upwards like evaporate dreams; sometimes they flow in the other direction.

When soliciting ideas from people on PI, and potential improvements, the sources can be surprising. During an in-person meetup event a CCP dev confided that they’d love to see PI adopt a template approach, where you could have the ability to create or map out a planetary matrix, save it, and then re-use it with turn-key deployment. In essence, it would give you a cookie-cutter that, once you had set the shape of the planet and the desired product outcome, would let you slap that down at the push of the button on any other suitable planet. Indeed, why redo the same work over and over again if you don’t need to?

CSM “Fuzzy” Steve Ronuken pointed out that to make such an approach work you’d have to account for PI placements, routing, and configurations that are largely dependent on resource availability and skill levels; I posit that those are pretty easy to bake into the interface, by forcing a minimum threshold for any saved templates. If you want to use that templates, you have to have the requisite skill levels (captured as a state measure of the skills of the person who created it). For instance, I only need Command Centre Upgrades IV to build an effective Nanites extraction on a barren planet. I could even make do with CCU level III. When saving that template, it could simply attach a lite-box progression (like in the skills list) that shows which skills and to what level are required to use that template, if I were to share it to corpmates, friends, or even just my other alts.

Fuzzy Steve also suggested that placements would be easier if we could eliminate the resource costs on link distance and/or link upgrades. This is not to say that maximum extractor ranges shouldn’t be enforced, just that a player shouldn’t necessarily have to tear down their entire planetary setup to accommodate for resource shift.

The idea of being able to share PI setups as templates already has an analogue in the ship fitting system, in the Fitting Browser. In the same way that you share corporation fittings, and fits for which you do not have the skill receive a red ‘x’, you could share templates to members who have lesser skill (so as to demonstrate a training plan), or to members who have greater skill so they can help you to improve upon your ideas and refine your processes.

These kinds of potential future improvements give me a lot of hope. Especially if CCP is listening.

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Comments

  • Simone Romegialli

    PI templates is what i dreamed for years. I now have a mancrush

    April 22, 2018 at 11:13 am
  • Lrrp

    Wouldn’t a template be akin to a saved ship fitting used to outfit a ship (as long as you have all the items in the item hanger)?

    April 22, 2018 at 12:03 pm
    • Precisely what I imagined it to be. I was going to mock-up some screenshots of what a potential UI would look like (I’ve done UI design), and the issue isn’t the capability to do it. The issue is working out the bugs that would enable it, and finding the capacity in the CCP teams to take it on and drive it to completion.

      April 23, 2018 at 1:00 am
  • Pew Pew

    Really nice article, the first third especially felt really smooth and professional.

    One question I have about PI is “why is it complex at all?”

    Really what it boils down to is the player thinking “I want to go to this planet and put down a plant that makes oxygen” and I wonder why that isn’t 1 click.

    What is the point of the little pins and the links and the resource extraction schedules etc? Is it interesting gameplay? If PI were a stand alone game would anyone play it at all?

    I think the problem is they’re trying to polish a turd without really owning up to the fact that PI is crap in the first place. They should take some queues from Cities Skylines or Stardew Valley and make an engaging planet farming / city building minigame, that would be fun and would actually draw in players IMO.

    April 22, 2018 at 2:56 pm
    • Rhivre Pew Pew

      I will admit when PI was first announced, I was really hyped about it. I thought it would be as you described, an engaging planet farming minigame, and as someone who studied ecology & geography I was looking forward to doing it a lot. I still hold out hope that it will be like that one day.

      April 22, 2018 at 3:06 pm
  • Alot

    I like the riot guy quote. PI seems complex enough to merit its own game though, preferably for the cellphone. Throw in a town construction aspect like you find in games like battle of the clans, a variety of petty upgrades to purchase and the option to eject all your resources into space when desirable.

    April 23, 2018 at 11:56 am
    • Hell-Nico Alot

      You are right about the cellphone stuff. I’m pretty surprise that CCP haven’t externalized some part of the game to mobile or even browser games.

      May 4, 2018 at 9:39 pm
  • CK

    CCPlz Factorio for PI

    April 23, 2018 at 1:33 pm
  • jets1982

    12 planets to make wetware mainframes isn’t right. I have 6 planets and do it myself. It can, in theory, be done with just 4 planets. I am looking forward to these changes though, having to click “basic processor” over and over again was really annoying.

    May 21, 2018 at 6:54 pm
  • Blake Berry

    I spend at least an extra hour every few days de-comming everything to move to a shifted resource. Sometimes I can sacrifice an extractor head, and move an ecu and have an extended link, but I’m loosing resources by doing that. Albeit, I’m in a wormhole running 3 toons, making 3-4 billion isk/month. CCU V, IC V etc on main char and CCU IV, and IC IV on the other two.

    August 30, 2018 at 7:09 pm