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Giant Eve Expansion For Summer '09

Eurogamer were at the fanfest in Iceland (I couldn't make it due to Left 4 Dead), and they have the lowdown:

Senior producer Torfi Frans Olafsson said the update would be "the biggest expansion in EVE as of today", with a larger team working on it than the game has seen in its lifespan.

The focus of the expansion will be "true exploration", with players using new skills and modules to travel through wormholes into all-new, unconnected space. There they will find unique stellar phenomena and the resources and artefacts that will lead to the third level of technology in the game universe, Tech 3 - the first such update since Tech 2 was introduced back in 2004.

Tech 3 will apparently usher in a new age of new "modular" ships, allowing players greater freedom in how they fit out their craft. "Build your own ships like Lego", seems to be the promise. There's also rumour of a second graphics overhaul around the same time. And next week's expansion includes a far-reaching speed nerf. All change for the space war.

There's bunch more stuff coming out of the Fanfest too, like the Walking In Stations project, which is set to introduce human avatars and player-owned businesses. TenTonHammer has the video. It's an interest angle (and still undated) but one that seems like a sideshow to me. The real business will remain in space.

The news of the wormhole exploration stuff strikes me as another major step in the direction of solo or co-op play within the Eve universe, which I suspect is commercially driven. All those people who want to get involved in the PvP side of the game are already involved, and this seems to appeal to people who just want some private space adventure. That's a shame in some ways, because I'd like for Eve to keep its "single universe" ethos. The deadspace mission sites we have at the moment seem like instances enough for Eve's way of playing - something beyond even that does seem to break down the original philosophy of the game. Or perhaps I am simply showing my bias as someone who plays the game as if it were a shoot 'em up these days.

Anyway, the Tech 3 concepts sounds like a balancing nightmare. I'm sceptical of it, not least because Eve always finds a way to be rather broken. The more options players have, the more exploitative they tend to be. That speed nerf we're expecting has come about after nearly two years of a game in which inertia and velocity have been the most important factor in most engagements, and I find somewhat surprising that the fix has taken so long, and that it has been so harsh. A few lower-level tweaks might have reined in the worst of the excesses, rather than pushing us into another manner of playing entirely. The critics are right in arguing that CCP need to pay close attention to how their game is played: having left the speed systems unchecked for so long, they have allowed players to refine their methods to an astonishing degree. The nerf seems like too much, too late, especially when the PvP hordes have adapted to that particular way of playing, and got good at it. We developed our own counters for speeding enemies, and now that will all have to change.

In fact I'd rather the expansion for Eve were burning more detail into the universe (stuff on the surface of planets, more things we can do with player-made structures), rather than giving us even more options for spacecraft fiddling. It sounds like this new expansion will do some of that, but I wonder whether it'll prove to be the right approach. This is a game that I love for its complexity, but I feel like it has proven to us that more options does not necessarily mean more depth - especially when a single factor, or a couple of techniques, always come to dominate the way we fly.

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