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August 01, 2000
For most people, mention of Iceland probably tends to conjure up images of snow, glaciers and icebergs. Although this isn't a completely accurate picture of the small North Atlantic island nation, it's probably pretty safe to say that few associate it with game development or even software development in general. As a result, it came as a bit of a surprise when, at this year's Game Developers Conference in March, we first learned about an Icelandic studio called CCP, shortened from Crowd Control Productions. A further and much larger revelation came when we found out about the very ambitious project already in progress there, a persistent massively multiplayer combination of space simulation, strategy and role-playing called EVE.
During E3 in May, it was our pleasure to chat with several members of the EVE team and to find out a little bit about the background to the game. At that time, however, they were still not prepared for a complete unveiling pending further development, a publicity plan, a revamping of the website et al. Last week, the website was re-launched, featuring lots of information and some very impressive screenshots along with concept art, wallpapers and more. Accordingly, it seemed like a very appropriate time to reveal more about the game in this extensive EVE Interview with Lead Designer Thorolfur Beck.
Jonric: Let's start with the obvious first question. In your own words, how would you summarize EVE?
Thorolfur Beck: EVE is an entertainment product that goes as far as current technology and our ability as designers allows in creating an alternate reality. It's a space fighting/trading RPG, where the players should feel they are in total control of their destiny, and where human interaction is key element.
Jonric: Before we get into the details on EVE, please introduce CCP. When and how did the company get started? What kinds of backgrounds do the team members have?
Thorolfur Beck: CCP started as an idea in 1996 when I (Thorolfur Beck) and our art director and company co-founder Reynir Hardarson, started writing the script for a massively multiplayer space game. We founded the company in 1997 and we are located in Reykjavik, Iceland. We funded the start of the company and early development through contractor jobs, until we had a fully assembled team in the beginning of the year 1999, and got funding through venture capital. Since then our first game, EVE has been in full development.
We have quite an experienced and efficient team, even though we are a startup with no track record in the gaming industry. Core team members have years of experience in working professionally with multi-user servers and VRML virtual worlds, both programmers and artists. Experience within the company ranges from PC games development to boardgame design, production 3D animations and programming 3D engines. Today CCP consists of a team of 20 people, all working full time on the game.
Jonric: Can you tell us a bit about the games market in Iceland? What types of games are most popular, and are there many other developers?
Thorolfur Beck: The games market in Iceland is quite similar to the American market, the most popular PC games being games such as Quake, StarCraft, Baldur's Gate etc. The important distinction between the two markets is the size; the population of Iceland is about one thousandth of the population of the USA :). There are some companies doing low budget interactive story games, and one other start-up called SR Studios, developing a PlayStation title called Goblins.
Jonric: What about your backgrounds as gamers? Are there any interests or games that you'd consider noteworthy in terms of their influence on EVE?
Thorolfur Beck: Our background as gamers is a very broad one. Reynir and I, the founders of CCP, have played most types of traditional paper and pencil RPGs such as D&D;, AD&D;, GURPS, Shadowrun, Call of Cthulu, Warhammer, Megatraveller, etc, etc. We also have a strategy game background ranging from games such as Risk and Diplomacy to Avalon Hill games such as Panzer Leader, Third Reich and Empires in Arms. We have also played a lot of other games from family games to collectable card games such as Magic: The Gathering and the Vampire card game Jihad. Our computer gaming dates to the early Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64 days. The game that most captured me on the Commodore 64 was Elite, the prime motivator of EVE. Other titles I could mention as inspirational and groundbreaking are games such as Civilization, Populous, Dune 2, Doom, some of the CRPGS and of course Ultima Online. During the last three years, the persistent world games have taken up the bulk of my game-playing time, especially UO.
Jonric: What do you consider the most important lessons you've learned, both as gamers and as designers, from the online games you've played?
Thorolfur Beck: The most important lesson in my view is that human interaction is what makes the magic in these games. I feel that neither AC nor EQ have been able to quite reach the level of UO in creating a true Virtual World, though they have certainly done a good job in other areas of game design. The thrill of fighting over resources and virtual goods that have "real" value (a powerful magic weapon, found by spending hours of game time on dead boring monster camping, to give an example from UO) gives you the most exhilarating adrenaline rush possible in a computer game. This also applies to all other emotions of the human emotional spectrum from love to hate, fear or glory. Besides that, I would say simplicity is a key factor in any good game design. Simplicity in interface, game systems, etc. Simplicity does not have to mean few possibilities (just look at chess), but creating a real good, well balanced, simple game system is a much harder task than creating a very complex one. The exact same rule applies to interface design.
Jonric: What's the basic concept of the game, and what are the major game elements that it blends from various genres?
Thorolfur Beck: The underlying concept of the game is the space fighting/trading genre, invented with the game Elite in 1984. The concept has been expanded considerably, most notably in the aspect of character building, which is quite extensive in EVE. The game has also been expanded in the direction of a more grand strategic meta-game, where we supply the tools for players to found and run mega-corporations, undertake large-scale production and wage war on other groups of players. The combat system of the game is also very far from the typical dogfight style dominant in space games, with a much more tactical approach taken in EVE, both in outfitting the ship as well as in the combat itself.
To sum it up it can be said that EVE is space simulation/strategy/role-playing game.
Jonric: How would you describe the game universe? Will the entire game take place in space, or will parts happen on planets, space stations, etc.?
Thorolfur Beck: The game world will be quite large. We are now looking at something like 5000 solar systems, some with a number of inhabited planets and accessible space stations. The whole game takes place in space and on space stations. The real time graphics all take place in space, and planets are accessed through a 2D interface on space stations. We decided not to include planet surfaces or in-station activity in the real time action, as that would mean we would have to design a completely new game around that setting. Rather than divert our focus, we decided to put all our effort into one field and do that as well as possible. That does not mean that there won't be enough options in the game besides flying around, but they will all be accessed in a more abstract way.
Thorolfur Beck: It remains to be seen how many players we will fit in each instance of the game world. The problem there is not in the game system or content, but technical limitations associated with the infrastructure of the Internet. Our policy is to have as few parallel universes as possible, hopefully just one, and our latest experiments in that direction look very promising. We believe that the more players you have interacting within the same world and the same economy, the more colorful the world will be.
There will be no load-times that are visible to the player, or that affect game-play in any way.
Jonric: Please summarize the backstory leading up to the beginning of the game. Will there be a main storyline within the game itself?
Thorolfur Beck: The game takes place in our universe about 20,000 years in the future, in a far away region of our galaxy. Humans got there through a natural wormhole and built a huge jump gate, christened EVE, to link the old world with the new. But an unexplained catastrophe destroyed the jump gate and cut off all communications with old Earth only a few decades after settlement began. The ensuing chaos doomed all but a few of the small colonies, and those few that remained slowly lost their knowledge and technology. For millennia, humanity struggled for survival, but finally civilization returned. By the time the game starts, humans have once again regained the level of advancement they enjoyed before the fall. But the factions and empires, each a descendant of one of the small colonies that survived the closure of EVE, are in many ways radically different from each other, and from humanity as we know it today.
There is no main storyline within the game as such; after all, the players will create their own stories. The backdrop of the world includes the five main empires in the game and the relations and tensions within and between them. We've planned a few story arcs that will take place concerning this, some of which the players can directly influence or take part in. BUT could there be some sinister schemes brewing behind the scenes, unknown forces to be reckoned with? Well one never knows ;)
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