Saturday, December 19, 2009

The reign of terror begins

Today is the day that I commit to being more annoying than usual to the high sec population and start killing anything and everything that I can lock down and get guns on.

It may result in something great and beneficial, or it may just fall flat on it's collective face. Only time will tell. Whatever the case, I will remain committed to the end. It should be fun.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Crazy Kinux's dev interview contest entry, Design Component

Note- this design doc was written *before* the announcement of DUST514. I should have published it yesterday... oh well lol.

Design Document- Eve Online Planetary Interaction.

In a nutshell: I envision a fully integrated SciFi Tactical First Person Shooter Real Time Strategy Massively Multiplayer Online game that interfaces in real time with Eve Online.

Obviously this endeavor could only be fully realized on a PC, but a Planetary Combat Online (PCO) ‘light’ will be available for console players, if only to serve as cannon fodder for the ‘real’ players- those who use PCs. Am I bitter already? Nah. ;)

The broad strokes:

The main issue as I see it with a large scale MMO War FPS is this: scale. War is big. Really BIG. And I don’t see putting five to ten *thousand* players in a single combat environment realistic, both from a game design standpoint and a hardware performance standpoint. So here is my solution:

Planetary combat-

Each planet is divided up into continents/’sectors’ and each of these needs to be fully secured in order for Sovereignty to be achieved. Players will fight large scale battles utilizing an RTS style interface controlling large numbers of NPC units that are easily identifiable as such- NPCs. These NPC units will make up the bulk of the combat forces, and will provide much needed support in other roles that are traditionally very boring and tedious such as logistics and support. This is of key importance as logistics units provide the opportunity for players to both attack and defend dynamic targets instead of simply pounding on static bases all day.

The RTS element-

In Eve Online players are rock stars. They’re the elite. And in a ground combat environment they should be so as well. Each sector on a planet will have a finite number of combat slots available for players and NPCs. NPCs, due to their limited intelligence and flexibility will replace players with a ratio of about 20:1. When ground combat commences the sector will be fully populated by NPCs. As players join the battle the NPCs will be replaced by players up to the point that the sector is 100% populated by players.

This solves the problem of players showing up to a fight and not having anyone to shoot, and also solves the balancing issue of one side having twice the numbers of live players and slaughtering the opposing side.

All NPC units will be able to be controlled by the sector/planetary commander and/or delegated to players ‘on the ground’. NPC control is a key point here in that there can be multiple planetary commanders controlling the overall strategic design on the planet, multiple sector commanders controlling the NPCs tactically in that sector, and also players in a direct ‘on the ground role’ controlling NPCs in a squad-like fashion to accomplish immediate tactical goals.

Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (C3I) is a major part of this game design. I can’t stress enough how important a very well integrated control structure and UI is going to be in order to make this work.

The Tactical FPS element-

Think about a cross between Call of Duty 4, America’s Army, MechWarrior and Planetside. But only the good parts! The movement/pace of COD4 with the same control options and play style. Similar weapon handling, leaning around corners, prone, sprinting, limited number of weapons but with customizable weapons and loadouts. Different types/styles of body armor like Planetside, from unarmored ‘infiltrator’ style stealth suits to heavy mecha-like powered exo suits similar to those seen in Shirow’s Appleseed and Ghost In The Shell.

Each race will have unique weapon styles- lasers, projectiles, railguns etc. similar to how Planetside provided a different ‘flavor’ of weapon styles to each of its three races. There will be multiple weapon options per weapon class per race. In other words, Gallente won’t just have one assault rifle to choose from, and Amarr won’t have just one sniper rifle to choose from. A very wide variety of weapons and weapon accessories will be available to customize your loadouts. After all, if you don’t have cool guns in an FPS, you have nothing.

Players will be surrounded by NPCs on the battlefield, both friendly and hostile. These NPCs will always be under the direct control of someone at some level in the game- either by being assigned direct tactical commands from squad level players or doing larger more complicated tasks like ‘patrol this area’ or ‘defend this position’ delegated by the tactical level sector commanders.

While playing the FPS, players will be able to clearly see which targets are players and which are NPCs. While NPCs will be able to replicate player characters capabilities with respect to weapon loadouts and so on, it’s important that the players look different so that hostile enemy players are able to differentiate their targets so that they may pursue live players vs. NPCs while still fighting in a rich ‘full’ battle space.

Vehicular combat-

Vehicles can be horribly imbalanced and overpowering when the majority of the players in the sector are on foot. They’re a force multiplier. As such, almost every vehicle that has any sort of offensive combat capability will be crewed by at least two people. Yeah, it sucks to be a driver, but this needs to happen or we’ll see one man wrecking machines.

That being said, we’ll be seeing a full range of vehicles from personal single and two man transport vehicles to Armored Personnel Carriers, Main Battle Tanks, Gunships (aircraft) and Mecha.

On the subject of aircraft-

There will be no ‘fast movers’. Why? It’s just too unbalancing with respect to common scales of FPS combat and aircraft are again too much of a ‘force multiplier’ to be controlled directly by players. It’s possible that NPC controlled drones for things like air support (both AC-130 style gunships and tactical bombers like the B1) might be workable, but definitely nothing comparable to today’s F22s and F16s.

VTOL aircraft like helicopter and V22 Osprey analogues will be in the game, both in troop carrier and gunship configurations. An artificial ceiling of about 1000 feet will be a good compromise between flexibility and reasonable flight envelope. The fiction here to support the limitation is orbital gun platforms that are able to lock on and destroy any aircraft that exceeds a 1000 foot altitude.

But I digress; these are the broad strokes of the design. Let’s look at the bigger picture: interfacing with Eve Online.

Sovereignty will be determined by who controls a particular amount of planets in a system. Similar to how moons provide resources, so do planets, and any planet currently contested by combat will provide zero resources to anyone for the duration of the combat. This leads to the unique proposition of players fighting a delaying action or even small skirmishes with no real intention of winning, just to tie up the resource production of that planet.

War costs money. And in Eve, lots of money. Eve players will subsidize the planetary combat players with real ISK to provide them with additional toys and goodies (automated air support, artillery strikes, more supplies) to enable them to acquire their objective more easily.

PCO players will have the opportunity to either work cooperatively with Eve Online players/Alliances or simply hire their services out to the highest bidder. In PCO we’ll see a similar player social structure of Corporations and Alliances form that will directly interface with Eve Online and its player structure. PCO players will be able to form corps so that they may undertake larger operations with a larger number of player assets.

Contracts will be able to be constructed such that a sector or planet will be secured in ‘x’ amount of hours or by a particular date by a particular alliance/faction etc. and the PCO corp/alliance responsible for accepting the contract will either get paid or lose its collateral based on its performance. The PCO corp/alliance will have its performance record of completed contracts made viewable to the public, not only to show how effective it is, but also to show who the corp has worked for and in what capacity.

Contract objectives can be anything from very large (secure this system/constellation/region) to very small (destroy the planetary field defense generators, disrupt/destroy this logistics supply line, assassinate this enemy commander), but regardless of what type of mission it is, every single one will be player generated and will have a direct impact on PCO and Eve Online. The idea is to have the game design scale extremely well from the individual to very large groups (alliances, coalitions of alliances) while maintaining the same intensity throughout.

In closing I’d like to say that this concept is just the very tip of the iceberg. I could fill another one hundred pages with details and design specifics, particularly discussing the Command and Control integration between Eve and PCO.

I hoped you enjoyed reading my ideas and look forward to your feedback.

Crazy Kinux's dev interview contest entry, Fiction Component

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Or close the wall up with our Gallente dead.

In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man

As modest stillness and humility:

But when the blast of war blows in our ears;

Then imitate the action of the tiger…

Blast of war? Yeah, right. Two minutes later and I still can’t hear anything, my ears deafened by the heavy rails of the Dominator class walkers. The dampers in my tacSHELL didn’t even put a dent in the overpressure. Over my left shoulder I see Denton yelling something at me; all the comms are offline after that last data virus strike and we still don’t have our backups operational. This whole op is going to hell, and quickly at that.


Legs tense, bracing for the impact that is sure to come, stupid dropship pilot is going in way too deep. We’re gonna hit.


We bail out of the dropship and onto the tarmac behind the main generating station for the southern sector of the planet and hit the ground running. I underestimated the skill of the pilot- he put us exactly on the mark, finally something went right today. I still can’t hear a damned thing, deaf as all hell from those stupid walkers, but at least we were able to fix our comms after we were scooped by our dropship. Been on the ground now for twenty seconds since our insertion and no enemy contact. The dropship is gone and we’re on our own now- *really* on our own. Five more minutes and then we’ll know if we live or if we die.

The antimatter generators are offline, the cores quenched and cold. It’ll be a while before anyone is able to light them up again. Things were looking good until we stacked up at the front entrance, waiting for our evac. Two flights of Caldari walkers have us pinned in- one heavy and one scout flight. The scouts have the control bunker surrounded and the heavies are setting up overwatch positions and are starting to flank us. I don’t know why they haven’t started firing yet. Maybe they want prisoners?

We fall back to the interior to put some more concrete and steel between us and the heavy guns of the walkers when the first rounds hit. Keller and Owens disappear in the first volley of HVM rounds. I can see the night sky from my position deep in the bunker’s third basement level. We don’t have a roof anymore, or a ground floor, or a first or second sublevel for that matter.

Two scouts jump to the edge of the opening their heavy buddies made a few seconds ago. I can see their guns slaving to the direction their sensor arrays are pointed- straight at us. I close my eyes and wait. The generators are offline, my mission is complete. It’ll be easier this way; nobody will have to risk their life to extract us.


I’ve never been in the middle of an orbital bombardment before. I’ve seen it happen from orbit, I’ve seen the aftermath of it on the ground. But never have I been surrounded by the fury and power of a hundred battleships projecting their will from a five hundred kilometers away.

There are divots in the concrete marking the location of each enemy walker and track. If a thirty meter hole could be referred to as a ‘divot’. Everything is coated in a fine film of metallic vapor and dust from the remains of the walkers turning to ionized plasma from the battleships’ railguns and heavy artillery. Artillery. That meant Minmatar. Thinking about the reliability of Minmatar targeting systems gave me pause for a second, and then I decided that it didn’t matter, since I was still here. My team and I quietly wait for extraction. I guess I’ll live to run another mission after all. Those clowns better hurry up, I’m getting hungry.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fleet Commanders

They'll either make you or break you, all other things being equal.

Combat in Eve is about intel first, everything else second. But intel isn't worth much unless you can use it effectively to paint a detailed tactical picture with which to defeat your opponent.

Today was the first real day of actually trying to play Eve and PVP in over two months for me and the first thing I did was jump in blind into a fight with my Navy Mega and promptly lost it. I can count on one hand the number of Navy Megas I've lost in my entire Eve career and the number of BS kills I have using a Navy Mega are in the mid triple digits. The point being is that no matter how good you are, if you're not prepared with the proper intel, you're going to lose and lose big. I was lucky to get out with my pod.

When fighting from a static position (you're in your home system, targets are coming to you to attack you) success in battle is largely a game of chess. You know the enemy is out there, you know he's coming. The real question is where are his forces, what are they and how will they be applied? If you can understand these factors and have a firm handle on each of them then the outcome of the combat should already be predetermined- you're going to win, or you're not going to engage at all.

There are only two ways you can lose. The first is to be stupid and do what I did today and just jump into the middle of a fight with no intel. The second is where your attacker has done a skillful job of hiding his forces in such a way that you don't know one or more of the three aforementioned factors- size, composition or application, and you get pasted because of it.

It's *always* a trap. Always. Even when some annoying noob in a Scythe is mining in the bottom belt, it's a trap. What better cover for a scout than some idiot noob mining in a belt? Noob ships sitting on a gate doing nothing are obvious scouts. Some guy in a crap ship doing stupid things that noobs often do aren't so obvious, and just as useful as a scout. Word to the wise: kill *everything*. If it's not yours, blow it the hell up. The one time you don't is the one time it will cost you.

The FC's job is to stay calm and focused, even if the rest of the team isn't. Lose your cool and you've lost the fight. Losing isn't worthless unless you don't learn from it. If you keep repeating the same mistakes, then that's your fault, not someone else's. I know all of this sounds pretty obvious, but you'd be surprised at how often I see basic lack of application of these simple principles getting people killed (online, in internet spaceships). Then again, it gets people killed in real life as well, so it still applies.

When fighting from a dynamic position- you're the aggressor, the entry team, the guys jumping in with guns blazing- you can *never* afford to give the targets any time to acquire the size and composition of your force. Once you've decided to engage a target then commit 100%. Every second counts as it will give the defender more time to prepare. The defender isn't hiding. He's not scared of you. He's waiting, preparing, seeing if you'll make a mistake. As soon as the defender is alerted to your presence they're going to be optimising their forces and the battleground to engage you under the best possible circumstances- for them. You can't afford to be timid when on the offensive.

Don't engage when only half prepared. Everyone isn't in the gang yet? Everyone isn't fully informed of the plan of attack, target order etc? If not then you're not ready to fight. Trying to manage organizational issues while prosecuting a fight is a surefire way to lose. If you can't get organized in time, delay the fight until you can or withdraw to a more serviceable position. Consistently winning means being consistently prepared.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Risk vs. Reward

Yeah, I went there. Probably one of the most controversial topics in all of Eve: risk vs. reward.

Right now the greatest risk to a player and his/her assets is another player. That being said, the risk of another player having the opportunity to kill you with respect to the environment you're in (0.0, low sec, high sec) is mostly binary: you can be easily attacked and killed in low sec and 0.0, much less so in high sec.

This equates to an exponential increase in safety in high sec systems over low sec and 0.0 without a corresponding decrease in profit and functionality/ease of use in high sec. Amusingly, one of the game design features in World of Warcraft (WoW for short) that it has over Eve is that in order to engage in higher tier PVE and gain higher level items, you have to leave the complete safety of it's cities and venture out into its version of low sec or 0.0. Not so with Eve.

Now, I'm not just advocating something as simple as moving L4 Agents to low sec and 0.0 space. I'm proposing a total re-think of how Eve is constructed from a risk/reward standpoint. What if high value items were only allowed to be put on the market in high risk space? No T2 items allowed to be sold in high sec for example. All faction ammo and items restricted to low sec system markets. Stuff like that.

I can already hear the carebears screaming in horror. The above suggestions couldn't be implemented without a few other changes in Eve's core design. Most notably Eve's jumpgates and how their connections force traffic patterns and form choke points.

I'm proposing that there be multiple parallel paths through low sec areas between high sec 'islands' of systems to allow players to have a wide variety of paths to take when travelling between systems so that they're not forced into a narrow choke point that is camped 24/7.

There should always be the capability of a completely high sec chain of systems to travel from one high sec island to the others, but these routes should be exponentially longer than taking a route through low sec or 0.0 space. If there are multiple 6-7 jump routes from Rens to Jita for example, then there should be 2-3 routes that will allow you to make the same trip, but the number of jumps should be increased to 50-60 jumps. Anything that increases the value of time in the game increases the relative value of risk as well, and that is always good game design.

How many stories on the Eve forums do you read about cargo pilots making great escapes with valuable cargo past multiple hostiles over multiple systems? Not many. I think that the Eve profession of smuggler/cargo transport pilot is under valued and under utilized in todays Eve simply because there isn't enough value placed on time and the lack of time cost to move between high sec markets. A large part of that particular problem is due to the introduction of Warp To Zero (or "WTZ), but that's another post all together...

So, given the above very limited illustrations of Risk vs. Reward, what other systems in Eve, large or small, do you think could be changed to radically improve game play and further promote player interdependancy and interactivity?

Every item needs a job...

One of the worst parts about Eve's design is it's item and ship design systems. Let me switch gears for a second to illustrate my point-

Halflife 1. One of the most incredible gaming experiences of all time (in my book). While it's single player game play and game design was outstanding, what is even more sublime and subtle is it's multiplayer game design. Everything can be summed up with one item: the Glock.

With most other games (Quake being a good example) each item that the player acquires is progressively more powerful and renders all other weapons obsolete. Good game design? Not really. With Quake, once you have the rocket launcher, that's it. You run around clobbering everyone else and if you can control the use of the rocket launcher, you can usually win that map.

Halflife has the Glock. It's the lowliest weapon on the roster. It's weak, it's anemic and everyone has one, but it's special. It's the only weapon that can fire under water. It has a purpose! So yes, that's the point of all of my above rambling. Halflife has excellent game design because there is little to no overlap for any of it's weapons with respect to what roles they need to fill and how they go about doing it. Even the rocket launcher isn't the instant 'I win' button that it usually is in other games. Purity of purpose, purity of design. Its destructive power was limited by its reload time and its slow flight time.

So, like the Halflife Glock, every weapon and item and every variation thereof needs to have a specific reason for existing in Eve. Currently each variation (with very few exceptions) is just 'better' than the lower meta level items. More damage, more range, more tracking, better fittings. Instead of 'more and better' why not 'different? More tracking at the expense of range. More damage at the expense of cap/ammo use? Give each variant a unique reason for being. Make each ship more tightly focused. Make each races theme more pronounced. Make each area of Eve (high sec, low sec and 0.0) valuable in its own right.

Purity of Design

In some respects this is the most important facet of game design. I'll give you a simple example of what I'm talking about that relates to Eve-

Because players can kill NPCs and refine items dropped by said NPCs, and even worse yet, be allowed to kill drone NPCs in the drone regions that drop nothing but ore to be refined into raw materials (minerals) used to produce items in Eve, this marginalizes the importance of mining and the mining profession in Eve.

I doubt that any of you reading this would have ever thought I'd be making a post about the importance of mining eh? The many parallel material streams in Eve harm mining and it's central importance to the Eve economy and overall gameplay. If a player can simply 'mine with guns' and produce material more efficiently than using traditional mining skills and ships, then what is the point of mining at all?

Most players want the game to be easier. Not easier for everyone, just easier for them. "I want more officer NPC spawns" one might say. Ok, now what? Everyone has more officer spawns and now the items dropped by officers are devalued to the point that they're worthless. Not a good idea.

Players are highly risk-averse. They'll go to great lengths to avoid being killed, even if it means increasing the effort and time required by a factor of a thousand to reduce their risk from 5% to 0%. This group of playes is collectively known in Eve circles as "Carebears".

These types of players are the worst, most harmful type of player for the game. They create a static market environment and generate large influxes of currency without the reqired consumption to maintain a balanced economy. This is why we see PLEXs at their current prices, and rare faction mods selling in the billions (the ones that are most important to running missions in Navy Ravens that is). But I digress, I'm getting off the main point here.

Every ship, every item, every system in the game needs to have purity of purpose. The more refined and specific each item or system is the happier the player base will be because they won't be frustrated by having to use a tool that isn't up to the task at hand and they somehow have to make do with something second rate. The less overlap we have in design will allow players to make better choices with their gameplay and will provide greater player satisfaction when they accomplish their task because they won't be fighting poor design in order to accomplish their end goal.

Evidence of poor design can be seen quite easily in usage statistics. If an item or system is even a few percentage points less effective than the most effective item in it's class, the usage statistics will be drastically reduced when compared to the number one best performing item.

However, most of the time poorly designed systems aren't so obvious with respect to being easily defined by skewed statistical data. POS warfare is an easy target. Cumbersome, poorly implemented, frustrating, most players that I talk to on a regular basis despise having to manage POSes and their built in requirements for 0.0 warfare.

I know that CCP recognises that POS warfare needs to be addressed, and indeed, I'm sure it's a priority for them and knowing CCP they won't take half measures and change a few things when they can take the time and effort to do it right and completely revist the design and build it up from scratch instead. But again- purity of design. Let's rethink what is the best system for controlling space, and what is the best system for providing players with individually owned and operated remote outposts. One systems requirements are wildly different from the others. This is key- in all games, but most particularly with MMOs, systems need to be able to scale effectively from the individual to tens of thousands of players, and when a system breaks at one end or the other then it's time to build seperate systems to accomplish both envelopes so that you don't end up with something that is ungainly and unoptimised.

Purity of design- when (as an example) all the weapon options for short range turrets have been 'balanced' so much that they all do nearly the same amount of damage, have nearly the same range and other performance characteristics then all you end up with in the end is what I like to call "oatmeal": a big pile of mush that all looks the same, tastes the same and basically is the same. Conservative design and redesigning the game to average out performance issues between items and game systems is the quickest way to kill a game in my opinion. Right now CCP is enjoying continued success with it's business but I believe that is due in large part to the fact that they have no real competitor in the marketplace. There is no other product on the MMO landscape that even comes close to providing the unique combination of factors that Eve has. As soon as someone delivers an MMO that has the open ended player driven environment of Eve with a similar setting (scifi, space based etc.) and a PVP centric core gameplay CCP will have to really improve it's product or it'll be left sitting on the sidelines.