On the release of Rubicon, CCP’s David Reid reflects on a landmark year in New Eden, and why, with a new phase of Eve expansion in progress and the future release of Valkyrie, 2014 will be even better.
It’s been a good year for CCP Games and its ever-expanding sci-fi universe. With the hangover from Eve Online’s tenth anniversary yet to kick in, the Icelandic developer continues to watch player numbers rise, thanks to an impressive run of free expansions that have attracted a steady stream of newcomers whilst managing the increasingly difficult task of keeping veterans onside. 500,000 paying subscribers may not seem particularly impressive next to World of Warcraft’s millions, but the future appears to be firmly on CCP’s side.
Rubicon, launching today, is the latest Eve mega-upgrade to focus on the months and years ahead, one that on first inspection looks to continue along the same tread as its predecessors by offering a mix of new ships and gameplay features while unveiling some necessary renovation to those of old - reasonable enough given Eve’s senility. What’s significant about Eve expansion #20 is that for the first time since 2011’s roundly-criticised avatar experiment, foundations for ambitious new features are being firmly laid down, features that will see players with even more agency to effect New Eden’s future than they do today.
Acknowledging that while Rubicon may lack a huge new marquee feature in the manner of titans and wormholes, CCP’s ebullient CMO David Reid is keen to point out that Eve’s latest expansion marks the start of an effort to make real on a pledge made at Eve Fanfest earlier in the year, to put the full destiny of universal expansion in player’s hands. “Rubicon begins the process where players can start getting the resources that will allow them to go out and colonise new parts of the universe” he says, “new galaxies that currently don’t exist in terms of playable space.”
While it will likely be Eve’s ever-present alliances that will seek to colonise and control any new regions that are eventually discovered, there is a second aspect to Rubicon that serves to widen its appeal, not just to the Eve-curious, but to those who wish to have a greater impact on in-game events without having to sign-up to one of Eve’s intimidating power blocs. “There haven’t been many ways for the individual player to carve out a little piece of the sandbox and make it their own” admits Reid. “This is where things like the deployable mobile structures come in, allowing players to build a home away from home, taking over a customs office from an empire and running that for economic gain, or stealing production from a neighbour with the Syphon Units.” The hope is that by introducing the means for individuals and small groups to chip away at the established order without directly threatening it, new tensions might foster a more intricate web of cooperation and conflict at all levels of the game.
Of course, this being Eve, what CCP would like to see happen and and what they end up with might be quite different. Take the release of Dust 514, CCP’s console FPS that launched back in May. CCP’s aim was to widen interest in New Eden by introducing a game that plugged directly into the dark heart of Eve’s PC-dominated universe without requiring a full understanding of all it’s intricate and often confusing systems. In a device-agnostic interconnected world, so the theory went, more complex outcomes would result from the increased number of simple interactions (and there could be none so simple as emptying a clip into someone’s face via a shoulder button). It’s fair to say however that things haven’t quite gone to plan, at least not to the scale or schedule CCP would have liked.
“The early months of Dust were what I perceived the early months of Eve to be like” says Reid, readily admitting the game had its issues. “There was a lot of new gaming plumbing that needed to be taken care of and a good bit of the moment-to-moment shooter experience that the community rightly mentioned as an issue.” Realising that perhaps their ambition had gotten a lead on their ability to deliver, CCP began the liberal application of its own-brand iterative development balm. With 1.6 receiving near-universal praise and 1.7 on the near horizon CCP is starting to make good on it’s promises. “The primary thing on the Dust team right now is growing the link between Dust and Eve, taking things like Faction Warfare and Planetary Conquest to another level and making it a bigger part of the game, ultimately continuing to grow the way Eve and Dust, and eventually Valkyrie, connect.”
Ah yes, Eve: Valkyrie, CCP’s VR space shooter. The game was born as a part-time labour of love after a crate of Oculus Rift dev kits arrived at CCP HQ, before winning itself a bunch of awards at E3 just a few months later, almost overshadowing the bickering over new consoles. Now scheduled for a release in 2014, since the summer the project has passed to CCP’s Newcastle studio, with the lofty aim to create the first great virtual reality game (and perhaps the first decent first-person space combat game since Freespace 2). it’s an experience that David Reid is confident that CCP won’t just get right from the get-go, but will quickly build upon using the same methods that Eve and Dust have benefitted from.
“Ultimately Valkyrie will become a fully-fledged member of the Eve universe, where all three games will share an economy and will have members in corporations engaging in combined arms operations.” Envisaging Dust mercenaries as armour and infantry units, Valkyrie pilots as the air forces controlling the skies and Eve pilots the interstellar navy, Reid foresees a massive shift in not just how people play Eve, but how the universe is perceived and joined. Reid and his colleagues are however under no illusions that just as Eve had endured its shares of tough times and Dust has for most of 2013 been on rocky terrain, there will be turbulence ahead for Valkyrie: “The lessons of Eve and Dust are clear to us. VR is a nascent technology and there aren’t many signposts to tell us when we’re doing things well or breaking new ground. We have to make sure we get this right - that is the first priority for Valkyrie. Then we sort the connection to the broader Eve universe. It will happen.“
Of the many bright stars in Eve’s firmament, from the twinkling of games and expansions past, present and future to the promise of books and TV shows, Valkyrie appears the most adventurous and perhaps the one that in time will outshine the others, which given that it barely existed a year ago just goes to show what an incredibly productive year it’s been for CCP. Should things go to plan over the next twelve months; further integrating Eve and Dust, building on Rubicon’s expansionist aims and releasing the first great game for the most significant piece of PC tech in a generation, 2014 could be the year the Eve universe enters a new stage of evolution.
2015: Eve Online becomes self-aware. You read it here first.