EVE Evolved: New info from Fanfest 2012

EVE Evolved title image
The annual EVE Online Fanfest is starting to become a major event in the gaming calendar, thanks to CCP's partnership with Sony and the addition of DUST 514 and World of Darkness talks to the event schedule. This year, CCP flew gaming journalists to the event to give the press hands-on time with DUST and demonstrate the game's impressive realtime integration with EVE Online. Massively, unfortunately, is not permitted to accept such travel stipends, which meant that we couldn't produce in-depth coverage and interviews as we did last year, so instead we've pieced together information from the talks that were streamed to viewers at home.

The theme of this year's Fanfest was unmistakably DUST 514 and its integration with EVE Online. Attendees got first-hand experience with DUST 514 and a free pass to enter the beta in April. There was even a live demonstration of the EVE-DUST link during which a battleship delivered an air strike directly into a DUST match in realtime. There were several talks on EVE's upcoming Inferno expansion and its PvP revamp, with details of new modules and gameplay designed to shake up the PvP landscape for the first time in several years. Players report leaving Fanfest this year with a very real sense that CCP is back on track and recovering from the aftermath of Monoclegate.

In this week's colossal EVE Evolved, I piece together some of the information from EVE Fanfest 2012 and consider what it means for EVE players.

EVE Evolved side imageThe past year

A lot has happened in the past year, with CCP dropping thousands of subscribers during the summer drama of monoclegate and subsequently having to lay off 20% of its staff. In the CCP keynote speech, CEO Hilmar Petursson didn't shy away from discussing this topic. This year's keynote also had a refreshing lack of stat-waving; previous Fanfests would always show how much the playerbase and company had grown, but after the humbling events of the summer, both of those stats would be in the red.

Perhaps the most interesting talk that was streamed was CCP Veritas' The Year in Lag. Veritas is the kind of eccentric character you can't help but call a genius; on a daily basis, he works with complex problems in a jumble of code running on a supercomputer. In his talk, Veritas showed a graph of lag in a fleet fight last year and then another of a similar fight this year. The difference was staggering, with practically zero module delay and queued commands in the second fight. The magic sauce that made this possible was time dilation, with the system running at 20% normal speed in the second fight. This year, Veritas will be working on client-side optimisations. We've actually seen some of his client work already, a string optimisation that lets the overview update once per second instead of once every 2.5 seconds.

EVE Evolved side imageThe road to Inferno

With Inferno approaching, players came to Fanfest with one big question: Is Crucible a one-off, or the start of a trend? CCP confirmed that it is the start of a trend, and Hilmar personally promised to stop thinking about big features that aim to bring new people to EVE and instead vowed to focus on iterating on existing gameplay for the people who currently play. The talks that were streamed all seemed to mirror this realistic restraint, with developers talking about what's coming in the months ahead rather than diving straight into visions of the far future.

Before the Inferno expansion goes live, it will be preceded by a separate patch on April 24th. This patch will iterate on incursions, which have remained unchanged for so long now that people have worked out the most efficient ways to farm them. There'll be an iteration on rogue drones to examine how they affect the universe's markets, mini-professions, and political region stability. We'll also see the first of a new wave of ship balances and more small changes and fixes. Devblogs on each of these will be released over the next few weeks.

EVE Evolved side imageGraphical updates

Even though EVE is almost nine years old, constant graphical upgrades have kept it on the very cutting edge of graphics technology. With Inferno, we'll be getting a missile graphics revamp, and missile launchers will finally be visible on the hulls of our ships. Amarr and Minmatar sub-capital ships will all receive the V3 treatment, being ported over to a new shader system that lets CCP re-skin ships for different faction variations just by changing a few variables. This will inevitably lead to players re-skinning their own ships and adding corp or alliance logos to their hulls. We also saw some new models coming in for stealth bombers.

For the next year at least, CCP will be working almost exclusively on the in-space portions of EVE. Avatars won't be left out completely; a small team will be working on what CCP described as "a slow burn" to produce new graphical elements for the character creator. Screenshots of some impressive sleeve tattoos were shown off at several talks, and CCP confirmed that these will be coming to the game with the Inferno expansion. The team has also been experimenting with giving each race a wider range of skin tones to allow pale Brutors or dark-skinned Caldari and adding the ability to mix races and so inherit parts of each.


EVE Evolved side imageLooking to the future

CCP took an uncharacteristically cautious approach to discussing future development, favouring releasing ideas early and taking on feedback. Incarna is still happening, but CCP admits that before developers start implementing it, they first have to find a way to build avatar-based gameplay that won't compromise the rest of the game. This same caution has been applied to DUST 514's rollout, with CCP asserting that it has "a commitment to tie this into EVE in an awesome way that you guys won't stab us for."

The biggest in-space EVE feature on the way is definitely planetary ring mining. CCP showed off graphics of a planetary ring made of asteroids, but I'd caution people about getting excited at just a screenshot; I've programmed systems that produce similar visual results in a single day, and we haven't seen any ring mining gameplay yet.

The initial idea for ring mining is awesome: It will be a group expedition in which you scan for veins of material and follow them until they deplete. It's like escalating encounters for mining, with hotspots on the planetary ring being found by scanning. This was on my wishlist for system-wide asteroid belts in 2007, so it's nice to see it finally being used for something. The most awesome part of ring mining is that you'll find moon minerals there, giving players an active way to gather the resources needed to build tech 2 ships.

EVE Evolved side imageBig ideas

The idea with the biggest potential to come out of Fanfest is CCP's plan to give third-party developers something they've always dreamed of: direct client-level access to the EVE universe. A new CREST interface to the EVE server has been developed, one that can translate the language that mobile apps and web tools speak in to the language the EVE client uses. CCP will be careful what gameplay it exposes through CREST as people would surely build apps to automate certain functions like updating market orders, spamming Jita local, or farming.

The new interface does mean we may eventually see apps that let us change our skills, pop into alliance chat, or fit ships from a smartphone, tablet, or browser. CCP also revealed its new third-party developer license for the EVE API and CREST, which has no restrictions and is completely free. As if that weren't generous enough, the company also agreed to allow players from the UK to pay in GBP instead of Euros and dropped the price to a competitive £9.99 per month. Finally, CCP committed to continuing the Crucible-style updates and to releasing new ships once or twice a year, but the team stopped short of confirming that Inferno will contain any new ships.

EVE Evolved side imageA future vision

While most of the Fanfest focused on CCP's past and present, the CCP Presents keynote took a look into the future of CCP and its game properties. CCP not only aims to move logging in to the launcher but also wants to make it possible to log in with your Google credentials or Facebook details. In an interesting move, CCP showed players some awesome new graphics and then asked them to make the decision of whether to spend time implementing them. The graphics demo showed EVE with DirectX 12 lighting and geometry shaders, which automatically generate actual geometry based on an object or ship's existing normal map.

The system is capable of generating about 500,000,000 triangles per second and seemed to create an on-screen vertex density of almost one vertex per pixel. This wasn't even demonstrated on the latest Nvidia card; it was on a GeForce GTX 560 -- the most commonly used graphics card among EVE players. The demo also showed asteroids smashing into a ship and shattering with PhysX, a technology that could vastly improve mining and has some reasl gameplay-changing potential. Players were told that it will take five man years to implement this technology, which is about one team for a year, and it's a tenth of the work of the Trinity graphics overhaul. Players seemed very supportive of the idea, so I think it's going ahead.

EVE Evolved side imageFuture expansions

After Inferno, CCP plans to focus on the harvesting part of EVE Online with ring mining and then iterate on manufacturing. Popular ideas for the industry update include a truly modular starbase system that can start very small and scale up to be absolutely colossal. The plan is to eventually put all stations and services run in stations into the hands of players rather than NPCs.

This worked extremely well with customs offices, promoting EVE's unique sandbox style of conflict. The idea for starbases is to let individual players set up small and affordable personal structures to manufacture and research or to gain a small foothold in a system they want to use. Larger organisations would be able to expand the structure to produce large industrial complexes or towering death stars.

After that, CCP wants to boost lowsec and improve smuggling. At some point in the future, we will also be getting some impressive graphical improvements. We'll see weapons actually hitting shields, and your ship will show real battle damage in its hull geometry. To organise fleet combat better, we may also get a new tactical view that provides a more abstract representation of the battlefield. The most impressive graphical improvement proposed is a small picture-in-picture view of your currently selected target, so you can see your attacks hitting or missing and see the target explode.

EVE Evolved side imageWhat about Incarna?

In the far future, CCP wants to eventually return to Incarna and do it right. The previous plans for Incarna to be a purely social environment have been scrapped, and CCP is now exploring ways to use the core themes in EVE's in-space gameplay to design similar avatar-based gameplay inside stations. One exciting idea the devs are working with is the idea of exploring abandoned outposts and installations for loot. We might be able to dock with Sleeper structures in wormhole space and lead on-foot expeditions with our corpmates during which we explore the ruins for artifacts and ancient technologies.

The environments won't be safe, and if you die, you'll be sent back to your clone and your ship will be left docked to the structure for someone to steal it. CCP won't implement instanced environments, so other players could already be in the structure setting a trap or might find your ship docked and decide to take it. Torfi Frans Olafsson warned that "someone else might come in, weld the door shut and close you in for life." While this is a vision of the far future, it fits perfectly with the themes of EVE and was the core concept behind the story for the incredible Fanfest 2012 cinematic trailer below.


Keep an eye on the EVE Evolved category later tonight as a special extra edition of the column is coming to cover all the PvP updates announced at Fanfest.

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 brendan@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.