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EVE Online Fanfest 2011: Keynote from the top of the world

It's an exciting time to be an EVE Online capsuleer, especially if you have the ability to make it to Iceland or are checking out the livestreams. For the rest of us desk-bound mortals who weren't able to hop across the pond to make it to Fanfest 2011, well... there's always next year! Even now, pilots are partying down with the CCP development team and talking all things internet spaceships while others are networking. We'd bet there's probably even a bit of setup for an in-game scam or two going on as well. We are talking about EVE Online, after all.

Thankfully, we here at Massively have sent two of our own intrepid adventurers to get into the thick of the action: Shawn Schuster and Brendan Drain. These two brave souls are facing the crowds at the top of the world to catch all the myriad events this weekend and have sent us some Quafe t-shirts field reports of all the action going on at Fanfest 2011. First up, it's a tasty overview of this year's opening keynote. So grab your drink of choice and join us after the break for more!

Kicking off the keynote was CCP's very witty Senior Producer Arnar Gylfason, who decided the best way to start was to catch everyone up on what's been going on since the last Fanfest in 2009, as the company opted to cancel the 2010 Fanfest due to all the work it's been doing on Incarna. Among the many things noted during his opening remarks are some very interesting metrics. Tranquility has seen the concurrent users increase from 53,850 at the opening of Fanfest 2009 to 63,170 now, which is pretty amazing for a single-shard game. The overall population of New Eden also jumped from 302,657 players at Fanfest 2009 to 360,634, marking a 20% increase in just 18 months. Along with this scaling up of demand, CCP has added more people to its workforce, going from 84 to 138 developers.

However, Gylfason noted, CCP has made some mistakes in that time, most notably in both miscommunication in terms of what it's currently doing as well as a lack of communication about all the things that are a little further off in development. He states that the team has worked very hard to be more open about things, although not everything was shown at Fanfest's keynote. As Gylfason noted, "If we were going to do an entire presentation on [everything we're doing] we'd have to have another Fanfest next week that lasted five days -- and no drinking! OK, come on, of course there'd be drinking."

Part of the major considerations of the development team isn't simply just the idea of fixing things and implementing new things but doing so while updating a codebase that is several years old. With his typical amusing wit, Gylfason noted that "keeping EVE running and doing addons to it is sort of like doing maintenance on a Formula One car, mid-race, with the engine running, while doing 300 kilometers an hour, while the other cars are actually actively bumping into you and the driver is throwing rocks at you, and the phone is ringing, and s**t's on fire, and what...? I kind of lost my train of thought."

As a testament to the development team's hard work, the game can now support a larger number of players engaging in bigger fleet fights and larger amounts of market transactions, and all manner of new content to continually increase the depth of the game has been added. However, it's not all "sexy stuff," as Gylfason put it -- quite a bit of it involves things you won't see like security issues, cluster health, and more.

One of the things noted is that the developers are working on adding a keyfob-type authenticator for EVE Online, which they're hoping to implement "soon."™ (Attendees at Fanfest have actually already gotten theirs in this year's goodie bag.) This should help ease players' minds at least somewhat when it comes to account security. Players can also expect additional tweaks to the server to allow for larger battles, as there are now regularly 500+ person fleet battles occurring weekly. The servers are currently able to handle 1000 pilots in a system, but in order to routinely handle events such as the 3,200-player battle that occurred last year, CCP still has some work to do.

Along with the nuts and bolts of things, players can look forward to some more updates on the UI front, which were warmly received by the crowd. The devs did threaten to add in Comic Sans as a UI font as well, but thankfully, they were joking. At least, we're going to hope so. We've already seen a huge bunch of updates in Incursion, which both gave us incursion content and added the new character creator -- the precursor to the Captain's Quarters, which is in itself the precursor to Incarna. Also, players will see new fashions, new environments, and even the ability to add corp logos to their ships, all in the interests of creating more immersion.

Among other things mentioned are changes to the way agent missions work. While now you to go an agent who has a chance of giving you the mission you want, in the future, agents will offer only a set line of missions. If you want fighting, you'll head for a fighting agent. Additionally, agents will no longer have a quality rating, so you won't have to waste time hunting down better ratings. Instead, you can get straight into the action with an agent near where you want to be. There will also be changes coming to BPOs and BPCs (blueprint originals and blueprint copies), such as graphics to make them more obvious. Pilots won't have to stop training to plug in implants, either, which saves time. All of this is set up to make EVE more rewarding for players.

In all, it sounds like a great many awesome things are in the works at CCP and that the team is very much paying attention to both resolving the issues that players want fixed and adding things that will make EVE Online more fun -- and immersive -- for everyone. Be looking out for an update soon from our very own Brendan on the ins and outs of the Captain's Quarters, which we're sure you'll want to hear more about!

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