There’s something lurking in Eve: Valkyrie’s new Warzone update, shimmering in the light of the sun, barely visible in the black of space. The Covert is a brand new ship class that’s being added to CCP’s dogfighting space sim, and it’ll blast you to pieces when you least expect it.
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“[It’s] something we've been developing for probably over a year now,” lead game designer Andrew Willans explains. “It was one of those ship classes that we were all very excited about, but it's taken us a while to get it just right and find a nice balance with all the other ships - it can actively cloak and decloak, which brings a whole range of different dynamics to a battle when you see those out there... or don't see them.”
A cloaking ship was planned from the start of development, it turns out, but the idea kept being pushed back as the game got patched and balanced. Polish comes first, and CCP have been making sure the ship is in the best state it can be before they release it into the void. The Warzone update is about bringing out the personality of the ships, making sure each one fulfills a specific role. If the Wraith is now an assault rifle, the Shadow Covert ship is a dagger in the back.
“The Covert is very much an assassin, it's highly tactical,” Willans agrees. “Because you can launch and cloak for a period of time, which means you can get into positions to get a keen eye on battle, or just get behind the enemy and try to flank them, or get to objectives unseen. But there's counterbalances to that as well, so one of the ships has a radar ping which can detect ships that are in stealth and put them on the map for your team-mates. So every kind of ability, there's a counter to it, so we have to closely consider the moves, the chess board, as it is.”
If Eve: Valkyrie is a chess board, it’s that 3D one you saw on Star Trek as a kid - layered and non-linear. It’s bad enough trying to balance a character who can turn invisible in an FPS, but this is a game where you’re free to move around empty space, where the enemy can appear from any angle.
“Initially, we started off with an infinite cloak, but that didn't work too well, so we condensed the time down so you could only cloak for a period of 30 seconds, then there's a recharge period while your cloak powers up again, which takes about 15 seconds,” Willans says, explaining the balancing process. “So there's a strategic layer to when you can go in and out of active camo. The weapon on the Shadow, the Covert ship, is actually a charge and release weapon. As soon as you start to charge up your weapon, you'll automatically come out of cloak. Anyone you're attacking will get that last-minute warning, perhaps suddenly catching a glimpse of you out the cockpit window.”
This means you’ll need to duck in and out of wreckages, timing your moves tactically. Even with the best plan, though, you can suddenly have your cover blown. If you pass a nearby explosion or get hit with flak, the splash damage will cause you to shimmer, giving your enemies a Predator-esque glimpse of your position. If they fire at you, they can disable your cloak altogether with enough successful hits.
“We try do as much testing as we can internally, with players we invite into the studio and with our QA department off-site, but you can never know fully that you've achieved that utopian balance until it's in the hands of thousands of people, rather than hundreds,” Willans says. “It'll be interesting, but if we need to make further tweaks we can jump on that straight away, much like we've done with all the ships over the past 16 months.”
Now that’s what I call a stealth update. Sorry, I’ll jettison myself into space now.