Friday, 21 September 2012

Player Lore Council

In light of the recent lore-focused interview with CCP Affinity and CCP Abraxus, it is clear that there is certainly the desire at CCP to push forward with engaging storyline content for players, if not the resources. At Fanfest I had the opportunity to speak with CCP Goliath and he was enthusiastic about pursuing live events of various flavours. However as the QA Director, he also pointed out that any such ventures had to fit around his day job.

Throughout the player-base, there is a host of talent and creativity which, if correctly channeled and co-ordinated, could go some way to making up for this short-fall. Why not create a player body to facilitate this?

Co-ordinating Creativity

With access to shared communication channels with the appropriate developers, leading lore-driven player groups could have representation on a Player Lore Council, enabling them to liaise with CCP devs to lay out plans for story-arcs and events. This could facilitate scripted player-run events with the ability to source CCP support if and when required. It could function in a similar manner to the aspects of the CSM, but obviously with the remit being limited to content and lore.

There have been a number of player initiatives which could have greatly benefited from the increased exposure CCP could provide. Drackarn wrote a series of fan fiction posts on Sand, Cider and Spaceships charting the the deeds of the Jita Ripper, with a tailor-made in-game character for players to hunt and eventually kill as part of the story.

Last year, Angus McDecoy, Arydanika and myself created a series of Tech 4 audio fiction "broadcasts" which culminated in the search for an escape pod lost in a wormhole. Reportedly, many wormhole corps spent a lot of time searching for the J100040 system. Sadly, there was nothing to be found as CCP resources were unavailable. You can listen to the 4-minute emergency appeal clip below or check out the full Tech4 season here.

In both cases, the events were entirely player organised, however with CCP support for these kind of projects, the scope could be much bigger. Imagine if fiction articles, art, videos and audio material could be used to tell stories that players could become embroiled in, with semi-scripted events that are part of an over-arching plot set against the backdrop of New Eden. Reviving The Scope coverage of New Eden's events could provide a doorway for intrigued players to then get swept up in the events as they progress.

Behind the Curtain

Granted, there would be a certain amount of peeking behind the curtain and I appreciate that the CCP devs would need to need to keep certain cards close to their chests. There should be no special privileges for players on this Lore Council beyond the ability to seek guidance and support as they tell stories within EVE Online that would encourage audience participation.

I envisage that this body would be more of a planning committee that CCP devs could participate in. Of course, EVE being EVE means that there would be ample opportunity for players and devs to throw a curve-ball and sabotage an event with nefarious scheming, but that's still a win - it would probably make for an even better story to be told. And it's very EVE.

Gameplay based on the already well-realised dystopian backstory of New Eden deserves to stand equal to the existing choices in EVE Online. Player-led emergent storytelling could be an attractive addition to the New Eden sandbox and something that could easily compete with any mechanically delivered "public quests" in other MMOs.

What are your thoughts? Is this an idea worth exploring further?

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Let Slip the Devs of Lore: An Interview with the Content Devs

Over the last year, I felt many players who enjoy the lore of EVE had been getting short shrift from the development goals being pursued by a post-Incarna CCP. In my Blog Banter 38 entry, Designing the Future Experience, I expressed my disappointment at the deliberate avoidance of all lore references in the latest tutorial revisions. After reading it, CCP Affinity contacted me to provide assurances that interest in continued lore development and immersion was alive and well.

Hungry for more information, in collusion with lore guru Mark726 of EVE Travel, we sent a series of questions to CCP Affinity and CCP Abraxus (head writer and author of The Burning Life EVE novel) for which they have kindly provided the following answers:

Seismic Stan: CCP Affinity, you're a Content Designer, can you tell us what that involves? What's the difference between a Content Designer and a Content Writer? What is your favourite part of what you do?

Affinity: Content Designers are responsible for the NPCs, agents, missions and complexes within New Eden, we work on ensuring the content is as balanced as possible and creating new designs for player interaction with our PvE environment.  As a Content Designer, I work on Incursions and Factional Warfare (FW) complexes and NPCs.  Content Writers, as well as creating the fiction for our Universe, work on the storyline within New Eden.  They write scripts for missions, item descriptions and NPC text.

Seismic Stan: You've recently moved from Team Five 0 where you were working on Incursions. Does your shift mean that after a period of tweaking, Incursions are now balanced?

Affinity: Within a game like EVE, I don’t think we could ever declare a feature fully balanced, never to be iterated on again.  CCP Bettik and I worked on Incursions last release and made some changes to blitzing, however, in retrospect we realized too many changes had been made at once.  As can be seen here, we made a decision to roll back some of the changes as well as making some minor changes to the OverrideTransver Array (OTA) sites.  The decision to move teams and work on FW complexes and NPCs will give us time to monitor the status of Incursions and make sure if we make any further changes to them, they will be the right changes.

Seismic Stan: Before we move away from the subject of Incursions, are we likely to see any more developments there? Last December, when I interviewed CCP Headfirst, he painted a tantalising picture of the potential of the TALE system which drives the Incursions, where he described "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." Can we hope for any such variation? I mean surely Sansha Kuvakei has figured out his current campaign isn't working out all that well.

Affinity: While this would be awesome, it’s not a high priority for us right now.  Incursions have not been abandoned at all, but their current format works and while we have long term story plans, we are also reluctant to throw out working content and remake it all from scratch.  I am not saying never, we just have a focus on iterating what we have right now to make it the best it can possibly be. 

Seismic Stan: In a recent interview, Jon "CCP Unifex" Lander recently seemed quite pleased with the ratio of game designers to content developers, suggesting that having only four content developers was a good thing with the explanation that "players are the content". How does that impact your workload? Is there no benefit to having more content developers?

Affinity:  CCP Unifex is absolutely correct, what makes EVE so special is that it is a sandbox game, so compared to other big titles, we put more resources into systems design and fewer into content and this is definitely the right decision for us.

Seismic Stan: You recently helped out the Player Experience Team with the new tutorial, released with Inferno 1.2. It has some improvements which are visually very appealing and do a great job of cutting through all the UI noise, but the decision to avoid all reference to lore seems to suggest attempts to fast-track new players into "player content" rather than having any faith in CCP's own IP. Can you tell us anything that would allay fears that the rich backstory of EVE is being abandoned to the mercy of a player culture more concerned with Kill:Death ratios and spamming local with ASCII phalluses?

Affinity:  This was definitely not our intention at all.  We wanted to use a month during the summer when most of the development team are on holiday and do something that would impact new players coming into New Eden.  The goals for the new tutorial were to make this process as seamless as possible for new players and to leave them in the best possible place to continue their adventures within our Universe.  I’m sure most of us can remember our first few weeks playing EVE and how daunting everything seemed at the point; I think the best thing for new players is to keep all explanations during the tutorial concise and allow them to get comfortable with the gameplay as a first priority, so that they stick around to enjoy and get the most out of our rich backstory.

Seismic Stan: There is a perception that CCP is no longer interested in broadening EVE Online's appeal and is increasingly only attempting to cater to a very specific PvP-centric player demographic. Do you think at CCP there has been a cultural shift away from lore-based development in the wake of the mishandling of Walking in Stations? What consideration is being given to ensuring EVE appeals to potential new customers (and delivers on that appeal)?

Abraxas: There's been a cultural shift toward lore-based development in recent times, but a lot of it has in fact been much more strongly focused on ensuring our appeal to newcomers. For instance, instead of publishing new story material on a regular basis - especially since this material wasn't necessarily continuing any particular storylines - we started to consolidate it through the EVElopedia Fiction Portal project, and ended up with a wiki that contained well over a thousand articles and has released more content with every major expansion since. Events and news have made a comeback but they've been on the quiet side because we're still working out how to tie them well into an ongoing, comprehensible storyline. We want to move away from the content model where only a small handful of people willing to read endless reams of text had any idea what was going on in the game, and we also want to find ways to involve players much more directly in what we're doing. We're still in the design stage on this, but we're getting very close.

Seismic Stan: You've recently joined Team Game of Drones who I believe were the developers behind the revised Faction Warfare system and the Unified Inventory as well as CCP Ytterbium and his tiericide rampage. What's next on the agenda? What part will you play? How's team morale? When will you be allowed at the drone interface?

Affinity: We are currently continuing work on Factional Warfare, more ship balancing and iterations on the Unified Inventory.  Team morale is great; we are all really excited about the Winter release and have had great feedback from the FW community about our changes.  I am currently creating new NPCs for FW and revisiting the complexes to ensure they are the best they can possibly be. 

CCP Affinity's parking spot
Our team name is a little confusing as we don’t actually work on the drone interface but I like it, and ‘Winter is coming’ always reminds me of Iceland (if anyone has ever been here during the Winter they will understand.

Seismic Stan: I attended your Live Event roundtable at Fanfest, which was a discussion filled with possibilities and potential, but I got the impression that the Live Event initiative was being driven entirely by enthusiasm and caffeine, with yourself and CCP Goliath both having full-time duties elsewhere before being able to commit resources to Live Events. Given the success of last year's Arek'Jaalan Project (which resulted in the player investment of 30b ISK, it spawned untold player research projects, an in-character podcast/news site and provided new ways for player communities to interact), what resources are CCP making available to the Live Event team? How do you envisage Live Events playing out?

Affinity: We have had many meetings about Live Events and a potential new Live Events team recently and I am so excited and desperate to spill the beans, but for now I will simply say… watch your space…

Seismic Stan: In 1984, Braben & Bell made a 32k game called Elite which had over 2000 star systems, each one with unique information about culture, government and society, yet in EVE the description of every solar system is simply "Solar System" and most celestials only have a generic description too. This seems like missed opportunity and an easy canvas to add some colour and even interactive storyline clues which could lead to live events and allow player actions to be recorded in history. Are there any plans to flesh out available information in game?

Abraxas: Yep, there are plans to flesh out this kind of information, though we have to be careful: We've got Planetary Interaction, we've got DUST incoming, and we're working with a living, breathing & evolving world. Any background info we nail down on various game systems will have to work with anything those systems get used for in the future, whether that's a capsuleer plonking down a series of installations on a planet, or a bunch of covert ops mercenaries stomping the area into dust, or what have you. You can't easily make any grand claims about, say, the technological level or social developments about a particular area when you're dealing with factors like this.

Seismic Stan: With many canon plot-threads still to be explored or resolved, what storytelling techniques will be employed? Has any consideration been given to broadening the appeal of lore material beyond the written form and into audio drama or further animations like the cinematic trailer from Fanfest?

Abraxas: Yes, but their validity depends quite a bit on the approach we're taking. Currently, the techniques we're focusing on revolve around consolidation: ensuring that all the information is clear and unambiguous and that it reaches the players through as few sources as possible. We're always working on developing new methods for storytelling, but right now those methods are bound by that consolidation constraint.

Seismic Stan: I firmly believe that players would be more engaged if lore was delivered in a manner more sophisticated than walls of text.  Is there any possibility of seeing more engaging storytelling in NPC encounters and agent conversations? Leveraging the avatar engine to animate the agent headshot would give a little life to the experience and perhaps to deliver in-mission communications (rather than the current schizophrenic system of sometimes getting a pop-up window of text which you can't read because something's shooting at you, or some coloured text in the local chat channel that you might not even notice until the mission is over). Can we hope for any advancement on PvE content from it's current decade-old design?

Affinity: Five 0 are currently updating all NPCs to the Incursion AI, this will inject some random elements into content such as target switching.  We have a lot of long term plans for content and I am very passionate about the lore and have a lot of plans to deliver this in a better manner, so yes there are definitely possibilities for the future.

Mark726: At times, it seems like the Empires are getting somewhat stereotypical. The Amarr used to at least have some things going for it, but these days can seem little more than "generic crazy religious" people. Are there plans to reintroduce some of the shades of gray to the empires?

Abraxas: You know, I've seen this one crop up on the forums, and it genuinely surprises me, because we've actually moved away from sterotypes and toward much more varied storytelling - particularly with the Amarr. As I've noted when responding to forum threads on this subject, in the past few years we've published numerous chronicles (and a separate chapter in my own EVE novel) that dealt with the Amarr in what we would hope is a particularly complex and nuanced way. These stories ask questions about the role of faith, the validity of redemption, and the purpose of life in New Eden's rather cruel universe, and they do so in a fashion that I posit is of extremely high quality. Taking the Amarr as an example again, there's been room for satire, romance and horror, all of it taking angles on the same core piece of lore that, in my belief, strengthen the lore rather than weakening it. I think we're doing pretty well.

Mark726: Unlike the Amarr, the Minmatar in particular seem to have been left hanging for quite a while. There's the usual calls for access to more tribes, but the fact also remains that, technically, the Minmatar have been without any kind of functional government for years now since Shakor disbanded parliament. Are there any plans to push the Empire storylines forward like we used to see back in Empyrean Age? There seems to have been no major pushes forward since, outside of the books.

Abraxas: There absolutely are, and the Minmatar are very high on our list of priorities.

Mark726: Are there plans for longer story arcs for some of the minor factions. For example, will the Angels get their own long term arc like the Sansha? Will the Talocan get as well developed as the Sleepers (especially given their apparent commingling with the Sleepers)?

Abraxas: With the caveat that good things take time - keep in mind that it took us nearly a year to get the Fiction Portal up and running, but when we did it launched with a huge amount of content - the answer is definitely yes to both those questions. Our initial focus is naturally on the four active empires, but we've wanted to work on the pirates, and flesh out the Ancient Races, for quite some time now.

Mark726: A recurring problem found by RPers was that the amount of knowledge known out of game has become drastically more than what is known to the general public. While Arek'Jaalan and the like were attempts to narrow this gap, those kinds of projects appear to be frozen for now. Will there be any pushes to narrow the OOC-IC knowledge gap so players could start using them in their own arcs, in stead of just attempting to find out (without any acknowledgment from CCP of their efforts)?

Abraxas: Nope. It'll happen to some degree anyway, simply by dint of our efforts to consolidate our lore efforts and funnel them into in-game channels, but given the choice between releasing more content or holding it back because the very knowledge of it would break character, we go with the former. It's not that difficult to imagine ways in which you as a capsuleer could have discovered any manner of information - you're one of the most powerful people in the cluster and you'll have access to intel and recon resources that entire nations could only ever dream of - and we've long since found that an enforced IC presentation just puts far too many limitations on the ways we create and deliver content.

Mark726: Along similar lines, when Apocrypha first came out, there were statements from the Devs that a lot of hints were hidden in sleeper sites... but after a few years, we've had little updates on if the various theories that have popped up are even going in the right direction. Can we expect either more hints or more dev/IC interaction to help the players discover these hints and figure out what's going on IC with the sleepers and talocan?

Abraxas: Eventually, yes, but likely not in the way people expect. No, that totally couldn't have been more cryptic.

Mark726: Stargate lore currently says that we can only have gates in binary systems. This is perhaps just a pet peeve of mine, but it's never been clear where the binaries are or why it's still needed. Are there any plans to smooth out these kinds of lore problems? How closely does the lore team watch the fiction portals if something like this is pointed out?

Abraxas: We've got an automatic watch on the discussion tabs of all Fiction Portal articles, and we're pretty quick to fix, explain or retcon any inconsistencies that are pointed out to us in those pages. There are certain things - yeah, that blessed binary system thing - that take us longer to resolve, but we're aware of them.

Mark726: Is there a long term plan of how to deal with the Jove? Are they dead? Alive? Will they be playing a role in the storyline in the near future?

Abraxas: The who?

Mark726: Are there plans on how to further the isogen-5/terran superweapon storyline? Where did Jamyl find the caches? How did she get rogue drones in on it? Are the rogue drones in with the sleepers?
Will we see the return of storyline-based expansions? There used to be significant plot points that would come up as breaking news during expansions (a la empyrean age). Will we see that again?
Will that Caldari station in Luminaire ever be built? Again, a pet peeve of mine.

Abraxas: Let's see: Yes, not telling, not telling, not telling, can't say, eventually, can't say.

Seismic Stan: Just to wrap up the interview, are there any other exciting revelations or clues of the future that you'd be willing to share? What about the "sniff test" cryptically mentioned in the CSM Summit minutes, anything more to divulge there?

Affinity:  The "sniff test" was a high level idea I had for a major mission overhaul.  The goal was to make all missions more like epic arc style, having a storyline that evolved as you went through the mission.  I would love to turn career agent missions into a professions based epic arc with lore behind your profession and rewards in line with your chosen profession.  These would lead on to very racially biased storyline missions. 

I'm grateful for CCP Affinity and CCP Abraxus taking the time to provide us with these answers. I'll leave my thoughts on these responses for another blogpost, and I'll badger Mark to give us his feedback too. In the meantime, I'd be interested to hear what you content-seekers and lore-hounds have to say.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

FTL: Faster Than Light

In a couple of recent blogposts, I ruminated about the idea of a return to simpler gaming values in a smartphone/browser game concept leveraging the EVE IP and API data whilst focusing on ship crews and management. It seems the gaming gods heard me and like mana from digital heaven, FTL: Faster Than Light appeared and answered half of my prayers. FTL is not EVE-related, but it does go a long way toward providing the ship and crew management game I yearned for.

FTL is a single-player game which gives you command of a ship on a desperate mission for the Federation - apparently the losing side in a recent war with the Rebels. With a nod to the opening of Star Wars: A New Hope and Firefly, your small craft carries data vital to your allies, but the advancing Rebel forces are in hot pursuit.

The initial gameplay sees your under-crewed and under-strength craft using a network of navigation beacons to cross a sector of space by using its titular FTL drive. Each beacon the ship jumps to works as an encounter which may result in combat, trade or discovery. A simple text choice often gives the player decisions to make, resulting in different outcomes.

The real meat of the gameplay comes with the micromanagement of ship systems and how the crew interact with them. Real-time combat consists of a schematic of the ship, detailing the interconnecting rooms, each housing a separate system such as engines, shield and weapons. A similar display of the enemy ship allows the targeting of specific systems in a tactical combat mechanic that evokes the final battle between Kirk and Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. System performance can be boosted by assigning crewmen and incoming damage, fires and boarding parties must be tackled by the crew.

The graphics are rudimentary but effective and the finely-balanced gameplay is addictive, with the steadily increasing pressure of the pursuing Rebel fleet forcing the player to stay once step ahead despite dwindling fuel, inadequate ship systems and the ongoing need to scrounge for more resources.

The overall effect is a tight, immersive and well-balanced game experience that I am just a little enamoured with right now. I really hope the two-man indy development team see their way to expanding on the gameplay, perhaps providing a more open, sand-box exploration game-mode to compliment the existing pressure-pot story mode.

Available on Steam for only £6.29 ($10), it really is worth a look.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Summary of BB38: Dogma at A Scientist's Life in Eve

Summarising Blog Banters is no small task. With an average of 25 entries on any given topic, this involves reading through and absorbing every one, then finding a way to represent each effort in a single cohesive document.

EveScientist at A Scientist's Life in EVE bravely took on BB38: Dogma - a meandering and broad topic based on the opposing opinions of two bloggers on the subject of EVE's idiosyncrasies. To further complicate the topic, also called in to question was CCP's approach to dealing with the ongoing development of EVE Online.

Reviewing the 27 relevant entries was a tall order, but EveScientist has pulled it off in unique style, presenting every banter against the backdrop of an engaging fan fiction piece characterising every contributing blogger.

It is a fantastic piece of work and I highly recommend you read it.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Hans Jagerblitzen Interview Pt. I - Factional Warfare Segments

My ongoing exploration of EVE play-styles for Guild Launch recently found Factional Warfare in my sights. Knowing very little about FW gameplay and the communities behind it, I approached CSM member and Factional Warfare guru Hans Jagerblitzen with some questions. The result was a two hour Skype conversation which took place at silly o'clock UK time on 23rd August 2012. Hans was very open and keen to talk about all things EVE and he gave me far more information than I needed for my article (which is aimed at those new to EVE or those considering giving it a try).

With his permission, I thought reproducing some of the more in-depth discussion here might be of interest to existing EVE players or Exploring EVE Online readers who wanted to know more.

As sitting through all two hours would probably lead to catatonia, I've segmented the conversation into digestible chunks so listeners can home in on elements of interest to them. It's worth bearing in mind that we didn't set out explicitly to deliver a podcast-quality interview, this was just a chat. Beyond segmentation, minimal editing has taken place, so although these excerpts should be on point, please forgive us if we ramble.

N.B. The segments presented below have been arranged in a coherent order and are not necessarily in chronological sequence.

Factional Warfare Q&A

How does a new EVE player get started? What does the rookie capsuleer need to know about Factional Warfare?

Hans gives a brief overview of what's involved in the first steps toward getting into Factional Warfare. Interesting to note that no Rookie frigates can enter dungeon complexes, despite their recent combat upgrades. [3m 57s]

What resources are available for new players interested in Factional Warfare? Is there an official guide? How can a potential enlistee track down other Factional Warfare players and corporations?

Hans identifies that there isn't an established process and there is heavy reliance on player contribution (some were linked in the Guild Launch article). Hans talks about the part that the UI Factional Warfare dashboard plays. [5m 50s]

[Note: This conversation took place before Susan Black made]

What part does FW play in EVE's broad sandbox? How does FW differ from "player-driven narratives" as found in more free-form areas of the game like null-sec and non-FW low-sec?

Hans provides answers and discusses the importance of geography in FW low-sec, including the impact of the new station lock-out feature as introduced in the Inferno expansion. He covers the various motivations for players engaged in FW from territory to RP. [7m 41s]

How do Loyalty Points work? What is their part in providing motivation as a conflict driver.

Hans explains how Loyalty Points are earned and how they can be spent. He gives an overview of how Infrastructure Hubs work within the Faction tier upgrade system and what benefits can be gained. He gives examples of how this currently plays out, reflecting on how the new FW capture system could be improved. [13m 11s]

Do live events, roleplaying and storyline content play a part in current FW? Is there scope in the future?

Hans hints at how elements of the Winter expansion could benefit from a narrative delivery. We discuss the potential of live events similar to those attempted by Tech 4 News last year. Hans unveils the truth about players who pretend not to be roleplayers and we talk about the confusion that arises from players not distinguishing between roleplayed faction loyalties and standing by time invested in a community. [8m 7s]

As a CSM member, is Hans aware of further plans for CCP to iterate on the Factional Warfare system?

Hans speaks positively about the continued iteration of FW and discusses the ongoing development culture at CCP and the player perception of it. He discusses elements of what might be seen in the Winter expansion. [2m 56s]

Googling "EVE Online faction warfare" brings up the Inferno site where it reads:

"Factional Warfare is the PVP training ground for new players, where the hatred between the races of EVE fuels an Inferno..."

So is Faction Warfare the PvP kiddie pool?

Hans recovers (although he may have inhaled his gum) to stand up for FW. We go on to discuss the CSM Summit, including implementation (or lack thereof) of Lead Designer CCP Soundwave's personal vision and how to interpret Elise Randolph's threat to defend Pandemic Legion supply lines from FW interference. [12m 55s]

If FW is considered entry-level PvP, how can the ability to get involved be improved given that, with the right guidance a rookie can jump straight into the null-sec "end game"?

Hans explains his personal goal to see FW become an "end-game" experience equal to null-sec with more accessibility. We discuss the benefit of playstyle-specific starting locations and tutorials. [4m 41s]

End of Part One

That's pretty much all the Factional Warfare stuff we discussed, but we did cover other topics too. If this interview format is found to be helpful, I'll do the same with the remainder of the interview. Part II would include Hans and I discussing the challenges of the CCP-CSM-Playerbase relationship, spitballing about Jesus features and revisiting old concepts, Hans also shares a few more nuggets about Winter Expansion features and I develop an obsession with ice cream analogies (it was a hot day!).

Let me know if this works for you.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Smartphone/Browser-Based EVE: 'New Eden Explorer' Concept

Gaming has evolved from simple three-button shooters, through early home computer games that asked the player to imagine more than the platform was capable of, to today's multi-million dollar simulations of heightened realities. Yet the gamer's hunger for those simpler times remains strong. The wealth of gaming options available on smartphones and social media sites is testament to this.

Personally, I find it ironic that when I was 10-years-old and playing the space “simulation” Elite on my BBC Micro, as much as I was captivated by the universe the game suggested, I wished those wire-frame spaceships that I encountered were controlled by other players. Yet now I play Elite's 21st Century equivalent, EVE Online, alongside thousands of other players, I yearn for those simpler times when I could imagine what might be.

EVE Online continues to challenge gaming boundaries, pushing forward with its peerless emergent social gameplay and potentially revolutionising cross-platform integration with its console shooter DUST514. Yet the developers CCP Games stand aloof from a potentially lucrative market which could provide a perfect entry point to their New Eden IP.

Already on this platform are a host of third party applications which provide a wide range of tools for the EVE player. By accessing EVE's publicly available in-game API data, players are able to monitor market prices, browse item databases, view battle statistics and much more. Talented coders have devised ship-fitting tools, character development planners and email clients.  These are fantastic tools, but they are only of use to existing EVE Online subscribers.

The smartphone and browser platforms are ripe for an alternative delivery of the EVE intellectual property which would allow the casual gamer to enjoy the universe of New Eden without the need for the full EVE client. Last year I wrote about my concept for Free-to-Play EVE Online which could work alongside the existing subscription model. Around the same time, I was fighting an addiction to Tiny Tower on my iPhone. This was a simple game which allowed the user to manage a tower block, rent out apartments and employ the residents in the various businesses that could be built on each floor. It reminded me of old games like Little Computer People and SimCity. But like most video games, I'm sure the concept would work better on a spaceship.

Clear Skies: The Game

Imagine, if you will, that you've just downloaded CCP's new smartphone title New Eden Explorer. Rather than try to be a trimmed-down version of EVE, it approaches gameplay from the opposite direction whilst providing many of the tools found in existing EVE apps. It's a single-player turn-based exploration, trading and combat game in which you aren't an immortal capsuleer with access to WMDs and the buying power of a nation. You are a normal, mortal denizen of New Eden. You are also the captain of an old, beaten-up frigate. Not a fancy capsuleer one, just a rusty old bucket that was built out of salvaged parts from some warzone. You are New Eden's answer to Han Solo, Mal Reynolds, John Rourke or Zaphod Beeblebrox (yes, I realise John Rourke is actually New Eden's answer to John Rourke).

You need to make money, you need to fix up your ship (and maybe one day get a better one) and you want to explore the universe. But first you need a crew. Every station has a recruitment centre, but the pickings can often be slim – or expensive. Just to get your bucket of bolts out of the hangar you'll need to hire a skeleton command crew; maybe a navigator, and engineer and weapons officer and a few crewmen. After that, maybe you can make your fortune across the spacelanes and build a better life for yourself, either through trade, exploration or maybe piracy. Do well enough and maybe you can hire a navigator who can fly straight or an engineer who can squeeze a bit more performance out of your vessel.

The concept of command crews is covered in more detail in the aforementioned Free-to-Play EVE Online article, but in essence they would work in lieu of skills, with each officer bringing certain static skills (unlike capsuleers, normal folk can't just learn new spaceships in a few minutes) to the team to enable particular functions. However, they also come with personality traits, which may make them work well together, improving ship performance or they might end up at each other's throats. As much of the gameplay would take place onboard the ship as off it. Without careful crew management, you might start a turn with “Your Engineering Officer has had enough of the Weapons Officer's smart mouth and has ejected him out of the airlock. Weapons will function at half efficiency until you dock and find a replacement.”

The NeX Recruitment Academy
Replacement officers and crew would be available at most stations, but more skilled individuals would be harder to come by. The best missile specialists might only be recruitable from dangerous Mordu's Legion systems and skilled navigation officers might be found deep within volatile factional Warfare territory.

Crewmen would be necessary too, playing a role in the normal performance of the ship. They would be assigned to officers as a means of resource distribution. If the command crew don't look after them, they may die in combat (should've hired a medical officer) or leave due to low morale (your Captain character needs better leadership skills). Experienced crew would be valuable to retain, providing increased performance bonuses. They might demand more pay too though.

Ship Systems
This game element could essentially work as a ship-fitting tool, adhering to the EVE ship-fitting principles. The initial rustbucket could well be a rookie ship or similar, but a successful captain might find himself upgrading to more prestigious hulls. Fittings would also have an impact on crew behaviour; poor defensive systems would have a negative impact on morale, using Amarr weapons systems might offend your Minmatar Weapons Officer. Additionally, modules would need to be maintained and fixed if damaged in combat. This would be the the remit of the Engineering Officer, who would be assigned crew to fulfil ship upkeep tasks.

Exploring the Universe
With the smartphone client designed to grab data the EVE Online database, it would be able to provide information for every station and system in New Eden, as well as market prices and item availability. Essentially this would be a static data grab that could be performed at regular intervals, but would provide the content for the New Eden Explorer gameworld. Some data would clearly need to be generated explicitly for the smartphone client – available officers and crew at any given recruitment academy for example. But for the most part, all the world data is already out there being generated by the players of EVE Online.

This provides a wealth of information that could be integrated into the game, allowing for missions, turn-based combat a storyline campaign and perhaps even a player-driven ship personnel market for that MMO-esque social contact element.

Whilst New Eden Explorer would be a single-player experience and would not affect the "real" EVE Online gameworld, it would provide a window into the multiplayer world of EVE Online and could entice a whole new generation of players into the full game.

N.B. I was inspired to dig out my F2P notes and write this post after reading tweets from @Rotosequence (Evelgrivion) and @PaulOosterman (CaldariPrimePonyClub). Paul has had similar thoughts which led him to make the fantastic concept art shown below and this ambitious post on Failheap Challenge.

[Post now duplicated along with the earlier F2P EVE Online article on the EVE-O forums in the vain hope that a CCP dev might one day think these ideas are good enough to implement in some way.]

Directors Cut Alternative Ending

If this is something CCP categorically will not touch, then the effort of building something based around their IP could lead to problems. Alternatively, the EVE-related elements could be removed and I still believe an engaging game could be produced with the crew management elements and trade/exploration/combat gameplay. Although perhaps a bigger task, this would certainly give more creative scope to imagine an alternative universe to explore. I'd code it myself if I knew how, but I'd certainly like to be on the project team to provide creative design and written content if this is a concept that has any legs.