PAX 2010: CCP unveils EVE Online's latest expansion

At PAX Prime, we caught up with CCP's lead game designer Noah Ward, who paused helpfully between the roaring crowds on all sides of the booth to fill us in on the "secret sauce" to EVE Online's continued growth and success. Ward said it was simple: CCP's steadfast commitment to the game for the long haul. The dev team strongly believes in the growth of EVE and works hard to expand it both inward and upward.

Part of that growth includes continued expansions to the title, and Ward was excited to reveal the next one on deck. While it doesn't yet have a name -- at least, nothing CCP could put in print -- the team is hyped up about its latest expansion to the EVE Online franchise. Set to debut later this winter, the expansion looks to build on many of the key foundations that Tyrannis began.

Hit the jump to hear about the four new features that EVE fans will find themselves crowing about by the time Santa comes a-callin'!
#1: Improvements to planetary features

In Tyrannis, players finally got the opportunity to plant roots of a sort by forming colonies and mining the planets for resources. Whilie CCP thought this was a promising start, the team decided it could do a lot better. So for the winter expansion, the planetary system is getting an overhaul with the supreme goal of improving the usability and increasing the fun factor of this slice of gameplay.

CCP became dissatisfied with the fact that players would set up their colonies and mining operations and then leave them be. So to encourage subscribers to keep tabs on their colonial investments, the game will now encourage players to check on their investments periodically and tweak them depending on how low resources are getting and where better deposits lie. So by fine-tuning the operations of the master extractor, a shrewd player can increase his output if he's willing to micromanage. Conversely, a player who wants to sit back and not worry about hands-on management may set up long-term operations for a smaller return on invested time.

#2: Incursions

By far, the most exciting new feature of this expansion is what CCP is calling "incursions" -- invasions into constellations that will require the dedicated efforts of players to repel. These incursions will be led by the zombie-like Sansha and are expected to take a week or more to defeat.

What's surprising is that incursions are largely intended to be a cooperative PvE experience in a notoriously PvP game, although competing corps may butt heads while attempting to be heroic. The incursions will happen all over the galaxy and will be clearly marked on the map. At that point, teams of five to 40 can group up and take the fight to the stars.

The ultimate goal of incursions is to defeat the mothership at the core, although it's nothing less than suicide to make a beeline for this ship right away. If players don't pick off the outer ring of ships -- and thus weaken the fleet's defenses -- their ships will be weakened if they decide to attack the mothership. If the mothership goes kablooey, then ISK and loyalty points will be had by all, in addition to the brand-new blueprints to said defeated mothership. One nice aspect of incursions is that if you can only participate in part of the fight, you'll still get rewarded once it's finished, even if you're not present.

Incursions are somewhat different to the EVE universe than other parts of the game, which is CCP's desire. Hopefully, the incursions will be a great source of repeating content.

#3: Improvements to EVE Gate

EVE
Gate, the recent social tool added for the benefit of the EVE community, will get a few new bells and whistles as CCP continues to expand on its functionality. Two new features for EVE Gate include an in-game broadcast that shows up on the web, and the addition of in-game and out-of-game forums for players.

In the long term, CCP will be implementing corporation forums as well, which should take a lot of the pressure off corps to provide their own.

#4: Revamped character creation

By this point, "walking in stations" has been so anticipated and so repeated that the concept seems like a mere fairy tale rather than an actual future event. While the winter expansion won't see players take a stroll outside of their hard-earned ships, the dev team is taking steps toward this direction with an updated character creation system.

According to Ward, the team wanted "modern, amazing-looking character art" for players to drool over, especially if they've gotten somewhat bored with the looks of their toons over the past half-decade or so. And, yes, these character makeovers will eventually be the ones you get to see come to life outside of their ship environs.

All in all, this expansion has a lot of promise, and we can't wait to hear more!

This article was originally published on Massively.