EVE Evolved: What could planetary interaction be like?

On Friday, CCP released the first details of EVE Online's next expansion, Tyrannis. The expansion's main feature is a form of planetary exploration and control but details on what exactly that will entail have been limited. Like walking in stations, planetary interaction has always been a major missing component from EVE. It's been on the drawing board from day one but the technology and resources were never really there to do the feature justice. A prototype planetary flight system was even demonstrated at EVE Fanfest 2004 and while it impressed Fanfest attendees, the feature never materialised. The announcement that Tyrannis will include a form of planetary exploration has a lot of players excited but is their enthusiasm justified? The information we have so far on the expansion is limited to a single devblog, which provides only a general mission statement for the expansion.

In the absence of further information, I find myself wondering what the planetary interaction in Tyrannis might be like. In this speculative opinion piece, I look over the information we know for sure about Tyrannis and go on to speculate on what it might be like.

Just the facts:

The devblog on Tyrannis confirmed a few important details on what we can expect from the summer expansion. The following is a list of the things we can be reasonably sure of thanks to the devblog:
  • No official release date has been set but a deadline of June 21st is implied by the phrase "before the summer solstice".
  • You'll be able to survey planets for deposits of minerals and "other goodies". What "other goodies" means is up for interpretation and minerals could refer to standard minerals such as Tritanium and Zydrine or moon minerals like Silicates and Cadmium.
  • To access the deposits you find, you'll have to build some kind of planetary mining and processing infrastructure.
  • The final product has to be launched into space to be collected.
  • Maintaining facilities on hostile planets such as gas giants or molten worlds will be more difficult but will give better rewards.
  • Managing a facility will be a challenging industrial experience. If a facility is mis-managed, something may go wrong. Similarly, it will take skill and hard labour to make a facility efficient.
  • There will be no combat-oriented gameplay on planets with the Tyrannis expansion.
  • When DUST 514 is eventually released, combat will be added to planets with the ability to "project military force for attack and defense of planetary installations". This is likely to be in the form of DUST mercenaries.

Wild speculation:

A quick analysis of the wording used in the devblog can provide clues and further information. Although the game plan for Tyrannis will undergo many changes between now and launch, we can still glean a few insights on their current plans and the overarching direction they are taking. Since DUST 514 will introduce combat into the same planetary system and we know DUST will use a district system, it seems logical to conclude that planets in Tyrannis will be split into districts. Each district might have to be surveyed separately and each may provide different resources.

While many players are worried that the oversupply of minerals may collapse the market, the planetary resource taps might actually be used as a way to balance the existing mineral markets as CCP could fiddle with the numbers behind the scenes. Depending on the distribution of materials in highsec, lowsec, nullsec and wormhole systems, it could also be used to breathe new life into underused star systems.

We might be able to build a complex industrial infrastructure around owning multiple districts. We might mine different materials in several districts, then have them automatically shipped to a nearby refinery. The refined product could possibly be shipped to a factory district, where it's built into something before being launched into space. Losing any part in this industrial chain might cause the whole system to grind to a halt, meaning no profits for your operation until it's fixed. We might see strong competitive gameplay where district owners play against each other for domination of a planet. Since the original vision for planetary interaction involves players lording over planetary populations, perhaps it's those workers that the players may influence. A nearby district owner might decide to pay his workers more than yours and cause a labour shortage for your facilities or perhaps he may raise living conditions and cause one of your districts to defect to another parent corporation. There's a lot of possibilities with a mechanic like this, we'll just have to wait and see where CCP takes it.

Planetary flight?
Since the materials produced on planets have to be launched into space to be collected, it's a reasonable implication that we may not even be able to land our ships on planets. Perhaps we'll scan planets from orbit or launch probes to scour the surface and find resources. Facilities themselves might be sent down to the planet from orbit, with our ships remaining firmly outside the atmosphere. That's a disappointing notion for those of us that stood slack-jawed at the atmospheric flight video from EVE's 2004 Fanfest and I sincerely hope I'm proven wrong. Like many EVE players, I'd love nothing more than to delve into the atmosphere of a gas giant, see the sun rise from the surface of an ocean world or land in the crater of a moon to hide from enemies.

Integration with DUST 514
With Tyrannis, it seems like CCP are giving us a new resource tap worth fighting over without the means to fight over it. But since combat won't be out until DUST 514 is released, the plan may be to make us use DUST mercenaries to fight over the planetary installations. Tyrannis could be laying the groundwork for DUST by establishing a demand for the mercenary's services before they even exist. Rather than bombing planets from orbit, the only way to influence combat on planets might be through hiring mercenaries and supplying them with ISK or weapons. This could actually work to CCP's advantage in tying the two games together.

The resources that fully explored and industrialised planets may give could go a long way to providing a neccessary passive income for nullsec alliances or piracy operations. If that income is high enough by the time DUST 514 is released, alliances may end up hiring DUST mercenaries to interfere with their enemy's planets. They might blockade resource shipments from planets or capture enemy districts to hurt their passive revenue streams. DUST mercenaries may end up fighting the economic portion of an EVE war via resource denial.

Summary
As usually happens when a new expansion is revealed, the Tyrannis devblog seems to raise more questions than it answers. Will the planets in wormhole systems be colonisable? Will we be able to land on planets? Stay tuned to Massively's EVE Online coverage over the coming weeks for an in-depth interview with CCP on the Tyrannis expansion. If you have a burning question you'd like to pose to CCP on their next expansion, post it in the comments and it may just make it into the interview.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at massively.com. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you want to message him, send him an e-mail at brendan.drain AT weblogsinc DOT com.

This article was originally published on Massively.