WarCry Interviews Nathan Richardsson


Today we feature our exclusive interview with Nathan Richardsson, the Executive Producer of EVE Online. Our own JR “razor” Sutich had a chance to sit down and quiz the CCP puppet master about the just launched Revelations II expansion pack.

WarCry Q&A: EVE Online – Revelations II
Answers by Nathan “Oveur” Richardsson, Executive Producer
Questions by JR Sutich

WarCry: The expansion has just launched. How did it go? Talk about some of the ups and downs of getting this expansion integrated.

Nathan Richardsson: It went quite well. We hit our target date and we had a longer testing process in this launch cycle. We spent much more time on improvements and fixes than we did on adding new features. We’re still in the mode of deploying fixes and increasing performance. We are planning to have a pure optimization release coming out in mid-July.

The problems we encountered were due more to the extent of improvements, optimizations and fixes. We’re touching a lot of legacy code and changes to it tend to blow up at the worst of times, like when launching the expansion … or two days later… at 5 in the morning… while you’re having sex. (Well, I was dreaming about it. Don’t ask.) Since then, we’ve been deploying server-side updates about two or three times a week and we’re still investigating performance issues related to bugs.

WarCry: The API Key Project is getting implemented with the Revelations II update. Is this part of measures being taken to make account information more secure?

Nathan Richardsson: It’s two different things molded into one. We have player data that we want you to have access to, but in many cases, this is being delivered to or processed by a third party. We simply don’t want customer credentials being out in the open like that. With this model, you have access to your data and can use it on third party websites or such tools as EVEMon without having to supply your game or account login credentials, instead you supply a API-only login. It’s like having your cake–or, in our case, your hákarl–and eating it, too.

WarCry: Does CCP have plans to make an “official” skill planner, like EVEMon, only using API Key information?

Nathan Richardsson: No, not at this moment. EVEMon serves its purpose quite well right now and we have more pressing things to attend to with EVE. We’re dedicating a lot of resources to fixes, stability and performance and want to keep our focus there for the time being. We also have reworked parts of our network layer as well as a new audio and graphics engine that we need to deploy so we have our hands full.

Even though the people that work on the API aren’t the same as our core technology group, there is a lot of work that needs to be done on the back-end to really enable our “out-of-game” strategy, where tools such as skill planning and EVE Mobile or Lite clients are involved. More access to game data is both a security issue and a performance issue and this needs to be done right so that it doesn’t impair EVE performance.

WarCry: Some players have described the Heat System that is part of Revelations II to be nothing more than a gimmick that won’t be useful in combat at all. What was the thinking behind the addition of Heat? Where do you see it being taken advantage of most?

Nathan Richardsson: Heat, which is essentially the ability to overload your modules for increased effectiveness, is a long-term project for us. It’s adding more tactical options to combat, less predictability. The cost of overloading is that you generate more heat which you have to disperse. If you are unable to disperse it, the modules get damaged up to the point of being disabled.

The first iteration is about squeezing out that little bit of extra love juice on certain modules. To give you that temporary edge in a fight. It’s not big, it’s not for long, but it can save you. The most common usage we’re seeing is getting out of the kitchen when it’s hot, escaping a gate camp or getting out of scrambling range – the flipside of that being that you can overload your scramblers for extra range as a counter.

For the next iteration we’re considering more modules that can be overloaded and, of course, more balancing of the modules you can currently overload. Over time, it’s about increasing tactical options. A few of the current tactical options are things like “the-final-thrust”, “getting-out-of-the-kitchen”, “does-my-ass-look-big-with-this-extra-shield-boost” and “say hello to my little friend”. After the summer, you will hopefully see “go-medieval” and perhaps “ice-ice-baby” as new tactical options.

WarCry: One of the most interesting changes that comes with this update is a complete re-working of the Tutorial that is the first impression that new players get of EVE. What are some of the differences between the improved version and what players used to go through in earlier versions of EVE?

Nathan Richardsson: We changed “schools”. We went from starting in the serene environment of a protected station that got you familiar with everything around you before letting you into space. Now we start you in space and some action, taking you through the basic ship commands first, then taking you into the station for more advanced tutorials, which are now optional. It’s also been shortened considerably, taking into account the feedback we’d received on the length of the previous tutorial.

The earliest version of the tutorial was actually in space also, so these recent changes are actually are our third major revision. In the beginning, we showed you how to shoot and mine and that was it. Now we have a team working on improving and extending the new player experience in every release. We also have more tools planned, like an official wiki that will be accessible in-game and out-of-game, matchmaking tools to get “wingmen” or mentors, and ways of putting new pilots in touch with player corporations that teach-like EVE University-since, after all, the best way to learn EVE is with fellow pilots who share the same goals as you.

WarCry: As part of the POS revisions, all station turrets are now being moved outside of the force fields. Currently, a station’s guns can be controlled by a player and then target and fire on their own control tower. Intended or bug?

Nathan Richardsson: Well, it’s not really intentional, but it’s not something we wanted to prevent either. If you are in the position of having your corporation member doing that, the least of your problems is a couple of your turrets shooting the tower.

WarCry: POS structures are getting increases to shield, armor and structure to compensate a bit for losing the protection of station shields. Do you think players will still use the 200+ ship fleets to overcome the hit point boost?

Nathan Richardsson: It depends on what your goal is. The changes to Starbase Warfare were about creating more goals, especially for smaller groups. If your intent is to destroy the Starbase to capture Sovereignty, you still need the large fleets, but if you are out to disable defenses or other strategic structures, like jump bridges or cynosural field generators, you’ll do fine with a small fleet. The structures only require a small part of their structure damaged to get disabled, so attrition and smaller strategic goals are attainable with small fleets. There are more angles to it, though. The structures themselves get a lot of their hit points from the Control Tower, so when you destroy that, you can easily clean up the rest of the structures afterwards with a small fleet too.

Of course, if you have a a fleet of 200 ship lying around not being used, I don’t see why you shouldn’t use them, but the fact is that it’s no small feat to gather 200 ships and requires planning. What we wanted to do was to provide goals for the times when you don’t have that fleet, goals when you simply want to skirmish your enemy. You shouldn’t log on and the first thing you do is wait for the fleet to get big enough. Time will tell if we achieved that. We don’t expect seeing it right away and we expect we need to tweak it in the coming months, but this is what we want to achieve and we will strive to attain that.

WarCry: I heard a rumor that the Snake Implant sets were being removed from the game with this update. Is this true and if so, is it being done since the Loyalty Point System has been modified to allow for greater player choice in rewards through a Store?

Nathan Richardsson: This isn’t true, the Snake sets are still in there. The change is in the ways they are gathered. It’s more difficult to farm them now with our new exploration system, so you’ll see a lot of rare item supply change. The store itself, as you point out, is to allow for a greater choice by giving you better access to your agent’s cache of items and we also felt it better reflected your relationship with your agent and corporation. Today it’s “Iwanthatone” while previously it was more “Hey, howyoudoin’?” and then you wait a week to get offered a toothpick.

Also note that there is a subtle change in how you gain loyalty. It was on the agent level, which was more personal since you got to know him, saving his damsels and going to lunch together and you were pretty much stuck with him, you couldn’t easily move on. You know, closure and stuff. Now, you gain loyalty on the corporation level, all their agents love you and you can move between agents more easily. There is a lot of love in the air now. I suddenly realize the connotations in this paragraph.

WarCry: The Agent Mission is getting some love with Level 5 missions being added. I’ve been told that these are not going to be soloable. As part of the new gang support for missions, when doing missions from Levels 1 to 4, will a player get less LP, ISK and Standing rewards from being in a gang vice running them alone, or is there some incentive to be more social?

Nathan Richardsson: The system facilitates the split of the rewards equally between gang members; it doesn’t give you more than usual. As such, you get less for each time you do a mission for an agent; however, as a gang, you should both be able to take on better missions on higher levels or finish more missions in the same timeframe – creating the incentive to group. We also saw that friends simply wanted to do missions together and not being able to split the reward was discouraging that.

WarCry: When you set out to do Revelations, it was one expansion, now it is three. Are you satisfied with how far you’ve come in Revelations I and II and do you think you can finish everything you promised in III?

Nathan Richardsson: The issue we’ve often struggled with is that we still have so much we want to accomplish. We would get so excited about bringing in those changes and improvements that we would tend to set lofty goals for ourselves. We’ve learned over time that to do it right, we need to pace ourselves and that’s what we’re working on, taking it in stages rather than trying to fit it all into one large update. It’s working well and the split of Revelations into three expansions is showing us that we have more time to test, fix and improve the game while still having a feature in there.

We want to keep EVE fresh and, with a growing team, we had to change how we did things. We now have smaller teams working on long term projects, like the core technology group focusing on a new graphics engine, network layer and our upgrade to Python 2.5 and so forth. These groups are working on something closer to 12-18 month development cycles while our expansions are on a six-month release cycle. This new strategy allows us more flexibility while keeping a steady deployment of releases and we’re quite happy with that.

What really matters is the opinion of the community on this strategy and if they accept it. We’re here because of them. It’s only the second expansion since we’ve shifted the way the teams are structured into smaller teams. Our next expansion should be closer, but we can always improve. That’s what we see, the room for improvement, and that’s why we have continually developed EVE now for 7 years — and will continue to do so. We can always do better.

Comments? Let’s hear them.

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