Monday, 5 December 2011
Crouching Developer, Exploding Mountain: A CCP Interview
Amidst a tumultuous barrage of discussion about Darren Aronofsky/Michael Bay mash-ups and EVE-playing world leaders, my podcasting co-host Arydanika and I recently had the opportunity to discuss all things EVE with Nick Blood and Nathan Knaack, better known in EVE circles as CCP Dropbear and CCP Headfirst. I wanted to introduce them as the Content and Storyline team of EVE Online, but it turns out that the truth is a lot more nebulous than that.
Like keyboard-wielding double-agents, it seems that any number of CCP staff could be considered part of this crack squad of sci-fi scribes, depending on the need. It may well be that Tony Gonzalez (CCP TonyG) and Hjalti Danielsson (CCP Abraxus) are the Hannibal and Templeton "Face" Peck of this sci-fi A-Team, which would leave Dropbear as the mad pilot Murdoch and Headfirst as the bullish B.A. Baracus - which makes at least some sense given that Headfirst ain't getting on no damn plane, instead staying in Atlanta to develop DUST 514 whilst Dropbear heads for Iceland. Quite who this leaves CCP Big Dumb Object and other contributors to be cast as I'm not sure (Colonel Decker and co.?), I knew I should have gone with the Mission: Impossible comparison instead. Or maybe Charlie's Angels.
Overstretched pop-culture analogies aside, our CCP encounter was enlightening and encouraging, with Headfirst's scattershot "rants" an entertaining highlight. Both Dropbear and Headfirst were engaging and verbose, perhaps in part helped by the beer they were consuming - it was their Friday night they were giving up to talk to us after all. It was a shame then that Headfirst's sound quality was marred somewhat by what sounded like his continued use of a blowtorch. Nevertheless, they (and Arydanika) graciously endured my amateur podcasting foibles (co-host? What co-host?) and some interesting topics were covered.
Discussion of EVE's storyline and lore led into an explanation of the technology behind the ongoing incursion encounters that take place across New Eden. Currently the automated process of selecting and supporting these constellation-wide invasions is restricted to the Sansha's Nation NPC faction, but Headfirst and Dropbear pointed out that it was a powerful tool that could, in theory, be capable of so much more.
Both the re-invigoration of Faction Warfare and in-game support for pirate faction affiliation are perenially popular dreams amongst players, as exemplified by recent Blog Banter discussions and countless other blogs and forum posts. The Tale system could play a pivotal part in making at least part of this wish a possibility. A tantalising (but sadly purely theoretical) picture was painted of a future involving Incursions across New Eden by a variety of aggressors, with Guristas contesting Blood Raiders turf whilst Serpentis pushes on the Gallente Federation's borders and Amarr militia forces press out toward Providence.
Such a vision would be further improved with the ability for pilots to fight under the flag of their chosen faction, be that 'Empire' or 'Pirate' faction. This is already possible with the Faction Warfare system allowing corporate affiliation to any of the four major high-sec powers. Clearly, the seeds are there for a grander, more dynamic system; An overhaul of Faction Warfare, an unshackling of the Tale Incursion system and the Content and Storyline ninjas given free reign to cause havoc could give rise to the Aranofsky-Bay 'Way of the Exploding Mountain' experience that Headfirst so colourfully described.
Could the above concepts actually happen? According to Headfirst and Dropbear, possibly. Much depends on the players.
The CSM is heading to Iceland for their Winter Summit this week and Faction Warfare is certainly on their agenda. As Headfirst pointed out, irrespective of recent events and the ever-present forum whiners, CCP has an exceptionally good relationship with its players and have shown that they are prepared to steer the ship to shores favoured by their subscribers. To take a positive from the recent controversies, the experience has set the foundation for a new co-operative relationship that can hopefully function without quite so much acrimony in future.
Nonetheless, the playerbase needs to be clear and vocal in what it wants. This doesn't have to take the form of a mutinous and blood-hungry mob every time, but organised and focused it must be. There are a multitude of issues that are deserving of focus and certainly the CSM should be the champions of these issues. CCP has provided a system to hear what we want and we must continue to make our voices heard.
Other mechanisms are also available to us. As Dropbear pointed out, the construction of Arek'Jalaan Site One: Antiquus in the Eram system is a great example. Over 30 billion ISK in materials was provided by players to construct what is essentially "roleplaying fluff". This proves that there is a strong interest in the more thoughtful 'Aronofsky' take on EVE (with of course a side-order of Bayhem).
It is certainly my intent to continue to promote the ongoing storyline content to the wider audience with the Tech4 News podcast. I believe that the ongoing lore of EVE should be central to EVE's future and an important consideration with EVE's direction.
To a degree, if your hobby involves flying a pretend spaceship in futuristic space battles, that makes you a "roleplayer". Everyone enjoys the fictional content at some level and this can be used to push for changes that the players want. To quote Headfirst, "Roleplayers are a powerful lobby."
DUST 514 is coming. CCP Headfirst's primary role is now concerned with the pioneering PS3-exclusive first-person shooter and he painted us an exciting picture of what is to come. Powered by the Unreal engine and intrinsicly linked to EVE Online's persistent universe, there is no doubting CCP's bravery or vision in attempting to revolutionise the console FPS market. DUST 514 will be free-to-play with microtransactions fuelling its continued development. Sony's enthusiasm to back such a venture makes DUST 514's 2012 launch potentially a pivotal moment in online gaming history. Its success could open many doors.
We discussed whether the console market would be receptive to such a pioneering concept. Is the ADHD generation ready for such a persistent gaming commitment? To paraphrase my co-host Arydanika; after so many FPS one-night stands, are console players ready to settle into a steady relationship (with the gaming equivalent of a violent, unpredictable crack-whore with a Machievellian control-freak ex-boyfriend no less), or will CCP find itself waking up alone in the morning laying in the wet patch?
Dropbear and Headfirst think the the future for DUST 514 and CCP is bright and I was encouraged by what we heard; terrestrial environments true to the various design aesthetics of the EVE universe, customisable equipment consistent with the damage/resist system EVE players are familiar with and ample opportunity for metagaming skullduggery and shenanigans. It'll certainly be an interesting experience for the console-only players and one I hope they'll embrace. In anticipation, I have been attempting (and failing) to embrace the inferior console control system for a possible future PS3 purchase (although the PS4 is apparently being unveiled next year). I know I'll end up failing at DUST as much as I do at EVE, but I've got to try.
Listen to the Voices
It was my first CCP interview and one I enjoyed immensely. Both CCP Dropbear and CCP Headfirst are clearly top blokes who know their stuff and have their fingers on the pulse of EVE Online and DUST 514. Much was discussed that I did not mention here, so I strongly suggest you give the interview a listen over at Voices From the Void, on iTunes or on EVE-Radio on Tuesday 6th December at 1600GMT. Sadly we had to edit out Dropbear and Headfirst's manly beer-wrestling, their King Solomon-esque method of resolving lore disputes and the GM who sounds like a goat, but there is still much entertainment and information to be had.
Look out for the touching story of a helicopter pilot who contemplates an exploding mountain. Confused? So were we. Go listen.