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:
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.
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.