CCP’s Torfi Frans Olafsson On The Future Of Eve

By Jim Rossignol on April 2nd, 2008 at 1:06 pm.


This interview with Eve Online’s senior technical producer, Torfi Frans Olafsson, focuses on his work on the “walk-in stations” concept for Eve Online. This initiative is the thing that will finally give the disembodied character portraits of Eve some substance. We’ll be able to hang out on stations, interact, and participate in station activities with embodied avatars. As always, the theme is human interaction, only this time there’s not going to be any combat.

What’s the plan with the walk-in stations then?

Well, the plan is to do with Eve growing and growing and growing. When we launched in 2003 the universe was pretty much an empty shell, we didn’t have missions or any of the detail we have today. And when we did add to the game we didn’t want to just widen it by adding a new solar system or a new gun, we wanted to deepen the experience. That’s been the policy for all the expansions: how do we add detail? How do we deepen the experience for the players? We’re now at a point where we have the technology, the knowledge and the manpower to take our little characters and turn them into “living” avatars on board the stations. Still, it’s a really challenging task.

I used to be involved with CCP’s sponsored events early on in the game, and we wanted to be able to create a venue for role-players to act out their stuff. This allows them to do that. The Amarr Emperor championship and stuff like that, I used to run these, and I miss that role-playing element. Today you basically are a spaceship. People create and build a character, spend all this time, then you don’t see much of him – a portrait. So we’re giving them bodies. But it’s not enough to give them bodies, we have to give them something to do. We’re building the interiors of the space stations, but not as tactical zones or combat zones.

The competition and combat within Eve Online is so complex today that it would not make any sense to come up with a hand-to-hand combat system on top of that. There’s also the “teaspoon principle”: the CEO of a large corporation is an untouchable character in the game world. And yet if you’re standing in a station you could kill him with a teaspoon – stab him with a shiv, you know? That would really fuck up the balance we’ve created for the whole game. We want to do these things incrementally, we can’t do some huge expansion in one step. Step small, get feedback, see what people like, take another step.

But there’s some stuff we have already developed for in stations, such as changing how your character appears. You can eat and drink and get fat, and then you can go to Gallente plastic surgeon and have your appearance changed, or an Amarr cleansing room and lose weight. I like this because it’s kind of a pure role-playing aspect. It means you’re no longer stuck with simply a player portrait.

There’s also a new interface for corp recruitment. Players are going to be able to rent NPC bots as staff within their offices, which we eventually intend to be programmable. Players will be able to set up dialogue trees, and give and receive items. We’ll be able to have players setting up their own missions using these dialogue tree systems. These bots can also be representative for the players, recruiters or a bar-tender bot. These station services that I mention are going to be player-owned. My vision is to have as little as NPC-driven stuff in there as possible. The avatar-services, bars, and offices are all going to be built by players, and will require rent. Running in bar in Yulai will cost a little more than running a bar in some abandoned low-sec station.

If you think about how certain other world-like MMO systems work, people come in, they build stuff, then they move on. Other people come in look around, go build their own stuff, and leave. It’s all empty, dead, but still there. So you have some kind of post-apocalypse where the structures are there and there are no people. I don’t like this because it doesn’t push people together, and that’s why I want upkeep and rent in our businesses. The business that are not people will just fade away, as in real life.

So also in stations people are going to be able to meet and play mini games. They’re going to be playing gambling games… you know you don’t call up your friends in real life and say “I know this great ten metre by ten metre hall in town, with nothing in it. Let’s go and stand in there and talk…” You don’t do that. You always have a mission: drink beer, shoot some pool. We translate that directly to games. In Eve people hang out and mine, or run mission gangs. They’re not just chatting. This is why we’re including these gambling games. We’re going to implement some very familiar strategic games, such as poker, and go. These games are all visible too, so they can become spectator sports. People can gamble away their fortunes and give people something to talk about.

Now, all this has another aspect, which is the visual fidelity of the ships. They are astonishingly detailed now, and players will expect the same from their avatars. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. We’ve never been content with second best for visuals, we want to be out there at the edge, and there’s amazing stuff happening with character rendering. We have to investigate all these things, to implement amazing shading technologies for hair, skin and cloth on these characters, and we’re already seeing them in our prototypes. The visual fidelity of characters will be on par with that of the ships. But this alone is not enough – pretty screenshots alone are not enough – we need other things like animations. If the animation is rubbish you end up with a pretty-looking corpse, a Real Doll. That is more immersion-breaking than going for crappy graphics and comparatively crappy animations. So we’re getting the best facial animation in the industry – academics who are studying socialisation via avatars in virtual environments. Universities in Reykjavik, California and Paris are all contributing to making the avatars appear natural. We want to give them a sense of awareness. This is very important. Usually animation is canned – unless an avatar is being killed or shot at, it probably isn’t going to react to anything. We’re going to use information from inside the game system to how your avatar reacts. Standings, reactions, and so on will cause the reactions to what happens to the avatar. You’re going to have a series of moods that you can put your character in, but no silly moves or dancing. There is dry sarcastic humour in Eve, but not silliness.

How do you think people have found the Trinity upgrade? Any complaints?

Well on a new system it performs very well. It does need more memory, so older systems will suffer. But we’re supporting systems from 2003, but we have to keep our eyes on horizon, we have to move on. More and more people will enjoy the benefits as they slowly upgrade, even if they do so incrementally.

Do you feel that there needs to be a greater degree of standardisation in PC hardware?

Well it’s hard not to envy the console developers who know precisely what they are developing for. Not knowing what the player is going to have can breed apathy with developers, they can say “well they just have to buy more memory”, which is really bad, obviously. That said, the organic, component-based process of PC evolution means that the systems can grow quickly and take advantage of technologies. If people want to do that, and to play games like Eve they’re probably just going to have to learn the difference between a megahertz and a megabyte. And gamers will do that.

And this kind of victim of technology thing is something that you guys suffer more than most: the single galaxy Eve server is now ludicrously complex, isn’t it?

Yes, the cluster is very big, very powerful. We’re exploring some super-computing possibilities for the future, and I believe we’re looking at having it classified as a super-computing cluster alongside some of the top systems in the world. I don’t know exact numbers, but we have those figures somewhere.

Do you feel comfortable with where the game is going with things like Sovereignty? There’s occasionally been the feeling that CCP are “developing blind” and just patching these things up as they go along.

Well, I think all our systems need to be reviewed all of the time. We don’t need to fix what isn’t broken – which has happened several times, I will be the first to admit – but everything needs to come under scrutiny, and everything is likely to be improved by more work. We will continue that in the future. We maintain a tight review cycle, and if we have to go back and fix things again to make sure that they work, then we will.

How important is the overall fiction of Eve? We always focus on what the players get up to in their alliances, but how important is this science fiction material to you?

It will always be important. It’s what sets us apart from other virtual worlds. The setting and the context, to me, is fifty-fifty between the backstory and the player activities. There is no way that we can ignore the great sagas that are emerging from the activities of the player alliances and corporations, this stuff actually happens, but the backstory gives it a sense of depth, context and perspective that make it more immersive. Making it all fit together is important work. Tony Gonzales, in his forthcoming novella, absolutely nails it. I mean we could write something fantastic that was totally ignorant of the processes within Eve, we could fashion great ideas in some Ivory tower, without any attachment to the players, but everyone would notice that. It would be irrelevant, background noise. We can’t ignore what 20,000 people are doing in the game. It is the fiction.

Will factional warfare emphasize the backstory?

I think so. People don’t always pay attention to the backstory, and I think the factional warfare will allow people to realise that there are differences between the races, and tensions in the galaxy. We want players to make the most of all aspects of Eve, and the factional warfare is just another example of that. It’s another example of the depth we’re bringing to Eve.

I look forward to seeing it… one day. Thanks for talking to me, Torfi, and read RockPaperShotgun every day.

Thankyou!

__________________

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86 Comments »

  1. Cigol says:

    Mouth watering…

  2. MPK says:

    I guess sitting in a bar drinking Quafe beats looking at the docking screen when you’re camped into a station for three hours at a time. I wonder if you’d be able to look out the window and get intel on enemy ship positions?

  3. roBurky says:

    I’m pleased with the amount of thought that seems to be going into this ambulation stuff.

    But I can’t imagine what my Eve character will look like with a body. The idea is a bit terrifying.

  4. Nuyan says:

    Awesome! I’m really looking forward to Ambulation, I’m one of those players that really misses something like it in EVE. For me it was much easier to immerse myself into my WoW character than in EVE, while the fiction and the unrestrictive mechanics are vastly superior to WoW from a RP point of view.

    No new information for me in this interview, but it’s good to see some old information confirmed and to see they’re still working on it. This is very likely to become the most realistic virtual environment for just chatting of the world. It’s a huge addition.

  5. James T says:

    Man, Torfi’s ripped! Could use a shave though.

  6. arqueturus says:

    That’s odd roB, because I have a very exact picture of what mine will look like – the same as when I was originally creating my Avatar.

  7. James T says:

    Being broke, I’m not an EVE subscriber, but I enjoyed the trial period while it lasted. Remind me, does EVE’s player-generated folk history ever get ‘codified’ into NPC blurbs or whatever other conduits communicate the back-story? (Thereby incorporating a what-really-happened ‘modern history’ to go with the ‘ancient history’ of the exodus from Earth etc)

    “This is a dicey place, Skywalker — not one AU from here, the Goons swarmed and took down a BoB Titan. Now, could you hold this teaspoon? I must turn my back on you, so as to place a sticky bun precariously on the edge of this box.”

  8. heartless_ says:

    Meh, gives the EVE players something to do other than alt-tabbing to spreadsheets and the EvE forums.

    EVE is like Spore, but without a great mind overseeing the project like Mr. Wright. Spore has all the potential in the world and in Wright’s hands will be great. EvE, not in the hands of great people, will continue to suffer from over-complication, a no-fun-allowed design, and worse of all, a hardcore “me me me” community.

    EVE, the little game that could… be great if it tried, but just wants to cater to Something Awful.

  9. Slappeh says:

    Gawd I want money to pleh Eve Online again!

  10. arqueturus says:

    @heartless_

    I disagree with everything you said there.

    I don’t see spore and eve as comparible at all.

  11. Thesper says:

    “Running in bar in Yulai will cost a little more than running a bar in some abandoned low-sec station.”

    Man, Yulai. Do people even go there anymore? I thought it pretty much abandoned.

  12. Thesper says:

    Also yes, I don’t really understand what heartless is saying at all. That the game is bad…but the worst thing about it is that it has a hardcore community? Like every other MMORPG ever?

    And that it’s over complicated but just caters to Something Awful? I rather think you give the Goons too much credit there.

  13. Buceph says:

    Has there been any date or estimate put on when the station aspect will be released?

  14. Matt Dovey says:

    “Not knowing what the player is going to have can breed apathy with developers, they can say “well they just have to buy more memory”, which is really bad, obviously.”

    “That said, the organic, component-based process of PC evolution means that the systems can grow quickly and take advantage of technologies. If people want to do that, and to play games like Eve they’re probably just going to have to learn the difference between a megahertz and a megabyte. And gamers will do that.”

    Not often you see a contradiction popping up that soon, but our beloved CCP can better everyone in this arena.

    This ambulation stuff does sound wonderfully thought through though – not just a pretty environment to wander around while you’re docked, but another layer to the game, more reason to start living entirely inside New Eden. The idea of running businesses Second Life style is intriguing as well, although I’m not sure how bars will work – who’s going to pay for a drink that has no purpose or effect at all?

    (I realise that last argument could easily be applied to real world drinking as well, but anyone who brings it up could probably do with a drink to loosen up anyway)

  15. Jim Rossignol says:

    Isn’t that “contradiction” basically why people keep on whinging about PC gaming?

  16. Noc says:

    I don’t see it as a contradiction. Look a little closer.

    The “apathy” that he’s talking about is, say, what happened with Crisis and the Assassin’s Creed port. It’s the “Well, if people REALLY wanted to play our game, they’d spend a bunch of money to upgrade their computers.” As opposed to working to make graphics scalable to run on computers that aren’t built for the game.

    But with that established, he’s saying that gamers need to start gaming some knowledge of their hardware, because technology IS progressing pretty quickly and if you don’t learn about the crap you’re sticking into that black crate under your desk that plugs into the magic light-up screen you’re going to make bad buying decisions which won’t allow you to take advantage of emerging technologies.

    “Well, they can just buy more RAM if they want to play” isn’t really contradictory to “They should learn something about the machines they’re trying to run things on.”

  17. Cian says:

    I’ve really enjoyed these CCP interviews, great stuff. I’m excited about the station interiors, but I’m somewhat concerned about how CCP will make it matter to players like myself; the 0.0 inhabiting dedicated. Pretty much all my time logged in is spent either making ISK, or contributing towards some alliance/corp goal (this is more fun than it sounds). So I look forward to lounging around my Corp lounge sipping Quafe, I’m just worried that I’ll have the place to myself.

    Also, this article about Eve and economists is quite good; http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=virtual-world-economists-on-real-economies

  18. matte_k says:

    I’ve just been playing the Eve trial via Steam, and I have to say i’m sold on this game, it’s fantastic. Yes, it is a little complicated to begin with, and yes, it has it’s faults, but it has some neat ideas that I don’t see being practiced anywhere else. The skill progression over time is fantastic, as it means you make some progress when you’re not online, thus removing a degree of “grind” from the game, as is the fact that progression doesn’t *have* to be combat orientated, as it is in so many other MMO’s.

    I told a colleague at work about some of the time I’d spent playing it, and one comment he made that stuck with me was that “if you’re being pushed to play a game more than you would given the choice, to make progress or keep up with your fellow players, the game stops being fun and becomes more like work”. Essentially, he means that the game is fun as long as you have the choice to play whenever you feel like it-not because you have to make level 30 or whatever by Saturday so you can go on missions/raids/skinny dipping/barbecues without feeling weak and left behind.

    Looking forward to wandering around stations in a “Freelancer” sort of mode, but with more Go or Poker. Excellent.

  19. Kyodai says:

    Great project, would be better if they fixed lag issues first. I mean, as it stands now, a huge part of pvp/alliance warfare is totally unplayable and often finds players relying on metagaming to somewhat offset those inherent flaws, which is always harmful to a game.

    Lag should be priority #1 in the Eve Online dev schedule, period.

  20. Maniacski says:

    Eve-online is a great game but has unfortunately outgrown it’s capabilities. Large Fleet battles are almost impossible due to lag and super capital ships are so horribly broken (Titans and motherships) it’s just not funny.

    I would rather see that they focus on repairing the game then add dodgy new stuff. I enjoy playing Eve online but only because of the people playing not the game itself. Because all we can do is lag horribly and die when a Titan shows up and pushes his auto-win button wich kills everything in sight.

  21. Jim Rossignol says:

    I’m not sure the design of Eve allows for lag to ever be fixed. I’m not convinced that it’s physically possible for an online game to put 100+ avatars in the same location and not suffer lag consequences.

  22. MPK says:

    I was skim reading a thread about the Infiniband tech that CCP are looking to introduce to EVE servers to reduce lag and thinking: “That’s great!”

    Soon we’ll have massive 300 v 300 battles without any lag whatsoever…and then because there’s no lag at that level, alliances will bring more and more ships and the lag will reappear anyway.

    I agree with Jim. Lag will never be gone from EVE.

  23. Orestis Bastounis says:

    It certainly isn’t “impossible” to create a lag free game with many avatars, assuming you mean perceived lag.

    Network lag is avoidable, as long as servers have enough CPU and network capacity. I dont think that’s the problem with Eve though.

    Client lag is a problem too, but some more intelligent LOD reducing algorithms could solve that.

    From what I understand, Eve’s problem is its design, simply too many messages being sent to clients. When the number of players in a system grows huge, the number of messages increase exponentially. A game designed to send as little data as possible to clients from the ground up should handle a lot more players simultaniusly than Eve, but because it is a design issue, Eve probably can’t be fixed.

  24. Gerrit says:

    The Lag in bigger Fleetfights is kinda disturbing. It makes POS/Allywarefare unplayable. But I don’t see a solution yet. Perhaps, when more ppl are drunken in the Quafe-Bars, the space will be more empty ;-)

  25. Vimes says:

    Don’t mean to sound like a MMORTS fanboy but..ah well – I am :)

    Eve is ground breaking in many community areas but any exploration into MMO Universe activity will lead to the need for large collections of units fighting it out – at least in this sort of game lol. Here Eve has a handicap though – it was built very much from a first person perspective and thus any need to increase capability for unit use within a game, such as faction wars etc, will see a need for a hardware solution that the client base just cant follow in significant numbers.

    This is where we need to learn Eve’s superb lessons and reactions to community and player created narrative – which are laudable MMO wise – and step it up to go MMORTS. This genre is coded to cope with increase server objects and lessons learnt create huge potential for truly massive play. So we have Eve with First person perspective, able to step up control to a RTS situation but capped possibly and MMORTS which has large scale unit control intrinsically and the possibility of instanced FPS or RTS moments within the game, as well as possibilities with political features such as Beyond Protocols proposed Senate – which could also end up being played like an avatar led MMORPG or Virtual World.

  26. Vimes says:

    Forgot to say – superb article and typical innovation from CCP – will be looking forward to seeing this implemented and folks reactions.

  27. Rhieghland says:

    wow.. I have heard how great eve was before, but I didn’t know much, But know you are making it like… in my own terms anyways, SIMS IN SPACE! Only more 1st person instead of 5th (In case some of you are wondering 5th person is real, it is you controlling what another is controlling)

  28. batolemaeus says:

    “Network lag is avoidable, as long as servers have enough CPU and network capacity. I dont think that’s the problem with Eve though.”

    Sadly, this is not true. One node (starsystem, although most nodes carry more than one starsystem) can only use ONE cpu. Just one.
    They are working on it, but it has something to do with python, which they are using. It can’t use more than one cpu..

  29. SmokeTheFly says:

    Great news about NPC staff and mission editing, the office is already coming alive in my mind here.

  30. Aravandor says:

    I agree with Rossignol on the lag issue. Any networked game will have an upper limit on how many players can interact with one another directly at the same time. In time this upper limit may exceed the player base with more powerful technologies, but it will always be there.

    I love the idea of adding depth to the game in a new direction. Ambulation may not be very appealing to hard core 0.0 alliance players, but the prospect of opening a business in station or simply sitting down for a game of poker with corp mates sounds perfect to me. I think that this addition will give role-playing in Eve a shot in the arm.

    And there is no question in my mind that Ambulation will bring more new players to Eve than the ability to cram 100 more ships into a fleet battle will.

  31. Tai Shea says:

    I understand your views about lag and fleet battles, but maybe its more of a financial thing. They mentioned upgrading to a super computer, which would, undeniably, help with the fleet battle lag issue. Maybe they are going to use the extra capital that Ambulations will provide to upgrade to that supercomputer.

    I think Ambulations will be great for the more casual player though. Call them carebears if you want, but the ability to hang about in a group in a station, sit, play poker, have a chat.. which a lot of empire corps are all about.. having freinds and having fun. I think Ambulations will open up a horde of possibilities to make those evenings possible, where you just wanna log on and have a yap about something, be it your lastest T2 toy or successfull invention, or you’re buying a new gaming rig.

    Some of you may dish CCP, but then no MMO is perfect. I personally think CCP are one of the best dev teams Ive had the pleasure of meeting. Theres a hell of a lot worse teams out there.

    I really cant wait for this.. I think its gonna be awesome.

  32. handheld says:

    not being a 0.0 fleet battle guy or being totally high sec guy either i think as nice as the more ships in a fleet battle would be it will only create the issue as someone said before in this people will only be bringing more ships along and the cycle continues i have not been disappointed with CCP yet when i filed a petition it was answered almost immediatley and my problem fixed ambulation will add new ways to make money in eve possibly maybe setting up like a casino or something lol but like tai shea said they could be using ambulations to bring in more revenue to upgrade and the whole thing about upgrading comps is just a must but ccp has made it a choice as well with the classic client and the premium which i have not seen yet in a mmo which by my standards is excellent.

    Also i dont think CCP had in mind 10 titans vs 10 titans when they made the game so they werent expecting it but you cant blame them for that as they are still number one in my book.

  33. handheld says:

    also to the heartless guy i have no idea what your talking about comparing spore to eve as they are nowhere near the same thing nore can they even be compared and 1st eve is an mmo second spore is not an mmo but its multiplayer options make it seem that way in a strange akward sense 3rd spore isnt even finished yet and as great as it looks it could also turn out to be a disaster but you never know

  34. BhaaL says:

    Walking in a station seems a bit opposite to the fact, that the actual pilot is a clone hardwired into the computing systems of a capsule, I can’t imagine the clone being unplugged, taken off the liquid and stood on his atrophied legs… The whole idea seems good, but will even more lag the cluster and more importantly – it’s completely against the backstory about capsuleers

  35. Durao says:

    BhaaL, if you’ve read a bit of the backstory and fiction, there are times when people actually get out of their pod and are completely covered in goo. I believe the Ruthless Novella has it.

    Also, if you’re that worried about atrophied legs, just pod yourself and get a fresh clone :D

  36. rawr says:

    hmm i wonder how my body will match with my face

    http://dl.eve-files.com/media/0804/sexeh.jpg

  37. Petrov Calider says:

    If CCP can provide half of what is said here, EVe will be the most addictive MMO of all times.

  38. SomeEVEPlayer says:

    I’m not sure the design of Eve allows for lag to ever be fixed. I’m not convinced that it’s physically possible for an online game to put 100+ avatars in the same location and not suffer lag consequences.

    That is where the supercomputing comes into play. It’s the current x86 hardware architecture that causes lag ( which is nothing else but working of a request queue ) on the same core.

    Supercomputing allows for splitting up the game related services ( there are 4 or 5 ) in one solar system onto different cores, making them more responsive … less lag.

    Naturally, once the lag for 100 ship fleetbattles is solved we gonna decide to have more and more ships involved before that design ( supercomputing ) will reach it’s limit.

  39. Danae says:

    I believe that at Fan Fest the devs said that the avatars will be entirely redone– the current versions are too cartoony, so when Ambulation hits we all get to redesign our avatars. You’ll be able to assemble avatars that might be close to what you have now, but photorealistic. They even hired fashion designers because of how male devs tend to take costuming toward pvc and latex and leather and not design actual wearable outfits.

    Why a pod pilot would get out of the pod for any length of time is beyond me, however. The backstory is rather firm that if you die outside of the pod, you’re dead. The pod (or similar environment) is required to initiate cloning.

    Add to that the problem of mental instability among capsuleers (which, unless I am misremembering, the technical articles never stated were resolved,) and I would really avoid hanging out with a bunch of my peers in a booze-and-booster filled station environment.

  40. Mithfindel says:

    They’re slowly preparing the backstory to incorporate the out of pod capsuleers. There’s been a story in EON (the Eve magazine) about a capsuleer with the mind transfer as an implant. Additionnally, it is quite firmly established that the cloning stations are not in a pod – just that using the pod on the transmitting end helps with the mind transfer to avoid things like which happened in the Godflesh chronicle. (Hushed black market mind transfer to save a son of some Amarr prince left the guy retarded.)

  41. Ephemeral says:

    This is one of those features that nobody I know in EVE wants or cares about. It’s just like EvE-Voice. Nobody uses it but CCP insists on developing it instead of putting assets towards fixing the bugs that they have introduced in each patch.

  42. Mike says:

    Maybe, you don’t leave your pod, but you get hooked up to the station and it createa a holographic image of you that you use to walk around and stuff

  43. Felipe says:

    Pretty neat. Can´t wait to see it.

  44. Tammarr says:

    I’am realy looking forward to ambulation, it will probably rock.
    Eve voice not being used? It is being used, it got kickass sound and is well integrated, the only problem is ofc that if you crash when you reconnect(Eve voice keeps working when eve crashes) to the game evevoice goes offline, need to fix that detail so if character loging in is same as evevoice got registered it synchs itself back.

    Cheers to the star in our minds, altough on closer inspection its a galaxy, eve. hat off. Keep developing.

  45. Mamolian says:

    God damn it I want my gheylente to do the nightelf dance !1oneone

  46. Istvaan Shogaatsu says:

    They better include the ability for our avatars to smoke cigars. Since, that’s all mine ever does when he’s not in his ship.

    Oh, also, drug abuse.

  47. Manti says:

    Imaging the lag in Jita with few hundred people walking on a station, lol. Or Rens :)

  48. Eve Veteran says:

    Retarded…

    This will ruin Eve.

    – co

  49. Korimh says:

    I think EVE is progressing to a world best MMO.

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