At EVE Fanfest last week, I sat down with EVE Online game director Snorri Árnason for a wide-ranging chat about where the one-of-a-kind sandbox space MMO has been in recent years and where it's going. We talked about big things like Dust 514 and EVE Vanguard, with Árnason lamenting that if the former had been on PC "it would literally still be alive", but a smaller comment that also struck me as interesting was one in which Árnason expresses ambition to have football-style analysis of EVE's great battles.
"Basically the brand identity is big battles ... and what does that mean?" says Árnason. "How do we express the battles better ourselves? Because they're all self-reported. How can we put people into the action? How can we produce a non-tidi [non time-dilated] playthrough of the battle, a replay? How can we talk about the tactics that were happening but no one really noticed?"
Árnason's proposed solution links into his passion for football. "Look at the postmatch coverage, the talking heads explaining what was good in this play, how did that team mess up? I would love to watch those kinds of things [because] hearing those stories makes you realise this is so much more complex than we expect."
EVE's director reckons that, as with so much relating to this unique game, the path to this is through giving players the tools to do it themselves.
"I would love to be able to let players download battles 24 hours later in some kind of format that they can use to do a timeline out of it," says Árnason. "They can watch a replay of the battle, work out coordinates… let's see what they do. The players are better than us for this and have all kinds of skills we don't. So give them the assets, let them actually render the battles in full res with the ships, then you're just playing through that and have a floating camera or whatever. Now we can see the battle at real speed, and that is where I want to go. So does this go through the API? Do we provide all battles just as a downloadable thing? Let's just start doing it.
"Imagine if you had a replay of a battle and ask the [Fleet Commander] on both sides to show up for a stream. You just duke it out and have fun with it or maybe, you know, there's a lot of emotions. It's like a post match interview: 'Yeah, we messed up, we can do better.' The football coach saying 'the lads played well', you know?"
Árnason's point is a good one. I used to play EVE so have some basic knowledge of the game, but when the giant throwdowns happen I'm often struggling to understand what went on beyond a lot of ships being exploded. The solution is always the same: you ask players, look at the forums, and piece-together what happened as best you can.
Árnason's solution... well, we'll see how realistic it is but instantly you can imagine it, with brilliant space nerds replacing Graeme Sounness and Roy Keane. There are already YouTube breakdowns of EVE battles, but I imagine this proposed replay tool would be a huge help to them. EVE Online is a game that fascinates many outside of its playerbase and we only ever find out about the tip of the iceberg: This really would make it a game of two halves.