This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to muse on the upcoming changes to NPC AI.
It was a short Dev Blog, but an interesting one. It has taken a long time but perhaps, at last, we shall finally see EVE’s ancient and brain-dead AI code retiring from service and all NPC’s moving over to the ‘Sleeper AI’ introduced in Apocrypha. It always was the long term plan for CCP to gradually phase out the old AI, but they have certainly taken their time about doing it!
This is actually a (potentially) pretty big deal in several respects. NPC’s having the ability to actually switch targets means that the age-old practice of sending in a tanky ship to collect aggro from every rat before sending in the thinly tanked DPS boats will need re-evaluating. Depending on how smart/aggressive this new AI profile is, we might see the NPC’s switching fire to the higher DPS ships and ignoring the designated tanker entirely.
The NPC’s will also be by the sounds of it much more likely to target drones than they are now, meaning that micro management will become a bigger deal, forcing players to pay closer attention to their mission running/ratting. I expect these changes to result in a number of irate mission runners/anomaly munchers who lose their drones and ships running their routine PVE grinds this winter. And that will be a good thing.
I was reading an article about Guild Wars 2 the other day, in which the author mentioned that he had heard one negative response to the game; that it could not be played while watching TV. GW2 is apparently an MMO that you have to pay attention to while you play! Outrageous isn’t it? 😉
A common complaint about PVE in MMO’s, and EVE is certainly not without guilt here, is that the PVE can be a dull, repetitive grind. One reason why this is true of EVE is I think down to the stupidity of its NPC AI. If you have a decent fitting and an adequately skilled character then you should not lose a ship while running missions. If you bring two ships, then one will be sufficiently tanked to survive anything in the mission long enough for the paper thin gun boat following it to murder everything at un-aggressed leisure.
If something has no challenge, how can it be fun and engaging? And if it becomes boring to do, why would you want to do it anyway (I apply this to both mission running and null sec anomalies btw)? The simple answer is, many EVE players resent having to go earn ISK to fund their PVP activities and in the past a disturbingly large number turned to botting instead.
This sort of work will, I hope, result in two positive outcomes for EVE on that front. Firstly, PVE in EVE will become a little less dull and a little more engaging, thus creating a better PVE gaming experience. Secondly, better AI might screw up the bots. I am no expert on botting, but I sincerely hope that a more robust AI could do something towards making bot use a less efficient practice. In the long run that will only mean good things for the precious player run economy in EVE-Online.
It might not seem like a big deal to many at first glance, particularly the PVP die-hards, but that little dev blog means good things for the future health of EVE.
On a final note, this part of the blog caught my eye and I find it very encouraging;
We are going to do this with a lot of little baby steps and public testing. We have also taken steps to make sure that if come release time if we don’t like where this is at we can easily revert it all and put it off for a release to try a difference approach.
Ignoring the typo, because I make plenty myself, that little paragraph implies that CCP have learned a little from some past mistakes. When they launched the Captains Quarters in Incarna, they removed the old ‘ship spinning’ hangar view. Due to the performance issues and increased loading times of the CQ, there was major and intense player backlash on that issue. Even once CCP did wake up to their mistake it took them months to return the hangar view.
More recently, there was the poor launch of the Unified Inventory. This time CCP were caught between implementing the foundation of a better UI (yes, I said it, I think the unified inventory is a cleaner system) and the realisation that they had shipped it too early and broken the game. They had implemented the changes in such a way that rolling it back to the old UI was not an option and they had to power on through and suffer the players ire instead.
Revamping the main NPC AI could go as wrong as the Unified Inventory and piss off players just as much. But at least this time around CCP are going into it with a contingency plan in place.
So well done team Five 0!