Hello, Proteus

A new expansion comes out today, code-named Proteus. This one is a bit light compared to previous expansions, but that's okay by me, after all the rather hefty game mechanic changes and additions in the last several releases.

The new, improved Exequror is slicker and less asymmetrical than the previous version, and comes with new ship animations - I like it. 

The cosmetic changes included in Proteus look good: the new asteroid field graphics are certainly more interesting and pretty, the revamped Exequror is sleeker (and now with new warp animations), and the continued evolution of the star map is very welcome.

I love the new integrated operation of the beta starmap, and the addition of system search and routing visualization will make it my primary tool for high-sec travel planning. (If you haven't turned on the beta starmap, press your Escape key in game, go to General settings, and click "Try new map" - then click on the new starmap logo on your NeoCom.) However, until it also includes all the statistics of the traditional starmap, I'll still be pressing F10 to plan my trips in low-sec and null-sec space. I'm curious to see how much Dotlan-like functionality gets incorporated into future starmap iterations, though it has a very long way to go before supplanting that handy utility.

At the last Fanfest, CCP Games announced that they had formed a team to develop more PvE content, and we've seen a steady stream of new additions in each subsequent expansion - Proteus will be no exception to this. The new persistent, basic mining sites in starter and career agent systems will make it a lot easier for novice players to try out their Ventures on some Veldspar 'roids, and the addition of more higher-difficulty exploration sites should challenge veterans a bit. I'm eager to give them a try.

Beware of Combat Recons Bearing Gifts

The most significant change in Proteus is the rebalancing of Recon ships, which are now generally stronger, and more importantly, Combat Recons will be immune to directional scans. I have very mixed emotions about this.

On one hand, it will make Recons more useful, and we should see a lot more of them undocking in New Eden. On the other hand, I'm afraid that making them d-scan immune will mean the demise of solo PvE activity in wormholes and all lower security spaces. The only way to detect Recons in system is by using combat probes, all the time - and if you are doing solo PvE, this means you will need a buddy to scan for you. I'm looking forward to seeing how much d-scan immunity affects the level of PvE activity. I'm sure CCP Games will be monitoring it closely.

Proteus also includes a second round of module re-balancing - this time, to harvesting, hull upgrades, propulsion upgrades, and engineering modules. There's nothing much to report here, except some slight adjustments here and there to make the different module choices more consistent and intuitive - it's a welcome edit.

Not Bad

So, nothing big in Proteus, really - except maybe the potential effect of the Combat Recon change. It'd be tempting to complain that this expansion is rather light, compared to earlier releases, but that would be unfair. CCP Games' switch from bi-annual expansions to new releases about every six weeks has been a huge success - the amount and quality of new features and improvements have grown significantly, in total, under the new update schedule. How quickly we EVE Online players forget, and how difficult an audience we must be to please - I sympathize with the devs, and applaud their continued efforts on our behalf.

Ah, I see that EVE Offline tells me that the server is back up. Time to log into Tranquility and download Proteus, and see what CCP Games hath wrought.

Fly safe! o7

Oceanus: Nice

Tomorrow, CCP Games releases Oceanus, the latest expansion for EVE Online. Earlier this year, the company changed from unveiling two big updates per year to a more rapid release schedule, now about every six weeks. Oceanus is the third such release since the development policy change, and is arguably lighter in content than the preceding two expansions. Still, it contains some useful features worth a quick study.

Module Rebalancing, Part I

Perhaps the most significant feature in Oceanus is the beginning of reorganizing variants of modules for ships into specific roles, rather than only by meta level. This means that different variants of the same type of module will have specific individual advantages, such as better capacitor efficiency, improved range, better tracking or easier fitting. The possible variant advantages will differ based on the module type, and some of the "named" (meta 1-4) modules will be eliminated or consolidated where warranted.

Multiple levels of "names" and "faction" module variants will start to be streamlined and consolidated, beginning with the Oceanus expansion.

Module variants will also use a consistent naming scheme, to make it easier for players to know what bonuses are being applied to each variant. Players will no longer have to memorize arbitrary names (e.g., "Limos" or "Arbalest") to understand what their module variant does for their ship.

In the Crius expansion, the following module types are being rebalanced:

  • Capacitor Flux Coils
  • Cargo Scanners
  • Ship Scanners
  • Survey Scanners
  • Co-processors
  • Reactor Control Units
  • Micro Auxiliary Power Cores
  • Light Missile Launchers

There are some interesting changes included in this iteration of module rebalancing that are worth noting. The Scoped Survey Scanner now offers a significantly longer scan range (20km), which will be of interest to miners. Ship scanner variants also got a bit of an improvement to their range. Most of the Capacitor Flux Coil variants got significantly buffed for cap capacity and recharge rate, and with easier fitting requirements. MAPCs got slightly easier to fit, as well. However, Light Missile Launchers got nerfed with a longer activation time.

This is just the beginning of the module tiercide initiative, and it will require many expansions to see it come to completion. Players are well advised to read CCP Fozzie's dev blog on this project, and to examine the Oceanus patch notes for details on module changes in this update.

Turning Burners to 11

With the popularity of the tough Level 4 "burner missions" released in Hyperion, Oceanus will include some new variants that add logistics support for NPC targets, which should make them even more challenging.

Since the burner missions were partly intended to provide a bridge to the more difficult challenge of player-versus-player (PvP) combat, the reaction of players must be pleasing to CCP Games' devs. Pilots are learning to take burner missions on with better optimized fits, and increasingly, in small gangs.

As for me, I find burner missions to be a tough nut to crack as a solo pilot. Nevertheless, I must admit that I've enjoyed them, even after losing a couple assault frigates in the process. I'm looking forward to trying the variants with logistics ships, though they sound even harder than the first batch.

Pretty Pictures, Seen and Unseen

Oceanus will include some graphics improvements, including new nebulae backgrounds for wormholes, and a slick new ship cloaking effect. Initial reaction to the new wormhole backgrounds has been mixed, as some of their colors do not make the class of a wormhole immediately apparent, as before. The new ship cloak effect, however, is a big improvement over the old transparent outline - pilots can now see the orientation of their cloaked ships easier, and the animations for cloaking and uncloaking are more elaborate.

Perhaps more significant is a change to the underlying file structure for ships, even though players will see no visual results in the game - yet. This change provides a foundation for future ship customization options - a feature that pilots have been demanding for a long time. It's good to see CCP Games making progress on this - though when we will actually be able to tweak the appearance of our ships is, as yet, unknown.

CCP Mankiller teased us with a picture showing the potential of a universe in which EVE Online pilots get to put custom paint jobs and logos on their ships. Soon™ - (drool!)

People who like to dress up their avatar or ship will now be able to view items in three dimensions in the New Eden Store, before they purchase clothing or a new ship skin. That should help make the shopping experience a little more compelling for obsessive collectors like me, who are motivated to own at least one of everything - much to the delight of CCP Games, no doubt.

Better Notifications

Oceanus will include an opt-in feature for a new consolidated notification system. Although this feature is designed to help new players, I am planning to turn it on, as I've noticed a lot of inconsistency about the various kinds of notifications in the game: new contracts received, insurance expiration, industry messages, etc. I hope the improved notification system provides more uniformity for in-game messages, and I'm keen to give it a try.

Help for EFT Warriors

I am a big fan of the free utility application, EVE Fitting Tool (EFT), and I use it often to play with various ship configurations. Oceanus will provide the ability to import and export in-game fittings from and to third-party fitting applications, including EFT and Pyfa. Now you will be able to set up the perfect fit in EFT, and export it easily into a stored fitting in game.

For "EFT warriors" like myself, this is will save a lot of time and effort. Kudos to CCP Karkur for adding this convenience to the game!

Little Things Make a Difference

There are a variety of the usual small corrections and tweaks also included in Oceanus, but one merits special mention: the ability to name different jump clones. Whenever I do a clone jump, I find myself checking and double-checking my implants in multiple clones, to make sure I'm jumping into the right one. Now, I can add a descriptive name, like "Interceptor Pilot" or "Orca Support", and know exactly what clone I want. It's a little thing, but one that will make jump clone management and execution of jumps a lot less stressful.

It's Nice

Overall, Oceanus is a nice little expansion, with several attractive features and improvements. But that is just about all I can say about it - it's nice. There's nothing in it that makes me think that the average daily log-in counts will go either up or down. There's nothing deeply offensive about it - nor is there anything that will draw hordes of unwashed masses into the EVE Online universe.

It's just... nice.

While I appreciate the value of a more frequent release schedule, in alignment with agile development methods, I am beginning to worry about what kind of features that CCP Games is planning for EVE Online. Is there anything on the horizon that will wow the public and draw lots of enthusiastic new blood into the game? Or will we continue to see mostly small incremental improvements, with relatively little fanfare? Not that improvements are a bad thing - not at all - but I think that the long-term success of EVE Online depends on both little and big releases. And that makes me wonder: what is the next big thing?

While the industry revamp in Hyperion/Crius was no doubt pretty big - as shown by the significant increase in players running industrial jobs - it wasn't the kind of new, exciting feature that draws in a lot of new players. Will the planned changes to corporation management, starbases, and null-sec sovereignty be big enough to stimulate more interest in EVE Online? Or will they simply appease the current player base enough to keep their subscriptions running? I strongly suspect that the latter is more likely.

So, thanks, CCP Games, for Oceanus. It looks solid - nice job. Keep up the good work. I sure hope you've got something big and impressive cooking in the back room, though.

Fly safe! o7


I feel a change comin' on

Well, now what's the use in dreamin'?
You got better things to do
Dreams never did work for me anyway
Even when they did come true

I was thinking about imminent changes in EVE Online, and I was reminded of Bob Dylan's cynical lyrics from his song, "I Feel a Change Comin' On". Before every new expansion, players' collective hopes run rampant, fueled by the CCP Games' marketing hype machine and rising torrent of enthusiastic pre-release dev blogs and forum posts. We hope for improved functionality, better gameplay, more options, new ships, cool modules, additional content - and more fun to be found in our chosen pastime.

And generally, CCP Games has delivered, albeit with a few stumbles along the way. (Just whisper "Incarna" into the ear of a dev at Fanfest, and watch them go into uncontrollable spasms - it's mean, but it's fun.) Regardless of what you may think of the quality of EVE Online at the moment, there's no doubt that the game has evolved and improved steadily over time. If you don't believe me, think back to what playing EVE was like a few years ago, and compare it to the greatly improved graphics, better integrated mechanics, improved usability and wider diversity of choices for players that are available in the game today. This is a principal reason why I continue to play EVE Online, five years after first giving it a try.

Yet, after every expansion, I hear players complain that the reality never quite lives up to the hype. I must admit I have felt this way myself. I had very high hopes for both Odyssey and Rubicon, but once they were released, I found them enjoyable but not quite as exciting or as engaging as I hoped they would be.

Before their respective releases, I speculated on the potential success of each of these expansions in prior posts, anticipating significant increases in player subscriptions and participation, but neither panned out that way. In fact, the general reaction to these expansions from the player base seemed to be something along the lines of: "Not bad - but meh."

As a group, we EVE Online players tend to be a retroactively phlegmatic audience. Many of us forget how good our game really is, despite CCP Games' efforts to impress us with each expansion.

Hail Kronos!

Today, CCP Games rolls out the newest expansion to EVE Online, Kronos. Once again, I feel excited, in anticipation of new features and new ships. And once again, I feel the usual hope about how this update will increase player interest in EVE Online.

And yet, at the same time, I feel this strong sense of déjà vu. I'm always excited about shiny new features and ships, and I always assume that everyone else will feel the same way. This time, I have to admit that while I like a lot of what Kronos offers, I am cynical about how it could attract a wave of new subscribers.

I'm most excited about the new ships. The Tech II variant of the Venture mining frigate, the Prospect, will be my go-to ship for gas mining in low-sec space, In addition to being able to fit a covert ops cloak, it's speedy and has more capacity.

The new Mordu's Legion ships - the Garmur, Orthus and Barghest - are just so stealth-bomberish and cool-looking that I must once again congratulate CCP Games art team on their terrific designs. They did an outstanding job with the Sisters of EVE ships in Rubicon, and the Mordu's Legion ships look equally amazing, but in a wholly different way. One of my highest priority tasks will be to collect of each of these, once Kronos goes online.

The new Mordu's Legion frigate, the Garmur - flat, black, and just plain cool looking.

The new Mordu's Legion frigate, the Garmur - flat, black, and just plain cool looking.

I like how CCP Games has set up the means for acquiring the Mordu's Legion ships. Most players will likely procure their blueprints from special spawns of NPC rats in low-sec asteroid belts. This provides a new reason for potential targets to wander into low-sec. I just hope that these special spawns aren't so rare that it becomes frustrating. I was excited about ghost sites in Rubicon, too, but they appear so seldom that I soon gave up looking for them. I have my fingers crossed that the frequency of Mordu's Legion NPC spawns do not suffer from the same malady.

Kronos includes a new set of ship balancing changes. On the whole, I think these are necessary and will be successful in revitalizing interest in certain ships, especially some oft-ignored pirate ships like the Succubus and Ashimmu. This is a good thing, generally, but I am less enthused about the changes to deep space transports, which get a bonus for overheating, a large fleet cargo bay, and the weird ability to fit the new medium micro jump drive - which no one will use because the spool-up time is so long that it can be easily scrammed and caught. I don't see people rushing to use DSTs after Kronos debuts. Perhaps if they had a bonus to halve the MMJD spool-up time, which would make it harder to catch, it could become an interesting hauler alternative in dangerous space. For now, I'll stick with my trusty blockade runners, which got some nice little buffs, for hauling in low-sec and 0.0.

Though I do not think most players realize it yet, the biggest changes in Kronos are to drones, which get some re-balancing also. I'm going to have to update my guide to drones in this blog, that's for sure, as there are a lot of little but very significant alterations to the status quo. For one thing, I think people will actually start to use Amarr drones as the preferred anti-shield tanking weapon. We'll hear no more talk of the general worthlessness of Amarrian drones, I suspect. We may also begin to see wider use of meta-level and navy faction drones as well, which get some nice buffs.

There are also a lot of little things in Kronos that will just make it nicer to use. Kudos to CCP Karkur and the rest of the team working on user interface improvements. The improvements in cascading-menu selection, color-coded broadcast messages, reload and repair icon progress indicators, among others, will all make interacting with the challenging EVE Online client more intuitive. The ability to control various sounds in the client is going to be very handy, especially if you multi-box several clients at once, as I do. And the new warp in/out visual effect is fun to watch - I don't think I'll tire of seeing it anytime soon.

The best little change in Kronos is the elimination of the frustrating loot spew mechanic in exploration sites. Thank you, CCP Games! I always hated that idea. I know this means we'll see a nerf to the value of sites, but I don't care. That click-fest requirement always drove me nuts.

The Boiling Frog

What's perhaps more interesting about Kronos is what is not appearing in this expansion, but instead is being delayed to the next one, Crius, which is expected on July 22nd. Specifically, all of the massive changes to industry and production, which I've commented upon in previous posts at length, have been delayed for further tweaking. This takes a lot of the impact out of Kronos, reducing it to a nice set of general improvements, but it also means that CCP Games is not going to rush a major revamp of a critical aspect of the game out the door before it is ready. I'm a little disappointed that we won't be seeing the massive industry changes in Kronos, but I'm encouraged that CCP Games decided to withhold it for further polishing.

And this is perhaps the biggest change coming with Kronos, though it is largely invisible to most of the player base: CCP Games has moved from two massive expansion releases per year to numerous smaller releases about every six weeks or so. This will give the devs more options without huge deadline pressures - if a new feature isn't ready, it can simply slide to the next release window. As long as each little expansion contains something of substance, I think this approach should help improve new feature quality. We'll know for certain if it was a wise move after Crius comes out in July - the play value of the industry overhaul will be the first true measure of the wisdom of this incremental development approach.

While smaller releases with greater frequency makes good practical sense, it does present a significant marketing problem for CCP Games. The degree to which they can generate excitement around a particular expansion will be greatly diminished. I expect that the volume of marketing noise around specific expansions will dwindle, and the marketing emphasis will change instead to a continuous low hum of messages about EVE Online's unique qualities - including its long-established track record relative to other MMOs.

This does not bode well for convincing the unwashed masses to try EVE Online in huge, sudden waves. It's unlikely that we'll be seeing any large swells of new subscribers inbound any more. Rather, it appears that CCP Games has decided instead to strive for long-term, slow and steady growth, by releasing smaller continual improvements, and by spreading marketing investment fairly evenly across numerous venues, instead of jam-packing new features and a corresponding hype machine in bi-annually concentrated expansion announcements.

The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing, but expect different results. The past practice of concentrated development effort in large expansions, with associated marketing promotions, has not produced big numbers of new subscriptions. In fact, the number of players joining and participating after each expansion has been somewhat erratic, with trends going up and down and the average numbers remaining fairly static - and in fact, some observers suggest that the number of subscriptions may actually have decreased lately. If CCP Games has decided on purpose to try to build the subscription base of EVE Online incrementally over time, that seems to be to be a saner strategy.

The danger, however, is that even though the game is constantly improving, each small release doesn't make a significant impact individually. The tired metaphor of the boiling frog seems apropos here - no one may really notice if the quality of EVE Online features improves slowly over time, rather than announcing them less frequently in big, dramatic blasts. It certainly represents a more challenging marketing problem, to be sure.

We EVE Online players may dream of cool Internet spaceship features, but we tend to take them for granted even when our dreams come true. What a difficult audience we must be for the developers and marketers at CCP Games.

Fly safe! o7