Monday, April 5, 2010

It's Not Just About Planets You Know

For a long time the closest you got to planetary interaction in Eve was when you warped through them and nothing happened, before you read any further I'll tell you that this 'feature' is not going to be removed in the next expansion - Tyrannis.

Tyrannis is being pitched as an industrial expansion which will add provide the capsuleers of New Eden access to new production processes which were previously the exclusive domain of the NPC organizations. Commodities such as Mechanical Parts, Robotics and Nanite Repair paste have previously been critical inputs to the player run economy and have so far been supplied primarily primarily by NPC sell orders on the market providing a small cash sink. Furthermore, the processes available at this time are still in progress and the most advanced products have no direct use in the game but the names - Neural Interface, Psychosocial Telemetrics, Cerebrographic Composites - wouldn't seem out of place in the kind of sci-fi technobabble used to describe the components used to manufacture implants (or skillbooks?). As such it would seem reasonable at this time to expect that the final process may finally provide these commodities and cut the NPC corporations out of the loop.

Beyond planetary production there's the more subtle set of changes being applied to fix insurance fraud and simultaneously avert the minerapocalypse that naive meddling in the affairs of minerals might summon. At first the insurance changes were added to SiSi with no fanfare and were immediately spotted by those bold test pilots, and this information was quickly seized upon by a number of armchair economists and doomsayers (including myself) who conjured multiple threadnaughts to discuss the implications of the change. CCP eventually made the official position clear with a number of smaller changes aimed at adjusting the supply of minerals from secondary sources so as to protect the miners from the collapse in mineral demand which was being fueled by insurance fraud (again, including myself). The effects of these changes are already being felt over a month prior to the release of Tyrannis as speculators make guesses about the variations in the long term prices of the minerals.
As soon as Tyrannis was announced there were of course a bunch of combat pilots immediately complaining about how the expansion gave them nothing, the fact that it had been described as an industrial expansion led to comparisons with Quantum Rise which was hugely unpopular with 'bitter vets' due to the speed rebalancing AKA Nano Nerf. This expansion is no QR, although I haven't entirely discounted the possibility of a Dramiel nerf in time for the release.

Pilots in deep 0.0 or wormholes will see the benefits of simplified logistics with the need to ferry supplies of essential NPC goods to remote bases replaced with the need to manage local production planetside. Anyone who PVP's can attest to the utility of Nanite Repair Paste, without it you simply cannot overheat your modules except in the most dire situations, and not being able to get that extra performance with any regularity is going to leave you at a disadvantage. The rest of the NPC goods don't directly affect PVP, but the reduced need for trips to and from empire space will mean fewer hauler escorts with the related ganks at gates. The biggest effect will most likely be felt for 0.0 alliances who generally have to deploy many POS's to support their operations and who are resident in systems for extended periods. Wormhole explorers could exploit planets, but many WH operations are much more mobile and it's not yet clear that moving a planetary operation from system to system will be as 'easy' as moving a POS. Wormhole residents will never have a local source of ice products which is a far greater logisitical problem than the relatively small amounts of NPC goods needed, so the benefits may not even be worth it, depending how the numbers turn out when Tyrannis is fully cooked.

One other critical economic question that remains is whether the NPC buy/sell orders will remain after Tyrannis is released. On one hand they will provide a buffer to ensure that POS fuel supplies don't run out during a transition when everyone is learning how PI works, but they will enforce a price floor and ceiling in their current form and I feel that CCP and their good Dr Eyo would rather do away with as many NPC market options as possible. Testers on Singuarlity are discovering some problems with finding some of these things for sale on the market, but this appears to be a bug with browsing the market since it affects all orders for a commodity equally. I suspect that in the long term these orders will go away, but before that we may see some adjustments in prices to increase the gap between buy and sell order prices to allow the market to adjust. Some speculators are stocking up on essential POS items like Enriched Uranium and Robotics, gambling that CCP takes the bold step of removing the orders sooner rather than later.
For the combat pilots in New Eden the transfer of production to planets will introduce new possibilities for interfering with this supply of goods, the orbital transfer points in orbit need to be visited by haulers to supply inputs. These hubs form obvious chokepoints which can be exploited either by small gangs of combat pilots actively degrading the industrial operations of an enemy alliance, or by pirates simply looking for easy kills. This could provide a much needed boost to small gang pvp at the alliance level which is suffering a lack of real attainable goals in the post Dominion era. Ganking industrials picking up POS fuel is vastly more feasable than killing hundred million HP structures, and a whole lot more fun too.
Beyond this simple tactic there's so much that Devs could do to Planetary Interaction to provide new problems for pilots to solve with combat ships rather than haulers. Let me take of my 'speculator' cap and put on my 'game dev' wizards hat and throw out how a couple of small additions to PI would add opportunities for more than industrialists.
  • I'd like to see NPC pirates spawning at orbital transfer points in the same way they spawn at asteroid belts, and, make the orbital transfer system refuse to transfer materials back and forth if there are rats on grid. So pilots may need to make some show of protecting their assets and drive the pirates away before the haulers can load and unload materials.
  • The current 'launch can' mechanic needs improved, it's impossible for hostiles to intercept the materials regardless of how good their planning is. I'd prefer to see the planetside equivalent of the station haulers which take a few minutes to travel between the planet surface and the orbital transfer point. These take a few minutes to make the journey, during which they are vulnerable to attack by other players (but protected by concord in hi-sec). Perhaps if you really invest in a planet then you can build a beanstalk instead and replace those fragile transports with a permanent bridge between the surface and space.
  • 'We are but simple villagers, we need your help to protect us from the evil El Guapo', if you've ever used research agents for datacores then you know the drill, you get mission offers from your staff. On planetary scales the same mechanism could be used, with mission offers appearing in your journal, ignoring of failing these could lead to negative effects on your production chain, if you don't keep the pirates in check then they'll just keep stealing your stuff. Or you might need to deliver some emergency supplies to deal with a problem such as a disease or reactor problem that threatens to bring production to a halt if not dealt with quickly.
These mechanics are already in the game in other forms so development time would be minimal, the most complex would be adding and testing a bunch of new planet themed missions. Maybe some of these ideas are already in the Tyrannis release, or maybe they've already been considered and discarded for some gameplay breaking consequence that my feeble mind has failed to perceive.

Regardless, planetary interaction will change a lot of things even if you're not the kind of person to be fooling around with resource management you'll find yourself ultimately reliant on the production system. And even before then Tyrannis is going to change things in a big way through the changes to the minerals and insurance, you can't escape the effects of Tyrannis (well short of performing the classic emoragequit when you lose your pimped ship)


  1. Thanks for your participation. The results of the contest will be announced tomorrow morning! Good luck.

  2. Congratulations Illectro on winning one of the 5 PLEX that were being given away for the Tyrannis PI Contest! Please follow the instructions in order to claim your PLEX

  3. woot! Thanks for recognizing my contribution, this was my first attempt at writing within a blogging contest.