PvE Round Table: Big Changes and Big Ideas Ahead

2015-11-06

Editor’s Note: This article is a corrected version of the retracted piece on the PvE roundtable at Eve Vegas. The first article presented editorial speculation as statements by CCP Affinity, contained factual errors, and gave an incorrect picture of both what is likely to go live on Tranquility and the timeline for such events. TMC sincerely apologizes to CCP Affinity and any reader who ended up with unrealistic expectations based on our incorrect reporting. 

How would you like a busy, vibrant, and realistic Eve where NPCs and players interact in a logical way that fits in with the lore of New Eden? CCP Affinity led a small but passionate group of players in a roundtable discussion on Sunday, which focused on one of the most notorious parts of Eve Online: the Player versus Environment experience. After requesting that no recordings of the discussion be made, she treated players to a sneak peek at what lies ahead for one of the largest portions of the game. It is important to note that many of the things discussed were being worked on by other teams or very much in the earliest stages of development; other still were simply opinions or ideas that have not seen any work.

For players who think Eve is just a PvP game with PvE thrown in, the numbers show otherwise. Many Eve Online players participate in PvE, though many players also decry the staleness of Eve’s linear encounters or “dungeons” as CCP Affinity called them. Many of these dungeons have been around for years, and the design philosophy behind them has not evolved significantly from its early MMO roots.

VOLUNTEERED AS TRIBUTE

Eve has long lacked a reason to log in every day; playing four hours in a row is actually more efficient than four one hour play sessions. However starting as early as December CONCORD will begin distributing non-trivial rewards to players upon completion of their first activity in space each day. For players who find that real life limits their playtime, this bump in the reward for playing a short time will be a pleasant change.

This new system will be called Tributes, and will include exploration sites, anomalies in both K-Space and wormholes, missions, and incursions. The only parts PvE that will probably not see the Tribute system are COSMOS sites and Landmarks. There will be five levels of reward based off of CCP’s assessment of the risk and difficulty of the content completed, but completing level five sites will get the player the level 1-4 rewards as well as the highest payout.

THE SOUND OF THE SPACE POLICE

After the Tribute system was revealed, the round table discussion got into more unrefined ideas. One such idea was the discussion of NPC patrols and convoys. The basic premise is that these will be faction-specific groups of NPCs which travel through solar systems, jump through gates, and interact with players if it is appropriate for them to do so. The patrols will be in every part of space, from highsec to wormholes, and will act far more like players on a roam than the current NPCs. One idea raised was that players might run across a Minmatar patrol in Amarr faction warfare space, and be enticed to engage them by a boost to their standings with the Amarr Navy. If the engagement goes badly for our hypothetical players, the Minmatar patrol will likely attempt to pursue and destroy them even if they warp off or jump through a gate.

Similar situations could unfold in across the dynamic constellations of wormhole space, with Sleepers or Drifters fighting players outside of the purely static sites where sleepers are currently found. The ideas mentioned for their behavior included scanning down and using wormholes on their own. CCP Affinity stated that if this is implemented NPCs moving through a wormhole would cause the far side “K162” hole to spawn but not use up mass and cause the hole to close. As well it was mentioned as a possibility that if players are engaging Sleepers nearby Drifters would aid the Sleepers in specific situations.

The goal of these patrols is to give space a more realistic and busy feeling, instead of the emptiness that we have grown accustomed to. After prompting by an attendee’s question CCP Affinity discussed how destroying NPC convoys and patrols may prove far more difficult than it is now, thanks to the effort to make NPCs fly more like players. Just as player fleets would not undock without a wide variety of ships like tackle, logistics, DPS, and EWAR, NPC fleet composition will likely include a similar logical variety.

CONTENT IN STANDING

Less concrete than the convoys was the discussion on standings. CCP Affinity offered her opinion that standings are likely due for a rebalance or removal “in the next few years,” but there is not hard timeline for when or even if this will happen. While not likely to herald any changes in the near future, her insight on the matter does show how each part of the game is being looked at for consistency and its ability to generate engaging gameplay.

According to CCP Affinity, the way the current system allows players to have positive standings with just about everyone at once does not make much sense. A rework would allow for more consequences for actions. Factions would team up with or against players, and being beloved by both the Amarr and Minmatar at once might no longer be possible. Besides creating new enemies for players to shoot, this would also allow factions to offer new services to their friends.

One possible idea mentioned for these services was that NPC convoys that we see doing silly undock-redock behaviors off of high sec stations may be given a purpose. In the future they may provide benefits like hauling player goods for a fee, if they like the player asking. Of course this could provide more of a reason for more criminally-inclined players to target these convoys; something which CCP Affinity said would be very much possible if this feature became a reality on Tranquility.

DRIFTERS

The Drifters have captured the imagination and curiosity of New Eden. Whether they are the long awaited return of the Jovians, cousins of the Sleepers, or even Terrans, there is no shortage of speculation regarding their origin. CCP Affinity stated that the storyline of the Drifters is ongoing, and that more about their goals and origins would be revealed at their story advanced. In response to a player question CCP Affinity also said the Drifters would likely not be unrelentingly hostile forever, and that as players learn more about them it might become possible to earn positive standings.

The Drifter doomsday was another subject that came up. CCP is aware that the superweapon fired by Drifter battleships is rather uninteresting from a gameplay perspective. Right now if a player fires on a Drifter he gets hit with a doomsday that has perfect tracking and cannot be avoided; the Drifter just insta-kills the target. To mitigate this tracking is probably going to be added to the superweapon so a fast ship like a frigate would be able get into a close orbit and negate the blast completely.

Perhaps to offset this weakening of the feared Drifter battleship, CCP is also looking at adding more Drifter ships to their lineup, ranging up to capitals. Drifters are also rather omnipresent right now; this should change as the storyline moves along and the Empires start to make them feel unwelcome. When asked by a player, CCP Affinity stated that as the story progressed, Drifters might start to provide different loot-though the nature of that loot was not discussed.

DYNAMIC SCALING

One particularly sore spot for many players is the static nature of Eve’s PvE experience. Once a player has experienced a site, the sense of wonderment is gone. Despite the title of “exploration,” almost all of the PvE content can be solved with a simple Google search, revealing the precise type, number, and trigger of every single NPC. PvE soon becomes repetitive; the static nature of sites encourages a high degree of optimization because the only variable is how quickly players can run them and get paid.

CCP Affinity described her vision for a future of procedurally generated rooms filled with dynamic and varied NPCs. Ideally if players begin to escalate by bringing more friends or bigger ships, the room would react by upping the difficulty to keep things challenging. The goal is, through procedural generation, to give players a sense of newness and risk every time they jump into a PvE experience. However, CCP Affinity said very clearly that this was only an idea right now, and that implementation was not on any schedule. Instead it was a vision for what Eve PvE might one day be, and if nothing else players can take comfort in the fact that their concerns with static PvE have been heard.

In the shorter term, CCP Affinity and the rest of the PvE team have been taking steps to shake things up and provide engaging content without a complete overhaul of every site in the game. A completely new AI with modular behaviors is now in live testing on Tranquility. This is significant because the old AI only supported highly scripted behaviors; the burner mission NPCs are as complex as it got. The new AI allows for much more dynamic responses to player actions, although CCP Affinity said she still expects NPCs to go haywire occasionally as they work out some of the bugs.

SMALLER CONCESSIONS

There were also a number of small things that players asked about and CCP Affinity answered, although her involvement with many of these things is tangential.

  • Mission Agents may be a module for Citadels, but this feature is still under heavy discussion. If this module is implemented, it could mean a multi-team effort that also might result in player-run LP stores. There is also a possibility for a module that attracts NPC ships to your Citadel; it was unclear if it was meant to attract them as targets, protection, both, or neither.
  • The Crimson Harvest turned into far more of a bloodbath than CCP had anticipated as players fought over the sites, but that is not a bad thing.
  • CCP knows that there needs to be a greater variety of missions, and adding new missions is on the to-do list.

TIMELINE

Unlike the sovereignty rework or ship rebalancing, CCP does not want to put out a firm roadmap for their PvE plans. Part of this is due to the way PvE ties in with the story; the story can change based on player actions, and those changes may dictate when some content is introduced. As well, creating a completely dynamic system for complexes and dungeons will require thousands of hours of programmer time and will doubtless encounter many roadblocks. Committing to a set time table would likely only set the player base up for disappointment.

With this in mind, the timeline on these changes is understandably fluid. The first update to the entire experience should be around Christmas, which is expected to bring CONCORD’s tribute system. Following that, expect a larger dev blog in March or April of next year to discuss some of the other features. Around the same time NPC Patrols could be released to Tranquility, assuming everything goes according to plan.

For those really excited about the Drifter storyline, some of the game-changing parts are likely to be implemented sometime next Icelandic Summer. The complete rework of the PvE system to implement procedural generation is still at least a couple of years out, if it ever does become a reality.

ONLY IN VEGAS

This was probably the most underrated roundtable of the entire weekend in Las Vegas; PvE may not be a part of Eve that gets talked about much, but nearly every player does it in some form or fashion. There is a strong desire within CCP to completely revamp PvE in Eve, and while we got an excellent sneak peek at what the future might hold, we will just have to wait for the fleshed out dev blogs and forum posts on this part of Eve’s future to get the full picture.

This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by FearlessLittleToaster.

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