Not so low-hanging fruits

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss the latest dev blog about Starbase changes being made in the coming summer Odyssey expansion.

2011.11.30.21.54.23

Good news, tentative news.  Yesterday CCP unveiled, very cautiously, their first tentative plans for updating Starbases (POS).  It has been awhile since CCP have put so many caveats into one dev blog!  Having said that, I fully agree with their caution.

EVE’s Starbase code is ancient and abused.  Starbases started out as CCP’s first stab at bringing a form of player housing to EVE.  Then over the years they proceeded to glue more stuff onto them including at one stage the entire sovereignty system.  The rest of the game has developed around (or possibly in spite of) the Starbase system leaving it a strange and imposing relic of design occupying an important, but painful to interact with, piece of the game.

Starbases have never truly been a much loved game feature.  They were developed in a time when CCP was a much smaller and less experienced company and the early implementation was one of those many things that CCP put in promising to build on in future.  In some ways they did, in others they inevitably did not.  The interface has always been an odd clunky thing, fueling was eventually simplified back in the Crucible expansion (Winter 2011) with fuel blocks.  The thing is, making even a seemingly simple change like ‘which item you put in to make it work’ reportedly completely broke starbases during testing.  The code is old and strange. To borrow a quote from EVE News24:

CCP Dolan told us how the POS code was constructed, in very loose terms. CCP is somewhat forgiven for their lack of progress on it, it sounds like staring into the unblinking eye of an Elder God, fueled by drunken Icelandic programmers. He discussed it as an inverted pyramid and the top of it was rat AI, better known to us as Skynet. Yes, the POS runs on the same NPC AI as pirates and faction police. I shit you fucking not.

Why rat AI is so important for a structure whose primary purpose is essentially being used to hold stuff, speculate away.  Its an aging mess of code that no-one wants to touch.  That is why CCP’s original plan was to rip it all out and create a brand new modular system from scratch, only that turned to be a larger investment of development time and resources than they felt comfortable commiting to.  Plan B was to postpone the whole thing and go do something else.

Which was fine right up until the minutes came out for the Winter CSM Summit.  Then the players responded, very clearly. CSM Two Step led the charge and CCP soon had over 100 pages of player feedback (and rising, currently 138) that quite consistently speled out that the players consider Starbase improvements to be a priority issue.  When I read this latest dev blog, and the preliminary Odyssey feature list, I get the strong impression that CCP are reacting to player pressure.

In 2011, post-Incarna, CCP were taught the perils of ignoring what your customers tell you that they want.  The response to the Starbase issue clearly spells out to CCP that they were at risk of underestimating the importance that the existing players place upon Starbase mechanics and the strength of feeling over getting the long standing issues addressed.  CCP Fozzie’s dev blog filled with caveats and warnings over technical barriers impeding design changes heavily implies a strong reluctance on CCP’s part to start messing with this code.  Frankly, it scares them that they may end up breaking more than they fix.

It should prove interesting to see what actually ends up being delivered and what CCP find once they get stuck into this.  We can probably look forward to some extra special bugs in Odyssey 1.0 cropping up, but hopefully these modest changes will unlock some new potential from the old dead horse.

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