A Newblette in Space: Of Dragons, Brains and Space Marines

A Newblette in Space is a weekly series about my adventures in Eve Online. Each week I’ll be rambling about something in the amazing vast space of New Eden that has caught my attention. Feel free to comment, heckle, request topics of discussion, or offer up interesting flames. 

I was going to write about corporations again today, after joining one earlier this week I’d been pondering my thoughts on guilds and what makes Eve so different. I’ve actually got that one mostly finished. But after waking up and seeing the new dev blog, my mind has been running around the thought of enemy AI, encounter difficulties, and new players. I know myself well enough to know that even if I were to sit down and try to finish my coporation and guild ponderings, I’d just end up writing about new players and enemy AI, so I might as well put the old one aside and pull it out again sometime later and focus on this breaking news.

Click that little button to read more about upcoming changes and my thoughts about them.

I didn’t know this until just now, but there are apparently 3 different types of AI in Eve Online: the most commonly encountered one that functions on your standard mission and asteroid rats (for those less familiar with Eve terminology, rats is just another way to say mob), Level One AI which is found on sleeper and incursion NPCs, and the one that controls the space police – Concord. I’m still hovering around the newbie fringes, despite playing for a month now I’ve had so much happening in my life that my playtime has been limited, so thus far I’ve mainly been running missions so have only encountered the first kind. I may create a pirate alt at some point, but right now at least, I’m a law abiding citizen so haven’t encountered any Concord action, nor am I experienced enough to have been brought into incursions.

From what I’ve heard about it, Level One AI seems to be the most complex – CCP Foxfour said in this morning’s blog that it can be used to create templates, and that this is why the sleepers and the incursion NPCs are so different from each other. I have no idea what that means in terms of play as I’ve never encountered either of them, but I’m going to take that as actually being the case because I have yet to see any players actually arguing with that statement. It’s funny to say that about a dev comment, but let’s face it – I’m sure everyone reading this has at one point or another read a dev comment and wondered if they were playing the same game. Anyway, templates. I’m all for AI systems that allow the design of radically different NPC behavior.

The devs have decided to completely remove  the current rat and Concord AI and replace them with new Level One templates. CCP Foxfour listed several reasons for doing this:simplifying code so they have less to maintain and more possibilities with what they can do with missions, closing exploits, and adding more challenge to mission running. It’s important to note that this is just a behavior modification – no actual stats are going up. Health, damage, and enemy spawns and spawn range are all remaining the same. Rats will now change targeting based on threat so they’ll be hitting targets that used to be ignored, but the damage they do will remain the same.

This is expected to hit new players and low sec players the most. There’s a lot of concern that this will not only make fleets need more people, but that it will make new players joining more experienced players much more difficult as the experienced players won’t be able to tank as effectively, thus impacting the new players’ ability to actually participate in more difficult missions the way they can now. I’m very pleased to see that the devs have been participating in the discussion on this big change, CCP Foxfour has responded to this concern by saying they hope there will be lots of testing on the test server, and that they are keeping an eye on how things go.

But what I’m wondering is – how is this going to play into the ongoing/upcoming ship redesign? If they are redesigning ships to promote new players joining fleets with existing experienced players, doesn’t a change to enemy AI that increases aggro difficulty negate any changes to ships designed to encourage new player participation – unless the ship redesigns increase power so much that there is no point in changing the enemy AI because those changes are washed out? My general expectation with patches that increase challenge is that players respond to it by shutting out newer, more inexperienced players. Scanning the Eve blogisphere, all I am seeing over and over is that this is on the mark – the already entrenched Eve players are expecting this change to hit new players the most. That it will hurt them such that they won’t be able to participate much if at all in group content and it will slow down their ISK acquisition by a huge margin, but it will generally not affect experienced players in any noticeable way. It’s possible that the ship redesign was done with this AI change in mind – but if that’s the case, then why wasn’t this AI change mentioned much earlier?

I guess there’s no real way to know until more information starts appearing from players on the test server. I’m hesitantly positive, I’m always for anything that adds challenge to my MMOs. I love my games brutal, the more the game kills me the happier I am. But let’s not forget what really makes me happy:

About Pherephassa 213 Articles
Pherephassa has been creeping around the etherspace long enough to have remorted so often that not even she can recall her original form. She loves sandboxes, challenges, chain mail bikinis and dungeons so large they take weeks, months or even years to fully explore. Currently seeking an MMO home, she can often be found on the side of the road, begging game designers for death penalties and slow leveling curves.