EVE Vegas 2018: Paul Wright Discusses Project Nova’s Approach to Payloads, Death Matches

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 Paul Wright, lead designer for Project Nova.

[Hardcore Gamer] Project Nova was not something any of us were expecting to find at EVE Vegas, but as you saw yesterday we’ve been playing it and having quite the time with it. What prompted the decision to bring EVE back to a first-person shooter format?

[Paul Wright] From CCP’s point of view, they created a game called Dust 514 for the PlayStation 3 a few years ago and it had quite a good EVE following to it and the idea was it was meant to be a long term game that was to grow and evolve over time but because it was on the PlayStation 3 the game ended once the new consoles appeared. We are trying to recapture what made Dust interesting and are trying to evolve it and so a couple years ago Snorri Arnason, the creative director went to China to oversee the first development of Project Nova but that wasn’t working out for whatever reason and so they went back to Iceland and started the process again, looking for a development team that could handle the first person aspect and eventually Snorri and CCP got together and started working on it. I think the motivation was because of the success of Dust 514 and he wants to recreate that for PC where it can continue to grow and evolve.

It seemed kind of odd to have Dust being a PlayStation 3 exclusive. I know EVE has branched out before to mobile and VR for gaming experiences unique to those platforms, but it’s otherwise been a PC-based world, which would have been a viable option for Dust.

That is exactly why Snorri wants to bring Project Nova PC since it can continue to expand and not have the constraints of a console lifespan. We don’t have any plans to release Project Nova on any other platform. It works fine on our low spec machine, the graphic fidelity was solid, so it’s not incredibly demanding of resources.

We only got to play the PvE mode on the easy difficulty setting, and once we figured out that we needed to work as a team and make it to the exfiltration point, we started plowing through the levels rather quickly. How many difficulty settings will there be for PvE and how will they specifically differ from each other?

We currently are working on the basis that there will be five, maybe six difficulty levels from easy all the way up to what we are calling Nightmare internally, though that name may be different in the final version. In terms of what makes it challenging and difficult really centers around the AI. The way the AI enters the game, the way they move, the objectives they have in the game, all of these little knobs can be scaled and tweaked to get different gradients of levels of difficulty so the game that you played downstairs which I think is a bit harder than easy, a very easy to make that more difficult is just to add numbers but we have systems in place where even with the same numbers, where they go to, who they target, their objectives, both primary and secondary, we can adjust these for different difficulty types. We have a system that can make it easy even with 200 enemies running around. It’s like a mixing desk in an audio studio, there’s so many things that we can adjust to influence the difficulty. We created a hard difficulty that we’re happy with and that was kind of our baseline and we just modified things from the mixing board as it were.

As much fun as we were having on PvE we wanted to start shooting each other after a few games. The presentation mentioned PvP will be in Project Nova, what will that be like?

PvP is sixteen players versus sixteen players. The team death match is one element of that but instead of a single payload, each team has their own payload to escort which when we came up with that idea we felt that it was a a fresh take on the whole payload concept. What you have is two mindsets, one push your payload along and two stop your opponent’s payload, so a team of sixteen players has to start tactically thinking about who is going to do what. Like I’m a sniper, maybe I should sit back and cover my teammates as they’re moving it forward or what if that other team start advances, so I move forward and start picking them off to stop them or should just camp out on the payload or do I just try to create some sort of surface damage with a grenade to suppress them pushing it forward? What we felt in single player escort is there are some people that didn’t like the escort role so all they have to do is turn around and start killing people on the opposing team. Another tactical role is stopping the progress of the other team, you could station yourself in choke points and pick away at opponents when they come through. Because of the dual objectives with this little metagame we’re finding that people are enjoying it more than just a simple death match. The control points that you see in PvE stops people from just running everywhere. You could be transporting the payload but suddenly have to stop because this enemy turret appeared. The presence of player built gun turrets force players to be aware of their surroundings and environment and also gives a strategic element to players who don’t want to directly engage their opponents so they can build these installations and get these rewards from sentry kills. It all adds up to a pretty fun experience and we feel that it’s a good take on traditional team death match. You can set up the installations in places where the other team has to travel by for easy kills or set them up to defend your spawn area.

With the dual payload design it sounds like you have to develop a strategy to advance and defend your map, you can’t just hide in the background and run out the clock.

Exactly, this is a tactical shooter so players are encouraged to work as a team and figure out ways to reach their objectives. If you don’t start thinking about what you’re doing you’re going to end up getting killed pretty quickly.

That’s actually part of what we liked about it. If you just run around randomly shooting you won’t really accomplish anything and get stomped pretty quickly.

I remember that happening when your group was playing, the first game you were all kind of running around on your own and didn’t do too well but after that you started communicating and did much better.

It took us three games. The first game we were all just kinda running around and doing our thing, the red and blue bars were pretty even at the top of the screen but ultimately all four of us died. The second game we worked as a team and dominated the arena, they barely earned any points and we always had control of at least two of the three bases but didn’t really know to do when you won the match and didn’t make it to the exfiltration point, so technically we were successful, but we all got blown up so we didn’t get any bonuses since we were all in a state of panic. A few teammates were dead and I was the last man standing which is never a good sign since I suck at first-person shooters. I revived a couple teammates but that didn’t last long and I got killed as well. Third game there weren’t any surprises so we made it to the exfiltration point and got all of the bonuses.

It’s no coincidence that the exfiltration point has four point around the center, it’s designed where each person takes over one and defends it. People can take turns throwing down the health and ammo packs as the last few seconds count down since there is no automatic health regeneration. I think it takes a few people off guard the first time they play it since they’re used to having that and they have to actively recover their health. The shield regenerates and you can actually see the shield break on a character when it gets completely depleted.

I actually like the shield/health system, it gives it a little more realism. Your shield gets disabled and you’re vulnerable until it powers up again but when the shield is back to full strength your physical damage doesn’t actually heal. It makes health management another tactical element where you have to balance what will heal and what doesn’t.

That’s right. And as time goes on there will be different drop suits that offer more shields and armor.

What can you tell us about the playable character classes? Will players be able to customize their appearance?

We have the sentinel, big guy with a lot of health, a lot of armor. Uses a grenade launcher, stoic and powerful but not ever fast at all. Then we have the assault class which is your basic medium level character with assault rifles. We have the infiltrator, this is the sniper class, least amount of health and armor but lightning fast, can fly around and hover and can move quicker than anyone else. I have no idea how many classes there will be when it launches, there may not be any more than the three during next month’s alpha. I’ve seen a roadmap but I can’t talk about it. I’m not sure what the long term plan is for customization for skins. The system is set up for that but I don’t know what the plans are. I’m only the designer of the game, a lot goes on above my pay grade (laughs). There are plans to use Firmware upgrades in the character’s suits but it seems those modifications will be permanent, as you remember Snorri mentioning that the attachments will be destroyed if the players want to remove or change them. But nothing with that will be rolled out until after the alpha is done.

It seems like it would be a cool feature to allow customization of the drop suits so players could deck out their Project Nova characters to represent their corp and alliances in EVE Online.

I think that would appeal to a lot of players as well. I’m sure after launching CCP will make adjustments based on feedback since that is how they tend to make games. They evolve based on what kind of feedback they get from players and they just make their games by getting the players involved and try to make the best games they can for them. I don’t think CCP knows another way to make games and I don’t think they care to find a different way. I think it works very well for them. A lot of companies say they listen to their players but sometimes it’s just lip service. I don’t think CCP wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t take fan input into consideration. Listening to feedback from the community has allowed EVE to evolve in a way that makes it the best game for the community but also that involvement contributes to why the EVE community is as strong and involved as they are.

Agreed. I’ve been to a few EVE events now and this community is completely different than any other fan community I’ve come across. What can you tell us about the story of Project Nova and how it relates to the greater EVE universe?

That’s not something I have a great deal of information on. We get told the basic information, like where it is set and what ships to use. Maybe we’ll have some suggestions and if they fit within the lore CCP has been accommodating with that but those have been very few, I’d say about 95 percent of the story is controlled by CCP. These guys have all the EVE knowledge so why question them, it is their universe. Here’s a schematic, here’s a picture of the ship, you can build but why that ship in particular and all that reasoning comes from CCP.

So the name Project Nova… that’s just the working title if I understand correctly. Any chance we’re going to find out the top secret real title?

I don’t think they’ve actually decided on the official title yet. I’ve heard what it could be, but until it’s hundred percent we’re going to leave it as Project Nova. I don’t know if they’re going to change it for roll out next month when the invite alpha rolls out next month. I don’t know exactly what date it will roll out but I can’t wait to get the data back from that just to see how people are playing and if the things we’ve done are working. It will be exciting for us to see how nondevelopers play this game, when you’ve been working on it for so long you develop some myopic vision and start doing the same tactics over and over and you know there are some better ones out there but you haven’t experimented with them yet.

The clock is running short so what’s some stuff that you want to share about Project Nova that none of my questions have allowed you to address?

You asked some good questions but the one thing I’d like to make people aware of is the AI. Every game you play will be different based on this AI battle director. It gathers data constantly on how everyone is playing, where are they running around shooting and these AI systems will decide what this AI will do, what they will target, where they will spawn. We don’t script things, everything will be handled in a very procedural manner, it just does it themselves. One of the things we greatly valued with this is the replayability, and this will contribute to that by making every game different. You can play the same level over and over again and each time it will be slightly different depending on what players do. I’m looking forward to see what players feel about that because it’s very rare to see a game work like that. These AI guys have several objectives, they have to get things, some want to attack the player, they want to guard things or they want to achieve their offensive objective. Attacking, tracking down, and other behaviors will be decided on the fly. We know what these entities can do but we don’t know what or when they will do them. Structured unpredictability is the term we’ve been using so we know what the AI can do but it’s unpredictable when or what, it’s a big thing for me. Well, it’s a big developer thing I don’t know if it’s a big publisher thing.

Even though that sounds more developer oriented it is cool information and putting that out there will give the players something to look for when they get to play Project Nova and watching it unfold in action.

It’s also designed where it can’t be gamed either, you can’t make the AI do something by having the player do something specific because it constantly observes and analyzes player data to change its own behavior, but we know players will try to make the AI do something specific. The AI is always adapting but keeping that in mind the players will have to take their tactics further instead of planning on the same wave after waver after wave. Most of them are cannon fodder anyway, you can kill them in a couple shots. The tactics come into play in surviving large groups coming out from all directions.