Wednesday, March 25, 2015

CCP's Structure Plan: The Unification of Deployables

During Fanfest, CCP released a new devblog talking about their plans for the future of castle-building throughout all space, but particularly in null-sec.

Digesting all of this was a daunting prospect, and I admit I wasn’t eager to dive into it.  It’s dense.  There are a lot of consequences I see.  And I knew I’d need time to sift through it all.

CCP's goals fit into the categories, “Be engaging”, “Be valuable”, “Be simple”, and “Look Awesome”.  These all make sense, but honestly, if something was missing from a list of goals as large as this, it’d signify serious problems.  Which of these is a priority over all the others?  I suspect “enhancing existing gameplay” will be the key element that wins out, but it will do so in a way that ties in nicely with the new sov mechanics.

While a lot of folks will likely focus on the new fitting function of these structures, to me that’s a needed by not particularly interesting element.  Every pilot in Eve is familiar with ship fitting after their first week, and it seems quite reasonable to utilize that same system for deployable structures.  It creates options without forcing players to learn yet another interface setup, and it should reduce the player-knowledge barrier to entry for deployable mechanics.

And from a visual standpoint, it just makes sense.  A POS control tower with multiple disconnected deployable objects around it always seemed bizarre to me.  It didn’t seem to make much sense, and always made me think, “Why couldn’t a ship drag a module off?  How do they all get power?  What prevents an asteroid from coming by and smacking into it.  It was a silly mechanic born out of necessity.  Having everything integrated into a single large structure looks more realistic to me.  A meaty, single unit with power conduits, corridors, and all the stuff you’d expect to be necessary for something meant to survive in space.  A deployable, not a collection of junk strangely orbiting in the same configuration.

By this point, you may have noticed my terminology.  Normally, I’d have said, “POS mechanics” instead of “deployable mechanics”, but this new plan for deployables really stands out because it unifies all of the various deployables, from mobile tractor units and mobile depots at the smallest scale to stations and stargates at the largest.  They will all require the same set of skills to deploy, and be categorized and scale based on their purpose.  That’s a great call on CCP’s part, and is one that is desperately needed.  By unifying current individual deployables, POSes, and sov stations, CCP is bringing everything together in an orderly, efficient way that reduces complexity without reducing variety.  The fact that this principle is woven into the thinking behind this Deployables Plan is a great sign.  The details may (will) change, but that guiding principle – reducing complexity without reducing variety – is a solid one.

Lots of Places to Hide

Nowhere did the devblog call out one of the most far-reaching consequences of these deployable changes, though.  Every category of structure includes options with limited functionality, options that have greater functionality and permit players to anchor their ships, and options that allow wide functionality and permit docking.

That’s right.  From all appearances, this plan would allow multiple “stations” in null-sec.  And it would allow player-created “stations” in low-sec.  It’s about time.  If this implication is accurate (ie. CCP doesn’t limit XL structure sizes to 1 per system), then this is a huge change for null-sec.  Hellcamping would be far more difficult against an alliance that intelligently spread its resources out across the system.  Multiple locations could have repair services, making it necessary to fully scout out and burn down multiple structures to purge an enemy.

And let’s not forget about our dear wormhole friends.  The existence of a unified set of structures that replace POSes and contain docking options means wormhole players will finally be able to utilize markets, fitting services, repair services, clone bays, and all the good features of stations they’ve been missing for so long.  This was a glaring absence that made life frustrating for wormhole corporations.  Now – unless CCP’s considering a WH exclusion that would be inconsistent with the unified, simplified structure plan laid out here – Anoikis can enjoy the same quality-of-life features that known space does.  It sounds like CCP is finally embracing the fact that players will continue to live in WH space, a behavior CCP didn’t anticipate happening.   Have they perhaps learned to stop worrying and love the Bob?

All in all, the changes to gameplay that players will be able to enjoy because of this decision to fold small deployable units, POSes, and station services under a simpler, scalable, and flexible system are considerable, and solve a lot of problems players have had with POSes and the disjointed mechanics over the years.

New Features, New Functions

The #3 point in this devblog – where CCP lays out the various functions they propose for these deployable structures – contains even more Eve-shattering mechanic changes under the guise of pure simplification.  Networks of observatory arrays could counter afk cloakers, serve as locator agents, block d-scan (or perhaps even allow alliances to customers visibility in local?), and conceal statistics from the starmap (often used to identify busy systems for aggressive roaming gangs and systems with cynos to find common stops for capital ships).  Drilling platforms hint at changes to moon mining and resource procurement.  Stargates may provide more than just the ability of alliances to select destinations, but also affect the speed of ships, the range of capitals (awesome), or affect how often wormholes spawn.  And if you’re tired of farming Guristas and would like to kill some Sansha instead?  It sounds like Administration Hubs would allow players to claim NPC space on behalf of another NPC faction.

The Assembly Arrays, Marketing Hubs, and Research Laboratories pretty much replace existing POS and station functionality, and while they tease at new options – modifiers to ships on grid with them, changes to datacore spawning, modifiers to the success and efficiency of these operations – those possibilities are just at the idea stage now.  A lot can change, and these possibilities are too vague on details for players to really comment on them.  I’m sure each one of these will spawn threadnaughts of their own as the details flesh out.

But they do hint at a new game design strategy focused on providing effectiveness modifiers that would increase the viability of various activities, particularly in null-sec where the devblog hints the effects would be greatest.  One of the common complaints about the Phase 1 sov changes reducing travel and the Phase 2 changes affecting disruptability is that null-sec will become too difficult to live in.  I could see positive modifiers granted to production, defense, and intelligence-gathering go a long way to overcoming this objection and creating a customizable competitive advantage for null-sec alliances to locally supply themselves.

And this would, in turn, give some life to the promise of null-sec having a place for all walks of life – traders, producers, miners, ratters, murderers, and administrators.  I see potential, but whether null-sec realizes that potential depends on a lot of specific numbers and implementation mechanics that CCP isn’t ready to release yet.  Time will tell, but the future has some real bright possibilities in it

The Elephant In the Room – POS Management

Not only do the XL versions of these structures allow the possibility of docking and system services in wormholes, but the very end of the devblog lays out some options affecting the management of POSes, giving some relief to the players who have been clamoring for revised POS management for years – years!

While a discussion of roles wasn’t explicitly mentioned, CCP Ytterbium wrote, “the manager only has to type names of players or groups he wishes to configure…”  Including “names of players” would suggest that players will be able to create customizable rights for individual players, not specifically tied to corporation roles.  This would suggest that individual players could, for instance, set up a deployable for their own use without having the rights to access critical strategic corporation/alliance structures.  No longer would you need to create an alt corp to govern your personal POS.

For years, players have heard that changing the way POSes work would be a complex project with so many ramifications that changing it in the near future was not feasible.  But, based on this structure plan, it sounds like junking the existing mechanics and re-envisioning the whole thing is easier.  And that’s a very, very good thing for anyone who has ever set up and managed a POS.

But it’s not just roles that this proposed management system would fix.  The screenshots CCP Ytterbium provided are telling, too.  Differentiated costs based on standings.  Sets of policies that can be quickly applied to multiple or new structures.  Easy fuel management.  All of these provide that same flexibility without providing additional complexity.  That’s exactly how Eve should be… understanding how to do it should be easy, but optimizing it should take skill and knowledge.  Like chess.

A Better-Than-Expected Step

It’s obvious from this devblog that CCP desperately wants to create player-centered customization and flexibility without introducing a whole range of headache mechanics that are complex and unwieldy.  This is consistent with their plans for the New Player Experience to eliminate that learning cliff Eve currently faces.  They want an Eve that is easy to play casually, but which has additional layers of complexity that allows power-users to refine their game through the years.  Spreadsheets will still have a place – a critical place if you want to maximize your profits, enjoyment, and efficiency – but they won’t be absolutely necessary for a cursory playing of the game.

And that’s a very good thing.  Some players bemoan efforts to improve accessibility, but they don’t realize that their game is drastically improved because of that accessibility.  Eve is still an incredibly complex game, and flexible deployables will only expand it.  But it expands the complexity by standardizing the rules.  What used to be POSes will be an extension of ship fitting and personal deployables.  And sov management will be an extension of POSes.  They’ll all use the same rules and further the principles as you increase in deployable size.

The best complexity builds on the knowledge players gain early on in their gameplay experience.  Previously, this wasn’t true of Eve.  This plan looks to aim to make it so.  Whether it succeeds or not depends on the specifics, most of which are absent from this devblog.  They’ve got good ideas… now they need to implement on them.

If they do it well, the benefits could very well be a) a vibrant, customizable null-sec with changing dynamics, a place for all types of players, b) significant easing of the hardships of wormhole players and POS managers, and c) new dynamics for low-sec players that takes unofficial “owning” of space to a new level and provides real benefits to corps that make low-sec their homes.

This is a great start.


  1. There was also mention of launching stuff for personal access only.

    I'm Steve Ronuken, and this is my Crib. I mean XL manufacturing structure. ;)

    1. That's something that really stuck out to me. POS security in WHs will improve regardless of which sizes of structures can be anchored there.

      Plus, we may not have as much need of alt corps anymore, and that's great from a time-efficiency perspective, too.

    2. And, by the way, congrats on the election!

  2. We have no idea what anchoring restrictions we will get, do we want to keep wormhole space different and difficult or do you want wormhole markets and millions of M3 storage space where you can store a year's supply of fuel blocks and spare ships?

    It would make things esier for people living in wormholes. (good/bad?)
    It would reduce the need to interact with others since there is less need for resupply runs. (bad)
    It would diminish the unique flavor of wormhole space. (bad)

    My first response is that I hope wormhole space will remain unique enough.
    My second thought: hmm new structure info, so how might this impact new space and the player-build stargates mentioned a year ago?

    1. I agree... keeping WH space unique is definitely an important factor to keep in mind. I'd sure love to be able to reduce the hassle without ruining the experience, though. I don't feel like WH groups get much value out of k-space interactions as a result of supply runs.

      I suspect WH corps will explore their chains just as much if they could stock large quantities of supplies in the home WH. Ratting options, roaming options, and finding other WH gangs to fight all seem like they're the primary motivator for doing so now.

    2. I agree... keeping WH space unique is definitely an important factor to keep in mind. I'd sure love to be able to reduce the hassle without ruining the experience, though. I don't feel like WH groups get much value out of k-space interactions as a result of supply runs.

      I suspect WH corps will explore their chains just as much if they could stock large quantities of supplies in the home WH. Ratting options, roaming options, and finding other WH gangs to fight all seem like they're the primary motivator for doing so now.

    3. Speaking as a wormhole denizen (though not speaking for all of Anoikis, just me), part of what gives w-space it's allure is the frontier vibe. The instability of never knowing when you'll get a viable highsec connection coupled with the real storage limitations is part and parcel of that vibe.

    4. What are your thoughts about stations, or specifically market hubs? Is it something the community wants?

    5. In a word, nonononononononononononononononononononononono!

      The longer answer is: sort of. The problem we have is that it's hellishly hard to exchange goods between people in a wormhole. Both have to be online at the same time in order for it to work in a timely fashion, and even then, the gymnastics one has to go through just to complete the transaction are sub-optimal.

      I've longed for just the ability to contract things between players in a POS. I think that functionality is what 's needed. Having a market accessibly to anyone who comes through is asking to be griefed, so that option would be automatically discarded by most sensible groups. What we need is a corp/alliance/standings-based system that allows us to put items up for sale where the items will be transferred as they are on the regular market.

      It's still not clear to me if the market hub will allow us to do that. If it ends up working like markets in null, where people can still buy up items even from stations they can't access, that won't work in wormholes because no one will use it. The risk of losing supply caches is too great.

      The other major, huge question mark is, how will these structures be anchored? Will we be able to tightly group them as we do now or will they be 20, 30, 100km apart? If they can't be grouped as now, that, too, will be sub-optimal.

  3. If I had to guess I would assume the CCP will restrict anchoring based on the size of the structure so they could ensure no XL 'station' structures in W space.

    Seems like a good set of ideas to me, I'll admit that dev blog is probably the most exciting/fundamental thing CCP have done in my playing career (closely followed by null sec changes).

    1. I suspect you're right, but I really would like it if they allowed dockable objects in WHs. And I do completely agree... this change has the potential of clearing up a lot of existing problems and creating some nice options for a range of security status categories!

  4. Docking is bad for w-space.
    People no even call thera not w-space because of the docking.
    I realy hope they get the mooring right.
    Because docking in a local less environment is a big loss of functionality. You can not see if People are online, assembling a Fleet and in wich direction they align.
    This is the main thing people need in w-space.
    It helps us find content, how else are you going to see who is online and active?