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PAX East 2013: An interview with EVE Online's Jon Lander

Eliot Lefebvre

The next expansion to EVE Online was announced during this year's PAX East. Odyssey will usher in to the game a host of improvements ranging from better exploration mechanics to a redistribution of resources, ensuring that players have plenty to do with their internet spaceships over the summer. But what are the longer-term impacts of these changes? What can players expect from this expansion and more moving into the future? How does all of this play into the soon-to-launch DUST 514?

I'm admittedly not a regular EVE Online player, but I was on the show floor for the big announcement, and I had a chance to ask CCP executive producer Jon Lander a few questions after the presentation. The first one was the one that sprang to mind after viewing the announcement (which you can do as well with the video just below): Is this an expansion meant to add something new to the game, or is this meant to fix things that are broken?

The answer, according to Lander, is "both." At first, he explained, the EVE Online team was heavily focused on creating new systems and giving players new things to enjoy in the game. Over time, that meant some systems got broken, and so the team spent the last three expansions trimming up and fixing things that just weren't working. Moving forward, CCP thinks it's important to aim for a balance of both, introducing new features while ensuring that the old features move to keep up with the times.

It's all fun and games until someone's ship goes boom.Part of this is just a result of the game's having what Lander sees as having a huge amount of untapped potential. When players have asked about the game adding new system, he found himself looking at the game's map and seeing the enormous amount of empty space already present. This is part of why Odyssey is meant to encourage exploration, to give players a sense of wonder flying through the galaxy and at the thought of discovering something new.

It's also indicative of a change in philosophy regarding the expansions in general. Previous expansions have more or less existed in a bubble. Odyssey is the first step in answering a question about how the team can design several expansions to be linked together. That means creating ongoing themes in both a mechanical and creative sense, laying the groundwork in one expansion for the developments to come in a future installment. It's not just the players exploring; the development team is as well.

Lander also spoke about the game's need to attract new players. While EVE has always boasted a slow climb upward, it's always important to ensure that new people can advance without feeling lost. A lot of new players come into the game because they see things that look cool on the outside -- massive corporation wars, huge fleets, mining empires, and so forth -- but when they get in the game, they're lost. There's no indication about how to do any of that.

That's meant to be improved, starting with a revamp to how the game indicates points of interest. The idea is that players should be able to see what's happening and have an idea about how to join in from a reasonably early point. When you ask, "What should I do?" the game shouldn't be obfuscating the answer.

I was also curious what role DUST 514 players will have in the expansion. Iif you're encouraged to go out and explore a new world, it seems reasonable that you might send a few mercenaries planetside to secure territory. Lander explained that the team working on DUST 514 is focusing first on ensuring that the game itself is good and solid, but both teams want to make sure that the games influence one another. As time goes by, the influence of ground-based players will spread through the galaxy once the team is satisfied that DUST is playing as well as it ought to.

Technically it's always true that nothing will be the same ever again.  Entropy makes sure of that.New ships will be added in the expansion, and some of them will be meant to play nothing like ships that players have fitted before. Lander doesn't want the game to be perfectly balanced, as part of the fun of EVE is the imbalance and figuring out ways that players can work around those restrictions. That having been said, at the top end he wants to ensure that progression is horizontal rather than vertical, with new sorts of ships giving options rather than automatically being better than their predecessors.

This also plays into the redistribution of resources. As it stands now, getting resources isn't necessarily easy, but it is tedious. Knowledge about where to get things is all very public. No one needs to explore or find new ways to get certain metals. It leads to a static game state, and that's the opposite of what EVE should be about.

So the team is getting rid of that sense. You should be exploring and looking for new ways to get things, not falling into the same old ruts, and old alliances should decay and split. It's a natural progression.

The expansion announcement touched on the Battle for Caldari Prime and future story developments. Lander feels that the best thing about EVE is that the game's story is fundamentally based upon the players and their actions. As a result, the teams' goal with story is to provide opportunities for players to be involved with larger events rather than advancing a specific storyline goal. That makes things complicated -- the current event had to have resources in place for all sorts of outcomes, including what would have happened if the orbiting cruiser hadn't been taken down. But the team wants to give players more chances to take part in ongoing events and influence what shapes the story.

If you're an EVE fan, it promises to be quite the journey.

Massively's on the ground in Boston during the weekend of March 22nd to 24th, bringing you all the best news from PAX East 2013. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, DUST 514, or any MMO in between, we aim to have it covered!

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