EVE Online devs on the feedback to Equinox & the continuing evolution of Vanguard

EVE Online Creative Director Bergur Finnbogason and Community Developer Peter Farrell joined us to talk about Equinox, EVE Vanguard upgrades, and more.

Image via CCP Games

It’s been only a short time since EVE Online’s Equinox content expansion rolled out the door, bringing a wealth of awesome upgrades to the game with it. The ship skinning tool is now active and players and artists are offering their abilities to help make ships look beautiful, the new haulers are proving to be as bristling as expected, and Vanguard recently had its latest play session showing off a new map, weaponry, tools, and activities for players to explore.

So what comes next? How has the community responded? How does CCP navigate that feedback for its next big thing? EVE Online Creative Director Bergur Finnbogason and Community Developer Peter Farrell were on hand to answer these very questions in a recent chat.

Shacknews: It has been some time since Equinox launched. You’re rolling out the first updates to Equinox. How has it been going since Equinox got out the door and how is the community enjoying it so far?

Finnbogason: It's been a wild week. I've watched Equinox roll out and read through Forum and Discord and Reddit and all those wonderful places. There's a lot of fantastic feedback. There's a lot of people that are loving it and there's some healthy feedback as well, and a lot of debate on things that are just about to come out.

Farrell: Yeah, we've had the first orbital skyhooks come out, the first Metanox Moon Drills, and then, of course, I was just curious how long it would take for players to then start destroying them and this morning at about 3:00 AM the first one was destroyed. So, EVE players doing what they do best, building things and then destroying other people's things.

Shacknews: You mentioned there's been some healthy feedback. Have there been any particular challenges or any kind of things that the team has learned since Equinox launched that would be like a priority-shifting response as far as feature updates go?

Finnbogason: Yeah, I mean there always is, so first weeks of expansions are always a bit tricky because you have a lot of emotions and people reading between the lines, and usually the big systems need a certain amount of time to find the equilibrium and find the balance. Of course, there are always things that are missed or things that need tweaking right off, but the tricky part is usually to hold back and allow the dust to settle a bit before making any drastic decisions. So, I think because we're kind of slowly rolling out, the knowledge stack changes. These are changes we want to get right from the get-go. There is a lot of theory crafting on the actual numbers, how things might pan out, and how things will actually play out. So, that's a conversation that we're keeping a very close ear on. We're in active conversation with the Council of Stellar Management (CSM) and with thought leaders in the community, and, of course, also balancing it with our design documents and our long-term vision. This is usually a relatively frantic time at CCP because we're making sure that while listening, we’re filtering out the noise from the really valuable stuff. And then, also celebrating the successes.

Upwell Haulers in EVE Online
The Upwell Haulers in EVE Online Equinox have proven to be quite formidable industrial ships.
Source: CCP Games

Shacknews: I remember an interesting topic of the Equinox expansion were the Upwell freighters transport ships that are bristling with opportunity to fight back against would be raiders. How has the rollout of these ships gone?

Finnbogason: Do you remember the numbers of how many Squalls were made in the first 24 hours?

Farrell: Ridiculous. It was insane and the number was ridiculously high.

Finnbogason: It was like three thousand or something.

Farrell: We were tracking a whole bunch of metrics just to see what the data looked like and it even bled into the SKINR tool. [The Squall] was the most customized ship in the game for the first 72 hours. Of all things, just a hauler. But I'm happy to say that the first Avalanche, which is a freighter, has a positive KDA. It is killing more than it's dying, which is great. And then, its smaller variants are just going nuts with kills. It's a bit meme-y to use an Industrial ship to get kills. So, we've seen them, a lot of them being used in fleets where maybe people would've normally taken a cruiser, but they're like, ‘you know what, I'm going to take this new hauler just to see what happens.’ And the response has been like, ‘hey, these ships are kind of good, what's going on?’ So, it's really interesting. The Blockade Runner is the T2 variant, so it takes a while to produce, and it hasn’t been killed yet and it's got something like 85 kills under its belt [as of this interview]. So, that people are going out and running actual PVPs with it and surviving is hilarious.

Shacknews: Speaking of the SKINR tool as well, this was something that built months of anticipation for a lot of the community. This was something that they've been waiting on for a long time. And I'm curious on how people have taken to using it. How many skins have been created and how much are they being shared around?

Finnbogason: I just got the first pieces of day-to-day data on it. It's not perfectly confirmed and everything, but we're definitely seeing multiples of thousands of skins that have been created. And mostly, we decided to hold back on the store for a week just so give people time to actually organize skins. But the amount of skins on the store Day One is far more than we anticipated. I love that people have already started building, they're making ship lines or skin lines and you can see the same person putting in a whole series of skins that fit together and fit their aesthetic. It's been pretty wild to see what people are up to.

Farrell: The people here at CCP also wanted to get in on it as well. It was actually Bergur's idea at the start, where to celebrate the launch of the Paragon store opening, a lot of CCP peers put up their own skins that they had created using the SKINR tool with all the proceeds going to a local Icelandic charity here. And it was just kind of like a chance for us to celebrate, too. And just going through the store this morning and seeing player skins next to CCP developer skins, they're a little bit better than us, but it was still really exciting to just see them all exist in one little spot. And I'm curious who bought whose designs? I really want to know.

The SKINR tool in EVE Online for customizing ship paint jobs
The SKINR tool in EVE Online launched with the Equinox expansion, allowing players to customize and share their ship paint jobs.
Source: CCP Games

Finnbogason: I'm so curious. I've spent lots of money this morning on my private account buying skins from players. I actually bought something that someone made on a livestream and I was like, ‘mine.’

Shacknews: That's incredible. It's amazing how this is becoming kind of an all-new ecosystem for EVE, not just as far as creating these skins and being able to share them, but also being able to sell them if you're good at what you do and other people are interested in it.

Finnbogason: Yeah, I mean that was something that we wanted to do from the get-go. We wanted to create a new industry. This wasn't just supposed to be something that you would dabble with or not - this should be a profession. The creatives of New Eden have created incredible things and they never cease to amaze. So, we wanted to celebrate that and really get them a tool where they can express themselves and make an EVE living out of it.

Shacknews: And there are some awesome things coming up as far as just EVE Vanguard as well. You recently marked the start of an all new event for the FPS module and there is a lot in there. Let's talk about that new map first, the Archipelago.

Finnbogason: It's been really hard not to kind of show it to everyone. I mean we've had a number of conversations where I've kind of hinted at what's coming and the amount of time I've had it just running in the background. But no, there's a lot to explore. We've been hard at work over the last few months working on this awesome (times three) new map. And it's not only a map, there's also a lot of new types of gameplay that we're playing with and we've been giving people glimpses in how we’ll work with the mining after the March session. But now we're taking that even further, showing more new types of gameplay in Stage One and Stage Two, which is basically our internal terminology on things that are in progress.

Stage Two is getting to a happy place with game design, but we haven't really started. We've done some level design, but we haven't really started doing any art on it. And then Stage Three is like when you're working on and finalizing art. Stage Four is when we have VF effects like light, audio, and all these things, the really nice things. So yeah, there are a lot of cool things that we wanted to test out and we've been playing with for the last few months. A lot of stuff that's gotten great feedback from the first strike events where we were kind of testing a lot of things for the first time. And yeah, I'm excited to see how this will encourage players to shoot each other in the face more.

Giant flora in a rocky ravine on the Archipelago map in EVE Vanguard.
The EVE Vanguard Archipelago map introduced in EVE Vanguard's Solstice event included a wealth of new planetary flora and fauna.
Source: CCP Games

Shacknews: And this map looks rather beautiful. It’s interesting because we know CCP is no stranger to boots-on-the-ground visuals and concepts, as well as designing planetary stuff as far as other spinoff games in the past have gone. That said, for EVE Vanguard, now you have the power of Unreal Engine 5 under the hood. I'm curious how fun or challenging it has been to use UE5 to realize CCP’s ideas of what it looks like down on a planet?

Finnbogason: We used Unreal for a lot of our scope videos and for our trailers, so we've gotten a taste of it. Especially our scope and cinematics teams. We've had this dream of building what is the human scale of New Eden and we've been kind of dabbling with it for a very long time through trailers, scope videos, and even through the Pulse where we have people in the background in the Pulse Bar in Jita4-4. So, it's been something that we are very passionate about and we've been wanting to explore further. And having a dedicated team, like an actual dedicated FPS team working on Vanguard… This is awesome. They are people that have a lot of experience in building FPS games, so we're not taking from the Online development team. We're adding a whole new team into development that has been inspiring a lot of people on the floor here in Reykjavík to push EVE even further. And you can see that with, for instance, with the awesome new planets in the planet update that we're seeing now with Equinox. A lot of that is inspired by this new map. Our art director was just like, ‘oh my god, I have to get this onto the planets in EVE.’ Now we see barren planets and temperate planets with more of what you see in Archipelago in them.

Farrell: It's also really fun to see the wreckage of stuff land in Vanguard. If you're like me, you play EVE and you recognize these things when they hit the ground. Just seeing that not on my spaceship scale, but on the ground level as the aftermath of me blowing up someone's spaceship or the aftermath of something that's gone horribly, horribly wrong for someone else. We're talking about these orbital skyhooks, I know what that wreck looks like in space, but when it comes crashing down to the planet level, how it looks is just so cool and so neat to explore. I can go inside something that I couldn't ever do in a spaceship.

Shacknews: There are a lot of fun new tools that came to the experience of the game, too. Like Bergur mentioned earlier, we have new options on adaptive weaponry now. Players can sort of build their gun the way they want. They can find chip sets on the planet that will allow them new options and specializations. And from where the weaponry started to where we are now, how are things progressing?

Finnbogason: So basically, we wanted to take a page out of EVE's playbook when it came to the weapons. If you think about the gun in a similar way as you think about the ship in EVE, yes there is an optimal way of fitting a ship, but nothing stops you from building a battle Venture or now a combat Hauler with the new Upwell Haulers. So yes, you can fit things wrong, but what is wrong? What is beauty? Everything is right. It's just different levels of right. And we wanted to take some of that ideology and that freedom into Vanguard and how can we apply some of that using the chip set. So yes, you have a base rig, but then you can manipulate it within some bound. You can make it yours.

If I want to play it short-range, high DPS, I can do that. Or if I want to build myself more of a sniper version of the rig, that is also an option. It ends up that with every enemy that you find, there's always that element of unknown, how they fit their weapon and what exactly is that person. And that's the cool thing about EVE as well. Just at a glance, you can say like, ‘oh okay, they're flying a Nestor.’ So you kind of know what you're up against even if you have that freedom. Most people fit within a range of what you can expect, but then there is a breadth of options. So that first punch is always a bit scary and you have to maybe take two bullets before realizing how that ship is fitted. That’s an approach we’re trying to bring over to Vanguard.

Shacknews: With that. We're also getting new events that players are going to be able to discover while they're exploring in Vanguard. I saw the various activities such as fighting off waves of enemies, calling down mining equipment. What was the priority for the recent play session when it came to activities in the game and what players are going to be able to see?

Finnbogason: Yeah, I mean the main priority was that back in December at Fest we talked about the fact that we really want to make sure that the core was strong. So single suit, single gun, single map, limited amount of activities. We wanted to test this contract idea. We've been tweaking these parameters throughout from December until now. But while we felt that the base was becoming stronger and stronger, we wanted to start to add the next layer of the onion. We are happy with the gun. Okay, let's add the next layer to that single rig, which is the components. And similar to the content, we are happy with where some of the activity had progressed, we felt like people were having fun. Of course didn't have big replayability because we wanted to start small.

So this is our first kind of adding the first layer to the onion and some of this stuff. We will definitely continue to develop some of this stuff further. We might put some of this on ice because we don't see that it's really doing the thing that we wanted it to do. We might merge some of these things or break some of them into smaller components, but it's basically this: we want to learn by doing. That's the main thing. It's easy to theorize and say, ‘hey, believe me, we're going to do this, this and that.’ It's far preferable to say like, ‘hey, test it. Is it awesome? Cool, we'll continue it. Does it suck? Okay, let's do something else or let's fix it.’

Farrell: Yeah. And it's really funny to see the real super Vanguard enthusiasts try and break stuff with it too. They really take after the EVE community in that sense where you give them something you think they're going to use it in a certain way and they'll use it in completely different ways that'll surprise and astound you. So, it's really neat to see once it's in their hands what they actually do with it based on what the devs intended. Undoubtedly some changes are coming, but it's been a fun journey.

Shacknews: How long do you think it’ll be until we see someone try to their first Proximity Mine rocket jump?

Finnbogason: Like the proximity people are going to find some beautiful test cases with the proximity mine. There's like a shield plus proximity mine plus something else there's an odd trifecta going on there that I haven't tried.

Farrell: Yeah, same. I can just imagine it's going to be spectacular when someone does something wild and they're just going to be the bane of the server for a bit. I can't wait. The creativity that these players have is unmatched anywhere else, not just with the ship skins, but with also using the tools. It's nuts.

A laser gadget in EVE Vanguard
New gadgets can be applied to combat and activities throughout EVE Vanguard.
Source: CCP Games

Shacknews: As we come to the end of this interview, is there anything you want to share about the future of Vanguard or EVE Online before we close it out?

Finnbogason: This is an incredibly important step forward on EVE Vanguard and we are very excited and proud of what we've built. I'm excited to see what players will think of this and I'm excited to see that at least the streams. People are a bit surprised how big of a change this is. And I think many were just kind of thinking that they would get something a bit bigger than what we saw in March. But this is a whole new thing. The Vanguard team really delivered here. And same goes for the EVE team. I think this expansion is the fourth expansion now. We've kind of gotten out of the second album dilemma and I'm really proud of the team here. We out-deliver every time and I think over-deliver every time. And I'm pumped to see that the community seems to be kind of rallying behind this way of working. I’m cautious to say that we're in the first step of the future, but we truly are. We've taken four big steps into a very bright and awesome future filled with wild things.

Farrell: Yeah, it's been fun watching the community react to the changes and just watching their brains work kind of in real time. Day one they're like, okay, here's how I'm going to break the system. Day two, they're like, okay, here's how we're going to utilize it. And as the days have gone by, they've thought about it in new and inventive ways. We've seen alliances reposition where their main staging is and start drawing up some prospective battle plans as well. Identifying things like ‘hey, that region used to be crummy before. It's good now!’ And we’re seeing instances of people who generally hate each other coming to that same conclusion at the same time. It's in this really cool crucible and I'm just waiting for that match to explodify everything.

Be sure to follow EVE Online’s website for more updates and details on new content and how to join in on Vanguard play sessions. You can also follow the latest EVE news here at Shacknews as it drops.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at tj.denzer@shacknews.com and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

Hello, Meet Lola