Lead Game Designer Kristoffer Touborg talks about improving sandboxiness, unexpected behavior and future features.
It’s been a busy year for CCP Games. The Icelandic developer’s been hard at work preparing Dust 514 for launch next year, expanding the EVE Online universe to the PlayStation 3. New Eden Open – their first eSports tournament – attracted a $10,000 prize fund from Own3d and sponsorship from Razer. EVE has even been inducted into the Museum of Modern Art, with CCP now recruiting players to help document a day in the spacefaring MMO.
With further eSports tournaments promised for next year, and plans for their tenth anniversary FanFest well underway, the team hasn’t lost focus on providing regular expansions for their core game. Launched this week, Retribution is the eighteenth in a series of continual updates and improvements. For Lead Game Designer Kristoffer Touborg, much of the year has been spent addressing the core issues that come with a ten-year legacy.
When I spoke to Touborg and Executive producer Jon Lander about EVE Online: Retribution in September, the Bounty Hunting overhaul was one of the key highlights. Coupled with a new aggression system dubbed Crimewatch, Touborg’s goal was to improve the “sandboxiness”; a change that he believes is now working.
“I always speculate in how a feature’s going to be used, and I thought the most interesting part of this would be able to put bounties on alliances. Needle in a haystack gameplay – chase this one guy down and kill him – it’s not really that much fun. If you place a billion ISK [Interstellar Kredits] on an Alliance, that gives you something. You can go to where they operate, you can hunt, and it suddenly becomes more sustainable gameplay.
“Then there are all these unexpected things that happen. Today, for example, one of our developers who worked on the feature went on the forums and asked who’s going to claim the first bounty. And this guy goes in, shoots someone and claims a bounty. All of a sudden, since his name is up on the forums as the first guy ever, people start placing bounties on him. He hasn’t really done anything, but he’s a little bit famous and now the bounties keep ticking in on him. So there’re all these really interesting behaviors.”
Besides, as Touborg suggests, it’s always nice to know when your “investment in someone else’s misery has paid off.” Even if there’s a bit of anger on the forums that bounties can’t be placed on CCP developers.
There was still one problem: the thorny issue of kill rights. A miner who’s blown apart by an aggressor might earn a kill right to enact vengeance, but lack the means to do so. Touborg’s tweak was allowing kill rights to be bought and sold on an open market. When bought, these rights now flag that player for 15 minutes of free-for-all combat.
A massive amount of ship rebalancing, UI updates and weapon safeties, NPC AI updates and dynamic sound updates have also made it into Retribution. As Touborg describes, “It’s the first part of a big push to make the in-game UI more intuitive. One day I really hope that you’ll do the majority of playing EVE Online through the in-game space and not through some options window.”
Live Events have also been included, with a new group formed to manage this new type of content. Touborg explained that these events will be in two forms: developer caravans heading out to attack players are more seasonal; storyline centred events see the developer assuming the role of a character in the wider EVE universe. The team has even set up a Twitter account to alert players to these in-game events.
There’s a laundry list of features that managed to make it into Retribution, but is there anything that Touborg had to leave in the basket? “There’re two things that I wanted to put into the game that I didn’t get, but I suspect we will get sometime within the next six months.
“If you have low security status, which is essentially whether you’re a good or bad guy, Concord NPCs will shoot you. Today you have to grind that status back up, which is a little bit awful. One thing we didn’t get in is that we want to introduce items that are high value, where you can bring your security status up again. So we’re going to be putting some special NPCs in low-sec that will hand out these special tags that will give you a security status increase. You can either spend however many weeks it takes to grind your security status back up or, if you have a lot of money, you can simply buy these tags off people who live in low-sec and increase it.
“The other one is a fairly big change that we need to look a little bit more at. I really wanted to combine the new bounty system with structures, so I want to be able to put bounties on player owned structures, I want to put them on customs offices and so forth. And in relation to that, I really want to let the players fight over customs offices in Empire space, just like they do in zero sec and low sec. Right now the customs offices in Empire are NPC run; I want them to be player run.”
It seems that, as in life, actions in EVE Online will continue to have consequences.
Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer, Senior Contributing Editor