For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t) Team Phenomenon is the team that has been working behind the scenes to bring us all of the improved NPC AI’s we have been dealing with for the last couple years. CCP Burger’s team started small with the Circadian Seekers, building a simple logic AI that puttered about scanning things, and when threatened would call for help from the Drifters. But really they were just a slightly upgraded version of the existing sleeper AI that was well known from wormhole space.
Their next project was the NPC miners and haulers. In those cases the NPC’s had to make considerably more complex decisions about their environments and what to do to mine the ore, call the hauler, make the handoff, and then call for help if attacked. And then once attacked, the responding units have considerably better tactical decision making along procedural lines.
Finally, the latest addition to their AI improvements was the Blood Raider shipyard. In this form, the shipyard acts as a general and decision engine. Analyzing what is attacking, and marshalling and directing forces for appropriate responses. Leveraging short or long range, tackling and logistics dynamically. The team also took advantage of the Blood Raiders to make AI adjustments in real time to improve the experience. For example, when it was found that a swarm of Punishers was a hard counter, the team worked to make the shipyard’s response appropriate to a small one manned fighter armed with photon torpedoes. Wait, wrong trope.
The news came in a series of scaling reveals. The first reveals are ones that ARE going to be live in the near term. The next batch had some solid assets and would be likely to be futures, and the third set was very vague with little more than artist impression photos and a promise of more to come.
To match the Bloodraider version, the Guristas will soon be having their own shipyards as well. This time there will be up to three up at any given time, 2 in null and 1 hidden in lowsec. These shipyards promise to be even more difficult to manage than their Bloodraider predecessors. Instead of the relatively straightforward neut pressure one can expect from Blood Raiders, CCP Burger warned players to expect ECM and extensive use of other forms of EWAR from the Gurista defenders.
But the rewards promise to make it worth the effort. CCP Burger showcased 3 faction caps that can drop (as BPCs) from the yard. First is a faction FAX, the next is a dread-carrier hybrid. That is it is a Pheonix with fighters. I’ll say that again. It is a dread with what appears to be the ability to fit fighter support modules and field a full wing of fighters. And finally, the Titan. Only in keeping with the apparent theme, this a leviathan by way of a wyvern.
This titan-come-super carrier could prove to be a real ship of the line when it comes to capital warfare. Depending on the obvious rarity factors, and assuming that these will own spawn in the Gurista space of the north, this could be a real boon to whomever holds the north and will be hard to deal with if they can be amassed in any significant numbers.
Forward Operating Bases
But what about high sec? Well worry not empire dwellers, CCP Burger has a number of hits for you as well. These will come in the form of forward operating bases. These unannounced occupations of high sec by pirate forces promise to add a healthy dose of danger back to high sec. Or at least one can hope. Basically, the Blood Raiders and Guristas are going to split up Empire space and start moving in. Bases will quietly be set up which will need to be dealt with. If players do not deal with the FOB within a few days of its spawning, the pirates will go out from the base in search of, “Content”. The NPCs will start gate camps and attacking structures as well as spreading out to patrol the local system and possibly its neighbors.
CCP Burger went on to make it clear that the patrols will be actively searching for players and dealing with the fleets and camps is targeted for around 10 man fleets. He also made it clear that the FOB mechanics will mirror those of the shipyards in terms of scaled procedural response profiles.
Exciting times indeed.
CCP Burger did not, however, go into the loot potential. He did say there will be no capital BPCs. Alas, the Veldnaught continues to mine alone. But there will be a hefty bounty for the killing of the FOB and the associated fleets. In a novel attempt to get the typically risk averse dwellers of high sec to form up, the bounty will only be paid to the fleet with the highest damage dealt, however, the bounty is supposed to scale with fleet size. So bigger fleet should then mean a bigger response (more isk) and a bigger payout per individual. But that remains to be seen.
Now we move out of the realm of will be and into the realms of might be.
CCP Burger teased that the Serpentis shipyards will represent another jump in difficulty in the AI response. In this phase, the focus will be on giving the tactics a boost by improving how the NPCs determine location and orientation aspects relative to threats. That is to say, they are going to teach the NPCs about transversal and kiting to get under your guns or out of your range and stay there. Also, he gave us the drawing board specs for the Serpentis carrier the Vanguard where it gets a double bonus to fighter damage as well as the hp and speed boost of the two racial carrier bonuses.
Next, he went on to talk about the Angel Cartel in even less definite terms. At present, these ships only exist as concept art pieces. But the dread promises to be a future goal for yours truly to replace my current vertical supremacy dread.
CCP Burger also showed the concept art for an Angel Titan, and hinted that NPCs may use this.
In closing, Team Phenomenon has been building a pretty solid roadmap for improving the NPC behavior to feel closer and closer to fighting another player. There is still a lot of room for improvement and we are a long way off from skynet taking over Eve or even my drone apocalypse scenario. But every improvement helps. The continued development of the pirate shipyards and the faction caps that come out of them may well become a significant reason to invade a region and hold it, but it is far too early to really speculate there. Too many unknowns still exist but the released specs show significant promise.