EVE Vegas 2018: Steven Clark on What Happens in Abyssal Dead Space

EVE Online is an ever-changing online game where the history and lore is written by the players. EVE Online is known for having one of the most hardcore fan communities in all of gaming which can be seen at any of the many events they have every year throughout the world. Hardcore Gamer was in attendance at this year’s EVE Vegas, and in between playing Project Nova and taking part in the after hours events, we talked to a few developers about what we can expect from EVE in the coming months. One of the people we spoke to was Steven Clark, game designer of EVE Online.

[Hardcore Gamer] What are some of the upcoming changes coming to EVE Online?

[Steven Clark] There are a lot of them, my team has been mainly working on Abyssal Dead Space, we did a lot of the work on the initial release of Abyssal Dead Space which was about four months ago now and then we’ve been studying that a lot and doing follow up development so we’ve been expanding feature sets for it and putting in new content and stuff like that so that’s been the primary focus. Also, I’ve been doing a lot of ship module balance and we just did a major change to our EVE war mechanics, we’re announcing more changes tomorrow in the Ship and Module presentation so we’re doing a lot of that stuff as well. EVE generally has a lot of stuff going on, we have a team working on new player experience. We have a lot of work going on with structures and getting closer to Star Bases and the travel structures but our team has been mostly focused on Abyssal Dead Space.

I remember that being one of the major things to come out of Fanfest. How has the reception for Abyssal Dead Space been?

It was really well in a lot of ways. It was almost a, well experiment seems a bit heavy of a word but we’ve never tried to make dynamic solo PVE content like that where it’s more procedural where it is very unpredictable and highly replayable. We didn’t really have anything like that, most of our PVE is very scripted and old, a lot of it is over ten years old but it worked out really well, a lot of people were able play a ton of it. It’s really challenging so we succeeded on that front, we actually accidentally made it a little too challenging though and it’s killed trillions of ISK worth of ships and for the most part most of the people playing it are older, more veteran players because of the challenge. It’s great for them and they can overcome it but for newer players and not rich players who can’t afford nice ships it’s too difficult so going forward we’re looking for ways to make it easier to get into since it’s pretty tough. We tend to make things tough I guess. We were really focused on accessibility but we were really focused on accessibility when it comes to how much time commitment you need to make and how far you have to go to get it. A lot of EVE content you have to fit a ship and then travel quite a ways to get to it and that might take 45 minutes to do so for a normal PvE session you’re talking two hours. We wanted something that was way more accessible for people like I’m a dad, and I only have fifteen minutes to play and I want something cool to do. But we didn’t look too much at accessibility in terms of I’m a new player and I don’t own a ship that costs ten million ISK, is there room for me? So now we’re looking at accessibility where everyone can do it.

I can imagine that after launch this has been something you’ve been constantly retweaking and updating. What are some of the specific changes you’re bringing to Abyssal Dead Space?

There’s a few different things, the challenge has a lot of different forms. We have this system in place that builds NPC fleets and its most basic one builds fleets based on points. Doing the first level of Abyssal Dead Space it might do 200 points for an NPC fleet and each time it changes how that is picked. We can do simple stuff like lower the number of points in an encounter which lowers the difficulty in a broad, flat way. We also individually designed and balanced NPC ships in the fleet and some of those ships were just brutal, there is this one NPC drifter battleship that is just killing people so we can take that battleship out of the pool of ships that can be chosen at early difficulties but there are other things like we made it so there is a suspect flag you can where if you enter Abyssal Dead Space in high sec in certain types of pockets when you come out Concorde is sitting there saying you went into too difficult of space so we’re putting a suspect flag on you so other players can shoot you and we wanted to do that because we wanted no particular area to have an advantage, we didn’t want high sec to have an advantage over null sec but that turned out to be more of a barrier than was actually necessary. We tried removing it for a bit and it didn’t change so we left it off since then. There’s a bunch of different avenues to keep the challenge off the NPCs and to allow access to everyone.

Adding the PVP element with the suspect flag sounds like you’re really going for brutal.

Yeah if you’re out in dangerous space and want to go into Abyssal Dead Space, you have to find a safe pocket to do it. We wanted that to be true in high sec as well and if we didn’t do that then everyone would come out of high sec into dangerous space as well. If you can run it anywhere but in zero zero someone will kill you and in high sec someone won’t and we didn’t want that. We wanted people to be able to run it wherever they live so it has the same danger across all space. What makes it interesting is the danger didn’t matter, the people in zero zero will still run it out there even though they could go to high sec and be safer so that’s cool so we don’t need the extra penalty in high sec.

Sounds like things are coming along well. What are some plans for the continued evolution?

We’ve kinda announced this quietly, but originally it was solo PvE but this winter we are doing a cooperative three ship fleet and also adding PvP encounters. It’s optional, but if you want you can find yourself on a run ending up in another player’s pocket and you two can agree to have a 1v1 over everything you’ve found and only one of you can escape so that’s kind of a big expansion for it as well as just adding new content and new loot.

Given that this is EVE I’m sure you have no doubts that the co-op PvE will inevitably turn into PvP.

Oh yeah. The way it works is the loot is all in these caches you find along the way and anyone can loot from them if they want. If you want to just attack your friends that’s fine so you better trust the people you’re flying with since they can just gank you at any point if they want, pretty standard EVE stuff.

I can imagine, you complete the mission with the extra security from your friend and then when it’s time to get the loot, you betray them.

I can see it happening sometimes. You might find something worth 150 million ISK and you decide it might be worth more than your friendship with your fleetmate and you can just run off with it. We’ll see. I don’t know how often that will happen. Most people could end up being good friends and not backstab each other but here and there who knows. What we don’t have right now but we will is a public fleet finder. Well, we have that now but not for this specific feature. Once we add that in at some point at the agency and the fleets before, more like pick up fleets I see the increase in backstabbing and we need to implement something to protect people but for now it’s your courtmates and friends so it should be pretty rare. We’ll see.

Abyssal Dead Space is the primary thing you’re doing but you mentioned you were involved with some other stuff as well.

Most of my other projects are about ship balance and issues in the community and a lot of looking internal at capital balance. We changed jump fatigue a lot. A little more back we ended up updating materials so people are building a lot more capitals. Capitals are just a bigger part of the meta than they were a while so we’ve been addressing a lot of capital balancing and looking more into how those are balancing out. Right now caps, especially Titans, are pretty oppressive, especially toward smaller ships. If you’re a small group and want to fight big groups with big ships it can be difficult because Titans are so good at everything. They just do so much damage across all ship sizes and ranges they are just pretty oppressive feeling. We have big remote healer ships that are very powerful so we’re looking for ways to make it easier to kill capital ships. It’s really balanced into paper rock scissors, it’s more who has the most titans. It’s not dynamic enough so we’re trying to make it so there are roles for all types of ships. We actually made a lot of progress in recent years on our subcapital ships so if you look at everything from battleships on down the variation and strategy and viability for different classes has improved and its healthier than its been for a long time but once you get to that capital size it starts to break down so that’s where it starts to break.

Another big topic we haven’t made any announcements about it yet, but you’ll hear about it later tonight in the keynote and that is what we’re doing with the war declaration system. Corporations will be able to declare war against other corporations and they can fight wherever they are in game, even in high security space but it’s an old system and one of the biggest sources of griefing and harassment, especially for new players and new corps coming into the game so we’re trying to fix it. We want people to have more space to join social groups without having to worry about ending up in a war they can’t win and I’m really excited about that, it’s been a long time we’ve hadf this has been sitting there and having a negative effect on these early corporations and addressing that is going to be really positive for the game, it’s going to be a lot more exciting and a lot more interesting.

We’re really focused on trying to make EVE Online more accessible. We aren’t doing anything to reduce the complexity or dumb it down but the game has been around for a while now and many of our long time players don’t have the time to invest several hours a day. They have jobs or families but they still want to play EVE Online so we’re tying to adjust so those players are able to find worthwhile things to do in smaller blocks of time but also maintain everything that got them hooked on EVE.