The premise of the movie is that a cast of a very early Star Trek-like sci-fi television show is actually taken into space and are expected to play out the roles their characters play on TV. If you haven't seen the movie, go see it. It's hysterical. In the particular moment I'm thinking of, the main group of actors have shuttled down to an alien planet, along with another actor (Guy) who once played a "red shirt" guest star on one episode of the show. They're "ooohing" and "aaahing" over being on an alien planet, and over a distant group of aliens that live there. "They are so cute!" Sigourney Weaver's character (Gwen) says. "Sure, they're cute now," Guy says, "But in a second, they're gonna to get mean. They're gonna get ugly somehow, and there's gonna be a million more of them." Guy is sure that the aliens are eventually going to turn hostile -- after all, every alien race on the TV show eventually does! And when that happens, they inevitably kill a red shirt.
Gwen wants to go down and say hello, particularly when she notices one of the aliens is injured. In exasperation tinged with just a little bit of fondness over her naivete, Guy pulls her back into cover. "Do you guys ever watch the show?" he asks. Sure enough, the aliens turn mean. "Let's get out of here before one of those things kills Guy!" Gwen says when the truth is revealed.
This is kind of a metaphor. Guy here represents hard-core EVE players. Gwen represents EVE developers.
Guy's question naturally becomes "Do you guys ever play this game?" The exasperation tinged with fondness with which the question is asked certainly also applies. ;-)
That brings me to the "ship balancing" dev-blog released a couple of weeks ago. I've been asked at least a dozen times if I was going to write about this and I wanted to, but I wanted some time to really focus my thoughts, because this dev-blog is just... strange. In terms of text, it's quite a wordy dev-blog and in terms of details shared, it's also quite detailed, particularly for a dev-blog about something so long before implementation. It describes massive changes to one of EVE's bedrock principles, the skill tree system, and promises that the skill trees for getting into spaceships will be nearly completely altered from start to finish.
Right off the bat, let's be clear about something: in terms of where most of our skill points are? Yeah, Spaceship Command. In QEN after QEN, it's been made clear over years that most of us have more skill points in Spaceship Command than in any other category. What do they have to say about this?
That is why we want to remove ship tiers altogether, then refocus our balancing philosophy to be based on role. That means finding common themes, or lines that fit ships with the same purpose, then adjusting slot layout, HP and fittings within each class to support this goal.That means the devs not only want to tinker with the place where most of us have more SP than anywhere else, they also apparently want to mess with the basic principles upon which many of our ships operate. In other words, EVE's devs are quite literally putting their hands on the main electrical line powering the game.
On top of that, let's connect this to something seemingly unrelated. A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the heavy use of Nighthawks for botting. Based on what's in the dev-blog, getting into a Nighthawk will be much easier, with lower skill requirements. And CCP Ytterbium, who wrote the ship balancing dev-blog, realizes it. To get into a Nighthawk will no longer require Assault Ships or Heavy Assault Ships. As a result, CCP was looking at a situation where "tech 2 ships like Interdictors and Command Ships would require 14-20 less days to train for," because of this but "reducing training requirements for various ship classes is not a side-effect we are necessarily happy with." Interesting, right? "That is why we want to introduce new skills, tied with the new concept of ship lines."
Suddenly, these two dev-blogs don't seem so disconnected, do they? ;-)
Right now, it takes a minimum of 118 days to get into a Nighthawk hull, and CCP pretty clearly wants to keep it that way. That means that we're going to be seeing new Spaceship Command skills focused on these ship "roles". The dev-blog is pretty coy about that part, but it seems inevitable. Otherwise, if you stick with the stated facts in this dev-blog, you will be able to begin training to sit in a Nighthawk quite literally with a 9-day-old character.
The face-palming starts when you start looking at the proposed roles. As an example, seeing my beloved Armageddon referred to as a "hit and run" flanker comparable to 18th century cavalry literally made me laugh out loud. There are very few less mobile ships in EVE than a properly-fit Geddon. Hell, Abaddons are very nearly more agile! Drakes are comparable to artillery and have average defense? Mallers and Feroxes have great damage and average defense? EWAR ships have average damage?
"Do you guys ever play this game?" If anything, the Armageddon is a fire ship. ;-)
Yes, I get that these are the roles that the devs want to guide these ships into, not necessarily what they can do today. Get that. Still, it highlights how poorly the devs understand how these ships are actually used in the field.
There was an interesting unrelated quote posted on FHC today by Kleus, who writes:
Lots of people hurf blurf about keeping the complexity in eve cause it weeds out the weak, but there's a serious difference between complex and fucking retarded. I know many people that love the idea of what eve-o is. Actually playing it? Fuck that shit.And that is really rather striking. Without realizing it, I think Kleus has hit an important point about EVE specifically and how CCP developers approach their projects in general.
Even if you have no interest whatsoever in DUST 514, take a look at this DUST 514 dev-blog, about a very similar topic: DUST vehicle roles and how they will interact. Viewed in this light, this dev-blog is really rather revealing. It's clear that DUST is going to be every bit as complex in terms of vehicle "fleet" roles, doctrines, and fittings as EVE, something that today's DUST 514 Keynote at Fanfest confirmed visually. One of the first comments on this devblog says:
Possibly one of the most confusing and complex games ever created? going to be a total headache learning how to play, if it wasn’t free i probably wouldn't of bothered.Aheh. That guy should learn to play EVE. Will FPSers embrace this level of complexity? Or will they shun it? We'll know in due course. But the similarity of the comment to Kleus's comment was also striking.
EVE is defined by its complexity as it is. "EVE is hard to explain," we've heard CCP employees say again and again. By proxy, we also understand that EVE is hard to learn and it is hard to teach. And that's where we're starting from today.
But the dev-blog also points to the conclusion that EVE devs have been inspired by the DUST devs. DUST vehicles will have specific battlefield roles that they are expected to play within their own vehicle classes. It seems clear enough that the EVE ship balancing will probably be tilted the same way. What we don't know yet is how extensive the skill changes will have to be. We've only been promised that "what you can fly today, you'll be able to fly tomorrow."
Today, the skills needed to get into a given ship are actually pretty clear and straight-forward. The secondary skills usually get muddled, but the primary skills aren't a problem. If you want to fly an Amarrian battle cruiser, you need to work up from Amarrian frigates and cruisers, then get the battle cruiser skill. Easy. If tomorrow you need those skills, and you also have to train "Attack Ships", "Bombardment Ships", and "Combat Ships" to unlock the three types of BCs? Not so easy. CCP will have to be careful not to travel down that path.
At one point during the Fanfest DUST Keynote today, the demonstrators scrolled through the list of DUST skills. I saw an awful lot of individual skills for individual types of weapons and vehicles...
This kind of game invariably looks really fun on paper: realism FTW! But then you go to actually play it and you realize that you pretty much have to have a big skill tree poster nearby to keep track of how every skill inter-relates with every other skill. Unless you're a dev, which means you just give yourself Level V skill in everything... which I noted with interest was exactly what the people demonstrating DUST 514 did. But in the process, they miss how complex the skills system is and have a hard time understanding why people think it's so complex.
I don't have any answers to these questions, but they highlight how interesting 2012 is going to be, and how important it's going to be for CSM7 to keep a very close eye on what's going on with this.
EDIT (22/Mar/2012): There's going to be a dedicated ship balancing session at Fanfest. After I see the video for that, I'll almost certainly have a follow-up post for this one.