Fanfest at a Distance

After five consecutive pilgrimages to Fanfest, the unique celebration of space nerds held annually in Reykjavik, I decided instead to do something different this year and stayed home to watch the proceedings on Twitch. It gave me a strange feeling.

I had become used to the persistent buzz and sense of hype that you get when you are surrounded by fellow fanatic capsuleers for three days. Watching Fanfest proceedings from hundreds of miles away through the online stream is definitely a much more detached and clinical experience.

Also, you drink a lot less beer.

Here are a few of my observations and opinions on Fanfest 2017, from my distant vantage point.

The Great Role-Playing Experiment

This year's Fanfest was a celebration of CCP Games' 20th anniversary since its founding, so I expected they would do something special to make this a different experience for attendees. To that end, CCP developed an in-game story about an outbreak of the deadly Kyonoke virus. The Fanfest location, at the Harpa center, became a role-playing experiment around this story: hosting a meeting of capsuleers to discuss containing the disease and stopping its spread throughout New Eden.

Ostensibly, this role-playing event was also being carried out simultaneously in EVE Online itself, around a citadel established at the system of Postouvin in the Solitude region.

While the level of participation at Fanfest was reportedly higher than expected, indicating a healthy appetite for role-playing events of this type, some players complained that the related in-game events around Postouvin were not as well executed - as it turns out, there was little to contribute by flying a ship to the H4-RP4 Kyonoke Inquest Center citadel. So, overall, it was a mixed success.

Still, kudos to CCP for trying this experiment. From what I've heard, it added flavor to the Fanfest experience. I hope this encourages CCP to hold similar in-game/real-world role-playing happenings at future EVE Online gatherings.

Hooray for Alphas

EVE Online's Executive Producer, CCP Seagull, began her keynote address by recapping all the key features and events of the prior year. The most significant of these was the release of the "free to play" Alpha clone option, which has been a strong success. Alpha clones make it much easier for lapsed players to return to EVE Online, and it provides an inviting entree for new players who want to sample the game.

Alphas have definitely increased the population of pilots in New Eden - though I'm concerned about the slow trend downwards in online counts since their initial introduction.

The effect of the introduction of Alpha clones in November has had a significant positive impact on the average number of online players in EVE Online.

The effect of the introduction of Alpha clones in November has had a significant positive impact on the average number of online players in EVE Online.

I give CCP high marks for taking the time to introduce Alpha clones right. They carefully thought through what limits on skills and abilities these players should have, without making them unattractive to use - and at the same time, minimizing any negative impact on established subscribers. Alphas have been a very positive addition to EVE Online.

CSM Election Results

Six members of the eleventh Council of Stellar Management were re-elected to serve on CSM 12, which is a good thing, since last year's group did a more than competent job.

I fully expected CSM 12 to be dominated by players from null-sec alliances, and that is exactly what happened. Eight of the ten CSM positions were won by candidates based in null-sec space.

The mechanics of the CSM election are such that only well-organized groups have a chance to elect a representative, which means that the number of CSM members who play outside of null shall remain forever small - or non-existent. The remaining two seats were won by the capable wormhole pilot Noobman and good Steve Ronuken, industrialist and third-party application specialist.

Hopefully, this council will continue the tradition of CSM 11 and keep the interests of players in all types of space in mind. I hope they actively solicit the opinions of players in high-sec, low-sec and w-space, and factor these into their recommendations to CCP.

I, for one, am resigned to accepting our inevitable null-sec masters. May their term of service be magnanimous to those of us who dwell outside of their favored realm.

Finding Exoplanets

Project Discovery, the in-game citizen science project begun last year, will switch from analyzing proteins and structures in cells to looking for exoplanets. The EVE player base demonstrated their ability to digest and analyze a lot of data last year, and turning this towards space exploration is an exciting development - and in my opinion, makes more sense within the EVE universe. I can't wait to try it out.

All Hail Team Phenomenon!

For years, I have begged and pleaded for dynamic, reactive, unpredictable player-versus-environment (PvE) missions and encounters in EVE Online. We began to see bits of this with improved artificial intelligence in Drifter behavior, and again in a more robust form with NPC mining operations, both of which act more like players and not like predictable robots.

Of everything announced at Fanfest 2017, the one thing I am most excited about is continued development of truly world-class PvE content. The next step, to be released in May, are special Blood Raider shipyards which use advanced AI routines and realistic ship fittings to mimic player-piloted behavior.

Alas, these shipyards will only be found in null-sec space, but Team Phenomenon promises that this is just the first step, and we will eventually see really interesting PvE content throughout all of New Eden. Soon, intelligent-acting NPCs will add a whole new dimension of life and interaction in the game. I only wish it were happening faster.

Other Generally Cool Points of Interest

There were some other bits of news during Fanfest that are worth a quick mention:

Frigates of EVE Online - a new book with detailed cross-sections and explanations of what makes the most popular ships in the game work will be published this summer. It looks ultra-detailed and beautiful. Frigates of EVE will have a limited edition (1337 copies - get it?), but also a regular unlimited edition, just like the previously published EVE Source book. (Thanks to Cyrillian Voth for the correction on this!)

Graphics updates galore - CCP continues to upgrade the graphical look-and-feel of elements in the game. The venerable Vexor and Cormorant cruiser got a complete graphical redesign and are both now beautiful to behold. But more impressively, EVE's stars now come in far more detail and variety, and even with better sounds (which is weird in space, but who cares?).

Permaband in Rock Band - soon, you'll be able to pretend you're CCP Guard playing a song by CCP Games' in-house band in Rock Band. And here's a nice new EVE-inspired song from them, too...

Refinery Structures - the next phase of player-operated structures will be the medium and large refineries, which will be used for moon mining and reprocessing. The new mechanics for moon goo resource collection will require active player engagement, which is a good thing. See my prior post for an explanation about why I'm happy to see the new refineries, but not very excited about them. I long for a small, entry-level version of engineering complexes and refineries that would cater to the needs of solo entrepreneurs.

More tweaks to NPE - in a highlight of the opening keynote address, CCP Ghost described the ongoing improvements to be made to the new player experience in EVE Online. Specifically, he intends to give new players a greater sense of purpose by overhauling the character and ship selection processes, and emphasizing the connection of the character to their ship. This begins with a new introductory video: the Birth of the Capsuleer...

Simplifying EVE Currency - starting in May, PLEX will become the only in-game currency, as Aurum will be converted and PLEX will become much more granular, with a month of in-game time to cost 500 PLEX. Further, PLEX will be exchanged through a secure "vault", which means no more blowing up ships transporting PLEX in space. This makes me kind of sad.

A Future Vision, Updated

In her keynote address, CCP Seagull described her longer-term goals for EVE Online development. The eventual goal of enabling the colonization of new space still remains. In addition, the objective of turning an increasing amount of control of in-game elements to players continues. Eventually, this means players taking over all aspects of space travel, including control of stargates.

Citadels and similar player-operated structures are an important aspect of turning increasing degrees of control of game elements over to players. CCP Seagull committed to continuing development of structures, by adding more functionality to them and by introducing new structures with new capabilities over time.

Not as visible to players, but equally important to the long-term vision, has been the nature of space in EVE Online. To that end, CCP has been building tools for content creation, which started with Drifters and Circadian Seekers, and which is now expanding to more intelligent behavior by other non-player characters, such as the new Blood Raider shipyards. In short, NPCs will be given increasing amounts of agency and realistic interaction with players in EVE.

CCP Seagull committed to improved in-game content:

"We hear you when you say you want more and better PvE content in EVE Online. And we intend to make that in a way that fits in the depth of EVE Online gameplay and the EVE universe. Our vision is that the world itself, and its various NPC inhabitants, should play as much of a role in what happens in EVE Online as the actions that you players take - that the big challenge in playing EVE Online should not just be about figuring out what other players will do, but also to figure out how to master an environment and a world that requires you to innovate, where the answers are not all given or can be looked up in some guide. And we also believe that this world shouldn't just provide you with interesting gameplay challenges, it should also look and feel amazing."

The ultimate goal remains colonization of new space through stargates, but no definite timeframe has been released for their availability. "We are dreaming of the day that will happen, and building slowly towards it. But we will bring it to you only when we think it will be truly spectacular."

Until then, CCP Seagull says, the focus of the next major update, to be released in the winter of 2017, will be on using the new tools to create new and exciting content in Empire space. "Discovering what this [new content] is will be part of the new experience, as well."

NOTE: more details on CCP Seagull's vision can be found in this interview with Massively Overpowered

I find myself reacting to CCP Seagull's vision in two ways:

  • Disappointed that the prospect of exploring truly new space, and being able to colonize it, is still an unspecified time away. I like the direction very much, but I am very eager to arrive there. Yet, it sounds like this may still be years away from coming to fruition, sadly.
  • Delighted about the investment in a much more interactive and realistic world in Empire space. For several years now, content development in high-sec and low-sec has been relegated to back-burner status, while CCP focused on "fixing null-sec". It appears now, finally, that much-needed effort is coming to a suitable conclusion, and CCP now has the tools to truly revitalize and reinvigorate content options in Empire.

Did I say "delighted"? Forget that - I am ecstatic. This is exactly what I've been wanting to happen in EVE Online for over three years. I can't wait to hear the details. I'm definitely planning to attend EVE Vegas in October now. Hopefully, we'll then hear a few more clues about what the winter expansion will bring.

Regrets, I Have a Few

Do I regret not going to Iceland for Fanfest again this year? Well, yes and no.

I definitely missed reconnecting with online friends and reveling together about our shared adventure in New Eden. As good as CCP's Twitch stream production is, it can't replace catching up with fellow space nerds over a beer or three (or four or more...) and making new memories.

Nevertheless, I did appreciate the more relaxed feeling of watching Fanfest events from a distance. I observed most of this year's presentations with my feet propped up on my desk, sipping freshly-ground gourmet coffee. It gave me a more sober (yes, definitely a lot more sober) and objective point of view on the news and announcements.

But I haven't given up on live interaction with space friends altogether. I attended EVE Vegas last November and had a great time, and I fully intend on going to the slightly smaller American version of Fanfest once again on October 6-8. Based on the tease that CCP Seagull gave about the winter expansion, I anticipate that Vegas will be even more fun than last year.

Fly safe! o7

The End of Entitlement

This week, CCP Games published a couple of development blogs on the current state and future direction of structures in EVE Online. Since the introduction of Citadels almost a year ago, players have embraced the new structures with enthusiasm, erecting many thousands of them throughout all of New Eden. CCP now intends to focus more developer energy towards bug fixes and current feature improvements on existing structure designs, and less on the introduction of new structures to the game.

One exception to this shift in developmental direction remains, however: CCP described the general mechanics of the new refinery structures, which will be the optimal platforms for resource gathering and reprocessing, to be introduced sometime Soon™, in classic CCP fashion:

I’ll start out by addressing the question of release date. Refineries are firmly scheduled for “when they’re done” and we are not planning on rushing them out before they are ready.

No doubt refineries will be a principal topic at Fanfest in a couple of weeks, and perhaps the mechanics as described may change between now and whenever they are eventually released. Nevertheless, the announced functionality of refineries indicates one clear intention by CCP - the era of entitlement to passive income is drawing to a close.

The Passivity Purge

Last summer, I speculated about the rising trend of eliminating rewards for inactive gameplay in EVE Online. I recall at Fanfest 2012 when CCP Soundwave described his strong desire to remove all passive income sources, including those mechanics which reward "away from keyboard" (i.e., AFK) gameplay. So it should come as no surprise when CCP finally suggests new moon mining mechanics that eliminate nearly all of the passive income-generating aspects that players enjoy today.

While most players are embracing this shift to active mechanics, others are less enthusiastic. Those who have become used to mostly automatic income streams from harvesting "moon goo", required for lucrative T2 and T3 item manufacturing, are predicting cataclysmic price rises, among other dire consequences, as a result of the proposed mechanics. Others suggest that these changes will make low-sec space even more unattractive.

Regardless, it's clear that CCP has faith in the strength of EVE's economy to absorb any effects of the proposed active resource gathering mechanics. More likely, they simply believe, in general, that rewarding active gameplay will make EVE Online a better game in the long run, regardless of short-term consequences in the player-driven economy. If the prices of Tech II items skyrocket as a result, so be it - that will only provide more incentive to try the new mechanics as the reward-to-risk ratio rises.

Still, CCP is hedging their bets by not extending the new moon mining mechanics to wormholes or high-sec space - as they say in the dev blog: "We want to be careful not to dilute the regional value of tech two resource collection too much."

Another Nail in Entrepreneurs' Coffins

Overall, I like CCP's commitment to replacing passive game mechanics with greater rewards for active interaction, and the proposed shift in resource gathering as described in the dev blog is a healthy direction. But I'm disappointed that these new mechanics will be limited to null-sec and low-sec space.

Further, the proposed moon mining changes are, quite candidly, a gift to null-sec alliances, who will be the only groups large enough to coordinate the required numbers to take full advantage of the generated mining operations. It appears that the proposed active mechanics do not scale to smaller sizes, and instead emphasize the coordination of bigger groups.

Once again, CCP is continuing to squeeze out solo and small groups from industry options in EVE Online. There will be no small (and more affordable) refinery option - only medium and large sizes. Using the current moon mining mechanics, small groups in low-sec can generate some income to finance PvP activity using small POS towers. With the new refinery mechanics, that will no longer be a viable option. And moon mining will continue to be unavailable in w-space and high-sec. The message is clear: if you want to reap any rewards from moon goo, join a big null-sec alliance - period.

As a player who once enjoyed mastering small-scale invention and Tech II manufacturing in high-sec, this trend saddens me. I was hoping to see a more scalable option that would make use of small refineries available for solo players or small corporations.

Come on, CCP. If you won't let us earn a decent income from manufacturing items outside of null-sec, at least give us a small-scale option to reap some meager rewards from active resource gathering and reprocessing, in any kind of space.

Alas, while I support CCP's move towards more active gameplay rewards, it's clear that I won't be using the new refinery structures, unless things change significantly. As someone who plays mostly in wormholes and high-sec space, the proposed new structures have nothing to offer.

Fly safe! o7

What's Old is New Again

My iPhone pinged nonchalantly, and I glanced over at the screen. The EVE Portal app alerted me that one of my character's skill training queue had ended.

I was a bit surprised. I had set an extra-long skill training regimen in motion for that character months ago, when I realized my passion for EVE Online was fading. He was a utility mining and industry alt that I hadn't used in ages. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time I had logged in on that account.

Prompted by EVE Portal's gentle nudge, I fired up the launcher on my PC, and logged in.

Faithful readers of this blog know that my activity in the game has waned over the last few months, due to Real Life distractions. I have been taking a break from logging in regularly, in hope that one day my enthusiasm would return after CCP Games had added enough new features to make flying Internet spaceships in New Eden feel fresh again.

Once I figured out how to navigate it, the Character Sheet led me to all sorts of interesting new discoveries in EVE Online.

My character was sitting in a Retriever in station. I clicked on the character sheet icon.

"What's all this now?," I blurted to myself. While I remembered that CCP had changed the character sheet interface some time ago, I realized that I had never really used it. Now I was confronted with something new, and I had to spend a few moments studying the screen, figuring out how to inject skills and refresh the training queue.

Sometimes, little things can make a big difference. I played around with the tabs in the character sheet interface, and experimented with a few actions to see how they worked. Once satisfied that I understood it well enough to accomplish my task, I set about deciding which skills I should set to continue my character's development.

An hour later, I was still fiddling about, reviewing various skills and what they were required for, which led me to investigate new items that I'd not yet discovered that had been recently introduced to the game.

Suddenly, I realized I had fallen once again into the rabbit hole of EVE Online's depth and complexity - the same depth that had captivated me over seven years ago. I found new things to learn and master, and enough change in semi-familiar features to make me question my assumptions about how they worked.

And I was having fun.

I smiled at myself. I realized I was back playing EVE Online once again, and enjoying it.

Kudos to EVE Portal, despite flaws

While my enthusiasm for EVE Online had declined somewhat, my interest in the game never died. I knew I'd be back eventually. I just needed a break for a while.

Apparently, EVE Portal really, really wants me to know that completion of Bomb Deployment 5 is super-duper important.

Perhaps CCP did not intend this, but my decision to back away from the game was actually made easier by the introduction of EVE Portal, a handy app for reviewing character status, e-mail, skill training and notifications. The app allowed me to periodically check on my dormant characters and scan relevant news bulletins, without having to log into the client. With EVE Portal, I could monitor my characters from a distance, knowing I could intercede should anything happen that required my direct attention.

The app still has a few bugs. Sometimes I can't get access to my mail. Or it tells me that I have an infinite number of unread messages. And sometimes it repeats the same notifications over and over in an endless loop. I find that cancelling the app and restarting it usually fixes these glitches, but not always.

Nevertheless, I find EVE Portal to be a handy application, and I became dependent upon it during my hiatus to maintain a virtual tether to my characters in New Eden. If for nothing else, the alerts for critical notifications, such as war declarations, or as I described previously, training queue completion, make it invaluable.

I have tried other EVE-related apps in the past, such as Neocom, and found them useful, but I prefer EVE Portal's interface, which is very clean and easy to navigate.

When the app works - and it usually does - it works well. I've tolerated the intermittent bugs, hopeful that CCP Games will eventually squash them. I'm beginning to worry, however, as the app has been available for a few months. If we don't see any fixes and enhancements soon, I'll start to rethink my allegiance to EVE Portal.

But for now, CCP can rest assured that EVE Portal enabled me to maintain a connection to the game, and also is a major reason why I've now become re-engaged in EVE Online.

Hello, old friends

After I fixed my utility alt's training queue, I decided to do the same for my other characters as well. I logged into Neville, and once again found myself floating in a comfortable safe spot in Thera. I checked the Signal Cartel chat, and found our corp CEO, Mynxee, and other familiar Signaleers there. I waved hello.

wavepic.png

"A wild Neville suddenly appears!", one of my corpmates replied.

"Welcome back!", Mynxee added with enthusiasm.

Returning home is always a good feeling. I could almost feel the virtual hugs emanating from my screen.

I spent the next half-hour catching up in chat, while updating my skill queue and checking on my in-game assets. I regretted having to shut down, in order to update my other characters.

"I'll be back very soon," I typed in chat. And I meant it.

What's old is new again

I undocked one of my alts in a mining barge, just to shake off the cobwebs and get familiar with flying in space again.

Wow, NPC stations look different. The landing lights, the spinning sections, the little dots of traffic flying from tower to tower - it felt... alive. I spent ten minutes just gawking at it, remembering how the old stations looked like lifeless derelicts. Now they feel as animated and populated as citadels.

Cool. Nice work, CCP.

I headed for a nearby belt, admiring the new skin of my barge. CCP did a nice job with these, too. It felt dirty and mechanical - like mining equipment should look. The animated flames and moving gearworks are a nice touch, too.

After gathering some ore, I docked up. Then I tried some ghost fitting. I had played with this when it first came out, but not in any serious fashion. Now I set about learning how to use this tool in earnest.

After getting deeply absorbed in testing various fittings, I realized that an hour had passed. I decided I like the ghost fitting feature - a lot.

Sometimes, little things can make a big difference. A ping from an app, a greeting from some old friends, a refreshed look, a new feature - individually, they don't seem like much. But altogether, they can alter our perception and make what was old and familiar seem like new. And that can be enough to draw us in and hold our fascination once again.

It's good to be back.

Fly safe! o7