[tl;dr The campaign for quality of life improvements to EVE has to step into the background. To make the bold visions of colonisation come true there needs to be new game mechanics. Exploration in Odyssey could have been the first step. Now make it more sandboxy. Give us player built hideouts. Have a look at this excellent forum thread featuring CCP Bayesian.]
Odyssey is almost upon us. The nineteenth expansion of EVE has been themed around exploration. One of the most visible features it will bring to the capsuleer’s screen is an overhauled exploration scanner that puts scannable signatures right into the space view we enjoy through our camera drones. In addition the UI for scanner probes and the radial menu for interacting with objects in space has been overhauled. All this looks like very nice foundations for a renaissance of exploration in EVE. All is prepared to instill that “sense of wonder” about what could be out there in the depths of space that attracts SciFi enthusiasts to a game like EVE. The mystery of the “great void”, combined with the sandbox that EVE is, where the player is promised that she can leave her own footprints in the history of the galaxy is a truly intriguing prospect.
Yet, there seems to be a mild air of disappointment in the community. While EVE receives yet another polish and many “quality of life improvements”, on the gameplay side the expansions seems to not live up to the high expectations. There simply is not enough new gameplay. The only true innovation is the introduction of the hacking minigame by Team Prototyping Rocks. The signature feature of the exploration expansion is a prototype minigame… Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea and really wish the team godspeed for the future development of this idea. I just find it a bad idea to leave the feature alone as the only new thing in Odyssey. It would have shone if presented as a sidekick, a nice cookie on top of some great new type of space or signature. It’s prototype nature would have been forgiven by players fascinated by the new space to explore. Now it is bound to stand alone and weather the storm of complaints that is bound to come. Have a look at the forum feedback thread on the revamped archeological and data sites. Mara Rinn has written about the problems with the system as has Sugar, who did quite extensive testing on SiSi.
I believe CCP will listen to this kind of feedback and improve things. Also we can expect that the minigame will be further developed beyond Odyssey. The problem with all this lies somewhere else.
It is the kind of changes that Odyssey brings. For one and a half years now most development effort has been focused on working on some of the old backends of the game, such as rewriting crime watch. The changes delivered to the players were largely “quality of life” improvements. In terms of gameplay CCP deliberately restrained itself to work on the “broken” things in the game instead of introducing new features. They were applauded by almost the whole community for this approach.
Now it seems this strategy cannot go on anymore. People crave for new features. It also becomes increasingly clear that some broken things cannot be simply repaired. They have to be replaced. POSes are one example. When Apocrypha was declared the model for the 2013 summer expansion, many took this as a sign that CCP would conclude its refurbishment campaign and finally work on new features, new space, new opportunities. The announcement of Odyssey as an exploration expansion reinforced this perception. How better to introduce new space, new sites, new gameplay than with an exploration theme? How better to include new players than to offer them something they can explore which is new to everybody, where the veterans of EVE don’t have a head start already?
Alas, CCP needed more time to work on the foundations.
Yet, fanfest showed that there still are great visions for EVE. The question that will be discussed now is how to continue from the foundations that have been laid with Odyssey onward towards that vision of gigantic construction sites in space, empire building, capsuleers taking control over New Eden, towards a colonisation of space.
CCP cannot churn out content fast enough as to keep up with the players. It’s the whole point of the sandbox concept. Procedural generated locations could provide more variety and surprise. Actually the hacking minigame is a small step in that direction. But the exploration system as it is now and still will be after Odyssey is essentially static content, which is the reason for it being a bit underwhelming. So how could the sandbox principle be expanded to include exploration? At the moment the exploration sites simply provide locations for interaction between players to happen. How could players be empowered to create more content for other players than simply “being there”?
Here is my proposal:
If players are supposed to explore other player’s activities, this means that one has to be able to hide in the first place. Otherwise it is not really a search. Let players build hideouts in space. Deadspace would be the obvious choice but there could be different classes of locations where this could be possible, such as interstellar space, comets in “Oorts clouds”… Let’s call them deep space signatures.
Make players build acceleration gates to reach these places. Make player built acceleration gates hackable by other players. Alternatively/in addition the users of an acceleration gate have to carry a key in their cargo hold which drops when they are killed and can be reused by the new owner.
Make deep space locations interesting in terms of actually flying a space. A labyrinth of deadspace pockets connected by player build acceleration gates would be straight forward. But I also could imagine labyrinthian gas clouds which block the view (and the overview) on the structure and ships hidden inside. There are conduits of clear space through the clouds that can be navigated but if your ship touches the gas itself it takes damage. Make asteroid fields which are actually a challenge to fly in because they are more like a cloud than like a string. One class of player build hideouts could be anchored on large asteroids inside these fields. Players could set up perimeter defences using the natural environment as anchoring points. Make it a kind of 3D tower defence. All structures hackable of course 🙂
Finding things and getting there must be difficult. The exploration scanner provides a nice canvas which could be enriched. Deep space signatures should not show up initially. Maybe the blue cloudy structures in the scanner overlay actually mean something. Mouse-over highlighting instead of the brackets could be used there to indicate interesting structures. To find objects farther out of the solar system make a new class of ship (or module). Two ships have to work together to perform a triangulation of an object. The ships have to establish a baseline by positioning themselves at different places in the system and lighting a certain beacon each. Then each ships can measure the angle of a deepspace signature relative to the established baseline. Combining both measurements allows to locate the object, a comet or deadspace pocket for example. A third ship in the triangulation chain would improve the result. The outcome of the operation would be a datacube which is needed for the manufacturing of the acceleration gate that will lead to the deep space signature.
Why would people want to go there? Make hideouts the place for booster production. Any illegal or outlawed activity can go there. Unlicensed clone production for example? Mercenary equipment production? Or simply move some moon minerals there. It would be super cool if the installations were hard to destroy but exploitable by the clever explorer. Thieves and hackers
Please, make exploration sandboxy, give us deep space hideaways!
Fly smart, Chira.