Mar 24 2012

Future of Eve Keynote

The last day of Fanfest 2012 saw the last of the three keynotes for the event. This last one was a forward look at CCP over the course of the next year. Not surprisingly Dust 514 takes up a lot of that bandwidth and the keynote reflected that. Once again Hilmar, Jon Lander and Torfifrans spent a good portion of their segments reinforcing the message that spaceships and the core space game was central to CCPs strategic planning. Despite this Fanfest’s focus on Dust, CCP are making very sure that Eve fans get the message that their game is front and centre going forwards.

Amongst other things we were treated to a presentation with NVidia showcasing a new technology that dynamically generates meshes up to an incredible level of detail. The specific ship model that we were shown ballooned to around 500 million pixels when all the systems were turned on and, in addition there are new fracture physics and dynamic lighting systems being implemented so that things like asteroid collisions and actual ship damage can be modeled in a more accurate and visually exciting manner.

Torfifrans returned to some of the topics that he touched on in yesterday’s keynote – avatar based systems and avatar customisation. He was quick to reassure the audience that the avatar gameplay would have to complement core space-based systems rather than replace or obsolete them. Some of the scenarios he was throwing around like avatar-based exploration sounded exciting and I hope that implementation doesn’t drop the ball.

Finally Dust. This is CCP’s big thing for 2012 and they are clearly very excited about the integration of two separate games not only into the Eve universe but with overlapping and co-mingled systems. The new server technology that allows multiple devices and systems to access core Eve functionality has opened up a world of possibilities and the plan is that the things we saw on Thursday with shared comms, markets and space-to-ground strikes will just be the beginning. Now that I’ve seen it in action I’m sure that CCP can pull it off, the question that remains is whether the console FPS players will find themselves invested enough in Dust to keep it as a significant feature once the next Battlefield or Call of Duty is released.

 

World of Darkness

There was a short presentation on the World of Darkness project and it turned out that there wasn’t much to say beyond ‘it’s really not cancelled and we are still making it’. The team has been gutted back to core staff and there is no launch date yet. CCP say they’ll have more to say about it towards the end of this year when Dust is out of the way but it appears that there really isn’t much to show. We saw a fully rendered trailer, some concept art and a quick in-engine fly through of a static level – no 3d models, no in-engine animation and no gameplay at all. I got the opportunity to ask why there was so little to show for a project that had been in development for around 6 years and the CCP guy just shrugged.

There were some rather pointless questions about game mechanics where the CCP producer just repeated that there were no mechanics properly defined yet but he did say that there would be permadeath (at least in certain situations). Somewhat unsatisfying and I think that CCP would have done better to leave it off the schedule altogether for this show rather than come with a product that they weren’t able to showcase at all.


Mar 23 2012

Eve Keynote

The second of the three keynotes went ahead this afternoon and, today’s was solely dedicated to Eve. THat might sound surprising as you might expect an event titled Eve Fanfest to already be all about Eve but CCP felt that giving Dust a good shake of the stick at Fanfest as well as dedicating another keynote to the company and forward planning of CCP itself was in order.

The first part of the keynote was pretty uncomfortable with Hilmar basically falling on his sword over and over again  for the Incarna debacle of last year. Once he’d finished abasing himself to the crowd, he handed off to Jon Lander (AKA CCP_Unifex), the newish senior producer of Eve. Jon made a lot of reassuring noises about the focus on spaceships as well as establishing his bona fides as a veteran Eve player from before he joined the company. There then followed a series of handoffs between him, Lead Designer Kristoffer Touborg, Brian Bossé who is head of the lag bussting and server optimisation team and finally Torfifrans, the creative Director. This last was interesting as he spent most of his time talking about avatars and avatar based systems which makes me wonder just how clearly the lessons from Incarna were heard. He did redeem himself towards the end however by showcasing some very sexy new missile effects which should be coming ot Eve very soon. The video is viewable on YouTube as of today.

Stoffer, as he is wont to do rambled a bit and mostly re-iterated Jon’s point about the focus on spaceships. He talked a bit about the recent Crucible expansion and how that was setting the tone for future work – achievable and incremental improvements to systems rather than simply adding new flashy content for the sake of it. He mentioned a few things that were coming down the pipe either for Inferno (the spring expansion for this year) or afterwards – features such as a POS overhaul, Faction Warfare and revisiting some of the more awkward interfaces ingame like wardecs, corp management and so on. Again the focus was on fixing stuff rather than adding new features.

 

Brian (CCP_Veritas) talked a bit about the progress that his team have made on performance which was well illustrated with some very impressive graphs. Most of his talk was retrospective rather than forward looking but

he did mention some of the work his team are planning to start on multi-threading in the future. He then handed off to CCP_Seagull and CCP_Alice who presented on the community systems and plans to open the server interface to support many different inputs rather
than simply the Eve client and the API. Overall the plan is to give players a lot more to do in game while they are not logged into the client and to give 3rd party developers a lot more freedom in interacting with core Eve systems.  They also talked a little about some of the new web systems that have been deployed such as fully interactive starmaps with dynamic, real-time data that can be plugged into external sites for information purposes.

Finally, it was Torfifrans who spent some time talking about avatars and captain’s quarters before finishing on the high-note of the new missile systems. I was somewhat taken aback by Torfifrans’ presentation, he spent a lot of his time talking about avatar based systems which I would have expected to be something of a 3rd rail at the moment. On the other hand he was very clearly excited about the potential for ambulation and the Captain’s Quarters concept in general. My thought is that this will be stuff previewed towards the end of the year by which time the wounds from Incarna will be ancient history and there will have been 18 months of progress on spaceships to mollify the masses. The missile presentation was extremely well received, the crowd gave it a standing ovation and insisted that he play the video again. There’s probably a lesson there if he cares to note it.


Mar 22 2012

Dust 514 Keynote

Today, Hilmar presented the Dust 514 Keynote. This was the big introduction of the work that’s happened on CCP’s console shooter to the most diehard fans of CCP’s PC MMO. Hilmar started by showing us the Future Vision trailer from last year and was careful to emphasise that, as far as CCP is concerned, the future of Eve is the space-based MMO. That rather begs the question of what value they expect to recover from what has to be a colossally expensive console project. As the game will apparently be a free to play title, my expectation is that the monetisation is going to have to be super aggressive to even come close to amortising the costs of this.

Following Hilmar’s preamble, senior members of the Dust team came out and started demonstrating the front end, explaining the customisation options and showing us how it will be possible to tailor your character for various roles. Once that was over they entered a 3D lobby where more customisation options were available before dropping down into the actual game. I was a little unclear on what purpose this lobby area serves, whether it’s a waiting area while the map loads or whether it’s an extra hurdle to cross before starting to play. The second seems a little redundant but CCP have a history of doing things the long way.

Once in-game Dust looks much like any other current gen sci-fi shooter. There’s not much that screams Eve about the visuals although if you look carefully you can see some cues from the spaceship design in ground vehicles and buildings. The dev characters were fully kitted out with high end equipment and almost maxed skills – the devs estimated that the demonstration characters had the equivalent of seven years of character advancement in them – but combat seemed slow and sluggish. It took a lot of shots to take down any enemy even with the heavy weapons on vehicles. This isn’t a game for Quake fans.

For most of the audience, the crowning point was the insertion of Eve online gameplay into the Dust experience. The players in Dust requested an orbital strike and the request was picked up by an Eve player close to the planet. The request appeared in his Eve UI, he accepted it and all of a sudden his gun in an Eve client was blowing hell out of tanks in the Dust battle. The reaction from the Eve players was so thunderous that they did it again.


Mar 22 2012

Arise!

It’s been a long time since I updated here, I’ve been busy working and updating my other blog but, as it happens I’m here in Iceland for the 2012 Eve Online Fanfest so this seems a good excuse to resurrect this blog.

I got a ticket courtesy of CCP as a do-over for missing out on Fanfest as a CSM delegate last year – I was first alternate until about two weeks before Fanfest 2011 when Vuk Lau dropped out and I was made a full delegate. Unfortunately for me, while a full delegate normally gets a complimentary trip to Fanfest, there wasn’t time to organise a trip for me so John Turbefield at CCP very generously agreed to defer my trip until this year. Thus, here I am in Reykjavik surrounded by Eve players and devs.

I’ve met a bunch of Goons so far and discovered that Deutsche Bank isn’t very good at giving you accurate information about the state of your account. The first was good, the second is less good.

I’ll add daily updates with the day’s happenings.


Mar 7 2011

The Sixth Council of Stellar Management

On Wednesday 9th March, voting will begin for the 6th session of the Council of Stellar Management, the player advocacy council in Eve Online. Members of the council play a central role in working with CCP (the developers of Eve Online) to prioritise fixes, to act as a focus group for new suggestions and to carry the voice of the community into the development halls.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows my background that I am extremely interested in this system, both as a keen player of Eve Online and also as an industry professional who has worked in community and evangelises for community involvement in games design. For the last two sessions, I’ve been an alternate – a stand-in delegate who is allowed to take part in the discussions, is privy to the internal workings but doesn’t get to raise proposals directly nor to travel to Reykjavik for the regular developer summits (as it happens I was at the last summit but only because a full delegate couldn’t make the trip).

This time around, I am pitching for a third term and hopefully as a full delegate. If you are an Eve player with an account over 30 days old I would appreciate your vote for Helen Highwater, my main character in the game.


Oct 10 2010

The CMC Sessions

CMC LogoIn late August, I was invited to speak at the CMC conference in Leipzig. I gave a talk about how community managers could add their unique perspective to the decision making structures of their current gig or, alternatively how that experience could be translated across to other gigs in the industry. Obviously I was using my own experience of going from community to games design as a template. The CMC site has now updated with the video of all the different sessions so you can now download and view all the talks including mine for a small fee. The talks can be downloaded from the ‘Store’ section of the website while the synopses are in the ‘Conference’ section.


Aug 20 2010

In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future There Is Only DKP

It shouldn’t be a surprise to any of you who know my background that I have been very interested in the forthcoming game Dark Millenium: Online – the Warhammer 40k MMO being developed by THQ. While it’s true that the game is some way out and it’s far too early to jump to conclusions just yet, the message from Danny Bilson, Core Games Director (who has done most of the press stuff so far) has been somewhat incoherent.

Take for example this interview from Computer and Video Games on July 1st:

Speaking at E3 this month, Bilson said that the Vigil-developed online game is “very friendly to the WoW player” and even he as a WoW fanatic will be switching games.

“Have you seen it? The movie? I think it speaks for itself,” Bilson told CVG. “I’m a diehard MMO player myself – going back to EverQuest. I’ve spent lots of time in WoW. As a WoW fanatic, I’m going to go right to 40K as soon as it comes out. It’s very friendly to the WoW player.”

“The brand is fantastic – it’s so deep and so wonderful,” he said. “There’s just so much for us to play with. There’s more vehicles in our thing [than WoW], the combat’s completely different; you can get four guys in a tank and go.

“[40K] is stunning. It’s going to be a masterpiece. It’s been in development for three-and-a-half years already. It’s got two more to go. Look at it.” Go on then: Look at it.

“It’s sensational. I believe within the next six months we’re going to be showing playable sections of the game, not just a movie.” According to the THQ exec, the online game only needs to poach “a million” World of WarCraft players to be successful.

“They’ve got 14 million players! Gimme a million and I’m good! We’re real good at a million, right?” He added: “We don’t need everybody to migrate. We just need some of them – and I’m full confident we’re going to get them.

Two things that strikes me about that interview. Firstly I’m gong to be generous to him and assume that the ‘we only need a million players’ line was just playful banter that he didn’t actually mean. The history of such claims for other games is an unhappy one. Secondly, I couldn’t help but notice that he mentioned WoW a lot more than he mentioned his own product. Which is an unusual marketing tactic by any standards. I thought this was a one-off and perhaps reflected a certain single-mindedness on the journalist – I certainly remember talking about WAR to press who were basically only interested in framing the interview in terms of how that game stacked up to WoW. This week however at the Gamescom in Cologne, Mr Bilson was at it again, this time talking to Eurogamer.

Eurogamer: I’ve been excited about the Warhammer 40K MMO for a long time. When will it be out?

Danny Bilson: A couple more years. It really is about two years out.

Look, there is an 800 pound gorilla out there called World of Warcraft, which is a fantastic MMO that’s going to get updated with Cataclysm soon and drive a lot of people including myself back into it.

I’m a big MMO fan and player. I’ve played EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, City of Heroes, I’ve got a few level 80 characters in WOW. Now, imagine that the people making Dark Millennium Online are all a bunch of guys like me, who love WOW and the expansions it’s had along the way.

We all say to ourselves, ‘We’re not going to get all the WOW players to move to 40K.’ 40K has its own unique coolness and edge. And that edge and glorious gore is not going to appeal to everybody. It appeals to you and I.

But what I know about our 40K game is that if you’ve played WOW you’ll be able to pick up and play this instantly, and you’ll find all these things that feel like upgrades, in a way.

Wait.  WoW again? Sure I guess it’s a reference point for the industry and he’s certainly right to describe it as the ’800 pound gorilla’ of the scene but really, could you, y’know, talk a bit about 40k online rather than WoW for a change?

It has a lot of the same qualities of WOW in terms of ease of use and how the interface is. I want to say that if you play WOW, you’ll be able to jump into Dark Millennium Online really easy.

But you won’t be able to be a Space Marine right away, because that’s a very unique class, if you know the universe. The road there is a great road, and they are in the game.

WoW once again. Man can this guy stop talking about the competition. Seriously Activision Blizzard can afford their own PR guys and.. hold on for just one moment. Run that past me again.

But you won’t be able to be a Space Marine right away, because that’s a very unique class, if you know the universe.

In a Warhammer 40k game ‘you won’t be able to be a Space Marine’ straight away? What the hell? The single most iconic thing about the IP, the poster-child for the entire setting, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when you say Warhammer 40k isn’t going to be playable at launch?

Scott Jennings said it best so I’ll just point you at his rant here.

Dear THQ, please don’t make this suck. Also please stop talking about WoW and tell us about your game instead.