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Single Player EVE-Lite on Smartphone/Browser (and full EVE Client Alternative F2P Gameplay)

Seismic Stan
Freebooted Junkworks
#1 - 2012-09-07 22:28:53 UTC  |  Edited by: Seismic Stan
[What follows are two separate but related articles describing the titular concepts, originally published on Freebooted - which has got relevant pictures/tables]

New Eden Explorer: Single Player Smartphone/Browser EVE (Freebooted: September 2012)

Gaming has evolved from simple three-button shooters, through early home computer games that asked the player to imagine more than the platform was capable of, to today's multi-million dollar simulations of heightened realities. Yet the gamer's hunger for those simpler times remains strong. The wealth of gaming options available on smartphones and social media sites is testament to this.

Personally, I find it ironic that when I was 10-years-old and playing the space “simulation” Elite on my BBC Micro, as much as I was captivated by the universe the game suggested, I wished those wire-frame spaceships that I encountered were controlled by other players. Yet now I play Elite's 21st Century equivalent EVE Online alongside thousands of other players, I yearn for those simpler times when I could imagine what might be.

EVE Online continues to challenge gaming boundaries, pushing forward with its peerless emergent social gameplay and potentially revolutionising cross-platform intergration with its console shooter DUST514. Yet the developers CCP games stand aloof from a potentially lucrative market which could provide a perfect entry point to their New Eden IP.

Already on this platform are a host of third party applications which provide a wide range of tools for the EVE player. By accessing EVE's publicly available in-game API data, players are able to monitor market prices, browse item databases, view battle statistics and much more. Talented coders have devised ship-fitting tools, character development planners and email clients. These are fantastic tools, but they are only of use to existing EVE Online subscribers.

The smartphone and browser platforms are ripe for a stripped down version of EVE which would allow the casual gamer to enjoy the universe of New Eden without the need for the full EVE client. Last year I wrote about my concept for Free-to-Play EVE Online (reproduced in posts below) which could work alongside the existing subscription model. Around the same time, I was fighting an addiction to Tiny Tower on my iPhone. This was a simple game which allowed the user to manage a tower block, rent out apartments and employ the residents in the various businesses that could be built on each floor. It reminded me of old games like Little Computer People and SimCity. But like most video games, I'm sure the concept would work better on a spaceship.

  • Clear Skies: The Game
  • Imagine, if you will, that you've just downloaded CCP's new smartphone title New Eden Explorer. Rather than try to be a trimmed down version of EVE, it approaches gameplay from the opposite direction whilst providing many of the tools found in existing EVE apps. It's a single-player turn-based exploration, trading and combat game in which you aren't an immortal capsuleer with access to WMDs and the buying power of a nation. You are a normal, mortal denizen of New Eden. You are also the captain of an old, beaten-up frigate. Not a fancy capsuleer one, just a rusty old bucket that was built out of salvaged parts from some warzone. You are New Eden's answer to Han Solo, Mal Reynolds, John Rourke or Zaphod Beeblebrox.

    You need to make money, you need to fix up your ship (and maybe one day get a better one) and you want to explore the universe. But first you need a crew. Every station has a recruitment centre, but the pickings can often be slim – or expensive. Just to get your bucket of bolts out of the hangar you'll need to hire a skeleton command crew; maybe a navigator, and engineer and weapons officer and a few crewmen. After that, maybe you can make your fortune across the spacelanes and build a better life for yourself, either through trade, exploration or maybe piracy. Do well enough and maybe you can hire a navigator who can fly straight or an engineer who can squeeze a bit more performance out of your vessel.

    The concept of command crews is covered in more detail in the aforementioned Free-to-Play EVE Online article, but in essence they would work in lieu of skills, with each officer bringing certain static skills (unlike capsuleers, normal folk can't just learn new spaceships in a few minutes) to the team to enable particular functions. However, they also come with personality traits, which may make them work well together, improving ship performance or they might end up at each other's throats. As much of the gameplay would take place onboard the ship as off it. Without careful crew management, you might start a turn with “Your Engineering Officer has had enough of the Weapons Officer's smart mouth and has ejected him out of the airlock. Weapons will function at half efficiency until you dock and find a replacement.”

  • The NeX Recruitment Academy
  • Replacement officers and crew would be available at most stations, but more skilled individuals would be harder to come by. The best missile specialists might only be recruitable from dangerous Mordu's Legion systems and skilled navigation officers might be found deep within volatile factional Warfare territory.

    Crewmen would be necessary too, playing a role in the normal performance of the ship. They would be assigned to officers as a means of resource distribution. If the command crew don't look after them, they may die in combat (should've hired a medical officer) or leave due to low morale (your Captain character needs better leadership skills). Experienced crew would be valuable to retain, providing increased performance bonuses. They might demand more pay too though.
    Seismic Stan
    Freebooted Junkworks
    #2 - 2012-09-07 22:29:07 UTC  |  Edited by: Seismic Stan
  • Ship Systems
  • This game element could essentially work as a ship-fitting tool, adhering to the EVE ship-fitting principles. The initial rustbucket could well be a rookie ship or similar, but a successful captain might find himself upgrading to more prestigious hulls. Fitting would also have an impact on performance; poor defensive systems would have a negative impact on morale, using Amarr weapons systems might offend your Minmatar Weapons Officer. Additionally, modules would need to be maintained and fixed if damaged in combat. This would be the the remit of the Engineering Officer, who would be assigned crew to fulfil ship upkeep tasks.

  • Exploring the Universe
  • With the smartphone client designed to access the EVE Online database, it will be able to provide data for every station and system in New Eden, as well as market prices and availability. Essentially this would be a static data grab that could be performed at regular intervals, but would provide the content for the New Eden gameworld. Some data would clearly need to be generated explicitly for the smartphone client – available officers and crew at any given recruitment academy for example. But for the most part, all the world data is already out there.

    This provides a wealth of information that could be integrated into the game, allowing for missions, turn-based combat a storyline campaign and perhaps even a player-driven ship personnel market for that MMO-esque social contact element.

    New Eden Explorer would provide a window into the multiplayer world of EVE Online and could entice a whole new generation of players into the full game.

    N.B. I was inspired to dig out my F2P notes and write this post after reading tweets from @Rotosequence (Evelgrivion) and @PaulOosterman (CaldariPrimePonyClub). Paul has had similar thoughts which led him to make the fantastic concept art shown below. [on Freebooted]

  • Directors Cut Alternative Ending
  • If this is something CCP categorically will not touch, then the effort of building something based around their IP could lead to problems. Alternatively, the EVE-related elements could be removed and I still believe an engaging game could be produced with the crew management elements and trade/exploration/combat gameplay. Although perhaps a bigger task, this would certainly give more creative scope to imagine an alternative universe to explore. I'd code it myself if I knew how, but I'd certainly like to be on the project team to provide creative design and written content if this is a concept that has any legs.
    Seismic Stan
    Freebooted Junkworks
    #3 - 2012-09-07 22:29:18 UTC  |  Edited by: Seismic Stan
    Free-to-Play EVE Online (Freebooted: October 2011)

    Incarna and the NeX store have been sidelined and presumably with them CCP's plans to experiment with EVE Online's subscription model. The brave folly of Incarna development was an attempt to make EVE Online attractive to a new demographic whilst introducing a new revenue stream. Sadly, neither is looking likely to happen in the immediate future.

    But what if CCP could offer the EVE Online experience to players for free beyond the current 14- and 21-day trials. What if a free-to-play model (with microtransactions) could co-exist alongside the current subscription model in complete harmony? I think it's possible and here's how.

  • Non-Capsuleer Vessels
  • The lore of EVE often references ships commanded by non-capsuleers, however the only time they are encountered in-game is as hostile NPCs, the Law Enforcement presence seen at high-sec gates (and gank-sites) or the occasional trade caravan near stations. Why not let free-to-play customers add to this population of proletariat spacefarers.

    I give you the free-to-play 'Captain' account.

    Something similar to the existing trial account restrictions should remain in place (cruiser-sized vessels and smaller only, no Tech II ships) but perhaps with some tweaking, such as allowing Tech I industrials and Planetary Interaction.

    The significant distinction between Free-to-Play (Captain) and Subscription (Capsuleer) accounts would be the means of controlling the vessel. Without the hyper-augmented abilities of a capsuleer, operating anything but the smallest of craft is a much more challenging task requiring multiple conventionally-trained individuals. However, whilst total crew numbers vary from vessel to vessel, the Captain and his command crew would be a constant and ever-present team.

  • The Command Crew
  • Initially, the new player would start off with enough Aurum (1000?) to hire a skeleton Command Crew from the NeX Academy to suit his chosen style of play.

    A more talented Captain and/or additional officers would be recruited from the NeX Academy as funds allow. It is through the recruitment of command staff with the appropriate skill-sets that the player would tailor his Command Crew's ability and therefore ship performance. Whilst a player's officer roster can hold as many officers as the player is willing to purchase, only the selected 'active' officers will be counted toward the Command Crew skillset. The Command Crew must comprise one Captain and up to four other officers.

    In the event of ship destruction, the basic escape pod will only save one randomly determined officer. More advanced escape pods with additional capacity will be available in the NeX Store to allow players to protect their investment.

    Example NeX Academy Roster

    Rank ---- // -- Name ---- // -- Race/BL -- // -- Skills ------------- // -- Morale Bonus ------ // -- Traits --- // Hire Cost (AUR)
    Captain // M.Starter -- // - Min/Brutor -- // Spaceship Cmd. I // Evasive Maneuvering // -- Hero -----// ------ 0
    ---------------------------------------------------- Minmatar Frig. II

    [For full example table, check out the original article - formatting a table on a forum is a nightmare.]

    This is just an example table, the values are all approximate and haven't been properly balanced and calculated, but you get the idea. The system actively simplifies skill acquisition for the Captain account holder, very much in line with the existing Skill Certification system. For further simplification, purchasable starter crew bundles could be available in the NeX Academy.

    The distribution of recruits with particular skills could be an immersive way to reinforce racial diversification across New Eden. If a player is looking to recruit a Projectile Gunnery specialist, he would need to travel to Minmatar space. If a Drone specialist with Missile skills is required, the player might need to locate a Creodron station in Caldari space. If he wants a Captain that can fly a Succubus, he'll have to head out into hostile Sansha territory.
    Seismic Stan
    Freebooted Junkworks
    #4 - 2012-09-07 22:29:27 UTC  |  Edited by: Seismic Stan
    The Traits system is designed to add a little personality to the characters, affecting how the crew interacts with one another and the world around them. It is also one part of the Command Crew system that could also benefit Capsuleer account holders. Well you didn't think I was going to let the freeloaders have all the crew management fun did you?

  • Example Traits

  • Trait // Description
    Addict - There is a chance that this officer will smuggle possibly illegal goods into the cargohold.
    Coward - This officer has a heightened sense of self-preservation and will always be first in line for the escape pod.
    Focused - Cannot be demoralised by other officer traits.
    Hero - Will never enter the escape pod if another officer is on board, choosing to go down with the ship.
    Judgemental - Will be demoralised in the presence of Racists, Cowards, Addicts or Weak officers.
    Miserable - This officer is always glum and will demoralise any Weak officers.
    Motivator - This officer's never-say-die attitude is an inspiration to all fellow officers, negating the negative effects of Miserable or Weak officers.
    Patriot - This officer will be positively motivated if the majority of the crew are of the same race.
    Racist (race) - This officer will be demoralising influence in the presence of fellow officers of the listed race(s). Acts as a Motivator in single own-race crews.
    Weak - This officer will be demoralised by the presence of Miserable or Racist officers and does not contribute to morale bonuses.

  • Crew Morale
  • The command crew, whether they constitute the entirety of a frigate crew compliment or are the senior officers aboard a cruiser with 500 hands, will be influential characters in dictating how the ship is run. Their ability to work as a team would reflect on the effectiveness of ship operation. The scuttlebutt in the engine rooms might be that the chief engineer is a miserable sod, whilst the gunnery teams idolise their senior officer. The galley might be awash with rumours that the Minmatar Science Officer has got it in for the Amarrian Captain. Or perhaps the command crew are a dream-team that operate like a finely tuned machine.

    It is their traits that decide how the officers interact, the end result being a Crew Morale score ranging from +5 to -5. In the case of a positive bonus, this can be conferred to the Morale Bonus of any one of the active Command Crew. In the case of a negative Crew Morale, this always affects the Captain's Morale Bonus.

    Essentially, the sum result would be a bonus of up to 5% on any one given skill, which is effectively the same as a single high-end implant. [This could be restricted to 3% if this concept makes the anti-“pay-to-win” zealots foam at the mouth, or indeed removed entirely. Doing so would make Command Crews simply a cosmetic feature on Capsuleer accounts.]

  • The Command Crew System In Action
  • For example, let's assume I am new to EVE and have just activated my free-to-play Captain account. After choosing the starting location of Bourynes in Gallente space, instead of the character creation screen I find myself viewing the NeX Academy Recruitment Centre interface. Whilst looking through the list of available personnel I can admire the stunning realism of each potential recruit as they are rendered in the Carbon engine.

    I have 1000 Aurum to spend on my first crew and I've read that combat missions are a good way to get into the game, so I go for this crew set-up.

    My First Active Command Crew

    Captain L. Esskrap
    Race: Min/Seb
    Skills: Spaceship Cmd II, Minmatar Frig. III, Gallente Frigate II,
    Morale Bonus: Evasive Maneuvering
    Trait: Motivator
    Cost: 100 AUR

    Gunnery Officer Deadeye Jim
    Race: Cal/Det
    Skills: Gunnery IV, Sm. Hyb. Turret IV, Sm. Proj. Turret III, Med. Hyb. Turret I, Sharpshooter III, Traj. Analysis III
    Morale Bonus: Rapid Firing
    Trait: Weak
    Cost: 500 AUR

    Helmsman P. Star
    Race: Gal/Jin
    Skills: Navigation III, Afterburner II, Evasive M'vering III
    Morale Bonus: Navigation
    Trait: Motivator
    Cost: 200 AUR

    Chief Engineer E.Mon
    Race: Cal/Civ
    Skills: Engineering III, Shield Operation III, Shield Upgrades II
    Morale Bonus: Engineering
    Trait: Focused
    Cost: 200 AUR

    [No 5th crew member]

    I don't quite have the Aurum to fill the last spot on my command crew, but I want to see if I like the game before I consider paying any real money. I've got enough of a skills base to get me into any Tech I Minmatar frigate I can afford, although I am going to have to shield tank it until I can hire a decent mechanic. The Command Crew seem to get on pretty well and have got a Morale rating of +3. My Gunnery Officer is potentially a bad apple, but his skills more than make up for that.

    Looking at the Morale Bonus settings on my crew roster, I see that I have a choice of Evasive Maneuvering, Navigation, Rapid Firing or Engineering to which I can confer the +3% bonus my highly-motivated Command Crew give me. I'll go with the default Captain's bonus of Evasive Maneuvering for now as it'll make my ship a bit more agile, but the interface looks simple enough to change on the fly.

    Happy with my recruitment, I admire my newly hired motley crew as they lounge around in my Captain's Quarters. They look cool; my Captain is looking thoughtful as he sits on the couch, the Gunnery Officer and the Chief Engineer are on the balcony admiring my newly purchased Burst frigate, and the Helmsman is reclining on the bed. I feel like I'm in an episode of Firefly. They're a scruffy bunch though, maybe I should invest in some uniforms...
    Seismic Stan
    Freebooted Junkworks
    #5 - 2012-09-07 22:29:35 UTC  |  Edited by: Seismic Stan
  • In Conclusion
  • Although this is a speculative bit of game design, I really think something along these lines could use existing EVE Online resources to achieve a lot of what Incarna was meant to do. It would make best use of the Carbon engine, the Captain's Quarters and the NeX Store to provide an engaging and immersive gaming experience that would encourage emotional attachment (and possibly financial investment) in new, casual, experienced and veteran players alike.

    Additionally, the actual gameplay content would be of value to both Captain and Capsuleer account holders and is meaningful enough to be fun and engaging without being unbalancing. The most significant impact the system could have, if players were prepared to scour New Eden for all the high-end recruits, would be to a have a single +5% bonus to a given statistic. Hardly game-breaking and, as mentioned earlier, can be reduced or left out entirely from premium Capsuleer accounts if "Pay2Win" concerns are an issue.

    As importantly (especially for the CCP money men), it provides an alternative non-subscription gaming style that might attract more curious or casual players without interfering with the status quo. If anything, the introduction of player-controlled non-capsuleer vessels would only enrich the universe of New Eden.