Back Into the Structure

By CCP Ytterbium
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Greetings, dear space friends extraordinaire, my name is CCP Ytterbium and I’m here to talk about our future plan for structures in EVE Online on behalf of team Game of Drones. We have been collectively working on this particular feature prototype (or more to the point, set of features) for a while now and are now ready to share our high-level concept.

Before we go into the new system, we would like to spend a little bit of our time explaining how current structures work for the non-initiated.

Current structures

There are currently five different types of structures available in the game, each with a unique purpose, which we shall quickly review now.

  • Deployables are mainly structures that provide short term gameplay for immediate benefits. They usually suit a personal playstyle and do not have a complicated interaction process. A few examples include Mobile Depots, Mobile Tractor Units and Mobile Scan Inhibitors. We should mention this category also includes containers and even Mobile Warp Disruptors. Their roles are numerous, including storage, harvesting, staging and space upgrading capabilities (for the Encounter Surveillance System deployable).
  • Customs Offices (often abbreviated to POCOs for Player Owned Customs Office) are heavily tied with the Planetary Interaction feature, as they are used to move goods away from planets into what’s technically a glorified storage container. The interesting factor comes with the added tax on PI goods, which allows the owning corporation to make a profit from the tenants, and create emergent behavior.
  • Starbases (often called POS for Player Owned Structures or even Player Owned Starbases) are in fact a collection of structures at a specific point around moons. They consist of a Control Tower, which groups most managing and administrative functions of the Starbase, and secondary structures, which add extra functionalities to the whole. Depending on the secondary structure anchored, a Starbase may offer storage, harvesting, industry, defense or even fleet staging roles. Starbases are also unique for offering a forcefield mechanic, which allows players inside to be safe from direct harm, and is often used to store ships (albeit this is not their designed purpose and is something done at your own risk).
  • Sovereignty Structures are tied to player territorial conquest in null-security space, including Sovereignty flag claim and other disruption mechanics as a whole. Those structures, and the fate that are going to befall them in the near future are explained in this blog from CCP Fozzie.
  • Outposts form the last structure group, which are player-made, upgradable stations which can only be deployed in null-security space, and provide a wide variety of functions (storage, industry, defense, staging) through their various upgrades. Because of their location and attack mechanics, they are sometimes included as part of the Sovereignty system.

Improvement goals

Our exploratory work highlighted many pain points in the existing structures design. Since they have been progressively added one after another over a long period of time (the first Starbase structures were added during the Exodus expansion in 2004), they show disparate behaviors in their functions, use, attack and management options.

Our first deliverable was as such to come up with a list of high-end goals that any new structure system should aspire towards. Those became:

  • Support and enhance existing gameplay: We found early on that structures have no need for new mini-games or to introducing radically new ways of playing EVE. Their main appeal is to improve, create or magnify gameplay in the area they control. For example Starbases work best to give capsuleers an edge when manufacturing, or contesting space. Adding a mini-game to deploy Starbase structures and link them together was not something with enough perceived value to pursue.
  • Everyone who wants to use a structure, does: We want structures to be as widely used as possible, by removing artificial barriers or mechanics that may be in the way. This has to stay within a reasonable risk versus reward scope, of course, and as such the most rewarding structures should always be vulnerable to attack.
  • Strong connection with the player: This means we want to enthrall our players to feel meaningfully connected with the structures they deploy, use, and manage. We want them to have an active cooperative (or disruptive) role in the space around them so that players care about their placement.
  • Structure combat is more exciting: Structure combat leaves a lot to be desired, as the AI target selection is lacking, while defensive options are limited and not that effective. This goal ensures structures work well in asymmetrical warfare, being force multipliers in the area they contest to compensate for their static nature. We want structure combat to feel more like ship combat between several parties and less like a static grind.
  • Visually aspirational: This is self-explanatory, we want structures to feel imposing, visually rewarding as a whole. That includes showing different visuals for their various states, actions or reactions to their activities, but also making the largest structure feel like a great achievement for whichever social group managed to build them (or blow them up).
  • System is extensible, future proof and unifying: Our new system should be scalable and flexible enough to ensure it remains viable under design pressure over time, such as different player group sizes and evolving, emergent usage. It also means the system is flexible enough to add more functionality easily if the need arises.
  • Create more interesting locations in solar system: We want the new structure system to provide more locations for players to interact within EVE solar systems, which in turn will bolster emergent gameplay. We however need to make sure travel or critical player behavior is not negatively affected in the process.
  • Simple and intuitive to deploy, manage and use: We should strive to provide a stark improvement over management, deployment and usage tools currently in place for structures, which are not flexible nor powerful enough to account for our player needs.
  • Coherent progression between all structures: All structures should feel part of a natural progression system with niche roles in specialization branches, not being the norm. The basic interaction with all of them should feel consistent and natural no matter what their functions are.
  • Encourage interaction between groups of players: Partly covered before, we want our new system to greatly favor player interactions via cooperative or competitive gameplay. This not only means structures should matter to be considered primary targets, but also promote public participation if needed.

The new structure system

With all the goals above in mind, we set out on our prototyping search and came up with different ideas. We quickly looked for comparison points regarding existing gameplay and what players like the most in our game: ship control and fitting.

Before we move forward, we would like to make it clear the changes listed below are ideas and highly theoretical. Those are not set in stone or fixed, we are telling our plans to you, our players, months in advance to initiate feedback and spark interest. Also please remember that concept art is just that, concept.

We are also not going to remove existing structures instantly without a transition plan. There is a detailed example of this particular point further down this blog.

With that in mind, we would like to introduce the following.

Structure fitting

Instead of forcing players to anchor multiple individual structures to provide basic functions, we are taking a different approach by making structures fittable, just like ships, with all the repercussions this implies. This means we can get rid of the Control Towers and greatly reduce anchoring complexity. Please note such modules will be in a different category from the ones used on ships to avoid design issues that would overcomplicate balancing as a whole.

  • High slots: Those structure slots will be dedicated to weapons (turrets, launchers, AoE defense mechanics), remote assistance modules (remote hull, armor and shield boosters) and various warfare linked to disruption (energy neutralizers and nosferatus, for instance).
  • Mid slots: Can be fitted with electronic warfare, electronic upgrades and sensor upgrade modules.
  • Low slots: May be used for engineering, weapon upgrades or expanded cargoholds.
  • Service slots: The new additions to the slot family which will only be available for structures. Some will provide station like functionalities, while most will open totally new gameplay. Examples on those are given below under the various structure roles. One point we are considering is to remove fuel requirements to online structures and move it as a requirement to operate service modules. So for instance, onlining the equivalent of a Manufacturing Array will no longer require fuel until you insert a Ship Manufacturing module into one of its service slots and start using it to produce ships.
  • Rigs: Will work similarly to ship rigs – they cannot be removed without being destroyed once inserted and will provide various benefits. The main difference remains in the magnitude of the given bonuses, which will be quite dramatic here. They will take over the old Outpost upgrade system as a whole, and may be several ten times (or more) more expensive than the structure hull itself. By extension, we want the new structure equivalent of Outposts to be available for high-security space, but providing less bonuses due to the reduced risk this implies. Rigs will be the means to deliver on that vision, either by having different rigs which can only be used in separate security status areas, or by having rigs bonuses change depending on its parent hull location.

2.     Size

We are striving towards making our largest new structures as imposing and as visually rewarding as possible to reflect on the massive effort required to deploy them. Below you can see an approximation between our current structures and the new size system, which will again be very logical with what we used for ships (structure hulls may be small, medium, large or extra-large).

Current structure sizes:

New sizes:

3.     Roles

While most modules can be fitted in any of the new structures, if they fit powergrid, CPU, calibration or size restrictions, we want to incentivize further specialization in roles, like we currently do with ships. To that end, we are going to release various structure lines, each focusing in a specific area and provide various bonuses to that purpose.

For instance, the new equivalent to Research Laboratories could manufacture or reprocess items if fitted accordingly, but may not be able to do so as effectively as the new version of our Manufacturing or Reprocessing Arrays. The new roles currently being discussed are:

A.     Assembly arrays

Mainly dedicated to production and item assembly.

  • Service modules possibilities: manufacturing of modules, ammunition, components, fuel blocks, capital components, subsystems and ships, among other things. One module will be required for the manufacturing of each category mentioned above. This means manufacturing will be less generalized as it is currently working within Starbases.
  • Rigs possibilities: Material Efficiency (ME), Time Efficiency (TE) and NPC cost reduction bonuses. We want to ensure those new rigs provide more specialization than currently offered by Starbases and Outposts to offset for the generalization changes.

B.     Research Laboratories

Related to any kind of science profession or functionality.

  • Service modules possibilities: Research ME, research TE, copy, Tech II invention, Tech III invention and datacore spawning. We want those new structures to ultimately replace our existing Datacore system – one way of doing so would be to have Datacore caches spawn near the Research Laboratory that refill at various intervals. Those caches could be set to be looted by anyone, but with a specific tax set up by the structure owners.
  • Rigs possibilities: TE, NPC cost reduction bonuses, as well as increased success chance bonuses for Tech II and III invention.

C.     Market and Office Hubs

Heavily focused toward trade and serve as the primary home for social groups. More on that further below.

  • Service modules possibilities: market, corporation offices, player to player cloning services, ship insurance service defined by corporation (to aid with ship replacement programs), character customization. They will also take over the role of Customs Offices, if placed near planets. Finally, we are considering adding Interbus Shipping abilities, which could reduce logistic hassle for small volume of items to fit a ship, but at a specific cost: a NPC convoy would spawn and manually move to the destination, being highly susceptible to disruption from other player groups. We are also considering giving those a tax advantage next to NPC stations (either by increasing NPC taxes or having tax reductions on the player-made variations).
  • Rigs possibilities: Anything increasing office, jump clone capabilities or what’s mentioned above. We also are discussing giving increased range to fit ships around the structure without having to dock, allow drones, fighter and fighter-bombers to be automatically recovered in case of connection loss or provide increased safety for stored items should the structure be destroyed.

D.     Drilling platforms

Focused on resource harvesting as a whole.

  • Service module possibilities: Reprocessing, moon harvesting, reactions, mining, gas harvesting. We also are considering new harvesting gameplay mechanics. We could for instance have pollution gas clouds form around drilling structures that see high activity, or seed small planetoids in specific asteroid belts and scanable sites which require a drilling platform to break it down in smaller harvestable rocks.
  • Rigs possibilities: Anything that improves reprocessing, moon harvesting, reaction, tractor beam range effectiveness.

E.      Observatory arrays

Dedicated to intelligence gathering.

  • Service module possibilities: Being able to increase, decrease or block Star Map filters in the solar systems they’re deployed, act as solar system wide D-scan blockers, disrupt ship intelligence in the solar system, take over player tracking capabilities from NPC agents or be able to affect or pinpoint cloak users. We are considering basing their effectiveness through a network coverage (like cell phones) so that a single one may not be that useful, but maintaining a bunch of them in space could give a significant advantage.
  • Rigs possibilities: anything affecting the duration or effectiveness of what’s mentioned above.

F.      Gates

Structures specialized toward movement in general.

  • Service module possibilities: Being able to affect warp speed in a solar system (positively or negatively), affect jump capabilities for capitals, alter ship movement inside a solar system, allow vessels to travel to other solar systems and modify wormhole spawning behavior.
  • Rigs possibilities: anything affecting the duration or effectiveness of what’s mentioned above.

G.     Administration Hubs

Structures affecting solar system control and ownership as a whole.

  • Service module possibilities: territorial Sovereignty flag, modifiers to change the security status of a solar system, to change NPC agents spread in the solar system, to switch NPC faction control or NPC security forces.
  • Rigs possibilities: anything affecting the duration or effectiveness of what’s mentioned above.

H.     Advertisement Centers

Structures mainly aimed toward propaganda spreading.

  • Service module possibilities: Text advertisement, billboard replacement, being used as gigantic monuments with no purpose (except to show how big your e-peen is by showing the statue of your glorious alliance leader). Could also involve frozen corpses somehow.
  • Rigs possibilities: Anything affecting what’s above.

4.     Acquisition

We want to significantly unify and improve structure acquisition as a whole. As such they will involve:

  • Acquiring the blueprint original (seeded on markets for Tech I variants). If Faction or Tech II variations are released, they will be available through loot and Invention respectively.
  • Manufacturing the item from the blueprint.
  • Deploying the structure in space by drag and dropping it. The interface should be clear enough to tell you if there are location restrictions and where to go to avoid them.
  • We don’t want to force the user to select which group they wish to use it for before deploying anymore. Instead, we want the user to make a conscious choice after it has been deployed, and decide if they want personal, corporation, alliance or public use. That’s right, we want those structures to be used for the wider audience, so if you wish to establish your own Market Hub somewhere, make it open to everyone and set your taxes to be shamelessly expensive go right ahead. In a similar manner, if you have permission from your corporation or alliance, nothing should prevent you to deploy a structure for your own personal use.

5.     Housing

Proper housing of player items and ships is a critical must-have if we wish those structures to be used over NPC stations. As such, we have different ideas up our sleeves to make that happen.

First, docking will still be available for the largest structures, as long as you have rights and your ship isn’t too big for this kind of purpose (we are looking at you, Supercarriers and Titans).

For the smallest structures, or if your e-peen is too large for docking, mooring will be preferred option. Replacing forcefield mechanics, this will make your ship invulnerable and not being able to be bumped as long as you are within a specific radius of the structure. Of course, when that is the case you will not be able to interact with the outside world either. The idea for the mooring capabilitis are that they are configurable and have a finite limit, so multiple structures will be required to house particularly large fleets.

6.     Fate of stored items on structure destruction

This is again a hot topic that needs to be addressed. We are currently discussing the following options:

  • Wreck: when a structure is destroyed, it could leave behind a non-destructible wreck. This wreck houses all the items the structure possessed at its destruction, and only the respectful owners could salvage them back. Players docked inside the structure would still remain docked inside the wreck (and still be invulnerable to attack), but will be unable to do so again should they choose to undock. Moored ships would however become vulnerable and up for grabs by anyone.

  • Containers: when a structure is destroyed, all assets are moved into special containers. A container exists for each individual that stored items in the structure, as well as corporation entities and are spread around planets. When this happens, an entry would appear on the owner journal giving a warp-in point to go to. Please note such containers would not be destructible at all, and could not be scanned until the rightful owner comes to retrieve his or her loot. The duration at which those entries would stay remains entirely dependent to the structure type and player condition when it was destroyed (logged off, account lapsed etc…). Player docked inside the structure would be spread around the solar system, while moored ships would become vulnerable and up for grabs.

7.     Management

Proper management is a priority as well, and we have given some thought on improving corporation assets and how to interact with them.

  • Players with sufficient roles would no longer need to travel to individual structures to configure them
  • Preset configuration profiles could be applied to multiple structures at once
  • Various assets would show proper states, location and conditions at first glance
  • Roles could be applied in a mail recipient fashion, where the manager only has to type names of players or groups he wishes to configure instead of scrolling through a raw table of entries.

Transition plan

It is obvious such changes will not come in one release, nor that we are going to alter or remove existing structures without prior and sufficient warning.

As such our plan is to:

  • Progressively cut functionalities from existing structures. This would match new structures arrival that provide an overlapping gameplay. For instance, deploying the new Assembly Arrays would cause existing Starbases and Outposts to lose their manufacturing bonuses at first, then their manufacturing capability.
  • Give ample time for players to evacuate their assets from existing structures and adapt to the changes.

Parting words

We hope reading about those plans made you as excited as we were coming up with them. Please remember everything mentioned is highly subject to change based on feedback, time, and implementation methods.

Our goal is to release the first set of new structures sometime within 2015 and we look forward to opening up gameplay possibilities and inspiring new emergent behaviors from our player base.