I’ve been doing a lot of game design of late, both for Beat Farmer and for other projects I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while. Having stumbled over Eve and its FPS tie-in ambitions again today, I kind of want to figure out what my approach to this might look like.
First, some background.
Eve Online is a massively multiplayer game with starship combat and player-driven economics and “geographic” (topological?) control. It is famous for, among other things, its difficulty curve:
Dust 514 was shuttered, and CCP has gone through a couple of stabs at a design for a successor. The first was Project Legion, which, judging by the name alone, may have contained some of the ideas I’m going to talk about below. The second will be Project Nova, which sounds like it will be a much more straight-FPS first. After looking at GunJack videos, that’s probably the right decision. Eve was never a game for the nice-UX crowd.
Integrated Game Worlds and Design
As fascinating as it is to read about Eve’s many born-in-real-life treacheries, the universe itself isn’t that compelling. The compelling part of Eve has always been its large-scale gameplay, where massive alliances conduct battles so fierce that time literally slows down within the game so that the servers (and, no doubt, the clients) can run the necessary calculations.
That seems like a great place to start for a planetary conflict FPS. Fleets need to bring their troop transports to bear because ground forces are the only forces that can take territory. That’s interesting from a space combat standpoint because at that point you need to have well-protected transport ships.
Luckily, Eve already has these gigantic transports, and shipping is its own deep specialization within the game. But.
Blowing Things Up With Smaller Guns
The thing about Eve is this: the whole idea is to make spaceships shoot at each other. Every piece of the player-driven economic system is, in the end, a way to let both hardcores and casuals put together ships and fleets and super-fleets and massive starships and starbases oh my. These heavy things necessarily dominate the gameplay, and there’s no reason to imagine that a planetary assault wouldn’t come down to who has the better fleet in every case.
So you’d have to introduce gameplay restrictions in order for this to work.
You could, for example, add planetary defence systems that are able to blow a Titan out of the sky in short order but, in keeping with the game’s oeuvre, can’t hit anything smaller than a supercapital. This could get even more interesting if planets can throw off their governance once in a while, leading to both sides having to dodge space flak.
(Side note: There are almost certainly Eve players who would enjoy an associated game wherein their only job was to manage the governance of planets, quashing rebellions and maximizing productivity. There could be a tie-in between this game and the FPS players as well, where FPS players lead rebellions and security forces in conflict with one another.
There could even be a competitive aspect to the management game, with “sleeper” agents embedded in the game exercising various levels of mismanagement to mess with the managers. I don’t know whether the management types would like this element, but I digress…)
Another, possibly complementary, approach would be to introduce the idea of orbital pollution, where intense spaceborne warfare in proximity to a planetary body would reduce the effective value of the planet while the orbit was “cleaned up”. You could still see skirmishes and raids with smaller ships to try to disrupt or destroy orbiting transports, but the heaviest ships would have to concentrate on controlling the supply line rather directly participating in orbital dominance.
To my mind, it seems like introducing these limiting factors would allow the optimization of the play experience in each game for its intended players.
Ground Assaults, Economics, and Availability
As to the transports themselves, I feel like the Dust approach, which limited itself to orbital bombardments, was a poor solution. It would be much more Eve-ish, to my mind at least, to integrate the transports themselves into a resource equation for a particular planetary war. Eve players and FPS players would have to negotiate how many clones, resources, and buildings to supply to the war effort. FPS players could see – possibly depending on their rank – exactly what is left available on the planet and in orbit, which would raise the stakes on their individual and team performances.
From a technical standpoint, one of the harder things to get right about this situation would be matchmaking. I think there’s room here, too, for improvement.
The first thing would be ensuring the conflict doesn’t pause because FPS players go to bed. Bots could be brought in as part of the supply drop, ensuring that FPS and space gameplay are not over-reliant on one another. FPS players might face AI-controlled bots for a while, then see a gradual increase in clone troopers, who would be controlled by other players.
For those unfamiliar with the Eve Universe, there are grades of clones, which brings a whole different question into play – when FPS players field their top-tier clones, and why? What payment do they require? How do they handle the collapse (or retreat; betrayal is a key part of the game, after all!) of their space-based support lines?
This appeals to me as a former Eve player. Judging exactly how many clones might available for an assault and for how long would become a critical part of the supply line equation. Balancing different bot types – Titanfall comes to mind – would come into play. And it’s possible to tie in economic incentives by offering clone trooper contracts on a cross-game marketplace to improve your assault’s chances.
Allowing cross-game discussion and negotiation in some form would be critical, even if it’s more like email than Messenger in design. Eve players and FPS players probably have some crossover, but I would expect that in most cases you’d see two separate entities (Eve Corp/FPS Mercenaries) discussing terms via this system. From a community and design standpoint, this could be a great place to gather data about how players are actually doing what they do and how to improve the experience.
That’s kind of what I see being the best version of the tie-in idea. It’s obviously weighted towards Eve-first. That’s the starting point, and it’s also the only CCP game I’ve played. That also means there’s a recognizable and not necessarily positive bias in the design here, and I’m not sure I’ve solved the issues perfectly.
Regardless, I’ll be interested to see how CCP deal with Project Nova and to what extent they implement gameplay that melds these different genres in interesting ways.