EVE Online: Retribution
Earlier this evening at the VETO EVE fan gathering in London, CCP announced EVE Online's 18th expansion: EVE Online: Retribution. Due in December, this latest content overhaul promises to bring some of the biggest changes yet to the space-themed sandbox MMO, which is steadily ramping up for its 10th anniversary next May.

We sat down with Jon Lander and Kristoffer Touborg, EVE's executive producer and lead designer respectively, to get a first-hand look at some of Retribution's key features as well as the enormous pile of tweaks, updates, and adjustments players might expect with any CCP-helmed update. One thing is certain: After Retribution, the world of internet spaceships will never again be the same.

EVE Online Bounty Hunter
First, let's jump a bit into some EVE history. The game launched in 2003 and has grown every year since, a rare feat in the ever-in-flux world of modern MMOs. In this time, EVE has seen no fewer than 17 content updates, each bringing upgrades both small and large. Any current EVE player can (and will) confirm that New Eden simply isn't the same place it was in 2003 (or even in 2010, for that matter). EVE's is a universe constantly in turmoil, thanks to both player interaction and constant dev attention.

In the last 12 months, two major expansions have hit EVE Online. The first, Crucible, brought a number of big changes like new Battlecruisers, engine trails, and the extremely complex "time dilation" system designed to limit lag during massive fleet battles. The second, Inferno, overhauled much of the game's UI along with making some adjustments to factional warfare and a variety of other existing features. Now, with Retribution, CCP is looking to continue its path of refinement through iteration by again introducing new content and tweaking the older stuff based on player feedback and the player-elected Council of Stellar Management.

EVE Online Crimewatch
Breaking the law

"This winter, justice will be done. If not by their laws, then by ours."

The main thrust of EVE Online: Retribution is the concept of consequence. In the past, players were free to do whatever they wanted to do, which often included being complete jerks to everyone around them. And while CCP is happy to see piracy, thievery, and general "bad guy" behaviors grow into legitimate in-game professions, the company wasn't satisfied with the way consequences played out for those who chose to skirt the long arm of the law. The current mechanic, in which players are able to set a bounty against someone who has wronged them (assuming they meet a certain security threshold), just wasn't cutting it.

So, CCP dumped the whole thing and started over. Here's how the new bounty system in Retribution works: Any player can, for any reason, create a bounty on another player. Players can also put bounties on corporations (EVE Online's version of guilds) and alliances (groups of corporations). There are no longer limitations on creating bounties; players do not have to be below a certain security rating to qualify. CCP feels that this allows the player community to make its own decisions about what is and isn't acceptable behavior in EVE's dark galaxy. Says Lander, "EVE is such a complex social game that we can't dictate who's bad."

EVE Bounty System The new bounty system comes complete with redesigned in-space tooltips that help alert players to the other ships in their area. These tooltips, according to Lander and Touberg, help CCP to give every ship a story and to move the game away from the old perception of "spreadsheets in space." Players can also use the tooltips to announce the location of wanted criminals, which in turn helps to turn bounty-hunting into a much more viable in-game profession. In the view of CCP, it should be obvious to all nearby players that someone is a wanted criminal.

After Retribution, being the most wanted player in EVE will no longer be a vanity a player bestows upon himself but a constant threat to his survival.

Making it simple

Along with implementing bounty changes for those interested in either becoming or hunting criminals, CCP has taken a hard look at EVE Online's "aggression" system. At the moment, there are dozens of ways in which the game calculates a person's criminal activities and decides whether those things warrant police action or other consequences (being blocked from docking at stations, for example). And because the system is so complicated, it's quite easy for an experienced player to turn the aggression system to his advantage in order to trick newer players.

There's another major problem with the current method of calculating aggression: Over time, the system has become so complex that it's negatively affecting EVE's performance. When enormous fleets meet for battle, the aggression system performs so many checks and balances that it's having an actual impact on how the game plays. That, combined with complexity so thick that CCP's devs admitted to having to sit down and create an enormous document to figure it out, led to a complete revamp with Retribution.

Under the new system, aggression will be measured by three simple icons: An exclamation point alerts players to danger, a yellow skull marks when other pilots can attack the player without CONCORD intervention, and a red skull indicates when a player is in serious trouble and CONCORD is on its way to deliver a smackdown. It's important to note here that nothing about the new systems makes it harder to attack other players or impairs one's ability to pirate or thieve; these icons and indicators are just in place to help make it easier for less-experienced pilots to understand the consequences of their actions.

EVE Online Aggression System
In addition to changing the way aggression is displayed, CCP has modified the way in which players flag themselves for repercussions. In Retribution, all ships will be equipped with a safety with three settings: green for PVE/safe actions, yellow for stealing from jetcans or performing other illicit tasks, and red for actions that will result in CONCORD intervention. The safety can be disabled at any time; it's just there so new players don't accidentally get themselves podded by completing an action that they didn't quite understand (a common tactic used by sneaky EVE veterans to con new players into flagging themselves for attack).

The basic idea here is making aggression its consequences more clear to EVE's pilots without limiting the ways in which players interact with the environment or one another.

EVE Online Frigates
Send in the frigates
What would an EVE Online update be without a few ship overhauls? CCP has big plans for Retribution and is currently working its way through the lower three tiers of ship in order to make them more useful, easier to understand, and better suited to specific roles. All ships are being adjusted to fit into certain categories (Combat, Attack, Disruption, Support, Exploration, Mining), and the first three classes on the adjustment block are Frigates, Destroyers, and Cruisers.

Certain ships, like the Stabber and Vagabond, are seeing remodels. Others are brand-new; players will now have access to a low-tier mining frigate designed as both an entry-level ore gatherer and a low-sec "sneak and harvest" solo craft. There's also a brand-new destroyer for each player race. The end goal, says CCP, is ensuring that each low-level ship has some sort of use and encouraging players to revisit some of the ships they may have previously seen as obsolete.

EVE Ship Rebalancing
Sadly, fitting information on the new ships was not available as of press time, but CCP is promising frequent dev blogs to help keep players in the loop and maximize the time for theorycrafting.

Tweaks on tweaks

Finally, there's the large pile of miscellaneous upgrades and updates common to EVE expansions. CREST, CCP's API system, is being remodeled to allow for both read and write access. In layman's terms, this means user-created applications will soon be able to do things like let players chat with their corps, write mail or (someday, maybe not soon) update their training queues. The tech will be in place, even if the actual functionality comes much farther down the road. Also mentioned? Fitting ships directly from an app or website without being signed into the game (this is also an extremely long-term goal).

NPC AI is getting an upgrade, making PVE fights more exciting and more dependent on player strategy. Additionally, there will be a strong push to bring EVE back toward its original backstory of broken wormholes and stranded civilizations. Plus, expect new modules, updates to Unified Inventory and the effects bar, and minor tweaks to sound.

Retribution Caldari Destroyer
Naturally, none of these details is set in stone, so anything could change at any time. We may see all of these changes implemented, some of these changes, or a bunch of changes we knew nothing about. Lander noted that the company is serious about moving carefully and listening to player feedback before making any major adjustments.

That being said, EVE Online: Retribution looks to be an ambitious undertaking from a studio known for its willingness to experiment with a working formula. We're excited to learn more as details roll out and will be sure to post updates if any major changes occur.

Retribution launches on December 4th. And don't forget: If you're curious about EVE Online, you can pick it up for $5 this weekend.

This article was originally published on Massively.