EVE Spotlight: An interview with CCP Soundwave

EVE Spotlight is a new bi-weekly feature in which we interview prominent members of EVE Online's player community or development team. Every two weeks, we'll be shining the spotlight on a player or developer who has a significant impact on EVE so that we can highlight the efforts of EVE's most influential people.

If you've ever tuned into EVE's annual Alliance Tournament, chances are you've seen CCP Soundwave in action. Through his work on EVE-TV, Soundwave has been a big part of the alliance tournament's studio team. Most players would recognise him for this work on the Alliance Tournament, but he's probably done more for EVE in his normal job than through EVE-TV. As a Game Designer for CCP, Soundwave has worked on some major features like the Tyrannis expansion's planetary interaction.

Most recently, Soundwave worked alongside the other members of Team Best Friends Forever to produce the impressive Sansha incursions that are currently hitting New Eden. With the expansion having now been released, the team had been moved on to a project with almost universal support -- the quest to fix all those little issues with EVE that collectively add up to a big headache.

In this EVE Spotlight, I talk to CCP Soundwave about the upcoming ninth Alliance Tournament, game design at CCP, the Incursion expansion, and CCP's new commitment to tackling all the small issues with EVE.

EVE-TV began in 2006 as an in-house production covering the Fanfest and Alliance Tournament action. Today, it's only fired up to cover the Alliance Tournament, and the live studio is used only for the tournament finals. If you tuned into Alliance Tournament VIII back in June of last year, you probably saw this hilarious teaser trailer featuring CCP Soundwave and CCP StevieSG:

Massively: Who are the other members of Team Best Friends Forever, and where did the name come from?

CCP Soundwave: Right now, Team BFF consists of myself, CCP Tallest, Greyscale, Masheen, Sharq, Dren, Creber Cattus, Frellicus, Punkturis and Rickul (we're a pretty big team, but best friendships know no numerical boundaries). The name originally came from our first project, which was pulled the day before it was slated to start production. We were working on a feature that was very heavy in the human interaction/social sense, so it seemed like a fitting name. Now it just a symbol of our love for each other.

What's your favourite project that you've worked on as part of CCP?

Incursions! Everything felt like it came together for this project; we had a great team, a lot of creative freedom from the get-go, enough time to plan and execute it properly, etc. It was also fun doing something that's a bit different from the usual features. Doing a brand-new reward system, throwing a constellation-wide chat system in, new functionality... it was uncharted territory a lot of the way. That's a load of fun, unless you get eaten by dragons of course. But yeah, a lot of new stuff. Everyone was excited about it, and at the end of the day, I think it turned out really well.

How does a feature go from idea to implementation? Can you give us an idea of what's involved in the EVE production cycle?

So mostly the creative leads will have an idea of what they want a team to do, and the team will have their own idea. Then there is an epic arm-wrestle of words, where it's decided which one we end up doing. For Incursions, the team got to do what we wanted to do, instead of what was suggested by the creative leads. For the coming expansion, it's the other way around. We wanted to do one thing, CCP t0rfifrans wanted us to do another (the small things), and we all ended up rallying behind that. It's great to have some choice, and once both ideas are in the back of your mind, there is a surprisingly easy consensus on what makes sense. At some point in the future, I hope we'll get some sort of gladiatorial combat system for disagreements.

Does CCP have any plans for expanding on the Sansha incursion feature, and will there be any future live events?

Yeah, our team will be putting in tweaks and fixes for a while. We've deployed quite a few balancing changes already, with more to come. Added on top of that, we'll do a more official review of the feature down the road to see the state of it. It's kind of hard to commit to saying "we're expanding this in the future" without that review being done though. The only thing I can really promise is that it's not forgotten, and we will review it down the road. In terms of live events, it's my impression they're alive and healthy.

Players have noted that the new Sansha NPCs have been killing all the macro-miners in the incursed areas. Was this intended or just a happy coincidence?

I'll be completely honest: I don't really get involved with hunting macro-miners and botters. It's not that I don't care, but we have people in the company who do this for a living. If we've ended up killing a few of them, I'm thrilled, but I prefer to design for our massive majority of regular customers, rather than thinking of a small minority of criminals who would probably download cars if they could. We should always strive to make the best feature for our customers, and I'd have to decrease the quality of a feature because some people abuse the system. Added to that, I'm more excited about the total kill count.

In your latest devblog, you announced that Team Best Friends Forever was concentrating on small fixes and quality-of-life changes. Can you give any details of issues you plan to tackle and how the issues are chosen?

The first step is building a "backlog", which is basically where all the tasks that potentially go into a release is stored. We have three primary sources for this. The initial place we started doing this, was an internal site we launched before Incursions went live. It was basically a homepage (that CCP t0rfifrans built in his dimly lit basement at night) where employees could suggest small changes. It wasn't announced as anything but an idea wall, but those first 100 ideas or so became the foundation of the backlog.

From there on, we went to the EVE forums, where a few threads on this exact issue had appeared, and the CSM backlog. The CSM had been maintaining a wiki page with issues of all sizes, and we basically just harvested from there. Having the backlog in place, we began actually estimating these tasks. The complexity estimation (how long does it take us to make this change?) isn't fundamentally different to our usual features, but the value estimation is.

Time economy is a much larger factor, and there are some great changes that were discarded purely because they'd prevent us from doing 10 smaller changes in the exact same time. We basically take the smallest item and do the ones that provide the highest value first and from time to time mix in some mid-sized items that are simply too valuable to pass up. In terms of what items we're working on? Everything from moving buttons around to Sov changes.

You've also been heavily involved in the popular alliance tournament. Will there be any major rule or format changes for this year's tournament?

Yes, but if I told you at this point I'd have to kill you (and anyone who reads this article, which means entirely too much overtime). We always try to shake things up a little bit so the players will provide some innovation, and we'll definitely continue doing that. I think that's the key to keeping it fresh; you really need to turn some dials, not necessarily all the way to full retard, but maybe to slight or even half retard to keep people interested. But yeah, we have some clever minds currently hashing out the changes.

The previous alliance tournament had some pretty interesting surprises. Do you anticipate anything new and interesting happening in the next alliance tournament?

There isn't really a lot of stuff I can talk about right now as we're so early in the planning stages. We're looking at everything though. If I had my way, we'd have a live studio audience, for example. It's always made me a little bit sad that we're kind of stowed away in a studio when there is a pretty active EVE community on Iceland. No reason to not make this an awesome event. This isn't the world cup, mind you -- it's the universe cup. There is really no reason this shouldn't be celebrated like it deserves. The only thing that looks fairly certain is that you should see some new faces next time around, both in terms of crew and commentators. Regardless of what, I'm really looking forward to it!

Is there any important information that you'd like to get out there?

I'd just like to remind everyone that Fanfest is coming up. This thing just gets greater year by year. If you like hearing about spaceships, there will be a ton of roundtables, presentations etc. If you like hanging out with people, the devs are there, your corpmates are there, there's pubcrawls (one of them lead by me!) and a lot of other activities. Come visit us; we're lonely.

Thanks for interviewing with us!

No problem guys!
This article was originally published on Massively.