EVE Online's development path from concept to release has followed a very different path to the MMO norm. Starting from its humble beginnings as one man's dream to build an online space game, EVE has developed into the massively popular game it is today. Rather than designing and developing the game all in one go, the CCP crew opted for a staged delivery approach. The game was re-made 11 times, each stage being progressively closer to the final goal. By launch, EVE had been through 5 total recodes where almost the entire game was scrapped and rebuilt from scratch and at least 6 partial recodes.
Join me as I take a look at the course EVE's development has taken from concept all the way to the current Empyrean Age expansion.
CCP set out with the lofty goal of creating a game that was absolutely massive in scope. They wanted to provide players with the rules and tools with which to build their own virtual society. Their first major task was in convincing people that this could be done and the project was possible. This affected not only potential investors but also recruitment of vital programmers and artists. Starting from the absolute ground floor, their next big step was developing their company structure and management techniques to make effective use of the new staff.
Before coding could begin, the developers had to make some important decisions about what programming language and server architecture they were going to use. It was at this point that they decided on using stackless python and windows SQLServer. Once initial alpha tests began, development became a balancing act between fixing discovered bugs and developing new features. As beta testing got underway, EVE's Chief Technology Officer (now CCP CEO) Hilmar Veigar Pétursson recalls the difficulty of developing the game while people were playing it almost as if it were finished product.
Once coding was underway, EVE went through its 11-section "staged delivery" plan and rapidly evolved from a simple 2D client and server pair to a graphically impressive 3D client. The game was officially released in May 2003 under the name "EVE Online: The Second Genesis" and was published by Simon & Schuster Interactive. Box copies of the game were sold in stores complete with manuals, CDs containing the gold release client and CD keys for online registration. Soon after launch, CCP purchased the EVE publishing rights back from Simon & Schuster and switched to entirely digital publishing methods. Owning their own publishing rights may have given CCP a distinctive creative advantage, allowing them to consider high risk game design ideas that other publishers may shy away from.
Unlike many other MMOs, EVE's updates and major expansions are completely free. To keep the game new and interesting, major expansions are added directly to the game world and all players are required to update their client to the newest version. You can't go back and play the old versions of EVE as even if you had the old client, there is no longer any server available supporting that version. Additionally, these free expansions and updates come at the price of new bugs constantly managing to creep in and CCP's Q&A department has to work around the clock to keep up with them. In the five years since release, EVE has gone through eight separate major expansions, averaging one every six months or so.
Expansion #1 - Castor:
Released in December 2003, Castor was the first expansion EVE underwent. In addition to numerous balance tweaks and refinements to current game elements, this patch contained a number of new items and mechanics that players today take for granted. Being cloaked for 30 seconds after jumping through a stargate was introduced here, before which jumping into a potentially hostile system was a big gamble and a huge risk. Tech level 2 modules and ships began to make an appearance, the first module being the Miner II and the first ship type being interceptors. This patch also placed several player-ownable conquerable stations in prime areas of 0.0 for players to fight over. These precursors to today's outposts enjoyed all of the benefits of standard NPC-run space stations but with none of today's defensive and sovereignty advantages.
Expansion #2 – Exodus:
Originally titled Shiva, Exodus was released in November 2004 and was EVE's first truly massive content expansion. This was the first expansion I experienced and it changed the game for me significantly. This expansion introduced the Destroyer and Battlecruiser ship classes to fill the voids between Frigate, Cruiser and Battleship. Miners got their fair share of content with this patch too, with the introduction of specialised mining barges that could use new "Strip Miner I" modules. As if entire new ship classes and new tech 2 modules wasn't enough, this expansion period produced the entire complex/dungeon system and Player Owned Structures (POS).
The "complex" system paved the way for a revolution in mission design. Also called "Multi-Level Encounters", this was a system whereby multiple pockets of enemies were tied together in stages. Players had to complete one section before unlocking a warp gate to the next section, allowing structured dungeon-like scenarios to be arranged. This patch also formalised an alliance system in-game that players had been doing manually for some time. Exodus saw the first appearances of rogue drones, commander spawns and valuable officer NPCs.
Expansion #3 – Cold War:
While not a full expansion, the Cold War patch brought a lot of new content into the game. Special COSMOS areas of the game were created with high-reward one-time missions given out much like quests are in other MMOs. Player-constructed outposts made their first appearance, intended to be very limited versions of the space stations NPC factions build. POS began providing system sovereignty that reduced their fuel consumption by 25% and allowed outposts to be built in the system. A variety of new Tech 2 modules were released along with the first capital ships.
Freighters were first out the door, massive cargo vessels with the space required to deploy outposts but which ended up being almost exclusively used for colossal trade runs within empire space. Dreadnoughts were brought in next, originally intended for taking down outposts rather than POS. Their high cost and skill requirements prevented the number of active dreadnought pilots from being a significant threat for almost an entire year. Today it's common to see alliance capital fleets with over 50 dreadnoughts pile into a star system to tear apart its defences.
Expansion #4 – Red Moon Rising:
One of the biggest patches to date, Red Moon Rising was intended to set the stage for the coming faction wars. In RMR we saw the release of three new capital ships; the Carrier, its big brother the Mothership and of course Titans. A whole host of new Tech 2 ships appeared, from tech 2 mining barges and command ships to specialised interdictors and recon ships. This patch is also credited with the major drone overhaul/nerf that reduced the number of active drones a pilot can release to 5 but buffed the individual drones significantly both on offensive and defensive capabilities. The Gallente Federation and Amarr Empire received their own long-awaited COSMOS constellations and one month later, each race received a new bloodline for new players to use.
Expansion #5 – Revelations I:
Possibly the biggest expansion EVE has ever seen, Revelations was so massive in scope that CCP recognised they weren't going to complete all of it within their usual expansion time-scale. The project was split into three distinct stages, the first and largest of which was Revelations I. Logging in after this patch felt like logging into a whole new game. During this patch period, eight new regions were opened up, filled with rogue drones that dropped valuable minerals instead of having pirate bounties to collect. Additionally, a complete set of new tier 3 battleships and tier 2 battlecruisers was introduced, one for each race. While these new ships were not really required, this came as something of a pat on the back for players who preferred tech 1 ships over expensive and skill-heavy tech 2 ships.