Eventually, player-built outposts arrived on the scene, and starbases were adopted to fill a military role in system defense. Whichever side in a fight could control the most starbases in a system would win the outpost, and fearsome dreadnoughts were introduced to make starbase sieges possible. Today, starbases take a back seat to wars over infrastructure hubs, territorial claim units and sovereignty blockade units. The war will eventually extend to planets, but until now planetary interaction has been an entirely industrial affair without the slightest hint of EVE's typical conflict. With the coming Crucible expansion, the starbase and customs office systems are due to be overhauled in a way that should lead to more conflict and lay the ground work for DUST 514.
In this week's EVE Evolved, I look back at the history of starbases, the impact of the coming starbase revamp, and the possibility of additional conflict brought in by the new customs offices.
The history of starbases
In the Exodus expansion, CCP introduced modular starbases designed to serve as bases of operations in deep space and industrial complexes for tech 2 production. Ice asteroid belts were seeded across EVE to provide the fuel necessary to run these industrial behemoths, and NPCs sold five different trade goods required to keep everything running. Operating in deep space was a tricky business, requiring hours of hauling every week through dangerous territory just to keep the tower fuelled. The biggest hauling ships at the time were vulnerable industrials with a maximum capacity of around 40,000 m3, and hauling roundtrips of over 30 jumps were commonplace.
This challenge was matched with an even greater operational difficulty; players could expect to spend hours each week shuffling moon products from silo to silo, and the initial starbase setup involved an entire day of anchoring a new structure every hour or so. The Exodus expansion brought us massive freighters to meet the logistical demand of starbase reactor networks, but they were unable to offload at a starbase itself. This encouraged alliances to keep reactor networks in range of supply outposts or position outposts strategically close to prime moons. Players quickly discovered that the new dreadnoughts designed to take part in starbase sieges made ideal hauling vessels, able to be loaded up with 80,000 m3 of material and equipped with a jump drive to bypass hostiles. Since then, we've seen the introduction of jump freighters designed specifically to fill this role.
New starbase revamp
The logistical challenges involved in fueling a starbase and running a reactor network has been significantly lessened with the advent of jump freighters and the ability to offload a freighter at a starbase, but the operational challenges haven't been given the same treatment. Players still have to manually balance eight different fuel types, and deploying a new starbase still involves an entire day of waiting online punctuated by the occasional button click. In Crucible, starbase fuel will be replaced with a new low-maintenance fuel block system in which producers will compress the correct proportions of the eight fuel types into one fuel block per race.
Deployment time for starbases will be dramatically reduced, with most modules switching from 15-60 minute anchoring delays to as little as three seconds. If this applies to the base control tower too, it comes as welcome news to nomadic wormhole corporations, who may want to set up a tower as a temporary base of operations or safe spot while farming a system. It will also make surprise invasions or sneaky retreats much easier to manage. This may cause a potential exploit, however, as a tower could be unanchored while under attack as long as it hasn't reached 50% shield, and it could even replaced with a fully charged tower within seconds. CCP Soundwave and CCP Ginger have promised to revisit starbases for a complete overhaul, including graphical updates players have been requesting since 2006.
Player-owned customs offices
In a surprising but awesome turn of events, planet-bound industry will be shaken up when Crucible lands as CCP plans to put the customs offices orbiting planets in the hands of players themselves. The offices in highsec will remain in the hands of NPCs, but those in lowsec, nullsec and wormhole systems will be destructible and so open for conquering.
To claim a planet, players must erect their own customs office structure in orbit. If you own a planet, you can then set a tax rate for those using is based on what standings they have with your corporation. You can even ban other players from using the planet altogether, to deny your enemy access or attempt to provoke a fight. If you're not punching your fist in the air shouting "&^% YES" right now, you damn well should be.
If you don't happen to like the terms offered by your would-be landlord, the option to destroy his facility and usurp his self-appointed position is always available. Once the office is successfully attacked, it enters reinforced mode and becomes invulnerable until a random time within a four-hour period decided by the owner. Both sides are informed of the time they must meet for the final battle, as happens with starbases and sovereignty structures. To make planets worth fighting over, developers have increased the bandwidth on all planet structures by a factor of five.
Player-owned customs offices will provide much of the conflict we've come to expect from EVE's core gameplay -- conflict that was missing with planetary interaction. The ability to become your own planetary baron and set tax rates is going to be awesome, and the resulting conflict will hopefully be the military precursor to DUST 514. Now that a system of formal planet ownership is in place, I'd expect ownership to contribute to system sovereignty and provide incentive for planetary raids in DUST. Player owned corp offices will kickstart the land-grab for planetary ownership when the Crucible expansion launches in three days, and the starbase changes will go into effect two weeks later.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.