EVE Evolved: The great ship overhaul

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EVE Evolved title image
One of EVE Online's most important features is that the game is constantly updated to avoid falling behind the development curve and being overtaken by new titles. The EVE we have today bears little resemblance to the primitive sandbox released in 2003 thanks to major graphical overhauls every few years and iteration on gameplay systems. I think that's a big part of why people start playing EVE; they know that the game will still be alive and kicking years from now and will look as good as anything else on the market.

EVE remained largely unchanged from March 2009's Apocrypha expansion until Crucible at the end of 2011, but since then, CCP has made huge leaps in iterating on ship graphics and gameplay. This week we saw an impressive new video of the revamped Drake model, and CCP announced details of a complete mining barge and frigate revamp due to hit the servers before this year's winter expansion. These changes seem set to put a sizeable dent in EVE's notoriously steep learning curve.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at the recent graphical updates to EVE's ships and explore the upcoming ship overhauls in more detail.

EVE Evolved side imageThe V3 project

We first heard about the V3 project during CCP Guard's behind-the-scenes video devblog on the art department. Art Manager Benjamin Bohn explained that CCP has developed a new ship shader that not only looks a lot more awesome but also allows awesome new features like customised colour schemes and corp logos painted on a ship's hull. The V3 project involves a complete graphical redesign of every ship, station, and object in the game and an upgrade of every object model to use the new shader. This turned out to be a mammoth task, but work has proceeded at a good pace.

The Amarr V3 updates hit the live servers last month, and tomorrow's Inferno 1.1 update will bring the same visual update to all Minmatar sub-capital ships. The new Minmatar ships have had some of their rust polished off, and most Amarr ships have lost some of their distinctive bright gold plates, but all ships that have undergone the V3 treatment now have consistent lighting. When all ships have been converted to use the new shader, CCP can finally release ship-based microtransactions like custom paint jobs, corp logos on hulls, and unified corp fleet colours.

EVE Evolved side imageMining barge overhaul

As part of its goal to eliminate ship tiers, CCP revealed a new game design concept for mining barges. Rather than players progressing from small barges to large by training the relevant skill higher, all tech 1 barges will be accessible at Mining Barge level 1, and all tech 2 barges will be usable with Exhumers level 1. The mining yield of all barges will be brought up to around the same level, but each one will be given stats and bonuses that tailor it to a particular mining style.

The Hulk and Covetor remain the highest-yield mining barges, while the Mackinaw and Retriever will have huge ore bays that make them ideal for mining AFK or running EVE in the background while you do something else. The Procurer and Skiff will have battleship-sized tanks, making them incredibly hard to suicide gank; they are likely to take over the use of hulks in high-security space. I think this is a fantastic approach to take and a great example of the new "ship line" philosophy that's replacing the old tech 1 ship tier system.

EVE Evolved side imageCombat ship overhaul

The first type of combat ships to get the ship line treatment will be frigates, which CCP has promised to revamp before this year's winter expansion. As with the updated mining barges, all frigates will be accessible with level 1 of the appropriate racial frigate skill, and all frigates will have their stats brought up to about the same level. Each ship will then be specialised into a ship line representing a particular combat role. Each race will get a tackling frigate, a sniper, a turret ship, a missile ship, a scanning frigate, an electronic warfare frigate, and a standard rookie ship.

Since it takes just a few hours to train the racial frigate skills up to level four, low-tier ships like the Executioner and Bantam are currently rapidly outclassed by larger alternatives. The next ship class to revisit the design desk is the destroyer, which will be getting a special bonus to orbital bombardment of DUST 514 matches. Each race will also get several new destroyers to fill additional combat roles, such as drone ships and missile ships. Cruisers won't be overhauled until after the winter expansion, but they will be using the same design philosophy of specialising ships into particular combat roles.

EVE Evolved side image Flattening the learning curve

When EVE launched in 2003, ship tiers made sense as the difference in cost between the different tiers was significant enough to be a concern. Players had to choose whether they wanted to risk additional ISK on higher-tier frigates and cruisers for a combat advantage. Today, new players can make so much ISK that the cost advantage of using low-tier ships like the Exequror and the Bantam is negligible. Newbies outgrow low-tier ships within hours of starting a free trial, and older players looking for a little more power have expensive tech 2 and tech 3 ships to play with.

The new ship line paradigm seems set to smooth out that initial part of EVE's learning curve. New players will be able to fly any frigate they want within a few minutes of starting the free trial, which will give them a better taste for the different combat styles found in EVE. Once the same roles are represented in destroyers and cruisers, the upgrade path for a new player should be a lot clearer.

EVE Evolved title image
It's been nearly five years since CCP significantly overhauled EVE's ship visuals in 2007's massive Trinity expansion, and the huge V3 project is even more ambitious. When all the ships have been given the V3 treatment, we may finally get customisable ship skins and corp logos emblazoned on our hulls. I would pay to spray-paint my ship in my corp's colours, and I bet I'm not the only one.

The mining barge revamp will turn suicide ganking on its head by providing players with an option that can feasibly resist attack, making it a player's own fault if he chooses to use a fragile Hulk and is killed. The removal of ship tiers is a solid game design change that will help make EVE more accessible to new players without disrupting the game for existing players. Now that we've seen the details of the combat ship overhaul and how it'll apply to frigates, I'm surprised we managed so far with the old ship tier system, and I can't wait to see how it all turns out over the course of the next year.

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.
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