Odyssey Setting the Scene and Delivering the Tools
[tl;dr Where will Odyssey lead us? There already are player built stargates! How the colonisation vision could be developed to favour small scale corporations using new exploration technologies and space scapes that are already available in EVE: Let players build acceleration gates and colonise deadspace pockets.]
The Odyssey expansion is less than a month away and will bring an update to the Exploration gameplay in EVE Online. Many of the upcoming features are already available on the singularity test server and the blogosphere is running high with ramblings about the changes. There also are several feedback threads running on the forums, which discuss the things to come. It will be interesting to see how much of the player feedback can still be incorporated into the expansion, which will hit tranquility on June 4th. I am confident CCP will deliver a solid update.
To be honest, though, I think the resource rebalancing part of Odyssey will have the biggest impact of all the proposed changes while the exciting sounding exploration theme seems to come out a bit pale. The pre-fanfest talk about an apocrypha-like expansion has set the expectations on new exploration features quite high. Even new “space scapes” were being hinted at. What we seem to get now is a revamped scanning UI and slightly tweaked and renamed scanning sites. The only feature that really looks like a new game mechanics is the slightly odd looking hacking minigame and the nice idea of container contents spilling out into space once you hacked an exploration site.
Overall CCP seems to concentrate on some technical groundwork rather than pushing for the most exciting content. I hope considerable work went into improving the backend of the game so that they will be able to deliver more spectacular things in the following expansions. I appreciate that this work is necessary and adds value in the long run. On the other hand at some point a spectacular new game mechanics would be nice indeed.
CCP Seagull is in charge of driving forward the vision of what EVE might look like in the coming years. And her presentations at fanfest culminated in introducing the theme of Colonisation as an imaginative hook to think about the future of EVE. Of course colonisation is a classic SciFi theme and certainly something that allows the game designers’ fantasy to run wild. So far everything surrounding that vision is very vague. The most explicit proposal shown at fanfest was to allow players to construct a new “kind of stargate” with concept art depicting vast construction sites in space with many ships buzzing around the immense structures, emphasising the ideas of collaboration and of “doing things in space”. Stargates as the new backbone of the empire building alliances.
It certainly is an exciting thing, which I dearly hope CCP will go through with. I’ll probably endulge myself with fantasies about what could be done with player built stargates in another post. For now let’s make a slightly sobering observation:
Players can already build stargates in EVE.
In fact the are doing it quite massively. Those gates are destructible, need a collaborative effort to set up and maintain and even have an upkeep cost. They are the backbone of many an empire in 0.0 space. Only they do not look quite as fancy and they are not called stargates but Jump Bridges instead.
These devices allow to significantly shape the landscape of connections between systems to a degree where the complete topology of a region is changed. As such they are an invaluable asset in the defence of an empire as well as for fast travelling though null security space in general. The large alliances have impressive jump bridge networks that allow quick movement of fleets with a fraction of the jumps that would normally be needed. In fact jump bridge networks might be an important agent in tying coalitions together since they often are a shared resource.
Having said this I think it makes no sense to give players the ability to build stargates to link existing solar systems. It would be much simpler (though not necessarily advisable) to tweak the rules of jump bridges. This puts the use of player built stargates into the realm of developing new, so far unknown solar systems.
But does the game need new solar systems at the moment? Already now people are complaining that large stretches of 0.0 space are underused. Colonisation is a brilliant idea but is the only “new” space to be found in new solar systems?
From Exploration to Field Survey
Let’s think about how colonisation could work without having to introduce new systems. Odyssey will give us new exploration tools and incidentally exploration is of course the beginning of every colonisation effort. So how can the new exploration tools be used to enable players to find places that would not only make them some quick money but where they can leave a lasting footprint in the world of New Eden. Maybe even build their small kingdom? How can we develop the explorer into the profession of a surveyor?
An explorer goes out to find new places and wonders. On his heels, though follow the surveyors, who travel into the wilderness to create the maps for the workers to lay down the railway tracks and who layout the streets and the cities that settle along those tracks. In the wilderness he has to decide which is the best path to take. The current exploration mechanics with sites that can be scanned to make them warpable falls a bit short of this vision.
In the real world is the surveyors who change the landscape forever and who are needed for a true colonisation. Only – what would the equivalent of the railway tracks be in EVE Online? And where would they lead?
Deadspace: the New Frontier
Have a look at this quote from the EVE Wiki pages:
“Someone had the bright idea that instead of warping or jumping into Deadspace, it might be possible to use the ancient acceleration gates (the precursors to modern gates) to simply catapult vessels, much like a slingshot, through space. […] At this point everyone ranging from Empires to pirate factions, and even sentient rogue drones, are scrambling to set up various enterprises in Deadspace. These range from recreational facilities for the wealthy and homes for the elderly to naval shipyards and asteroid processing fields.”
Before you let players build stargates, let them take part in this business! Let players explore and survey new deadspace pockets and let them build their own acceleration gates to navigate these pockets! Let them set up business in there and let them create a save haven for their corp. The primary function of deadspace pockets could really be to provide a hideout that is not easily found. Recall that a deadspace pocket is a region in space where the normal operation of warp drives does not work. Acceleration gates are used to cross larger distances in these spaces – a technology that is well established and used by many factions in New Eden. The control that the operators has over the gates provides some means of protection against intruders and makes deadspace pockets ideal hiding places.
There could also be some resources in there, like ice, gas clouds etc. Allowing POSes to be set up inside the deadspace pockets would be a good start to provide a basic “home base” but if we talk about building things in space I really do not want to loose all hope on modular star bases. This would be the place where sky-cities could thrive.
The exploration, survey and subsequent colonisation of deadspace pockets could make very nice gameplay. Have you wondered what that blueish, cloudy shapes are that the new system scanner overlay depicts?What if you could triangulate the location of those “clouds” like a surveyor triangulates a terrain feature? I’d like to see these very nice graphics to be used for new and clever game mechanics! What if those shapes are due to irregularities in the space-time fabric? Maybe you need a special kind of ship to do the surveying? Maybe two ships have to operate together to pull off the triangulation accurately enough? What, if you calibrate your acceleration gate properly, it will catapult you inside one of these? To a place where you normally could not warp… Imagine the tension as your corp finally finishes the gate, you provide the coordinates you had to calculate yourself and are shot into the unknown! Were the gate calibrations done correctly? Were the scans accurate enough? You’ll only know once you land… and then … What if inside you could find now further pockets of deadspace? A labyrinth of warped space-time… finally a pocket with glimmering Ice…
Hell, we have over 7000 solar systems. Yet we use only a tiny fraction of that space. If you truly want to colonise space, give us access to those locations out there! This is what exploration should be. Not sites that despawn after we have finished a puzzle, but mazes of space time where we can get lost, or hide in.
From a game development perspective I could imagine that this would have many advantages for CCP. A lot of assets are already available, notably the acceleration gates themselves. That they provide an interesting game mechanics for PvP has been shown in Faction Warfare. There are certainly many interesting parameters that could be tuned to make them player-controllable. From a backstory point of view this would make a lot of sense. Everybody is using acceleration gates – why not capsuleers? I imagine that the gates and sites could be well made to scale in order to offer something for any corporation from the 10 man industry corp to large alliances. In 0.0 sec you could install effective bridgeheads which are harder to track down than a POS at a moon. In contrast to fully fledged stargates, acceleration gates should be something a small corp might be able to obtain. It would be available in high security space just as well as in null sec. It might even enable smaller groups to build themselves a safe haven in hostile space. If the gates come in different sizes, with different ranges or mass capacities the system could be made to scale with the needs of an alliance as it grows.
Finally, deadspace complexes with player built structures and acceleration gates could make great sandboxes! One only has to look at the tremendous praise the neverwinter foundry gets from the open beta testers of the game to realize that gamers like to build dungeons for other people to get into.
All this would certainly give the designers a few things to chew on. How hard should it be to discover other people’s acceleration gates? Maybe they appear on scan whenever they are used? Once you find them… How hard should it be to destroy or reinforce them? Can you use an enemy gate? Maybe everybody that uses the gate needs to carry a key in his cargo. A key that will drop when you blow up his ship…
Space around us is far from empty. Let’s grab the tools that are already available and colonise it!
Fly smart! Chira.